Wingspan Fall 2010
VOLUME 10 FALL 2010 Jefferson State Community College
Editor…………Sharon DeVaney-Lovinguth Cover Photograph & Art Front Cover Photograph by Thomas Neil Dennis Page 3 Drawing by Mona Lynn Back Cover Drawing by Chris Luckadoo
Editorial Policy Wingspan is an annual literary and visual arts publication of Jefferson State Community College in Birmingham, Alabama. Its purpose is to act as a creative outlet for students, faculty, alumni and residents of the surrounding area, thus encouraging and fostering an appreciation for the creative process. The works included in this journal are reviewed and selected by a faculty advisor on the basis of originality, graceful use of language, clarity of thought and the presence of an individual style. The nature of literature is not to advance a religious or political agenda, but to raise universal questions about human nature and to engage reaction. Therefore, the experience of literature is bound to involve controversial subject matter at times. The college supports the students’ right to a free search for truth and its exposition. In pursuit of that goal, however, advisors reserve the right to edit submissions as is necessary for suitable print. Appropriateness of material is defined in part as that which will “promote community and civic well being, provide insight into different cultural perspectives and expand the intellectual development of students.” The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not reflect the opinions of the college administration, faculty or staff. Letters to the editor or information on submission guidelines can be obtained by e-mail at email@example.com
Wingspan Volume 10 Fall 2010
Poetry Elaine Wilkins Williams 8 Emi Smith 9-13 Jennifer A. Watkins 15-18 Chris Hardeman 19-20 Amanda Gonzalez 21 Lisa Michelle Nichols 22 Gail Braswell 23 Brett Simmons 24 Arianna Curreri 25 Amber Bice 26 Peri Anne Bush 27 Christiana Crowson 28 Angie Walker 29-30 Cassandra Keen 31-34 Heather Smith 35-36 Sharon Olivier 37-38 Greg McCallister 39 Matt Avery 41-42 S. DeVaney-Lovinguth 123
Fiction Thomas William Shaw 46-47 Jessica Hamlin 48-50 Lora Whitehead 51-61 Katie Boyer 62-76 Jacob A. Jones 77-82 K. Brian Ingram 84-96 Elaine Wilkins Williams 98-100
Drama Sharon Olivier 104-112
Memoir Dianna Hyde 115 Mary Jean Doss 116-117 Toni Shealey 118-121
Art Mona Lynn 3, 45, 101, 113 Vincent McNeeley 7, 14, 40, 83, 97, 122 Dave Caskey 50 Thomas Neil Dennis Front cover Chris Luckadoo Back cover
Three Step Blues
Lavender blue I sing Dancing to the radio Socks on hardwood sliding Happy to be me
Domino, Blueberry Hill Piano as percussion Drifting over Mobile Bay Notes skip on water
Of blue suede shoes we sing Bopping to the RCA Dancing free, touching hands Hip fifteens clique-ing
John Hooker sings it blue Crying slack-strings mourn and wail Deep heartache, Ripple wine Medicine for tears
Elaine Wilkins Williams
life is plaid all the lines are people the lines cross when you meet someone new then i met you a bold line so fine and then your line kept going... it crossed, and you met someone new. rolling thunder a gentle giant power and might flashes of light God's tears and man's fears takes the world by plunder. guiding light, take thy fright silence doubt and make me right. this i pray, everyday show me love, and strength to stay. red on red, blinds my sight masking truth and taking flight dripping down, below my eyes casting shadows and spinning lies and when, at last, on silver wings Emi Smith
white and black, fly me back. a sightless bird, on wings of steel pity her weakness, or envy her appeal. she may not see, but she can feel a heavy heart, on wings of steel. now i lay in silence, another day has passed thoughts racing images fleeting you fill my mind and my heart's beating mix of desire and sorrow, for you're not in my tomorrow. that's why i sleep, to put the past behind. when at last i rest, and i am home. nothing to live for, false hope and dead dreams she looks normal outside, but her soul dissolves in screams. she is a shell of a body, she isn't who she seems. in petty fear. Emi Smith
in eternal loneliness dark dreary dreams melancholy themes cobweb lashes celestial clashes pearls and fire purity and desire past life's decisions, will determine my prison. in darkness i'll reside between eternities i hide all dreams aside, love and hate collide to you i will confide i, am black inside fantasies have lied and no loner shall i abide. one is named hate and the other one is love impossible to escape a two headed monster with a heart of slate destroys the peaceful dove and seals a twisted fate. a siren serenade winds howling song windows dance i've heard hope, is a thing with wings, upon which happiness it brings i guess like anything that flies, it can choose to fly over passers by so as i walk to songs of birds, i wonder why it's me hope will desert. i ill not be you, mother dear. i will not drink my life away, Emi Smith
i will not play the victim, as you do. i will not punish my future, there's too much to lose. one day, i will be happy.
My Poem for Loneliness
Saunter into oblivion, simply disappear Who would show up to care, who would be sincere? The grass grows over, and the flowers wilt and fade, I am forgotten to all, no different than if I stayed. The loneliness is a coffin all itâ€™s own, Dark, smothering, and cold Death is no escape, from desolationâ€™s hold
Rain and Coffee
points and dots
stars glittering while
comets shoot across a black, black (velvety ebony?) sheet blocking an actorÂ´s view/interpretation of characters splayed across a page. SheÂ´ll drink her coffee untreated and regular out of the cup where Einstein looks smugly on, loving his own cup of blissful caffeinated nectar. His eyes sparkle mysteriously
could equations be blasting through
his brilliant mind, riding speedily along like cars on a freight train? points and dots
of black and
white streaking every
screen shifting back and forth
Jennifer A. Watkins
shifts the screen
in small increments. Look through and see more points and dots
creating lined up lines on a screen
of pixilated static. Would it matter if the screen were the face of a cathode ray tube box? Or would it be worlds better to be strewn atop a gunmetal blue platform with neon green lasers popping down and
and a flash
here and there here and a rumble
the static clears
letting code fall down randomly
raining down one´s
zero´s people--little pixilated
points and dots
counting to sixty-four using
hand signals of one´s
points and dots raining and lovely, lovely coffee. Jennifer A. Watkins
Stepping through the hallways of time, the small child cautiously lights an eerie flame on the tip of a tall white candle. Passing through the doors of society like trying to pass through muddy waters churning below. Ice falls, shattering as it hits the ever-present nocturnal path below. The child jumps back, gasping as though hurt. Eyes filled with no fear,
traces of wonderment and awe are all that he sees in the cold glass particles. Rushing light flings his way. He dodges. One hand is held out, out for balance, understanding that gravity can pull him down, grasping him and dragging him through the vortexhalls of elusive Time -- into the past.
The child stands on his own and continues his path -- like Dorothy down the yellow-brick ever-going road to Oz.
Jennifer A. Watkins
He continues on down his path, not letting the silent, aware, monsters around him scare him off his mission. Larks sing death-songs overhead, sneering at him like the rest of the children in his generation, wandering past his thirst for knowledge. Anger sweeps by, followed by hate, followed by war yearning to destroy peace that was once vibrant. Sorrowful eyes take his hand, showing him all the
outrageously horrible terrors done to break their families apart. He cries with them, sharing in their
Time of lingering sadness. He falls to his knees. ¨I have seen enough,¨ his mind screams, ¨My generation is only following the ways we have heard echoed throughout history! Will this war ever end?¨
Jennifer A. Watkins
Detached: I'm detached from this hypothesis of life that I call “envious”, A mainline of energy pours into my emptiness, I'm on fire inside; it makes me pull off my clothes, Go running around naked crying cos my skin is so cold. So what if I take the lyrical content a little too far? It's a journey of years just to reach the nearest star, Beyond all the known there exists a limitless light, That created the entire universe by the miracle of sight, And it's Him that I worship; I am His to command, Though to Him on an endless beach I'm barely half a grain of sand. Stand tall despite the weather; I look forward to old life with a face worn to leather, I broke the code and it’s not impossible, You only have to manhandle a handful of miracle-level obstacles, The mirror that I’m staring in is reflecting me in clarion, I'm the man that blew the whistle, so it’s time to get to work again, The playing field is set and you are guaranteed to lose, So enjoy your certain death with a little wine, women and booze, No heroin for my brain, thanks, no Hendrix or Cobain, No last minute shotguns or other corporate shenanigans, I got nothing but me and even that grasp is slipping, My sanity is nothing but another Tobey for the whipping, If it was all bad there'd be no reason to carry on, This Wayward Son has turned his sails to point back towards the guns, I may go down in flames I may sink covered in smoke, Like every movie, show, and song the bastards remade into a joke, It takes a lake of looks and a little drop of talent, To make the profit margins and the costs of record production balance, And it’s founded by blood-sealed pacts signed in the night, They can rape, kill, or clown me I ain't going down without a fight, And if the price is right; I'll still never be yours, A million things I'm wrong on but this one thing I'm sure: I know there soon comes a day when all the engines slow to a crawl, When six billion peaceful demonstrators will have their backs to the wall, And it will all come falling to the last turtle on my spine, Chris Hardeman
And if you ask me how I'm doing then I'll simply say fine, Write down this private message and share it with the world, I'm the last great prophet; no scratch that boys and girls, I'm the last of a breed of men that was merely born to die, And I chose to be the hammer that beat your halo into knives, If your ears are truly open, and your angelic hearts are pure, Listen for the trumpet call the starting of the war.
Bello Sol Beautiful Sun Está lloviendo It is raining Yo quiero que tú vengas I want you to come Está nublado It is cloudy Te extraño I miss you Tú eres bello You are beautiful Cuando tú estás aquí When you are here Hace sol The sun is shining
No demora, diciembre Hurry up, December Mi amor diciembre My love, December La nieve y navidad, The snow, Christmas Familia y amigos. Family and friends Por favor, Please, No demora, diciembre. Hurry up, December Mi amor diciembre, My love, December La celebraciĂłn y alegrĂa The celebration and happiness Bello cumpleaĂąos. Beautiful birthday Por favor, Please, No demora, diciembre. Hurry up, December
Lisa Michelle Nichols
Mi Junio My June Mi Junio My June Luminosos colores Luminous colors DĂas soleados Sunny days Brillantes rosas y verdes y amarillas Brilliant pinks and greens and yellows Cielo claro Clear sky Bello azul Beautiful blue Verano Summer Contento y tranquilo Content and tranquil Alegre Joyful Bello Beautiful
,Me gusta. . . I like. . . Me gusta saber todo. I like to know everything. . . Todo. . . me evita. Everything. . . . escapes me. Pero, But, Yo corro hasta que lo consiga. I keep running until I find it.
Imagínate Que Tú Estés Aquí Imagine That You Are Here Miro la oscuridad por todas partes I see the darkness all around Que veo el día que tú fuiste That came the day you left Lloramos las lágrimas que caen en silencio We cry the tears that fall silent El dolor del corazón con sangre The pain of your heart para tu regreso bleeding for your return Echándote de menos para siempre Missing you forever and always Los años pasados son un recuerdo que has ido The years that pass remind me you’re gone Espero que tú estés conmigo I wish that you were here with me Imagínate que tú estés aquí Imagine that you are here
Abuela Grandmother Cuando usted estaba aquí, When you were here, había sol. the sun shined. Ahora que usted se haya ido, Now that you are gone, sólo hay lluvía. there is only rain. ¿Por qué te llevaron? Why were you taken away? Abuela maravillosa, A wonderful grandmother, una verdadera mejor amiga. a true best friend. Todo fue llevado por el viento. was carried away with the wind.
Amigo Friend Tú corres a un amigo A friend is the person you run to Tú corres a él en los momentos You run to him in moments de dolor y alegría of pain and joy Él limpia tus lágrimas y da consejos He wipes your tears and provides advice. Se ríen juntos y ustedes apoyan el uno al otro You laugh together and support each other La amistad es lealtad. Friendship is loyalty. La amistad es servidumbre. Friendship is servitude. Es la experiencia más importante It is the most important experience que tienes en la vida. that you have in life.
Peri Anne Bush
Mi compañero My roommate Mi compañero de cuarto es cómico. My roommate is funny. Mi compañero de cuarto es limpio. My roommate is clean. Mi compañero de cuarto es un nino, My roommate is a boy, iA menos no es malo! At least he isn’t mean! Él es divertido y entretenido He is fun and entertaining donde anda. Where ever he goes. No le diga nada Don’t tell him anything porque él ya sabe. ‘cause he already knows.
El Camino The Path ¿Qué es este remolino de la oscuridad? What is this whirlpool of darkness? Me sigue por este camino que viajo It follows me on this path I travel. El negro remolino sigue muy cerca. The swirling black follows close behind. Siempre conmigo, como un amigo fiel. Always with me, like a loyal friend. Nunca se rinde, susurrando, It never gives up, whispering, pidiendo en silencio. pleading silently. Suplicándome a seguirlo Urging me to follow it por el camino de bien gastado. down the well-worn path.
Un camino sembrado A path littered de piezas de esperanza. with pieces of hope. Oscuridad vence el camino Darkness overcomes the path una vez mรกs, once more, tirรกndome, pulling me, tentรกndome tempting me, con el entumecimiento. With the numbness.
The Initial Surrender Whatever happened to superwoman? Somewhere between juggling a career and womanhood she got lost beneath a stack of "do" lists endless appointments, buried desires and accumulated achievements. Whatever happened to superwoman? last seen tipping right of the balancing beam thrown off-kilter by too much weight carried in ambitious arms it has been reported that she lost the ability to walk between the raindrops without getting drenched... no longer able to move faster than the speed of sound emotionally and physically spent she maintained her image stifling the urge to cry help staggering onward and getting wetter and wetter moving closer to the kryptonite of need ignored superwoman slipped and fell... into a puddle of wordless pride that threatened to drain the last strain of independent strength that she possessed... Whatever happened to superwoman? I found her crying disillusioned tears weary of her own superhuman effort. staring back at me from the looking glass begging her to keep her secret....our secret....that against all better efforts Cassandra Keen
& judgment the truth remained the same...we were not created to be alone standing as miniature islands, flexing imaginary muscles ignoring our hearts our soul our very essence? Whatever happened to superwoman? she unraveled her cape in the face of understanding and welcomed God with open arms vulnerable....unchallenging growing ever stronger in the celebration of her weaknesses she gave into love and that it brings and found it much easier to fly.
Kisses aren't promises they carry no warranties guaranteeing a lifetime of service or love they are but the hunger of two hearts for the moment the longing to touch beneath the surface to sample the very essence of one's soul to taste to explore to experience one's breath and perhaps draw life from it gently probing pressing past outward appearances and reservations connecting... prying.... nudging each other's consciences and desires into awakening
challenging one another's inhibitions in a gentle game of truth or dare kissing... touching... leaving a portion of one's inner self behind sometimes meaning to return to the well for yet another drink sometimes not for the cord has been broken only the sweet aroma of two spirits once intertwined remains to dissipate into unspoken memories and feelings never vocalized no promises made... no promises kept... after all kisses never have been and never will be promises...
Untitled Sing to me a melody Of love of wind of rain Bring to me no sympathy Time heals the pain Smile at me sweet jubilee Your warmth tickles my nose Bring your heart to me In reverie, Iâ€™ll keep it close
Yellow Soft breeze, yellow trees Sorrow floats away Like a sparrow sings Weâ€™ll float on wings Your heart will be okay
Treble You are my favorite lyric The one that does not rhyme It does not make sense But I sing you all the time
Love Starved My appetite, dear wife for life has waned, love starved days mixed one to another, no cherry pie lips to call me home sweet home, to dinner hour, once food paradise, now spent alone, I long for you to fill your empty kitchen chair. I chew on microwave so-called food and flowered apron memories of you my dear, dishing out pink lipsticked smiles and home cooked pot roast so tender it melts, melts in my mournful mouth and disappears.
My body aches, my dear wife, for lovesâ€™ sweet bedtime touch, without you to feed my love starved empty nights, to warm me, to stoke my cold dark pain, I toss, I turn, no sweet baked butter cream frosted dreams to delight, to feed my needs in this hellish bed I toss, I turn in endless tortured night after night I long for the mercy of dawn and you. Sharon Olivier
And so… I come with hungry heart, my dear, your wish, not mine, eternal sleep with him, your will’s request, sea mistress, a bite too cruel to digest, I stand knee-deep, his bully waves, attempt to knock me down, down, down, I hold tight to you, dear wife in hand, reduced to ash within a flowered porcelain urn, your temporary resting home since our last lover’s swim when he stole you, your life, your breath, breath from me.
My face streaked with salty tears, one last cold porcelain kiss, my dear, before you leave my arms for him, the sea, the bastard sea who stole you, my bread, my spice of life from me. I pour, pour your ashes from the urn, never to return, you leave my arms, he calls you to his home sweet home to feed his greedy fish.
My Best Friend We stayed close through all the seasons Without ever having any real reasons From the spring rains and the falling of the leaves To the icicles hanging from the eaves As kids playing ball To hunting in the fall From hangingâ€™ out as young men in bars And driving way too fast in our cars We lived as friends throughout our lives Even after we both took wives Having kids over the years And overcoming all those fears I always knew you would be there You were the one I could talk to, as you would listen and care I always knew we would be together until the end But all I can say now is goodbye and see you later to my best friend.
God in the Water
My father always believed that fishing was like worship. Watching the sun rise in the ripples was to feel the notion of the abstract.
To feel the mist from the line is the wind, was to notice the presence of God himself.
To actually earn a hooked fish, was to bask in the beauty of nature as the line tugs for freedom. Matt Avery
Clasping hands around the rod pulling against the instinct of pure nature as the sun rises on a bold blue lake, and a hooked fish rises from the water.
To be taught to fish, was one of lifeâ€™s greatest forms of peace, only after that of Godâ€™s greatest grace, the Tennessee River.
My father believed.
43 t E L L
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Drown once more with Feeling My eyes open upon a locale to which I am not previously acquainted. Drifting down the blackest sea in a wilted bateau, I glide my hands through the water. Apparitions of my greatest failures reach out to grace my hand. “Where am I exactly?” This has all the augury of a dream yet I feel the icy sting of an arctic chill. I pull my arm away from the abyss to achieve warmth. One of the phantasms floats into my vessel. The thing has eyes. It makes eye contact with me, but its boring stare penetrates the surface beyond my retinas. I can apperceive the specter in my brain. First love. Blonde hair. First time. Quick sex. First job. Small check. “What the fuck was that?” Almost as hastily as she emerged, the bitch returns to the water. Still, the floating tomb presses on. Acquiring the courage to arise, I gawk at my mucked up sense of fantasy. I reach for the reigns of my subconscious. A mini bar floats on the ocean’s surface. Finally, this nightmare provides some relief. Whiskey? Don’t mind if I do. Thomas William Shaw
A ghost wearing a top hat climbs in. I am not even going to pretend to question what that is all about. It turns in my direction, smiles and grabs a row that I swear was not there a second ago. At least he is polite and oddly--resourceful. Lights. Golden rays. Nice little break from the bleak motif as my new friend takes clear control of what is supposed to be my journey. â€œI appreciate the ride but please fuck off.â€? All I did was cheat. Hardly a fair reason to drown in my sorrows.
Thomas William Shaw
Macheâ€™ In this city of Macheâ€™, everything is made of paper. The birds and animals are colorful and folded bits of paper, the vehicles are paper, the plants are paper and even the people are folded bits of paper. On each person (called a Crafted) is a written biography of their life, from beginning to end. Although a Crafted could possibly live forever, they live a very fragile existence; many are very easily blown away. Many who lived live a long time are yellowed, their story faded, crumpled and wrinkled and tattered to near bits. All of their structures; their churches, their businesses and their public service houses, stand tall and are made of thick paper with bold neat letters on them. Everything they do is based on paper, their marriages, their births, their divorces and even their deaths. Who will get what when they to die, and their protection while they are alive are all based on paper.
Even the availability of food they can consume is
based on paper. Their two worst crimes are considered absolute taboos, only the insane would think of committing them. One is erasing. To erase a Craftedâ€™s story off of another is a crime nearly unspeakable, it leaves them with no identity and makes them incapable of moving. Another is Blotting. While there are Jessica Hamlin
some minor blotters who attempt to graffiti the walls of the institutions ( a crime that is looked down upon, but not near as serious as Blotting), Blotting refers to the heinous crime of either blotting anotherâ€™s story out or blotting another story onto a Crafted. The victim crafted has to go through many years of unblotting and sometimes the damage is never undone. They have been around for thousands of years, but a time is coming when that could all end. A darkening cloud of digits, signals, symbols and codes hovers over Macheâ€™, hovering closer and heavier each day; but the Crafted simply ignore it. When I asked them if they why they did not seek to protect themselves from this digital downpour, they would simply reply that their only purpose is to exist. To exist and be enjoyed while they still can. I wonder if they speak this peacefully because they truly believe it, or if they speak because of their ignorance of the mutation that this acidic digital rain will pour into their existence. I weep for the death of Macheâ€™ and the Crafted, for their familiarity and their comfort. If only there was something I could do.
will pour into their existence. I weep for the death of Macheâ€™ and the Crafted, for their familiarity and their comfort. If only there was something I could do.
The Projectionist “It’s late,” I absentmindedly say to myself as I run my fingers through my hair, “a lot later than I think.” My eyelids are getting heavier with each passing moment. I struggle to keep them open; if I fall asleep, the reel in the projector will run over and the three people in the audience can watch True Grit for the second time. The same three have been here all night and have watched Big Jake and The Searchers already. “Must be die-hard John Wayne fans” I think. I rise from my rusty old chair and spread my arms wide, stretching. My young bones crack and pop like those of an old man. “Nights are killer” I inwardly complain. I steal a glance at the screen from my tiny window; John Wayne is just now appearing on screen, as Rooster Cogburn, giving the performance of a lifetime. This is my cue for a rather extended coffee break. The Old Robie Theatre on 7th Street was built back in the early 20’s, at the height of the art deco movement. The stark lines and exaggerated curves are Lora Whitehead
are present at every turn. Visitors at the front door are met by two massive statues, reminiscent of the empires of old. From there, the eye is drawn to the deep blue velvet lined walls, which seem to go on forever. There is a small concession stand with a fake silver counter. The soda jerk is dressed in traditional garb and snack prices are low. It has one screen, which is dedicated solely to the showing of classic cinema. There’s Mysterious Mondays, the Wednesday Westerns, and Film Noir Fridays, to name just a few. A different genre is devoted to each night of the week. Screenings begin at dusk, and last until dawn. The Robie is never crowded, as it only caters to some of the most serious movie fans and those who slink in after dark; people who wouldn’t be missed. I can’t remember the last time I had a customer on a Silent Saturday. They can’t shut it down, thank God. It was the subject of a major renovation some years back, and has since been made a historical site. Tonight is a Wednesday, which means Westerns. One of the perks of the job is that I pick the films, so I Lora Whitehead
chose a few John Wayne films for tonight. Maybe I can help some Neanderthal of an audience member gain a little culture. I sneak one more glance at the screen, to see what point I’m at in the film, and for a fleeting moment, I could swear that Rooster looked right at me and winked with his good eye. I blink and shake my head rapidly, “Definitely time for a coffee break, maybe a smoke too,” I mutter as I grab my nearly-empty thermos and head for the door. As I push it open, I brace myself for the seemingly blinding light in the upper hallway. The light, in reality is really dim, but when compared with the projection room, it blazes like the sun. My vision adjusts after a few moments of rapid blinking, and I begin trudging down the stairs. I pass Larry, the security guard/ usher on the way down. He’s an older black man, probably in his early 70’s, with a spring in his step, a twinkle in his eye, and an ever-present grin on his face. I’m convinced that he was here when they built the place, and he knows it.
“Shut up boy.” “I didn’t say anything, Larry.” “You were thinking it; you twenty-somethings are always thinking at something.” “What? That you remind me of Scatman Crothers in The Shining?” Larry lets slip a laugh, I let one escape as well. “Man you’re too much, you know that?” he says. I slip my hands in my jacket pockets, still shaking slightly with laughter. “I know, I know.” I say as I roll my eyes. He’s the only company I have on these late nights, and his gravelly voice is the first live one I’ve heard in several hours. “Where you off to Kenneth?” he asks. “Coffee break,” I reply. He chuckles, “How many does that make tonight?” I shrug and raise an eyebrow, “Number four, I believe. Well…more like six really.” He shakes his head, “You better watch it boy. You’ll overdo it.” I continue my descent, “I’m not too worried about it.” He just shrugs and heads up to check
the hallways. I shake my head and grin at the tired sincerity in the old man’s voice as I trudge on. The break room is small, maybe half the size of the projection room. There’s just a couple of old pub chairs, an old folding card table with the coffee maker on top, and an ancient refrigerator that requires a good kick from time to time to keep running. The smell of fresh coffee hits my nose as the door opens. “Scatman knew I was coming down.” I grin, and grab my thermos. I toss out the old, pour in the new, and make my way out the door into the main lobby. I pause for a moment, relishing in the absolute still silence, cradled in the coolness of the blue velvet walls. I step through the front door and into the cold night, already fumbling for a Camel, only to realize, (much to my chagrin), that I’m out. “Dammit,” I grumble as I step back in, “At least I have you, thermos.” True Grit’s almost over, time to find another film. I look out of the small projection window and discover that I’ve lost my audience. It’s not dawn yet, Lora Whitehead
so I thumb through the Wednesday box, and find Stagecoach. “Good choice,” I say to myself, “I may break my hand patting myself on the back.” I remove True Grit and place Stagecoach onto the projector. The title cards flicker to life, and the sweeping blackand-white contrast floods the screen and the room. This one’s got John as the Ringo Kid. I kick back in the chair and begin to sip my coffee. Suddenly, The Ringo Kid looks dead at me, “Howdy Kenny-boy!” I immediately choke into my cup, and fall sideways out of the chair. “Did John Wayne just speak to me?” The remaining coffee spills onto the floor, I shake my head, trying to wake myself from whatever dream I may be having. Slowly, I rise, and peer out the window. “Yeah, you!” the dead actor says. “This isn’t happening, I’m not awake.” I utter as I immediately drop back out of sight. “Like Hell you’re not, you just wasted a perfectly good cup of coffee.” “Is this some kind of joke?”
“No joke, kid, you’re wide awake.” “No I’m not!” “You callin’ me a liar?” He draws his gun and fires. I duck and hear the ping of the bullet as it hits the wall below. I hear the gun holster onscreen, so I look up and stare in open-mouthed amazement. There is a quarter-size, smoking hole in the canvas and on the wall below my room. “Please, don’t do that again,” I stammer, “I wasn’t calling you a liar sir, I swear.” I hear that famous loud laugh. “I wasn’t gonna hit ya, we need you in one piece.” I stand up and promptly slide on the puddle of coffee. “You need me?” I stutter as I clamber to my feet. The old actor is still chuckling. “Need me for what?” I ask. He begins to mozie across the screen, as most cowboys do, the camera follows him. “Kid, you don’t fit in where you’re at, so we’ve decided to give you the opportunity of a lifetime.” I scratch my head, and then my hand moves to rub my
now sore back. “Wait a minute, who’s we? What’s this ‘we’ business?” He chuckles again. “Will you quit laughing? I’m being serious.” “ ‘We’ is myself and the other actors.” “The other actors?” “Yes, the other actors: Bette, Babs, Coop, Cary, Jimmy, me, and the scores of others that you so lovingly project up here night after night.” I don’t believe what I’m hearing. I’m talking to a dead actor, on a movie screen, the projector is what makes him live. “Yet, he is speaking to me as if he knows me.” I say out loud. He takes off his hat and pulls a dusty bandana from his back pocket to wipe sweat from his forehead. “So, what is it that you need me for?” I manage to say. He points right at me, “We need a watcher, a permanent audience member.” I laugh, “What the hell do you mean permanent?” He mozies again, “We need someone to keep a fixed eye on us, so that we won’t be forgotten.” I pick up the chair and slump into it. “You want Lora Whitehead
me, in there with you guys, physically ‘in’ a fantasy world?” He kicks at the dust with his boot; I can hear the spurs spinning. “I believe you hit the nail on the head kid.” “What if I don’t want to go?” “ ‘Fraid you don’t have much choice kid, sorry.” “I have a life outside of this place, an apartment, school…” “Not anymore you don’t partner.” I frantically look around the room, praying that I can find something useful. God hears the prayer; I dive for the projector cord and quickly yank it from the wall. The screen goes black, and the terrifying figure is gone. There is silence, and for a moment, the room is thrown into darkness. I breathe a sigh of relief. “Thank God!” Suddenly, the projector hums back to life and light fills the room. “Think you can turn me off kid?” the now frighteningly familiar voice says. Every nerve is alive with fear as I scramble to my feet and out the door. I can hear the faLora Whitehead
mous laugh as I sprint down the hallway towards the stairs. I take them two at a time and fall from eight stairs up. Bones crack and curses fly as I tumble down and land with a sickening thud. There’s blood in my mouth. I try to rise, but can’t; must have broken too many ribs. My breathing grows more and more uneven as I struggle to crawl to the front door. “Can’t get out that way kid.” I hear Wayne say in the distance. My eyelids feel heavier now, heavier than they ever have before. “This must be dying.” I think. I can barely see through the slits in my eyelids, so I slowly open my eyes. It’s dark, I’m in a bed, a hospital bed. I look over at an IV sticking out of my hand and sigh in abject relief. The lights in the room flicker to life. Larry enters the room in his usual cheery manner. It’s late, so I’m surprised that he’s away from the theater. He’s not one to miss work. “Larry? What are you doing here so late? You’ve never missed a night at work. “Damn boy. You fell hard.”
“Fell?” “Yeah, down the stairs. I told you to watch it man.” “Next time I’ll take your advice.” “I don’t think there’ll be a next time.” “What do you mean by that?” “You’ve been in a coma for three months.” I shake my head in disbelief at the seemingly impossible concept. “Impossible,” I start, “Everything that I experienced was just too realistic.” Larry clicks his tongue. “The actors still need a watcher, Kenneth. You’ve put it off long enough now.” I let out a nervous laugh. “Great joke, Larry, really.” He shakes his head. “Well, I tried to let him down easy, John, your turn.” I look over and see an all too familiar blackand-white figure stride through the door, gun drawn. “Told you that you couldn’t get rid of me kid.” he says. His flickering hand reaches out and touches my forehead. As he does so, the room turns to black-and -white.
Twenty Questions Tasha barely glanced at the rear view mirror before flinging Ari’s SUV down her mother's driveway, like a dirty towel down a laundry chute, almost toppling the vine-tangled mailbox. Cigarettes. That was the mission. Get calm, get in the conversation. Instead of giving in to embarrassment – or anger, or depression, or whatever she was feeling – she would get some distance from the situation. And a pack of Camels. And a bottle of red wine. She drove too fast between the townhouses, each with its identical pebbled driveway, watching mailboxes flicker as they darted into and out of the beam of her headlights. From Ari's perspective, of course, there was no need to hurry. He was still back inside, all 42 years and designer clothes of him, chatting away with her mother like they were old friends. It seemed ridiculous now that she had actually worried her mother wouldn't like Ari. They had greeted each other a little
stiffly, of course â€“ that was perfectly normal. But then, just as they sat down to dinner, Ari made a joke about Tasha's aversion to carrots. When her mother laughed, their personalities somehow snapped into sync with the eerie cosmic click of magnets aligning, and Tasha suddenly found herself a spectator in their conversation. Ari had asked the first question, half-joking, half-curious, as her mother served pecan pie: Was Tasha hard to handle as a kid? Her mother had laughed again, contemplated her dessert fork â€“ and then answered with graphic details of a particularly terrible tantrum Tasha had thrown when she was four. As if that weren't embarrassing enough, she had tossed back a question of her own: What did Tasha order for dinner on your first date? Did she get the most expensive thing? Somehow, the swapping of vaguely inappropriate questions had become a game. Like volleyball, only with Tasha's life as the ball and no clear side-out lines. The rules: all questions must relate to Tasha, all answers must embarrass her, and neither of them Katie Boyer
could speak to her directly. After several unsuccessful attempts to toss in comments of her own from the sidelines, Tasha had stood abruptly, scraping her chair across the floor. She leaned over the table intending to do...something drastic. But Ari and her mother had just stared at her politely, clueless that there was anything discomfiting in their conversation. Feeling suddenly guilty and self -conscious, Tasha had looked quickly around the table to find some excuse for being on her feet. Seeing the empty bottle of wine, she had offered to go out for a new one. Her mother smiled vaguely and thanked her, and Ari went back to his story about a movie they had seen as soon as he handed over his keys. Fortunately, Tasha had kept enough of her wits about her not to blurt out that she would also be buying cigarettes. It had been two days, four hours and maybe thirty minutes since Ari had finally convinced her to quit. They'd gone to Starbucks after lunch at Ari's favorite sushi place so he could get his daily venti Katie Boyer
mocha. Ari had never liked the fact that she smoked, practically chanting a litany of complaints at least once a day during the past few months they'd been dating. He worried about her health, he said, and about getting cancer from the second-hand smoke. He didn't like the smell on her clothes, or his clothes, and he especially hated standing around outside while she finished a cigarette. He was launching into the second verse of the chant when Tasha decided she couldn't take any more. She slammed her last half pack into the green metal garbage can and held up her hands in surrender. Ari smiled, contented, and she smiled back, reflexively. Suddenly it occurred to her: she must be falling in love with him. Surely she wouldn't go cold turkey for a man she didn't love. So now, of course, the problem was how to sneak a cigarette and get back inside without smelling up her clothes. She would only smoke one, just to calm her nerves, and then she would get back to quitting. Maybe she could turn her coat inside out, or find a blanket in the back of the car to wrap around her. Katie Boyer
Maybe there would be a breeze and she could just stand upwind. Up ahead, the BP sign hovered in the darkness like an open arm, bright green and friendly. She parked at the side of the store and slid down from the driverâ€™s seat. Inside, she went for the first bottle of red wine with a label she recognized and scooped up a pack of gum. Does Tasha still smack her gum? her mother had asked. I couldn't stand to be near her when she was in high school, smacking that gum like a cow chewing cud. Tasha shuddered. That was one of the earlier questions, before Ari had gotten into the game, and he'd just laughed without answering. Shaking her head to banish the memory, she nearly knocked over the bottle of wine as she set it on the counter. She righted it carefully, made sure it was steady, and asked the clerk for a pack of Camels. The clerk, a thick, middle-aged woman with pinkflushed cheeks, pulled the cigarettes from the rack above her and slid them slowly across the counter.
Instead of turning to the register, though, she looked pointedly at Tasha. “You seem stressed out, honey,” she said after a second. “Something wrong? Already had a few drinks tonight?” Tasha looked up from rummaging in her purse. “No, not really,” she muttered. The clerk raised a suspicious eyebrow. “Oh,” Tasha said, catching the hint. “I haven't had more than a couple of sips, okay? It's just been a rough night. My mother met my boyfriend for the first time, and this wine is for her. The cigarettes will do it for me.” “Oh, ok,” the clerk said, still cautious, but at least punching buttons on the register. “Your mom doesn't like your boyfriend, huh?” “No, she likes him just fine,” Tasha said. She tried a dismissive laugh. “They're at her house right now, having a ball with the skeletons in my closet.” “You left them alone together?”
For the first time, Tasha considered that running her errand might have been a strategic mistake. Who knew what they would say about her if she wasn't physically there? She sighed and handed over a bill. “I just needed to get out for a minute, you know? It's not a big deal. I mean, I don't think either of them even noticed I left.” “Huh,” the clerk grunted knowingly, folding the bill lengthwise and smoothing it between her thumb and forefinger before she put it in the drawer. “My ex -husband used to do me like that, talk about me like I was the furniture.” “Yeah, that's – actually what it feels like, ” Tasha laughed, hoping to keep the conversation casual. “But what can you do?” She had meant the question rhetorically, of course, but the clerk didn't stop to think before she answered. “I made so much goddamned noise he couldn’t forget I was there if he wanted to. He left me, but it's not like that ruined my life. I’m so much
better off without him, I can't even tell you.” Tasha considered this un-asked-for bit of insight carefully. “Why don't you give me another pack of these?” she said. “I think I just changed my mind about quitting.” “Sure, honey,” the clerk said, grinning.
As she got out of the car, Tasha could see through the lighted dining room window that Ari and her mother had left the table, though the three dirty plates were still at their place settings. She climbed the steps to the front door and heard them laughing on the other side, in the living room. Her hands trembled slightly, and she pressed them tighter against the wine bottle in its paper sack. She was anxious to get into the conversation – so anxious that she hadn't even had her cigarette yet – but she felt several degrees braver just knowing the cigarettes were in her purse. She opened the door, in a manner she hoped would appear assertive. Katie Boyer
“Oh Tasha and I have always been best friends,” her mother was saying. She was sitting on the couch, legs tucked under her, shoes on the floor. Ari was in an arm chair at the far side of the couch, leaning forward with his hands clasped, grinning. “Her father died when she was just six, so it’s like we grew up together.” “Yeah, you really do seem too young to have a daughter in her thirties,” he said. “Well, thank you, Ari,” she beamed as Tasha crossed the room. “Tasha, honey,” her mother glanced at her, “you've brought home such a sweet man. Why don't you go open that wine so we can keep him comfortable? And leave your purse in the kitchen, sweetie, so it doesn't get in the way out here.” Tasha had made it to Ari's chair, and she stood over him, determined. “There's something I need to tell you,” she began. “I bought something at the store.” He looked up at her with an expectant expression, but it was her mother who responded.
“Of course you did, sweetie. Now go open it so we can have another glass. So, Ari. Tell me about your parents.” Ari looked away from Tasha and began to answer the question, and she suddenly felt it wise to fall back and regroup in the kitchen. She tossed her purse onto the counter and rummaged through the drawers until she found the wine opener. She retrieved her glass, still mostly full, from the dining room table, but Ari and her mother must have taken theirs with them. “Tasha, you didn't tell me Ari was Jewish,” her mother said as she came into the room. Tasha lifted their glasses from the coffee table, cocking her head. She wasn't sure whether Jewish was a bad thing. “Well, my father is,” Ari swept in. “So, technically, I'm not, at least not completely. Heritage is counted through the mother's side.” Her mother leaned back with a satisfied smile. “Honestly, I’ve always been fascinated by the Jews. Katie Boyer
King David was such a wonderful, godly man – a man after God’s own heart, like the Old Testament says. Have you been to Jerusalem, Ari?” “My parents have. They took a two-week tour of the Holy Land with a Methodist church group from Mobile.” “Oh,” she sounded disappointed. “So your mother is Methodist?” “Not really, no. She goes to temple with Dad. They just tagged along with the Methodist group because it was easier than planning the whole thing themselves. Even if they did end up visiting a bunch of churches instead of synagogues.” “I see,” she said, though she still sounded confused. “Mom,” said Tasha, hovering on the other side of the coffee table. “Religion is a private thing.” Ari looked at her, amused. “It's okay, Tasha. My religion is part of who I am.”
“But you just said you're not Jewish. You don't even go to temple.” He shrugged. “It's still important to me.” “Tasha, honey,” her mother said swiftly, “don't be so insensitive. Just go fill those glasses. Ari's looking a little parched.” She winked at him and he laughed. Tasha sighed and retreated back to the kitchen. She wished right down to her toes that she'd had that cigarette. As she poured them two generous glasses of wine, and topped off her own, she caught sight of her purse. It was waiting patiently on the counter, its contents safe inside. She took a sip, thinking. Then she had it. She carried the wine to Ari and her mother, came back and took a long, slow sip from her own glass. She topped it off a second time, then threw her purse over her shoulder and she went back to the living room. “How have you made it this long without being married, Ari?” her mother was saying. He chuckled and sipped his wine. “You’re such a catch I'm surKatie Boyer
prised someone hasn't snatched you up by now.” Tasha sat in the arm chair opposite Ari's and put her wine glass and her purse on the coffee table. Her mother glanced disapprovingly at the bag, but she didn't say anything. “That’s an unfair question, Suzanne,” Ari teased. “I can't answer it and keep my modesty.” Her mother giggled. She sipped her wine. Heart beginning to pound, Tasha eased open the straps of her purse and slowly extracted one of the cigarette packs. “The truth is,” Ari continued, “it is hard to find time for a personal life. I haven't made partner yet, but I keep a lot of things on track at the firm. It’s been hard to find the right woman, but I certainly feel better about it than I used to.” Tasha pulled the plastic wrapper off the cigarettes, crinkling it bit by bit into her palm. “Now that you’re in your 40s?” her mother asked, frowning at the noise. Now that I’ve met Tasha.” He smiled, pleased with his compliment, but his attention was still Katie Boyer
focused on her mother. He sipped his wine. Tasha tapped the cigarette pack twice, hard, against the ball of her hand. Ari said, “She really looks a lot like you, you know.” “I know,” her mother answered. “She’s my little clone.” Tasha laughed, heart pounding. She opened the top of the box and deftly snapped out the silver paper, crinkling it against the plastic in her palm. Ari glanced at her and seemed to realize for the first time what it was she was holding. He frowned. “It’s your turn, Ari,” prodded her mother. Still keeping one disapproving eye on Tasha, he said, “What's been the most difficult thing about raising a daughter?” “Hmm,” she mused with the air of a scholar weighing a philosophical problem, “that’s a tough one. There've been lots of things.” She laughed. “I think the most difficult, though, was raising a daughter alone without losing my sense of individuality, you know? Tasha and I are close, but I don't want to
interfere in her life. I try to stay focused on myself whenever I can.” Tasha quietly nudged the wadded wrapping out of her hand onto the coffee table and slid a lighter out of her purse. “That’s really admirable,” Ari said, actually beaming at her mother. “It's so important to take care of yourself.” Quickly, before she could change her mind, Tasha snapped a cigarette out of the pack and stuck it crookedly into her mouth. She flicked the lighter and let the flame linger at the tip of the cigarette, drawing in quick puffs so there was a lot of smoke. Ari was on his feet first, panicked, one hand flying up to cover his nose and mouth. Her mother stood beside him as fast as her knees would let her. “What are you doing?!” she pleaded, still holding her wine glass. “This is my living room!” “What?” Tasha said as innocently as she could, the cigarette dangling from her lip. She tried not to let her hands shake too visibly as she put the
lighter back in her purse. “Ta-sha.” Her mother was almost in tears. “Don't do this in front of Ari, don't lose your chance with him. You're nearly 35 years old – you need to keep this one, Tasha.”
She set her glass roughly on the coffee table, then sank dramatically onto the couch. Her head crashed into her hands. One hand still shielding his face from the smoke, Ari slid down beside her and wrapped a protective arm around her shoulder, as simply as if he'd done it a thousand times before. Her mother leaned into him subtly, accepting his touch. She rested her head on his shoulder. The moment was suspended among them – her mother seeking comfort from her boyfriend, her boyfriend protecting her mother, she reaching up as casually as possible to take the cigarette out of her mouth. She exhaled. And nearly choked on a laugh. “My God!” she whispered. Then more loudly, “Of course. You guys are perfect together!”
Both Ari and her mother stared at her, eyes wide. Then they looked at each other. “Don't worry about me,” Tasha said, getting to her feet. “I'll just call a cab.” She stuck the cigarette between her lips, grabbed her purse, and walked out the door. She exhaled into the crisp fall night and tilted her head back to see the stars. It had been a long time since she felt so free.
Paul’s Epiphany Paul stared through the sunlight-bleached stained glass and prayed that God would somehow allow him to escape this prison that his mother had dragged him to since he was a boy. “Don’t slouch!” his mother whispered as she nudged him in his side with her elbow. Paul thought twice about rolling his eyes and then sat up straight as the priest continued his homily. For Paul, there was no where he would have rather been than in the kitchen back at Chez Orlean, where his part time job as a cook had sprung one year earlier. His father demanded he start paying his way through cooking school and for Paul, this meant many times day-dreaming about owning that deteriorating façade of a restaurant in the business district of his small town. Since he was a boy, Paul had been through what seemed like a living hell for someone who had only just turned twenty. His father and mother divorced when he was ten, his family dog and couch psychiatrist, Brister had died of some horrific stomach cancer and Paul was still living at home with his church going mother who believed Paul was called to the priesthood. “Get that pan off the fire, faggot!” For Paul this was the language of his world; the language of the kitchen. His boss, a grungy pencil thin bag of bones addicted to Jameson and nicotine had shouted those words often at him and of course as Paul had experienced by others outranking him, this was John’s way of telling him he loved him. For Paul it was hard to separate God and food. He didn’t see the difference in the way that he layered those heirloom tomatoes on the plate and drizzled a concoction of sweet balsamic and cracked pepper and the way that God laid the foundations of the earth. It was synonymous to him. Paul loved everything about the kitchen, from the nicotine stained plaster walls, to the thick Jacob A. Jones
smell of sweat and smoke in the atmosphere. The kitchen had been built from a small loan that John received from his ex-wife before they divorced seven years earlier and it was all he had to claim after the divorce. It was as though his only pride were in that peculiar place. The florescent bulbs over Paul’s station needed a change and the dust fell from the ceiling each time he turned on the dishwasher. He was allotted two days off from the restaurant and John just lived a few blocks down. Paul agreed to help John move to the small apartment when his wife kicked him out. In exchange for a freshly cut lawn and feeding his cat, Paul had earned those two days and was allowed to choose in advance which ones he preferred. His obvious selection, like many in the business had been Sundays and Mondays. It was the typical weekend granted to most in sales, restaurants, and antique dealers in the district. The restaurant usually had its regular customers on Wednesday and Friday and if John were lucky, he could entice customers to come in for his weekly appetizer special, which usually consisted of whatever was left in the refrigerator and needed to be discarded. Paul chose Sunday to take off for the sake of his mother. She worked two jobs to make it for the both of them and since Paul had taken to gambling much of his paycheck with the other cooks at the bar down the street, she felt she had to give him something in return for divorcing his father. He knew his mother didn’t care for his random bets that usually came from his tendency to bourbon and cheap women. His thrill came from attempting to impress the opposite sex in challenges with the other cooks, all of whom were immigrants and barely knew how to keep up with the fast American except when he shouted, “Chingale Pendejos!” His routine would usually begin with entering the 1920’s wood paneled bar with his chef coat stained with all shades and smells. He ordered his bourbon Jacob A. Jones
over the rocks, took a sip, surveyed the length of the bar and could pinpoint his target for the evening within seconds. Her perfume would be too overpowering for the small room, but gave away her status as a single woman the moment she entered the door. Her curiosity came from eyeing this white jacket and amazingly luminous black polished shoes, which Paul had boasted to his team of cooks was the secret to his success in and out of the restaurant kitchen. He prided himself in his appearance and as an altar boy, his militaristic polished shoes were definitely the trademark he carried. He served the parish twice a month and would proudly display his kitchen shoes to the congregation not to show his chosen profession, but to show the romantic lifestyle he had selected. His way of life was the epitome of a young Clarke Gable and his demeanor granted him this honor. A problem had arisen in the small parish of St. Clement’s. Paul was to meet with the priest next Sunday evening for dinner and a cigar to discuss a “possible vocation.” These two words scared the hell out of the young gawky cook with an altar boy’s trepidation. “Well, father…you see, I.” “Paul, I’ve watched you grow up in this church and you needn’t be afraid for what the good Lord wants for your life. ‘You do realize he wants your life, right?”, Father Bowen inquired. “Yeah, sure father. Although I do want to be married someday, and cooking with John is my life, how can I abandon him?” Father Bowen snapped back, “John’s a drunk and you’ve been an altar server since you were ten years old. We’ve always been able to talk over a meal, and now a meal and a cigar shall grace our palates. See you next week, boy.” Paul jumped in the front seat, started the old Lincoln and navigated his way back to the apartment, going Jacob A. Jones
over his two vocations that seemed to be nagging away at his mind. “Jesus, son! Lookout for the road, will ya?” his mother squawked. “Sorry, mama, just got a lot on my mind.” “You’re a priest son, not a cook, chef, or whatever you call yourself.” “I gotta get to work now mama, I’ll drop you at the house and see you later tonight. I want to get started on some stock for John.” “I love you Paul, and don’t think I’m not behind you, just don’t foul up this time, ok?” Paul’s mother chided him about several things as mothers often do for the benefit of their children, but for Paul it seemed immaterial to go on about what he wanted to do with his future when he was twenty years old and by now, a man. “Yes ma’am.” Paul dropped his mother at the apartment where her she entered through a torn screen door and the odor of cat urine permeated the open door of the worn out Lincoln. He sped off to the lonesome street and parked behind the dumpster. His mother’s words resonating and the old priest’s face shone bright in his mind. He looked up at the lipstick stained visor and pulled down the mirror to look at himself. A tattered St. Anthony holy card fell into his lap and he began to weep. His tears felt like cooling drops of rain against his freckled face and the card became soggy while he clenched it in his fist. The clouds became ominous in the sky and the sun faded for an instant when he looked up. When he regained his composure, he remembered his plan to make a stock for tomorrow’s dinner service and gathering his things he stepped into the musty building, decaying on all sides. He went about his usual routine as he had each morning at the eatJacob A. Jones
ery and quickly recorded a list of items he needed to purchase for John the following day. The coffee maker needed a good scrubbing, but he wasn’t in the mood for scraping and cleaning dishes, so he brewed some anyway and opened a couple of curtains in the dining room. The dust quickly attracted to his damp palms and left him with hands like a mechanic’s, dirty and wet. The garbage had not been taken out the night before, and knowing what offensive rank it produced if left for even a couple of days, he tied the tearing bags and hauled them up the rear cement stair case, still not clean after some two hundred patrons served the night before. Shards of fennel, mushroom stems and potato peel caught his shoe, but disappeared into the pavement as he climbed to the great green box. Something caught his eye as he was about to open the slimy door and caused him to set the bursting bags aside. It was not unusual in the first place for him to set the bags down and draw out of his back pocket a crumpled pack of cigarettes. This thought had crossed his mind until he saw the finger lying there still bloody and turning a faint gray in the pavement. A jolt of adrenaline rushed through his blood stream and he kicked the appendage away in a frantic reaction. John’s body lay in the dumpster. Paul knew that John had frequent dealings with unsavory characters, but he also knew that these same persons had supplied Chez Orlean with some of the best meats around the small town and that favors were often exchanged for this precious flesh. Before John could even think to close the door to the decaying corpse, he ran. John ran all the way to the small stone church, thrust his body into a pew and lay there. He knew now that his life as a cook was finished. His friend, father and mentor lay in disarray on top of decaying garbage, his body decaying along with it. He wiped the sweat off his forehead onto his Jacob A. Jones
sleeve and took a deep sigh, one that echoed across the marble filled sanctuary. He knew what he must do now. He picked himself up off the oak pew and ran into the priest’s office just down an opaque hallway and shut the door and screamed into the emptiness his grief and anguish. Father Bowen reached out to grab him and held him while he wept. “The police just phoned me boy.” Father whispered. “I know. Just let it out boy; just grieve now.” Still crying and wiping his nose on the sleeve of his shirt Paul replied, “Father, I’ve decided about that cigar and dinner too.” “I know. Let’s not think of that now.”
Jacob A. Jones
THE STUPID MAN Once there was a stupid man who had a wonderful dream. In the dream, he said many wise and wonderful things. People gathered around him and listened intently, their eyes smiling. When they asked questions, he answered correctly and wisely. Always he said the right thing. Everyone felt particularly good when he talked, and so did he. So he kept talking. Then he woke up. He sat on the edge of his bed and slipped into his house shoes. He rubbed his eyes and yawned, messaged his neck (now a little stiff from sleeping on the sagging mattress). He looked around his bedroom: the throw rug needed vacuuming and the water stain in the corner by the windowsill had grown a bit. For the hundredth time, he noticed the hairline crack running toward the high ceiling and the thin, yellowing drapes billowing above the heating vents like dusty specters. In the mirror, his own stocky shape sat slumped above the chest-ofdrawers like a discarded sack of flour in pajamas. What a strange dream, he thought. He wished he could talk like that in real life, but he knew he couldn’t. He trudged into the kitchen and fixed himself a bowl of cereal and a toasted bagel with cream cheese. He paused in front of the kitchen window above the sink. A misty vapor rose off the backyard pond in thin streaks. His trusty fishing boat floated and bobbed next to the pier, an empty aluminum shell. Already he couldn’t remember any of the wise things he said in the dream. There was something about…what was it? Something about sunlight in open windows. Something about an old woman’s bent, arthritic hands holding a small child. And a rhinoceros. No. That didn’t make any sense. Wait-that was it. Yes, there had been something about a rhinoceros in a canoe. Everyone had laughed when he had said that. There was definitely something about laughter, he could remember that. K. Brian Ingram
But he couldn’t remember the words exactly. He could only remember how he felt. He wanted to repeat whatever it was he said, to tell someone— anyone. So after breakfast, he caught the bus to the Skylight Book Exchange, the combination used book store and sandwich shop where Sally Simmons worked. Maybe he could tell her somehow. Something anyway. She was the one he wanted to talk to most, of course. Once, years ago, after his parents had slowly passed away and left him alone in the airy rooms full of his father’s fishing gear and his mother’s overstuffed furniture, he confessed to her that his loneliness burned so much inside his belly he sometimes thought he might go up in a puff of smoke. She had kissed him on the lips and, from that moment on, he loved her. He didn’t care that she was so painfully thin and no longer young. Or that the tiny rings and studs in her eyebrows reminded him of fly-fishing lures his father used to make. He found himself watching the way her dress moved around her hips when she walked. He wished that she hadn’t ruined her beautiful chestnut hair with that purple dye, and he couldn’t imagine why she hid herself behind those long dresses down to her wrists and ankles. Whenever she sat down in that crooked way as if she were hugging herself, he thought of a fragile and beautiful blue-eyed crane. Of course, she merely tolerated him so far, he knew. He might be stupid, but he wasn’t blind. He noticed the way she rarely smiled when she saw him coming, the way she never said hello first before he did, but he couldn’t help himself. He insisted softly on their relationship by showing up at the Skylight every weekend. He sat down at a table near the front by the sports magazine rack and opened a two-year-old copy of Rod and Reel magazine. He gathered his K. Brian Ingram
his courage. His plan would go something like this: first, he would bring up next week’s bass fishing tournament, then he would invite her for a boat ride on the lake and, once he got her there, the romance could begin. When she set the coffee in front of him, spilling a small portion onto the saucer as she always did (because she overfilled the cups), he asked her: “Did you know you can catch the same bass twice, three times in one day?” She jerked slightly as if he had just bumped her. “They have a memory of about fifteen minutes,” he hurried on. “Of course, it’s important to change the bait.” Her eyes were like the bottomless blue depths at the mouth of Johnson’s Creek. It was as if she could peer straight through to the back of his spine. “You’re always talking about fishing,” she said. “How many women do you know who like to fish?” “Not many,” he admitted, remembering that his mother and his aunt had always stayed at home when he went out on the lake with his dad. “What did a fish ever do to you?” she asked next, and the flat tone made him want to wither to dust in his seat. “Besides, how would you like to have a hook tearing at the insides of your mouth? Let the fish swim, why don’t you?” When he couldn’t find the words to reply, she added, “I mean really, you know,” her voice softer. She pulled out a chair, sat across from him and set her chin in her palm. After a moment, she rubbed that same palm across her eyes. He wondered if she was sleeping well. He tried to think of something to say that wasn’t about fishing, something she would be interested in or maybe even something about the weather, but nothing came to him. Nothing. If only he could talk K. Brian Ingram
the way he had in his dream: he remembered the looks on the dream faces, the smiles, the soft glances, the applause, but no words. They were gone. “You can always throw the fish back,” he said finally. “Then why do it to start with?” “Once you hook a big one, you’ll see. Nothing gets the heart beating like that. You know, it’s not always easy. Some of these big fish are pretty tricky.” “Fish are ugly,” she said, “like space aliens or something.” She pulled two loopy earrings from her pocket. He watched her as she pinned them into her lobes. Then the tiny bell above the front entrance dinged like an oven timer. When the door swung open, the daylight itself seemed to shine in her eyes. And Jasper’s heart sank. It was Gary McClain in the doorway, always full of himself, always filling the room with hot air like he owned the place, like the sun rose just to hear him crow. Always with the green army jacket, sleeves rolled up above the elbows, untucked and wrinkled. No matter what the season, a wool cap was forever perched on his head like a colorful continuation of his kinky hair. Following behind him, as usual, was Arnie Buchwald, perpetually unshaven, well under five feet tall, and as skinny as he was short, wrapped, as always, in layers of faded tie-dye and misshapen corduroy. The two of them appeared at the Skylight nearly as often as Jasper, circling around Sally like the thrift store infantry. The worst thing was he could never get a word in edgewise with Gary around. “People are like cattle,” he heard Gary say, continuing his conversation with Arnie. “They want to get their shit done and not step in it after. They pay hundreds of dollars a month for gym memberships, then K. Brian Ingram
they work out in an air-conditioned hall of mirrors that might as well be a funhouse. I say, you want to want get the fat off a cow, just hang her up on a hook and let it drip off. Who can lose weight without grunting and sweating and stinking? No one. Answer me this: would Napoleon have signed up for an aerobics class? I don’t think so.” “I know what you mean,” said Arnie in his tinty voice. “Two steps forward, one step back. Stepping around the shit piles. That’s people.” “Hey Angelcakes,” Gary called to Sally as the two men headed to their regular table in the back corner near the History/Religion section. “Whatcha’ know good?” They tumbled into their booth as if it were home base in a game of hide and seek. “I know it’s an adventure keeping tabs on you,” she said, getting up. “I think my mother’s ways are finally catching up to me. I actually expected you to show up last night.” “I said fifty-fifty chance. Didn’t I say that, Arnie? Didn’t say fifty-fifty? If I could just get you to come with me, we wouldn’t have to find each other random like this. I practically begged you to come. Arnie, didn’t I practically beg? I practically begged. That’s what I keep saying. Stick with me ‘Cakes, and I’ll show you the good and the bad so you don’t forget which is which. But you have to leave the house, come on, you have to do that much.” “Every day’s an adventure with this guy,” said Arnie. “That’s for sure. The past is history, the future’s a mystery.” “Besides,” said Gary, “I know you don’t want me to be part of the insidious, predictable days and ways of the ordinary, as you say.” “You’re the only person I know who repeats my words back to me,” she said. They smiled at each other. K. Brian Ingram
“I heard that,” Arnie said quietly to no one in particular. Jasper poured some half-and-half into his coffee. He watched the cream swirl in patterns, then stirred. He should have seen this coming, of course. Why was he always so stupid? He tried to ignore Gary’s booming voice and Arnie’s snickering as they talked. He tried to read his magazine. But after Sally heated a new batch of lentil soup and waited on a man with a crew-cut who insisted on rye bread for his BLT, she bummed a cigarette from Arnie and sat with them in their booth. Her intermittent laughter was like the blooming of a flower. Because of her, he couldn’t resist listening as Gary prattled on about the irrefutable logic of the death penalty, how he once saw a black market film of an electrocution where steam came out a man’s ears, about another man who damaged his thyroid in a grain elevator accident and gained 200 pounds in three months. As always, he ended up fussing at Sally and Arnie for smoking and for forcing him to sit in a cancerous cloud. They only laughed. “It’s insanity I tell you,” Gary said. “It’s every man for himself around here. All I can do is report my observations, isn’t that right? But who’s listening, tell me that? Who’s listening? I have a mind don’t I? I have feelings, right? I have lungs and you’re fucking them up.” “If a tree fell in the forest, and there was only one man there to hear it,” said Arnie, “and he lived happily for fifty years and then died, what difference would it make to the rest of the world?” Sally laughed, but Gary just stared. “That’s fucking ridiculous,” he said. “Thank you, Sensei of all the helplessly retarded. Are you trying to waste your breath and mine?” “It would be neither good nor bad, just pointless,” Arnie said. “You know what I mean?” He took a drag K. Brian Ingram
on his cigarette. “Well, as fascinated as I am by all these brilliant observations,” Sally said finally, finally getting up, “I better take these weary bones back to work.” She picked up an empty napkin container and her ashtray. As she passed Jasper’s table, he gave his plan for romance another shot. “You should try it sometime,” he said. “You might be surprised.” “What?” she asked, stopping. “What?” asked Jasper. “What are you talking about?” “Fishing.” “Ugh, please. I’ve been to Florida twice and both times I was tossing my cookies over the side.” “That’s the ocean. Salt water fishing. That’s completely different.” “I’m a vegetarian myself,” said Gary, standing suddenly beside Sally and looking down at Jasper. Gary smiled at him in that way Jasper despised, with those crystalline eyes like icy spikes. Jasper filled to the brim with irritation. He hated Gary the way he hated having cold toes on winter mornings, the way he hated working overtime at the brick factory. He imagined tying a gag tightly around Gary’s mouth, the kind that had a rubber ball that fit between the teeth. “It’s just common sense,” said Gary. “Look at the statistics. You want to live longer and, of course we all do, it’s the only way to go. Although, if you want to know the truth, a truly healthy body depends on an efficient ratio of electrolytes and amino acids. Do you know how much mercury can build up in fish in a contaminated lake, not to mention DDT? I’m telling you, fuck the four basic food groups. Give me soy,
K. Brian Ingram
lentils, nuts and seeds. It’s a wonder everyone doesn’t know about this.” Gary put one hand on his hip like he was striking a pose for a photograph. Jasper thought of a picture he once saw of Jesse James with one foot on a dead body. Strangely, Gary touched one forefinger and thumb to his Adam’s apple as if he might be adjusting an invisible tie. “Fried catfish tastes pretty good,” Jasper said, grumpy. “If you want to try something from the ocean,” Gary said to Sally, “Try some sea kelp extract.” Sally laughed again. “Where do you get these ideas?” “Knowledge is power, baby, and destiny is willpower. Did you know that Alexander the Great once lived for a whole month on olives, poppy seed oil and flat bread? The great men throughout history have always paid attention to what they ate. A sick man is a sick leader. You can’t change the world if you’re throwing up in the bathroom. The trick is to have a plan and not let anything slow you down.” He tapped one knuckle on Jasper’s table. “If you don’t know where you’re going,” and he looked down at Jasper again, “that’s exactly where you’ll end up, nowhere. I’ve got some kelp in my car. Nothing is better for the immune system.” “No thanks,” said Jasper. “I want to try some of that,” said Arnie from the corner. “The believing’s in the eating, not the seeing.” “I might let you into my kitchen,” said Sally, touching Gary’s arm, “If you’ll promise to do something for me later on.” “Like what?” he asked, grinning. “If I told you now, I’d have to kill you.” “You just name it, ‘Cakes. You just name it.” K. Brian Ingram
The next Sunday, when Jasper stopped by the Skylight, Sally was gone, without a word of warning, replaced by a large man with a blond moustache and a dingy white dress shirt stretched around his big stomach. He shuffled back and forth from the shelves to the sandwich bar to the boxes of books piled by the rear exit. When Jasper asked about Sally, he grumbled, “Bright lights, big city. Same old story.” “Did she say anything? Is she coming back?” “It ain’t what they say,” the man said, “It’s what they do. Besides, you’re asking the wrong guy.” “I just figured, I don’t know, I would tell her good luck.” He turned to Jasper and winked, although he didn’t look amused. “Goodbyes are for suckers,” he said and tugged a box of books around to the end of the bar. “Don’t try to figure women out, pal. No rhyme or reason there. Besides, with the lights off, all the little kittens look the same, am I right?” Jasper showed up at the Skylight the next weekend anyway just in case, hoping to see her, and then he returned for the next few weeks out of habit. Each time, he found himself either in a room full of strangers or, if it was near closing time, sitting among the musty books with Arnie, also camped out alone in the opposite corner of the room, smoking like a recently extinguished fire. Occasionally, Arnie glanced over. They never spoke. After three weekends of waiting in mutual silence, Arnie, too, drifted away like a smoking, rudderless raft. And Jasper began staying home on Sundays.
The years that followed passed quickly, and Jasper almost forgot about Sally. At the company picnic, he met small, plump Polly with hair the color of oak leaves and bright eyes perpetually astonished. K. Brian Ingram
Astonished until she got mad, that is, or tired or had to talk tough with one of the shift crews in the front office. Then she was like a hard stone rolling. It was best to get out of the way or follow behind. She liked him and that helped. She told him about her manicdepressive episodes, how she had always wanted to travel to Alaska, and how these days she was beginning to wonder if she had her ideas all wrong. Because she asked him to, he joined the bowling team and the local dart league. Without even planning it, he found himself telling her about his catch-andrelease philosophy, how he preferred the angler competitions where he could focus on catching the biggest and not the most, about the patience necessary to wait out the oldest catfish, how he didn’t agree with the popular practice of raiding the fish beds during spawning season. She complained about the other men she knew, how they were not the wholesome corn-fed variety and that she had thought she wanted one thing but maybe the thing she needed most for her contentment was not what she had craved all along. “You’re the kind of guy a woman can talk to, you know?” she said on their third official date. And for the rest of the evening he found himself watching her small hands: she had the habit of absentmindedly tapping her cheek and upper lip with one forefinger when she was thinking. When he took her fishing, she didn’t seem to mind the silence. He started scheduling his work around the better tournaments, taking Polly on trips to Guntersville. He bought a new boat with a trolling motor and a live well. He taught her how to make his special homemade wiggle-waggler lure. Soon they were going to the movies together every Friday night, then fishing on Saturdays. By mid-March, she was helping him redecorate his house, choosing new wallpaper, floor tiles and drapes. “You’re easy,” she said more times than he could count. “That’s good.” K. Brian Ingram
When he hurt his back at work in such a way that the ache never quite left him, she saw to it that he was moved off the assembly line and into the front office where he catalogued invoices. Usually he didn’t have to work in the yard anymore unless someone needed customized brick replacement, or if one of the dump truck drivers got sick. Together, they took long lunches.
Then one Sunday evening while Polly was visiting her sickly uncle, Jasper went fishing alone behind Billy Gadd’s Bait and Tackle. He had been unable to get on the water for weeks because of Polly’s trips to the hospital, they had been up late in the waiting rooms for three nights straight, and he felt odd. Awfully tired. Sleepy. His eyes ached and his stomach growled. He kept nodding off. But he didn’t want to leave, no, not yet. A strange pale moon hung in a darkening blue sky and the horizon seemed to contain the whole world and every moment that had ever been. That felt good. He had just found his way out to Evergreen point, floated into the dark, dead-end slough near the dogwoods where he knew the big ones hid and cast his reel to test the drag when there she was: Sally, in a vision suddenly hovering in the air, a few feet above the water’s surface. She was transparent as heat fog and even thinner than he remembered, her hair hung in tendrils, her long dress a pale green shimmering with gold spangles. The hem moved from side to side, and she was barefoot, but it was her. He almost dropped his new Loomis rod and reel. “Well I’ll be danged,” he said to the vision when she didn’t fade after a full half-minute. A chill moved up and down his spine. Was he asleep, awake? What was going on? When she drifted closer, it was as if he was falling through the bottom of his boat and into her arms at the same time. He knew right away that his feelings about her had not changed.
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She looked up at the sky--or seemed to--as the wind blew in her hair. He could see that she was unhappy and that she had not found the answers she wanted. “Well…” he managed to say, and he wanted to talk more to her, if could just get his breath. He thought, You’re a sight for sore eyes, but before he could speak, she opened her mouth and from it there came a sound as clear as day but just as quiet, an all-atonce sound like the rustle of the wind through tree branches and a gurgling brook and rain. In a flash, she had moved through him to the other side. Just as suddenly as she had appeared, she was gone. He was alone again in the dark. The water lapped, rhythmically, regular, against the side of the boat. Jasper’s ears, toes and fingertips tingled.
The next morning at the bus stop, Jasper’s toes inside his boots were cold. The rising sun cast golden rays onto the trees. He should have known to wear wool socks even though the season was changing. Polly had even reminded him before she left for the hospital, but he had forgotten because he was endlessly preoccupied, first by the vivid memory of his vision on the lake—he just couldn’t decide if he had dreamed it all or if it was real—and then there was the disturbing story in his morning paper about the murder/suicide of Gretchen and Gary Anderson on the third floor of a Motel Six in downtown Atlanta. (The photo of Gretchen had resembled Sally, he thought). On the headboard of the motel bed, a note had been scribbled on a blood-smeared post-it, reading: Let Me Go. To top it all off, there was the new dream he had had last night after coming home to bed from the lake. This time he wasn’t surprised to meet Sally. They both expected it, it seemed, though they didn’t embrace, and she had no face at all. During the dream, he had the sensation of crying, but when he awoke there were no tears in his eyes. They had not spoken, yet a voice from somewhere behind them K. Brian Ingram
them had said something quietly and, when he thought it about, yes, he did remember the words, and although he could make no sense of their meaning, they made him want to get back out on the lake every night. He found himself repeating the words in his mind because he liked them, and they seemed true: The moon shines down on us, the voice had said, and the passing wind breathes. As Jasper climbed the steps of the Alpharetta City bus, Joe the driver nodded without a word, as he always did. Jasper scanned the seats and sat next to a heavyset woman holding a fat baby in a pink dress and black paten leather shoes. The baby peered over the woman’s shoulder and babbled incoherently, sucking on her bottom lip, her eyes filled with joy. Jasper made a goofy face and she laughed. Watching the child’s bright, happy eyes made him feel better. “That’s a friendly baby,” Jasper said. The mother gave him a quick assessing look. Then her face softened. “She’s just fishing for smile,” she said as the bus lurched forward. Jasper nodded. “Aren’t we all.”
K. Brian Ingram
Fine Shoes Clark’s death did not come easy. He fought hard to live. Anne watched as a nurse closed his lids and pulled up the sheet. Tubes were coiled and placed in a red bag. The IV pole was wheeled to the hall. A nurse said, “Have a good cry, Dear, let the tears come.” It was the first time Anne had seen this nurse who called her ”dear.” Nurses had come and gone in the past week. Anne had no tears. She was tired, drained, numb. Clark had grown cold and mean when he got sick, full of knife-sharp words. Far worse since he got sick. He did not want friends and business associates to know he was ill, so she had borne the load alone. It was a point of pride for Clark to hide weakness. The secrecy only increased Anne’s stress. Now she had the task of contacting relatives and business associates who had been kept in the dark about his hospitalization. Back home, Anne sat in Clark’s chair, lamp off for a time. Must make plans, she thought. He must look good, wear his best. His looks meant a lot to him. He first caught her eye with his good looks, then with his charm and Renaissance-man array of interests. He had introduced Anne to skiing and shown her Colorado. He had taken her to operas, concerts and museums – an eager tour guide to life’s finer things. One month into their courtship Anne’s sister lost her battle with breast cancer. At Clark’s urging they walked hand-in-hand in a Relay For The Cure and lit a candle in her sister’s memory. His support helped Anne find a measure closure and healing. Fritz barked and scratched at the back door. Clark did not care much for the dog, though he fought for and won him from his first wife when they split up. Anne fed Fritz, brushed his white fur, and tossed his noisy toy parrot a few times in their nightly game. Anne looked at the mountain of mail. I can’t do this right now, she thought. She pushed the mail to the rear of the hall table. Elaine Wilkins Williams
At the gravesite words were spoken, songs were sung. The wind blew red and gold leaves, and the tent whipped in the chill fall air. The top of the tent ballooned like a parachute, and the flaps gave a machine gun blast with each strong gust, drowning out part of the clergyman’s eulogy. Finally the lid closed on the still form in the fine suit and silk tie. It was over. Anne turned her back as men with spades moved close. An attractive woman she had not seen before stood at the periphery of the crowd. Anne stood on the soft earth and hands reached to steady her. He looked good, they all said. Such a shock. What a loss. It happened so fast. Let me know what I can do to help. When Anne looked for the attractive blue-suited woman, she had slipped from view. At Anne’s invitation, Claire, Clark’s first wife, came to pick up Fritz. He ran to her, a kinetic blur of white fur. Claire hugged her pet, eyes full of tears. “Thank you so, so much,” Claire said. Though now clad in jeans and a turtleneck, Anne recognized Claire as the woman in the blue suit at Clark’s funeral. She was not what Clark had led Anne to think. Claire had a soft voice, kind eyes. She seemed, well, nice. “Let me guess,” Claire said, “you’ve had to feed and walk my dog.” Anne’s nodded silently. “Did he tell you I’m a lush? That I bled him dry? I’m a spending machine? A shoe whore?” Anne’s mouth dropped open at “shoe whore.” Clark had called Anne a shoe whore too. She owned twenty pairs. He owned many times that, all iconic Italian brands. She learned Claire was not Clark’s first wife, but his third. Anne thought of the countless ways she tried to please Clark. He was hard to please. After the honeymoon phase, he became increasingly critical. He snapped at her about everything from dry cleaning and car maintenance to guest lists and party menus. At times she seemed to be more employee than wife. Elaine Wilkins Williams
Comparing the early marriage to the latter months, Anne felt like a victim of a monumental bait-andswitch. When at last Anne faced the mail pile, she came across a note addressed to Clark from Ward Marx, Esq. on fine cream vellum. Anne read the handwritten note: “Clark, Where are you, man? We need to talk. V.U. says they will put your name on the hall, the one with the main stage, if you give ten mil. We can do a new will and the rest. A. does not have to know. Call me. W. Marx.” She read the note a second time, slowly. The truth of the note hit Anne like a fist to the midsection. A light snow coated the ground like frosting on a cake. Anne backed the car, Ward’s black Jag, out of the garage and headed for Peace Ridge, up to the lane where graves marched in neat rows. Green wreaths with red bows marked some, and others lay bare. She walked through the thin snow in the chic new Laboutin pumps with the red soles. She stood at the gray stone and laid down a red rose with a note that read, “Thanks a mil for the shoes. Yours, #4.”
Elaine Wilkins Williams
Right Under Your Nose A Play Cast of Characters: MR. ROBERTS: Male, seventies, pot-belly, large nose. He is dressed in a white t-shirt, pajama bottoms, and slippers. He speaks with a Southern accent and has a compulsive habit of rubbing his index finger under his nose as if it always itches. SUSAN: Female, late forties/early fifties, bleach blonde hair color, dressed provocatively, low cut shirt, tight pants, high heel sandals, large, colorful purse on shoulder. Naïve manner, bubbly personality. JIM: Male, late forties/early fifties, attractive, well-built, aging body builder type. He is dressed in casual clothing, tight knit shirt to emphasize muscles underneath, neat hair style. No-nonsense, macho manner.
Curtain opens to living room of a beautiful, expensive home on Southern Bay. French doors across back of stage depicting early evening bay scene and oak tree with moss view through windows. Expensive looking paintings decorate the room, flowers in vase, large floor rug under seating area. Large leather chair for Mr. Roberts, small end table, plush, flowered print chair for Susan and smaller, straight back, uncomfortable looking chair next to Susan for Jim. Stately entrance door, stage right. Door bell rings. Mr. Roberts, seated in large chair reading paper, gets up from his chair, crosses to the door and opens it. Susan and Jim are standing on the other side of door. SUSAN: (friendly) Mr. Roberts? MR. ROBERTS: Yes, my dear, welcome to Fairhope. Come on in… come on in (ushers them in) you must be Susan…just as lovely as I imagined.
SUSAN: (looks somewhat puzzled). MR. ROBERTS: From our phone conversation, when you booked the cottage, my dear, knew it right off, lovely voice, lovely lady. SUSAN: (smiling) Thank you!…and this is my husband, Jim. MR. ROBERTS: (runs his index finger back and forth, rapidly several times under his big nose, then extends his hand to shake Jim’s hand) Yes, yes, of course, your husband Tim. JIM: Jim. (wipes his hand on his pants) MR. ROBERTS: Yes, yes of course. Come on in, have a seat. (He leads Susan to the plush chair next to his, and takes large chair next to her, leaving smaller side chair for Jim. Looking at Susan) So glad you’re here. Won’t regret your decision to stay here. I’m certain you are going to love the cottage, my dear. Did you pass it on the way in? (rubs his nose) SUSAN: (excited) Yes we did! The beautiful grounds and the exterior of the cottage, even prettier than the pictures on your website…everything I’d hoped for. It is lovely. MR. ROBERTS: Yes, of course, lovely, just lovely (smiling at Susan) …the cottage…lovely view of Mobile Bay. I know you’ll find your accommodations beyond your expectations. SUSAN: (looks around admiring the surroundings) You have a lovely home. Have you lived here long? JIM: (impatient) Susan, it’s late. I’m sure Mr. Roberts would likeMR. ROBERTS: (still looking at Susan) Nonsense, Tim – JIM: Jim, names Jim. MR. ROBERTS: Yes, yes of course. I was just saying I am thrilled for the company. No rush, no rush. (rubs his nose) Now where were we dear? SUSAN: I was asking about your home and the property…the cottage…have you been here long? JIM: (shifting around in seat, impatient) MR. ROBERTS: Yes, my dear, I grew up in Fairhope. Inherited this property from my father ten years ago when he passed on…God rest his soul. We tore down the old family home on this very spot Sharon Olivier
and rebuilt this home. (rubs nose) Only the best, only the best when I rebuilt. We added the cottage to the property for visiting friends and family about five years ago. Lovely cottage, just lovely. SUSAN: But you rent out the cottage now? MR. ROBERTS: Some of my investments went bad. Heavily invested in bank stock…pity, such a pity. Lost a buddle when the recession hit. (shaking his head) Got the idea to rent out the cottage to supplement my retirement income. I have expensive taste, my dear. I’m sure you can see that. SUSAN: (looking around) Yes, I can. JIM: It’s been a long drive. (he takes checkbook and pen out of his top pocket and begins to write out a check) I can write you a check and – MR. ROBERTS: (smiling at Susan) No hurry, no hurry. It’s so good to have company, especially on a Friday night. (sighs) So hard, the weekends are always the hardest. (rubs his nose) So hard since my dear wife, rest her soul, passed on. SUSAN: (reaches over and pats Mr. Roberts arm) Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that you lost your wife. (shoots Jim an icy stare) JIM: I sorry to hearMR. ROBERTS: (looking at Susan and patting her had on his arm) Thank you, you are so kind, my dear. You remind me of my dear wife, in her younger days of course. It is so hard, so hard being alone, lonely, my dear, so lonely. SUSAN: It must be hard. MR. ROBERTS: All alone in this big house….lonely…just so lonely. I love to eat as you can see (pats his large stomach) and no one to take to dinner on a Friday night. SUSAN: Has it been long…your wife’s passing, I mean? JIM: (exasperated and impatient) MR. ROBERTS: Three years. (sighs) Three years since she passed. Alzheimer’s…terrible disease, terrible, just terrible. (pause)….but you don’t need to hear my troubles. Sharon Olivier
JIM: Well, it has been a long trip. MR. ROBERTS: Yes, yes, Tim, Y’all are here for a romantic get-away and you’ve come to the right place. You are going to enjoy the cottage, beautiful view of the bay, hot tub. I had my housekeeper get everything ready for you, just perfect, candy, flowers, perfect, just perfect. (rubs his nose) JIM: We appreciateMR. ROBERTS: (still looking at Susan, smiling) My pleasure, my pleasure. Susan, my dear, you can see I have everything a man could want. A nice home on the bay, expensive art, paid ten thousand for that one (rubs his nose and points to a painting on the wall) and this rug under our feet set me back five grand...but it’s nothing, nothing without someone to share it with. SUSAN: I’m so sorryMR. ROBERTS: Susan, my dear what I really need in my life…a woman…a nice woman…a woman like you. (rubs nose) One to share all this with and travel, I love to travel (looks up at ceiling as if thinking of deceased wife, shakes his head) my wife and I traveled, loved to travel, the places we’ve been. (looking back at Susan) do you like to travel, my dear? SUSAN: (looking at Mr. Roberts) I love to travel. (turns and shoots Jim an icy stare) Never seems to work out MR. ROBERTS: And why is that, my dear? SUSAN: Oh, let’s just say, things get in the way. (shoots Jim icy stare) MR. ROBERTS: But you must travel, my dear, you must, one of the great pleasures of life, that and food of course (pats his belly) but now, alone, what fun is it alone? None, I can tell you, none. Susan, my dear, do you mind me asking your age? SUSAN: (look of surprise) Oh! forty-eight. JIM: (annoyed, tears check out of register, stands to hand it to Mr. Roberts, firm voice) We really need to be going, Mr. Roberts.
MR. ROBERTS: Oh, I’m so sorry, so sorry if I’ve kept you lovebirds too long with all my woes (rubs nose)…just trying to extend a little southern hospitality, that’s all. My wife use to tell me I went on too much. (looks up as if looking toward heaven and sighs) (Susan and Jim look up to see what Mr. Roberts is looking at) MR. ROBERTS: (speaking to the ceiling) I guess you were right dear, I do go on. SUSAN: Oh! No Mr. Roberts, Jim didn’t mean anything…he’s just tired, it’s been a long day, the drive and all. Right Jim? MR. ROBERTS: Susan, my dear, don’t fret over me, just an old lonely…lonely old fool is what I am (he takes the check and gets up from the chair) Thank you, Tim. I’ll just get the key to the cottage… Now where did I put that key ring? (rubs nose) Afraid the old memory’s not what it used to be. Bedroom, the bedroom, maybe I left it there. Please excuse me while I locate that darn key. Now you two make yourself at home, right at home. (Mr. Roberts leaves the room) SUSAN: (stands, speaks in a hushed, fast, angry voice) How could you be so rude? He’s a lonely old man. JIM: (low, fast angry voice) Lonely, my ass, horny old man is what he is…making a pass at my wife, right under my nose. SUSAN: Jealous of an old, lonely man, how sad! You’ve changed all right, yeah, now you’re even jealous of old, lonely men, sadJIM: (sarcastically) Saint Susan…so naïve. This guy’s not another one of your injured strays on the side of the road. He’s loaded…he can get a dog…or buy himself another womanSUSAN: I am warning you Jim, if – JIM: You mean Tim don’t you? Guy’s so busy staring at your cleavage, can’t even get my name straight. If you didn’t wearSUSAN: Don’t even go there. You want me to dress like a nun? Well, I won’t, you are not the boss of me…do you hear me? If you ruin this for me…like you did the cruise you will be going back to Ohio alone. Do you hear me, Jim? JIM: I hear you, that’s all I do is hear you. Saint Susan’s list of my faults. The cruise was last year, Susan and still I am hearing about Sharon Olivier
the damn cruise. I guessSUSAN: We were put off the ship, Jim, put off the ship because of you, your stupid, petty jealousy – we hadn’t even left the dock JIM: That guy had it coming! SUSAN: You broke his nose! You broke the man’s nose! (sarcastically) After all the therapy….the time, the money, do you still not see that was a bit extreme? (angry) Ten years, ten years of your jealousy is…we had to sell our house and move…I loved that house, all because of you. I am not your procession, I JIM: Now the house crap! What do you want, Susan? You want a wimp for a husband? You think I should just let men make passes at my wife and just smile whileSUSAN: Normal, civilized husband, not a caveman, beating men over the head and dragging me back to the cave, Jim. I just want a normal husband, not a crazyJIM: Come on Susan, you’re so naïve, just open your eyesSUSAN: Compassion (pokes her finger at Jim’s chest) is there any compassion at all in there? Fake it if you need to…I need this vacation and Mr. Roberts is a lonely man who has lost his wife and – JIM: And trying to find another one. (Jim imitates Mr. Roberts rubbing his nose rapidly and then points to Susan) You MY DEAR, he wants YOU. I think youSUSAN: Don’t do this, you promised, (louder) YOU PROMISED! (looks around realizing her voice is getting too loud and lowers it) Jim, you promised this trip would be different and if you(Mr. Roberts reenters the room and hands Susan the key) MR. ROBERTS: (look of concern) I am truly sorry, so sorry if I have caused trouble between the two of you. (looks up at ceiling again) Looks like I’ve done it again, dear. (Susan and Jim look up at the ceiling, then back at Mr. Roberts) MR. ROBERTS: (looking back at Susan) The two of you are quarreling. I feel so bad for any trouble I may have caused between the two of you…it being your anniversary weekend and all…terrible…I just feel terrible….I am not myself, just not myself. (looks up speaking to ceiling) What’s to become of me? Sharon Olivier
SUSAN: Mr. Roberts, we understand. (shoots Jim an icy glare as she pats Mr. Roberts on his arm) I’m sure it is hard for you… without your wife. JIM: (reluctant attempt at sympathy in voice) Mr. Robert’s it must be hard – SUSAN: (smiles at Jim and nods encouraging him to go on) JIM: - without your wife…it must be hard, lonely. SUSAN: (pats Mr. Roberts’ arm in sympathy). MR. ROBERTS: (looking at Jim) Well, thank you, thank you for your kind words, Tim. It has been hard, being lonely, so lonely. It’s not like I haven’t tried to move on, you understand. I have dated three, no four women since my wife passed (rubs nose) …money, seems they’re all after my money. It’s never long before they need rent money, doctor bills…bought a new car for the last one. It’s not that I don’t want to treat women right. I’m a southern gentleman after all. (rubs his nose) I always treat…dinner, vacations, all on me. I just can’t let them bleed me dry. You understand? SUSAN: We’ll, I’m sure you just haven’t met the right woman yet? Church…maybe someone at churchJIM: (annoyed again) Susan, I’m sure Mr. Roberts doesn’t need you to figure out his love life…I think it’s time, it’s getting late, we really needMR. ROBERTS: (looking at Susan and patting her hand) I guess my real problem, my dear, is I’m not interested in women my age. I’m no movie star as you can see, but I need a pretty woman to look at, preferable no older than fifty. I’m seventy-four, it’s not been easy to find a younger, attractive lady who doesn’t want me for my money…you can understand a man wanting a pretty woman…can’t you my dear? JIM: (looking annoyed) Susan, we really – MR. ROBERTS: Oh, yes, will you be using the hot tub tonight? I wouldn’t mind joining youJIM: NO, we are NOT using the hot tub and we need to get going. (Angry body language, hands are in fists at his side) Susan, I REALLY NEED to be going. (heads for the door) Are you coming? Sharon Olivier
SUSAN: In a sec. MR. ROBERTS: Now if you need anything, my dear, anything at all. (Jim is at the door, opens it, walks out, leaving the door open. Susan picks up her purse next to her chair, puts in on her shoulder, and starts walking to the door with Mr. Roberts behind her. Mr. Roberts grabs a hand full of Susan’s butt. Susan jumps and lets out a squeal) SUSAN: MR. ROBERTS! (Susan turns around, Mr. Roberts, rubs his nose, grabs her in both arms and starts kissing her. Susan struggles to get free) MR. ROBERTS: (In between slobbery kisses) Can’t help myself….so lovely, so lovely. (looks up to ceiling) Can’t help myself, my dear. SUSAN: (finally manages to get free. Uncontrollably angry, good hard punch to his nose) MR. ROBERTS! MR. ROBERTS: (holds his nose a second) Fiesty! (grabs her again and starts kissing her). SUSAN: (manages a knee to his groin) MR. ROBERTS: (lets her go, drops to the floor holding his crotch, crying out in pain) Oh dear, Oh dear! SUSAN: (in a full blown rage, hair messed, beats Mr. Roberts with her large purse) You horny, dirty, dirty, dirty old man, you snake, creep…. MR. ROBERTS: (shouting) Help! Help! JIM: (Reenters) What the hell? MR. ROBERTS: (pleading) Tim, Tim, help! SUSAN: (continues to beat Mr. Roberts) You dirty snake, dirty, dirty old man – MR. ROBERTS: Tim, she’s gone wild, gone wild. Help! JIM: Jim, my name’s Jim. Say it, say it, Jim! MR. ROBERTS: Jim, Jim, help! Sharon Olivier
JIM: (picks Susan up off the floor) Calm down killer. (jokingly)
MR. ROBERTS: (getting up off the floor)
SUSAN: (She is flailing, still trying to hit my Robert with her purses and free herself from Jim) Put me down. He kissed me with his old slobbery lips, he kissed me…I needed this vacation you dirty old man…Let me at him, Jim…I needed this vacation! (swings purse and hits Mr. Roberts in the nose with it)
MR. ROBERTS: (holds his nose and screams) My nose…the pain… you broke my nose! Always the nose, they always go for the nose. What’s a lonely old man to do?
Meditation on a Pomegranate
Just a few days ago, my father touched a pomegranate and cried. We were holiday grocery shopping together –one stalwart and one substitute – and on his way to the onion bin, my mighty father was halted, then waylaid by a pomegranate. It wasn’t even the prettiest pomegranate in the basket, its skin mottled and vaguely withered, its topknot as scruffy as a once-pampered poodle. It was that my mother loved pomegranates, and their presence in our house always signaled that the season of velvet, the flood of lush, was upon us, as it is now. When I was a child, I didn’t know one other person besides my mother who ate pomegranates. It seemed right that she did, though, because even then I recognized the exotic patina on a home-grown girl. No serene repose in still-life for her ruby fruit, however. She tore into the tough skin with her teeth, seemingly impervious to its bitterness, and plucked the radiant seeds without mercy, leaving a pile of pith and membranes in her wake. She loved pomegranates, and my father loved her, so it was simply algebraic that when he saw the pomegranate, he picked it up, molded his hands around it, and started to cry. He then set it gently back in the basket and walked away, himself mottled and vaguely withered, his onion forgotten.
The Grandeur I believe that I have a Father who is with me at all times. He told me that He would “never leave me nor forsake me.” As a young child whenever I was afraid, though not often, I would tell my grandmother. It was customary, in her home, to kneel beside the bed and pray before going to sleep; however, one night after I took my bath, put on my nightgown I hopped into bed and closed my eyes. Immediately, upon closing my eyes I saw a fiery dragon breathing down on me. I quickly opened my eyes and called out to my grandmother. She came to me. I explained what I saw upon closing my eyes. She didn’t say, well, you’ve been a bad girl and that’s the devil. No…she said “let’s say the Lord’s Prayer.” I already knew I had to kneel beside the bed as it was customary. At that moment she taught me the words to the Lord’s Prayer. She started out by saying, “Our Father, which art in Heaven.” I repeated her every word. After we finished I got into bed and slept like a baby. Throughout my life, even though she had been gone for many years, I still abide by her belief to call on my Heavenly Father. The boogey man, the monster or whatever name we choose to use – he goes away. As a very young girl my grandmother gave me something to believe. To this day I still believe in my Father who art in heaven. I’ve come to understand the power of spoken words over my life. Therefore, my grandmother gave me a great gift that is continually with me. A good word when spoken goes a long way. Because of her, I cannot speak the words from the Lord’s Prayer without thinking about her and the gift
Mary Jean Doss
120 she gave to me. She will be in my life forever and ever because she gave me something to believe. Many times we tend to get weary hearing our name called over and over. We say “stop calling my name” or “I’m tired of you calling me.” But, she led me to a source that will answer and answer and answer and never say, Mary, “I’m tired of you calling my name.” I thank my grandmother for guiding me to a higher source who I feel will always hear and always listen. One who is waiting for me to say “good morning Father, it’s me again.”
Mary Jean Doss
Chapter 1: Lost and Turned Out In 1973 my life would change and there was no turning back. It had been written, that this was a journey I would take in my life and it would shape me into the woman I am today. We moved out of the project to a suburban neighborhood called Norwood. As the black families were moving in the white ones were moving out. There was so much going on in the world, racism, segregation. Martin Luther King, the 16th street Baptist Church bombing. I didn't have a clue that history was being made around me. After we got settled in my sister, uncles, grandma and I, it became home again. I was enrolled in Norwood Elementary School, second grade. I loved school. School was where I flourished and absorbed knowledge. I was very athletic I was involved in all kinds of sports. Three years in a row. I won best athletic girl for participating in all of the school sports events. I wanted to try out for volleyball, track, and basketball but grandma always had an excuse about why I couldn’t. The year I turned eight was when I lost my childhood and was forced to view this world as a woman in a child body. Every day I came home from school my uncles would be sitting on the front porch. I could always count on them giving me money, because they would want me to run to the store for them, or not to tell my grandma that they had their girl friends in the house. This one particular day I came home, it was as if a dark cloud was hanging over our house. My uncles weren’t on the porch; I didn't hear the radio or the laughter. I walked into the house and there was a strange man sitting at our kitchen table. My grandma introduced him to me as her husband. Over the next two or three weeks, I would find out that he was my grandma's first husband, also the father of her three oldest children, who throughout my life I had only seen periodically. I found out also that they had been separated for thirty years, and that my mom, her sister, and other five brothers were by my biological grandfather, who everyone called Capp. As W.C. became a permanent fixture in our house things slowly began to change. There was no more laughter; my grandma was constantly telling us to hold it down. She even put a lock on the deep freezer because she didn’t want us to eat "His food." W.C. worked at Loveman's Warehouse. He left for work early every morning, and he got home around eight p.m. He never said much to any of us, and if he did say something he said it through my grandma. Toni Shealey
Eventually, my uncles started leaving, because they were young men and didn't feel like he could tell them what to do. After a while there was only me, and my sister. Three of my mother’s younger brothers stayed but they came and went as they pleased. Pee was my mama's favorite brother; sadly he was the one I had to be weary of. We had one big room in our house, and in that room were two beds. My sister and I would sleep in that bed with my uncle in the other. Some nights he would crawl into bed with me and grind up against my behind, then take his hand and rub my vagina. I was so scared; because I knew in my mind that what he was doing wasn’t suppose to be happening. I always got really cold and nervous whenever I was left alone with him but I didn’t know what to say or who to say it to. I have always wondered as I grew into adulthood was it something that I did to attract this kind of attention. But then I wondered who would be attracted to a seven year child anyway? That was the beginning of my self-esteem going down. At that point I didn’t want to be the center of attention anymore, and I did everything that I could to stay out of every ones way. I remember one night my mom had just come into town. She would do that all the time show up in the middle of the night with her husband James, and they would bring us toys, money, all kinds of nice things. I would be so excited. Half of the time I couldn’t contain myself. I thought my mama was the prettiest lady in the whole world. Her hair was long wavy, she had the prettiest smile, and she always smelled good. Now on this particular night I had made my mind up. I was going to tell my mom about Pee. I called out to my mom, "Mama, Pee was feeling on me." But everyone was talking so loud; I don't think she heard exactly what I said because as a second thought she turned to me and asked, "What did you say? I looked over to my uncle and he looked at me with the most evil look I had seen. You have to understand I was only eight years old, and he scared the shit out of me. The next morning it was brought to my attention that my mama was feeling maternal. So she was going to take me, my sister and Pee out of town with them for the summer. Pee and my sister were ecstatic, and in a way I was too. I thought that this trip would give me an opportunity to spend some time with my mom, or so I thought. I remember it took us a while to get to our destination but I was so excited because I was able to see the surroundings as we drove up the highway. After all the driving we finally made it to Charlotte, North Carolina and we lived in a very pretty apartment complex. There was a swimming pool, tennis courts, and beautiful Toni Shealey
green grass and trees. Our apartment had two bedrooms. My sister and I had our own room, my uncle slept downstairs. Me and my sister was so overwhelmed with being and living with our mom that we were about to burst. It was only a matter of time before things started to change. I would hear my mama and James arguing about money. Then mama would wake up sometimes really angry then we would see her later on and she would be nice again. As time progressed, I would learn that mama was angry because she hadnâ€™t got her heroin and nice when she did. Little things that my sister and I did would just irk her and she would scream and curse at us. I remember my sister is left handed and that's the hand she used to eat with. At dinner time my mom would beat my sister's left hand until she picked up the right and start using it. There was another time, I didn't have any clean clothes to put on, but ironically I wore the same size as my mom. She told me to get something out of her closet to wear and I did a blouse and a jean skirt. I guess she forgot because she came in the room screaming and cursing "Who told you to put on my mother fucking clothes?" I was so nervous that I made a mistake and didn't answer quickly enough, and she slapped me and told me to "Take her shit off." This kind of behavior went on for quite awhile. One day mama and James told us that they were going out of town and they would return in about a week. Well, they left Pee in charge of my Trice and I, and I almost shitted on me because I would be alone in this house with my uncle. Anyway, they left that day and they left enough food that would last us for about a week. That first week they were gone, I don't think I slept a wink, because I thought Pee would try to touch me again. When I realize that he wasn't. I was able to let my guard down and have fun. My sister and I went swimming everyday and would run around with the kids we had met there. At the end of our first week alone, I noticed that we were running out of food, it was okay though because my mama said that they should be back around this time. After the first week Pee took the twenty-five they left for him and bought us food but that soon ran out. I would run over to the seveneleven and steal bologna and hotdogs. So we would have some food. Then when that ran out, I would get a screw driver and Toni Shealey
open other tenantâ€™s doors and steal food out of their refrigerators. One time I stole some meat off someone's grill. After about a week and a half my mama finally showed up, and we packed up and left in the middle of the night without paying the rent. The next stop was Atlanta, Georgia. We were living in some apartments with friends of my mama and James. Things rapidly went down hill from there. My mother would take me and Trice to the mall, go in a store, fill up the bag and make us walk out with them. I would cry so badly, because somehow I knew this was wrong. My mama and James would fight everyday and when they werenâ€™t fighting they were shooting dope and nodding. If my Trice or I got in the way we would get slapped or knocked down. I finally got a chance to slip off and call my grandma and let her know what was going on. She then informed my mama that if she didn't send us back on the next thing smoking that she'd call the police. Pee and Trice were really sad. I felt like if I never see them again, I wouldn't be mad at all. From that point on anytime my mama came to town, I wouldn't go anywhere with her.
Diving beneath the surfaces of words There are worlds of color the softness of water living art breathing through other things than lungs breathing the soft water, not air. Beyond words worlds inexpressible through nouns and verbs beyond human language limitations, yet felt and known Inexpressible Rising to the surface with no parts of speech only senses and exclamations.