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Wondering of the Missing . . . Felino A Soriano Love is an Accident Waiting to Happen . . . Howie Good Come Back Tomorrow . . . Tania Hershman A Conversation with Angels

Dear Santa, Do you exist? Are you there? Is it possible? Sometimes I wonder the same things about myself. For Christmas I would like some of those Japanese cigarettes, the real harsh ones filled with black tobacco. I smoked them once when I was overseas and I've never quite given up their savor. Frank

. . . Nora Nadjarian ~

An Improper Pestilence . . . Katie McCullough Christmas Eve . . . xTx Mountain Town, Barefoot on Cement . . . Paul Handley Eulogy for a Friend . . . Boudreau Freret Hitler's Angel (A Christmas Carol) . . . Finnegan Flawnt The Trouble with Sex Ed . . . Frank Hinton Down in the Grotto, We Break Bread Together . . . Cynthia Reeser The Problem with LEDs . . . Gerry Hayes

Dear Santa, You haven't written back. Where are you? Each day gets colder and darker than the last. I'd like to change my request. I don't need the cigarettes anymore. Santa, my girlfriend left me. She left me and now everything seems so bleak. She told me I don't clean enough, I don't have any ambition or guts. She told me I'm too routine in making love and that I always half ass romance. I'd like you to bring her back to me Santa. I've been so selfish and narrow minded. I cheated on her and stopped eating right and kept a life of my own. Her name is Lili. Frank

Wondering of the Missing

of alone’s reflection of

Child of many, unobstructed absences wore with

familial hankering. Child

altruistic science, an eye of each parent,

onto knees of machined limbs

two of the mysterious, alabaster


absences. Green of the brownest hybrid, youthful

with empirical hitherto absence (another) saw the light-drawn bodies of parental


emotion. He hung on contoured eyelids

jading environmental happenstance, hurried maturation of honest acclimation.

picked up the red-blue stone centered within light’s many undefined angles, wiped each line, each creviced alphabet between thumb and fingering

Once, while standing


deep within

Of the moment a sacred scarceness

the underneath fraction of nature’s calling halo,

visited contemplation, future of understanding predicated on reactionary limbo, absence

light’s longest arm

can now be called

reached onto shredded soil

body of devotional drawing


collocated substance and

mirroring portrait of together’s

cursive whimsy, a brand of memory

copacetic pleasure.

highlighting the now

By Felino A. Soriano

Love is an Accident Waiting to Happen

Come back tomorrow

Four on a gloomy afternoon. Noisy birds only contribute

I'm open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I'm closed. Weekends, it depends how I'm feeling.

further to the clutter of her parents’ bedroom. Loneliness. Solitude. It’s difficult to explain the difference if you have no French. We grasp at each other like orange traffic cones, emergency vehicles. Afterward, I walk back under the shrugging trees, my heart startled worse than a bashed-in headlight. I should never have thrown away the box it came in.

by Howie Good

You try and open me on the wrong day. I say, No, it's... (Tuesday) or (Thursday), but you don't seem to know. You don't see the sign. Closed. Shut. Sometimes, I'm closed for a week and you pace up and down and you want me to be open but I'm not. I can't. I can't open just for you. Don't you see? It's about more than that, more than me. There are shutters that have to be lifted, curtains pulled apart, items laid out in rows, on shelves, everything in its place. I can't just open like that, waving a wand, some kind of magic. I lie in bed and I hear the sounds of you and inside I try and make myself. Even though it's (Tuesday) or (Thursday). I want to. For you. I want to be open-all-hours, all day, all week, every month of the year. Even Christmas. Then the sounds of you come closer and the touch of you and I spring back. Closed. Shutters up. Maybe tomorrow. Try again tomorrow. Come back tomorrow.

by Tania Hershman

A Conversation with Angels

She insists she’s late because of the angels.

She tells me they’re white and have dark faces. They keep her company before school. When they do, she oversleeps and misses the bus.

They are silent. They never say a word. They don’t know that her mother beats her, that her father spits and drinks.

I teach her words like iridescent, redolence, unutterable, so she’ll impress the mute angels while they sit around her, speechless with amazement, sipping rosewater cordial or mint tea.

by Nora Nadjarian

An Improper Pestilence, a Drama INT. HEADTEACHER’S OFFICE. Two boys of ten face the audience. TOM, a swotty looking thing with NHS glasses tries to stand with his head hung high; this is hard because he’s extremely tall for his age and makes him look like he has a defective spine. Standing next to him is GREGORY, the rough and ready kid eager for a brawl. His tie is loose and the collar of his shirt dirty; Tom in comparison is neat and his trousers a few good inches too short for his spindly legs.


I’m alright then, I ain’t got a mum.

The door opens stage left and the boys’ heads turn abruptly. MRS. DALTON strides in and shoots them down with a stern look. A scottish elder of fifty and dressed from head to foot in plaid. Their heads return to looking at the ceiling or the floor. MRS. DALTON: Do you know why I’ve called you out of


This is your fault..


I can’t see what all the

fuss is about. GREGORY:

The pair shrug their shoulders. She pulls out a magazine from her desk and places it It’s that thing you got in. on the table in front of them.


I think you mean brought in.

assembly boys?

Who brought this filth into my school?

They stand both rigid and figgity next to each other. TOM:

She eyes them up over the top of her glasses and places her hands on her hips. The boys What do you think she'll remain silent.

do to us?

MRS. DALTON: We’re not


I don’t care.

going to leave her till I


I overheard her saying

get a response from at

she’s going to call our

least one of you.

mums. Gregory begins to sniffle and wipes his nose on his sleeve. His legs begin to shake.


He did Mrs. Dalton.

girl’s magazine. It is not meant for your eyes. It

MRS. DALTON: Who did what? GREGORY:

has items in there that

Tom got in that mag.

should not be of any Tom looks at Gregory and he shrugs back.

one’s interest. Who bought this for you?

MRS. DALTON: And where did Thomas get this magazine from exactly? GREGORY:

I don’t know Mrs. Dal


My father.


You’re dad got it for you?

ton, I don’t like him, I normally hit him. MRS. DALTON: Is this true Thomas?


Yes, he said it would be

educational. MRS. DALTON: (Enraged) Educational?

Tom rolls up his sleeve to reveal some bruis- TOM: es and nods sheepishly. GREGORY:

And I believe it was. I wish I had a dad like

MRS. DALTON: I meant about the maga- yours. zine. Tom continues to nod. TOM:

It’s only a magazine Mrs. Dalton, I don’t see what

After realising he has spoken his thoughts aloud Gregory re-adjusts his status by punching Tom on the arm. MRS. DALTON: GREGORY STILES!

the problem is.

Trust me, you would not want a father-figure who

Gregory in a pantomime state sucks in breath with his mouth wide open. His eyes flit between the surly Head Teacher and the timid frame of Tom. MRS. DALTON: Only a magazine! Only a magazine! This magazine that you so flippantly mention is a

supplied you with this trash. TOM:

Are you calling my father trash?

MRS. DALTON: How very dare you answer back to me.


But you’re being nasty about my family, can I not defend them?

MRS. DALTON: Bloody new generations, what happened to maturity and values? There is a fraught tension in the room and the boys looked scared. Suddenly Gregory pipes up. GREGORY:

OUT! The two jump at the command and begin to leave. GREGORY:

I thought the magazine was educational Tom, I learnt how to kiss someone with my fingers.

From behind them Mrs. Dalton drops her Mrs. Dalton, you’re not whiskey glass to the floor. allowed to swear.

She paces the room and ignores his plight. She strolls further downstage and Gregory elbows Tom and they start to giggle. MRS. DALTON: I’ve had quite enough of you two. This magazine is confiscated and will be burned as soon as I find some precious time in my schedule. You’re missing the start of your times table test. Return to your classrooms. The two boys stand still, worried to move for fear of being yelled at. She takes out a whiskey decanter and pours herself a glass. She turns around to take a sip and steady herself against the table and realises they’re still standing there.

By Katie McCullough

Christmas Eve He held it out. A red Christmas sweater depictIt was Christmas Eve and cozy before the crackling fireplace sat Tuck-Tuck and Wiggles. ing the Bataan Death March. The Around them the house lay quiet and still—a stark contrast to the day’s earlier hubbub. All Filipinos were colored with green-gold yarn that could be heard was the soft sound of snow and twisted down the sweater in a line that trailed from one shoulder down to the waist falling on itself. and back to the other. The dead bodies lay off to the side sewn with reds, purples, and blues. Is it safe? asked Tuck-Tuck. Can we open The Japanese stood strong and proud next to presents now? the marching Filipinos, pointing their bayonet Wiggles gave a low bark indicating that it was. topped Tuck-Tuck looked at him disapprovingly which made Wiggles bury his head in his paws apolo- rifles threateningly at the marchers. The getically. Wiggles always got barky when excit- Japanese were threaded black, but in festive ed. Usually it was cute and Tuck-Tuck could Christmas red and white there were Santa hats handle it, but it was Christmas Eve, the people atop each of their heads which brought a merhad finally gone off to bed, and Tuck-Tuck re- ry flair to the scene. ally wanted to give Wiggles his gift. He would hate for the people to wake up and ruin every- After studying the sweater for a minute or two Wiggles said, The Japanese were cruel and thing. brutal captors during World War II, weren’t they, Tuck-Tuck? Sorry, Tuck-Tuck, said Wiggles. It’s okay buddy. Let’s do it.

Yes, Wiggles, they sure were.

Can I go first? asked Wiggles.

These Santa hats make them look more cheery.

Sure Wiggles, here you go.

Yes, Wiggles, they sure do.

Tuck-Tuck handed Wiggles a rectangular box He put the sweater aside and handed Tuckwrapped in gold and green. Tuck a brightly wrapped box. Snowmen and ornaments, that thick foil kind that burns colAww, Tuck, it’s beautiful, said Wiggles. ored flames when thrown into a fire. Open it, Wigg, Tuck instructed. Open it. Open it Tuck! Open yours! Wiggles almost Carefully, like when he stole the meat sticks barked again. from the small people, Wiggles unwrapped the gift. A sweater! he said joyfully. Tuck-Tuck opened the package quickly, like It’s beautiful! when he raced to chase the green balls the people threw into the grass. Oh Wiggles! A sweater! Tuck-Tuck exclaimed. Tuck-Tuck held the sweater before him. On it were so many eyes. So many shapes of eyes, so

many sizes and colors. The multitude of threads were a rainbow.

had with the farm boy, Westley, in The Princess Bride, but not in a gay way, he added. I would walk through the Fire Swamp for you. Look Tuck! Look closer! Wiggles pointed. Do Tuck-Tuck. As you wish, Tuck-Tuck. you see? Do you see the ghosts? Merry Christmas, Wiggles, said Tuck-Tuck. Tuck-Tuck looked closer and saw tiny ghosts within each of the different colored pupils of Merry Christmas, Tuck-Tuck, said Wiggles. each of the eyes. Little white ghosts, arms outstretched—pained faces on the larger ones. O– Tuck-Tuck and Wiggles walked round and mouths moaning on the smaller ones. round in a circle before the fire and settled down against one another in a shape that reDo you get it? Wiggles blurted. You get it sembled a yin-yang symbol. The warmth of the right? fire was second to the warmth of their hearts. The lullaby of their familiar breathing sent Yes, Wiggles, I get it. Bruce Springsteen, them to a quick and peaceful slumber. Tuck-Tuck answered. Hours later, Santa was careful not to disturb Thunder Road! ‘The ghosts in the eyes of all them when placing gifts under the tree. the boys you sent away!’ Wiggles yelled. He repeated the line three more times. You love that By xTx part! It’s your favorite part, Tuck! Yes, Wiggles—that’s my favorite part, TuckTuck confirmed. Sorry it’s not a Christmas sweater. Never mind that, Wiggles. It’s the best present I’ve ever received. Wiggles smiled shy and gladly. We are best friends, Tuck-Tuck. Yes, Wiggles, we are, agreed Tuck-Tuck. Our friendship is like the same friendship that Riggs and Murtaugh had in Lethal Weapon 3. Remember that part when Murtaugh is drunk on his boat and Riggs starts fighting with him and he cries because he will be alone when Murtaugh retires in five days because Murtaugh is all that he has? I feel like that about you, Wiggles. Tuck-Tuck looked at Wiggles and couldn’t ignore the tears welling up in his eyes. Wiggles sniffled and said, To me, our friendship is like the true love Princess Buttercup

Mountain Town

Barefoot on Cement

Women carved like the mountains they climb. Those at the beanery slow to react, abstain from their product or screening yesterday’s rushes of the face ascent, their fwn face tranquil, but etched with fissures of focus.

Before moving to the island of Chicago suburbia, nature was a part of my landscape. Waves synchronized with every second pulse.

Motel neighbors with beers resting on balconies welcome us to our new home. Their jeeps and touring cycles splayed about the parking lot like a preinvasion launch. Our two-year old daughter so excited she is floating in the thin air out of her pjs, not sleeping, thus neither can we. The ranges have been soaked at least twice in different bodies of water for a teaspoon of an epoch in the vat of time, leaving cascades that we hike to and celebrate by letting the spray spatter us. Our child hugged to my back that is more comfortable than any climber’s. Returning for lunch, she embraces a swing on level ground. By Paul Handley

Constantly looking for more nature amidst nature. Breathing announces them as the air in their lungs tinges pink. Turtle heads popped out of the lagoon muck, like a discolored toe in sandals. Matted muskrat heads leaving a wake as they toured the lagoon. A snake head ejecting a tiny red flag of a tongue, betraying their location. pushing aside styrofoam pillars of grass, the flag doubling as a bloody machete. We took the snakes home across the street, kept in a bucket sealed with plywood shards, shaped by a stomp. By their tracks, they tongued their way back toward the arboretum. Three flattened on the road like charred corn sheaths. Eels, a kind of snake, would not show their heads without motive. When the tide went out, we bounced on abandoned piers, driftwood and chairs to coax them to propel from their mud chutes. We slopped them into buckets and sold them as bait. Even then we knew the hierarchy. Sailing in lake storms and the length of a bay. The entry to the ocean guarded by light flashing

in the cresting breakers.

Eulogy for a Friend

The severity of the ocean, dismissive. Another galaxy.

Thank you and goodbye, my favorite coffee mug, my friend. I smiled every time I drank from you the last seventeen years. You made my life better.

Years later in Yellowstone, people get upset, when family crated cars pulled over to see a moose or caribou, creating a migrating parking lot. Those behind feigned last second brakes of annoyance.

I’ll never forget the day you came to me in your small brown box, a total surprise. I didn’t remember filling out and mailing the reader reply card that brought you to me. In those days I was one friend away from being homeless, and the mail brought few, if any, pleasant surprises. You were the best.

I understood. I needed a break from carrot infused health bars and articulation that wasn’t a growling bleat of a horn.

Mikey and I ceremoniously washed and filled you with Community (with chicory, of course) and we hit it right off. Why not – what wasn’t to love about you? You were new, and shiny black, and heavy, and smart – a surprise gift – and you were all mine.

I wanted to sign their pact and ooh at the mossy scarves. By Paul Handley

“One friend away from being homeless.” That’s funny, how I tried to make it sound artful, or dramatic. I was so poor. Mikey took me in the day after Christmas (or was it two?) when the half-way house kicked me out. “Made a decision to leave,” they called it. Mikey and I would run out of cigarettes (always in the middle of the night – why was that?) and we’d turn on the silly lamp we’d made out of a plaster bust of Buddha and dig butts out of the trash to come up with enough tobacco to roll a couple more, using a page out of the phonebook for the paper. Just a couple of ashtray drags to hold us until morning, which, though we never were convinced, always came. Then I’d fill you with fresh coffee and the three of us would set off in Old Blue, Mikey’s beat-to-hell ’76 pickup truck, to buy new smokes with scrounged change. I was so poor yet so humbled, so happy to be alive. We had no rational reason in the world to be happy, but Mikey and I were. We lived life one day at a time, because there just wasn’t

any other way that we could, and somehow managed in the face of madness to laugh together rather than cry alone. I’ve wondered since if that was the freedom Kris Kristofferson wrote about in Bobby McGhee. Mikey would take handyman jobs (which, if this aside may be forgiven, was a lot like Isaac Stern playing kazoo – Mikey could coax art from rough lumber with a grace I had never seen, and have never seen since) and I’d “help” him as best I could.

successes more fantastic than I had dared to imagine, you were there with me. When I moved out of Mikey’s place and into the garage apartment in the back yard (with its alarming 30? list to one side – Mikey called it the “Leaning Tower”), you were my prized possession. When I set off for New Orleans and graduate school, I carefully placed you into the first box I packed. When I moved in with the woman I would later marry, you were given a position of honor in our tiny kitchen cabinet. When we moved to Florida, you came, and I don’t know that I could have passed the bar exam without you. When we bought our first house, you were an indispensible contributor to my handyman projects (all of which used some skill or trick you’d watched me learn from Mikey). When our children were born, you helped me welcome them into the world.

When the work was done and the meetings were over and we’d been to George’s Grill for something unhealthy and wonderful, we’d go home to our scruffy old house-apartment, kick back in the Chairs of Power (Mikey’s name for the two mismatched recliners someone had given him) and pick some music out of Mikey’s big For seventeen years you’ve been my favorite cardboard box of unsorted, uncased, cassette mug and a touchstone for my soul. For tapes. seventeen years, when I sleepily reached for a clean mug in the morning and you were next in With Van Morrison or Steve Earle or line, the sight of you brought a smile to my Robert Cray or Dwight Yoakum or (my face and heart that in an instant let me relive favorite) Dire Straits (Side B of Brothers in every moment of our journey together, and all Arms) turned up, I’d fill you with coffee from the miracles that started in my life when you the day’s final pot, and Mikey and I would and I and Mikey met. No matter what else was recline in our Chairs and close our eyes and going on in my life these last seventeen years, feel the music and smoke store-bought when I took you from the cabinet and filled cigarettes. you again with coffee, you refreshed my perspective and renewed my awe at the As Mark Knopfler would sing “the magnificent power of the human spirit to help man’s too big, the man’s too strong,” I’d another triumph over its greatest foe – itself. imagine myself victorious over some nebulous, seemingly insurmountable, challenge, and I Thank you, my friend. I have missed would daydream great adventures and Mikey every minute of every day since he fantastic successes that I hoped my future died, and I will miss you, too. Together you would reveal. Heady stuff for a crippled up kid changed me forever, and in so doing have surviving on food stamps and the kindness of changed the lives of all that have touched strangers. mine, and though I will miss you, we will never be without you. But as great adventures actually unfolded in my life, and I came to enjoy By Boudreau Freret

HITLER'S ANGEL (A META CHRISTMAS CAROL) I have plans to write a Christmas story for "But what if the angel's client is held at gun point", Metazen, an online journal specialising in I said, using one of my favourite expressions, not metafiction. I don't know exactly what I am going fancy but forceful, "And in order to save him when to write yet, but it better be good. What's 'good', the gangster shoots, the angel must stop the bullet though? Children are good, and angels, and from coming out of the barrel so that the revolver reindeer. Children aren't so good when they're bad: explodes into the face of the gangster, disfiguring when they torture their little brother for example or when they grate on my last nerve, the one I really needed to make it through this day with the slush him forever or even killing him. Surely an action on the road and everyone driving as if they'd cannot be good if it leads to maiming and death?" contracted mad cow disease. Angels aren't always good either, I guess, not that I'm an expert (which "He's acted in self defense", Jessica Mary said might thwart this entire enterprise of Christmas coolly. story writing), but what if, say, a guardian angel (they are a common sort of angel, not like "But nobody attacked the angel", I said, and then, archangels, which are more like archbishops), in inflamed by the heat of our debate: "What about an attempt to protect his liege (is that how you say Adolf Hitler's guardian angel!?" it? coachee? client?) harms another person? I told Jessica Mary about that. That made us both squirm, quite against the spirit of Christmas, because the implications of assuming Jessica Mary said: "That's stupid, all the guardian Hitler had a guardian angel (and why wouldn't he angel has to do is to shield the person" - I made a have had one?), who, in mad pursuit of his master's mental note to ask her later how you call such a best interest, like a ghost from a bottle, had person: it isn't fair that I should be the only one in condemned millions of others to certain death, left this family, who has to figure this stuff out, I mean, us stunned and perplexed. Evidently, we hadn't I do accept that women play a different part in life thought this through properly, not Jessica Mary altogether and I wouldn't have it any other way, but with her affinity for florid words or me with my there needs to be a balance, don't you think? (I natural ponderousness. As we fell on the floor, still wonder how you handle that with your broad at flabbergasted, I said "you're one smart woman, home), and she said "I don't see how that could Jessica Mary", and she, reaching for my tackle, compromise the angel's inherent goodness." murmured "I love you too, Nick, you big hunk of man meat". Gosh, I hated it when Jessica Mary used words like 'inherent'. She had more degrees than I had toes left And now I've run out of time. Christmas is here - how I lost some of my toes is another story, which and there's work to do. There's just too much going would lead us far astray, to the North Pole, I may on and I've got too many open questions to ponder tell it some time - and a big bundle of fancy words, before I could put anything down, inkwise. too. Christmas may be a great time for you to let it all rest, and you should. My good reindeer are getting nervous already. I suppose I won't be writing a Christmas story for Metazen after all. By Finnegan Flawnt

The Trouble With Sex-Ed

air at the last moment. I began to get more daring, and started using unconventional parts of my body- my head, my shoulders, my butt.

When I was eight and a half years old I thought I learned what love was. At one point I decided to try and do a back Love was a girl that always sat at the bottom of flip as the ball rebounded toward me. I don't the playground slide. Love had long, greasy know why I thought I could do it. I jumped brown hair and big green eyes that never into the air and arched my back into the shape seemed to be interested in any particular of a macaroni tube, but my body did not rotate. thing. The girl's name was Lili and she was Instead I fell flat and landed on my shoulders, very quiet. It wasn't a shy kind of quiet so much as it was a silence that was decided upon hitting the gritty pavement in a hard, red moment. I felt a terrible pain in my neck as I moment to moment. watched the ball pass overhead. I could not look around in this We met around the time in our state, and sensed that I should keep still, as I’d lives that everybody in the class began to heard once on an old doctor show. I waited for understand the difference between rich and my friends to come for me, or for some teacher poor. or supervisor to notice the unmoving sac of child bones laying on the playground. I wanted The rich kids and poor kids sorted to call out, but I didn't. I was embarrassed and themselves out socio-economically, and we confident that my popularity was enough to found ourselves each stratified by quality of warrant an unguided rescue. clothes, the cars our parents drove and the number of NES cartridges we owned. I After some minutes the bell rang for somehow fell in with the wealthy kids, recess to end and no one had come. Our school although I didn’t fully comprehend what it meant at the time. Perhaps it was because my was a very strict one, and I assumed that my mother dressed me up like a porcelain doll or God-fearing friends wanted to protect their own records by pretending they saw nothing. I that I seemed to be able to draw excellent pictures of Batman. Lili, on the other hand was still remember looking up at the clouds a bedrock of the lower class. We did not know blowing through the sky. I sensed for the first for sure what her parents did, but by the fade time that maybe I was not a smoke-tail in the haze of childhood, but instead a young man, of her flannel and lack of shampoo, we alone and abandoned in a world of confused assumed destitution. ethics. I cried a little. One day I found myself on the In the next moments I heard the playground with a red ball that bounced nicely sound of sneaker steps walking toward me, off of the decaying brick of our elementary school. I remember throwing the ball against and then a small face appeared overhead. It was Lili, or as we took to calling her: "Poorythe wall over and over and each time Poory Slide Girl". Her greasy hair dangled competing with myself to catch it before it touched the grass. It was a game of rebound. down towards my limp body like some ancient curtain behind which was the window of her The students all watched me as I played the rebound game and under the guidance of my face. I remember looking up and for the first esteem I started to perform physical "tricks" in time feeling as if I understood what the word catching the ball. I would try to throw the ball woman meant. Her face was pale and faint between my legs and catch the rebound with freckles lay upon her face like cinnamon my eyes closed or I would throw and then roll scattered over latte milk. She was my savior for the catch, snatching the red ball out of the and when I dropped that into the mix of what

was happening to my fragile emotions I stirred So I sit here because it reminds me of that out the fact that she was beautiful. feeling." She didn't look at anything in particular as she spoke and she didn't sound She did not say anything for a long interested in what she was saying. I found all time, she just stood overhead, looking of it really moving though, and I was afraid to completely disinterested ask her why her father didn't take her to the park anymore. "You don't have anything broken," she said. "Okay."

"Do you want to come over to my house?" I asked. "I have a lot of cool toys in my basement and my dad set up a tent downstairs. It's filled with pillows and paper and crayons. We can make comics."

"I think you can get up. The teachers will come looking for you." There was no "Sure," she said. emotion in her voice, just the dull intonations of a lonely girl. There was something seductive My parents weren't home and my in the way she spoke as well, though I didn't grandmother was sleeping, so we made our know what seduction was at the time. way down to the basement unnoticed. I took out a Popsicle and a chocolate chip ice cream The fact that she was being helpful and sandwich from the freezer. Lili took the unfeeling at the same time was like discovering Popsicle and she didn't break it in two, which I a new flavor of ice cream. I smiled up at Lili in found strange. She ate it pretty quickly and that moment and then I extended my arm. I watched me as I finished my sandwich. When was unsure why I did that, but soon after Lili she was done, I showed her the tent. grabbed my hand and hauled me up off the The tent was my favorite place in ground. She helped me to pick off the pebbles the entire house because it was like a secret that had been embedded in my elbows during room just for me. It was silver and shaped like the fall, and then spanked the dirt off of the a rocket ship. It was filled with yarn-knit back of my jean jacket. This was the first time pillows on all sides so I could sleep in it when in my life that I had been aroused. the weather was warm and my father had even After school I saw Lili again, sitting hung a small battery operated lamp from a at the bottom of the slide. I decided to talk to fabric hook on the roof. That day, the tent was her and thank her for the help at recess. She filled with crude drawings of Batman that I nodded in a vacant way at my comments, but had worked on the night before, a plate of never offered any of her own. I decided to ask dried toast crust and some choose-your-own her a question. adventure books. "Why do you sit at the bottom of the slide every day?" We sat ourselves in the middle and I She looked up at me, her eyes like explained some of my drawings to Lili. She olive brine, and she offered the smallest and wasn't interested in this and I soon gave up. briefest of smiles. "It is smooth," she said, "and when We took to simply staring at one I was in primary my dad would take me to the another, not knowing what to do until a park with a big yellow spiral slide just like this. moment came when she decided to stick out I would go down the slide, like 200 times a her tongue at me and make a funny face, day. He would lift me to the top so I didn't popping her eyes out a bit. This was an have to keep climbing and just left me slide absolutely ridiculous sight. Her tongue was down. Reaching the bottom was the best part. purple from the Popsicle and I looked at it

closely, noticing for the first time in my life the the unending love of his parents and the small city of bumps I would later discover were mysterious love of the girl on the slide. It was papillae. I did not know what to make of this invincibility, man's innermost desire! expression in my mind and so I let my body take control of any rationality within the tent. In February, a woman came to our class to give a special presentation. I suddenly tipped myself forward and wrapped my lips around Lili's tongue. She did "Hello grade four, my name is Mrs. not recoil at all and her tongue was still a bit Brown and I'm here today to talk to you about cold from the Popsicle. something very important," she said. "Today we are going to talk about sexual intercourse." For a long moment we were connected, her tongue in stasis between my top and There were a few giggles around the bottom lip, unmoving, cold and wet-fleshed; room, but not from me. I felt a sudden terror foreign tasting and familiar. I rejoiced in the in me, a kind of fear I had never known. At flavor of the kiss and I rejoiced in the small first, I did not know why I felt this way, but I bursts of warm air that fell from her nostrils to soon found out. mix with my own exhalations. We were breathing together and I was holding her in The entire lesson was a blur. I place. I instinctively let my own tongue move remember Mrs. Brown telling us about forward within the cave of my mouth and upon positive language and I remember her telling touching it to her tongue I felt the kind of us about love. I felt rotten inside because I euphoria a baby river must feel when first believed myself to understand love more than meeting the ocean. We hung there, in the tiny anyone else. To most children my age, love was space-ship tent for long minutes. It was not thea Disney movie or a Barbie book. Love to me kind of kiss that adults have, the kind that is was tongues in a spaceship tent. Love was a based on social conventions and romantic tongue that was cold and turned warm, a dramas. It was the kind of kiss only two pure secret place and the feeling of a synchronized and innocent souls could have, a kiss pulse. unburdened by the tattoos of North American romance. As the lesson went on I suddenly felt as if Mrs. Brown was speaking only to me. I After the kiss, Lili smiled at me. began to feel that what Lili and I had been She told me that she never wanted to go home, doing in the basement for months was what she told me that her new father would be adults referred to as sex and according to Mrs. there, and that he wasn't like a real father Brown, sex was the most atrocious thing a should be. child could do. Somehow the weeks drifted by, and Mrs. Brown went on about safety, every day my now beloved Lili would come condoms and finding the right person when over to play "Popsicles", as we called it. Each you grow up. She talked about diseases like kiss was a different kind of special. We didn't AIDS and myths about sex, like men who wore experiment, we didn't know how, we simply their jeans too tight not being able to conceive just did the same routine of silent communion sperm. None of this made sense but I listened in my toy filled basement. I began to see less to it all anxiously. I felt alone and singled out and less of my friends and soon found myself for I was the only one who had been in this elected into the "poor kids" club. This did not strange world Mrs. Brown was revealing to us. bother me because in those days nothing could Could adults tell if a person had been sexually really bother me. I was a child armored in both active? Was there some kind of change in a

person? I could not be sure at the time, but I was suspicious of the teacher's gaze. When at last Mrs. Brown played a video in which two cartoon bunnies began to kiss in a rabbit hole, my chest tightened. As I watched their animated purple tongues meet one another with closed bunny eyes I made an awkward shriek, jumped from my desk and ran out of the classroom. All of my fellow students laughed as I ran, presumably thinking me not man enough to handle that kind of scene. I took a drink from the hallway fountain and then sat in a small cubbyhole near our snow-jackets while my teacher droned on in an attempt to sooth me. I was then left alone to gather myself, but I could not. I walked home that day alone without looking for Lili. I told my mother I was sick and she let me go to bed at 4:00. I didn't sleep the entire night; I just lay in my bed, looking up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling, playing all of the kisses over and over in my head.

paper. "Dear Diary, my name is Francis and I am nine years old. I think I got a girl pregant and I am terrafied. I also think I might have AIDS." In the months that followed I took to long lasting periods of depression and silence. I sat in my room drawing endless circles and when the spring came I routinely went outside and buried my face in the grass to watch ants crawling around on their holes. I did not play with my friends, except when my mother took me to a friends house to play with their children, and when I did play I usually just asked if we could draw or play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, a popular Nintendo game at the time. I did anything to escape.

Still, I found enjoyment in nothing and my only solace was in the moments when I forgot about the terrible crime. I did my best to stay away from Lili and the fact that we had created something terrible out of our sexual energy. She did not come looking for me either and I was unsure of her feelings. Surely she I felt as if I had been doing something would have noticed the baby in her by now, I terribly criminal, as if my secret game of thought. When wandering through the Popsicles had been something dark and evil all playground alone I would often try to peek at along. Sex. There were so many warning labels her belly, looking for some sign of a bump. on the physical relationship between men and women I had not been able to read. I did not Was I was afraid of what terrible fate think I could talk to anyone and I was sure I awaited me upon Lili discovering she was was the only nine-year-old boy that had ever pregnant and dying of AIDS, or was I more gone this far. I had unknowingly robbed afraid of my own ability to suppress what I myself of my own childhood innocence and felt knew to be true and pure love? I cannot be I could never go back to the way things were, sure. In my mind I kept playing a scene where before the touching of tongues, before Lili. The Lili, her mother and a police officer knocked entire night I tried to pinpoint the fact that wason my door to have a chat about what I did to bothering me so much and as I stared into the poor Lili. darkness of my room looking at the small red and blue dots that appeared when I closed my In my imaginary scenario, I always eyes, I realized what was wrong. ended up being pressed into a police car, crying. Still, after all of these fantasies played I did not keep a journal in those out, my imagination would always settle itself days, but I began writing one that night. I into a more peaceful place. At the same time I found a small notepad in my desk and I was imagining the horrors of what I'd done, I scribbled two sentences on the first sheet of also invented a new world within my mind. I

created a world where women couldn't get riskily and trying to catch the ball in unique pregnant and where there was no such thing as ways. AIDS. In my numbed world I could sit in the rocket-ship tent and explore the soft, wet The fun of the game soon found me and mountain of Lili's tongue for hours upon I decided to try and go for my back flip one hours. My world was a child's world; a world more time, trusting fully in my own esteem. I that is perfect and unchanging where time did threw the ball hard against the decaying brick not pass and we were allowed to play all day wall and began to leap backwards, estimating because there was no one to not allow us to do how quickly I needed to flip before regaining things. Usually when I arose from these ground in enough time to catch the ball. fantasies I lapsed back into my depressive However, as soon as my feet were off the state and the cycle continued. Years passed. ground I found myself in a terrible state of anxious familiarity and I lost all timing. I As I grew into a man, I realized that landed once more on my neck and shoulders. my conceptions of sexually related complications were inaccurate. As the This time the height of the jump mechanics became naturally clearer to me, I deepened my impact and I found myself in a realized I had made a terrible mistake. How state of unconsciousness. It was there that I foolish I had been! Regret soon filled the space looked over and saw Lili sitting on the bottom that had once been depressive fear. Lili had of the yellow slide, an older Lili that had moved away in grade 6 and I did not know changed from a sad creature into an infinitely where she was or if she still had that sad, inspiriting young woman of texture and shining little face. In those days the computer elegance. technology to find lost friends was still either deplorable or unavailable, and I was unable to She came to me and stood find her and correct my mistake. overhead, her hair now thick and shiny, her face the color of Egyptian honey. She stood Instead I walked through life with over me, not silently but cooing. the back of my mind always wondering if I had She sang a soft song of my childhood, a hurt her or not. Eventually all that remained of Lili was the memory of her kiss, though I could song that was wonderfully hushing and had delicate not recall its exact flavor. As other women little lyrics that I couldn't fully understand. When came into my life I often tried to replicate that she was finished she knelt down beside me and form of connection by asking girls if I could then without closing her big green eyes she stuck kiss them with their tongues out. A few women out her tongue, which was wet and purple. It complied, but I found no nostalgia in the looked like a living Amethyst and in a way it was. I wetness of their tongues; no love. lifted my head and wrapped my lips around her tongue, just like before and it tasted just as it had. It When I was twenty-two I found tasted like childhood and love, and it tasted like myself walking a dog on the playground of my every sweet taste I had ever known. It was like old elementary school on Thanksgiving waking up after ten thousand years and it made my weekend. I let the dog off the leash to run body feel like a candle flame that had been blown around and then went to the playground to see but not blown out. if the wire box with the bouncy balls in it was still there. To my surprise it was, and I decided By Frank Hinton to kick off the locked hinge and take out a ball. I found a small red one with just enough air in it and began to rebound it off of the wall, playing just as I used to in elementary, playing

Down in the Grotto, We Break Bread Together in June, and it swooped around the sky like a coy, shimmering angel; my protector spirit. Everyone knows this house is haunted. They Men were laughing and stoking a fire a short come from God knows how far to see it. I often hear languages I do not recognize, and distance beyond the house. this is nothing new. Someone had cut a wooden figure of a man in We live in Groot Constantia ––a home whose a hat, painted it black and placed it near a tree. origins are in its gifting by the Dutch East India Company to Simon van der Stel, the first There had been reports of smelling the smoke of a named pipe or cigar when near the figure, and it Governor to this settlement of Cape Town. seemed you never knew where it—he—would pop up. At night, some of us defy sleep; still others blend into the warp and weave of this house Parents still told the traditional legends to during the day. children Mother never sleeps. She remains in the sitting before bed by the light of the moon and the room, her hands at any given time endlessly chirring and whizzing of insects. He popped up widening a skein of lace. Sometimes I hear the in those bedtime stories too, with his foulsmelling rat-tat-tatting of the cook, and cannot remember his name; and I strain to recall the smoke. lovely woman’s face who told tall tales and When Corethe led me in a dance through the sang to me as a vineyard on days when the sky would open up child. dark and the rain held back only through the minutest “Christina,” she would sing, “'n By het my particles, I thought I saw him too, a prankster gesteek”—I’ve been stung by a bee. tokoloshe. It was for the tokoloshe that we Later she told Simon the story of how I became raised our mattresses up on bricks, so he could not get lost in the interior while traveling on safari, and charmed the growling lions back into their to us. den. Corethe would build hers high, finding bricks Agter Uitgaan die leeuwenhof. One, two, three, outside Constantia that she would pull one by the dance I spun out for them like an old man’sone back to our room. yarn was an improvised version of something "Christinaaaa," she would whisper-tease me in my the dark. sister had taught me, and it sent the beasts back one by one, een na die ander, in pursuit One...two...three...I send you back, I would of other prey. And I pursued a bird with think, warding off her taunt when I could not vibrant wings out of the thickets and into the bushveld where think of how to speak the curse in Afrikaans, when I could not decide between a curse and a my caretaker searched, calling for me. prayer. I saw the bird every year after when I By Cynthia Reeser wandered into the grotto beyond the vineyards

The Problem With LEDs The lights are not so piercing now. They struggle against even the flat grey of the day's gloom. No need to look for broken bulbs. Twentyfirst century. Light emitting diodes adorn the plastic Christmas tree. Clean, clinical, white light fights sharply with the pale day but fails to impact in its accustomed manner. They fade very gradually to nothing before climbing back up again. It's better than that frantic, feverish pattern. Who wants that? She bought the crib when she was in Israel on business. It's carved from olive-wood apparently. It sits next to the plastic tree with the slowly pulsing, palely envious, lights and neither one looks right. I don't believe in God. She does. I think. She used to, anyway. I think about last night and wonder if it was my fault. It doesn't feel like it but I suppose it's possible. I'm probably not easy to live with. I used always be the grown-up after arguments. I used always be the one to instigate some sort of reconciliation. I was generally the first to say sorry. I don't really feel like saying sorry. The day outside is uniformly leaden. A washed-out watercolour comprised only of one colour. Even the low clouds are featureless; a blank canvas biding its time for some change in the weather. I think it might rain soon. Inside, shadows without definition fill every corner. They have no edges, each a smooth transition from shadow to deeper shadow. It's one of those days where you wonder how day can be defined in the almost-absence of light. The problem with LEDs is that they're cold. There's no warmth there at all. I gaze at the tree and see no warmth. Even the shards that reflect from

red and gold baubles seem somehow shrill. I watch. The LEDs ebb and flow cold light. I think of Sisyphus. Getting up, I switch the lights to the fastest pattern. By Gerry Hayes

A Metazen Christmas Book  

A book of stories published on Christmas Day 2009. All profits from this publication were donated to the Sunrise Village Orphanage in Siam R...

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