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Vol. 3 Issue 10 New York London Hong Kong Philippines

HOUDINI


new reader magazine June 2020 | Vol. 3 Issue 10 COVER IMAGE

Elevator by Min Ding

CREATIVE STAFF Managing Editor

: Kyla Estoya

Associate Editor

: Aira Calina

Feature Editors

: Neil Gabriel Nanta, Keith Ayuman

Editorial Assistant

: Rio Lim

Writers and Production Staff

: Sarah Eroy, Celina Paredes, Regie Vocales

Jazie Pilones, Patricia Luardo, Frank Go Jarryl Ibrahim, Joi Villablanca, Yanya Cortes-Tingzon Layout Artist

: Iain Yu

Publicists

: Kota Yamada, TJ Delima

Researchers

: Rosielyn Herrera, Marjon Gonato, John Paul Vailoces

CONTRIBUTORS

Bill Arnott, Toti O’Brien, Olesya Volk, Amber May, Cynthia Balea, Ute Carson, Rachel Rodman, Arah Ko, Mark Murphy, Stephen Mead, Louise DiLenge, Mark Mitchell, Bob McNeil, Lynn White, Jack Coey, Hannah Smart, Ciaran McLarnon, Muhammad Nasrullah Khan, Mike Todd, Rahmah Meligy, Susan E. Rogers, Robert Guffey, Ted Larsen, Dee Burton, Rajiv Ramkhalawan, Ellen Saunders

MARKETING AND ADVERTISING

Laurence Anthony laurence.anthony@newreadermagazine.com

SUBSCRIPTIONS

subscription@newreadermagazine.com www.newreadermagazine.com Phone: 1 800 734 7871 Fax: (914) 265 1215 Write to us: 100 Church St. Suite 800 New York, NY 10007 ISSN 2688-8181

All Rights Reserved

NRMedia


“My chief task has been to conquer fear. The public sees only the thrill of the accomplished trick; they have no conception of the tortuous preliminary self-training that was necessary to conquer fear.”

EDITOR'S N O T E

– Harry Houdini

Shoulders straight. Chin up. Deep breath. Although it sounds like I am about to start the most epic combat of my lifetime—I regret to inform you that I am simply looking at the mirror and telling my reflection: “You really need to write that editor’s note.” Quarter after quarter I cram my way into writing this single-paged essay about the current issue. The first drafts are always hard to write! Sooner or later (mostly later), I inevitably need to face one of the greatest fears known to people like me: a blank piece of paper. Which gets me to thinking that in random parts of the world right now, most people are fighting for their lives and some are even fighting for their lives. They experience the chaos and horror this pandemic has brought, while I’m right here, scared of a little piece of paper. In the midst of this global crisis and the tension it has caused for most of humanity, we feel that it is only right to honor the storytellers by sharing pieces of their truth about this peculiar reality we live in. And the people of New Reader Magazine are always devoted to introducing them to you, and you to them. I’ve imagined this issue to be more magical and carnival-esque but as we were mixing and putting everything together, we realized that the global experience we’re having is stranger than fiction itself. During this quarantine, I found myself watching Alice in Wonderland again. The book and the many adaptations of the film never failed to make us imagine or watch the nonsense whimsical world unfolding in front of us, and at the same time, make us feel uncomfortable and scared. Even though I’m aware that it’s make-believe, I know for a fact that getting lost in Wonderland—a strange place I haven’t been before—is as scary as staring at a blank piece of paper. I’m guessing I was scared that I cannot express myself enough about how magnificent this curation turned out to be; like how reading Toti and Olesya’s conversation is like listening to your mother and your favorite aunt talking about how the most wonderful and worst parts of life help shape the colorful characters of individuals—especially to artists like them; or with DiLenge and Guffey reminding us that narrating stories based on our own experiences is a noble act, and it is our duty to shareit to others; and the fact that Jaina and Min both share the joy and satisfaction in building their worlds (both figuratively and literally), while exposing the vulnerable and painful experiences people sometimes choose to disregard about themselves or everybody around them. At the comfort of your own home, please enjoy this issue entirely made out of Zoom calls, chat conversations, and email exchanges. Stay safe and stay fearless, dear reader.

K

P.S. I’d like to thank our layout artist, Iain Yu, for his talent in putting & organizing the texts and artworks of this magazine since day one. He will be embarking on a new journey (which we are proud of), and we owe him champagne.


Contents Feature

Featured Bookstores

Fiction/Flash/Prose

12 Bill Arnott’s Beat

06 Fiction Addiction

47 Underlings

Bill Arnott

15 Tales of Roots & Wings

Olesya Volk and Toti O’Brien

24 Contributor’s Corner (Poetry): Louise DiLenge

Keith Ayuman

27 Contributor’s Corner (Fiction): Robert Guffey

Neil Gabriel Nanta

31 Not-Alice in Wonderland

Kyla estoya

Downtown Books and Art Gallery

JACK COEY

53 The Worst That Could Happen

HANNAH SMART

63 The College Man

CIARAN MCLARNON

67 Chasing Butterflies in the Days of War

MUHAMMAD NASRULLAH KHAN

76 A Bird in the Face

MIKE TODD

38 The Dollmaker

86 Muzhiks: The Story of the Russian Peasantry

Aira Calina

RAHMAH MELIGY

95 The Sisters

SUSAN E. ROGERS

104 Her Wounded Eyes

ROBERT GUFFEY

111 A Song for the Lemmings

TED LARSEN

121 Doctor Donald Awaits You

DEE BURTON

128 Stranger

RAJIV RAMKHALAWAN


Poetry 45

Receptacles

New Reader Media 88

AMBER MAY

49

Veil of Perdition

59

99

Corn on the Cob

Magical Greenery

Pickled Pig’s Feet

That’s Why Red Christmas RACHEL RODMAN AND ELLEN SAUNDERS

LOUISE DILENGE

108 Dreaming Blind Boredom MARK MITCHELL

114 Commuting into Myself

I Want to Want to Get Better

A Promissory Reincarnation

I Want to Be Faceless

The Blight that United Us

Phaedra ARAH KO

81

136 To-Read List

Meatloaf

Everyone

71

Oasis

Death is Not One But Many UTE CARSON

64

Shifts

Sneak Peek The Jewelers

STEPHEN MEAD

Obsessive-compulsive Dystopia CYNTHIA BALEA

I Think I’m Getting Weirder

BOB MCNEIL

124 Written In Black And White

Marx Eulogy

The Devil It Is

The Lady from the Sea

Odyssey In The Afternoon

He Who has the Youth (has the Future) MARK MURPHY

LYNN WHITE

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NRM takes on the challenge of bookmarking emerging voices in the indie publishing world, presented in random order.


Featured Bookstores

Fiction Addiction 1175 Woods Crossing Rd #2, Greenville, SC 29607 Owner: Jill Hendrix

J

ill Hendrix founded Fiction Addiction in May 2001 in Greenville, SC. Jill grew up in Greenville, graduated magna cum laude from Yale University with a B.A. in history, and then moved to Brooklyn, NY, where she briefly worked for St. Martin’s Press as an editorial assistant. She then worked for Juno Online Services and a series of internet startups. When the dotcom crash came she decided to move back home and open Fiction Addiction.

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Fiction Addiction began as a used bookstore. It carried only fiction for approximately 3 days before Jill listened to her customers’ requests and loosened her strictures. By 2009, the store had converted to an inventory of new books and started the popular Book Your Lunch author event series. The store has moved 3 times over its 20 years of existence. When the store was closed to the public for 2 weeks during the COVID-19 outbreak in April 2020, they moved three doors down into their current space, which is a cozy 1,000 square feet. They are now offering a Patreon membership, hosting Virtual Events, and offering curbside pickup, but no matter how crazy the world gets, their mission remains to discover and recommend books they feel are worth their customers’ time to read.


New Reader Media

D Downtown Books and Art Gallery 414 W 6th St., San Pedro, CA 90731 Owner/Manager: Mike Rivero & Ksenia Smirnoff

owntown Books and Art Gallery, located in the historic Downtown San Pedro Art District CA, is a lovely book store. They also have a custom framing, matting business with a dedicated Art Gallery that has shown great artists like Conrad Buff, Norman Styles Chamberlain, and Clara Tice. Downtown Books and Art Gallery has one of the best collections of antiquarian books in Los Angeles and a great collection of books in Spanish. One of their specialties is great American authors like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Henry Miller, and of course, the legendary LA and San Pedro poet, Charles Bukowski. Until 1983, this location was home to The Giant Bookstore which held events, book signings, and poetry readings. In fact, Charles Bukowski used to hang out here and he did a poetry reading in this exact location on August 23, 1983.

Downtown Books and Art Gallery is owned and operated by Mike Rivero and Ksenia Smirnoff. Mike Rivero has been at this current location for over twenty years. Mike is a painter who studied under Michael Dancer and Neil Nagy in the early 1990s. His Cuban Band Calle 6 has been performing Cuban Music in the South Bay for many years. Before going into business with Mike, Ksenia Smirnoff was one of his bookstore customers. Ksenia specializes in children’s literature and Russian literature. She manages the bookstore and she hosts many events such as book signings and poetry readings, as well as their legendary Wednesday Night Film Group, where she shows and discusses many classic films of all genres.

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Sneak Peek

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New Reader Media

SNEAK PEEK

The Jewelers

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Sneak Peek

After many years spent travelling, Malcolm John Baker has taken to writing. In his thrilling books, he expertly fuses historic events with his own experiences, resulting in believable fictional storylines at par with some of the biggest players in the literary field. Malcolm has written four books so far, with three of them comprising an exciting series set on the tail of two illustrious FBI informants as they take on daunting missions, unravel secrets, and recover hidden treasures. Our friends in New Reader Media are currently making a movie based on Malcolm’s third book in the series, Daylight Robbery. Aptly titled The Jewelers, the movie will be featuring basic elements from the book, with an original screenplay by one of NRMedia’s screenwriters, and is being directed by Christian Linaban. The film will be as action-packed as the book is, with Malcolm himself on board as the executive producer. Viewers will enjoy the pacing which is a perfect balance of fast and easy-to-digest. Humor, too, is injected into appropriate moments in the film for that necessary relief from the hard action. To learn more about it, head on down to www.newreadermedia.com or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and on Instagram. You can also get a copy of Daylight Robbery by clicking this link.

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New Reader Media

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Contributor’s Corner

Bill Arnott’s Beat I ’m author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott and I’m excited to be part of NRM, a magazine I love. Bill Arnott’s Beat is a series of insights and a laugh or two experienced during my travels—book tour readings and performances at mixed-media and literary events everywhere. I’m usually on Canada’s west coast but with the reach of our creative community, I feel we all live just around the corner. For an introduction, a bit of background. There’s a stylized map on our living room wall. A simple piece of art with an eco feel—reclaimed wood, splashed with paint, a quasi-Rorschach test by a local artist.

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We found it at an open-air craft fair one evening on North Vancouver’s gentrifying waterfront. Across the inlet lies the CBD, working port and cruise ship berths alongside a convention centre. We live nearby. I handed over three twenties and carried away the awkward piece of lumber, a Three Stooges sketch waiting to unfold. Since then it’s been a touchstone—at times in storage, now displayed on the solitary bit of wall in our highrise studio apartment in Vancouver’s Yaletown. If you don’t know the area, let me offer up comparables relative to NRM’s publication hubs (New York, London, Hong

Kong, Philippines). If you’re in the US, think Portland Oregon’s Pearl District—a hundred-and-fifty-year-old rail terminus developed twenty-five years ago into restopub, craft-beer, hipster-beard landscape adjacent to polluted and beautiful waterfront. If you’re in the UK, think London’s Canary Wharf, thirty years ago, before over-leveraged Canadians spruced it up. In China? I’d liken it to a small scale, architecturally challenged Shanghai Bund. And if you’re in the Philippines, imagine fewer islands, four seasons, and less interesting cuisine. That’s my neighbourhood—my home, most of the time.


Bill Arnott’s Beat

connectivity, I look forward to more time together, here, in the pages of NRM. We might bump into each other at your next event—I’m the bald guy with a big smile, looking to swap ideas, share stories, and have a laugh as we continue to build our artistic community. Oh, the map? Well, that’s my sightline most often, as I write, compose, face-time, chat, or daydream, often all those things at once. A view of the world, an inviting welcome mat—open-armed—tickling a nomadic desire to travel, tour, experience, and create. The art itself reminds me of gems we find when we’re not even looking. This simple slab of wood, destined for a landfill site, became something treasured —the alchemy of artistry, something transmogrified to something new by way of inspiration and interpretation, the result exceeding component parts—in this case, a bit of paint and tree becoming motivation and desire. I see the same when I read NRM— artistic vision in a borderless world. To be a small part of this is a privilege. I encourage you to get in touch if you’ve something you’d like to share or bring to my attention. You can find me @billarnott_aps. I’ll see you soon, if not at a venue nearby then here, in our creative shared space. * * *

A few years ago I distanced myself from a job and a life and a cache of folk I no longer considered my people. And leapt, double-footed, into the arts. With a few keystrokes and a new social media handle, I was Bill Arnott—author, poet, songwriter. Fact is I’d been doing these things for nearly half a century. But once Mark Zuckerberg broadcast it to the world, it somehow felt official. I spent the ensuing years hanging out with as many creatives as possible—fellow authors, poets, songwriters, and multimedia artists, as well as performing at countless venues around Canada and overseas,

attending every lit fest, open mic reading, book launch, slam poetry, and music event I could, making friends and building a network in this welcoming, supportive, healthily competitive community. Building bridges and breaking barriers has been, I like to believe, something I do well—finding commonality and fostering inclusivity. My experience isn’t unique. A lot of us accomplish the very same thing. Sharing these experiences through a column like this, I feel, makes sense. Whether we’re meeting for the first time or reconnecting through shared channels —finding our sixth degree of Kevin Bacon

Author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, Dromomania, and Allan’s Wishes. His Indie Folk album is Studio 6. He’s received awards for poetry, prose, and songwriting. When not writing, performing, or trekking the globe with a pack and a journal, Bill can usually be found having a pint and misbehaving with friends on Canada’s west coast. www.amazon.com/ author/billarnott_aps

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Contributor’s Corner

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Toti O’Brien—A Calligraphy of Wind, Diptych—Detail—Mixed Media—2020


USA

Tales of Roots & Wings A D I ALO G UE O N AR T, L I F E , AN D LO RE A conversation between artists Olesya Volk and Toti O’Brien Olesya Volk is a Los Angeles-based artist/writer. She was born in Russia where she started doodling, writing, and publishing her tales and puppet plays. She moved to the US in 1992, studied animation at UCLA, and then worked doing web animation and illustrations. In her paintings she explores the patterns of nature, especially the tree bark, as a form of intuitive “readings” of the primordial language. She exhibits her mixed media, dioramas, and paper theatre in L.A. and internationally. She also makes comic books and graphic novels. Toti O’Brien is the Italian accordionist with an Irish last name. She was born in Rome and then moved to Los Angeles, where she makes a living as a self-employed artist, performing musician, and professional dancer. Her poetry and prose has been published in a number of magazines and anthologies, in the US and internationally. For a while, Olesya planned on interviewing Toti. Toti wished to interview Olesya sooner than later. Then, what could be more natural than a back-and-forth exchange? A conversation, that is. Topics to be considered were profuse, as the two share a number of interests. But within the context of relaxed, friendly correspondence, the main theme thought it apt to just choose itself.

Toti O’Brien. Let us start from the beginning, shall we? It’s a time and place I like to recall when I think of someone. I like to resuscitate the first impression she or he left on me. Scholars say that in seven seconds we form a fair idea about someone else. I believe it, give or take a second or two. A rough sketch, and yet usually truer than later, more refined opinions. I recall the first time I saw you at the Neutra Gallery, in L.A., leaning by the wall where two of your paintings were hung. Oh my, they were intriguing and beautiful. From a distance I saw complex textures, subtle nuances of muted, natural colors.

Coming close, I identified the tree trunks. I saw bark inhabited by a myriad of beings, a whole crowd of minuscule people. I am familiar with folk tales, elves, fairies, and all kinds of spirits, therefore I recognized them. What surprised me, prompting me to introduce myself, was the fact that you looked a bit like your paintings. Your dress was adorned with knitted lace, black and finely wrought. Your long, dark hair was braided. You were dressed and combed like a kind of fairy, though not in a showy manner. Rather casual. And you smoothed yourself against walls. You hid in corners as your creatures did in the bark.

Also, we were dressed kind of alike. Also, I was dressed a bit like my work, as you later remarked. Then I noticed an oddity, as it comes to art openings. You were nice and affable, easy to befriend in a way that doesn’t belong to show time, not even to adulthood. You were ready to connect as young children are, when they meet at the park. Without preconceptions. We realized that we lived a few blocks away, though far from the place where the Gallery was, which struck me as an interesting pattern… the two close points of origin, where we had never met, and the distant point of arrival where we colluded.

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Contributor’s Corner

I have dilated seven seconds in many words. They could be further dilated. Let me try to summarize them instead. You looked like a small fairy of the gentle sort. You reacted to others with the spontaneity of a child. You were beautiful like your own work of art. Without knowing it, we had been neighbors for a long time. Olesya Volk. I perfectly remember that day. At the exhibit, your dress and whole image being in tune with your painting was both amazing and amusing! In your painting, the prevalent feelings for me were of dance, movement, and rhythm. Its strangeness and symbolism were on the light side. It suggested a signature from an otherworldly language spoken by some flying creatures. Later, I found out that you were a dancer, musician, and actress, in addition to being an artist. In that first moment, I registered just the qualities of air, wind, dance, and a touch of secrecy that felt quite familiar. It reminded me of myself! A feeling of recognition was present, as if two fairies had seen each other in a forest full of all sorts of creatures and had nodded from a distance, saying: “Well met!” T.O. Yes, we shared a sense of familiarity. As we further acquainted, we realized concrete parallels between our lives. For a start, we both were born abroad, and we came into the States in our adult age. Sure, this is not uncommon. Still, I wonder if it played a role in how we gravitated towards each other. By the way, would you define yourself an immigrant? You remained in the US because of a marriage, as I did. Do you still feel a stranger, or don’t you? Have you felt more at home elsewhere? How deep do the roots of your trees reach? We only see trunks. Do your trees have roots? They must, otherwise they couldn’t support the weight of all those small people. Do small people have weight? O.V. You know, I never felt as an “immigrant”. My American husband made me feel as if I had stepped into a fairy tale… My life became so different from my past life in Russia. I seemed to have entered another phase, woken up from one dream and walked into another. There was no way

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Toti O’Brien—Elisa and the Wild Mice—Detail—Mixed Media—2014 back, as there was no way back in time. The only things that really connected me to my past were the trees. Here, as I did in Russia, all my life, since childhood, I walked among trees, talked and listened to them, making sketches from the bark scribbles into my “secret” notebooks, seeing and sensing the language that trees speak. Are there many languages? Legend tells of seventy primary languages. I gazed into the tree’s creaks and marks, all those hieroglyphs, and found stories, and got messages coming out of my mind memories. They were triggered on different levels of associations, interplayed, overlapped, and they met with immediate response from the trees. I always felt I was in a dialogue with them. However, only when I started painting with oil all that became exposed, transferred from my hidden notes to the canvases and panels and exhibits (though I did other kinds of art as well, animation and illustration). The concept of a “language” comes into my art from painting the tree bark. However, as more and more researchers are saying, the real language of trees starts in their roots. That is where the system

of communication is built, enabling each tree to send and receive signals, and as a result, transfer nutrients to the surrounding plants if they lack them. To sense need and provide support. While I paint the bark, the image of the roots also penetrates my art as a metaphor, expressed by the webs and “strange” entanglements, by the clusters of signs melting into each other, and presenting themselves to our eyes as mazes and puzzles. As the tools allow us to solve the riddle. * The forest, in fairy tales, is a place to where characters escape and, often accidentally, bump into the “meaning,” as it happens to the princess in the well-known “Twelve Swans” (also named “Seven Swans,” “Ten Swans,” etc., in the folk tradition). We have discovered to our astonishment that we both loved this tale the most. We considered it to be closest to our heart, also, a sort of portrait of our personality as it lives in the world. Why is the story of a princess who runs away and hides in the forest, where she finds out how to break the evil spell and turn her brothers back from swans into


USA

*

Olesya Volk—The Wake—Oil and tempera on wood—18”x 24”—2017 people, meaningful for you? How do you see yourself in it? Also, what are trees, how do they speak to you? T.O. I will start from your last question, because as I read your lines the trees became real and now, though I’m inside my room, I am overwhelmed by their presence. I am not sure of how they speak to me, or if they even do. What I know is that I have always felt protected by them, also linked to them by a strong sense of familiarity. I am a radical (a rooted!) atheist. I don’t believe in gods. But the trees give me the almost tangible feeling of being held by an all-comprehensive, an immensely benevolent entity, which comes

close to what believers say about divinity. Perhaps this is due to the fact that trees live long lives. They have seen many things before we were born. They will still be there when we will be gone. Of course, they also die, but to me their longevity sounds a lot like eternity! Also, trees are intrinsically faithful to their essence, aren’t they? I must have been very young when I realized it. They grow towards the light no matter what. They endure anything and yet they keep growing, giving out new leaves, flowers, fruit, season after season. I have wished and still wish to be like them: faithful to the essence no matter what.

As for the “Wild Swans,” yes, there are many versions of this tale. As a child I read Andersen’s story, a poetic re-make of narrative elements found within the collective psyche. Why did it make such an impression on me? Why did I identify with Elisa, the female heroin? Let’s see. She is a rebel. So am I. She disobeys. So I did for a long time. She is not scared of graveyards, where she gathers nettles she then weaves into shirts for her siblings. I always was fond of graveyards. My grandparents’ orchard, where I spent my childhood, adjoined one of them. Only a low, flimsy wall divided the two properties and I climbed it whenever I wished, day or night. As a child I thought cemeteries were wonderful, peaceful gardens starred with cute little lights, full of flowers and sculptures, more than all full of pictures, names, dates. And those pictures, names, dates were marvelous toys, building blocks one could utilize to make stories. Here is another similarity. Elisa makes things (shirts) with fiber, and I have incessantly dyed, woven, knitted, crocheted fiber. Also, I love birds, and as a child I was very close to my brothers. My first sewing project, indeed, was a shirt for my little bro! I cut into squares a piece of brocade peeled off an old armchair (my folks were horrified). Two for sleeves, two for the front piece, one more for the back. I recall how proudly I spread the finished product upon the piano bench. It was light green. Did you read the ‘Swans’ in Andersen’s version? When? Do you recall your first reactions? How are you related to Elisa? O.V. When I first heard the story of Elisa (yes, in Andersen’s interpretation), I had a feeling that it was about me, though I didn’t know why! I was six years old. I still didn’t know I would become an introvert, like Elisa, who spends lots of time alone, walks at night, gathers nettles, secretly weaves magical shirts for the sake of rescuing her brothers, and isn’t even able to talk during the long time of her mission. I still didn’t know about a pattern that would later emerge in my life, which someone from my family named the “magical last moment rescue.” But it perfectly applies to Elisa, who is about to be burned at the stake because of

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Contributor’s Corner

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Olesya Volk—Tree of Alchemy—Oil on wood—18”x24”—2015


USA

O.V. These days, with the quarantine and isolation unfolding, my “artist’s life” hasn’t changed much from before, except for the fact that all shows were closed, including those of which I was part. My usual day schedule is centered around a son who needs my care. I am able to do art essentially at night, although sometimes I find brief gaps during the day. So, this probably affects the character of my art… the fact of being sporadic and “dreamy”, done during stolen moments similar to the moment of falling asleep. Recently, I started seeing a pattern in this, and I accepted it as a prompt from my soul to trust even more my subconscious. During the pandemic, the idea of accepting the rhythm of my time as it is and then finding meaning in it has started crystalizing.

Toti O’Brien—A Calligraphy of Wind, Golden Dove—Mixed Media—20”x24”—2020 false rumors and still, since her work is done, she can break the spell, save her brothers, and begin talking. At the very last moment, she is saved. I didn’t know why, but I felt attuned to her sense of secret mission, her journey of serving the mystery, to the feeling many artists know well of being apart, separate from the world, on a special, strange path. It’s the same path that led me to study the subjects and images of alchemy, to explore the mystery hidden in nature, deep, behind many veils, and still near. In my art I try to express this closeness by hinting at the meaning that is emerging, budding through the language that isn’t revealed yet, but we sense its presence. Once, you mentioned the quarantine as another possible allusion to Elisa’s symbolism. I was struck. Could you elaborate on it? T.O. As you said, Elisa is all by herself, sealed away. Since she is gathering nettles in the graveyard (allegedly an act of witchcraft, punished by burning the perpetrator alive) she must hide. Moreover, she is forbidden to talk until her task is finished or else everything will be nullified. So she spends

days and nights alone, focused on her work. As you have aptly noted, this is common among artists, and it might be why we both have identified with this character. During this quarantine, many people endure a state of withdrawal that reminds of Elisa’s. All are sealed within their own habitat and confronted with time stretched, unstructured, no more punctuated by the usual routines. Many live this condition uneasily. Artists usually don’t. There’s a side of what is occurring that is ideal for them, although they are financially vulnerable and the sudden lack of outputs for their creative work might be frightening. Still, when they don’t surrender to anxiety, all the artists I know welcome the opportunity of being “forced” to spend more time in the studio, have less interaction with the world, be less assaulted by distractions. Time mostly unconstrained, or totally unstructured as Elisa’s time is (wrapped in silence, fusing night and day into one, filled up with a single task of great urgency), is the “artist time” tout court. Time unbroken, surrendered, is what creation demands. And what does this suspension mean to you? How does your art respond to this sudden change? Is it really a change?

T.O. I also owe an insight about art, and about Elisa, to this time of unusually intense solitude. I have recalled a dream of my teenage years, which impressed me so much I never forgot it. I was pursued by aggressors unknown, and in order to escape I jumped from a skyscraper’s window into a swimming pool located two or three stories below. Although diving that way was very dangerous, I knew I had no alternative and I didn’t hesitate. On the contrary, I was fiercely determined. As I emerged from the pool and tried to reenter the building, looking for the stairs or an elevator, my aggressors were on the landing, blocking my way and ready to get hold of me. So I found another window and jumped into a lower pool. And again, and again. With each jump, I grew weaker and slower, also aware my chances of escape were dwindling. My pursuers would catch me in the end and, finding me unable to fight, they would kill me. I was sure, and still I kept jumping. I didn’t like this dream, which I found quite ominous. It appeared to contain a prophecy I’d rather ignore. Still, I have never forgotten it. * I have just understood that my life has perfectly embodied my nightmare. I have struggled non-stop for a form of happiness that implied creating art and being able to make a living of it, allowing me to keep creating. This ideal scenario was clear and

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Contributor’s Corner

detailed since my very childhood. To realize it was so important that I knew life would make no sense otherwise. Leading an artist’s life wasn’t a choice among others. For me, it was the only life worth living. I guess this is what they call a “vocation.” I didn’t succeed, but my failing was quite peculiar. Each time, it meant taking all the needed steps, building my castle of sand to the top, being ready to get in, and then seeing a wave wash it off. “Life” kept happening as life does, sometimes, bringing up one after another the emergencies and crises, the absolute yet alien priorities that would keep me away from my goal. I would lose either the house or the studio. I would have to relocate. To emigrate. I would be forced to take a fulltime job. A close relative would need me full-time. I would get seriously ill. So my life went, and yet I kept jumping, meaning I continued to pursue my creative ventures, constantly adjusting or rather beginning anew, like an ant that sees her heap destroyed, gathers crumbs and carries them elsewhere. My strength wanes with each new beginning just as my dream foretold. Each sand castle I make is smaller and frailer. I have no energy now for moving my building far enough from the ocean. But I don’t truly care, because I won’t stop. I know that my case isn’t rare. There is something intrinsically Don Quixotish in the artist call, don’t you think? O.V. In my family, Don Quixote was a main hero. His little brass statue directed our existence from the top of the cupboard. Yes, I think the artist’s way is quite Don Quixotish, since the main point is listening to your own “small voice” and don’t cheat on it, which often involves being alone and fighting the windmills. I would like to tell you about an absurd, funny dream I had. I saw the famous Russian poet of the 19th century, Pushkin, when he was a boy in his Lyceum years. Unlike how he is portrayed in history books, in the dream he was timid, quiet, and his classmates bullied him, calling him “mysh”, which in Russian means “mouse”. Pushkin answered: “I am not a “mysh”, I am a “kmysh!” This word doesn’t exist, but for a Russian ear it means something such as “quite a guy!” “not that simple”, “special and unique”... It is

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truly amazing how the soul invents the ways and “words” to support personal bravery in being just “you”! Quoting D. Seuss, “who can be youer than you?” T.O. This is why stubborn Elisa reminds me of the artist-life, and of my “funny” dream. She seems to have signed for a foolish task but in fact, like us, she didn’t choose it. Could she decide not to save her brothers? Come on. She has a call that she is compelled to follow, all odds notwithstanding. She must weave shirts out of a plant that grows in a forbidden zone, and additionally makes her hands bleed. Then, her task is on the impossible side. So is the task of making a living with art, in most cases… between hard and impossible. She is not allowed proper time for bringing her crafts to completion. Are we ever? She can’t talk, so she can’t explain what she is doing and why that is important. Can we? I have known since an early age that the wide majority would understand neither my functioning nor what I wanted to do, what I did, why I paid the price I paid and why in hell it mattered. Usually, if artists make art they do not make money. If they make money, no time is left for their art. If they fully devote themselves to family, friends, society, not enough is left for their work. If they give themselves to their work, their family, friends, society resent or even reject them. If the pattern isn’t always so radical, a variation of it always applies. So, it’s a matter of multiple double binds forming a vicious circle. Now, look at Elisa! If she is caught picking nettles among the dead she will go to prison, therefore she won’t be able to finish the shirts. If she doesn’t go to the graveyard she won’t have nettles to weave. If she is caught and she can’t explain her actions she will be killed, therefore, she won’t finish. If she talks in order to save her life, she will break the spell, therefore losing her work and her brothers. The more she weaves, the slower she gets, because nettles keep cutting her hands. As the time left for completing her task expires, she grows weaker, less proficient, more desperate.

Actually, desperate is the very thing she doesn’t become. When everything goes wrong, when she sneaks once again into the graveyard, is caught, doesn’t answer questions, is chained to the stake and the fire goes on, she is still weaving a sleeve for the last shirt. Nothing could stop her hands, or they were unable to stop. On her pyre, Elisa still hopes to succeed. She does not wait for a prince or a god to rescue her, and this also strikes a powerful chord. She hopes that she will make it, with her own hands. Do you still remember the end? The last shirt isn’t finished when the brothers fly by, but Elisa throws them all into the sky. This is her only chance. She has to accept imperfection. She knows it. She doesn’t mind. * There are various interpretations to the unfinished sleeve, to the fact that the eleventh, the youngest brother will forever have an arm and a wing. As far as the artistlife… as far as my life is concerned, Elisa’s last gesture is a lesson about the need of incessantly adjusting. About the necessity of practicing flexibility in order to not forsake the goal. Truly, the only way to keep going is to jump into the lower pool, the one closer to the ground. Is to say, ok, I really wanted this, I had figured that, I cared for this or that but these outcomes are no more achievable. I have lost this space, that equipment, this ability, that connection, this income, that gallery, this publisher, that affiliation. What is left? How can I remodel my dream, while keeping its essence intact? And what is your take on the eleventh shirt, the one missing a sleeve? O.V. My son is the youngest brother, whose shirt lacked one sleeve. The swan’s wing remained there instead of an arm when he transformed back into man, making him belong both to this world and to another, higher one. Most sensitive, most vulnerable. My artwork is subordinate to him and to my daytime schedule, which sets me apart from the world, on a silent path, like Elisa’s. At the same time, my art is about healing


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Toti O’Brien—The Day She Sprouts Wings—Ceramic—6”x8”x11”—2019

Olesya Volk—Burned Tree—Oil and tempera on wood—16”x20”— 201420”x24”—2020

Olesya Volk—Performers—Oil and tempera on wood—18”x 24”—2019

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Contributor’s Corner

Olesya Volk—Heavens—Oil and tempera on wood—16”x20”—2015 and connection, but connection “in full”, on all visible and invisible levels. This is why I define my art’s main theme “reading from the trees”, or “seeking the primary language”. In mythology, the “primary language” is also named “green”, or “bird language”. Symbols are magnetic to me, and that is another reason why I am drawn to the “Swans” tale. The number of brothers/swans varies in different versions but it is always significant, magical (12 or 11 for the months of the year, including Elisa or without her, 7 or 6 for the visible planets of our universe, etc.). In her life, Elisa loses all parts of her “inner cosmos”. She is left with just one, somehow centered in herself, and she has the task of restoring her whole, her world, no matter how hard and impossible it seems. So

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her tale has always been very inspiring, telling me to go on no matter what, and “all will be saved at the last moment.” * Birds play a great part in your art. Could you tell me about their meaning? T.O. They are my friends, like the trees. By the way, they usually come together! You look up at a canopy and you notice birds. You react to a call, to a song, and you see a branch of green. You just said it, “green language” and “bird language” are synonymous! It is true that when I am about to finish a piece I always feel compelled to introduce something birdy, as if the work wouldn’t be complete otherwise, as if it needed a “bird mark” to be identifiable.

I have recently realized I don’t sign my work. Such omission was brought to my attention when I was, perhaps, twenty? I recall shrugging with nonchalance, “what’s the matter? If this piece is lost or if someone steals it, I will do another one.” I don’t have delusions of endless creativity any more, but I still forget to add my signature. Therefore, look for the small bird in a corner! Or the wing, feather, nest, or else just an egg. Birds evoke a quite obvious symbolism, to which I can’t avoid responding in full. They are migrators, like me. I am captivated by their freedom, lightness, velocity, by the impression of fearlessness they emanate. Even birds must get frightened, but I have never noticed it, not even in those wounded sparrows Grandpa rescued and put into my hand. “See how fast their heart beats!” Those


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Toti O’Brien—Hand Made Map #3—Mixed Media—18”x24”—2014 small birds were scared, Grandpa said. Truly, I couldn’t tell. Sure, those birdies felt fragile. Soft and warm, but also inconsistent. Beak and claws can be dangerous, but birds seldom attack unless they are predators. Even predators don’t attack other than their prey or their competitors. So I perceive birds as vulnerable, but also made quasi invincible by their wondrous ability to fly. Flying is their magic spell, most powerful weapon. It’s the ace up their… sleeve! Fly away. This is what they do if you incautiously leave the door of the cage ajar. Sometimes, they even break the door of the cage. * In your art there is no sense of gravity. I am thinking not only of your treerelated oil paintings (though such quality

certainly applies to them), also about the wonderful picture books that you have published. Everything floats, is lifted up to or comes down from the sky, dances, twirls, evaporates or else orbits into space, creating galaxies of its own. What are this lilt and weightlessness of yours about? To me, they speak of freedom. O.V. I am hypnotized and magnetized by medieval illumination, in which all characters and creatures float around the page, and the page itself looks like a map. Whatever I paint at first looks “too heavy”, and I am compelled to make it appear more airy, fairy-talish, soaring in time and space. Freedom, yes. However, it’s hard to reach total freedom. For myself, I would rather pray for “lightness”, as opposite to

the “heaviness” that comes from “daily burdens”. Perhaps I project such a desired state into my creations, and a map kind of quality as well. Because most of my paintings are “nature patterns’ readings”, I tend to make the shapes of trees or rocks recognizable, but as if in the process of transforming under my scrutiny into a book page, a scroll, a symbolic map inscribed in the core of nature. I often apply, though loosely, the old Flemish masters’ technique, a style that naturally emphasizes the “lightness” and transcendent quality I am trying to express. By the way, I always liked the fact that the word “core” sounds as an alliteration for the Russian word “kora,” which means “tree bark!”

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Contributor’s Corner

Louise DiLenge INTVW BY Keith Ayuman

All of us are a product of our experiences. I strive to narrate honest reflections of a complex reality.

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Poetry

I literally grew up in a movie theatre. My father projected films. My mother sold tickets and concessions. NRM: Reading through your work, I’ve noticed that your poetry is inbetween mysterious despite being straightforward and enlightening. What does Louise DiLenge write about? And what do her subjects mean to her? Louise DiLenge: As a writer, I reflect the human condition, literally and metaphorically. RECIPE FOR SALVATION: Awake O’ Sinner Trilogy thematically illustrates a rural landscape, innocence lost, and environment shaping perception. Each lyrical narrative concludes with a recipe for feeding the body. For me, those “recipes” encapsulate observation, acknowledge lessons learned, and generate forward motion. Survival instinct, self-awareness, and existential questioning are states of being that motivate or demotivate. We have the choice of denial or embracing. Recognizing human foibles and facing our fears allow us freedom to experiment.

NRM: Due to this pandemic and the fact that a lot of people are obliged to stay home, a lot of artists have been using this time for their artistic expression—what have you been up to lately? LD: The COVID-19 experience will definitely surface in my future work. My process is evolving and adapting to Seattle’s stay-at-home guidelines. I now balance routine versus risk. In other words, some writers work best in solitude. However, due to this pandemic, my once welcomed state of solitude is becoming a state of isolation. Consequently, I am applying new methods to keep productivity on course. It has been a challenge, to say the least, and continues to shift my creative lens daily. Simple things I took for granted like walking my dog, meeting friends at a restaurant, hopping on a plane are compounded—social interaction will never be the same.

NRM: Who were your early influences in the arts? And what are the things that fuel your imagination? LD: Born into an illiterate working-class household, I sought refuge in the grade school library. Over three years, I read every book in alphabetical order. A consumptive reader, it didn’t matter who wrote the words, the unfettered feast drove me. I literally grew up in a movie theatre. My father projected films. My mother sold tickets and concessions. Sitting in the dark, my reality took on a 20’ x 50’ proportion, thundered Surround Sound and erupted CINEMASCOPE. My high school arts teacher, Charles Smith, tapped my shoulder as one of The Chosen, elevating my arts history and technique to college level. Which was a blessing, as I never completed college. In my 20s, Tomata duPlenty, former San Francisco Cockette and ringleader of Seattle’s Ze Fabulous Whiz Kidz lifted me from despair and taught me to be fearless, gender ffluid, and funny. Over the years, prolonged exposure to local and global visual, literary, and performing artists gifted me multi-cultural appreciation. Travel has offered endless inspiration. My imagination is self-generating.

of a bi-lingual stage play that traversed Japanese and American agricultural communities. Labor of Love (aka: the “rice play”) morphed into Gumbo Ya-Ya, assimilating Catalonian musicians and a third language to participate in the 1992 Goodwill Arts Festival in Barcelona. This experience profoundly changed my worldview. In 2017, I bowed out of collaborative arts production, leaving behind a legacy of arts events and theatrical manifestations. The ending of that bittersweet, magical chapter of my life brought forth a new phase of singular artistic endeavor.

NRM: As a writer and an artist, what do you think is your role in society? LD: My characters wrestle for survival, bear the pain of self-awareness, and contemplate the mercurial nature of existence. All of us are a product of our experiences. I strive to narrate honest reflections of a complex reality.

NRM: What makes Louise DiLenge unique? LD: Am I unique? We all have experiences. My repetitive truth has and continues to be: Gather what is offered—brutal or beautiful. Face reality. Reshape a new path around obstacles. Continue to experiment.

NRM: You have worked in the theater industry for the longest time, can you tell us some of your favorite magical moments? LD: From 1969-1971, I lived with Ze Fabulous Whiz Kidz, performing “guerrilla” drag cabaret in a subterranean club beneath Seattle’s Smith Tower. My first production effort paired the Kidz with shock-rocker Alice Cooper in the Paramount Theatre. Alice told the Kidz: “You scare me”. That was fun. Decades later, Teatro ZinZanni afforded the opportunity to participate in production

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Contributor’s Corner

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Fiction

ROBERT GUFFEY INTVW BY Neil Gabriel Nanta

NRM: During these trying times, how are you holding up? Do you have anything special planned after this pandemic ends?

If all the wheels are turning, the story is making those decisions for me.

Robert Guffey: Aside from the unforeseen difficulties of teaching five English classes online, I’ve learned that—to my surprise— I’ve been subconsciously preparing for a nationwide lockdown since my birth, and that life in quarantine doesn’t affect my daily routine in any appreciable way. After the pandemic ends, I hope to make a research trip to a California lake where Frankenstein’s Monster drowned a little girl in James Whale’s 1931 film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Call it a religious pilgrimage, if you must.

its own form,” and “Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind.” Of course, these are all variations on the same basic theme: “Don’t think.” If you have to think, think afterwards. That’s where the editing process comes in. I suppose the real answer to the question is that I don’t really make such decisions while the story is being written. If all the wheels are turning, the story is making those decisions for me.

NRM: What inspired you to write “Her Wounded Eyes”? RG: The character of “Wanda”—and everything she goes through over the course of the story—is based on the traumatic experiences of several different friends I had back in high school.

NRM: In “Her Wounded Eyes”, I can’t help but find a couple of interesting phrases like “dozens of stiff phalli erupting out of vaginal pockets in their protoplasmic bodies.” How do you decide what that particular phrase is going to be when you’re writing? RG: When Ray Bradbury was a struggling young writer living in a garage in Venice, CA back in the 1940s, he decided to tape a sign to his typewriter that read “DON’T THINK.” The epitaph on Charles Bukowski’s gravestone reads “DON’T TRY.” Jack Kerouac’s advice to young writers includes such pithy bon mots as “Something that you feel will find

NRM: Can you share with us some notable moments about being a lecturer? RG: It’s always satisfying when former Creative Writing students move on to bigger and better pastures and develop the confidence to share their own unique visions with the world. Some of my students have been accepted into the MFA Programs at Cal Arts and Iowa, for example. Others have moved on to become professional journalists. Several have succeeded in publishing the stories and novellas they originally workshopped in my classes. One of my students, Chris Mardiroussian, recently wrote and produced his own short film titled Il Breakup, which won the American Cinematheque’s annual independent film festival award in 2018. Knowing the behind-the-scenes difficulties he had to contend with in order to complete this film certainly raised my respect for his perseverance. He even gave me a credit at the end of film, which I probably didn’t deserve, but the thought was appreciated.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve also had several students whose stories were so good that I encouraged them to submit to professional magazines. But for some reason—and I’m not quite sure what causes this—some students seem reluctant to submit their stories for publication, even after receiving an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from their fellow students and teachers. Something prevents them from escaping the womb and taking that final leap into the real world. One student confided in me that this reticence stemmed from a fear of rejection. But if you’re a writer, you should never be afraid of rejection. What’s the worst that can happen? The editor sends you an email that says, “No thank you”? It’s not quite the same level of rejection a struggling actor or a comedian has to deal with. Based on what other students have been telling me, I suspect some budding writers are fearful of being unfairly attacked by their readers, as occurred to Isabel Fall, author of the controversial short story “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter”, a story I used to kick off my Literature of Science Fiction class earlier this year. Young artists should remember that, in many cases, suppression only works if you allow the negative reaction to affect you in the first place. If you have a unique vision, it’s your responsibility to share that with the world. Young writers should never self-censor or allow the ignorance of the mob to stop them from pursuing their dreams (or, in some special cases, their nightmares).

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Contributor’s Corner

NRM: How do you deal with criticism? RG: If the criticism is coming from a reliable source, like a close friend or colleague whose opinion I respect, I welcome the chance to rethink a piece of writing that may not be working at the level I’ve intended. On the other hand, if the criticism is coming from philistines (like the people who attacked Isabel Fall earlier this year), I have no problem ignoring it and moving on.

Young writers should never self-censor or allow the ignorance of the mob to stop them from pursuing their dreams (or, in some special cases, their nightmares). NRM: Your first book is nonfiction, which talks about a lot of conspiracy theories. How did your enthusiasm for conspiracies begin? RG: What initially sparked my interest in conspiracy theories was their Rorschach-like quality. In other words, people’s unexamined biases will often dictate the way they react to certain conspiracy theories. When JFK was assassinated, many right-wingers immediately decided that communists had killed him, while left-wingers concluded that billionaire Texas oilmen rubbed him out. Liberal conspiracy theorists obsessed

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with the Illuminati will interpret these devious conspirators as a cabal of right-wing fascists with Nazi affiliations. Conservative conspiracy theorists will interpret the Illuminati as a cabal of socialists intent on transforming the world into a collectivist nightmare. Meanwhile, there’s no real evidence that the historical Illuminati created by Adam Weishaupt continued to exist beyond the 1780s. Of course, any group of people can get together and call themselves “the Illuminati.” I recommend you and your friends do this, in fact. Why the hell not? As Robert Anton Wilson once said, “When you define the power elite as somebody else, I regard that as a loser script. I define the power elite as myself and my friends, and that’s a winner’s script.” Of course, this doesn’t mean there aren’t real conspiracies going on in the world today. Genuine conspiracies are swirling around us all the time. My first book, Cryptoscatology, examines many of these real life conspiracies. So does my third book, Chameleo: A Strange But True Story of Invisible Spies, Heroin Addiction, and Homeland Security (which, like Cryptoscatology, is 100% nonfiction).

NRM: In your personal opinion, what is the most interesting conspiracy theory? RG: Perhaps my personal favorite conspiracy theory was the one introduced to the world by Dr. Peter Beter on May 28th, 1979. Dr. Beter insisted that President Jimmy Carter and Henry Kissinger, among several other key American politicians and military leaders, had been assassinated by the Soviet Union and replaced with “organic robotoids.” By carefully analyzing news footage, Dr. Beter could tell you the approximate time and place the real Jimmy Carter was offered and switched with his robot clone. You can hear Dr. Beter’s startling announcement archived on YouTube right here. Oddly enough, Dr. Beter’s theories influenced one of my favorite punk rock albums, Only Lovers Left Alive by The Wanderers, released in 1981. So, for those of you who think outrageous conspiracy theories based on no evidence whatsoever began in 2017 with QAnon,

you’re quite wrong. Most of QAnon’s followers are probably not aware that several of the most eccentric “Q” theories can be traced back to the late 1800s—even earlier. This is one of the reasons it’s important to study conspiracy theories. If more people knew their exact origins, perhaps they would be a little more skeptical when they see these theories being strategically repackaged as political propaganda for a whole new generation of easy marks.

NRM: What’s a principle you hold close to your heart that has helped you in your writing as well as in your life? RG: My second book, Spies & Saucers (a collection of three novellas that take place during the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s) begins with a quote from James Thurber: “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” John A. Keel (who wrote one of my favorite books of all time, The Mothman Prophecies) had a business card that read: “NOT AN AUTHORITY ON ANYTHING.” In Chapter One of Cryptoscatology, I included this Meatball Fulton aphorism: “What’s coming at you is coming from you.” These three quotes, combined, probably come as close as anything possibly could to identifying an overarching worldview in my work (both fiction and nonfiction).


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Arts and Culture | USA

Alice

Not-

in

Wonderland by Kyla Estoya

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Arts and Culture | USA

Back when I was a kid, I’d get super excited whenever they aired Alice in Wonderland on Disney Channel. It is one of my favorite Disney oldies and I’m always grateful whenever I meet someone who shares the same kind of energy I have for the film. Not so long ago, I talked to a new, interesting, and colorful character. She likes to describe herself as someone who is irrevocably in love with the vibrancy of life, probably the kind of person I’d go silly-dancing with on a golf course. Her name is Jaina Cipriano and she is a photographer and filmmaker.

Facing your fears is a courageous thing to do and no one else can make the choice for you.

For the first time in a long time, I found another person who loves the same movie. She told me about her works being rooted in 90s cartoons and the time her mother bought her a VHS copy of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland when she was eight years old. When the movie ended, she rewound it immediately so she could watch it again. Even though I didn’t know much about Jaina then—where she lived, how old she was, or which ice cream flavor is her favorite—I knew for certain that she would be a good candidate for a best friend. She told me she loved how everything in the film was filled with brightly colored animations dancing around in front of a dark and mysterious backdrop, and that since then, the idea of something vibrant existing in the middle of darkness is something she has never stopped thinking about.

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Features

When I work with models, I often see this mirrored back to me, that not only are they afraid of the same thing, but that they respond to my subconscious fears in a way that makes me feel seen.

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lthough it’s admiring how Photoshop gives us the opportunity to make something surrealistic and odd-looking, Jaina’s photos portray a different kind of surrealism. She loves working with her hands which explains the fact that she builds her own kind of Wonderland by welding and crafting her own sets & props. Her recent projects, The Garden and Finding Bright, share the theme of being brightly colored while projecting a melancholic feeling at the same time. Jaina emphasizes that most of the work she puts out is based on recognizing and coming to terms with her own traumas and fears. For her, it is exhilarating how naming emotions gives both freedom and pain; so much mourning and loss to work through. The Garden shows how she was undergoing a time when darkness covered her entire world. “I had just come off of a dangerous and turbulent relationship and did not want to lie to myself anymore. I chose to dive head first into whatever was stopping me from living my life.”

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Arts and Culture | USA

On the other hand, Finding Bright is about her working in darkness. “Illumination can be more frightening than living in perpetual night. Facing your fears is a courageous thing to do and no one else can make the choice for you,” she said. Jaina understands that everyone is afraid of something and that most of the time, people fear the unknown. She shares that personally, she has a deep fear of painful experiences isolating her from other people. “When I work with models, I often see this mirrored back to me, that not only are they afraid of the same thing, but that they respond to my subconscious fears in a way that makes me feel seen,” she adds. She recently made a film called You Don’t Have to Take Orders from The Moon, which was originally scheduled to come out this summer. “I’ll be holding a local Boston premiere for anyone interested but eventually it will be available online somewhere.”

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Features

Jaina admits that staying home in the past few months has affected her artistic spirit. When it comes to making projects, it usually involves packed days and human connection, and with the isolation going on, it’s a struggle for her to feel purposeful. She feels that there is a lot of pressure in the community to create relevant content and that she hasn’t processed the surreal pandemic enough to incorporate it authentically. “Right now, I’m just using art as a moving meditation. Start anywhere and get lost. It feels good.” Although it’s tempting for artistic minds to put pressure on themselves, Jaina learned to not do this and let ideas arrive naturally and explore around them. She explains that objects and emotions take on a kind of sheen [on her] when they’re right. “It’s like how you just know which objects in a video game are ones you can interact with—that’s how it feels when I am hunting for inspiration,” she says. “I just open myself up and the work comes in.”

The deeper we can go into our dreams, the better we can know ourselves and the more grounded our lives can be. In a way, I think Jaina and her works embody the kind of challenges and lessons Alice had when she was in Wonderland. To her, everything she does to her artworks is a way to learn about herself and connect to the world. “I think of what I do as a physical tarot deck, always reflecting back what you already knew. I am here to make your subconscious become solid,” she said. “The deeper we can go into our dreams, the better we can know ourselves and the more grounded our lives can be.”

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by Aira Calina

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As a little girl growing up just before the turn of the century, my dreams, imaginations, and fears weren’t documented, at least not as instantly as those of today’s kids. My fantasies were, instead, either projected onto my dolls and the “houses” they lived in, or in my crudely honest and unrealistic drawings. Around the same time, a little girl in China had a mother who handmade her toys. This girl loved drawing with chalk on concrete and enjoyed making boats out of newspapers. One day, her mother took her to the store. When she was inevitably lured into the children’s section, the little girl got her first look at a dollhouse. It was made of wood and stood smack in the middle of the store. She stared at it a long time. That moment sparked a passion she would pursue well into the future. Fast forward to 20-something years later, I’ve become a writer and my illusionary worlds have since found home in my writings. Min Ding now creates her miniature worlds with her own hands and has become a well-rounded artist.

Moon

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Features

The world gradually has no sense of mystery. But mystery is a very important part of art. A Piece of Light 2017 clay, wood 29.9*19.5*19.9in

the artist

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ew York-based artist Min Ding is a sculptor and animator, among others. That fateful encounter with the dollhouse when she was little was the catalyst for her current passion for miniature scenes, with everything she studied after all playing a part. For example, she always starts with a sketch and uses her painting skill to add more details in her installations. The same skill helps her choose color and build structure. “I like painting. I always start with a sketch to help me improve my idea and I won’t stop painting … I like the two-dimensional effect in Chinese painting very much so I’m trying to make a two-dimensional effect with a three-dimensional sculpture. It all comes from my painter’s background.” Min believes that art comes from life: the kind of person one is will determine their work. She knows how some people like to watch or see bloodier and more violent scenes, for example, but her lack of that experience won’t let her create it. In her case, the complexity of her craft is contrasted by the simple yet sincere goal of it: purely wanting to show her true feelings. “One of my former professors is also my friend now, Jennifer Wen Ma. She told me that things are right or wrong, but feeling is not right nor wrong. No matter how you cover it up, happy or sad [feelings] are there.” When looking at Min’s art, there lurks that feeling of anger and being helpless because you realize the many things you wish you could do. She says it may have something to do with her own pessimistic and negative personality. “I’m very interested in human beings. I like to describe human beings and people’s lives, but I don’t have hope for [their] future, because I think [they] are terrible creatures and a disaster for the earth. Because of human’s progress and curiosity, the world gradually has no sense of mystery. But mystery is a very important part of art.”

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Plastic Surgery

Min is no doubt an environmentalist. She dislikes the idea of people trying to erase nature, but can’t help liking their nature. “Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki once said that when he took a plane to look down on Japan, he hoped that Japan would be submerged by sea many years later, but when he saw lovely people in the seats beside him, he was lamenting the beauty of life. It is a kind of contradiction and helplessness as a human.” Min’s bravery and vulnerability have become the greatest factors in becoming who she is today One of her boldest actions was moving to New York where she decided to pursue being a full-time artist. “I’m afraid of unfamiliar environments but also yearn for challenges, just like I’m very shy and my English is not good but I came to study in America alone.” Such a character, she says, puts her in uncomfortable situations. “Sometimes when I sit on the subway in New York, I suddenly find that there is no Asian face around me. I feel fear and uneasiness instinctively. It is this feeling that stimulates my creation.”


Arts and Culture | USA

the creation

Pool 2016 clay, acrylic board 30* 40*20cm

Having watched her mother make her toys as a child, Min developed a natural liking to making things by hand. From the beginning and up until the present, Min has always used air-dry clay, a type especially used for making ball-jointed dolls. Aside from it being perfect for her pieces, she opts for it more often because it’s environmentally friendly, unlike chemical supplies like resin. She does use it from time to time because it’s longer lasting, but its pungent smell doesn’t make it quite ideal. For Min, to be a sculptor, one must know basic human anatomy, how to make a stable armature for their figure, and how to mold and cast. At the same time, different styles of sculpture technology must be mastered, which can be used for both realistic and expressionist styles. Min says sculptors pay more attention to technology and materials, and that anyone who wants to master the craft would need to be knowledgeable about different clays and other materials and should keep doing tests. “I like watching tutorials on YouTube after trying new materials but mistakes are inevitable. Sometimes I spend a whole day making a mold but because I forgot one step, I lost all my efforts.” It usually takes Min a month to finish a piece. Some are bigger than others and those would take her two. She normally bases a piece’s diorama from a sketch she prepares for each one. Plagued by the spontaneity of an artist, she sometimes forgets which things she should be building as she starts improvising along the way. “At that time, I recall what is the most thing I want to express,” and that shows in her haunting completed works. The length of time and amount of effort she pours into a single piece is admirable. The quality is always on point, too, since she doesn’t want her work to be damaged during transport or by collectors. As a sculptor, these are only a few of her struggles.

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BTS/Fox Spirit

BTS/Fox Spirit

the struggles One of the struggles that Min has as a sculptor is that she is also a painter. Although she doesn’t necessarily see it as an issue, she does feel that when she puts up both her installations and paintings in the same exhibition, people are drawn more to the sculptures. “I think I still [need to] explore … I haven’t [found] an appropriate way to show the world in my mind. I want to combine my paintings and figures in the work. In the video Fox Spirit, I drew some miniature ink paintings and put them on the wall as the background. I think it is a good example.” Despite her extensive history and talent in art, another challenge that Min faces from time to time is the unavoidable feeling of wanting to be as good as other artists who she thinks are amazing. She likes a lot of different artists and finds that when she creates, she unconsciously imitates them. Instinctively, she tries to steer away from that and gains an impulse to form her own style that she can stick to. That, she says, is an essential process. Fortunately, she doesn’t see it as a problem too big to shrug. “Sometimes when I know other excellent artists, I hope I can have the same ability, but because it’s something I do with my heart, I like it very much even if it’s not perfect. It’s like treating your own children,” she explains. “It’s really like this: as long as you keep practicing, you will find that the work you make is getting better and better. It’s something you like, [and] even if you work hard, you will feel very happy.” Artists are creators. With that knowledge comes the drive to always put something out—something relevant, hip, trendy. But nobody knows it all, and nobody has to. “As an artist, you don’t need to know everything, but you [should] find your own style; [do it in] the way you are good at and can make a difference.”

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Min says that “To be a sculptor, you need to avoid mistakes, and to be an artist, you need to find them. Because sometimes mistakes can lead you to find out the effect that other people didn’t create.” And I’m inclined to agree, because whatever effect Min has found through all her practice sure helped successfully convey her messages.

When I first saw Min’s works, the urge to learn sculpting came to me so suddenly. I didn’t think, “wow, this must be hard,” when I’m sure I knew it was. I didn’t wonder how she must’ve done them, already knowing for a fact it would take someone years to master the craft as Min has. I looked at her pieces and wasn’t greeted with the familiar feeling of art being out of reach—that it was something for a select few—while at the same time finding a deeper-rooted respect for it. That feeling of intimacy I have towards the pieces is something, but it’s not my favorite thing about Min’s art. It’s that she’s able to present viciously direct subjects without making it feel like they’re being forced onto the viewer. For example, some of her pieces can be controversial but one can look at them and see the hard truths she’s trying to portray (patriarchal ruses, mental health problems, etc.), without the usual difficulty in digesting such pieces. A lot of them are the artist’s personal fears, but we embrace them because they’re some of our own, too. “My father had a great influence on me when I was young. He is a very traditional male chauvinist, which leads me to have no right to express for many things. This is also part of our culture,” Min recalls. Having come from a place where the young are used to suppressing their thoughts, the swelling desire to express liberating themes of violence, death, and eroticism eventually found its way into her works.


Arts and Culture | USA

I feel fear and uneasiness instinctively. It is this feeling that stimulates my creation. Min Ding, BTS/Beautiful Life

Beautiful Life 35.6*20.23*13in

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Vera Petruk

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Poetry

Receptacles AMBER MAY

I am accustomed to being wanted more than wanting A diva of love in my youth I could afford to turn my nose up requesting only green M&Ms by the bowl full Afraid of other substances I made myself sick on sweet afraid of penetration I skipped the finger-in-throat trend kept the too much inside prayed to Time to gag itself of too much me Two decades later I love you but will not purge, not yet not first won’t you? What’s the big deal just a soft verb on a power trip cracking the shell of acorn before Eden has conceived its cellular potential Anyway, I’ve heard it’s good to be loved by me but then again, my endless threshold to give is a lot to take.

As a child my heart pumped a blood rainbow up me down me in me out me Those are the colors that is the throbbing with which I want to be told, I love you I want to say, I love you Say it before my teeth erode from all these I love yous I swallow like vomit when there’s no proper receptacle around

Amber May, an artist, animal activist, and social worker (grateful to have purpose and a paycheck during the pandemic), just bought a cottage in Midcoast Maine. She lives with her dog, Bernie.

Please, whitewash your fear and feminize your force field Receive my heart as I receive your cock with a groan with a god deep deep as it goes yes yes as it goes catch your breath love fuck fuck love fuck me love me forever me whatever me forever is only now so don’t be afraid

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Prose

underlings JACK COEY

it was that night at malecky’s when it first came to me that you’re not all you think you are and i certainly didn’t like the way you spoke to the waiter who was only trying to make sense of what you wanted and you couldn’t be gracious about it i wasn’t rude — i may have been a bit sharp but i wasn’t rude well you hurt shirley’s feeling when you dismissed the death of her dog oh really now it was only a dog for pity sake it’s not like it was her father or something still it was insensitive on your part not to be more compassionate ok how about this i’ll go to sensitivity training (smile) i don’t think you’re funny sorry but you’re being judgmental the fault dear brutus is not in the stars but in ourselves that we are underlings huh? your bad behavior is the point and not as you would make out my pointing it out to you what bad behavior? what you are doing right now your clueless act is annoying pardon me i wish it were that simple you’ve lost that loving feeling (smile) your flippancy is a defense mechanism thank-you doctor to whom do i make the check out you couldn’t see shirley was emotional maybe i was threatened somehow (pause) wow a sliver of illumination (stare) i have feelings too you know really wouldn’t it be lovely if you shared some of those every so often okay i feel like you don’t like me much how astute i had other feelings about the night i came to the apartment and you and shirley were in the bedroom together and you acted funny it would have been considerate if you’d let me know you were coming remember but in ourselves that we are underlings yeah oh look who’s defensive now i have no reason to be defensive nor offer any justification for my behavior (laugh) but you can nail me to the cross this is impossible ok so what were you and shirley doing none of your business we can discuss my shortcomings but not yours you’re more flawed than i (grin) from your point of view what else matters by golly why didn’t i think of that because all you can think of is yourself you should ask shirley which of us is the more selfish why would she know because she was with me last week oh that’s where the rash came from (grin) Jack Coey is a washed up actor living in bitterness. He lives in Keene, NH.

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Poetry

Veil of perdition Cynthia Balea

Another day, another broken string Between my dimples which have shoveled Graves of their own to find comfort in forever. If only it were that easy to hide… I’d probably carry a shovel every time I go out Either to plant myself in the ground, Or use it as a lethal weapon. Both being, in all fairness, means of protection Against ever-smiling people, complaisance and small talk. How do I protect me from myself The moments I’ve got no other choice Then warping into what I disgust the most? Commit hara-kiri with a shovel Or start digging into myself Until I reach The unfathomable layers Of what I represent? What do I represent? I’m often called a sweetheart By people who haven’t even gotten A taste of my bitterness, So, next time they see candies, They turn into toddlers Whose teeth are decayed From all that sweets consumption That eventually turns into an addiction. I can’t stand chocolate anymore. Or people who offer it to me Like a portent of sugar-coated words Embroidering their acrid personalities. But the holes remain Just like the aftertaste… And you don’t really feel like smiling When you’ve got dental caries, do you?

The same cliché I’ve been rolling my eyes over Ever since I was toothless: “A smile is the prettiest thing to wear.” Well, I prefer necklaces Or earrings Or frowns Or grimaces Or crossed arms. There’s a plethora of emotions body language And facial expressions can encompass. Why fake happiness Out of being polite And kill the spark With a smile? I guess you’ve figured Why I despise chit-chat in the meantime, But the issue lingers still — Is it really the topic in question Or the people involved? Don’t look at me so Expectantly. I haven’t found the answer I thought I would. Instead, I found a mask — So beautifully adorned That I could not resist. And upon placing it on my visage, It didn’t fit. It required a different type of facial features Than the ones I was acquainted with. I raised my eyebrows, Narrowed my eyes, Stretched the corners of my mouth, Exposed my teeth And became stuck in there forever.

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Obsessive-compulsive Dystopia Cynthia Balea

When I pass by people, I capture a bit of everyone In between my eyelids. Be it a red strand of hair, A crooked nose Or a dirty pair of sneakers. I involuntarily observe tiny details Invisible for the inexperienced seer. I’m short-sighted, yet my eyes’ ability To zoom in fascinates me! It almost gets me to the point where I can’t compliment your hair color ‘Cause I am repelled by that one dandruff flake Hanging loose from your fringe like a mature apple From the bent branch of an orchard tree. I can’t picture your nasal pyramid ‘Cause I am vacuumed by your black hole-resembling pores. I can’t keep in mind that widely known brand of footwear ‘Cause I can feel the mud on your shoes crawling up my legs! I’ll see your black roots no matter how often you bleach your hair. I’ll see the pimple despite masking it evenly with concealer. I’ll still be able to read through the white-out after erasing What’s written in pen. I’ll scrape my lips applying lipstick for the thousandth time ‘Cause I want it perfectly. And, one by one, I will consume myself as rapidly As the crimson wears out. I’m exhausted! I wanna crash in bed BUT NOT before I arrange the pillows And spread the sheets neatly, Just like I’ve seen in commercials. I’d love to throw my books on the desk AFTER I dust it off the third time this week And it’s only Tuesday. Wouldn’t it be nice If I could keep a conversation going Without obsessing over my interlocutor’s Asymmetrical smile Improperly ironed shirt Sweaty palms Long nails Broken zipper Ripped pants Untied shoelaces?

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Hey, look! A mirror! A reflection of everything I’ll ever be! Or the handiest realization of distinction I always love to find comfort in! But… This one’s broken. How can I observe myself When all these scratches get in the way As if I’m sectioned? I am taking a step backwards. The scratches too. Wherever I move, they come with me, Attached like caterpillars On a freshly sprung leaf. And they’re chewing. Outside in. Digging voids through the (W)hole that I am.

Born and raised in Transylvania, Cynthia Balea knew she had a calling for poetry ever since her first creative writing assignments in elementary school. Now she is a Modern Languages student, a spoken word performer, and spare-time writer. Her poems have been published in cultural online magazines like EgoPHobia.


Poetry

bentchang

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iguanasbear

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Fiction

The Worst That Could Happen Hannah Smart

T

wo married businesspeople, a recent hire, and a college intern were gathered in the lounge of the Greenworks Windows Inc. Boston office building, cheerily sipping coffee during their lunch break. “Why is it always us four?” Sherry Kite asked teasingly, for it was true that the four of them always seemed to congregate in this room, day after day. The routine had gone on for months, and for Sherry and her husband Herbert, it stretched back years—the two of them had met in this very room fifteen years prior and had now been happily married for thirteen of those years. Griffin Young’s palms began sweating nervously, as they often did whenever Sherry directly or indirectly referenced his existence. Griffin was a business major at Boston College who had just completed a summer internship with the company. It was now October, but they’d liked him so much they’d offered him a part-time job, so he studied Monday through Thursday and worked Friday through Sunday. During the months he’d been there, he had developed a persistent and unfortunate crush on Sherry. Jenny Simpson shrugged. “I like hanging out with you guys. And thanks so much Herbert and Sherry for showing me the ropes.” She chugged down the last gulp of her coffee and tossed the cup into a nearby trash can. “I think I’m really getting the hang of working here now.” Jenny was a recent graduate of Harvard who had been officially hired in July. “Why don’t we all go out to the Red Sox game tonight?” Herbert suggested. “I want to get to know you guys better.” “Oh come on, honey, we have a nine-year-old and a four-year-old and no time to call a babysitter.”

“I’m sure Olga and Henry can handle themselves fine. We’ve left them alone before.” “But never for more than an hour at a time…” “Come on, Sherry; I’ve already bought the tickets.” “I love the Sox,” Griffin put in. “I’m not a big fan of sports,” Jenny admitted, “but I’d like to go.” Herbert grinned. “It’s settled then. We meet at Fenway Park at 7:00 pm.” “I’m really not sure about this.” “Oh, Sherry. What’s the worst that could happen?” # 6:30 pm Sherry splotched makeup haphazardly on her face while little Olga and Henry watched curiously. “Where did you say you were going again?” Olga asked, scratching her head. “Baseball game. With some folks from work.” “When will you be back?” “Hopefully within a few hours. You’ll already be in bed by then. Please take care of your little brother.” “But what about dinner?” Henry whined. Sherry gasped. “Right, dinner.” She slid out to the kitchen in only her socks, her face half madeup, and grabbed a plate of leftover rice out of the fridge. “Heat this up in the microwave, okay?” “Sherry,” Herbert called. “Hurry! We’re going to be late.” # 6:30 pm Jenny left her apartment promptly to catch the Boston T to Fenway Park. She was wearing a navy sweater that clashed horribly with her black

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pants, but it was her only clean sweater, and these were her only clean pants. When she arrived at the T stop, she crammed herself into the first available train, which was filled with already-drunk, obnoxious men waving foam fingers and yelling and sweating all over her. She nervously gripped the germ-ridden metro railing to prevent herself from falling over, thinking, All this for a baseball game? # 6:30 pm Griffin studied his reflection in the mirror—his scrawny, shrimpy reflection. He was wearing an oversized Red Sox T-shirt and his nicest pair of half-rim glasses. If he squinted, the glasses were almost invisible. (He wished he could be the type to wear contacts, but he was legally blind, and the lenses itched his eyes.) If he were an attractive, married, older woman, he admittedly wouldn’t be interested in someone like himself, but he hoped that Sherry’s standards were lower—that thirteen years of being married to that beer-bellied buffoon Herbert had at least opened her up to the possibility of being with a slightly below average-looking college boy. He headed out the door with this hope glistening in his mind. # 6:30 pm “Let’s go, Sherry,” Herbert urged his wife. “The kids will be fine! Let’s go!” “Do I look nice?” Sherry asked him. She really did, but not in the way she typically looked nice. With her pencil skirt, her red lipstick, and her low-cut shirt, she looked nice in more of what Herbert viewed as a whory, young person-type way. Herbert pecked her cheek. “Of course you do, sweetie.” Sherry reached out a nail-polished hand and wiped Herbert’s beard. “You’ve got blush on you, honey.” # 7:00 pm “We said we’d be there at seven,” Herbert grumbled, slamming on the breaks after just barely missing a green light. “Now they’re all going to be waiting on us.” “I didn’t predict the traffic,” Sherry admitted. Herbert scoffed. It was like he became a different person when he was in a hurry, and right now, Sherry hardly recognized him. “Didn’t predict the traffic, huh? It’s a baseball game, not a puppet show.” Sherry’s stomach churned with the realization that she hadn’t shown Olga how to use the microwave. # 7:00 pm “Fenway,” the motorman announced, and out poured hoards of loathsome, foam finger-wielding sports fanatics. Jenny was shoved out right along with them, feeling relieved that this happened to be her stop. A sweaty, stocky man whose chest hair poked out of an undersized Red Sox jersey dumped an entire cup of beer down Jenny’s shirt.

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# 7:00 pm Griffin pulled his car into the Fenway parking lot, and there they all were. Herbert and Sherry were exchanging a sloppy kiss while Jenny looked away, grimacing. Griffin climbed out and approached them, hoping that Sherry would at least acknowledge his arrival, but she was still kissing that old pig. Griffin cleared his throat loudly, and Sherry turned to look at him briefly, her face contorted with disgust, her hands still resting on Herbert’s shoulders. “Nerd boy’s finally here,” Herbert announced. “Let’s go find our seats.” # 7:00 pm The parking lot was right there—Herbert could see it—but the road was still crammed with cars. Herbert honked his horn feebly, and someone in the car next to him flipped him off. “What do you think of that Griffin kid?” Sherry asked out of the blue. Herbert raised an eyebrow. “The nerdy kid? The one with the glasses? I don’t think much about him, to tell you the truth. He seems to have the hots for you though.” Sherry’s heavily-blushed face blushed even darker. “You think so?” “Obviously. Kid’s not great at hiding it. But come on, what’s it to you?” Sherry fell silent. # 7:30 pm “We’re so late,” Herbert whined. He and his wife were walking at a brisk pace, the cool Boston wind chilling their skin and rearranging Sherry’s scrupulously-styled hair into a matted net. “They’re probably already in the stands waiting for us.” “We aren’t that late,” Sherry snapped. She wished she would have worn a sweatshirt. “The first part is always just advertisements anyway. I doubt we missed anything.” “When I told you we needed to be leaving here by 6:15…” “Oh, shut it, would you? I wanted to make sure the kids were okay.” “And I told you they would be. Olga has everything under control, I’m sure.” # 7:30 pm Griffin nudged Jenny. “Look! The game is about to start!” Jenny’s shirt stank of alcohol, and her chest was so cold it ached—a sharp, painful ache that seemed to penetrate her sternum and pierce her heart. Herbert munched popcorn loudly in her left ear. She didn’t care about the game—what she really needed was a change of clothes.


Fiction

# 7:30 pm “Do you think they could stop making out for one second?” Griffin whispered to Jenny. Jenny rolled her eyes. “We all know you wanna shag the married lady, but it’s not gonna happen, okay?” Griffin looked discreetly over his left shoulder, and through the corner of his eye—the part not covered by the glasses—he could see the blurry mass of Herbert and Sherry’s entwined bodies. If they continued this nonsense, they were going to miss the whole game. # 7:30 pm “We’re here, and just in time,” Herbert said proudly, as he and Sherry edged their way through the crowded row of bleachers to take their seats next to Griffin and Jenny. “Herbert, switch seats with me, would you?” Sherry asked. Herbert’s eyes moved from his wife to the college kid, and then back to his wife. “Fine.” Sherry plopped down next to a beaming Griffin. “God, I just love baseball,” she said, clasping her hands together with glee. # 8:00 pm “I suppose we haven’t eaten dinner yet,” Olga told Henry. “You hungry, little guy?” Henry nodded vociferously. “All right. Mommy told us to just put this plate of rice in the microwave.” She held up the plate of leftover rice in one hand. “So I guess I’ll just…” Olga reached up above her head and opened the microwave. She set the saran-wrapped plate on the rotating table and closed the door expectantly. “Why isn’t it going?” Henry asked worriedly. “I don’t know. Bring me over a chair to stand on, and we can figure out how to work this thing.” Henry climbed out of the chair he’d been sitting in and pushed it clumsily across the floor. It scraped the hardwood finish like an ice skate on a rink, leaving dents and scratches in its wake. Olga used the chair as a stepstool and began scrolling through the microwave options. “They don’t have a ‘rice’ option.” Henry’s bottom lip began to quiver. “I’ll just have to use the next best thing—popcorn. Popcorn is corn, and corn and rice are similar, right?” Henry shrugged. “Right, well then I’m gonna use the popcorn setting.” She pushed the “start” button, feeling proud of her induction. # 8:30 pm “Will anyone here give me a ride home so I can change clothes?” Jenny asked feebly. “I would, but I gotta watch the game,” Griffin replied. “It’s just…” Jenny’s teeth chattered. “Some asshole spilled his

drink on me when I was getting out of the train, and I’m very cold and sticky.” “I’ll take you home,” Sherry said sweetly. “Then I’ll come with,” Griffin added. Jenny scoffed. “You guys!” Herbert’s plump face became suddenly stern. “I paid for these tickets, and by God, you are not walking out on me.” # 8:30 pm “There’s a great view here,” Griffin told Jenny. “The game, or the older woman?” Griffin clenched his teeth, praying for her to shut up. “I meant the game. We have such a nice view of the outfield. We could probably catch a ball if someone hits it far enough.” Sherry had still not said a word to him the entire night. # 8:30 pm “Sherry and I are going to go get some snacks,” Griffin said proudly. “Well, I can come with you if you want,” Herbert replied hastily, standing up. “No, no, silly,” Sherry crooned, using her hand to guide him back into his seat. “You just stay here and watch the game, sweetie. Griff and I will be back in a jiffy.” # 8:30 pm The fire alarm blared in Olga and Henry’s ears. “What did you do?” Henry yelled, struggling to be heard. “I think it’s the microwave!” Olga yelled back. “It must be on fire!” “It doesn’t look on fire!” “No…oh man, Henry, this is bad.” “Why?” “Whenever a fire alarm goes off, the fire department comes immediately!” Olga replied. “At least I think that’s what happens! And Mommy said never to call the fire department unless there’s a real fire!” “So what do we do?” “We have to start a real fire!” # 9:30 pm Jenny’s shirt was nearly dry. It still smelled putrid and stuck to her skin in all the wrong places, but thank God it was nearly dry. She wasn’t shivering quite as much now. Still, she wanted nothing more than to go home. The men in the row in front of her were drinking, tapping their red solo cups together cheerfully. The Red Sox were winning—at least Jenny assumed they were. She knew nothing about baseball, she realized, and with that realization came the additional realization that she didn’t really like any of the people she was here with. She was counting down the minutes until the game was over.

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# 9:30 pm “This guy’s a good hitter,” Griffin whispered to Jenny. This next ball would be within his reach. He could feel it. And maybe that’s what it would take to finally impress Sherry! If he caught a ball, he’d be cool. All eyes in the stadium would be on him, and the pressure for her to just kiss him right there would be unbearable…. He heard the satisfying sound of a solid hit and watched as the ball soared…soared…in his direction. He held his hands out, cupped and ready. The ball was so close…it filled his entire field of vision…he was going to catch it…. He felt a sudden, sharp pain in his head, and everything went black. # 9:30 pm Sherry and that Griffin boy had been gone for nearly an hour. Could the snack line really be that long? With a grunt, Herbert stood up, leaving behind his nice, quiet new coworker Jenny. “Where are you—?” she began, but Herbert didn’t answer. He waddled past the seated row of people, muttering apologies as he brushed their knees. He’d had a bad feeling about this from the beginning. Herbert reached the snack line, but they weren’t there. His heart racing, he swung open the door of an outhouse—“A-ha!” but in there, seated on the toilet, was some man he didn’t recognize. “What the hell, man?” “I’m…sorry,” Herbert stammered, closing the door. He opened the next one. “A-ha!” and there they were—his wife and the college boy—Griffin with his hands all over Sherry as she rammed her tongue down his throat. They stared back at Herbert blankly, their eyes alight with surprise but not shame (oh, why couldn’t it be shame?), lipstick smeared all over the scrawny kid’s face. “Sherry, how could you?” “Herb…” Sherry blinked. “We were planning on returning before the game was over.” # 9:30 pm “Oh, God, what is it? I got home as soon as I could.” Sherry saw Olga and Henry seated on the porch, their faces ashen, their home a ruin behind them. “There’s been a fire, ma’am. We got here as soon as we could, but as you can see, it was a little too late.” “I wish you would have shown us how to use the microwave, Mommy,” Olga said glumly. “Or just stayed home with us,” Henry added. “Then none of this would have happened.” “I know,” Sherry said breathlessly, a tear rolling down her cheek. “This is all my fault.” # 10:00 pm As the four of them left the stadium, Sherry and Herbert offered to give Jenny a ride home.

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“I can take the T,” Jenny replied. She hoped they’d offer again, for she had only refused out of politeness, but they just shrugged and headed off. “Epic game, huh?” Griffin said. “Yeah, I guess,” Jenny lied. “Well, I’ll see you at work tomorrow.” And then Griffin turned and walked away, leaving Jenny standing there alone in the pitch-dark night. A crowd of drunk men passed, and another guy poured his drink on her, this time aiming it so that it trickled down her pants. “Hey, check it out!” the man exclaimed. “It looks like she’s pissed herself!”

Some time later: Griffin woke up in a hospital bed, his body aching and his mind foggy. “Way to catch that ball.” He jerked his head in the direction of the voice, and it felt like his brain was bouncing around in his skull. “Jenny.” “You getting hit in the head by a baseball was the funniest thing that happened all night,” she told him. “Did…Sherry see?” he asked her. “See? She laughed her ass off! Congrats on finally getting her attention, I guess.” # Herbert and Sherry drove home without a word, until Herbert finally cleared his throat and broke the silence. “What is it, Sherry? Do I not satisfy you?” “Oh, Herbert, would you let it go?” “Let it go? I just caught my wife sucking the face of some underweight college geek. You really expect me to let this go?” “Look, can we just not speak of it ever again?” Herbert bit his lip so hard he drew blood, his knuckles white as he gripped the steering wheel. “Fine.” “On second thought,” Herbert said after what felt like an eternity of silence, “I’m not really feeling up for baseball tonight.” “I don’t like the Red Sox that much,” Griffin agreed. “I think just having a working relationship with you guys is good enough for now,” Jenny said. “The kids should be getting home from school soon. I’m gonna go check on them.”

Hannah Smart is a recent graduate of Middlebury College, and she writes both fiction and nonfiction. Her nonfiction has been published in Vocal’s affiliated magazines, and she has had her fiction published in The Corvus Review and Pif Magazine. She currently lives in the Boston area.


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Poetry

Death is Not One But Many Ute Carson

None of our animals dies afraid. A vet comes to the house where our old cat gets her sleeping potion while curled up my lap. Our ancient mare sinks to her knees between brush strokes while munching carrots. But what of the dog hit on a busy road with no one there to end its misery? And on the human spectrum, who doesn’t envy the composure of a Dietrich Bonhoeffer, walking unshackled to the gallows, face tilted toward the heaven? And yet, what about the little girl in the desert crouching at her mother’s side begging, “Mama wake up!” when a sip or two of water might have saved her? Or captives, hands bound and heads pushed to the ground, pleading in vain for mercy from vengeful swords? The German poet Rilke wished for every person a death of their own following a life well-lived. Death as surcease, accidental death, death as fruition, needless death, malevolent death. Death is not one but many.

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Poetry

Magical Greenery Ute Carson

My unruly ivy, left unpruned, snakes over the walls of my house. A snail inches along a tendril, and red-breasted robins dart in and out of the deepening, widening foliage that shimmers in shades of aquamarine. Touched by the sun, raindrops cold and clear slither from leaf to leaf. Night robs the thicket of its colors and silences the bees. But when light and warmth return with the dawn butterflies flutter about. Nature thrives in abundance. Onlookers wandering by may wonder who lives here, hidden away under this mantle of magical greenery?

A writer from youth, Ute Carson’s first story was published in 1977. For the past 26 years she has continuously published stories and essays in journals, magazines, and books. Her latest publications include “Gypsy Spirit” in Falling in Love Again: Love the Second Time Around, and “A Mantra” in Arts and Letters Magazine.

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Ciaran J. McLarnon is a writer from Northern Ireland. He lives in Ballymena, a town close to the North-East coast. He has written on many subjects, and is currently interested in Dark and Personal Stories. His stories have recently been published in AHF (Alternative History Fiction), Gold Dust magazine and Adelaide Literary Magazine.

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Yuliya Kalinichenko


Fiction

The College Man Ciaran McLarnon

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ohn’s phone began to ring, he sighed when he looked at the caller ID on the screen. ‘Hello Da, I wasn’t expecting to hear from you until tomorrow.’ John put his phone on loudspeaker, he still had papers to finish. ‘Just wanted to check you’re ready. I know it’s only lunch, but your mother was so disappointed she couldn’t go to your graduation.’ ‘Aye, I’m annoyed too. Normally I never eat from the college vending machines, but the first time that I do I get food poisoning from a ham and cheese sandwich.’ ‘Never worry, you can’t control when you get sick. Just make sure you have that certificate ready for us to look at tomorrow.’ ‘No problem, I’ll have it ready by then.’ John winced almost as soon as he said it. ‘What do you mean you’ll have it ready?’ John would have to think fast. ‘Isn’t it ready now?’ ‘I bought a presentation case for the certificate today, I wanted to surprise you and mum tomorrow, I just need to put it in the case and then you’ll have something to hold on to.’ ‘For a minute there I thought there was something dodgy going on,’ said his dad. ‘So, we’ll see you tomorrow. What’s the parking going to be like around your place?’ John pretended to listen for another half hour as his Dad droned about parking, rain, and school buses. If he got off the phone then John could concentrate on his forgery, his parents would be so disappointed if John didn’t graduate. Bet the University never even considered their feelings before taking away my chance. After lunch John took his parents back to luxury apartment they paid for and he’d forgotten to clean. He grabbed the certificate and opened a window. John couldn’t help smiling as he admired his handiwork; inside the presentation case it almost looked real. ‘I’m such a proud father today, John, you’ll always be the first to graduate from our family. I’m just going take a picture to show your Uncle Charlie. Did I say he can get you a management position in his factory? It’s a good start for a college man.’ John scratched his head and looked to the ceiling for inspiration, ‘thanks dad, but I’ve already got job as a structural engineer in … Kuwait. One of my lecturers knows someone who works out there and he put in a good word. But thank Uncle Charlie for me.’ ‘That’s great!’ Said his father, ‘starting out on your own. You’ll be a self-made man, just like me. But won’t you miss the drink? Alcohol’s illegal there you know.’ ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get a pint somehow.’ ‘Aye, you always land on your feet. Have you your flight booked? I could probably get you a deal.’

The loan company were very helpful, they could even lend John more than he asked for, if his dad would guarantee the repayments. Well, they do say their rates are competitive. ‘Can I bring the papers home to have a better look at them?’ Asked John, greedily gathering them together before anyone could reply. He found the best forgeries were created in the comfort of familiar surroundings, and his dad deserved nothing but the best. ‘I’m sure you’ll be runnin’ the place by the end of the week.’ John’s dad shook his hand as he dropped at the airport, ‘And remember to phone home once a week, otherwise your mother will get a flight out to look for you, and you don’t want that.’ ‘I’ll remember!’ John forced a laugh and rubbed the back of his neck. How can I sweat on such a cold day? John put down his rucksack, shocked that something so small could hold everything that was important to him. He found his flight on the departure board; flight AL376 to Alicante. No-one questions pictures too much, so I don’t have to go to Kuwait. Spain looks similar. And both Alicante and Kuwait City are on the coast, so it’s not really lying. Living in a windowless bed-sit below a chip-shop that could cheerfully be called a cell, he enjoyed pretending to be assistant to the chief engineer in project to build a skyscraper in Kuwait. High in the hills surrounding Alicante he even found a building site he could pretend was his project, if you chose your camera angles carefully. Then he got a girlfriend; the fake kind that inevitably follows a fake job, as surely as a fake job follows a fake degree. His dad answered the phone when John rang to tell his parents about his girlfriend, ‘It’s just so great how things have worked out for you over there, putting your degree to good use. John, do know anything about this loan company that’s been contacting us? ‘Oh yes, they contacted me about letters they sent out by mistake. You can ignore anything else they send’.’ ‘That’s a relief, those letters are piling up!’ John joined an acting class. I need to find an actress, the sooner, the better. ‘Son, can you come home?’ His dad sounded weary and distant, ‘Your mum isn’t too well at the minute.’ ‘Of course, Da. I’ll make my own way from the airport.’ His dad looked close to death, his dark eyes sunken into black pits, his grey skin pulled tight against cheekbones. ‘Are you sure you aren’t the one who is ill?’ Joked John. His dad mustered a weak smile, ‘Good to see you Son… Sorry we didn’t tell you sooner….’ ‘What?’ ‘With your new job n’all…your mother didn’t want to be a bother.’

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That’s Why Rachel Rodman and Ellen Saunders

“I don’t get passive aggressiveness,” I said to her—to the world—with a stupefied howl. “I just don’t understand.” “Oh,” she said, “I guess that’s why you think I like you.”

Everyone Rachel Rodman

“How can everyone be faking it?” I protested. “Everyone else cannot possibly feel like this—like I do—all of the time.” Her eyes crinkled in a way that, at first, I could not read. But then she blinked and I apprehended it: the misery—the coldness—so that, even at this faint intimation, lidded and brief, I wondered if I would ever again be warm. “Fake harder,” she advised me.

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Poetry

Red Christmas Rachel Rodman

She had wanted, six years before—just six years—her two front teeth. And now this. (Hadn’t she wanted this?) And to have it, really—and so much—so that it had bled, that morning, through her reindeer pajamas, and into the sheets. “Thanks,” she said dutifully, directing her whisper to the near-empty cookie plate on the mantelpiece, just crumbs. But it was oddly like weeping.

Rachel Rodman’s work has appeared in Analog, Fireside, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and elsewhere.

Inna Sinanova

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Fiction

Chasing Butterflies in the Days of War Muhammad Nasrullah Khan

Victory bonfires blazed on the India-Pakistan border. The proud generals stood on high ground, blaring out the same message to the goose-stepping soldiers below: “We salute all who sacrificed their lives to save our Motherland.” Commandos, lined on both sides of the border, raised their legs high and slammed their feet to shake the earth. Rumble of thunder in the distance mocked the transience of human victories.

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ot far from the celebrations, Kumla, a ten-year-old autistic boy, squatted in the corner of a refugee camp building, gnawing on a rock-hard hunk of bread. His eyes squeezed shut with every bite, the sharp crust made his gums bleed. It was all he had to eat. He no longer remembered the taste of his favorite foods. The camp had been Kumla’s home for almost a year. He wore a red stone around his neck, loosely tied with a leather cord. His father gave him the stone as a good luck charm before going off to war. Little balls of grime formed on the smooth surface as he patted it. His parents had named him Sahir, but everyone called him Kumla, which meant silly, and it stuck because of his quirks. His big blue eyes always darted back and forth. A long shirt did little to hide his malnourished body. Dandruff and dirt clung to his hair. Frizz exploded all over his head. That entire shaggy halo gave him a wild and feral look.

Painter Stock

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“Why don’t you play with the other children?” his mother suggested. Her long hair, shining with oil, fell across her dark eyes as she pulled out her sewing supplies from the small plastic tub that held their meager belongings. Kumla shook his head and pinched the stone. He imagined a graceful butterfly flapping its way toward the sky, dancing in the rising sun. He loved the vivid colors of budding flowers, butterflies, birds, and bees. Once, a butterfly landed as soft as a breeze on the tip of his nose. That precious moment ended when it fluttered away too soon, and he scratched at the spot. He yearned for the experience again. In the village where Kumla lived before he was a refugee, the officials believed he was unable to learn, so they barred him from school. He didn’t mind because the beauty of flying colors taught him how to go on with life. He roamed the expanse of his small village, enjoying the petal-soft flight of multicolored wings near the giant oak tree in its center. Rocks of different shades surrounded the tree, and Kumla enjoyed jumping from one to another. Now, in the gloomy camp, Kumla missed the sunlight, fresh air, and butterflies. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t still have them. With these thoughts floating in his mind, Kumla slipped past his mother, who sat repairing his socks to venture outside. He had not gone far when he glimpsed a small boy sitting cross-legged on the uneven grey floor of the alley. The boy bounced a ball against the opposite wall. Kumla stopped to speak, but voices in the alleyway distracted him. In the passage leading to the barracks, Kumla saw two guards with guns hanging from their shoulders. Kumla crept to within earshot. The potbellied guard tapped a cigarette against the wall. “God bless those who are fighting our enemies. Kashmir will become part of Pakistan or remain independent, but we will never be part of India.” The other sentry rubbed his big mustache and nodded. “It’s like my father used to say: ‘Live free or die.’” Kumla knew about the hatred between India and Pakistan, the cause of the fires and destruction, but he couldn’t understand why they killed his butterflies. “Butterflies shouldn’t have to die in war,” he said to the men. The two guards turned, unslinging their weapons, then lowered again when they saw it was Kumla. “Butterflies?” The potbellied guard scoffed. “The whole land’s turned black, and you’re worried about butterflies?” “They will return,” Kumla pointed to unseen fields. “The snow covers them in winter, but they return in summer.” “Go back to your mother, kid.” “But my butterflies…” Kumla raised his hand. “Out there.” “Your father is there taking care of your butterflies.” The potbellied guard said with a smile that held no warmth. Kumla pictured his father. How could someone who loved animals fight and hurt people? “Will Father ever come back?” “Yeah, with all your precious butterflies.” Kumla looked into his eyes, unblinking. “Yes, he is good at catching them.”

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He turned to go, cursing the day of coming to the camp. His mother had dragged him out of bed, saying they were going on vacation. “It’s a nice place,” she’d said, hustling to pack their clothes. Kumla pictured a happy place where colorful insects of all shapes and sizes flew. Instead, they’d come to this place that was little better than a mass grave. That seemed like a lifetime ago. Now, his mother always worked, even on holidays, mending others’ clothes all day. Here the food tasted as stale as the air, and there was too little of both. Kumla played mostly with younger kids, because older ones made fun of him. He had few friends because he was different. Through holes in the grimy wall, he looked out at the open sky and sun. Rubbing his lucky stone, he imagined running and playing with the kids in the village. That night, he fell asleep thinking of his village. He dreamed of his father playing with giant and delicate butterflies. Their opal, gold, and purple wings, floated in the sweet blow of spring. “Please bring these to me,” Kumla begged his father in the dream. “How many?” His father smiled. “Billions!” His father clapped and butterflies appeared, some bigger than flamingos. The sky darkened as countless butterflies obscured the moon, the planets, and even the Milky Way. Kumla choked, waking up in the musty air. The rust-colored stone walls jarred his senses. He closed his eyes to prevent his tears from staining the fleeting images of his wonderful dream. His fancied butterflies dipped in and out of flowers and flapped away. The colors disappeared, and the pastures turned black. The dream gone, he came fully awake and ran to his mother. He sobbed and pleaded, trying to persuade his mother to take him home. “This is our home now.” She stroked his hair. “We are safe here.” “But I miss my butterflies, Ma,” Kumla begged, and wiped his stone with the hem of his shirt. “We’ve got to live here a little longer, Sahir. This place isn’t so bad, is it?” “I want to go home where all my butterflies are—” “Your butterflies have also flown somewhere that’s safe.” Her face grew distant, as she too wished for their lost home. “At our home?” Kumla’s mom cleared her throat and took a deep breath. “They’re not there now. There’s a war.” Kumla wiped black gum from his stone. “With bombs?” “Yes, but I don’t think they killed your butterflies. They’ve flown to new fields, full of bright and colorful flowers.” Kumla dragged the stone across his thigh. “Why is there war, Ma?” She sighed. “When men become mad, they get guns and start killing one another.” “Why?” His mother’s eyes narrowed. She lined up the thread, pursed her lips, and moistened the end. Squinting, she slid it toward the needle and pushed it through then turned to look at him. Her wicker stool groaned in protest.


Fiction

“Ma, they…” “I have a headache, Sahir.” Kumla took a jug from the smooth concrete and poured dingy liquid into a tin cup. “Here, Ma.” He frowned, spilling a few drops. “When will this war end?” “Only God knows, my son.” “You told me God created everything in this world.” “Yes, He did.” “Even butterflies?” “Everything.” “But butterflies don’t make wars! They love flowers. Men destroy flowers and kill butterflies. Why doesn’t God come down to stop the men? You told me He is all-powerful.” “He will. He will.” His mother gripped his shoulders and held him close. “When all this is over, we will go home. I promise.” “Will Dad be there?” His voice muffled in the folds of his mother’s shirt. She bit her lip, gently pushed him away and returned to her sewing, despair clouding her face. When the war had begun, and sirens wailed, God called his Dad to go away to save the butterflies. Kumla boasted about it to all the children in the camp. That night, Kumla lay in bed and rubbed his stone. His mind roved, caught up in dreams about all that he would do when he escaped. He remembered talk of a man’s escape and knew it was possible. But the guards with their sleek and black guns were always watching. Kumla awoke before dawn, wishing to catch the sun as it rose. He crept to the guard station, something he had done many times before, and crouched below the counter. His tiny fingers gripped the edge, and he lifted himself to see the man on duty sleeping. Kumla didn’t hesitate, but darted past the guard toward the glorious outside. “I will catch the sunrise and chase the butterflies,” Kumla whispered in excitement, clutching his stone. He ran, eager to see his fields again, but the surrounding land seemed alien. On the horizon, black clouds wound their way into the sky. Where once there were fields, only ash remained. Uprooted trees lay splintered across the ravaged land. Big steel machines lay smoking and ruined, tipped onto their sides. Everywhere pieces of clothing lay in tatters. Kumla’s eyes widened. His modest village should have been in the valley below, but it was nowhere. Where had it gone? He picked his way through scorched debris and earth, trudging into the night, until he stopped fifty feet short of the remains of a tree. He could barely recognize the thing which had inspired so many of his favorite winged creatures. The broken tree, stripped bare of foliage, standing less than half the height of the one from his dreams, was dead. All but the thickest branches toward the bottom of its trunk had been ripped away. Kumla circled the once-majestic tree. Something crunched under his sneaker, stabbing through the worn sole of his shoe. Yanking his foot up, Kumla’s eyes flooded with tears. The jagged corner of a pale, red rock poked through blackened soil. Multi-colored stones encircled it.

Summer’s here, but where are the butterflies? Kumla hid his face in his hands. It was all gone—the fields, the butterflies, the beauty. Barren lands, endless dust, and blackened earth stretched to the horizon. The world had changed. Death, not the sun, rose in the sky. “The sun is dead! The sun is dead!” he cried. No birds flew away at the sound of his voice; no butterflies flitted. Kumla’s eyes located the spot where his house once stood. He climbed over the debris looking for some reminder. After long, strenuous minutes of digging, Kumla climbed out of the rubble and fell to the ground. He raised his fingers to rub the lucky stone, but it wasn’t there. “Dad!” He groaned into the dirt, frantically trying to find the stone A shadow flew above him, blocking what little light there was in the sky. It looked to Kumla like a giant butterfly. “They have grown big now, like in my dream.” He waved his arms, coaxing it nearer. Its brilliant red and yellow colors streaked fast against the black sky. Then he saw it was not a butterfly. “Mama!” he screamed. The bomb exploded fifty feet from Kumla. The blast lifted his little body, hurtling him into the jagged trunk of a dead tree. In death, he finally flew like a butterfly. He was free to follow them.

Muhammad Nasrullah Khan is a Pakistani-Canadian writer. His short stories are well recognized internationally for his unique prose style, and really naive innocence of rural life of Asia. His short stories Donkey-Man and Only Nada Lives were nominated for the story South Million Writers Award. Enlivened by the stories of great English and Russian writers, he has taken a pinch of fact and a cup of fiction to weave an embroidered creative work of adoration, trust, and agony in his stories.

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Poetry

I WANT TO WANT TO GET BETTER Arah Ko

They tell me depression is an upside down house of mirrors, everything reflected in the wrong direction, from every direction. I say: I am starting to see in photographic negative. Black eyes with bleached pupils, irises like collapsing stars. They say, have some tea. Live in the moment. But how can you let yourself be held by the stiff hands of a clock when they tick endlessly backward? Why would I drink tea when everything is seen through the bleak stare of a camera shutter? And the sun, overexposed, is a gaping wound in the darkness.

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I WANT TO BE FACELESS Arah Ko

On the gleaming screen, A Girl slits the throat of her enemy and I want it to be so easy. As if doubt had a neck to be slit and my fear to leave the house in a short skirt without pepper spray could be snagged by the hair, pulse point blinking under my greedy thumbs. As if the man on the bus, in the liquor store, at the frat house was so vulnerable as to have a name. I want the confidence of a child, before she learns better, to hear her whisper to her mother: don’t be afraid. No one can hurt you.

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Poetry

Aleksandra Perevalova

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PHAEDRA Arah Ko

Would it ease the ache, to hold a man between your legs? Would it break the curse, to wed the father, then his son? You rise in fever, weep in silence, carve words without witness. Can you keep the secret? You made the accusation, sentence; you execute—and after you have dug the grave, filled, and buried it, will you regret you were not loved, or did not love enough? You, whose name means light, who lives in darkness, too deep to see.

Arah Ko is a writer from Hawai’i and the Greater Chicago Area. Her work has appeared in Ruminate, Rust+Moth, Grimoire, and GASHER, among others. She was the 2018 Luci Shaw Fellow for Image. When not writing, she can be found correcting her name pronunciation, making a mean pot of coffee, or contemplating the meaning of life, other than 42. Catch her at arahko.com.

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Aleksandra Perevalova

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Elena Lupanova

A BIRD I IN THE FACE Mike Todd

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was driving my pick-up. Bobby rode shotgun. The deejay was telling us that the latest hit from the Monkees would be coming up right after this commercial break so don’t go away. And Paul sat in the middle when he turned off the radio, cleared his throat, and said, “Gentlemen, I have a major announcement to make.” He followed it by passing an excessive amount of gas which had apparently been building up for hours. It rumbled like heavy furniture scooting across the floor. The vinyl bench seat vibrated beneath us. Then we smelled it. “And I mean that from the heart of my bottom,” Paul said, smiling with satisfaction. “Oh, man! Why did you have to—” Bobby said as he frantically rolled down his window. “Damn, Paul! What crawled up you?” I asked, rolling my own down. Then I stopped inhaling as I continued driving, the cold December air stinging my face but offering the best alternative under the circumstances. Knowing I could hold my breath longer than Bobby, I glanced at him occasionally as a miner might his canary.


Fiction

He finally exhaled, then inhaled deeply. “Oh, man!” He slapped his right hand over his mouth and nose and used his left hand to push up on the seat so he could hang his head out the window. I mimicked him as I continued driving, while Paul laughed at our predicament. Not satisfied he was out of harm’s way, Bobby stood up and stretched as far out the window as he could. Assuming he could still smell it, I tried to do the same. But as I did, I stood on the accelerator and turned the steering wheel slightly. The truck’s right tires went onto the shoulder and dust stirred. Something black flew up from the shoulder and I heard Bobby scream. I fell back into my seat and pulled the truck over while Paul dragged Bobby back in. As Bobby plopped down onto his own seat, he was still screaming. And he was holding a live crow to his face. The crow was flapping and panicking as Bobby screamed and held it, and I wondered why he didn’t just simply throw the bird out the window. Then Bobby let go and froze, shocked into a momentary state of stillness which resembled calmness but was anything but. The crow, however, remained on Bobby’s face flapping wildly, his beak deeply impaled into Bobby’s forehead. Paul and I both gasped. Like Bobby, I was momentarily shocked into a state of inaction. But Paul, as always, overcame the inertia quickly, his active intellect switching on almost immediately. Unfortunately for Bobby, it was wit and not aid that Paul first offered. “Something seems different about you, Bobby,” he said. “Did you get a haircut?” Bobby turned his face to Paul. He was probably giving him a look of disbelief, but we couldn’t tell for sure because of the crow. “Wait,” Paul said, snapping his fingers. “It’s the bird stuck to your face. That’s new, isn’t it?” “Stuck? What do you mean?” Bobby asked from behind the crow in a whining, worried voice. “How can it be?” “Its beak,” I answered. Then realizing that Bobby still wasn’t quite getting it, I added, “it kinda stabbed you and stuck in there.” Bobby took the briefest of moments to process my explanation, then began screaming and flailing anew. Paul immediately slipped into that different gear he possessed, the gear only he possessed. He was now the leader, the take-charge problem-solver. He twisted around in his seat so he was on his knees and put his hands on Bobby’s shoulders. “Calm down and take both your hands and hold the bird. Make sure you’re holding its wings into its body.” Bobby did so. “Now just sit there and we’re going to get this fixed.” Then turning to me, he said, “Take us to the hospital.” * * * Some time after we had taken seats in the emergency room’s waiting area, the bird must have died. Paul and I were thankful for that because we had found its struggling and noises disconcerting; there’s probably no word to describe how Bobby had found it. He continued to hold the bird’s body with his hands, though, because the weight of it hanging from a wound in his forehead was painful. “Well,” Paul said, and I knew he was going to broach the subject both of us had been avoiding, dreading. “I guess one of us is going to have to call Bobby’s mother.”

“Not it,” I said. “But it was your driving that did this.” “No. It was your ass gas.” Paul sighed. “Well, let’s just flip for it.” “Or,” I said, “we could just have Bobby call her.” Bobby turned his bird face in the direction of my voice and said, “And just how the heck am I supposed to do that?” I found it humorous that even with everything he’d been through within the last hour, Bobby wouldn’t use the mildest of curse words. I laughed as I said, “You’ll hold the dead bird up and we’ll hold the phone for you to talk into.” Bobby didn’t find it funny at all, but Paul chuckled at the image. Then Paul and I looked at each other and realized one of us would have to make the call for another reason: Bobby wouldn’t tell the best version of the story, he’d simply tell the truth. Paul dug a dime out of his pocket. “Heads,” I said. Paul flipped the coin, looked at it, cursed at it under his breath, then took it to the pay phone hanging on the wall a few chairs away, and fed it into the slot. I was relieved I hadn’t lost the flip. Mrs. Joseph adored her perfect little family. Her son, her husband, and she could do no wrong. The rest of the world, however, was far from perfect, and her overbearing and insulting diatribe against it was never-ending. As Bobby’s best friends, Paul and I always felt we should be cut a little slack by her. Instead, she seemed to hold us to even higher standards. And she seemed to hold us completely responsible for anything that went the least bit wrong in her son’s life. Thinking about her unfairness was getting me a little agitated, then I realized in this particular instance, Bobby’s predicament really was attributable to his two best friends. The fact that she might have a point today made me like her even less. Meanwhile, she seemed to be making that point to Paul on the phone as I was lost in my thoughts. I came back to the moment because Paul thrust the handset out at arm’s length, pointing it in my direction to show what he was enduring. I couldn’t make out her words, but Bobby’s mother was angry and was letting Paul know it. Paul brought the handset back to his head and interrupted her by saying, “We’ve got to go, Mrs. Joseph. They are calling us in to see the doctor. We’ll see you when you get here.” He hung up and walked back over to us. As Paul sat back down, Bobby stood up. Paul and I looked at each other, then I asked Bobby, “What are you doing?” “Paul said they were calling us in.” “Oh,” Paul said and chuckled. “Sorry. My mistake. They were calling in a different Bobby Joseph.” “Oh,” Bobby said, sitting back down. “There’s another Bobby Joseph here? That’s weird.” Just as I picked up a six-year-old copy of Life, a nurse with a clipboard entered and announced to the waiting room, “Bobby Joseph?” “Which one?” Bobby asked loudly. “Right here,” I said. The three of us stood up and followed her, Paul guiding Bobby. She led us to an examination room, seated

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Bobby on the table, and exited without once indicating she noticed one of us had a bird stuck on his face. She was older and I reasoned she’d probably spent years in the ER and had seen it all by now. The three of us, for some reason, adopted our library manners. We spoke very little, then only in half-whispers. The young doctor joined us after a few minutes. He entered the room while staring at the clipboard and said, “So we have a young man here with something impaled in his forehead.” He looked at Bobby and said, “Oh.” He sat on a rolling stool in front of Bobby and asked, “So, how did this happen?” I started telling the tale. Almost immediately, the doctor looked at Paul as if he were the most disgustingly irresponsible person he had ever had the displeasure of meeting. Noticing this and feeling defensive of my friend, I decided to include all of Paul’s witty remarks and the fact that Paul was ultimately the one who took charge of the situation and led us here. As I finished the explanation, the doctor was now looking at Paul and nodding in approval. He pivoted back around to face Bobby and said, “So, my expert medical opinion is that this bird is not merely dead—” “He’s really most sincerely dead?” asked Paul. The doctor turned his head and smiled with approval. “Exactly. So first we’re going to cut the body away from the head—” “He’s talking about the bird, not you, Bobby,” Paul said. “Then the bird can rest in pieces.” “Correct again,” the doctor said with a chuckle. He didn’t mind Paul’s playfulness at all. Rather, he seemed to embrace it. He retrieved a small electric saw from a cabinet, scooted the trash can between his stool and the exam table, and had Bobby hold a piece of cardboard over his face from his eyebrows downward as a makeshift visor for eye protection. He lifted the bird’s body a little and quickly cut it away from its head. Then he dropped the decapitated body into the trashcan and said, “Nevermore.” Paul laughed and said, “That was a good one.” I didn’t get it. “Oh, man. That’s a lot better,” Bobby said, enjoying an unobstructed view and freed from the weight of a bird’s carcass. “Thank you.” “So,” Paul said, staring at nothing with a pensive look. For a moment, I thought he might be working up some more gas. But then he said, “I guess I never thought about it before, but is a crow and a raven the same thing?” The doctor stopped and stared at his own nothing for a moment, then said, “I think so. But I’m not really sure. That’s a good question.” The doctor smiled at Paul as if he’d found a kindred spirit. Then, remembering he had a patient, he turned his attention back to Bobby. “I don’t understand,” said Bobby. “Why is that a good question? What does—” The door opened and a young nurse said, “Doctor, I was told you might need some assistance. How can I—” Her eyes had found the patient sitting on the exam table. “What is that?” she asked with a look which might have been alarm, confusion, disgust, or a combination of the three.

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“Bird head,” said the doctor without looking at her. She looked at the doctor, then back at the patient. “Bird head?” “Yes.” Then he turned to her and said, “And, yes, I do need your help, as a matter of fact. I need you to go to my office. I have an encyclopedia set on the book shelf along with all my medical volumes.” He held up a finger to signal the importance of the next sentence. “I need to know if a crow and a raven are the same thing.” She looked at him for a moment trying to figure out how this would help matters. Then, apparently deciding hers was not to reason why, she said, “Yes, doctor,” and exited. The doctor continued looking at Bobby and the crow’s head from different angles and occasionally saying, “Hmmm.” Then he straightened up, turned to Paul and asked, “Have you ever read Alice in Wonderland?” “I saw the movie,” I said, hoping it would help. “Years ago. When I was a kid.” “Yes, I’ve read it,” Paul said. “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?” the doctor quoted. “I believe they included the line in the Disney movie as well,” the doctor said as he glanced at me, politely throwing a bone to the less literate in the room. “Yes,” Paul said with more excitement than Bobby and I were ever able to elicit. “But the book never answered the riddle. That always bugged me.” “Ah,” the doctor said, holding up a finger and suddenly becoming an English teacher instead of a man of science. “But Lewis Carroll did give a possible answer to the riddle later on when asked about it: because both can produce notes, though they tend to be flat.” Paul laughed and said, “That’s great.” I didn’t get it. “But there’s an even better answer, I believe,” said the doctor with a smile. “Why is a raven like a writing-desk? Because Poe wrote on both!” Paul laughed louder. I almost got it, but not quite. “Are you talking about the guy who wrote the story about the killer who thought he heard the dead guy’s heart beating under his floor?” “Yes,” Paul said. “That was ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ by Edgar Allan Poe. He also wrote that cool poem we did a couple of years ago in English called “The Raven.” Which is the raven that said ‘nevermore,’ And ravens and crows might be the same thing, we just haven’t figured that one out yet.” “Oh, okay. Got it,” I said, genuinely happy he had caught me up. “Have you heard the new Beatles song about the walrus yet?” the doctor asked Paul, ignoring me because he probably just assumed I was going to fall behind again. “It mentions Edgar Allan Poe.” “I’ve heard it, but I didn’t catch that part,” Paul answered. “Listen to all the lyrics when you get a chance. Just don’t try to analyze it, don’t try to figure out what John is meaning. It’s just for fun, just entertainment without any deep message,” he said as he winked and nodded. “Pure nonsense. Lewis Carroll would approve. I’m pretty sure he’s the one that inspired the walrus references in the first place.”


Fiction

“Oh, I get it,” Paul said, enlightened. I didn’t get it. “Fascinating,” Bobby said flatly. We all turned to see he was giving us a my-patience-is-wearing-thin look. It might have been intimidating had he not had a bird’s head stuck in his face. The doctor said, “Oh, yes, let’s see what we can—” He was interrupted by the nurse re-entering the room, looking down at the large book open in her hands. “Okay, doctor. If I’m understanding this right: the raven is part of the crow family.” “So,” he said, “a raven is a crow. But a crow isn’t necessarily a raven.” “I believe so,” said the nurse. The doctor looked at Paul and said, “Okay, then.” They nodded at each other as if they had solved a mystery and now their work was done. “Fascinating,” Bobby said again. We all looked back at him and I realized for the first time he’d been saying the word a lot recently. I thought about this another second or two then realized he’d picked it up from his favorite character in his favorite television show, Star Trek. As if in confirmation, he attempted to raise one eyebrow Spocklike, but immediately grimaced in pain because of the bird’s head. “So, is there anything else I can do, doctor?” the nurse asked, inching toward the door. “Absolutely,” he answered. “Glove up.” She did, as did he. “Now bring a basin over here,” he said. As she made the two or three steps toward the exam table, the doctor turned around, grabbed the crow’s head, and yanked it from Bobby’s. “Ow,” Bobby whispered wide-eyed, too shocked to respond with any real volume. “Well, shoot,” the doctor said as he examined the bird’s head. “What’s wrong?” I asked. He turned to show Paul, the nurse, and me the head. “I was hoping it would come out cleanly, but much of the beak is still in there.” The index finger of his free hand pointed to the jagged stub of a beak. Then he placed the head in the basin, clasped his hands, and said, “So, we’re going to have to do some minor surgery.” “Surgery?” Bobby asked. We looked back at him and saw a slow stream of blood trickle from his wound and down his nose. The nurse wiped it gently as Bobby repeated, “Surgery?” His face paled and he looked like he might fall face-forward onto the floor below. The doctor and the nurse quickly, instinctively acting as one each moved to different sides of him and lowered him gently backwards until his head rested on the table’s built-in pillow. “Minor surgery,” the doctor said down to Bobby. “We’re just going to get those little pieces of beak out, get your wound all nice and clean, and give you some stitches.” “And then I can go home?” “Well, I’m thinking you’ve probably got a pretty good headache right now. Is that right?” “Yeah.” “Does it just hurt in the front where you were injured? Or all over your head?”

“It hurts there from getting hit and poked. But my whole head hurts all around like when you get a regular old headache.” “That’s what I was thinking,” said the doctor. “We’re going to see if you have a concussion. After all, your head was hit pretty hard by an object, even if the object was an unusual one. Then the object stuck in your forehead where there’s not any real fat or muscle. It actually impaled the bone a bit, so we will have to x-ray you, then determine what treatment we’ll pursue. You’re going to be here for a little while and there’s a good chance you’ll be staying with us overnight. We have to make sure we’ve got everything figured out and treated before we send you home.” “Oh, okay,” said Bobby. “I guess that’s a good idea.” The doctor smiled down at him, patted his shoulder, looked at the nurse and said, “Let’s prep.” Then he turned to us and said, “Gentlemen, you’ve done a good job and you’ve been good friends to this young man. Now I’ll have to ask you to head back out while we take care of your friend.” Paul and I walked slowly back to the waiting room. While we surveyed the area, taking in the other unfortunate sick and injured, I heard Paul sigh with relief and even with a little bit of satisfaction. We looked at each other and smiled and nodded because someone we didn’t even know had just told us we were good friends to Bobby. And though we might be hard-pressed to say what we had actually done that was so wonderful, we took pride in the fact that this young doctor had just told us we’d done a good job. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves and things in general. Then she stormed in through the glass doors. She froze and loudly said, “Where is my boy?” to the room, to herself, to nobody in particular. “Where is my boy?” she said again as her head jerked quickly from one side to the other and her crazy, wide eyes scanned the room. She saw Paul and me, and we braced ourselves. “What have you two white-trash hoodlums done with my boy!”

Mike Todd’s literary/mainstream material has appeared most recently in River Poets Journal, Page & Spine, New Reader Magazine, Books ‘N Pieces, Still Point Arts Quarterly (for which he received a Pushcart Prize nomination), and Embark Literary Journal. His first novel, A SPARROW ON THE HOUSETOP, is currently being presented to publishers by his agent. He can (and should) be followed at facebook.com/ByMikeTodd.

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Marx Eulogy Mark Murphy

This is not Eleanor Marx. This is the old man without any hope of a drink before the insurrection. This is a poem then without Eleanor Marx. This is the old man breaking away, striding away, going it alone. This is the old man doing a runner, renouncing responsibility, his rightful place in the Parthenon of prophecy. This is the old man trying to ignore the rebellion in his own backyard, which has begun just in the nick of time. This is the old man emendating his own proscriptions. No use to collaborate, corroborate, or cry wolf with Baroness Jenny. This is the end the old man wanted, sacrificed his family for, relented like a true victim of terror.

This is not Eleanor Marx. She is dressed in bridal ivory.

This is not Eleanor Marx. She is beyond inconsolable.

Mark A. Murphy is the editor of the online journal, POETiCA REViEW. His poetry collections include Tin Cat Alley (1996), Our Little Bit of Immortality (2011), Night-Watch Man and Muse (2013), To Nora, A Singer of Sad Songs (2019), and Night Wanderer’s Plea (2019). His next full length collection, The Ontological Constant is due out in June (2020) in a bi-lingual German/English edition from Moloko Print in Germany.

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The Lady from the Sea Mark Murphy

Already a natural speaker in English, French and German, Eleanor now learns Norwegian to enable her to translate Ibsen for British publisher Thomas Fisher Unwin. A task she delights in due to her love for everything-Ibsen. That a woman should demand emancipation and leave her husband and children to get it — both thrills and presents her with the reverse dilemma to Ellida Wangel — stay with the seductive but dangerous Edward Aveling or find herself a loving and devoted (albeit boring) man to love?

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Even after the Aveling’s three-week tour of Norway and the impossible contradictions and arguments over Edward’s specific brand of selfishness and egotism (which both appalls and fascinates Eleanor) she cannot bring herself to leave the man who causes her only pain. Like Nora Helmer in A Doll’s House she must choose between life or death.

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Eleanor loves Edward. Edward loves himself.

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He Who has the Youth (has the Future) Mark Murphy

for Aiden McGregor For you we will share our secret life with Eleanor Marx and invite you to confess your heart’s desire. For you we will admit shame in a century of wars and civil wars.

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For you we will remember those days when it was enough to be enthralled on walks in Little Stacey Park and the future was hardly thought of.

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For you we will not talk in riddles when we meet again but as one rebel to another — equals in all but age. For you we will march on the Winter Palace and join as brothers in St Petersburg.

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For you we will dance the Tarantella in a last act of defiance and final farewell to childhood. For you we will share our secret life with Eleanor Marx and lay waste a universe of hate in favour of care, courage and curiosity.

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Евгений Сарычев

Muzhiks: The Story of the Russian Peasantry Rahmah Meligy

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minds, unfortunately, it has become a necessity to survive. For money has caged me into the labour I perform, for if I succumb this torment, money will abandon me, and to the grave my body shall go, for I have passed from starvation indeed. And for the wealthy, their fortune of fate is not too high indeed. For the money has been the tyrant of all minds, where money ventures off to, they will crawl towards wealth with mindless desperation. For the addiction of wealth is too great of a disease, one might sell their soul for the material object of currency. And so the talents of humanity are deemed unfavourable, for they were expected not to please the dictator, money. And so talent is denied more reasons, that not. Class has denied the expression of our souls and our great treasury of talent. Humanity has dissolved all the utterance of expression on our tongues, and therefore we have become the equivalent of the machine. My declaration of my desire of becoming a writer had been disdained by my loved one and deemed as peasantry by the wealthy of the late nineteenth century. For talent is a mastery of art granted since birth. Talent is untrained and holds all the refusal towards being tamed. That is the underlying power our veins poses, but the Muzhik’s work is a fate that cannot be crossed, a menial tedious task that terminates civilization in the nation. For if a nation denies the authority of talent in such a majority of citizens, it, therefore, diminishes the nation’s sophistication. It is because passion drives the most pre-eminent of work. The Muzhiks of late nineteenth-century Russia have been denied the necessity of choice. The choice for talent is just one of many. For broken relationships are bound, for they abide by the likelihood of the tyrant, money. My mother had the fate of marrying the vilest of men. For her soul had been tormented without remorse by the actions of the man who accounts to be one of the most disgraceful of men. She’s seen days of horror and countless nights of suffering, and yet, she refused to leave him. For years I have hated that quality in my mother, why not leave if all you foresee is pain? But my mind has aged and now I can fathom the loathsome decision my mother has made. She had to stay, for life was non-existent outside the boundaries of his wages. Her life had depended on the wages he had obtained through labour, and without the money, food would vanish and her body would deteriorate and decay. For money has become the tyrant of all minds, unfortunately, it has become a necessity to survive.

F

or we are slaves but not admitted to be so. For I am denied the privilege of decision. For people dominate me with pleasure and my identity of expression is denied. For we work as slaves, but we are not slaves, we are Muzhiks, the majority that is drenched in the poison of misery in the Russian Empire. The inquiry of one’s passion is denied, all talent subsided. For our human souls are trapped, and only our strength in labour expressed. For men have passions, but only the privileged pursue them. The development of a passion is a luxury, that even amongst the wealthiest can’t afford. For money has been the tyrant of all

Rahmah Meligy is a young aspiring author currently working on her first book. She has not been previously published before. She works as a parttime librarian. She has her own website, The Notable Lifestyle, where she writes articles criticising books. She is an avid reader, her favorite books would be Fahrenheit 451 and Anna Karenina.

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I Think I’m Getting Weirder Stephen Mead

Starting to love dust, nothing dangerous, just how it floats, continuously miniscule ‘til there’s 3 feet of flecks. It’s becoming part of my element the way pastels always were just colored powder, the layered surfaces in a swirl, all existence composed of dots... That’s what emotions touched except then the walls grew— Every stuck up paper breathing its picture like a forest, or person. That’s when plants also had eyes, listened by watching with something to tell pulling me into these hallways ignorant of how much the hues would one day take over.

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unsplash @randylaybourne

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Shifts STEPHEN MEAD

Tides and time manage them, adaptation, innate. Any dictionary can define just what a word is. We take it further. Living looks for meaning, rationalizes exactly how feelings apply. Tonight I haven’t the slightest clue. This shift is a rift, movement, a last resort in order not to be swept under. Where are we now? Arms reach forth, stroke sensation, but the vibrancy is raw. If I plug my ears, shut everything out, I can recall a song the radio played a while back. Blue Moon. I saw you standing there. We were so young then with a different transistor beneath our pillows blinking red lights. I detected you near as a dance one does alone. This berth throbbed with an energy. The train is pulling in. The waiting depot leans. Doors open, a cloak of mist. It waves as if valedictory. Do we know what has happened? The Blue Moon recedes, some hissing frequency. On separate shores we break like surf. This means arriving.

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Oasis STEPHEN MEAD

Praying the seeds take, that the pregnant earth gives back its bounty, counts out the blossoms through uterus vines… Praying to touch the heads, the tips of them in an amen celebration from chocolate swirls of grit… Hands on, hands as lanterns dreaming of Chinese satin, the tooth ‘n nail buds royal as tapestries… & pin wheels shall be placed, white stones, slabs of quartz, & bulb will signal bulb, a luminous stillness in the night watch over bridges, trellises, fountains, a city Eden… Man, how I hunger for some sweet green to lengthen, grow lucid in, to become what I was: white stone, leaf curl, dew open as an orchid’s head before all else.

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Stephen Mead is an Outsider multimedia artist and writer. Since the 1990s he’s been grateful to many editors for publishing his work in print zines and eventually online. He is also grateful to have managed to keep various day jobs for the Health Insurance. Currently he is resident artist/curator for The Chroma Museum, artistic renderings of LGBTQI historical figures, organizations and allies predominantly before Stonewall, The Chroma Museum.

unsplash @prescott3

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Fiction

The Sisters Susan E. Rogers

S

he looked silly, a grown woman chasing a plastic bag as it skipped across the sand. She finally plucked it, dripping, from the waves and held it up for the water to empty. Annie had been walking along the beach when she spotted them. The three huddled together like sisters chattering family gossip, jetblack feathers iridescent in the morning sunshine. Polished bead eyes reflected the glint of the sand. Intuitively, she felt she needed to take a photo. She stepped in slow motion trying not to frighten them. They were watching her as she reached into that bag she was carrying for shell-collecting. She felt around for the camera she had put in there earlier. It was stuck and a tug started the absurd chain of events. As she yanked out the camera, the bag’s handle slipped out of her grasp and the slight breeze puffed it up like a balloon to send it skittling down the beach. Chasing it, she bobbed up and down with her shoulder-length auburn hair whipping in her eyes and mouth as the bag jumped away every time she came within reach. She caught up as it hit the waves. She turned around to see those three crows, black beaks open in laughter, take off in synchronized flight. She had come a long way to walk this beach, over 16,000 miles. A trip she had to make because of a photograph that had already been very old when she saw it thirty-two years ago. Creased and worn with handling, the edges were tattered and one upper corner was missing. The girl in the photo was her great-grandmother, the one she was named for and had loved so dearly. Her memory of that week was surreally sharp. She was out of school because half her class had chicken pox and the principal decreed that every first-grader should stay home until the miniepidemic was over. Her mother and aunts had to work and the only one who could watch her was Nana, her great-grandmother. Annie was delighted. She loved spending time with Nana. She told the best stories and Annie loved curling up in the chair with her, listening to tales of long ago and faraway places. The grown-ups had agreed that Annie should sleep at Nana’s for the week since it would be much less bother. When Annie arrived on Sunday night, she saw the scuffed brown box on the dining room table immediately. Nana said it was a special surprise and she had a lot of good stories to go with it. Annie wanted to open the box right away but Nana said no, not until the next day. She kept her word. As soon as the breakfast dishes were done and the kitchen put to rights, they were dressed and Nana’s big bed where they slept together was made, they settled in front of the box. Annie watched Nana untie the string and open the flaps to reveal the treasure within. Pictures! “Nana, the pictures don’t have any colors,” the surprised six-yearold exclaimed.

There were nine of them, and Nana took each one carefully out of the box. “This is our family,” Nana told her, as she laid them out on the table in a particular order while Annie looked on in silence. “I know them too, don’t I, Nana?” the little girl asked when her grandmother was done. She was cross-legged up on the table top, bending her head close to each one to study it. “You have stories about them?” “Yes, love, I’ll tell you the stories.” Nana gave her a hug. “Then you’ll really know them.” The little girl sat quietly as she surveyed the pictures again. “That’s good because I think they are already inside me.” Annie kissed Nana’s cheek, then climbed down to settle into the chair with the two thick pillows on top. “You do have the gift,” Nana whispered as she watched, “just like I did at your age.” Each day Nana told her about two pictures, their names and life in the village in Ireland where Nana grew up. The little girl listened carefully as she stowed it all in her memory. Even at her young age, Annie sensed the energy, the shared soul, of family. By Friday afternoon, Nana had told her the story of every picture except one. “This is the special one,” Nana said, “and I saved it for last.” It was in a narrow, gilded frame under clouded glass. There were four girls in the picture. Three stood together in the back, tall young women with flowing hair tamed under hats. The three had their hands on the shoulders of the little girl who was Annie’s age. Annie could see they all looked alike. “My sisters and me,” Nana had said quietly as she carefully removed the old photo from the frame. “That’s you, Nana?” Annie had pointed her chubby finger at the little girl. “Yes, love, that’s me,” Nana had told her. Then she pointed at each of the women in turn. “This is Bridget, but everybody called her Delia. She was oldest, going to join her husband-to-be. This one in the middle is Mary, who always dreamed of places far away. And this is Lizzie. She wasn’t supposed to go, but she begged until they gave in.” She ran her fingertips lightly across the three, caressing their memory. “Can I hold it, Nana?” she asked in a whisper, little palms turned up side by side forming a cradle. Nana placed the photograph in her hands. “That was the day they left,” said Nana with a soft sigh. “The three of them together. Off they went to Australia. I never saw them again, never knew what happened to my three sisters. I lost them all that day.”

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The little girl looked up at her. “Don’t cry, Nana. I’ll find them for you. When I grow up, I’ll go to Australia and find them for you. I promise, okay?” The woman gathered her in her arms. When she finally released her embrace, she held the child at arm’s length to gaze in her eyes. “I know you will, love,” Nana’s voice was raspy with emotion. “Yes, I know you will. You’ll be the one to find them.” That’s why she had made this journey half way around the world, for Nana. She had promised her again as she lay dying in that big bed. She looked so frail on that day five years ago, as the old woman reminded Annie of her long-ago pledge. “I will, Nana. I will,” Annie had vowed. She had flown to Sydney, had toured the Opera House and Botanical Gardens and took the ferry to Manley. She haunted the genealogy section of the library every afternoon for two weeks. She found the passenger list for the ship the sisters had sailed on from Cobh to Brisbane in 1885. Delia and Lizzie were listed as arrivals. A note next to Mary’s name said she was buried at sea. She found Lizzie’s death notice in the Brisbane Courier. She died in hospital in 1886 of typhoid fever at age nineteen. Only Delia survived to marry and have a family of seven children, yet two babies died and three sons were lost in war. She found their story, but she still needed to find them. Now in Brisbane, Annie searched the city for clues. She found an address listed in the old city directory, and she walked by the house on Montague Road. Someone else’s family lived there now; no essence of Delia left behind. At last, she found the deaths of Delia and her husband in the city records, giving their burial place. She took the bus to Toowong Cemetery the next morning. She entered through tall thick stone pillars bound with heavy iron gates, wondering who or what they were meant to keep out, or in. She bypassed the guided tour and headed toward the office. She walked the paths, passing by carved stones and looming crypts under the guardianship of silent stone angels and time-blackened crosses. This was Brisbane’s oldest burial ground, a memorial to those who had braved the wilderness, by choice or by court decree. The charming brick building was surrounded by gardens. The door was unlocked, but the office was empty. She walked around back where she spied two men tinkering with a backhoe in front of a cluttered garage. One spotted her as he reached for a tool nearby. “You want something?” he asked impatiently. “I’m looking for my aunt’s grave,” Annie answered, trying to make it sound important enough to interrupt his duties. “We’re busy now, Miss,” he huffed. “Come back later.” “Um, no. I really can’t.” She took another step toward the men. “I’ve just come all the way from America.” “I’ll help her quick,” the other man said. “You keep at it, mate.” He waved Annie toward the office. “Come on along with me.” Annie walked toward the building and he was right behind, holding the door open for her to enter. “Do you know what year your aunt died?” he asked as he headed over to a shelf holding a number of large cloth-bound books.

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“1904,” she answered quickly. He reached for one of the volumes and started flipping through the pages. “What was her name then?” “Delia Dempsey.” She stood patiently. He found the entry. “Looks like there’s some others in there too. I’ll make a copy for you.” He handed her the paper and she thanked him. He went back to work as she compared the section number with the map. She found the site of the grave and circled it with a pen from her purse. The page he had copied listed Lizzie buried with her sister. Delia’s husband and the two babies were next to them. Annie started walking; she had a long way to go. Her Aunties were here somewhere in these 109 acres and she was determined to find them. The paths looped and twisted through the old part of the cemetery and none of the sections were marked. Annie became lost. She felt she had walked for hours, and couldn’t find her place on the map. There were no landmarks for orientation. She couldn’t even see the office in the distance any more. She turned in a circle, trying to decide which path to take next. Caw-caw demanded her attention from overhead. She looked up, squinting in the sun. A large crow was perched at the top of a tall eucalyptus in the next lot. She was sure it was looking down at her. It called again and within moments a second flew over, landing on a branch just below. A third coasted in to join them. They all peered down, greeting her with a chorus of raucous cries. The first to arrive was the first to dart off, followed closely by the second. The last one waited, jumping down to a branch nearer to her. The bird cocked her head and cast a look at Annie, punctuated by another caw. An echoing call came from a tree several sections away, where the other two waited. Annie started walking as her guides led her through the maze of trails and graves. They swooped from branch to branch, tree to tree, waiting for Annie to catch up, until the three sat together overhead. Beneath their perch, Annie kneeled down at the two markers side by side, worn and barely legible. She ran her fingertips lovingly over the carving and felt their spirits sweep through her — in memory of Delia, Lizzie and Mary. “I’ve found them for you, Nana,” she whispered through tears as she looked up at the three sisters in the tree. Within moments, a fourth was gliding in to join them. They didn’t flinch as she slid her camera from her purse and took the photograph.

Susan E. Rogers lives in St. Pete Beach, Florida, retired from a Social Work career in Massachusetts. Retirement was a catalyst for beginning her life-long ambition to write. Her other interests include genealogy and psychic spirituality, often twisting these into her writing. She has published and collaborated on numerous genealogical articles. She self-published her first book in 2018 about her own psychic experiences. Her work has been accepted in anthologies that are in the publication process.


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Corn on the Cob Louise DiLenge

Forgotten. Midsummer. Streamliner locked.

Tire rut clay. Hand-hewn bridge. Not that way.

Sunblind grin. Guilty arms up. Irrigation below.

Wake up. Sweat drenched.

Turn around. Turn around.

Maternal head spin. Curious to furious.

Head pounds.

Shoe prints.

What the‌?

Doorknob high. Arm imagines. Like Alice s-t-r-e-t-c-h.

Past rusty tractor. Past feed silo. Past pig poke.

One-arm snatched. Ragdoll dangled. Over earth suspended.

Silver door swings. Steel step tumble.

Corn spears. Shadow stalks.

Padded butt smacked. Mistook hurts more.

Hotbox salvation.

First hunt.

Pathfinder.

Baggy diaper. Bowleg waddle. Barefoot shuffle.

Wide water Deep ditch. Sparky dog flanked.

Spanking meditation:

Back and forth. Back and forth.

Shoe prints. Shoe prints.

Deep dust stove top.

Board plank.

Claptrap shack. Door ajar. Lifeless.

Field voices. Mom. Grandma. Dad. Howard.

Turn around. Turn around.

Half-husked ear. Thumbnail-cut rib.

Cottonwood giant.

Milk blood.

New - corn Milk - sweet Chin - drips Tear — drops.

Fresh Creamed Corn (Corn must be prepared within minutes of picking.) 1 ear per diner Butter Salt & pepper Husk ears of corn. Cut kernels from cob, carefully catching juice (milk) and tender kernels in a bowl. Sear in hot skillet with butter. Heat nibs and milk just to room temp. Season to taste. Serve immediately with pat of butter melting in center. Contemplate innocence.

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Meatloaf Louise DiLenge

HE always served first. Yellow Pyrex dish adrift, grease-laked. Meatloaf Eye witness stabbing, highchair seated. Meatloaf Heinz catsup slather, mean piece slashed. Meatloaf Carnation Evaporated Milk mashed. Potatoes Jolly Green Giant Morton Salt rained. Corn Left hand knife. Right hand spoon. Two-fisted attack. Counter clock circles. HE stirs mess on plate. Ready. Steady. Aim. Fire! Meatloaf-potato-corn-mush. Bombs Wonder Bread wrap. HE shoves-chews-open-mouthed-angry. Who are these people? Why am I here?

Louise DiLenge is an award-winning arts maven with four-plus decades as performer, writer, and designer. Literary, visual, and performing arts producer. Grants and curriculum craftsperson. Independent and collaborative playwright. Enjoys a lifelong quest to understand, nurture, and participate in the creative arts. Matured from independent artist to artists’ mentor. Co-founder of One Reel Productions and founding member of Teatro ZinZanni.

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Poetry

Library of Congress

Willetta’s Meatloaf 1 lb. fatty hamburger ½ jar of French’s Mustard 2 sleeves Nabisco Saltine Crackers

1 diced yellow onion 2 eggs Heinz Catsup

Mix with angst. Crush will into 6”x 8” yellow Pyrex baking dish. Sacrifice to pre-heated 350º oven for 60 minutes. Overcook until soul shrinks to 2/3 original size. Char and blood-red catsup streak.

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Pickled Pig’s Feet Louise DiLenge

Pickled Pig’s Feet 6 pig’s feet 2 fresh red chili peppers 2 tablespoons salt 2 cups white vinegar Add all ingredients to list In a large stainless steel pot, place pig’s feet and enough water to cover. Boil feet 2 hours or until tender; drain. Rinse feet in hot water to remove excess fat. Remove as many bones as you can. Put 1 chili pepper and 3 pig’s feet in each quart jar. In a separate bowl, mix salt and vinegar together. Pour vinegar mixture over pig’s feet to cover. Seal jars and refrigerate for at least 3 days to 1 week before eating. Or, leave on refrigerator shelf. Wonder. Where is the pig’s fourth foot?

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Poetry

Pay Day Fights Try not to watch. Bed Time Fights Listen while sisters sleep. Friday Night Fights Watch with Dad on new television console.

Gillette Cavalcade of Sports

You look sharp and, feel sharp, too. Choose the razor that is built for you. Light, Regular and, Hairy— Hey! A great shave for any beard— Ole’! Sprawled on shit brown sofa. Curly head on chest Small frame stretched over his. Eyes rivet black and white screen. Grown men waltz round a ring. Brutal ballet set to cacophony.

Held down. Large hands. Small hips. — DANGER! Breath reeks of pickled pigs feet. Pre-aged common sense Double fist like TV guys. Five-year-old fury. Behind solid right hook. SMACK! Ladies and Gentlemen! What a sucker punch! Nobody saw that one coming! Boy, oh, boy! What a fight! Audio fade. Inner voice scream. Gonna die.

Close arm held. Heartbeat lulled. Sparring blare-glare mesmerized. Good evening. This is Jimmy Powers. Speaking from Madison Square Garden. In New York City. Welcoming you to another boxing match. He snacks on pickled pig’s feet.

Head over heels. Land hard. Gonna die. Mess of pickled pig feet. His bristling brawler stance. Right fist clenched advance.

Comfort turns to confusion. Breath quickens. Arm grows heavy. Finger Slowly Circles Button-flat nipple.

Gonna die.

Lightning strikes. Between ears.

Blink. Laugh. Fist down.

Screen flips 180º. Astride cock-hard lap.

CLANG! Ladies and Gentle! There’s the bell. Here we go. Round Two— Shadow passes.

Not gonna die— today.

Search face for landmarks. Devouring eyes. Twisted smile.

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Her Wounded Eyes Robert Guffey

FIODAR HUSEU

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Fiction

Which one should it be?” Joel said this as he lined the bullets along the bed frame like the regiment of tiny toy soldiers Gordon’s stepson used to play with on Saturday afternoons. Joel knew full well that those Saturday afternoons had always been oh so precious to them both. But that was before… before…. Joel sat on an end table at the foot of the bed, idly rearranging the half-dozen bullets as if he were about to play the shell game with Gordon. But neither of them were playing a game—at least not a child’s game. Gordon was tied to the bed. His mouth had been stuffed with rags, though Joel had been kind enough to take them out a few minutes before. No one would hear the screams anyway, not even in a sweet little gingerbread home in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles. No one ever heard anything, not in the middle of Los Angeles, not in the suburbs, not anywhere. Not if they could help it. Joel wasn’t worried. He doubted Gordon would scream anyway. It wasn’t his style; he was too dignified. He might pray a lot, though. Yeah, he’d pray like a dumb son of a bitch to that nonexistent god of his just before the bullet entered his skull. Then again, perhaps he wouldn’t. After all, people did strange things under pressure, didn’t they? Joel decided to ask Gordon about this point blank. “What difference does it make?” Gordon replied in a dull monotone. “Either way I’ll be dead.” “Maybe,” Joel said. He could feel the sides of his growing smile twitching spastically. “On the other hand, maybe one of these bullets is an empty shell, and maybe if you pick the right one I’ll let you go free.” Gordon’s eyes darted about nervously. “One of them is a blank?” The monotone had changed, replaced with a new sense of… hope. Joel shrugged, teasing him. “It’s worth a try, isn’t it? What other chance do you have?” Gordon glanced at the doorway leading into the hall. Scarlet pebbles still clung to the bare white plaster from the recent slaughter. No doubt, Gordon’s mind was now filled with memories of Diana, Christopher, Tanya…. Joel laughed. Gordon stared at him with hateful, tear-filled eyes. “Why, god damn it? What’d they ever do to you?” “Nothing. What did you do to them, that’s the question.” “What’re you talking about? I’d never do anything to them. They were my family!” “No!” Joel slammed the butt of his gun into Gordon’s skull. Blood streamed down his forehead. “Wanda was your family. But you forgot about her, didn’t you? You thought you could divorce her mom and start a whole new family and forget all about what you did to Wanda, as if it never happened. Well, Wanda hasn’t forgotten. She knows what you would’ve done to Tanya if we’d let her stay here with you. Believe me, she’s better off where she is, where you can’t get your disgusting hands on her.” “What the fuck’re you talking about?” Gordon said. Blood was now trickling into his eyes. “I never hurt Wanda in my life.” Joel slammed his fist into Gordon’s solar plexus. “Liar!” For the next few minutes Gordon could only gasp in pain. Despite his wheezing, he at last managed to whisper, “Wanda’s the liar. That’s

why I disowned her. She burned her brains out on drugs a long time ago. She’s totally unreliable, she makes up stories.” Joel laughed as he whipped out his penis and pissed in Gordon’s face. “Fuck you, family man. I’m on drugs. Does it look like I burned my brains out? No, I didn’t think so.” Gordon closed his mouth, winced in disgust. The urine intermingled with the blood on his forehead. Joel was able to piss for a long time. He’d consumed an entire 40-ouncer before working up the courage to come over here. “You don’t know how long I’ve waited to do this,” Joel said. “Ever since that first night back in high school when I picked up Wanda to go to the movies. You looked at me in my ripped clothes and dirty jacket and actually cringed. You thought I was some kind of ignorant piece of white trash, I could see it all over your face. You made me feel like shit whenever I called to talk to Wanda. Remember when you got in my face that one time and accused me of giving Wanda drugs? What a laugh. She gave me drugs. Without her I never would’ve shot up for the first time. Not that I’m complaining. Wanda’s the best thing that ever happened to me. She set my head straight, gave me direction. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her.” He stuffed his penis back into his pants, zipped up. “How’s it feel, huh? How’s it feel to be treated like a piece of shit?” Joel slammed his boot into Gordon’s left rib. Something cracked. “You don’t know what you’re doing,” Gordon gasped. “She’s playing with your head.” Joel snorted. “Wanda couldn’t play with anybody’s head. She’s too fragile, too eaten away with self-doubt. It’s no surprise. Not after how you treated her.” Before Gordon could respond Joel kicked him in the ribs once again. Jesus, he was getting such a rush off this. This combined with the speed Wanda had scored for him…. Joel was in Heaven. Which was more than anyone would be able to say for Mr. Gordon Sovitch, church man, business man, family man. So many “respectable” titles, so many masks, so many lies. Joel intended to destroy every single one of them within the next few seconds. Unless Gordon agreed to play the game. * * * It happened to everybody once in a while: complete disorientation. She wasn’t sure how it happened, but sooner or later it always did. Wanda had been hitchhiking down a darkened road in her old neighborhood at two in the morning, having just been kicked out of a truck by a fat man who didn’t like girls who were tight with their favors. “Fucking whore!” he’d yelled (in truth meaning the exact opposite), screeching to an abrupt halt, propelling her out the door with a single shove. She’d flipped him off and called him a fag (in truth meaning the exact opposite) as he’d sped away into the midnight darkness. This incident hadn’t surprised her. If she’d learned anything at all during her brief eighteen years it was this: All men were insane. What seemed like two hours later, tired, unaware of her surroundings—disorientated—she’d wandered from the main road and had found herself in a wooded area she’d seen many times before in her dreams. A forest.

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A forest filled with impossible things: shadowy birds with glowing red eyes and transparent, black, X-ray bodies; men growing out of the ground like plants, reaching out for her ankles with long pale arms covered in mossy white fur; disembodied, bat-winged mouths with razor-sharp teeth soaring from tree to tree; things from a twisted storybook her mother had read to her once. (Only once. Her father had taken the book away, said it was a thing of hellfire, of the devilandtheimagination!) But this scene, this forest, was not a phantasm plucked from her imagination, for she knew she didn’t have any; it had been bled out of her by incessant threats of eternal damnation. Wicked strangeness like this could only happen to her. To delinquent Wanda. Whorewanda. Devilspawn wanda. Wanda with the wounded eyes. Things crawled behind these eyes: shadows. Crippled shadows. Pinned to the inside of her skull. Writhing there. Wriggling to get free. Her father had seen them on the day she was born. Ever since then he’d done his best to remind her of her “inherent evilness.” For so long she’d tried to prevent his words from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. It had been no use. The seven deadly sins were engrained in her very DNA. Other than undergoing a complete cellular and metaphysical make-over, there was little she could do to stave off destiny. It was as inevitable as death… something Wanda knew a great deal about. Earlier that evening, Joel, the boyfriend she’d run away with, had tried to beat her in the park bathroom in which they’d taken refuge for the night. Life on the road had not measured up to his fanciful dreams. He’d begun to blame her, claimed she’d talked him into all of this. She’d tried to calm him down by the only means she knew well. She’d kissed him, whispering into his ear, tried to distract him with her body…. He’d socked her in the jaw. Called her a slut. The pain of that word had branded itself in her brain, affecting her much more than the lingering traces of his fist. It was a familiar word to her. Her father had used it often. It was what she’d been running away from. His assault had not ended with a single blow or a single word. The insults had come as fast as his fists. She’d been forced to protect herself. What else could she have done? Lie there and accept it? Wait for something magical to save her? Like she’d done with her father. No. She’d lashed out. The broken pipe had been sitting in the corner of the bathroom for who knows how many years. Sitting there, waiting for a purpose. Waiting to be brought down on the skull of a raving maniac of a boyfriend. The resultant crack had been a sickening sound. He’d died instantly. She’d taken the bloody pipe with her, wiped her fingerprints off it, then stuck it in her backpack. She’d hidden it beneath the passenger seat in the fat man’s truck while he’d been taking a piss on the side of the road. She’d hoped her present would be appreciated by Mr. Fat Man—maybe even by the cops when they found it, identified the blood, and dragged him in on the murder charge. Standing in the weird forest, she recalled Joel’s lifeless, glassy eyes: dull black tunnels leading down into nothingness. Her memory of

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them bore no resemblance to the brightness sparkling in the multiple, hazel pupils of the formless creatures who suddenly dropped from the overhead branches, ropy tentacles lashing out from their transparent, amorphous bodies. They were men: men reduced to their essential selves, dozens of stiff phalli erupting out of vaginal pockets in their protoplasmic bodies, phalli that were so long they tripped the creatures as they lumbered toward Wanda through the ankle-high grass. Their bodies blended in with the trees, rendering them almost invisible. She could only see them at certain angles, and then only as flat, two-dimensional beings. With scintillating, hypnotic eyes. Eyes that prevented her from fleeing. Eyes that abruptly lulled her into the deepest of sleeps…. First there were the vivid, vivid memories: memories of the bloody sac of flesh the doctors had sucked out of her womb, that formless blob she’d caught only a brief glimpse of during the operation. The nurse, after seeing Wanda’s father in the lobby, had told her she should consider herself fortunate having such an “understanding father,” one who would see past her mistake and make certain she received proper, professional care. Apparently to take her mind off the imminent operation, she’d asked Wanda if her boyfriend—by which she’d meant the “mistake’s” father—had accompanied her to the clinic. Wanda had almost laughed. She’d almost laughed and said, “He’s in the lobby. Awfully ‘understanding’ of him, isn’t it?” But no. Instead she’d shaken her head. No. Her mother had never found out. It’d been a secret. Father had threatened her with Hell if she uttered a word about it. Which had seemed rather funny to her. After all, she’d been living there for fourteen years already, hadn’t she? Not long after the operation, she’d met Joel. Eventually they decided to flee. She from Hell, he from boredom. Joel had certainly completed his goal. After Wanda had gotten through with him there’d been no hint of tedium left in those empty, fetus-like eyes. Those dead joeleyes. Those wounded eyes… eyes like her father’s… dull black tunnels leading down into nothingness… down into old, old memories better left forgotten…. Yes, first there were the memories followed by a painful haze, the gradual awakening. She lifted her face from the dirt and found herself lying on the side of a deserted road. No forest, no creatures, the visions gone like shadows in night. As always. Twenty yards away she could see the taillights of Mr. Fat Guy’s truck as it receded into the darkness. Had no time passed? Behind her, far down the road, she could just barely see the dull white light glowing above a pay phone at a roadside rest. She knew she wanted to use the phone, but didn’t quite know why. Something about the police…? She pulled herself up from the dirt and staggered toward the phone. She pressed the numbers 911. A woman with a gentle voice answered. She sounded like her mother. Wanda told her her name, then whispered through her tears, “I-I’d like to report a murder.” The woman asked her where she was. “It doesn’t matter,” Wanda said. She gave the operator the address of her old house, the house where her father and that strange woman now lived. That strange woman and her awful children.


Fiction

“Please tell me who’s been murdered,” the woman said. Wanda thought about Joel. Joel was dead, wasn’t he? Wasn’t he? “My… my baby,” Wanda said at last. “My daughter.” “Please, Wanda, calm down. Tell me who killed her.” Father had threatened her with Hell if she uttered a word about it. “Father,” she said quietly, so quietly that even she couldn’t hear it. * * * Gordon’s eyelids fluttered open. Joel smiled. Though he hadn’t passed out from the pain, he probably wished he had. “Well?” Joel said, stroking Gordon’s cheeks with his fingertips. Gordon winced at the touch. “Have you decided to play the game?” Gordon’s gaze alighted upon the bullets lined up on the bedframe. He nodded slowly. “Good thinking,” Joel said. “It’s really your only way out, isn’t it?” He stood at the foot of the bed, waving his arms in the air like a sideshow barker. “I promise, old man, I’m good to my word. You’ve got a one in six chance. That’s better than you gave Wanda. If you pick the right bullet, I’ll leave. You’ll have some explaining to do about the wife and kiddies.” He jerked his thumb toward the bloodstreaked hallway. “But that ain’t nothin’ to worry about. I’m sure they’ll buy your story, particularly since it’s coming from such a fine upstanding gentleman like yourself.” These last five words dripped with sarcasm. “But by that time me and Wanda will be long gone.” Gordon coughed, blood and phlegm rattling in his lungs. “Where is Wanda?” “She’s in a safe place. I left her back at the park, the same park you used to take her to when she was a little girl, before she was old enough to turn your head, eh? How old do they have to be? Twelve, thirteen? I hear Tanya would’ve been fourteen next month. Looks like I got to her just in the nick of time.” “Why didn’t Wanda come with you?” “Because she’s too scared to see you again, she can’t stand to look at your disgusting face.” “Or maybe she’s playing you for a fool, just like she’s done to everyone else, just like she did to me. She’s crazy—” “Shut up!” Joel was about to slap Gordon in the face once again, then pulled back. No need to go through that again. They had a game to play. He pointed at the bullets with the barrel of his empty gun. “Go ahead. Make your choice. You don’t have all day. Neither do I.” “Wanda told these same lies to her mother, you know. That’s why she divorced me. Even though there was no proof, she divorced me. All because she couldn’t come to grips with the fact that her daughter is a habitual liar.” “Shut up,” Joel whispered. “She’s insane. I saw it in her eyes the day she was born. She needs to be locked up. You’re just reinforcing her delusions.” “Shut up!” “Didn’t you ever stop to think that she tried to seduce me, and not the other way around? I rejected her and she hated me for it. I tried to get help for her but she refused. Instead she ran away with you.” “God damn, you’re one sick son of a bitch,” Joel said. “Make the choice and let’s get this over with.”

Gordon sighed and closed his eyes. “The one on the far right.” Joel snatched the bullet up from the bedframe, tossed it into the air once as if it were a lucky penny, then jammed it into the chamber of the gun. He moved away from the double bed until his back was pressed up against the window. The window was half-open. A nice cool breeze blew into the room. He could feel it against the back of his neck. He aimed the gun at Gordon’s head and fired. Gordon’s skull erupted, decorating the wall behind him with an abstract painting of white bone-shards and formless pieces of brain. It was pretty in a way, the final product of four years of utter frustration. Wanda’s father wouldn’t laugh or sneer at him anymore. Joel swept the remaining bullets off the headboard and poured them into his palm like grains of sand. Each one was as heavy as the last. “Oops,” he said to the corpse, “I guess I forgot to empty one of them. Bummer deal.” It was at this point that he heard the sirens. At first he ignored them, assuming they were headed somewhere else. Joel prided himself on his pessimism, and would’ve bet his life on the complacency of the surrounding suburbanites. He knew deep down that none of them would ever lift a finger to help a neighbor in trouble, not even if it meant dialing 911. Clearly, then, the sirens were headed somewhere else. But they weren’t. The cars skidded to a halt in the driveway of Gordon Sovitch’s two-story home. From the upstairs bedroom Joel peeked through the soft white curtains and saw four squad cars parked outside, their red and blue lights casting a hellish glow against the side of the house. He could hear more sirens in the distance. Everything’s going to be okay, he told himself twelve times in a row as he slipped the five bullets into their chambers. More bullets lay in his pocket. Enough for a real party. At least Wanda’s safe, he said silently as he thrust the gun out the window and fired. * * * As the police converged on Joel’s bullet-ridden corpse, Wanda stood on the side of a desolate road twenty miles outside the city. She stuck her thumb into the cool night air, hoping a nice gentleman in a truck would stop and agree to take her somewhere far away. She tried to ignore the forest and its strange inhabitants that were always there on either side of her, closing in. Forever closing in.

Robert Guffey is a lecturer in the Department of English at California State University — Long Beach. His most recent book is Bela Lugosi and the Monogram Nine, coauthored with Gary D. Rhodes (BearManor Media, 2019). Forthcoming is a collection of four novellas entitled Widow of the Amputation and Other Weird Crimes (Eraserhead Press, 2020). His website is www.cryptoscatology.com.

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Tatiana Timofeeva

DREAMING BLIND

BOREDOM

MARK MITCHELL

MARK MITCHELL

In this dream I am a sniper. My sight’s blocked—no, my right eye’s lame. No target offers itself. Sky’s clear— Almost—low clouds. Weather’s the same each night in my dream. I wipe, smear the lens. Nothing moves. This sad game grows cold as snow marked by snipe spoor. I shiver in sheets and reframe my rank. Now I’m a clerk-typist— the Basic dream—tricked on a snipe hunt— crashing through blocked woods, blind and lame.

All dreams bored her. The talent for swimming through time makes other small toys feel dull. She folds herself into a clock sitting on some shelf you won’t see. Her dream face pulls pale men to her outer orbit, rimming space. Inexplicable ballets are danced below her—she’s happy, fitting neat, forgotten on her shelf. She can cull the moments you’ll like and forge pleasant chains to treasure. Then she’ll cut through long yawns just prior to surfacing through night pain to mourning—calm as lost suburban lawns— poised for all time brings: Unrequested dance and song. Only her fierce eyesight remains.

Mark J. Mitchell was born in Chicago and grew up in southern California. His latest poetry collection, Starting from Tu Fu was just published by Encircle Publications. A new collection is due out in December from Cherry Grove. He is very fond of baseball, Louis Aragon, Miles Davis, Kafka and Dante. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, the activist and documentarian, Joan Juster, where he makes his meager living pointing out pretty things.

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Fiction

A Song for the Lemmings Ted Larsen

D

ew drips from the girders above me, as it does every morning. Vehicles roar on the bridge overhead, chasing the new day, but they don’t bother me. The sun dapples my eyelids, and it’s lovely being gentled while I wake. I float for a while in the warmth. My name is scritched into the gray paint on the steel beam above me. “Crazy Amy.” Whoever wrote it misspelled it, but that’s okay. I know they meant well. Eventually, a little voice tells me it’s time to get moving. Stretching my arms over my head, I fling off the bedcovers and stand up. I gently brush away the flies and dragons still hovering in the newborn day. As I always do, I thank them for keeping me safe overnight. I won’t need their help for now, but I’ll call them back later. I brush the grit off my flannels, and decide to get dressed. What togs should I wear? So much depends upon the plans for the day. I will probably wait until after lunch to sing, so I think I’ll do the everasking this morning. For that, a pretty skirt will be just the ticket. I rummage in the cardboard box, the one I haul around inside the old shopping cart, until I find my mood skirt. After a quick look around to be sure no one’s peeking, I slip off my flannels and put on the skirt. I am happy today, so the skirt is bright red. I’m glad. Red highlights my eyes. I put the flannels into the box. The shopping cart wobbles on one wheel. One of these days, I’m going to have to fix that, but I’m always so busy busy busy! Hmm. This outfit needs accessorizing. I choose the yellow wig (the one that sparks), a large handbag for donations, brown boots that come up to my knees. It takes a long time to lace those boots up, but I need them when I’m on my feet all day. I throw a blue vest over my blouse, but it doesn’t feel quite right. It wants some bling, a little more high fashion. I dig into the box. No idea what I’m looking for, but I will know it when I see it. And there it is. Perfect! I pull out two squirrel tails, and clip them onto the vest. I feel better already. I see one more squirrel tail. Can I do anything with it? I ponder this, then clip it to the back of my wig for good luck. I turn my head from side to side and love the way it swings around. My pony tail. My squirrel pony.

I slip my “Don’t Be Mean” stone into a deep pocket of my skirt. When I touch it, the cool texture always surprises me, always reminds me to be kind, even when others are unkind to me. If I make a mistake and say—or even think—something mean, it will tell me to be gentle. I always try to pay attention. Before I start my hike, I hold my arms straight out and spin while stamping my feet—right, left, right right right—until my bones unconfuse. Sometimes they get misaligned and have trouble knowing where to go, so I have to step and stomp until they remember and click into place. A place for everything, I always say. I throw on my backpack. I’m ready for the day. I trek between the mountains to the center of town. It’s a long hike, but I don’t get lost. Hardly ever. Even though I come here every day, I’m forever amazed at how many spend their day inside these mountains, trudging in at morning, rushing out at night. This time of year, the shadows from the mountains are getting longer. The mountains may be taller than they used to be, although sometimes I shrink, so it’s hard to tell. Sometimes I turn invisible, too. There are lemmings racing about all day, rushing past me at lunchtime and dinnertime. They never seem to see me. When they step out of their mountains, they are too busy or too sad to look my way even when I’m visible. That’s why I have to work so hard to draw attention to myself when I everask. I notice they are building another mountain, so one of the cement paths is blocked. Good. More folk will have to walk my way today. It will be harder for them to unsee me. It’s mid-morning, and they are already all around me. So many festive togs walking by — it’s a rainbow! Here’s a woman whose shiny blue dress sits off the shoulders. Her shawl looks like fairy wings. Maybe she actually is a fairy, using the shawl to hide her wings. To be on the safe side, I wave at her with two thumbs up, the traditional fairy greeting. She turns away, which is the fairy way. Close behind her is a master of the black arts. Black shoes, black pants, black shirt; lit up by a bright red tie. He would look good next to me in my bright red skirt.

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Which reminds me to take a quick look. Yes, the skirt is still red. And here’s three men, all talking loudly. Each carries a brown kitbag. They all talk at the same time, pointing their fingers at each other. I suppose they must be friends, the way they’re walking together, but they don’t seem happy about that. Unnoticed among them are some of my people, too. Robbie mutters his way down the street, doing his usual two-step shuffle. He takes a money clip out of his pocket every few feet, counts the one green dollar in it, and returns it to his pocket. Two steps later, he does it all again. He’s always going somewhere. I have noidea where. Leaning in the shadows of the foothills is Hector. I like Hector, although we’ve never actually spoken. He’s always busy, too. He stands still and twists his hands, kneading invisible dough. He burbles “Alleluia” and “No rest!” over and over, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes in a roar. I wonder if he is ever silent. Mystic mice dart in and out of the crowdwaves. No one sees them but me. A shame, that. I think they’re beautiful, the way they shine in a kabillion colors. They love to dance. On a good day they sing, too. You’ve not heard music until you’ve heard mystic mice in harmony. I know some people think I’m crazy, but it’s their eyes that are broken. I feel sorry for them. I don’t think they notice anything real. I don’t think they even try. It’s a blessing to see real reality. Today must be an invisible day for me. Most of the lemmings don’t even glance at me as they scuttle past, even though they all have to herd my way. “Help for the homeless?” I say. “A little help?” I ask. Invisible or not, I evertry to ask every one of them. I think most of them don’t want to be bothered, wishing they could be unseen like me. Still, I ask. People are more helpful when you ask “Children are hungry,” I cry. “Your brothers and sisters. Hungry!” One man steps out of the pack, pulls something out of his pocket and tosses it in the handbag. I smile at him in gratitude, although he doesn’t smile back. I don’t know how much he gave, but it was folded. Money that folds is good. Money that clinks is also good, though. I’ve learned that. It’s a noisy morning. The vehicles rage and snarl, like always. Sometimes they honk. The lemmings always look up at that. I smile. Just wait, I think. If you like the honking, wait until you hear me sing! The morning passes slowly, but pass it does. Every so often, someone donates something. It helps to fly the time. I hear a growl. Before I get too scared I realize it’s my tummy. I must be hungry. Looking down, I notice my skirt has turned a sandy brown. I don’t wear a watch, so I look into my bag to figure out the time. I see a fair amount of silver and copper and green at the bottom, which means my tummy and skirt must be right. It’s lunchtime! There are benches nearby. Even when there are people sitting on them, like today, they always stand up and move when I get near them. It’s so nice of them to give me their seat. People are so kind.

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I thank them and wave as they go. On the ground in front of me, I spread out a checkered blanket. I sit, criss-cross applesauce, and lean back against the bench, tucking my skirt around my knees. I’m excited to see that the skirt is now sky blue. This also complements my eyes! A pleasant breeze blows. High above me, the clouds spell out “Well done, Ames.” The yellow ringlets of my wig curl around my face, and sparks meander from it, lighting the air. Everything smells like lilacs and puppies. I turn to my lunch. I pull something in a wax wrapper out of my bag. What did I pack for lunch today? Peanut butter! It’s a good day. To make it last, I eat it slowly, mindful of the complex flavors. It has a caramel nose, and a nutty finish. Even though I try to savor it, eventually it is gone. I wash it down with water from my thermos. The water’s warm, maybe because the thermos is cracked. Also, maybe because the water was pretty warm when I put it in. Still, it refreshes me, and it’s time to start my afternoon. I have learned that entertainment helps. A little song, a little dance. Sometimes I juggle. I only have two juggling pins, but that seems fair. I only have two hands. Today I think I’ll sing. I take out Luke the Uke. He’s got two good strings, and he always plays well for me. I must remember to thank him for that. Today, I’ll sing my favorite setlist. Classics. “Old Mill Stream.” “Home on the Range.” “Smoke on the Water,” “O Sole Mio.” I’m feeling zesty, and start the concert. Almost immediately, one string breaks. No matter. Luke the Uke sounds great anyway. A young man walks up and stands next to me while I belt one out. Strange. This rarely happens, although his face looks vaguely familiar. I might have seen him before somewhere. Even stranger, he starts to sing along with me. This never happens, but we croon away like old friends, in perfect harmony. Even the mystic mice stop to listen and applaud. Afterwards, after the Camptown ladies have doo-dahed to their hearts’ content, he and I both laugh. “Hello, Mom,” he says. His voice is familiar, too. I thought he was all alone. I don’t see his mom. Is he talking to me? He looks at me expectantly. I don’t want to be mean, but I have no idea what to say to him. I need to say something. “Ames is the name, crazy is my game!” I heard that somewhere. I don’t know what it means, but seeing the look on his face, I kinda wish I hadn’t said it now. His shoulders sag. “Mom, it’s me, Dylan.” I used to know a Dylan. I’m sure of it, but that was long ago and worlds away. I don’t know what this Dylan expects of me. “Hello... Dylan. Nice to see you.” He looks at his shoes, and shakes his head. Now he’s the one stumped for words. I try another tack. “Times they are a changin’, huh?” He smiles. “Like a rolling stone, Ma.” More familiarity. Have I had this conversation before? I think this is not the first time I’ve seen him. I try again. “Help for the homeless?”


Fiction

“Ma, come home. I love that you do this thing, that you try to help people, but why can’t you come home? Please? You can stay with me and Miriam. We can help you.” I don’t know what he’s talking about. The homeless need help. Not me. “I have a home. It’s even got my name on it.” “Ma? Please? Can we talk about this?” This guy seems nice enough, but I should send him on his way. He’s interrupting my work. The “Don’t Be Mean” stone vibrates against my leg. I try to change the subject. I turn my head from side to side, feeling my squirrel pony fly. “Do you like it?” He exhales slowly through his mouth. “Mom. Listen. I know you love to help people. But why can’t you let someone help you?” I don’t need any help. I have dragons and flies to protect me. I don’t know how to respond, so I slip on my nicest smile and simply shake my head. He stares into my eyes, and a smile creeps onto his face, sad and kind and sweet, like Autumn. “Ok. I know there’s no budging you when you’re set on something. I’ll stop by next week and see you again.” He slips a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter into my backpack. He moves as if to give me a hug, then steps back. “I’ll see you soon, Ma.” As he leaves, I say “Thank you, young man.” He turns around and I say “Don’t think twice; it’s all right.” He waves, and blends into the lemmings. I’m not sure why, but I’m a little upset. My skirt has turned gray. No matter. It will cheer up again when I sing. Which I do, and it does. Uncountable hours later, I look at the sky and the day has moved on as it always does. Most of the lemmings are gone to whatever burrow they call home, and I take my foodwalk. The traffic smatter is smattering less, and it’s an easy walk. I stroll up to Geo’s, and knock on the back door. After a moment, the door opens, and the smells of baking and frying and food magic waft around me. Geo sweeps me into his arms. I don’t like hugs that much, but Geo’s the exception. He’s made of marshmallow kittens. I laugh and hug him back. “Hiya, Geo. How’s it goin’?” “Hi yourself, Ames. Is it dinner time already?” It must be. My bag is heavy. I hand him all the hard and soft money. “I don’t know how much is there.” He takes it. “That’s okay, Ames. Whatever you have is always enough. You know I’m always happy to help.” I smile. Helping is helpful. There are stars and comets circling his head. And angels. He does not see them. He packs boxes of cooked food into the backpack and zips it up for me. By the time I get to my place and my people, it will be cold, but it’ll still be good. “You’re a good person, Ames. Enjoy your food when you get to the enclave.” Enclave? I don’t know the word. After a moment, though, I get it and laugh out loud. My home is a little like a cave, but it’s on the ground. It’s my on-cave! “Thanks, Geo! See you tomorrow!”

The hike back home takes no time at all. It’s the magic time of evening. It feels good to be back among my people. We live hidden in the brambles. There are tents of blue plastic strung between the dead branches of old trees, banners held aloft by skeletons. The muddy river gurgles too much, and sometimes garbage drifts by, but it’s our river. There are four or five small fires among the tribe, and the branches glow from the reflected light. “Hey, Ames! Welcome back!” Lenny is usually the first to welcome me back. He’s the community watchman, when he’s not catching stars. “Hey, Lenny. Didja have a good day?” He smiles, and what teeth he has gleam with joy. “Yeah! Over in the refuse container back on seventh, I found lots of stuff to burn. No one’ll be cold tonight!” I pat him on the shoulder. I’m lucky to have a friend like Lenny. We all are. There are shoes and boots propped on the branches. They may have been left by elves or fae, I’m not sure which. All I know is they’ve been there as long as I can remember. Same with the empty beer cans. Artifacts from forever ago. The sides of the tents start to move, as my people realize I’m back. Most of them have stones or bricks holding the flaps closed. I see hands reach out and throw the doors wide open. Soon I am surrounded, and everyone laughs—some sing!—as I hand out the food Geo made for us. It’s happytime. My heart soars. I make sure it doesn’t float clean away. These are my people, and I’m happy to be around them. Kum ba yay. The sun sets soon after the feast is feasted. I work my way through the sleepy tribe to my place. I slide the thin carpet out of a cardboard box that’s also labelled “Crazy Amy.” Too bad they misspelled “Ames.” And, for that matter, “Crafty.” I unroll the carpet onto the wet earth and lay down. Luxury. Still bright against the darkling sky, the clouds spell “Sleep well, Ames.” How blessed I am! Having a home is a gift. This spot of mine, this on-cave, is all I need. I call to the flies and dragons, and they return right away. They’ve been waiting for me. Their wings burn red in the setting sun, which is how I know they will keep me safe while I sleep. Contented, and warmed by the fire, I sigh. As near as I can remember, it’s been a good day.

Ted Larsen lives in Northeast Ohio. He is an author, actor, director, playwright, composer, and avid bicyclist. His fiction has been published in The Broadkill Review, The Storyteller magazine and Literary Yard; and his story “Only the Stones” placed third in the international Aeon Award contest and will be published in Albedo One magazine. In addition, he has had nonfiction published in Computers in Healthcare magazine.

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Commuting into Myself Bob McNeil

The fare to travel this visceral subway always goes up. Commuting into myself reveals train tracks are my bones, third rails are my nerves, and hungry rats encapsulate my disposition. Superego Transit Cops believe my feelings could be underground cells, all anarchistic in nature, so, they check the bags under my eyes, considering if that’s where I keep my pipe bomb visions. My ill temper transfers from train to train, from thought to thought.

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Sure enough, my neuroses out gripes sexagenarian grumblers with each train delay, derelict aspirations panhandle, pleading to get some pleasure, and my other big bipolar hordes can’t get their problems through the exits. The Inner Voice Address System apologizes about the traffic up ahead. It explains why turtles in a tar pit would be better at transporting me to my destination. Ever a philomath, I inspect the transit map and seek life’s right station. Maybe, perhaps on the next ride, I’ll find it.


Poetry

Sergey

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Poetry

A Promissory Reincarnation Bob McNeil

Next life, I’ll screw up even better than the way I did during this one. I mean a Titanic, Hindenburg, Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor, and Exxon Valdez oil spill combined in a trimester mess up. You’ll see, next life.

Bob McNeil, writer, editor, and spoken word artist, is the author of Verses of Realness. Hal Sirowitz, a Queens Poet Laureate, called the book “A fantastic trip through the mind of a poet who doesn’t flinch at the truth.” Among Bob’s recent accomplishments, he found working on Lyrics of Mature Hearts to be a humbling experience because of the anthology’s talented contributors. Copies of that collection are available here: https:// amzn.to/3bU8Loi

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Sergey

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Poetry

The Blight that United Us Bob McNeil

With the legs of a thief, the plague came, And victims from the living spectrum Fell into a feverish vacuum, Rivaling the fires of a crematorium As the strangling pain of suffocation Wrung their lungs. With the legs of a thief, the plague came, Giving us the obsessiveness Howard Hughes knew By stealing our option to go ungloved, By stealing our partiality to be unmasked, By imprisoning us in paranoia Behind physical and emotional bars, Our hearts felt thwarted. With the legs of a thief, the plague came. For that time, there were pleas to something divine. Every sphere of the atmosphere could hear Petitions for salvation. With the legs of a thief, the plague came. Nonetheless, many blest the first responders And hospital workers Who were stationed in adversity-drenched trenches, Who were providing the tests and giving medicine When certain politicians only shared a lot of wind From their chins. With the legs of a thief, the plague came, And people spoke of the pandemic in the past tense, Waiting for a time hence Where there is no scourge, And less viral lives will emerge.

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Ekaterina Tutynina

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Fiction

Doctor Donald Awaits You Dee Burton

D

r. Donald was an imitation of a person. Not insincere, phony or psychopathic—although there was that about him also—but a genuine imitation of a person, like one might expect to find in the twenty-second century, or on another planet, or in an old Bradbury novel. When you met Dr. Donald, you knew right away the man must have been conceived in a test tube. Aside from being a person-impersonator, Dr. Donald was a renowned psychiatrist. He’d attained recognition when his voluminous thesis on the etiology of folie à deux was popularized as a self-help book, titled “I’m Bizarre, You’re Bizarre.” This early acclaim prompted Dr. Donald towards increasingly audacious writings and the bolder his assertions, the greater the number of his followers. In the inner world of neo-Freudian analysis Dr. Donald was known as a shrink’s shrink. Almost all of his patients were shrinks: practicing shrinks, budding shrinks, has-been shrinks, would-havebeen shrinks. Stanley was an exception. Stanley was just an ordinary guy, who, like most ordinary guys, had heard of Dr. Donald, had seen in print the name, “Donald B. Donald, M.D.” He had sought out Dr. Donald for help in his relationship with Beth. Theirs was a quality marriage, but lately Stanley had been finding it difficult to keep up his end of the quality. He’d come to feel, not overwhelmed, but perplexed, dismayed, and fatigued by his wife. As he put it to Beth: “I want Dr. Donald to help me be a better husband to you.” Beth herself was mildly disparaging of the idea. “Fish-head,” she said. “Only a fish-head would go for marriage counseling by himself.” In the end, though, Dr. Donald’s prestigious reputation won out. “Donald B. Donald, M.D.:” here it was again, this time engraved on a gold plaque next to the impressive mahogany door. Stanley felt a chill: he was going to see the best! There was no telling what mysteries might appear and then unravel, what rare insights might pop into his mind, what new depth of experiencing he might attain, with the assistance of the wisdom of Dr. Donald. “Donald B. Donald, M.D., Donald B. Donald, M.D.,” Stanley whispered to himself as he pulled open the heavy door and stepped into the waiting room. A thin woman with a white dress and red hair sat in back of a plexiglass desk, watching miniature television on her watch. She turned down the volume and rose as Stanley approached. Stanley stood up straight and spoke in a full-volume voice. “I’m Stanley Block and I have a six o’clock appointment with Dr. Donald,” he said. The receptionist gave him an exasperated look. “Do you have PTV?” she asked.

“Uh—I don’t think so,” Stanley said. “I haven’t been diagnosed, but—“ “No, no, no, no, no!” the receptionist exclaimed, wagging the index finger of her right hand once for each of the no’s (though subsequent to, rather than in accompaniment with the words). “PTV is Psychiatry Television,” she explained. “An interactive network. Do you have it?” “I must—we get them all,” Stanley answered proudly. “Then hurry on home!” she scolded. “Dr. Donald awaits you.” Stanley tore into his home and turned on the tube just as his telephone rang. He grabbed the receiver. A recorded voice instructed him to turn down the volume to his video and turn up that of his speaker phone. Stanley adjusted his reception just in time to hear a man’s melodic voice say: “Good evening, Stanley.” Stanley scooted up to within inches of the screen. An orangehaired man with dull grey eyes and a charcoal suit sat stiffly in a large brown leather chair. “Good evening, Dr. Donald,” Stanley said. “We’re quite informal here at PTV,” Dr. Donald said. “That is to say, we’re rather casual. You may call me Dr. Donald.” “Of course, Dr. Donald,” Stanley said, beaming. “Tell me, Stanley, how is it I may help you? That is to say, what can I do for you?” “I hardly know where to start,” Stanley said. “I guess you could say I have a kind of marital problem.” “You…say…marital problem,” Dr. Donald said slowly. “Is it a woman with whom you are engaged in a relationship?” “Exactly,” Stanley said, pleased that their communication was getting off to such a four-star beginning. “I want to make one thing clear from the start, though,” Stanley quickly added. “Beth is a remarkable woman.” “Aren’t they all, though,” Dr. Donald said, and seemed to give a little snort afterwards, although he could have just been clearing his nasal passages. “Go on, Stanley,” he said. As well as he could, Stanley described some of the situations that troubled him: the incident with Beth and the Kellogg ad exec, for example, and the one with her and the podiatrist. Stanley took his time and freely associated. “Beth and I have a quality relationship, Dr. Donald,” Stanley concluded. “But lately—I’m ashamed as hell to admit this—but it’s almost as though I’m angry at her. I’m a sick man, Dr. Donald. Help me, please.” “Hmm,” Dr. Donald said, and there was a deceptive appearance of warmth in his smile. “For sure, for sure I can help you. Why did you marry Beth?”

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“I didn’t want an illicit symbiosis!” Stanley declared. Dr. Donald stared in stony unappreciation as Stanley shrank back from the TV screen, red-faced at his own silliness. Just when Stanley’s embarrassment was nearing an unbearable level, Dr. Donald smiled suddenly. Stanley, relieved, took a deep breath; his tension dissipated until he was back to being just his usual anxious self. It occurred to him fleetingly that it was odd that Dr. Donald didn’t open his mouth when he smiled. “The problem with your relationship,” Dr. Donald said, now quickly and authoritatively, “is too much intimacy.” “Too much intimacy?” “For sure, and not enough distance. When one of you speaks, the other automatically gets sucked in.” “I get drawn in—“ Stanley began. “Sucked in!” Dr. Donald corrected him, sharply. “Sucked in! Don’t be afraid of the word!” “Sucked in, I get sucked in,” Stanley repeated dutifully. “For sure,” Dr. Donald said, and as though in reward, flashed Stanley another tight-lipped smile. “We can begin work immediately,” he went on, “with two infallible techniques.” “Two,” Stanley repeated, with mounting anxiety. “Technique One is white bread,” Dr. Donald stated. “White bread?” “Do you remember when you were a child, Stanley,” Dr. Donald began, with exaggerated patience. “That is to say, do you recall when you were a boy, that white bread—processed white bread—was eaten?” “Ah, white bread: Wonder’s enriched white bread!” Stanley answered with enthusiasm. “Correct. Now, whenever Beth is about to suck you in, you must quickly think ‘white bread’.” Stanley waited for Dr. Donald to elaborate. But “Technique Two” were the next words out of Dr. Donald’s mouth. “Technique Two is a secret.” “You won’t tell me what Technique Two is?” Stanley, wounded, asked. “Technique Two is your secret!” Dr. Donald snapped, obviously annoyed by Stanley’s therapeutic naiveté. “It is vital that you have a secret from Beth. And your secret shall be the content of our sessions.” “Ah,” Stanley said, timidly adding: “But how can Beth and I decrease our intimacy and increase our distance if I’m the only one who knows we’re doing it?” Once more Dr. Donald smiled, but this time more fully and with considerably greater satisfaction. “It is characteristic of the female mind,” he said, with precise enunciation, “to follow the lead of the male mind.” “Good God,” Stanley thought. But then, “Donald B. Donald, M.D.” Stanley sped down the street as though on skates, eager to get home and try out his new techniques with Beth. Remembering he had been at home, he turned around and sped back. Beth was in the kitchen making dinner. She stood behind a round oak table gently kneading a mound of dough on a marble slab. She wore a pink gingham dress with big puffed sleeves and a sweetheart neckline that revealed, across her left shoulder, a satiny bra strap, also pink. Her fine blond hair formed ringlets that fell gracefully all the

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way to her waist. Her face was rosy with the pleasure she derived from her domestic chores. She smiled at Stanley. Stanley exhaled deeply. The sight of Beth, as always, made him momentarily forget everything else. He looked around the kitchen. A box of newly ripened strawberries sat on a counter top and next to it, a bowl of freshly whipped cream. On the far side of the room, a log fire burned, reminding Stanley how nice it would be if they had a fireplace. A pot of stew cooked slowly over a low flame, the aroma of fine herbs sweetening the air. The red ceramic tea pot whistled softly, as though to itself. The cat, Matilda, was in the corner, having kittens. The scene of bubbling domesticity inspired by Beth was all the more impressive in that Stanley had only been gone two minutes. The thing about Beth, though, was that she set a spell, and then she broke it. Tonight was no exception. “Our new super turns me on,” Beth said. Stanley’s mind raced feverishly. Turns you on? he thought. What are you—a robot? a Barbie doll? an iPhone? But he didn’t speak; he bent his lips inward and pressed them together tightly in imitation of Dr. Donald. “He makes me feel warm inside,” Beth continued, emphatically adding: “I mean warm as in hot.” Think white bread! Think white bread! Stanley instructed himself desperately. Turns you on? Your switch is jammed like—No, no. White bread! Stanley thought. Thin-sliced, diet-sized, enriched white bread; nutritious; Wonder’s is the best; well-balanced; your children will love it. “I’d like to sleep with him,” Beth said louder, appearing to be frustrated by Stanley’s silence. “Hmm,” Stanley said, tight-lipped, forcing his mind to focus on visions of Wonder Bread: cold loaves, freshly wrapped—he could see them now—sliding down a chute onto a conveyor belt. “He reminds me of that man in the porno flick we saw,” Beth went on. “You remember, Stanley—in ‘The Naughty Victorians’—you remember: the white guy with the black—“ “White bread!” Stanley bellowed, flailing his arms and running from the room. * * * Life got easier for Stanley with each session with Dr. Donald. At the end of each meeting he felt a little more of the self-control that the distinguished psychiatrist himself manifested so well. And each day, Stanley’s life with Beth had a little less in it than the day before. His trust was divided these days. But whenever that started to trouble him, Stanley reminded himself of the progress he was making with the white-bread technique. The thrill of his relationship with Dr. Donald made Stanley ache deeply in a manner unfamiliar to him. He’d tried to describe it to Beth, but her resistance to understanding had been immediately apparent. “Dr. Donald makes me feel like a boy again,” Stanley, hunched over in the loft bed, had explained. But Beth had developed, of late, a strange habit of making little comments under her breath about Dr. Donald. Just this morning, for instance, Stanley had overheard her mutter that the famous psychiatrist waddled when he walked. Still, Stanley was confident that the joke had been made with fondness and an appropriate reverence for the doctor. In fact, as the image of


Fiction

Dr. Donald waddling across his office at the end of a session passed through Stanley’s mind, he, too, had to laugh, keeping his mouth respectfully shut, of course. And now, as he walked nervously around the room, awaiting his therapy session, Stanley turned his toes outward slightly and bent his knees a little more than usual. “For slim men like myself and Dr. Donald,” Stanley thought, “waddling is actually a rather attractive gait.” The telephone rang and the image of Dr. Donald appeared in Stanley’s living room. “It is apparent that you have made significant progress, Stanley,” Dr. Donald began. “That is to say, it is clear that you have improved considerably.” Stanley glowed. “And you are now at a crossroad,” the psychiatrist concluded. Stanley shivered. “A crossroad?” “For sure,” Dr. Donald said. “It is important now for us to see just how far you’ve gone, that is to say, come. If you’ve come as far as I think you have, you have made a complete transformation; your relationship with Beth will never be as it was before.” Stanley trembled. He didn’t grasp all that Dr. Donald was saying, but he knew he was on the brink of an extraordinary experience. “Have you had any problems with Beth this week?” Dr. Donald asked. “Nothing I couldn’t control!” Stanley answered proudly. As an afterthought, he added: “She has expressed some concerns—you know, just little worries—about what goes on in my therapy. Of course, I haven’t revealed anything—” “What’s it been saying about me, Stanley,” Dr. Donald interrupted. His chin and shoulders twitched slightly and, to Stanley’s surprise, he even seemed to fidget in his chair. “N-nothing, really, Dr. Donald,” Stanley said. “She just has some doubts—I mean, nothing bad—there’s just a couple of things—” “Say what it said! Say it! Say it! Say it!” Dr. Donald almost screamed. He grasped both sides of his brown leather chair and made stamping movements with his feet, which did not quite reach the floor. “N-nothing bad—I mean, well, two things—that’s all—just— just—“ Stanley, tongue-tied, searched for words. Finally, in compliance with the psychiatrist’s request, he used Beth’s own words. “Your competence and your integrity,” Stanley blurted out. “That’s all, Beth doubts your competence and your integrity.” Dr. Donald’s whole body, even his brown leather chair, began to tremble. His eyeballs spun round and round like the silver bells in the little clown’s head Stanley had had as a child. The trembling turned into vibration, so rapid that now Stanley could not even focus on the psychiatrist. Dr. Donald!” Stanley called out. “Dr. Donald!” But it was too late. Stanley’s telephone went suddenly silent, and the words “Please Stand By” appeared on his television screen. “Forgive me, Dr. Donald!” Stanley cried. “Forgive me, I didn’t know what I was saying.” Amazingly, within a flash, regular programming was resumed. Inexplicably, a flag of the United States of America had been hastily rolled in as a backdrop. Dr. Donald, for no apparent reason, now stood behind a podium, onto which something resembling the

Presidential Seal had been slapped. Holding on to the podium, Dr. Donald weaved slightly back and forth. He had a look on his face that on another man might have seemed dopey. Dr. Donald appeared in close-up now. He looked Stanley straight in the camera. His voice was reproachful, confident, assertive. “Stanley,” Dr. Donald said. “Your shrink is not a quack.” “I never doubted you!” Stanley cried out. * * * Stanley paced up and down the kitchen, waiting for Beth to get home. He alternately tore his hair, bit his nails and slammed his fists against the refrigerator. He was ashamed of his thoughtlessness at blurting out Beth’s foolish ideas, and he was enraged at Beth for leading him to hurt Dr. Donald. Trying to calm himself, he went back into the living room and turned on the television. The news was halfway over. Still pacing, Stanley did not hear a word, until the following caught his attention: “…shocked by the death only moments ago of the renowned psychiatrist, Donald B. Donald.” According to the news broadcast, there had been a shoot-out following a liquor store hold-up on the street where Dr. Donald lived. A police officer, attempting to protect innocent bystanders from getting caught in the cross-fire, had yelled: “Duck! Duck!” “Don’t be a wiseguy,” Dr. Donald had said, wheeling around and receiving a bullet straight through the heart. * * * Stanley lay curled up in a corner by the sofa, both hands clutching the tassles of a toss cushion, stuffing them into his mouth. He chewed the tassles slowly, methodically. He had no idea how long he’d been there, when he felt Beth’s hands on his shoulders and became suddenly aware of her voice. “Oh Stanley, I heard,” she said. “Are you all right?” Stanley was silent. “Everything will be okay,” she said. “You’ll get over this—you’ll see.” “We’ll get you a new shrink,” Beth added. She put her arms all the way around Stanley’s neck. “And I’ll be faithful! Just tell me you’re okay.” “I’m okay,” Stanley said, and scooted up to a sitting position. Gingerly he pushed Beth’s hands away from his neck. “Are you sure you’re all right?” Beth asked. Stanley paused a considerable time before answering. “I’m sure,” he said finally. Then, with a surge of confidence, he added: “That is to say, I’m certain.” As he spoke, Stanley’s face took on an unfamiliar expression. His eyes manifested a dull, though not glazed look; an empty, but still conscious look: an expression that Beth, weeks later in the first session of her own therapy with a Lenovo Noir, would describe as “the look of an imitation of a person.”

Dee Burton is an American psychologist and writer living in Paris. Her books include I Dream of Woody (Wm Morrow), and her plays include Deep in the Soul of Disco (Aah! Capella Theatre, North Hollywood). Her first book, The Joy of Quitting, received a New York Public Library Award for youth books.

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Literary Work

Written In Black And White Lynn White

Mondays were washdays. They had decreed it long ago, written it down in black and white, and They must be obeyed still everyone knew it. Thus every Monday the women dressed in black and left their neat white houses and carried their white bundles of grubby grey washing to the river to scrub and scrub to make it white again. No colours were allowed. They had decreed it long ago, written it down in black and white to be obeyed for ever. So the clean washing was wrapped in white bundles and tightly bound, bound for home with the black clad women just as They had decreed in black and white. No one knew why but all obeyed. It was the way things were written in black and white. Every Monday in black and white. zenina

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Poetry

The Devil It Is Lynn White

Play me a tune a little light music to soothe my soul, to bring me cheer in these troubled times. Play it louder louder play louder all of you together. Summon the angels. Don’t let the devil seduce me don’t let him take me don’t let him carry my soul away.

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Literary Work

Odyssey In The Afternoon Lynn White

I remember that day of the voyage from the moment the dawn rose out of the golden globe and stretched out pink fingered roses into the blue of the morning, without knowing what was to come after, in the afternoon when the wind took us to a strange land. But I embraced its strangeness and its indolent contented people who showed me the lotus and smiled as I bit into the delight of its flowers and fruits, savoured it’s dreamy sensations with no need to wonder what would to come after, there were only afternoons, forever afternoons.

But the moment when I woke, shook myself awake, I dragged us all away out of fear of forgetting, forgetting where I’d come from, forgetting where I should go and before I forgot to leave that place with it’s sopheristic days of perpetual afternoon. And in the evening as night fell to envelop me stretching out its grey blanket and touching me with black, I wondered if I would I even remember sniffing the fragrance of the flowers and tasting fruit alive with the sleepy sensations of the days of afternoons. I have already forgotten to wonder what came after.

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Poetry

Lynn White lives in North Wales. Her work is influenced by issues of social justice and events, places, and people she has known or imagined. She is especially interested in exploring the boundaries of dream, fantasy, and reality. She was shortlisted in the Theatre Cloud ‘War Poetry for Today’ competition and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Rhysling Award. Her poetry has appeared in many publications including: Apogee, Firewords, Peach Velvet, Light Journal and So It Goes. Find Lynn at: https://lynnwhitepoetry.blogspot.com

zenina

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RAJIV RAMKHALAWAN

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Fiction

O

n the morning of Charlotte’s thirty-fifth birthday, John conceded that his wife was an imposter. He suspected that his Charlotte must have only recently been replaced by this Charlotte, since up to a few weeks ago his wife continued to conclude their kisses with her signature whisk of the tongue along John’s upper lip. But last week, definitely, and the week before, quite probably, the kisses were vapid and dry, quite pathetic as far as kisses went. His Charlotte was a natural lover. This simply could not be her. It was not just the kisses that gave her away obviously, though the kisses seemed to confirm John’s suspicions. The slip up, as it almost always is, lies in the minutiae. John had asked Charlotte one afternoon, whether he should wear a blue shirt or a grey shirt to Wendy’s engagement party that night. John was testing her. You see, Charlotte bitterly despised the colour grey for reasons unbeknownst to John. As such, she, and by extension, John, did not possess any article of grey clothing in their wardrobe. No grey trousers. No grey dresses. No grey socks. And especially, no grey shirts. So, from onset of the conversation, the subject of the grey shirt was a complete fiction. One that his Charlotte would have easily figured out. But this Charlotte sat on the edge of the bed and coolly informed John that she thought that the grey shirt would make him look distinguished in comparison to a shirt colour that would quite likely be worn by half the other men at the party. Even without testing this Charlotte, there were chinks in her armour. Ah, that good old minutiae. If you follow it long and far enough, really study the small shifts, the hairline cracks, you might well discover things you wished and hoped you’d never see. But such is the great big lie of life. We are all only who we are in any given moment. Not unlike Chameleons, constantly morphing to suit their environments, in order to adapt and survive. A few days prior to the shirt incident, Charlotte began to message the back of John’s head while they sat and watched a re-run of I love Lucy on a springy loveseat in their living room. It was the only piece of furniture in the room, unless you counted the two floor lamps that stood like tired guards on either side of the loveseat. When she came across the marble-sized bump just below John’s lambda, she did not pet and kiss the slight protrusion as his Charlotte would do. Rather, this Charlotte suddenly stopped massaging and enquired how he’d gotten the bump in the first place. Initially, John thought that she was joking, but upon realizing that she clearly was not, his hands began to shake. Not ready to proceed down a rabbit hole right then and there, he successfully changed the subject of conversation, all while his hands remained trembling. The revelation that this imposter resembled and imitated Charlotte terrified John. Just yesterday evening he resisted the urge to finally confront her as he did not want them to get into a silent war on the eve of his Charlotte’s birthday. As a married man he had picked up little tricks here and there regarding the ever so fluctuating temperament of a woman. He knew very well that this was not the time to go about accusing one’s wife of not being one’s wife. Further, this conversation could not be had at the end of a long day, you’d never be able to sleep, and certainly it was not for discussion the day before her big day. No, that would spell obvious disaster.

So, he woke at half past four in the morning the next day and proceeded to do the exact things as he had done on each of her last seven birthdays. Beauty in a marriage is often times not about the pledge as it is about consistency. Consistency is doing, it is love, too. John committed himself to making Charlotte’s favourite breakfast ever year on this day. Smoked salmon eggs benedict. He made this on no other day of the year, except for those celebratory occasions, which did not come often, but still presented themselves at times, nonetheless. John prepared it the way Charlotte’s grandmother used to make it for her, with mascarpone and shavings of black and white truffles worked into the hollandaise. Rich and delightful, the way birthdays were meant to be. John would set the table with fresh linens, china and silverware and by the time he was finished, usually at around six, Charlotte would appear from their room, always feigning drowsiness but boiling with excitement. She would kiss him three or four times, their moniker kiss, no less, and they would eat breakfast, before finally retiring to bed to perform indulgent acts which, if you saw, you would only think could be performed by stage acrobats of the highest order. In the afternoon, John would pull out of bed and coax Charlotte into the kitchen in order to reveal the most beautiful four-inch sponge cake she’d ever seen. Always the same cake, always the same size; his gift, not her grandmother’s. Once, John told Charlotte that he could make her a much more sophisticated cake but realized that simplicity had its own joy that grandeur could never understand. Charlotte would spill a tear or two when she tasted the cake and John would ask her whether the sponge was too dry. Charlotte would always say that it was perfect, the way John was perfect, the way their lives were perfect. When this Charlotte walked out of the darkness today, John hugged her and wished her happy birthday. “The eggs are getting cold, have a bite, Char.” He offered her a fork and stared pensively as she sliced into the leaky eggs, pistachio crusted spinach (his twist), and soft butterbiscuit before drawing the fork to her mouth. “They’re fantastic, baby. I can taste the truffles.” “So, just the way your father makes them?” Another test. “Yes, of course. Like my father.” # A few weeks after imposter Charlotte’s thirty-fifth birthday, John thought, if this Charlotte was indeed an imposter, then maybe she might have killed his Charlotte. Petrified by the mere thought, he tried not to ponder much on this possibility as he hoped that his Charlotte would return to him somehow, and that they would be left to go about with their lives. But what if his Charlotte was out there somewhere, he thought, one night while sleeping next to imposter Charlotte. What if she was chained by the foot and locked in some dodgy slaughterhouse? What if his Charlotte was out there waiting on him to come rescue her? His

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Literary Work

Charlotte would know, John thought, she would know that he would figure this stranger out and eventually come find her. He looked at imposter Charlotte with disgust. She slept quietly on her side, hands and legs crunched in a fetal position. His Charlotte was a chronic snorer and always slept on her back, with hands splayed outwards, much like Christ on a crucifix. “Char, Char, wake up!” “What. What is it?” she stirred. “I’m sleeping, babe.” “Just answer. If you killed somebody and had to hide the body, where would you put it?” Imposter Charlotte sighed and turned to the other side. “Go back to bed. You’re crazy. It’s two in the morning.” “No. No. I’m fine. Just answer the question.” “I don’t know. What kind of question is that, John? Probably at the bottom of the deep freezer in our restaurant. I don’t know. Can we go back to bed now, please?” “Yeah, sure.” The next day John emptied the contents of the deep freezer at the restaurant while Charlotte was out sourcing produce at the market. He found no body. # Days after the freezer incident, imposter Charlotte ran into the kitchen screaming so loudly that John almost burnt himself. She had somehow managed to get the Prime Minister to agree to dine at the restaurant with the rest of his cabinet. “Wait, the Prime Minister?” John repeated. “Yes, the Prime Minister!” A lot had changed since Charlotte and John squashed their life into two medium-sized suitcases and left New York for good, three years ago. John had been struggling as a “sous-chef” at a hole in the wall diner on Canal Street despite having saved up and attained a diploma from one of New York’s top culinary institutes. With over twenty thousand restaurants in the City and more than enough Chefs to go around twice, you had little choice but to take whatever came your way until better came along. Better came along in the form of a dead uncle from Trinidad who left John a wilting two-storey building in the middle of Port of Spain. It was a dilapidated monster of brick and mortar, but it was still prime property. The two mulled it over for months and finally decided to take the plunge when Charlotte’s mother died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving her with no real ties to the United States. In later years, they would often joke about the fact that it took them two deaths to make it to the island. A joke which John would later come to realise was clearly a bad omen. At first Charlotte hated Trinidad. She would quite often complain to John about the island’s perpetual stickiness. She would beg him to accompany her to the market every weekend to mitigate against the unkind faces of the locals; faces which bore curious stares and phony smiles, enough to almost burn into her pale skin. But in a strange twist, it was Charlotte who provided John with the courage to keep going despite a dwindling savings account and a building that required more restoration works than first anticipated. It was Charlotte who told John one Saturday morning that she was

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fine going to the market all by herself now; that she had come to know the produce vendors on a first name basis and that Trinidad, for all its fiendish mosquitoes and never-ending heat, was not so bad after all. And, it was Charlotte who told John to leave his Ray-Ban sunglasses at home and to really take in the natural beauty of the beaches when they visited Tobago that one time. So, when imposter Charlotte seemed strangely enthusiastic about the Prime Minister dining at the restaurant, John knew that she had upped her game. This was certainly something that his Charlotte would have done. Deciding to wait until after the dinner to confront Charlotte, John obsessed for days about creating the perfect menu for his guests while imposter Charlotte arranged with a local newspaper to carry a piece about the visit. On the morning of the dinner, he and imposter Charlotte got to the restaurant at 5:30, three hours before any of the other employees would start to filter in. Besides the amuse bouche, John had been having trouble settling on a menu and decided to leave everything for the day itself. He figured if carbons could form diamonds under extreme pressures, he could produce culinary magic in similar circumstances. He called imposter Charlotte from the kitchen to seek out her opinion on a fish dish he had in mind for one of the starters. When she didn’t answer, he yelled her name, but she didn’t respond. Somewhat agitated, John walked into the dining room, only to observe imposter Charlotte on a step ladder changing the satin drapes, oblivious to his presence. “What’s going on? What’s with the drapes?” “Oh, hi, babe. Wendy told me that Lucy told her that the Prime Minister liked the colour grey. So voila, grey drapes instead of the olive-green ones. Like ‘em?” “You hate grey! You would never buy anything grey, even for the fuckin’ Prime Minister.” John yelled. “Who the hell are you? Where is Charlotte? Where the hell is Charlotte.” “Oh dear, I know that you are on your absolute ends with this dinner—” “No, I am not. You-you’re a fraud. You think I don’t know? You are not my fuckin’ wife!” “John, what are you talking about? Goddamit. I am right here!” “No, no, no.” Annoyed and grated by her lies, John raced up to the imposter and kicked the step ladder with tremendous force. In the moment, he didn’t know if he acted out of frustration, or anger, or whether it was just one of those things where one acted without really thinking of one’s actions. But none of that mattered, as Charlotte, his or otherwise, fell off the step ladder and landed rather clumsily on the porcelain tiles. # Out of sheer embarrassment for his actions, John told the staff that Charlotte was ill the day she fell off the step ladder. He cancelled the dinner and never rebooked a date. He closed the restaurant until further notice and told the staff that he could not operate it until Charlotte felt better.


Fiction

A few weeks after the incident, Charlotte, who was now staying in a bed and breakfast outside of Port of Spain, called John and implored him to see a doctor as his behaviour did not add up. Contrite and apologetic, John agreed. The doctor informed John that he wanted an opinion from a colleague—a specialist, a psychiatrist. “So, you’re saying that I’m mad? Is that what you’re saying, doc? Let me tell you, I ain’t no mad.” “No, John. I’m not saying that. It’s just an evaluation at this time, that’s all.” John contemplated asking Charlotte to accompany him to the consultation with the psychiatrist, but ultimately decided against it, fearing something might really be wrong with him. Dr. Williams, a pleasant enough old man, started off by asking John an assortment of questions ranging from the quality of his sex life, to details of family histories with mental illnesses, to instances of drug and/or alcohol abuse, and to finally, whether he’s been treated for any head trauma in his life. “Nah, doc,” John said. “Nothing like that. Well wait, as you say it, when I was in my teens, way before I went to New York, I used to work in a kitchen in Barataria. There was a time that I climbed onto old bench, trying to pull down a pot that was packed away high on a shelf. We had a big order coming up and we needed a big pot, you see. I spotted the pot and as I went to grab it, the bench broke and I fell and hit my head. I still have a bump from all that. You want to feel it? Go ahead, but I am not mad, doc.” Dr. Williams felt the bump and ordered an MRI. John stayed in isolation for a few days before reaching out to Charlotte. There were long passages of silence on the phone as they navigated the events of the recent past. John cried at times, especially those when Charlotte’s voice broke and she did not utter a word for what felt like minutes. On the day of the results, Charlotte showed up, despite having previously stated that she did not think it was a good idea. She squeezed John’s hand and hugged him before they went into Dr. Williams’s office. The hug meant everything to John. Dr. Williams started off by telling them to listen carefully to what he had to say and that both John and Charlotte were free to ask him anything after. John gripped Charlotte’s hands and nodded for Dr. Williams to continue. The doctor said that John had several cerebral lesions to the back of the right hemisphere of his brain, likely caused by the fall. He went on to add that this fall likely contributed to John seeing Charlotte as an imposter. He concluded that nothing was definitive, and that further tests and assessments were required before he could properly diagnose John. “You’re saying, I’m really crazy?” “No John, I’m saying you definitely require medical treatment.” Charlotte reached over and hugged John and did not stop.

eggs benedict and sponge cake. Though they spoke on the phone daily, they sat in eerie silence. This was not them. They were strangers. “How are you, Char,” John whispered. “I’m okay,” Charlotte said. “Are you taking your medication?” “I trying to,” John said, pointing to several translucent cylindrical containers on top of the microwave. “Look John, I’m going back to New York. I can’t stay here any longer. Let’s get you checked out there, please. I spoke to Marty’s cousin, the one who’s a doctor. You remember her, right? She says that, this thing they are saying it is, Capgras Syndrome, it’s very poorly studied. I mean if they haven’t studied it much up there…I’m doubtful they have here.” “I’m ashamed, Char. I really thought you were not you. I’m not going. I can’t risk…hurting you again.” “She said that once you are on your meds, there is a better than good chance you will be okay. But they need to see you, of course. So, give me a call soon and we can sort this through.” Charlotte stood to leave. “But, what about…the restaurant? I can’t start over again. I can’t do that…not after all this. I’m no one in New York City. I’m just a loser immigrant like those other three million people.” “You’ve done spectacular here, babe. But, we both know that New York is where you’re gonna get the care you need. Just trust me. I can organize an agent to put the building up for sale and we can use the money to buy something in—” “Char, listen to me, listen to me. I’m hearing from well-respected sources that the people from Michelin are coming. They’re coming. First in the Caribbean. We just need to wait a little longer. If I can get a star under my belt, I can go back and—” “You’re not thinking straight! What is more important, staying here for another minute and being consumed by this…this…madness or starting again with me?” Silence. John stared blankly at Charlotte as she picked up her grey purse from the table and began for the door. He kept staring at the purse. Still grey.

Rajiv Ramkhalawan is an Attorney-at-Law and emerging writer from Trinidad. His works are forthcoming or have appeared in Wilderness House Literary Review, The Caribbean Writer, and Modern Literature. Rajiv has slowly come to the realization that it is only a matter of time before he finally decides to answer a decade-long knock somewhere in his brain to write a novel. Outside of law and fiction, Rajiv is enjoying the amazing and unpredictable experience of being a husband and a father.

# A month later, Charlotte came over to their apartment in West Moorings. They sat in the kitchen. The same kitchen he made the

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To-Read-List New Reader Media, a creative marketing firm working in partnership with New Reader Magazine, takes on the challenge of bookmarking emerging voices in the indie publishing world. Presented in no particular order, here’s New Reader Media’s reading list for this quarter of 2020!

Gone Viking BILL ARNOTT From a bestselling author, poet, and musician comes a literary treat set to take its readers on a journey right on their reading chairs. Filled with adventure, history, and unforced hilarity, this book is highly recommended for anyone craving for a good time.

21st Century Figurative Art: The Resurrection of Art JAN ESMANN Flip through this palm-sized full-color gallery featuring works of the 21st century’s major figurative artists, and learn a thing or two with the author’s critiques and essays.

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The Adventures of Charlie Chipmunk MICHAEL J. RUBEL For most creatures, making one’s way in the world can be hard even when life seems better than most days. It’s a whole other story for Charlie Chipmunk who thinks it’s downright scary. Follow along as he grows and learns through his adventures to find a mate and his place in the world.

And Ye Shall Be as Gods JAN NOTZON An artfully-woven novel about a man and the circumstances surrounding the different facets of his life: family, love, and the secrets in between.

Building People DR. MANZOOR R. MASSEY This provocative read is a perfect guide for anyone seeking to step out of the box of self-limitation. Guaranteed to make readers thirst for unlocking their full potential.

The Christian Survival Guide Made Simple: Ten Tips that will offer Hope, Peace, Love and Motivation SHEENA HALL A timely book if you want to get a jump start on becoming a Christian Warrior. It provides answers to some of the questions we ask ourselves everyday, and features Survival Tips that will definitely have a deep impact on your thoughts and perceptions on life’s different scenarios.

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The Writings JOEL DAVID RINKER This methodically laid-out collection of significative writings is designed to make any reader reflect on life and its many issues. The Godly vision portrayed in the book teaches readers to find hope in the midst of it all.

Journey to the Center of the Soul DR. GREG ALDANA Catch the wave of this tsunami! Journey to the Center of the Soul will bring new light to your spirit where you will embrace everything that is you.

On Freedom and Revolt: A Comparative Investigation CARL E. MOYLER Dedicated to heroes and heroines who have served humanity, this book will inspire readers into making a difference in the lives of men and shedding light to the unknown.

Conversations with a Churchmouse WARREN G. BLAISURE This fun tale chronicles the story of one hiker who stumbles upon an abandoned church somewhere along the Washington Mountain Road, where he meets an unexpected church speaker. A story reminding us to follow God amidst life’s challenges.

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Return to Spirit CHRISTOPHER B. SOLTIS An inspiring read about one man’s journey through life’s worst, his spontaneous Kundalini Awakening, and how a disciplined approach to wellness and yoga will remind readers that the only way out is through.

Nightbreak: a story by Evelyn Chedekel EVELYN CHEDEKEL Vanessa and Gloria are on the run. After having been subject to the whims of a vicious tyrant, the two opposites have lost all but each other. When their differences ultimately get in the way of their friendship, what must they do? This is a new dystopian tale from a fresh voice that you definitely shouldn’t miss.

Reflections on Mountaineering: A Journey Through Life as Experienced in the Mountains ALAN V. GOLDMAN Poetry meets adventure in this unique telling of a man’s journey through several climbs up different mountains. Written with an expanded target audience, readers—mountaineer or not—will surely find a thing or two to relate to, such as the strive for success and fear of defeat.

The Heroes of the Elemental Academies: Book 1: the Mountain of Fire STRATFORD UKENA Seth, an unassuming teen suddenly finds himself caught in the midst of a race to survival. In order to save both his current world and the one he’s only very recently discovered, he must take the unprecedented step of believing—but believing’s not the easiest thing to do.

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Shorts: A Memoir in Snippets of an African American Girl Born During Segregation GEORGIA WILLIAMS-FITZPATRICK Shorts is a gathering of snippets from author Georgia WilliamsFitzpatrick’s childhood. The ones included are reflective of events that formed or took place during the 50’s and 60’s while she was growing up in Birmingham, Alabama.

The Chronicles of Kisoné: School Days DERIUS THOMPSON Where’s the fun in reading if you can already predict the end? Join Kisoné Hoshigaki on his quest to survive sophomore year at Nato High as he encounters characters that he and you aren’t prepared for.

Voices of the Soul: The Forgotten Truth about Dementia HANS SIEPEL This memoir told by a son about his mother’s dementia paints a vivid picture of the hardships a family caring for an increasingly unpredictable member has to face. Though searingly personal, the issues presented in the book will definitely tug at the hearts of anyone who gets to read it.

Power Words: How to Live Successful in a Challenging World JAN F. WHITAKER Evangelist/Award-Winning Jan F. Whitaker is originally from the small town of Holly, LA Jan now resides in Bossier City, LA and is a three-time graduate of Grambling State University. Jan hosts radio show Success Through Action Up-Close and Personal, where she does excerpts and reviews from other Local and National Authors’ books.

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No Bully! GEONNA MONET BAKER Child superstar and rapper Chi Chi Monet has the fight of her life. She must stand up to the biggest, baddest bully in school who is trying to make life miserable for some kids who just want to learn.

Sally the Crab LAUREN DRAGON Meet Sally, a hermit crab whose beautiful shell is admired by many. Read along as she goes through changes while being kind to others and staying true to herself. A truly wonderful tale of friendship and courage!

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Vol. 3 Issue 10, "Houdini"  

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