Spring 2015 Points of Origin
Dear readers, Iâ€™m excited to bring you the last full-length issue of OxMag this year as well as my last issue as editor-in-chief. Our editors are moving on and making room for new faces, as we do every year. I want to use this space to introduce you to them. Co-editors-in-chief: Christopher Maggio is a second year MA student at Miami University. He studies fiction writing. His work has appeared in North Central Review, River Styx, and The Original. He also contributes music previews and reviews to Entertainment Central Pittsburgh. Evan Fackler is a second year MA student in literature at Miami University. He grew up in a small town in Ohio where he worked on the family farms and in the family textile mill. After receiving his BA from Earlham College, Evan moved out to Ventura County, California where he spent four years selling running shoes and working in the wine business before returning to school. He's hopeful for his upcoming tenure as an editor for OxMag. He lives in Oxford, Ohio with his wife. Fiction editor: Andrew Marlowe Bergman is a second year MA student at Miami University. His work has appeared on the Talk Poverty blog and in Tattoos, a short fiction anthology. He previously served on the editorial board of Steel Toe Books in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Poetry editor: Ian Schoultz received his BA from the College of Wooster where he was a reader for the Artful Dodge Literary Magazine. He is working toward an MA in poetry at Miami University. Most important things last. Thank you to all the outgoing editors and submission readers for their fantastic work this year, you made this magazine happen. Also thanks to the English Department at Miami University, Joe Squance and all other faculty who helped us out along the way. Last, much thanks to our wonderful contributors without whom we wouldnâ€™t have anything to publish in the first place. Keep writing. Out, Matt Young
Masthead Managing Editor Joe Squance Editor-in-Chief Matt Young Fiction Editor Joe Thornton Poetry Editor / Events Coordinator Emily Corwin Nonfiction Editor Joe Franklin Digital Editor Nathan Schaad Staff Readers Andrew Bergman Evan Fackler Josh Jones Chris Maggio Jessica Marshall Mosisah Mavity Michelle Christensen Ian Schoultz Laura Tabor
In this issue we also bring you work by two artists enrolled in the MFA program at Miami University, Billy Simms and Gabrielle Roach. Artist Statement Gabrielle Roach My work reflects my struggles living with chronic depression and anxiety. While these subjects are not as taboo today, these illnesses are often misunderstood and are rarely discussed openly leaving those who suffer from them isolated and lost in their distress. My work confronts the reality of living with these issues on a daily basis. By constructing narratives and personifying my depression and anxiety as the metaphorical “monkey on my back”, I am able to illustrate the constant presence of these illnesses and their impact on my life. I integrate pattern, vivid color, and humor to make these issues approachable by creating narratives that are direct in their intentions - to show the viewer the nature of depression and anxiety. By creating fantastical visual representations, these narratives give the viewer permission to discuss these illnesses openly. My work is confessional and autobiographical in nature, which allows me to address the underlying seriousness in confronting the discourse surrounding mental health in today’s society. Artist Statement Billy Simms With the advent of the camera phone and social media, the selfportrait, known in today’s world as “the selfie,” proliferates. The selfie captures a moment in time and, when posted on social media, gives the impression that everyone’s life is wonderful, amazing, and beyond the everyday. For years I thought the selfie disingenuous and fake and I hated watching people stand around and take pictures of themselves rather than actively participating in the world around them. Then I got an iphone. And I became that person who took selfies all the time and posted them on Facebook. In response to our culture’s general obsession with the selfie and mine specifically, I created a new series of Selfies. My new Selfies are in a variety of mediums including etchings, woodcuts, collage, sculpture--but not photography. This body of work explores the feelings of self in fleeting moments. The Selfies capture me at my most fragile, insecure, embarrassed, and absurd moments in an attempt to create an honest, real, and genuine visual narrative of my everyday life.
Table of Contents Cover art: Fading Identities by Fabio Sassi Bryce Berkowitz Homecoming ....................................................................................... 7 Kris Bone Scaffolding .......................................................................................... 8 Billy Simms Billy Low ........................................................................................... 16 Billy in a Box .................................................................................... 17 Jim Davis Illinois Raptor Center ........................................................................ 18 Eye Contact ...................................................................................... 19 Twice the Size He Once Was .............................................................. 20 Chris Gilmore Ping Pong.......................................................................................... 21 Abby Caplin I Want to Find My Soul through the Wormhole.................................. 35 Gabrielle Roach Pieces ............................................................................................... 37 Stephen Massimilla Inscape ............................................................................................. 38 Intermezzo ........................................................................................ 39 Donna M Girouard Peas Porridge Cold ............................................................................ 40 Gabrielle Roach Washer Woman ................................................................................. 53 Billy Simms Self Portrait With Paisleys ................................................................. 54 Lawrence F. Farrar............................................................................... 55
Youâ€™ll Never Know ............................................................................. 55 Simon Perchik Untitled ............................................................................................ 66 Gabrielle Roach Through the Glass ............................................................................ 69 Frances Howard-Snyder A Fine One to Talk ............................................................................ 70 Eileen Hennessy The World, Spoken By ....................................................................... 75 Billy Simms Did I Say Something? ........................................................................ 76 Lee Varon Grandmother Goes to Hollywood ....................................................... 77 Doris Ferleger Washing You..................................................................................... 78 Gabrielle Roach Inside/Outside .................................................................................. 82 The Ice Fisher ................................................................................... 86 Lisa Snider Early Shade ...................................................................................... 84 Mark Belair Work Horses ..................................................................................... 89 Billy Simms I Wear This Crown of Horns .............................................................. 90 Justin Runge Koan ................................................................................................. 91 Kevin Griffith Mongolian Exam Hell or The New Joys of Jello .................................. 92 Author Bios ....................................................................................... 100
Homecoming In the floodplains, we poured whiskey into flutes & hummed on the dock. A gibbous moon hung above you in a red & white striped tank top. Life ticked on a watch. Wife, you talked time by. The sheriff carved cedar. In a room without seatbelts, we behaved without fear. We forgot ice. Though, somehow time melted. We became lost on a cross in a decade unbelted. & you flew back to him. November, December, January went: Juniper gin. There was an anniversary & a little security. You wore your lips on mine & day old clothes. All those years: a bag of tobacco. Up from the confluence, you floated in rouge. We rafted & rafted. No, deluged. On sandbagged cheekbones, delta waters blur like mascara & moon. Tally your shoulders with Cajun skies & insta-hues. I see eaves of fur where homes are flooded. & clouds above where your nose is studded. If I gave you my all: blood and clown. I’m just a boy from a water-stained river town. No sneaking into the bathroom at night. Forget Al Green. All that remains: a dormant wire & cameo dreams. We’re old American engines with water-logged intentions. You’re a beachfront with bank safes, a minefield of reeds. In an elevator shaft, there grows a tree
Scaffolding When she comes back from the bathroom, Rashida sits down in her chair, looks me dead in the eyes, and asks me if I want to go see the saddest thing in the whole world. Normally that’d be kind of a red flag, but the date has been going well so far, so I say sure, what the hell. Rashida shoots me a grin and a look that’s pure slick mischief, then downs the last bit of her beer and waves to the waitress for our bill. The waitress scuttles over with an imitation-leather billfold and a handful of mints, plunking both of them down on the tabletop. She asks Rashida if she wants to get the half rack of ribs she hasn’t finished packed up to go, but Rashida tells her not to bother, because if everything goes well, she won’t be spending the night in her own apartment anyway. Then Rashida gives her a big theatrical wink like you’d see in a cartoon, and says if you know what I mean. The waitress laughs uncomfortably and avoids eye contact while she runs my card through the debit machine. I make sure to leave her a nice tip. Lee really did me a solid, setting this up. If he’s in on Monday, I’ll have to thank him. Lee’s the day manager at SparkleShine, the carwash where I work as a detailer. When he caught me sobbing in the backseat of a Cressida that I was supposed to be vacuuming, just after Ashley and I broke up, he told Mikey to take over and brought me into the office. Lee has a reputation as a bit of a hardass, so I was expecting him to chew me out about crying on the clock, but instead, he closed the door behind him and asked me what was going on. It had only been about a week since The Father’s Day Sushi Date, and I was underslept and miserable. All of Ashley’s stuff was shoved into cardboard boxes that were still sitting around the apartment, and 8
Kris Bone looking at them made my stomach feel like it was full of old milk. I thought about tossing them all into the parking lot, winging them out over the balcony one by one and watching as everything crashed onto the cracked asphalt, but I couldn’t get rid of them any more than I could bear to have them there. Ashley kept texting me to find a time for her to drop by with her dad’s pickup and take everything away, but I would either ignore the messages entirely or cancel after we’d arranged something, telling her that something urgent had come up. I don’t know what it was about sitting there in the office with Lee, but the second I heard the door click shut, I turned my back on the huge plate glass window that overlooked the bays and totally fell apart. I choked out something to Lee about the soapy humidity aggravating my eyes, but I don’t think he bought it. At that point, I hadn’t talked to anybody about the complete demolition of my life that the previous week had been, but somehow Lee became the lucky winner who got to hear the whole thing from start to sniffling finish. It just gushed out of me, like water out of a ruptured hose. I told him about Ashley’s folks taking us out for sushi, about Don ordering a bottle of hot sake as a joke and then watching it disappear as Ashley kept topping off her own little ceramic cup and gulping it down like she was slurping oysters. About how I barely had time to help her up the stairs to our apartment before she started drunkenly flailing her fists against my chest, telling me how sick she was of the rut we’d dug for ourselves after four years, and about where she’d been on those Friday nights when she told me she was taking a spin class. Lee didn’t say a thing, he just listened and started a pot of coffee brewing on the office’s little plastic percolator, the hiss-pop bubbling up into the spaces between my sentences. When I finished, he handed me a chipped mug of stale Nescafé, gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder, and told me I’d find someone better. In fact, he said, after we both took a short sip, he would personally set me up with someone better. I nodded 9
Kris Bone and thanked him, but I wasn’t really listening, to be honest. I was mostly trying not to start crying again, because I didn’t want to have to explain to Mikey what I’d been doing for the last twenty minutes while he’d been handling the whole detailing bay on his own. Suffice to say I’d completely forgotten his promise by the time I got his text eight months later. A friend from his film school days had moved back to Toronto from Peterborough and she was down for a blind date. It was good timing too, I was starting to get a little desperate. It had been a brutal, lonely winter, and a hasty move into some cheap basement apartment I’d found on Craigslist had taken me away from most of the friends who’d been on my side after the breakup. I felt like I was finally surfacing from my “utter emotional rubble” phase, but my attempts to meet someone new kept turning into spending way too much money at the bar before stumbling onto the night bus defeated and alone. Shes sexy n fun, he wrote, when I asked him what she was like. Gret sense of humor n nice ass. I didn’t need any more convincing. “So is the saddest thing in the world local, or are we going to have to catch a plane?” I ask her, as we’re walking out of Rib Revolution. “Because I don't know if I have the money for that right now.” Rashida laughs. Her laugh is quick and genuine, a deep skipping guffaw that has a surprising amount of grace to it. She’s been laughing all night, and it’s got me feeling a lot more confident than I was when we sat down for dinner. Rashida’s been smiling so much that I feel intimately familiar with the angles of her slightly crooked canines, and my own face is sore around the temples. “Fortunately for us,” she says, “it’s close by. We can walk there, if you can handle the garbage.” We dance around each other as we struggle into the sleeves of our spring coats in the restaurant’s cramped vestibule. All along Bloor street, 10
Kris Bone there’s a floodwall of cardboard boxes and blue plastic bins. The warm rot of restaurant trash is thick on the air. She’s pulling up directions on her iPhone, squinting past an asteroid-smash of cracks in the screen's glass, and she's got one side of her bottom lip pinched under her top teeth in concentration. She's standing pigeon-toed, with her feet out and the toes of her Keds pointed inwards, purse dangling from the crook of her elbow. She looks relaxed and excited, like she's genuinely having a good time, and it's been so long since I've seen that sort of easy enjoyment on a woman's face that I've got a stone's weight in my throat. Maybe it's all the sitcoms I watched growing up, but I expected this to be a brutally uncomfortable experience. Two desperate strangers scrabbling at conversation, clawing so hard to find some sort of connection that every sentence is like a broken fingernail. That, and — I know this is vain of me — I half expected Rashida to be some sort of hunched-over troll, a stilted outcast with the social skills of an English bulldog, no matter what Lee said. I told her that, in slightly gentler words, as we were gnawing on our ribs, and she gave me a sly smile and said that she'd been expecting the same thing. “I guess we’re just lucky,” she told me, wiping barbeque sauce off of her fingers with a Wet-Nap. While we’re walking, stepping over crumpled pop cans and stained take-out containers, I ask her why she'd gone back to Peterborough. She says that she'd been putting together a documentary on blind bowling after graduating, and had eventually run up such a massive debt on her Mastercard that she didn't really have any other choice but to move back into her parents' basement. I ask her how she’d settled on blind bowling, of all things, and she shrugs. She’d read an article about it once, tucked away in the back of an issue of Toronto Life, and was hooked instantly. 11
Kris Bone There’s a league that runs games all over the city, she tells me, and she used to stop in and shoot footage whenever she could. She never wound up finishing it, but she still had hundreds of hours of film: interviews, score sheets, endless shots of people wearing sunglasses indoors letting loose with bowling balls and listening intently for that telltale crashing clatter. “It’s even harder than it looks, actually,” she says. “Next time you’re at a bowling alley, try closing your eyes and knocking anything over without looking. Finding the sweet spot is hard enough with your eyes open, but blind it’s like trying to land a plane with the windows blacked out.” “Sounds like it would have made a hell of a thing to watch.” She goes quiet for a second. “I think I had some sort of statement to make about art and people and life,” she says, staring out past the heads of the street lights. “But now I can't figure out what it could possibly have been.” Rashida stops us in front of a crumbling, red-brick bar. There are two enormous windows flanking the front door, cracked glass in rotting frames, both covered in sticky little dashes where scotch tape once held up posters. Flickering neon over our heads scribbles out Exodus Tavern in pain-bright orange. “This is it,” she says. “We’re late, but I think we can still catch the end of it.” She tugs open the door, and motions for me to walk in ahead of her. Right away, I can smell the bready tang of spilled beer and a faint, musty cigarette stink that seems to be seeping up from the floors. Inside, the walls are the same brick as outside minus the graffiti and weatherwear, with parquet flooring scuffed beyond the point of recognition. A chipped bar top runs most of the length of the west wall, with four 12
Kris Bone crooked taps in the middle and a selection of dusty liquor on shelves further back. It’s not busy; a few groups of two or three are at tables, and there’s a pair of guys at the bar nursing bottles of Budweiser. Based on facial expressions, everybody must too busy thinking up excuses to leave to bother talking. Rashida’s already at the back of the room, standing in front of a heavy black curtain, and she’s motioning for me to come with her as she ducks through it. I walk up and ask her what’s going on, but she just winks one shining brown eye at me and puts her finger to her lips. Behind the curtain, there’s a dim room with rows of folding chairs facing a small raised stage at the far end. A whiteboard at the front has a list of names written out in stiff block letters. Rashida pulls me into one of the chairs closest to us. “This is a poetry reading,” she whispers. “Sort of an open mic deal.” She nods her head in the direction of a squat man in a tweed hat. “The guy in the trilby writes down everyone’s name on that whiteboard, and then everybody gets five minutes to read whatever they want.” On stage, a thin man is thrusting one fist in the air arrhythmically as he reads his poem off of cue cards. His face is too close to the microphone to get a good sense of the words, and the resulting distortion gives the mishmash an airy quality. It’s like listening to someone give you directions in a dream. He gives one final pump of his arm and mumbles what could be “thank you” into the microphone before bowing, bending at the midsection and making his lanky body look like a collapsing tent pole. I start clapping out of habit, but the rest of the room is largely apathetic, just scattered bursts of applause that die out instantly. Next to me, Rashida is the lone exception, bringing her hands together enthusiastically with a grin on her face. The poet shuffles back into the crowd and sits down in front of a glass of cloudy red wine. 13
Kris Bone Trilby hops back onto the stage and lowers the microphone down to his level. “Great,” he says, “thanks Gregory for that excellent poetry and for our next reader —“ Even having been here less than five minutes, I get the sense that the host doesn’t deviate much from this standard pitch. He rambles everything out like he just remembered that he left the taps on at home. He starts walking off the stage, and a timid little hedgehog of a woman wearing a fanny pack comes up to take his place. There’s another flashbulb pop of applause as she gets to the mic, and then everyone seems to drop their heads down to scribble in their notebooks or mouth words from a stack of papers. “See,” Rashida says, “this is what I mean: you get all these people together in a room so that everyone could, you know, share and learn and grow or whatever, but this is the only thing that ever seems to happen. They’re all too busy thinking about their own masterpieces to listen to what anyone else is saying. It’s like they’re all stuck in their own little echo chambers, and then they always seem confused as to why people aren’t storming them for their autograph when they finish. It’s basically art hell.” Rashida puts her hand on mine without looking at me. I lace my fingers into hers and she gives my hand a quick squeeze. “Whenever I felt alone in University,” Rashida says into my ear, “I came down here. It didn’t make me any less lonely, but it sure made me feel better about myself.” She rests her head on my shoulder. “I guess that probably makes me a bad person.” I grip her hand a little tighter, and I can already feel the tiny anchor-drop of the deadbolt as I unlock my apartment, feel the grind of the zipper on the back of her dress as I pull it down, feel the circles her fingers will trace on the palms of my hands before we fall asleep. No 14
Kris Bone sound is coming in from the other side of the curtain, and the lights are just dark enough that the little room weâ€™re in feels like it could be the entire world
Billy in a Box 17
Illinois Raptor Center “we’ll sing any damn thing you want” - Ed Roberson Roped in by bold grackle songs this cold January morning. Abundant hope, shadows in rival abbey pediments. Perched on a wall made of eggs. We all have our devils sneered the man with overalls duct taped at the knee. Up from Mississippi, she said boil a wish bone & bend it to a bracelet, my old baby sitter said she loved me & I was a good boy but I would never understand. John Paxton, she called me, missing many shots. Tall white cinderblock walls of the gymnasium where everyone watched me & I watched one bird bounce around the rafters in a frenzy I couldn’t fathom. An harmonious starling.
Eye Contact Iâ€™ve subscribed to the Illustrated Journal of Girls with Nose Rings, it comes alongside Innocence Quarterly. I drink indifferent watching the super owl sit still in a branch, winking like whatever physics held Eden together, different than those which keep the body standing by water after sifting through definitions of invented guilt. Nick is leaving. Ben said it was inapt, given the Oldies at Happy Village after meatballs & out of context discussion regarding quantum helices. Hercules held up crumbling standards. When I was a boy I wanted to be strong. No new shades of gray. The foldout features a girl riding a buffalo, in a golden field, chewing hay.
Twice the Size He Once Was You got your hug, you don’t need me. Any more than three cups of coffee & walls are no longer safe. Buried newspapers in the neighbor’s ribcage. Some people have a hard time imagining peace. The pizza parlor’s expanding. The tribe huddles together under hides of dire wolves. February smoke is music between them. Chief smiles like a blackbird. Jar in my reading room fills with pens, erasers, a small man’s toupee & the skull of a gerbil bronzed over – he doubled in size over night. I call the skull Place-Where-Thoughts-Could-Not-Have-BeenSentences. He’s the one who ate his wife. When I dig for paper clips, I touch it & quake.
Ping Pong And I don't want her coming to my funeral./ What?/ She's not invited./ Of course she's invited. She's my mother./ Sorry, but that's nonnegotiable./ She has to come./ Why?/ For me./ Whose funeral is it again? Who's the one in the coffin?/ She's still my mother./ That's terrific./ Not to mention your ex-wife./ Key word: ex./ I want her to be there./ I don't really care what you want. It's not your funeral./ You won't even.../ What?/ You won't even be there./ I'll be there. I won't be breathing, but I'll be there./ You know what I mean./ She's not invited. Period. End of discussion. I'm not going to let that bitch - / Watch it./ That person...infect my life again./ Technically speaking, it's not your life./ It's my death. It's my death. Not yours. Not hers. Mine./ How do you expect me to tell her that? How do you expect me to call my mother and - / Not my problem./ It is your problem. You're the one creating it./ No, I'm the one concluding it./ Why are you being such a - / Prick? Because that person is poison./ I wasn't going to say "prick."/ She's fucking poison, and I'm not gonna let her - / She won't - / End of discussion. She's not coming. I'm telling Freddy./ Telling him what?/ Not to let her in. I'll post police if I have to./ I'm pretty sure you can't - / I can do whatever the fuck I want./ Not when you're dead./ Especially when I'm dead. I'll put it in writing. I'll get a restraining order./ Stop being ridiculous./ I don't want her there. Period./ Why?/ Many reasons./ Give me one./ IT'S MY FUCKING FUNERAL./ I understand that./ You don't. You think it's about you. As usual, you think it's all about you./ Not as usual. And, yes, it is about me. It's about everyone./ It's about me. I'm the one in the coffin. I'm the one who's dead. And I'll suck the devil's dick before I let her walk through that door./ So you've decided on an indoor service?/ Fuck off./ And I thought you wanted to be cremated. What's all this shit about a coffin?/ You know exactly what 21
Chris Gilmore I'm saying, smart ass./ I know what you're saying; I don't know why you're saying it./ It doesn't matter./ It matters to me./ Well, you're just gonna have to live with that./ Now, who's the selfish one?/ I have a right to be selfish. It's my fucking - / Funeral. I get it./ Thank you./ But you're not the only one in attendance. In fact, from a medical perspective, you're not in attendance at all./ I can't believe you're doing this./ Ditto./ I'm fucking dying, and you're...After all that's happened./ What's happened? I still don't know what's happened./ You know perfectly well./ I don't./ I'm not getting into it. The point is simple. She's. Not. Coming. She's been out of my life. She'll be out of my death./ I can't handle this./ I CAN'T HANDLE THIS. YOU THINK THIS IS HARD FOR YOU? I'M THE ONE WHO'S FUCKING DYING./ I understand that - / I'M THE ONE WHO HAS TO WASTE AWAY, WONDERING HOW SHE'S GOING TO FUCK ME OVER WHEN I'M NOT EVEN ALIVE TO DEFEND MYSELF./ She's not going to - / I can't believe it. After all these years, she's finally going to kill me. It's what she's always wanted, and she's finally going to do it. And you're going to help her. We need to talk, and you're not going to like what I have to say./ What do you mean?/ It's about Dad. About his funeral./ His funeral? Did something happen?/ No, no, he's fine./ Thank God./ Well, not fine, but you know.../ What happened?/ Nothing happened. We had a talk./ About his funeral?/ Yeah./ Does he want me to give a eulogy? Oh God. I don't know if I - / He doesn't want you to come./ What?/ He doesn't - / Why?/ He didn't say./ He said something./ He said...he has his reasons./ Which are?/ He didn't say./ But why would he - / I don't think he likes you very much./ He said that? He said he doesn't like me?/ Not in those words./ What did he say?/ He didn't say anything. That's what I'm telling you./ Then why are you saying he doesn't like me?/ Because he doesn't. It's no big secret./ What did he tell you?/ He said you can't come to the funeral./ Well.../ His words, not mine./ Well, screw him. He 22
Chris Gilmore doesn't get to decide who - / I'm afraid he does./ He can't control me./ That's not what he thinks./ Well, he can think whatever he wants. It's too damn bad./ This isn't really up for debate./ You're right. I'm not going to debate a thing. I'm just going to do what I want./ I won't let you./ What?/ I won't let you. Uncle Freddy won't let you./ What's he going to do?/ You won't be allowed inside./ He can't control who attends his funeral. Is he crazy?/ Probably. Either way, you're not invited./ It's a funeral. No one's "invited." You just show up./ Well, you're not showing up./ I'll show up wherever I goddamn please./ No, you won't. I won't let you./ Why are you being like this?/ I'm not being like anything. I'm just delivering a message./ You don't want me to come. You just said so./ No, I didn't. I said - / I know what you said./ Look, I'm sorry. I really am. But I'm not the bad guy here./ You're one of them./ How? I haven't done anything./ You're doing plenty. As usual, you're taking his side./ Stop with the "as usual." I'm tired of - / It's true. You always take his side. You even sound like him when you talk./ Stop making this about you. This has nothing to do with you. Or me, for that matter. This is what he wants, and it's what he'll get. It's my job to honor his wishes./ "Honor his wishes." Okay, Junior./ Don't call me that./ It's your name, isn't it?/ He says the same thing about you, by the way./ What?/ That I sound like you when I fight with him./ Of course he does. It's because he's - / Stop. I'm not doing this. I refuse to be your ping pong ball./ Ping pong ball?/ Back and forth, back and forth. Ever since I could speak./ Don't be so melodramatic./ I'm tired of it. I refuse to go back to that. I'm twenty-nine, and I'm not going to be your punching bag./ Punching bag?/ Or his, for that matter./ Punching bag or ping pong ball? I'm confused./ I'm too old for this shit./ Then put him on the phone./ He doesn't want to talk to you. I don't want to talk to you either./ Oh, that's nice./ About this, I mean./ Sure./ I'm just passing on information. Do with it what you will./ "Do with it what you will." And you say you don't sound like him./ Look, it is what it is./ "It is what it is."/ Stop it./ He's so selfish. He thinks the 23
Chris Gilmore funeral's for him. He's dead. He doesn't matter. It's for his survivors. It's for the people he leaves behind./ Which doesn't include you./ We were married for eighteen years./ And you haven't spoken in ten./ So?/ He doesn't want you there./ I wouldn't be there for him. I'd be there for you./ I'll be fine./ And for me./ You'll be fine too./ And so will he. So will everyone else./ No, they won't./ Well, that's too damn bad. I'm gonna do what I want, and everyone else will have to live with it./ I'm going to have to live with it. That's the point. You make your demands, he makes his, and I get stuck in the middle. Fighting both sides. Losing both battles./ Don't blame me./ I'm blaming both of you./ Fine. Blame whoever you want. I'm still coming. Baby, what's wrong?/ Nothing. I just wanted to hear your voice./ Is everything okay?/ Not really./ Is there anything I can do?/ No, just talk to me. Tell me about your day./ Are you still at the hospital?/ Yeah. I'm down in the caf./ Is your dad okay?/ Yeah, he's fine. Tell me about your day./ Uh. Okay. Well, first I went shopping. Got a new pair of jeans. Had a bagel in the food court. Salmon and cream cheese on pumpernickel - / I miss you./ What's going on, baby? Is your dad okay?/ Yes and no./ Did you talk about his funeral?/ Yeah./ How did it go?/ Not well./ I'm sorry, Maxy Bear./ It's okay./ Do you want to talk about it?/ Not really. But I do want to hear about your day./ No, you don't. My day was boring./ Boring beats mine./ Yeah./ I wish you were here. I'd give you a big smooch on the lips./ Ooooo. /And a hug./ And a hug? Lucky me./ Two hugs, if you play your cards right./ Sweeeeet./ And a bum squeeze./ Ooooo. You're making me wet./ That was easy./ Annnnd now I'm dry./ Woops./ Well done, Mister Sexy Pants./ Captain Sexy Pants./ I thought you liked Mister./ I changed my mind./ Well, then.../ Is that okay?/ Aye aye, Captain.
Chris Gilmore So I talked to mom./ Wonderful./ And she's not too happy./ I can imagine./ She wants to come to your funeral./ That's unfortunate./ Yes, it is. Because I'm the one who has to deal with her./ Yep./ I'm the one who has to pay the price for your bullshit./ Take it up with Ruth. She's the one intruding./ Intruding, to you. No one else cares./ Fred doesn't want her there either./ Only because you don't want her there. He's acting on your behalf./ As he should./ Don't make this about the rest of the family. It's about you and her./ It's about you and her. She's gonna drag you through this. She's going to whine and bitch and complain until she gets her way, because that's how she operates. Always has, always will. She's going to manipulate and guilt-trip and mind-fuck her way into getting what she wants, because she knows you can't fight back./ Says you./ And the worst part is, she doesn't even want to come. She doesn't give a shit about me. About saying goodbye. She said goodbye ten years ago, when she.../ What?/ The point is, she's selfish. She just wants to get her way. No matter what it is or what it costs. No matter who it hurts. All that matters is that it's hers. Especially if someone tells her it's not./ I think you're being a bit paranoid./ I think you're being a child. Which is exactly why she can use you./ Calm down. No one's using anyone./ I wish that were true./ You know, you sound like a - / Junior - / I told you not to - / Max. Listen. I know she's your mother, but she's also my wife - / Ex-wife./ And you simply don't know her like I do./ Just as you simply don't know her like I do./ True./ "Husband" and "son" are not the same./ Yeah, the husband stands a chance./ I'm glad I didn't inherit your cynicism./ She's been doing this since you were born, and she's doing it again. Only this time I won't be around to protect you./ I think I'll be fine on my own./ I'm not so sure./ You seem to think I'm unaware of what's happening. Of my position in all this. I'm not. I'm very aware. You haven't said a single thing I don't already know. Or haven't considered./ Good. So we're agreed./ We're not agreed. I'm just letting you know. And there's a difference between knowing something and 25
Chris Gilmore being able to do something about it./ As long as you're aware./ Why? What good is awareness if it doesn't help you? If it only reminds you how helpless you are?/ I'd rather be self-aware and self-loathing than blissfully ignorant and destructive. Just ask your mother./ You're no less ignorant. No less destructive. If you were, you'd let this go./ She's the bad guy, not me./ You're both the bad guy./ According to you./ It's a reasonable request, you know. She wants to attend your funeral. Big deal. Why make everything into a battle?/ Because I can. Because it's what she expects./ Well, how about you subvert expectations by doing the right thing?/ I am doing the right thing./ The noble thing. Fuck right and wrong. This is about - / The path of least resistance. Your favorite path./ I've spent too long on the other path. You have too./ Then a few more weeks won't kill me./ "A few more weeks" is why you're here. Your inability to let things go./ She is why I'm here./ It takes two to tango, Father Dearest. She fucked up; you fucked up. Why don't we bury the hatchet and call it a draw?/ Because it's what she wants. A draw means defeat./ It's what she wants - maybe - but it's not what she's expecting./ I hope it's not what you're expecting, because you're going to be disappointed./ Hoping, not expecting. It's never too late to change./ I'm not the one who needs to change, Sonny./ Maybe. Maybe not. But you're the one who can./ So can she. Why aren't you yelling at her?/ I was. I will. But right now I'm yelling at you./ I don't want her infecting my family. Not to mention my friends./ Then don't invite her. But let her come./ I can't stop her from coming. It's a free country, last time I checked. What the hell is his problem?/ He's meeting you half-way./ What a saint./ It's the best you're going to do./ If he doesn't want me there, I'm not going to go./ Uh. Okay. Great./ Why would I? The only reason I'd go is for him./ And me./ And you./ And you./ And me. Kind of./ Good. I'll let him know./ You sound happy./ I'm relieved./ That I'm not going?/ 26
Chris Gilmore That there won't be a problem./ There wouldn't be a problem if I went./ That's debateable./ It sounds like you don't want me to go./ I do want you to go. I also want to do what he wants./ And avoid a fight./ I don't think that's unreasonable./ Avoiding fights is kind of your thing./ Don't start with me./ I'm serious. You're always taking his side, breaking us up - / You broke yourselves up./ I mean the fights. Breaking up the fights./ Someone had to do it./ Maxy Junior. Defender of the Wounded Patriarch./ I'm trying to create some peace./ Peace and quiet. That's all you want./ Your point being.../ Once again, it's all about you./ No, actually it's all about you. Going the one place you're not wanted, not because you want to but because you can. You think you can./ I know I can, and he's not going to stop me./ I thought you weren't going./ I changed my mind./ For fuck's sake.../ Watch your mouth. I'm still your mother./ Fuck my mouth, and fuck my mother./ Watch it, brat./ I'M NOT YOUR FUCKING BRAT! And I'm not his either! I'm twenty-nine years old!/ You've got your father's temper. At least that hasn't changed./ What did you do to him?/ What do you mean?/ He keeps talking about this thing that happened, but he won't say what it is./ I divorced him. That's what happened./ He says he divorced you./ Of course he does. He's been saying it since I gave him the papers./ You let him say it./ I didn't want to torture the guy. I just wanted to move on. And I have./ He hasn't./ Clearly./ So where does that leave us?/ In terms of what?/ In terms of the funeral./ I don't know. I'm meeting someone for dinner./ Someone special?/ What do you care?/ I'm just curious./ Are you curious, or is Max curious?/ Wait, why would he cover it up? It's no secret you're divorced./ Because he's embarrassed. Because I got away. Because I was his sure thing, and I told him no. I was the one thing he thought he could control. It's about ego, not about me. His puny little manhood./ What would he say if I said that?/ You know what he'd say. He'd say I'm a scheming, calculating nightmare of a person who doesn't 27
Chris Gilmore have a respectable thought in her head./ I doubt he'd say "respectable."/ I was paraphrasing. I'm sorry, baby. I can't believe they're putting you in the middle of this./ I know. It's ridiculous./ Do you want me to come down?/ No, it's okay./ I wish there was something I could do./ Just keep doing what you're doing./ All right. Whaddya want to talk about?/ I don't know. Anything. How about...chemistry? Let's name the elements of the periodic table./ Wanna know what I'm wearing?/ Hydrogen, helium, lithium - / Nothing. I just stepped out of the shower./ Oxygen. Nice./ I'm still wet./ H2O./ And, woops, I just dropped my towel./ So you were wearing something./ A towel doesn't count./ Sure, it does. I was picturing.../ What?/ I can't really say. I'm, uh...still in the caf./ Go somewhere private./ The bathroom?/ How about the coma ward?/ Very funny./ Sorry./ It's okay./ No, that was pretty - / It's okay, buddy. Really./ I can't believe they're doing this to you. It's hard enough.../ Yeah./ They're so selfish./ I can't really blame them./ Yes, you can. You should. It's their problem. They should be the ones to deal with it./ I know./ Sorry. I know you're just trying to...get through this./ You're right though. They think it's all about them. They don't seem to get that selfishness is a double-edged sword./ Hmm?/ When you accuse someone else, you're doing it too. "Stop thinking about yourself, and think about me."/ Which is selfish as well./ They don't seem to understand that. He thinks his funeral's about him; she thinks it's about everyone else./ But mostly her./ Entirely her./ What about you?/ Exactly./ Why should you accommodate when no one accommodates you?/ Good question./ If everyone else gets a vote.../ What about me? That's not what I said./ Huh?/ I didn't say she could come. I said I can't stop her./ Right. She's not invited, but she can come./ No, she can't come./ You just said you couldn't stop her./ Doesn't mean she can 28
Chris Gilmore come./ She can come. You're saying she shouldn't./ I'm saying what I said. She can do what she wants./ Which means she can come./ Which means I can't stop her./ And neither can anyone else./ That's up to them./ No, it's up to you. I want you to call Uncle Freddy and tell him not to get in her way if she - / I'm not telling him shit./ Why?/ I don't want to./ That's a mature response./ Since when have I cared about the maturity of my responses?/ Better late than never./ Freddy can do what he wants. So can the others./ I don't want an incident./ Then tell her not to come./ I did. She's not going to listen./ Then that's her problem./ No, it's mine./ Then tell her not to come./ Look, that day is going to be hard enough if all goes well. If everyone's getting along and no one drops the coffin. It'll still be awful. So the best case scenario, for me, is borderline unbearable. And you want to make it worse./ I'm not - / Both of you. You and her. It doesn't matter who's at fault./ Doesn't matter to you./ Do you really want your funeral to be a clusterfuck?/ As long as there's booze./ It's on you, you know. If something goes wrong, it's not my fault./ I don't care. I'm not going to be there./ Then why does it matter if she comes?/ Because I refuse to let her win./ She's not trying to win. She's trying to.../ What?/ Get closure. Like everyone else./ She has it. She got it when we divorced. She got it when I stopped taking her calls./ Even though you wanted to./ Is that what she told you?/ That's what I told me. What you told me./ Bullshit./ Not in words, maybe, but - / Get your ovaries checked. You're starting to sound like her./ Yeah. I can't imagine why she left you./ I left her, moron. Check your facts./ Sorry./ "She left me." Bull. Shit./ She still cares about you./ No, she doesn't./ Just because she doesn't like you doesn't mean she doesn't care. What does that mean?/ He can't stop you from coming, but he doesn't want you there./ I don't...What's that beeping?/ I don't know./ Are you still in the hospital?/ I'm down the hall./ From his room?/ Yeah./ Go home. It's late./ I'm aware./ You must be tired./ You have no idea./ Did 29
Chris Gilmore you get any sleep last night?/ About four hours./ Are the pills helping?/ Yes and no. It's hard to say./ How long are you supposed to take them?/ As long as I want. As long as it takes./ How do you know if they're working?/ Can we talk about Dad?/ I'm not really sure what to tell you./ Tell me you're not going to come./ Sweetie.../ He's not calling Freddy./ So?/ He thinks you're not invited./ I don't care./ Well, he cares, and I care, and I don't want - / You don't want an incident./ I don't want you there./ Yes, you do./ Of course I do. But I'm not the only one going. And if Dad doesn't want you there, and his family doesn't want you there, then I don't want you there either./ Why?/ I told you why./ Tell me again./ I'm gonna hang up if - / You can't handle a fight./ I can't handle a fight, I can't handle the possibility of a fight, and I can't handle...Why do you think I'm taking the pills?/ I know./ Why do you think I'm.../ I know, Sweetie. I know. Well, that's a relief./ No kidding./ Are you gonna head home?/ After I tell my dad./ Are you okay?/ Yeah. Not really. I don't know./ Give yourself a hug for me./ Okay./ And a kiss./ How's that going to work?/ I don't know. Kiss your hand or something./ Okay./ I miss you./ I know, buddy. I miss you too./ I wish I could help./ You are helping. Just by existing./ Smooch./ Double smooch./ I want to gobble you up./ Sounds painful./ And cuddle you. Cuddle, first. Gobble, second./ You're cute./ You're cuter./ It's not a competition./ I know. But if it was, I would win./ Probably./ Triple smooch./ Quadruple smooch./ BJ. Really?/ Really./ She's not coming./ Nope./ She said that./ Yep./ She actually gave in./ I convinced her./ Unbelievable./ I guess I'm persuasive./ I didn't know she had it in her./ Apparently, she does. Can I leave now?/ What do you make of all this?/ I don't really care anymore./ Did she want to come?/ Of course./ I mean, really./ She really wanted to come./ Not out of.../ Malice? Spite? Boredom? No. She 30
Chris Gilmore genuinely wanted to come. Any normal person would./ Well.../ In any case, it's over. So let's move on./ You got somewhere to be?/ Yeah. At home with my girlfriend./ Tell her I say hi./ Will do./ It wouldn't.../ What?/ It wouldn't be the end of the world if she came./ Natalie?/ Ruth./ You're kidding./ It wouldn't be the end of the world./ I'm not calling her again./ You don't have to. I'm just saying./ You want her to come./ I wouldn't mind if she came. "Want" might be a bit strong./ I can't fucking believe this. So now he wants me to come?/ That's what he said./ Why?/ Fuck if I know. The man's insane./ What did he say?/ He said he "wouldn't mind" if you came./ He wouldn't mind? How nice of him./ So what should I tell him?/ Tell him to go fiddle himself./ Fiddle?/ Improvise, Max./ Should I tell him you're coming?/ No./ What?/ Tell him I'm not./ What? Why?/ He doesn't want me to come. He's made that perfectly clear./ Are you deaf? He changed his mind./ He didn't change a thing. You laid on the guilt, and he eventually caved. He agreed just to shut you up./ I swear that's not true. If you were here, you'd - / Put him on the phone then./ I'm out of the room./ Go back to the room, and put him on the phone./ I doubt he wants to talk to you./ He wants me to come, but he doesn't want to talk to me?/ He doesn't want you to come./ He "wouldn't mind."/ Right./ Well, screw him./ I want you to come./ I want an apology./ From me?/ From him./ Not gonna happen./ Then I guess I'm not coming./ Jesus Christ./ He's not coming either. You can tell him that for me./ Dad or Jesus?/ Both./ Listen - / No, you listen. I'm not coming. I've had enough of that prick. End of discussion./ Mom - / He doesn't want me there. His family doesn't want me there./ That's not - / And I don't want to go where I'm not wanted./ He does want you there. He's just stubborn./ Well, so am I./ I can't fucking believe this./ It's just a funeral, Sweetie. Get some perspective. 31
Chris Gilmore Unbelievable./ I know./ That person is unbelievable./ I'm aware./ Who the hell does she think she is?/ I asked several times./ The mother of my only child won't come to my funeral./ Yep./ My wife of eighteen years./ Ex-wife./ Get her on the phone./ Seriously?/ Get her on the phone!/ It's been ten years./ Now!/ Okay, Jesus.../ Is it ringing?/ Yeah. Hold on./ Wait. Never mind. Hang up./ What?/ Hang up. I changed my mind./ Are you - / Quickly!/ Voice mail./ Don't leave a message./ Wasn't going to./ God, that was close./ She said she had a dinner thing./ Dinner thing? With who?/ Does it matter?/ That guy? The real estate douche?/ They broke up a while ago./ Oh. Good. Him with her, or her with him?/ Her with him. She caught him cheating I think./ Asshole./ Yep./ Who's she seeing now?/ No idea./ But she's seeing someone./ I have no idea. I don't talk to her that much. And when I do, it's not about.../ Who she's banging./ Ugh. Jesus./ Hey, we're all adults here./ Not when it comes to that./ Speaking of banging, how's Melanie?/ Natalie./ Right. Natalie./ Natalie's wonderful. Thanks for asking./ What's she doing these days?/ Calming me down./ Huh?/ Nothing./ I can't believe I almost called her./ Natalie?/ Ruth./ Your idea, not mine./ It's your job to talk me out my ideas./ It's really more of a hobby than a job - / Don't tell her I tried to call. Her ego is fat enough./ Do you want to try again later?/ No way. I refuse to talk to that - / Stop calling her "person." I know what that means./ If she doesn't want to come, screw her. That's her problem./ I'd like her to come./ Then that's your problem./ Thanks, Dad./ I'm just so.../ What?/ I'm just so sick of this./ I know how you feel./ Fuck it. Let her do what she wants. If she wants to come, great. If she doesn't, also great. I don't care anymore./ So I can invite her?/ No, of course not./ But I can tell her to come./ No!/ What can I tell her then?/ Tell her she's...I don't know. Tell her what you want./ I'll ask her to come for me. Sans invitation./ No./ No, what?/ Ask her to come for me./ All right./ Tell her to come for me. I'm sick of all this asking. Tell her if she doesn't come to my funeral, I'll - / Huff, and puff, and blow her house down?/ 32
Chris Gilmore Don't get smart with me./ Relax. I'll ask again./ Tell. Not ask./ You're in no position to be giving orders, you know./ I'm in the best position. Giving orders is all I can do. What is it? I'm out with Bob./ Who?/ Bob. My dinner...companion./ Dad wants you to come./ Mother of God./ That's what I said./ Officially, he wants me to come? Like an invitation? / More like an order./ Well, he should've thought about that before he - / Mom. Please. Just say yes, so I can go home./ I'm not just going to say yes. After what he put me through?/ Tonight?/ Every night./ You haven't seen him in - / Every night we were married. Every day. Every hour - / Give me a break./ Tonight's just another example./ He's not the only guilty party, you know./ And he's not the only innocent party either./ I understand that./ Does he understand that?/ Yes. Which is why he wants you to come./ He wants me to come because I don't want to come. It's a power play, and he knows it./ I swear to you, it's not. If you were here, you would see it./ See what?/ His...I don't know...vulnerability. It's in his voice. His eyes. It's written all over him./ Of course it is. He's dying. That's what happens when you - / Hey!/ I'm not saying it to be mean; I'm saying it because it's true. He has no control over his life, so he's exercising what little he has over his death./ Wouldn't you?/ I probably would. But that doesn't make it any less manipulative. If he were well, this wouldn't be an issue./ If he were well, there wouldn't be a funeral./ Sweetie...Look. If I go, I'm going for you./ Whatever gets you through the eulogy./ He wants me to give a eulogy?!/ I'm kidding./ Oh. Thank God. Jesus.../ So we're agreed?/ On one condition./ Shit./ I want an apology./ I'm sorry./ From him./ He already apologized./ When?/ When he asked you to come. That's as close to an apology as you're going to get./ You realize that, no more than two hours ago, he didn't want me to come - / And you realize that, no more than two hours ago, you did want to come. So how about we chalk it up to mutual hypocrisy and call it even? No winners, no losers. Just people. 33
Chris Gilmore People preparing for a funeral. Honoring last requests./ Do you have a caterer yet?/ No, not yet./ I can give you some names./ I'll forward them to Freddy. He's arranging everything./ Where's it being held?/ Dad's still alive, you know./ I know. I'm just.../ It's all right. I'll keep you posted as things develop./ Let me know if I can help./ I will. It'll probably be a small service. Close friends and family./ Max would like that./ Yeah. I'll let you get back to your date./ Oh, don't worry. Bob's not going anywhere./ Yeah./ I didn't mean...You know what I mean./ Yeah./ Bad choice of words./ Don't worry about it./ I love you, Sweetie. You know that right?/ Uh huh./ We're doing our best, your dad and me. It might not seem like it, but we are./ So am I./ I know you are./ Yeah. Well...I should really get going./ Let me know what he says./ I think we both know what he'll say./ Something "Maxy."/ Followed by a grumble./ Preceded by a grunt./ You're definitely coming? You won't change your mind?/ As long as he doesn't change his./ Even if he does.../ Sweetie. I'm coming. Tell Max to wear something nice
I Want to Find My Soul through the Wormhole I dreamed in the migrained night I was in a pastry shop, stuffing myself with cream puffs, until I got that I was killing myself, soul lost, adrift in sugar, a me not me. In the dream, I blamed my husband, who turned his back while he bit into a thick and messy egg salad sandwich. Then I was cleaning upâ€” sticky cake plates, used coffee spoons, choosing from two dishwashers in the middle of a party. In vain I searched for my turquoise bathing suit, while the others hopped a bus bound for the beach. The next day, I took some musty prayer books to the Judaica bookseller, who told the story as best he could about the various publishers, their renown, and pointed out the wormholes, dark around the edges, like ancient cigarette burns, and the dental impressions on a half-chewed title pageâ€” Rats, he said.
Abby Caplin I could see them, gnawing to fill a damp attic hunger a world ago in Lithuania. He told me I was holding a Passover Haggadah from the 1800s. It was in bad shape, the cover and binding disintegrating, the pages mottled in rusty blotches. Mold? I asked. He shook his headâ€” Wine stains. I wondered about the woman who threw out the leavened bread, scoured her house, poured boiling water all over her kitchen to kasher it, who served the dry matzah to fulfill her contract with God, out of love or duty. Let all who are hungry come and eat. What did she feel when her guests sloshed their four cups of wine, left imprints of their stemware on the grace after meals? I pressed my peasantâ€™s hands to the wrinkled parchment, let my fingers grieve.
Inscape Wanting to be kissing you under the cavernous, comatose piano. In the deepest cave in New Zealand, a million stalactites of glowworm mucous ensnaring newborn dragonflies, reeling them in, digesting them alive. Like the bow of a viola, an echoing cry vibrates long strings of wind, homing in on the ellipse of your mouth. Near where we lived, wet lips edge serrated limestone, Gaudíesque calcite castles in Carlsbad Caverns, submerged in green liquid. Cut off by the last ice age. The Maya died off somewhere darker, by flooded entryways to gigantic alligator wells. Tonguing ice-ribbed needlefish, plants of glass bite to the quick. Don’t forgive me, but I can’t grasp where the wounds are. Still more obscured by salt water flowing miles under the atmosphere, intestines of rock quiver with dripping filaments. Frog-stroke of a diver on a thread, desperate for a breathable layer, but it turns out to be another kind of water; the most ancient crustacean still ripples it. You and I hear only in the air. Swiftlets whistle in the shiftless pitch, echolocate threaded nests of alabaster saliva, each completed in thirty days, one stolen by a Mandarin thief hanging from a three-hundred-foot rope ladder. Schools of night feeders at the hour of departure, fish with wings snatched by blind-snakes. Molly fish give birth in what looks like acid, unpreoccupied by bats in the skylights. The ceiling, full of skin-burning snotties, is not in love, but it’s alive. Hydrogen sulfide gas.
Intermezzo Dark morning could have come with small white newts, avian purring and children tumbling in the hills— or so it’s still easy to think, though someone has been poisoning the mourning doves, and it rains six days out of every ten. Your entomologist neighbors feed on weedy red leaves from their sill— excellent, they say— while the Canada geese have vanished along with the sweetest little fleet-nosed gophers of the dirt plots in the park. Nap hour comes sooner, takes longer. The season’s at the halfway mark. Like a broken ring of water, the center escapes. You trip through puddles, the sun makes its increasingly fewer rays change color— at times to race, at others to gather in lassitude, or even to explode. The heart’s weather is also a matter of incertitude. The wind could coagulate like a mother’s blood and express in an instant every shade of hurt that occurred to it, yielding to your vicarious wish. These things come up at every switch of the lunar calendar and nobody notices.
Donna M. Girouard
Donna M Girouard
Peas Porridge Cold I remember magnolias and a white trellis in the courtyard of the Worcester city lot that was enclosed by a chain link fence and the two long, narrow three-story tenements, one standing at a 90 degree angle to the other like a big “L.” And lots of pansies, Memere’s favorite flower. She often said she loved their little faces. Funny thing is, I don’t remember her actually gardening. Maybe because she was sick so much of the time. But that would have been later. Tillie and Joe Girouard lived in Milbury when I was very young, having moved there from various houses in Spencer, the town where my father, Ralph, was born. My mother thought her in-laws moved around too much, stating it as though there was something wrong with not being tied to one place. Pauline, who had never left the town where she’d been born, who, in fact, still lived in the very house where she’d been born and where her own mother had died, believed that people need roots. She had long since deeply sunk hers into the Massachusetts bedrock of our house’s foundation. Nevertheless, she helped as much as Aunt Eleanor, cousins Jeanette and Jeanie, and whichever female friends of my father’s family showed up to pack on the day that my Pepere and Memere moved from Milbury to Worcester where Pepere had bought the large lot with the two nearly identical “three deckers” so that there would be rental income well into their retirement years. The women packed the wooden barrels with dishes and other breakables, wrapped in, then layered between clean newspapers, while the men – Pepere, my father, Uncle George and the rest – filled somebody’s truck with furniture. The women had brought or prepared food for everyone as well, so that the day seemed more of a holiday than 40
Donna M. Girouard a chore, at least for me and all my cousins who were told to play outside and stay out from under foot. Too young at the time to notice or remember details, I can now dredge up only one distinct sensation from that afternoon: having been included in a game of Blind Man’s Bluff with the other kids, I dizzily stumbled around waving my arms when it was my turn to be blindfolded and spun around three times, the sounds of laughter and my name being called of no help in getting my bearings. I tried to remember which direction the house had been in relation to the sun as I tilted my face up to feel the rays’ warmth. Just as I heard the calls turn into shouts, I felt something else on my face and began to scream. Pinpricks of pain peppered my chin and cheeks as hands grabbed my shoulders, pulling me backwards. I had been so far off course in my sightless rambling that I had walked right into the “bee bushes.” People came running toward me from all directions, and someone, most likely my mother, hugged me as I sobbed. In my mind, the day ended there. I can’t picture the house in Milbury or even any of its rooms. Apart from my encounter with the bee swarm on moving day, I remember only snippets: Tarzan, the indoor Siamese cat, scaring me by leaping out from a brown paper bag that I’d spied on the bed and thought empty. Or my sitting on the floor close to rocking chairs (on the porch? in the living room?) and half listening to the clipped “Cannuck” French my grandparents spoke when the Comeaus came to catch up on the news. For me, the tradition of May Day began in that house when I heard the doorbell one day as we were visiting and, when I was directed to answer it, saw only a multi-colored basket apparently left over from Easter with candy, coloring books and crayons, and a pair of orange canvas Keds in it. Years later, my mother told me that Memere had left the basket and rung the bell, then run around behind the house and back in through the rear door. 41
Donna M. Girouard My memories of the Worcester property are somewhat clearer, kept alive by occasional dreams in which I am once again there with my family, usually at Christmas. Like a moment frozen in time, Brucie (my now-deceased brother from my father’s first marriage) and I are once again sitting with our cousins at the kids’ table by the decorated silver tree in the living room, and Brucie is still wearing his fire-engine red button-down sweater. At ten, he already has our dad’s good looks and lazy half smile. Karen, our fifteen year old sister, is allowed to sit with the adults. She is poised and ladylike in her high heels and lipstick while I, at five, am gawky in my thick glasses and pigtails. In these dreams, as in their actual counterpart from almost fifty years ago, I hear the raucous voices and laughter from the maple farmers table in the kitchen. Extra leaves have been added, but, even then, the overflow must eat at t.v. tables. I hear laughter and fake gagging sounds as Memere snags the part of the turkey “that goes over the fence last.” Voices always eventually become louder as Memere and Pepere or maybe Aunt Eleanor and Uncle George argue, and, no matter how much we vowed to behave, Monique and I, cousins born less than a month apart, also end up fighting, usually over who has received the better presents even though, to the adult eye, they look the same. We squabble in the light of the revolving color wheel while the banjo clock chimes from its place between the lace-curtained windows, and Memere’s cherished knick knacks climb up the stairs of a wood crescent moon that hangs just under its matching star but well out of our reach. These dreams bring me comfort and make me feel as though I still belong somewhere. Memere’s everyday meals were simple and made from scratch: heavy stews and soups (both of which she classified as “porridge”); beans with salt pork and lots of molasses that baked for hours in a bean pot; “tuppettes,” small pieces of lightly pan-fried bread dough dipped in sugar-water; something called piccalilli, which I refused even to try because it looked unappealing; and boudin (blood-sausage), which 42
Donna M. Girouard smelled so bad to me that I had to leave the room as it boiled. She canned and preserved, and there was always a pot simmering on the stove, my favorite being her thick pea soup made with yellow peas. During one of my occasional solo visits, having been dropped off by my parents for a couple of days, I would sit at the table, waiting for my bowl to cool and trying to remember to keep my feet off the chair rungs as I’d been trained by my mother. While I waited, my spoon standing straight up all by itself in the full bowl (I never got tired of that), Memere and I sang and clapped to “Peas Porridge Hot,” a nursery rhyme she had taught me: Peas porridge hot Peas porridge cold Peas porridge in the pot Nine days old My other favorite thing to do in Memere and Pepere’s apartment on the left-side-first-floor of the three-decker at the back end of the lot was to take a bath. After I made sure to flush the pull-chain toilet that I loved but that frustrated Pepere because it constantly leaked, I could stretch out and fully submerge myself again and again in the deep, white porcelain claw-foot tub until I turned all prune-y. Once, upon my return home, I tried to talk my mother into getting one just like it instead of our smaller mint green tub, and she horrified me by saying she’d already had one but had thrown it out in favor of the current more modern model. I promised myself that someday I would have a genuine claw foot tub in my own bathroom. Short and stocky in her habitual muumuu and scuffy slippers, Memere wore glasses with thick lenses, and her eyes were not perfectly aligned, a trait I inherited that three eye surgeries never completely corrected. She had lost a great deal of her hair and what little she had was always pulled back off her face in a pony tail. My mother said the hair loss was due to all the medications Memere took for her heart and 43
Donna M. Girouard blood pressure and from the insulin shots Pepere had to administer for her “sugar diabetes.” I suspected, however, that my father had inherited his thinning hair from her since Pepere’s hair grew in thick and covered his entire head. Sometimes, before a special occasion, my mother gave Memere a Toni Home Perm in our kitchen, to add some body, she said, after which my father and Pepere would join us for hot dogs and the baked beans that Memere had made the previous day and that my mother could never get quite right in the bean pot she had inherited from her own mother. As I think back, I realize that pretty much all of my memories of Memere are more like scenes than full-blown memories. I know that I sometimes spent the night there in the tenement, but I have no idea where I slept. I don’t remember being put to bed or waking up. One scene that remains clear to me, however, because of its extreme sensory element is of my lying across Memere’s ample lap while screaming in agony as she poured something warm and liquid (oil, I’m guessing) into my throbbing ear before laying a warm cloth over it, all the while speaking in a low, soothing voice. I was seven years old, which I know only because my parents had left me there while they went to the World’s Fair in Montreal, and my mother brought back dated souvenirs. I remember being angry that I couldn’t go to a “fair” too, especially one in another country, and I remember the earache but nothing more about that visit. What occurs to me now as I write this is that perhaps I was left behind because of the ear infection and not, as I have believed over the years, because my parents didn’t want me tagging along on their trip. Somehow, I never, until now, connected those dots. My grandparents had a small upright piano, and I’ve been told that Pepere played, but if he ever did in my presence I don’t remember it. In my mind, it sat alone and untouched in a dark corner of a spare room, or maybe a short hallway that connected the two bedrooms. Of all the rooms, the master bedroom made the least impression on me, either 44
Donna M. Girouard because I wasn’t allowed in there or felt, on my own, that being in there would be prohibited, just as in my own home. I can picture Michael’s room, however, with its unmade bed against the far wall, scattered dirty clothes, and piles of Mad Magazine on the bookshelves. Not that I was ever invited in. Several years older than I, Michael kept to himself, holed up with the door closed and music blaring, but his door stayed open when he wasn’t there, allowing me a fascinating view of a teenage boy’s bedroom. When he was there, Memere would have to yell to him for chores and often got no response, prompting Pepere to intervene by banging his fist on the closed door. I never thought to ask why my grandparents, who were in their sixties, had a son still in school and just about the age of my older half sister, just as I never questioned why we children all called him Michael instead of Uncle Michael. I just wasn’t old enough to grasp the weirdness of the whole situation or to catch the looks that I’m sure must have passed among the adults on occasion. Also, Michael and I never spent much time together since we weren’t close in age. I vaguely remember his graduation from high school – I must have been about four – only because the ceremony was held outside with no shade on a sultry afternoon, and I was bored and overheated, so Memere kept me occupied with a mixing bowl of raw peas that we shelled (and ate) as we sat on a quilt she’d spread on the grass for us amidst the crowds of people. Can that even be true? Memere was not very sophisticated but it still seems unlikely that someone would bring a bowl of raw peas to be shelled during her son’s graduation ceremony, yet the image is fixed in my mind. I don’t remember Michael that day at all; of course, he would have been sitting with his classmates. I think that when I was very young, Michael made me a little uncomfortable because he seemed so uncomfortable – not necessarily with me or anyone else in particular, but with himself. Overweight with greased-back dark hair, he giggled, often and inappropriately, and 45
Donna M. Girouard persistently and rapidly blinked his eyes, both nervous tics according to my mother though, in retrospect, I suspect a mild undiagnosed Tourette Syndrome or OCD. If simple stress was the cause, perhaps he could sense that something about his homelife didn’t quite add up. Anyway, I don’t know about him, but I certainly didn’t see the you-know-what coming until it hit the fan the day that Memere and Pepere decided Michael was old enough to hear the truth about his birth. Our phone rang. “It’s Joe,” my mother said in a tone that got my attention. She handed the receiver to my father and ushered me out of the room. However, her own interest piqued, she failed to notice when I stationed myself just around the corner, close enough to hear that whatever had happened involved Michael and had everyone upset. “He ran out,” my father said when he hung up the phone. “after they told him. They don’t know where he is.” Michael never seemed to fit in anywhere, and, judging by the various conversations on which my nosy, young self eavesdropped, Memere and Pepere had always worried about him. He wasn’t popular and didn’t do very well in high school, so after graduation he remained at home but enrolled at the local community college where, it was hoped, he would finally apply himself. My recollection of timeframe is sketchy, but I believe that to be about the time in his life that Michael was told that the woman he’d always thought to be his older sister was actually his mother. Not long after the phone call, Michael showed up at our front door, having hitch-hiked the forty or so miles to our house from Worcester. “Is it true?” I heard his teary voice as my father ushered him off the porch toward our car. After what seemed like hours, my father returned alone. “Where is he?” My mother had been pacing. 46
Donna M. Girouard “I took him back. After we talked. Then we all talked. He says he doesn’t want to live there anymore.” “Where’s he going to live?” My mother’s voice rose an octave. “He’s not living here!” “He’s hurt and confused. They’ll work it out.” “Let him go to Eleanor’s.” “There’s no room there with all those kids. Besides, he says he has nothing to say to her, but I’m sure that will change. He also said he’s going to look for his real father.” As soon as I got my mother alone, I hit her with my questions. Old enough then (around nine) to be able to fit the pieces together, I wanted confirmation and details. Michael did hash things out with Eleanor and got the name of the man she’d been dating while in nursing school. When confronted by a teenaged son he’d never met, this man informed Michael that he wanted nothing to do with him, just as he’d wanted nothing to do with Eleanor when she became pregnant some nineteen years earlier. As I heard the story from my mother that day, with marriage to the father not an option (and abortion being not only illegal but out of the question for this young Catholic girl), the preferred alternative to anonymous adoption was to keep the baby in the family, raised by Memere and Pepere as their own. And no more would be said on the matter, I was firmly told. Got it. Although I was dying to know whether or not anyone from my generation knew the story – other than Michael now, of course – I never asked any of my cousins or even my siblings until many years later. Meanwhile Michael would continue to call and refer to Menere and Pepere as “Ma” and “Pa” and Eleanor as “Eleanor,” just as he always had. Severely diabetic, with high blood pressure, heart and gall bladder issues, Memere was in and out of the hospital during the last year of her 47
Donna M. Girouard life. Every time my mother took me to see her during her final weeks, she was asleep. The day she died, when our phone rang, I could hear Pepere’s hysterical voice through the receiver my father held in his hand: “She’s gone, Ralph. She’s gone.” It was the day before Christmas of 1968, and I was nine years old. Memere’s death was the first to make an impression on me, not because of complex philosophical issues – I was still too young to ponder any afterlife scenarios beyond what I’d been taught in Sunday School – but from feeling my first sense of the loss of a loved one. Someone had been taken from me, from us all, and as I looked around during the funeral service, I was abruptly faced with the concept of mortality and the realization that I would someday lose every one of these people I loved. Furthermore, seeing my father cry, something I’d never before seen, terrified me, and as he leaned down to kiss his mother goodbye, I knew that someday, I too would be saying a final goodbye to my own mother, and the utter horror of that knowledge caught in my throat. I became estranged from my half siblings after our father died when I was sixteen and we didn’t reconnect for several years. When we finally did find each other, we forged new relationships as adults, but after the initial what-have-you-been-up-to conversations, we inevitably wandered back in time to reminisce and compare perspectives. My sister Karen, being ten years older than I, was a font of information that could fill in many of the blanks in my recollections as well as provide all kinds of exciting new information about our father’s family. Because Karen had lived with her mother back then and we saw each other only on holidays, I didn’t know that she had sometimes spent a few days with Memere and Pepere just as I had. Also, since only three years separated her from Michael, the two of them had hung out together during her visits. Often, they had gone exploring. 48
Donna M. Girouard “Those old three deckers were creepy,” she told me one afternoon in the car. “Mike and I would poke around in the cellars and in the attics of both buildings. We found all kinds of neat things.” “Like what?” Always hungry for more family history, I found this news fascinating. I also admired her daring. It had never occurred to me to venture inside beyond the apartment where Memere and Pepere lived. All of my exploration had been limited to the outdoor area in and around the large lot. So worried about invading someone’s privacy, I had even felt guilty about going behind the buildings, where the faint scent left by the prowling tom cats always lingered. “Oh, antiques and things. Trunks of old clothes we would dress up in. Memere saved everything.” Karen thought a minute. “There was a room at the far end of the attic in the back building that we made up stories about because it seemed so,” she paused, “out of place.” “In what way?” “Well, where the other attic areas were unfinished, this one room had flowered wall paper, and linoleum had been laid down. It was furnished, too. There was a twin bed, a chest, and a rocking chair. And pink curtains on the little window.” “A guest room?” I offered. “Why way down at the far end of the building then? With a door that could be locked? We could see that the room hadn’t been used in years. Our imaginations went wild.” I mentally painted a picture while she spoke. Who had been hidden away and why? “Before mental illness was out in the open the way it is now, it might have been preferable to some families to lock up their afflicted and care for them the best they could that way, rather than put them in an asylum.” Her eyes remained on the road.
Donna M. Girouard “Do you really think--? I mean, who--?” Dumbfounded, I couldn’t even get the words out. Of course, she’d had forty some-odd years to be this blasé about this, whereas I was hearing about it for the first time. “Well, you know depression runs in the Girouard family.” She glanced at me then back at the road. “Even in our generation. I’ve been on Zoloft ever since menopause hit ten years ago, and, well, look at Bruce. He’s always been a little . . . different.” I’d suffered on and off with mild depression myself, which I’d always attributed to hormone changes, the worst times having been puberty, the onset of hypothyroidism, and peri-menapause. Okay, I had to admit to SAD as well. But I never suspected a genetic factor. “And didn’t Michelle attempt suicide when she was in college?” she said, referring to one of our cousins. “Okay, okay, point taken. But didn’t either of you ever ask about the room?” “Nope. It was more fun not to know.” I shook my head at how different she and I were. I would have had to know. “Well, Mem died not long after, and then Pep sold the property not long after that.” “Yeah, but not before you moved into an apartment in the other tenement,” I said, still in disbelief. “You remember that?’ She chuckled. “Pepere gave Frank and me a break on rent after we got married, but by then I’d long forgotten about that room. You know the whole thing burned down after Pep sold it. Anyway, there’s no one to ask now. They’re all dead.” I knew that Michael had married and moved to England; however, he was surprisingly easy to track down once facebook became popular and everyone was searching for and finding everyone else. Still in his early sixties, Michael had not aged well. He’d been on disability for some 50
Donna M. Girouard time because of diabetes and heart issues, and only months after we began emailing each other, he informed me that he had terminal cancer. That particular email, called “The one thing I DIDN’T want for Christmas,” indicated a brave disposition and attempt at humor: “the last thing I want is any of you to feel like this is my way of pissing on your pumpkin pie for the holidays.” He asked for good karma to be sent his way and promised “cheery” responses to future emails. Meanwhile, I’d also been messaging Michael’s daughter. I told her I had questions for him when he felt up to providing answers. I guess that makes me sound callous, but I had to get Michael’s input on the hidden room. Imagine my surprise when he said there were no attics in the Worcester tenements. Could the room have been part of a third floor apartment? Perhaps Karen had somehow mistaken an unfinished apartment for attic space? No, Michael emphatically assured me that he had no memory of any such room, hidden or otherwise. “But if you decide to tell it as fiction,” he joked, “Say it was for Karen’s mother.” “That’s weird,” Karen said when I told her that Michael didn’t remember any such room. “He’s the one who showed me. Oh, well, I don’t know what to tell you.” Had there been a room decorated in pink and hidden away from the rest of the house, or had my sister fantasized the whole thing? When my daughter Chloe was eight or so, my mother gave me a picture of herself “so Chloe won’t forget me” she said. “Why? Where are you going?” “You just never know,: she said, tearing up. “Jay was four when my mother died,” she continued, referring to her son from her first marriage and a woman who had died long before I’d been born, “so he doesn’t remember her at all. And she was so good to him. You live so far away that Chloe doesn’t see me that much. I want her to remember me.” 51
Donna M. Girouard “We spend most of every summer here with you,” I tried to reassure her. “Of course she’ll remember you.” I was thirty six when my mother died, and Chloe was almost eleven, two years older than I had been when my Memere died. My daughter is almost thirty now. I asked her, not long ago, if she remembers my mother. “Of course I remember Gram,” she said. I didn’t ask for specifics. I have tried to keep the memory of my mother alive for my daughter, but I sometimes wonder whether she really remembers or only remembers what she’s been told. Memory is so allusive and fleeting, and often inaccurate. Maybe she really does remember. Maybe I really don’t want to know.
Self Portrait With Paisleys
Lawrence F. Farrar
Lawrence F. Farrar
You’ll Never Know To get to the library’s observation deck, visitors climbed a steep staircase reached through a doorway just off the rare book room. They often complained because there was no elevator and because the stairway was not well lighted. On sunny days, the light dazzled your eyes when you stepped outside at the top of the stairs. The narrow observation platform extended all the way around the tower, and the four foot high railing, topped by iron bars, did little to reassure those afflicted with a fear of heights. It was truly a long way down. Visitors, backs to the tower, tended to edge sideways around the platform as they sought to take in the view of the campus, the surrounding mountains, and the river valley. Despite the stomachchurning sensation the place generated, everyone agreed the view justified the climb, especially in autumn when the maples were at their vermillion best. Student guide Beth Kearney sat behind a small desk next to the tower entrance. The slim, twenty-five-year-old, with long brown hair hanging beyond her shoulders, had come late to college. She was confident her non-designer jeans and her no-brand faded gray sweater marked her as someone who was definitely not cool. Moreover, four years of waitressing at an upstate truck stop had bequeathed her a haggard, dilapidated look--and a determination to do something with her life. She liked to say that she might look beat up, but she wasn’t beaten down. A cursory consideration of the visitors’ register revealed that only a handful of people had signed in that October day. Beth couldn’t fathom why the administration kept the tower open on weekdays; only on weekends did enough visitors come by to justify paying student guides. Nonetheless, although she considered her role as a weekday guide strictly make-work, Beth needed the money, meager as the amount was. 55
Lawrence F. Farrar People she assumed to be the last sightseers of the day, a pair of camera-toting Korean tourists, had gone up the tower fifteen minutes earlier with the other guide, Sharon Phillips. Beth expected them to reappear at any time. Once Sharon returned, the two women would double lock the tower door and take the keys down to the administrative office. Beth slipped the text books she’d been highlighting during her three-hour shift into a backpack. Her complaining stomach reminded her she had skipped lunch. Beth intended to head straight to the dining hall before going back to her off-campus room to hit the books again. “Is the tower still open?” Perhaps in his mid-twenties and not bad looking, the speaker had somber steel blue eyes. He was outfitted in faded jeans, a scruffy, black tee shirt, and tired sneakers. His stubble heavy, the man needed a shave. His face seemed somehow familiar, although Beth could not recall seeing him anywhere on campus. She figured him for a grad student. “Yes, but just for a few minutes. According to my faithful Timex, it’s ten to five.” Her accompanying smile was not reciprocated. “Okay. I’d like to go up.” The young man started for the access door. “You can’t go up by yourself,” she said. “One of us has to go along. That’s the rule.” “But, I really don’t need a . . .” “We won’t have much time,” she said. Beth hoped he would change his mind. The notion of a trip to the dining hall had given way to one of polishing off some leftover pizza in her fridge. She’d just pop it in the microwave and pour a cold beer. “That’s all right.” He ignored her reluctance and hovered impatiently at the door leading to the stairwell. Beth waited until the Korean couple and their guide reappeared. Sharon assured her she would cover the desk until Beth and her charge returned. 56
Lawrence F. Farrar “Okay,” Beth said to the young man. “I’m Beth Kearney, and I’ll be your guide. Please follow me.” They climbed in silence; the only sound that of their muffled footfalls and an occasional creaking stair. When they came out of the tower onto the observation deck, the sun had already sunk low in the sky. Gray bellied clouds arrayed themselves against the fading apricot glow in the West. “Feels good, doesn’t it?” Beth said. After an unseasonably warm day, a freshening breeze created waves across the tops of the brown and orange leafed trees that graced the campus. He nodded. “Yeah, I guess . . .” “Everyone says the view from here makes the climb worth it. You can see the entire campus from the tower,” she said. Right now, we’re looking south across the common toward the science quad and the memorial auditorium.” His eyes followed the sweep of her hand. “Over there on the left are the freshmen dormitories, and beyond that the football stadium and other athletic facilities.” “Yeah. I see them.” Afternoon labs had ended, and far below would-be chemical engineers and baby bio learners flowed across the campus in converging streams headed for the student union or the dining hall. “On the right, you can see the famous--or infamous--fraternity row.” Beth’s assessment of fraternity boys--juvenile jerks who were full of themselves and had too much money. Beth escaped from a different world, a hard scrabble world. And she toted a very large chip on her shoulder, one occasioned by hostility toward those born to privilege; she had to work hard--not always successfully--to mask her feelings. “Have you been here before?” she asked. “Actually, I was a student here.” 57
Lawrence F. Farrar “That new building on the left is the performing arts center. Cost over four million dollars. Gift of one of our wealthy alums. It’s state of the arts.” Her effort at humor evoked no response. “State of the arts,” she said again. His gaze remained fixed on the Lilliputian figures below. To her rising irritation, he had tuned her out like you would tune out static on a radio. “How far down is it?” he said. “Do you mean how high is the tower? To where we are it’s a hundred and ten feet. Another thirty feet to the top.” “It’s a long way, isn’t it?” he said. Beth missed the tone of martyred melancholy. “Yes. Now, if you’ll follow me over here to the right, you can see most of the class buildings. Only one is an original, that one with the copula and the weather vane. Built in 1838.” “How far did you say it was?” She paused. “You mean to the ground?” “Yeah.” “A little over a hundred feet.” Beth’s eyes traveled surreptitiously to her watch. “I’ll bet you’ve got something to live for,” he said. “I’m sorry, what did you . . .” The sound of flags flapping and rustling above them masked his words. She looked at him with an expression of puzzled geniality. “I said I’ll bet you’ve got something to live for.” “You’ve got that right. Don’t we all?” A ripple of unease transformed itself into a feeling of dread and lodged in her chest. What was he up to? “The tower is supposed to close now,” Beth said as matter-offactly as she could. “I think we’d better start down. I’m sorry, we didn’t have enough time.” 58
Lawrence F. Farrar The carillon behind the large clock below them chimed the college anthem as it did every day at five o’clock. He didn’t move. He gripped the rail with both hands, staring straight ahead with the intensity of a religious devotee in deep meditation. “Excuse me, we really have to go down now,” Beth said. “College regulations.” He reached back to his hip pocket and pulled out a billfold. “Here, take this.” Nothing in her one hour orientation had prepared her for such a circumstance. Her inclination was to leave him, but he blocked her way to the door. “Why? Why do you want me to take it?” “I won’t need it.” “What do you . . .” “Do you mean you haven’t figured it out? I came up here to jump. I didn’t know somebody would come up with me.” He looked at her like an exasperated teacher looks at a student who just doesn’t grasp the obvious. “If this is a joke, it’s not funny.” Beth extended her hand palm down and turned away from the man’s proffered billfold. “No joke.” He returned the billfold to his pocket. “Why? Why would you want to . . .?” “You wouldn’t understand.” He put his foot up on the lower rail and swung easily up. Swaying slightly, he perched on the rail facing her, like a child on a piece of playground equipment. Her stomach dropped. “Don’t. Please don’t. You’re frightening me.” “Really?” “Get down. The tower is closing.” “Don’t you want to know my name?” “I want you to get down. Please.” 59
Lawrence F. Farrar “I’m Chas Bennington. They threw me out.” He shifted his weight, teetered precariously, and nearly fell backward. A flash of ashen terror conquered his face. Beth’s hand shot to her mouth. “Oh, God, I thought you were falling.” He steadied himself and said, “Nope. I’ll go when I’m ready.” Beth’s voice caught. “Please, please . . .” She looked away. “Hey, don’t cry. It’s not your fault.” “I’m not crying. Nothing can be that bad. Do you want to talk?” It seemed such a cliché, but she could think of nothing else to say. Beth had played the sympathetic listener for more than one down in the dumps late night customer at the truck stop. But, none of them had been threatening suicide. “What did you say your name was?” “Chas. Chas Bennington.” “Are you . . . are you related to . . .?” “Yeah. You got it. The Bennington Arts Center. My old man paid for it. A lot of good that did me.” He leaned forward from his perch, a hand gripping the rail on each side. That was why his face was familiar. She’d seen it in the newspaper three or four years earlier. The son of Charles Bennington, the college’s largest ever benefactor, Chas, after a drunken fraternity party, had run a red light and mowed down two cleaning ladies with his Porsche. One died instantly. Perhaps the other one could have been saved. But, Bennington had panicked and driven off. The second woman died later in surgery. At the time, the story hadn’t surprised her. What else could you expect from these frat boys? “My father really loves this place. All I ever heard growing up was how I’d come here. My grandfather and brother graduated from here, too.” “But, why . . .? Please come down so we can talk.” Beth clutched at the belief Sharon would come looking for them since it was after closing time. 60
Lawrence F. Farrar “Got suspended twice. Couldn’t handle the booze, you know. My father got me back in each time. But, when that jury convicted me of manslaughter, even he couldn’t get me off. Spent three years in jail; now I’m on probation.” “But, surely that’s no reason to . . .” Why didn’t Sharon come up? “First he was sorry for me. Then, when I started drinking again, he turned against me. My own father. Turned against me.” He adjusted his position. He could easily have fallen backward. “Cut me off. Told me to get out of the house.” “Let’s go down. We can have coffee or something.” “Sorry.” He shook his head. “It won’t work. I’ve had it.” “You scare me sitting on that rail.” “Really?” Suddenly he pushed off with both hands and dropped back onto the platform. She felt a surge of relief. “Thank you.” “Maybe you’re right. Why should I give them the satisfaction?” She had no notion of who, other than his father, they might be. It didn’t matter. She recalled that late-staying visitors often remained as much as fifteen minutes after closing time. She couldn’t count on Sharon for at least ten more minutes. “You’d have thought she’d have stuck with me. I mean it was an accident.” “I heard something . . .” “Dumped me. Never even showed up in the court.” Self-pity wrapped him like a halo. “Let’s talk inside.” “No. Fine right here.” Beth was torn. Perhaps he wanted her help. But, the urge to escape into the building pulled strongly. She felt like a passenger on a bus driven by a mad man. 61
Lawrence F. Farrar “Okay. But promise you won’t get up on the rail again.” “You look kind of old to be a student.” He brushed off her request like he would brush away a pesky insect. “What’s your name?” “It’s Beth. Actually Elizabeth. I’m a late bloomer.” He smiled. “Hey, you’re not bad looking. I didn’t mean to insult you.” She wanted to say, I didn’t have a rich father. I’m here on my own. “They say I drink too much. Maybe so, maybe no,” he said. “You drink?” “Sometimes. Whiskey and coke.” “Gross. Sounds awful.” “You been drinking now?” “Nope. Sober as the damn judge at my trial.” She doubted it. His red-rimmed eyes and sometimes slurred speech broadcast a different truth. “I’m nervous. Please don’t do something rash. Nothing can be that bad.” She knew she was repeating herself. “You think so? You’re not me.” She reached out to touch his hand, but he jerked it back. “Won’t work. Best thing you can do is just take off and leave me alone?” Beth desperately wanted to accept his advice--to leave him alone to do whatever stupid thing he had in mind. Yet, she squelched the urge to say, Go ahead, jump. Who cares? It wouldn’t be right. Moreover, there still might be a chance to talk him out of jumping--if that was what he really intended to do. She’d heard on television that, for a lot of people, threatening suicide was simply a gesture. Had he been serious, he would likely already have gone over the edge. Pop psychiatry? Maybe. But, nothing else came to her. “Maybe we can talk some more,” she said. “Kind of neat, don’t you think?” 62
Lawrence F. Farrar Her face showed perplexity. “I don’t know what you . . .” “I mean, coming down right in front of the old man’s building. Only wish he and the God damned dean could be here to see it.” “Don’t say that. Let’s go down. You’re making me nervous.” Her emotions fluttered erratically, like an old Evinrude outboard. “Oh, I’ll go down all right. That dean always had it in for me--just because I barfed on his front step one morning.” Now it was Beth’s turn to smile. “You did?” “Just thought I’d say hello. Guess I’d had a few too many. The guy had no sense of humor.” Ten after five. A silence passed between them as he pivoted and again stared out over the campus. At least, she thought, he’d had the good sense to come down onto the platform. But Beth’s consolation was short-lived. Without a word, he clambered back up on the rail and again sat facing her. He swayed unsteadily, his face smothered in fear. Sweat had formed on his brow. She felt certain he was about to fall. “Why? Why are you doing this?” “I told you. Came up to jump.” Her mind was worn down, and the words go ahead again formed there. But, she suppressed them. Although Beth had clung to the notion that somehow Sharon represented her salvation, she began to worry that her colleague’s arrival might trigger him actually to go over the edge. Beth had averted her eyes, but now she looked down. Clusters of students had gathered on the broad concrete walkway that led to the library steps. Someone had spotted Bennington on his perch. Several people appeared to be pointing, calling the attention of other passersby to the spectacle on the tower. What are you looking at?” he said. 63
Lawrence F. Farrar “People are watching.” “So, I’ve got an audience. Great.” “It’s not great. Do you think they care about you?” He shrugged, but very carefully. Any movement caused him to teeter on his perch. “Some of them probably even want you to jump.” “Yeah. Maybe they’re taking bets on where I’ll land.” “Don’t talk like that.” “Feet first or swan dive? Maybe like one of those high divers at the Boardwalk.” “Chas, please. Maybe I’ll lose my job.” “Nice try, but . . .” He half twisted in an effort to look over his shoulder, but to do so completely might have caused him to lose his balance and fall. He looked at Beth. “What are they doing now?” “Just standing around. Staring up. I hear a siren. Maybe somebody called an ambulance.” “Uh huh. I hear it. Probably the cops.” “Chas, what can I say to get you to come down with me?” Beth’s heart thumped like the giant drum the students rolled out at football games. “Nothing. Hey, I’m sorry. You seem like a good person. This doesn’t have anything to do with you.” He just sat there, smiling serenely. Beth became detached, as if outside herself, watching the two of them. “I expect the cops’ll be up here soon,” he said. “You tried.” “I’m still trying. You can say you were just showing off.” He’d hesitated for nearly fifteen minutes. Beth was increasingly convinced it was all show. Thank God. He didn’t really want to die. Clearly uncomfortable balancing on the rail, he said, “What if I slip? You’ll never know if I meant to do it or not.” 64
Lawrence F. Farrar “Come on, Chas. Before some cop tries to be a hero.” Beth closed her eyes. When she opened them, her heart abandoned her. He was gone. He was right. She’d never know--not for certain. The next morning, early arrivers at the library discovered that during the night someone had painted a giant bull’s eye on the sidewalk in front of the library entrance.
Untitled * Just by reaching in –this sore is heated though your arm covers it the way moonlight can’t hold on any longer lets some hillside pour over it and mornings too grow huge count the nights from so far off and each other –you collect enter each room deeper and deeper careful not to shake the walls –on tiptoe so nothing falls takes root bent over a table warmed by these small rocks to follow you, shut half by the stench half on their own, one by one. * The flowers leaving this page open up in water are already heading back the way your shadow empties still remembers one by one icy streams crossing overhead with something more to give –you write another letter make the words embrace followed by day, by evenings and everything put on paper is safe, is mountainside returning rock by scented rock drained and in this small bundle passed among the others. 66
* These stones still anxious, sip stuttering as if they had no surfaces or shoreline –syllable by syllable you gather them up, not sure they can bring the dead closer though this sill is already wet reaching out the way its paint covers the Earth with a darkness brought together piece then pieces breathless, buckling and uncounted –you bathe these stones in a broth broken open, flowing to a stop. * You think it’s cramps though certainly this dirt resembles her voice and no one here but you pours from a bowl, sure it’s laced, opens out sickens your step by step –for a while they’re quiet washed in front her grave though your mouth is tighter swollen, surrounded by inches no longer dry or empty. * You cover one eye, upset though sunlight means nothing now and against your cheek some mother strokes her child –you praise half and what’s left spends the night the way all wounds begin
Simon Perchik as a single touch then end broken apart under the same wind birds use for a home and every morning more sleep is needed, more darkness, returned as if it had its beginnings here is touching down, adored by one hand held out, the other no longer moving or found.
Through the Glass
Frances Howard Snyder
A Fine One to Talk A fine one to talk, I murmur to myself as I push through the glass door of The Over Easy. The place smells like coffee that comes from a big red barrel; not like those latte-da expresso places with soy milk, pumpkin spice flavor, sugar-free drinks! Also disinfectant. Betty keeps the plastic surfaces germ-free. And there’s music playing. Sounds like Emmy-Lou. Now she can sing. Easy on the eyes too. I take my seat in a booth by the window and scan the familiar menu. Here's Betty with her coffee pot. I turn over the heavy china cup – none of this paper cup with plastic lid and little cardboard girdle business you get in these expresso shops. “How ya doing, Ezra?” she asks me. I told her to call me Ezra a while ago. She wouldn’t presume otherwise. I shake my head. “Difficult morning,” I tell her, with my saddest smile. “How come?” She’s sympathizing. I like that. Even a man needs sympathy sometimes. “My wife,” I say, shaking my head again. Betty hesitates. I guess she's not keen to get involved in these family squabbles. I should let her get back to work. But the restaurant is almost empty, and it's her job to keep the few loyal customers (AKA me) happy. "She says I criticize her too much." I say, still talking about my wife. I don't really believe in airing my dirty laundry in public. But Betty's just a waitress. 70
Frances Howard Snyder "You like a slice of pie with that?" she asks. "You know I'm watching my weight," I tell her. I lean back and pat my trim belly. I'd like her to notice â€“ not because I have designs on her. I mean, we're both married. I just like the thought of her noticing. "We have blueberry," she adds with a teasing smile. "Perhaps just half a slice." I say, and then before she can move away, I add, "As I was saying." She stops. "My wife's a fine one to talk." I pause for effect. "Oh, yeah?" Betty says. Is that patience in her voice? Patience is one of the many things I like about her. "She says I have no business criticizing her," I say, still talking about the wife. "But she's always criticizing me." Betty nods with tired encouragement. I watch her turn and head towards the counter. Betty's slimâ€”not like most women her age o have these unsightly puddles of fat in all the wrong places. And she's just the right height, a couple of inches shorter than me, even without my shoes. She wouldn't tower over a man. And her hair is long, straight and a nice brown that looks natural. She has a wedding ring. I expect her husband doesn't need to criticize her. And she's quiet. She wouldn't criticize him. Lucky guy. Best thing I like about Betty is the way she listens. When work is slow, she'll stand there resting her weight on one leg and let me talk. I think that's because she respects me. Sometimes she asks questions or makes comments to draw out more of my wisdom. I should have married a woman like Betty. She returns with the pie. I take a bite and tell her it's perfect. 71
Frances Howard Snyder I want to finish my story, and tell it right, so she'll see it the way I see it. "As I was saying," I say, before she can move away again. "Tell me what you think of this." She shifts her posture into her listening pose. It won't take long, I think. It's very simple. I can explain it in just a few minutes. "My wife," I say. "She wants to be a professional singer." I laugh a little to show that this is ridiculous. "I told her to stop wasting her time. She doesn't sing well enough. And she has a lot of talent as a seamstress. She should put her energy into that." I pause, recalling how Vera's face had crumpled when I said this. "She complained that she doesn't like sewing. She says she wants to sing. Then I had this inspiration. I said, 'All right, then, show me. Sing for me.' That surprised her. She didn't expect me to listen. She didn't want to do it. But I insisted. I pointed out that she'd have to sing in front of people if she was a professional singer. So, she started." I look up at Betty to see if she's following. Her eyebrows are pinched together, waiting to hear how the mini audition turned out. I take a nibble of the pie. It's sweet and tart at the same time. Delicious. I wipe my mouth and suck the syrup off my teeth before continuing with the best part of the story. "I could tell there were mistakes in her singing. She forgot a word here and there and sometimes she hit a wrong note. I didn't say anything, just gave her this look." Here I mime the look for Betty, the look that says, I don't have to spell it out for you. You can see for yourself. It's obvious nobody would pay to hear you sing. Pay to make you stop, more like. Betty laughs tiredly. â€œHow did she react to the look?â€? 72
Frances Howard Snyder “She said I'd made her nervous and kept her from doing her best. But she has to expect a tougher audience than me. I mean: I'm her husband. I love her. There's not going to be a lot of love in that audience – not till she earns it. If she's disposed to be nervous, she has no business going on the stage." Betty has her lip caught between her pretty teeth. She moves her left foot – not quite a foot tap, but I get the sense that she wants to get back to work. Better finish the story fast before I lose my audience. "She got upset when I said that," I continue. "She said I shouldn't criticize. She's a fine one to talk. She's constantly criticizing me." "Oh, yeah?" Betty says with a pert smile. "What could she possibly find to criticize about you, Ezra?" Does Betty admire me? Is she flirting? Is she just teasing? I'd like to keep her talking to find out. "She criticizes me when I yell at the girl," I say, referring to our daughter, Alice. "She says Alice will grow up hating me. I say I'll take my chances. Alice needs discipline. Spare the rod, I say. She says she doesn't want Alice damaged by the emotional abuse. Emotional abuse! That's what they call it nowadays." You can't raise your voice these days, let alone a rod! I finish the last bite of pie and pick a crumb out of my immaculate black beard. Betty's shaking her head. She's a working class woman. She wouldn't have time for all these pretentious verbal shenanigans. "How would she know how discipline feels?" I ask. "Her parents never disciplined her." She said that my words made her cry and she doesn't want Alice to feel that way. But women cry easily. They cry when a dog dies in a movie. They turn on the tears to manipulate their men. I 73
Frances Howard Snyder don't like it when she criticizes me. But I don't cry. Does that make me any less damaged than her, any less abused? My story’s taken too long. I’m losing Betty. Another customer just came in. I can see she wants to go serve him. But I have to justify myself in her eyes. “She says she wants to protect Alice. But she doesn’t understand. I’m protecting her too, protecting her for life. If she goes on getting fatter and fatter, no-one’s going to want her. She’ll end up a fat and ugly spinster. Or maybe some ugly dyke will want her, but that’s worse…” I laugh a little to show that this talk is partly ironic, but Betty’s lip is curled. Like she disapproves. "What did I say?" I ask. "You shouldn't say those things," she says and moves towards the table near the door. "How ya doing, Bruce?” I hear her ask the new customer. "Like a slice of pie with that?" The same words she used with me. Like she's communicating that I'm not special. After I think about it a bit, I realize that she was criticizing me – probably in her head the whole time I was talking. Where does she get off telling me not to criticize Alice, when all the while, she's criticizing me? You shouldn't say those things, I repeat in her cutesy voice. She's a fine one to talk.
Eileen Hennessy Eileen Hennessy
The World, Spoken By You know my name, know it goes backward and upward, under the river and the thunder-falls, down the pike into the center of your town. Be it known that the trouble you’ve reported of late— —supreme rain, swells in the ocean— is another warning. I will roll through the deep, in with the waves, out over your land. Your great bald eagle will not keep me from swimming in your fields.
Did I Say Something? 76
Grandmother Goes to Hollywood At 18 you left chickens scratching in the dust of Alpharetta; walked to the train station, your high-laced boots froze to your feet. You had to cut them off. In L.A. you kept your motherâ€™s picture folded in your suitcase, wanted her to be with you when you were discoveredâ€” her hair so long she sat on it, her skin as pale as moon sheen
Doris Ferleger Washing You Your bent elbow juts out. It is stiff and light and feels easily crushable against my hip as I walk around you. My body jerks away. I circle you at a distance of eighteen inches plus eighteen inches, the distance of each of our auras. Though maybe the dead have no aura. I walk around you slowly seven times like our wedding blessing circling, our thirty-year recommitment circling. Though now there are no witnesses. I pull up a chair beside you. You lie on this cement slab. I drape the lower part of your body with our teal king-size sheet. Your two long pelvic bones jut out from the teal sheet that once covered our feathery lovemaking, our illnesses, our kindnesses, our meannesses, our secrets, our revelations, our forgivenesses. I move to the floor. I sleep, I wake, as I did in the ER once, twice, three times, four. I don’t touch you for twenty-two hours. I tell myself it’s so your spirit feels free to leave without being tempted to stay, and it is required by Jewish law to watch over the dead for twenty-four hours, though you said it would be unnecessary, as your spirit would fly off quick because you didn’t want to be cold. Because you laughed. But really, I stay beside you without touching you to rest myself in silence, as in your last days, as in our years together, how we each sought peace and quiet inside ourselves. Was that what brought us together? And kept us together? A need for the quiet places in the woods, in the house, the quiet we created together, meditating, writing, the quiet trees, the quiet lovemaking, the quiet son we raised, the quiet stars, the quiet that I now face alone, no, not face, but rather enter. The quiet place of dressing you. But first I must wash you according to Jewish law. But I do not know the particulars of how to 78
Doris Ferleger wash, and refuse to look them up. As we had our own laws, you had your own laws of body. Your own body now mine to wash. Your chest is where I begin. It is the safest place, the quietest place. The place I loved most. The sparseness of hair, the light feathers of hair, the grayed hair, the white hair, the rib cage where birds fly in and out now, and your armpits, where you loved to smell your own scent, as if it were made of white Anguillan lilies. I turn it upside down, the bottle of amber-colored liquid soap whose smell you hated. And squeeze its thick ambrosia into my hand. It is an act of rebellion. I am already angry that you are bones and ribs and cold and not alive to say, I can’t believe you’re being so disrespectful. I watch the amber pearls swimming or settling inside the bottle of liquid soap called God’s Nectar. I used to remove the cap, put my nose to the opening, smell privately in the bathroom, and open the windows so you wouldn’t know. But now, I am being small and spiteful. So I stop. I have to use a soap you would approve of. I must act mindfully. With compassion. But I don’t easily and quickly close the cap to God’s Nectar. I sit with the forbidden scent and with the oncoming scent of death and without the scent of our sex, and with my own abandoned body sitting scentless. Finally I place the cap back on the soap bottle, walk to the window, open it to air out the room from the heady floral aroma that reminds me of our differences, our ways around those differences. How you hated our floral curtains but let them hang for the first ten years until you proclaimed, No more flowers. I am getting afraid of the smell of death the three funeral parlor men told me about. They told me you would start to smell a different way than the living and I wouldn’t want to smell that smell. So I think I had better start to wash you fast. But, no. Slow was always our way. Slow, 79
Doris Ferleger slow, moving my fingers against your chest hairs reminds me of your slow lick around and across my nipples, your slow-moving palm over my belly, your fingers, tongue, down toward my pubic hairs, down, slow, down slow. But I must stay focused on your corpse as it is, as it is, as it is. I will not dress you in the blue and black and purple striped shirt, nor the orange and yellow and white striped summer one, or any of the black sweaters or the black cashmere sports jacket. I take the oatmeal-colored bar of soap from your shower shelf, make my hands lather up soap that has no smell, or maybe just a hint of almonds, as you loved to eat almonds, unsalted, unroasted, and almond butter on rice cakes. Every rib I move my hand across makes me think of our son, who waits his turn to wash you. He’s agreed to wait outside the door. But for now it is just you and me and this slab in the middle of this room. I am staying only here with your chest. Did my mother ever tell you how she dressed my father in his winter coat? She didn’t want him to be cold underground. Even though she didn’t believe in an afterlife. I am doing this slow washing with my hands, then with a washcloth. The way I used to bring a warm wet washcloth into our bed and wipe between your legs after our lovemaking. Your ribs feel like a horizontal staircase of speed bumps on a road that leads to your face, where I do not look. Under the ribs, your heart. Your heart. A dead person needs no heart, I say to myself. The living don’t get to decide what to remember. How you used to put my head, my ear to your groin, where your heart beat too fast in those last years, too loud and too fast, a racehorse speed. You used to ride your bike up the Continental Divide, down and up the hills of Valley Green, over the cobblestones in Brussels on Rue Rodenbach, where we lived in those med school years, where you taught me to ride, ran alongside me, 80
Doris Ferleger holding fast to the wide padded seat of the shiny green bike until you let go and I thought you were still holding tight. And I loved you for holding tight, but more for letting go when you felt I was ready. I think about the fact that I am separate from you. I imagine you already with our fathers and with the rabbis who can teach you what you need to learn that the rabbis here couldn’t. Your shell that you left here to be washed and buried, I wash. And if I stay with just your chest, I am grateful to get to do this for you. They say that throwing dirt on a Jew’s grave is the greatest mitzvah, as he can’t return the favor, the good deed. And this washing, I am grateful to do for you, though I feel something close to anger that you will not do this for me. You were always better with untimely bodies than I. With your patients’ bodies, their throat cancers, their breast cancers, their scars, their bad lungs. And you loved bodies easier than I did, our son’s belly button healing, his circumcision healing, his first steps walking on sturdy, wobbling legs. His falling, his rising up. You were always more confident than I about the rising up. I am trying to emulate that confidence. And you so loved being in your own body, winding your long lean legs around your own neck, dancing across the wood floors of the studio, regal, handsome, graceful, your chest spread open like a wildflower field. And you so struggled being in your own body, as all kinds of unspoken troubles claimed it until the tumor in your brain left no prisoners, spread like kudzu into the essential brain matter, as doctors call it, crazed tendrils of tumor cells that could not be cut out. I stop washing. I put the washcloth down. How will I know when I am done? Who will wash me? Who will wash me? How slow, how slow? 81
Gabrielle Roach Gabrielle Roach
The Ice Fisher
Lisa Snider Lisa Snider
Early Shade Looking across the sun-scorched desert, Edna Holly tried in vain to check her resentment as the shadows crept down Indian Head Mountain toward De Anza Country Club. Well-to-do retirees were surely basking in the West End’s early shade, watching the blaze-orange orb slip behind the craggy ridge while tossing back ice-cold gimlets. Feeling envy rise in her throat as it had all summer long, she mopped the sweat off her brow, tightened her blond ponytail, and squinted again at the thermometer, certain it had advanced since her last glance only moments ago. Triple digits were nothing new, but 118 degrees in late September made this one for the record books. She’d survived the desert summer, so hot most days the sky faded to a bleak pale blue and blurred the desert varnish to a muted sepia. She filled the hummingbird feeder with sugar water and dragged the hose to the last oleander, wondering what it would cost to outfit her tiny garden with automatic sprinklers. It would be another half hour before the West Enders’ shade brought relief to her low-rent Eastside. But for the moment, the lukewarm hose water felt good splashing her scarred feet. Her dime store flip-flops felt good, better than the boxes of last season’s stiff designer pumps she’d left behind. She heard Harlan Jenkins coming from a mile away, and the dust trail fanning off the back of his park-issued SUV would leave her covered in a clingy residue of filth if she didn’t head back inside, where her swamp cooler squeaked and toiled to keep the little casita she rented at eighty-five. She wanted to wave to him as he headed home from his shift to let him know she was fine, but what if he stopped and started asking questions again about that day, the lacking skid marks, where she has headed? She placed her hand on her stomach, patting at the void inside 84
Lisa Snider to staunch the familiar pangs. She thought about his kind eyes, and the rough hands that’d reached in to pluck her petite frame from her overturned Beamer just months ago in early spring. Montezuma Grade saw a car or two spill over the side each year—some by accident—into the steep canyon below, but as luck would have it, a massive boulder kept her from sailing all the way out into the abyss. She remembered that day, wedged against her steering wheel with her feet smashed under the brake pedal, struck by the desert silence. Stark in its beauty and sound, she became one with a patch of its desolate tract from her upside-down perch for several hours, long enough to contemplate her thirty-two wasted years. Through the din of the persistent throbbing in her head, she was sure she heard a motor in the distance. Craning her sore neck, all she saw through the broken driver’s side window was a hummingbird flitting backward and forward from bloom to bloom on a chuparosa bush, its wings making a horrific commotion. How fitting, she’d thought, a hummingbird sucking the nectar from a hummingbird bush. Edna extended her hand out the window, her shoulder objecting. Straining, she reached for that bird, and damned if it didn’t stop for a moment to rest, its tiny scratchy feet cradling Edna’s scraped finger. In that pause, the iridescent bird looked slender and elegant, but it quivered so slightly, surely knowing it was where it didn’t belong but needed to be. How soon would death come, Edna wondered then, closing her eyes and savoring the memory of the bird-angel, when the ranger interrupted her glorious dream and pulled her from the wreckage, telling her over and over how lucky she was. Lucky she’d snagged the boulder. Lucky her chrome bumper caught the sun just so when he’d been searching 85
Lisa Snider through binoculars from the valley floor for bighorn sheep. Lucky it wasn’t summer—she could have been cooked to death. Lucky she hadn’t broken her neck. Lucky. That word stopped her cold. What did this man know about luck? Was Edna lucky when she found her husband in bed with her own sister? Was she lucky when she lost the baby fourteen weeks into an unwanted pregnancy? Unwanted for him, anyway. Just how lucky was she when she bled so much she needed a transfusion to keep her alive? And, as luck would have it, when she left the hospital with her bloodied khakis in a paper bag, she had just enough gas to take her far, far away from her house in the gated suburbs—the one with a useless French lilac nursery and no husband—to the very top of Montezuma Grade. She’d only been to the Borrego Springs desert once before. Sixth grade camp. She and a couple dozen city-slicker kids armed with sleeping bags and backpacks filed onto a school bus and headed down the steep, winding grade. Just a few switchbacks into the descent, she threw up into her backpack. The bus pulled over at a precarious overlook, where she hurled more of her breakfast into the valley below while her classmates taunted her. The memory of the stunning view of the badlands, overshadowed by barf and and the painful sting from the barb of a cholla bush that jammed into her finger as she failed to steady herself, did little then to impress her. Harlan—Ranger Jenkins, as she knew him then—sat with her in the helicopter that day as it whisked her from Montezuma back to the same hospital she’d left just hours before. If only I’d taken my seatbelt off, she’d thought. She closed her eyes while the chopper blades whooshed overhead, considering her fleeting, precious moment with the hummingbird, feeling her sorrow dissipate and yawn its way out of her. And, finally, the tears came like a flood. The dam broke hard. “Cry it out, 86
Lisa Snider girl,” he’d said, his hands advancing toward her to give her comfort—a nudge, maybe even a hug—but Edna turned away. She’d cried to herself. For herself. The self she no longer knew. Harlan’s truck purred closer. Edna ducked behind the oleander, careful not to get stuck by the nearby fishhook cactus. He’d once told her duct tape was the best way to pull the hooks out. Every cactus variety was armed with barbs that imparted a different kind of pain. The cholla’s is the most surprising of all. It’s called a teddy bear cholla because it looks soft and cuddly, making the horrific pain caused by the toxic barbs so shocking. Pain memories never fade. So it was in the hospital again where Edna had made her second life-and-death decision of the day. She’d return to the desert to feel its punishment, only to discover in the ensuing months it was her redeemer. She would speak her confessions to hummingbirds and they would hear her heart bleed. She would continue to evade Harlan’s questions while yearning desperately to tell him everything. “You need to be taken to dinner at a really bad Mexican joint, where they have real agave tequila,” he’d said last week when he stopped by to drop off some trail maps and a canteen. Edna had taken to wandering about the desert on her own, following jackrabbits and roadrunners up sandy washes until the screaming in her head subsided to a dull drone. One day, Harlan noticed her car parked at Tamarisk Grove—a well-used Taurus to replace the Beamer her ex-husband had never insured. Two miles off the road, Harlan finally found her sitting next to an agave in full bloom. She’d read about the so-called century plant, which goes for years before flowering, only to die soon after. “It doesn’t seem fair,” she’d said, pointing to the flowering mast, taller than she was. “All of these years, surviving in the desert, and all it gets is one bloom before it dies.” 87
Lisa Snider He sat with her, telling her what she needed to hear: Though the original agave would die, the offsets from the stem’s base would propagate to produce more plants. “And great tequila,” he’d said with a wink, his eye’s crow’s feet extending all the way to his silver-spiked temple. His brown skin, hardhooked nose, and a long braid of dark brown hair resting between his shoulder blades told her he could be Native American. She’d wished he’d try to reach for her again, like that day in the helicopter. Dust from his truck swirled overhead as the thermometer crept to 119. A hummingbird lighted on the nearby feeder. Who was Harlan, really? Shadows inched toward Edna as she made her way out from behind the oleander and down the sandy driveway, putting herself in the road right in front of Harlan’s truck, now creeping at a snail’s pace. He stopped and opened the passenger side door.
Mark Belair Mark Belair
Work Horses In a winter meadow three work horses, spines bowed, graze on what a farmer must have strewn across a stretch of the crusted snow that blankets his farmland, his fields rimmed by dark trees, the sky large, the horses, released from the warm barn, distant, so small, and feeding not, it seems, on the unseen hay and oats butâ€”having worked the hard seasons trueâ€”on this soft winter paradise.
Billy Simms Billy Simms
I Wear This Crown of Horns
Koan A growl’s grown in me like a tumor with teeth. A question seems sane, then comes flapping out of my mouth: Does rain fall on the ocean? Why do I laugh by coughing? (Something’s so elegant about consumption— illness meant for handkerchiefs and candles’ softly swaying flames.) A moan’s grown in me like pea pods in a lung. My fear of deep water keeps me dry. (A man in the sea is the slowest thing there with chewing kinds of teeth.) I swallow wrong. I start laughing. It’s a question—no, a koan: When rain falls on the ocean, is it rain? A koan, at home in me like amoebae, hungry.
Mongolian Exam Hell or The New Joys of Jello When I place the Jello mold in the small void under the boulder that rests along the stream’s edge, I know I will fail once again. It is cool there—cool enough to set the finished work, but it will just not be right. Vatic utterance. A vatic utterance is a prediction of the future. And it will not be right. I have been trying to pass the Mongolian Civil Service Exam #234.09 for three years now to secure a position as the Assistant SubDirector of Regional Irrigation Margins. This position would pay a modest salary and provide pension benefits necessary to subsist well into old age. But the exams are impossible. Passing one is a chimera. Chimera: A mythic beast impossible to imagine. I must do it for my brother. The passing. Since the skirmish along the southern border, Oktoyber has never been the same. Otog and Bagen Nu. Near there. No one really knows where exactly, but he was infiltrating a pocket of “outside reaction,” as his letter said, and he began signs of a disturbance well beyond merely the somatic. Somatic: dealing with the body. He was never the same. He befriends ghosts now and sits on a stool in the corner of our hut, eating cobwebs. When one looks into his eyes, one sees clouds drifting by on a sky the color of lead. Chemicals. Nerve agents. But it is all a big mistake. The skirmish may have been contrived just to justify using the agent on our own men. Once a month an official from the Defense Ministry visits to provide a sum adequate to provide exactly 600 calories a day. Enough to sustain life if my brother never moves. And he doesn’t. Except for his mouth and hands when he is arguing with the ghosts about the price of bitter melon. Start with a package of Jell-O Gelatin. 92
Kevin Griffith Then work simple wonders. These recipes are fast and easy to make, with plenty of how-to tips to guide you along the way. Cube it, flake it, whip it, blend it, cream it, layer it, mold it. Or unmold it. In one of the problems on the test, the picture shows an imperialist couple, both with white teeth and blond hair, standing in the doorway of a suburban home, apparently being greeted by the host of a party as she lets them into her immaculate home. The woman is wearing a polyester pant suit that is a rosy burgundy, the same shade as the perfectly circular dessert she is proffering with her manicured hands. The dessert is a Strawberry Romanoff, which consists on one pint strawberries (washed and stemmed), two packages Jell-O strawberry gelatin, two cups boiling water, brandy, Cointreau, and two cups Birds Eye Cool Whip Non-Dairy Whipped Topping thawed. “I have brought the dessert,” she is saying. “Ah, what musical words to the ears of any busy hostess,” her hostess replies. “This dessert has a party flair and can turn your casual gettogether into a night to remember.” “You must have used either the fast-blender method or the ice cube method to make something so spectacular. I hope you are prepared to share your recipe before the evening is over.” My question deals with the ground water gradient in relation to the sun’s relative position along the horizon line. But the exam proctor wants a fine Strawberry Romanoff. He has provided the necessary packets of Jell-O, left over from a failed Corporate/Cultural Peace Mission initiated by the Birds Eye corporation six years ago. Jell-O to enculturate. To fight socialism. But there was a contretemps. Contretemps—an unexpected 93
Kevin Griffith and unfortunate occurrence. And all that was left of hospitality and hope was Jell-O. For the strawberries, I cut a goat’s liver into small pieces, their coppery color a fair approximation of what old strawberries would look like. Fermented blood serves as the Cointreau, and goat fat I have spent all day whipping into a white froth will do for the Non-Dairy Whipped Topping. My brother watches me as I carefully pour the mixture into his old army helmet, which we have stripped of netting and straps and polished clean. One might ask why, if I have the materials from a goat to make my Jell-O Super Dessert Creation, I do not just use them to feed my brother. But the materials for the exam are carefully portioned, and any attempt to use them in any way not relevant to the exam will result in re-education. When my brother and I were young boys, we used to play a game called “wet the stones.” Mother and Father were often out tending the sheep, so we had time on our hands. We would find a small stone, not quite a pebble, but round and smooth, and stick it in our mouths until it was damp with saliva. Then we would find a place in the sun, which was not too hard since the sun is a constant companion and trees are scare, and set them to dry. The game was a race. Whoever’s stone dried first won. While we watched them dry in the sun, my brother would often tell a story to pass the time. In one I recall, a talking boortsog escapes from its big wooden bowl and goes on to become a great warrior, so great that a statue of pure silver is erected in its honor, a statue so large it blocks out the sun for most of the day. With the sun gone, everything around the statue dies, though, and the boortsog statue is so sad, it slides off its pedestal one day and attempts to hug everything back to life, its body having absorbed the warmth of the sun it has selfishly been hoarding all the years. But when the warm silver boortsog makes contact with the terribly cold world, it immediately hardens and shatters into a million million pieces. Years later, when the sun has returned and the grasses 94
Kevin Griffith are now tall, a traveler sees just the pedestal and a million silvery stones. On the pedestal is written: “Hide your faces in awe, for here stands the mighty General Boortsog, Ruler of All Eternity.” “See, what we have here is a boortsog stone. From the original warrior,” he says, pointing at our stones. “One of the millions.” My brother always knew how to make me feel lucky. Crisp, cool, green, and colorful as a green house, the Green Goddess Salad Bowl. One of the main dishes that turn out so well with Jell-O Gelatin. Or prepare a smooth jellied Chicken Mouse ahead of time. Look! Your guests are returning from their mixed doubles match and you are prepared. Everything is fresh and firm in the refrigerator. One package Jell-0 Lime Gelatin Two cups boiling water. One Tablespoon Garlic Salt One-and-a-half cups Mayonnaise Two Tablespoons Vinegar Two cans anchovies, finely chopped. This recipe requires cubing after the Jell-O has set, and it is no surprise that cubing a Jell-O mold that has formed in an old army helmet is a task requiring a multi-valent approach. Multi-valent: having or susceptible to many interpretations or meanings. Kandinsky’s art is multivalent. I pull out my pen knife and contemplate the mold, which, freed from the helmet, now jiggles on a large shard of shale I took from a dried river bed long ago. The Green Goddess resembles the shell of a large tortoise minus the shell, and it seems luminescent, as if it contained its own mysterious inner light source. The precision required to carefully carve the mold into exact 2”x 2” squares will give me the discipline needed to succeed in the field of irrigation management. That 95
Kevin Griffith must be the point. Thankfully, I do not have to toss it over a bed of iceberg lettuce and imitation crab legs, as the recipe suggests. My brother watches carefully from his place in the hut. He is lost in a complicated map in his mind, a map in which a sinuous river runs gracefully past a sweep of trees, probably weeping willows, and we are both on camels, both smiling because our canteens are full of vodka. Before he joined the army, he told me of catching a taimen that was almost six-feet long. After a ferocious struggle to bring it to the river’s bank, a struggle in which the taimen seemed almost maleficent in the way it countered my brother’s every move, my brother was able to drag it to land, where it still thrashed with such gusto it coated itself with a slimy paste of dust and sand. Taimen are known cannibals, and so when my brother proceeded to gut it, what he found inside was yet another taimen, its face an acid-sketched study in échorché. And when he cut that one open, he found another, and then another, and so on. And thus, my brother’s knack for cosmogony was born. “The world is a big stomach we live in,” he said. “It is inside the stomach of an even bigger world that swims through the stomach of a universe that floats inside the stomach of an even larger, more infinite universe. God is always fishing for us, and when he finally catches us, we will be pulled into the light, our skin eaten away by the stomach acid of time to reveal who we really are. That is why angels wear gowns and veils, brother, because to see what is beneath would drive us insane, or at least drive us insane as our mortal selves, for we cannot even conceive of who we are beyond this life.” The way my brother gazes at the cubes of Jell-O I have just carved makes me wonder if he has already seen angels, if the skirmish that took his mind was really a dance with the other world. The proctor accepts my creation as he always does, with a sniffing condescension, a mien that never seems to change no matter how 96
Kevin Griffith exacting my efforts. And sure enough, a week later, the ditto-ed assessment form is delivered to me, meticulously marked in red, so many ideograms populating the surface that it looks like some woven tapestry in three colors: black, white, and red. What is black and white and red all over? My exam results. In the old days before the Jell-O we had actual written exams, of course, which took place over three days in a special exam compound, a seemingly endless building filled with rows and rows of examination stalls about the same width and depth as water closets. On both sides of the concrete wall there were three grooves--one near the floor, one in the middle, one slightly higherâ€”and in each of the grooves we would slide in three boards, boards distributed to each exam taker on the morning of the first day. One board for a seat, one for a desk, and one for shelf. At night, all three boards were slide into the center groove, and we slept on them. The exams were limited to men only. At birth, the parents of a girl carefully placed a piece of floor tile in her little hands, signifying the lowly station she was doomed to occupy, and then placed her under the bed. If she were still alive in the morning, then the parents had to grudgingly accept her existence and hope for a male to eye her dowry some day. But a boy was cause for joy, and the infant found in his little fingers a ribbon with the exam pass symbol on it. As the baby grew and was dandled on the proud fatherâ€™s knee, a poem was often recited, something like this: To enrich your family you need no gold, Just a steady hand the ink brush to hold. You need no mansion for an easy life, In the books you study is your future without strife. If you desire a woman with a face of jade, Devote yourself to classics; there your riches are made. The first phase of the test required us to memorize over 400,000 words in four various regional dialects, a task that took a long time 97
Kevin Griffith obviously, longer than a fourteen-year-old was capable of, as that was the age when one took the exam. Thus, almost all of the exam takers were much older men who had shaved their beards and attached tufts of their wives’ or daughters’ hair to the bald patches on their own pates. The proctors were generally privy to such deceptions, but tended to turn a blind eye for a small bribe. Exam takers were allowed to leave their cells for only two purposes: to take a small tea break or two use the bathroom. Since doing either required a protracted procedure involving a sub-proctor’s placing of a wax time stamp on the page completed before the break (and the more time stamps one had, the less seriously the graders took the exam), nearly all examinees brought their own chamber pots and tea. Not infrequently, exam takers went insane. Many talked to ghosts of women they had shamed in a previous life, as the greatest revenge for a ghost was to undermine the taker’s success, thus dooming him to a life as a teacher or soldier. But these tortuous procedures all went away with the advent of the Jell-O initiative. For reasons both somehow logical and otiose, the old paradigm was swept away. The New Joys of Jello recipe book was copied by an army of scribes, scribes artistic enough to replicate even the Ben Day dots of the photographs. Anyone who wanted a better life in the manifold bureaus of government was handed a copy. And told to wait further instructions. On page 93, a bride and groom of African descent hold champagne glasses over a buffet table resplendent with Jell-O molds both nacreous and spheroid. Nacreous: Having the qualities of a pearl. The bride’s face is tilted lovingly toward the groom, and the whiteness and straightness of her teeth suggest access to the most expert orthodontist, a sure sign of bourgeois decadence. “Lucky is the bride who has her reception prepared by the loving hands of family and friends,” she says. 98
Kevin Griffith “This is indeed a tempting variety,” the groom responds, “the tangy cheese, salmon, and fresh fruits photographed on the opposite page can be made ahead of time and kept well-chilled.” “Big parties have a share-and-help mood about them these days,” the bride enthuses. “Begin it all with Jell-O,” the groom says, raising his glass. The Salmon Dill Mousse fits well into my brother’s old helmet. He studies what I am doing carefully from his corner of existence, his eyes bouncing over and around my work area. For the salmon, I flake a Camel’s liver with a sharp piece of shale, my right hand working its way into a well-practiced rhythm, the motion of a conductor leading an orchestra through nothing but staccato. I am so lost in what I am doing, that I do not see my brother suddenly bolt from his seat and grip my hand as if I were an assailant and the shale was a weapon he was intent on taking. He rips the shale from my hand, pushes what I have already flaked off the preparation stone and onto the dirt floor, and begins his own procedure. He signs a little song to himself, something about a girl named Huan Ling swaying to the sea, and the flakes come of the liver with a precision I did not think possible, each a fingernail in width and ten millimeters in length. When he is finished, his accuracy with the chives and the dill weed (which we have substituted with sheep’s fescue) is just as impressive. For the sour cream and mayonnaise, he has expertly reduced our muttontallow pemmican into something not un-creamy at all. When he is through, all goes into the helmet, which I take to the cooling place by the river. I return to the tent about an hour later, and my brother is back in his corner, eating a spider. He says nothing and is staring at his ghosts, but I thank him anyway. The trip to the proctor’s office will not seem so long in the morning.
Our Authors KRIS BONE is a waiter and writer living in the Canadian maritimes. MARK BELAIRâ€™S poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Alabama Literary Review, Harvard Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Poetry East. His books include the collections While Weâ€™re Waiting, Night Watch, and Walk With Me. A new collection, Breathing Room, is soon to be published by Aldrich Press. Please visit www.markbelair.com. BRYCE BERKOWITZ has a BA in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Noctua Review, Tule Review, Pif Magazine, and Thieves Jargon. ABBY CAPLIN is a physician ant practices Mind-Body medicine in San Francisco. Her poetry and nonfiction have ben published or are forthcoming in several journals and anthologies including, Adanna, Forge, The Healing Muse, Night Train, The Permanente Journal, Poetica, and Tikkun. LAWRENCE F. FARRAR is a former Foreign Service officer with postings in Japan (multiple tours), Germany, Norway, and Washington, DC. Short term assignments took him to more than 30 countries. He also lived in Japan as a graduate student and as a naval officer. A Dartmouth graduate, Farrar has an MA in Japanese history from Stanford. His stories have appeared in more than 40 lit magazines. Recent examples include: Big Muddy, Tampa Review Online, Jelly Bucket, Curbside Splendor E-Zine, O-Dark-Thirty, Colere, EastLit, Streetlight, Cheat River Review, The Write Room, Lindenwood Review, and Zone 3. DORIS FERLEGER, winner of the New Letters Poetry Prize, Robert Fraser Poetry Prize, and the AROHO Creative Non Fiction Prize, among others, is the author of three volumes of poetry, Big Silences in a Year of Rain (finalist for the Alice James Books Beatrice Hawley Award), As the Moon Has Breath, and When You Become Snow. Her forthcoming book entitled Leavened will be published in August 2015. Her work has been published in numerous journals including Cimarron Review, L.A. Review, and South Carolina Review. She holds an MFA in Poetry and a Ph.D. in psychology and maintains a mindfulness-based practice in Wyncote, PA.
CHRIS GILMORE has an MA in English and Creative Writings from the University of Toronto. He writes fiction, plays, and screenplays. DONNA GIROUARD is an Assistant Professor of English at Livingstone College in Salisbury, NC, and faculty adviser of the college’s literary-arts magazine. Her essays have appeared in Florida English, Embodied Effigies, Apeiron Review, Sugar Mule, The Oklahoma Review, The Riding Light Review, Border Crossing, and elsewhere. Her essay, “Doppelgangers,” was nominated for the 2013 Pushcart Prize. EILEEN HENNESSY is a translator of foreign language documentation. She is an adjunct in the translation studies program at New York University. Her poems and short stories have been published in numerous literary journals. She is the author of the poetry collections This Country of GaleForce Winds (NYQ Books, 2011) and Places Where We Have Lived Forever (Off the Park Press, 2015). FRANCES HOWARD-SNYDER teaches philosophy at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA, where she lives with her husband and twin sons. She is fascinated by philosophical themes like faith, love, and hypocrisy and especially enjoys exploring them through fiction. She has published stories at Wordhaus, Everyday Fiction, and The Write Practice (where she recently won a competition with a story entitled "The Winter of our Discontent.") She is working on a novel. STEPHEN MASSIMILLA is a poet, critic, professor, and painter. His coauthored book, Cooking with the Muse, is forthcoming from Tupelo Press. His latest book, The Plague Doctor in His Hull-Shaped Hat, was a selection of the Stephen F. Austin State University Press Prize contest. He has received the Bordighera Poetry Prize for Forty Floors from Yesterday; the Grolier Prize for Later on Aiaia; a Van Rensselaer Award, selected by Kenneth Koch; an Academy of American Poets Prize; and multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. His volume Almost a Second Thought was runner-up for the Salmon Run National Poetry Book Award, selected by X.J. Kennedy. Massimilla has recent work in AGNI, American Literary Review, Barrow Street, Bellingham Review, Chelsea, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, Fiction Fix, The Literary Review, Marlboro Review, Paterson Literary Review, Provincetown Arts, The Southern Poetry Review, Tampa Review, and many other journals and anthologies. He holds an M.F.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University and teaches
literary modernism, among other subjects, at Columbia University and the New School. SIMON PERCHIK is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, The Nation, Osiris, Poetry, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. His most recent collection is Almost Rain published by River Otter Press (2013). For more information, free e-books, and his essay titled â€œMagic, Illusion and Other Realities,â€? please visit his website www.simonperchik.com. GABI ROACH was born in 1990 in St. Louis, Missouri. She was raised in Terre Haute, Indiana where she received her BFA in Painting at Indiana State University in 2014. She has been included in various group exhibitions and will continue her education at Miami University through her MFA program in painting. She currently lives in Oxford, Ohio. JUSTIN RUNGE lives in Lawrence, Kansas, where he edits poetry for Parcel. He is the author of Plainsight (New Michigan Press, 2012), Hum Decode (Greying Ghost Press, 2014), and poems appearing or forthcoming in Best New Poets, Cincinnati Review, Colorado Review, Poetry Northwest, and elsewhere. Find him online at www.justinrunge.me. FABIO SASSI makes photos and acrylics using tiny objects and what is considered to have no worth by the mainstream. His acrylics are made using the stenciling technique. He often puts a quirky twist to his subjects or employs an unusual perspective that gives a new angle of view. Fabio lives and works in Bologna, Italy. His work can be viewed at www.fabiosassi.foliohd.com. BILLY SIMMS is an MFA student in two-dimensional art, with emphasis in printmaking, at Miami University. Billy also has degrees from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and The Johns Hopkins University. He lives in Hamilton with his wife and three cats. LISA SNIDER is an award-winning writer living in Ojai, CA. Over the last 10 years, she has written features for newspapers and magazines, a housing documentary and a handful of one-act plays. Two of those plays each had four-week runs at separate theaters in Southern California. She is currently seeking representation for her novel about a careerdriven young woman working at a world-class resort in a funky new-age town. Visit her website at www.LisaSnider.com.
LEE VARON is a social worker and writer. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and published in many journals including: Atlanta Review, Fox Chase Review, Milkweed Chronicle, Oyez Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Pleiades, Southern Poetry Review. In 2015 she won the Briar Cliff Review contest for best fiction.
Featuring work from Billy Simms, Doris Ferleger, Lawrence Farrar, Abby Caplin, and Gabi Roach