Our Mission: Rathalla Review is the literary magazine published by the students of Rosemont Collegeâ€™s MFA in Creative Writing and Graduate Publishing programs. Our Mission is to give emerging and established writers and artists an outlet for their creative vision in our online and print publication. We publish the best fiction, creative nonfiction, flash fiction, poetry, and art, culled from a nationwide community of writers and artists. Rathalla Reviewâ€™s staff, comprised of MFA in Creative Writing and MA in Publishing candidates, merges the creative arts and the business of publishing into a shared voice and vision.
All written work in Rathlla Review remains copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced in any form, printed or digital, without the express permission of the author.
Rathalla Review Fall 2016
Managing Editor Trish Rodriguez
Production Manager Andrew Whitehead
Fiction Editor Yalonda Rice
Art Editor Kim Callan
Poetry Editor Maria Ceferatti
Assistant Fiction Editor Genna Walker
Flash Fiction Editor Max Wasserman
Creative Nonfiction Editor Eli Tomaszewski Copy Editor Monica Murray Selection Staff
Elvis Alves Kara Cochran Brandon Hartman Donna Keegan
Ed Krizek Nicole Miyashiro Eileen Moeller Curtis Moore
Tara Rupiper Ruth Sensabaugh Sean West
Table of Contents 1
Cinema Muto in Fiamme
Richard K. Ostrander Poetry
Fred Arroyo Creative Nonfiction
Laura Widener Flash Fiction
Amanda Noble Creative Nonfiction
I Always Wondered What the Harvest Moon Was Reaping Amber Magnuson Poetry
Waking the Dancer’s Bones
The Sins of Eve Cheyenne Marco Fiction
Stray Bullets Boris Tsessarsky Fiction
In the Shadow of a New Dawn Fabrice Poussin Poetry
Samuel Cole Fiction
Cara Long Corra Flash Fiction
Carol Barrett Poetry
Art “Peacock” by Rinal Parikh 3 “Silence Redeemed” by Bill 16 Wolak A photo by Brian Michael 22 Barbeito “Old Bridge at Fairmount Park” by Rinal Parikh 32 “Alwyn VII” by Pam 38 McLean-Parker
Featured Artists Pam McLean-Parker
With a passion for Fine Art and Photography, Pam McLean-Parker began exhibiting her unique photographs in 1988 while working towards a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Rosemont College. In the Philadelphia area and beyond her work has appeared on exhibit in galleries and art centers for over a quarter of a century and has received a handsome measure of recognition. McLean-Parker serves as director for the Montgomery County Guild of Professional Artists and is on the board of directors for Philadelphia/Tri-State Artists Equity Association. She is passionate about the visual arts and creative endeavors and believes that access to art and art-making for all ages is of the utmost importance to vibrant and successful communities.
Rinal Parikh’s art reflects the heritage and vibrant culture of her native India. Rinal, a self-taught artist, draws on a childhood fascination with color and composition, portraying spontaneity and energy with saturated color in various media. Her subjects are influenced by life in India, and she studies the many different styles of Indian painting that vary from state to state: “Although they are from the same country,” she says, “they are very different from each other- I find it intriguing.” Rinal’s work has appeared in India in group exhibitions and on magazine covers. In the United States, she made her debut with a solo exhibit at The Creative Living Room in Swarthmore 6 years ago, and since than her work has been featured in many juried exhibits at venues like Demuth Art Museum, Rittenhouse Square Art Festival, Swarthmore Borough Hall, The Plastic club, The Philadelphia Sketch Club, numerus Community Art Centers in the Greater Philadelphia area to name the few. Rinal has been recognized for her work on various occasions. She has conducted Artist talks for adults on “Indian folk art and my modern take”. Recently, Rinal’s work was published in Philadelphia Stories, winter edition 2015. She teaches children and adult watercolor classes in Swarthmore. Rinal’s artwork are mainly found in private collections in USA, Canada, and India. “I believe in always improving myself, learning from every stage in life and from nature. I love incorporating several mediums into my art, and especially love Indian folk art-Madhubani from Madhubani district, Kalamkari from Andhra Pradesh, Warli from Maharashtra. My subject choice are directly influenced by my childhood memories in India. I also choose subjects that are based on my emotions, thoughts and experience from my day to day life. All in all, my work is modern adaptation of the traditional Indian folk art.”
Bill Wolak Bill Wolak is a poet, photographer, and collage artist. He has just published his twelfth book of poetry entitled Love Opens the Hands with Nirala Press. His collages have been published in over a hundred magazines including: The Annual, Peculiar Mormyrid, Danse Macabre, Dirty Chai, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, Lost Coast Review, Mad Swirl, Otis Nebula, and Horror Sleaze Trash. Recently, he was a featured poet at The Mihai Eminescu International Poetry Festival in Craiova, Romania. Mr. Wolak teaches Creative Writing at William Paterson University in New Jersey.
Brian Michael Barbeito Brian Michael Barbeito is a Canadian writer and photographer.
Cinema Muto in Fiamme Richard K. Ostrander
This was our cinema A director, producer and audience of two. It called for recasting. But we stayed in role otherwise, understudies separated in our seats in front of the big screen. My bag of popcorn merely kernels to see. We saw a silent movie. Its subject a cold war waged in dry ice. The film was on fire, every frame frozen in flame. My mouth only moved; clothes of my wife calling me stranger.
Opposite: “Peacock” Rinal Parikh
Richard K. Ostrander currently resides in the Carolinas. On numerous occasions, Richard has been invited to read and give seminars on poetry at the local schools in his community. He has also hosted various open mics in his local area. Richard has had work published in “The Paterson Literary Review,” “Megaera,” and “Main Street Rag,” as well as 2 books, “The Epic of Hell Freeze” and “The Metaphysician’s Daughter” both published by BlazeVox.
Peppers Fred Arroyo
4 Creative Nonfiction
My father had driven out to the airport to pick up his younger brother Ché, who was arriving for the first time from Puerto Rico. His brothers Eddie and Ismael were also in the car. They, too, had followed my father to Hartford; as the oldest brother, he helped them find work. Headed back to the city, they passed around a bottle of rum and laughed. The windows were cracked and their cigarette smoke drifted in the lights of the oncoming cars before winding out the windows. My father took a long drink, listened to his swallows. Only after he let out a deep breath did he hear Ché’s shaking voice, hear his name over and over and over, Cha-ging, Cha-ging, Cha-ging. He pulled to the side of the road. He switched on the overhead light. In the backseat, Ché had a cassette case opened on his lap. He raised his head, looked at my father, and held out handfuls of money, his hands trembling as if the bills burned his fingers. Imagine the inside of the terminal: the row of blue seats, the scattered newspapers, the empty paper coffee cups, and there, under the edge of a magazine, the brown cassette case. Ché had never stolen a thing in his life, not even a mango from a stranger’s tree or a pack of gum. That fraction of a second, excited and happy
to see his brothers, warm from their embraces, Ché grabbed what seemed—sitting there alone on a seat—a gift of welcome. Back in the car, I can still hear Ché’s shaking voice, and feel the cold air on my face slipping through the opened windows, swirling with wonder and promise and my father’s smile. My father begins his story again. We are eating dinner, bowls of rice with red beans in front of us, a dish of fried chicken in the middle of the table, the pieces steaming, pepper flecked. Next to my father’s plate is a glass of water and a short bottle filled with small yellow, green, and orange peppers. They float in vinegar and pineapple juice, salt and pepper, bits of garlic. My father pauses, takes a long drink of water. Sprinkles the pepper sauce over his plate. Eats a few spoonfuls. Once again he repeats his name three times, becomes Ché, his arms and shoulders shaking as he holds out his empty, trembling hands. He laughs, picks up his spoon. Over $1,500. It’s incredible, he says. He mentions the Numbers, the mafia. There was no one around. All that money sitting there for free. He sometimes became talkative at dinner. Mostly his face was turned down to his plate, his spoon quickly raised
to his mouth, his plate clean in four or five minutes. He’d get the hiccups and leave the table, head back out to tend to his garden or work on a car. There were times where he ate slowly, looked around, told stories of his dreams: fantastic events, sea horses as tall as our refrigerator galloping over the Caribbean. And always stories of work. Sometimes the hot pepper sauce was in a pint bottle of rum and I knew then it was homemade, given to my father from someone who had recently returned from the island. Sometimes I found peppers tucked under the skin of a chicken leg, deep in the red sauce of beans, hiding at the bottom of my rice. I might be laughing at something he said, my mouth full of food. Or, more likely than not, I was quiet—the whole table quiet— my father bent over his plate. My mouth suddenly tingled with heat, and then it grew as if a match had been struck on the back of my tongue. Searing, hot pain, my eyes beginning to tear. I drained my water only for the heat to soar, scorching. My father stopped eating and sat there with the biggest smile. He started laughing, his eyes wrinkled, his cheeks flushed. He didn’t seem to do this out of meanness. He really thought it was funny. I accepted it because anything was better than his silence. He was never much of
a talker, but he could express his rage easily, his knuckles quickly striking the top of my head. The peppers hidden in my food were meant to say: I am thinking of you. Never, never waste a bowl of rice. I learned to wait for this loving pain. Wondered where it might be hidden, waited to feel the rising heat, followed his eyes and mouth and hands. Often, nothing happened. Then, as he sat there quietly, I wished he’d say anything. My father scrapes the last pearls of rice from his bowl. There is no conclusion to his story. If there’s a purpose, it only reminds me that money will never be mine to find. I close my eyes, remember my father at the table, and wait for his voice. I listen to it like the rhythm of my breath— breathing in, breathing out— gulping air as I try to cool the fire beginning to burn.
Fred Arroyo is the author of The Region of Lost Names and Western Avenue and Other Fictions, which have both received wide acclaim. He’s currently completing a book of nonfiction stories, Shadows of Palms, and is at work on a new book of fiction. A recipient of an Individual Artist Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission, Fred has published widely in a variety of literary journals, and is included in the anthologies Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing and The Colors of Nature: Essays on Culture, Identity and the Natural World.
The Sins of Eve Cheyenne Marco
“See with what heat these Dogs of Hell advance/To waste and havoc yonder world.” –John Milton, Paradise Lost
her baby. She grinned at the thought that this too was painful but worth it. A breeze kicked up the smell of dust and burnt vegetation. A. The air tasted gritty. The Eve knelt on the hard greens around her were slowly ground. Twigs and grass cut bleaching to gold. It seemed into her skin. The blood caught as if the world was turning to behind her kneecaps, pushing sand. Was God so vindictive against a damn that couldn’t that he would take this from be broken. Her lower legs them too? She wanted to yell were going numb, and she sat the question at the sky, but she up into a squat. Her knees kept her lips tight, trapping the screamed from the weight, words and particles of dirt on and the sins of the ground the tip of her tongue. dug into her soles. No matter Eve rolled back to her knees how she arranged herself, she and began scratching at the couldn’t escape the sensation earth with her nails. As clods of pain. Pain in her feet. Pain came up, she tossed them to in her legs. Pain in her back. the side. Adam had ordered her Everything outside the Garden to clear the land so they could was pain. Had she always been plant a garden. He argued that in pain? Had the grass in the the foraging journeys at night Garden been as prickly? Had were too inconvenient. The the sun burned so brightly that walks caused too much pain her skin chafed? Had it always for his muscles, made him too been, and now she just knew? tired, made him too thirsty. She sat down and pulled her She suggested sending Cane foot up into her lap, brushing and Abel to do the scavenging, off the dirt. Her toes were but neither parent enjoyed smeared with the brown and the thought of sending their green of life. Mother Earth adolescent sons into the wild. buried her essence in Eve’s The sheep kept them busy pores, and as she beheld the soil enough, and sometimes they blending into her own bronze failed at that. They required skin, the pain didn’t seem so their father’s constant, watchful bad. In fact, it almost seemed eye. worth it. When she’d finished “I will not send them. I will rubbing her feet, she rubbed not let the boys risk their lives her hands across her swollen for your sins. They would get belly, leaving muddy marks eaten by wolves in the forest,” across the vessel that contained the father argued. “If they were
girls, I would send them. If the next one is a girl, we’ll send her for the fruits.” Eve blushed and looked down. She could be eaten just as easily. “No, my dear. She would be able to convince the beast to open his jaws and let her alone, even if the wretch were starving.” And she will pay for my sins. The words made her paw harder and faster at the ground. If the baby were a girl, the garden would save her. And if it were a boy, he would be safe. As she flung the grasses away, she prayed the baby would be a boy. Please Lord, a boy. Take the land, take my life, take my soul. But give me a boy.
and by every pair of jeans she had to mend. Sad men orbited the house to stare at her, to find in her form the memory of the shape of all the women they’d given to pneumonia or starvation. Where was Jack? That coward of a man who dissolved into a ghost, a phantom even among the waifs of Eden Bluff. Lookin’ for work. Always looking for work and only finding the kind that required him to lift a bottle off the bar up to ready lips. But he never hit her or the kids, so maybe he wasn’t all bad. Then again, sometimes she wished he did, so she could feel like she had a reason for being so mad. Eve launched herself out of her rocking chair, needing a B. little extra energy to propel Nebraska was hell. A her forward. She was so big. jackrabbit infested, treeless, She didn’t remember being hill-less, dust-filled hell. this big with Emma, Sarah, or And where was Jack? That Myra. Maybe this one would brainless, heartless, hopeless finally be a boy. Jack would like ruffian who told her moving that. It might even make him West from Pennsylvania would overlook a few things—like be a step up in the world— a discrepancy in eye color or conquering that frontier. That shade of the hair. Jack had man who promised her herds enough daughters where one of cattle and fields of wheat could be cast aside. But a boy. in their wedding vows. That He needed a boy. A hunter. jerk who wouldn’t give up for A partner. A rascal. What a California, even after Mrs. wonderful thing a boy would Hennessey lit out, leaving Eve be. She stroked her stomach. without a friend in the world. It’d make her feel less guilty. She was the only woman in As she walked out of the forty miles. She knew it by all living room, she left footprints the darkened, unclean windows in the dust on the wooden
floors. The zigzagging tracks of her girls were already being covered up. Part of her considered grabbing a broom, but the thought of kicking up even more dirt made her lungs tighten in anticipation. Why fight the losing battle anyway? Instead, she lumbered through the kitchen and out the back door. The dry air stole her breath, and her knees felt like they would give out. She lowered herself onto the concrete stoop and let her head drop forward. Tension built up at the base of her skull, and she had to force herself to look up. The view seemed worth the work. From her spot on those stairs, she could’ve confused this scene with one of their farm from the bygone happy days. Not much had changed. Directly in front of her stood the barn. The paint was a little more pink than red, but it still clung to the rough planks that looked more like driftwood than lumber. To the right stood a corn crib. Even in the better years this remained empty. The sole purpose of the edifice seemed to be that the metal crisscrossed in such a way that hundreds of tiny squares became picture frames for the impeccably blue sky. The landscape’s consistency inspired her to her feet. She stuck her hand in her apron and fished out a handful of 7
corn. She tossed it against the barn door, and the corn made hard, staccato pops. The dry knocks of a life coughed out of a heaving chest. Another death on the prairie. Two chickens screamed forward. They pecked the corn, and as the kernels dwindled in number, they turned on each other. Blood and dust mixed, and it was the most moisture the ground had seen this season. Eve slipped behind the barn, leaving the chickens to their cannibalism. Whoever fell would be supper tonight. Then the fight would continue over its body. Sarah, Emma, and Myra would tear at the scrawny bird, and no one would get their fill. The image of her daughters’ bones haunted Eve. She tried to focus on the little garden she had cultivated. Rows and rows of beans and peppers reached stunted arms up to the heavens. Her ancient rhubarb plant held out small, green hands. Toward the back of the plot, the corn plants were at knee height. The leaves were curled into tight wicks, and stalks were the green-gold color of light shining through a dense forest. Eve had seen the color a million times, but it still seemed uniquely tragic. The plant was dying. If it wasn’t already dead. Nothing would come from the water Eve could give it. 8
Eve bent over. Something in the movement made her stomach growl and the baby kick. “That’s enough out of you.” Eve patted her belly, not sure who she was yelling at. Her pat turned into a caress as she tried to soothe them both. As her left hand coaxed the worries from her torso, her right uprooted the dying corn.
consequence. Eve pressed her hand against the bump. It was possibly the man who she bartered with for a bottle of water, but it was probably the guy she asked to help hotwire the car. The car, crumpled and not long for the world, got her to the river when she decided she didn’t want to do the things she had to do inland for water. It gave her a new home: a little den in C. the rubble of what used to be The whole town smelled like a suspension bridge. When the smoke and crushed concrete. sun rose in the morning, she Eve never even knew that could almost forget that the crushed rock had a smell. It was world was so terrible. the smell of hot dust, like when The baby kicked its foot someone turned on an old light against the membranous in a forgotten room. envelop that was her body. How were things still She hoped it was Hotwire. smoking? It had been a month Eve hid behind a column since the last wave of fires. This in what used to be a parking had to be something stronger structure, yearning for the dark than nuclear, something far comfort of her home. Food worse. Maybe the molten core didn’t come as easy as it used of the earth was burning its to. The world had a distain for way through all the layers of pregnancy but no sympathy, rock and making its way to the and running with a ten-pound surface, killing the earth from water balloon strapped to her the inside out. Maybe the sun stomach didn’t simplify the had gone supernova. Maybe process. She wanted it out of their country had pissed off the her. wrong people. She didn’t know. The angry buzzing of her How could she? The world thoughts deafened her, and she wasn’t a place of questions and forced herself to pay attention. answers anymore, just drive. The space magnified every Food. Water. Sleep. Sex. The sound, and she listened. No last Eve could do without, but footsteps. No rustling. Just it usually got her food and a someone’s exaggerated breaths safe place to sleep. giving way to a whistle and It wasn’t without finally a snore. Eve counted
them. When she counted to ten, she slipped one column closer to the sleeping figure. Another ten. Another column. Finally, she reached the last column. The stranger slept next to a canvas sack. She had a small gathering at her head: an orange, three boots, and a teddy bear. The toy’s eyes stared straight at her and judged her every step. She ignored it and concentrated on the old woman, legs tensed to run and hands poised to strike. Her eyes twitched, and the rhythm of her body made lines of light shimmer down her greasy hair. The frail shape of the woman’s body planted a seed of guilt in Eve’s belly, seeming to add to the weight of the baby. She carried the weight of the world in her womb. The guilt didn’t hold her back. The woman had what she needed. It would feed two. As if utilitarianism was the law of the land. Eve couldn’t even fool herself with that. The law was survival. Eve had too much blood on her hands, had had too many men inside her, had too many thefts to her name to deny the law. She bore too many sins to worry about ill-gotten fruit. As slowly as humanly possible, Eve bent down and picked up the orange. When she felt the fruit in her hand, she slunk backwards, only
waiting for two snores to switch columns. She reached the stairs and let out an unmeasured breath; she felt the freedom of breathing loudly and freely. “What you got there?” The voice came from up the stairs. “Something that belongs to us?” Another one chimed in. Eve sprinted down the stairs, but her belly bounced up and down and she felt like she might fall forward. Still, she kept her eye on the next step, willing her feet to find the fastest rhythm down. The prowlers caught up without even breaking a sweat. One grabbed her hair and pulled back. She managed to grab the rail but only managed to save herself from falling. They took advantage of her distraction and took the orange from her hand. “We’ve seen you staking the place out.” The man held the orange up and looked at it with reverence. “Thanks for your hard work.” “Hopefully, we’ll catch up with you again.” The other man bowed, and the thieves descended the stairs. Eve sat down. She glared at her abdomen. She wanted to rip the creature out. More than that, as she pulled it out, she hoped it would dig its fingers into the walls of her womb and tear that out too. Then this could never happen again.
And the prowlers and traders wouldn’t have an emptiness to fill. She could walk with the assuredness of a man that nothing could be taken from her. Again, with malice, she contemplated her bulge. If the thing had any sense, it would come out a male. She pulled herself up from the step, not entirely sure where to go next. A. Thunder rumbled in the distance, and Eve cowered into herself. As much as the storm frightened her, she knew the lands needed the rain. It would probably not reach them anyway. The thought saddened and bolstered her as she headed west, toward the building tempest. The earth’s surface heaved and sighed, gradually arching up into a knoll and finally running up to the sky. Eve wondered if she could get to Heaven that way. However, the exertion of climbing the hill robbed her of her breath and loftier ambitions. Her heartbeat throbbed in her fingertips, her eyeballs, and her stomach. She could feel the life she carried there, and she was content. In her arms, Eve carried a bunch of oranges. The boys would certainly be hungry from chasing errant sheep. “Say it!” Cane’s voice cut 9
through the air. It was filled with a violence that quickened Eve’s heart. “What?” Abel shouted back. Eve hustled through the trees and into the clearing. Her arms slackened, and the oranges fell to the ground. “Say it!” Cane repeated. “It!” Eve broke came upon the two boys standing toe to toe. The sheep looked on as witnesses. Cane’s hand flicked out, and the butt of his palm struck Abel’s nose. Blood began to flow, and Abel cupped his wound. Cane took advantage of his brother’s defenselessness and gave him another blow to the stomach. As Abel toppled forward, Cane pushed him to the ground and sat on his back. “Say it!” “Boys!” Eve cried as she rushed over to her sons. Her stomach bobbled and kept her from running as fast as she’d like. She used her hands to steady it while she continued to charge. “Get off him! What’s the matter with you?” “Say it!” “I don’t know what you want.” The words emerged distorted from the lips that were partially pressed into the ground. Eve reached out to Cane. “What are you doing? Get off of him now.” She grabbed his arm and began to tug. Cane’s cruel hand delivered 10
a slap. She reeled back but managed not to fall. “Stay out of this, woman. You’ve done enough damage in this life.” He returned his glare to his brother. “Now, say it.” “What’s he supposed to say?” Eve demanded. “He knows.” “No, I don’t!” Abel stilled for a moment under his brother’s weight. Eve cautiously approached her sons again. “What do I need to do to get you off of him?” Abel’s quietude ended, and he bucked Cane off. The boys rose to their feet and moved in on each other. “I’m going to kill you,” Cane declared, clenching his fingers into fists. “Try, brother.” Eve thrust herself between the two, putting one hand on each of their chests. “Enough.” She looked deep into her sons’ faces: the deep blue eyes of Abel and the comforting brown of Cane. “You two are brothers. You’re not supposed to destroy each other.” Abel’s chest heaved with anger. “No? Is destruction only a woman’s lot?” “Grant us a sister, Mother, so we’ll have a worthy adversary. Someone to thrash and rape and chastise. Give us a one who deserves to be the victim of the type of destruction her kind
has wrought. Give us a girl, and we’re sure to leave each other’s throats for a much more deserving one. Until then, leave us be,” said Cane. Abel wiped his hand across his face and spit into the dirt. Behind his eyes, she could see him reveling at the prospect of a new target for his brother’s ire. Perhaps it would mean his deliverance from abuse. “That’s enough from you. Mind me or I will call your father and tell him you’ve neglected the sheep. Then you will both get a deserved thrashing.” She examined the flock. “Cane, pick up your staff and tend to the sheep to the north. Abel, attend to the little one to the west who is straying.” She looked over to the oranges scattered across the ground. She couldn’t just leave them there. One by one, she gathered them back into her arms and carried them a small way toward the mountain. A creek of cold water rushed down the slope. It wasn’t very wide but fairly deep. She dropped them in the water and let them float away. B. “Mama, I’m hungry,” Myra said, running circles around the rocking chair. “I know, darling. If you stopped moving around so much, that might help.” Eve
massaged her temples, trying to dispel her headache. “Mama, I’m hungry.” Her pace didn’t slow down. “I know, darling.” “Mama—“ “I know!” She pressed her palm against her forehead. “Mama, Mr. Arno’s here.” The name sent Eve’s limbs into quivers. Sure enough, a tap sounded on the door. “Mama—“ “Go play outside, Myra. You and Em gather up some crickets if you’re so hungry.” The little girl shrugged her shoulders and fled out the backdoor. Eve stood up and smoothed her apron over her belly. She was thankful she was wearing her dark blue dress with the light pink flowers. It was her favorite. Something about it made her seem less puffy. She wiped at her hair, hoping she dispelled some of the dust. Finally, she thrust up her chest with as much dignity she could manage and opened the door. “Derek,” she hissed. “Eve. How are you?” The man removed his cap and held it over his heart. Dirt stained his fingernails and the collar of his shirt. His entirety consisted of one color: tan. His sand-colored hair flowed into his cream complexion which absorbed his whitewashed clothes. The only thing that stood out from his monotone appearance were
his green eyes. They seemed to contain the world, the life among the sands. “I told you not to come here. Jack will kill you.” “Jack’s at the bar, and I had to see you.” His arms dropped to his side, and he clenched his hat in his right hand. He always played with his hat when he was nervous; it was his worry stone. “What do you want?” “It’s been about eight months since I seen you last. I figured maybe…” He nodded to her stomach. She crossed her arms. “Nope.” “I just wanted to see it. I know it’s better for the both of you if it didn’t look like me, but…I just wanted to see.” Her heart squeezed for him. She reached forward, took his hand, and moved it to her bulge. The baby kicked. It ceased being a miracle to her and was now more of a nuisance. The kid was always kicking. But she gave this to Derek. She missed him, but she couldn’t admit it. “It’s a fighter. It’s got that from you.” She kept her hand over top of his. “Naw. That’s something he gets from you.” His hand slid off of her and went straight to his hat. “Arno! You mangy pole cat! I thought I told you to blow town or I’d blow your head
off.” Derek whirled around, and Eve saw her husband coming up the drive. “I was just—“ “You was just nothing. You don’t go snooping around another man’s wife while he’s away. It ain’t Christian.” Jack grabbed Derek by the collar and jerked him out of the doorway. “Now git before I come back with a shotgun. I shot Duelly in the ass. Don’t think I won’t do the same to you.” Jack slammed the door shut. “What the hell were you doing?” Jack demanded. He tugged her toward her rocking chair. “I was just seeing if he needed anything. He might’ve needed something stitched up.” Eve let herself fall into her chair. “The guys know if they need you they gotta come through me first. I don’t like the thought of all these men lurking around, coming after what I got. You’re one in a million in these parts, and I’d kill any damn fool that’d dare try to mess with that.” Eve continued to pet her stomach. “That’s why Hennessey left. Ole Paul and Minnie were playing around behind Dave’s back. If I was Dave, I’d have killed ‘em both. It ain’t right.” “Dave loves Minnie. I 11
guess that makes him more forgiving.” “Makes him damn weak in my book. A jackass won’t defend what he’s got. It’s unappreciative or something. Anyway, I’m gonna tell you again. Don’t you entertain those ruffians while I’m away or the both of you’ll pay for it. Keep ‘em all out, and if they won’t listen to you, shotgun’s behind the bedroom door. You gotta defend what’s mine. That’s in the Bible somewhere.” He rubbed his beard and looked out the window. His eyes, brown as hers, twinkled in the light. “We got any beans ready?” She nodded. “I’d sure like some beans.” Eve got up from her chair and went for her garden, prepared to reap what she’d sown. C. “I can get you some rope,” Eve offered. Her stomach felt deflated, which contradicted how big she actually was. “Please. What do I need rope for?” the trader said, crossing his arms indignantly. “Come on, Reilly. I’m desperate. You really going to let a pregnant woman starve?” She focused on make her lips form the words. It seemed too easy to let them slip into mush. She could close her eyes and never wake. 12
Reilly shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry, kid. We all gotta look out for number one these days.” The wind whipped a scorching breeze over them. It stole the oxygen from the air and made her sick. She looked up to the sky and saw it shifting from azure to auburn. “Well, number one, in the spirit of watching our own asses, I’d say we don’t have a lot of time. So stop fucking me around and tell me what it’s going to take.” “There’s our normal arrangement, of course. Preferably you’d pay up in a week when hopefully this is taken care of.” He waved a hand over her stomach. “Or you could get me a girl.” “Come on, Reilly. Be a decent fucking human being for once and ask me for cigarettes or a flashlight.” Reilly sighed and shifted his weight. “You got a lighter or some matches?” “Yes!” She reached her hand into her bag and fought around for the lighter she knew existed at the bottom. She pulled out a yellow Bic and handed it to Reilly. Reilly twisted it and flicked it on to make sure it worked. He reached into his own bag and pulled out a loaf of bread. “Enjoy my rare moment of generosity and get out of here before I change my mind.”
She turned on her heals and scurried away. “And remember this! For next time!” Eve hurried down the street, zigzagging around the piles of former buildings and cars. The streets were mainly clear. Most people had already taken shelter. Another wave was coming. She could feel the heat in her bones. It felt like it would melt her skin and leave her skeleton to cure like a pot in a kiln. Sweat gathered at the back of her neck and in the small of her back. She could feel the rivulets coursing down her skin. At her brisk pace, she managed to return to the river in a matter of minutes. She arrived panting and drenched, but she was happy with her progress. She pulled away the car door she used as a roof and a door to her den. When she was inside, she tore away the bread bag and shoved the loaf into her face. It occurred to her that she might choke, but she didn’t care. Though she could eat the whole thing, she made herself stop at half. She placed the remainder of the loaf on her makeshift table: a rock she rolled in. Even in the ground, the heat was starting to seep in, and she crawled out of her hole. She replaced the door and waded to the river. The water embraced her, and she sank down to the
shore. Small waves lapped at her hips and ankles. She looked downriver and saw the sky turning an angry red. Flames leapt and curled up toward the sky. Black smoke added sinister clouds to the scene. She wondered if she would survive this round, too. Part of her hoped maybe not.
her scream so the boys wouldn’t come. When she cried during her sons’ births, Adam told her this was what she’d done. The pain of childbirth had birthed itself on her tongue with the taste of Forbidden Fruit. She didn’t want to hear him condemn her as she brought this one into the world. She didn’t want Cane and Abel’s A. squabbling voices and rough The oranges bobbed in the hands to be the first thing it river like little suns—a bright experienced. spot in the dark water. As soon She squatted down over the as she’d tossed them into the grass, her legs quivering, and water, Eve wished she hadn’t. counted the time between It filled her with an immense the pains. The babies seemed sadness. Her sons’ shouting in to come when the pains were the background rekindled her closer together. Her stomach, ire, and she was ultimately glad thighs, and loins burned. She she had tossed the fruit. She could feel the muscles trying imagined the oranges would to rip apart. She wondered float away to a happier land. how her bones could stand the They would split open, and tension. Her mind would go their seeds would take hold in blank, and she would dig her virgin soil. But they could only fingers into the soil. All she succeed in a far off land. This could think to do was breathe. land was poisoned. Only hatred Breathe harder. Breathe watered the lands, raindrops faster. Breathing was how she of blood and the thunder of knew she was alive, that she’d voices. survived another pain. “You’re doing it wrong!” The pains came one on top Cane shouted. “Get that sheep of the other, and she knew it over here. Don’t be gentle was time. She dug her heels about it!” into the soft earth and pushed The words stabbed deep into against it. She pushed hard, Eve’s heart and wrenched down feeling her chest strain with the to her gut, and the pain didn’t effort. She pushed and pushed dispel. It became unbearable. and pushed until she heard the She dropped down into the soft yelping of her child. grass and placed her hand on She didn’t allow herself the her stomach. She suppressed luxury of recovery. Her hands
fumbled between her legs, looking for her baby. When her fingers found its slippery skin, she pulled it up to her bosom. She held it there tightly for a moment, crying. Her tears mixed with the blood and grass that covered the newborn. Though it was so small, its weight felt substantial against her breast. The weight of a whole new world. Through the tears, she managed to pull the child away and see its perfectly round face. The hair was dark with moisture. She brushed her fingers across the cheek. Then, she looked at what she hadn’t dared investigate the moment the baby took its first breath. Holding the baby no farther away than was absolutely necessary, Eve looked. She marveled. Her heart broke with happiness and fear. She brought her daughter back tight to her chest. B. As Eve stepped off the stoop, Jack called to her. “I’m going to run into town while you cook us up supper.” She turned back and waved him off. Her thoughts were too heavy and dense for her to form a response. Beans. That’s all she could focus on. That’s all she needed to focus on. Steamed beans for supper. That’d be good. The chickens panted in the 13
shade and barely paid attention as she passed by. They usually lost one or two to a heart attack in this kind of heat. Maybe steamed beans and chicken. She rifled through her bean plants, plucking pods if they were ready or not. They were hungry. And it’d encourage the plants to grow more anyway. She slid the beans into her apron and walked over to the well. The bucket was oversized, but they had a winch to help get it up and over the stone wall. She lowered the bucket and started to crank. It was full. She needed enough water to wash the beans and fill the pot. It took all her strength to elevate the water. She strained as she took it off the rope and placed it on the ground. The right move would’ve been to carry it straight into the house. Now she had to pick it up again. But her back was on fire, and her heart was racing like crazy. Her stomach jolted, and she knew. She sat down on the ground and thanked God for small miracles. Jack wouldn’t be back for hours. If he came back at all tonight. And the girls never came unless called. She’d have the time she’d need to work it all out. A sharp pain punished her for the thought. She bit down hard on her lower lip until she tasted blood. Then, she dipped her hands in the bucket 14
and rubbed them against her face. Her fingers came back muddy, but she didn’t care. She lay down on the ground and focused on touching as much skin to the earth as possible. Her soles pushed against the dirt. Occasionally, a cry escaped. She panted like the chickens. There wasn’t enough air, and she was sure she was suffocating. The relief she felt at the baby sliding out of her couldn’t be rivaled. Even if she held it up and beheld Jack’s very own visage, it couldn’t compete with the end of labor. The baby didn’t wail. It coughed. Eve sat upright and grabbed the newborn. A girl. Barely. The bones pressing against the flesh made her more skeleton than human. The sight sent a shiver down Eve’s spine. The girl caught Eve’s face, staring with an adult-like intensity through gray eyes hinting at green. The ashen hair and skin, the same perfect monotone, highlighted the buried flash of color. The baby made a sucking motion with its lips. It was hungry. C. All of a sudden, the water felt harsh against Eve’s skin, like it was pushing in too hard. She wanted to push out. Every muscle in her body tensed, and she felt like she had to pee. She
scrambled out of the water, but water continued to gush from between her legs. This was it. The past year had robbed Eve of her sentimental what ifs. The ones that remained were “what if I don’t find food” or “what if I catch pneumonia.” For a moment, she allowed herself that sentimentality. What if her mother were there. What words of advice would she have. What if she were having this baby with a husband. Would she have wanted him in in the delivery room or would she have banished him to the waiting room. As immature as it may have been, she thought it was gross to watch a human being expelled from a vagina. She wasn’t quite sure she’d want anyone but a doctor to have a ticket to that show. Now, she would’ve invited anyone to be a second set of hands. She sat on the bank, trying to press her whole body into the ground. For the first time, she had an answer for the fire source. It was burning within her. The pain scorched her very nerves. Why didn’t a flame shoot up from the ground and consume her right then and there? She begged for death and screamed profanity. It didn’t matter who heard her. If they came and beat her to death, it would be a kinder fate than she was suffering now. What kind of way was this to
make babies? Why would God do this to women? He was a jerk. She’d been pretty sure of that before, but now she was certain. Eve didn’t know a lot of people who had babies, but she’d seen enough on TV to know that she had to breathe and wait for the contractions to get closer together. Each break was heaven, but she knew that meant it wasn’t over. The pain became nearly uninterrupted, and all her muscles contracted. She pushed as hard as she could, and she felt the head and shoulders slide out of her. Next came relief. She laughed. Nothing would hurt her anymore after that. Even if she was burned alive, it’d be tempered by this pain. Tears of mirth rolled down her face, and her chortles drowned out the sound of the newborn’s cries. When she picked up the babe, something washed through her that she hadn’t expected. The baby looked like Hotwire. It had his sandy hair but her bright green eyes. And it wasn’t an “it” any longer. It was a she. Eve pulled her tight to her chest, feeling her maternal heart beat towards the girl. She kissed the top of her head. As she rocked her back and forth, Eve looked over the baby girl’s head and into the black smoke of the approaching
flames. D. Eve held her daughter to her chest stroking her back. The wails turned to gurgles, and the gurgles turned to deep, sleepy inhalations. As the girl slept, the mother imagined the future. She saw all the beatings the girl would take in the name of her mother. The baby slept on, unaware of her inheritance. Eve looked into the water beside her. It shimmered in the sunlight, so clear it was almost blue. After the pangs of birth, it looked so refreshing, and she remembered the times she had buried herself in water. It always seemed to wash away the worst sins. Maybe water could fix everything. She felt the weight of her daughter, and that she could handle. She felt the weight pressing down on her baby girl, and that she could not handle. There was enough suffering in the world. She wouldn’t give that legacy to her love, her innocent. With tears already gathering in her eyes and the pain of childbirth still not completely erased from her loins, Eve knelt over the water. Her own tears added to the volume. She kissed the baby’s forehead, and thanked God that she did not stir.
Following: “Silence Redeemed” Bill Wolak
Cheyenne Marco grew up on a Minnesota poultry farm and finds inspiration in her rural upbringing. She works on the South Dakota Review and does outreach for Friends of the Big Sioux River. Her works have appeared in Lake Region Review, Turk’s Head, and Prairie Winds.
Trinkets Laura Widener
18 Flash Fiction
Someone moved my coffee cup, I’m sure of it. No, officer, nobody lives with me or has my key. Someone broke into my home, I tell you. My laundry was scattered everywhere, too. My dining table turned over. Someone was in my home! I don’t care if you can’t find any prints. Don’t you know burglars use gloves? Maybe they covered their tracks, too. I don’t know how they would’ve gotten in. I keep my doors and windows locked. I may be an old woman, but I’m not stupid. Yes, I’ll be fine tonight. I’d appreciate it if you patrolled the neighborhood; they could still be out there. Yes, I’ll call you if I notice anything else. My glasses are just fine, Sandra. You shouldn’t act that way to me; I’m your mother! I know someone was here. My trinkets were moved—you know how I am about my trinkets. I like my trinkets neat and organized. Samson is a cat, Sandra, he can’t knock over a table! He’s not fat, he only eats twice a day. There was a person in my house, a real person. No, nothing seems to be missing. Maybe they just didn’t find anything they wanted. Don’t talk about my trinkets that way. I’ve been collecting them all my life. Your father got those for me. Officer, my music box is gone this time and the window is broken. What do they want
with an old woman? My cushions are all over the floor, too. I told you I didn’t see anyone. I was taking a nap. They could have killed me! Why haven’t you found them yet? Maybe I will look into that security system. Did you find blood? Well, they must have used something to break the window then. What’s that? You found my music box? They must have dropped it outside when they ran away! I’m not bothering the police, Sandra. This is a real investigation! I’m worried and you should be too. If you hadn’t moved so far away, maybe you could come here and see how they’re making a mess of my house! I already told you it isn’t Samson doing this. Samson knows better than to mess with my trinkets. He sleeps most of the day anyhow. No, it isn’t a raccoon. My doors and windows are always locked. You know how I make sure to lock up. Hello? Yes, I need to see about getting a security system. Two hundred dollars for installation? My, that’s expensive. I agree, a worthy investment. I’ll take it. Seventy dollars a month, too? Is that with the senior discount? Well, alright. I need it this week. Thank you. I don’t know how this keeps happening. How are they getting in, officer? Past my security system? I already told
you, nobody has my key. I keep it in my purse. Right here, I’ll show you. Only my daughter has a copy. No, she lives three states away and hasn’t visited in years. Why would they break my china? It was a wedding present from 1965! No, nothing else seems to be broken or missing. Why didn’t the alarm go off? I already told you, I live alone! Why do you want my daughter’s phone number? Oh, Sandra, I’m so happy you’re here! I’ve missed you. You brought cameras? That’s a good idea. Shouldn’t we put them on the outside? That’s right, we should see them better inside. Put one right here, by my trinkets. Be careful, that snow globe is very special. Your father gave it to me for our thirtieth anniversary. Yes, right there by the angel statue. I know her wing is broken. I’ve been meaning to get some glue. What would you like for dinner? I can make your favorite, chicken and dumplings! What do you mean they’re not your favorite? Well, they used to be. Virginia changed you too much. Sandra, wake up! It happened again. All of the cabinets are opened! My dishes and pans are everywhere! I didn’t hear anything, I was asleep. I’m going to call the police! Why should we wait? Oh, the cameras. How do you check these cameras? I don’t know
what a memory card is. Let me get us some lemonade while you fiddle with those gadgets. You’ve got it ready now? Okay, let us find out who’s doing this. Why, that’s me! What kind of cameras are these? I know good and well I was asleep, not tearing up my own house! That’s crazy! You think I broke my window and my music box? I don’t like that tone of voice, young lady! There’s no way I did that to my own trinkets and my own house! I’m not still upset over your father, it’s been three years and I’m fine on my own! Now you think I should be in an old folks’ home? Well, thanks a lot, my daughter! I can’t have this discussion anymore. I need to lie down. No, I don’t want to hear about the activities at Hidden Oaks. I don’t even want to be here. That breakfast time is too early. You’re not coming to visit me, Sandra, don’t tell stories. I don’t want a roommate. I want to be alone. I’m not participating in those activities. Where will I put my trinkets? I can’t get rid of my trinkets, Sandra. You know how I like my trinkets. Laura Widener is a wife, mother, and coffee addict living in rural Georgia. She completed her MFA in Writing at Lindenwood University. Her previous work can be found in TWJ Magazine, Morpheus Tales, and more.
Rat Patrol Amanda Noble
20 Creative Nonfiction
I was finishing up my breakfast of Nescafé coffee, Tang, and lukewarm garlic fried rice with a cold, greasy fried egg on top, when there was a knock on the door. The maid, Lola, called to me. I rose from the table, walking to the door to find two young men waiting for me. They introduced themselves as Boboy and Sammy. Many Filipino men had silly, kid-like nicknames that stayed with them their whole lives; Boboy was a common one. I shook their hands and invited them to sit in the always-empty living room. Boboy was about my age with bad skin and shy eyes. He was tall and lanky. His hair was long to hide his pockmarked forehead; new angry acne resided with old scars. I felt very sorry for him; I had suffered with acne as a teen. There were many days I didn’t want to attend high school because of those red bumps; tearful mornings, hating my appearance. Sammy looked to be a few years younger. He was short-statured with dark eyes that raced about, taking everything in. His fitted t-shirt and jeans revealed a nice, fit body. He struck me as a flirt, perhaps a “playboy,” a common term for Filipino men who devoted their lives to charming women, even when married--maybe especially when married. I
was attracted to Sammy, but wary. I’d known pretty men who were intent on breaking hearts: the last thing I needed while I was trying to cope with my circumstances in this new culture. “I’m Amanda, a Peace Corps volunteer.” “We know who you are,” Sammy answered. “The Mayor told us about you.” “Oh?” I was immediately suspicious because of my recent trouble with the Mayor, who had flatly refused to replace the nutrition worker who was to be my counterpart. She had moved north shortly before I arrived. I’d been here just a few months, but they’d been spent unemployed and idle. I tried to stay calm and patient, but it was difficult to convince myself I could have much of a life here. “He told us you were looking for a job,” Sammy said. The temptation to roll my eyes, even sneer, almost overpowered me. Instead, I arranged a small smile on my face. Politeness counted for a lot in the Philippines. I wasn’t going to break that rule. “What kind of work did he suggest?” I inquired, aiming for innocence. “We’re the rat patrol team,” Sammy grinned, as did Boboy , though not as broadly as Sammy. What? Was this a joke?
Was the Mayor not so subtly rubbing my nose in his power by sending these two here? “What do you mean, rat patrol?” I tried not to convey my distaste. “Our job is to try to keep the rats out of the rice fields in Bangar.” “And how do you do that?” “We try many things. Sometimes we shoot them, and sometimes we trap them; the farmers here don’t like to use poison like they do in some towns. The Mayor thought you might want to help us.” “Help you how?” Genuinely puzzled, I was sure that these guys could see that I was not cut out for this work. I was your basic 1970s hippie with bellbottom jeans, t-shirts and beaded necklaces. I was not a gun-toting animal-trapping kind of gal. “Anyway you can,” answered Sammy. His eyes were glowing, as if lit from behind, announcing his happiness, ready to please. I knew he was laughing at me, but I still found him adorable. He exchanged amused glances with Boboy, who struggled to keep his face solemn, but I could see a smile lurking in the corners of his mouth. “I can’t see how I can help you. I’m here to work in nutrition with mothers and their babies.” “Rats are nutritious,”
answered Sammy, again sharing suppressed grins and glances with Boboy. “What do you mean?” “It’s not unusual to eat rats here, especially if you’re poor,” Boboy answered this time, pushing his hair from his pimply brow. “So, you’re killing rats for people to eat, is that it?” I was shocked at this new twist on a nutrition program. Well, not exactly shocked, but it was just so unexpected. I’d learned nothing of this in training. “We have a new program,” Sammy said, evading the question. “We have funds to provide rice to those who capture rats. All they have to do is turn in ten tails and we give them a half kilo of rice. The Mayor thought you could help with this program.” Rice for rat tails? I still wondered if the Mayor had sent them to learn how gullible I was. Still, spending a day with them might be a diversion from my boredom and bleak mood. Besides, Sammy was cute. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll try it.” They both seemed surprised. Sammy’s eyes were wide, and Boboy’s mouth drooped open. When they gathered their wits, Sammy said, “We’ll pick you up tomorrow morning. Make sure you wear sturdy shoes.” “Sigé,” I said, okay, wondering why I’d need sturdy
shoes to knock on doors. Better not to ask. They arrived early the next morning. I was clothed in jeans, a t-shirt, and athletic shoes, the sturdiest pair of shoes I owned. Sammy and Boboy both wore the same type of attire except for footwear; theirs were sturdy high boots. They glanced down at my shoes and at each other, shrugging their shoulders. How was I to know that boots were required? Besides, I didn’t own a pair. Their vehicle was a beat-up white Jeep, with “Vector Control - Bangar” painted in artistic red letters on both sides; the capital letters were done with such a flourish it looked as if they were in flame. We climbed aboard; I was in the back seat, realizing it was the first private non-Peace Corps vehicle I’d been in since I arrived. We talked very little as Boboy drove the Jeep hard, passing others as often as possible. I held tightly to the roll bars, already wishing I had declined this adventure. Dust and exhaust amassed in my nose, eyes and mouth and stuck to my sweating skin. Already, I needed a second bucket bath, the local version of a shower. Eventually, we stopped in a small barrio. I assumed to begin knocking on doors. I couldn’t wait to get out of the Jeep. We approached a small 21
native-style house, a nipa hut. Nipa huts were charming; they resembled illustrations found in children’s books. Nipa huts were also an icon of Philippine culture; they were native-style houses of the indigenous people before the Spanish colonizers arrived. They were still used especially in rural areas. The huts were raised on stilts to prevent flooding; the living area had to be accessed by climbing a ladder. The walls were made of a variety of materials, including wood, bamboo rods, or bamboo mats. The materials tended to allow some coolness to flow naturally through them during hot times, and keep warmth inside during the colder wet season. In addition, Nipa huts were typically built with large windows, to let in more air and natural light. Large awning-style windows, held open by a wooden rod, were the most traditional. The huts were topped by a thatched roof, usually made of nipa, a small plentiful palm. Sammy climbed the ladder to knock on the bamboo door. The residents beckoned him in and he motioned us to join him. I followed, with Boboy behind me. “Kamustáka.” We all joined in greeting the owners of the house. The house was very small, and the couple occupying it was quite young. They had two children who 22
stared at us, particularly me, and huddled near their parents. Based on a quick look around, I believed the family was quite poor. Their clothes were pressed but worn, and their feet were bare. There was very little furniture, just a couple of straight-backed chairs and a small table. I assumed that the floor space was needed for sleeping. Cooking was done outdoors. When asked their success at rat hunting, the man nodded and handed Sammy a paperwrapped package. Sammy opened it and found ten tails inside. He held one up and waved it around, clearly for my benefit. Boboy, who carried the rice, gave the father a halfkilo; the young couple seemed thrilled. We traversed the barrio, collecting tails and trading rice until it grew to be midday. It was extremely hot when we stopped at a sari-sari for a Coke and a snack. A radio or tape player blasted the Bee Gee’s ballad, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” We sat in the shade on a bench outside the small store, humming along while eating and drinking. I indulged in one of my favorite local treats: peanuts roasted in garlic and sprinkled with sugar. The shade helped, but I was still sweating. “How many tails did we collect?” I asked.
Boboy consulted a notepad where he recorded the details. “One hundred and thirty,” he reported. Pleased by the total, Sammy gave a loud wolf whistle. “How much money do you have for this project?” I asked. I was never sure if I was being intrusive. “About enough to trade rice for the tails of a thousand rats,” Sammy answered. “Come on,” said Boboy, “let’s go back to work.” We piled into the Jeep; I clutched the roll bar and wondered what was next. We had finished collecting tails, and I was tired, feeling drained from the heat. I yearned for a bucket bath and a nap. We stopped near a large rice field and Boboy and Sammy leapt from the Jeep like action heroes. Suddenly, there was a gun, a rifle, in Sammy’s hand, making him look even more the part. Although guns were mentioned earlier, I freaked out. “What are you doing with that gun?” I asked. “We’re going hunting,” said Sammy, enthusiastically. “What do you mean?” “That’s our job. We shoot rats with the air gun. We also check our traps.” They laid a blanket on the ground, under a huge mango tree with a large canopy for shade. Mangoes were coming in. They looked
like lime-gold ornaments hanging from the ends of the branches. I looked forward to their ripeness, even though I’d not tasted one. The rice fields gave off a green glow as if they were coated with fluorescent paint, and that clean scent of a recent rain. I watched a farmer in the distance moving through a fallow field with a caribou. Cattles egrets swam through the humid air around the beast, some settled on his broad back. It was too hot for birdsong but insects set off a cacophony of their own voices. I was very ignorant of the variety of insects here, caring mostly about the plentiful mosquitos. I felt peaceful under the tree and my sweat was beginning to dry. I closed my eyes and tried to ignore Sammy and Boboy who waded into the field, moving slowly, trying to be quiet. When they brought up a trap, they shouted silently, raising their fists in the air. A switch turned off my reverie. Rice field rats build large burrows in the fields, where they breed almost endlessly. Short three-week pregnancies produce litters of up to ten, and at six weeks of age, the offspring are ready to make their own babies. The breeding season was closely linked to crop growth. If there was one crop per year, they could expect one breeding season. Newer
engineered varieties of rice that produced more than one crop annually had escalated the rat population. It was dry season, but the fields were irrigated; they grew two to three rice crops annually. Rats galore. Boboy and Sammy brought several traps to where I sat quietly under the tree. I had determined that my career on Bangar’s rat patrol team was limited; by the end of the day I planned to retire. I didn’t want to look at what they’d captured, but because they worked close by, I had little choice. There were about five traps with live rats in them, often babies or what looked like babies. The traps were opened and Sammy removed the rats one at a time. The next move was made by Boboy, who killed the rats by hammering their heads. The beasts cried - a chilling high-pitched scream that broke the silence of the afternoon. I didn’t like rats, but my distaste for killing animals was much stronger. There were no other trees offering shade; I was stuck on the killing floor. I put my sunglasses on, even though I didn’t need them, but they helped to hide my tears. They fell silently down my face. I was able to control a more hysterical gasping sort of cry I so wanted to have. Every so often, I raised a hand to wipe my face. I was practically certain that I’d
hidden my tears from Sammy and Boboy. Why was I crying? Was it just the aggression and killing taking in place in front of me? I didn’t think so. I was homesick, so homesick I wondered if I would make it through the day. Sammy grabbed the air gun and headed back to the field, Boboy on his heels with a small shovel. They were digging up burrows and shooting the rats when they panicked and tried to run. There were so many rats in the burrows that they only managed to hit a fraction of the total. In time, their large burlap rice bag was nearly full of dead rats. They brought it toward me proudly, like two satisfied cats, seeking praise. The Mayor could use a volunteer to help with this project. He’d just have to find someone else. At last they were ready to call it a day. When they dropped me off, I thanked them— “Agyámanak.” Both grinned. “Want to join us again tomorrow?” “No, thanks. Maybe I’d go with you to collect more tails, but I can’t kill those rats or watch you kill them. I’m sorry. Besides, I want to do the work I came here to do.” They were both still grinning, and I knew I hadn’t surprised them. “We’ll tell the Mayor,” offered Boboy. 23
“Please do,” I said, allowing myself to grin a little too. I quickly walked upstairs, grabbed a towel, and walked outdoors to the bathing room. I filled the bucket with cool water, and let it run down my back, trying to wash off the day, or the worst of it, change my frame of mind. I was falling in love with bucket baths, even though I never felt truly clean. But it was a nice way of cooling down, giving me private moments for reflection. I toweled off, dressed, and went back upstairs for a nap. If I couldn’t sleep, I could always re-read one of the three paperbacks I’d tucked into my luggage.
Amanda Noble has a Ph.D. in sociology and has researched and published numerous academic articles, book chapters and reports. Frustrated by the constraints of scientific writing, she turned her attention to creative non-fiction writing, especially personal essay and memoir. Her work took second place for nonfiction in Seven Hills Review and has appeared in Indiana Voice, Anak Sastra, Eastern Iowa Review, Flying South, Raven’s Perch, and Hourglass Literary Magazine. She was also a contest winner at writingitreal.com. She lives in Davis, California, with her cat, Lucy.
Photo: Brian Michael Barbeito
I Always Wondered What the Harvest Moon Was Reaping Amber Magnuson
My family used to walk around the neighborhood when the evening was crisp and crushable beneath our feet Up and down the cement hills until they began to push against us and we felt sore the next day, like we had gone miles. We had a lot of friends in that neighborhood, but we never saw them. On the night of the sunflower moon we walked to see it yellow the sky. I watched the petals fall and cover our feet, our legs, our collarbones. Finally with the last of them our eyes so all that remained was the disk, or whatever gave birth to the petals only to step back and toss them away.
Amber Magnuson is currently a high school student at the Fine Arts Center, a magnet arts high school in South Carolina where she’s a reader for the school’s online magazine, Crashtest (at http://www.crashtestmag. com/). In the most recent Scholastic Awards, she won gold and silver keys. This coming summer, she will attend a writer’s camp at the South Carolina’s Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities.
For Sergiy Nikolayev (1972-2015)
sister standing out front in a very long shirt and big boots. She’s holding an empty mug Girl that she found in the trash by My home looks like a giant the trees. She’s been holding it pink and green comforter held ever since, sleeps with it; all this together by wooden boards and stupid mug says is something pipes. It’ll hold until the rainy in English: Brothers Club. I season sweeps it over. I want to explained to her what it means, love my home. Part of me loves which made her clutch the it because I get to sleep next mug even harder. She has a to my mom and listen to her brother—we have a brother— breathing. We’ve lived in the but he’s gone now, we’re not camp for more than a month. sure where, likely to defend our It’s warming up and little filthy leader Aziz, who many people boys are kicking old cans like don’t like anymore. I start soccer balls. My friend Ad-am running again after Adam yelps points his toy machine-gun at in my ear and scares me with me and pretends to shoot as his toy gun. Fires burn in small if he’s a rebel or a soldier. He pots where fresh kill is cooked: shoots and I run around my a chipmunk, I think, maybe a hut and other people’s huts all snake because they’re common hung with comforters and rags. in the sand. I’ll eat whatever We scream and giggle through my mother eats. She’s asleep the junk by the scraggly trees right now, is always sleeping where people dump their crap and resting so she has enough for someone else to clean. But energy for the next move. As no one cleans and it’s starting long as the fighting continues, to rot and smell like pee and we’ll eventually have to load poop. Everybody’s shirt has our comforters and run. I try to grease or dirt, as if we’re all not think about our real home, miners. I stop and look into which my mother always a man’s dusty camera. “Hey, promises we’ll see again one little girl,” he says, and takes a day. “God willing,” she mutters picture of my shirt. It’s bright before falling sleep. yellow and has a birdie drawn on it, a brown, wooden birdie Boy with a blue pencil in her arms. I ride with my head out of That’s my spirit animal, that’s the sun roof, waving a peace the pencil I’m going to have sign with my hands, my bangs when we return home. I’m blowing in the hot wind. tired of the game, so I run back My father drives the white to my hut and find my little Suburban and honks and Fiction 27
screams for peace, no more in-house fighting—we can’t fight with Arelia and with each other. My younger brother and my sister, stuffed in the back, also scream out of their windows. The streets are full of people and broken palm trees, cracked shop windows and crockery. Cars honk and blare our national anthem through a loudspeaker, all in hope for the survival of our leader, Aziz, who’s fighting against the rebels. He’s a bad man but we love him anyway because he’s the reason we’ve survived here for this long—his revolution gave us freedom. My dad says that all world leaders have blood on their hands, and that it’s unfair to single out one man as being any different from the others. I feel the sun on my cheek like a burning star and the breeze in my bangs as we roll past the throng of fol-lowers. His image is everywhere—on someone’s car window, a color picture of Aziz with his curly hair and red-tasseled hat; there he is again on a bus stop canopy wearing a colorful robe and another in a tarboosh plus wraparound sunglasses to protect his sensitive eyes. There he is four times on the windows of a Cadillac convertible, one of those imports from the good days not long ago when everyone worked and I had toys from five different 28
countries. I clap my hands for peace and wonder how much longer his image will be plastered on each corner. We’ve heard many ru-mors in the last twenty-four hours: that he’s been captured, tortured, crucified, beheaded, burned alive, and buried. Another rumor has him pushing back the rebels who my father says are financed by foreigners who want a new leadership in power. Another rumor puts Aziz back in his palace, wearing one of his grand African robes, surrounded by soldiers, many of them women in high-heel combat boots. Three of him cover a storefront: three different periods of his life, costumes in the highest fashion. “What strong leader isn’t feared?” my father asks. My brother grabs my ankle and says it’s his turn to stick out of the sun-roof. Father doesn’t allow more than one of us at a time. Fear of stray bullets. But I’m not afraid. Aziz isn’t afraid; we’re all in this together. I lower my head and titter.
got vanilla wafer cakes that the old man gave me for being such a brave girl and walking through bombed out streets with unexploded shells lying around. I have to look out for hungry packs of dogs and feral cats that have lost their minds due to cyanide gas. Dark clouds of smoke pour from a truck into the sky like some bloody hole. “Don’t think about it,” is a common saying in the shelter, where we’ve been now for more than a year. My mother says, “Pray and keep your eyes open in case of an explo-sion, and always stay in motion.” Before I left for the pick-up, she went through a list of things to look out for: mines, live wires, IEDs, razor coils, potholes, craters, wild beasts, and soldiers, some who have switched sides and want to kill a few of us who still honor Aziz. By the end of the list, there’s too much for me to remember. I tiptoe across a collapsed bridge which I used to stand on and watch geese flow by in the stream below with rose petals. This battered bus to my left is spray-painted Girl to death. Cops beware Dot. Everybody’s waiting for me Fuck the West and East. Elina back at the shelter, the huts. I’m sucked dick here. Kill Aziz carrying a bag of frozen meat Now! I’ve always been a reader, and vegetables in one hand; unlike my sister and the other in another a bag with Kit Kat kids who prefer to watch TV and Snickers and two dozen and not have to think. I love to juice boxes that’ll be sucked read; it’s a kind of vacation for down in under a minute, in me. I see a heap of trash and thirty seconds or less. I’ve also spare parts across the crooked
street. A brown hat with orange tassels rolls through the dirt and I grab it and put it on my head. It fits; unlike the huge sweater that I’m wearing, which keeps me warm at night. Until the tide turns, until the fires stop burning, until Aziz restores order, our savior, “our punisher and our healer,” my mother says, we have to carry on. She likes to compare Aziz to a god, the man with the bright wardrobe and neatly shaved chin-beard that all the boys want to wear when they have enough hair on their chins. There’s the camp up ahead with everyone waiting for me, other girls in wet oversized sweaters. And boys wearing their fathers’ slippers. Their eyes light up when they see me with my bags, their mouths widen, and their little teeth glint. I feel like their deliverer, like Aziz once was, and I saunter towards them.
metal balls exploding, of busted respirators, of blood-soaked floors, screams of shit- stained halls, of families huddled in the yucky smells. I lost half my family to a bomb and the doctor told me I’m lucky to be alive. I scream a short prayer and fade in and out of consciousness. If not for the pain in my leg, and if not for the nasty cuts on my back, I’d be dandy, I’d be cruising around the streets with my brother and my sister, listening to dance music, being a kid, away from the tired eyes of doctors scrambling through the sop to save an arm, to cut a leg, to saw a bone, maybe my own, give the drug, the opium that thrives during wartime. We all got here the same way—shopping with our friends and families in Mandala Square not far from the temple and international school. We thought we were safe in our own territory, but then a bomb Boy exploded—retaliation from a I lie on an old gurney in rebel group that lost a lot of a room with rotting plaster lives when Aziz had missiles and a ceiling fan which clicks dropped in their neighborhood. and wobbles like some ticking Maybe Aziz needs to go. More bomb. I’m waiting and waiting and more people are rising up and don’t feel my leg anymore, to join the rebels or simply to and refuse to look at it. Echoes flee their homes. Maybe a new of screams bounce off the walls; government will provide the men, women, children, even things everyone wants—better wounded dogs are here. These security, freer elections, newer aren’t normal screams: these are schools, cleaner hospitals, screams of mortar, of shrapnel, and better roads. Probably of glass bits, of a thousand nothing will change. I should
be an-grier than I am. Revenge is part of my culture, is understood. The screams in the hospital reach their loudest pitch, and I raise my hand, the one that still has all its fingers, and place it against my ear. It doesn’t block out much. I remember the moment the bomb went off: I was in my dad’s SUV, driving with the windows down, when I saw a flash and heard a whistle across the sky. Girl We’re back. Home. Me, my mother, and my sister. After two years on the road, after two years of huts and stained comforters. A million bits of glass greet us on the little path to our home. The bits reflect the blazing sun and crunch beneath my sandals and my mom’s flip-flops. My sister clutches her mug and stays silent; she’s been clutching it for a long time. Now we’re standing outside, star-ing wide-eyed, like animals, owls, at the ghost of a house. The sun presses down on us, shines the blackened walls, like square heads with their eyes ripped out. Plaster hangs from the ceilings like strings of snot. I don’t see any furniture except the twisted remains of stools and table tops. Wires and cords also hang over the edge of a crumbly terrace. “I don’t think it’s safe to go up,” I say, 29
without looking at my mother or sister, but already they’re dragging me up the stairs, which are still sturdy. “You said you wanted to see your home,” she says. “I’ve seen enough,” I say. “This is what Aziz left us with.” “He did all he could,” my mother says. “I want to see my room,” says my sister, the first words she’s said in almost a week. That decides it, and we continue to climb. The building is completely abandoned, not one old lady, no stray cats or dogs. Nearly every house on this block looks the same. There’s no ceiling in the kitchen. We can see into the apartment above us where our sweet neighbors used to boil chicken soup every day. “Soldiers were here.” My mother proudly points at some objects: sandbags, empty ammo crates, and bullet holes. I look around and realize that our home is one giant bullet hole— big, small, little, holes and more holes. Nothing use-ful, everything gone, burned, blown away, except for the sandbags. My sister sits on the floor and kicks debris around as if she’s already forgotten where she is. We have enough food to last us two days, unless we get robbed on the road, which wouldn’t be the first time. Eventually, I’ll have to scavenge because I’m better at squeezing into holes and digging stuff out from wastelands; my mom 30
has the business sense—she sells and trades some of the things I find: a soldier’s buckle, a rusted Casio watch. “I want to go back to the shelter,” I say. Neither of them responds. My mother is looking around and remembering what it looked like only a few years ago, when our father and brother and other relatives all lived here. Now Aziz is on the run and my entire town is ruined. My sister lies on the sandbag and clutches her mug to her heart. I close my eyes and hear a crackle somewhere beyond, a gunshot, a whiz, and then a sharp scream, then nothing. I lie down beside my sister in the sandbag and realize that I was wrong when I said there’s nothing useful left in our home. These sandbags are comfy and those wooden ammo crates look like perfect coffins, dark, deep, and cool inside. Boy Yah, yah, yah, yah—braabraa-braa-braa. That’s the sound of me firing my first machine gun into the sky. I’ve fired handguns before but never a machine gun, never with that rotating action that nearly lifts me from my feet. Everybody in the street claps and laughs because the gun is almost as tall as me even in my cap and high-top sneakers. Bra-bra-bra-bra—a few more
rounds in the air followed by the smoky smell of powder. My aim is unaffected by my bad limp, or my hand miss-ing two fingers. The five-star flag of our land is everywhere, on rooftops and shielding windows, always reminding me of who I am and where I stand. But that’s all changing now. All these guns here—AKs and semi-automatics and waving flags are a sign of a new day, when we can speak and not worry about getting an ear or a finger blown off because we said something supposedly traitorous about our leader. What leader? One who kills his own people? Look around my block: Az-iz’s posters are in the street; ripped, spit, pissed, shit, and bled on—he looks even more colorful in his Grand Buba robe. An old woman beats her stick on his shredded face, while a priest throws holy water on another poster. I’ve got two more rounds left and I’ll waste them on a painted dum-my of Aziz nailed to the wall behind me. I blame him for my father’s death, my younger brother’s death, and my sister’s unwillingness to speak. My older brother was killed for writing a story. Something made up, something not real, about an old man who longed for life before Aziz, when things were simpler, when olive groves rose for acres on end. One day my older brother dropped a stack
of books off at home and went to meet a friend. He never made it to the meeting. Then we got the call a few weeks later to pick up the corpse, and to pay for the week it had been lying in the morgue. Bra-bra-bra-bra my bullets tear through the dummy’s colorful hat and his grim mouth that only cares about himself, and I feel like my brothers are smiling down on me. In the street, girls and mothers without their headscarves dance in the light, twine and twirl to a drum, a hundred drums. Everyone knows someone who’s been killed or maimed or just broken. “Let him shoot some more,” an older man says and grabs me lovingly by the shoulders. I’ll never know who killed my brothers, but I know whose fault it is; you can see all the mashed-up vehicles and over-turned trucks and burnt-down cafes. More of that’ll come; every kid running around here knows it, even if he’s dancing or cartwheeling away now that Aziz is on the run. I wonder if he’ll ever truly be dead, even after we kill him. The most monstrous men aren’t soldiers with blood-stained palms but those who command the bloodshed. A soldier can only kill one man at a time, but a leader can kill thousands all at once. A city at war is a city of specters. A pebble on the sidewalk, a cracked streetlamp,
a row of ratty laundry hanging from someone’s window become gravestones for all that’s disappeared. I smile at the pictures of Aziz burning like effigies and I know that tomorrow will bring more fire. ◊◊◊◊◊ Man I no longer know where I’m running to, only who I’m running from. Everybody is dead: my entire security outfit, my virgin soldiers, my doting secretary, my pet cheetah, my mural by Diego Rivera. Everything that I spent the last forty years amassing has been taken from me, pillaged, and now I’m running beneath a bright sun. The side of my head feels like a rusty nail is pulling down on it. I wobble at moments and remember that someone is running with me; in fact he’s holding my side, some loyal brother who appreciates how much I have done for him, for everyone in Sultan. Don’t stop, he says, keep running, there’s a safe house a few kilometers away. We were hiding in a tun-nel beneath a blasted bridge when an explosion hit one end and ejected me out the other. Less than a week ago, I was wearing my favorite tarboosh from Mozambique, purple with gold tassels, my robe from Cameroon, my alligator pants
and boots, sitting at a round table with emissaries, delegates, tribal leaders, and others luminaries, contemplating my country’s future, its perpetual state of war. I knew the rebels were closing in, but I didn’t think they were that serious—a gross oversight in a career full of oversights. I hear wolf-like sounds, coyotes of the blazing dunes; I’m still run-ning but I no longer feel the sand beneath me, the stray bullet casings. My hand is warm and I can smell the copper of my blood. Jackals, wolves, coyotes are closing in on me. I’m everyone’s dad-dy, everyone’s host; this country is me and therefore I’m in everybody. My friend is gone, the one holding me. “Where are you, my brother?” I say. More coyote laughter, and screaming, too, like banshees taunting me with a spray of spit. Something smacks my eye, the side without the wound. “Hey, fuck-face,” “Hey, daddy asshole,” “It’s the cruelest son,” “The great, bloody Aziz!” Am I still running? My arms are no longer in my control. Faces surround me, children’s faces, little boys and girls, all children of mine, all bloodshot eyes, all pupils like grenades. “Please,” I say. “I’m an old man.” Crack. A bottle is smashed over my head—now both sides of my face are red, redden-ing, blurring my vision. Someone has their hands around my 31
neck and is choking me. “You son-ofabitch—you fooled all of us.” They love having my blood on their hands, the little ones; it’s a transformative experience, like a joyful romp through the park. My tattered robe is torn off and I feel the warm breeze across my scraggly chest; now I’m being pushed from one tiny hand to the next, sharp claws, a hand with two missing fingers, squeezing, pricking, and slapping me like a pinball. Blood everywhere, the blue sky, sons and daughters of mine singing and reddening their hands. “Where’s my brother?” a girl holding a mug screams in my ear. “Give me my dad’s salary, you scumbag,” another lovely voice. “Children,” I say, or imagine I am saying. “You’re like the devil,” says another little boy who looks like me when I was his age, fighting in his first revolu-tion. I’m dragged by a thousand-armed octopus, kicked by two thousand feet with sharp toenails. My face expands, purples with blisters, and I imagine I’m one big puss-leaking hole. A camera looks me in the eyes, several cameras, small, big, medium-sized. I can see their outlines, and hear them click and snap my gruesome face. I try to speak, “Stop, children, please.” But the camera only laughs and makes more accusations and punches and kicks. Everything’s been stripped from me but my pants. “Let me explain,” I say. “You’ll suffer more without me. The rebels will be ruth-less!” Something sizzles through my leg, and I feel another jolt in the side of my head. My vision darkens, fizzles, like an old TV set.
Boris Tsessarsky’s fiction has appeared in Bare Fiction, Lunch Ticket, Folio, and Temenos Journal. Currently, he is working on a collection of speculative war stories. His first film, a short documentary called “King’s Highway: the Story of Malcolm Fairfield,” premiered in the 2016 NYC Independent Film Festival. He teaches first-year writing at Rutgers-Newark and Montclair State University.
In the Shadow of a New Dawn Fabrice Poussin
Following: â€œOld Bridge at Fiarmount Parkâ€? Rinal Parikh
Shadow upon shadow as stone upon stone; lives of love and loathing are built in time; dawns, dusks and noons alike are renewed; born again to make a palace to the stars. This moon too will wink at the sun tired, as its tender face casts a sweet night on men; a jolly wrestling match will ensue; burst of lights and rays of many shadows. Mirror upon mirror as cloud upon cloud; reflecting and absorbing projections of us; securing memories for times to come; like so many chests of treasures in Heaven.
Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University, Rome, Georgia. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, among others. His photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, the San Pedro River magazine and more than fifty of other publications.
Elder Mistrust Samuel Cole
Hey there, gramps. My English professor mentioned you in class today is what I think I hear my granddaughter say over the cellular telephone tucked between my right shoulder and ever-softening jaw line. At my age, and in my condition, talking on the phone while simultaneously decapitating green sprigs from the tops of ripe strawberries requires the cunning mélange of centrifuge eyes and ambidextrous wrists, which, much like my hearing, worked a lot better in my mid-seventies. But I always take her call, even when I’m fruitlessly wielding a sharp, pointed instrument with my one good hand. I figured she’d mention you at some point is what I think I hear her say as I mumble a reply, my only option anymore, my communication system eternally distorted by buzzing, clanging, and a continual popping sensation in both eardrums. God, I miss hearing the credulous lilt in her voice. Like a Mariposa Lily emerging from desert sand. More, the television volume in the living room is turned up to one-hundred percent because I refuse to wear hearing aids and because I am interested in the subject matter. If some half-wit in Estes Park, Colorado, wants to give me a power chair for free (in most cases) heaven forbid I stand in Medicare’s way. I’m
terminal, not naïve. I oughta jot down the one-eight-hundred number except I can never find a writing utensil. JoAnn, my daughter, hides them. A tactic meant to induce exercise. JoAnn’s always had an affinity for playing hide-and-seek. I’m not bitter, nor do I shame her for being obsessive-compulsive. We’re too much alike—two bottomless wishing wells devoid of a sturdy bucket or a tight rope. My professor said you were really dense in your day is what I think I hear her say as I notice a new stack of bills sitting on the center island. JoAnn bought me from the dollar store a spongy-tip water-dotter so as to make it easier for me to seal my bills, walk them to the mailbox, and raise the red flag. Doctor Pleshanko’s lab reports confirm a compromised circulatory system. JoAnn has threatened to stick me in the malodourous nursing home at the edge of town if I don’t go outside at least once a day. As a boy, I could spit water like an archer fish. One time in grade school, I bet my friends a full carton of cigarettes that I could spit twelve feet, six inches. Or was it seven? No, it was six. Regardless, now I can barely work up enough saliva to lick the roof of my mouth. Age really does make you dry. My professor said her father worshipped you is what I think
I hear her say when I spot my leather wallet cowering beneath the table, gutted and stretched out like taffy. I worry for the person who could commit such a cruel, surreptitious act. I oughta care more about cash. But I’m no good at math either. She wrote your name on the white board and then underlined the title of your book twice is what I think I hear her say when the room becomes dizzy, forcing me to set the cellular telephone on the table and turn on speaker mode. I stick my head between my legs and knock over the black tray table holding the phone book: Joann’s phone number circled like a windstorm in red pen. I’m glad she remembers my forgetfulness. The crash of the tray makes me smile. At least I can still feel vibration in my one good foot. It sounds like somebody is slamming doors, gramps. Is mom there? is what I think I hear her say as I bring the cellular telephone up to my big, cold ear. Even as a burgeoning teenager in the winter of 1942, cutting down White Pine trees with my father and his bearded crew of sardine smelling men, my ears were big and cold. I’ve always been disproportionately generous in all the wrong places. Last January, waiting hatless for the old people’s bus to come pick me up and transport me downtown to
the aquarium where I get to watch sea creatures watch me watch them swim around in a big blue tank, I heard the red-haired boy across the street tell his mother how much I look like a prehistoric gargantuan. He’s right. Call it like you see it. That’s what I do. Or did. When I could. When I told the class you were my grandpa the teacher just about swallowed her glasses is what I think I hear her say when I stand and limp my way to the front door. A delightful wind nibbles my neck the way Sheila, my wife, used to nibble during long, quixotic weekends at the lake house—a time when feeling numb was a good thing. God, I yearn for her signature touch, her thick scent of femininity huddled up against my skin, her morning shuffle beside my novel gait up and down Sycamore Street on pain-free bare feet we took for granted. My poor hands—misshapen barnacles of smoking-arthritis. My poor fingers—all ten have forgotten their names. After class, my teacher asked me if you were still writing, but I didn’t tell her what happened to you, gramps is what I think I hear her say as I press my Skechers (with memory foam) tennis shoes into the dew-laden grass and stare into the eyes of mistress sun, heavens loveliest paramour who continues to
offer herself up for the carnal pleasure of mankind. Beauty really is for the taking. My teacher said she heard something about your stroke but wasn’t sure how accurate the information was, given the source is what I think I hear her say as I step indoors, shut the front door, and pull my leg in the direction of the bedroom, leaving the strawberries in the bowl on the kitchen sink for whatever hungry critters might eat here overnight. I nod at the silver-tip knife dripping red juice on the white countertop, neither bloody enough to file fake charges nor thick enough to congeal into anything useful. The clock in the hallway is perpetually stuck on seventhirty, proving how little I care anymore about revolution. I stumble to the toilet seat and take an emasculating pee, glad that Sheila isn’t here to see how shriveled up my bladder, balls, and beard hairs have become. I blow my nose into a t-shirt. As much paper as I’ve wasted over the years, it’s the least I can do. My teacher wanted me to convey her sympathy and ask if you might sign for the silent auction this fall a few copies of your book Pandemic Seeds of Murmuration, which she says is her total favorite of all time is what I think I hear her say as I lie on the mattress and settle into the thick impressions my body has carved over three 37
decades, ten years now without Sheila, who left me alone with the living task of spreading each year a few more of her autumnal ashes amongst the springtime flowerbeds, living well and thriving from her death. God, I long to see her again, to leap bombastic bones between the clouds and ascend into heaven. If you could do that for me, gramps, Iâ€™d be uber-appreciative is what I think I hear her say as I close my eyes and mumble goodbye: I have nothing more to say; nothing else to write; nothing left to do. Iâ€™ve signed my moniker to everything Joann and my sweet granddaughter need to prosper. My epilogue, however embellished, is ready for print. Just sign the books and give them to mom when you see her next Friday and then she can send them to me ASAP. Is that okay, gramps? gramps. Grandpa. Grandpa Joe. Grandpa Joe.
Samuel Cole lives in Woodbury, MN, where he finds work in special event management. He is a poet, flash fiction geek, and essayist enthusiast. His work has appeared in many literary journals. He is also a prize-winning card maker and scrapbooker.
Unhinged Cara Long Corra
I was hoeing the garden when my lower jaw disconnected and fell off. Or, I should say, was nudged out. I had to help it along – it was a jaw after all. I stopped hoeing and kicked at it with my foot. I bent over to look at it, the skin on the lower half of my face flapping gently along with the breeze. “Huh,” I said, in my now broken English. “Huh.” I picked the jaw up. It didn’t have much heft, but my teeth did look whiter than usual. Maybe it was the sun making my teeth look newer. Or maybe it was the soil which clung to it. I admired my molars, which were large and unblemished. My incisors, however, were a bit crooked. When my jaw was in my mouth, I had never really noticed. I contemplated shoving the jaw back inside my mouth, but thought better of it. Unhygienic. Instead I carried the jaw inside. My husband asked what I was up to and I shrugged, pointing to the jaw in my hand. “Well I’ll be,” he said, standing up from his chair. “Did you find that in the garden?” I pointed to my face, which I knew had to look different. My husband came closer, examining me and then peering into the strange hole my mouth had become. He wiped away some spittle.
“How are we going to fix that?” he asked. I motioned him over to the sink. We had to clean the jaw before doing anything. My husband grabbed a pen and paper, and I scribbled down, “I must clean it!” I ran the jaw under the water and then plunked it into the washing basin. “Get glue,” I wrote down for my husband. I scrubbed the jaw until my teeth squeaked. I didn’t like touching the wet gum tissue and had to turn away when handling it. When my husband came back I was holding the jaw out away from me, letting it air dry. I took the glue from him and applied it to the hinges. I walked into the hallway and stood in front of the mirror. I motioned for my husband to help hold back my facial skin so I could fit the jaw in without interference. It was easier than you’d think. I lined the jaw up as best I could until the hinges clicked in place. I kept my mouth hanging open until the glue set, which took about a minute. I opened and closed a few times. “Alright?” I said to my husband. He took hold of my chin and moved my head around. “It looks like you got it,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “I guess you’re lucky Flash Fiction 39
it came out and went back in in one piece.” “Yes,” I said, wiggling my mouth to test the jaw. “I do feel rather lucky today.”
Cara Long Corra presently lives in upstate New York where she works as an affordable housing advocate. Her first collection of short stories, Partly Gone, was published in June 2014 by Unsolicited Press.
Photo: “Alwyn VII” Pam McLean-Parker
Waking the Dancer’s Bones Carol Barrett
i She rose in the dark to stretch with imaginary birds on the small deck, day-dreaming heron. The sun shimmied between buildings. Leotards, black, to illuminate contours, hung on a thin rail. She brushed her hair, figure eight taut. The face: dancer’s craft, tilt of brow, cheekbones backlit, sinewy neck sliding to grace the arms. The face too must dance. Contract and release they taught her. Graham technique.
Breath follows the soul’s lead. No movement without cause. When the ground submits, take to the air: leap, hurdling the dark then tuck, crumpled, landing faultless, still. It must look easy. Feet burn, then bleed, and still the dance, flamingo lifting, fire catching. To dance is to love the air more than the body, to regret nothing, save gravity, the heart flung into cloud.
iii How did the finale begin? Did she leap into the abyss of sky, forgetting the floor, limbs pushed off the dreamy edge of her world? Perhaps she simply waited too long for the call, that final audition, cockatiel in the wild, cold air closing. iv Every daughter dances for her father. It is how we begin: quick twirl, rippling skirts. The top spins, and falls, happiness rocking on a bare floor. Balance the leap, and the loss – redbird cape tucked to shoulders; the shroud, body’s ghost. Dancer air-borne. Bird in flight. Bird-daughter. Contract, and release.
Carol Barrett holds doctorates in both clinical psychology and creative writing. She coordinates the Creative Writing Certificate Program at Union Institute & University. Her books include Calling in the Bones, which won the Snyder Prize from Ashland Poetry Press. Her poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies including JAMA, Poetry International, Nimrod, Poetry Northwest, and The Women’s Review of Books. Carol has also published articles in psychology, gerontology, art therapy and women's studies journals. A former NEA Fellowship recipient in Poetry, she lives in Bend, OR.
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