Rathalla Review Rosemont College | Annual 2017
As a self-taught artist, Jacqueline Meyerson has been blessed to have been voted one of the top 100 Pastel artists in the world by the Pastel Journal. She has garnered many coveted national and international awards and gold medals including a designation as Master Pastelist. Jacqueline is a member of many art societies, including the International Association of Pastel Artists, The Pastel Society of America, Allied Artists of America, and the American Artists Professional League. Currently, she teaches a pastel workshop at the Baum School of Art in Allentown, PA.
Antonella Avogadro is an artist who comes in waves - it can be described as a rocky relationship. You might catch her completely immersed in her computer science classes for months, and all of a sudden see her dropping everything and staying up all night just to draw. To her disadvantage, she values art, music and a clear night sky much more than sleep.
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Nathan Nielsen graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz in 2009. His prints have been exhibited at both the Warehouse and Gallery Central in Fresno, California, and The Big Top in New Orleans. In addition, he has been published in Agave Magazine, The Stone Boat, and Driftwood Press.
Vincent Natale Martinez is from South Philadelphia. His primary medium is oil on canvas and his work now is primarily abstract. He likes to play with the forms found in landscapes and still lifes. Heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s studied at the Fleischer Art Memorial and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, where he has also shown his work. In addition to the occasional solo gallery showing in Philadelphia, heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s also exhibited work at the Cape May County Art League.
Rathalla Review | Annual 2017 Managing Editor
Creative Nonfiction Editor
Flash Fiction Editor
Maddy LeMaire Lorri Darbes
Christopher Eckman Stacy Wong
Brandon Hartman, Eileen Moeller, Carlos Jose Perez Samano, Lauren Stead, Marie Wright
Carla Spataro, Director of Creative Writing Rathalla Review | 3
Letter from the Editor It has been a great honor to serve as Managing Editor of Rathalla Review this year. As a student in the MFA Creative Writing program at Rosemont College, I value the creativity and perseverance of all writers who have crossed my path. Your energy drives the passion behind this magazine and I am forever grateful. A special thanks: Rathalla Review genre editors and readers: Your sacrifice of time shows your dedication to produce a quality magazine. I appreciate you so much. Roma Narkhede: Thank you for accepting the Production Manager position. It is a joy working beside you. The world awaits more of your artistic gifts. Keep shining! Carla Spataro and Marshall Warfield: Our guiding lights. Thank you for your direction and correction! In collaborating and celebrating the richness of writing and publishing, you do this magazine a great service. Featured writers and artists: Thank you for allowing us to showcase your gifts. This issue explodes with your powerful words and captivating images. We salute you. Finally, thank you to everyone who supports Rathalla Review with your finances, your social media shout outs and shares, or your encouragement directly to the staff. Your kindness speaks volumes. Happy reading! Yalonda Rice Managing Editor, Rathalla Review
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Contents Flesh in the Pan
The Search For Calm Among the Chaos
No Recollection of the Theft Blake Kilgore
The Proposal Sal Difalco
Moths to the Light
22 & 23
Broad Street in Winter
38 & 39
The Written Word
Nathan Nielsen Nathan Nielsen
Vincent Natale Martinez
On Staying, Long After the Abuse Has Ended Daniel Garcia
The Wedding Dress
Fish Cocks and the Band
Vincent Natale Martinez
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Contributors Flash Fiction
Poetry Alex MacConochie is currently completing a PhD in English literature at Boston University, where he also teaches writing courses and directs a theater company, Willing Suspension Productions, devoted to the drama of Shakespeare’s lesserknown contemporaries. His poems have appeared in The Kentucky Review, Vilas Avenue, Cargo, and elsewhere. Rita Feinstein is a graduate of Oregon State University’s MFA program. Her work has appeared in The Cossack Review, Menacing Hedge, Queen Mob’s Tea House, and Permafrost, among other publications. Gary Mansfield writes poetry, fiction, and essays from his home in Redlands, California. His poetry has been published by Poetry Nook, Paradise Review, Leaves-of-Ink, Wilderness House Literary Review, Wild: A Quarterly Journal, Straylight, and Oddball Magazine.
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Dick Bentley has published fiction, poetry, and memoir in over 260 magazines and anthologies on three continents. His books, Post-Freudian Dreaming, A General Theory of Desire, and All Rise are available on Amazon. Dick has served on the board of the Modern Poetry Association (now known as the Poetry Foundation). He’s a Pushcart Prize nominee and was prizewinner in the Paris Review/ Paris Writers Workshop International Fiction Awards. In 2012 and 2013, Dick gave readings of his poetry at the famous Paris bistro, Au Chat Noir. Before teaching writing at the University of Massachusetts, Dick was Planning Director for the Boston Housing Authority. He is a Yale graduate with an MFA from Vermont College. Mariah Montoya is the author of The Green Shirt with the Cat On It published in The Bookends Review, and co-author of Gys van Beek’s WWII memoir To Never Forget, available on Amazon. Sal Difalco lives in Toronto. His work has appeared online and in print.
Creative Non-Fiction Ayesha Hamid is a Philadelphia-based poet and writer of creative nonfiction. Her poetry has appeared in Blue Bonnet Review and Philly Flash Inferno. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in Publishing from Rosemont College. Recently, she completed a full-length memoir called The Borderland between Worlds and is the Editor in Chief at The City Key, www.citykey.wordpress.com. Daniel Garcia is a writer and poet based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. His work has been featured in Write About Now Poetry, Capturing the Corners, the WaterTower Theatre, SUGAR Magazine, and is forthcoming in The Fem. When he isn’t writing, Daniel can be found giving as many hugs as possible, living by the words, “You are all that you have,” and falling off the edge of the Earth.
Fiction Blake Kilgore lives in Burlington, New Jersey, with his wife and four sons. People there treat him with kindness, and he is at ease living among the old and tall forests of the Garden State. His lingering accent, however, verifies that his heart is still Texan and Okie. Blake’s writing has appeared in Lunch Ticket, The Stonecoast Review, Midway Journal, Forge, Thrice Fiction and other fine journals. To learn more, please visit blakekilgore.com. Daniella Levy was born in the USA and moved to Israel with her family as a child. She is the author of By Light of Hidden Candles (Kasva Press, 2017) and Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism (Guiding Light Press, 2016). Her short fiction, poetry, and articles--in three languages--have appeared in publications such as Writer’s Digest, The Forward, Reckoning, Stonecoast Review, and Chachalaca Review, and Newfound recently nominated her for the Pushcart Prize. She lives at the edge of the Judaean Desert with her husband and three sons. Connect with her online at Daniella-Levy. com.
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Flesh in the Pan Dick Bentley
The National Conference on Self Esteem is having its annual convention at the Des Moines Civic Center. I see a woman who looks almost exactly like an older version of Nora, my first great, deep love. I was seventeen, and back then we sometimes referred to kissing as “making out” or “petting” or “necking.” Nora and I must have been necking because one time I bit her neck — an enthusiastic accident. I apologized, but I did not see much of her again.
Now the woman at the conference has my attention. I stare at her as we circle the salad bar. My eyes follow her as she climbs the steps to the hotel’s mezzanine. I think she is beginning to notice how I gape, how I gaze, how I watch her wherever she goes. Embarrassed, I ask a friend from my Breakout Group to speak to the woman and explain, feeling I should keep my distance. The two women become good friends. The first woman, whose name is Laura, says she understands. Then the three of us become friends as we attend panel discussions, power-point presentations, and breakout sessions. Laura sweetly forgives me for staring at her all the time.
The conference is over; it’s time to leave. We stand in front of the buses, waving goodbye. Some of us are hugging, and I can’t decide whether to kiss Laura on the cheek or on the lips. I decide the cheek, but that side of her face seems to be strangely paralyzed. Maybe it’s just due to aging but then, as my lips brush her cheek, I notice her neck, I notice the scar. She starts to step onto the bus. Then she turns, leans over and says she thought she knew me from somewhere before.
“But you weren’t that creep, thank God.”
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Valentine Rita Feinstein
did you ever read that story or others like it about the couple whose car broke down in a snowstorm and when they tried walking to the nearest farmhouse or gas station the cold stopped their hearts and when the spring thaw uncloaked their bodies their spooning skeletons seemed peacefully asleep and if you ever read that story did you feel the warmth suffusing your eyelids and did you feel my bones in yours
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The Search For Calm Among the Chaos Ayesha Hamid
My maternal grandfather and grandmother were born in times of great change and widespread global crisis. Lives were unpredictable and children were propelled into adulthood before their bodies could catch up. World War I came and passed, and then fascism gained ground among people who had once believed in the primacy of reason, a people once touched by the Enlightenment. World War II gripped the globe during my grandparentsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; formative years while British Colonial Rule, entrenched in the Indian Subcontinent for centuries, swayed and then collapsed completely. Pakistan was created in 1947, two years after the end of World War II, and though the creation of a border between India and Pakistan involved the simple act of using a pen to make lines on a map, the blood-letting that followed had incalculable consequences.
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My mother’s parents were Mohajirs, or migrants who relocated from India to Pakistan during the partition; they settled in Karachi, one of Pakistan’s now largest cities. No matter the spreading squalor within Karachi’s new shanty towns, my grandparents built a secure home, located in Defense Housing Authority, one of the city’s safest locations. The property’s cement walls protected the family from the city’s crime. Floors of cold stone absorbed burning light and strong concrete beams flowed upwards, seemingly touching the sky. Regardless of the security of this home, the instability of their times never allowed my mother’s family complete relief. My grandfather warned my mother and aunt about good times saying, “Don’t become attached to good times because bad times are coming right after them.”
For him, everything had always been tenuous. Rigorous responsibility was thrust onto my grandfather, Nazir Khan, or Baba as everyone called him, at twelve years of age, when his father succumbed to an unknown illness and became a recluse. After this point, my greatgrandfather rarely interacted with his family to offer any support or guidance. Instantly, Baba became the head of the household since his mother, like all other women of that society, was limited in what she could do. Females couldn’t fathom thriving without a viable link to a man, and without this visible connection, a woman was considered suspect. Women needed the “guidance” of a male relative, even if that relative was a child. So Baba was given much authority, at a young age, and would continue to be the guardian of his mother and sisters for the rest of his life. In speaking of his mother, my grandfather said, “I’ve been a parent to my mother longer than she was ever a parent to me.” As a child, I saw them, my grandfather and great grandmother, speaking to each other a handful of times; she’d always look on lovingly while he stood with a more serious stance. When he left her company, she’d feel comfortable
enough to pull out a small, multicolored, tin box containing her favorite games and start playing solitaire. If her son happened to return after remembering one last point, she’d quickly hide everything back in the box.
Everyone called my great grandmother Nani Ma, meaning simply, grandma. All I know about her is that her ancestors may have migrated to South Asia from some other part of the world, like Turkey, because her fair complexion and thin, long limbs were indicative of foreign blood. My grandfather shared the same complexion and stature. Nani Ma was married off at fourteen, to a husband twice her age. Before her marriage, she’d usually spend the day sitting under the shade of tropical trees or running around, but after her marriage, she started dealing with the responsibilities of motherhood. From this point on, she became a servant of sorts because her husband held strong opinions regarding how children should be raised. He yelled at Nani Ma saying things like, “Feed him this way!” or “Don’t put her clothes on like that!”
Nani Ma’s marriage continued this way until her husband’s death. From then on, she never wore anything besides a white sari, as was expected of the widows of that day. In the limited memories I have of her, she’s always wearing the same type of sari. I had the opportunity to spend time with her before my family left for the United States. We’d both sit on the sofa, in the living room, with the smooth green carpet under our feet. She’d complain about her aches, pains, and especially her wrinkles. I told her that when I grew up, I’d become a doctor and find a way to fix her physical problems. I held her face between my hands and lifted her cheeks up saying, “You see, your wrinkles are gone. When I’m a doctor, I’ll figure out how to fix your wrinkles for good.”
Impressed that a five-year-old child could think in such terms, she told my mother that one Rathalla Review | 13
day I’d “do something amazing like become a great doctor who would heal the world.”
My grandfather, on the other hand, wasn’t someone who gave compliments as easily as Nani Ma did. In order to deal with his responsibilities and the uncertainties of life, he became singularly focused, becoming obsessed with his studies and then work. He finished his education and worked at a bank for the rest of his life. His life resembled that of an ascetic because indulging in pleasure wasn’t part of his repertoire. Life wasn’t meant for pleasure anyway, it was meant for self-sacrifice. Instead of splurging on food or drink, he’d eat just a samosa during the workday and, in this way, accumulated more money for his family. Due to his meager diet, he remained extremely thin throughout adulthood.
In his thirties, he lost all his hair.
Bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders, he was constantly irritable. He’d often snap at his wife or children. “Shut up, you fools!” he’d yell at his daughters.
He lectured my mother and aunt about the centrality of work in an honorable life. “There’s no other honor in life than an honest day’s work. You girls like to waste your time. Forget about your foolish fantasies. This makeup, this fashion, this jewelry is all rubbish. I want you to become well-educated and to stand on your own feet in this world, or else it will take everything from you. Bear the gravity of this world with the shield of education; people are fickle, but you can trust knowledge,” he said.
As his daughters grew older, he found more nuanced ways to criticize what he thought of as questionable decisions. Writing a letter to my mother after we’d been living in the U.S. for a few years, my grandfather implored her to move back to Pakistan. “Your children are not meeting their potential because of the poverty that immigration has brought. Their education suffers every day you stay in America. Top quality schools are waiting for them in Karachi, so bring them back and salvage their education. In America, the best 14 | Rathalla Review
that they can hope for is to become waiters.”
Regardless of all the self-control, my grandfather had a life-long vice – he smoked cigarettes. Breathing problems related to cigarettes caused his death in 1988, but he probably passed away, without guilt, knowing that his whole life had been spent taking care of his mother, sisters, wife, and daughters. Though he died a number of years after his wife, he was outlived by his mother.
My grandmother Azeema, or Begum as most called her, was a softer soul than my grandfather. She was not one to yell or lecture, but was a kind and loving parent. In her pictures, she always had her hair back in a bun and wore formal saris. She seemed to be assessing the world, looking on it through her thick, eye glasses. Begum had been greatly molded, at seven years of age, by the loss of her mother. For her deceased mother, she had an abundance of affection. Perhaps it was this child’s desperation for the presence of her mother that made her memories so real, or maybe it was her memories that made her so desperate. Whatever the case may have been, her memories were something that she couldn’t or wouldn’t lose. Her mother would never be replaced. Others didn’t feel the same intensity as Begum; her father remarried quickly after the death of his first wife. My grandmother would later recall her stepmother and say that “that woman could never compare to my real mother.” If any child could disown her parent, Begum did so with her father. Choosing to live on the second floor of her aunt’s home, located right next to a graveyard, instead of living with her father, Begum created a distance and declared her continuing loyalty to her mother.
During her life, Begum put on many masks that disguised her desperation for love; one of her faces was that of a humanitarian in the guise of a physician. In her day, the purpose of a woman’s higher education, even in the west, was to secure a good marriage, but Begum’s educational pursuits were not so singularly driven. She was also focused on work, like her husband,
but her obsession went deeper than supporting her family. She’d craved the power to heal long before she went to medical school, and in becoming a doctor she gained some control over her chaotic surroundings. It would be the control she didn’t have when she’d wanted to stop her mother’s death. To harbor this control, she linked herself to universal suffering and became a balm to Karachi’s suffering masses. In so doing, she joined the city’s deluge of pain and perdition and became entangled in an endless circle of life, death, and disease.
Later in life, Begum switched roles and took on the face of a cancer patient, recovering and then relapsing. Finally, the cancer metastasized. Debilitated, she must have had time to think even though she was in great pain. She must have considered whether she had done everything she could have, to help those who needed healing. Would her daughters, women without the protection of brothers, be able to deal with the trials of life? Luckily, she’d had the time
to arrange my mother’s marriage to a good man. He had kind eyes, and among the thousands of faces that she’d seen in her lifetime, she felt that his was one she could trust.
Perhaps, as she lay dying, she thought again about her own mother’s death. Would her mother finally come back for her, now that death approached her, or would she meet her mother on the other side of the curtain between life and death? My grandparents’ home had become quiet except for Begum’s painful breathing. The sounds of what seemed to be a subdued drum thumped through the house as her lungs attempted inhalations and then collapsed. “Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilayhi Raji Un,” my grandfather said. The utterance of these words, “surely we belong to God and to him we shall return,” customarily uttered after someone’s death, confirmed to everyone that Begum had left the world. It’s been forty years since she died, but just like her mother, she is not easy to forget.
Weeks’ worth of graph paper, palms red from screw -drivers whipping off paint-buckets’ lips, months Of meeting weekly in a classroom to rehearse,
Fishing line, unused plywood and blue gels over Backstage lights and someone’s braided belt,
All taken out. Cashbox and all in awkward armfuls, Bags, leftover tickets and posters and half-drunk ginger ale. Carried out to borrowed cars, thrown away somewhere
(Recycled) once it’s all been sorted out. Shoes and costumes, actors’ Own clothing with scrawled reminders pinned on Thrown over chairs in the office. “Platonic
Ideal of the grad student office.” Everything so soon
Disposed of, in the sputtering fat rain, piled to be sorted And drinks where I’ve been drunk before. Not now. Some Of the company comes back next year. Others graduate,
Study abroad, have other commitments, extraordinary lives. Easter weekend, some rush home and we won’t
Except at random see them for months or ever. They gave Laughter, gasps, confusion to a couple hundred people,
Their hands to build and break it down. Take something else.
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No Recollection of the Theft Blake Kilgore
Granules of soil mingled with spittle to produce a slimy coating on his lips and chin. Blades of grass tickled his lashes each time he opened his eyes, but they seemed heavy, and he felt a profound desire to keep them closed. Every sound was distant, cavernous. His brainwaves were in slow-motion, reduced so that he could not even formulate basic cognition. Somewhere inside was a caution or concern, but it couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t break through the blanket of his semi-conscious stupor. It was the stiffness in his limbs and dull throbbing in his brain that woke him. He ached from marrow to skin, from crown to heel, and it was a lingering ache that made all movement sluggish. He brought his palms under his chest, which pounded in a rhythm both panicked and irregular. The blood was trying to purge, but he had been unconscious. Suddenly he felt the rush in his bladder, and he savored a small victory, realized his pants were dry.
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They would not remain so if he did not rise and find release. With colossal effort he pushed himself to his knees and opened his eyes. Packed dirt and crushed blades of grass testified to a long sleep of forgetfulness, but he slowly recalled, smelled and saw the dried river of vomit crusted on the roots of a familiar oak. It was baking in the morning sun and the sloshing contents of his riddled stomach were convulsing for another go. He crumpled against the trunk and retched. It was mostly dry and some swallowed back, a chemical fire in his throat.
panic and he hoarsely called for his wife and children. He banged fists on wood and rang the bell, too, but the house was silent, empty. Cato turned and ran to his truck. There were tools in the bed. But he was too late and the marauders tackled him, securing hands and feet. Cato thrashed wildly until one of the men waved a moist cotton ball under his nose. There was a burning agony and then darkness and silence. ——— Cato woke to a rhythm, steady drops along Cato slumped and rolled over to behold the a hollow pipe, and then the gurgling sound of morning. The full sun burst like a rod of flaming ripples spilling on the floor. He was blindfolded, steel inside his brain, clamoring through his skull, and the pressure of the binding was excessive. ear to ear, base to brow, swelling his eyeballs, and There was also coarse cloth inside his mouth, hammering down his shoulders into his back and pulling at the corners of his cracked lips. He could chest. Instinctively his hand rose to cover his eyes, barely breathe and his thirst was unbearable. His and more scorching vomit slithered around his pants were no longer clean; he smelled both urine gums and over his tongue. His eyes moistened with and diarrhea. pain, and with regret. Inside, it felt like his brains were being There was a rattling, hissing noise from his pressed outward, against the harsh lining of his left. Cato shielded his eyes and saw the old blue skull. He wanted to scratch beneath his scalp, pickup, its grill crumpled around a wrought iron wished he could detach his crown and thrust lamppost, which was leaning toward the earth at fingers into the matter to knead away the arcing a forty-five degree angle, its bulb mostly dark. At pain. He longed to plunge his head beneath a random and sparse intervals, it clicked and buzzed, waterfall, to let it seep into his ears and eyes and the light barely flickering before retreating again mouth and through his pores to rehydrate the to silence. The wheels of the truck had churned the cracking flesh inside his head. It felt like he was earth, had carved a serpentine groove from street to dying. post. Cato’s hands and feet were bound to a Cato’s eyes adjusted as his brain slowly chair, and his back was stiff. Sciatic pain was revived, and he realized that he was at home, lying jolting from his lower spine, shooting up to his in his own front yard. He could fathom little else. shoulders and down to his knees. He tried to struggle against the ropes, but they were too tight, Retreating night bugs, morning song birds, the and every effort proved both useless and painful. hush of the breeze and accompanying swaying of Soon his wrists and ankles were raw with burns. branches suddenly intruded, and a flicker of peace penetrated the looming despair. Cato closed his “You killed my daughter!” eyes, and two streams pushed from beneath eyelids The voice was robotic in tone, but its as his body began to shudder. A plea for mercy cadence was human, angry. Cato placed the voice whispered over his chapped and grimy lips. to his right, and soon he felt hands removing his But the symphony of nature was ruined, blindfold. Then the pain in his head was jarring, interrupted by the harsh throttle of gears, the for he was placed beneath a row of spotlights squealing of tires and sliding of doors. A long which beamed down on his face. Cato closed his white van jerked to a halt at the curb, blocking out eyes, but the hot lamps burned through his lids the sun, and several men shot from open doors, and the throbbing was unrelenting. Just when he covered in black from head to toe. Cato counted believed he could take no more, the lights shut off six men, and they were spreading out over his front with a loud click, and a sound of power winding lawn as they advanced on his position at a trot. He down. The pulsing in his brain subsided slowly, stumbled unsteadily to his feet and toward his front and two of the masked men approached and lifted door. his chair, then carried it into a long hallway with many doors, but only one exit. It was locked, and the knob twisted in his “The police are looking for you. But they hand with futility. His eyes streamed now with Rathalla Review | 19
will not find you. They will not find any of you.” The altered voice echoed through the silence of the place. Cato was somewhere forgotten, out of the way. But, why the phrase – ‘any of you’? Fear clawed from his belly into his heart, which began to race. He mumbled frantically against the gag, but no one responded. Soon he heard a scream, and its tone was familiar. Then one of the doors down the hall opened with a whine. A moment later a bound and gagged young woman appeared, shadowed by two of the masked men, each securing an arm. She was a pretty college girl, with blond hair and beautiful blue eyes. Cato pulled against the ropes, but soon the masked men were holding him down, and the robotic voice was speaking. “You killed my daughter! Now, I will kill yours!” Alyssa, Cato’s eldest daughter, broke free for a moment and charged forward, falling before him and weeping on his knees. Blinded by tears, he mumbled incoherent apologies. If only he could get free. But then the men were dragging her away, and she was screaming, and when she was at the end of the hall, they took her into one of the rooms. Cato was praying as he never had, begging God to forgive him for his crime, and to spare his family. Boom! The gunshot echoed, a bass sound that caused the tin walls to rattle and sway. Cato wept uncontrollably, but through the fog of tears he saw two black clad men drag the body of his precious daughter through the exit, into the sunlight. “She is gone now, and it is your fault. Drunks hurt everybody, but especially those they love the most.” An eerie sound of robotic weeping accompanied masked men loosening the gag enough to slide a tube into his mouth, and then they began pumping in water. When he swallowed, he felt a jolt of healing in his limbs. He started to talk, but the men replaced the gag, then the blindfold, and he was left alone with his guilt. Lonely hours filled with mourning followed, as Cato recalled his decline, the enslavement of addiction. He binged a few times in college, but he had been a serious student. He’d been proud not to live to booze like many of his fellow classmates. After he graduated, he hardly drank. He was busy with his career and with starting a family. But then 20 | Rathalla Review
his sister Jade died, unexpectedly, and he bought a case of beer for solace. It was gone two days later, and he had been drinking alone. It frightened him and he stayed dry for several months, but the sorrow of Jade’s passing lingered. Later, he started bringing home a case a week, drinking two each weeknight and the rest on the weekends. He’d put on the ballgame and check out, and the sorrow would subside until the next night, when it was time to turn up again. When Alyssa was three, and Cato’s wife Sarah was pregnant with their second child Johnny, she started to express reservations about the empty cases of beer and the weekly trips to the liquor store. Cato laughed it off, said he had a high tolerance. It was no big deal. But something ill was growing inside, a desire to drink that was unquenchable, and he knew it, though he lied to himself too. When Johnny was born, Cato snuck a flask of scotch into the hospital, and went to sleep each night buzzed. He became adept at keeping the buzz on, level, so he could get up in the morning without too much headache, and with enough mental energy to function. But his stomach was beginning to testify, and there was often blood in his stool. And he still got rowdy when he went out for a special occasion. In the beginning, his best friend Jeremiah and the rest of his boys found it hilarious, because the normally quiet Cato would loom large, taking on a charismatic persona that brought smiles all around. But then they started to see the fallout after the big nights. Sometimes Cato slept in the alley behind their favorite tavern. He even got robbed once, but had no recollection of the theft. There were two DUI’s on his record now. One night Sarah and the children tried to intervene. Jeremiah was there too. They spoke in turns, saying how much they loved Cato, and how they all needed him, and that he had to figure a way out of this maze. They would help him in any way, but he had to admit he was helpless. Cato knew he was out of control, but he would never admit it. He just decided to make purchases in cash, keep the booze out of sight. He could control this, had been doing so for many years. Never took a sick day for a hangover, never missed an important event. So he blacked out a few times. No big deal, right? But the lingering fear was always there, the barely conscious realization that he could not manage this, that it would chase him down, and he would not escape the consequences.
And now he had killed someone’s poor child, and his precious Alyssa was murdered in revenge. Did they have Sarah and Johnny too? He knew they did, and tried to figure a way out of the mess, but his bindings were secure and he could hear the constant footsteps of the masked men on the other side of the wall. And his brain was still mottled by drink. He was so angry at himself, but all he could do was cry. ——— The lights were on again, burning into his skin, and then the blindfold and Cato’s gag were off and he was blinking, trying unsuccessfully to see. While two of the men came to pump more water into his mouth, the leader was speaking in his digital voice. “We do not even need to kill you, fool, for you will kill yourself, soon. But what of the others, like my daughter? Should we let you live, when your recklessness will take more lives?” Cato was weeping, begging for his family’s life. “You have had your revenge….my sweet Alyssa…I am sorry…” “Stop talking, drunk, you did not kill only my daughter. My son was taken as well. My daughter, she died suddenly, as soon as you hit the car. But my son died slower. So will yours.” Johnny was wearing his letter jacket. He was only seventeen, a high school junior. He was strong for a kid, but no match for the three masked me who led him down the hall toward Cato. He was forced through one of the doors and then Cato heard screaming and the grinding of machinery and soon blood was pooling from beneath the closed door. Cato cried out for his son, but Johnny only shrieked. The sounds of his anguish eventually ceased, but the machinery and the blood continued for another two hours. Cato watched as the men carried out bulky bags of flesh and blood, as they brought in the mops and bleach and cleaned the space so that no one would know what they had done. Cato was sober now, enraged. He was dead already, so he might as well kill. He focused and his eyes dried. He called out to the leader. “Who are you to judge? What gives you the right to torture and punish my children? I am to blame for the deaths of your children, not they. Come and face me, coward! Take off your mask!” Cato heard footsteps and then he saw his wife. She was bound and gagged, and they brought
her close, forcing her to sit a few feet away, facing Cato. The leader walked over and stood between them, and then took off his mask. But beneath the first disguise was another - a caricature of Cato’s own face stared back into his weary eyes. “I am Cato the drunk. And only I can make it stop.” Cato bowed his head in humility. “I confess - I am an addict! I will do whatever you ask. Please, set us free.” The masked men untied Cato and loaded him back into their van. As it raced away, he looked out the window and saw three shapes, the three drawn faces reluctant, but still looking with hope at a new future and a resurrected life. He collapsed then, like a mountain crumbling from peak to cavern. His body rolled and swayed, the tears poured. Bewildered, gasping desperately for air, he eventually cramped from the lamentation. Riding away from his kin, for his kin, Cato knew the old man would have to die. He wondered who he might become next. And he wondered if he could forgive. Of course they were right and he was wrong. It was a just tribulation, but he still felt a brooding anger. He signed his own name at the bottom of the paperwork, checked himself in. The masked men waited in the van, made sure he was committed. Once inside, he called Sarah, and they mourned together for all that was lost, and they prayed for what they hoped might return. Two months later they were all waiting for him, and though he had been angry, he was calm now. He hugged Jeremiah before he got into the car with his family. “I understand why you did it, and I am grateful. Now I want to go home, and start again.” Sarah drove and Cato looked out the window. He could feel the nervous gaze of his two beloved children. He wanted to live, for all of them. But you can never kill the demon. You can only chase him into the shadows. So when Cato and his family passed through the green light at Broad and Strait, Cato looked down Broad. Three blocks away he saw the golden sign that hung above Esau’s Liquor, one of his old haunts. He closed his eyes, shook his head. But then he got to wondering.
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The Wedding Dress Daniella Levy
It must have been the dress.
Every single day for the past five years, Noya had walked past that same display window on her way to the parking lot in downtown Jerusalem. Some days, she would let herself stop and wryly examine the dresses on the headless white mannequins. Enormous upside-down cupcakes of fluff and lace, to varying degrees of gaudy. True, for the past year she had stopped every day. Ever since that dress went on display. But go inside?
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Maybe someone had swept past it on the way to fix something and made the soft, shimmering satin drape just so. Whatever it was, that particular day in early November, Noya could not resist the temptation anymore. It was the wedding gown of her dreams and she was going to try it on. A bell clanged somewhere as the glass door swung open, and with it came Noya’s first pang of regret, but it was too late now. She had already been spotted. “Mazal tov! I’m Meirav, how can I assist you?” The sales girl was probably ten years Noya’s junior, a sleek-haired, mocha-skinned brunette with a grin slightly too wide. She had been perched on a stool by the front desk and scaled the roomy wooden-floored entrance in just a few long strides. She was standing too close. Noya was at a loss for words and she felt her cheeks burn. Her wedding ring was burning through her finger. Meirav waited patiently through the awkward pause, and then grinned again. “What do you think of the dresses on display? Anything strike your fancy?” “That one.” Noya managed a high-pitched stutter and a weak gesture towards the gown. “Which?” Meirav swept past her towards the mannequins in the window. “You mean this one?” She was standing next to one of the lacy horrors. “No. That one. The shiny one.” Meirav turned around and gave the mannequin a once over. “Ah, this one.” A pause. “Hmm. We don’t have any left in the dressing rooms. It’s going out of style, actually.” She glanced back at Noya with a heavily penciled eyebrow arched in disapproval. “We were going to replace this one tomorrow.” “So take it off the mannequin. I want that one.” Both Meirav and Noya were a little taken aback at her boldness. Meirav recovered quickly and put on her grin. “Of course. Would you like to wait here or in the dressing room?” Meirav hovered over Noya as she tried to undress, chattering about the cleaning lady who was supposed to come yesterday and do this room properly but her uncle’s car was stoned in East Jerusalem by some Arab schoolkids and his elbow was fractured and she had to go fight with his doctors about his treatment and who lets those kids roam around throwing rocks at 10 in the morning anyway, couldn’t they tell he was an Arab himself?
Noya was only half-listening as she tossed her shirt and slacks aside and stepped into the dress. “You’ll want that bra off for the full effect, sweetie,” Meirav added, drawing an imaginary neckline over her own chest, and that was when she saw the scar. Noya could tell, because she saw through the floor-to-ceiling mirrors that Meirav quickly averted her eyes downward and cleared her throat as Noya drew the dress up, covering it. “So!” Meirav chirped. “When’s the big day?” Obviously, Noya had not thought this part through. Well, she hadn’t thought any of it through. She didn’t even really know what she was doing there. She was about to confess this, or make up an excuse to get out of there, but then she looked up at her reflection. At the way the satin cascaded about her hips. At the dainty rosette on her right side and the lacy panel that opened up from that point underneath the satin, spreading as it fell to the floor. At the gathered lace pleats that spread diagonally up her waist. At the glow of her dark brown skin against the dizzying white of the fabric. And she blurted the first date that came to mind. November 30th. Meirav’s eyes widened. “November 30th? Are you serious? That’s less than a month from now! Do you have a hall already? A caterer? The rings? The rabbi?” The truth was simple enough. “The rings we have.” Meirav had one hand on her forehead and was staring at Noya’s reflection open-mouthed. “What’s the rush? If you don’t have a hall, you can still postpone it.” Then an idea clearly dawned on her, because her eyes lowered and narrowed at Noya’s stomach. “I’m not pregnant,” Noya said sharply. “I just need it to be then.” “Well,” Meirav flipped her hair and stepped behind Noya, jerking the zipper up. “We are not used to working on such a tight deadline. I don’t even know if it’s possible to get the alterations done in that time. Depends how much needs to be done. And of course, it’s going to cost you extra.” Her thickly mascaraed eyes flickered up momentarily, giving Noya a pointed look through the mirror. “Money is not a problem,” Noya murmured. Meirav stepped back, examining Noya in the gown, tapping her lip with one finger. Noya stared at the mirror, entranced, slowly turning this way and that. “I have to admit,” Meirav said, resting her Rathalla Review | 25
chin on her thumb, “it’s like it was made for you.” “I know,” Noya murmured. There was a reverent silence. Meirav snapped her fingers. “I know just the person you need. One of our brides told me about her a few months ago. Her name is Daria and she takes care of everything. Invitations, halls, catering, flowers, everything except the groom.” She let out a hearty chuckle at her joke, backing towards the door. “Hannah said she can meet any deadline and haggle down even the snobbiest venues. She has connections all over the industry. The best of the best.” She did not wait for Noya to respond. “You go ahead and change, and then you’ll leave your details with me at the desk,” she said, turning the door handle. “I’ll have her call you.” She slammed the door shut behind her before Noya could say a word. Noya sat at the pristine white breakfast island dividing the kitchen from the living room in her high-rise Rehavia apartment. The business card from the “Dream of Satin” Bridal Salon, with Meirav’s name and cellphone number scrawled across the bottom in smudged black ink, was in her hands. She just stared at it. Four sets of claws clicked in from the bedroom, and a pointed little whine broke the spell of the business card. Noya looked down at the gray Tibetan terrier, who sat, looking up at her longingly through those impossibly long eyelashes. “Another minute, Lucky.” She glanced down at the card again, then stuffed it into the pocket of her slacks. She heaved herself out of the chair, a cushioned, modern “pod” style thing that Matan had insisted was the height of fashion these days. She pushed it carefully back next to its match at the breakfast island. She had no interest in disturbing Matan’s masterpiece of apartment design. Her job was to maintain it. She slipped her feet into the Crocs by the door and grabbed the leash on the hook. Lucky pranced around her legs in an excited frenzy. “Yes, yes, we’re going, we’re going.” She grabbed Lucky’s collar and hooked on the leash, and they headed out the door towards the elevator. Lucky was skittish about rain, and the sky was looking pretty ominous as Noya swung open the glass door leading to the private courtyard. Both of them hesitated, looking up at the clouds. “Just do what you have to do and we’ll go back inside,” Noya said to the dog. Lucky glanced back at her doubtfully, but with a little tug of the leash she was soon off sniffing the bushes by the gate. 26 | Rathalla Review
A series of beeps sounded from the gate. Noya pulled Lucky away from it and further into the grass, trying to find something to focus on so she could pretend not to notice the neighbor who was about to enter. She heard the gate swing open and a pair of stilettos clop down the path to the building’s entrance. Noya had never really gotten used to living among rich people. It was never something she imagined herself wanting. Rich people were the ones who exploited her mother’s poor, thickly Amharic-accented Hebrew to cheat her out of her wages, and who were never happy with her father’s hard labor in their pointless, water-wasting gardens. The first time she ran into a neighbor in the elevator, the man had asked her whose apartment she was cleaning and how much she charged per hour. When she told him she had recently moved there, he smiled politely. “Oh, how nice! Is your husband Ethiopian too?” She replied curtly that he was Israeli, just like her, but that his great-grandparents had come from Yemen. The man nodded with a satisfied look, as if her husband’s slightly lighter shade of skin would explain everything. Ever since the business deal that made him rich, Matan had insisted at least twice a week that they hire a cleaning lady. Well, at least he did back when they spoke at least twice a week. But she had always refused. “I don’t need any help,” she would say. He even tried to get her doctor to tell her she shouldn’t clean, but she knew he was lying. Nothing was going to save her uterus, and there was no point in playing the disability card where it wasn’t needed. In her childhood in the housing projects of Rehovot, the social worker from Welfare always remarked that their apartment was the cleanest one in the neighborhood. Her mother was extremely methodical in her cleaning habits, and had involved Noya in her routine from a very young age. There was something soothing in echoing her mother’s movements: the wiping down of the bathroom mirror every morning before brushing her teeth, the laying out of a clean dishtowel every evening before bed. For the past ten years, it had helped her feel her mother’s presence. As she and Lucky walked out of the elevator on the 11th floor, Noya felt her phone buzz in her pocket. She took it out and glanced at the screen, hoping it wasn’t Matan. It wasn’t. She didn’t recognize the number. “Hello?”
“Sha-lom,” sang the voice on the other end in a thick Russian accent. “Am I speaking with Noya?” “Yes?” “This is Daria speaking! I got your number from Meirav at the bridal salon and I understand you are planning a ‘flash wedding’!” “I… yes,” Noya heard herself say. “Well, first of all, mazal tov!” “Uh, thank you.” “So as Meirav probably told you, I am a highly experienced wedding organizer and I would love to help you plan your event.” There was an awkward pause. Noya hated phone pauses. But Daria charged ahead: “If you are interested, we could meet and discuss details, costs, and the like. I charge two hundred shekel for a onetime consultation, but if you decide to hire me, that cost will be deduced from the overall price.” Noya still didn’t know what to say. “Listen, motek,” Daria continued, “I’ve seen many brides who are planning their wedding, it’s a very stressful thing, you know, even when there isn’t such a tight deadline. I know exactly how you feel. My brides are the happiest brides on earth, they sit with their feet up while I take care of everything for them! No headaches, no fighting with people over prices! Now, planning a wedding on such a short deadline is a difficult task. A very difficult task. But it’s possible, and I’ve done it a few times. There was this once…” Daria’s voice chattered on as the image of Noya’s actual wedding floated into her mind. The backyard of the terror victim organization’s headquarters in Katamon, slightly overgrown grass with plastic tables hiding under decorative cloth. The organization had ordered flowers and catering, and set up an impromptu wedding canopy under the blossoming almond tree. She had borrowed a dress from the local lending foundation. They did not have much of a selection in petite sizes, and the one she had reluctantly chosen was too tight around the chest and had far too much lace. There was a constant drizzle of pink and white petals falling around them as this rabbi she had never met before told the video camera about the “terrible ordeals” she and Matan had been through, and the “triumph of love over terror.” The video of their wedding ceremony went viral, and the organization raked in tens of thousands in donations as a result. Some of it had been given directly to them, and it paid for their refrigerator and washing machine.
She tried to remember if she felt stressed about organizing the wedding at the time. Probably not. The ceremony itself was an afterthought. It was surviving day to day that was so difficult. “And I can assure you that you will end up with the wedding of your dreams, and you will actually be able to enjoy it! Now doesn’t that sound wonderful?” “Yes,” Noya murmured. “That does sound wonderful.” “Excellent! So when would you like to meet? I can come right to your home if that’s easiest. Are you free tomorrow evening at six?” “I…yes,” Noya said. “Wonderful! I’ll be in touch tomorrow for directions. I can’t wait to meet you! Bye-bye.” At 6:17 the following evening the doorbell rang, and a huge lady in a flamboyant flower-print blouse and skin-tight black pants burst in. Her hair was dyed that unnatural shade of purplish red that only Russians can pull off. She made a big fuss over the dog with all kinds of high-pitched noises and exclaimed about the beautiful décor as she bustled Noya over to the couch. Noya weakly offered her something to drink, and she requested tea with three teaspoons of sugar. “So, let’s begin,” Daria said, bobbing her tea bag up and down in the mug, “with you and?” “Matan.” “Matan. How did you meet?” It was a story Noya used to tell on autopilot. She had been interviewed on it at least a dozen times for various newspapers. But as she opened her mouth to respond, she realized that it had been a very long time since she had told it last. “I was injured in the terror attack at the shuk in November of 2002,” she said, her tone flat and detached. “I was eighteen. My parents were killed.” She nodded towards the wall opposite the couch, where she kept a large picture frame with a grainy photo of her parents. “Oy, miskena!” Daria exclaimed in sympathy. “Matan was a volunteer paramedic. First to arrive on the scene. He saved my life.” “How romantic!” Daria swooned. Yes, most people responded that way. It did sound romantic when Noya thought about it objectively. But it certainly did not feel like the stuff of fairy tales at the time. She was in the hospital for four months, and rehab for six. Lots of internal damage, many surgeries. She had to relearn how to walk, stumbling like a toddler into the arms Rathalla Review | 27
of someone who was not her mother. That first year of recovery was a blur in her memory, a blur of pain of every imaginable kind, of nightmares, of frustration and despair. The sympathetic strangers disappeared after the first few weeks, but Matan kept visiting, following her progress, volunteering to help her with her rehab exercises. On one such occasion, she collapsed on the floor in despair, crying that she just couldn’t do this, and why couldn’t she just have died with them? He had knelt next to her, and tilted up her chin with his finger, and wiped away her tears, and planted a solid kiss on her lips. A pause in Daria’s chattering jerked Noya out of her reverie, and she started, realizing that Daria had asked a question. “I’m sorry,” Noya said. “What did you just say?” “I know,” Daria chuckled. “It seems impossible. But it’s not. Tell me every detail about what you want the wedding to look like. Go crazy,” she said, gesticulating in a wide circle. She reached into her black leather handbag and produced a tattered notebook and a pen. “I…I don’t know,” Noya stuttered. “Well, let’s start with the scenery.” Daria flipped through the notebook until she found a blank page, then clicked the pen open. “What suits your fancy? A garden? Waterfalls? The seaside?” “I don’t really care,” Noya said. “Any of that is fine.” Daria chuckled, scratching Lucky—who seemed to have taken permanent residence on her lap—behind the ears. “They always say that,” she said. “You think you don’t care. But you do. Somewhere deep in your heart is a dream of your perfect day, and my job is to find it and make it happen. So, let me ask you again. What is your vision about the scenery?” Noya chewed on this for a moment, reaching far into the recesses of her memory, where what once were the dreams for her future still lived. “I think,” she whispered, “I would like a view of the Old City of Jerusalem from the chuppah.” “There you go!” Daria laughed. “Now we have the beginnings of a vision! Let us build from there.” For the next hour, they went through every single detail, from the centerpieces on the table to the streamers on the ceiling, from the hors d’oeuvres to the chocolate soufflé, from the flutes and violins at the reception to the DJ for the dance floor. The more Noya dug into these frivolous desires, the easier it became to grasp, and then 28 | Rathalla Review
describe what she wanted. Daria jotted everything down with excitement, asking questions, offering ideas. Finally, Daria summed up the options, and named some impossibly exorbitant sum as an estimate of what the whole thing would cost, including her fees. Noya, drunk on the freedom of exploring her fantasies in a way she had never done before, did not hesitate to close the deal. Predictably, Matan’s call came when Daria’s down payment check was cashed and a few thousand shekels disappeared from their checking account. Noya had been watching TV, stroking Lucky’s fur idly, as Lucky chewed contentedly on a rawhide bone. Noya heard Matan’s ringtone and sighed, staring at the screen for a few moments before turning off the TV and taking the call. “Yes.” “Noya.” “Yes.” “How’s it going?” “Fine.” “You sure?” “Yes.” “You haven’t called.” “Neither have you.” Noya’s voice came out bitter. “Where are you?” “Now? Berlin. I have a few things to finish up here and then I’m off to London.” “London? I thought you were coming home after Berlin.” “I was. There was a change of plan.” “Weren’t you supposed to be in London at the beginning of December?” “It’s complicated, Noya.” He sounded impatient. “Listen, I was looking at the checking account and I noticed—“ “Does that mean you’re not coming home until the middle of December?” Noya cut him off. He was startled speechless for a moment. Noya never interrupted him. “Ah, yes, it does.” There was a long pause. “You haven’t been home in a month already.” “Yes.” Matan’s voice was a little incredulous. “Is there something wrong?” Ever since his success Matan had been traveling nonstop, and Noya had found it very hard to speak through the distance. Over time she began to feel like another of his business partners. Apartment manager. Home administrator. But they had needed the money, at least at first, and
Noya could not bring herself to ask him to spend more time at home. It wasn’t like she could have kids she needed help with. By the time they were wealthy, the momentum of that emotional distance was firmly established, and Noya did not have the strength to fight it. She stared at her parents’ smiling faces above the television. “The memorial day,” she said softly. “November 30th. Ten years. I just… I don’t want to be alone.” Tears now splashed down her face, and she found herself gulping back a sob. There was stunned silence on the line, until Matan’s voice, low and tender, spoke. “Noya,” he said. “All you had to do was ask. You want me to come home?” Noya took a deep shuddering breath, trying to pull herself together. Lucky was looking up at her with concern. “Yes,” she said, her voice firmer now, stronger. “I want you to come home.” “I will have to check my schedule. I’m not sure it will be possible on November 30th. But I might be able to get home on December 1st.” “But,” Noya faltered. “You’re sure? It won’t ruin one of your business deals?” “Are we not rich enough for you, Noya?” His voice stung a little. Noya’s chest constricted in pain. “You know I never had any desire to be rich, Matan,” she said sharply. “Then what do you have a desire for, Noya?” The question echoed in her head, and the images of her dream wedding, the ones she had summoned with Daria, floated before her. Along with the ones she did not tell Daria. Like the ones of her parents clutching her elbows as they escorted her to the chuppah. Her mother’s eyes gleaming with tears as she looked out over the Old City. What your grandmother would have given to see this, her mother would whisper. Matan gave a frustrated sigh. “What does it matter what I want, if I can’t have it?” Noya whispered. There was a pause. “It matters to me,” Matan said softly. Noya just sniffled, wiping away her tears and stroking Lucky. “Are you putting together a memorial ceremony or something?” Matan asked finally. “Is that what the money was for?” Noya’s breath caught in her chest. She
couldn’t lie to him. “Something like that,” she muttered. “For November 30th?” “Yes.” “I will try to be there, Noya. I can’t promise. I will try.” Another long, tense pause. “I love you, Noya.” She managed to choke out the words herself. They felt so forced, but she knew it would hurt him so much if she didn’t say them. “Love you.” Mouna was whistling to herself as she flitted between the aisles, delivering boxes of medications to their proper drawers, when Noya walked in the following morning. “Tough night?” Mouna asked with a sympathetic smile. Her face was framed by a bright red hijab. “That’s a nice color for you,” Noya said, gesturing at the scarf. “Don’t change the subject.” Mouna squinted at her. “Is everything okay?” Noya sighed. “Nothing. I had trouble sleeping.” Mouna raised a skeptical eyebrow, but went back to stocking the drawers. Noya dropped her bag and went to examine the cash register. There was already an old woman standing outside the glass door, glancing between Noya and Mouna with visible dismay. Noya elbowed Mouna and muttered from the corner of her mouth: “Want to take bets on which pharmacist she’ll choose—the black one or the Arab one?” Mouna sighed deeply. “I don’t even know how you joke about this.” She put on a bright smile and held her hand up to the woman, her fingers pointing towards the ceiling in the shape of a beak, the Middle Eastern gesture for “Just a minute.” “If I don’t laugh about it, I cry.” Noya opened the register and checked the contents. “I’d rather laugh.” “Is that husband of yours back yet from… where was he?” “Berlin. Paris before that. And no.” “I think you’re crazy for staying and working here when you could be living it up in Berlin and Paris.” “What would I do in Berlin and Paris?” Noya shrugged. “I like my work.” “What would you do in Berlin and Paris?” Rathalla Review | 29
Mouna exclaimed, slamming one of the drawers closed. “Why don’t you bring me along, and I’ll show you?” She chuckled, walking around the counter to open the door for the customer. “Good morning, ma’am. Can I help?” The old lady handed her a prescription, still looking at both of them suspiciously. Mouna went to fetch the medications, and rattled off the instructions in a politely cheerful tone. The woman paid and left without saying a single word to either of them. Noya sat on the stool by the counter, regarding Mouna thoughtfully. “Mouna?” she asked. “Hmm?” “What was your wedding like?” Mouna looked up in surprise. “My wedding?” She shrugged. “It was a wedding. You know. It was twenty years ago. I have pictures.” “Was it the best day of your life?” Mouna thought about that. “No,” she said. “It was fun, I suppose. But when I think about the years Abed and I have spent together, it definitely was not the highlight.” Noya would never have dared to ask such personal questions before, but now she couldn’t stop herself. “What was the best day you ever spent with Abed?” Mouna tilted her head at her, carefully considering. “I can’t really say,” she said finally, and then: “Maybe this is strange, but what is coming to mind now is the day Leanne was born. It was an emergency C-section. Scariest day of my life. After the anesthesia wore off I was in so much pain, I could hardly move. And he was just there. Kept asking me what I needed. His phone was turned off. The baby was in the NICU and we weren’t allowed to visit her yet. So, he just sat with me. Stayed with me all day. We talked that day more than we had spoken to each other since before Mahmoud was born.” Noya chewed on her lip. “If you could do it again,” she said slowly. “The wedding, I mean. If you could do the wedding again. Would you do it differently?” Mouna shrugged. “I don’t think it would matter. It’s not the wedding that counts, it’s the marriage.” Noya nodded, lowering her eyes. There were a few moments of silence. And then Noya opened her mouth, and found herself telling Mouna the whole story, from the dress and Meirav to Daria and the wedding plans. By the time she was done, 30 | Rathalla Review
Mouna was staring at her with her mouth hanging open. “Wow,” she said finally. “Wow.” She reached up to adjust her hijab. “So, you’re going to go through with this?” Noya nodded. “And Matan doesn’t know?” Noya shook her head. “It looks like he won’t be home until December 1st anyway.” “But,” Mouna leaned against the counter, resting her forehead on her fingertips. “What are you going to do at a wedding without a groom? When you’re already married? This is totally crazy, Noya. I didn’t know you had it in you.” She smiled and gave Noya a playful cuff on the arm. “I like crazy. Have you started inviting people?” “Of course not.” “Well you can’t have a wedding without any guests, can you? I assume your wedding planner person doesn’t cover that?” Noya shook her head. “I’ll take care of it then.” Mouna smiled widely. “I think you owe yourself a nice party with you in the center. Give me the number of one of your cousins.” Before Noya knew it, November was drawing to a close and the date of the wedding was coming up. That is, the party. Or, the memorial service. Noya wasn’t even sure what it was anymore. She had half a mind to call the whole thing off. But then, the week before, she went to the bridal salon for a practice session with the hair and makeup artist. Meirav insisted that she try the dress on again to impress the other workers with how perfectly it fit her the first time. Noya took one more look at herself in that dress and she knew that there was no escaping it. She was going to go through with this. It was the first thing she had ever really given herself. And crazy and frivolous as it was, she knew that she needed it. She got at least three incredulous calls a day from cousins and friends and in-laws, trying to figure out exactly what this event was supposed to be. First, she tried to stutter through a vague explanation that it was some kind of celebration, which no one seemed to understand. Then she just started filtering the calls, answering only when she saw Daria’s name on the screen. Matan did not call at all. The night of November 29th, Noya tossed and turned until even Lucky was exasperated and decided to move to the couch. When Noya finally
drifted off to sleep, she had the dream again. The blood, the screaming, the excruciating pain, the darkness of temporary blindness from the blast. The strong, warm hands that dressed her wounds, that carried her to the ambulance, that stroked her cheek as the sirens blared. The soft voice in her ear. Stay with me, girl. The sense of slowly drifting from the pain, from the substance of her body, towards a sensation of glorious nothingness. She thought she could hear her parents’ voices. But then it was only his voice. Stay with me. Stay with me. And she had. When the limousine pulled up to the venue, Noya pursed her lips, took a deep breath, and stepped out. When she finally looked up, she blinked in surprise. She had counted on maybe twenty guests altogether. But about fifty people were already awaiting her arrival, and they all burst into applause and cheers when they saw her in the wedding gown. She studied their faces for shock or confusion, and started to feel confused herself when she saw none. Mouna was there with her husband and three kids, in a sparkly purple hijab and flowing black dress. She grabbed Noya and kissed her on the cheeks several times. “Mazal tov, mazal tov,” she said. “Mabrook, sister.” Feeling somewhat lightheaded and dizzy, Noya allowed herself to be shepherded to the “bridal throne”—a big comfy chair draped in white satin and decorated with fragrant flowers. Rose petals lined the pathways. Gentle violin and flute music floated above the chatter of the guests. The smells of roasting meat and freshly baked bread rose from the tables with the hors d’oeuvres, mingling with the sweet scent of jasmine. Noya looked around her. It was everything she could possibly have imagined. Daria arrived, in an outrageously colorful dress that revealed a little more of her cleavage than Noya particularly wanted to see, and smothered her with hugs and kisses. Even the social worker from the terror victim organization was there, the one who had arranged her actual wedding. How had Mouna even known to invite her? She smiled and wished Noya mazal tov and went off to eat. Noya’s chest began to clutch in anxiety. Why was everybody acting so normal?
There was a sound of drums from a distance. Noya’s heart started pounding and her hands began to sweat. She had told Daria that she wanted the groom to be accompanied to the bridal throne with drums. But there was no ceremony. There was no rabbi. There was no groom, for Heaven’s sake. Noya started glancing around in a panic, looking for Mouna, looking for someone to whom she could explain all this. Her breath grew rapid and shallow. What was she supposed to do? And then the crowd parted, and Noya dropped her bouquet in shock There, in a beautiful tuxedo, a flower pinned to his lapel and a skullcap on his head, was Matan. He was smiling radiantly as he slowly advanced towards her. Noya covered her mouth, unable to speak, and then she began to cry. Big, heaving sobs, and she didn’t know why she was crying so hard but she knew she had never felt happier in her life. He reached her and his eyes darted between hers. He reached towards her face and wiped her tears away, then tilted her chin up with his finger and leaned in towards her cheek. “Can we start over?” he whispered in her ear. Noya could only nod. Matan pulled the veil over her face, and then reached out for her hand. She gave it, and he helped her to her feet. They looked at each other, and Noya let out an exhilarated laugh. Matan smiled and offered his elbow. She hooked her arm around his, and together, they began walking up the path to the wedding canopy.
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Abandoned Waves Gary Mansfield
Abandon boats survey their surroundings On black asphalt, between dead trees, While being picked apart little by little By men with greasy fingers and slimy hair, With casual indifference and mediocre whim. They once told a story; had a life; Made waves. They were once like us; we will one day Be like them.
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On Staying, Long After the Abuse Has Ended Daniel Garcia
And yet here you are, again.
Morning spills across your eyes. This is where you are reminded that you have, in fact, lost him. And even though it is over, and you have not seen him in months, you have, once again, for some reason, convinced yourself that this is love. And even though it is not love, nor has it ever been love, you have, once again, convinced yourself that it is. This is where you miss him most, in this state of waking and dreaming, this state of halfway here and not, and even though you are doing better than you have most days, today, you miss him.
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And maybe it’s because of this state, this place of being between waking and dreaming, that you can convince yourself of the viability of this not-love. Here, there are no frantic text messages. No empty promises, nor the occasional wayward hand swinging horizontally at your face. He does not take your body without permission; you do not call him fifty times, wondering if he is okay, panicking because it is nighttime and he is out drunk, and most importantly, warning bells do not ring in your head and you do not tell yourself that this will be the last time. Again.
Here, when your eyes are still heavy with sleep, things do not hurt. You can imagine him as he should have, could have been, without remembering all the reasons why he wasn’t what he could have, should have been. Here, you see the yearning of a boy falling in love with a man for the first time, and how it was always too much, always at the wrong time, but always able to work itself out without that boy having to do shit except fall in love with this man for the first time. him.
This is always the hardest part of missing
Once, you lived at building 9, apartment 201. You don’t remember his apartment number, but that he lived in building 12. After minutes of knocking on his door one night, it eventually dawned on you that he wasn’t going to answer. And somehow, you came up with the bright idea to scale the backside of the building, all the way up to where his balcony was, jutting out like some jagged finish line. His apartment was on the second floor, and you told yourself that if you could just make it to his patio door on the balcony, you’d be able to see him. Somewhere along the climb up, your body failed you.
Maybe your hands lost their grip, or your arms could only support your weight for so long. Maybe your useless legs buckled and gave out, or the soles of your shoes slipped on the surface of the building. Either which way, it didn’t occur to you how high you actually were until you let go, until you could not help but wonder if you could have held on just a little bit longer. In the
moment, seconds passed.
But here, in the remembering, you swear it was much longer.
You swear it must’ve taken years.
Your legs protested all the way.
Your legs took most of the impact, feet and knees and shins kissing the wet earth, and just like that, his hands are there again, airplanes crashing into your cheek. Pain. Your teeth clenched as you forced yourself onto those shaking, useless fucking stilts and trudged back to your apartment, wondering when you’d see him again. And this is how you learn grief in the absence of a man that has not died. Deep down, you know that you will not ever see him again, even though you will try to see him again, even after you have hurt yourself again. And later still, you will want him, even after you become angry and curse his name and learn to hold your anger for every shitty thing he has done to you. You miss his arms so much. And you learn this in the way you search for him in the sheets, faces and hands of other men. You remember the tapes: No one will ever want me. I don’t want to start over. I will never find anything like him ever again. No one will ever love me like he did. I will never get over him, I still miss him, I still love what he could have been. What am I going to do without him? I will never get over him, and you will tell yourself that you are wrong. I don’t want to start over, and you will remember that life will go on, regardless. I will never find anyone like him ever again, and you will say, “That’s the point.” No one will ever love me like he did, and you will remember that it was not love, he never loved you in the first place. I will never get over him— bullshit. I still miss him—okay, true.
I still love what he could have been.
This is the sorest part of it all. This is the ache that will linger long after you have performed the surgery, cut out the decaying flesh, allowed the infection to drain out of you: You will still learn that grief is, like most immaterial things, a thing Rathalla Review | 35
that stays, long after he stopped dancing with you. You will miss the forever part of him, the what if, the how he could have been so much of everything you wanted, everything that the yearning of a young boy could equate to. After a time, what you will come to grieve is loss of the absence itself. That is, you will miss the fact that you don’t miss him as intensely as before, and as strange as that sounds, it is true.
Because the thing about grief that you have learned is that it, too, ends. And when his ghost becomes the last connection you have to him, it makes sense that you would not want to let him go, even if everything was one-sided, even if it wasn’t a real relationship, even if you did everything you could to stay, beyond all reason. What am I going to do without him? Everything, you will tell yourself. You will do everything.
But today, you don’t do that. Because even though you don’t live at apartment 201 anymore, and he is no longer in your life and has not been for months and months, you miss him today. You unravel the sleep behind your eyelids and leave that young boy sobbing in the realm of halfway here and halfway not and go on, because that is what you have learned to do. You say that man’s name instead, practice putting the syllables in your mouth, and try to pretend it is a victory. And try to convince yourself of its proof as a victory in the way you arch your back; stretch and wonder, like many mornings, how in the hell you are still alive, wonder what it would be like if your shower stall wasn’t a shower stall, but instead, a bathtub, capable of holding a small ocean inside its hips. This does, after all, seem more realistic than scaling a building. But wondering is pointless. Wondering is being half-awake and yearning for the type of not-love that does not end in being alive. Despite his (and your own) best attempts, you are alive, and it isn’t something to marvel over, and it isn’t a fucking miracle. It just is, bitter as that sounds.
And even though it is senseless to dream
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that your shower stall could be anything but a shower stall, or that, I’m sorry, it won’t happen again, could be mistaken for the type of ocean or love that a bathtub could cradle in its hips, you will still dream it as such. And still, you have lost him. And yet here you are. You have lost him, and this is where you remember that losing is a lesson that you are still learning, and as you swirl your legs out from under the sheets, you wander to the bathroom, and decide that maybe it’s good that the shower isn’t a bathtub. And decide that maybe it’s good that bruises, even the ones on the inside, fade, too, and at this point, when your clothes have come off, and steam is filling the bathroom and your hair is plastered over your eyes, you decide that, yes, it must be a good thing that the shower isn’t a bathtub. Because as sad as it is, as fucked up it is, you know that if the shower was a bathtub, you would fill it with water. And you would fill it with water because, if for nothing else, you would sink into this small ocean with your mouth closed, just to see if you could, in fact, hold your breath for what feels like years, and if not that, then maybe hold on just a little bit longer.
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Mariah Montoya Look, look there—
Ambling up, the card registrar, not even a lunch lady, who swipes school cards before you enter the cafeteria and says to every person, every time, “Thank you, have a nice day,” and whose back is arched like a graceful C. Zero in on her. Notice her nose sloping downward, curving till it connects with the skin above her old, old lips. Notice her hair white as wall plaster, pieces of it tufting up on the right side. Notice how the light flashes off her glasses as she tells you, “Thank you, have a nice day,” and hands back your card. Take note of her teeth, teeth that have chewed food years longer than yours, teeth that have gritted in frustration for decades, teeth that have grinded in pain, opened in shock, widened in laughter, beamed at pictures, undergone the crucial destruction of the dentist, gaped down at three baby daughters and a newborn son, endured lipstick stains in the younger years, felt the tongue of a man, sunk through ice cream, straightened in braces, erupted out of the soft child’s gum as whole, bright, clean new teeth. Her skin, blotchy where once existed cheekbones, has felt a million kisses from a mother, has gone through inches of makeup put carefully on and washed precariously off, has felt meters of tears coursing down to the neck, has soaked in hours-worth of scorching sun on a hot beach’s day, has formed a wart and had it removed, has crinkled over time with the constant scrunching of the face due to laughter or worry. See the single freckle below her left ear? She had a hickey there once, and called her friend over to twist a spoon on it, but maybe her father caught the bluish mark while she was unwrapping a scarf after school and became so angry he threw a Bible against the wall, which made a hanging picture of the family wobble and crash to the floor, exploding the glass into thousands of sparkling pieces. See her left hand, her puffy, frail, wrinkled left hand? The ring hides in the folds of her skin, the ring of a dead husband who went to work as a machine operator for a solar power company and never came home. Maybe she lost that ring once at seventy-four years old and spent two days crying relentlessly, begging her daughter to use the mysterious Internet to find it, calling up friends, devouring her own mind to retrace her steps. Then on the third day her grandson Pierce wobbled into the house with a bucket-full of dirt, slugs, and one diamond ring smothered in mucus. Now see the bowl-shaped burn on her hand, right below her ring. Fourteen years old, maybe, and she was sitting by a campfire, and a neighboring family’s two-year-old came running up to the flames and tripped on a squeaky toy dropped by a man named Leroy McPherson, and her hand shot out by instinct, grabbing the child, blistering her skin, saving a baby from destruction. Later she would use that hand to raise in class, asking questions like, “How come you can’t divide a number by zero?” and to help a stumbling classmate pick up dropped pencils, and to hold her best friend’s hand, and to write an essay on Macbeth’s insanity after she fractured her right arm playing soccer, and to fold clothes, drop a bag of groceries in the parking lot, throw away coffee cups, drive a car down a highway in Nevada, make a fist and dig her nails into her palm when her husband died, grasp at her hair when she quit her job as secretary for the realtor’s office, stroke her old, aging, lined face as she applied to be a card-swiper at a school where she is obliged to say “Thank you, have a nice day,” to each boy and girl who passes, including you, whose gaze slides meticulously over her as if she is nobody, an old lady whose time is almost reached, just another prop on the monotonous stage, a woman whose name you don’t know and will never find out because you will never ask or see. 40 | Rathalla Review
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The Proposal Sal Difalco
Nino the goat had brought the village great prosperity with his predictions of the outcomes of Serie A soccer games—communicated by way of pasteboard and hoof placement. The villagers had pooled their resources and made a killing with city bookies. A new fountain had been installed in the piazza, and a statue of St. Rocco, the village’s patron saint, was being chiseled at that moment by a renowned regional sculptor, Martino Bracchi, who promised a masterwork—but Father Carmine, the village priest, was dubious. All this illgotten money had made the village more bearable, true, but there was always a downside. Furthermore, and this is where perhaps he failed as a villager but succeeded as a man of the cloth, Father Carmine didn’t trust Nino. Goats were connected to Satan, it was inescapable. Moreover, who names a goat? It was unnatural. One morning, Father Carmine approached a destitute man known as Lupo by the villagers. Dark, hirsute, with menacing red eyes, Lupo would do anything for a few lira. After Father Carmine made his proposal, Lupo looked at him sideways. “You want me to off the goat?” he said. “Yes,” Father Carmine said, “he’s evil.” Lupo burst out laughing. “Evil?” he said. “But he predicted that Palermo would beat Juventus! You call that evil? Please.” When Lupo, also known as the village gossip, told everyone about the proposal, no less than seven attempts were made on the priest’s life. Nino correctly predicted that the eighth attempt would be the last.
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