Rathalla Review Rosemont College | Fall 2018
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Morgan Craig has exhibited throughout the U.S.A. Canada, Europe, and Australia, including SPACES in Cleveland, the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts and the Australian National University. Craig has received numerous awards including, the Pollock Krasner Foundation Grant, the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship. He has also been invited to several residencies including, Cite Internationale des Arts, the Macdowell Colony, UCross, Proekt Fabrika in Moscow, and Red Gate in Beijing. Selections from his oeuvre were recently featured in several solo exhibitions, including Western Illinois, Vanderbilt, and Salisbury Universities. Upcoming solo exhibitions are scheduled for the University of Central Florida, and Colorado State University.
Fabio Sassi makes acrylics and photos. He uses logos, icons, tiny objects, and discarded things. He often puts a quirky twist on his subjects or employs an unusual perspective. He enjoys taking the everyday and ordinary and framing it in a different way. He also likes the imperfections in objects and believes that those imperfections add a lot of value. Fabio is living in Bologna, Italy. His work can be viewed at www.fabiosassi.foliohd.com
Durga Thackeray is a Mass Media graduate from India. She is an avid artist with a keen interest in intricate art. She showcases her art through ArtByDurga on Instagram. She intends to pursue fashion design in the near future.
The Sun and Moon Durga Thackeray
Rathalla Review | Fall 2018 rathallareview.org Managing Editor
Creative Nonfiction Editor
Flash Fiction Editor
Social Media/ Outreach
Swayer Lovett Beth Moulton
Stacy Wong Katie Pettine
Maddy LeMaire Carlos Jose Perez Samano
Copy Editor Alex Ellis
Kimberly Grandy, Linda Romanowski, Megan Yates, Sarah Dintez
Carla Spataro, Director of Creative Writing
Mike Wilson is from Lexington, Kentucky and has had work published in U.S. and European magazines. He has written a biography titled Warrior Priest: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and The School of the Americas Matthew Taylor is from Washington State. He graduated from the MFA program at the University of Minnesota in 2017, and his short fiction has also been published in Cirque Journal. Judy Darley is a British fiction writer, poet, and journalist whose work appears in magazines and anthologies, as well as in her debut short story collection Remember Me To The Bees. Sky Light Rain, her second collection, will be published by Valley Press in autumn 2019. Judy has shared her stories on BBC radio, as well as in cafés, caves, an artist’s studio and a disused church.
Kathryn Kruse is a writer living in Chicago. She is also the director of Residency on the Farm, an interdisciplinary artists residency. She holds an MFA from UNLV. Among other places, her work is forthcoming or has appeared on the walls of the I Hope You Are Feeling Better Collaborative Art Exhibition, on the stages of the San Francisco Olympians Festival, and in the pages of Indian Review, The Manchester Review, Interim, and The Adirondack Review.
Matthew Koskowski is a graduate of the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College, and currently works as an academic advisor at a college on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Along with writing, he spends most of his free time trying to make his young daughter laugh.
Contributors Suvi Mahonen is a freelance writer based in Surfers Paradise on Australia’s Gold Coast. Her non-fiction appears on many platforms including The Weekend Australian Magazine, HuffPost and The Establishment. Her fiction has been widely published in literary journals and anthologies including in The Best Australian Stories and Griffith Review. A portion of a longer work-inprogress was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Dirk James lives in San Leandro, California where he worships Jehovah God and his son, Jesus Christ. Dirk loves putting the finishing touches on a poem or a story, relaxing with his Beautiful Wife-Muse while sipping Pina Coladas and listening to jazz music on the box. He has been published in many literary journals.
Chris LaMay-West believes in the power of rock music, Beat poetry, and the sanctity of Star Trek. He has appeared in Kitchen Sink and Morbid Curiosity, in various online venues including the Rumpus and Opium, and in the Mortified reading series. A California native, Chris is currently expatriated to Vermont, where he writes, works for a college, recently served as the poetry editor for Mud Season Review, and lives with his lovely bride, two cats, a dog, and several chickens.
Kristin Macintyre is an MFA candidate at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. She teaches freshman composition and enjoys drinking coffee in her small garden.
With more than 100 stories in U.S., Canadian, U.K., and Australian literary journals, Robert Earle is one of the more widely published contemporary writers of short fiction. Vine Leaves Press published his story collection, She Receives the Night, in 2017. He also is the author of a nonfiction book about Iraq (Nights in the Pink Motel/Naval Institute Press), a novel (The Way Home/DayBue) and was contributing editor of a book of essays (North American Identities/ Stanford). He lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Road Movie: Post Fordian (for Baudrillard and Nader)
A Flock of Captured Black Birds
We Do Not Wish The Apocalypse
Art on Tar
Introduction to Editing
Cycle Of An Empire, Peddling Toward Revolution
Four Directions Home
What Is It That We Have Left?
The Wrong Side of the Bed
A Flock of Captured Black Birds Dirk James
Carried here and there, on the shoulders of a whim, those gypsy stars hightailing it into the deep regions of uncharted gray matter. Trailing with flashes of fiery dust. Chasing zooming Infinity, furiously bending fences to suit her own vanishing horizon. Taking, and twisting a fleeting afterglow back to reality setting off the beating winged shapes banging against the scratch paper walls. The thoughts flying around like black flecks, folding themselves up, turning into words, breaking free, leaving only their ink stains of obscure impressions.
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Apollo’s Offspring Judy Darley
aven comes highly recommended, but despite this, I’ll admit, something about him makes me nervous. That beak, those clawed feet, and his way of looking at Mabel and Stanley with one eye and then the other makes me deeply uneasy. The children are delighted by their new au pair, however. I haven’t heard Mabel chatter like this since before their father left. And, as my mother likes to point out, I clearly need some help. The house is a tip, discarded clothes and toys crowding every surface.
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Little Stan had jam crusted at the corners of his mouth when Raven arrived, but before long I see my son accept a damp cloth from the bird’s curled grasp and rub his face clean. Raven looks at me, and tilts his head to one side, indicating the kitchen door. I shrug and nod. What harm could befall them in the back yard? He bustles them outside. I hear the thud of a ball bouncing and my children’s laughter. Worse than the beak and the talons and, frankly, the fact he is a bird, is the annoying detail that before he took up childcare, he worked with my ex, Lo. Something to do with a messenger service that had the immediacy of email and the old-fashioned quality of a written letter. Sounds like a winner to me, but something went wrong. Something to do with the woman before me, Lo’s innate jealousy and a mishap with a candle. Raven’s tail feathers still have a singed look about them. Hearsay has it that prior to his argument with Lo, Raven’s wings were as creamy as my children’s curls. Lo, my great and terrible love. We’re so much better off without him. Raven, though, is beloved in our community. He’s come to the aid of many an overwhelmed parent and set their offspring on the path to righteousness. The children adore his eccentric ways. I watch him instruct Mabel and Stanley in a complicated game involving fallen leaves and pebbles, and notice happiness in their darting movements and utter absorption. I turn away from the window and busy myself with loading and switching on the dishwasher and cleaning the counters of accumulated grime. Then it’s almost lunchtime. I make tuna fish sandwiches for Mabel, egg and cress for Stan. I think about how Lo used to stand and stare at me until I’d turn with a scowl and ask him to explain himself. Sorry, he’d say, sorry my beloved. It’s so hard to always be aware of how our passion will wither. Foresight can be a curse, for sure. I try to remember what ravens eat but can only think of carrion, or perhaps that’s crows. A ham salad might cover all bases. I go to the backdoor to call the children and Raven in but can’t see Mabel or Stan. I scan the yard, taking in the acacia and roses, the washing line and the pond. Maybe they’re hiding.
Raven. I spot Raven, and he’s standing on the pond. For a second, I fully believe that he’s walking on water, but then I see that he’s treading on the spread of lily pads. His head is tilted to one side, gazing into the murk beneath. My heart is in my throat, preventing me shouting my fright. Instead I watch, eyes aching with intent. It’s as though he’s searching for something. My blood seems to have set in my veins, turning me to stone. I hear myself croak: “Gar, gar!” The surface of the water fractures, droplets ringing up and out as the heads of my children emerge. My voice and blood are freed at the same moment and I burst forward out of the house. Even so, Mabel and Stanley are safe on the lawn by the time I reach them, bundled up in towels that Raven has rustled up from somewhere. I crane closer as they each raise a hand, passing their au pair something plucked from the pond’s depths. Raven nods, then jabs and gulps, one, two, leaving empty snail shells spinning. What, you risked my babies’ lives for a snack? I yelp. He regards me in that way I’m already growing to hate: first one eye and then the other. You would rather they swallow down the slime themselves? Raven explains that the snails are uncanny, each imbued with whatever the person who retrieves it needs most to be safe, to grow strong. Of course, I murmur, wrong-footed as always in interactions with the creatures from my ex-husband’s world. What did Mabel get? I ask. Raven regards her faintly glowing snail shell askance. Self-assurance, he tells me. And Stanley? Self-doubt. My children have already forgotten their adventure, busy playing a game of hopscotch along the path. I watch them leap, wobbling first on one leg, and then the other. Crouching to scoop the translucent snail shells into my palm causes a momentary headrush, as though all the world’s future possibilities are colliding inside my skull. With care I stand and turn to see Raven watching over us all.
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We Do Not Wish the Apocalypse Kathryn Kruse
e recognized or own domesticity at the first bomb. We did not wish to fight dogs and other humans for scraps of food. We did not dream of being leaders among men, breaking into empty government labs to research cures to radiation poisoning. We did not wish to watch our skin boil with tumors. A life without stocked grocery stores and 401Ks did not appeal. In middle school Hiroshima had been assigned reading. We remembered the part with people’s eyes liquified and sliding down their cheeks, congo lines of blind leading blind snaking through the wreckage. Hi-roh-shuh-muh? Heer-oh-shee-muh? It will end and we still won’t know how we are supposed to pronounce the word. Perhaps, if it had just been only the one bomb we might have stuck it out but more came and more and before the news service cut out they offered sobering predictions. Some members of congress said good-bye. They tried to apologize. We appreciated that they did not just hide away. They came out onto the decks to address the crew, as it were, to atone for us all. Us. We could take some pills and lay down in an embrace. We could concentrate on our fingers tangled in each other’s hair. We could hold a small hope that our bodies, wrapped around each other, might undergo some sort of mummification and, in a few millennia, end up in a museum, humanity having limped back from the edge, our final moments a testament to something grand like love. That kind of future thinking was a bit much, though. After the TV cut out and the bombs kept coming we were ready to lay down with our bellies still mostly full and our morality uncompromised. That was enough. The fish, though, we could not leave the fish. It felt wrong, of course, looking into the tank at the lithe and muscular little bodies, to make the decision for them. The fish are, of course, captive. Not domestic. Captive in their tank with multi-colored gravel. Maybe they preferred to wait it out until the end. Maybe they preferred to see if something good might not come of genetic mutation. Eventually, though, we acknowledged that it was our own heartbreak at the impending ruin of their silvery beauty, of their foreign and peaceful lives, that lead us to take out the spare ice cube trays and spoon fish into the squares. Fish hotels. Fish coffins. The electricity had gone and so we only opened the freezer door once. Good-bye, we said, Good-bye.
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Introduction to Editing Matthew Taylor
t is 2008, and you graduate with an English degree that you hope, somehow, to use. You browse the craigslist writing/editing listings, and see the post for Editorial Intern. The job requirements are reasonable: interest in books, BA in a related field, relevant work experience. Luckily, sophomore year you completed a ten-week internship at a literary agency, and they provided you with a form letter of recommendation. You read the ad to your boyfriend, sprawled out on the bed, and when you say the name of the publishing company, gobin&schmitz!, lowercase and ampersand and exclamation mark and all, Brandon cuts you off—“Hey, that’s where Beth works.” From what you know of his friend, Beth always wears oversized gray sweats and seems vaguely heartbroken, but she can put your résumé on the top of the stack.
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Nepotism works. You leave the shower dripping to answer your buzzing phone, and it is the call to schedule an interview. Your voice quavers, you say yes to everything. You brainstorm who to borrow a blazer from and make plans to shave your ironic beard. You think to pinch yourself, although the notion seems borrowed from somewhere, perhaps a movie where a celebrating person pinched themselves, and then you think that’s good, because this is exactly the sort of detail an editor should notice. Next, research. What, exactly, does the company do? Begin to doubt basic terms. Publishing—the activities or business of a publisher, especially of books or periodicals. Uselessly, you take notes. You break to consider practical measures: what to wear (your one pair of black shoes, $30, Payless), how to get there. The company is at an office park eight miles away, and can be reached by two buses, a transfer, 55 minutes. You mentally multiple by two, five times a week. You tell Brandon it seems far and he shrugs, says, “People have commutes.” Commute to the interview. Shake the rain off your umbrella before boarding the bus, feel the breeze generated by passing cars while waiting on a concrete highway island at the transfer point. Endure the little uphill walk from the park and ride, and stroll through a parking lot to find the lobby where on the directory you find gobin&schmitz!, suite one. A sign. Greet the receptionist; accept a glass of water. See Beth walking down a corridor, wearing a baggy sweatshirt that you didn’t realize fell under the category of business casual. You wave, but she doesn’t see. Maintain good posture while waiting; consider a magazine. Flip to a new page on your legal pad, write today’s date and concentrate on it as people walk by. It’s warm, and the noise of the place begins to fill your head—telephones ring, voices murmur, the receptionist taps on his keyboard. After a while, a woman clacks across the tile floor and says your name. Everything about
her is miniature: short black hair, small eyes shining behind designer frames, the patterned scarf tied around her neck. This is Linda. She greets you, her face pinching into a smile, and then leads you down a hallway, past rows of beige cubicles. The cubicles have name placards, and some of them are further adorned with “fun” printouts—Brian Paulson has cut out a life-size Chuck Norris face and pinned it to his wall, the vibrant red mullet bespeaking quality laser printers. Linda takes you to a room where three women are waiting behind a sleek mahogany table. Meet the editors. Elizabeth is the Managing Editor. She pronounces her name with a hard I. Val has the countenance of a volleyball spiker at a press conference. She is the Senior Editor. Sarah nods and says good morning—you will later find out that her title is, simply, Editor. Linda clarifies that she is the Adult Books Group Senior Managing Editor, “but you can just call me the boss,” and when she waves her short arms around the word and laughs, you laugh too. You are learning the style guide. The editors take turns asking rapid fire questions. You smile, agree, confirm. There is a way of speaking here, you notice—of emphasizing certain words. You begin adopting this. “What are your pop culture interests?” “Would you say you have an editorial eye?” “Do you have experience with client expectations—and deliverables?” “Would you say you have a knack for predicting trends? A willingness to keep current?” “What—in your opinion—is the next big thing in publishing? In other words—what’s hot?” Val, who has been mostly quiet, flips through your résumé. “At the literary agency, you communicated with authors?” You clarify, communicated decisions. Clarify further that interfacing occurred primarily with the agency owner. Unsaid: You opened unsolicited submissions and sent back a form with boxes to check as to why the work was being rejected. You
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were instructed to always check the same box on the form. “And how,” she continues, “Would you describe your decision-making process?” You hiccup. When making decisions, you start, you keep an editorial eye to the process, meaning, you obtain the directives so that there’s a clear vision of process— “Ah,” Linda snaps her fingers. “Big picture thinker.” Smile. Say exactly, and gesture with one hand, supine, as if she finished your sentence. She is a woman who looks as though she may at any moment burst into show tunes. You later learn about her theater background, and wonder if she was predisposed to like you because you’re gay. After the interview, you realize they didn’t ask about your favorite authors, your opinions about books. But the thought passes, and you move on to thank-you cards: one to Linda (“and the entire editorial team!”), and one to Beth. Two weeks pass, and then you get the job. Go out to dinner with Brandon. He says, “I knew Beth would pull through,” and you eat steaks and with your mouth full suggest maybe you had something to do with it too. Split the check. In text messages, your friends marvel. They are working in cafés and as tutors, and you are the English major who got a job in the field. Together, you go out and get wasted. Because the job doesn’t start till Monday, you go out and get wasted again. Beginning is disorienting. The position starts at 30 hours per week, which is perfect. HR amends this to 29.5 hours per week, because at 30 you would be full time and eligible for benefits. It is a three month contract. You meet the associate editors, Cecelia and Ingrid. Everyone is white, except for Ingrid, who has waves of red hair and is paler than white. If gay counts, you are the only editor approaching a minority. You’re introduced at the all-company Monday morning meeting. Roger Schmitz and Albie Gobin once did this in
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their basement, you’re told. Now there are over seventy souls here, curating art, but they can still all fit shoulder-to-shoulder in the break room. There are editors, and designers, and marketers, and production people who coordinate with the printers in China. You are introduced as a recent English graduate with big ideas, and the room of people clap—not applaud, but one, singular, inunison clap. Sarah takes you around, tells you the bathroom is in the lobby, shows you your cubicle, your Mac. She says she’ll be back later, and you sit at your desk, your new home. You check email. Cecelia, a quiet woman whose eyes always look disappointed behind her narrow glasses, sends an email to the adult books group. Subject: Cactus in Sink. Message body: Be careful—there is a cactus in the break room sink! You grab a piece of paper like you’re going to make a copy and go to the break room, where you see a diaphragm-shaped cactus in a clay pot in the basin. Exactly as explained, you think. Cause, effect. Advertisement, product. Your life is a series of events that have led up to this point, and now you go to work. Make copies. A photocopier this good must be used. The editors use you, Editorial Intern, to make extras of the manuscripts they’ve been working on. Collate changes. There are freelance copyeditors and proofreaders—galleys of books are sent out, and come back with proposed changes. Learn proofreaders’ marks. Learn what an en-dash is. Learn that STET means “let it stand,” and is used as an editorial override. Observe that editing is a series of cuts. Secondary to that, it is a system of identifying widows and orphans. Delete, delete. Have a performance review. Your collating and copy making are perfect. Have a three-month contract extension, and share the news with Brandon. He asks back, “So, you’re still a contractor?” At gobin&schmitz! the meeting rooms have inspirational names. The Amazing Room, The Brainstorm Room, The Capable Room, The
Dazzling Room. They are always referred to in full name. Only Brian, a designer, gets away with colloquialisms. “Impromptu meeting in Dazz,” he’ll stretch his head around the cubicle barrier and say. Cecelia and Ingrid grin and rise. But it’s not a joke; he truly needs their input in The Dazzling Room. “Dazzle us,” is Ingrid’s reply. You eventually learn that gobin&schmitz! is not quite a publishing company: they are book producers. This should have been obvious from the web research, from the foyer where the vision statement is mounted in silver block letters, each the size of a fist. But you’re not familiar with the term until you’re ensconced in it. Publishers consider ideas and select what to publish. Producers generate ideas, sell them to publishers, and execute. Hence the ideagenerating meetings. Get the team together, and hone in on what will sell. Elizabeth, the Managing Editor, goes first. “Dogs,” she announces. She’s authored a book called The Definitive Dog Bible. “Let’s be honest. Dogs sell.” Last week Elizabeth said, “Vampires are hot,” and the group spent the rest of the meeting caucusing on the undead. She’s had you run the numbers for a pitch, and so you agree. You tell her that approximately 40% of American households own dogs, and she agrees because she already knows. “Doggy calendar, dog tricks, dog kits—puppies. Puppies are cute and they sell.” You listen to the rhythm of her speech and fold your sheet of yellow legal paper in half. Go out with friends. No one can stay awake past eleven anymore, and the beer makes you groggy. Joke about how old you’re all getting, and then you’re home and asleep before the SNL monologue. Congratulations: You’re promoted from Editorial Intern to Editorial Assistant. This is a full-time, hourly position. The new role involves drafting more marketing copy—writing pitches to publishers. Your company makes books with
gimmicks. It does reproductions of ephemera. In the middle of a coffee table biography on Marilyn Monroe, there’s a vellum envelop, containing a reproduction of the original letter sent to her by John F. Kennedy... and so on. You learn more ways to phrase these pitches than you thought possible. The books are all-in-one resources, containing keepsake mementos with thoughtful, hand-selected recreations—the perfect presentation to captivate readers. Think about how anything can be hand-selected. At an idea meeting, you propose the Kitty Kalendar, and the idea doesn’t go through because interest in cats is fading. Beth is in the room, and she seems to scowl with disgust that you didn’t know this. Vent about some of this to your boyfriend. Notice that everything you say, he follows up with “That’s an office job for you.” This seems dismissive, but it’s raining outside, and you know how Brandon gets when it’s cloudy. Get curious about other jobs. Brandon is an administrative assistant, and you realize you have no idea how that translates to an eighthour day. Visit him once at his office, and see the many rows of cubicles with little half-walls, the stapler in the middle of his desk with a sticky note affixed to it, with cursive handwriting reading, “Staples please! :)” Brandon is a secretary. gobin&schmitz!, you learn, loves fun. Costumes are encouraged at Halloween, and Sarah tells you that the editors are going to coordinate, all wear sandwich boards displaying blown-up pages from The Chicago Manual of Style. You gather in a corner office and assist with the pasting of sheets to poster board, the threading of string to make shoulder straps. A vendor sends along bottles of wine, which you drink out of a plastic cup at 4:00 PM. Come December there is a holiday party—you take Brandon, chew on carved meat procured from a buffet tub. In the spring, attend a barbeque in the park, play bocce ball. Projects start and finish. You’re promoted from Editorial Assistant
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to Assistant Editor. You get health insurance. You’re salaried. You’re still collating changes, and now that you’re trusted to do this perfectly, you may input changes into InDesign, click Save. Richard in marketing informs you that you’re going to be the foreign books liaison. Learn that this mostly entails emailing European editors, ensuring they can access the files, reminding them about deadlines, and reading multiple foreign versions of your name. Richard always wears turtlenecks in neutral colors, and has a sign hanging above his desk that reads “If it weren’t for coffee, I’d have no personality whatsoever!” One evening, while waiting for the files from an obstinate Japanese editor, you stay until 7:00 PM. Val is still there, and tells you there’s leftover wine in The Amazing Room, but you know you’ll be too tired if you drink it. Albie Gobin and Roger Schmitz are seen around the office less and less. Invite friends to your apartment for board games, and start referring to the company exclusively as Goblin Shits. Brandon is upset that you eliminate him in Risk, and he gets shouty in your building hallway. Your neighbors are nice to not complain to the landlord, you think, and your friends clear out without comment. Albie Gobin has an idea for a book about guitars. Classic American Guitars. The book will be the real size of a guitar and will sell for three thousand dollars. Elizabeth tasks you to research guitar expos and “feel them out.” You’re instructed to cold call guitar experts, learn from the source, interpret the vibe. The guitar experts seem confused by the calls; they think you’re joking when you describe the project. This is the wrong answer. Suspect that Elizabeth is making you source the wrong answer for Albie so that she won’t have to. Get assigned to take over your first solo project, a knitting kit that comes with needles, yarn, and a small instructional booklet. You don’t know how to knit, but Ingrid hands off
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the project and assures you that you’re working with a local expert, owner of their own craft boutique. As you read the manuscript in its current state, it seems to you that the expert author shouldn’t, in their introductions to basic techniques, borrow so closely from Wikipedia. You clean up spacing; move a few words around. The production assistant you work with, John, is a soft-spoken, open-faced man, who can’t seem to get the vendors to keep the yarn at a consistent weight. Have another tedious shouting match with Brandon. “You know what your problem is?” He waits, like he expects it’s a question you might be interested in answering. “Your piss. Poor. Attitude.” He punches out the words like that. “You are going to die miserable. And alone.” You think you should be more upset, but all that really strikes you is the bizarre tone. You think he must be quoting a TV show or something, but before you can run a red pen through his words, he’s out the door. Barack Obama is elected president, and they play his inauguration address in The Dazzling Room. You take a lunch to watch. Later in the day, Linda emails you, uncharacteristically terse. “Meet me in Dazzling Rm at 3:00.” From the tone—the dropped article and abbreviation—you know it’s trouble. You walk to The Dazzling Room, and the biggest surprise is seeing John already there. It lessens the blow to not be the only one, and though you don’t yet know it, more will follow. Linda comes in the room, followed by Albie Gobin. As he talks, you watch John’s face. He’s older—thirty. Newly married, a house, a receding hairline. Albie tells you both that you’ve valued, but that we all know what’s happening in publishing. There are certain factors—there’s the matter of keeping the gears oiled. There’s staying lean and sharp. You realize that it comes from the top down, this habit of talking in maxims, in riddles. You start smiling, then look down and shake your head slowly, try to play off the grin
like shock. Albie keeps explaining, but he can’t just say it—he can’t just say you’re fired. When you walk out, everyone seems to know. Even Val gives you a hug—though you get the sense that she’s just as upset for herself, worn out by the prospect of working more late nights. It isn’t all bad— there’s a short severance, and Linda offers a letter of recommendation. You’ll have time again for friends, but no money, and you suspect that introducing yourself as unemployed isn’t a good pick-up line. But for now you’re happy, relieved. You’ll never again be summoned to The Dazzling Room. You place your palms down on the surface of your desk, feel its cool, scrub your shoes against the carpet. It’s a load off, really, to remove the mantle of editor, to no longer have to always be cutting, reducing, deleting. You listen to the office hum for the last time. You’re going to take the two buses home to your apartment and sort everything out. You’re going to do something else.
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—Above, the marbled sky
opens, pours full the ground, the garden trenches. You watch long hours rain leap from the roof, fill the yard bucket, spill over the birdbath. The window glass shows you calm & I imagine you a child: hair damp flowered with soap—your mother’s voice echoed along the bath tile—a pitcher’s spout steady overhead, your mouth shy open, tipped empty up—
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Bobby Suvi Mahonen
trands of light blue twisted, crossed over, then sank into the expanse of knitted wool only to emerge at the next stitch and repeat the pattern again. They ran in parallel symmetry, converging up to the pompom at the top of the cap. Around the circumference of the brim ran a border of yellow on which marched small embossed elephants, each holding the tail of the one before it with its trunk. Fine wisps of dark hair the same colour as Nick’s curled out from beneath the edge to cling to its fuzzy surface in places. When we’d bought it eight weeks ago I’d thought it was too small to fit anyone, but Nick had correctly guessed it would be the right size.
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The skin of Bobby’s forehead not covered by the cap was furrowed, as if caused by a frown. This accentuated his eyebrows, delicate lines of barely-there hair on the ledge of his sockets, inclining medially up to form an arc at the top of the bridge of his nose. His nose was short, more like a nubbin, tilted slightly upward at the end like mine; its tip was a little raw, as if wiped by a tissue one too many times. I ran my finger over the smooth and doughy surface of his swollen lips. Velvety glossed skin a few centigrade cooler than mine. Drooping in loose repose, colour not right, a dusky shade of purple. He lay in my arms, loosely wrapped in a green flannel blanket, the back of his head resting in the crook of my left elbow. His body was both light and also strangely heavy. I held my arms still, though there was no reason why. Looking at him, I tried to align our eyes. His lids were parted slightly, a hint of blue between moist lashes. As I sat there, propped with three plastic-covered wipe-down pillows between my back and the bed’s head, I kept wanting, almost waiting, for those eyes to blink. Nick sat on the edge of the bed, arm on my shoulder, looking at our Bobby. Afternoon light angled in through the window and cast Venetian-striped contrasting shadows on our son’s already mottled cheeks. My finger moved downward, tracing his chin, then onward across his jaw to his left ear, curving to avoid an open patch of sloughed skin. It wasn’t the only one. There were two on his right cheek and a large one on the side of his neck, the full extent of its angry margins concealed by the collar of his Peter Rabbit jumpsuit. Made of the softest white cotton, it was the outfit I’d planned for our baby to wear on his first trip back to our home. Across the garment multiple little rabbits sat on their haunches, cheeks puffed with chewing, holding a large carrot whose tip was missing. Sewn into the outside seam of the left shoulder was a tiny blue tag saying this was a genuine item. Matching mitts and booties were still in the bag.
I moved aside a fold of blanket so I could see more of him. His left arm was angled, bent at the elbow, resting on the front of his chest. The embroidered cuff of the suit’s sleeve was hitched a short way up the forearm. Between the rim of the cuff and the base of Bobby’s closed fist circled a thick, clear plastic band fastly secured. In the pocket of the band, a slip of paper had words typed on it in small letters, the portion visible to me saying, ‘Baby of Alicia Rus …’. The bend over his wrist’s bony prominence obscured the rest. A vein line of discolouring more pronounced than that of the skin went up the back of his hand to the fourth knuckle dimple. Lifting his hand gently I straightened his four fingers and thumb from their loose clench. The webbing between them was puffy and wrinkled, like he’d been soaking in a tub for too long. Such small and frail digits despite their also waterlodden state, the creases over their joints swollen to mere faint lines. On his distal pads were enlarged whorls of print. Opaque slivers of flesh were peeling back from around the nails. I closed his fingers again, covering his hand with mine. We remained in silence. Me, my husband, and our baby. I was conscious of sounds from outside the room—muffled voices, the ping of a call bell and the diminishing roll of a trolley. But these didn’t enter my reverie. The only noise that was real to me was the whistle of breath from my nostrils and the clicking of the clock’s second hand. A mere moment in time, yet this seemed like forever. “Would you like an autopsy to be performed?” Dr. Taylor had asked us. “Is it necessary?” I said. “It’s your choice. But it may help to find out exactly what went wrong.” “We’ll think about it,” Nick said. Dr. Taylor stood there by the side of my bed. His gaze kept shifting between Bobby and the green blanket. From the edge of my eye I saw his hands move to cross each other and rest
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at the front of his belt. Speckles of blood soiled the cuffs of his white shirt. I wanted him to leave but also needed him to stay. It was as if I had the delusion that he was somehow able to reverse this. He remained there for a few more awkward minutes, then made his excuses and left the room with a final “Sorry.” It was then that Nick had put his arm around my shoulder, and we stayed that way with Bobby cradled against my swelled breasts that were aching with the need to lactate. “You haven’t called my mum yet, have you?” I asked Nick as I held onto Bobby’s hand. “Do you want me to?” I shook my head. Once our families knew, it would be real. I stared across the room at the wall opposite. Glints of slatted sunlight reflected off the glass that protected a framed painting. A lamb standing on a hill’s green slope. Underneath it, against the wall, was an empty cot on wheels. It was the one in which the midwife had brought Bobby back in to me once she had cleaned, weighed and dressed him. I looked back at my son and squeezed his hand gently. His soft nails pressed into the folds of my palm. I turned to look into Nick’s bloodshot eyes. “Can you ask the midwives if there are any nail clippers around?” “Why?” “I don’t want him to be buried with long nails,” I said. I started to cry.
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Watched Mike Wilson
In furtive darkness, mind bumps phantom furniture navigates trepidation without a paddle one step ahead of angels on each shoulder strikes deals with criminals shushes sissy conscience. Mind is a cruel master a huffing puffing masochist lifting weights of countless measure mesmerized by up and down ponies on a carousel. Then, by dint of meditation or mercy alcohol or death mind stops falls from me like
Holy visages on misty banks watch. I am held by hands benevolent to the bone.
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Four Directions Home Chris LaMay-West
I began where everything ends. And despite starting out at the terminus, I always wanted to go further. Jack did, too. I would wait until everyone had gone to bed and sit down with him on my father’s felt-lined throne in the quiet of the abandoned living room. The only sounds I can recall are the cellophane dustcover crinkle of the library book and the crisp sound yellowed pages made as they turned. There, accompanied by the low light of a standing lamp and the stink of my father’s ashtray, the blue ceramic ashtray that inexplicably remained next to his chair for years after he quit smoking, I would read. It might have been On the Road. Or the Dharma Bums. Or one of Jack’s biographers, perhaps Dennis McNally and Desolate Angel.
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It is certainly in the energy of American life for things to proceed westward, the terms “out West” and “back East” and the history and cultural assumptions they convey embedded into our language itself. Beyond that, the fundamental cycle of life on Earth flows in this direction, the sunrise unfurling at one end of the sky and then wrapping itself up again each night in the West. Always in the West. Kerouac felt that pull, his most famous work opening with the line “…I’d often dreamed of going West to see the country, always vaguely planning and never taking off.” For me, this sunset land was also a sunrise. My road started at Cucamonga in the Los Angeles hills, followed by a brief stint in Paradise alongside the mountains that run between California and Nevada. My parents finally settled where I was principally raised, in a yellow house a few miles from the Pacific in Castroville, on California’s central coast. That was the house where I could be found reading Kerouac in the early morning hours on teenage nights, dreaming of something bigger, somewhere beyond. Maybe I could get there through travel. Or through romance if I could overcome the crippling shyness that kept me from saying a word to would-be amours. Or perhaps I could reach it in writing, just like Jack. All I knew was that I had to go. Every dream needs fuel, and mine was cherry Kool-Aid in a commemorative plastic mug from the Salinas Rodeo. Kool-Aid, it turns out, is just the right smell and density to cover the occasional added supplement from the shoplifted 1.5 liter bottle of Popov Vodka I had hidden in a suitcase under my bed. The metachemical combination of isolation, literature, and inebriation was my first drug, always and still my favorite. But it wasn’t nearly my last. East The night I first broke through, the East Bay evening had the kind of cool crispness it often achieves in November. Senses boosted by five grams of magic mushrooms, the air itself seemed made of crystal to me. The very first
place you can head east in America is across the San Francisco Bay from the Golden Gate. It was there I went at the end of my teen years, to college in Berkeley. As I sat laughing with friends that night in the middle of a black-and-white tiled labyrinth that we’d named the Center of the World, for the first time in my life everything just was. No regrets about past awkward fumblings, no fears of future ineptitude, just an abiding present where it WAS. ALL. OKAY. I’ve always been drawn to Allen Ginsberg, himself a bundle of awkward fumblings mixed with determined focus and cosmic vision. He had made the same trek slightly eastward in 1956 when, fresh off of the breakthrough of writing “Howl” and helping birth the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance, he moved to a “Strange New Cottage in Berkeley.” Around that time, Allen sat with Jack on a “tincan banana dock” somewhere on the East Bay’s waterfront and wrote “Sunflower Sutra” after spotting a sunflower that brought back, “memories of Blake –my visions/ -Harlem.” I was working on a vision of my own, and took no small inspiration from Allen’s poetry in pursuing it. Starting in high school, and all through college, journals were a constant bedside companion. In between lovesick adolescent ramblings, they filled, bit by bit, with poetry of my own, eventually totaling more than 250 poems written between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two. I submitted something once to a college literary journal, but after the disappointment of not finding my name on the acceptance list tacked to the corkboard outside the journal’s office, I never repeated the experiment. Instead, scrawling in darkened rooms, I continued my solitary “burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.” Allen frequently sought the help of psychoactive substances to reconnect to the 1948 vision that formed the foundation of his poetry, be it marijuana, nitrous oxide, ayahuasca, or more garden-variety psychedelics. Late in my freshman year, already under his literary
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tutelage and softened up by earlier mushroom experiments, I followed on my first LSD trip. And behold, all my questions were answered. The fabric of existence itself twisted like jazz cartoons into a place beyond space, time, and fear of death. I chased this transcendent feeling through increasingly bad trips all the way to a flashback-filled breakdown a year later. That experience brought to an end this avenue of getting further out, but I continued to go east. I studied Buddhism, Asian history and politics, Japanese, Chinese, anything to get beyond my ordinary life. In college, graduate school, and the years after, I lived and traveled throughout Asia. Here too, I was perhaps not far from Allen’s influence, given his extensive sojourn in India and later years devoted to Tibetan Buddhism. Perhaps in our attempt to go this far “back East” we were both looking for an origin, something fundamental. And, in a sense, I found it. Among locals smitten with my foreign exoticism, promiscuous expat communities, and the culture of sexual obsession, I encountered the carnal attention that had eluded me throughout my young life. This was a condition Ginsberg was familiar with as well. Just in the two poems mentioned above alone you find references to his “dry and lovelorn tongue,” the sunflower’s “dusty loveless eyes.” I thought I had found my fix. But the medicine proved to have side effects. South The mountains started out golden and patchy with scrub vegetation. They grew purple as the sky behind them flared into red and orange. “Señor, can you tell me where we’re headin’? Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?” In my case, it was the parking lot of Cheetah’s Gentlemen’s Club on the desert outskirts of the Clairemont Mesa neighborhood in San Diego. A more private apocalypse than Bob Dylan’s imagination of Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War in New Mexico, but an apocalypse nonetheless. Dylan may have been playing in my
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car as I turned off the engine. There hasn’t been an era of my life that I haven’t followed Bob Dylan’s music, or an era of his work that I haven’t listened to, which makes sense, since he was a natural heir to the Beats I was enamored with. For a boy hailing from Minnesota, the gravity of his imagination seems to pretty consistently be pulled southward, be it to old Bluesmen, Country Music, the Civil Rights struggle, or legends of gunslingers. I’d ended up south too, as far south as one could go on my side of the country. I’d come to San Diego for graduate school and then stayed on to work after. In that time, my life had gone south in other ways as well. Somewhere in the space between returning from teaching English in Japan and starting graduate school in Southern California, I fell under a false impression about what growing up meant. Poetry was replaced by business texts, new music purchases dried up, and even dear Bobby made rarer and rarer appearances on my playlists. I settled in to a relationship that wasn’t working. And, most crucially, I stopped writing. Dylan could have told me that “he not busy being born is busy dying,” so what happened next should have been no surprise. When you leave empty the space in your life that should be filled by a needful activity, something else will grow in that vacancy. “Oh, Mama, can this really be the end?” is the refrain from Dylan’s increasingly surreal paean to reaching internal and external ends, “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.” What I can tell you about my case is that the ends, though extreme, were quickly reached through a short chain of links. A shuttered door in the video store, forlorn strip club parking lots, ads in the back pages of the local weekly, and ultimately neon-signed motels and strangers in my home. Engaged, married, submerged in guilt and debt-- it made no difference. In just a few years in San Diego I’d reached a kind of bottom. But it wasn’t nearly the end. North
I peeked through my apartment’s otherwise perpetually-closed curtains at the green strip of trees running down Park Presidio. The tree line ebbed and surged, lashed by wind and a chill January rain. It seemed to have been raining nonstop for days. Inside, my apartment smelled of dampness and mold. The living room was littered with empty bottles, quiet except for the faint sounds of Nirvana drifting out from headphones and the tinkle from a tumbler of scotch on the rocks. A towel was stuffed under the door so my neighbors wouldn’t smell the icy plumes of crack smoke. The phone was disconnected. And the lights were definitely off. As my friend Kurt Cobain would have said, “with the lights off, it’s less dangerous.” I wasn’t in Kurt’s rainy pine Northland, but, after San Diego and a sojourn further east working in Hong Kong, I ended up going north to San Francisco. When the predictable end of my marriage left me alone, the thing that had always pulled at me throughout my life came back with a vengeance: the need to write. Kurt’s art served as an example to me that you could pour your whole being into an expression so true that, to quote his song “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle,” it would, “…come back as fire/ to burn all the liars/ and leave a blanket of ash on the ground.” His life should have warned me that you risk being consumed yourself in the process. I had years to go before I was done thinking that was an acceptable risk, that the art justified, in fact, required, the wreckage of my life. In the few years after my divorce, my writing skills rapidly scaled upward — I wrote a novel, put together a poetry collection, produced a passel of essays and short stories. The rest of my life, just as rapidly, scaled downward-I went back out into the neon night seeking illicit sex, social drinking became daily excess, harder drugs came along. By the time the game was up, I reached the point where friends were starting to cut themselves off from me, romantic relationships had been reduced to mistakes and apologies, and I could no longer reliably show up for work.
Things finally fell apart with a twoweek absence from work followed by thirty days in rehab. Shocked and shaky, one day at a time I learned to live in the world again without mediation or medication. Whole new connections with myself and others grew, and interests that had lain dormant for years returned to life. Throughout it all, writing remained. I eventually found I could still journey to the place inside where it came from without needing disaster for fuel. I was done with darkness. One thing I wasn’t done with, though, was heading north. I now live in a land of fivemonth winter. The bleak whiteness has its own stark beauty, and Vermont repays it with the verdant green explosion of spring and summer. I have arrived at true north in other ways as well--I’ve been blessed with over a decade of sobriety, a second marriage that has never been marred by lies, a home in the woods with a swift mountain river running past our backyard. And along with this, because of it, a steadiness in writing, submission, and publication that was never possible in my years of turmoil. You are witness to this. You are holding the results of it. Kurt is gone now. Allen too. Jack has still (probably always) out-written me, but I have outlived him. And from there, who knows what may be possible? I feel more settled in place, internally and externally, than I ever have before. There are no guarantees in this. It’s a daily choice to keep doing the work to maintain it. And there is a residue of longing for darkness that never entirely fades. I think I know what Kurt meant when he wrote, “I miss the comfort in being sad.” But most days, I feel stupid with how content I am. Or, as Kurt said, “maybe just happy now…”
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The Wrong Side of the Bed Matthew Koskowski
I found a monster in your bed tonight. He was snuggled up under the covers, just as cozy as can be. He had Bear with him, squeezed tight. He said he usually sleeps under the bed, but it’s so cramped down there with all the toys and boxes and dust bunnies. He said the top of the bed looked so comfortable, and you weren’t there, so he thought he’d give it a try. He said he hoped it was alright. He was very polite. For a monster. He asked where you were, and I told him I don’t know, because I don’t. Not really. He asked when you’ll be back, and I didn’t say anything for a long, long time. Then, while I was not- saying anything, he interrupted and asked me what happened, so I told him. I told him the same way that I told Grammy and Grampy, the same way I told the reporters without faces who came and talked to us after. I told him that you were at school and that someone came into the school with a gun. I told him that this person, this man, started shooting the gun, and he shot you, and he shot some of your friends, and he shot some of your teachers. I told him that you died and that you won’t be home anymore to sleep in your bed. I was crying, then. I cried a lot. He handed me a corner of the blanket so I could wipe my face. He asked me, “Why?” Without thinking, I said, “X, why, z,” like I would when you’d ask, “Why? Why? Why?” without stopping. We would always laugh after that until we forgot what we were talking about. He just looked back at me, silent and blank. I sighed, and I told him I don’t know why,
because I don’t. I don’t know why that man killed those people, killed you, killed himself. I don’t know why your school wasn’t safe, why I thought that it was. Why we keep our guns safer than our children these days. Why we love them so much. Why I couldn’t keep you safe. Why? I don’t know. I don’t know why. Why couldn’t I keep you safe? I don’t know. Why? Why? He said, “X, why, z,” and I cried. After I settled down a bit, after I hiccuped out all my tears, he put his hand on my hand on the bed. His hand was scaly and rough. It scratched and hurt a little, but it was nice to hold a hand all the same. He said he was sorry. He said he had to ask. “I am a monster, you know.” I told him I know, and I said, “It’s ok.” He really is very nice for a monster. He asked if he could sleep in your bed overnight. I told him he could. I didn’t think you would mind. He asked if I would read him a story. I did. He asked if he can come back tomorrow night, too. I said, “Yes, stay as long as you like.” He said he’ll have to keep asking me, “Why?” He said he’s a monster; it’s part of the job. I told him it will be nice just to have someone there in your bed, filling the air up with breath and the night up with dreams.
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Bequest Robert Earle
fter his father died, Harris’s mother didn’t want to talk about what Harris took to be the big issue: her Pennsylvania fieldstone house needed work. The problem wasn’t money. Harris had money; so did his mother. She had been a middle school principal and had a pension plus Social Security plus the money she made when she’d sold the sixty acres behind the house to a country club. That sea of green over the back fence was Harris’s favorite childhood memory. He had loved finding lost balls and selling them to golfers passing by, a dime for a MacGregor, twenty cents for a Titleist.
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The one with no money had been Harris’s father, who returned from WWII and didn’t want to live a regimented life. No office for him. He became a broker for several insurance companies, and his Mercury was his office. For secretarial help, he employed a series of homebound women up and down the Schuylkill Valley from Philadelphia out to Raponikon, where the Harris family lived. These women were what preoccupied Harris’s mother, not fixing up the fieldstone house. She wanted Harris to locate as many of them as possible and give each a check for $1,000. Harris asked if his father had left some unspent money in a checking account or an old shoe in his closet. His mother didn’t laugh. No, the thousands of dollars would be from her. But none of these women had worked for his father in twenty years, Harris objected. “Just find the ones you can. I’m sure they will appreciate it.” Harris became the man he was by getting through his mother’s middle school without being sent to her office, a frightening place for anyone to end up. She had total, dispassionate command of her students, her teachers, and even, she put it this way, her parents. Perhaps, as a consequence, Harris and his mother never were as close as he would have liked, and he didn’t understand her. Not all her fault, though. According to Harris’s two ex-wives, there was something remote about him, too. Attractions and attachments were problematic for Harris, although at fifty-six, that didn’t matter much anymore. He thought that a man his age should be a kind of cloud, drifting wherever, looking down on whatever, not involved anymore. Destined, like a cloud, to separate, disintegrate, just painlessly cease to exist when some other, more energetic cloud absorbed its vapor past all recognition. These women his father had employed, for example: hadn’t they already completely merged into the mists of the past? There was a slap-up room overlooking the fourth green in the attic that became his
father’s file room known as the morgue. His correspondence, copies of policies he had sold, claims records, and long green ledger books were stored in cardboard boxes, wooden milk crates, old suitcases, and the kind of storage trunks wealthy folks used to take on voyages to Europe. His father liked to hold onto these dead letter materials “in case.” In case of what? Harris had asked. His father had laughed and tousled his hair and said, “In case there was still some money stuck in there.” He’d needed that dough to pay for his Mercury, his clothes, and his happy hours drinking at taverns up and down the Schuylkill. Harris went up to the morgue, threw open the window against the stink of dried envelope glue and old luggage, and uncovered scraps of paper with names and addresses and odd little clues that enabled him to make a list of women to visit. He found a receipt for an electric typewriter delivered to a Mary Lee Hart in Villanova. He found a wad of letters addressed to his father c/o Flo Turk, Assistant to the President, Tom Harris Associates, Narberth, Pa. He found a box of Dixon Ticonderoga pencils imprinted with the name Jane Jorgensen that his father apparently had neglected to give to Jane Jorgensen, their erasers now hard as tires. His father undoubtedly had sex with some of these women. Harris could picture him parking on a street in Ardmore or Jenkintown. He could picture his father checking his hair in the rearview mirror. He could picture a housewife, kids at school, husband at work. MILFs, they were called now. And now Harris would make a post-mortem payment for premortem mischief ? He hated the idea and tried proposing to his mother that one of his daughters from his first marriage, Lorna, chronically short on cash, take on this assignment. He’d pay her to deliver the checks while he concentrated on what needed to be done to the fieldstone house. Maybe in time I’ll move back into the house, he thought. It was a dangerous notion,
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presupposing his mother’s eventual passing, but Harris liked the idea. The more he talked, the more he persuaded himself he was on to something. The house’s shadows and spaces and seasonal moods were features of his mind and, surprisingly, his mysterious heart. His mother said no to the idea of Lorna seeing these women. She spoke in that flat-as-aFrisbee voice of hers, the one that cut through the noise of a school assembly she wanted to settle down, and her eyes were dark with a finality he had seen in two women’s eyes before. Was his mother divorcing him somehow, or was she simply telling him it was his job to clean up after his father because he had been just as faithless? He went to see three women in quick sequence—Flo in a nursing home; Gail in the same house where she had done work for his father on the same maple dining room table under the same imitation Tiffany glass light fixture; and Sandy in her daughter’s house in Manayunk on the cliffs above the Schuylkill. Then there was Anna in Roxborough. In Conshohocken, where his father was born, he met a woman named Timmy who wore blue jeans and a cowboy shirt on her scarecrow frame. He heard, “Tom died? I’m so sorry,” and, “Oh, my goodness, Tom Harris, what a sweetie!” and, “Tom? I haven’t thought about him in ages.” To make his visits seem less crass and more personal, Harris recounted his father’s diabetes and his glaucoma. There had not been much to him for fifteen years except his failing health. Nor was there much to these women except similar physical struggles. It was the weight of high blood pressure, Parkinson’s, shingles, or angina, not the weight of adultery with Tom Harris, that was squeezing the breath and life out of them, drying out their skin and hair and nails, pressing them like faded flowers between the last few pages of their lives. Once Harris thought he had spent
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enough time on a woman’s sofa or in her kitchen, he brought out the check. He knew, as he knew a lot of useless things, that half of all Americans would have difficulty scrounging up a thousand dollars in an emergency. Nonetheless, he had to tell his mother that some of these women were not enthusiastic about her gift. They felt she might need the money. They said they knew Tom Harris wasn’t all that successful. They fretted the way old people fret when anything happens, good or bad, preferring nothing to happen, or the same familiar things to happen, and that strangers with news of the dead didn’t come knocking. His mother listened to him for a minute or so before tuning out, not interested in the kinds of anecdotes that were, as it happened, his father’s stock in trade. In various ways, Harris tried to lure her into explaining more clearly what she wanted from this exercise. He tried joking about a given woman, how awful she looked, as if to imply his father couldn’t possibly have had an affair with her; he tried explaining how hard he had to work to get in a given door, to persuade a woman he wasn’t there to sell her life insurance, like father like son. His mother did comment once that she thought giving these women the money was the decent thing to do, perhaps intimating that she always had thought his father had shortchanged them the way life shortchanged almost all women. But “decent” could mean other things, and she didn’t use the word again. Harris stopped trying to make them all out to be hags. His mother would catch on as she no doubt had caught on to his father’s minimizing way of describing a gal willing to call prospects for him, a woman good with numbers, a woman who could type like the blazes. Having sold his data processing business, been divorced twice, put his four children through college, and lacking hobbies (he’d sold his boat and the cabin in the Poconos), Harris feared waking up and not knowing what to do
after his second cup of coffee. He didn’t have a lot of friends. Women his age discomfited him. Whenever they were involved—with their beaucoup ideas about what to do with him—he felt like a cloud on a chain, a cloud that didn’t know how to drift in the right direction by itself. But to a degree he supposed that he never had felt his life was entirely his own, subject to his control and direction. From his mother, he got the sense that it wasn’t, while from his father, well, the sense he got of himself was odd. Harris was much more successful in business than his father, but his father still put him down. He’d once said that Harris needed the organization he’d built because he didn’t have his father’s mind. All the data processing in the world could be handled right here, Harris’s father had said, tapping his forehead. This comment came at the time when a grown son lets his aging dad have his say. Harris had shrugged off his father’s claim that he could have made a fortune if he’d wanted. Even when he was enfeebled, Harris’s father knew exactly what to do after his second cup of coffee—start on bourbon, which didn’t cost millions. The women kept popping up. Some would refer to others, or Harris might realize that a note he’d passed over in the morgue meant so-and-so had not been a client, so-andso had been one of his father’s women, and he would have to inform his mother, and she would go to her maple secretary and uncap her fountain pen to make out a check in her preferred midnight-blue ink. Then she would blow on it and tear it from the pad and give it a few waves in the air to be doubly sure the ink was dry, hand it to Harris, and remind him to put it in an envelope. Harris would remind her that he had envelopes, lots of them, in the glove box of his Mercedes. Perversely, his car was becoming his office as he retraced the twists and turns of his father’s itinerary up and down the Schuylkill. One morning, Harris drove to the address of a woman named Beatrice Mars,
like the candy, who kept the chain on the front door in place when she opened it. He explained he was Thomas Harris, Jr., and said he came bearing her a bequest, the word he habitually misused to suggest that the check signed by his mother was actually a remembrance from his father. Beatrice Mars let Harris in after staring at him as long as a person might spend looking at a favorite dish broken in pieces on the kitchen floor. Her row house in Germantown —the red velvet walnut-framed sofa, the pleated silk lampshades, the large mirror above the fireplace mantelpiece, the heavy swag of the drapes, the handsome striped wallpaper, the crown molding, the ageless oak floor—was a dated example of excellent colonial taste. These furnishings did not look like the possessions of someone who once did secretarial piecework. Harris also saw that, in her day, Beatrice Mars had been a large, handsome woman like his mother. Even now, slightly stooped and saggy, she remained attractive. Her short gray hair was well cut; her white blouse and gray wool pleated skirt were well tailored. She offered him a seat on the sofa and looked at him as if she had been awake for so long that she had abandoned the distinction between thinking and dreaming. That’s how his mother seemed these days, he realized. Exactly, unnervingly the same. She was not, she corrected him, Mrs. Mars. She was Miss Mars. Beyond that, Harris wondered if she would have anything to say—she just kept looking and looking—so he began making his little speech about his father’s illnesses and death and the family’s gratitude for the assistance Miss Mars had given him when he was active in business. Beatrice Mars interrupted him to say it wasn’t a business affair. Just like that. Not a business affair. And she kept studying him, his eyes and mouth, his forehead, his shoulders, his chest, his arms and legs. She especially looked at his hands, prompting him to clasp them, which he had not intended to do because his routine required that, at a given point, he reach into the
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interior pocket of his suit coat and extract the envelope and be gone as quickly as he could get out the door. Harris sincerely hoped Miss Mars would resist going further into her relations with his father. His father was dead. No one had affairs of any kind with his father anymore. That was the point. And Harris hoped she’d have the propriety to leave all that alone, but she sat there looking at him with those milky blue eyes of hers, eyes similar to his own, which his first wife, when she had still loved him, called Staffordshire china eyes. “So…you didn’t do any work for him?” “No, I didn’t.” Obviously, Harris could not now give her a check signed by his mother, although he’d already used that word of his, bequest. What was he going to do about that? “But you knew him.” “Yes.” As with his mother since his father’s death, Harris felt as though Beatrice Mars was prepared to make him guess what she was thinking if he didn’t have the guts to ask her outright. There was something almost ethereal about her, something that drew them together as she seemed to float on the edge of the overstuffed chair opposite him. It felt as though somehow she was touching his face, as though her dry, old-lady fingertips were stroking his cheeks. Or was it the scent of her cologne that conjoined them? He couldn’t place it, but he knew it. Maybe it was simply her, the way she smelled, the natural scent of her skin. He glanced away, doing what you do the first time you are in someone’s home, complimenting it with your attention. His eyes drifted about, taking in the handsome wallpaper again, the shimmering drapes, the fine clock on the mantelpiece, and the bookshelves to the left of the fireplace where he saw a framed blackand-white photograph of himself as a newborn, wearing a knit cap thin as a sock. He recognized it immediately as the first photograph of him
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ever taken. For a moment, he seemed to lose the ability to see, but that didn’t matter. Beatrice Mars was floating somewhere in his brain. She then said something that assumed his visit was the bequest. He was so addled he didn’t really hear how she put it, just captured the sense of it, and that it was time for him to leave before what he’d brought her came apart in her hands. When he returned to his mother’s house, Harris put the check made out to Beatrice Mars on the maple secretary. There was no more talk between them of hunting down his father’s former secretaries. They focused on repairing the fieldstone house.
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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.
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