Red Savina Review
Red Savina Review The Online Literary Magazine in the Southwest Vol 3 Issue 2 Fall 2015 ISSN 2169-3161
EDITOR in CHIEF
John M. Gist
BASQUE LANGUAGE EDITOR
Red Savina Review (RSR) is an independent, bi-annual e-zine publishing short films, creative nonfiction, fiction and poetry in March and September. RSR is a nonprofit literary review headquartered in southwestern New Mexico. For submission guidelines visit our website redsavinareview.org/submit-2/. Copyright © 2015. Red Savina Review contains copyrighted materials, including but not limited to photographs, text and graphics. You may not use, publish, copy, download, upload, post to a bulletin board or otherwise transmit, distribute, or modify any contents in any way. You may download one copy of such contents on any single computer for your own personal, noncommercial use, provided you do not alter or remove any copyright, author attribution, or other notices.
A Letter from the Editor
September 8, 2015
AWP, Kate Gale, and Diversity for Diversity’s Sake: RSR’s response to the recent dust-up in the small universe of literary charades
Disclaimer: I have never met nor communicated with Kate Gale, nor do I plan to. I do not attend AWP, primarily because it is too politically charged.
To be clear: if Kate Gale, founder and managing editor of Red Hen Press and editor at The Los Angeles Review, submitted “AWP Is Us” to a writing workshop I happened to be facilitating, I’d have returned it without distributing it to the workshop participants. If Gale bothered to ask why (which I somehow doubt she would), I’d respond: “This piece is an extremely poor attempt at satire. It lacks cohesion and coherence. The writing is so lazy in its delivery that it is offensive. If you want to take the time to radically revise, polish, and edit the piece, I’ll take another look. As it stands, it is, at best, a very rough draft. At worst, it will be read as a white-privilege rant of intolerance. “ In the small yet volatile universe of the literary press, in which the Associated Writing Programs serves, presumably, as common ground—a place to gather and discuss the industry, to make contacts, to network—Gale’s Huffington Post blog was, as I feared, read, by and large, as a white-privilege rant. This bespeaks as much to the bent of the readership as to the writing itself. There were several responses to the piece of the ilk, “I hope this is a really bad attempt at satire,” or “The rhetoric in this piece wouldn’t pass muster in a Composition and Rhetoric 101 course.” The great majority, however, were politically indignant, self-righteously outraged, posturing as if the piece was to be read in a literal sense. I am reminded of Nietzsche, in particular his piece on “Reading and Writing,” in the classic Thus Spake Zarathustra (1886): “Every one being allowed to learn to read, ruins in the long run not only writing but also thinking.” In Gale’s case, the responses to her weak go at satire are evidence that Nietzsche, at least in one sense, was correct. The PC climate that has inculcated the American literary scene for too long now has produced readers, inadvertently or not, who, dare I say, willfully misread texts to
satisfy political expediencies. Either that or the majority of those who commented on the blog, outraged at its audacity, honestly did not see that Gale’s writing employed a structure that conveyed the intent of satire. For example, the flagrant use of cliché in targeting sexuality, gender, and ethnicity, should have been a clue to readers that the piece was not intended to be read literally. The opening sentence of the penultimate paragraph, “The point is that this fabulous conference creates an intersection point of editors, writers, residencies, MFA programs and in the last couple of years agents as well,” should, as well, have indicated to readers that what came before it was designed to tease the reader rather than condemn diversity. But, alas, the lion’s share of the crowd that commented on the blog missed the obvious. This is more than a bit worrisome. Shame on Gale for publishing such a poorly devised piece of writing and shame on those readers who didn’t see the essay for what it was: a dreadful attempt at satire. Gale is no Jonathan Swift, to be sure, but her proposal in “AWP Is Us,” ironically, may have been more modest than the over-the-top words conveyed to its zealous audience. Might not have Gale’s mini-essay been an attempt to criticize the postmodern propensity for selfcenteredness, where it is NOT a piece of writing that garners praise or criticism but rather the author of the writing, a willful ad hominem move, often through a grossly oversimplified view of history, equality, and democracy on the part of editors and the writers themselves? Since its inception, Red Savina Review has maintained that a selection of writing must stand on its own merit, regardless of the age, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity of the author. Does this mean we are at odds with diversity? If I am being truthful, in one sense, yes. Diversity for diversity’s sake is like planting and nurturing invasive weeds in a vegetable garden intended to feed a village. Left to their own devices, let alone being actively cultivated, the weeds will choke-out their competition and the citizenry will become, at best, malnourished. At worst, they will starve to death. On the other hand, a certain amount of diversity is essential, if we have learned anything from the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s. If the Irish would have had more variety in the species of potatoes they planted, the famine probably could have been avoided altogether. A balanced diet requires variation in crop and, therefore, diversity is key to good health. At RSR we read with the Greek concept of arete (“excellence”) as the guiding principle. Nothing more. Nothing less. What is excellence? There is no formula for it. Is all writing, then, inherently excellent because the author invests so much of themselves into the words? Sadly, no. Some writing is superior, most is not. We do, then, pull weeds where we find them so as not to compromise the harvest and jeopardize the health of our readers. To put it another way, if I were to attend AWP next year, I would not be interested in attending panels such as LGBT Writers, Irish Writers, Native American Writers, White Writers, Transgender Writers, Disabled Writers, etc. These designations serve to segregate writers into groups who naturally become insular and defensive: they are focused on the author and NOT the
writing. To borrow from Jacques Barzun, who received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama in 2010, ““Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred.” RSR is not interested in hatred. We are, however, drawn, like dowsers to water, to excellent writing, no matter whom the author might be or what perspective they might come from. A panel on how editors from various journals go about choosing excellent writing, I’d wager, would attract a curious audience and a great debate. An AWP panel entitled What We Talk About When We Talk About Excellence might engender a healthy conversation that opens up a way for writers and editors to communicate in a liminal space, rather than corralling them into political definitions. I attended a panel at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word in 2013. Held in Silver City, New Mexico, the title of the talk was Out of the Margins: Multicultural Writing in the 21st Century. On the panel, among others, was a Native American poet. What she had to say was quite interesting: During her travels, the poet stopped at a large, independent bookstore in, if I remember correctly, Nebraska. She was looking for a book of poetry by a writer she had recently encountered. When she couldn’t find the book in the poetry section of the store, she found it odd because the poet was well-known on the contemporary scene. So, she located a store clerk and asked him to take a look in his magic computer. The clerk did as he was asked and traced the title. Looking up for the computer, he said, “That book would be in the Native American section.” The poet was incensed. If she was looking for a book of contemporary poetry by a wellknown poet, she expected to find it in the poetry section of the store, not segregated into a Native American niche. I think the anecdote speaks for itself. Excellence in creative writing, whether poetry or prose, is its own category and pays no heed to sexual orientation, ethnicity, or, frankly, anything but the writing itself. If a poet is producing superior work and has been recognized by their fellow poets as doing just that, she deserves to be in the poetry section of the bookstore, wouldn’t you agree? But, you may ask, who is to determine if a piece is to find its place under the standard of arete? In the end, many will argue, creative writing, like all art, is ultimately subjective. No way around it. One reader may view a work as excellent while another may see it as repulsive. My response: if you choose to board a ship that is to set sail across the tumultuous seas of our literary times, would you choose an experienced captain who knows, through intuition informed by experience, how to mark twain, or a myopic greenhorn who knows only the shallow waters of his home shores? Intuition informed by experience, then, is crucial in evaluating a selection of literature.
At RSR we subscribe to concept of the Great Books of Western Civilization (with the caveat the list of titles included must be fluid and not static) as a means to promoting dialogue between past literature and present-day writing (a la Gadamer). The Great Books are “great” for good reason: they have withstood the test of time and, by all indicators, will continue to do so long after postmodernism and political correctness have run their course. Literature is a human tradition that maps the human place in the world. It cannot be assessed outside of that continuum, for, if it is, it turns its back on itself and claims to be something it is not: privileged in a historical perspective that conceives itself as external to the flow of history. In sum, I expect Kate Gale will survive her self-induced squall. With a bit of luck, after digesting a large slice of humble pie, she might learn something valuable about writing and editing. AWP will keep meeting, complete with its political hubbub. In the meantime, we’ll keep reading at RSR. For the sake of American Letters, I sincerely hope that All of Us turn our attention away from the writer and back to the text where it belongs. To do otherwise is to advocate a rather insidious form of censorship. Good luck to us all! John M. Gist Founding Editor, Red Savina Review -JMG
Contents Creative Nonfiction
Sullen Possum Sabbath
The Goal Would Be That She Drops
Karen J. Weyant
Call Him “Evil”
Answer the Call
A Personal Archeology Spring Equinox
TINPLATE A GREEK ISLAND TRAGEDY
PERSEPHONE’S LAMENT TIME PRESENT THE SHOEMAKER’S PIN CUSHION
A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste: An Advertising Poem iHooyeau
Apple Factory Snow Day Bargaining Crusoe’s Blossoms: Love in Metaphoric Times
ALL BEAUTY AND THE SHAKE OF IT
Chicken Pox, 1986
Flight to Paris
Upon Rereading Richard Hugo Hemingway Spots Faulkner in a Bar
DUNKIN’ FOUND OR LOST IN QUANTUM MECHANICS
The Child Molester
An Autograph From Lewis Black at the Peoria Civic Center
A Thread of Unending
The Moors Murders
Mary McLaughlin Slechta
Terry Barr CALL HIM “EVIL” A month ago I published a story about an old high school girlfriend, a girl I called Patty. A girl I loved. A girl who, just before we dated seriously, was raped by a guy I had once played little league baseball with. He had graduated the previous year and was only home, it seemed, to continue preying on high school girls. I didn’t know her trauma when Patty and I first started dating, but I learned later that she feared she had gotten pregnant from the rape. I didn’t know during those winter weeks that our time together was marked by an internal scar which hadn’t fully healed (as if it ever would). After all, she had called me to ask if I’d take her to her high school club’s Christmas dance. So after several romantic dates —“It’s so good to be with you,” she said after our first kiss at her door— I wondered why she turned distant, why her warmth turned into that kind of cold-to-the-bone chill that no heat can ease. We “broke up” a month after Christmas, yet over the next three years we’d talk occasionally, always at her instigation. The last time we spoke, I was in love with someone else and didn’t have time for Patty, my high school romance. I think I brushed her off on that call, and maybe I flatter myself that my behavior hurt her and caused her to cry. The wonder of Facebook is that anyone can reconnect with anyone else, and though I joined this world late only two years ago, one of my first friend searches was for Patty: a girl I kissed a few times, who left me a “Sorry” note on her front door one night when we were supposed to be going out. When she “confirmed” my friend request, we both wrote, “OMG (we’re so cool), I always wondered what happened to you.” We caught up in a long series of private messages, asking and answering the classic phrase: “What happened to us?” Eventually Patty confessed to what I had discovered back then from one of her friends: her date-rape, her shame. “He had asked me out, this cute older college guy, and I was so innocent. We went to a house party, and after he got me a couple of drinks, he asked if I knew what a ‘Yankee Dime’ was. I said I didn’t, and he said I’d have to follow him to find out.” The Urban Dictionary describes a “Yankee Dime” as “A quick, innocent kiss. A peck. A child like term used by/for children in the Southern United States. (More common in countrysideraised, ‘older’ southern families).” “He led me to a back bedroom, and I know this is so naïve, but I followed him. I should have known better, and when he turned on me, I couldn’t fight him off.” He was a football player, not tall, but thick, solid.
“I was a virgin” Patty said. “It only took a few minutes, and when he was done, he threw a towel at me and told me to clean up. Then I had to walk back through the den where people could see me and the blood I couldn’t get off. Of course, he never called again. I don’t know if you can call this rape since I followed him back there, but I know he’s a predator.” Patty said she had told only our mutual friend and her own sister about the night she was violated. And now, forty years later, she was telling me. * There is danger in Facebook connections. The standard torch-romance used to be that when you went back to high school reunions, you ran the risk of falling in love with that old flame. I knew a guy from my first Men’s Group, call him Doug, who did just that. Doug stayed in our group until we urged him to confess to his wife, call her Helen, a woman we all knew. He left us because of our urging, and then he left Helen and their daughter to repossess what he once had. With Facebook, though, you don’t have to wait for five or ten-year parties at generic hotels or private homes. It’s true that my romantic nostalgia was lit by Patty’s confessions. Old feelings are nevertheless real, or at least they were once. Like most people, I figured I could control the nostalgia, not let the flirtatious high become my reality. But I also installed a fail-safe option: I told several people about our correspondence. One of my current men’s group members, call him Mark, asked the security question: “How would you feel if your wife was privately chatting with one of her old boyfriends?” My therapist, call him David, simply told me to stop. My wife, also a therapist, said that she had clients who tried unsuccessfully to walk this very tight rope. “I trust you, but be very careful,” she said. “General connections lead to private chats, then to phone calls. The next thing you know, you have to meet face-to-face, just to see. But by that time, no one is ‘just seeing.’” I would name my wife here, but she’d rather I not. I want to honor her wishes always. Honor also means politely signing off from private chats. I let Patty know that I was respectfully ending whatever this was. I also told her that if it was OK with her, I might write about “us” one day. “That would be fine with me,” she said. “I trust you. You’ve always been a gentleman.” I’d like to think that’s true. But I’m also a writer. So I wrote our story, and a few days after it was published, the strangest, most unsettling thing happened. Patty’s rapist sent me a friend request on Facebook.
He and I have always had mutual friends; I had endured him at Christmas parties and weddings and other gatherings during my college and graduate school years. But I had never confronted him about the rape. Nor had I told anyone else what I heard, what I knew. Why didn’t I tell these friends? Why didn’t I stand up to him and face the reality that this sick fuck might beat me up? What’s a black eye, a broken nose, after all? Why didn’t I act like a gentleman? * “It’s too late baby, it’s too late, though we really did try to make it.” What it’s not too late for is to tell everyone from that era about this guy. I did so yesterday, at lunch with one of these old friends, call him Bobby. He used to host the parties where this violator and I coexisted. “I can believe it,” Bobby said, “but I never knew that particular story.” I wanted to ask Bobby why he kept inviting such a guy to his home if he could believe what had happened, what this “friend” had done. I know it’s been a long time, and I know Bobby wasn’t responsible for any of our actions. I know that a belief now isn’t the same as a suspicion then. But that wasn’t what stopped me from asking Bobby why he endured this asshole. What did it was the line of discussion he launched into after I finished my story. The line about all the cases in the news where a woman has accused a guy or a group of guys of raping her, and it turned out that she was lying, or, for whatever reason—pain, infamy, shame— had recanted her accusation. “These guys were wronged,” Bobby said, referring to Virginia, to Duke, and to another case recently in Alabama, our home state. “One of my greatest fears is to be accused of something and to have nothing concrete to prove my innocence,” he said. “That sounds like you’ve watched too many Hitchcock films.” Then I told him about an incident at the college where I teach. The girl consented to having sex. What she didn’t consent to was being recorded on the guy’s cell phone, or to having several of his friends hiding in the closet to “observe.” These guys, at least, were caught. The girl testified before our Honor Council, and three boys, three “college men,” were expelled. Lost their full scholarships. “I don’t think the punishment was harsh enough,’ I said, and Bobby agreed to that.
“Still,” he said, “when everyone gets drunk, how do we know what consent is? What if it’s the girl who rapes the guy?” Bobby has two sons, and I have two daughters. As he acknowledged, we were coming at this from different points of view. I suppose that a girl has raped a guy, and maybe it happens more than I know. But I know this too: Guys don’t walk around feeling threatened by girls. They don’t worry that what they’re wearing will be considered unduly “tempting” to a woman, and might “lead her on.” Guys might carry knives or guns, but not mace. They don’t take self-defense classes just to ward off predatory women. And pedophilia aside, the average guy doesn’t hold in his own sexual molestation for decades. He doesn’t remember and relive the horror of being raped at seventeen in the back bedroom of a quiet, small-town family home by his female date, a girl who, for whatever misguided reason, he trusts. * I stared at the rapist’s friend request, noting that his status is “married,” with a son and a daughter. What if I posted his name and this story on my own Facebook page? What if I made sure his family knew? What if I accepted his request and Facebook-confronted him? I have no proof of his assault, just the word of the girl I might have loved back when I was more innocent, when she had her innocence even further removed. I say “even further,” because Patty’s mother abandoned her when she was a little girl. I thought about my own actions for a few minutes, and then I simply hit “deny request,” knowing full well that rapists never quit preying on those weaker than themselves, but hoping that he’s spared his family. And if it’s true that people don’t change, it’s also true that we don’t forget: no matter who we are and where we’ve been and how much time has elapsed, we remember. So because he’s evil, and because I am trying so hard to live with myself, I want to write his name for whoever reads this to see. Would that be evil too? Or would it be right, brave, “Gentlemanly?” Yet, I will honor the request of the victim, the one who matters most, who’s been damaged the most. So here goes. Call him Jerry.
Ryan Cordle SULLEN POSSUM SABBATH
© Louis Staeble; Blue Merge; photography
It’s late September. I finish my coffee, pack my army surplus messenger bag, and head out the back door. Walking down the hill to the bottom lands, the fog thickens. Although the morning sun is above the Bullskin Mountains to the east, it does not yet have the strength to burn away the settled fog. Visibility is about fifty yards. The caffeine in my system brings about nervousness in my stomach. My hands shake just enough to be noticed. I get anxious when heading into the woods alone, but this time I am more tense than normal. I do not know exactly where I’m going.
*** Above the farm operated by the boarding school where I teach sits the site of a historic Cherokee village called Sullen Possum. Before the American settlers pushed through the Cumberland Gap, this site was frequently occupied for at least a thousand years. Native Americans of the Early Archaic period, three thousand years ago, settled here, and the spot was the home of the family of Red Bird, an important 18th Century Cherokee leader in the region. The area, now one of the poorest counties in the United States, provided its Native occupants an abundance of fresh water, fishing opportunities, large game, chestnuts, salt, and red ochre–a natural red pigment of ceremonial importance. They thrived in the hills of Kentucky where we struggle with what editorialists call a “low quality of life.” When I first came to work at the school, I went on a hike with some students led by an older gentleman, Marv, who was not from the area. He had lived and served here for only a couple of years. Marv was a good talker and took himself to be a strong woodsman. He had an Appalachian Trail badge sewn on his L.L. Bean backpack, and I asked him if he had hiked much on the A.T. He admitted that once he vacationed in the Smokies and picked up the badge at a gift shop and had never actually been on the famed trail. Marv took us to the bench top of a ridge, which overlooks Goose Creek. The creek cuts through the bottom land, now mostly cornfield, to join another small creek, and become the South Fork of the Kentucky River. There, in a small grove of pines, he showed us three distinct burial sites, one only a few steps from the others. “These are Indian mounds,” he said. “The Oneida Indians lived here and built these mass graves. The dead would have been buried with all of their possessions, and there are probably millions of dollars’ worth of artifacts right where we’re standing.” The students tossed acorns around. I was captivated. There was sullenness to the site which transcended the youthful foolishness of the students. I later found out Marv was mostly wrong about the history of the mounds, but the significance of his incorrectness did not strike me until much later. We were living and working on a part of history that has been completely swallowed by the woods. Few who now live here know about the people that resided here for centuries before them. We frequently hear about the short-lived prosperity of the mining operations, and the way things were before the chestnut blight, but the sacred burial grounds, settlements, and trails of the Natives who claimed this land are largely forgotten. *** Sometime after that initial hike, another former employee of the school told me of a grave site separate from the three I had seen with Marv. I hike now to attempt to find the fourth grave. *** I climb the rickety swinging bridge to get to the south side of Goose Creek. The bridge is something of a minor tourist attraction in the area, but it’s a practical necessity for us. It allows a twenty-five minute walk to become a six or seven minute walk. The water level beneath the
bridge is low, and, when the fog clears I’ll be able to make out the shadows of catfish and small mouth bass in the water. A crow calls out from the corn field behind me. Stepping down from the bridge, I cut through the school’s farm, past the staring eyes of a dozen black, brown, and white calves, past calico kittens scrambling up an ornamental pear tree, and past the humming air conditioner of the potato storage shed. Like an emerging ghost, I ascend through the fog as the farm road takes me up a steep hill where the school has built ten houses in a flat area called Beech Grove. Beech Grove sits in the middle of a U-shaped ridge. It would be the ideal layout for a large amphitheater. Although the grove was mostly destroyed to build the houses, plenty of beech trees populate the curving ridge along with maples, oaks, and box elders. Supposing the burial site sits somewhere on this ridge, I go through the backyard of a co-worker and hike straight up the ridge until I hit a fence. The school owns all the houses and land here, and this frees me to wander with no worries of trespassing. My steps are slow and intentional because the ground is leaf-covered and slick. On the other side of the fence is a trail, which leads to an elevated cow pasture. Thoreau hated fences because they were impediments; however, this fence cuts conveniently through the woods. It provides an easy trail to follow through the occasionally thick undergrowth, and I try to keep my sleeves close to my body so as not to get caught on the barbs. This area of the woods is surprisingly clear of trash. I only encounter a metal fold out chair, the back and seat mostly rusted out. One could only begin to guess the origins of the chair on such a steep ridge, but there it is like so many other imperfections we notice in the otherwise ideal. However, other than the chair, there are no bottles, wrappers, or rotten lumber. This is refreshing. There is plenty of decay in the dampness of the morning. The fallen trees sprout orange and gray shelf fungus. A distinct leaf mold scent rises up through the fog, and I recognize the familiarity of it though I have never explored these woods. It is the smell of dark hollows that rarely see the summer sun. A deer trail cuts down from the fence I’m following and zigzags around the larger trees. I follow this trail for several hundred yards until I get to a clear cut strip, which turns ninety degrees up hill to meet the fence line. This section leads up to the boundary of the pasture above, but I choose to stay on the wooded ridge supposing I can always turn around and keep following the fence line if I don’t find the burial mound. Past the clear strip, the ridge begins to curve into the rounded end of the U-shape. The land flattens out a little. Stepping over several downed trees, I end up on the banks of a trickling spring flowing out of the hill. The weather has been dry the last few weeks, but this spring is still flowing steadily. If not for its relative proximity downhill of a cow pasture, this is the kind of spring that one would have little qualms drinking from without a filter. I think I see opossum tracks along the muddy banks of the stream, but the indentions are faint. I survey the area and then see what I came to find. Ninety feet from the spring sits a mound, now covered in moss, with a few large stones scattered around its base. The mound is six feet long
and three or four feet wide. It stands out obviously against the flat basin. Wanting to experience this spot, I sit leaning against an old beech and face the burial site. There is little question the placement of this mound is intentional. The spring must be an old water source that sustained the native communities for quite some time. I imagine the grave was meant to be a memorial as men and women came each day for clean water. However, as far as I can tell, no one has visited this site for a while. There are no obvious trails. There is no trash. *** When this was still Sullen Possum, the grave had a story. Now the story is gone, or at least forgotten, but this is what the wilderness does. It reclaims and hides whatever it is we try to do to it. Like the opossum that only pretends to be dead but springs back to all vitality when danger passes, so the wilderness is again vital. We try to establish permanence in the wilderness, but the wilderness only temporarily yields to us. Only a handful of people are now aware of this grave’s existence or even the existence of the Sullen Possum village. We move on, while in its living, the wilderness hides the past from us. All civilizations will be brought to obscurity by the wilderness. It is not a new observation, but we like to forget it. Troy was once the worthy subject of imaginative praise, the remarkableness of which can never be reproduced, and yet after centuries of wind, decay, and natural growth, the great city had to be dug out. Sullen Possum, undoubtedly a humble village, still maintained generations of families who are now nothing more than abstractions of history. I find my initial anxiety of departing for this hike into the woods growing in my gut. The trees are older at this spot than at other parts of the ridge. There is not much undergrowth as the larger trees block out light. The fog blankets this hollow and dew drips from some of the leaves of the beech trees. I keep turning around when I hear the spatters, half-expecting to find something sinister watching me. There is nothing but the stillness of the fog. Being alone in the woods is a reminder of our vulnerabilities. Cell phones don’t work here. I have no gun, only a pocket knife. I’m not strong, not fast. I am at the mercy of the woods. More than that, I am at the mercy of my own thoughts. Facing a grave, facing the decay, I cannot but help think that I, too, will be swallowed up by the wilderness and become nothing but a historical obscurity in a decayed village. In going to the woods we face our future decay. Every outcropping of shelf fungus on a fallen log becomes a sacrament of death and dying. It is a tangible manifestation of an unseen, mysterious reality. *** In Christian theology the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist have always been connected to one’s mortality. The symbolism of “going under” in a baptism is a reference to death. In Romans, Paul writes that “we have been buried with Christ in Baptism…” which is supposed to remind the Christian of the unavoidable death, but the hope of the rising. There is, however, no escaping the death imagery. A baptism is an embrace of death.
Even the Eucharist, according to Paul, is a means by which we “proclaim the Lord’s death.” As a memorial this is more than the remembrance of a historical event, but to proclaim the Lord’s death is to say that, when we participate in the Eucharist, we are stating a willingness to follow Christ in death. Our body will be broken like the bread, and our blood will be spilled like the wine. The Martyrdom of Polycarp, a second or third century narrative, tells of how the saint is burned at the stake, but that his flesh smells like baking bread, as in the Eucharistic bread. Sacraments are a visible manifestation of mortality; they bring to our mind what we try so hard to push away. *** Being cradled by the old beech tree, seeing the ancient grave, stepping over the shelf fungus on decaying logs, and smelling the leaf mold transform a solitary excursion into the woods a sacrament. It brings to mind our inevitable return to dust. Here, I think I could become an anchorite connected to this grave. Retiring away from “the world,” in order to find vocation at this spot seems reasonable. For inasmuch as the wilderness brings to us the realities of death, it calls us to prayer. Perhaps not prayer in the formal structure of “Our Father,” but a prayer, to quote Wendell Berry, that “does not disturb the silence from which it came.” In theology, God is in the sacraments. He must also be in the wilderness, which acts as a sacrament in the moment of contemplation. Sacraments, although they bring us to an awareness of death, are by definition a means of grace. Grace is an unmerited gift. Here in the damp and the decay of the woods, which reminds me of my vulnerabilities, there is plenty of grace. In sitting next to a grave, I get anxious about the darkness of death and of the wild unknown, but I also find a peace in knowing the present can be free from anxiety, because redemption is built into the fabric of nature. The clear spring still provides water. The fog will soon lift up and out of the hills. The decayed logs will return nutrients to the rich humus. And in these things is grace, as Gerard Manley Hopkins illustrates, “Oh, morning, as the brown brink eastward, springs/ Because the Holy Ghost over the bent/ World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.” *** I get up from the beech tree and stretch as my back has gotten sore from the rigid seat. My noise startles a cardinal, and the bird flies over the stream and to the other side of the ridge. His bright wings catch a stream of sun breaking through a clear patch of land. I retrace my path back to where the clear strip meets the fence line. This time I walk up with the fence rather than following my same route along the ridge. It is a steep climb but levels out at the top and while the fence goes on around the cow pasture, I am stopped by thorny thicket I have no desire to push through. At some point, the woods were cleared from this spot, probably for a potato field or pasture land, and then left alone. The thicket will grow and mature and in a few decades it will blend with the surrounding woods.
Here could have possibly been a crossroads for the people of the Sullen Possum village. To one side is a clear spring and the flat beech grove area, and to the other side is the flat ridge top of the cow pasture. A ten or fifteen minute walk along the ridge top from the pasture is the three burial sites overlooking the valley. I know nothing of Cherokee etymology or mythology to begin to speculate why this is Sullen Possum, but there is sadness on this ridge. The obscurity of the people who once thrived here is sad, and perhaps the name sullen, as much as anything else, is prophetic. Yet, there is also a glooming peace here this morning, for in being forgotten, the ridges, the springs, and the graves are mostly left alone. For this, I give thanks. I walk down the clear fence line and back onto the wooded ridge. The ground is still wet from dew, and I am careful with my steps so as not to slip. I come back around the deer path and get back to the yard in which I started. On my walk back through the farm, the fog has lifted in all the low areas, though a smattering remains on the mountain tops. The September sky is clear. I see two eastern bluebirds perched on a fence post. Pokeweed grows in abundance in the thickets in the unkempt parts of the farm, and the bluebirds look for the berries early in the morning. The sun gets warm, and I roll up my sleeves. The farm is awake now. The hogs are being fed and make ungodly shrieks in anticipation of food. Under the swinging bridge are the minnows, but no signs of their predators yet. A gray heron stands in one of the creek bends, the water coming up to her breast. Arriving home, I find my wife and son are now awake too. There is freshly baked pumpkin bread and hot coffee. It is not the welcoming smell of leaf mold, but it is grace nonetheless.
THE GOAL WOULD BE THAT SHE DROPS “Move, gringa,” Carla Badillo said. Badillo is the married name of my grandmother who I never called abuelita (though my cousins did). Carla filled up the high school bathroom doorway with her skinny body and her pregnant belly. ‘Move’ was her command, not ‘muévate,’ and I was in her way. My oldest sister might have punched her for that, pregnant and all, because without the sun my sister and I are the same complexion even though I am half-gringa and half-descended from the Badillos, de la Rosas, DeLaFuentes of Texas-which-was-once-Mexico. Half of me wanted to shove her, pregnant mistakes and all, into the heavy door and hear her body go smack and slide down. Half of me wanted to say something smart back in Spanish to demonstrate her error, but the words wouldn’t come. They never come. So, the half of me that was gringa let her be right while the half that wanted to tell her how it really was burned in my cheeks, my ears, my eyes. If my skin was browner you wouldn’t be able to see the blush rise, but it isn’t. Carla Badillo walked in. I walked out.
TURNPIKE GIRL When we lived on Bunns Lane we had the New Jersey Turnpike in our backyard. Other people lived in houses with green lawns and flower gardens. We lived in a red brick apartment building surrounded by dirt and weeds and other red brick apartment buildings. Other people had driveways and patios and even swimming pools in their backyards. We had a big sliding board, and we had the turnpike. We lived on Bunns Lane because my father was sick. He couldn’t work anymore, and Mommy couldn’t work because she took care of him. We lived on Social Security disability, and the government let us live in the apartment on Bunns Lane, where the rent was cheap. They paid for Daddy’s surgeries and medicine, too. Mommy always said she didn’t know what we would have done if it wasn’t for the government. We couldn’t pay the rent on Crows Mill Road anymore, so when she found out they had a place we could afford, she took it sight unseen. The turnpike ran behind Bunns Lane. It was very loud. When we moved into our four-room apartment, I was only two years old. I don’t remember, but my big sister told me the noise was so loud, she couldn’t sleep. She told Mommy, and Mommy moved us into the front bedroom. She and Daddy took the back bedroom. They endured the endless groaning sound of the cars going by as they endured everything else. Daddy never complained, and Mommy was so tired when she fell onto the bed every night that the noise did not keep her awake. Eventually, my sister left home to go to college. The government paid for her tuition. Everybody on Bunns Lane got used to the turnpike. The noise never stopped. Cars swooshed across the roadway at every hour of the day and night. I saw them from the back bedroom window upstairs. I heard them in my head all the time, the way I heard my breath going in and out of my nose and mouth. Life went on with the turnpike in the background. Sometimes I stood at the back screen door to feel the breeze, and Daddy stood there with me. I liked to stand next to him and listen to him breathe. The gentle sound of his breath made me feel calm and safe. He stood so still, with his cleft chin jutting out and his steady eyes gazing straight ahead. He was like a strong and beautiful statue. Mommy was always moving. She kept the apartment immaculately clean and made everything happen. Daddy and I were the lucky ones who could stand still and feel the breeze. Sometimes Daddy watched me play in the backyard. I would go out the door, down the steps of the little porch where we kept the dented metal garbage can, and over the short sidewalk to the
big dirt field. There was a tired old sycamore tree in the field and, beyond it, a tall gray metal sliding board. Off to one side, there was a large square of asphalt surrounded by a chain-link fence about three feet high. Everything on Bunns Lane was made of brick, metal, concrete, or wire. It wasn’t pretty but it was built to last. I liked to feel tough, playing on the slide. I would shinny up one of its slanted poles, reaching hand over hand and stretching my arms as far out of my armpits as they would go, getting callouses on the palms of my hands. Then I would shinny down the pole, my inner thighs burning as they scraped against the hot metal and red marks formed on my skin. They were the marks of a tough girl. Next, I would run up the metal steps and go down the sliding board. It was very slippery because kids rubbed it with waxed paper. I would go down fast and land on my feet, and then I would look toward the back door. Daddy would be there, watching me. I liked to think he was proud of me. “Look at me, Daddy! Did you see what I did?” I would ask him in my mind, and my mind would create his reply: “Yes, my darling daughter. It was wonderful. You are wonderful. I love you so much.” In the afternoon, Daddy always got tired and fell asleep in his recliner. Mommy would be busy cleaning the rooms or talking on the phone with Aunt Rose. That’s when I would go out back, but not to the slide. Past the slide, there was a hill made of sandy soil and tiny rocks and weeds sticking up out of clods of dirt. The hill had seemed treacherously steep when I was six, moderately dangerous when I was eight, and gently sloped by the time I was ten. When I got to the top, there was a narrow, flat ledge of dirt and then a chain-link fence, six feet high. It had barbed wire on the top, just like the fence in “Hogan’s Heroes” on TV. It separated me from the downside bank of the same hill, which led to a short, flat area and then the turnpike. There were twelve hard flat black lanes, six going left to New York and six going right to South Jersey. I liked being in the middle, on Bunns Lane, with my own private view. I would stand at the fence, my fingers interlaced with the wires, and watch the cars zip by. I would listen to the grinding noise of them. I could not see any people inside the cars. It was all just movement and sound, like the ocean. I gave all of my attention to it, saying in my mind, “Look at me, Turnpike! Can you see me?” The only answer was the sound of engines going somewhere, going fast and never stopping. Daddy started to take a new drug for his Parkinson’s Disease. It was called L-dopa. I heard Mommy on the phone telling Aunt Rose that Daddy was a guinea pig for L-dopa, and that each pill cost a dollar and he was taking twelve pills a day. I worried that the government was paying so much money for the L-dopa, since it did not seem to be helping Daddy very much. It made him throw up after every meal, and it made his face look odd sometimes, as if he was smiling, but I knew he wasn’t smiling. I wondered what the L-dopa was doing inside him, in his brain, which was where the Parkinson’s Disease came from. Dr. Cooper, the man who had performed Daddy’s surgeries when I was very little, had explained it to me. He told me that Daddy’s muscles couldn’t do what he wanted them to do because they couldn’t get messages from his brain. When Daddy’s brain told his legs to move, the message got messed up somewhere in between his brain and his legs. So his legs didn’t move the right way, or they didn’t move at all, and sometimes he fell down. L-dopa was supposed to make Daddy’s brain work better.
One day Daddy and I were standing at the back door, and he had that funny fake smile on his face. When I stepped out to head for the slide, he said, in his muffled voice, “See that squirrel?” and he pointed toward the tree. I did not see a squirrel there. Daddy chuckled and pointed again. “See him?” I went down the steps and across the sidewalk. I stood under the tree and called back, “There isn’t any squirrel here.” Daddy was laughing. The bottom half of his body was still, but his upper body was shaking and his mouth was open, in silent laughter. He was laughing at a squirrel that wasn’t there. It made me feel scared. I wanted him to stop. There had to be a way for this situation to make sense. I saw a clump of dry leaves under the tree. I scooped it up and walked back to the door. I held it out to him like a prize. “It’s dead leaves, Daddy,” I said. “It’s not a squirrel. It’s dead leaves.” He shook his head. He pointed at the tree again and said, “Look at him.” He was still laughing. I turned and walked away. I dropped the leaves back under the tree and walked past the slide, up the hill. I wrapped my fingers tightly around the wires of the fence and looked hard at the turnpike, and I didn’t look back to see if he was watching me. Soon after that day, I was stalking Bunns Lane, looking for something new to do. I walked along the tall chain-link fence from One Building, where we lived, up toward Eighteen Building, where Bunns Lane ran out onto U.S. Route 9. Somewhere around Fourteen Building, I spotted something I had never seen before—a place where the fence had been pried up from the bottom, creating a space big enough for a person to crawl under. I crouched down and went to the other side. All of a sudden, everything felt different. My heart was pounding. My legs carried me down the hill, toward the turnpike. The noise got louder as I got closer. It got so loud that, by the time I reached the bottom of the hill, I couldn’t hear my own thoughts or my own breath. I only heard the car sounds. The cars themselves were almost a blur. They were going by so quickly the wind from them was blowing my hair into my face and pushing up against my body. I turned for a moment to get my bearings, and I was surprised to find that I could not see Bunns Lane at all from where I stood. I was not afraid. I let the waves of cars overtake me for a few minutes more, and then I went back home. I got used to Daddy’s hallucinations. In hindsight, the L-dopa did help his brain work better, at least some of the time, and it gave him more years at home with us than he would have had without it. The maintenance men didn’t come to fix the hole in the fence for a long time, so I was able to visit the turnpike on many warm afternoons while Daddy was sleeping in his recliner and Mommy was moving around the kitchen with a wet rag in one hand and a bucket of ammonia water in the other. I would duck through the hole and make my way down to the magnificent turnpike, where I became faster than the speeding cars, more powerful than L-dopa, and able to leap red brick apartment buildings in a single bound.
HARD LINES I sat on the second-hand desk, swinging my twenty-five-year-old Birkenstocked feet over the bare floorboards of my apartment. Then the phone rang. “Hello?” “Is this PG&E?” Her elderly voice sounded more curious than confused. “No, I’m just a regular person. Were you trying to reach the gas company?” “Yes, honey. Could you look up the number? I can’t quite read it.” “Sure!” I leafed through the 1985 Oakland/Alameda phone book and read the number aloud. “Oh – I can’t find a pen. Do you think you could call them for me?” And so began my relationship with eighty-three-year-old Juanita. Within twenty minutes, she’d extracted from me both a promise to call PG&E, and a commitment to be her new housekeeper. I hadn’t even been looking for another job. Juanita was good. *** On Tuesday morning, I wheeled up to Juanita’s house and locked my bike. When I knocked on her door, a torrent of barking was unleashed from inside. The door opened slowly, and as I peered into the dim cavern within, my nose was assaulted by a horrifying stench rolling through the metal security door. “Juanita? Did you remember that I was coming?” I suddenly hoped she’d forgotten, so I could pedal away, gulping deep breaths of fresh air. “Oh, yes! Come in! Henry will stop barking once you’re inside. Henry!” She scolded the dog somewhere behind her. I couldn’t see Henry through the metal mesh, but he sure sounded mad. I’d be mad, too, if I were trapped inside with that smell. With the door closed behind me, I began to identify the components of the odor that now enveloped me. There was ancient cigarette smoke, which had permeated the upholstery and
carpet. There was scorched food, and a musty staleness that hung heavy in the air, the smell of a house whose doors and windows were rarely opened. But the worst was the dog poop. It was airborne, not localized to a region or room, and it was shocking, pervasive, overwhelming. I began taking little puffs of breath through my mouth, trying not to think about what particles might be penetrating my lungs. Henry’s rage now silenced, he emerged from the shadows with a valiant wag of his stubby tail. I felt sympathy for this poodle mix, even though he was the obvious producer of all the excrement. Poor little guy, it wasn’t his fault no one cleaned up his messes. Sensing in him an ally, I waggled my fingers instead of petting his dull beige curls. Touching him might attach the smell to me. Then I took a look at my boss. Juanita was barely five feet tall, with unevenly-applied lipstick and a flattened helmet of hair, dyed reddish-brown. Over her stretchy polyester pants she wore a bulky floral sweater, surprising given the heat of the summer morning. Plastic-soled slippers were on her shuffling feet. “You only need to vacuum, and clean the bathroom and kitchen,” she said, as I remained frozen on the living room carpet. The metal blinds were closed, and none of the lamps were on. The only relief from the dark hole of the living room was the brightness splashing in from the kitchen. Through the doorway, I spied windows. I followed the light. But the kitchen sunshine merely illuminated what had remained hidden in the dark. Goldenbrown disks from Henry were flattened into the grimy linoleum that, in its infancy, had likely been orange. Blackened pots lay on the stovetop, and half-eaten pieces of toast lay in the sink alongside piles of crusty dishes. Brushing my fingers against the refrigerator door, I felt ridges of dried sauce. Suddenly there were keys jingling, and the front door creaked open. “Juanita, I’ve got your groceries!” The silhouette in the doorway called out to me. “I’m Olive! I live across the street.” She entered the kitchen, pulling cans and boxes out of brown bags and stuffing them into cupboards. Olive was sixtyish and all roundness, with her hair-sprayed bouffant, the circular lenses of her glasses, and a fleshy build that poofed out at the waist. As Olive clapped cabinets shut and snapped paper bags into folded rectangles, I saw her beckon to me. I padded after her into the living room, cringing, now knowing what lay under my shoes. “Did you know Juanita’s blind?” she whispered. The thought had never occurred to me. “Are you sure? When she called, she’d been looking up PG&E in the phone book.” “Juanita can’t see a damned thing anymore. Look at this place!” My eyes took another lap around the living room, ending at Olive’s raised eyebrows. I nodded reluctant agreement.
“How long has it been like…this? Doesn’t she ever let the dog outside?” Olive sighed. “There’s no reasoning with her. She won’t admit that she’s blind, and I pretend I don’t know. I’ve been hounding her to get someone to help. No way would I touch this place. Getting her groceries is all I can tolerate.” As a new wave of the nauseating stench reached me, I realized I was forgetting to mouth-breathe. Olive called into the kitchen. “Juanita, I’m taking off! Be nice to her!” The door closed, leaving me in pungent darkness. I returned to the kitchen, my shoes sticking to the linoleum. As I pulled open the cupboard under the sink, I swiveled my body sideways in case a rat inside was ready to launch. Then I grabbed a dingy rag, squirted out some dish soap, and got to work. *** Cleaning houses had been my job all through college. I liked it because it was mindless, but mostly because it was satisfying. A home would be in dusty disarray when I entered, and, four hours later, all would be organized, fragrant, and sparkling. The fruits of my labor were met with delight, and I never had to witness the cleanliness turning back into chaos. Like Superman, all I did was work my magic and disappear. But being Juanita’s bi-weekly house-cleaner had none of the satisfaction I enjoyed, because the place was still disgusting when I was done. I’d wipe rags over end tables, but they never gleamed like they did in the Pledge furniture-polish commercials. Even after dusting, wood surfaces still felt like sandpaper, the wood and the dust particles having been permanently cemented together by decades of cigarette smoke. Mirrors, picture frames, windows, and walls – everything was coated with a nicotine film of yellow-brown. The floor was the worst. On the kitchen and bathroom linoleum, my tennis shoes sounded as if they had packing tape on the bottoms. No matter how clean the steaming-hot bucket of water was when I started mopping, it was a scummy brown when I was done. And then there was the carpet. Normally, a vacuum cleaner on a low-pile rug yields a pleasing back-and-forth pattern in its wake. But Henry’s business had been trod upon by blind Juanita for too long; those stiff brown fibers had no spring left in them. It was gross to run a vacuum over encrusted carpeting, but it seemed less awful than not vacuuming. So I’d save that task for last, and would throw the bag away on my way out. The first thing I’d do after getting home was to scrub my shoes. *** Every other week, I returned to Juanita’s to scour, wipe, and mop. And I followed Olive’s lead in the gentle charade, never acknowledging Juanita’s blindness aloud. But as I vacuumed and tidied, I argued with her in my head, criticizing Juanita’s stubborn refusal to come clean about her blindness. Why won’t she just admit the truth? I wondered. This place is horrible! She wouldn’t live like this if she was up front about being blind. She’d have help.
Usually, Juanita would sit on a dining room chair in the doorway between the dark living room and the bright kitchen, chatting with me as I mopped the floor and washed the dishes. With Henry on her lap and her arthritic fingers ruffling his tired curls, she told me stories of her late husband, her childhood, and her years working as a secretary. I learned that her parents had come from Puerto Rico, and that her outspokenness had alienated some neighbors. Juanita was talkative, funny, spirited, and tough, and I really liked her. But as my fondness for her grew, the reality of how she lived bothered me more and more. She should have someone in here every day! Why does she deny what’s so obvious? It’s crazy!But it wasn’t my place to tell her how to live. I just kept breathing through my mouth, and keeping my judgments to myself. Being in her home made me think about my own grandmother, who was the same age as Juanita and lived nearby. I had dinner with Grandma once a week. My grandmother had the same patterned carpet, hers a wavy aqua-blue. It usually had vacuum tracks on it, and when I visited, I sat on its cushiony softness, stroking Grandma’s arm when she sat next to me in her recliner. Juanita had never had children. I wondered: if she had, would she still be living alone in the dark, treading on dog shit, with that smell swirling around her, the film of cigarette smoke on everything she touched? *** One Tuesday, I began in the kitchen, where brightness gave the illusion of hope. As I filled the plastic bucket with hot water, Juanita piped up from her chair in the doorway. “Could you mop under the refrigerator today? I haven’t done that in a while.” I doubted that it had been touched in twenty years, but all I said was, “Sure.” Setting down the bucket, I leaned against the fridge and gave a mighty shove. Henry trotted over and began sniffing a dark object that now lay exposed. “Stop it, Henry!” I nudged him with my shoe, and bent to inspect the blob. Then I screamed. “What’s the matter?” Juanita gasped. “It’s a dead mouse!” My stomach lurched, and my shoulders hunched up around my ears. “Is that all?” Juanita laughed. “Just sweep it up!” My hands trembled as they edged the broom closer to the critter frozen in death. Henry threw his front paws down flat, thrusting his bottom skyward in play. I scraped a few bristles against my target, and screamed again. “Oh, God! It’s stuck!” Juanita’s laugh rang out at this, the most excitement we’d had in our months together. I squared my shoulders, held my breath, and gave a full-on poke at the shriveled corpse. Even in death, it held its ground.
“I can’t do it, Juanita! It’s too much!” My voice was now a wail as I shuddered in horror. “I can’t do mice!” Juanita pushed herself up from the padded chair, and shuffled over towards me, arms outstretched. “Okay. Give me the broom.” Her arms waved in front of her. I pressed the broomstick into her open hands, and she shoved the bristles against the linoleum. Henry panted excitedly at her feet, wagging his stumpy tail. She jabbed the broom down repeatedly, as if plunging a toilet. “No, move to the right! A few more inches! Ew!” Chin set, Juanita swiped at the floor in broad sweeping motions, now a swordsman locked in duel. “You hit it! Do that again!” She pushed and swept, pushed and swept, and finally dislodged the persistent creature. “Ew! It’s loose now, but I don’t want to sweep it up! Let me get the dustpan.” I scurried to the counter and back. “Okay, push it gently so it doesn’t touch me, and I’ll try to scoop it.” “Where is it now?” Juanita, still wielding her broom, had her eyes aimed at the ceiling. “A little to the left. Go slow – don’t smack it!” Cringing, I made little whimpering noises. “Am I getting it?” Together with Henry, the two of us huddled over the crustified mouse, its paws forever curled in mid-sprint, frozen, like a miniature victim of Pompeii. Juanita eased it onto the dustpan. With my hand extended far in front of me, I crept to the garbage bag. As the rodent dropped in with a tiny thunk, I felt my toes clenching. “Oh, my God! We did it!” I heaved a shuddering sigh. Juanita laughed again, and I steered her back toward her chair, neither of us acknowledging that her cover had been blown. But she was as happy and animated as I’d ever seen her. I mopped the floor, scrubbed the bathroom, and vacuumed the filthy rug. Then I ran a rag over frames of pictures that Juanita could no longer see, and I left. *** All those years ago, I admired Juanita’s feisty spirit, but it drove me crazy that she pretended she could see. There was something wrong with her, I felt, something that could never be wrong with me. I wouldn’t hide from indisputable truth, from the natural effects of aging. I’d never live how she lived, I told myself.
And then thirty years passed. The first time I saw a wrinkle on my face, that crease that runs diagonally from my lower lip to my chin, it was such a distinct line that I thought I must have accidentally marked myself with a Sharpie. When I realized what the line was, I couldn’t turn away from the mirror. I stared, both fascinated and horrified. That person was me, but also someone foreign to me. Over the last couple of years, more lines and wobbles have appeared, and other failures that I don’t want to admit even to myself. And I remember Juanita. Then I remember my parents in their eighties, and how I started to notice dried-up spills in their bathroom sink, and stained towels that needed to be tossed. I remember my confusion at seeing piles of mail scattered across their kitchen table, despite the many filing trays I bought them from Office Depot. Mom had always kept a tidy house, and Dad used to rip the mail open before he even made it inside from the mailbox. And I remember Juanita. Now I realize that Juanita probably never crossed a line and made a decision to hide from the truth. It would have happened bit by bit. Just as my drooping skin has sketched lines on my face, maybe the scaffolding of her life slowly weakened and collapsed, until finally she couldn’t recognize herself, a woman who’d gone from being a full-time secretary to being blind, living in filth, sweeping up rigor mortis mice that she couldn’t see. Sometimes I touch two fingers to my cheek, pressing and pulling the skin upward. Like magic, that line on my chin disappears and I see my younger self in the mirror, the person I recognize, the person I still want to be. When I release that pinch of skin, I watch it loosen and drop. Then when it gets too uncomfortable to look, I turn away. And sometimes I breathe an apology to Juanita.
Elizabeth Ray THE GATHERER I was two-and-a-half years old the day my father lost his left hand. I have a picture of us taken in the summer of 1970, a few months before it happened. We’re sitting on a yellow swing that was attached to a wooden frame and placed among the mature maples in our front yard. And in the picture my mother is young and beautiful, with smooth dark hair and strong brown eyes and a beatific smile that I envy; and I am sitting on her lap with my hair pulled back in a pale pink bow to match my pale pink dress, wearing white knee socks that look as though they are cutting off the circulation to the rest of my body. And my dad, who captured the picture by putting the camera on a tripod and setting a timer, is also young. Handsome. Clean cut and dressed in a dark suit, tilting his head toward us with his left arm extended behind us and resting on the back of the swing, so that his hand is visible just beyond my mother’s left shoulder. He worked as a chemist at a cellophane plant back then. He was a sixth-generation farm boy, equally comfortable shearing a sheep in record time as he was puttering about an enormous lab, cluttered to over-flowing with all its scientific paraphernalia. I marveled as I got older at his complexity, that he could be perfectly at home amid fragile glass pipettes and stainless steel balances when I daily observed him as a gardener, a hay-baler, a man with dirt under his nails. Anyone who has lived among farmers will tell you that the enterprise of agriculture is a dangerous one. Tractors roll. Silos full of grain become suffocating quicksand. My mother has always been adept at anticipating and avoiding risks, and she saw my father’s continuing practice of farming as unnecessarily ripe with them. She grew up hearing the story about her greatgrandfather, the one who died after being trampled by his own bull. My dad didn’t have to take such chances, she thought. She couldn’t understand why he would. When the first Saturday in November rolled around and my father headed out to harvest corn, she made her feelings known to him. She would tell about it later – the crystal clear directive she gave him and the way he dismissively responded. She would repeat the words she said to him, and they would reverberate across the years as though sent into a void. The corn wasn’t harvesting cleanly that year due to blight. He repeatedly reached down with a gloved hand, gingerly brushing away debris from the machinery. At some point, he reached down and his hand did not return to him. He felt the tell-tale tug on the fingertips of his glove instead. “Don’t get your hand caught in the corn picker,” she had said.
“I won’t, Dear,” he had replied. I wonder about that moment sometimes. I imagine the sickening feeling that accompanies those instances when a split-second decision cannot be undone or rewound. I can almost feel the sinking of my gut and the surge of electricity lighting up my veins. I think of all this, and I try to imagine how my father found the clarity and the strength to do what he did next. His father and brother weren’t near enough to see him or hear him above the noise of the machine in which he was ensnared. Unless he did something quickly, he might lose more than just an extremity. Somehow retrieving a pocket knife with his free hand, he finished the job the corn picker had begun, and severed his own mangled fingers. You would think the world stops in such a moment as that. But it never does. My mother took me to see him days later in the hospital, while he was recovering. He was sitting in a wheelchair, dressed in a robe. I handed him a bag of orange slices, the sugared candy ones that stick to your teeth. And in my innocent lack of awareness about what had happened to him and what must have been happening to him still, I could not have appreciated the significance of what he did next, though I would recognize it later. As I handed him the bag of candy, he smiled. My husband, who remembers nothing before the age of five, wonders how I can recall this. But I do. My father, in the midst of all his loss, did what he always does. He shrugged off the implication that anything remarkable or extraordinary had occurred, looked at me with a bittersweet expression, and smiled. And yet the man who is almost never at a loss for words had nothing to say. Convicted perhaps by the admonition he didn’t heed, my father went on with his life as though nothing had changed. As though nothing had been severed or destroyed. Ten days or so after the amputation, he thought himself ready to return to work. The medical officer at the plant where he was employed escorted him right back home. Scientist. Farmer. Photographer. Mechanic. He kept working. And planting. Tinkering and exploring. He would teach himself to play traditional fiddle music, reversing the strings and fingering them with his right hand. He would learn to carve and assemble the very instruments he plays. I have never heard him complain. I have never seen him give the slightest indication that he cannot do something he would have done with two whole hands. It never even crossed my mind when I was growing up that he might be categorized as “disabled,” and it is only when his appearance is so readily acknowledged by others as conspicuously incomplete that I remember what he does not have. He has, in my estimation, lived his life in such a way as to take in something far greater, though less tangible, than what he lost.
Karen J. Weyant THE TICK With an eyedropper, my mother splashed rubbing alcohol on the wound, and we watched the round wiggling tick release its tight grip. Using tweezers, she snapped its body from my ankle’s thin skin and pressed a cotton ball to the single bead of blood. I didn’t understand why her forehead folded between her eyes, why her mouth turned downward into a frown. She had taught me that when something was bleeding, it only hurt for a moment before getting ready to heal. That afternoon, I sat on the kitchen sink, the porcelain cool under my thighs in spite of the mugginess that had crept into our house. As my mother worked, I stared at my other abrasions from the summer: scabs on elbows, blackberry bush scratches, a bruise that had speckled red just below my knee. I had spent the day in the woods located a few blocks from my house. Sporting my summer uniform of baggy shorts and halter tops, I had also worn sandals instead of what my mother wanted me to wear: long pants and sneakers with socks. Now, as she placed a Band-Aid to my wound, I waited for her to scold me, or at the very least, to wonder out loud how I had gotten out of the house in my inappropriate clothes. But she was silent. I thought I knew the growing pains of nature. Snakes shed their itchy skin leaving coiled shells behind as they slithered away, shiny and new. Cicadas pushed themselves through their shells, leaving a skeleton like covering clinging to trees limbs, porch railings, even the chains of my swing sets. Just the day before, my father had shown me rust marks on a striped maple tree, explaining that bucks rubbed velvet from their antlers before a new rack pushed their way through. It took me a few minutes to realize the marks were really blood. Doesn’t hurt, but itches, he had explained. All better, said my mother, kissing me on the forehead, her lips hitting me so hard that I almost lost my balance from my perch on the sink. I watched her twist the cap back on the rubbing alcohol and throw the Band-Aid wrappings in the trash. Then, I turned my attention to a single cinder embedded in the palm of my right hand, wondering how it had worked its way so far under my skin.
William Aarnes Answer the Call Croak. Go home, meet your Maker, accept your just reward, grow wings, join the choir. Take a bow, make your exit, go out in style. Have some peace and quiet. Hang it up. Pass away, on, over. Pop off. Kick the bucket, buy the farm, bite the dust, feed the worms. Cash in your chips, check out. Pay the price.
A Personal Archeology Whathappened? That day my sister had learned about plaque build up on her teeth and it plagued her. We lingered at the dinette set table, the two of us junior high school-aged, hands touching goldflecked Formica only feet from the kitchen sink with its stainless steel-tiled backsplash, my mother’s mark of distinction, my father’s weekend project, in our ’60s split level home in New Jersey. I don’t know where our parents had gone or which of us that night was to wash and which to dry. There were grapes from dessert still on the table and I thought somehow to advise my sister to cut a grape and rub its insides over her teeth. “Will it work?” she asked as she did it. “I don’t know. I just thought of it.” I shrugged. She frowned, said my name with that familiar gurgle at the la part, as if it were ga, making me feel I was always clogging pipes. So what? I felt mean, like I had tried to trick her, but really it was just an idea, something I thought somehow might work, those grapes right there in front of us. Did you leave? Well, yes. I walked toward the sink. And then what? Years later, I read that grape seed extract is helpful in fighting dental plaque. But it would go on like this, her disgust making me sorry. Do you know where you are from? I was born in Richmond, VA, at the Stuart Circle Hospital, perhaps during a thunderstorm of Gothic proportions, like when I visited the building recently and lightning struck the bronze statue of Jeb Stuart there in the center of the circle.
What did you think at the hospital? I wondered where a declaration of independence lived in me, what its weight was and had been. What of today? My tall paper coffee cup sits on the table before me, it’s formal white torso topped by a black derby; it’s cummerbund of brown paper proclaiming “Hot Beverage” around what I might call its waist. “Elegant” arrives on my tongue. Shall I write smoking jackets of silk and sparkles on ball gowns, hot hope and permission to behave jauntily and intoxicated, take the world into my lungs, take it all in and dance? Your parents: What did they say? How can you? You are wrong to feel that way! You will kill your father if you do. Take care of your mother. What did your sister say? It’s my turn. Why are you always first? Why did they give it to you? What do you see now? In the center of my backyard, a field of orange calendula and the tall leaves of Shasta daisies. At the edges of my backyard, purple foxglove, sword ferns, Oregon grape. What do you write? He never said that was a good idea, embarking on becoming a poet. “What was I going to do?” he asked. From my first collection: my father snoring locomotives, our aspiring front lawn. When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I wrote about hushing the tremors in one arm with the other, about holding himself as his parents between their feuds had never held him. What was I going to do? What I always do.
Spring Equinox for Judith Kitchen I’ve washed a winter’s worth of collard greens, torn the leaf from stems and veins, steamed the greens in broth, adding red pepper flakes, cayenne, too, then ate the fans I’d frayed and mixed with rice and beans. I triple washed the beets, separating greens from bulbous roots. Steamed and boiled, they helped me pull away from winter, start remembering it’s spring. The peas go in, the onion sets, more fava beans, soon cauliflower and tomatoes, the orange, yellow, green, and maybe striped as well. I plucked last year’s shriveled figs, born too late to ripen on our maturing tree, tossed them behind our fence with prayers that figs might sweeten sooner now that years are moving faster toward an end that I refuse to really see, though I know how fast the growing and faster still we eat.
TINPLATE This is the rain my father knew. My mother would see him to the door as he left for work at the tinplate plant. A worker for all seasons, his continental shift sounded like a dance, a geological movement over a quarter of a century; mornings, afternoons, nights, two of each as he’d wait for the one weekend holiday per month, the stop-fortnight of summer as July closed and August began. His coil of days, the overtime for extra pay inside a fork-lift truck. I still see and hear him leave, his uncomplaining silence I search as the tinplate shifts.
A GREEK ISLAND TRAGEDY I watch the sea’s glint of blistering light mirrored towards a matured rock’s anchored surface, the faded stone with parched hills moored in an active Aegean. Coins found and graced by Dionysus’s purple grapes, Demeter’s corn of yellow, as Poseidon’s dolphins leapt to the music of Apollo’s lyre. To-day’s mortal scene of houses, cuboid, small and white, gauge their narrow streets seething with summer’s tourists, caught in a sunburnt bottleneck.
© E. Williamson; The Broken Believer; Acrylic, oil, and ink on paper
PERSEPHONE’S LAMENT “Play, orchestra, play.” -Noel Coward Doom is on my shoulder. Yet all things begin and end in doom. Even the unfinished kiss, the unfinished ending
of a finished poem on lined paper lighted from behind. There, too, doom is in the lines connecting something on the page, in the poem, behind the paper. “We shall have none of this,” the blind eye says to the empty coffee cup in the hand of what was once a man. “We must have music,” says the shoemaker to the shoes of the fisherman standing at the door of the deaf man’s cottage. “We must have music, we must have music, to drive the doom away.” Says the third man standing on the bottom stair.
TIME PRESENT “If all time is eternally present All time is unredeemable.” -T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton Granite decomposes like the passing hour. Or sleep. The bower-bird is dying, his bower decomposing, its pretty things returning to their sleep, their trance, their place of hiding. And there are ants in my kitchen.
THE SHOEMAKER’S PIN CUSHION “Is it like this In death’s other kingdom…” -T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men Pins and Needles, needles and pins, and the shoemaker’s elves under the stairs, under the weather, under the dust of many summers, many forgotten keys and unopened locks, and cigarette butts flicked from windows of passing cars. on the Road to Zanzibar where dromedary camels move their lips to speak their lines: May you marry under the stairs, under the weather, under the dust of many summers and according to the laws of this, death’s other kingdom.
© E. Williamson; Sick Lady Taking Off Her Hat; Acrylic, oil, and ink on paper
A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste: An Advertising Poem When there is no tomorrow The happiest place on earth, or The last place you want to go is At the heart of the image, where Between love and madness lies obsession
When you care enough to send the very best Think big, or think small, for nothing is Impossible, just as impossible is nothing Make believe. Save money, live better Eat fresh. Twist the cap to refreshment and Reach out to touch someone When the world zigs, zag Get N or get out. Expand your mind Change your world. Fly the friendly sky Share moments, share life. Let your finger do the walking Just do it and have it your way If you want to impress someone Put him on your blacklist, as it Keeps going and going and going And make the most of now Because you’re worth it See what we mean?
iHooyeau supposing Darwin was right it did take as long as one million years before apes became what we are, gradually and passively, with the help of our environment however, with our own intelligence and technology, we are going to evolve into iHooyeaus suddenly and actively, in a matter of just one generation or two, a new species that will consume lunar energy instead of sun-based foods each living in a unique virtual reality, where multiplication is achieved sexlessly via logic rather than through love, where each individual lifetime is expended within a tiny chip so, are you happy to be the last humans or the earliest iHooyeaus?
© Christopher Woods; Red Houses; Photography
Apple Factory In the afternoons, we cross apple orchards to feel the sun on the wood plank floor and we ignore the spray paint and infestations of hate. Years later, a guy named Benny would tell stories about that building from a bar stool. They were happy stories. Barbeques and ivy and raw business potential. Apple whiskey and neighborhoods. Farm houses. A quiet old woman on the porch, sewing green velvet into ruffles, muttering, Tomorrow is another day.
Snow Day Today, we can pretend the world does not exist. There is no court for those waiting to be sentenced. No day care for the child silently attached to a skirt. There is food we don’t usually eat, quietly invading our skin until tomorrow. Tequila and Film. Saran wrap on the windows, sealing, sticking, hoping for more than just drift.
Bargaining I swear I will make it happen. The bunnies and roosters will watch me with awe as I tornado, as I funnel and spin. The world will wonder, “Where has she been this whole time?” and the grass will turn purple with my steps. The rain will not be rain but oil, drip-dropping for the people who need it to blacken the world and brighten the day. The black will coat color with all matter of uniformity. I swear. I promise I will not cry. I will change the way I notice that parenthood is unfair and discriminatory, like airport security and grandparents. The fallout will be thunderous and damning. Chairs will fold under the weight of regret and unfounded dreams. You will see me, then, with a paper bag and a lighter and the universe will tell you when to run. If you allow me to make it happen then you can make it happen too. We can rule my suburban life with tight fists and take-out on Mondays. I’ll give up the guitar I never play, the plants that have been in the same pots for years, the small dining room that sits unused and unstylish. You can have my heart too, if you need it.
© Wayne Burke; River; Ink (ballpoint pen)
Crusoe’s Blossoms: Love in Metaphoric Times Crusoe’s blossoms on a tarnished seaside, satin moods and lover’s sorrows Modern mathematics in the pews of orchid smoke in obscure pastels Neon lights and a one-way ticket, hope for the open hand and the closed heart
These are the images, the incense of bartering— wildflowers among pinewood trees and dime store cafés lit by candles; Snow chevrons outside the curtains of candy stores and ruby-red galleons softly rocking in harbors and bays Love asks its questions in kisses and tears stepping stones and hard landings tin angels on the moon and in the stars rain clouds against indifferent skies fortunes told in runic harmonies hints of fairy tales skewed by lies a dream and an anchor lost at sea brilliance unfolding in embers and ashes bitterness, wonderment, regret, refusal silence in flowers, and tides dancing with the moon
© Priscilla Luclas;Unsleep;Watercolor
Night light Chestnut ringlets splayed on a pillow. Steady breathing, the abandon of a toddler slumber. Just minutes before, you shouted with glee amarillo, azul, morado, not one bit sleepy. Joyfully calling out the hues of the stars projected by a night light in your little room. Seven years before, a hemisphere away. In the chill of the desert night I could make out the Southern Cross, but the rest of the universe eluded me, struck mute by the expanse of a grand firmament. Mother moon loomed, Pachamama lay in wait for a vocabulary I had not yet conceived.
© E. Williamson; The Beauty of Indecisions; Acrylic, oil, and ink on paper
ALL BEAUTY AND THE SHAKE OF IT As the beat scats off the tarmac through air in an attack of sound. As the beat seethes across seas of limbs in a gyration
of tease and the fake smile. As the beat dies on a dime and resurrects itself as a lie and breathes this pulse. This pulse. You dancing a foot away. This pulse.
© G.J. Mintz; Laugh; Digital Photography
Chicken Pox, 1986 Through my skylight I could see the moon smiling down like a pitted dead peach. The cover of the skylight was warped plastic making everything waver, even stars moved, even the air. The window by my bed overlooked the low sloped roof of the garage. The shingles were scratchy on my knees. I would go outside and howl at the moon, bray as a dog, stand and hold my arms out a T daring the earth to spin a little faster, spin more and knock me free. It was a fever mother said, when I saw the drawn skinless
face floating and bobbing above my bed, gumball dead incisors pointed and fingers pointed and dead sockets pointed and trained and watchful. Shrieking in the halls of living not dead. The fever mother said but it was no fever it was crows and all crowns broken. It was the field of mice that know no cat, the jester who sits upon a cushion and throws too ripe grapes, splattering blood where wine should be the justice. It was salvation, it was manna but I was frail and lithe and too eaten and swaddled by bed by curtain, dully reflecting the jellyfish glow of the skylight moon.
Gina Williams Flight to Paris When the oxygen runs out, Grandma slurps at the thin air around her. I’m gettin’ woozy she gasps. Then, I never went to Paris, tremoring hands gripping the empty plastic tube, the lifeless lifeline. Don’t wait to go to Paris, don’t wait for anything. I’m speeding her home, the tank having run dry at a family picnic. In a half hour or so, she could pass out, her heart could be strained and I feel strained too, somewhere deep inside, each red light a siren screaming, It’s over every green light wailing, Don’t wait, don’t you dare wait.
Upon Rereading Richard Hugo How strange, I thought, opening to a letter, a paean to what broke him, that in the midst of muscle and nerve, to have cracked was the sure way to force the poet to confer with madness and self, to seek solace in others, to heal. Skipping to the dreams, I scanned bits of rhythm impossible to resist or translate. The wreckage. Though what better form to transmit the sense of someone fallen, the mysterious abyss. I shut the book, closed my eyes, caught a man in a kitchen, tossing out good food. His eyes were red. He’d been sobbing for hours. His witness: a square gray stone on counter.
Hemingway Spots Faulkner in a Bar I walk in, size the postman up. That’s what men do. We eat, drink, hunt, fight. We read. We write for our lives so the pages bleed stories. I go in with a long knife, cut the fat. All red meat. Rich. The sweetest nut. Love, loss, hunger, ambition, weakness, greed. I cross lands, seas, skies, taking as I need to pin down readers, punch them in the gut. I admit the fisherman vexes me, his mean ego, an insecurity that diminishes an aptness that ought to have done more, though that’s fancy half-thought, my sense. So I nod to the fellow scribe, catch his eye, raise a glass—cross-room we imbibe.
Howard Winn DUNKIN’ Doughnuts, or their corporate alter ego, have purchased an abandoned old church in South Portland Maine whose congregation seems to have vanished into some other sphere where a building is no longer necessary, or something like that. Now the question is whether to tear down the holy building consecrated in the faithful past, or pour the coffee and sell the pastries from the sacred nave and fount, Just a thought but would the caffeinated beverage and the sweet stickiness of donut pass for the secular version of the wine and wafer?
FOUND OR LOST IN QUANTUM MECHANICS Why is there something instead of nothing? Will string theory give us the answer? Will it all matter? What is the matter? Matter of fact, we wonder.
Uxue Alberdi Estibaritz
English translation followed by original Basque translated by Nere Lete This story was first published published in 2013 in Basque as part of a collection of short stories, “Euli giro” (Time of Chagrin)
LITERARY DYSTOPIAS The building was old but affordable. It had been constructed long ago, a couple of blocks from downtown, next to an engineering school that had known better days. The student residence was managed by nuns, though there were hardly any devout students left in the city any more. “Your new roommate,” announced an old, scrawny nun, knocking on the door and opening it at the same time without giving me time to respond. I noticed the girl’s glasses. They looked like mine, but a little lighter-toned, honey-colored, and with thick frames. The type of old-fashioned, big glasses that were usually worn by old men with the newspaper reading habit, but a few years later would become trendy among students. The girl, although she looked my age, suffered from presbyopia and myopia and used bifocal lenses. When she entered the bedroom she showed no special interest in me. Without even acknowledging my presence, she placed her small leather suitcase on the unoccupied bed. She sighed as she sat. She looked tired. She glanced for a moment at my books aligned on the shelf, but did not utter a word. “If the light bothers you at night, I won’t read,” I said in an attempt to welcome her in a friendly manner.
She made a face that I could not interpret as approval or rejection. She did not unpack her suitcase. Instead, she stowed it in the closet, unopened. She fixed her hair and left as abruptly as she had appeared, without a word. There were about two hundred students living at the residence. Many of us had been there for two or three years. It was unusual to have new girls come after the school year had begun, except for out-of-town students who happened to be new to the city. At dinnertime, I searched for her among the girls but could not find her. I stepped out to the patio to smoke a cigarette. Like every night, I read until sleep overtook me. I awoke in the wee hours of the morning with a neck ache. When I reached over to pick up the book from the floor that had slipped from my hands in the night, I glanced at the other bed. The bedding was undisturbed: she had not slept in it. It was strange, because the nuns always locked the building doors at tenthirty at night. Often, I barely made that curfew on Wednesdays due to my evening student activities. Had she been locked out? I saw her again the following evening after I returned from the university. I found her sitting on the bed, knees pressed together. When she saw me, she draped a linen robe to cover her white underwear. I stretched out my hand. “Martina,” I introduced myself. “Joana,” she replied. I noticed that she had filled her bookshelf to the rafters. There were two cardboard boxes left on the floor, still half-full. “Are you from out-of-town?” I queried. “From the interior of the province,” she nodded, but did not volunteer any further specifics. I asked her why she had come two months after the school year had already begun. Slowly she answered, “I lived with my grandfather close to the city. He passed away last week and his siblings have decided to sell his place.” “I’m sorry,” I countered. I did not ask her how she managed to pay for her lodging at the residence or about her previous night’s whereabouts. Something told me that we would get along better if I kept to myself. I sat down to write a paper that was due the following day. I could hear Joana’s soft breathing behind me. As if someone had smuggled a cat into my room, I felt the comfort of a tiny, discrete presence near me. Joana truly occupied a small space, and she moved slowly and carefully, unlike the people from the interior of the province. That night we did not go down to dinner. My paper got more complicated than I had expected, and Joana was not hungry. She did not seem to have a good appetite, for she was nothing but skin and bones. “What is it about?” she asked me.
Without looking up, I said, “Literary dystopias.” She let me be. I’m not sure how long into the night I worked. When I finished, I noticed that she had fallen asleep on the unmade bed. She was only wearing that childish white underwear. I covered her with a blanket. “Martina!” she cried. She was shaking my arms when I opened my eyes, and I asked with confusion, “What’s the matter?” It took my eyes a few seconds to adjust to the shapes in the darkness. The illuminated clock radio displayed four-twenty in the morning. Joana was sweating. I had not shut the blinds when I went to bed and her pale skin gleamed under the reflection of the streetlights through the window. She exclaimed with fear, “Benoit followed me.” I sat up in my bed and motioned to her to turn on the light on the nightstand, but she stopped me, gasping, “No!” She was looking out to the street. I put on a sweater and inched toward the window. She whispered, “Is he there? Do you see a black car?” I was about to tell her “No,” but then I spotted an old-fashioned black car on the street behind the garden. From where I stood, I was unable to tell if there was anyone inside it. I was about to walk up to Joana when the car headlights turned on. It drove off slowly, down the bridge that was adjacent to the engineering building. I told Joana, “It’s gone.” She brought her hands to her face, shaken. I offered her some water. I knew that, even after the ceasefire, they were arresting people, mostly youth. They hid in apartments and in abandoned farmhouses. Joana did not look like any militants I knew but, indeed, this could be her cover. That would explain her sudden presence at the student residence, her clandestine night outing, and her tight-lipped discretion. I queried Joana, “Who’s that guy? Is he a policeman?” She looked at me surprised, and replied, “No, not at all.” I waited for an explanation. She began pacing the room, as if desperately searching for a solution. I pressed further, “What does he want from you?” She broke into laughter while she twirled her hair with her fingers. She took off her glasses and waved them in the air, blurting out, “Ideas! Ha!” Her small body folded like that of an invertebrate insect. “Ideas!” she laughed uncontrollably. “But I need some more time, a day, two…”
She returned to her old self and recovered her soft, feathery voice. She put on her robe, sat on the bed, and stressed, “You must go in my place.” “Where?” I asked. I didn’t understand anything she had said. “You know how to write, don’t you?” she asked, as if accusing me of something. “I saw your books: Proust, Némirovsky, Chékhov, Zola, Duras… Do you write?” “Yes,” I admitted. It was the first time I had made such a confession. Joana shook her head and replied, “Benoit is going to like you. I knew it from the very instant I saw you. You are young and talented. It’s obvious.” I felt my ego swell in my chest. I then thought of the black car, though, and how it darted stealthily through the night when I approached the window. Half curious, and half afraid, I asked her, “Who’s Benoit?” Bluntly, she replied, “The editor.” She took a pen from her purse and scribbled quickly. “The appointment is tomorrow night. You must go to this address at ten o’clock sharp,” as she handed me the piece of paper. “You won’t find a better editor. At the university, they won’t teach you half of what he will. They couldn’t care less about literature. Have you ever seen any professor whose anger rises through his veins while he reads? Do even one of those state employees sweat while writing a poem on the board? They don’t, do they? They are worthless to you. I saw you biting your lip while you were avidly copying down a passage from the novel, What a New World. You didn’t go down to dinner. Hunger, loneliness, fury! There you have it, the three fundamental pillars of literature!” “I have never been published,” I said, as I shook my head. Joana held my hands in hers, and stressed, “Who cares? I’m talking about literature! Rest. You need to be ready for tomorrow.” She got in bed. Once again, her soft breathing, like a cat purr. She fell fast asleep. I decided that we needed to have a talk in the morning. She needed to clarify some things for me. In the morning, however, Joana was nowhere to be found. Her bed was made. Her books were still on the shelves. I opened the closet and her suitcase was there. I released the two latches and opened the lid. It was full of clothes: two more linen robes, white underwear, a pair of jeans, and a brown wool sweater. I was getting tired of all the mystery, and realized it was getting late! It was almost eight-thirty in the morning, and I had to hurry. My paper was due within the hour. The monotonous course lectures of my professors seemed duller than ever that morning. I gazed at my classmates, some of whom were taking meaningless notes so time would pass faster. Joana’s words reverberated in my mind: “Hunger! Loneliness! Fury!” I knew no one in this city who spoke like that.
After lunch, I went to visit Mother. She worked at a seamstress workshop behind a toy store. She was one of the few artisan-embroiderers left in the region. “What are you doing here?” she asked, happily surprised. I kissed her and realized that I hadn’t touched her in a long time. Her cheek felt warm. “I just wanted to see you,” I told her. We had a cup of coffee and she gave me a wool cap as a gift. “To keep your ears warm.” Mother, unlike Father, liked my short hair. She said it made me be freer. When I cut my chestnut-colored, shoulder-length hair, Father scolded me. “You must think you look pretty,” he scoffed, and then refused to talk to me for the next two weeks. I asked Mother to give Father a kiss from me, and left after I said goodbye. I walked back to the residence along the riverbank. While strolling through the park, the dry tree leaves folded under my steps without crumbling. I succeeded in taking a nap that afternoon in the room, but, when I awoke, I felt furious. Joanna was still gone. I wanted her to tell me about Benoit. What was I supposed to tell him when I met him? What was I supposed to say if he asked me about Joana? What was I supposed to do once I arrived at the address Joana had scrawled on that piece of paper? I decided to leave before dinner, when the students headed out to the evening program. I put a pen and a notebook in my purse. Since I had time to spare, I went to a well-known bar in the old part of town and I ordered the usual. It comforted me to see that most customers were drinking alone. On my way out, I pulled the piece of paper that Joana had given me out of my pocket. The address was on the far end of the city, much too far to walk so I decided to take the bus. When I got off the bus, I asked a black woman who was holding a sleepy toddler in her arms for directions. She explained that I had to walk three more blocks. It was a plain neighborhood, packed with middle-sized, gray, unadorned apartment buildings. The place was located between two industrial buildings. I rang the doorbell and waited. A lanky woman with her hair pulled back into a thin ponytail opened the door. “Come in,” she said, without uttering another word. As I walked down the corridor, I heard the clacking of her heels behind me. She opened the door to a locker room and handed me a linen robe wrapped in clear plastic. She instructed, “Once you get undressed, go to the main hall through that door.” “Thank you,” I replied. I noticed that there were more clothes hanging from hooks. Skirts, pants, stockings, blouses. White underwear. I got naked and put on the robe. I splashed my face with cold water at the sink. The corridor was an amazing library. The shelves on each side rose to the ceiling. I proceeded until I came to a wide door, marked by a sign: “Main Hall.” I knocked on the door, but no one opened. I decided to go in.
Class had already started. I counted about ten or twelve students, male and female. They were all sitting naked. I hung my robe on top of the other robes, and stood in the middle of the room. “Martina Fano,” said the man, who surely was Benoit, whom Joana had spoken of. “We were expecting you.” The students in the room stared at me with curiosity. Soon, though, they turned their attention back to Benoit’s words. I sat in an empty seat, and felt the cold leather against my buttocks. All of their slim, pale bodies were drenched in sweat. Benoit was sweating too. His shirt was soaked under his armpits, and at the chest. He spoke breathlessly, spitting from his lips. He spoke with fervor, “You all are mediocre writers: messy, careless! Whose respect do you hope for in exchange for those words? Look at your butts, breasts, faces. What do they contribute to the history of humanity? You think you are special, unique. Look at your flesh. Look at your words! Feeling is not enough! Having a conscience is not enough! Courage is not enough! You, arrogant youth! Let me tell you something: if you like writing about yourselves, do a favor to those who take the time to open books, and shove your pen up your ass.” He snatched the notebook of a student with tiny breasts and pushed it through a shredder that he kept by his desk. The pages dissolved into shavings. Her chin shivered. Without raising his voice, he asked, “You don’t believe anything was lost, do you? There was nothing there! Not a single word that was worth reading.” “But…” moaned the student. “Silence, putain!” he ordered. “Samara!” Another female student with hair down to her waist stood up. As if she were sitting on an imaginary chair, he made her place her back against the wall while folding her legs in a ninetydegree angle. He bellowed, “Do not move until I tell you that you can.” She rested her hands on her thighs. Before two minutes passed, she began screaming. “Now!” he ordered her. “Yesterday’s dialogue!” The student was writhing in pain, sweating, her hair sticking to her face. “Enough! Enough!” she implored. He turned and roared, “I told you not to move!” “Mr. Marvis, I can’t stay still! I’m going to lie down…” the student whimpered. With force, he cried, “Don’t you move, whore!” They continued talking until the girl dropped to the floor. Then, Benoit returned to his desk, calmly saying, “Much better, Samara. Much better…” She rearranged her hair behind her ears, and still naked on the wooden floor, looked up and smiled faithfully at Benoit. She thanked him and returned to her seat.
“Suffering from suffering, madness from madness, sex from sex!” yelled Benoit. He made a fist and placed it on his chest. His voice calmed down, and insisted, “Now, write.” The young people dropped their damp bodies on the paper before them and began writing. I began writing too. I felt the fury in my jaw that Joana had mentioned. Benoit sat on a burgundycolored sofa-chair in front of us. He scrutinized us. I could feel his gaze gliding over my ankles, then to my thighs, and finally, resting on my vagina. He continued sternly, “Write as if the world was staring at your naked bodies. What are you afraid of?” He began pacing among us. “N’oubliez pas,” he said to the guy next to me, and then, “Humanité, humeur, humilité.” I felt Benoit’s warm hand on my shoulder. I could tell he was reading the lines I wrote. He brought his head down next to mine. I smelled his stale breath. “Open your legs,” he whispered in my ear. “That’s it, just like that.” We worked through the night. At sunrise, Benoit ordered us to stop. He smiled. “Very good work,” he said. “Thank you. Now go rest.” Everyone stood up and formed a line. One by one, each student embraced Benoit, tight and for a long time. “Create a beautiful day for your minds,” he said to each student as he bid farewell to them. When my turn came, he pressed his stomach and groin against my naked body. I felt his slow breath on me, which smelled of wood. “Thank you, Martina,” he said. “Create a beautiful day for your mind.” On the morning bus, as I traveled my way back to the residence, I could still feel the warmth in the palms of my hands. A calm happiness inundated me, as if people’s gazes, the scenery, and the morning itself had been filled with meaning. I experienced a similar feeling after going for a run or after a hike in the mountains. It was the pleasure of exhausted flesh, a deep connection with one’s surroundings, and a complete sense of humility. I knew that the pages I carried in my purse were the best I had ever written. I did not feel, though, the urge to show them to anyone. I would visit Mother again in the afternoon, and perhaps Father, to tell him I would once again let my hair grow. I felt a sense of generosity sprouting inside me, of desire for life, and an eagerness to walk in the rain. I kept looking at those on their way to work who were riding their bicycles in the morning mist. I smiled at the sleepy faces of those who stumbled on the bus that morning. I made it to the residence just in time for breakfast, ate, then went to my room. I fell deep asleep. “Excuse me Martina,” the nun blurted, startled to see me in the room, and asleep in bed. She quietly stated as she retrieved the small suitcase from the closet, “I’m here to collect Joana Gil’s things.” She then placed the suitcase in a little cart. “Where did she go?” I asked her, still yawning. The nun let go of the small cart handle and looked at me earnestly, quizzing. “Don’t you know?” “What should I know?” I asked.
“Joana is in the hospital. She had a very serious accident last night. God help her, poor girl!” I stood up, forgetting I was completely naked, and exclaimed, “What happened?” Solemnly, she said, “An unfortunate accident. She was run over by a car while crossing the street on her way here to the residence.” She crossed herself twice, and asked two other sisters to help remove Joana’s books from the shelves. It began to hail outside. I put just a few essentials in my backpack. If I could, I would return some other time to get my books. I took the eastbound train, the one that stopped at each town in the province. In the city, the headlights of a black car turned on. Distopia literarioak This story was first published published in 2013 in Basque as part of a collection of short stories, “Euli giro” (Time of Chagrin) Zaharra baina merkea zen egoitza. Aspaldi eraiki zuten, garai hobeak ezagututako ingeniaritzaeskola baten ondoan, erdigunetik etxadi pare batera. Mojen ardurapean zegoen, hirian ikasle fededunik apenas gelditzen zen arren. “Zure kide berria”, esan zidan moja hezurtsu batek, nire gelako atea kask-kask jo eta erantzuteko tarterik eman gabe ireki zuenean. Neskaren betaurrekoei erreparatu nien; nireen oso antzekoak ziren, pixka bat argiagoak, ezti-koloreko armazoi lodikoak. Handik urte batzuetara ikasleen artean boladan jarriko ziren itxura antigoaleko betaurreko handiak, sasoi hartan egunkaria irakurtzeko ohitura zuten agureek janzten zituztenen modukoak. Neskak, nire adin berekoa izanagatik, presbizia eta miopia zituen, foku biko kristalak zerabiltzan. Gelan sartu zenean, ez zitzaidan iruditu ni ezagutzeko irrika berezirik zuenik. Diosalik egin gabe, libre zegoen ohearen gainean utzi zuen larruzko maleta txikia. Hasperen baten konpasean eseri zen. Nekatuta zirudien. Nire liburuen apalari begiratu zion une batez, baina ez zuen deus esan. — Gauez argiak traba egiten badizu, ez dut irakurriko —harrera atsegina egin nahi izan nion. Onarpenezkoa edo gaitzespenezkoa zen esaten asmatu ez nuen keinu bat egin zuen. Ez zuen maleta desegin. Ekarri bezala gorde zuen armairuan. Ilea txukundu eta alde egin zuen supituan. Afaritan nesken artean bilatu nuen, baina ez nuen aurkitu. Patiora irten nintzen zigarro bat erretzera. Berrehun ikasle inguru bizi ginen egoitzan, askok bigarren edo hirugarren urtea genuen bertan. Gutxitan gertatzen zen ikasturtea hasiz gero neska berriren bat sartzea, berriki hirira aldatutako atzerritarrak izaten ziren normalean. Gauero bezala, loak garaitu ninduen arte aritu nintzen irakurketan. Ordu txikitan esnatu nintzen lepoko minez. Lurrera eroritako liburua
jasotzera makurtu nintzenean jabetu nintzen aldameneko ohea desegin gabe zegoela. Harritzekoa, mojek gaueko hamar eta erdietan ixten baitzituzten egoitzako ateak; doi-doi iristen nintzen asteazkenetan, ikasleentzat programatzen zuten arratsaldeko emanaldira joaten nintzenetan. Hurrengo eguneko iluntzean ikusi nuen berriro, unibertsitatetik bueltan. Ohean eserita topatu nuen belauna belaunaren kontra. Ikusi ninduenean lihozko txabusina jantzi zuen barruko arropa zuriaren gainean. — Martina —aurkeztu nuen nire burua. Bostekoa luzatu nion. — Joana —esan zuen. Bere aldeko apalategia liburuz goraino bete zuela ohartu nintzen. Lurrean kartoizko bi kaxa zeuden, artean hustu gabe. — Atzerritarra zara? — Probintziakoa —ez zuen esan nongoa zehazki. Egoitzan ikasturtea hasi eta bi hilabetera sartzearen arrazoiaz galde egin nion. — Aitonarekin bizi nintzen hiritik gertu. Astebete da hil dela. Haren anai-arrebek etxea saltzea deliberatu dute. — Sentitzen dut. Ez nion galdetu nola moldatzen zen egoitza ordaintzeko, ezta gaueko ibilerez ere. Zerbaitek esaten zidan hobeto moldatuko ginela galderarik egiten ez banion. Hurrengo egunean entregatu behar nuen iruzkina idaztera eseri nintzen. Joanaren arnas hots isila aditzen nuen nire atzean; gelan katu bat sartu balidate bezala, presentzia txiki eta diskretu baten ziurtasuna neukan nigandik gertu. Egiaz toki txikia hartzen zuen Joanak, poliki eta tentuz mugitzen zen, horretan ez zuen probintziakoa ematen. Gau hartan ez ginen afaltzera jaitsi. Uste baino gehiago korapilatu zitzaidan testua eta Joana ez zen gose. Ez zuen apetitu onekoa izateko itxurarik, hezur eta azal zegoen. — Zeri buruzkoa da? —galdetu zidan. — Distopia literarioak. Ez ninduen gehiago molestatu. Ez dakit zenbat denboraz aritu nintzen lanean. Amaitu nuenean, ohe zabaldu gabearen gainean lo zegoela ohartu nintzen. Barruko arropa infantil hura bakarrik zuen soinean. Tapaki batekin estali nuen. — Martina! Begiak ireki nituenean besoa leunki astintzen ari zitzaidan.
— Zer gertatzen da? Segundo batzuk behar izan nituen begiak iluntasunera ohitzeko. Lauak eta hogei markatzen zituen irratiak. Joana izerditan zegoen. Lotarakoan ez nuen sareta jaitsi eta azal zurbilak distira egiten zion kanpoko farolen argitan. —Benôit atzetik dabilkit. Agondu egin nintzen. Gau-argia pizteko imintzioa egin nuen baina geldiarazi egin ninduen: — Ez! Kalera begiratzen zuela ohartu nintzen. Jertsea jantzi eta leihora hurbildu nintzen. — Hortxe dago? Auto beltz bat ikusten duzu? Ezezkoa esateko zorian egon nintzen, baina lorategiaren atzeko kalean aparkatuta antigoaleko auto beltz bat begiztatu nuen. Nengoen lekutik ez nintzen gai barruan inor ba ote zegoen bereizteko. Joanarengana itzultzekoa nintzen autoaren argiak piztu zirenean. Ingeniaritza Eskolaren alboko zubitik barrena urrundu zuen. — Joan egin da. Joanak aurpegira eraman zituen eskuak. Ur pixka bat eskaini nion. — Nor da tipo hori? Banekien su-etenaren ostean ere jendea atxilotzen ari zirela, gazteak batik bat. Pisuetan ezkutatzen ziren, baserri abandonatuetan. Joanak ez zuen ordura arte ezagutu nituen militanteen trazarik, baina mozorroa izan zitekeen. Horrek azalduko zukeen egoitzan egun batetik bestera agertu izana, bezperako gaueko irtenaldi klandestinoa, diskrezio erabatekoa. — Polizia da? Harrituta begiratu zidan. — Ez, ezta pentsatu ere. Azalpenen zain gelditu nintzen. Gelan alde batera eta bestera hasi zen oinez, irtenbideren baten bila. — Zer nahi du zugandik? Barre-zantzoka hasi zen bat-batean, eskuaz ilea nahasten zuela. Betaurrekoak erantzi eta airean astindu zituen. — Ideiak! Ja! Gorputz txikia intsektu ornogabeen moldez tolesten zitzaion. — Ideiak! —barre zoroa egin zuen—. Baina denbora pixka bat behar dut, egun bat, bi…
Lehenera etorri zen, lumazko ahotsa berreskuratu zuen. Txabusina jantzi eta ohean eseri zen. — Zuk joan behar duzu nire ordez. — Nora? —ez nuen ezer ulertzen. — Badakizu idazten, ezta? —esan zidan zerbait leporatu nahiko balit bezala—. Liburuak ikusi ditut: Proust, Nemirovski, Txekhov, Zola, Duras… Idatzi egiten duzu? — Bai —onartu nuen, eta aitortza hura egin nuen lehenbiziko aldia zen. — Benôitek gustuko izango zaitu. Ikusi zintudan unean bertan jakin nuen. Gaztea zara, talentua duzu, nabaritu egiten zaizu. Egoa hestegorritik gora nola igotzen zitzaidan sentitu nuen. Auto beltzarekin oroitu nintzen, nola zeharkatu zuen gaua leihora hurbildu nintzenean. — Nor da Benôit delako hori? — Editorea. Boligrafo bat atera zuen poltsatik. — Bihar gauean da hitzordua. Hamarretan puntuan helbide honetara joan behar duzu — papertxo bat eman zidan—. Ez duzu editore hoberik aurkituko. Unibertsitatean ez dizute erdirik ere irakatsiko, bost axola zaie literatura. Ikusi duzu inoiz irakurtzen duen bitartean haserrea zainetara igotzen zaion irakaslerik? Poemak arbelean izkiriatzean izerditzen al da funtzionario horietako bakar bat ere? Ez, ezta? Ez dizute deusetarako balio. Ikusi zaitut ezpainak hozkatzeraino amorratzen, Bai mundu berria nobelako pasartea kopiatzen zenuen bitartean. Ez zara afaltzera jaitsi. Gosea, bakardadea, sumina! Horra hor literaturaren hiru zutabe behinenak! — Ez didate sekula ezer argitaratu. — Eta nori axola dio horrek? Ni literaturaz ari naiz. Eskuak hartu zizkidan bereen artean. — Hartu atseden. Biharko prest egon behar duzu. Ohean sartu zen. Katu-arnasa berriro. Lo hartu zuen. Goizean hizketalditxo bat izan behar genuela erabaki nuen, kontu asko argitu behar zizkidan. Baina goizean ez zegoen Joanaren arrastorik. Ohea eginda zegoen. Apaletan jarraitzen zuten liburuek. Armairua zabaldu nuen: han zegoen maleta; itxitura bikoitza askatu eta tapa altxatu nion. Arropaz beteta zegoen: lihozko beste bi txabusina, barruko arropa zuria, blue-jeansak, artilezko jertse marroia. Nazkatzen hasita nengoen hainbeste misteriorekin. Ordulariari begiratu nion, zortzi eta erdiak ziren. Mugitu beharra nuen, ordubete baino lehen entregatu behar nuen idazlana.
Eskoletan, irakasleen jardun monotonoa sekula baino hilagoa suertatu zitzaidan. Ikaskideei begiratu nien. Apunte absurduak hartzen zituzten denbora azkarrago kontsumi zedin. Joanaren hitzak kolpeka nituen buruan. Gosea! Bakardadea! Sumina! Hirian ezagutzen nuen inor ez zen gisa hartan mintzatzen. Ama ikustera joan nintzen bazkalondoan. Jostailu-denda baten atzean kokatutako jostuntailerrean lan egiten zuen; eskualdeko azken brodatzaileetako bat zen. — Nolatan zu hemen? —poztu zen. Musu eman nion, eta aspaldi haren haragia ukitu gabe nengoela konturatu nintzen. Bero zuen masaila. — Ikusi egin nahi zintudan. Kafea hartu genuen elkarrekin, eta artilezko txano bat oparitu zidan, “belarriak ez hozteko”. Amak, aitak ez bezala, gustuko zuen nire ile laburra, askeago egiten ninduela esaten zuen. Sorbaldetaraino iristen zitzaidan adats gaztainkara moztu nuenean, “Polit hagoela pentsatuko dun” errieta egin zidan aitak eta bi astez egon zen niri hitzik egin gabe. Nire partez aitari musu bat emateko esanda agurtu nuen ama. Ibaiertzetik itzuli nintzen egoitzara. Platanerren hosto iharrak oinpean hautsi gabe tolestu zitzaizkidan parketik igarotzean. Lo-kuluxka bat egitea lortu nuen. Esnatutakoan haserretu egin nintzen Joana oraindik falta zelako. Benôiti buruz hitz egin ziezadan nahi nuen, zer suposatzen zen esan behar niola ikusten nuenean, zer erantzun behar nion Joanari buruz galdetzen bazidan, zer zen papertxoak seinalatzen zuen tokian zehazki egin behar nuena. Afalaurretik irtetea erabaki nuen, iluntzeko emanaldira zihoazen ikasleekin batera. Boligrafo bat eta koaderno bat sartu nituen poltsan, oharrak hartzeko erabiltzen nuena. Astia soberan nuenez, alde zaharreko tradizio handiko taberna batean sartu eta uxuala eskatu nuen. Lasaitua eragin zidan bezero gehienak bakarka edaten ari zirela ikusteak. Kalerakoan Joanak emandako papertxoa atera nuen patrikatik. Leku hura hiriaren beste muturrean zegoen. Autobusa hartzea deliberatu nuen. Jaitsi bezain pronto pare bat urteko haurra sorbaldan lo zeraman emakume beltz bati galdetu nion helbideaz. Hiru etxadi harantzago joan behar nuela azaldu zidan. Auzo soila zen, garaiera ertaineko etxe gris eta apaindurarik gabeek osatua. Fabrika-itxurako bi eraikinen artean zegoen bilatzen nuen ataria. Txirrina jo eta zain gelditu nintzen. Ilea motots estu batean bilduta zeukan emakume luzanga batek ireki zidan atea. — Aurrera —esan zidan, deus galdetu gabe. Korridorean barrena nindoala, bizkarrean aditzen nuen haren takoi-hotsa. Aldagela bateko atea zabaldu zidan. Lihozko txabusina bat eman zidan plastiko garden batean bilduta. — Eranzten zarenean, zoaz areto nagusira horko ate horretatik. — Mila esker.
Aldagelako kakoetan arropa gehiago zeudela ikusi nuen. Gonak, galtzak, galtzerdiak, blusak. Barruko arropa zuria. Erabat erantzi nintzen eta txabusina jantzi nuen. Aurpegia ur hotzez igurtzi nuen konketan. Korridorea liburutegi itzela zen, bi aldeetan garaiera izugarria hartzen zuten apalek. Aurrera egin nuen ate zabal baten ondoan “areto nagusia” irakurri nuen arte. Hatz-koskorrekin kolpatu nuen baina ez zidan inork ireki. Sartzea erabaki nuen. Eskola hasita zegoen. Hamar edo hamabi neska-mutil zenbatu nituen. Biluzik eta eserita zeuden denak. Txabusina esekitokian utzi nuen besteenen gainean, eta zutik gelditu nintzen aretoaren erdian. — Martina Fano —esan zuen Benôit delakoa izango bide zenak—, zure zain geunden. Jakin minez begiratu zidaten. Benôiten hitzei adi jarri zitzaizkien berriro. Libre zegoen aulkian eseri nintzen, larru hotza sentitu nuen ipurmasailetan. Denen gorputz argal eta zurbilak izerdi-patsetan zeudela jabetu nintzen. Benôit ere izerditan zegoen, alkandora blaituta zuen besapeetan eta bularrean. Hatsanka mintzatzen zen eta listuak alde egiten zion ezpainen artetik. — Idazle eskasak zarete, narrasak, utziak! Noren errespetua nahi duzue hitz horien truke? Begiratu zuen ipurdiak, bularrak, bisaiak. Zer berri dakarte humanitatearen historiara? Bereziak zaretela uste duzue… Bakarrak… Begiratu zuen haragiari; begiratu zuen hitzei… Sentitzea ez da aski! Kontzientzia ez da aski! Ausardia ez da aski! Gazte harrook… Gauza bat esango dizuet: zuen buruez idaztea laketzen bazaizue, sartu luma uzkian eta egiezue fabore liburuak irekitzeko lana hartzen dutenei. Bular txiki-txikiak zituen neska baten koadernoa hartu eta idazmahaiaren alboko makina birrintzailean sartu zuen oso-osorik. Txirbil bilakatu ziren orriak. Neskari dardara egin zion kokotsak. — Ez duzu usteko ezer galdu denik, ezta? —esan zion ahotsa goratu gabe—. Hor ez zegoen ezer, orri horietan ez zegoen irakurtzea merezi zuen ele bakar bat ere. — Baina… —protesta egin zuen neskak. — Silence, putain! —agindu zion—. Samara! Gerrirainoko adatsa zuen neska bat jaiki zen aulkitik. Eserleku ikusezin batean eserita balego bezala, bizkarra hormaren kontra eta belaunak tolesturik laurogeita hamar graduko angelua osatuz jarrarazi zuen. — Ez mugitu nik esan arte. Izterretara eraman zituen eskuak. Bi minutu igaro aurretik intzirika hasi zen neska. — Orain! —agindu zion—. Atzoko dialogoa! Neska erosta batean zegoen oinazez. Izerditan, aurpegira itsasten zitzaion ilea. — Aski da! Aski da! —erregutzen zuen.
— Geldi egoteko esan dizut! — Ezin dut gehiago, Marvis Jauna… — Segi! — Etzatera noa… — Geldi, puta alaena! Elkarrizketan jarraitu zuten neska lurrera erori zen arte. Gero idazmahaiaren ertzera itzuli zen Benôit. — Askoz hobeto, Samara. Askoz hobeto… Ileak belarri atzeetan orraztu eta egurrezko zoruaren gainean biluzik zegoen neskak irribarre zintzoa egin zion Benôiti. Eskerrak eman eta bere lekura itzuli zen. — Oinazea oinazetik, eromena eromenetik, sexua sexutik! —garrasi egin zuen Benôitek. Ukabila estutu zuen bularraren parean. Ahotsa baretu zitzaion. — Eta orain, idatzi. Gazteek gorputz hezeak paperen gainean etzan eta izkiriatzeari ekin zioten. Ni ere idazten hasi nintzen. Joanak aipatzen zidan amorrua sentitu nuen matrail-hezurrean. Benôit besaulki granate batean eseri zen gure aurrean. Arretaz begiratzen zigun. Haren soa suma nezakeen txorkatiletan, izterretan, aluan. — Idatzi mundua zuen gorputz biluziei begira balego bezala. Zeren beldur zarete? Gure inguruan paseatzen hasi zen. — N’oubliez pas —esan zion nire alboko mutilari—: humanité, humeur, humilité. Sorbaldan sentitu nuen Benôiten esku beroa. Idatzi nituen lerroak irakurtzen ari zela suma nezakeen. Nire buruaren parera jaitsi zuen berea, haren hats lehorra usaindu nuen. — Zabaldu hankak —xuxurlatu zidan—. Horrela. Gau osoan lan egin genuen. Egunsentiarekin eman zigun Benôitek gelditzeko agindua. Irribarre egin zigun. — Lan oso ona —adierazi zuen—. Mila esker; zoazte orain atseden hartzera. Aulkietatik jaiki eta ilara bat osatu zuten gazteek. Banan-banan besarkatu zuten Benôit, estu eta luze. “Eraiki egun eder bat zure buruarentzat” esanez agurtu zituen denak. Nire txanda iritsi zenean, haren sabela eta hankartea nabaritu nituen nire gorputz biluziaren kontra, arnasketa motela, egur-usaina. — Mila esker, Martina —esan zidan—. Eraiki egun eder bat zure buruarentzat.
Goizeko autobusean, egoitzara bueltan, esku-ahurretan berotasuna sentitzen nuen oraindik. Zoriontasun lasai batek zeharkatzen ninduen, zentzuz bete balira bezala begiradak, paisaiak, goiz hura. Korrika egin ostean edo mendian luzaroan ibili ostean izaten den sentsazio horren antzekoa zen, haragi nekatuaren plazera, inguruarekiko elkartasun sakona, umiltasun betea. Banekien poltsan neramatzan orriak sekulan idatzi nituen onenak zirela, baina ez nuen hargatik inori irakurtzeko premiarik sentitzen. Arratsaldean amari bisita egingo nion berriro, eta aitari ere bai akaso, ilea luzatzen utziko nuela esateko. Eskuzabaltasuna erne zitzaidan, bizitzarekiko esker ona, euripean oinez ibiltzeko gogoa. Goizeko ihintzaren gainean lanerantz zihoazen bizikletazaleei begira egon nintzen leihotik. Irribarre egin nien autobusera sartu ziren bisaia logaletuei. Gosaritarako iritsi nintzen egoitzara. Eta loak hartu ninduen. — Barkatu, Martina. Ezustekoa hartu zuen mojak ohean lo ikusi ninduenean. — Joana Gilen gauzen bila nator. Armairuko maleta txikia hartu eta orgatxo batean ezarri zuen. — Nora joan da? —galdetu nion, oraindik aho zabalka. Orgatxoa askatu zuen. Zuhur begiratu zidan. — Ez al dakizu ezer? — Zer jakin behar dut? — Joana ospitalean dago. Istripu oso larria izan du bart gauean. Jainkoak lagunduko ahal dio gajoari! Zutitu egin nintzen, erabat biluzik nengoela ahaztuta. — Nola gertatu da? — Zoritxarreko ezbehar bat. Auto batek harrapatu du egoitzara bidean kalea gurutzatzen ari zela. Aitaren egin zuen bi bider. Eta bi ahizpari agindu zien liburuak erretiratzen hasteko. Txingorra hasi zuen kanpoan. Premiazkoa bakarrik sartu nuen bizkar-zorroan. Ahal banuen beste batean itzuliko nintzen liburuen bila. Ekialdeko trena hartu nuen, probintzia herriz herri zeharkatzen zuena. Hirian auto beltz baten argiak piztu ziren.
The Legend of Chief Pa’ao The least beneficent of the islands, Hawai’i—or the “Big Island”—with its flaming volcanoes and icy storms, is perhaps also the most mysterious. Dominated by the perpetual battle between the tempestuous fire goddess Pele and her equally combative icy sister Poliahu, it is a world born of divine and human strife, merciless toward those who would dare to settle on or near its sacred mountains. Its tribal clashes and conflicts first embodied in the legend of the chief Pa’ao, a Tahitian high priest believed to have settled Hawai’i, continue to this very day in the form of culture wars as Western scientists face off against Native Hawaiians protesting the addition of a mammoth-sized telescope to the already existing protuberances sprouting like giant white mushrooms from the glistening snows blanketing Mauna Kea. As told by elders claiming direct descent from Pa’ao, the master navigator who led the voyage to Hawai’i across the sea by following the stars, the story of the island’s first settlers begins with a violent family quarrel. In this version, Pa’ao’s older brother, the chief priest Lonopele, accuses Pa’ao’s son of stealing fish from the royal fishpond. To prove his brother wrong, the outraged Pa’ao kills his son and rips open his stomach disclosing no sign of the boy’s supposed transgression. The breach between the brothers widens to the point where Pa’ao, feeling he can no longer remain, takes steps to migrate across the seas to a new land. Preparing three large canoes and gathering a group of retainers to accompany him on the voyage, he decrees that the “sacred” canoes remain untouched by anyone without his permission. Now it is the turn of his brother Lonopele’s son to transgress when, stealing out at dusk unaware that Pa’ao is watching, the boy touches the lead canoe. Instantly, the vengeful Pa’ao kills his nephew and buries him in the sand under the canoe. As flies begin buzzing around the corpse, Pa’ao hurriedly gathers his crew and launches the three canoes, unaware that in his haste, he’s left behind the aged astronomer-priest Makuakaumana. Climbing a cliff high above the water, the old priest cries out but is told it’s too late; there is no more room in any of the canoes. At this, the master stargazer Makuakaumana leaps from the cliff and miraculously lands in the stern of Pa’ao’s canoe to guide him across the ocean.
Thus begins the voyage that brings Pa’ao and his retainers to the shores of the Big Island of Hawai’i, where he builds the first stone temple “heiau” establishing a chiefly lineage whose contentious beginnings still resonate throughout Pele’s sacred forbidding terrain.
*** Though they’d been married for twenty-five years and lived in Honolulu for fifteen, Hugh and Wanda hadn’t revisited the Big Island since their honeymoon at Volcano Lodge. They were especially curious to see how the continuing lava flow had changed the landscape over the years, so when a well-timed invitation to spend a few days during the university’s winter break with Glen and Floriane on the Hamakua Coast arrived, they were quick to accept. The two men, both geographers, had become friends after years of attending the same professional conferences. The women had only met twice, while accompanying their partners to conference receptions, and, finding little in common, had made no effort to get to know each other despite the fact that both were living in Hawai’i. Arguably, because inter-island travel was expensive, or because Wanda was older and a well-established violinist set in her ways, and the much younger Floriane was quirky and unsettled by her as yet untenured position in the ethnic studies department at the university, and even more so by her shifting commuter relationship with her fiancé Glen, who lived and worked thousands of miles away in Albuquerque and only visited her on holidays. Coming as it did the day after a serious argument between Hugh and Wanda, in Honolulu, and Glen and Floriane’s coincidental blowout in Hilo (the first because of too little distance, the latter because of too much) the visit was bound to be fraught and in fact started on a testy note when Wanda found on arriving that she and Hugh would not be sleeping in a bed but on a hard, narrow air mattress on the floor, in a room directly fronting a busy highway, and sharing the only bathroom in the house with her hosts and the breakfast table in the kitchen with one neurotic oversized begging poodle and his beleaguered smaller dachshund companion. Adding to the stress on her hypersensitive musician’s ear was the round-the-clock crowing of a nearby neighbor’s fighting cocks. In their younger days, Wanda and Hugh had lived in similarly casual circumstances, but after long years spent in university towns in a series of furnished rented flats surrounded by spurious neighbors, both had come to treasure the privacy and order of their settled life in a luxurious condo in a respectable building close enough to the city to enjoy its comforts and far enough from its ever increasing construction dust and noise. What they hadn’t counted on here in the remote countryside of the still breathtakingly lovely Hamakua Coast, was the proliferation of strip malls and massive Walmarts displacing the quaint “mom and pop” stores they’d frequented as honeymooners. Still more unsettling was Floriane’s warning against “the contaminated tap water,” and her refusal to drink, cook, or wash produce with it, resulting in a pantry overstocked with bottled water and canned and packaged foods and no fresh fruits and vegetables in the fridge. When Hugh asked if she ever ate salads or hot meals, Floriane giggled, “I’m too lazy to cook . . . so I usually eat out or bring cooked food home after work.”
Accustomed to a diet of fresh organic food and Wanda’s excellent cooking, Hugh was visibly disappointed at the idea of eating out or living on takeaway for three days, but being a good sport, if a little “uptight” in Floriane’s opinion, he overcame the awkward moment by inviting his hosts to an expensive lunch at the Bay Restaurant and paying for the bread, breakfast rolls, cheese, and wine they bought afterward. Glen, while warm and effusive, was a heavy drinker, who expected Hugh, if not the women, to keep up with him. This had been easy enough at first, but as he’d gotten older, Hugh found his friend’s heavy drinking less to his liking, especially after the conference three years ago when his liver had started acting up and he’d been so dizzy and ill he thought he might pass out. Something that had never happened since he was sixteen and had downed half a bottle of vodka on his older brother’s dare. Hugh had learned to protect himself and humor Glen at the same time by interspersing large draughts of water between every glass of wine. It had been six months since the last geographer’s conference, and Hugh had hoped that Glen’s smoking, if not his drinking, would have eased up a little. He was concerned to see that both had only increased, though with apparently no visible effect, for Glen was as robust and healthy as ever, the only sign of his aging evident in his gray, increasingly thinning hair, which was newly cropped almost to the scalp. Both were big men, Hugh, who’d once played competitive soccer, was six-four, standing only an inch taller than Glen, who continued to defy all the latest “baby boomer obsessions”—as he laughingly called them—with health and fitness. For his part, Hugh subscribed to all of these, quitting smoking cold at forty, when he’d also—following Wanda’s example—stopped eating meat. In this, at least, Glen appeared to be the odd man out, for in comparing lifestyles, the older couple appeared to have found an ally in Floriane, whose commitment to a strict vegan diet and daily strenuous cross fit training program, superseded even their own best efforts at working out and “eating healthy.” It wasn’t until they were driving back to the house after a lunchtime discussion about animal rights that the already existing tensions around food threatened to flare up even further, with Floriane heatedly expressing her strong convictions favoring animals over humans and Wanda arguing against her narrow definition of rights. An uneasy truce, brokered by Glen, briefly turned their attention away from the topic to the lovely view of Hilo Bay. But the debate again threatened to surface as Floriane’s views were emphatically borne out back at the house, where, Wanda ruefully observed, the dogs ran the show and the humans were expected to accommodate them. Removing her shoes on the porch before entering the kitchen, she’d almost been knocked over by the frenzied poodle and made no attempt to hide her annoyance when Floriane had done nothing to rein the dog in. She was further upset on eliciting no sympathy from Hugh, who’d kept her from falling but rejected her whispered plea that they find a hotel and use her allergies as an excuse to leave as “absolutely out of the question.” Claiming she badly needed a cup of tea, Wanda angrily stomped into the kitchen. Rummaging around in the pantry and finding no tea among the neatly stacked bags of expensive coffee—though Hugh had informed Glen on the phone beforehand that he and Wanda only drank tea—she entered the makeshift guestroom redfaced and on the verge of tears. Twice on the losing side in less than an hour, now even Hugh seemed to have turned against her. After sulking a while, she came out of the bedroom to find Glen and Floriane gone and Hugh standing alone in the kitchen. Wanda could tell from the grim
expression on his face that he was annoyed. Sure that it had something to do with Glen’s shabby treatment but not wanting to bait him about it, she remained silent. The pricey wine, bread, cheese, and breakfast rolls he’d paid for were still sitting on the table. “Where’d they go?” “Out to the supermarket to shop for home supplies.” “And we’re supposed to put these away?” “Obviously.” Hugh opened the fridge and put in the cheese. “Here, let me help.” Wanda placed the bags of bread and rolls in an empty wicker basket she found behind several bottles of vitamins on the counter. The carton filled with wine bottles was still standing where Glen had left it on the counter opposite. “Do any of these need to be refrigerated, you think?” “No, they’re all reds. Just leave them there. We’ll be opening them soon.” “There are nine bottles! Do you think we’ll drink them all?” Hugh gave her a wry grin. “With Glen? Have any doubts?” Seeing an opening, Wanda remarked, “Looks like it’s gonna be a do-it-yourself visit.” Hugh put his arm around her. “I said we didn’t want to impose, but he insisted we stay here in the house with them. You’d think he’d at least mention that there was only one bathroom or that they don’t cook and we’re expected to pay for the food. If I’d known, I would have booked us into a hotel.” “Give me a hug,” Wanda snuggled up against his chest, satisfied that the tide had finally turned in her favor. The drinking started at five. After the first bottle of wine had emptied and a new one opened, Glen and Hugh, allowing themselves a break from the serious academic façade they’d worn for months, were now laughing and ribbing each other, even getting silly. At one point, Glen asked Hugh to accompany him outside so he could smoke, and, except for the occasional scratching of the dogs’ nails against the hardwood floor, the house grew quiet. Left on their own, Floriane and Wanda pulled their chairs closer and, what began as an awkward attempt at mending hurt feelings blossomed from a superficial exchange of complaints about the high cost of living in Hawai’i into a genuine discussion of the cultural and political isolation of “haoles”—whites like themselves, who hadn’t been born or brought up on the islands and were therefore never fully accepted by the population of Asians, Hawaiians, Filipinos, and multiracial residents identifying themselves as “local.” That the only exception to the rule was made for “haoles” of Portuguese extraction had always struck Wanda as odd despite Hugh’s scholarly historical explanations for her own marginalization as a blond, blue-eyed woman of Northern Italian ancestry. Sharing her thoughts with Floriane after a glass of wine left Wanda feeling vulnerable yet strangely relieved, as the
bitter cloak of reserve she’d assumed since moving to Hawai’i dissolved. Over the years, the once magical promise of the islands had paradoxically estranged her from the almost surreal loveliness of it all. The golden light, the green brilliance of the mountains, the utter darkness of the night sky, rather than bring her in closer, had only fed her resentment against an onslaught of continuing professional obstacles, starting with her difficulties in attracting and keeping private students; and later on when, after struggling to fit into the small community of classical musicians, she was finally invited to play with a moderately successful all-male, multiracial chamber group of professors from the university’s music department—but never asked to join the faculty as more than an adjunct teaching occasional courses as the need arose—which wasn’t often. Second fiddle wasn’t exactly a familiar position to be in for someone of Wanda’s status. On graduating from New York’s Mannes School of Music, a combination of talent and luck had gained her early entry into the music world. Unlike most of her peers, she’d never had to claw her way to a successful career, letting her credentials—a prime position with the Pittsburgh Symphony and a number of highly praised East Coast chamber groups—speak for her. All this had ended after Hugh was lured to Hawai’i from Pittsburgh by the offer of a full professorship with a reduced teaching load and a sizeable salary increase, and Wanda, riding blind, decided to follow him. Yes, the wine had undoubtedly loosened her tongue, allowing her to share feelings she hadn’t even fully admitted to herself with a woman she hardly knew and didn’t like very much. Or perhaps it was a genuine moment of sympathy for Floriane, a single white woman living alone in a dangerous area reputed for its break-ins and assaults, on a ghost-haunted island of natural disasters—earthquakes, floods, and volcanic eruptions of mythical proportions—that prompted Wanda’s admission of cultural isolation, her sense of being “home, yet never at home.” Though she’d learned to cautiously blunt these feelings until now, something about Floriane’s vulnerability—her quiet acquiescence in the face of Glen’s cavalier attitude toward her, coupled with his open distaste for Hawai’i—Wanda didn’t hold back. Floriane responded saying that, as a small, dark-skinned, dark-eyed woman with dark long hair, she’d almost “passed” for Portuguese among those of her students who didn’t take her for Jewish. “Some of my students have never met a Jew, yet they’re notoriously anti-Semitic. It doesn’t seem to help when I tell them I’m the daughter of a devout Hungarian Catholic mother and an Irish-Italian father,” she said, smiling. Then, surprising Wanda, who’d been on the verge of launching her own list of snubs, Floriane leaned over and whispered, “I think I’m drunk.” Seeing her almost topple to the floor from her chair, Wanda moved in closer and propped her up gently. It was already hard enough to hear what Floriane was saying, she spoke in such a low voice, and so quickly, swallowing words back into her throat as if she were holding back a secret or feared she’d divulged too much of it already. Now, Wanda noticed, Floriane was indeed quite drunk, slurring whole sentences as she moved from subject to subject. Maybe she was at least partly Jewish, there’d always been hints in the family, particularly on her mother’s side, questions about why they’d left Hungary during the thirties to come to America and then moved back in the fifties. None of it making sense, but somehow evoking Wanda’s real interest in the young woman who’d put her off before. Floriane had been drinking quickly, keeping up with Glen—glass for glass—Wanda counted three glasses to the one and a half she
herself had been sipping slowly so as to stave off the sleeplessness she knew would follow if she didn’t limit herself to two glasses of wine at most. The door opened and, trailing a cloud of cigarette smoke, Glen and Hugh returned. As if on cue, Floriane abruptly got up from her chair and stumbled into the bathroom, where Wanda thought she heard her being sick but couldn’t be sure, for the big poodle, his snout lifted toward the ceiling, was howling, then suddenly interrupting himself to vomit on the floor in front of the bathroom door. As Wanda headed toward the kitchen looking for paper towels to clean up the dog’s mess, she almost bumped into Floriane, who, at that moment, had emerged from the bathroom. Running past her into the bedroom without bothering to close the door, Floriane flung herself on the bed still in her clothes. Glen was in the middle of topping up his wine glass when he noticed Wanda standing alone in the foyer. “She’s passed out,” he said matter-of-factly.
*** Pele the “Earth-Eating Woman” Famed for her bad temper and shunned for seducing the husband of her elder sister, the water goddess Namaka-o-Kaha’i, Pele the fire goddess proved so troublesome to her family that she was finally exiled from Tahiti by her father, the god Ku-waha-ilo. Voyaging across the sea in a sacred canoe provided by her favorite brother, the shark god Kamohoali’i, Pele stopped first at the northernmost island of Kauai before continuing south to Oahu, Molokai, and Maui, and finally stopping at the Big Island of Hawai’i, where she established her permanent home on its three volcanoes, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea. The last island in the chain not only provided her refuge but also promised an end to her nasty quarrels with the female goddesses of the other islands for either seducing their husbands or digging fire pits in her attempts to snatch ownership of their domains. Pele dug her last fire pit, known as the crater Halemaumau, at the summit of Kilauea volcano, which remains active to this day. Called the “Navel of the World” by the ancient Hawaiians, Pele is believed to be living there still. Stories of seeing her walking the roads of the Big Island with her white dog, either in the form of an ugly old crone or a beautiful young woman, are told by residents and tourists alike. Regardless of whether they believe in Pele’s actual existence or regard her as a mythical figure, the stories are always the same. When she appears in the guise of an ugly old crone, she begs everyone she meets for food or drink. Those who comply are spared her wrath. Those who ignore her pleas face fiery punishment, losing their homes and fields and possessions to the flames ignited by the lava overflowing the cauldron in her Kilauea kitchen. Thus it is no surprise that those who are both respectful and wary of her power leave regular gifts of food and beverages at the crater’s base.
Pele is so fearsome that even the other Hawaiian goddesses dwelling on the snow-covered peaks of Mauna Kea fled after run-ins with her. The only one remaining is the powerful snow goddess Poliahu, best known for challenging Pele to a sled race. One day, manifesting as a group of girls, Poliahu and her goddess friends had descended from the slopes of Mauna Kea and were sledding on a nearby hillside on the Hamakua coast when Pele appeared in the guise of a beautiful young woman. Not recognizing her hated rival, Poliahu invited Pele to join the race, and was only alerted to the danger she was in when Pele unleashed a firestorm from within the depths of Mauna Loa. Poliahu barely escaped the flames by tossing her white robe over the volcano’s peak, countering Pele’s fire with a violent snowstorm. The thunderous battle pitching fire against ice shook the mountain from its peak to its base as cascading lava instantly turned to hardened rock, creating entirely new swaths of land as it tumbled toward the ocean. Even now, the battle between the goddesses of fire and ice continues: Pele still threatens to incinerate everything in her path, while Poliahu’s snow-covered mountains transform her rival’s scorching rivers of lava into verdant streams. *** The next day was slated for hiking. Floriane joined them in the kitchen looking yellowish and bleary-eyed and begging for coffee, and Glen, showing no sign of the previous night’s indulgence, handed her a freshly brewed cup. Hugh had found two stray teabags of Darjeeling stuffed into a back corner of the pantry, and he and Wanda were drinking it standing so as to avoid the dogs, who were still begging for the last of the sweet breakfast rolls the couple were hurriedly devouring. “Are you sure you’re up for hiking today?” Wanda asked Floriane, before Glen could answer for her—which he did nonetheless. “Oh, she’s okay. She’s always a little shaky after drinking too much and passing out, but she gets better as the day goes on.” He patted Floriane on the head; she nodded, smiling wanly. Hugh suggested he drive his rental car, as he needed to put on some mileage and it didn’t do any good standing in the driveway. Wanda agreed. She knew how much he loved driving, and it had been so long since he’d driven any meaningful distance on Oahu, and here was his chance to get out on the open road and really move. She wished he’d let Glen know how much he hated being crammed into the back seats of cars. But when Floriane stepped forward surprising everyone by insisting she’d be driving the Jeep because she knew the roads best, Hugh desisted. If it had been Wanda insisting on driving, he’d have been grumpy and complained until she gave in, but Floriane was adamant, and in charge, so there was no use getting into yet another argument. Never mind that she and Glen started fighting almost as soon as they were out on the road: over missed directions, driving too fast, or tailgating and slamming on the brakes as she approached the cars in front of her . . . really going at it until, finally, Floriane had had enough. Announcing a “pit stop,” she pulled, tires screeching, into the parking lot of the Parker Ranch Mall. Then tossing the car keys to Glen, she marched off without so much as a word. Shrugging his shoulders, Glen followed after her.
Wanda and Hugh were taken aback when entering the mall a few minutes later, they met their hosts walking arm in arm in the opposite direction. “We both need another caffeine fix, so we’re going to the Starbucks, there, right outside the door, on the corner,” Glen called over his shoulder. Floriane didn’t even turn to acknowledge them. Unnerved by Floriane’s rebuff, Wanda said, “You think she blames us for not taking up for her in the car? He was pretty nasty about her driving.” “Whatever it is, it’s none of our business,” Hugh steered her through the fake mockup of Parker Ranch into a Food Court packed with tourists. After lunch and a quick restroom visit, they left the mall and walked over to Starbucks. The line was long, and Glen and Floriane were still awaiting their lattes, so Hugh suggested they meet outside. Wanda’s lactose intolerance was acting up; she could already feel a stomachache coming on. She should have skipped that slice of pizza but except for the two sweet rolls and the cup of stale Darjeeling tea, she’d had nothing to eat since breakfast three hours ago. She drank the last of her bottled water, and now even the smell of coffee, which she usually liked, was nauseating, so she was grateful when Hugh found a nearby bench, sat her down, and handed her the rest of his half full water bottle. The coffee had obviously helped patch things up even further between their quarrelsome hosts, for, when Hugh and Wanda reached the car, Glen was already behind the wheel and Floriane was leaning over from the passenger seat and massaging his neck. The remainder of the trip appeared to have been salvaged. They were almost there and Floriane was in the middle of describing the beautiful black sand beach awaiting them at the end of the hiking trail when the Jeep was, unexpectedly, flagged to a stop by a hard-hatted worker in an orange vest. Glen rolled down the window and the man, a small, genial Japanese, leaned in to inform him that the bridge to the trail had been closed due to flooding and he couldn’t drive any further. He was sorry, but bridge and road repairs had only just begun, and would probably go on for at least a week. Everyone in the car grew silent. Glen thanked the man, who again said how sorry he was; he’d been turning hikers away since early that morning. Then directing Glen in a U-Turn on the narrow road, he waved and called “Aloha” as they drove away. *** The Legend of the god Akaka Two ancient Hawaiian akua (gods), the handsome warrior Akaka, and his cousin Kiha, the god of fish, lived by a waterfall near the village of Honomu. As in so many legends, this story, too, involves a family quarrel: what is unusual here, though, is that we aren’t told the reason for the quarrel, only that Kiha offended Akaka in some way and was punished by having to jump over the waterfall. Kiha’s leap was unsuccessful and he was instantly killed. When his body landed in the pool at the base of the waterfall, it was transformed into the large rock that still occupies its center. The legend goes on to describe a more elaborate, but similar, fate awaiting Akaka, who was known as much for his womanizing as for his good looks.
When Akaka’s loving and faithful wife was away visiting her parents, he would use the time to dally with his beautiful young mistresses, Lehua, who lived on the north side of the gulch, and Maile, who lived on the south side. One day, Akaka was just leaving Lehua’s hut, when he saw his wife returning unexpectedly. Taking advantage of the opportunity to see Maile, he quickly made his way to her hut on the south side of the gulch. Detecting the sweet grassy smell of his bark cloth skirt, Akaka’s wife followed after her husband calling him to come home. To evade her, Akaka left Maile’s hut by the back door and, with his trusty dog at his side, fled until he reached a large rock projecting over the falls. Shamed and regretful for his infidelity, Akaka quickly threw himself into the waterfall and was impaled when he landed on his cousin Kiha’s grave at the center of the pool below. His dog hesitated at the top of the waterfall and was instantly turned to stone. Akaka’s wife, who had rushed to his side in the hope of stopping him, was likewise transformed into a large rock at the crest of the falls. Hearing of their lover’s death, Lehua and Maile wept so copiously that they were transformed into twin waterfalls located slightly further down in the Akaka Falls gulch. Tradition has it that placing a maile flower lei around the large rock at the crest of Akaka Falls or tapping it with a lehua flower branch will bring rain. Some say that if you listen closely you’ll hear the lamentations of Akaka’s wife and mistresses echoing in the roar of the waterfalls.
*** With hours to spare before their flight and a free day to themselves, Hugh and Wanda decided to visit Akaka Falls. At eight in the morning of their last day on the Big Island, they stored their suitcases in the trunk of the car before exchanging hugs in the driveway with their hosts and speeding off. Wanda wasn’t putting on an act when she invited Floriane to visit her in Honolulu any time; it was easy to be generous knowing the dogs and the crowing cocks and the shameless brawling of her hosts were being left behind to become one of the many misadventures she and Hugh would laugh at for having taken so seriously. “We won’t be coming back here again soon,” she announced as they pulled into a parking space fronting the diner Glen had recommended for breakfast. “No, we won’t,” Hugh turned to her grinning at the thought of the omelet with hash browns and buttered rye toast and the pot of freshly brewed Earl Grey awaiting him with no excuses to Floriane’s prohibitions against eating “animal products.” Following the cheerful waitress with the long koa wood earrings to a booth, Wanda, too, found herself grinning—not in anticipation of her first hot breakfast—but because she was relieved to be liberated from . . . from what, exactly? From having to apologize for the way she lived, ate, talked, drank or couldn’t relate to Floriane’s dogs? Or was it Glen’s self-centered drunkenness and Hugh’s enabling that she’d resented, using the dogs as an excuse to avoid acknowledging that it was their smug male entitlement that had bothered her? “I’m really looking forward to Akaka Falls today. It’s not that far, and we haven’t been there in a long time.” Hugh finished his second cup of tea and the waitress brought him a fresh jug.
“Me too. It’s an easy hike,” Wanda agreed, albeit with exaggerated enthusiasm. He was so at ease, why burden him by complaining. The waitress placed the bill on the table between them. “No rush. Anytime you’re ready.” As they left the diner, Wanda saw a crowd of people waiting outside for a table but walked right past them without so much as a twinge of her usual reflexive guilt for dawdling. The breakfast was good, but not thatgood, she wanted to tell them—nothing like the breakfasts she’d been served as a girl growing up in Chicago by a cook named Mary who came in three times a week and made buckwheat pancakes especially for her, and freshly baked blueberry muffins, as a reward for completing her violin practice before going out to play in the afternoon. Surprisingly, despite the indulgences Wanda came to expect as a “musically gifted child,” she’d remained unspoiled. Yet here, on the Big Island, it was as if all the punishments she’d averted in the past had finally caught up with her. Though for what sin or crime she may have committed in thought or deed—she had no idea. Floriane had unfairly judged her for lacking empathy toward animals. As a girl, and even now, as a fifty-year-old woman with allergies to just about everything, Wanda was still rescuing the occasional stray dog or cat that crossed her path and caring for it until she could find it a good home. Proof that the “warm-hearted girl” her father had praised for sharing her room not only with stray animals, but with the refugee children her mother brought home to lunch who ended up staying for months, hadn’t hardened with age. The buckwheat pancakes had induced a Proustian rush of childhood memories: of winter snowstorms, and sledding in Lincoln Park until her nose tingled and her violin-playing fingers, snuggled in their mittens, grew stiff with cold. But why was she thinking of snow here, in the tropical heat, gazing silently out the car window as Hugh took the scenic route to the falls through a jungle of lush ferns and tall palms, the steep, rocky ocean front visible beyond. At least this small piece of land, admired as much for its stubborn resistance to development as for its tangled wildness, still remained intact. How could she possibly be homesick here . . . for snow, which she’d sworn she never wanted to see again as long as she lived? They arrived at Akaka Falls to find the parking lot half empty, though there was a sizable queue at the trailhead, where a pretty young park ranger informed them that, as residents of Hawai’i, they didn’t have to pay the entrance fee. Hugh had already opened his wallet and was fishing for his credit card. Seeing it was taking longer than it should have for him to find it, Wanda suggested they sit down on the bus stop bench in the shade where he could take his time looking for it. Hugh searched through every pocket in his wallet before moving on to the pockets of his cargo shorts. Then he asked Wanda to look in her bag, just in case he’d given the credit card to her to hold for him. When nothing turned up there, they retraced the purchases he’d made over the past two days: all of them in cash, Hugh assured her. He didn’t remember taking his credit card out even once. They went over the possibilities several times: he might have left it on the counter or could have been pick-pocketed at the crowded cashier line in the organic market where he’d bought the food and wine two nights ago. Did she remember the name of the market? She did. Good thing she had her cell phone with her (Hugh hated carrying his on vacation and had left it
at home). Wanda Googled the market and found the phone number. Yes, the cashier remembered Hugh (he’d bought nine bottles of wine, after all) but on checking found that he’d paid in cash. Next was the new artisan bakery where he’d bought the bread and sweet breakfast rolls. There, the owner recalled Floriane and Glen introducing him to their friends from Honolulu, adding he was certain that Hugh had paid—but also in cash. Hugh had that screwed up forehead look on his face that made Wanda, who was trying to remain calm, start to panic. “Let’s go over it again,” she said, as much to herself as to Hugh and the pretty park ranger who’d finished with the tourists at the entrance gate and approached them to see if she could help. “I’m almost certain I paid for everything in cash,” Hugh said. “Almost . . . how about the first day, that big, expensive lunch at the Bay Restaurant? You must have used your credit card then. Do you remember signing the bill and getting the card back?” A new group of tourists was gathering at the entrance gate and the ranger returned to her post. “I’ll be here if you need me. But don’t worry, I’m sure it’ll turn up,” she waved reassuringly. Wanda thanked her, but Hugh was too busy recounting the past days’ expenses to notice that she’d gone. Wanda could tell that he’d surrendered to losing his credit card and dreaded the prospect of notifying the bank and cancelling it. He’d already lived that nightmare last year, in Rome, when the ATM he was using on the busy Via Veneto had been hacked in broad daylight by a gang of Bulgarian identity thieves—according to the bank—forcing him to cancel their entire summer travel itinerary and start from scratch. Desperate to avoid a repeat of that awful intrusion on Hugh’s painstakingly planned Italian journey, Wanda called the Bay Restaurant. As she waited for someone to pick up the phone, she glanced at her watch and noticed that it was already three-fifteen. The park would be closing at four. The sun was no longer overhead, but a single ray had landed on a clump of foliage just beyond the gate. Looking closer, she saw the clear outlines of a slender white orchid shaped like a dragonfly. How could a place so heartbreakingly beautiful be so treacherous, she wondered. Then she recalled having read that, in Hawaiian, the word “Akaka” meant a “split,” “rent,” crack,” “cleft,” “fissure” or “separation,” that the islands themselves had been wrenched from the sea and pulled apart by cataclysms from which even the gods were not exempt.
HIGH POINT At bedtime when I was a kid, Dad would lean against my doorframe, scrape his calloused fingers across the peeling paint and in his low quiet voice tell me the Norwegian fairytale, “The Trolls and the Pussycat.” His eyes narrowed and his mouth twisted as he described the band of marauding trolls that ravaged the same farmhouse every Christmas Eve. The trolls, he told me, with their open, slobbering mouths, yellow teeth, and bristly hair, were so scary the farmer ran away to Denmark at the sight of them, leaving his wife and kids to spend the night huddled in a cave in the woods. The more he could frighten me the better, until I’d squint out the dark windows of our farmhouse, heart pounding but unable to tear myself away from his story. In the window I watched an even more distorted version of Dad reflected against the night, but when I pressed my nose to the cold glass I could just make out the form of Big Gus, our billy goat, standing guard in front of the shed. Not even trolls could get past Gus. Like the farmer in the story, my dad ran off—not away from trolls, but with Dawn, the checkout girl from Piggly Wiggly. I was only nine at the time and heartbroken he’d chosen Dawn over Mom and me. It was a big scandal in Battle Creek, our tiny Minnesota town. Teachers hissed to each other behind their hands when I walk past them at school. I had to promise my friend Amanda that I wouldn’t punch her before she’d tell me what “cradle robber” meant. Later, when I did the math I understood why—Dawn was seventeen then, less than half my father’s age at the time, and three years younger than I am today. After Dad left with Dawn, Mom and I moved from the farmhouse into a gray rambler in town. At first Mom sat at the kitchen table in her ratty green bathrobe surrounded by wads of crumpled tissues but, after a while, a legal pad and a calculator replaced the tissues. She applied for and was awarded a grant to create Battle Creek Quilts, a non-profit that hired underprivileged farmwomen to sew quilts in their homes that Mom sold to rich city people hungry for a slice of Americana. Now, as I draped quilts over the display bed in Mom’s tiny showroom, I thought about the trolls. Twice a year l accompanied Mom here, to the High Point Home Furniture and Accessories Show, where she sold the quilts to store owners and merchandise buyers. For a week every spring and fall Mom and I, and hundreds of thousands of other vendors and buyers, invade the little town of High Point, North Carolina. I imagined the citizens of High Point huddled in caves in the surrounding foothills while their town is ransacked by vendors seducing
buyers with chandeliers, Persian rugs, or leather sofas, and the carnival of others who make their living feeding, boozing, and entertaining the crowds. Everyone here expects to be dazzled by the merchandise and everyone expects a party. I’d only been in High Point for two days and already my face ached from fake smiling. I was sick of squeezing into a showroom the size of my dorm, hidden deep inside a cement building— a hive of other tiny showrooms. Enjoy the show, Mom always told me. You never know what can happen. I’d missed the fall show last year. It was my first semester at the University and I thought I’d finally escaped stupid, backwards Battle Creek for good. I was surrounded by people who didn’t think I was weird because the sight of deer corpses in the back of trucks made me cry. And they’d never heard the story of my father and Dawn. We went to Amnesty International meetings and started Students for Peace. Mom loved to hear about my friends. She mailed donations for Amnesty International and sent us flowers on the day of our Iraq War protest. The first time I met Kyle was at a Students for Peace meeting. I thought he looked like Jesus. He was sprawled across a couch in the Student Union talking about how he wanted to go to Baghdad so he could take photos to document the war crimes the U.S. was committing. My cheeks burned like I’d been slapped when I overheard him tell a girl with long braided that he had to break up with his girlfriend over the summer because she was a real psycho. I stood at our showroom door and plumped the pillows on front display bed. A cluster of young muscular men, their green Buyer’s badges swinging across their black shirts, strode past the showroom without glancing toward me. An image of Kyle pulling up his pants flashed through my mind. I blinked hard to escape it. When I opened my eyes, a big sweating man in a tuxedo and top hat grinned at me as he pushed his drink cart past our showroom and down the hall. He had the waxed moustache of a cartoon villain. The Wine glasses hanging upside down by their stems on top of his cart clanked so violently against each other I knew they were going to shatter. He stopped a few showrooms down. “Ladies’ hour!” he called. Vendors celebrating successful business deals poured from nearby showrooms. “Two-for-one margaritas!” he called out. “For the ladies!” I glanced at Mom, trying to catch her eye. She hated the word “ladies.” “We’re women,” Mom would correct anyone who used what she called “the L-word.” After Dad moved away we were the odd ducks of Battle Creek. My parents had moved to Minnesota from upstate New York when I was two, and, fifteen years later, we were still not “from Battle Creek.” Despite the fact that I agreed with Mom’s convictions, she was a constant source of humiliation in a place where people expressed outrage with a mild cluck of their tongues and shake of their heads. My sophomore year of high school Mom overheard Leroy LeFave call his buddy a “pussy-whipped little bitch” when they were behind us at the checkout counter of Florian Drugs. “Young man,” Mom snapped. “Those disrespectful and degrading words will never leave your mouth again!” I dragged her from the store still scolding. I was afraid of Leroy. His pointy-toed cowboy boots left black marks in the linoleum when he strutted and stomped down the school
halls. I wanted Mom to be afraid of him too. I wanted her to keep me safe from Leroy, but instead she threw me in the line of fire. For weeks, each time I walked by the locker where Leroy and his friends hunkered, they bleated, “Biii-aaaach,” as I scurried past. Angela, a furniture designer who had taken my mother under her wing, breezed into the showroom. “Have time for a margarita?” She smiled at my mother with her perfectly white teeth. “Oh, of course, Angela!” Mom’s voice sounded too high. “Kristen can keep an eye on things.” Her neck and chest flushed bright pink. Angela was from New York. She was tiny with perfect blond hair. She always whispered to Mom and me the brand name of the handbag or shoes she had and made us guess the “amazing bargain price” she paid for them. Part of me was grateful to Angela, she didn’t write Mom off as a hick like most of the buyers, but the way Mom acted around her reminded me of how she’d been around Dad. Even though Mom talked like a feminist, she was a puddle around my father. For at least two years after he left, she called him a couple of times a week crying and begging him to leave Dawn and come home. “Don’t you understand,” she’d say over and over, “this is where you belong.” I knew I should have been extra sweet and kind, but instead I’d lock the door to my room and I imagined myself slapping her red, swollen face just hard enough to snap her out of it. To make her act the way a mom should act. As I watched Mom follow Angela to the drink cart, I imagined what my impression would be if I’d never met her. Her salt and pepper hair was cut very short but chic. Her skirt, rich brown velvet, was too long to be fashionable, and her shoes were unapologetically practical. Until recently the only scent I’d ever smelled on her was homemade bread and patchouli. She stepped down the hall where she was swallowed up by the booze-seeking crowd. After Mom left I grabbed a handful of tasteless rice crackers and a couple cubes of waxy looking cheese we served to buyers, crept into the closet-sized back room and shoved them into my mouth. Tacked up on the bulletin board in the back room were photos of the four years mom and I had been coming to the High Point Show. I unpinned one of the two of us taken last spring. Her arm is around my waist and she’s smiling at whoever was taking the photo. I’m looking the other direction and laughing a big open mouth laugh. I can’t even remember what I was laughing at now. You don’t fucking know shit, I told the me in the photo before I replaced it, sticking the thumbtack through my forehead. Now I wish I could tell mom the truth about why I missed the fall show, tell her about Kyle. About what he did to me when he walked me back to my dorm after the meeting. I think about telling her sometimes, but I stop when I remember how she looked on those late-night phone calls to my father as she pleaded with him to come home. “This stuff is so authentic!” a woman said from the front of the showroom.
I peeked through the curtain, chewing furiously. She was young with a Buyer’s Badge and beautiful auburn hair—the color that only comes from a good salon—and was leading her client, a grey haired guy in an expensive suit, into the showroom. The guy looked at his watch and sipped from a plastic cup in his hand. I knew I should go out and give them the spiel about how our quilts are handmade by displaced rural farm women to help supplement their family income, blah, and blah, blah. Make it sound like our quilts were made by little apple cheeked grannies or some earthy woman with her hair held back with a bandana who’d, maybe, just came from the barn where she’d bottle fed spotless, shitless adorable baby lambs. I knew how to sell us. Of course I never mentioned how we had to pack the quilts Delores stitched in pine scented potpourri for three days to kill the cigarette smell, or when that didn’t work, spray them with Lysol, or that Marjorie used her earnings to buy cheap vodka and almost didn’t have the quilts ready for market because she spent last Sunday in jail for a DUI. The auburn-haired woman cleared her throat and walked to a display bed. She looked longingly at the quilt—a Jacob’s Ladder design in purples and deep blues. She picked up the corner and examined the stitching then asked over her shoulder, “How’s that bourbon, Charles?” The guy frowned and swirled the liquid in the plastic cup. “Tastes like cough syrup.” He plunked it on a table by the crib display and turned away like the drink was a waste of his time. The woman laughed. I could tell it was fake, but the guy looked smug as if he’d said something really witty. “Tell you what the beds make me think of, though,” he said in a low voice and grabbed her forearm. I brushed the crumbs off my lips and stepped out of the back room before I realized what I was doing. “Can I help you?” My voice trembled but I looked the guy right in his round red face. He dropped her arm and made a big show of looking at his giant gold watch. “If we’re going to catch up with Charlie,” he said. “The stuff is really lovely.” Auburn Hair smiled apologetically, “Very authentic.” She smiled down at my feet. “And I love those shoes!” “Wal-Mart.” I gave her my best authentic smile. “On clearance for six dollars.” “Oh-h,” she said walking for the door. I grabbed the asshole’s cup from the nightstand and gulped the contents. The taste made my stomach lurch. I crushed the cup with shaking hands and tossed it in the trash, then walked around the stuffy showroom fidgeting with tags on the pillows, wishing Mom and Angela would return. Every so often loud bursts of laughter from the direction of the drink cart made me jump. Two more days, then back to school. At least my philosophy class was okay. I could drop the two others I was failing, and maybe, the Housing Director had told me, I’d be able to move to a different dorm. Though it’s rare to allow a student to move, he’d added, without a good reason. As I leaned down to tuck in the sheet on the baby crib a pair of meaty hands covered my eyes. I froze. I smelled Kyle’s skunky, suffocating cologne. The back of my throat tighten and the inside of my mouth taste like metal—the taste I’d learned was fear.
“Guess who!” I knew I should say something, but couldn’t catch my breath. The hands slid down my arms and rested on my hips. I wheeled around. It was just Steve. I’d been a nanny for his son and daughter in Long Island two summers ago, after my junior year of high school. He was a fabric salesman and friend of Mom—the only one to ever come up to Battle Creek to sell his fabric in person. The only Jew to ever set foot in that forgotten part of the world, he liked to joke. Steve reached his arms back around my waist and hugged me. Could he smell the bourbon on my breath? The wool from his tweed coat scratched my cheek. Too tight, too long. I pulled away, surprised he’d missed me. My time as his nanny was somewhat of a disaster. I’d backed their car into their neighbor’s parked Lexus. I won’t tell them, Steve had said glancing out the window, and neither will you. And I’d walked in on him and his wife, Rose, having sex on the couch after a Greatful Dead concert. Even though I’d seen plenty of naked men in Amanda’s older sister’s Playgirl, actually seeing two people I knew in the act was startling and unreal—like the first time I saw Mickey, my sweet tabby catch a squirrel. I could never think about him the same way again. “So how are you, Kiddo?” Steve looked around. “Where’s Mom?” “With Angela.” I nodded to the hall. “So she’s going big time.” He raised his eyebrows knowingly. “Pretty soon you two’ll have to move to New York.” “How are the kids?” I asked, not really caring. Zachary, the younger one was pleasant enough—a sunny, chubby kid—but Rachel could be moody and always seemed suspicious of me. He plopped down on the display bed, totally verboten in Mom’s book, saying something about ballet and soccer. I smiled and pretended to listen. That summer Steve and Rose had often taken me and the kids to Jones beach. I loved the tattooed and pierced freak show on the boardwalk and the smell of the grimy ocean washing up globs of seaweed and shells. Nothing like it existed in Minnesota and I knew it made me cooler than anyone in Battle Creek just to have seen it. The last time I went with them we met up with a couple of Steve and Rose’s closest friends. I forgot the woman’s name, but the husband was also named Steve. “If you get us mixed up,” the other Steve told me, “just remember he’s the skinny Jew and I’m,”—he flexed his pecks—“the Italian stallion.” I was wearing a new tie-dyed bikini that Rose had picked out for me at a funky little boutique in the city. I’d never worn a bikini before. It’s perfect for you, Rose had assured me. I splashed around with the kids and scanned the beach for boys my age, sucked my stomach in and tugged at the bikini straps. The sun and wind on my back and belly—parts that had never been exposed in public before—felt good. Powerful, I thought. I felt like a different person than the Kristen from Battle Creek whose father ran away with a high school senior. When I headed back to my towel to warm up, the two Steves were sitting together on beach chairs and chuckling.
“Leave the girl alone already,” Rose handed each of them a Corona. “You’ll give her a complex.” She punched her Steve on the arm and picked at the label on her beer. “Now Rosie-Honey,” the other Steve said, “your darling husband here was just repeating something his mother told him. Right, Steve-o?” He took a swig of beer. “She told him the only way you can tell if a woman is truly beautiful is to get her wet,” He chuckled again. “If she looks good getting out of the water, she’s a true beauty.” He held up his beer and winked at me then leaned back toward Steve. Later that night was when I walked in on Rose and Steve. I was making my way to the kitchen for a late snack, not expecting them back from the concert for at least an hour. Halfway down the stairs I saw them; Rose was lying down with one leg thrown over the back of the couch and the other stretched wide. Steve’s face was buried between them. The corners of her mouth were turned up in a little smile. Rose’s eyes met mine, but she didn’t see me. She was someplace wonderful and far away. The rest of the night I tossed and turned and pressed against my pillow. I tried to picture the man who could transport me to the place Steve transported Rose. Mom’s face was still flushed when she returned to the showroom. Steve stood up from the bed and kissed her once on each cheek. The flush spread down the front of her neck. “What’s the news?” Steve asked, putting his hands in his pockets. “Angela says we’ll be on all the Lane Furniture beds for the fall show!” She fanned her flushed neck. He hugged her and twirled her around in a mock waltz. “I know someone who needs to buy fabric!” While Mom and Steve planned his next trip to Battle Creek I walked to the front of the showroom and watched the people streaming past. Everyone wore a bright green buyer’s, or a red and white Vendor’s Badge. Vendors were allowed only in their own showroom, but buyers could enter any showroom they wanted and the vendors would hand them a drink and try to entice them with whatever they were selling. I was sick of being a vendor, sick of being someone who had to let everyone in. This, I whispered to the crowded hallway, is my last High Point Market. But what would I do if I didn’t come here? Flock to Panama City or Daytona Beach with the other student hordes getting drunk and sunburned? My Students for Peace friends had organized a trip to New Orleans to build Habitat for Humanity homes. I wanted to go, but Kyle would be there. He was probably hammering away on a beam right now, thinking he was a good person. A nice guy who’d never plead, and shame, and finally force someone to have sex when all she wanted was kissing and maybe a just a little more. But not that. “Hon?” Mom put her hand on my shoulder. “You okay?” “Yep, fine.” I tried to sound chipper.
“She looks done in,” Steve said. “Why don’t I get her something to eat and bring her back to the hotel.” “Thanks.” Mom tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. I got my purse and walked out with Steve. On the escalator ride down, I felt weariness wash over me and was grateful to Steve for stepping in. I thought about how good it would feel to lie down in the quiet room. We stopped at a little deli in the food court on the first floor. I wolfed my pastrami sandwich without tasting it, but Steve complained about his sandwich was stale. “I can’t even chew this thing!” He gestured toward the man in a red apron behind the counter. “What does he think we are? Animals?” We walked into the muggy North Carolina evening. On the corner by the shuttle bus stop two men painted head to toe in metallic gold wearing only Speedos were passing out free drink coupons and posing for photos with the crowd. “Go stand with them!” Steve shoved my shoulder. I walked up and stood between the men. They both leaned toward me and put their arms around my shoulders. They smelled like Vaseline. Sweat ran down my lower back sticking my dress to my skin. For an instant I felt the plastic-covered dorm mattress against my back and Kyle’s weight pressing me down. While Steve rummaged through his shoulder bag and took out a camera, I laughed loudly and pretended I thought mostly naked gold men were hilarious. All part of High Point fun. I climbed on the shuttle and sat near a window in the back. Steve slid next to me. I leaned my head on the window and looked up at the building as we headed toward High Point’s small downtown. A children’s furniture company had set up a petting zoo in front of their show space to lure in buyers with potbellied pigs and miniature donkeys. For a moment I had the crazy idea that maybe Big Gus got sold to a petting zoo and was here in one of the pens, but I looked carefully and there weren’t any goats. The bus stopped at a red light. “There are sharpshooters on all the roofs.” Steve squinted up at the roof of a bank. “What?” “The government hires a big anti-terrorist squad every market.” He squinted up at the roof of a bank. “So many people here all at once—High Point’s a security risk.” I looked at his face thinking he’d laugh at me for being gullible, but he didn’t smile. For the rest of the trip I watched the rooftops trying to get a glimpse of a sniper, but I didn’t see a trace. They must have been camouflaged or hidden behind things. I could picture them, though, scanning the crowds through their scopes. I wondered if all the buyers and vendors walking along the sidewalk in the shadows of the tall brick buildings, chatting and laughing, knew about the snipers. Maybe a sniper had me in his crosshairs through the bus window at that very moment. When we got to the hotel, Steve asked if I wanted to get a drink at the bar. Even though I wanted to be by myself in my room, the idea of walking into it alone made my stomach do a weird flip
flop and I could start to taste that metal in my mouth again. “Sure,” I told him, trying to sound casual. I wasn’t quite twenty-one but nobody seemed to care in High Point. The bar was crowded and noisy. A guy with a flushed face and rumpled suit was singing a terrible Karaoke version of “Love Shack.” Steve steered us to a back table away from the chaos. I ordered a gin and tonic because that’s what the adults in this story I read drank. I liked the way the words looked together on the page, and tonic sounded like something that could make you feel better. At that moment I just wanted something to make me feel better. The gin and tonic was pleasantly bitter, like a little bit of punishment for drinking something I wasn’t supposed to have. Steve got a cardboard basket of peanuts and set it between us. He drank whiskey Cokes and talked about the cities and towns he’d visited for work as I half-listened. I thought about school, spring break and my friends and how far away I felt right now. Like I’d just skipped those years and became an adult. Steve stood and waved toward the door. Mom stood fussing with the hem of a short black dress she must have borrowed from Angela. She waved back and walked over to us. Her eyes were shiny. I waited for her to scold me for being in a bar, but she didn’t. “Isn’t High Point fun, Krissy!” She put her arm around me like I was a friend. “Isn’t it a hoot!” She giggled. “Angela and I are going dancing!” She leaned in close. “Don’t worry, honey. It’s a gay bar. They’re so sweet!” She stepped away from me and turned to Steve and whispered something into his ear. His eyebrows arched and his mouth dropped open in surprise then he shook his head. “I’ll be late.” She turned and wove through the crowded bar, wobbling in pair of high heels. After she left I drank two more gin and tonics very quickly. Steve kept talking, eating peanuts and ordering us drinks. Time seemed both sped up and stretched out. Men and women came in and left the bar. At some point Steve moved his chair near mine. The heavy feeling I’d had on the escalator returned. “Let’s get you to bed.” His mouth brushed my ear. I shivered and nodded. Steve stood close to me in the elevator even though there was only one other couple—a large woman in a sequined dress nibbling on a man’s ear. The woman had hairy muscular arms and a cleft chin. I watched them in the elevator’s mirrors, pretending not to notice how close I was to Steve, unsure if I was swaying a little or if it was them. “Good night, y’all,” she whispered to us in a low voice and winked at me as she and the man stepped out of the elevator a few floors below mine. Steve followed me to the door of my room. I fumbled in my purse for the key. My heart pumped harder. It might have been fear, but it didn’t matter because my heart felt far away, part of some other body. When I looked up Steve was looking at me. He touched my arm. For a second I felt Kyle’s weight. No, I thought, and stepped closer to Steve.
My heart was beating terribly hard now but it was okay. I could feel every artery like a pulsing rope tying me to that distant place outside my body. I shouldn’t be upset, I thought, this is no big deal. Walking alone into the room would feel worse. I squeezed my eyes shut, put my arms around Steve and pulled him the rest of the way to me, resting my head on his chest like I was in a romantic movie. After a moment I let go and opened the door. We stepped inside. In the dark room we kissed again. His mouth tasted like whiskey and I wondered if my mouth tasted like metal. His hand slid down my back and rested on my ass. It’s no big deal, I told myself again, pressing my hips against him. I tried to conjure up the look of deep concentration on Rose’s face when I found them on the couch. If I remembered it clearly maybe I could feel that way. He patted my ass softly like the head of a friendly dog. My nose was running and I kept snuffling. We stood together like that for a long time and then he turned on the light. I sat down on the bed beside Mom’s open suitcase. Steve walked to the bathroom. I could hear him peeing and running the faucet. When he came back he handed me a box of tissues and sat beside me. “Kristen.” He looked sad and tired. There was a fleck of peanut skin stuck to his bottom lip. “It’s late,” he said, “and we’re both a little drunk.” I nodded. “You’ll be okay?” I nodded again. He went to the door, stopped with his hand on the knob and looked over his shoulder at me. “Good night,” he said gently. For a moment he opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something more, then shrugged and walked out. Mom’s skirt was flung over the back of a chair, a hand-woven purple scarf trailed out of her suitcase and her brown clunky shoes waited beside it. The room seemed to ring with her absence. I wished she was back with me now, even if she was crying on the phone to my father, asking him to please, honey, come home. Please. I turned the lights back off and looked out the window down at the street. So this is how it is now, I thought, I’m alone and waiting for someone to make me feel safe. And this is how it will be for the rest of my life. But even at that moment, I didn’t truly believe it. Far away a police siren wailed and I could see its faint red light swirling in the distance. I could see the muted shapes of people walking below me on the street, all the vendors and the buyers. I could feel the pane vibrate with the rumble of traffic and the murmur of people talking and laughing. The young, muscular men, the auburn-haired designer, the men spray painted gold, the drink cart man, even Mom and Angela at the club, dancing and high—they were all out there. And on the rooftop the sharpshooter squats peering through the scope of his rifle, alert and ready to respond to any hidden danger.
THE CHILD MOLESTER Just as a diver will visualize a dive he himself is about to make, he likewise sees the whole scene in graphic detail. The walk to the end of the board, the tiny pirouette, the arms horizontal, the back to the pool, the spring, the back flip, twist, the entry into the water, clean like a knife leaving almost no splash. It is a perfectly executed dive. He too sees it all. The candy, shiny through the wrapping, the multicolored presents, the actual couch in the apartment where the man lives alone, the brown stains on it. He doesn’t need forensics, magnifying glasses, hair samples, lab analyses. He’s visualized everything himself. He imagines a thicket of curly pubic hair, fingers entwining it, the softest down on the cheek, the little boy trapped, the moans, screams, finally a whimper. The man pudgy, doughy-fingered, redcheeked, almost like a cherub himself, middle-aged, puffing, having difficulty moving, breathing, but prodded by his desires that light up his whole body until he positively glows. The cajoling, the wheedling, the games to undress each other, the police officer has cataloged all of it, every move in his mind. He has children of his own. So he is horrified by what he envisions, but the visualizations persist against his will. The thoughts crowd his brain and torment him. He gets hotter under the collar. His clothes are ill-fitting lately, an inconvenience, a line of sweat trickles from his underarms, down his back to the elastic of his briefs. He pushes his spouse away when she is solicitous about what’s wrong. He can’t shake the pictures in his mind. They upset him too much. He is rough with her at times, then retreats further into silence. “Just leave me alone,” he says to her. He lives his job. “Round them all up! Get them off the streets!” “Hey Jack, take two,” someone at the station house says. It is his personal crusade. He loves children, is bound to their safety and welfare, can’t accept anyone taking advantage of them, gets ill over even the thought of it, the visualizations. They disturb his sleep, his relationship with his own children. He’s stopped spending time with them, doesn’t tuck them into bed anymore, and they’ve stopped calling out to him to come. He’s almost an absentee father scouring the streets for their protection.
His job has become a mission, a one-man crusade. He works overtime collaring what he calls the scum of the earth “to make the streets safe,” he says, “for our children.” He lapses into gloomy reverie even at parties. Has to be snapped out of it. Friends comment that he’s not himself, has taken his job too much to heart. He needs a vacation. But he’s afraid the street population of criminals will multiply with him gone, infest the whole city by the time he’s back. He’s needed to stop “the plague, the infestation,” as he calls it. He’s sitting at the house of friends, at the precinct, in his car staking out an apartment on the outskirts of town that he is ready to bust into on a neighbor’s tip. “Let’s wait for backup this time, Jack,” his partner says. Jack imagines the pudgy fingers at the last button on the little boy’s clothes. The boy is down to his underpants. The man is slipping his index finger around back and working the elastic down over the little round buttocks. Just then there is a flurry of activity in the police car, a 1045 call on a robbery in progress. And the police car speeds away to a convenience store on Hardwick. A man is running up the street, cash in hand. The cruiser pulls up beside him. Jack rolls down his window and takes out his service revolver. “Freeze,” he says, “or I’ll blow your head off!” The man stops dead. Crouches on the pavement and covers his head with the cash. “Take it, take it. Don’t shoot!” he whimpers. Jack jumps out of the vehicle and grabs the man. “Stand up, hands behind your back!” They handcuff him and book him. In a couple of hours Jack and his partner are back staking out the apartment. Jack’s mind continues the narrative. There is blood on the buttocks this time, a torn sphincter muscle, like a balled up leech trying to protect itself. The multiple corrugations pulled tight to prevent opening. The globes of the white bottom are streaked red. The little boy is crying. Jack holds his fist to his forehead. There is a static sound against the roots of his hair where he turns his head in disgust at what’s happening out there. He gets out of the cruiser. “Jack, where’re you goin’?” He walks aimlessly, then returns more silent. He’s visualized it all, a hundred times before. He can barely look at his own kids. It torments him, but the rare arrest also bothers him. He wants to get them all. Round them all up like sheep, pigs for slaughter, every last one of them, use a Gatling gun or something. Then burn down the whole smelly stockyard. Or erect his own crematoria to burn their genes out of the human race forever, stop the bloodlines of pederasts once and for all.
Jack imagines himself goose-stepping through the city, searching every last house, with the authority of swastikas on each collar, and on the streets rounding up suspect men with young boys, every last one of them! “Taking the kid to a movie, the park, a ball game. Yeah, sure. Tell me another one!” as he pushes their heads into the police car, crowds groups of them inside the paddy wagon. “Sweep the streets clean!” He imagines himself a Pied Piper. That’s what that tale was all about. Saving the children from molesters! He’ll boxcar every last one in the city. They’ll not know what hit’em, or where they’re going. They’ll be taken to camps all over the country that’ll be operated in secret to stamp out the gene once and for all, eradicate the vermin, an inferior strain of people, to remove the plague on all our families! “Greek love!” he laughs to himself, shaking his head, and has visions of marble statuary, lewd nymphs, young goddesses, boys with delicately translucent bodies where the light almost goes through the slender limbs, and the giant phalluses all broken off, smashed to bits, powdered like the Acropolis by the Turks. Jack imagines a simon-pure society, the removal of every sick obsession with body parts, and the preoccupation with youth. Sometimes he imagines everyone has designs on prepubescence, lowers his eyes and buries his head in his hands at the discouraging thought of just what he is up against. “You OK, Jack?” his partner asks. “Yeah, I was just thinking.” “About what?” “Nothing, nothing.” He can’t stand the mental picture, sees bloody leeches everywhere, dripping from billboards, the reddest lips holding cigarettes on the dry mouths of even coworkers he talks too. They must be saved even from themselves. He wants to do the cleansing himself, with sulfuric acid, something! But it is beyond him. It’s all over the city, and he can’t seem to stop it. The streets need hosed down, and he’s only one man on the force. Then they get a call, over on Gunhill Road they have word of a molester. A charge has been filed. The police car speeds crosstown. Sirens blaring, the blue light revolving. On the way Jack once again visualizes it all, relives the seduction. He’s seen it a hundred times in gross movements that make him almost shy away from his own children, suspecting molesters everywhere, sniffing out body fluids, their behavior on their clothes, on furniture fabrics, not making eye contact anymore. They get to 521 and are out of the patrol car in a flash. Jack is the first to the entrance, pounding on the door. “Police, open up! Police!”
He knocks, turns the knob, pushes at the door with his shoulder. The door is opened by a large pudgy man with red cherubic cheeks and gold metal-rimmed glasses. The shock of hair over his forehead gives him a middle-aged boyish look. He’s just like Jack visualized. He knows the man already, every feint, gesture, blink, the camouflage of abundant pink flesh. Jack is wiry, gaunt, and pushes the man inside his apartment, muscles him across the room. “We got a call on you, man,” he says. “You’ve been seen with a young boy? Taking him places, entertaining him here! In your apartment? Huh?” “Oh, Johnny?” “What’d you do to him? Where is he? Someone’s filed a complaint.” “I don’t know.” Jack pokes him in the chest with his forefinger, pushes him down on the couch. Jack is spitting epithets at the man, frothing at the mouth. “You scum, low life! Turn over, turn over! What I’d like to do to you!” “Jack, take it easy!” his partner yells, as Jack unhooks his handcuffs, grabs the man’s hands, and clicks them on his wrists. “What am I being charged with?” the man asks. “Molesting a minor!” “We just want to take you downtown for questioning,” the second officer says. The man is silent. He no longer bothers to defend himself. He remembers the times he had with Johnny. It seemed too good to be true. Taking him to the amusement park, the gifts, buying his favorite toys, food, their holding hands. His mother was rarely at home, and his father was always working, so Johnny spent more and more time with him. Many an afternoon they sat on the same couch and watched TV, talked, played games, the man read to the boy, helped him with his homework. On Saturdays he took him to the park. Occasionally the boy brought friends over, but mostly seemed to want the man all to himself. No, the man had no wife, and even met Johnny’s mother once or twice at the supermarket or somewhere, but she was unimpressed with the man and was just glad Johnny was out of her hair and behaving better lately. She didn’t question the money Johnny got, or didn’t seem to mind the time he spent away from home. The little boy was the light of the man’s life. He just enjoyed being around him, enjoyed his innocence, purity, grew in fact to love the little boy, his freshness, his quick responsiveness to the world, to the man’s tutoring, to the simple pleasure they took in each other’s company. And was the man attracted to the boy in the way the officer had so often visualized? The man probably didn’t know himself. Perhaps his desire was piqued by the anticipation of the boy
coming over, by seeing the boy, by being with him, sharing sweets, holding hands at the amusement park. That was the extent of their physical involvement. Had the man wanted to touch the boy further, and had he, both the boy and the man would have been confused. You might say that the man’s sexuality was at ground level, never plumbed or visualized taking a dive beneath that. There was no pool behind him or acrobatic back flip, no seamless entry into the water, no bloody sphincter leeches like Jack envisioned, no bottom breached. The man was the kind bemused by sexuality, for it seemed not to pertain to him or be an issue in his life. What was kept alive and visualized by the man’s neighbor, by Jack, had never occurred to the pudgy, pink man with a cherub face and gold-rimmed glasses. The man did speak of the boy to friends, describing the beauty of the boy, but to them it was almost marmoreal, for his limbs had the smooth polish of remote Greek statuary. His friends even joked that the little boy must have wings. But visions of statues can break, be smashed by the most unexpected violence, so too the man found himself on the floor of his apartment. Jack’s rage got the better of him. He couldn’t wait to book the man, for the trial, for court proceedings, the verdict, the incarceration, couldn’t wait for the boxcar, the gas chamber, the crematoria in his own mind burning with anger at the man. Couldn’t wait to reduce the pink flesh to ashes as his fist collided with the man’s jaw and sent him reeling backwards, crashing amidst not only the statuary of his own mind, but Jack’s preoccupation with every stain he already spied on the couch, around which he had sniffed like a police dog with the most sensitive snout you could imagine on one human being who can visualize every last detail of another man’s crime.
AN AUTOGRAPH FROM LEWIS BLACK AT THE PEORIA CIVIC CENTER The man on the floor is having a seizure. He writhes and groans. He shudders in rhythm. Both arms flop back and forth over his face and knock his cap off. His hooded sweatshirt rides up, exposing a pale muffin top. A woman wearing a red dress stands next to him and verbally reassures us as we stand in line waiting to get an autograph from Lewis Black. The janitors emerge and crisscross through the lobby. They roll yellow trashcans and mop buckets back and forth. They ignore the man on the floor. My friend Heather steps away from the line of people and shakes her head. “I need to go,” she says, and I follow her with my eyes as she walks across the carpeted floor and disappears into the women’s restroom, but I don’t really follow her. I wonder if I should check on her, but I don’t want to lean into the bathroom and call her name. I don’t want to lose my spot in line. The woman in the red dress kneels over the man on the floor. She inspects him. His breaths seep in and out through clenched teeth. People around me whisper about seizures, biting down, putting a belt in this guy’s mouth. “It’s okay,” says the woman to everyone. “He has a condition. This has happened before.” I wonder what I can do to help without losing my spot in line, but some guy in a flannel shirt solves the problem for us and calls an ambulance. He describes our location within the theater lobby to the dispatcher, who seems particularly interested in types of medication. “Is he on medication?” asks the Good Samaritan on the phone. “It’s something that starts with a Z,” the woman says. “I can’t think of it. It’s been a while since he’s done this.” It now occurs to me that I’ve been clutching my ticket in both hands, and now it’s wrinkled from my sweat. The ticket I had printed off to attend the show, that I would get signed by Lewis Black because the merch table ended up selling nothing but overpriced crap. A sheet of paper quartered by fold lines, cluttered with faded advertisements and a hazy barcode because my printer is low on color ink. It cost $70 to sit in the front row. This is what Lewis Black will put his autograph
on. I’ll end up throwing it into a folder or stuffing it in a box. I won’t frame it. Every time I would pass by a framed autograph from Lewis Black I would remember the man on the floor rocking back and forth. But I don’t want to lose my spot in line. We ease forward and I look over my shoulder at the restrooms, looking for a sign that Heather is okay, but she’s not there. We inch closer to the man, now more reminiscent of someone taking a nap than someone whose body has just betrayed him in a public place. I don’t hear his name as we approach, not when the EMT bends over and attaches a mask to him, when she asks if he knows where he is. An usher takes some items from the woman in the red dress and walks to the front of the line. He returns the items to her, now signed, but Lewis Black does not venture from his table to see what’s happening. The EMT asks the man questions and fills in the gaps for him when he mutters either the wrong answer or no answer at all. “You’re at the Peoria Civic Center. You were at a concert.” The woman in the red dress does not know the name of the medication and the man on the floor does not know anything at all. We pass by the unfolding tableau, seeing it from the opposite angle as we near the autograph table. The man on the floor stirs a bit and the EMT presses her hands against his shoulders and urges him to lie still. The guy in the flannel shirt looks up and down the line of people, maybe searching for the spot he gave up when he left to help. “Can we take you to the hospital?” the EMT asks the man on the floor. The woman is now on her phone and says, “No. That’s up to his parents. I’m calling them right now. They can probably come get him.” “Ryan,” the EMT says to the man. “You need to go to the hospital.” We move further along, the man and the woman and the EMT behind us now. I stop looking back and face the front of the line, finally catching a glimpse of Lewis Black, hunched over a DVD case, scribbling his name on it with a marker. Then I see Heather waiting at the front door, facing the windows, staring into the dark outside with her arms folded. I want to give an assuring wave, but I don’t know if she’ll see me in the window’s reflection. I don’t want to call her name in front of everyone. Lewis Black signs my ticket in permanent marker. It doesn’t look much different now than it did before. Still just a wrinkled piece of paper. Something suited to live its life on a closet shelf. I tell Lewis the show was great and then I go to Heather. I tap her shoulder and she jumps. “You okay?” “My dad was epileptic,” she says. I nod. I’ve never known an epileptic. I look back once more at the man on the floor and the woman in the red dress. She’s explaining something to the EMT that I can just barely hear as we walk out. I look down at the ticket again and back up at the woman. She talks and waves her hands. “I don’t remember the exact name.
It’s something that starts with a Z. This has happened before.” The man in the flannel shirt is now the last person in line.
© by Artist Bill Wolak; A Kiss Lighter than Mist; Collage
A THREAD OF UNENDING 1) Like a clear cool stream, her voice moves in the dark. She reads aloud: At the ancient, tile-roofed monastery on Mt. Heng in central China, Hui-Ssu, an esteemed meditation, master speaks to a hall full of monks. He says: ‘When we follow the Buddhist path, we look at our own mind. Look, look directly. Can you see? Whatever you see or sense is rising and falling, an endless stream of sounds and illusions. Nothing lasts. Nothing is real enough to sustain us. We are the shimmering surface of limitless
sea. We call it mind. Innumerable differences in time, sensation, place; these are momentary. Watch this and the flow of false ideas stops. You fall effortlessly through infinite space.’ That night Hui-Ssu dreams he is in a world of half-formed beings that gleam in the air and move like winds across heaven and earth. Filled with lust and pride, they fight, their sexual encounters are delirious, they sing, their music is beyond imagining. Hui-Ssu dreams he is nothing but a wisp of air, but deities sense his presence and chase him. He dreams he is seeking a place to hide. He hides in a cave, but it becomes a mountain demon’s mouth and begins to close on him. He is choked in the sulfurous steam. He escapes, hides in a cedar tree, but is suddenly engulfed in flames and smoke. Escaping once more, he hides in a lake, but a whirlpool drags him into the depths. Rising in a bubble, he flies off in the night air. He takes refuge in the womb of a barbarian princess and falls into dreamless sleep. 2) Here, the day is devoted to an intensity of metallic clatter, hospital noise, fluorescent light, words addressed sharply or with distanced gentleness, physical intrusions painful and not, fraudulent optimism, oh yes, well-meaning. No meaning really. No privacy. All the whirl addressed to a life that, sooner but really later, if ever, should return to normal. “You’ll be your old self.” He cannot move. He cannot change anything. Night, though punctuated with distant groans, occasional cries, pinging bells, rushing feet, night is solitary, unending, He knows there is no going back. Darkness is not still. His body moves sometimes. It is something unknown, never known. Memories flicker, dissolve. The night moves slowly forward. Small pains loom large with possible implications. Unknown. Then the flickering of wrenching fears. No turning back. Carried in a warm airless subterranean river moving forward with a faint hiss. Terrifying. Perhaps not. Calmly, steadily, she is reading aloud. Something different. 3) In the Spirit Treasure House at Isonokami are Celestial Treasures. They were brought from Heaven to Earth by the first ancestors. The gods have filled these Divine Embodiments with their being, power and name. In the Spirit House dwell the Mirror of Offering, the Mirror of the Sea Shore, the Mirror of Boundaries, the Eight Span Sword, the Ten Span Sword, the Seven Branch Sword, the Jewel to Give Life, the Jewel to Remove Life, the Jewel of Endurance, the Jewel of Increase, the Jewel of Sufficiency, the Jewel of Return, and cloths: the Serpent Stole, the Wasp Stole, the White Crane Stole. 4) The air smells of antiseptic. Why did she read something with almost no story? He lies in darkness and hears her read on the other side of the curtain. The sounds of nurses and carts and
the PA system summoning doctors only occasionally interrupt. The bedside light glows on the fabric and gives faint light. She is reading to someone he assumes is a man, assumes is her husband. It’s a ward for men. The man never speaks. From time to time, he expels gasses; sometimes he sighs. Undisturbed, her even voice continues. He lies in darkness and listens to her read. Is she thinking of her mute husband, even as he may now be dying? Is he silently responding to these words, drawn into a wider expanse of feeling? Emperor Kimmei received the elegant and well-dressed foreigners and their large entourage of monks, translators, calligraphers and craftsmen at his court at Shikishima no Kanazashi Palace in Yamato. It was early spring. The scent of snow on the mountains mingled with the smell of softening soil. The Emperor sat on a portico of the palace half-hidden behind a rippling, translucent, white silk screen. His court was assembled before him. The emperor’s three chief counselors sat one on his right and two on his left. On his right sat Ōomi (Great Imperial chieftain), Soga no Iname no Sukune, also known as Soga no Iname; and on his left, Ōmuraji (Great Deity chieftain); Monotobe Okoshi no Muraji, also known as Mononobe no Okoshi, and Ōmuraji (Great Deity chieftain), Ōtomo Kanamura Maro, also known as Nakatomi no Kanamura. The Emperor’s uncertainty, his impulsiveness were evident. The ambassador in dark blue brocade presented the tiny gilded bronze statue of a standing child Buddha, texts and implements. The Emperor had seen the gods embodied in swords, spears, jewels and cloth, but never had he seen a god in metal shaped in human form. He inhaled suddenly. He lies still in the darkness and listens to the sounds and words unfold. Familiar. Unfamiliar. Is she thinking of the effect these words may have on the one to whom she reads? Or is she simply reading something that interests her to assuage the boredom and sadness of sitting beside him? Is the one she reads to silently moved by all these words? Is he drawn as a stranger into these worlds? 5) She is continuing. It is another night, but it feels just part of some endless waiting. After the Emperor has received the Korean King’s gifts and the court has withdrawn, the objects are moved to an inner chamber. Late in the afternoon while it is still light, the Mononobe Lord, Mononobe no Moriya returns to look at them carefully. He examines the small gold child on the shrine. This creature is neither human nor deity, but it is so real, he expects it to move forward at any moment. It is not from his world. He shivers, looks around to make certain he is alone. He will not allow himself to be afraid. He reaches out with his right forefinger to touch the metal child. It is warm. He moves to the wide paulonia wood table where the texts are displayed. He kneels to look more closely. He has heard of reading but has never seen it done, nor does he himself know how to do it.
On rolls of golden silk, there are rows of black markings, almost beautiful in themselves, complex, tense, poised full of energy. He can feel the concentration of intention in these marks. Row upon row of alien designs stand before him. They are waiting to make their meanings manifest. He feels he is looking at a large army standing across from him in battle array, ready to attack. He has been told that men who know how, can interpret these signs just as a hunter can interpret tracks on the ground. But Mononobe senses that what the reader of these signs may learn is unlike what the hunter knows. It is not knowledge from this world or even this time. It is not knowledge attached to these mountains plains, lakes and streams. It has not flourished beneath this sky. It has not been sustained by offerings of grain and wine. It is not part of any man or any deity’s memory or love or need. And yet, this knowledge originating in a remote place and spoken by people now long dead can again be brought to life in a new land with new people. It has no living connection to this place and people, but it will occupy their minds and influence their actions. Like a plague from afar. Of this Lord Mononobe is certain. 6) Again it is darkness and silent. There is faint rustling in the corridors. But around him, there is no sound. In his body’s dark interior, he senses that there are caverns large and small. And on their unlit walls, he imagines markings, outlines of wild horses, vanished lions, and a small stick figure man with a crude bow marked in red. What wanderer or hunter or seeker of some other kind makes permanent these deep dreams of fleeting herds on the walls that never felt sunlight? In his very self? These caverns in the body, in its mind where still he explores, where still he hides, and which he forgot when he used to wander in the outer world. It is a place where he feels frozen by fear, where he does not know his own being or the purpose of its haphazard journey. There in those deep subterranean expanses, indistinct, vast subtle streams move slowly amid cold pools of strange unlit repose. Such explorations beneath the surface ameliorate the greater claustrophobia now, the unfamiliar and unwanted noise, the waiting for someone to attend to new pain, the need to drink, the strangled need to swallow, the blocked need to urinate or defecate, the pointless need to spit. All such powers now delegated to professionals, who are paid money and who work on schedules not convenient for anyone. The starving, hungering wanderer so full of needs, descending into the caves. From where her voice, steady, cool, almost matter of fact summons him, draws him out. He did not hear her begin. 7)
…husband and half brother of the Princess, the future Emperor Yomei, leaves her bed in the early night. She sleeps without moving or dreaming. Princess Anahobe lies in her bed. It is early morning, fresh and clear. She opens her eyes. A Buddhist priest from China, young, serene, with golden skin, glowing with golden light, is waiting by her sleeping platform. She opens her eyes. She is not afraid. The priest speaks in a voice that is melodious and soft, “I have made a vow to save the world. I need a pathway to enter the world so I might fulfill this. Could I then dwell for a while in you Highness’ womb?” She is overjoyed, wordlessly replies, “I accept. With all my heart.” The Priest’s form becomes a sphere of gold light. The Princess opens her mouth. The golden sphere enters her mouth warm and blissful; it fills her body with weightless ecstasy. Her pregnancy lasts a year. He lies in darkness and listens to her read. Is she thinking of her mute husband, even as he is now dying? 8) As he sleeps in his monastery in central China on Mount Heng, the monk Hui-Ssu dreams. He is born to a barbarian Princess far to the East. She is taking a walk through the palace grounds, and, as she passes near the stables, a horse whinnies. He hears the sound. There is a sudden shock. He finds himself lying on his back, cold, wet, naked. The grass is soft and fragrant. The air is cool. It is mid-afternoon and the light is blinding. He moves to stand. He has never seen her. Her husband’s bed is next to the door, while he is next to the outer wall with a shaded window. He often does not hear her come or go, begin or end. But it is always in the night when he becomes aware of her words. His own mind drifts to the notion of being, consciousness, bliss: unfettered things and a bridge across birth and death. He feels himself relax in large spaces, and he feels his heart open, almost painfully, as if he were a roadway for others, the ones around him, who are moving through their lives. Does her husband also feel this? Tears run from the corners of his eyes. “I’ll be back tomorrow.” Can she feel he is listening? 9) He lies in the utter darkness. The air moving in the darkness through his nostrils is hot and dry. There are sounds distant and muffled but somehow disconcerting. He cannot tell if his eyes are
open or shut. He thinks to move his hand slightly and cannot. He panics as he realizes he cannot swallow. With great effort, he tenses, does not allow himself to panic. He makes his breathing slow. He focuses his mind on his diaphragm, depressing it to bring air into his body, letting it rise to exhale. He realizes he does not know where he is or how he has come to be here. He has no memory. He has words; he recognizes that he has probably been in a hospital, but he has no personal memory at all. Opening his eyes makes the darkness uneven, with some parts thicker than others, slightly brownish. There is, almost straight ahead, a light behind a white cotton curtain, and a voice, a woman’s. A day must have passed. Maybe more than one. The voice is reading. 10) … at mid afternoon, as Princess Anahobe walks with her attendants through the palace grounds, she wanders past the gates of the Imperial Stables. She is tired. She hears a horse neigh, inhales suddenly. She leans against the cinnabar gate-post and without pain or effort, a male child emerges from her body. The small child stands and takes a step, then lies down on the grass. He gazes at her as if he knew her, and he falls asleep. As they carry him into the palace, a red light from the west shines down on him. His body smells like lotus flowers. This child hears nothing but the music of the world’s harmony, This child hears all, And there is no discord. All and all and all in sequences Unfold beneath him, Carry him in sequences of rise and fall. A drop in the air A shining star A cotton blanket A letter in many words Lantern light A bridge that crosses sixty rivers,
An eagle A boat in the ocean A drop in a rainstorm A sword A lacquer box A string in a harp. 11) He does not know if he is awake or if he is having an unusually clear dream. He is aware that a long expanse of time has passed. He is not experiencing any pain. He is neither frightened nor anxious. There is complete silence. His mind is empty and fills the space of the room with daylight clarity. Words are not drawing him into any form of life or memory. There are two hospital beds, two chairs beside them, two bedside tables with small bedside lamps. The curtain between the beds is pulled back. The beds are both empty, their sheets stripped. The room is clean. There is no one there. There is no one he will bring to life as he listens to them. 12) In his monastery in central China on Mount Heng, the monk Hui-Ssu is dying. His elderly attendant looks on anxiously. Hui-Ssu tells him: “The Budhha was a man who discovered awakened mind is unlimited by time or conditions. Wakefulness is living in every one, every moment, everything. The form of the Buddha passes through time and space and shows this.” Her voice is faint. He has become, as he lies there, a kind of theater. He cannot tell if she is reading or he is remembering her reading. His mind is a vast space, blank and dark. As words are enunciated, forms take shape in the darkness that is his existence. Spaces, men and women, animals, gods and light fill the air as she reads. That night, there is nothing, no muffled light, no voice, no words. The room is empty. He waits for them, waits to hear them, waits to give them life.
© by Royce Grubic; Christine; Ink/Digital
THE MOORS MURDERS I remember that the forecast said it would rain tonight, that the ground would churn itself up and wash away in a slough of muddy water, but not a single drop has fallen. No birds have sung, no people have walked past; since I turned off the engine the world has been completely quiet, and, even though I strain to hear any semblance of life, anything at all, there is nothing. When we first drove up here, I could see the acres of cotton grass stretched out in front of me, extending for miles, and the shadows created by the subsiding sun gave the illusion of so much more, a sense of forever. Then, it was gone, covered in thick plumes of fog, and suddenly every jagged rock became a ghost in the dark, grinning at me with shark’s teeth. It amazed me how quickly it all changed. In a couple of minutes, a lifetime of land was reduced to nothing. Everything living was gone.
It’s evening now, the sun has long been retired, though it’s only been twenty minutes since I parked the van up here, but then again we started late. My Gran used to warn me not to walk alone at night, not on the streets, not on the moors, not anywhere, never alone. I didn’t really understand why, but I do now. I know the reason for her looking at me disapprovingly through glasses stained with fingerprints when I walked home from school on winter nights, why she promised me every day that she would begin meeting me outside the gates so we could return home together. She never did meet me outside of school; she decided that I was too short and too androgynous for anyone to want to steal me off the streets, and even though she only chastised me for it when I came through the door and distracted her from whatever she was watching, she continued to warn me: never walk alone at night. I look around at the vehicle. The van is large and empty, but I’m not alone, so my grandmother’s caution doesn’t count. I’m not alone so I’m not breaking any of the rules that she set down for me when I was a girl. I’m not breaking any rules at all. I know right from wrong like I know the back of my hand and there’s nothing wrong with sitting in a van parked up on the moor on a Friday night. This is exactly what I tell myself as I sit here, my hands gripping the steering wheel so tightly that they’re white as sin forgiven. My boyfriend will be back soon and he’ll fill this void of loneliness that Gran cautioned me about. I know I love him. I love that he’s intelligent and confident and different, and he knows about things that my tiny mind can’t even grasp, though I try, and through this enlightenment comes an overwhelming sense of pride because whatever he has done I have done; when we’re together I can share in his achievements and I’m just as smart as he is. He has replaced the banality of my life with limitless freedom. I hope that he loves me, my boyfriend, and will marry me someday. I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the rear-view mirror, a soft smile on my face as I lightly touch the half-moon marks of teeth that lie disjointedly round my shoulder. These tokens of our romance extend down my chest and arms; the bruising bursts out in a panoply of colour, a shower of pigmented red that fades to plum that trails down to old yellowish blotches. I am a chameleon, and he is always teaching me how to change my colours. He is cruel and selfish. I love him. I check my watch. I wait. Tonight, I will go home and I will get into bed and I will sleep, but a part of me won’t be there. There is a part of me that I will have left behind. When I was a child, I was picked on fiercely, chased and pushed and pulled. In retaliation I learned to fight.
But tonight, I will leave that fight behind. I will submit. And when I pull away from here, I will see that child standing on the moor, the child who bleached her hair for fear of looking like a boy. I will see that child and I will leave her there, alone. Suddenly there are hands on the window, and it shudders and I’m cringing like a beaten dog. There is a scrabbling of metal and the fear in the back of my throat is back again, only now it’s mixed with so much excitement, so much apprehension, that it feels like it might bubble up and spill out over the cracks of my closed lips. The door heaves open and he, my boyfriend, swings into the passenger’s seat. He looks at me briefly, shaking and giddy and, infected by some dreadful contagion, I find that I am beginning to shake too. My eyes are bright and I am nauseous. I am fearful and sick and exhilarated because wherever he has gone, I have gone. Trembling, he picks up a towel from the footwell. Blood drips from his hands and his trousers are stained a sticky black. He looks at me. He is alive. “Drive Myra,” he says. And I do.
Mary McLaughlin Slechta MRS. ROBERTS
I ought to read to Mother. Truth is neither of us is what you’d call a reader. Too impatient. At home I’m impatient to have the garden planted by Memorial Day. At the clinic, where I volunteer, I’m impatient for sniffling children to move as far from my counter as possible. Right now I’d like to fast forward past the part when she holds up her arms. At eighty, my mother is a baby again, wetting her pants, needing to be coaxed with every forkful of mashed potatoes. I try not to make her nervous. If she’s the least upset, she jiggles her left leg and the nurse comes over. Nurse-of-the-Moment gives me the kind of sympathetic smile reserved for the addlebrained. She talks in slow syllables and strokes Mother’s shoulder like she’s rubbing the words into her skin. “Irene, you need to relax, dear.” How low the mighty have fallen. Poor Mother, who hated to touch or be touched, always Mrs. Roberts to neighbors and doctors and certainly nurses, practically purrs. Two months ago, outside my presence, she indicated Irene as her preferred name. Before I could correct the error, she had a stroke, leaving me the lone bearer of the family name. I’m more accurately a Miss but Mrs. seems to have struck a chord with these people. Mrs. Roberts. Aren’t nurses supposed to be curt, hurrying to triage someone or another? This one, squeezing into a captain’s chair like a trained elephant, takes over Mother’s feeding. “Your daughter is here,” she coos. “Isn’t that wonderful?” I’m about to answer for her, preserve the little dignity she has left, but Mother surprises me. Lifting the wrinkles around her mouth like the hem of a skirt, she gives a satisfied croak and settles the pleats neatly around the fork. It’s painful to watch her move her slack jaw, so I inspect the dining room. A few visitors, young, distracted on cell phones, have smaller versions tugging at their sleeves. Others, probably spouses, sag between sips of coffee, one fall away from admission themselves. I’m gratified to see the majority, middle-aged sons and daughters like myself, stifle yawns and check their watches. It’s well past noon on the first glorious day of spring. Interspersed among visitors are the ubiquitous aides in blue smocks, most of them West Indian, while an increasing number of the nurses are Filipino and Indian. I have no particular prejudice
but prefer the Americans, even this one with her cheap, false nails. As Mother used to say, “They have their world and we have ours.” To our left, one of the black girls stares down and moves her lips. At first I think she’s praying, but after she speaks to the gentleman beside her and repeats the entire sequence, I stretch my neck. She has a book in her lap. The man’s bloodless features reveal nothing, but the girl, her hair spun into fantastic braids, bursts into laughter. She covers her mouth quickly, but everyone notices, everyone lucid that is. Some laugh along as people do without even hearing the joke, others glancing over with curiosity. The girl smiles to show no harm was meant and moves closer to her patient, makes her body a sort of shield between him and the rest of the room. Believing she’s unobserved, she picks a piece of chicken from his lunch and pops it into her mouth. The nurse looks up when I gasp. I tilt my head discreetly. “Would you like a tray too?” she says, smiling at the girl’s furtive nibble at a roll. “Families are welcome.” “No, no. I’ve already eaten,” I tell her, when the truth is I’ve rushed straight from church. As for aides eating the patients’ food, I’ll complain at the next care conference. It speaks to a lack of supervision by the nursing staff and complicity, the motive of which is observable by the layers of dimpled flesh above the nurse’s wrists. “So, Mrs. Roberts,” Nurse-Bubbly wonders. “What do you think of us?” I’m tempted to speak my mind, except Mother, showing some vigor with her left leg, unsettles the water glass. To her credit, the girl hurries over with extra napkins to help with the cleanup. “Excuse me,” she says, indicating my sunglasses in the path of her housekeeping, and I save them from the machine-like blade of her arm. Casting a careful eye back at the old man, she bends seriously to the task, her strokes brisk and efficient as though making up for her previous deficiencies. She even engages in some parting pleasantry with Mother, who makes a small attempt of her own. “I like that girl,” I whisper as the nurse entreats Mother to try jello. ‘We all do,” she replies. “Has she been here long?” She thinks before she guesses. “She’s been coming at least eight years. You don’t often see that kind of loyalty.” Judging by her accent, I thought she might be West Indian and the nurse’s description confirms this: hardworking people, eager to please, like our Vera. Her braids remind me of Vera’s daughter, my little playmate, and our private picnics in the backyard. I realize she’s not wearing the standard uniform. “Is she private duty?”
Because Nurse-Idiot gapes like I have two heads, I explain, “I’m thinking she might be a capable companion for Mother. Take her for walks around the grounds…read.” Mother shakes that confounded leg again, so instead of an answer I get more clucking. “Enough, Irene? Ready for a nap?” She picks off mashed potato that’s somehow landed in Mother’s hair, then gently dabs her lips. I look away when Irene closes her eyes and actually leans into the touch. It’s a heartbreaking scene, one which Mrs. Roberts would never approve of, so I check the other table. The girl is gathering their things, and, perhaps agitated by her movement, the old man clears his throat like a former smoker. For just an instant, his animation and flushed skin make his wizened face almost normal. As the girl straightens the knitted blanket on his lap, tucking it around his hips, I can’t help but shudder at the spectacle of a once proud man reliant on the touch of dark fingers whose allure I long ago recanted. Vera’s girl and I were caught on the bed together, our hands braided in childish innocence. “Promise me, Clara-bella,” Mother admonished, using my pet name to make up for the slap and now the burn. She squeezed my wrist so my palm couldn’t escape the growing heat of the tap water. “Promise!” Not for a second did she believe my lie about teaching Rhoda the white and black keys of the piano. And I, certain my skin, already raw with scrubbing, would peel like a blanched peach, promised with all my heart. Slipping the book into her purse, the girl wheels the chair expertly in our direction. As I lift my chin to speak, the nurse nearly topples the table in her haste to rise. She has a line of sweat above her lip as though standing is the hardest work she’s done all day. “Grace,” she says, her fingers gripping the girl’s arm. “You’ve got a long drive ahead, don’t you?” Grace. I like that. Except her eyes water. It appears she’s had a family calamity right when Mother needs her. “Mr. Chambers,” the nurse shouts, bending to a face that’s lost its small flicker of life. As cruel as it sounds, one wonders how insurance companies afford this sort of vegetation, what it means to the cost of premiums for the rest of us. When Mother offers a small jiggle, I’m quite proud. “Mr. Chambers?” The girl stares down, ashamed, it would appear, of abandoning the old man. “It’s a five-hour drive,” she whispers, and the nurse, her wide frame wedged between them, lifts one hand to the girl’s thin shoulder and lays the other on the man’s, rubbing and stroking the two of them like poodles. “Mr. Chambers,” she persists. “We’ll miss her, won’t we?”
Ignoring Mother, jiggling furiously now, we watch his eyes squeeze shut and his face turn purple, as he lifts a bushy eyebrow as though it were a dumbbell. Truly astonishing. When he finally shows us a pair of filmy eyeballs brimming with tears, his affection speaks well of the girl’s commitment. Her departure must be an anomaly and not a pattern. If by her next words the nurse intends to sting me, to tease out someone to pillory, she’ll be disappointed. I’ve been trained by the best to give no such satisfaction. It could have been yesterday. “Fired?” Clenching hands, Rhoda and I peeked from behind the couch at her mother’s shimmering face as my mother, a placid mask of pressed powder, extended a long white envelope. “Let go is what I said, Vera. And you’ll see that Mr. Roberts included a generous bonus.” When Vera still refused the envelope, my mother quietly laid it on the well polished table and left the room. For days afterward, abandoned by my best friend, I traced my face in the table’s black surface. Nurse-Ever-Cheerful clears her throat. “Mr. Chambers,” she announces, loud enough to draw stares. “You have a wonderful daughter.” Then after a pause, “You too, Irene. Wonderful daughters.” The girl blinks like she’s seeing me for the first time and expects a formal introduction, but I have my glasses to retrieve and a purse under the table. Not daughter, I think, when I dare to look again and see all four lean in like flowers staked together after a storm. Orphan, for even Mother’s leg has stopped jiggling.
Literary Bios William Aarnes has published two collections; Learning to Dance (Ninety-Six Press, 1991) and Predicaments (Ninety-Six Press, 2001). His work has appeared in such magazines as Poetry, The Seneca Review, and Red Savina Review. Recent poems have appeared in Main Street Rag, Shark Reef, and Empty Sink.
Terry Barr’s essays have appeared in Hippocampus, Turk’s Head Review, Red Truck Review, Blue Bonnet Review, Deep South Magazine and Eclectica Magazine. He lives in Greenville, SC, with his family and teaches creative nonfiction at Presbyterian College.
Sheila Bender is the founder of writingitreal.com, an online resource dedicated to those who write from personal experience. Her books include the memoir, A New Theology: Turning to Poetry in a Time of Grief, the poetry collection, Behind Us the Way Grows Wider, and the instructional book Creative Writing DeMystified. Bender teaches online for several writing sites as well as at writers’ workshops and conferences around the United States.
Perle Besserman is recipient of the Theodore Hoepfner Fiction Award, past writer-in-residence at the Mishkenot Sha’ananim Artists’ Colony in Jerusalem and Pushcart Prize-nominee. She’s the author of the autobiographical novel Pilgrimage (Houghton Mifflin). Her short fiction has appeared in The Southern Humanities Review, AGNI, Transatlantic Review, Nebraska Review, Southerly, North American Review, and Bamboo Ridge, among others. For more info, visit perlebesserman.net.
Byron Beynon lives in Swansea, Wales. His work has appeared in several publications including London Magazine, Grey Sparrow Journal, Cyphers (Dublin), Kentucky Review and the human rights anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets). A Pushcart Prize nominee. Recent collections include Nocturne in Blue (Lapwing Publications, Belfast) and The Echoing Coastline(Agenda Editions).
Wayne Burke’s art has been featured in Portland Review (ME), Sheepshead Review, Flare, Grey Sparrow Journal. and elsewhere. He lives in the central Vermont area.
Yuan Changming 8-time Pushcart nominee and author of 4 chapbooks (including Mindscaping ), grew up in rural China, started to learn English at 19 and published several monographs on translation before moving to Canada. With a PhD in English, Yuan currently coedits Poetry Pacific with Allen Qing Yuan in Vancouver, Changming’s poetry appears in 1009 literary publications across 31 countries, including Best Canadian Poetry (2009,12,14), BestNewPoemsOnline and Threepenny Review.
Ryan Cordle teaches English and coaches girls’ basketball at a small boarding school in the Appalachian foothills. He is completing an MA in English and Writing at Western New Mexico University. When he’s not teaching and coaching, he spends his time whacking weeds and wrestling with his son. This is his first published work.
L.G. Corey has published one poetry collection, The Kalidas Verses. Another, Rats’ Alley Poems (which takes its title from The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot, to whom the collection is dedicated), will be published sometime in early 2016. In addition, his work appears in literary magazines such as Chaffey Review, Empty Sink, Poetry Pacific, Snapping Twig, Corvus, Screech Owl, Hot Tub Astronaut, and Pif. Over the years he’s also been published in Evergreen Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Midstream, Choice, the Critic,and Zeek. Corey turned 80 last November.
The artist, musician and sometimes masked vigilante known as Anna Davis uses computer code, video, photography, and mixed media techniques as well as performative and sound based elements in the creation of interactive installation art. She’s currently exploring themes of femininity, sexuality and motherhood in relation to culture, society, and literature, both past and present. Her art has been shown at the Chashama Gallery in New York, New York; International Symposium on Electronic Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico; Autzen Gallery, Portland, Oregon; The Commons Gallery, Moscow, Idaho; Dengerink Administration Building Gallery, Vancouver, Washington; the A-Space and McCray Galleries of Contemporary Art, Silver City, NM, and various local collaborations. Davis is an MFA candidate at Washington State University and received her BFA degree from Western New Mexico University.
Alissa DeLaFuente hails from the rainy Pacific Northwest, though she spent the bulk of her college years in the Tucson desert. She writes fiction and creative nonfiction. Her favorite animals are road runners and snails because of their (polar opposite) charismas. This is her first major publication.
Sara Dupree’s work has appeared in Alligator Juniper, Conclave Journal, and the Ashland Creek Press anthology Among Animals. She is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of North Dakota where she has received the Thomas McGrath award for poetry and the John Little award for fiction. She looks forward to raising Nubian goats after she graduates.
Uxue Alberdi Estibaritz is a writer and an improvisational poet. She holds a degree in journalism from the University of the Basque Country. She has published two short-story collections, Aulki bat elurretan, 2007 (A chair on the snow) and Euli-giro,2013 (Time of Chagrin), and a novel entitled Aulki-jokoa, 2009 (Musical Chairs) among others. She has also published children stories: Ezin dut eta zer? (I can’t do It, so?); Marizikina naiz eta zer? (I’m messy, so?) eta Txikitzen zaretenean (When you shrink).
Graphic artist and painter Allen Forrest was born in Canada and bred in the United States. He has created cover art and illustrations for literary publications and books. Forrest is the winner of the Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University’s Reed Magazine and his Bel Red painting series is part of the Bellevue College Foundation’s permanent art collection. His expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and postImpressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh, creating emotion on canvas.
Susan Gaissert’s essay “Home” won the Nonfiction Prize in the 2014 Burlington Book Festival’s Short Works Writing Contest and was published in Green Mountains Review. She is working on a memoir about growing up in the 1960s with her disabled father and caregiver mother. She blogs at susanflies.wordpress.com.
Sarah Ghoshal’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Empty Mirror, Arsenic Lobster, Winter Tangerine Review and Broad! Magazine, among others. Her chapbook, Changing the Grid, is currently available for pre-order from Finishing Line Press. You can learn more about her at ww.sarahghoshal.com.
Sue Granzella fell in love with writing at age six, but until a few years ago, she wrote only fiery union emails and speeches to her school board. She started taking writing classes after meeting an artist in Massachusetts who inspired her to give in to her passion.Sue teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her award-winning work appears in Citron Review, Hippocampus, Write Place at the Write Time, Lowestoft Chronicle, Prick of the Spindle, and Rusty Nail, among others. She loves baseball, stand-up comedy, hiking, road trips, and reading the writing of 8- and 9-year-olds.
Richard Krause’s collection of fiction, Studies in Insignificance, was published by Livingston Press (2003) and his epigram collection, Optical Biases, was published by Eyecorner Press (2012) in Denmark. Seventy of his epigrams are translated into Italian at Aforisticamente.com, an international website for aphorists. His writing has more recently appeared in The Alembic, J Journal, Hotel Amerika, qarrtsiluni, Fraglit, Scapegoat Review, and The Long Story. He teaches at Somerset Community College in Kentucky.
Sophia Luo’s artwork has appeared in Parallel Ink and the Harker Eclectic Literary Magazine, her school’s annual publication, as well as in public galleries, such as the Museum of Los Gatos Art Exhibition, where she was awarded the Judge’s Recognition for Theme. Her work has also been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She enjoys gifting her original art pieces to her teachers and friends. A native Californian, she is a student at The Harker School in San Jose.
Carol McCoy lives in Silver City, New Mexico. Her mother was a watercolorist and started her painting when she was young. McCoy attended Cornish Art School in Seattle, Washington. Painting cacti is one of her favorite subjects, due to the beautiful colors when they blossom. Her choice of a palette is Southwest colors. Sometimes besides watercolor, she uses acrylic, ink, colored pencil, mixed media.
John Milas lives in Illinois where he works and studies creative writing. His writing has appeared in Hypertext Magazine, Glass Mountain, and Eunoia Review. He loves chili peppers but does not recommend eating whole, ripe habaneros.
Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz is a writer and photographer. Her work has appeared in various online and print journals. She blogs (infrequently) about her creative endeavors at http://wwwonewriter.blogspot.com.
Christina Murphy’s poems appear in a wide range of journals and anthologies, including PANK, Dali’s Lovechild, and Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, and the anthologies From the Roaring Deep: A Devotional in Honor of Poseidon and the Spirits of the Sea, The Great Gatsby Anthology, and Remaking Moby-Dick. Her work has been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize and for the Best of the Net anthology.
Neela Nandyal received a M.S. in Geography from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and studied creative writing at The Loft Literary Center of Minneapolis. She’ll be spending the 2015-16 academic year living and writing in Argentina, Chile, and Costa Rica.
Douglas Penick’s short work has appeared in Tricycle, Descant, Agni, Kyoto Journal among others. He has written novels on the 3rd Ming Emperor (Journey of the North Star), the adventures of spiritual seekers (Dreamers and Their Shadows), and, most recently, a collection about cultural displacement (From The Empire of Fragments). Photo credit: Martin Fritter.
Gleah Powers traveled to Mexico City in her early 20s to attend art school and worked as a performer dancing on top of a baby grand piano in a nightclub act. When she returned to the States, she continued her art studies at California Institute of the Arts, after which she moved to New York City to pursue a career in theatre, studying acting, singing and dance. She returned to making art, and when the content of her paintings became more and more narrative, she turned to writing. At first, she wrote plays: monologues and one-acts which she staged with actors and directors or performed herself in a series of dramatic readings. Fiction and poetry became her next focus, receiving an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles where she is an adjunct faculty member. Gleah continues to make art and works as an alternative therapist and life coach. Her work has appeared in print and online in Canopic Jar an arts journal, KYSO Flash, riverSedge, The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Red Savina Review, Southwestern American Literature, Prime Number Magazine and other literary journals. Visit her website at www.gleahpowers.com Her complete art bio can be found here: www.gleahpowers.com/curriculum-vitae.html
Janelle Rainer is a 25-year-old poet, painter, and community college teacher living in Spokane, Washington. Her paintings can be viewed at JanelleRainerArt.com. She earned an MFA in Poetry from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.
Elizabeth Ray holds degrees from Morehead State University and the University of Kentucky. She works as a public health advocate for a nonprofit agency serving children, youth, and their families. An avid family historian, she finds inspiration and relevance in the stories of the past.
Tammy Ruggles is a legally blind photographer who lives in Kentucky. She is also a writer and artist, and her work has appeared in many literary journals, art magazines, and photography publications, such as Art Times Journal, Writer’s Digest, Photography Monthly, Smart Photography, Cassone, Saint Red, Disney’s Family Fun Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, allRecipes, Spirituality and Health, Graphis, Oitzarisme, LiftBump, FullTrain, GoodNewsNetwork, AOLRise, and others.
C.C. Russell currently lives in Wyoming with his wife, daughter, and two cats. He’s lived in New York and Ohio. His writing has appeared in the New York Quarterly, Rattle, Pearl, The Meadow, and Whiskey Island among others. He’s held jobs in a wide range of vocations – everything from graveyard shift convenience store clerk to retail management with stops along the way as dive bar dj and swimming pool maintenance. His short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and for inclusion in The Best Small Fictions.
At eighteen, Abigail Shaw spends most of her time studying English Literature at The University of Manchester, writing stories her parents will disapprove of and posting pictures of cats on social media.
Howard Skrill is an artist and art professor living with his wife and two children in Brooklyn, New York. For the past five years, Howard has created images of public statuary throughout NYC for the Anna Pierrepont Series. To find out more about Howard’s work, please visit howardskrill.blogspot.com.
Mary McLaughlin Slechta is the author of the poetry collection Wreckage on a Watery Moon. Her fiction was recently published in Workers Write! and Midway Journal, and she was guest prose editor for the anthology I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand (great weather for Media). A story previously appeared in Red Savina Review.
Louis Staeble lives in Bowling Green, Ohio. His photographs have appeared in Agave, Blinders Journal, Blue Hour, Digital Papercut, Driftwood, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Four Ties Literary Review, Iron Gall, Microfiction Monday, On The Rusk, Paper Tape Magazine, Revolution John, Rose Red Review, Sonder Review, Timber Journal, Up The Staircase Quarterly, and Your Impossible Voice. His web page can be viewed at staeblestudioa.weebly.com.
Jen Stein is a writer, advocate, mother and finder of lost things. She lives in Fairfax, Virginia where she works in family homeless services. Her work has recently appeared in Rogue Agent Journal, Menacing Hedge, Luna Luna Magazine, Nonbinary Review and Stirring. Upcoming work will be featured in Cider Press Review. You can find her on the web at jensteinpoetry.wordpress.com.
Internationally collected Richard Vyse has been featured in galleries in New York and Hawaii. He has studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York and taught at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.His art has been featured in Art of Man issue #19 and Leslie+Lohman Museum in New York. Please visit manartbyvyse.blogspot.com.
Ken Waldman has six full-length poetry volumes, a memoir, a children’s book, and nine CDs that combine original poetry with Appalachian-style string-band music. He tours nationally. More than four hundred of Ken’s poems have appeared in such publications as Beloit Poetry Journal, Manoa, Puerto del Sol, Quarterly West, South Dakota Review, and Yankee. His short stories have appeared in Gargoyle, Laurel Review, The MacGuffin, and almost a dozen other journals. Both his poetry and fiction have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes. Visit his website for more information: kenwaldman.com.
Karen J. Weyant’s poetry and prose has been published in The Barn Owl Review, Caesura, Cold Mountain Review, Poetry East, Storm Cellar, River Styx, Waccamaw, and Whiskey Island. Her most recent collection of poetry, Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt, won Main Street Rag’s 2011 Chapbook contest and was published in 2012. She teaches at Jamestown Community College in Jamestown, New York. In her spare time, she explores the Rust Belt regions of Western New York and Northern Pennsylvania.
Gina Williams lives and creates in the Pacific Northwest. Her poetry, essays, and visual art have been featured most recently in Carve, The Boiler Journal, Kudzu House,The Sun, Fugue, Great Weather for Media, Palooka, Whidbey Art Gallery, Black Box Gallery and tNY Press, among others. Learn more about her and her work at GinaMarieWilliams.com.
Dr. E. Williamson has published creative work in over 550 journals. His poetry has appeared in journals such as The Oklahoma Review and Review Americana. His artwork has appeared in journals such as The Tulane Review and The Columbia Review. He is an Assistant Professor of English at Allen University and his poetry has been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology three times.
Howard Winn’s poetry and fiction has been published recently in Dalhousie Review, Galway Review, Taj Mahal Review, Descant (Canada), Antigonish Review, Southern Humanities Review, Chaffin Review, Evansville Review, and Blueline. He has a B. A. from Vassar College and an M. A. from the Stanford University Writing Program. He is a Professor of English at the State University of New York.
Bill Wolak is a poet, photographer, and collage artist. His collages have been published in The Annual, Peculiar Mormyrid, Danse Macabre, Dirty Chai, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, Lost Coast Review, Yellow Chair Review, Otis Nebula, and Horror Sleaze Trash. He has just published his twelfth book of poetry entitled Love Opens the Hands (Nirala Press). Recently, he was a featured poet at The Hyderabad Literary Festival. Wolak teaches Creative Writing at William Paterson University in New Jersey.
Christopher Woods is a writer, teacher and photographer who lives in Houston and Chappell Hill, Texas. He has published a novel, The Dream Patch, a prose collection, Under A Riverbed Sky, and a book of stage monologues for actors, Heart Speak. His work has appeared in The Southern Review, New England Review, New Orleans Review, New Orleans Review, Columbia and Glimmer Train among others. His photographs can be seen in his gallery christopherwoods.zenfolio.com/.
Robert Zurer was born in New York City and has lived and worked there all his life. He has been drawing and painting since childhood. He is primarily self-taught although he studied privately with Wade Schuman for a number of years. His work may be viewed at robertzurer.com.