Page 1

Rubber Lemon Issue 2 September 9, 2010


Issue 2

Rubber Lemon

The Man on the Bench Karoline Barrett Julia finds the brochures on schizophrenia when she puts her husband’s socks away. They are stacked neatly under Daniel’s winter argyles and stamped with the name of his best friend, Steven Bauer, the psychiatrist. It’s not a good hiding place since she does laundry every Tuesday morning. He knew she would find them. What does Daniel want her to do? Julia doesn’t want to think about her find. It’s too much. She stares at the offending brochures. The words seem to grow obscenely bigger, shrieking at her. Julia doesn’t need to see the words; she knows what they’ll say, she knows all about schizophrenia. The questions spring from Julia’s mind like weeds and she can’t organize them. This is a big deal because of her sister, her dead schizophrenic sister, Sophie. Her heart clenches as Sophie’s face floats in the drawer in front of her eyes. Julia slams the drawer shut, the sound like a gunshot. Could God be this mean? What are the chances two people in her life would be schizophrenic? A shiver creeps down Julia’s spine. Her heart pounds violently as her thoughts splinter in a million directions. She can’t grasp losing her beloved husband. Julia picks up the phone. “Hi

sweetheart, I found the brochures on schizophrenia buried under your socks. What are you doing with them?” she will ask in a cheerful voice, as if she were only asking his preference between potatoes and rice for dinner. After the first ring Julia abruptly hangs up, and falls weightless on to their bed. The thought of asking him that makes sharp, inappropriate laughter bubble in her throat from nowhere, but she can’t help it. It’s the endearments that make her laugh. Julia doesn’t call Daniel sweetheart, honey, baby, or anything of the sort. Those words sound cheap. He’s always Daniel. She absolutely doesn’t want to face why those brochures are there. Yes, there are some things Daniel says lately that aren’t Daniel, he smells things Julia doesn’t, and he sometimes yells “What?” as if someone is calling him from another room, but not Julia because she’s sitting right next to him. It startles her badly when he does this, and he blushes self-consciously when Julia asks him who he hears. She knows something is not right. Julia tries not to notice. She works at not thinking. It’s not the right thing to do, but Julia’s not ready to live with another Sophie. Julia peels back the bed covers and curls into Daniel’s space in their bed. 2


Issue 2

Rubber Lemon Her head sinks into his pillow and she takes a deep breath, so his smell can float in her blood. This is where he makes love to her so tenderly that she cries with joy. I love you, Daniel, she whispers, and her mind carries her back to their first meeting, six years ago. A glorious, heaven orchestrated accident. Julia was having dinner with her mother’s best friend’s son. He was a gorgeous man (this according to her mother), whose name Julia can’t recollect; a Wall Street genius who drove a new BMW 7 Series every two years (this also from her mother). A man to die for (assured her mother). Her mother was clearly sending a message: “Please fall in love and get married so I won’t have to explain to my friends that nothing is wrong with my 37-year-old daughter who is still single.” On their first date, which also turned out to be their last, Julia met this man, with whom her mother was so enthralled, at a fancy French restaurant in Manhattan. Julia couldn’t even pronounce the dishes they served, never mind figuring out what they were. Halfway through dinner, her mother’s perfect man buried his head in his hands, confessed he was still married, and even though his wife had left him, he was still wildly in love with her. Of course she could understand why he couldn’t sit here with her one second longer, he asserted. He fled the restaurant, leaving Julia stunned and alone

with her un-pronounceable dinner and the bill. She recovered quickly: paid the waiter, left a good tip, and went outside, hoping for a cab in this miserable weather. The sheets of rain were coming down harder as the minutes went by. The corner was crowded with pedestrians, blurred together by the rain. Julia agreed to share a cab with the one man who stood apart. Julia still remembers what Daniel had on that night: navy blue pinstripe suit, blue shirt with white collar and cuffs, red tie. It looked perfect on him. He smiled. “Daniel Bellamy.” “Julia Miller.” The lights of Manhattan twinkled outside through the smeared rain on the windows of the cab, and for some unexplainable reason, Julia felt cozy and content in the grimy cab with a man who a minute ago hadn’t existed for her. On the ride to her apartment, Julia found herself telling Daniel about being dumped at the restaurant, her mother’s anxiety that Julia was the only unmarried girl in the family, and her job as an assistant to a bank president, which she hated. She was an artist, but didn’t make enough money to support herself with her art yet, and so she worked mostly at making sure her boss’s mistresses never ran into his wife, and walking his tiny psycho dog Polka Dot three times a day. Daniel laughed at her stories and Julia wished the cabbie would drive 3


Issue 2

Rubber Lemon forever. She fell in love with Daniel that night. Maybe even before the cab stopped in front of her building. He was shorter than Julia by at least two inches. He had faded scars from old acne that would never disappear, and they marred what good looks he may have had at one time. She could tell Daniel was self-conscious about them, but Julia saw beyond the scars into his heart. Daniel’s eyes were caring and soft, and they never left her face as she talked in their cab. “I’m sorry, my mother tells me I talk too much,” she apologized. But Daniel was an excellent listener. “I think you’re charming,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. Their hands, lying side by side on the seat of the cab grazed against each other, and Julia almost stopped breathing at the sweetness of it. Her attraction to him gripped her in a way she was at a loss to explain. It pulled at her, body and soul. She wanted to know everything there was to know about Daniel. “Please, come upstairs, I’ll make coffee. We can talk.” She hated the desperation in her voice, but she couldn’t subdue the fluttering in her heart, or the way his intense brown eyes heated her bones. She wanted him badly. Not just the sex kind of want, she wanted Daniel the man, all of him. He hesitated. Julia’s palms sweated and her head spun. She wouldn’t be prepared if he

turned her down. Did he think her strange? Should she assure him she was perfectly normal, just desperate to talk to him, be with him? Inviting a stranger to her apartment was dangerous, but Julia felt a bond with him that was achingly real and she knew in her soul that Daniel felt it too. There was not a thought in her mind that he would harm her. Daniel stared at her, looking as mesmerized as she felt by the magic in their cab. Then he agreed. Julia smiled, relieved. They went up the stairs to her apartment, where she made coffee and turned on music. The Bee Gees. “Talk to me, Daniel,” she begged him, loving the way his name sounded on her lips. Sitting next to Julia on her couch, Daniel told her about his life. His parents, both doctors, had loved and doted on their only child. He went to law school, and was now an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan. He had many male friends, had a few casual girlfriends in his past, and had only had one serious relationship. She left him at the altar a year ago. There had been no one since. “I’m not exactly a chick magnet,” he said and laughed. But it was a sad, bitter laugh that shook Julia’s heart. “You could have any woman, Daniel,” she told him softly. She was overwhelmed with emotion as she reached across the back of the couch to thread her hand through his 4


Issue 2

Rubber Lemon thick, soft, black hair. He wasn’t a stranger any longer, and it felt like she had been doing this all her life. “Look at my face. Do I have to say more?” he asked as his eyes searched hers. The look of yearning and hope in them almost made her heart crack in two. “Please, Daniel. Kiss me”. Her daring surprised even herself. Daniel shook his head no. “You can’t possibly want me, be attracted to me.” But Julia couldn’t wait and had already reached over to place her lips over his. Slowly, shyly, he cradled her face in his hands. They went no further, but they talked. About everything. Three months later Julia and Daniel were married. She quit the job she hated and started making wedding cakes for the bakery down the street while she worked at her art. Baking didn’t pay a lot, but it was better than walking a silly dog. Daniel said she didn’t have to work at all, but Julia didn’t want to sit at home doing nothing. She might have Daniel’s baby one day; thirty-seven was still young enough. For now, the cakes made her happy. Daniel made her happy. No one understood why the beautiful woman with the perfect figure would marry someone who looked like Daniel: short and squat, not handsome by any means. Julia loved him so much it consumed her; she didn’t care what anyone thought.

Julia shakes her head to erase her memories. Tears run down her cheeks. She can’t lose Daniel. Her world will stop without him. They love each other so well. They belong together. They’re one. Please God, don’t let me have to live through Sophie again. Once in awhile, Julia makes Daniel drive past the yellow house in Brooklyn. It was red when Julia, Sophie and the rest of their siblings grew up in it. It never stops hurting that Sophie is gone, yet the house goes on as if she had never mattered. Daniel never questions Julia’s desire to drive past her childhood home. Once in awhile he asks if she is sure she wants to. She always says yes. Julia knows he thinks she is rubbing salt in her Sophie wound. It was 1956 when Sophie became ill. Julia was thirteen. She couldn’t listen to Elvis Presley anymore on their record player because Sophie had taped shiny aluminum foil over the electrical outlets in the bedroom they shared. She thought voices came from them. “I hear voices blaring like Hitler in my head,” Sophie cried to Julia. “They scream that Sophie’s a dirty girl and to jump, jump, pink stinks.” Sophie wandered vacantly through their house, like a blind ghost. Julia tried to tell her parents about Sophie, but her father told her to be quiet, Mickey Mantle was up to bat. They never wanted to know anything was wrong with Sophie. Six months 5


Issue 2

Rubber Lemon later Sophie killed herself and then ceased to exist for all of them. Except Julia. Once she wrote a poem about Sophie. A magazine published Julia’s poem before it went out of business. She put the printed poem in a box in the attic, where it still sits. Julia leaves the warmth of the bed and forces herself to finish putting the laundry away. She grabs her red wool coat, takes the elevator down to the lobby of their co-op, and walks down the sidewalk. The man on the bench is there, muttering to himself. He’s usually begging for money among the cars that stop for traffic lights on Woodhaven Boulevard. He has such a horrendous limp Julia can’t look at him without her heart tearing. Daniel will never give him money. “What if he’s God come back to earth to see how people treat him?” she once asked Daniel. Julia sits beside the man. His clothing look like rags he’s pieced together from a dumpster. He’s dirty and smells. His wears green knit gloves, the kind that let his grimy fingers stick out. He rocks back and forth, now humming something that sounds like her favorite Simon & Garfunkel song. Julia stuffs a ten-dollar bill in his pocket. “What happened to you?” she

asks, shuddering to think of Daniel ending up like this. He ignores her and pulls the money she gave him out of his pocket and kisses it. His bloodshot eyes squint against the bright sun. “Where do you sleep at night?” she tries again. Her finger brushes against his coat, stiff with dirt. Julia closes her eyes for a moment, trying to imagine him in a tuxedo getting married, holding a newborn baby, bringing home flowers to a wife. “Where’s your family?” He doesn’t answer, so Julia gives up. They sit in silence until the man on the bench gets up. Julia watches him shuffle off, with that horrendous limp. His clothes hang from him like pieces of a tattered flag. He glances back at her. Julia waves. She sits alone for a little while, then makes her way back to the warmth of her home. She pulls the brochures out of Daniel’s sock drawer and rips them up. She stuffs them deep into the kitchen garbage can. She hopes Daniel keeps talking to Steven. Soon, Julia knows she will have to confront Daniel. Not today. She picks up the phone and calls him to ask if he would prefer potatoes or rice with dinner tonight.

6


Issue 2

Rubber Lemon

Simply Seek Him Kevin Heaton

The scholarly man searcheth for God in the depths of his intellect; soaring through the heavens and plunging to the abyss seeketh he him. But alas, in the descent, he loses sight of the light. See him through the eyes of a child, lest you dwell in confusion.

7


Issue 2

Rubber Lemon

Execution Carolyn Agee

To crucify the flesh is a long, painful death. Would it were severed by samurai sword or guillotine. Still, it remains where two selves wrestle. Perhaps, there is grace in the asphyxiation.

8


Issue 2

Rubber Lemon

Going Back Hugh Fox

Going back to every morning Mass for us Irish-Sicilian/Italian masses, remembering the dead, ingesting Jesus, putting a sacred veil across the whole day, always the commandments in mind, in spite of wars, gangs, crookedness spinning around like like schools of sardines and the fact that we WERE sharks under our THOU SHALTS and SHALT NOTS, never imagining breaking into a suburban house and killing Ms. Making It, or driving by kids out playing on the lawn and massacring them for the WHY-NOT? of it all, crucifixions and resurrections replaced by laptop omniscience, disbelieving in Sinais and the Sea of Galilee, as everything gets diabolically outsourced into other realities that have nothing to do with We-Ness, Do-Ness, Harvesting-Our-Doing-Ness.

9


Issue 2

Rubber Lemon

The Beginning of a Love Song—Genesis 3:11 Abigail Knutson Children, why have you believed you were bereft? Who told you of the bite that brought curses tumbling to our garden’s door? We can walk no further face to face. Lured by the lie that there was more outside my way, you left for dusty lands where knowledge proves desire can exist where nothing grows. Your children will be born in this longed for place of more where sorrows multiply and hungers thrive, where struggle against flesh begins with screaming push into existence, where toil demands your sweat, your dust, your need for bread. Were you not convinced that I created everything? Certainty will come with swift embrace of thirst, and cold, and pain: one step outside my goodness is less than fullness, less than life, amounts to certain, coming, pounding death. But I have only just begun to sing. Yes, I will love and long for you until my fullness fights its way to break through your empty need and create eternal life within the confines of a day.

10


Issue 2

Rubber Lemon

Peace of Mind Erik Estabrook

Walking on my toes, earth tones and blues, If only I could live a day as every waking hue, Peace is on my mind, yet there’s people taking aim, People taking shots, people pointing fingers, In people’s traps we’re caught, But it’s your duty to share that piece of mind, Share it on down the line, Earth tones, alight the dawn, I paint the skyline I’m walking on, It was so simple; use your own intuition, Then allow God’s grand vision, Use your eyes to see the troubles that lie beneath, Then use your voice in poet speech to repair the bridges, And restore their sheen.

11


Issue 2

Rubber Lemon

Opening Remarks David Cotrone

I think I know the way That’s beyond Where I’m going, Past where I’m calling from and in-step With who I’m trying To be Away from the silence, and even the storm— From the ships on the sea Here’s to the little brothers And the older sisters And to the radioman who Speaks to anyone willing To listen And the listener who waits For music To play Here’s to the architecture The Monday morning dog-walker And to Main Street And here’s to lonely afternoons And nights And weeks And to spinning Spinning Spinning On an Earth who is trying to stand still And here’s to finding the way Beyond where I’m going Right to where I’m calling from

12


Issue 2

Rubber Lemon

Children in the Sky Michael Lee Johnson

There is a full moon, distant in the sky tonight, Gray planets are planted on an aging white face. Children, living and dead, love the moon with small hearts. Those in heaven already take gold thread, drop the moon down for us all to see. Those alive with us, look out their bedroom windows tonight, smile, then prayers, then sleep.

13


Issue 2

Rubber Lemon

It Was A Mistake Terry W Ervin II It was a mistake when the guidance counselor placed my honors student mother in Basic Sophomore English with my father, who happened to be repeating the class. It was there they met, setting into motion a series of mistakes leading to my birth, and ultimately to my death. Once they began dating, my mother’s grades suffered until her aspirations matched those of my unmotivated father. Jenny’s parents disapproved of Jason and forbid her from seeing him, but both worked and were unable to keep tabs on their daughter. For a year my mother’s life spiraled out of control, culminating in the second mistake—alcohol after prom followed by condomless hotel sex. My father always bitched about that night, the one that resulted in my conception. My mother, a Junior, and my father, still a Sophomore, were nowhere ready for parenthood. It was a mistake when my mother’s parents blew up upon discovering their daughter’s pregnancy. My mother compounded the mistake by promptly moving out and into a dive apartment with my father, who’d just turned eighteen. My mother’s parents went to court, forcing their daughter’s return home. But Jenny and Jason abandoned everything, hopped a bus out of town, and never looked back.

It was a mistake when my parents both quit school and took jobs at a diner, she as a waitress and he as a dishwasher, to make ends meet. Predictably, Jason fell in with the wrong crowd, dragging Jenny down with him. My father began selling drugs, mostly marijuana at first, to pay the bills. My mother smoked her first joint while five months pregnant. It was a mistake—along with morning cigarettes and caffeine-laden coffee following nights of hard drinking. When he wasn’t out running with his boys, my father cursed and slapped Jenny around for drinking and pot smoking behind his back. His abuse was a mistake as was her refusal to leave him. Instead, Jenny sought out even harder drugs, and her crack addiction caused my premature birth. It was a mistake when my mother ignored the hospital social worker’s advice, and my father’s demand, and refused to put me up for adoption. So began my life, subjected to poverty, crime, neglect and squalor. An undercover cop arrested my father for drug possession with intent to sell before I was six months old. The lenient judge made a mistake when he suspended my father’s sentence. He compounded the mistake by assigning Jason to a burned-out parole officer al-

14


Issue 2

Rubber Lemon ready struggling with an overwhelming caseload. That allowed my father’s return to his escalating violent and criminal behavior. A concerned neighbor in our project apartment called social services on my mother for child neglect. The investigating caseworker recommended my removal, but Jenny pleaded her sad case. She promised to follow through on the court-mandated drug treatment program—as soon as an opening became available. It was a mistake when my custody was returned to my mother. Within an hour she left me stuffed in a black closet piled with filthy clothes, greasy pizza boxes, and empty beer cans crawling with roaches. The neighbors couldn’t hear me screaming for my mommy, while she raced off to feed her drug cravings. That night my mother overdosed on heroin. I liked to think it was a mistake. Child Protective Services found me the next day and assigned my custody to my father’s parents. It was a mistake that anyone at the county offices could’ve figured out if they’d have spent ten minutes with them. My grandfather was a loud, rampaging alcoholic living off disability and my grandmother was a poorly self-medicated bipolar mess. After two years of neglect accented with frequent bouts of beatings and abuse, and with my father drifting in and out of jail and my life, the courts finally placed me in foster care. That might not have been a mistake if they’d have stuck

me with a decent family. My first foster parents took in kids for cash rather than love or a desire to care for children. They fed and clothed me, barely, along with two other foster kids and their own two brats, until the landlord finally took notice and booted them. I guess he didn’t care for my foster parents’ eight scrawny cats pissing and spraying all over his house. Maybe more than a single litter box cleaned more than once a month would’ve helped. By the time I was old enough to count and add, I’d lost track of how many foster families I’d stayed with. I’m sure they blamed everything on me. I was mean and out of control. I spent my time tormenting family and neighborhood pets, especially cats. Everyone said I had anger and attachment issues. The string of families ended when a foster parents’ teenage son tried to get frisky with me. I took a butcher knife after him, but of course nobody believed me. I ended up stuck in a run-down orphanage. Everyone there was either a mentally screwed-up hardship case or a juvenile delinquent destined for a cell number. I guess I was both. Maybe it’d have been different if the orphanage hadn’t been staffed with ill-trained house parents, over-worked therapists and god-complexed psychiatrists. Probably not. At school, it was a mistake for me to steal, fight, and cut classes. I got

15


Issue 2

Rubber Lemon suspended and eventually expelled from every school district they sent me to. I never learned to read much past the fifth grade level, and I couldn’t tell a fart from a fraction. Out of the blue, when I was sixteen, a foster family took me in. They were pretty decent with me, even though I treated them like crap. They had no pets and no children. The mom was smart and tried to home school me using computers and dragging me around to libraries, museums, concerts, zoos—everyplace. But those foster parents figured on rules and curfews, and tried to enforce them. So I stole their jewelry and old collector coins and skipped town, on a bus like my parents did, never looking back. It was a mistake. I kicked around from state to state, busting into houses, robbing a gift shop here and a hardware store there before moving on, always keeping one step ahead of the law. It was a mistake when I quit working alone and began running with a couple of crack-heads, Pillbox and Ricky. They were clowns, but Ricky always knew where to fence stuff and Pillbox knew where to find girls needing a fix. Most of them weren’t too pretty, but flashing a few bucks got me anything I wanted. One night Ricky wanted to stop at some carry-out to get some smokes. Once inside Pillbox decided to rob the place. He pulled a knife on the wrinkled

old man behind the counter. The old fart pulled a gun and stuck it in Pillbox’s face. That was a mistake. He should’ve shot me first. Being a loud-mouth wuss, Pillbox was too chicken to stab anybody, anyways. And Ricky was so high he couldn’t even find the safety on his prissy .22 caliber pistol. Me, I didn’t hesitate shooting the old bastard. Got him right between the eyes with my 9mm Beretta I’d stolen back in Arkansas. I made a mistake not skipping town that night. I thought Ricky and Pillbox were dead, but I was wrong and they ratted me out, trying to save their own asses. Cops broke into the motel room the next morning while I was showering. It was a mistake when I didn’t take my thick-lensed public defender’s advice and plea bargain. I didn’t want to spend no twenty-five years in prison. Cussing and spitting at the caneshuffling widow when she pointed at me in the court room, calling me a murderer, was a mistake. The jury came back with a conviction on all counts after deliberating all of two hours. They recommended execution. The judge agreed. My appeals failed and the governor didn’t even feign consideration of clemency. It was a mistake to spit in the priest’s face, even as he prayed for my soul. Not until the first injection, to relax me before the lethal dose, did I come to realize the blurred line where the mistakes of others, those that’d placed my

16


Issue 2

Rubber Lemon

life on this dead end-road, had become his worn leather Bible while praying for my own. me, and said, “I’m sorry, Father. It was I looked up at the priest clutching my mistake.”

Contributors Carolyn Agee is a writer from Oregon. Karoline Barrett was born in upstate New York, but has lived in South America, Indiana, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. She now lives in Connecticut, is married, and has two sons. She loves her family, writing, reading, chocolate, traveling, being near the water, and anything that has nothing to do with math! David Cotrone Terry W Ervin II is an English teacher who enjoys writing science fiction and fantasy. He is an editor for the speculative fiction magazine MindFlights and a guest contributor to Fiction Factor, an ezine for writers. His short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies, magazines and ezines including The Sword Review, Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, Abaculus III and Distant Passages Volume 2. Gryphonwood Press released his debut fantasy novel FLANK HAWK in October 2009. Erik Estabrook Hugh Fox is a poet, scholar and critic. According to BL Kennedy, he has “long been a legend in the annals of contemporary American poetry, a poet who is unafraid to explore the deeper fodder of the human psyche...” (Rattlesnake Review #9, Spring 2006) Kevin Heaton has appeared or is forthcoming in Sacred Journey, MB Herald, Foliate Oak, Elimae, Grey Sparrow Journal, Kansas Poems, Calliope Nerve, Counterexample Poetics, Right Hand Pointing, Hanging Moss Journal, Reunions Magazine, Little Balkans Review, and others. 17


Issue 2

Rubber Lemon

Michael Lee Johnson is a poet and freelance writer from Itasca, Illinois. Abigail Knutson has appeared in The Summit Avenue Review, Utmost Christian Writers, The Rivulet, Haruah: Breath of Heaven, SNR Review, and others.

18

Rubber Lemon issue 2  

More Christian poetry and short fiction

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you