f ebr uar y 2013
[y ou rwor d s , y ou rwa y]
Sadl y, notar eal pr oduc t !
Wr i t er s Phone
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
Issue 12, February 2013 Editor-in-Chief Craig A. Hart Cover Design Paul Brand
Published by Sweatshoppe Publications 1
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
The Rusty Nail CONTENTS Captain Swift by Thomas Pitre, Page 3 Retire by Ali Zahiri, Page 4 sober by John Grochalski, page 4 Swimming Underwater by Raymond Cothern, Page 5 Eclipse by Brandon Egervari, Page 7 A Room of His Own by Conda V. Douglas, page 8 Ben Peters by Onyekachi Iwu, Page 9 Marriage Mirage by M. Farooq Malik, Page 10 Misty Existence by M. Farooq Malik, Page 10 Sixteen Again by Reem Rashash-Shaaban, Page 10 The Gloves by Loukia M. Janavaras, Page 11 Atomic Heart by Loukia M. Janavaras, Page 11 Volvelle by Loukia M. Janavaras, Page 11 Never Could Forget a Voice by John Matthew Whalen, Page 12 Out of the White by Kip Hanson, Page 13 Killer Voice Mail by Peter McMillan, Page 14 Wandering by Barbara Johnson, Page 15 Cat by Gregory Zorko, Page 15 My heart by Gregory Zorko, Page 15 Vegetables by Gregory Zorko, Page 15 Still Waiting for My Enemy by Ian Holmes, Page 15 Vincenzos by Terri Kirby Erickson, Page 16 Rose by Terri Kirby Erickson, Page 16 Unfamiliar Territory by Anne Britting Oleson, Page 16 Weathering by Anne Britting Oleson, Page 16 Mourning Mordecai by Joe Kilgore, Page 17 Lilith Is Dead by Jasmin Paz, Page 20 Dysfunctional by Peter Lingard, Page 21 Pictures, Movies, Stories by Jessu John, Page 24 If I could boomerang the truth by Elizabeth Beck, Page 25 What Any Mother Would Do by E. Lane Keller, Page 26 Life’s a Mystery by BD Feil, Page 29 Selections from Hard Times Galore by Patrick Vincent Welsh, Page 32 Going Down To Wall Street by Phillip Larrea, Page 33 No Team In I by Phillip Larrea, Page 33 Luxury by N. J. Campbell, Page 34 Picasso People by Amy Hetland, Page 35 At the Fair by Amy Hetland, Page 35 The Boys by Derek Neville, Page 36 Bus Stop by Craig Miller, Page 40 A Room Of One’s Own by Rod Peckman, Page 42 Lifeskills by Hannah Thurman, Page 43 A Nail by Caleb Gannon, Page 45 Secret Language by Donald Ishikawa, Page 45 The Figure Skater by William Falo, Page 46 La petite mort by Sabriel Parker, Page 48 The Birds Did Sing…by David Elliott, Page 49
Gulls by Emily Rose Cole, Page 51 Momentum by Emily Rose Cole, Page 51 My Son, the Parrot by Justin W. Price, Page 52 The Roots of Home by James Orr, Page 53 Miss Bunnlever Meets Mister Leominister by Dennis Brock, Page 54 Insanity by Ashwin Arun, Page 55 The Shed by Susan Alongi, Page 56 Curiosity by Ashwin Arun, Page 57
The Rusty Nail Staff Editor-in-Chief Craig A. Hart Associate Editor Dr. Kimberly Nylen Hart Graphic Design Editor Paul Brand www.rustynailmag.com firstname.lastname@example.org @rustynailmag
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
His dog, "Zeus", a 93-pound Alsatian, is great at "flushing" intruders, so the new, studded collar he bought for him is appropriate. Swift’s wife, Emily, is thin and nervous, mainly due to Swift’s frequent alerts and drills. He might jump up and surprise the family at dinner, blowing a compressed air horn he keeps clipped to his web belt. On cue, everyone is to run and take their post, ready for action. Emily’s task is to take up her weapon, check the clip, pull a round into the chamber, put on her helmet and bulletproof vest, and go to her post by the back window, where she blows her whistle twice to signal that she is on post and ready to fire. Swift has family drills a couple of times a week, and Emily is never prepared. She has told a few of her oldest and closest friends about the drills since it bothers her so much. She said something recently…against all security protocol that Swift has put into place. If he got wind of it, he would punish her, as he punished his oldest boy for saying something at the hardware store. One day they were buying locks and lengths of chain for some of the gates, and Billy let something slip about “the compound”. He went without food and water for three days, locked in his room. Swift monitors all kinds of news broadcasts and a dozen or more networks and BLOGs. He likes to stay current on urban warfare, self-medical help, food stocks and a number of related topics. He communicates with the editors of the BLOGS, using a fictitious name, and masking anything that would indicate where he lives. He writes about new perimeter gadgets that he has cobbled together, asking about lethality and range. He posts to sites more to tout his skills and brag than to honestly seek any help or advice from others. Known online to others in the movement as BlowHardest, behind his back, he is read mainly for entertainment by hundreds of other survivalists. We read of his passing this week. A victim of one of his own booby traps on the NorthEast corner of his fenced land. He had been placing some charges under a large tree, when he set off one of the charges, accidentally, by letting his cell phone ring long enough to roll over to the number he used to detonate perimeter protection. They found his bits of his safety glasses, a couple of molars, and the buckle of his web belt lodged in a tree, twenty yards from the explosion. His dog must have sensed something, as Zeus was a safe distance away flushing squirrels from their hideouts, when the booby trap was triggered. Mrs. Swift sold the house, and she and the kids moved into a nice condo near town with room for the dog. She was never happier and more relaxed. ●
Captain Swift by Thomas Pitre
aptain Swift has no military experience, nor did any of the Swift family before him. They all had bad feet or lordotic backs. One escaped the mid-60’s draft by hurriedly getting married, and escaping to Canada, while another wore the same underpants for two months, didn’t wash or use tissue, and presented the examining physician at the armory with one of the most ghastly sites and hypnotic stenches he had ever witnessed. He was not only not accepted due to hygiene, three of the examining panel marked him unfit based on the cursory psychological evaluation he got before they herded him out of the building, giving him bus fare to find his own way home. Granted his love of weaponry, his political affiliations, and the untoward fortification of his beachfront retirement home, Swift earned the moniker. He was a retired technician, with plenty of disposal income, the brains to cobble awesome gadgets together, and the time to do it. Captain Swift believed we needed to prepare ourselves. “We must prepare ourselves for civil unrest and lawlessness” that he is positive will come. He was determined to play a more direct role in his family’s survival and welfare. He avowed that arming yourself and the family is an obvious first step. Swift’s Russian made AK-47 has an important role in intermediate defense in his compound, “up to 30 yards”. His is chambered for 12 gauge shotgun shells, and can hold 30-plus round magazines. It's a modern day "street sweeper" which normally operates in semi-automatic mode, but full auto is possible. His Kalashnikov is only part of the arsenal; others being smaller and deadlier at close range. A Taser is usually not deadly with low current, but when Swift hacked and beefed up his to pass more than 20 milliamps through the heart, he was satisfied that the effects would be permanent. He has purchased, and developed remote sensing devices like: trip alarms, microwave, infrared and ultrasonic Doppler sensors, cameras and other units that can be easily remotely operated. They can deliver their signal in a number of ways, including the electromagnetic spectrum, to provide a silent alarm. Swift believes that if conditions get serious enough, a battery of energetic materials will be needed. Example: TATP and HTMD (peroxide-type explosives) along with less risky substances that are commonly available. Thermite, can burn through most anything, including steel plate. It’s made out of commonly available materials, is not hygroscopic but tricky to get started, particularly by remote control. Good solutions are available and thermite is not illegal to own. He says, that “If you're motivated, you'll succeed by researching and practicing.”
• • • Thomas Pitre lives West of Seattle, quietly, with his dogs, pruning shears, and flannel shirt collection. A retired educator, having published several books, including poetry, prose and digital photography, Thomas maintains a writer's BLOG at: http://fifthcoffee.blogspot.com
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
shit, i’d probably have to go back eight or nine years the last time that happened
Retire by Ali Zahiri
while he rants and raves i wonder if i’ll make it to three days
Thomas retired seven days ago. After thirty years of selling small-engine airplane tours in Alaska he now rests at his humble one-bedroom apartment in Anchorage. His time is now spent accompanied by his wife of twenty-three years. “I’m so happy you’re retired. I can finally have you all to myself,” she said. “I have so much planned for us. We can go on that cruise we’ve always talked about. Oh, and take that dancing class together!” She sets down a cup of tea right next to him on the dining table. Their dining table only had two chairs, there was never a need for more. “Just like you like it, a little honey and a dab of milk.” Thomas tries to speak but is interrupted before he can say a word. “Oh, I forgot to tell you! I ordered takeout from our favorite restaurant, Kim’s China Delight. It’s probably ready. I’ll go pick it up,” she said without breaking her smile. She grabbed her purse and left out the front door. Thomas grabs the newspaper and makes one phone call. He leaves his apartment only thinking how much he dislikes rice. He shuts the door with the untouched cup of tea still resting on the dining table. The steam begins to fade away. ●
four days a whole month it seems like it might not happen though with the way my day is going first the headphones die on a morning walk then the apple on lunch was rotten and now this pointlessness but i have to be made of stronger stuff that that i keep eye contact with him but he keeps looking away from me though he’s still pointing his finger in my face and his old lips are flapping there’s spit flying out of the side of his mouth and his yellow teeth are grinding like stale gears i breathe him in like acrid air
• • •
his murderous gate his wasted diatribe
Ali Zahiri is a graduate of the creative writing program at Arizona State University and has been privileged to work with some great writers and professors. Outside of that, he would describe himself as dapper.
then i stand to meet him man to man i think again on those two days without hangovers and with blessed sleep i tell myself that i’m the hero in this story unstoppable immovable
sober by John Grochalski i sit there looking up at him
and in this story it would have to take something much stronger than this bloated blob of flesh
i’m going on two days now but he doesn’t know this
to make me head for the hills in shame losing this epic battle of will.
if he did, maybe he wouldn’t be yelling at me pointing at me his wrinkled-ass finger almost up my nose
• • •
making up bullshit accusing me of this or that telling me how i don’t respect him telling me how if he killed me no jury on the planet would convict him two days sober, i think 4
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
by Raymond Cothern
aughter dying and I'm mentally clipping newspaper articles. Been doing it for years. Some are gruesome dealings like the lady soprano in Metairie who hacks up her best friend in the church choir because best friend is having an affair with the soprano's husband. Choir-mates. Both women, soprano and alto, faces upward, concentrating, the name of the Lord on their lips as they strain for clear notes. The description in the newspaper article of the polished kitchen floor is about the detectives slipping on the waxy tile from all the blood. Another clipping concerns a pregnant woman visiting the French Quarter who is shot in the stomach, bullet lodging in the brain of the fetus. Labor is induced, then baby undergoes surgery. Both okay. Random shooting not yet solved. Interest never waning in the dark dealings of human misery, the newspaper so filled with death, dismemberment, the reason for collecting them because of the oddity losing its appeal in sheer volume, clipping articles becomes even more selective. Humor and irony rule. The darker and funnier the benchmark the better. John Lewis Jones tells judge and jury that a voice from the dead told him to rob Max's Superette in Fat City. He loses the case when he adds that the voice also told him he could keep the money. Or these headlines: Bible-quote contest loser sought in killing. Golfer hits hole-in-one, drops dead in Mass. Assistant coroner commits suicide in autopsy room. Mugger hits mob boss's mother, 94. Woman scattering son's ashes drowns. Award-winning foster parent convicted of molestation. Husband, wife, shoot each other at church. Man holds chickens hostage in effort to ward off police. Five posing as New Orleans police stop real officers. Gun safety lecture misfires, leaving N.H. minister dead. Or one of my all time favorite headlines (which one way or the other tells the entire story about us all): Man on hike to prove people good, robbed, pushed from bridge. Aware that people I loved have died in this hospital where I was born, having lived long enough to be confounded by those facts, daughter struggling to live, to survive the horrible wound in her head, doctors and nurses always frantically trying to reduce the swelling of her brain, I stand in the hospital corridor, thinking about my daughter, clipped headlines flashing in my head like the one about the Colorado man who is killed bungee
jumping because he is attached to a cord that is 70 feet too long. The view from the hospital window in Travelers Rest is of the old neighborhood, experiencing the past as present. Rooftops and trees along Bernardo Street two short blocks away. Where it intersects on the south with Florida Boulevard its lane-like narrowness is apparent. Ten houses squeezed along its length and there's North Street and beyond that Roselawn Cemetery . There are whispered lies long ago of ruthless blacks digging up new graves for valuable rings, but strolling through the headstones forty years ago, reading inscriptions and calculating the time between the chiseled dates, there is rarely fresh dirt, just weeds and plastic flowers bleached white by the sun. The house on Bernardo is still there in memory. Where I grow up. Where, later, my wife and I raise our daughter. Although now among oaks on a few acres 17 miles east in Walker, Louisiana, moved years ago after my father died, the house still resides a short distance from the hospital, a simple frame design built in 1941 by my father and his father, Papa McCauley. Two bedrooms, front and back porches, kitchen, living room, one bathroom. The table in the kitchen is there also, in that phantom house on Bernardo, a reminder of a time when family and food are still linked, when meals are markers of everydayness; chrome, tubular legs, Formica top, 1950's to the max, the surface of the table bears its history in nicks and mars and scars from countless gatherings: field peas and okra and tomatoes and corn and butterbeans and summer squash and hot dishes of black-eyed peas that slip off the crocheted table pads and darken the polished surface, boiled crabs, platters of fried chicken and bream and bass and rabbit and squirrel and crawfish tails, bowls of strawberries and milk from Louisiana Creamery left on the doorstep before dawn, lemon and egg and coconut and apple and cherry pies. But there is other food as well, different: fried squirrel heads cracked with a tablespoon, tiny white brains scooped out, sardine sandwiches on mustard bread, butter and sugar sandwiches, fried Spam sandwiches loaded with mayonnaise, Vienna sausages and its petroleum-like gelatin. And then there are the holidays as land mines. The entire pot of soupy cornbread dressing before stuffing the turkey sitting on the table, father, three sheets to the seasonal wind, taking it, feeding it to the dogs, saying, Well, Goddamn, that son'bitching squirrel dog dove straight into that stuff. On the 4th of July, folded towels on the kitchen table under buckets of homemade ice-cream and fireworks in the backyard, the lighted punks like fireflies in the 5
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
evening air; the holiday turkey and ducks and hams and enough pitchers of ice tea and lemonade to dot the table like sentinels; more food at Christmas and, glancing from the kitchen into the small living room, presents spilling downward on both sides of the tree in an avalanche of foil wrap and curly ribbons of green and red and gold, carols of goodwill and sentimental journeys trumpeting from WWL in New Orleans while my parents argue silently with each other through the doorway, my mother in the kitchen, frowning, getting back a disapproving tilt of the head from my father in the living room, his recliner upright, the air of seasonal generosity around them electrically charged with potential arguments like explosive coal dust in a mine or chaff in a silo. Once, long ago and late at night, my wife and daughter and I living in the house now, me smashing every plate, saucer, cup, whatever, in a raging windmill approach (for I was drinking in those days, following my father’s footsteps), jagged pieces of china like the crushed white shells of the driveway covering the floor entirely, surrounding table and chair legs and the soles of my wife's shoes. An image remains, not what is being shouted by me or the placating words from my wife, not the sight of her hands, open, palms toward me, but the image that remains is of Amanda, one eye to the crack in the bedroom door, mouth rounded in astonishment, an image not of exposed silver grains on paper stored in the brown suitcase with other photographs, but one of memory, not subject to yellowing or the sepia wash of time.
the corners of the porches dipping to the earth like the wings of grounded gliders, being back now, this close, acknowledging long ago everydayness down there, is opening the old suitcase of photographs, flinging open doors and windows, bringing back years tough with fingernails worn from sealed cracks. Afraid, more than ever before, ever, anywhere, here now, aware of chaotic patterns, life folding in on itself like the tail of a scorpion completing its circle, here at the end of 1993, being in the same hospital as if it is 1945 when I am born, the same hospital where grandmother Mama McCauley dies in 1963, my father leaning against the door frame, his shoulders shaking as he cries silently for his mother, where he himself dies in the emergency room seven years later, faces at the window, all of us joined in the now, ex-wife now collapsed on the floor, sobbing, leaning against my legs and wall, waiting, expecting the worse for Amanda, young daughter, young woman, my heart pounding erratically but detached somehow, the feeling of someone approaching, bringing some new unwanted image in the guise of news, and, now, the creak of a nurse’s footfall in the hallway like a jolt from bad wiring on a Christmas tree.
Amanda knew at an early age that she would kill herself.
Later, much, finally able to tackle this, as hard as it is to put down because the grief for Amanda is always fresh, more now in some respects than then, grieving during late night searches on the internet, following old threads in the quiet hours until enough puzzle pieces align, her replies to posted job offers on the internet, finally discovering a friend’s posted story about finding her and later viewing his photographs of flowers left on her iron doorsteps, pinned to the aluminum door, flowers standing in wine bottles filled with water, flowers under the windshield wipers of her car, and on another friend’s site a photograph of Amanda taken by someone sitting on a couch beside her, Amanda smiling, shy, so pretty. She haunts my dreams. So doing what I always do, what some people do when faced with puzzles and questions unanswerable, I write to make some sense of it all, why I survived and one young woman does not when she should have, laying out the puzzle pieces I found about my daughter, striving to understand (not possible) and put her and me to rest.
But there is an inheritance of real images still piled haphazardly in the suitcase with worn corners. Surely one day the roaches will chew their way into the hoard of negatives and photographs and nest next to those images of grays and stark whites and blacks like smudges of charcoal. All those photographs whose tones have faded like a pile of slippery fish losing their color in an ice chest, still stored in that suitcase like random statements, no doubt curling from the heat, needing to be flattened and then straightened in order of exposure like facts in a story. Too late maybe. The last time at the old house in Walker that I pull the suitcase from under the bed, am brave enough to open it, I find myself sometime later, elbows on knees, each hand holding an irregular stack of photographs, becoming aware in the fading light from the window that no one alive—even my mother—can date all these statements, that I (least of all) can overcome the paralyzing randomness and the piercing stillness of these lively images. But now, being back near haunts along Florida Boulevard near the hospital, matching images then and now, Food Town, Coco Lumber Company, Sunshine Ice Cream, Leo’s Roller Rink, the patch of ground on Park Hills and football there, being near familiar streets now filled with abandoned buildings and neglected houses,
Amanda knew at an early age that she would kill herself. It wasn’t a thought that particularly concerned her but one of quiet recognition that the day would come. She lived her life with that quiet knowledge, growing up loved enough and bright enough for good grades in school and getting a college degree with easy grace she knew she would never use because of how it would all end, the year and manner to be determined. What did surprise her though as she lay on the bed with the gun beside her and naked with makeup on and hair brushed and shiny was not that she was only a good and competent dancer (she had long ago realized that), that she couldn’t have a career doing it, not the two years and months following of traveling all of Louisiana waiting tables and dancing in burlesque and strip 6
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
clubs to make ends meet, the surprise now that the end was near at age 23 was not any of that but one of location. Not so much New Orleans, the city at first humming for years with possibility since there were so many dance clubs with fun people learning the steps or perfecting routines of blues dancing, the swing, Latin jazz, always parties at the clubs or rented spaces, the dancers in costumes and body paint with wild abandon like it was Mardi Gras, strings of white Christmas lights in loops along the walls, draped over the piano, the lights sweeping the dance floor and the thumping music as partners also, the surprise now for Amanda not so much the city nestled in a bend of the Mississippi but the end coming in her small Komfort Travel Trailer parked to the side of Billy’s driveway, an extension cord from his house an orange snake through tall trash-strewn grass and weeds. ●
papers dot this man’s study. The absence of a stranger’s friendly call transforms his rage into utter loneliness, the labyrinth of words on the document phase out his attention; it is the product of a half motivated worker, whom one must refrain from actually calling lazy. A tarnished heart, reminiscent of jovial recollections, add dead weight to his aching back, his body and mind preserved in Father Time’s suffering. In utter despair, he bumps the lampshade, which tilts it off center, and puts on his hat, opening up the door to the starry night. Cigarettes stay unlit this time around, his shaded figure outlined by the white and blue stars above, and looking up, the man asks why. Contemporaries have aided him, yet not enough. Strangers have rode by, giving a brief audience with him but out of need rather than want. Kings and Princes of men have ordered him around, to the point of which rebel flags have been raised, and just as quickly shot down, burying the man deeper in his own spite. Then the question flaunts his mind like a butterfly and he dares to ask why not. After a lifetime of positive thoughts, only now does he dare his conscious in approaching the impossible. If only things were different, he says in a deflated sigh to no one and everyone. With reluctant preparedness, he closes the door and ties the knot. But while up on the stool, the heightened position reminds him of the father, who looked down to his son in teary admiration after the latter threw the red scarf, which detested an Empire; he remembered how that boy must have felt when brought to a land which no longer whispered of his ancestors; he remembers the flutter of the heart, how it felt to whisper the word; he remembers how the father looked up in approval for the man he has become. The man he still is. Shame paints the man’s face as he stares through the looped rope. His mind, searching for better times of cheerful bliss, finds inspiriting fires long put out in a watery, dead grave. But he pulls them out of the muck, pictures and sounds and memories flood his conscious, feelings not felt in many a year; he sees more stars in the sky, and feels an unknown, spiritual euphoria flood his body and mind, bringing a fulfilled smile across his miserable face. His vision goes beyond this rock, and he sees the sun and moon and the galaxies they lie in, the nebulas that dot the cosmos like clouds on a sunny day; tears rush to his eyes and he smiles, looks up, takes off his hat and yells, full with a new spirit that his small study does not seem able to contain. And through the night he re-worked, re-planned, and revised. And through the noisy crinkling of shuffling papers, a voice gently passed through his head, something that one would call mere extraneous thought, but he understood it as part of something far greater: I will always be with you. ●
• • • Raymond Cothern, a native of Louisiana, studied writing at LSU under Walker Percy and Vance Bourjaily. He is winner of the Deep South Writers Conference and the St. Tammany National One-Act Play Festival. His short play, THE LONG HYMN OF DILEMMA, was produced in New York City as part of the 2012 Davenport Theatrical Enterprises Play Festival. His play, THE PALLBEARER’S SOCIAL, was a finalist in the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference and was also a 2011 semi-finalist in the Playwrights First Award sponsored by the National Arts Club of New York City. Other plays, including DYING FOR THE METAPHORS and MEMORIAL VIDEO, were either finalists or semi-finalists in the Riant Theatre’s Strawberry One-Act Festival in New York City, in the Time to Strike Festival produced by Strike 38! Productions, and in the 5th Annual Play Tour sponsored by cARTel Collaborative Arts Los Angeles. In addition to film work and producing more than 75 theatrical productions in the South, his fiction and poetry have been published in MANCHAC, INTRO 8 (Doubleday & Co.), and in the Swedish literary magazine, TWO THIRDS NORTH. His essay, FOOD & PHOTOGRAPHS, appears in the book MEANWHILE BACK AT THE CAFÉ DU MONDE. He is presently at work on a memoir about growing up in Louisiana and framed by the story of the devastating effects of viral encephalitis on his daughter and of her triumph in achieving a normal life.
Eclipse by Brandon Egervari
• • • The mundane, systematic flow of society has worn the man out like the rubber on the bottom of their shoes. His superiors are pressing work at him like a church doctrine, trying to keep him folding and distending over it like so many other sheep who follow them. Covered lampshades, worn dress shirts and crinkled, ink stained 7
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
A Room of His Own by Conda V. Douglas stare in wonder at the clean vision who walks into my tiny hospital room. She wears an immaculate white uniform. I reach out one of my bandaged hands, my skin stinging from the chemical burns. She smiles with perfect white teeth. She touches my hand with her own, her skin chapped and fingernails cut almost blood short. With the comforting ammonia perfume of the hospital cleaning product filling my nose, I realize I’m close to heaven, at long last. If I can capture this wonder, then I’ll never struggle with my OCD again. I’ll be healed.
I look around at my new living space, the master bath. The sweet aroma of bleach makes me cough. I congratulate myself on my success. Pristine new walls cover every room except this one, with a narrow and sterile tiled corridor to the bathroom. Though it took me several hours, what with prepping before and cleaning up after, I removed the bathroom fan and sealed the ceiling. Also, I blocked off the one tiny window. No nasty, gritty, foul, so-called “fresh” air here. While I created my new home, I considered using my secret weapon, but desisted. I could make the room clean by bleach alone. Better to hold my weapon in abeyance unless I came upon desperate circumstances. Everything I need is in my lovely new home. I converted the large master closet next to the bathroom into my bedroom. I took out the bath and in its place there’s now a shower, dishwasher, and washer and dryer. Next to the sink, I placed a tiny fridge and microwave. I have everything I need, including the toilet — the toilet. Where my now-putrid wife sat time after time.
After our marriage, I’d imagined a much different life with my new wife, the beautiful clean nurse who saved my sanity in hospital. But then she’d picked out a beige carpet for our “dream” home, instead of the bare, sealed concrete I’d begged for. I can’t tell when the carpet is clean ever; though I’ve scrubbed most of the color off in the few weeks we’ve been in the house. In desperation, I’ve used my secret weapon. But even the reminiscent smell of the hospital doesn’t help. “Stop it, stop destroying the carpet,” my evil-onceangelic wife says. I don’t stop. Instead I look up and ask, “Help me.” She shakes her head, nasty dirty hair flying everywhere. “I thought I could help you, but I was wrong.” “You helped me in the hospital.” “As a nurse,” she said and sighed. “I’m not your mother And this is not your baby crib. You can’t keep a house perfectly clean, it’s too big.” I stop mid-scrub. I look up at her. “You’re right,” I say. “That’s the solution. We’ll sell this place and buy a one bedroom condo. That I can keep clean.” I grin. A tiny spot of spittle appears in the corner of my wife’s mouth. “Nonsense. The solution is for you to quit cleaning and get help.” My wife snatches my toothbrush. That’s when I kill her and destroy the carpet forever.
I scramble naked on the bare floor of the four-foot by two-foot bathroom linen closet, scrubbing the floor with bleach. I covered the door with a clean piece of plywood, to keep the toilet germs out. I squirted silicone sealant all around the plywood. Once I scrub the last few inches of my bare, empty home, it’ll be clean, at long last. I splash most of the bottle of the bleach onto the floor. I take deep breaths of the wonderful fumes. My head spins. Oh no, the rotten filth must be seeping from the bathroom. I need to do something. I pull out my secret weapon, the ammonia. Pure, sweet ammonia. I pour the entire contents of the ammonia bottle onto the floor. It pools about my feet. Lovely wisps of cleansing gas waft up. I take deep breaths. It’s hard to breathe. Perfect, that way my breath won’t soil… ●
I stare down at my blood raw hands, so swollen I can no longer hold a scrub brush. Still, still, I see the blood stains on the living, or rather dying, room floor. I’d removed the carpet along with my wife’s messy body and dumped them both in the city’s dump, where they belong. But I know my wife’s copious, dirty blood has soaked into the woodwork and penetrated deep inside the grain. The coagulating rancid blood trapped within. I slump. I couldn’t sell the horrid house. My wife was needed to sign the papers. If she hadn’t dismissed my solution for a smaller place — I sit up. I’d wall off the living room. Perfect.
• • •
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
Ben Peters H by Onyekachi Iwu
e had no idea what was happening. He didn’t see the trees. Or the stop signs. Or the road. Or the stars or the moon or the sky. He couldn’t hear the cars honking at him. He couldn’t feel the leather steering wheel sliding under his convulsing knuckles. It was all an unrecognizable blur. Oh, but he could smell. The cold, ripe scent of blood saturated the air of the car. It intoxicated him. The odor latched onto his skin like perfume. His bones were shivering. The hairs on the back of his neck were erect. Something in his head told his to turn up the heat. Or maybe Kelly said it. Whichever, he ignored it. The salt from his eyes trailed from his chin down to his neck. He gripped the wheel even harder. He didn’t even know where the car was going, yet his mind knew. He felt lost. He felt detached. They were pulling into a driveway. “Grandma’s?” little Kelly’s voice squeaked. This seemed to wake him. Ben crawled out of the pit his mind and twisted around to face his baby sister. “Yeah, I think she can help us get cleaned up. Try not to touch too much stuff. It’ll be more to clean.” With that, he unlocked the doors and turned off the car. The headlights that a few moments ago illuminated the side of the small, suburban home were now dead. He shoved the keys into his jean pocket. “Go ahead and ring the doorbell. I’m right behind you.” Kelly Peters nodded and slid out of the car. She timidly shut the door behind her, taking one last long look at her brother. It was a windy night. The air blew at her bright pink plaid skirt as she paced herself up her grandmother’s wooden steps. She used her blooddrenched thumb to ring the doorbell. A few seconds later, her older brother, Ben, was standing behind her, his right hand positioned on her shoulder. It was close to midnight. As usual, near the time of dawn, Grandma Peters was staying up late reading her latest novel with a yellow reading lamp draped over her head, a wool blanket laid across her lap, and a comfortable rocking chair under her timeworn body. The sound of the doorbell chiming over her head jolted her heart into a quicker, more unnatural tempo. Now who could that be at this time of night? She thought to herself. With a quick glance at her grandfather clock and a weary sigh, she shoved her reading glasses into her apron and bustled over to the front door. Ben’s body was twitching all over the place. And not because of the cold night air. He felt like he was being eaten inside out, like his thoughts were clawing at his tissues. Strangling his lungs. Choking at his heart. Cutting up his brain.
He instinctively wiped some of the blood of his fingers onto his white T-shirt. They heard a small, abrupt gasp as the front door swung open. His grandmother stood there, pale, eyes spacious. The words she was searching for seemed to be trapped at the back of her throat. She gripped the door for support as she stepped back, frightened. “Hey, Grandma!” Kelly cried with a toothy grin. “Hello, dear.” She didn’t take her eyes off of Ben. Her pupils trailed him up and down. Again and again. “What’s happened to you two?” Ben ignored this. “We just need to get cleaned up. And a place to stay. Just for tonight.” She shook her head. “No. No. Ben, what have you…?” “Just for one night, Gran. We can’t go back to Uncle Tom’s. We haven’t been with him for days. We’ve been using the car from the repair shop to sleep. We’ve driven miles. You know how far your house is.” He was saying too much. He knew it. But he was desperate and scared. “Just one night…” “Please, Grandma?” Kelly whispered, her voice trembling along with Ben’s. Grandma Peters’s eyes shifted from one grandchild to the other. “Fine,” she muttered. “But just for tonight. Benjamin Frank-Nicholas Peters, if I see you like this ever again, I will call the police.” Her eyes narrowed. “Understood?” “Yes, ma’am.” She stepped back to give them room to squeeze through the front door and progress into the living room. With a groan, she slid the door shut and locked it for the night. She stared at her two grandchildren for a moment, then, with her beady little eyes, traced ever red stain on their bodies. A lump grew her stomach. She forced the next few sentences out. “You know where the bathroom is. Ben, you can wear some of Grandfather Peters’s old clothes. Kelly, you can have one my night gowns.” She turned away to face the lilac wall. “Thank you,” Ben and Kelly chimed together. The both traveled down the long, wooden hallway but parted ways at the end of it. Ben entered the guest room, closed the door, and locked it firmly. Kelly slipped into Grandma Peters’s room. Ben ripped off his clothes until he was completely naked. Even his socks lay in the heap on the floor. He focused on every movement he made, avoiding the images that were trying to force their way through. The screams. The pleads… But Kelly was okay. Kelly was still okay. Ben wasn’t. He rushed over to the guest bathroom, reached under the sink, and pulled out a jug of Bleach and a clean bar of soap. He clogged the sink with the stopper and
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
began to fill it up with scorching-hot water. With a shudder, he poured the chemical into the sink and got to work. As he scrubbed the crimson aftermath of his crime off his sallow skin, he looked up at the mirror. Who is that? That wasn’t Ben Peters. No way. He scrubbed faster. There was a light rhythmic tapping at the door. “Coming!” he croaked. His rinsed off his hands, snatched a neighboring towel off its rack, and wrapped it around his waist. The jingling of keys. He rushed into the bedroom to see his Grandmother graciously letting herself in. He froze in mid-step. She sealed the door behind her. “This is an old house. I own a skeleton key that opens every room. I thought about giving you your privacy but---“ “You decided against it,” Ben finished. “I understand.” “I hope you also understand,” Grandma Peters continued, “What this is doing to me. How I’m going to have to carry this guilt until the day I die. This weight. Benjamin, if you hurt someone tonight…Please tell me. I want the truth.” She closed her eyes and waited. Ben drew in a long train of air and rode it out. He crossed the room and held his grandmother’s face in his hands. “Grandma, open your eyes.” She opened them. “I didn’t hurt anyone; I promise you.” He commanded his muscles to hug her and mean it. For the first time in a while, they obeyed. And Grandma Peters believed in that hug. Who could deny the love of a grandchild? She let go of her grandson and leaned down to take up his gory sartorial. “I’ll get this in the washer,” she breathed and left the room. How long would this go on? He wondered bitterly. ●
Misty Existence by M. Farooq Malik Let me walk into the mist; That is how I exist. Shrouded, clouded; Fumbling I make my way ─ Misty ways.
• • •
Sixteen Again by Reem Rashash-Shaaban
Your hand started it The tips of your fingers slid across The back of my neck and I gasped for I was sixteen again and Your fingers were his lips on my virgin mouth My mouth was a mankousheh in a brick oven Slowly bubbling and sizzling You played with me like a child with blocks And I grew into a huge tower that with a Flick of your finger, tumbled down and fell into Your dilated blue eyes And though you said you could not see me, I knew you could For I could not hide From the crazy crocodiles of my womb You were a summer sun, A rainfall of happiness While I was a burning iceberg, A teenager wallowing in the murky mud That filled my swollen mouth.
• • •
• • •
Reem Rashash-Shaaban is an instructor in the English Department at the American University of Beirut. She is Saudi Arabian married to a Lebanese and lives in Beirut, Lebanon. Her poems and short fiction have been published in The Potomac, Falling Star Magazine , The Artist’s Muse and the In Posse Review.
by M. Farooq Malik
I asked her and she said, “Yes.” That is how we cast The first gossamer thread Of the nascent web Of our love. Bye the bye, the web Turned into a sturdy net. Enmeshed, I’m now a wholesome hubby And little, else.
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
The Gloves by Loukia M. Janavaras These are the gloves of parting left by you one morning without words in a soft heap like two blackbirds nestling on their last breath not worn, to be worn by me through the streets of Vienna where leaves had fallen all turned the colour of your hair as I inhaled slow decay, wove paths that vanished with the wind, hands raw, gloves left on the table.
Volvelle by Loukia M. Janavaras You said I’ll miss the light when I leave here this place where we'd begun always lit by the sun as if the gods were still children who invited us to play in their daylight. You know this because you returned to the light you missed, rolled the blinds as though they are yours and we’d frolic in bliss. I relished in the movement, the way the room unfolded to the world and let us in again, through the seasons we’d spin as if there could be no end. But the gods have put their toys away pop-up books and all and you no longer return to raise the blinds. Though I am still here in the creases you were right it is the light that I miss.
These gloves have witnessed departures, visitors like you they have travelled, seen snow with you filled tightly by your hands their homeland stamped with pride, an offering to be kept perfect for parting so tender, felt, black left with you accidentally amid words only to return bringing you despite their crumpled wings. These are the gloves you handed me without a word they have taken residence here permanent visitors in a warm welcome they glide over my hands, caress my skin like a gentle breath, silent comfort as I walk the winter streets of Athens I bring my hands to my cheek close my eyes and inhale deeply the scent that is you and as they rub together, wings flutter
• • • Loukia M. Janavaras is from Minneapolis, MN and currently resides in Athens, Greece. Her poem White was published in J.D. Vine publications The Creative Writer in 2008 and in 2010 she received an Honorable Mention in the Writer's Digest 79th Annual Writing Competition for The Neighbor in the Memoirs/Personal Essay category. Some of her latest poetry is featured in Wilderness House Literary Review (Volume 6, number 4).
Atomic Heart by Loukia M. Janavaras If it keeps wrecking over, again could it be making room releasing longing lodged between failing veins cracks splitting toward tiles ticking time slipping up again, over sharing, shifting loves multiply, grate, divide themselves, others until no more is held in place, a palm shredded contents shatter into fine dust particles powdering the air 11
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
“Doin’ good. We’re happy. Jackie’s almost three, and everything’s perfect now,” Johnny defied. Scott’s voice was quiet and strained. “Sounds like you really got things figured out.” His neck and shoulders grew heavy with the anticipation of failure. Johnny picked at the crumpled leaf as he replied. “You remember that time, Scottie, when—” “Just say it then, for real, so I can hear it for real,” Scott interrupted. The two finally gazed at each other, eyes hard and clear, exhaling winter fog. Scott straightened his back and shoulders. “Ok, Scottie. I don’t want to see my no-good father. Ever again. Even though he’s dying, and you’re beggin’ me to, as my brother. I just don’t want to, Scottie.” He took out his cell phone and sat down on a bench. Scott walked a short distance away. He dialed a number on his own phone, ran a hand through his hair, and waited for the familiar voice. He cleared his throat again; “Yeah, Dad, I, I just wanted to talk a little bit, if you’re free. I been hanging out with Johnny a little bit. Yeah, no, just since this morning. He’s ok, Dad. Yeah. But hey, listen—” “Hey, you don’t have to say it. I know. I get it,” interrupted his father, voice throaty and strained. “I’d a been the same in my time. It’s a great big world out there, Scottie, and there just isn’t enough days to do it all. Hey, listen, kid, speakin’ a which, I gotta run.” “Listen, Dad, uh... I’ll be by around five tomorrow, yeah?” “Yep. Weather looks fine, lots a clouds and just a speck a rain, we’ll be catchin ‘em with our hands.” “Great, Dad. Hey, what news on the tomato front?” “Oh, goin great.” Scott kind of doubted it. He’d bought the plants for his dad’s birthday, having read that it’s good for guys that age to have a hobby to sink time and affection into, but he could never really see that it would take. “Hey, I gotta go, kid, it’s a big wide world out there. The tomato plants a’ calling me.” They squeezed out a laugh. Scott wasn’t sure if pretending to be happy counted as support or not; he thought it did. “Yeah, you really love those tomato plants, huh, Dad?" “Ah, the tomato plants, Scottie. What I could tell you about a couple a tomato plants. They been calling my name all my life, you just help me to realize it.” They laughed again. “You got all my good bits, and all hers, too. Thank ya, Scottie.” “You got it, Dad.”
Never Could Forget a Voice by John Matthew Whalen
he café door was pneumatic, and at first Scott didn’t pull hard enough. Then he slipped through and walked to the bathroom. He didn’t return the baristas’ gaze. The inside was clawed-up with sharpie, and the wall behind the urinal squirmed with exhortations and complaints. Scott squinted at a smudge of graphite between tiles: REPENT, SINNER. He splashed some water on his face, scrubbed it off with a paper towel, and leaned in toward the mirror. His eyes and cheeks were puffy with tiredness. Something on his shirt caught the light, a scribbled complaint of his own: HELLO, MY NAME IS Scott Malley. It’d been on since the conference? A flight attendant’s giggle returned to his mind, bereft of the encouragement he’d read into it at the time. “Fuck me,” he muttered, crumpling the nametag and dropping it into the trash. He emerged from the bathroom and stood around uncertainly. An infant stared at him over its mother’s shoulder, drooling onto a cloth. A dollop of curls elongated its head like a pear. Johnny jerked open the café door and entered. He squared his hips to the counter girls, removed his sunglasses, and deflated Scott’s lonely preoccupation with a nod. Scott shifted on his feet like someone tolerating cold air, and the two ordered coffee without speaking to each other. “I know what you came for, Scottie.” Scott looked up from lightening his double-shot, but Johnny was watching passers-by out the window. “Yeah, I know.” “And I’m not very fuckin’ impressed.” Scott hadn’t been back to Boston in years. The old accent was like hot water on cold fingers, but Johnny’s eyes pushed Scott’s to the floor. “Yeah.” Johnny held the door open, sipping his black decaf and watching cars go by. They walked to the Commons quietly. Scott picked at the paper sleeve around his cup, feeling Johnny’s gaze pressing into him, then cleared his throat and projected his voice, like he’d read about. “Hey, just think about it, all right, Johnny? Promise me you’ll think about it. I don’t think I have to tell you how I feel. We did that before.” He looked up, but Johnny had stooped for a leaf. Johnny rose, looking away, and shook his head as he watched some kids play on the lawn. It was stubborn early winter, when everyone was cold, but went outside anyways, rubbing red fingers and shuffling feet. “Accept it already, Scottie. Get someone else.” Scott followed his brother’s eyes in time to see one of the kids trip and get left behind. Her knees crashed against the hard ground, but she ran on, breathless. “Get someone else,” Scott echoed. Johnny crumpled the leaf in his hand, and the pair resumed walking. Scott cleared his throat again and ran a hand through his hair. “I... Listen, how’s Heidi?”
• • • John Matthew Whalen is an ornery New Englander. His other work can be found in Subtle Fiction and Downer.
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
He climbs, stumbles, arms swing blindly, white clutches at his brain. There, the door, he sees her, a tumbled Raggedy Ann hiding in the closet, she kneels among cheerful stuffed animals, heaped Legos and scattered board games. Jeans and t-shirts hang patiently, waiting to be outgrown, while across the ceiling glowing worms crawl, consume, multiply into monstrous marching death. The doll's chubby cheeks flare, its taffeta dress catches, chars black. Lincoln logs burst in miniature campfires, Teddy bear eyes weep molten plastic tears. Rachel clings to him, pleads, save me Timmy. And because he loves her he tries. As always, Timmy tries his very best.
Out of the White by Kip Hanson Timmy slumbers, Little League dreams of fourth-at-bat, steps up proudly while perched among the metal scarecrow stands Jennifer watches, cheers, the cool spring breeze lifts her long, long hair, jet black it blows, he is helpless to love her. He swings, misses, out, what a fool, seeks her forgiving smile, his eyes search eagerly yet find naught: she is gone, replaced now, sudden shrieking terror: earth shakes, great galumphing monsters roar, crush running scattered stick figures while waving poplars burn, tall as torches at the edge of grassy fiery fields. Bleachers rocket skyward, Jennifer screams, her hair ablaze…no!
Eyes closed, he pushes aside the blackened walls, the smoking floor, envisions sunny summer playgrounds, chapped truck tires swinging on galvanized pinching chains, a loping merry-go-round, hulking jungle gyms, and at the center a majestic metal slide, its mirrored glare long witness to skinned knees, peals of laughter and running feet carving lumpy awkward trails to nowhere. With all his might he imagines this place, constructs it from the nothingness of hope, while Rachelle hugs him fiercely. Through billowy smoke, rippled walls and blistered paint a doorway appears, slowly loses its infirmity, grows solid, waits for them. Sky blue, birds flit, grass and flowers beckon; Timmy takes her hand, his sister whom he has loved so much, yet somehow not enough. and together they step through into warm sunshine. Safe, free. Together.
Timmy’s eyes open, awake now he shudders, frightened, nightmares flee. Jennifer is gone, her sweet perfume lost, replaced by confusing smoke, clinging white: a flickering glow lurks beneath the burning bedroom door. Below him Rachel sleeps, unaware. His little sister, her bunk bed a dim shadow; through the whiteness he hears her innocent little-girl breathing. The grownups said the fireman is your friend, but the adults are gone, only he remains; he and Rachel. Her eyes flutter, gaze wide she sees the danger; her thin gasps gather to a terrible shriek, a Six Flags roller-coaster scream, mad echo of a springtime bicycle ride so long ago, her training wheels placed solemnly on the shelf; how she smiled at him, her big brother, her brave knight. He reaches, take my hand Rachel, his fingers clutch but a wisp of nightgown, as she flees.
• • • Kip Hanson lives in sunny Phoenix, AZ, where he chronicles the life of an exiled Nordic Warrior King at http://misterass.com. You can find him at Bartleby Snopes, Every Day Fiction, Waterhouse Review, Eunoia Review, A Twist of Noir, and a few other places. He writes to keep the flying monkeys away.
He is alone now, with the smoke. It crowds him, presses him down into kaleidoscope colors: crimson walls, flashing blue, headlights bright, windows coruscate with splashing hydrant water. Thundering pumps bellow in the drive while canvas-clad spacemen trample the lawn, their hoses drag curving ruts in the mud, of the yard where he once played. 13
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
Killer Voice Mail
by Peter McMillan
Hey baby, I'm still at work but I'm taking the day off tomorrow. I bought some things today that I think you might like to see me in … or not in. Be over five thirtyish. I'll shower at your place, then we can go out. Bye baby.
Beep Mickey, this is your sister, Annie, if you're there, please pick up. It's Dad. He's had a heart attack. They rushed him to emergency, and I need you here to help with Mom. She's losing it. I persuaded Father Donovan to stop by and give you a ride since your license is still suspended. Mom said you called Dad earlier today. What did you say to him?
Beep Hi Mr. Nichols, this is Marcy and I’m calling from AAA Doors, Windows, Kitchens, and Bathrooms. We specialize while others diversify. We're currently working in your neighborhood. Today and tomorrow, we have a team of friendly, professional project managers in your building complex providing free estimates to 25 lucky condo owners. We want to save you the hassle of making an appointment, so we'll come to you. Someone will be by later today. Be assured that our project managers are not salesmen. They oversee all our projects, so you know they will give you reliable, expert advice. Again, my name is Nancy, and, if you prefer not to be contacted, please call and we'll take you off the list. That number is (555) ***-****. I'll re—
Beep Hello, Mike? I'm so sorry to bother you. Sorry, it's Sofia, from the apartment below. I don't know if you remember— We met in the lobby a few weeks ago when I was moving in. We exchanged phone numbers, um, so that's how I got your number. Is everything OK up there? It sounded like you fell—maybe from a ladder. I'm a little worried, because it got real quiet. I'm gonna call the super in case you're hurt and can't come to the door, alright? Beep
Beep • • • Mikhail, my man, 'sup? Listen man, gotta score, like right now. You owe me bro'. Got this real hot chick, dig? Visiting a cousin or somethin. From Brazil, man. Yeah! Speaks no English, but no problemo. By in a few. I'll let myself in. Ciao!
Peter McMillan is a freelance writer and ESL instructor who lives on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario with his wife and two flat-coated retrievers. In 2012, he published his first book, Flash! Fiction.
Beep Mr., um, Quondam, the book you special ordered has arrived. It was quite difficult to locate a copy, because only 10 copies were published. It's a real limited edition, and if I may say, that's a blessing, because it's truly revolting … probably even illegal. Since you already paid and I don't want anything more to do with it, I'll hand deliver the book myself. I've got your address. And, please, Mr. Quondam, let this be your last order with us. Beep Michael, Mr. Jones here. Something's come up, Michael. Mr. Smith says the, er, drawings for the Mayfair campaign aren't yours. Says they're Mr. White's. That's not good, Michael. I'm very disappointed in you, Michael. You shoulda been straight with me. Mr. Smith's on his way over to give you a lift. Good-bye Michael. 14
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
Wandering by Barbara Johnson Where shall I go from here? I am not lost Have perfect direction Yet I wander. Things seem clouded at times Yet the beauty I take in. It's all overwhelming How can I slow the clock? A child's laugh, a crow's call, A creek running over pebbles, A horse whinnying, a cricket's chirp, All within seconds it seems. These are life's precious moments To take in and relish Far be it from me to dismiss these treasures. To yearn for such peace, To seek their wisdom, I shall gain from the sounds, I shall learn from their lessons. We are but here for a while Then, we shall wander no more.
Vegetables by Gregory Zorko You know it is the hottest summer ever, because the Tunisian vegetables are thriving. You can hear the machine gun fire of their farmers, rising and shouting like doves. In the fields children are beating back the streams with their palms. There in the market laborers are carrying red peppers that look like fat lions. This is a place, shoved by the water and kissed in the sand. Aren’t they sprouting in Tozeur, really come look.
• • •
Still Waiting for My Enemy by Ian Holmes
• • • Barbara Johnson has been writing poetry and short story fiction since she was 12. Up to this point, her work has gone unpublished. She has notebooks full of writings to share with the world, and she hopes this will be her time to shine.
• • •
Cat by Gregory Zorko My black and white cat goes with no shadow into the night. Whereas before he was indefinite he now becomes cat-like, and he gains his name. The eager birds don’t know him, the fence wire does. He makes some great noise when he jumps four steps. My beautiful black and white demon. The moles have gone into concrete blocks.
It’s better to have a general anger toward everything I certainly do and the goodbad far outweighs the badgood. The discipline (no it’s not easy) Is keeping the redsonofabitch yellow. We have enough self-conscious brutes; Enveloping nostrils, red rages raging with a Sure (one)target but swinging blindanddumb. Then(yes) your day will come and carefully focusing Your onslaught you will bless your enemy and unleash such a Fine hell even the gods will stand And roar (APPLAUSE)
• • • Ian Holmes lives in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. He is scheduled to depart for western Canada during September. He will arrive a convalescent. Ian enjoys face melting psychedelic music, sushi, and rye.
My heart by Gregory Zorko My heart eats plantains in the morning, whole paintings of Burkina Faso in the night. My glasses remind me that my feet are two harbors. And all the village women walk through shadows and the steps of insects. André is sitting in the bushes blowing smoke through the tree line. One of the girls lies down for me. I sketch her body from the tallest building in Ouaga.
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
Vincenzos by Terri Kirby Erickson The back door opened and a rectangle of light became a gold carpet on the parking lot pavement as the building sighed the way we all do after a good meal, scenting the air with fresh garlic, oregano, and basil. We could see from our car, the people inside, bustling—a man tossing pizza dough into the air and catching it with his fist, another ladling minestrone and pasta fazool into heavy soup bowls for the pretty waitress who zoomed in and zoomed out, ponytail bouncing to the beat of a busboy’s tenor, the clatter of pots and pans, the rhythmic rumble of busy feet zig-zagging across the tiled floor. And as we sat there in the dark, watching, we wanted to bypass the front entrance, altogether—the neon sign, the hostess at her station—and slip instead, into the warm kitchen with its hustle and hurry, its buttery glow. We pictured ourselves sitting at the stainless steel prep table, talking, laughing, even pitching in if they could find some use for a long-married, middle-aged couple with no one left at home to feed, but ourselves. And then the door closed, the light disappeared, and we felt as bereft as people in a theater when a film that moved us all to tears, ends.
Rose by Terri Kirby Erickson Her hair sparse and white as snow dusting a sidewalk, Rose reclines in the chemo room, her body hidden beneath a bee-patterned blanket. She struggles to stay awake as clear fluid drips, slow and steady, into her vein. Her eyelids open and close, flutter like moths over lapis pools of water. At times like this, the tubing that tethers her to this world seems more fragile than the glass stem of a champagne flute—as if anything might break it— a child’s breath, a slight breeze, the barely perceptible stir of another soul freed today, from suffering.
• • •
Unfamiliar Territory by Anne Britting Oleson The map, a maze of lines, blue, black, red: each leads on to another until all pass through the place where you live. I trace with a finger the road, a crimson meander like heartsblood under the skin, wondering: can one travel along this route as fast as my pulse races when I imagine this journey?
Weathering by Anne Britting Oleson November forces its cold breath through the walls, around window frames. Tonight the house heaves ponderously. Or shudders, like a ship too long on a voyage through a portless world. Rain lashes at the glass. No cup of tea warms this bone-chill. The woodstove burns fitfully and casts no heat. Abandoning the night to its own rage, she huddles beneath the quilts. The hands she presses together are ice beneath her chin. In the bowels of this house the furnace hums fruitlessly, the sump belching into life and spitting the floods out. This cold ark is grounded, but the dirt washes away, leaving ribs exposed, and her clinging to a spar. • • • Anne Britting Oleson has been published widely in the US, UK and Canada. She earned her MFA at the Stonecoast program of USM. She has published two chapbooks, The Church of St. Materiana (2007) and The Beauty of It (2010). Another book, Counting the Days, is scheduled for release next year. 16
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
Mourning Mordecai by Joe Kilgore
here were three and a half people at the funeral. If you don’t count the undertaker and gravediggers. You can’t count the corpse. Even though he was there, he wasn’t really there, was he? I don’t count myself. I was only there because I had to be. I’m Sheriff of Concho County. Security at funerals is one of my duties. Like I said, there were three and a half people at the funeral. One was the widow, Lucinda Hays. Another was the Hays’s neighbor, Tom Canter. The third was Reverend Ogilvy. I count him because, in truth, he’s not at every funeral. Some people ask him to say a few words. Some don’t. So he gets counted. The half--and the reason I call him half is because he’s no bigger than gun belt high--was Billie Palmer. He’s the orphan the Hays adopted after Comanche Bob killed his mother and father. We hanged Bob, and Billie got adopted. Some said it was because Mrs. Hays couldn’t conceive. Gossip is the same everywhere, I guess. Reckon I ought to say something about the deceased and how we came to be plantin’ him today. Mordecai Hays was a former supply sergeant turned dirt farmer. He had a small place a few miles from Paint Rock, the county seat where I abide. It didn’t amount to no more than a house, a barn, some livestock and a passable crop or two of broomcorn. But I guess it was his castle just because it was his. Unfortunately, two nights ago, Mrs. Hays found Mordecai behind the barn in a state, the likes of which, no human ought to find another. He was on his side in the scrub grass. There was a knife wound in his neck that might or might not have been the one that finished him. But the really unpleasant part was that his pants were around his ankles and some of his privates were in his mouth, with the rest of them wedged up his backside. Lucinda—I’ll use her Christian name just to keep this from being so formal—hitched the mare to the buckboard, pulled the boy out of bed, and hurried into town to tell me what happened. She said she felt sure the Indians got him. That’s possible, I guess. The Lipan Apache still raid around these parts. But frankly, it struck me as odd. If it was the Lipan, why were Lucinda and the boy not harmed? Or taken? I couldn’t keep that question out of my head as I rode out to see for myself what was left of Mordecai Hays. It was still dark when I got there. There would be another hour before the sun came up. The body was behind the barn where she said it was. And seein’ it was a damn site more gruesome than hearin’ about it. But I needed to look for more than a person can spot in the dark. So I walked my roan gelding into the barn. Then I sat down on a hay bale, rolled a smoke, and waited for the morning light.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I dozed a bit. But the sun hadn’t been up long when I was bending down, holdin’ my nose with one hand and runnin’ my other over the thin and stony soil around the late Mordecai Hays. There was lots of blood on the ground, an empty, overturned jug of corn liquor, but no tracks. No hint of hooves that would indicate a raiding party. If an Apache did this, he did it alone. Which was definitely possible. But it was also possible that Apaches had nothin’ whatsoever to do with it. I determined I’d withhold my doubts about the widow Hays’s story until after the funeral. If she was tellin’ the truth there was no point in me addin’ to her grief by questionin’ her. If her story was bogus, I’d find out soon enough. When Reverend Ogilvy said all he had to say, and it appeared everyone was gonna leave the gravesite, I watched Tom Canter step over and say somethin’ to the widow before he walked away. Apparently it comforted her because she smiled, and even from the distance, I could see her lips forming the words “Thank you.” After she and the boy got into the buckboard, I approached them. “Mrs. Hays, a word if you don’t mind.” “Certainly, Sheriff. And thank you for coming.” “No need to thank me mam, it’s one of my duties. “I see.” “I just wanted to let you know mam, I didn’t find any tracks out at your place, you know. Nothin’ to indicate a Lipan raidin’ party was there.” “Well, then I assume it must have been just one Apache. A renegade perhaps.” “That could be, mam. But even if it was only one, it seems kind of strange that he didn’t try to get into the house.” “Maybe he didn’t know there was anyone else there, Sheriff. All the lights were out. Mr. Hays usually did his drinking after the boy and I retired.” “That’s probably it, mam. I just didn’t want you to be concerned about any raidin’ party comin’ back or anything.” “I appreciate your concern Sheriff. But I have a rifle at home. And I know how to use it.” “Glad to hear it, mam. But if it was a renegade, he’ll keep movin’ south. No need to worry yourself.” “Thank you for your concern, Sheriff. Good-bye.” As I watched her and the boy leave, I realized the biggest concern I had was finding out who really killed Mordecai Hays. So I decided to spend a minute or two with Reverend Ogilvy. Though I must admit I didn’t look forward to it. Piety and me have never been on a firstname basis. “Reverend, can I walk with you for a minute?” 17
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“Certainly, Sheriff. In times like these, we all need one another’s support.” “Well, I don’t know about that, but I’m sure they all appreciated your words.” “Yes, the 23rd Psalm always seems to provide both strength and comfort.” “I guess so, Reverend, but frankly if I was gonna walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I’d just want to be sure I had a full load and one in the chamber.” “Bullets won’t be of any help to you Sheriff when it’s your time to go. We all are called eventually.” “True enough. I just want to make sure it’s the good Lord doin’ the callin’. Not some yahoo with a belly full of liquor and a double-barrel full of buckshot.” “He works in mysterious ways, Sheriff. Mysterious ways.” “That he does, Reverend. But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. I wanted to ask you if the Hays family was regular church goers.” “No. In fact, I can’t say I ever recall them attending church on Sunday.” “That a fact? Well, don’t you think it’s kinda odd then that you would be asked to speak at the funeral?” “Not really, Sheriff. When a beloved family member passes, it’s not uncommon for those left behind to do what they can to pave the way for the departed’s accent to glory.” “You pretty sure Mordecai was going to ascend and not descend, Reverend?” “Only the Lord knows, Sheriff. We’re all sinners. I tend to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Even you.” “Well, it just seems to me that a couple who would adopt a child, would look to the church to round out his upbringin’.” “Judge not, lest ye’ be judged, Sheriff.” “I’m not judging, Reverend, just explorin’. That’s what a lawman does in a murder case.” “But I heard Godless heathens were responsible, Sheriff. Is that not true? “Probably, Reverend, probably so. I’m just doin’ what is called due diligence. Duty requires it. I’ll bid you good-day then.” “Good day, my son. Vaya con dios, as our brown brothers say.” When somethin’ sticks in your craw, you gotta’ deal with it. That’s why later that night I was camped on a steep slope overlookin’ the Hays place. I didn’t’ light a fire ‘cause I didn’t want to be seen. I wanted to do the seein’. Even though I was wrapped in a heavy poncho, the wind on the high plateau made the night downright uncomfortable. What was even worse, nothin’ of note happened. But there’s something to be said for stubbornness. That’s why I was there the next night too. The night I saw a lone rider walk his mount out of the mesquite trees west of the farm. He crossed the open ground in front of the house and took his horse inside the barn. Then he walked back and tapped lightly on the front door. No lights came on. But the door opened a crack and he stepped inside. I could have gone down then, barged right in. But bad things can happen in the dark. Shots can go anywhere. Somebody innocent might get hurt. Though
frankly, innocence didn’t appear to be in attendance. Still, I decided to wait. He left before sunrise. Seemed to be in no hurry. I followed him, staying out of sight by weaving through the live oaks and elms until he came to a clearing two hundred yards from his own spread. In the clear coolness of the morning, sound carries. “Tom,” was all I had to shout before he reigned and turned my way. I loped the roan across the divide to meet him. “Kind of early to be out for a ride, ain’t it?” “Calf got out last night. I’ve been looking for it.” “Calf get into the Hays house, did it?” He just sat his horse. He looked like he was tryin’ to talk, but it was obvious he didn’t know what to say. “Keepin’ an eye on things is part of my job, Tom. Is comfortin’ widows part of yours?” “Sheriff, it’s not what you think.” “Oh, I think I know what it is, Tom. Lucinda’s a fine lookin’ woman. And she is single now. But from what I saw, she didn’t appear to be surprised to see you.” “I wanted to make sure she’d be okay. What with the Apaches and all.” “That’s neighborly. But you didn’t check on her the night before. The night of the funeral. Maybe you waited a day out of respect, is that it? Or maybe you thought that the next night the coast would be clear.” “Sheriff, I tell you it’s not what you think. Lucinda— Mrs. Hays—is a good woman. A fine woman. It’s complicated, that’s all.” “Love, or lust, ain’t all that complicated, Tom. Let me run it down for you. There was no raidin’ party, and no single Apache. There were no unshod pony tracks. None. And even if it had been one lone renegade, he’d-a-been in that house and atop that white woman moments after dispatchin’ Mordecai. The mutilation, though distasteful I’m sure, was done to make it look like Lipan work. A lazy peace officer might have bought that. But I’m a good bit more curious than I look, Tom.” Canter’s lack of response told me all I needed to know. “Suppose we amble on back to the Hays’ place and see just how much of this Miss Lucinda is willing to confirm or deny.” Canter rose in his stirrups. “There’s no need of that, Sheriff. She had nothing to do with it. I’m to blame. Me alone. You see, I’m in love with her. Have been for some time. I wanted her to leave him. Begged her to. I asked her to leave with me. Told her I was willing to pick up stakes and go wherever she wanted. I think she really wanted to. But she was too fine a person for that. She said she just couldn’t do it as long as he was alive. Couldn’t break her marriage vows and all. Well, I couldn’t help it, Sheriff. I just had to be with her. So I killed him. And cut him up to make it look like Indians. She still thinks that’s what really happened. She’s not involved.” With my hand on my Colt, I said, “We’ll head back to town then. You’re not gonna’ give me any trouble, are you, Tom?” He seemed to slump into his saddle as he said, “No Sheriff. You won’t have any trouble from me.” 18
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
Tom Canter was in a Paint Rock cell no more than a day and half. That’s how long it takes gossip to make the circuit in Concho County. That’s how long it took for Lucinda Hays to turn up in my office. “I hear you’re holding Tom Canter.” “That’s right. Holding him for the murder of your husband.” “Tom didn’t kill Mordecai, Sheriff. Tom is the most gentle man I know. He could never do anything like that.” “Love makes good men do bad things, Mrs. Hays. He was smitten with you. Your husband was in the way. He was convinced that with Mordecai gone, you’d welcome his advances. I have to admit, from what I saw a couple of nights ago, he was probably right.” “You saw Tom at my place the other night?” “Just part of my job, ma’am. In fact, I wondered for a bit…if the two of you weren’t in on it together. But Tom set me straight. He said you knew nothin’ about it.” “Tom Canter is lying, Sheriff. He’s a sweet, wonderful, incredible man who’s lying through his teeth.” “Murder’s not something you lie about, mam. There’s no future in it.” “He’s lying Sheriff. That’s not something I believe. That’s something I know.” “Well, with respect mam, that’s something you just can’t really be sure of.” “Yes, I can, Sheriff. I can be sure Tom is innocent, because I killed Mordecai.” When you’ve been in the law enforcement business as long as I have, believe me the last thing you want or need is two different people confessin’ to the same crime. “Maybe you should have a seat, mam, and let’s go over this whole thing from the beginnin’. Are you up to that?” “Yes, Sheriff, I am. I’ll tell you everything.” I’ll spare you the word-by-word interview I conducted with Lucinda Hays because frankly, it was the kind of conversation I never expected to have with a woman, and one I most fervently hope I’ll never have again. But I will summarize it for you. According to the widow, Mordecai Hays was an evil bastard. He kept his wife out on his farm and seldom, if ever, brought her with him into town because it would have been obvious someone had been beatin’ the hell out of her. That someone was Mordecai. Not only was he a wife beater, but accordin’ to Lucinda he was also a sodomite. She confessed to me that in all the years they were married, Mordecai never once engaged in sexual congress the way most normal people do. That was the real reason she never had children of her own. She allowed as how perhaps it was a holdover from his many years in the army. But that was cuttin’ him a lot more slack than I cared to. Anyway, to make a long and sordid story short, she said she eventually had enough of the perversion and the whuppin’s, and stabbed the wretch in the neck. Then carved him up thinkin’ it would look like Apaches did him. Her story sounded plausible enough. But so had Tom Canter’s. I thanked her for her confession and asked her if there might be someone who could look after her adopted boy for a while. She said she had left him with Reverend Ogilvy at the church, and he’d indicated the
boy would be fine there until she came back to pick him up. I deposited Lucinda Hays in one of our cleaner cells, out of sight of Tom Canter’s, and told her I’d be back later. Then I saddled the roan and went for a ride. I’ve found that a man can do some powerful thinkin’ on the back of a horse. Least this man anyway. As I rode, I mulled over things in my mind. It appeared that Tom was lyin’ to save Lucinda. Of course, maybe Lucinda was lyin’ to save Tom. And there was always the chance that the two of them planned the whole thing together--the murder, and the two confessions, if nobody bought the Apache story. Thinkin’ eats up the miles. Before I knew it, I found myself back out at the Hays’ farm. And since I was there, I thought I might as well look around and see if there was anything I might have missed the first time. I’m not what you’d call perfect. As you’ve probably gathered by now. I hadn’t looked inside the cabin when I was at the farm before. The front door was locked, but the side window wasn’t. Since this was still a murder investigation, I crawled in through the window and didn’t feel shameful about it. The place was pretty clean. It looked like the kind of place a man, a woman and a child would inhabit. Some dishes had been left on the sideboard to dry, and there was a pile of clothes in one corner that hadn’t been taken to the creek to wash yet. I used the toe of my boot to sift through them and to make sure they weren’t piled there to hide somethin’. There was nothin’ under them. But there was somethin’ at the bottom of the pile that stopped me cold. Now, I’m not a man who shocks easily. But the more I looked, and the more I thought, the more I was sickened at what some men are capable of. Men like Mordecai Hays. Returnin’ to the jail, I took Mrs. Hays out of her cell and brought her back to the office. “Mrs. Hays, I’m prone to believe part of your story.” She heard me. But chose not to comment. “The part I’m not sure I believe…is that you killed your husband.” “But Sheriff, I swear—“ “Just hear me out before you say anything else. I went back to your place. Looked around inside your cabin. You locked the door, but not the window. That’s neither here nor there. The point is, I saw the laundry you hadn’t got around to washin’ just yet. All the laundry. Includin’ your boy’s long johns. That’s right, the white ones with the blood on the back-flap.” Her mouth opened, but I didn’t give her a chance to speak. “Let me postulate one other way this whole thing might have happened. Let’s say Mordecai hit his jug pretty hard that night. So hard he passed out. Let’s say your boy found him. Found him at the one time Mordecai was vulnerable. The one time he couldn’t do anything more to the boy. And let’s say the little fella’ realized this was his chance. Probably his only chance to make sure he’d never be hurt again.” Lucinda had started to cry silent tears that slowly left trails down her cheeks. “Looked at that way, maybe the mutilation wasn’t done to put the blame on marauding heathens. Maybe it 19
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
was done to show everyone what he couldn’t bring himself to talk about. Maybe it was done to show everyone the kind of monster Mordecai really was.” By now, she was whimpering out loud. Her legs were quivering and I was afraid she was gonna’ fall down. So I helped her into a chair. “You know, good people sometimes do things they shouldn’t…trying to help people they love. Maybe that’s what Tom was doin’. Tryin’ to help you. Maybe that’s what you were doin’. Tryin’ to help the boy. But me, I have to sort it all out. That’s my cross to bear.” “Sheriff, please, I—“ Again, I cut her off. “Here’s the way I practice the law, mam. I don’t just go by what I think happened. I prove it to a dead certainty, or I don’t charge anybody with anything. I can’t prove Tom killed Mordecai. I can’t prove you did. And I’m in no mood to browbeat a child who’s gone through what your boy’s gone through. So, I’m inclined to take the position that some Apache devil did do Mordecai in. Doubt that we’ll ever find him. Probably in Mexico by now.” Round about sundown, Tom and Lucinda gathered the boy from Reverend Ogilvy. On the way out of town, they looked my way. I tipped my hat in farewell. Now some might think—when it comes to the exact letter of the law—that perhaps the deceased didn’t really get his due. But I tell you what I think. I think Mordecai Hays got what we’ll likely all get eventually. In one way or another. Justice. ●
But I can’t let her. However, what Lilith wishes for, Lilith gets. I killed her. But Lilith won’t die. Because when I killed her, her soul resurrected and then became part of me. She hides deep in my mind. That way I wont force her out. But when she craves excitement, she creeps out. She uses my body to do everything that pleases her. She lies, she betrays. Lilith loves lust. Lust is the only thing she loves. Because when I killed her, she lost the capability of loving anything else. I wish her soul would of just left when I killed her. But Lilith seeks revenge. And Lilith gets what she wishes for. Although I want her out of mind, sometimes I enjoy having her within me. I crave excitement myself. I lack excitement. Lilith is dead. I killed her. Yet her soul wondered around. Now she hides deep in my mind. Now I look in the mirror, and all I see is Lilith. I killed her. But I forgot that I was her. I am Lilith. And I can’t be killed.
• • • Joe Kilgore’s fiction has appeared in creative journals, online literary magazines, and anthologies. He is also a published novelist. You can learn more about him and his fiction at: www.joekilgore.com
• • • Jasmin Paz is a sixteen year old young lady from El Paso, Texas. She started writing at the age of twelve and has not stopped since. She currently writes for her school's newspaper, Scriptoria.
Lilith Is Dead by Jasmin Paz Lilith is dead. I killed her. But then Lilith’s soul resurrected and she began a quest to haunt me. A quest made out of vengeance. Lilith became part of me. I thought that I got rid of her. But I did not. At times she takes over my body. I can feel her. She turns my innocence into lust. My honesty into lies. And my loyalty into betrayal. She wishes to take over my body right now. 20
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
by Peter Lingard
Dysfunctional ichael Stephenson never thought he would see the inside of a prison. He, his beautiful wife, Gloria and their perfect teenage children lived the Australian dream-life in Toorak Village. As the largest shareholder of a very successful accounting company, Michael cleared something in excess of three million dollars a year without bothering to cheat the taxman. Gloria had proposed to him when he graduated from university. “You’re the smartest boy I know and I want to be with you when the money starts rolling in.” He had always known she was a gold digger but he loved her and believed she loved him for more than his financial potential. She had been disappointed when he put her on a strict budget the day after they returned from their honeymoon but she held her tongue. After their two children started school, she earned additional spending money by working for a local real-estate company. The children learned to tailor their life-styles to their self-earned income. Glen and Martina worked as a team, maintaining neighbourhood lawns and cleaning neighbours’ cars at weekends. Both children allowed themselves enough pocket money to cover their needs and put the remainder into their individual savings accounts. Their proud father matched every deposit they made. He made the same offer to Gloria and she initially scoffed at the idea. Later, in the bedroom, she told Michael she’d changed her mind and would accept his offer. Michael knew he was awkward with almost everything except money-matters but his love for his family knew no bounds. Glen and Martina recognised their father’s failings yet loved him dearly in spite of them. Although Gloria wanted for nothing, she was bitter about not having charge of the family’s finances. Many friends claimed to hold the purse strings at home and Gloria’s anger over not having the same privilege smouldered inside her. “You make me feel like a kept woman,” she complained to Michael. “You are a kept woman,” he laughingly told her. “You’re my wife and therefore it’s my responsibility to keep you. I think I do it very well, if I do say so myself. Or don’t you think so?” “Yes, but…”
Gloria was not overjoyed at the prospect of another newborn; a child for whose care she would be mostly responsible. Besides, it would be a lot harder to get her body back into shape and she would temporarily lose her supplemental income. “It isn’t fair,” she complained to her husband. “Everyone gets to go on with their life except me. I’m the one who has to carry this child and look after it when it’s born.” “Surely being a mother must be considered going on with your life. The kids and I will give you a hand whenever possible. You’ll be great! You’ll have the pregnant bloom soon and a lovely roundness to your belly.” He put his hand where the bulge would appear and kissed her. “Don’t worry about your lost income; I’ll pay you the same amount you earned as an estate agent. How does that suit?” “You’re patronising me, Michael. As for caring for the baby, I’m sure you will all help until the novelty wears off. After that it’ll just be the infant and me. You seem to forget that it’s me who maintains our social position in the community. God knows what’ll happen when everyone finds out I’m pregnant at my age.” She considered an abortion but the contagious happiness of her family persuaded her otherwise. In her positive moments, she hoped for a girl; someone to keep her company after Glen and Martina left the nest. However, as her pregnancy progressed, she became more dissatisfied. Once she started to show, she decided to forgo her weekly lunch with friends until after the birth. She finally called a clinic to arrange an abortion but found it was too late. Her unhappiness mushroomed.
Bradley was born on the first Monday of November and Gloria immediately sank into severe post-natal depression. When a nurse brought her newborn son to her, Gloria turned her back. “Take him away.” Under advice, Michael hired a nurse to look after his wife and a nanny to care for his new son. The father and his teenage children took a crash course in depression, its effects and treatment. “We can do this,” Michael told his children. “We’ll get your mother through her illness.” On the night of the annual cocktail party Michael hosted for his top clients, the nurse and the nanny, who were to help as servers, went home to change into their little black dresses. Gloria took the opportunity to give Bradley a bath. She knew her family would fuss and want to help, so she secreted the child into her en-suite bathroom at a time when he would normally be taking a nap. Michael organised the bar and checked the rooms were in good order whilst he waited for the arrival of the florists, the temporary wait-staff and the caterers. He
Both parents were surprised to discover a third child was to be born. The news brought contentment to Michael. The idea of rearing another infant created an inner glow that put an almost perpetual grin on his face. Employees and partners secretly asked each other why the man was forever smiling. Glen and Martina thought it would be fun to have a younger sibling. 21
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
sent Glen to see how his mother was progressing in her preparation for the important bash. The fourteen-yearold was surprised to see her lying limply on the bed. “Come on, mum,” he gently chided her. “You need to shake a leg and get ready for the party.” Gloria looked dully at her son and waved her arm in the direction of the en-suite. Glen opened the door and saw Bradley’s pale, lifeless body in the bath. For a moment, he stared at his dead brother; his mind closed to everything else. The noise of a dropped platter in the kitchen brought him focus. He thought he would pass out but he held on to the washbasin for support. He felt cold but was surprised to realise he was perspiring. When he returned to the bedroom, his mother looked at him with a blank expression while he fought a desire to strike her. He returned with his father who quickly took in the scene and vomited in the washbasin. Three minutes later he regained control of himself. “It’s going to be a loud and busy night, Gloria. It’d be best for all if you take some medication to help you sleep. That way, the party won’t disturb you. We’ll put you in the guest room for the night and I’ll send the nurse to sit with you when she returns. Glen, why don’t you help your mother?” “Do I have to?” “Glen! Please, do as I ask.” He gathered up Gloria’s odds and ends, put them where they belonged and straightened the bed. He took off his jacket and lay on top of the eiderdown. He was rolling up his sleaves as Glen returned to the room. “Okay, son, here’s how we’re going to handle this.”
forget I love you.” He nodded his head to Martina. “You, too, precious girl. Take care of each other.” He took a step backwards and started to turn, then stopped. “No appeals, or any such foolishness, son. Okay?” Martina and Glen visited the prison weekly but Gloria found the experience distressing and only made three trips. She fired the nurse, and found a sympathetic psychoanalyst who listened to her woes and gave her the support she believed she needed. The man did not try to fathom the depths of Gloria’s illness. He was happy to enjoy sex with her while she paid him three hundred dollars per hour.
Michael told police that while bathing Bradley he had remembered leaving some confidential business papers on the dining room table. He had left the baby alone in the bath whilst he went to put the documents into the safe. More time had elapsed because a couple of clients had called to say they would be late to the party and when he returned to the en suite, he found the baby dead. The judge took into account the facts that Michael had called the police and had freely admitted his guilt in the infant’s death. Although charged with criminal negligence, his lawyer had drawn attention to mitigating circumstances and the judge had sentenced him to nine months in gaol. Martina wept openly while Glen clenched his jaw. Gloria was not in the court as, since the baby’s death, Michael had taken every step to shield her from the media glare. As his father was being led away to start his incarceration, Glen walked up to him and hugged him. “I love you, Dad,” he said with tears in his eyes. “I know you do, Son. Thanks for your support. Now, listen to me. You’re going to have to look after your mother and sister while I’m away. I’ve arranged for you to draw whatever funds you need from the company. The company will also take care of all bills; all you and your mother need do is pass them to Mr Adderly. He’ll pay them without question. Your job is to hold the family together. Your sister will help you but your mother is in a very fragile state. I’ve let the nanny go but kept the nurse. She’ll be a great help. Look after your mother, Glen. I know it’s a lot to ask but you can do it. Never
Glen was alarmed when he saw the bank statement showing payments to the clinic amounting to onehundred-and-twenty-thousand dollars. “What’s going on, mum?” he asked. “Did your quack need to increase his fees for having to treat you?” He didn’t dare laugh at his own dry humour. “Even if that’s true, four visits surely can’t come to this much!” Gloria’s shoulders slumped. “I’m getting out, Glen,” she said quietly. “Getting out before your murdering father returns. There’ll be many more such sums, believe me. I can’t get my hands on the company but I’m going to take as much cash as I can until I can get a proper settlement and a divorce.” “You’re the one who murdered Bradley, Mum, not Dad. He took the rap for you because he knew you couldn’t handle the consequences of what you did. Is this how you repay him…by taking as much of his money as you can?” “Don’t worry, dear.” She spat the words at him. “There’ll be enough left for you and your goody-twoshoes sister.” “Jesus Christ, Mum! We don’t care about ourselves. Can’t you see what you’re doing here? You’re allowing that quack to take what belongs to the family!” “I’m family, too!” “I know, but this isn’t right.” “It’s time to grow up, Glen. You might not have realised it, but he and I are more than just doctor and patient. I’m going to live with him as soon as I’ve syphoned off enough money to keep me going. I’ve helped earn it and now I’m going to help spend it”
As the day of Michael’s release grew near, the charlatan knew his scam might soon end. “Look, Gloria. I know my actions have been very unprofessional but I’ve fallen in love with you.” Gloria started to respond but the man held up his hand. “No. Hang on a sec. I’d like to ask you to share your life with mine but I’m afraid I don’t have the funds for us to live in the way to which you’re accustomed.” He offered her a weak smile. “I’d like us to be together but if you walk away, I’ll understand.” Gloria took three quick steps forward and kissed the man’s lips. She had doubts about him but he seemed an easy way out. “You silly man! Money isn’t a problem. I can bring wads of it with me. You just bill me thirtythousand for today’s session and every session from now on. Let’s see how much we can get out of my husband’s company before someone realises what’s going on. It’s just noughts; nothing, really. Book me in for another session tomorrow.”
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
“Why are you doing this? Surely this guy is just a temporary fling! Anyway, why would you want to divorce dad?” “Why? He killed my beautiful Bradley. The court accepted his admission of guilt and they won’t expect me to have to live with him after that.” “How come you didn’t divorce dad before now? Hadn’t you figured out how to get his money? And, by the way, ma, you killed Bradley!” “You were too young to understand everything that happened, Glen. The courts accepted your father’s guilty plea and sentenced him to prison. I’m surprised he didn’t get a longer sentence but it was your father who did it.” “He did it for you!” “He killed Bradley for me? Is that what he told you?” “No…oh shit. Look, mum,” Glen took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. He knew he had to drop the subject of Bradley’s death. “You have to stop giving this guy these outrageous so-called fees. If you don’t, I’ll get the lawyer to put a stop on your cheques and credit cards.” “Sorry, Glen, but I’ve already seen another lawyer and he has taken steps to forestall such action. It may not be written in stone but it’ll give me enough time to do what I need to do.” “I’ll have the man discredited, or struck off, or whatever it is they do.” “Glen, dear, if the man were a grocer, I’d pay him thirty-thousand for an apple. You’re wasting your time.”
As they went through the front door, Glen turned to his father. “There’s a lot of stuff I have to tell you, dad.” “Okay, Glen. Let’s at least go into the kitchen where I can get a decent cup of coffee.” His son poured coffee into a cup and passed it across the butcher block’s surface. “I don’t know where to begin.” Michael opened the fridge and took out a carton of milk. “Take your time, son. I’m not going anywhere.” “Well, mum’s been seeing this psychoanalyst and I guess it turned into an affair, or something and mum’s been taking money by having the man bill her outrageous fees for his services. She said you killed Bradley. She really believes it. Everything’s totally stuffed.” “Well, perhaps this psychoanalyst can help.” “No, Dad. You don’t get it. She’s sleeping with him!” “I gathered that, Glen. That was my feeble attempt at humour.” “Oh. Well it’s not funny. They raid your bank accounts. The company keeps topping up the accounts to stop them going into the red. She told me she wants a divorce because you killed Bradley and she wants a lot of money in a settlement so she can take off with her quack. I talked to Mr Adderly at your office, the guy who tops up the accounts and stuff, but he says she can do whatever she wants. He believes you killed Bradley.” “Why wouldn’t he, Glen? He knows I admitted to doing so in court.” “I guess, but it’s not right. Anyhow, this morning, when Martina was waiting in the taxi, I called for mum to come with us to the prison. When she didn’t appear, I went to look for her and found her in the bedroom, packing stuff like she was leaving. When I asked if she was coming with us to meet you, she laughed and said my idea of her finding happiness with you and me and Marty was rubbish. She even bragged about how money she’d transferred overseas was gone forever and you’d never be able to get it back.” Glen wiped tears from his eyes and drank a mouthful of his father’s coffee to moisten his aching throat. Concerned by Glen’s pallor, Michael put his arm around the teen’s shoulder. “It’s okay, son. Take your time.” Glen drew a shuddering breath before continuing. “I told her all our troubles were over and that you’d be home today and make everything right. She laughed and said your coming home meant her troubles were getting worse. I threw her on the bed, Dad. I screamed at her and called her all sorts of names and then I jumped on the bed as well and put my hands around her throat. She screamed at me to stop and tried to get up but I used my body to press her down. I don’t know how I did it, I mean, she was struggling and hitting me and screaming and her eyes were really wild. I shook her neck and I squeezed and squeezed and...Oh, God, I’m sorry.” Glen’s voice broke and he put his elbows on the butcher block, dropped his head into his arms and sobbed. Michael grasped his son’s collar and yanked him back into an upright position. “Go on!” he shouted. The urgency in his father’s voice shocked Glen. He swallowed his sobs and continued. “I think I was still
Mr Adderly advised Glen that Gloria was entitled to a share of the family’s assets. “As long as she freely paid the psychoanalyst his invoiced fees, there is nothing anyone can legally do.” “Can’t we start an enquiry into the amount he charges his other clients?” “Not unless your mother makes an official complaint.” “But my mother killed Bradley and my dad took the rap for her! Is this the way he’s to be rewarded?” Adderly looked doubtfully at his employer’s son. “I commend your loyalty to your father, Glen, but he was found culpable in the death of your baby brother.” Glen and Martina arrived late to greet their father outside the prison gates. Tears streamed down the man’s face as he hugged his children. “It’s good to see you guys. I was worried you’d been in an accident, or something.” He kissed them and held them at arms’ length to get a good look at them in the daylight. “It was the thought of us all being together again that helped me through my time in there.” He glanced at the idling taxi. “Where’s your mother?” “She...she wasn’t feeling too well, dad. I told her to stay at home and we’d all see her later. Marty has to go and pick up some stuff and we’ll all get together at home around six this evening. Right, sis?” Martina nodded. “Right. We’re going to make a special meal for you tonight, dad. No more prison food. The taxi’s going to drop me off at the market, then take you and Glen home. I’ll see you later.”
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squeezing long after she was dead. I…I’m sorry, Dad. She’s still in there now…in the bedroom.” Michael exhaled his breath in a rush. “All right, Son. You stay here and try to calm down while I have a look.”
Pictures, Movies, Stories
He stood at the door to the bedroom and imagined the fight between mother and son. Several minutes passed before he quelled his shivering body. He wasn’t sure if his tears were for Glen or himself but he knew they weren’t for Gloria.
by Jessu John
“How long ago did this happen?” “I dunno, dad. An hour? Two?” “Does Marty know?” “I dunno. She never said anything and I didn’t tell her. She was waiting in the taxi while I… She had her earphones on, playing her iPod.” “What about the driver?” “I don’t think so. When I told him we had to wait for mum, he produced his mobile phone and said he had a few calls to make. The windows were closed and the air-conditioning was blowing so I suppose not.” “Any neighbours call to see what was wrong? Was there a knock on the door, or anything?” “No way, Dad. They’re too far away.” “Okay. First I want to say how sorry I am for having put you in this position. The things that have occurred in your young life are too much for anyone to bear. I’m sure my day of reckoning for that will come. Please forgive me…” “No, dad! It’s you who has to forgive me for what I’ve done.” “Stop that right now!” He again put his arm around Glen’s shoulder and waited for him to calm. “Okay, son, here’s how we’re going to handle this.” ●
These pictures of us speak volumes, The glint in your eye, The glimmer in my smile, We’re grinning from ear to ear, Encircled in each other’s laughter. I want picture after picture with you, I want memory after memory Of all that plays between us, Every round of banter, Every look we exchange, Every moment of understanding In which words are never needed, Your every half smile, My heart’s every somersault, I need all of these wrapped in images That can be frozen and framed In a secret open space in our minds. Someday I will need to remember you like this, I may need to think of how I was When we were together. So that if we ever lose this, If we are never here together again, I will always know this was real, There was something between us, That we had the time of our lives, That we could have had it all our lives If pictures could speak no lies.
• • • Peter Lingard, born a Briton sold ice-creams on railway stations, worked as a bank clerk, delivered milk, laboured in a large dairy, served in the Royal Marines and ‘bounced’ leery customers in a London clip-joint. He was an accountant, a barman and a farm worker. Peter lived in the US for a while, where he owned a freight forwarding business. He went to Australia because the sun frequently shines and the natives communicate in English. His stories and poems have appeared in 60+ magazines and e-zines. His first novel seeks publication. Contact him at email@example.com
MOVIES Remember your lines, Let me get mine right, Go touch up your face, Let me get my make-up perfect, And see, there lies your tuxedo, I spy my ball gown in yonder corner – It’s powder blue, Like my love is true I am ready for this scene, Jack, are you? We have practised these steps In private, You on your own, I all by myself, It is time to dance together, 24
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And now the cameras roll. I am going away now, I am leaving you to your restiveness, I am taking to the hills So the echoes of our longings write themselves On pages no one will find, So I may write a story Of lovers who find each other, Of lovers who don’t, So life may go on unhindered, And yet never so.
Speak your lines, Look into my eyes, I am Rose, the love of your life, You know it, Come on Jack, you can do this. I revel now in a warm stream Of your love lines, We dance, I float on a dream, Do you think the cameras know We are not just following the script?
• • •
Jack, you must do something, You must tell me how you feel, Before someone or something Sinks this Titanic – This giant hope unspoken Between us – So that if we drop, we go together, If we find ourselves afloat, We are still in this embrace.
Jessu John is a branding & communications professional from Bangalore, India. She writes for mainstream Indian daily 'The Hindu' and is also an amateur long distance runner. While writing remains her first love, she is always excited and inspired by the work of talented others in the space of photography, painting, music, dance and theatre. Caught in the perfect mood, she can even turn out a mean cake. She tweets as @JessuRJohn.
Let life begin again, Jack, Let us dance again, I am Rose – you know who I am.
If I could boomerang the truth
by Elizabeth Beck
There is a story behind the fire that gets lit When our eyes meet across the room There is not much to say, is there, When the knowledge of this is perfect? We do not have to write love letters, When our poems tell our stories, We do not have to call this a love story, When our words make love within us.
it would circle the moon and pierce the sun before returning to me tasting like burned toast. It matters. Whether the word travels to the Great Barrier Reef or settles at the bottom of a shot glass, it belongs to me. It is mine. I study snapshots from my childhood & collect skeleton keys looking for clues that no longer exist. The truth isn’t important now, of course. It never is. Never was, actually. Searching for a word, my mind wanders sifting through eviscerated lines of poetry as the sunlight slants and the shadows recede the truth clicks back into place. I lock the door behind me.
It’s a story no award-winning author Can find a language to tell it in, Because we hardly speak of it ourselves, And our thoughts flit away into dreams, Language always following in the hope Of catching our secrets. Even though we may write every story But our own, There is something to be said Of the ease with which we can hold hands And feel nothing While feeling everything.
• • • Elizabeth Beck is a writer, mixed media artist and teacher who lives with her family on a pond in Lexington, Kentucky. She studied art and literature at the University of Cincinnati (DAAP) and achieved her master degree in education from Xavier University.
And I have never rested like this in the simplicity Of love, And I have never been this restless to see you Once again. Could this be it, then? The love I’ve always been looking for? 25
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by E. Lane Keller
What Any Mother Would Do Excerpted from COVENANT OF POPPIES a novel by E. Lane Keller
While covering rising violence between Croatians and Serbs during the early Yugoslav Wars, American correspondent, Duke Vrakuvic, journeys to meet the family from whom, decades before, his parents severed all ties. As his visit with his relatives comes to an end Duke’s questions regarding his parents’ actions remain unanswered.
facades, tiers of barren flower boxes adorned a smokedarkened fascia with sooty window eyes. He followed Petra to a semi-path behind the house, wondering what they were doing in this God-forsaken place, and then, why they were wading through choking weeds and broken crockery. They stopped at a disused stable some fifty yards from the house, where, instead of cows and horses, several dozen mounds of lazing fur sprung to feral life as they entered, frenzied cries mingling with frenzied purring as ragtag felines raged for a good spot against Petra’s legs. He helped her spoon food into bowls while marveling at her crooning, which sounded to him just like a real mother cat’s. What Petra was doing here was a mystery, but he forced his questions down, turning to fill a basin from a stiff, barely-working pump before following her into a dusky kitchen. From there they proceeded into a highceilinged sitting room, where, upon on an ornate chair sat the apparent object of their quest, a woman as old as Baka Sofi, as dusty and dejected as the home in which they found themselves. At the sight of Duke the woman jolted back with a cry. “Who’s that with you, Petra?” The woman’s tone crackled from disuse, and as he set down the basin in front of her Duke stole a look at her faded dress and long, jeweled earrings, which he deemed to be circa 1947 at best. The woman’s expression was sour. “This is not one of your brothers, Petra,” she hissed while continuing her assessment of the intruder. “He’s my cousin, Mrs. Huddel,” Petra answered in a clear tone, causing Duke’s head to whip around. She could speak! It was the first time he’d heard Petra utter a word. What a conniver. But no, she was not of that ilk. There was undoubtedly some deep mystery behind her silence that she would withhold from him until his death. Petra returned to the kitchen, leaving him with an entirely upgraded opinion of her. He turned back to Mrs. Huddel and her protracted scorn. “Humph,” the old woman pronounced. “So this is the great American grandson.” She dipped a rag into the basin, drew it over her crevassed face, then darted expertly around the earrings. “Rude boy!” she snapped. “Don’t stare so.” As Duke faced away Mrs. Huddel’s voice lost its edge. “It’s a long time since I have had anyone to talk to. Your aunt used to come. Do I look dead to you?” He turned back slightly abashed, and answered with sympathy. “Sofi’s ill. But at least she’s got family near her.” Mrs. Huddel rasped as if she held the ghosts of a thousand mourners within her chest. “Yes, she’s a good
1991 Krdn, Croatia he train to Belgrade was departing early the following morning, and guessing that he would not be returning to Krdn for some time, Duke meandered about while giving his grandmother’s house a final look. The sound of playing children reached in to him from the street, limbs like sticks and clutching bikes, chalky and wobbly, their faces happy, chiding, heedless; they were somehow aware that this moment in time was not to be squandered. It was hard to comprehend that his father had grown up in this place, with Baka Sofi, in this gritty little house and neighborhood, where little boys played made-up games without thought to lives that might one day be consumed with bitter, useless acrimony. He found his youngest cousin in the barn shoveling feed into a bucket, and she balanced it on her head like Zeus, the Elephant Trainer, before handing it over to him. He told her he was leaving the following morning and she leveled her quiet gaze at him with her usual lack of comment. No doubt she perceived the truth, that he was functionally inadequate and could no sooner find words for his questions than she could form words to answer them. “It’s difficult for me as an outsider, you know.” He said this stupidly, as it seemed all his words were coming out these days, noting that despite his cousin’s silence she seemed acutely attuned to his thoughts. She was far too wise for a girl of fourteen years, he decided. His cousin skipped and moved them forward, her skirts flapping as she wound them through dirt-packed lanes and crisscrossed through backyards, until veering off onto a small gravel path leading to the far end of town. Beyond what appeared to be a dumping ground for decaying farm equipment, and before the golden tracts of arable land splayed out with nary a shopping mall, paved road or McDonalds in sight, arose a lone, twostoried, vacant-looking house. As they neared the structure he saw it betrayed the Croatians’ usual love affair with Austrian architecture. But instead of gaily blossomed terraces and bright stucco
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mother, isn’t she?” She added, “Yet Sofi Vrakuvic will always be by herself, make no mistake about it.” She motioned towards a faded stepstool and as Duke pulled it near he disturbed a nest of soldier ants that preceded to rush his way. “Has your grandmother told you anything?” Mrs. Huddel’s bony fingers clenched the worn brocade of her chair as Duke fought off the ants. “One or two things,” he responded, shaking out a pant leg, then another. Her wounds were undoubtedly abysmal, but at that moment he was challenged more by the idea of ants in his nether regions than he was by hearing ancient stories. “Only one or two? There are some stories your ‘Baka’ will never tell you.” Mrs. Huddel raised her head as Petra entered and placed a bowl of steaming dumplings in her hands. Petra cast a worried look at Duke as she did so, and Duke cast her an assured smile. “Duke and I are friends now, Petra,” the old woman explained. “Wait inside like a good little bird. “ But Petra lingered and Mrs. Huddel pierced a dumpling with her fork, wielding it in her direction. “I said, I want to talk to the grandson!” Petra scurried away and Mrs. Huddel aimed the dumpling at Duke. “Have you heard of Ustashe?” Duke grew silent. Ustashe. The word was like a disease. Before he could respond she answered, “We saw it happen in this village.” Mrs. Huddel lowered her fork. “Our own turned. My boys were taken from me, my eldest killed. It was ‘43 when they came to round up my boys. The other two put in camps. All three dead.” She settled back in her chair, and Duke got the feeling he was about to hear a tale she had been waiting a very long time to tell, waiting maybe, for him. He thought he should take notes, but then thought better of it as she might be dissuaded from talking. He decided to commit her words to memory instead. The gist would be fine, and might just make a good personal interest piece. “I had no husband by then,” she explained. “But Sofi’s husband? Josip Vrakuvic was brave Krajinisci. He was going to protect us.” She referred to the grandfather he never knew. As the tale unfolded the village of 1940’s Krdn arose upon the room’s walls, the shadows fell away, and Duke forgot about taking notes. “The Huddels and Vrakuvics were excellent friends,” she said. “Josip Vrakuvic was godfather to my Vetska. Her baptism was a beautiful ceremony. Every villager came, our Orthodox Priest as well as the Catholic one. Vetska was a beautiful girl, as sweet and wise as Petra. Several boys in the village asked for her hand. But she was only fourteen and so I told them it was too early.” Mrs. Huddel laughed and clasped a hand to her breast. “Oh Vetska! My girl!” She clamped her eyes shut.
dear friend. He would protect us if the time came. Many of the Serbs had already left for they were afraid their neighbors would turn on them like they had in other villages. But Josip Vrakuvic was head of Krajinisci and not only did we trust him, he had influence. Soon enough, the Serbs in Krdn began to disappear. Some were shot in front of us. Our dear priest Father Kurkovic, and Obrad, our doctor. Eventually we wondered how Serbs came to be identified. Everyone had similar names, how did the Ustashe know who was whom? Was someone in our village pointing them out? On the night my boys were taken away, my faith slipped. I believed I sent them to their deaths by remaining in the village and not fleeing while we had the chance. From then on I was tied here. I couldn’t leave while my boys were in danger. I clung to Vetska, vowing to protect her with my last breath. Josip and Sofi promised they would do everything they could. They took us in and hid us. Because of this, I believed them. Eventually the remaining village boys were rounded up like so many pawns, drafted into the Ustashe or killed by them. Only the old people and women and children were left. Your grandfather, Josip, was too old to be drafted. He was twenty years older than Sofi. They used him to train the soldiers, and Sofi was happy to see him in the favor of the Ustashe for this would keep them safe. She loved Josip fiercely, as much as she loved her boys and certainly more than herself. As much as my Vetska was to me, Josip was to Sofi. Josip was on the farm the day the Ustashe came to our village. They cornered him and demanded he point out the houses of Serbs. Most were gone by then, so he had no trouble doing this. Mrs. Huddel jabbed a boney finger at Duke. “Would you have turned on those who depended upon you?’ Duke whispered that no, he wouldn’t have, and she continued. “That Ustashe officer knew more than he was telling. What he wanted was for Josip to identify the Serbs staying in his home. The officer was toying with your grandfather. If the Ustashe hated one thing it was a man who felt he was morally above them. Josip Vrakuvic was a better man and the officer knew it. He repeated his question, asking Josip to point out the houses that Serbs still lived in. The officer knew the houses and he also knew that Vetska and I were inside the Vrakuvic home. But he wanted to hear Josip say it. Your grandfather didn’t respond and a soldier cracked him across the face with his rifle. That’s when they came after us and dragged us out. The officer wanted a show, you see. He wanted to observe what a man of substance would do in the situation he was about to create. Sofi arrived then, flailing her arms and hair flying from under her kerchief as if she was Medusa. I threw Vetska behind me, praying the Ustashe wouldn’t see my action, for some reason still believing we might be saved.
That’s when they came after us and dragged us out. The officer wanted a show, you see.
“As I said,” she explained, “Josip Vrakuvic was our 27
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Maybe the Ustashe had all been like Josip Vrakuvic once. Why else would they have spent so much time torturing him? To them, moral courage had become a big joke. He resisted what they asked him to do, but I knew Josip couldn’t hold out forever. They beat him with their guns while Sofi screamed, her hair wild like snakes. She flew at the soldiers, scratching and biting with all her strength, which, despite her height, was considerable. The soldiers threw her aside as she screamed, ‘It is not supposed to happen to us!’ That was when I knew that something terrible was going to transpire and that I was helpless to stop it. The Krajinisci were brave fighters, but they weren’t trained to be inhuman like the Ustashe. I knew that once Sofi became desperate all would be lost. I pushed Vetska backwards, motioning that she should run away. It was a feeble action and one of them grabbed my arm and sliced it through.” Mrs. Huddel showed Duke her wrist. There was a jagged gash, still garish after forty-five years. “They nearly cut my hand off,” she explained. “Still, I threw myself on Vetska as they dragged her forward. They wrung her from me and tossed her on the ground before Josip. I wedged myself between them, but they clubbed me. They could have killed me, but didn’t. They wanted me alive for what was going to happen. ‘Is this girl a Serb?’ the officer demanded. I could see from Josip’s eyes that he would not betray Vetska for all the world. But Sofi was another matter. Her words ring in my ears fifty years later. ‘Tell them Josip, or I will,’ Sofi cried. Then, ‘She is Serb!’ And even still your grandfather tried to save Vetska. ‘No, she is Muslim,’ Josip cried as the Ustashe laughed in his face. Mrs. Huddel’s breathing was ragged and her eyes were wide, as if the Ustashe were chasing her through the years. With a wrenched sigh she brought forth the rest of the story. “They threw Vetska down. I cannot say the filthy words they used to tell Josip what they wanted him to do. ‘She is my godchild,’ Josip tried to explain. But to these monsters feelings like love and trust cannot be explained. The prospect thrilled them further. ‘You are her godfather?’ the officer asked with amusement. The other soldiers raised their bottles, looking forward to the show. I kept myself from falling into unconsciousness, forcing myself to stay alert for Vetska’s sake. Sofi was prostrate on the ground, pleading with Josip to do what the soldiers wanted. The soldiers held me as I watched Josip Vrakuvic rape my little girl. As he took her, she stared up at him as if trying to understand why he was hurting her. Then the soldiers followed suit. Mrs. Huddel’s chest was heaving, and the images she’d conjured spun about the room. When he could no longer stand his thoughts he choked out, “My grandfather. What happened to him?” She shot him a look, as if surprised Duke didn’t know the answer. She made no response as Duke shook his head and arose. He had asked too much and was sorry he’d come. He regretted ever trying to find answers to his
questions. Once he reached the air outside he would forget everything he’d heard and leave his answers to what he’d imagined, his childish stories and half-baked rational that covered his parents’ lies. Mrs. Huddel’s stone-cold tone caused him to halt at the door. “They broke his leg bones first. Your grandfather’s screams faded as they moved to the rest of his body. He was still alive as they carved a cross into his forehead. Then they finished them both off with a knife across their necks.” Mrs. Huddel’s gaze was turned to the wall. “I’m glad she is dead. I am very glad. And I’m glad that Sofi Vrakuvic lives with the memory of what she did.” “My grandmother,” Duke burst out, “Why did they leave her alive?” Mrs. Huddel’s lips drew up in irony. “Why, because she did what any good mother of four boys would do. She was the informant who spied on our village. That was how they knew the houses. Duke stood motionless. His thoughts whirled. Sofi was an informant for the Ustashe? His uncles, Uncle Phillip, his own father--were they bought by the Ustashe too? He blurted out, “You said you ‘believed’ Josip and Sofi. What did you mean by it?” The cracks of her smile were as ghastly as his thoughts. A gleam entered Mrs. Huddel’s eyes, one filled with unmistakable malice. “I meant I believed when they told me we were family. Do you want to know the truth?” No, he didn’t want to know. Not anymore. He kept going. “We are dogs to them and always were.” As he exited the kitchen her words followed him out. “Myself, I would have urinated on my children’s corpses rather than see them turned into the devil seed that was Ustashe.” Petra was sitting on a barrel with her head on her arms as he entered the yard. Duke sat beside her and after awhile said that he believed the choice to remain silent amidst the evils of the world might be a very sound one at that. ● • • • E. Lane Keller's novel, Covenant of Poppies, unravels 1000 years of Yugoslav history while shedding light on the media bias that helped take the country down. Published in non-fiction with Reed Elsevier, her plays have been produced in Maryland, two short screenplays were produced with Sundance Awardwinning filmmaker, Steve Yeager, and the stage version of Covenant of Poppies appeared at the NY Fringe Festival. A recipient of the Maryland State grant for writing, graduate of NYU, member of the Author's Guild. Visit her website at www.ELaneKeller.com
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complexity. It is bemusement. There. That’s it. She has decided. Bemusement. End of story. “It was money. Money. That’s it. Next kook, please.” “You’re off on a rant, dearie.” And then there are the terms of endearment, their steady usage like end punctuation. Is it all part of a detailed assault? all fitted parts to a whole? like pointed blocks to a building? Are simple terms of endearment setting her off these days, or is it the load of twenty years beginning to weigh on her shoulders? “I’m going out for a walk.” Julia announces. Julia decides. Julia declares. “I mean, what, if anything, does one know of another?” Aliscia calls after her from her comfort. Well, everything really, everything that is worth knowing. Julia lets the back screen door slam and bounce behind her and her eyes grow accustom to the setting sun. She shades her eyes toward the river, over the old tracks, and watches the runners pass on RiverWalk. Everyone is known to a certain degree, everyone screams when you pinch them, everyone jumps when you scare them. Julia declares.
Life’s a Mystery by BD Feil Must everything be a mystery.” Not a question but a declaration, and with much rustle flutter as Julia tries to fold the newspaper back into its original neat rectangle and making too much a show of it since it is she and she alone who insists they still get the actual newspaper, albeit in truncated form in this digital age. Daily, she sets out to show the superiority of newsprint, the neatness, the handiness of a collection of newspapers at hand, all stacked by the side of her chair and ready for future referencing. But the newspaper this evening sits crumpled like a Frank Gehry building in her lap, her fingers smeared with a residue of stories as foretold by Aliscia, the bile of irritability now playing at Julia’s throat. “Life’s a mystery, dear?” A question not a declaration, as Aliscia places the paperback she is reading face down next to her on the sofa so as to not lose her place (something DEADLY something) and picks up her laptop. She moves back and forth between the two all this summer evening, one always ready beside her when the other lets her down a bit, pulling in this or that thread while the slow light shifts through the windows. “No, it isn’t.” Julia looks at the jumble of newsprint in her lap, hesitant to even touch it again, so easily dissatisfied these days, so easily set off, so easily pushed off any bit of raised ground and set rolling. But Aliscia goes on as Aliscia will. “Well, yes, sweetums. Life is a mystery. So much we don’t understand. Motives and why-fors. What did they know and when did they know it? How could it all happen? How could anything happen . . . “ Julia gestures with two open palms to the newspaper in her lap. “Not really. Not really at all. The woman simply wanted money.” But Aliscia knows all about the story, knows all stories, all lives, all plots, all questions. The story of the mother who faked her son’s cancer has dominated her news cycle the past week, and she has erected a whole wall of questions around it. Julia, however, wishes to put it to rest, sorely tired of the subject which has done nothing but set her to wondering why her insistence on a newspaper, forced now to look at it each evening in a glaringly ostentatious performance in order to prove an increasingly insupportable stance. She now considers the prudence of a simple and discrete withdraw from battle. “Heinous, I’ll grant you. I mean, pretending your own child has cancer for the fundraising money . . . But her motives were clear.” “Were they, honey? Were they clear?” “Why, yes. Money. There. Move on. This grinding it out to sell news in the papers and…” And here she waves her hand in the direction of Aliscia’s laptop. “And then not even to sell news. Not really. It’s to sell antacids or fat burners or penis hardeners.” Aliscia smiles, her cat smile, Julia thinks, she has seen it many times and never quite knows what Aliscia is thinking when it comes upon her, possible bemusement, possible playfulness, possible
Julia considers. Aliscia. A woman obsessed with the current. A woman maniacal for reported events. If Julia hadn’t put down her foot there would be a television in every room of the house with a newsfeed running. And as things stand, the laptop is always propped open, the browsers multiple and updating, no bits of news slipping past Aliscia’s ready fingers, drawing this and that thread on to her couched lap. And then there are the whodunits, the used paperbacks of mystery that Julia has begun to believe serve no more purpose than a beard for Aliscia’s news addiction because that is what Julia considers it now, an addiction, a disease. And yet a woman who deals in antiques. But it’s all the same, isn’t it? all the same? the news cycles, the whodunits, the puzzlers, a search for motives, a search for certainties? And it’s all too much for Julia, too much, and this in a woman prone to irritations which she very well knows herself to be. She has begun taking walks since this last bit of restoration, sometimes abruptly and sometimes lengthily, but always in her scowling unapproachable way, away from their restored house down by the old railroad tracks, the tracks themselves no longer with original purpose but now holding the blooming landscaping next to RiverWalk, a clearly marked converted border for the wide paved trails of cyclists and runners. She begins the long steady climb that is inevitable from their now fashionable neighborhood in the river valley, the new parks and trails, the old depots turned outdoor cafes, the condos with underground garages. The restored houses are old and not particularly wellbuilt to begin with, part of that neighborhood set aside for the set-aside. “Negro-Town” at one time or another. “Mick-Town” at another. Never “Kraut-Town,” the Germans always having the upper hand in this town. When Julia and Aliscia bought the house together twenty years ago, a somewhat ramshackle place with much work to be done, home renovation had been left to Julia without any discussion of sharing, only a weighing of skill and desire. Aliscia had neither. There were Julia’s years in the Peace Corps and then Habitat For 29
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Humanity. She went at the structure, Aliscia the decor. Aliscia had the shop downtown, after all, the shop that has been passed to her from her mother and had been in the family for years, an institution in itself, Antiques and Nonesuch. Yes, maybe it was this last little bit of restoration that set Julia off, the tearing out of the downstairs back bathroom, this very last part that took all winter, this final project in which she had firmly come to reject the illusory in life, the mystery, and embrace life in all its baseness, hard and bare and cold like tundra. It had started as a smell, a mustiness in the kitchen, and upon thinking about it for several weeks, or rather, avoiding thinking about it for several weeks, she pulled up a corner of the floor and found moisture. On the other side of the wall in question was the shower for the little back bathroom added on by the previous owner when the house was rented out as a quadplex to students, functioning fine for years. So the urgency of replacement was ignored. Julia used it more than Aliscia, mostly during mornings to get ready for work. Eventually she said she would get to it, and eventually was upon her that winter. On further investigation on up the wall and on the studs underneath (she had gone ahead and ripped out all the wall board) a black dusting of some sort and then, upon finally pulling up the floor in the bathroom itself, a sodden mass of OSB underneath. Aliscia shook her head and wrung her hands and gave her cat’s smile as if she’d known all along and it was the beginning of a great adventure and weren’t they lucky, and Julia felt the beginnings of a very long simmering of irritation. The project was exhaustive: fixtures torn out, walls torn out, floor taken up, then the subflooring and even the wall frames where water and mold had infiltrated: the entire bathroom had to be rebuilt, and Julia went at it steadily all winter and eventually into the spring as if trying to draw this one last bit out, knowing that this would be the last, the final renovation to the ramshackle house they she had bought together twenty years before, the last piece that would make the old new again, to make the crooked square again. And it was when Julia had stripped everything out down to the floor joists and sat there with legs dangling into the crawlspace underneath that she set to studying the dirt, really looking at it, and the thickness (or thinness, more apt) of the wood that had been holding up her large naked body every morning above the cold earth below. There was nothing to it, these floor boards, these joists, these wallboards, these wall studs, she thought: we are separated from the hard world around us as if by paper, as if by mist. And from there the distance was not too great to imagining the instability of the entire house, her home, and beyond that how she didn’t have a home and never did, that this all had been illusory, all laid bare to her now. This house, these walls, this floor: all so thin, all so lacking in permanence, all so uncertain. Up the hill toward downtown, to higher ground, always toward the higher ground in her walks, her slow piston-like way. She could stick to the river valley and the new RiverWalk but the cyclists and bladers and young parents running behind their three-wheeled aerodynamic strollers rattle her, raise her hackles by their very presence with her on the trail, so she takes to the old buckled sidewalks up toward downtown. Julia’s
right shoulder brushes along the granite squares of the block-long foundation of the Catholic Church and its compound, its presbytery, its school. Was there a nunnery in there at one time, and did they even call it a nunnery? The church itself is impossibly tall here at the bottom of the hill, slanted in, stories in fact, a sturdy and unmoving supporting structure, and even this does not impress Julia, despite its apparent permanence, whatever its thickness around this hill of dirt, because the dirt will eventually claim it. She knows if she takes time to examine it, there will be cracks, still, heaves, still, the crumbling going on from inside out, still. Oh, she is in a state, but on she goes, up, without heaviness in her breath, always surprising for some one of her bear-like size, on, up, with only the least perceptible speed. Is she holding someone up, this distinct feeling that someone is behind her? She moves slowly, painfully slowly, and lately in a goodly amount of pain from her fallen arches. Is it a runner? A mother pushing a carriage? A group of preschoolers perhaps, summer campers they would now be, out on a field trip, all tied together at the waist with a line. She steps off the sidewalk into the devil’s strip, two impossible structures now to sail through, the old immigrant church’s granite foundation and Julia on the other side in the devil’s strip, a Midwest Pillars of Hercules. Julia turns with a forced smile ready to say good evening to whomever it is, but there is no one. Of course, it would not be preschoolers, all of them safely home by now in the evening behind their own thin walls. What is she thinking? No one. She can still see Aliscia’s smile, her cat’s smile, hear her pet names, all meant endearing of course, but taken otherwise. Is the whole structure getting old? Twenty years, a long time. She continues on but is now conscious of her pace and her large figure ambling up the hill toward downtown, lumbering, blocking the walk, the entire population of town queued up behind her. And as Julia nears the top of the hill, the church foundation shrinking, shrinking, now no more than a couple steps of raised hosta beds, easier going, little incline now to work against her heavy legs, she again feels a sense of movement behind her. She turns, and this time a pair of legs disappears behind a tree well back on the opposite side of the street. Her first thought is her work. It is not uncommon, or at least unheard of, to have a client latch on to a case worker, especially those clients still on the streets, not in the straightest mental health to begin with, to just latch on and follow and observe all out of some sense of comfort, nothing more than a comfort in making sure the case worker, Julia in this case, is fine, functioning, living a life. Always when Julia hears of such incidents, it seems that such matters are less stalking and more simple observation of the certainty of another’s life, wishful thinking maybe, protective feelings maybe, but definitely comfort. She turns and continues on, neither quicker nor more concerned, but as if in the midst of some strange fuzz of a dream or new love. When she and Aliscia met and when they started circling each other and the first murmurs of living together were whispered there was a resistance on Julia’s part so as to appear standoffish, almost shy, which seems now to Julia an incongruity, now in a woman who has 30
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always prided herself in being confrontational and independent. At the time, she was finishing her law degree and had before that finished her master’s work in social work and, though consumed, felt the need to have someone, even as her mother had her father. Her mother was just beginning the early signs of dementia, babbling on and on, but happy, yes, happy, that Julia had a “new friend.” Julia was always able to make friends easily, even for a big gal . . . The sidewalk levels out, the top gained. She turns again in front of a small brick apartment building of vaguely Spanish design; she does not know why she turns; she turns. A back now disappears behind a panel truck parked in the street. Yes, there had been a definite approval on her mother’s part of Aliscia, a liking. Aliscia had always been self-supporting, a business owner; the antique shop in the Haberkamp family for decades, in the same building downtown virtually unchanged. In fact, in the twenty years of their relationship, aside from the introduction of computers and the business going online and even including these, there has been little physical change inside the store or to the collection proper. Surely, things must sell, inventory moving out and in and through Antiques and Nonesuch somehow; surely, a profit is made in some way. Yet every piece seems the same, in nearly the same position since Julia has known Aliscia, twenty years. Oh, a quilting rack changed position from one side of the shop to the other (Julia herself helped), and the French-polished dining room tables have been moved at great effort (again, Julia) from the mezzanine loft up to the front and collapsed for extra room, but can she say for certain that anything is missing from the store, even from the glass cases that hold the cameos, butterfly pins, wedding bands, and napkin rings? Not really, she cannot say in absolute certainty one way or another, not really. She does not intrude. Does she not wonder enough? Has she always only been concerned with the hard ground of life, the bare supporting frames? Yet Aliscia adds her half of the money into the joint account every month, just as Julia’s paycheck is deposited automatically, so there has to be revenue, but where and how does the revenue occur, how with certainty? And isn’t that what she is aiming for? the goal? certainty? Certainty. Her cases at work surely want that. A certainty. A sturdy system of joists and studs to hold them. At least she used to think so. Now, she is not so sure. After being a homeless and poverty advocate for over twenty years, even that is an uncertainty. At first she assumed they wanted something concrete, something to count on, so she plowed ahead, time after time: she outlined plans, written out, bulletpointed, detailed her carefully dominoed steps of recovery for them – AA leads to a job leads to money leads to an apartment leads to savings – the good life in Julia’s easy-to-follow steps. But lately the looks in their eyes and the nods of their heads seem anything but agreements. Rather, there is a knowingness there, a nod
to the chimeral aspect of Certainty, an awareness that nothing is, a weariness that nothing will be. She will run. Julia will run. It is the natural reaction, as old as anything: when pursued, flee. She will run, past the churches of this university town, past the fine old houses, past the even bigger houses divided up by the enterprising into very small eighths for the college students, past more apartments, through downtown and the university and its courtyards, stilled and peaceful in midsummer, finally drawing up, not out of windedness or fatigue nor out of sense of ridiculousness, but out of irritability, and then she will turn on her pursuer, confront her pursuer, unmask her pursuer. Though by now is there doubt? But her urge to run is just that, an urge, the running no more than a dream for Julia, a wonderful dream, her knees pumping high, kicking smoothly, her feet just touching the ground and then only with the toes, her spring elastic, the effort off-handed. She is incapable of running, really: her fallen arches, her dysplasia of the hip as a newborn never properly treated, her shin splints, her heart murmur, her asthma, her age, her whole goddamn size and her whole goddamn block of a goddamn body, even as a child, all precluded, all exempted, all excused before she even had time to offer herself (if only as a substitute) in sports, her joy of competition, of confrontation, her thrill of a game, threatening to burst her. Despite her size, because of her size, there were a few giddy moments, memories glorified now, when she was wanted, at least her large presence seemed needed – a catcher, a goalie, a center – at least momentarily until the age changed and it all became just too painful and too awkward and too meanspirited and it manifested inwardly into irritability. She watches the runners now as she stands at the back doorstep of middle age and the threshold between longing and resignation, lingers on them running along the tracks or at work out her office window or in just walking through neighborhoods. Any runner, she watches. And the wonder is not their ability and seeming ease at the physical act but amazement at how they can possibly stop, ever. If such lightness and grace and movement are at your command, how can you possibly bring yourself to end it? No, Julia does not run. She turns again, and though her pursuer is a bit farther back than before and tries again to disappear, her pursuer is as she had thought, unmistakable, undeniable, indisputable, impeachable. Oh, what is she hoping to see? Hoping to learn? Some secret life attended to? Some tryst? Is it fear? That she will leave? It is too much to imagine. Or is it fear of not knowing where she is always, like a client from the street, some reach toward comfort? And now she is irritable for considering so many question marks: she, Julia, the declarer, the straddler of joists, she, Julia, the contemplator of crawlspaces. She slows in her mind to the pace of her legs and then, in a moment of sweet surrender, turns into the first coffee shop she finds, orders a lemonade at the counter, and sits in profile in
She will run. Julia will run. It is the natural reaction, as old as anything: when pursued, flee.
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the window slowly and methodically sipping, all to be seen, all for assurance, all out of kindness.
Selections from Hard Times Galore
Aliscia is sitting in the same spot, still with her whodunit, still the laptop open beside her on the little stool, still by all believed appearance toggling between the minutia of current events and the sinister paperbacked motives that seem everywhere. Yet on each cheek (such beautiful high cheek bones, Julia always thinks, fine and pronounced under Cheshire eyes) there is a dollop of blush, and her hair is slightly askew from the long braid she always wears down her back, not many, only a few out-of-place hairs sticking out against the windowed light of the setting sun, enough so only Julia notices. Julia notices. Now, Aliscia wears her crosstrainers; before she had been barefoot. Julia supposes she could examine the soles and find grass blades, fresh, and gravel endemic to the various drives crossed between here and downtown and fresh tar from the street in front of the Catholic Church that had just been patched that afternoon, but that is all the stuff of the drawing room detectives, and try as she might when handed the paperbacks by Aliscia, Julia cannot help but quit after a few pages, her irritability always winning out, the attempt to find some sort of commonality, a certainty in their being meant for each other apparently falling flat. No, Julia will pick up a journal from the stack by her chair and finds comfort there – Behavioral Sciences and the Law, Human Resources Abstract, Journal of Social Research, Mankind Quarterly, Opening Doors. “How was your walk, dear?” Aliscia’s voice comes out a half octave too high, not quite a squeak but a little too eager, and she herself appears to notice it by her faltering smile, falling a tick before rallying to an overstated grimace, her cheek bones pressing up into her eyes. Julia leans down and kisses Aliscia on the forehead and then collapses into her own chair. “Oh, it was fine, just fine.” And there they sit, both of them with hair graying at the edges, but in a kind of certainty, in an old house made somewhat square and which serves the purpose if one doesn’t ruminate too long on the soundness of its framework, the thinness of its floorboards, structure being a mystery that is best left alone. “A warm evening for so early in the summer,” says Julia, glancing out the window at the runners on RiverWalk. “But a nice night. A nice night, dear.” ●
by Patrick Vincent Welsh POLITICS Honey Solomon’s husband had been the mayor of Bismark, Wisconsin, a town of two hundred. He was politically assassinated after he voted to raise land taxes. It was no Ford’s Theater affair. He had been in line at the Dairy Queen when Bob Hendrickson walked up and punched him, sending him into a chair and breaking his neck. Honey now lived off of the life insurance money and spent her time making crafts, mostly little people from popsicle sticks, twigs, buttons, and cotton balls. The townspeople urged her to run for mayor in her husband’s honor, but she declined, fearing another political assassination. Bob Hendrickson wrote to her from prison, apologizing for the Dairy Queen incident. She sent him back a letter condemning him to Hell. He wrote again and she left the letter unread for months until one day she picked it up and read it in the kitchen. She sat down in tears and responded with a letter that was slightly less mean that her first. Their correspondence continued for a year. One day Bob sent a package that contained a man he had carved from soap. Honey sent back a woman made of popsicles. Bob and Honey were married in the church room of the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, a scandalous event that ruined her political chances but filled her heart with contentment. Bob would be out in four years and then as he wrote in one of his letters, “We’ll find a new town and get us a house and fill it with thousands of those little popsicle peoples.” EL ALCAHUETE Lamar was one of the few black men in an allMexican neighborhood. Because he dressed well and used a cane, they called him, “El Alcahuete”, the pimp. He left his house, located between Tito’s Hacienda and El Nopal bakery and walked up the street with the help of his cane. He passed a mentally disabled teenage girl making sounds like a rooster beneath a window. Then he watched as an actual rooster cut from the opposite alley and was run over by a passing truck. Lamar stepped over the dead rooster to get to the bus stop. He took the bus to the St. Benedict Retirement Home where his mother was living. He read her to sleep and then held her hand throughout the night and left very late. He took the bus home and limped down the alleyway. Men and women looked out their windows and speculated in Spanish all of the sexual deeds he must have overseen throughout the night. “El Alcahuete is home.” “He is a man of much sin. We must pray for him.”
••• BD Feil has credits in Mississippi Review, The New Guard, Slice Magazine, and is nominated for a Pushcart this year. He lives in Michigan with quite the brood.
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WEDDINGS, FUNERALS Of eight sisters, only Sandy had any mercy in her chest. She was good to everyone, even to the seven sisters who had pummeled her physically and emotionally throughout her entire childhood. One winter they had locked her in the attic. She survived for two weeks on the leather of an old jacket and on the rainwater that leaked in through the roof. She kicked her way out, crawled down the stairs, emaciated into the kitchen where she drank the near-expired milk. Sandy’s mother could never explain how one of her daughters turned out so different from the others. She said, “She’s an odd one. Might have something to do with how she was conceived, under the boardwalk at Wildwood. That’s why I named her Sandy anyhow.” Once Sandy was of age, she moved to Los Angeles, far away from her family and she intended to only see them again at weddings and funerals. She started dating a struggling comedian named Wally Sifters who worked beside her at a small Jewish delicatessen. Wally was a very good man and he treated Sandy better than anyone ever had. He listened to her every night as she told of the atrocities her family had done to her. He soon began to write down these memories and turned them into part of his act, which made him a lot funnier. He gained a small following and eventually found work writing for a sitcom, which gave him enough money to marry Sandy, to buy a home, and to afford all the plane tickets for every time one of her eight sisters got married or died.
Going Down To Wall Street by Phillip Larrea Pigs and sheep jostle Shoulder to shoulder. Electrical prod In cramped subway cars Feted for what waits. Inexorable, this Block by block decline. Eighteenth Street. Fourteenth, Eighth, Fourth, gate by gate ‘Til they hit the Wall.
No Team In I by Phillip Larrea I was on a team once. We had uniforms. We had equipment. We sure as heck kept score. We didn’t like each other much. The best player whined a lot. The consistent ones fumed. And damn those who saved their best for last.
TOW-TRUCK DRIVER Jason painted his tow-truck with flames, and skulls, and snakes coming out of the skull’s eyes. It was strange to see him step from his truck, because he was only five foot one. He’d jump down from the driver’s seat and his face would always have this constant look of war on it. Because of his small size and his demeanor it was rumored that he had been raised by Chihuahuas. Jason made a decent living but was desperate for money because his son had been arrested for charges of sexual assault and Jason’s wife insisted they hire a very expensive lawyer. To get the money Jason began to tow twice as many cars a night, some of which were not even parked illegally. One day his boss called him and he assumed he was caught, but his boss only congratulated him for his hard work and gave him a large raise. With the extra money from the raise Jason paid the lawyer’s monthly bills, purchased a small pool for the backyard, got his ears pierced, bought his wife the inflatable butt push-ups she wanted, got a black light for his truck’s dashboard, chrome skull caps for the wheels, and a year’s worth of watermelon-scented air freshener for the rear-view mirror. His son was acquitted of all charges, despite his guilt.
We won most of the time. May I say, none too graciously. We behaved despicably in defeat. We had what is known as ‘team chemistry’. I wasn’t happy then but, I love my trophy now. I savor my immutable victory and gloat. There is no team in I.
• • • Phillip Larrea is a syndicated columnist and wealth adviser in Sacramento, CA., U.S.A. His poems have recently appeared internationally in Outburst Magazine, The Poetry Bus Magazine and thefirstcut #7 from Issuu. In the U.S., Phillip has been recently published in Decade Review, FourPlay, Nostrovia To Writing, and the Brooklyn Voice.
• • •
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“Well,” said Owen, dropping his tone, “you can find your own drink.” She was a bitch, he thought, nothing to be done for that. Anders laughed. “What’s so funny?” Luana snapped. “You, obviously, if you don’t learn to behave.” Anders intoned. “I’m sorry, Owen,” Luana complied. “I don’t prefer scotch, but this is lovely, thank you.” Her tone was hollow and contemptuous. “It’s alright,” Owen muttered through the scotch in his mouth. “Anders is half playing with you.” He chewed his ice. “He’s bored and you’re new.” He watched her, wanting her to take the bait. She smiled curtly and pushed the hair out of her face. She made a siren’s form as she got up and walked to the bar. “Is she worth fucking?” Owen said, almost before she was gone. “She’s OK.” Anders rocked his drink in his fingers, looking over the ice. “Really? How can she be?” Shay argued. “She’s what, seventeen?” “I don’t know,” he shrugged. Shay turned her head. She hated how Anders’ indifference won every fight. “How long will she be here?” Owen said, knowing he had to fuck her. “I don’t know.” Anders sipped his drink. “I don’t care.” “What don’t you care about?” Luana asked, holding a martini. “I don’t know anything,” he said, “and I don’t care about anyone.” “Mm,” she nodded casually, “I know this. It’s how men are.” “How are men, Luana?” Shay asked, smiling. “Men are complicated,” she began, “intimate, saying that they care for nothing and care for everything. Men are creatures of comfort,” she looked at Anders, “of control.” “I see.” Shay smiled, openly annoyed. “I didn’t know.” “Oh,” Luana continued, “it’s true. It’s true of all men and some women—women like you, Shay. You’re like a man.” Shay laughed politely, trying not to strangle the tan, Brazilian bitch, the underage whore. “Hm,” was all she managed after a pause. The wind had turned cool. “Shall we go for a ride?” Owen asked, pointing at the sea. “Yes.” Luana decided, adamant in her reply. “Alright,” Owen nodded, and Shay and Anders agreed. They stumbled into the boat and motored far offshore. When they stopped, it was quiet. The wind had calmed down. The only sound was that of ice in their drinks. “It’s beautiful.” Luana said. “I'm going to get in.” She took off her dress and let the cotton slip down over her shoulders, over her stomach and her hips. She swam in the moonlight while the others watched her skin, her body lithe and wet in the formless blue dark. When Luana was far enough away from the boat,
Luxury by N. J. Campbell Why don’t you fuck me?” she asked, lounging by the side of the cabana. Anders was indifferent, more interested in watching the waves crash in from the sea. Wash, wane. Wash, wane. “It’s boring… I suppose,” he said to no one. The tide ebbed closer to their feet. “Why don’t you fuck boys then?” her tone was angry. He narrowed his eyes at her. It entertained him how difficult and proud she could be. “I would, if I enjoyed them.” he replied. “Why do you have to be so careless, so—” she tossed her head. This child, he thought, this Brazilian girl. “…” he started to speak and then decided to stop. Her eyes were callous and willful. The eyes of the international model. The eyes, he thought. He so loved the cold in those eyes. “It doesn’t matter with you. It doesn’t matter what I say or do. You do what you want, when you want. You fuck when you want, how you want to.” she shook her head. Her hair came over her face in dark shades. “Who I want, whoever I want to. ” He corrected. She made a clicking sound with her tongue and began to move away. Anders caught her arm and held it as she threw a fit in his grip. “Let me go!” She demanded, and he let her go. She stood startled, wiping the hair from her face. “I didn’t want you to let me go,” she said. “I don’t care what you want.” The tide ebbed closer to their feet. She slapped him and walked off into the house. He smiled and watched the tide roll over the beach. When he went in, he saw broken dishes and glass on the floor. She was sitting, staring at the mess. He moved next to her and she looked away. He put his hand on her face and she pushed it. He did it a second time and she said, “No.” He did it once more and she took his finger into her mouth while she pulled on his hips, bringing them closer to her on the floor. At dinner, they met with a British couple, Owen and Shay, at their home a few miles up the beach. When they had finished the table wine, Owen got up to get drinks. “Luana—is that how you pronounce it?—” Shay glanced from Anders to the girl and back. He nodded slightly before she continued. “How is the sun for you?” She affected sincere. She was upset that Anders had brought her to dinner. When her husband was gone on business, Anders always fucked Shay. The jealous type, she was upset by any woman that he kept for more than an hour. “It’s fine.” Luana said, putting on a wealthy voice. Shay’s smile was hate. The sun was almost gone. “Scotch for the ladies. Scotch for the boys.” Owen smiled with glasses from the bar. “I don’t drink scotch,” Luana flashed.
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Shay tried to make up for what the model had done to her before. “Where do you find this trash?” she slurred at Anders. “In the dumpster,” he smiled, swirling his glass. “Honestly, I can’t like her, even if I might want to fuck her.” She rocked her head back and forth, giggled drunkenly and sighed. The water clapped softly against the side of the boat. “I’d fuck her,” her husband chimed in, belligerent and loud. “Why don’t we all fuck her,” Anders decided, spilling his drink off the bow. “It’s settled,” Shay declared. “We’ll get back and we’ll all fuck her—stupid and proper. I’ll take her ass, Anders can have mine, and Owen, you can fuck her mouth,” Shay directed, slurring between sips of her drink. Owen nodded greedily and Anders assented, swaying under the strength of their drinks. “Should we get back?” Anders mumbled. The other two nodded. Owen boated them in. When they got back, it was morning, and they stumbled off to bed—Anders, Owen and Shay. ●
At the Fair by Amy Hetland My nose is on a mission A smorgasbord of smells Assaults the very nerves That speaks to me. Smoke is everywhere On the end of chalky sticks Wrapped in fragile paper Fill with toxins, make me sick. Cows, pigs, and sheep Excrement mixed with hay Not yet turned over, it Contaminates their beauty.
• • • N. J. Campbell lives and writes in Fairfield, IA. You can find him at njcampbell.tumblr.com.
Stinky, sweet smells Emanating from the stalls Have to hold my breath Before my body falls. Turkey, pork, and beef Slow roasted on a spit Slathered in rich sauce My lips, they drip.
Oh, the vats of oil! From pronto pups To corn on the cob Hold me down with their clog.
by Amy Hetland Crooked spine Crooked face. Eye wide open Eye wide shut. Lips in smile Lips in droop. Not a smile Not a frown. Ear is up Ear is down. Zig zag face Out of place Are the shapes In this face.
Stat! I need caffeine! Dry roasted beans Coffee with cream Good to the last drop. Heavy diesel fumes I cough and sputter Not the last scent I want to utter. I ride on home To common aromas, Heart swells for Next year’s smells. • • •
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
Wilhelm gave a quick jerk of his head and shot a glance toward the house. Kostas flinched away from the window and went to find his brother.
The Boys by Derek Neville
Brewster sat on the floor of the bedroom they both shared. He was reading a yellowed paperback their father brought home one evening. Even though the two were brothers, they could not have been more different. Kostas had the dark, curly head of hair and the sullen eyes like their father. Brewster, by contrast, had pale skin, blonde white hair, and hazel colored eyes like their mother. The memory of their mother was fuzzy, and seemed to break apart when Kostas thought too much on it. Wilhelm didn’t talk much about her. What he did know was that his father had met her in London after the war and that she had gotten sick shortly after Brewster was born. “Where you been?” Brewster asked. “Outside.” “Doing what?” “Nothing.” “Where’s father?” Kostas sat down on his cot that was directly across the room from his brothers. “He’s helping Mrs. Court.” “Maybe he can help her to stop giving us so much school work.” “Yeah, maybe.” The front door slammed, and they both careened their heads to look out into the front hall. Wilhelm was there, wiping the sweat from his face with the back of his arm. Then his heavy footsteps moved away from the front door and down toward the kitchen. Brewster closed the book and tossed it up onto his cot. “What was Mrs. Court doing here?” “I don’t know.” “Did she look like she was feeling better? She’s been out a few days at school.” “Yeah, she looked fine.” Kostas said. The floorboards creaked as Wilhelm approached their bedroom. He stopped in the doorway for a moment while he studied the faces of his two sons. “Come with me,” he said. He led them into the kitchen, gesturing for them to have a seat at the wooden table with the bad legs. From the shelf near the pantry he grabbed their English Grammar books and placed them down in front of them. “I need to go out again tonight. Mrs. Court isn’t feeling well. Me and Mr. Lonagin are going to take her into town to see someone.” “Is that blood on your pants?” asked Brewster. Wilhelm glanced down at the muddy looking stain on his pant leg. He shot a raised eyebrow to Kostas before turning back to his youngest. “Yes. It is.” He returned to the shelf and came back with the kerosene lamp and placed it down between the boys. “I may be gone long. You two are to stay here and study. I am going to take a nap before I leave. Remember, you are to use no other light but this one.”
here was an old woman in the road. Not moving, just idling under the shade of the trees, waiting for the breeze to knock her over. She was still a ways down, making slow movement on the dirt road, but stopping every few steps as if the task tired her. Kostas watched from the front yard of the home he shared with his father, and his younger brother Brewster. It was early June, but the late afternoon sun was making his neck slick with sweat. He had watched in odd fascination at first, and he hadn’t even been scared when he first saw the woman there in the road. It was only when she started screaming that he felt the gooseflesh run up his spine. He could hear her footsteps now, dragging across the pale dust of the road. The screaming had died down to a low whine. As she finally cleared the low hanging trees that arched over the road Kostas got a good look at her and the yellow tint of her skin made his stomach turn. “How long she been there?” a voice asked behind him. Kostas turned, saw his father standing in the doorway of their home. His brow was thick with sweat, and he was wiping his hands with a greasy rag as he leaned against the door frame. “Not long.” “And when did you plan on telling me?” “Soon. I swear.” His father placed the rag into his back pocket and stepped into the yard toward him. Wilhelm was a man of imposing stature, made even more imposing by his dark features and the heavy beard he wore on his face. “I want you to go inside. It’s not safe out here.” “What are you going to do?” Kostas asked. “Do you not recognize this woman?” Kostas looked back at the woman with the yellow skin. She’d stopped in the road again. Her long gray hair hung messy around the sides of her face, but he recognized the blue dress with the white daffodils. “Miss -- Miss Court? What happened to her?” “She is very sick, now get inside. I’m going to get Mrs. Court some help.” A firm hand appeared against his back, and his father nudged him toward the front door. “Go keep your brother occupied. This won’t take long.” Kostas retreated into the house as his father shut the door behind him. He quickly placed his face up against the lower pane of the window near the front door. He knew he shouldn’t watch, but he had to, just for a moment. Outside, Wilhelm crossed through the yard with his long strides toward the pile of wood that lay scattered below the cherry tree. Kostas stared out while his father removed the axe from the stump it’d been sitting in. There hadn’t been a need for firewood for a couple months now, yet his father still liked to spend hours after dinner chopping the wood.
Kostas awoke to the sound of someone hammering. 36
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At first the sound was in his dreams. He dreamt that he was sitting at the kitchen table in the old farmhouse back in Connecticut. The smell of cooking oil and baked dinner hung just inside his nostrils. His mother was asking if he’d like more soup, but in the dream he couldn’t answer. When he went to reply, the walls shook, and the foundation started to split covering him in debris. Someone was knocking on the front door. Kostas lifted his head up from his folded arms in front of him and stretched to look around. He’d fallen asleep at the table. The kerosene lamp long since burned out. Hazy sunlight swept in from the windows over the kitchen sink. Someone knocked again. Brewster stirred, asleep on folded arms as well. “See who it is,” he moaned in a husky, dreamlike voice. “We’re not supposed to answer the door. You know that.” “Then let father get it.” The knocks grew more persistent. “I’ll just peek is all,” Kostas said. “Maybe father is having one of those sleeps where he can’t hear anything.” He left the kitchen chair, and on stiff, achy legs, he walked through the hallway toward the front door. A little catch hit him in the chest then. He started to think about the possibility that it might be Mrs. Court out on the front step, banging a feeble hand against the door. Maybe she had come back. That was impossible, he thought. That was why his father had left, so that he could get her some help. Kostas neared the front door, and his thundering heartbeats slowed when he heard a male voice asking if anyone was home. He stole a peek through the bottom window pane again. On the front step stood Mr. Cavell. He lived up the road a ways, and in the fall he let Kostas and Brewster have as many apples from his orchard as they wanted as long as they got rid of the rotten ones in the process. Kostas opened the door just as Mr. Cavell was about to try to knock again. The heat from yesterday wasn’t letting up, and its stifling fingers moved into the doorway and up onto his face. Mr. Cavell removed his hat from his head and patted the beads of sweat dry with a tattered handkerchief that he held in his hand. “Morning, what you up to Kostas?” “Nothing much.” “Where’s your brother?” “Sleeping.” Cavell’s eyes jumped into the hallway behind him. “Your father here?” he asked. Kostas paused for a second, he was about to say yes, but then it struck him that he wasn’t so sure. “He might be sleeping.” Cavell shifted his weight back and forth on the balls of his feet like he had dinner on the stove back home and it was about to get cold. “Oh,” he replied, his eyes moving again above Kostas’ head. “Can you go see if he’s up?” “Uh, sure. I could do that.” “Thank you, and please hurry. I told Lydia I wouldn’t be gone long.”
The doorknob turned in his palm, and dropped with a heavy click. But Kostas didn’t push the door open all the way. Not yet. He just turned the knob in his hand and waited. There were two locations his brother and himself were not allowed in the house. One was the basement, (which was fine with them, it was cold, the ceilings were low and it made the room claustrophobic). The other was the upstairs. In from the landing, moving left to right, were three rooms: His father’s bedroom, the wash room, and the guest room that had been converted to a den. Wilhelm would retreat there some nights after dinner. Kostas and Brewster would hear the lock to the door shift into place with a squeaky rattle from the kitchen table down below. He continued to wait, but what he was really doing was listening for the heavy sound of his father’s breathing. He didn’t hear it. Cavell had seemed in a rush, and he figured that was ample enough excuse. Kostas pushed the door open. The bed, which was perfectly made, was empty. He closed the door and crossed the hall to the den. Wilhelm had been known to fall asleep in there on occasion. He knocked lightly with the knuckle of his hand and when no one answered he knocked a little louder. The hand that had knocked went to the doorknob and Kostas felt himself turning it. A voice in his head said this was a mistake, but he ignored it for now. The door was locked. For good measure he tried the knob again but it wouldn’t budge. Mr. Cavell was still waiting in the front doorway when Kostas came back downstairs. “I don’t know where he is. He might be out.” Cavell patted dry his scalp again, and bit his lip with all his top teeth making his already narrow face look more like a horse. “Dang it,” he said. “You have no idea when he’ll be back?” Kostas shook his head. “Do you want me to take down a message or something for you?” Cavell stopped all his stutter-stepping in the doorway and looked down at him with such a look of disdain it made him flex back from the older man. “No. What good will that do? It might be too late by then.” “Is something wrong?” “What’s wrong is my Jennifer didn’t come home two nights ago. No one’s seen her. I even took a horse all the way to Downer’s Creek. Sometimes she goes with her friends and they spend the night. Though I warned her with all the disappearances lately not to go down there. I’m getting worried.” “And you need my father’s help?” Kostas asked. “Your daddy is good at finding things,” Cavell said. “And even when things don’t want to be found, he knows how to take care of them.” It was late in the afternoon when Wilhelm returned home. Kostas and Brewster were in their room splitting a dry piece of toast between them. They heard the metallic slam of the door to their father’s pickup and both of them perked their ears up to listen. 37
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“Kostas! Where you at boy?” Wilhelm called down the hallway from the front door. “I need your help with something.” Kostas leapt to his feet and passed the last quarter of flakey toast back to his brother. At the front door Wilhelm was leaning his head in the doorway. He had dark stains of sweat around his collar. “You alright?” he asked his son. “Yeah. I s’pose.” “How’s your brother?” “Alright I guess.” “That’s good.” “How come you’re home so late?” Wilhelm let go of the door handle and stepped a little further into the house. “I ran into some trouble over at Mr. O’Nan’s place. Something attacked his livestock last night. He thought maybe a wolf or a coyote got at ‘em.” “Is Mr. O’Nan okay?” “Yeah, he’s fine. I took care of everything. Now c’mon, I need your help.” Kostas followed him out into the yard and toward the pickup that was the color of gunmetal. Wilhelm dropped the latch to the pickup bed and Kostas had to put a hand to his mouth so as not to vomit due to the smell. In the pickup bed, covered in brown, wool blankets were two bodies. Both several inches shorter than his father’s six feet, but still taller than himself. He knew they were bodies by the way their bare feet stuck out on both ends. One even, had nail polish on the toes... “I need you to help me bring one of these to the basement. They ain’t heavy and they’re tied in those blankets with my best rope. We don’t have to carry them far.” The smell was nauseating, and combined with the humidity of the afternoon, Kostas was glad all he’d eaten was toast. He started around the right side of the truck, but his father stopped him. “Leave that one. Head’s a little loose, and we don’t want it falling off.” Wilhelm grabbed the legs belonging to the body with the red nail polish on the toes and dragged it down the bed of the truck. As its head was on the door Kostas took hold of the shoulders and with his father walking backwards they carried it toward the side of the house. When they reached the rusty door of the bulkhead Wilhelm instructed Kostas to gently set the body down in the grass. He yanked up on the bulkhead doors and they came open with a screeching whine. After some careful maneuvering they were able to get the body down the steep concrete steps that led into the basement. To the left of the stairs sat a wooden worktable and with some real effort (the body had started to bend in the middle) they got it up on top of it. Both were panting and sweating hard. “What about the other one?” Kostas asked. “We need to dig a hole for that one. It’ll be nightfall in a few hours, and we don’t want anything picking up its scent.”
he realized it was coming from below ... down in the basement. Across the room Brewster slept soundly, oblivious to the noise from beneath them. Kostas kicked off the covers and left his bed. The lamp burning in the kitchen wasn’t enough to dispel the darkness gathering in the hallway. The floorboards groaned in annoyance as he walked across them. He thought about going back, but his curiosity had been too great. Besides, the only thing that waited for him back in his room was strange dreams about faceless women with yellow skin and red toenails. The basement door was closed, but the padlock was missing. He opened it with delicate caution and prayed that it wouldn’t creak. When the opening was wide enough for his body he slipped through. A cold darkness embraced him and the only light was a dull, flickering glow at the bottom of the stairs. The chittering got louder, and Kostas hung back for a moment, then started down the dusty wooden planks. The flickering glow belonged to the lamp hanging above the worktable where the body that had been brought down earlier lay undisturbed. “We have to kill her,” a voice said from the darkness. Kostas didn’t recognize it at first. Behind him in the far corner was Wilhelm. He was crouched down, a half empty, unlabeled bottle of alcohol just at his feet. “But ... but she’s already dead,” Kostas whispered. “Sometimes they come back.” The chittering returned, louder this time and seemed to be coming from everywhere at once. “Do you think you’re finally ready to join in my work?” His mouth was sandpaper, the answer not coming. “Either way,” Wilhelm said, “we need to kill this woman. If you think you’re ready there’s a hatchet underneath the work table. You need to cut its head off.” “I -- I can’t.” “Sure you can. Grab the hatchet and strike.” “I’m -- I’m not ready for that.” “You’re putting too much emotion into it. She’s no longer a person, Kostas. Trust me, she will not hesitate to slit our throats with her claws.” Kostas stared at the body. And that’s what it was: a body. There was a person under the blanket. Someone who had lived a life and -“We’re running out of time. You have to do it now!” “No,” he said backing away. “I can’t.” “Stop being weak, son. She’ll kill us if you don’t do this.” “I can’t -- I can’t” he cried. “I can’t do it.” Wilhelm stood and Kostas waited for the stinging hand across the face. He could even feel his father tense up, but the slap never came. Wilhelm had turned his attention back to the worktable. The body that had been under the blanket sat up. On a snowy November evening two years prior Wilhelm had told his son about the monster virus. He asked that Kostas spare Brewster the details as at the time he had been too young and wouldn’t have understood. The picture Wilhelm painted was a bleak one. The virus, which his father said the Germans had called the hund Dämon, ate you away from the inside. At
The sound of something chittering awoke him from his sleep. Kostas turned onto his back and looked up at the ceiling in the dark room. The sound had amplified, and 38
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a full moon you fed the hunger and the depravity, but after, the damage to the body was irrevocable. Kostas remembered that his father had viewed his work as putting the carriers of the virus out of their misery. He said that most had begged for it. Begged for mercy and a quick death. So when Kostas watched Jennifer Cavell remove the wool blanket from her body he was surprised to see that she didn’t look close to asking for mercy. Saliva spread from her jaw that was stretching into a serrated mandible. She tilted her head back and howled toward the ceiling. Kostas covered his ears to the sound and felt the blood rushing to his head. She howled again, her voice changing from a falsetto pitch to a painful growl. She leapt down from the worktable as her shoulders and back started convulsing. A crunching sound of bone being splintered or stretched beyond reason filled the basement. Kostas spotted her hands and it looked like the fingers had grown eight inches with long talon like claws at the end. Jennifer Cavell glared her yellow eyes at her captors and screamed. Black, coarse fur was curving up her arms and body. She started to throttle her head back and forth as more convulsions riveted up her spine. Kostas felt something inside of him become unmoored. “Stay back,” Wilhelm yelled as Jennifer tore through a stack of boxes to the right of the worktable. Her shoulders had arched, and she was leaning forward as if ready to strike. Any indication that she had once been human was now gone. “Do. Not. Run,” Wilhelm said softly. “If it tries to --” The creature lunged, but Wilhelm was ready with the bottle of liquor, and he smashed it over the creature’s head. It yelped in pain, and lashed out with a backhand across Wilhelm’s face. The impact sent him into the wall and he collapsed to the floor. It turned toward Kostas, ready to lunge again. He yelled as he dove out of the way just as the creature crashed into a pile of yard tools and old furniture. The beast was agile, wasting no time getting back to its feet. Kostas tried to move to the other side of the basement, but tripped in his exuberance to get away. He felt the skin on his elbows tear as he hit the rough cement floor of the basement. On hands and knees he tried to crawl towards the workbench, but the creature had latched onto his leg and started to pull him backwards. It was strong and he was losing the tug-o-war. Then, his foot came loose, and for the briefest of moments he thought the creature had torn it off. But there was no pain until the creature’s horrifying wail filled his head with its shrill cries. He turned, sat up on his elbows. Wilhelm had chopped through the creature’s arm with the axe. How it had gotten down into the basement Kostas didn’t care, but was just glad his father had it. The creature
continued to flail about in pain, and what finally silenced it was Wilhelm swinging the axe through its neck. Wilhelm had not returned for several days. After the events of the basement he had left early the next morning to dispose of the decapitated body of Jennifer Cavell. Brewster had asked a lot of questions to which Kostas had grown exhausted of answering. The days stretched into weeks and Brewster’s questions had turned into whether their father would ever return. Kostas had no answer for that. It was unlike their father to be gone so long. One morning, Kostas heard a thumping noise from upstairs. He had been on his way into town to see what he could do about the scarce rations of food left in the house. As he was about to walk out the front door something crashed from up above. Kostas felt his heart leap, maybe Wilhelm had returned. He took the stairs two at a time all the way to the top floor. The thumping sound grew louder, rhythmic almost, and it was coming from his father’s den. He stopped at the door, listened carefully. Someone -or something was tearing the room apart it sounded like. His hand went to the doorknob even though he knew it was -The knob turned, all the way this time, and the door opened with a low chirp of the hinges. Something was tearing the room apart, but nothing as threatening as the creature from the basement. A bird had flown through the opened window, and in its struggle to return outside it was knocking over every standing object on the shelves and Wilhelm’s desk. The bird sensing a new opening flew past his head and up over the railing down to the bottom floor. If his father’s bedroom had been sparse, the den was bursting at the seams. A large, oak desk, three bookcases and a leather chair squeezed themselves into a space meant to occupy far less. Kostas inhaled a smell through his nose. It smelled like a memory. A memory many years ago. Kostas had smelled it on his father’s shirt one night wrapped in his father’s arms as he carried him to the bathroom when a fever made him too weak to walk there himself. He stepped through into the room over to the desk. On top of a newspaper was a black box with red velvet lining. Inside was a Browning hi-power pistol. It was one of the few things his father kept from the war and one of the only things about the war he ever talked about. The box was open. The gun itself was gone. Kostas walked around the side of the desk and had a seat in the chair. The pile of books and papers that had been near the lamp the bird had knocked to the floor. He glanced at them for a moment until one caught his eye. It was a tattered front page to a newspaper. He recognized the courier from when they had a brief stop in Ohio. The headline read: “Local Man Solves Slaughtered Livestock Mystery.”
A crunching sound of bone being splintered or stretched beyond reason filled the basement.
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
The sepia toned photo was a picture of Wilhelm shaking hands with someone important looking in a dark suit. Kostas dropped the paper down to the floor and fished through the rest. His hands fell onto another newspaper, this one yellowed with age, and the name of the paper was familiar, but only foggily. The headline read: “Missing Woman Found Dead.” The photo was black and white, but brighter as it was taken during the day. In the photo was Wilhelm kneeling over the naked backside of a woman with long blonde hair and pale skin... A cold, sharp feeling spread into his chest. His mind wanted him to drop the paper, but his fingers wouldn’t let go. A hoarse voice entering the room snapped him out of it. “You reading her paper?” Wilhelm asked from the doorway. Kostas flinched. Wilhelm hunched against the door frame. He was covered in sweat, the stains went further down his collar and abdomen. His eyes were bloodshot, glassy even. A ragged white bandage, with brown splotches, covered his right hand. “I tried to keep her alive as long as I could. It was damn near impossible. Your mother couldn’t beat it. It’s why we moved so much. I just ... I couldn’t get her to stop killing.” Wilhelm put his good hand against his face and choked back tears. He stumbled into the room. “I tried to do the right thing by you boys. I hope you understand that.” He coughed into his hand and Kostas could see flecks of blood on it. “Are you okay, father?” His father shook his head. “I am quite hungry, perhaps I should eat some--” A gunshot rang out. Kostas flinched again and it sent him and the chair back against the wall. A different stain started to spread on Wilhelm’s shirt. In the location above his heart, a large, dark stain was growing. Kostas looked on in horror as his father dropped to his knees, blood bubbling out of his mouth before he fell face first onto the floor. Brewster stood in the doorway holding the Browning. It looked giant in his small hands. His pale face was wet with tears. “I’m ... sorry,” he blabbered. “He -- he told me if he was ever gone for longer than a week that I was to shoot him if he ever came back. He made me promise. I didn’t wanna Kostas. Honest.” Brewster started to cry hard and said, “He gave me the key to the den and everything, I didn’t wanna...” He didn’t finish his last thought. Kostas felt restrained to the chair somehow, so it surprised him when he was able to stand. His father had told him, a lifetime ago it seemed like now, that those with the virus often asked for mercy before they were killed. It occurred to Kostas that his father had been asking for something different. Forgiveness possibly. ●
Bus Stop by Craig Miller
y problem is I know how it will end before it even starts. I know more than I want to know. I wish I could go back to being eighteen years old and oblivious to the world. That I could feel like I still have life figured out and life wasn’t just this blank canvas in front of me. (And I hate painting.) It’s like something changed between the ages of eighteen and twenty (but I can’t put my finger on it). I’m on summer vacation in Berlin, Germany. I’m waiting for the number 118 bus to take me to my Oma’s apartment for abend bröt. I know these three weeks will fly by and this summer will become a fleeting memory, blurring into all of my other summers. Next thing I know I’ll be sitting in a classroom back in the states at whichever university I decide to transfer too. The thing about Berlin that I love is it’s new to me (even though I’ve been here six different times over the 20 years of my life: when I was one, six, ten, fifteen, and eighteen). Because I don’t go here often, it’s new. There’s something different about the air and the stands where I bought flowers for my Oma the other day that I don’t get in the states. A whole public transportation system. Everything is hustle-bustle and I am nothing. No one pays attention to the fact that I’ve changed my major four times since I’ve been going to college (from Accounting, to Psychology, to Art, to Business). No one pays attention to the fact that my life has no direction, or that I never fit in any town I settle into. Here, I’m free. I think what I love about Berlin is how insignificant it makes me feel. If you go up even farther, about 40,000 feet in the air, like I did on the Lufthansa I flown in on, you can’t even see cities. They’re oblivious. When you get closer, like when you’re taking off or landing, you can see different cities. From above every city looks like a toy city. The cars look like Hot Wheel cars I used to play with when I was ten. The city itself looks like a replica city with miniature buildings, matching roofs on the apartments, and patches of forest. It doesn’t even look real. You can’t even see any of the people and any problems they have are so insignificant. I wonder if this is how God views us. A blonde girl pushing for the classy-mysterioussunglasses look sits down next to me. There are plenty of other seats she could have taken, empty ones. Instead, she opted to sit right next to me and light up a cigarette. (And yes, she is attractive.) I wonder if she sat right next to me on purpose, hoping we’d strike up a conversation. I realize I could try to start up a conversation in the little Deutsch I know. She will then banter back with all of the English she knows which will exceed any mastery I have of the German language. But my problem is I know how it will end before it even starts. This conversation will be cute at first as I try to flirt with her in broken German and she laughs at this cute Americana trying to pick her up and dazzle her with his
• • •
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
intelligent humor and dimples. Next, I’ll find the urge to unravel the mystery she presents. (The need to figure her out.) The talking will lead to the exchanging of numbers and the notion of making plans with each other (“maybe,” we’ll say, so neither of us will sound too eager). When I’m sitting at home at 10pm some random night drinking a Berliner Kindl Jubiläums my phone will ring and it will be an unidentified number. My curiosity will push me to pick up the phone. It will be her. Girl-at-the-bus-stop. We’ll agree to meet and get coffee at some classy traditional Europeanstyle coffee shop in between my three story guest apartment and her apartment. I’ll order a regular coffee and it’ll be served in their small cups (as all the serving sizes are smaller over here, except the beer), and I’ll enjoy how much stronger German coffee is than American coffee. She’ll take small petite sips of her Macchiato and twirl her hair. We’ll start simple with casual conversation. We’ll get the basics out of the way. I’ll learn she has two over protective brothers: Rudolph and Schmidt. She’ll learn I’m a slightly spoiled only child from a middle-income family, and that I’ve only had one real girlfriend (Tina Martin doesn’t count in middle school, even though we said we were “dating” for five months before she dumped me and started dating my best friend at the time, Todd Teshnack). I’ll learn that she’s dated quite a few guys, but they all end up being jerks and give her the shaft. (She’s the victim.) I’ll tell her she should start dating winners (I won’t say that in all reality I’m not a “winner,” and I haven’t figured out where I want to go in life). After the basics are out of the way, anything will be open for discussion. I’ll learn she likes her Berliner life because it’s all she’s ever known, but she would like to visit America to see if the reputation matches the reality. I’ll tell her if she came to the states I’d show her a good time. Somehow in casual conversation my parents will come up. I’ll tell her my dad was a mechanic in the military while my mom was a nurse, and they met at a club (the Riverboat) and my mom asked my dad, “Can I have a Kool?” My dad would run five miles every night to her apartment. Before he was shipped back, my mom proposed. She’ll think this is a cute little story, and she’ll tell me some of her own cute little stories. I’ll find her accent cute and the way her blue eyes stare at me, hold constant interest in what I’m saying. We’ll feel the cultural boundaries of my greasy American lifestyle, surrounded by constant AC rooms, and her need for “fresha luft.” I’ll tell her I’ve always wanted fresha luft, but in a more figurative sense. It’s what I try to search out in life but often times what starts as interesting becomes stale.
All the random facts will draw us closer: She’ll tell me she’s never been to the ocean but she wants to see it. I’ll tell her I live within five minutes of Lake Michigan back in the states and it stretches on as far as the eye can see, making it look like an ocean. We’ll talk about our desire to go to exotic locations in hope of escaping a life of perpetual boredom and unhappiness that we both feel creeping in. Our conversations will build up to our first kiss by the bus stop by her apartment late one night. She’ll say something and we’ll look at each other. Almost as if we know what both of us want, and then I’ll lean in, pretending I’m going to kiss her cheek. She’ll kiss me hard on the lips, and she’ll close her eyes while she’s doing it (like all of the four girls I’ve kissed). On the whole way home I’ll be thinking about how soft her lips felt on mine. Over the next few days I’ll do stupid romantic things (that are really cliché) to be cute. I will buy her flowers (rot rosen) at the store. I’ll see her favorite desert (Käsesahnetorte) and I’ll bring it to her when I stop by for my daily visit. From this moment on we’ll try to see each other as much as possible and when we’re away from each other we’ll often wonder what the other person is doing. (She’ll wonder if I’m out exploring the sights while she’s working her job at a restaurant.) At night we’ll call each other. I’ll ask how her day went and she’ll tell me she wants to see me (at this point half a day away from each other seems like a week). I’ll extend my three week vacation to a six week vacation. Things will get “serious” one day, and we’ll feel this “bond.” I’ll think about her constantly. This will remind me of when I was eighteen (and had my first and only real girlfriend), and how I was ignorant. I thought that happiness was this obtainable entity in the palm of my hand. I didn’t realize it was like the cotton clouds in the sky: they look so close, but really they’re thousands and thousands of feet away. Even when you’re flying in them and it looks like Heaven is around you, you can’t actually reach out and touch a cloud and keep it. It’s too cold to survive in the -60 degree atmosphere of the clouds, and you can’t be in the clouds unless you’re constantly moving. When I was eighteen I didn’t realize everything had its expiration date (including relationships). We’ll start revealing our deepest darkest secrets and fears. She’ll tell me she has self-esteem issues and doesn’t feel pretty at all, and I’ll tell her she’s out of her mind. (She’s clearly stunning.) I’ll tell her I’m not afraid of dying but dying alone. We’ll agree that this is our world and we can conquer it all. Together it’s all in our hands. She’ll decide to move back to the states with me. We won’t talk about marriage or kids, but we’ll agree we don’t want to live without each other. We both want to see where “this” goes.
From this moment on we’ll try to see each other as much as possible and when we’re away from each other we’ll often wonder what the other person is doing.
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
Like all of the world leaders (including the Feur Adolf) our reign will fall and we’ll realize the world’s a vast place that really isn’t meant to be conquered. We won’t be able to survive the Russian winter, and we’ll retreat. But not into each other’s arms. For awhile everything will be perfect. (It’ll be our world.) I’ll tell her everything. I’ll tell her that my first girlfriend and I just ended up losing interest in “us.” That I want to say it was because we were young and stupid (we were eighteen), but I know that’s not really why. It’s because relationships don’t last. At least not happy ones. (It’s true: people pretend.) Just like it’s true that there will be that six month-one year of complete bliss at the beginning. Then it starts to fade away. The fights erupt, the uneasiness and dissatisfaction start to set in (it’s hard to believe you were the same couple at the beginning of the relationship). Then one day, after that six-month to one year time period, Girl-at-the-bus-stop and I will feel something shift. That time when we felt connected and at peace with each other and the world (because we had each other), that feeling, will fade. The way she tells me to put on my coat so I don’t get sick will turn from concerning to annoying. Just like the way she always has to win every argument will go from stubborn to impossible. She’ll get tired of my know-it-all American attitude as well as my inability to see things in a worldly view. We’ll flirt with the line (it’s a fine one) between caring and disgust. The relationship will start to slip away. That moment that we thought would last forever would be a speck of sand on a beach. Indistinguishable from every other grain, and we’ll try to find it, but we won’t. I’ll begin to despise her, and the way everything has to be just like she wants it. I’ll look at her in scorn when she tells me she wants a child. (I’ll think about how I could be with somebody else, anybody else, but I’m not.) In the end, she won’t have the heart to tell me she just can’t make it through one more angry drunken fight. (She knows it won’t make a difference.) She won’t be able to deal with her family being 4,000 miles away while she has to sit and pretend to listen to her American boyfriend who she no longer cares about. The house will be spotless when I get home from work one day. Everything she owns will be gone, and there will be no trace of her except the note she left on the dining room table. Her note will tell me that our relationship is just too much for her. I’ll understand, but I’ll be heartbroken. Heartbroken that no matter how hard you try it always has to end up like this. Heartbroken that happiness is so unattainable. That you want that one person lying next to you to fill you with the same warmth in twenty years as they do now. (It just doesn’t work that way.) It doesn’t feel like it does in the beginning. The bus comes and the blonde and I get on. I don’t say a word to her, and she doesn’t say a word to me. It’s weird thinking that the one person for you out of millions and millions of people could be anybody. Maybe you will run into them in the street, pass them in the supermarket, or accidentally bump into them when you are out walking around. (But you won’t even say hi.) Maybe they live in your apartment complex or your
dormitory, but you just haven’t met them yet. Maybe they’re standing by the bus stop, waiting to board the same bus, while you’re on your way to your Oma’s. Maybe you’ll never even meet this person. It’s weird thinking that the person might live on the other side of the world, thousands of miles away. (It’s a one in a seven billion chance.) She gets off two stops before me, and I see her hair wave in the wind as the door closes. ● • • • Craig Miller lives in the lakeside town of Muskegon, MI. He lives within a five minute drive of one of the best beaches in the world. He loves to write and has piled up numerous rejection letters throughout his writing career. When he isn't writing or doing writing related things he can be found at local trashy bars engaging in one of his favorite past-times: getting hammered. He expects his liver to crop out before the age of 50. He is currently looking for donors.
A Room Of One’s Own by Rod Peckman My erotic retreats are lost to me. My rise stultifies in a refractory blemish of character assignation. A reactor pushed a plume into a blue bottle glass sky, no deposit no return. I had a name for this in the curve of my glottal stop. An anatomical crosscut my tongue moved forklike as I gave my final reading a sharp eye out for potential groupies. My retreats are lost and I no longer generate power though I still let off steam to keep up appearances. • • • Rod Peckman has been published in many journals, including Juked, Barnwood International Poetry Magazine, Thieves Jargon, The Foudnling Review, and Breadcrumb Scabs. He's pleased to have recently cured, with the help of the local vet, his 14-year-old Golden Retriever's urinary incontinence through the magic of state-of-the-art antibiotics (thank you Big Pharma). Rod works for an enormous LIBRARY SYSTEM, that despite its enormity, serves its patrons well. Brought to you by the letters D and L. 42
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we got from this Lifeskills meeting—we’re always having these Lifeskills meetings, where they get all the studentathletes together in an auditorium and tell us not to wear our Nike gear to the hospital if we get alcohol poisoning—anyway we had this one Lifeskills meeting where this fat black guy kept saying find yourself a mentor, stat, but Shelley was the only one who actually did it. Just like she was the only one who spent her money going to soccer camp. I kept saying she picked a great mentor, cause someday I was going to make her even better than me. But I guess I never really believed it. I certainly didn’t believe it today when Coach called her name with the starters. She’d gotten a lot better after camp, and this season too she’d been working hard, doing extra lifts on Sundays and sprint training after practice. Coach had begun to start her, but only when we were playing someone easy. But this was an important game, and when she heard her name get called, her whole face turned pink. She grinned at me. When Coach let us out of the huddle I came up behind her and gave her a hug to let her know I was excited too. She lifted me up, piggy-back style, and trotted me up and down the field. I was surprised how fast she could run while carrying me; she’d gotten strong. When she finally dropped me, I said are you nervous and she said oh god yes, and I said don’t be, because I wanted her to do great and I knew she would. I wasn’t prepared for exactly how great she was going to do. It was a really physical game from the get-go. Pushing and shoving and a ref who wasn’t calling fouls unless bones broke. It’s not that I can’t fight back, but I like to think of myself as a strategic player. I’m good at finding openings and picking good shots and never getting stuff called against me. Those are the kinds of things I’d taught Shelley to do, so it was surprising when she started knocking girls aside with her shoulders. This was a part of her game I’d never seen before and whether it came from the weights or camp or some inner linebacker, I don’t know, but it weirded me out. And it worked. With fifteen seconds left in the first half, Shelley sideswiped UGA’s midfielder and chased the ball down to their end. Outraced like four of their girls to knock the ball high into the top of their net. Everyone clustered around her on the bench during halftime, but I pushed through them. I patted her on the arm. --That wasn’t anything I taught you, I said. She grinned. --No, it wasn’t. Her arms were shaking from excitement and when she brought her water bottle to her mouth, she spilled Gatorade all down her front. I decided that the points I’d score this half I’d score with more composure. I was her role model, after all. But I didn’t score points that half. I had two opportunities to, but the first one I was about to shoot when some bitch slammed her cleats into my shin. It felt like someone had knocked me on the leg with a hammer and I fell to my hands and knees, waiting for the call, but there was no whistle and I heard Coach screaming get up, get up, if you’re not hurt, get up. So, shin throbbing, I jogged down to the other end where Shelley was trying to steal the ball. She eventually got it, and I raced her down to our end screaming get it to me get it to me. She
Lifeskills by Hannah Thurman
n a Saturday a couple months ago, the team was riding back after the women’s Div. 1 soccer regionals at Clemson. We’d won big that day, 2-0 in the final against UGA so we were looking forward to a good seed at nationals as well as four days out of class to go there. You always get a lot of free shit if your team makes it to nationals, NCAA backpacks and long-sleeved tees that come in women’s sizes, and everyone was in a good mood except for me. I was leaning against the window in my usual seat, which is near the back on the opposite side of the bus from the bathrooms. It’s a good seat and I’m a four-year starter so I don’t have to share it if I don’t want. But I do anyway, because I like to sit with my friend Shelley. On long road trips we listen to my iPod and talk about guys and school and I give her tips on how to shoot goals, which is something I am very good at. That day, Shelley wasn’t sitting with me; she was across the aisle from Coach, towel wrapped around her head like a turban. She hadn’t had time to dry her hair in the locker rooms cause she was being interviewed for our school’s stupid athletics website after the game. When I walked past her, the reporter had been saying how does it feel to have scored both goals in this important match and I wanted to wheel around and say great, it feels fucking great, because usually I was the one getting interviewed. I always told Shelley she was lucky she never had to talk to the press, because it was a pain in the ass and they always misquoted you, but I secretly loved it. And I knew Shelley did too; when she gets excited about something her ears turn pink and when I saw her today they were the color of strawberries. Shelley and I became friends last year when she walked onto the team. I was a sophomore, she a freshman. That season, I played the entire time in almost every single game; she never came off the bench unless we were up by four. I remember the first time we hung out, I was like, it must be nice to be a walk on, there’s no pressure, and I did envy her a little: the second- and third- string girls always ordered stuff like fajitas while the rest of us had bland pasta the night before a game; they sometimes even brought mini bottles to drink in the hotel. But when I said this, Shelley just looked at me wide-eyed and shook her head. That stuff doesn’t matter, she said, someday I’m going to start. I thought that was real cute, coming from one of the reserves, and I said I can help you out if you want. That summer she saved up her money and enrolled in this soccer camp in Indiana, which was something I’d suggested but would never dream of doing myself; I was exhausted after the regular season and felt like I deserved a break, but Shelley never took a break. Each week she’d send me letters talking about what she’d learned and addressed them “Dear Mentor.” It was a joke
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
was running faster but I was better, I knew I could make it; she passed the ball to me and I wanted five more yards before I shot—but the girl behind was gaining on me and her arms were reaching out. So, grunting, toe popping, I kicked the ball hard towards their net. It seemed like a great kick but I must have been a little too far away, or else my shin was hurting worse than I thought, or maybe they were just a little better than me, cause their goalie caught it with a smack that brought a loud cheer from the stands. My whole body went numb as if I’d jumped headfirst into the ice bath in sports med. I clenched my firsts and turned around, ready to sprint back down the field and try again, when I saw Coach waving her arms and watched the best of our second string girls, a skinny freckled one named Leah, stand up from the bench and jog towards me. I was out of the game. When I reached the rest of the team I slammed my ass down on that bench. Go get the trainer, I told the freshman sitting next to me. I think I broke my shin. I didn’t believe that of course, I’ve broken a few bones before and they hurt way worse than this. But Helen the grad student trainer came running up and started feeling my leg and asking does this hurt. I shrugged and she said I think it’s just bruised and I said maybe you’re wrong, you should get Maria, who’s her boss, and she scowled and taped a big bag of ice around my leg. --What do I do when I go back in, I asked. --If it hurts that bad you shouldn’t go back in. --What if they need me? Helen handed me a pair of medical scissors with round edges and walked off without a word. It turned out they didn’t need me. With three minutes left in the game, Shelley swerved around UGA’s defense and lofted a clean, perfect shot into their goal. I thought I could hear it swish. After the game ended, Shelley, breathless, dripping, plonked herself down next to me and put her elbows on her knees. She was still grinning. --Now that was what you taught me, she said. --Shut up, I said, my leg hurts. Shelley stopped smiling and turned away.
--Hey, mentor, what’s wrong? I looked at her. --I don’t think you need a mentor anymore. Shelley looked at me with those big stupid wide eyes and frowned like I’d just slide-tackled her. She didn’t try to talk to me again after that. At nationals last week we made it to the finals and Shelley started in each game. I scored two goals but she scored four; my junior year season ended with me sitting on the bench while Shelley sprinted down the field. I didn’t watch her take her last shot, but I felt better after she missed. Like, you’re not perfect after all. I came up to her after that game to try to make things right. She was being interviewed even though we’d lost, so I had to wait for her by the side of the field. --Hey, I said when she finished. You played a good game today. I’m sorry I was a bitch to you at Clemson. --Thanks, she said and I hoped things would go back to normal next season, but then she said, you’re right though. --What? --It’s probably a bad idea for you to be my mentor. Now I was the one left staring. --Oh, I said, it’s okay, I don’t mind. Shelley shrugged. --I do. No offense, but it’d probably be better if we were just friends. --Fine, I said, okay, let’s be friends. --Okay. When we got out of the locker room and headed for the bus I had this image of the two of us leading the team to victory all of next year. Getting the ball to each other, doing drills together, half-joking-half-serious competitions to see who could get the most shots per game. I was still thinking about that when I got on the bus and headed back to our old seat. I scooted in next to the window. Shelley remained standing. --You going to sit with me or not? I asked. She shook her head. --You’re practically a senior, she said. Four-year starter. You don’t need to share your seat. --Where will you sit? She shrugged but I could already see a group of girls up front beckoning her to go sit with them. --That’s fine, I said, It looks like they want to sit with you. --Yeah, she said. It does. She smiled. Have a good trip. --You too, I said. I stared out the window, trying to tune out the laughter that was coming from the front of the bus. I stretched my legs across the two seats and leaned back. This was fine, I told myself, having a seat to myself. There are definitely benefits to sitting alone. I don’t need a mentor to tell me that. ●
She didn’t talk to me until a few hours later when we were back on the bus. After she finished her conversation with Coach—about what, I don’t care—she walked down the aisle towards me. A few girls gave her high-fives. --Hey, she said, standing over me, how’s your shin? I’d cut off the bag of ice but my leg was still pink. I was angry that it didn’t hurt more. --Okay I guess. --Good, she said, God those girls were bitches. --They were just playing hard. --And the ref! I swear, was he blind in one eye or two? --He was just doing his job. She crossed her arms. --I’m just trying to make you feel better. --Feel better about what? --Jeez, what’s your problem? You know you’re the only person on the team that hasn’t told me congratulations? --Congratulations.
• • •
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
overturned mattress. Slowly her eyes scanned the enclosure convinced the discovery had been observed. Rather than risk its confiscation she lunged to reclaim her precious treasure. Her knuckles whitened as the nail lay clenched in her fist. She knew this object was her only defense and that she would use it to free herself and prevent her mother’s capture. As she thought this she saw a door swing open and two men rush into her enclosure. Quickly she raised her clenched fist, slid the nail into her mouth and swallowed. She no longer resisted the force of her holders. She had already performed the act which saved both her and her mother’s lives. Of this she was convinced and her conviction grew as the nail slid down her throat and settled sharply in her stomach. Her body was limp as it was dragged down the hallways of the hospital. She knew they would soon operate on her to remove the recently introduced foreign object. This would be her third operation this month. They made every effort to convince her of the irrationality of her thoughts. But no matter how they tried she still remained convinced that her life and that of her mother’s depended upon her ingestion of those items which captured her fancy. In some ways she agreed with their logic but when confronted with this forced reality she often countered with a series of blunt questions that established their acceptance of the illusion of the setting sun. Always at this point she would smile knowing the sun merely vanished from view as the planet hurtled through space. ●
A Nail by Caleb Gannon he awoke to find herself in a small room with whitewashed walls. The dimensions were perhaps eight feet by ten and the only object in the room was the springless mattress she lay on which rested directly on the floor. The fog of sleep began to dissipate but any recollection of how she arrived in her present condition continued to elude her. Being windowless, the only source of light emanated from a single bulb which hummed as it hung from the ceiling. “Why am I here and for long?” were the questions which naturally occupied her mind but try as she might she could not recall. The absence of any clues made the task seemingly impossible. Minutes passed or perhaps hours before she found both the strength and motivation to stir from her place of apparent collapse. Her limbs hesitated to cooperate but a concentrated effort allowed her to rise to a sitting position. She could feel the blood pumping through her veins and her extremities tingle with life. The harshness of the sterile lighting assaulted her adjusting vision. Her faculties, now fully revived, appeared lucid. She rose unsteadily to her feet and felt the cold firmness of the wall as she dragged the tips of her fingers along one full revolution of what was now her entire world. It wasn’t long before little of her cell remained unexamined. Sitting back on the mattress, her mind entertained increasingly improbable explanations for her current condition. What had she done and to whom to deserve this solitary confinement? Her mother! Wouldn’t she be terribly concerned by her prolonged absence? But how long had she been gone? The answer remained shrouded from her consciousness. Was her mother safe or was she carefully secured in her own cell? No! A momentary sense of relief enveloped her following the realization that her mother’s vital force was unconfined. But how long would her mother’s freedom last? What prevented her mother’s fate so long as she remained here unable to escape? Her thoughts began to race as she fell back upon the mattress. Was she to perish here? Was some kind of sustenance to be provided to her? She began to search in desperation for something, anything. Her hands reached out tearing and pulling. Enraged to a frenzy she grasped the edge of her mattress and flung it against the wall. Her frustration was overwhelming and her knees began to buckle. As she fell to the floor her salvation was revealed. A nail. Some lost remnant of a previous captive perhaps? Three inches of steel brought complete relief. Her mind began to focus as she fingered the instrument of her preservation. She could use it as a weapon against her unknown captors. She now viewed this nail as the tool to save both her and her mother’s lives. But did they see? Were her captors watching as she made her discovery? Without the slightest hesitation she hid the nail beneath the
• • •
Secret Language by Donald Ishikawa As we speak in unison, the world stops; silenced. Charmed by our exchange of ideas, tabooed by aristocracy and embraced by us. A waltz of the mind, the abstract. The pavane of words capturing both You and me, every syllable a count towards perfection. The understanding of ourselves, our being. An antiphon to our desires, voicing our hymn, the soothing canticle. Eyes locked and souls bonded, we sway to words spoken and unspoken. The tune that kindles our dance. • • • Donald Ishikawa is an amateur poet who takes up writing in his free time. He enjoys the thrill of writing and the emotions it unlocks. For him it is not only an outlet of release, but a way to tell others his thoughts and story. 45
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for the names that he remembered including his parents. Where he walked, he read the dates and saw how many of the graves in this section were of young woman and how often a smaller grave was located beside them. They must have died in childbirth or soon after with the baby. The nuclear plant claimed the water was drinkable, but nobody believed it. His parent’s graves were in the back and his legs began to wobble. His stomach lurched and he fell against a leafless tree that leaned over a family of headstones like a guardian from beyond. Beyond the fence and the looming cooling towers of the nuclear plant a light moved across the field of snow and he wondered about its destination. Definitely a better place then here and he wondered if one day he would discover what was beyond the barbed wire fence before he got too sick. The skates felt like weights in his hands, but he dragged them to his apartment. When they melted in the fireplace he would feel relieved of the memories of Ekaterina. The gray, square apartment building looked vacant, but he knew other people lived there. He heard their coughs, their fights, and sometimes their laughs, but he avoided them ever since Ekaterina left. The skates sat on top of the kindling and he retrieved the matches. Another glass of vodka stood on the counter; a survivor from the night before. He reached for it, but his hand shook and it spilled on the matches. The skates would survive another night. The morning sun shimmered off the frozen ice when he watched children skating across the pond, then he spotted one taller girl sliding on socks. “Her feet must be freezing,” he said to a man standing on the hill alongside him. “Yea, but she is still better than the others. Imagine if she had skates.” He watched the girl for a long time. She spun in tight circles that made her blur, then with spread arms glided across the ice with her blonde hair dangling behind her. “I know who that is.” “Who?” The man said, but Dima already turned away. The shift at the gate proved to be excruciating due to his headache. A few truckers used obvious fake identification cards, but when they paid him; he let them pass. The ones that left the closed city intrigued him the most. He checked every destination and each one made him dream. The names of distant cities echoed in his mind; St. Petersburg, Moscow, Vladivostok, Vladimir, Tver, and others. That night, he bought more vodka with the bribe money and walked the cold streets. Couples hugged and kept each other warm. A few people wandered alone like him and he saw one lonely woman. When he approached he recognized Tatiana. He turned away, but she saw him. “Wait, I want to talk to you.” He stopped, and turned when she reached him. “Can I have my ice skates back?” The wind blew up her short dress despite her efforts to hold it down. Bruises covered her arms. “Are they from falls on the ice?” He pointed at the bruises. “No,” she said while covering her arms.
The Figure Skater by William Falo
he rubles felt heavy in Dima’s pocket and he waved the lorry past the open gate until he saw the ice skates dangling out the bag. His fist clenched and he ran after the truck with visions of the girl he loved doing triple axles on the frozen pond in his head. “Stop,” he yelled. The truck screeched to a stop, and the shrieks of the hidden prostitutes came from under the blankets in the back of the truck. He grabbed the ice skates and pulled back the blanket. Three girls shivered in a corner; their clothes barely covered them and they all glared at him. The driver stormed toward him, “We paid you.” “Whose ice skates?” “Mine,” a small blonde hair girl said. “Not anymore,” he said. “Where did you get them?” the driver said. “I bought them,” she said. “A prostitute who figure skates. Shit. Take the skates.” He slapped the girl across the face knocking her down and then he walked back toward the front of the truck. The girl cried and curled into a ball. “It’s okay, Tatiana,” The older girl said and wrapped her arms around her. Dima smiled and walked back toward the guard shack, carrying the skates. “Please, can I have them back,” Tatiana called out. He stopped and stood still while the truck started, but he didn’t turn around knowing if he did that they would see the tears that fell down his face. The wind increased and gray clouds drifted into Seversk; he walked back to the small shack, noticing the holes in the triple fence of barb wire. Escapes could easily be made through the holes, but where would they go. A wasteland of snow surrounded the Siberian city and the frozen river. The wind whistled through holes in the shack and he pulled out the bottle of vodka from under the desk. The ice skates hit the floor with a thud and he felt the hot liquid warm his insides; it felt like he swallowed fire. Snow started to hit the cracked window and he remembered the day that Ekaterina skated on the frozen pond despite a blizzard. She spun in circles with such speed that she became a blur. “You’re going to be a champion,” he said. “I hired a coach,” she said. The coach took over her life and she left for Moscow in a week. He never saw her again. The empty vodka bottle shattered on the floor next to the skates. He picked them up and slung them over his shoulder and left the shack when his relief drove up. Andrei stared at him and then shook his head; they often confiscated items they desired from visitors, but mostly money from the underground for allowing them to smuggle people in and out of the closed city. The cemetery looked empty except for a few solitary figures moving through distant shadows. Dima looked 46
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“What are they from?” She looked away. “Oh,” he said and reached out to touch a mark on her face. “And this?” “A cigarette burn,” she said, and rubbed it with her hand. “Why do you do this?” “I don’t have to tell you,” she said, and turned away. “No, but I have your skates.” She looked at him. “I needed money. I am trying to compete in figure skating and there is a competition coming up in Moscow. I need money for clothes and entry fees.” “What about family?” “Phfff, they have no money. They tell me that I’m not good enough.” “Where are you from?” “St. Petersburg,” she said. A car stopped nearby and its tinted windows rolled down. “Tatiana, is he paying you?” “No,” she said. “Then get back down the street. You still owe us money.” She turned away, and started walking down the street. “Wait,” he said, and walked toward the car. “Leave her alone.” “What are you going to do security guard? Fight us, or report us. How about all the bribes you took?” He stopped. They rolled up the window and drove away leaving him standing there. The sound of sobbing came from the direction that the girl walked, but when he looked she was gone. He coughed up blood in the morning and felt light headed. His parents died from cancer and they both worked at the nuclear plant. He knew that he had the same sickness. He packed the skates into a bag, and wanted to throw them into the trash outside, but he walked past it. Tatiana stood on the same corner, and he watched her from a distance. The thought of Ekaterina made him drop the bag with the skates. If it wasn’t for skating, she would be here with him. They could have had children and been a happy family, but she chose ice skating over him. He threw the bag into the dumpster and then heard Tatiana scream. A man pulled her into a car and then drove away. He tried to follow the car, but the black car that stopped him the night before drove toward him. He darted into a dark doorway while it drove past. The street remained empty until he saw a car open a door, and push someone out. Tatiana stood on the street, and looked around. She walked away limping down the street. Dima returned to his apartment and cried for the first time since Ekaterina left. The girl didn’t arrive at the pond the next day and he couldn’t find her on the streets. When he returned to his guard shack he searched the records for any trucks going west. A few could have left with girls in them, but when he started to drive the government jeep past the gate; he
stopped, and backed up. He returned to the shack where he watched others come and go. The skates stunk from the trash dump, but he cleaned them while he fought back tears. The girl just wanted to skate, and he took away the one thing she loved most. But she still couldn’t escape the streets and skated on socks. He would have quit, and got drunk. He did quit. His dream of leaving required no practice, and he could have just driven out of the city. The car he owned sat under a covering of snow, and he cleared it off. The engine started, and he drove down the street trailing smoke behind him. The pond ice shimmered in the moonlight, but there was no sign of the girl. How could she skate with the injury, but he walked away until he heard a scuffing sound. In the moonlight, he saw the girl twirling on the ice with her hair trailing behind her when she spun in circles with her with her face looking up toward the stars. She slowed to a stop and collapsed on the weak ankle. Everything became silent and he remained motionless. The girl stood up and spun again. He watched her until his eyes closed. When he opened them, the ice was empty. The skates felt heavy in his hands and he put them on the seat of the bus. The driver shook his head. “I don’t want anyone to touch them or sit next to them,” Dima said and held gave a handful of rubles to the driver. “I understand.” The darkness spread over the city and he walked through the streets looking for the girl. It took a long time, but he found her standing near a hotel. A black car loomed near her, and he approached slowly. “Tatiana,” he said. “What do you want?” “One chance,” he said. “For what?” “To get you out of here.” He held out a ticket for Moscow. “What’s that for?” “So, you can compete. I saw you. You can be great.” “It’s too late now.” “No, here take this.” He handed her the tickets and an envelope filled with rubles. “They won’t let me leave.” “I’ll stop them. Hurry, the bus leaves soon. It’s waiting a few streets over. Go to the last seat.” The girl started walking and the car followed her. She walked faster and the car started to speed up. She tried to run, but limped badly. The car closed in on her and he ran out into the street. The sound of brakes screeched through the night until the car hit him and he saw the stars above him. The pain seared through his head, but he tried to stand up. A man got out of the car and tried to drag him out of the way, but he fought him with his remaining strength.
He tried to follow the car, but the black car that stopped him the night before drove toward him. He darted into a dark doorway while it drove past.
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
Sirens echoed through the city and lights approached in the distance. Darkness threatened to overcome him, but he saw the bus approaching passing the cars that stopped. A light flickered inside the bus and he glimpsed Tatiana holding the skates in the window. The light went out, but he smiled knowing that she would skate again. He pushed the man away and limped to his car. Without looking back, he drove toward the city gate. It was closed, but he smashed through it and headed east leaving the city that became his prison. In the distance a distant light shimmered on the snow. It could have been a bus or maybe the reflection from a shooting star. ●
“Fuck. That was fun”. With that, you would leave me naked in the sheets, trying to look indifferent and tired. My mouth would taste like booze. When we met, you said that my body looked like green olives. You recalled the saltiness of Israel and the way my eyes, or hair, or maybe it was my collarbone reminded you of the Mediterranean. You would tell me stories about ruins on a beach, how you walked from Galilee to Jerusalem, like Jesus Christ or something, wearing nothing but leather sandals. You took up with some Jews at a Kibbutz and got kicked out for sleeping with the daughters. You went to the Gaza Strip and grew out your beard and learned how to speak Arabic. I’m sure it wasn’t hard because of your rasping tobacco voice.
• • • William Falo’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Emrys Journal, Shalla Magazine, Mississippi Crow, 34th Parallel, Skyline Review, Foliate Oak Review, Oak Bend Review, Open Wide Magazine, The Linnet’s Wings, The View From Here, The Monarch Review, and many others. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
Well I wasn’t born with the lilies, I was born here and I don’t smoke, or listen to punk rock or whatever the hell it is, or any of it. I believe in government, and education, and cars damn it, cars. I believe that sadness is the only true emotion, that our bodies carry our lovers on them, stitched into the quiet places. And yet I imagine this. I imagine all the ways your body would interact with my own. The cigarette between your dry and sticky lips is somehow erotic to me. Your hands are dirty and shaky, how would they vibrate against my skin?
La petite mort by Sabriel Parker
I believe. I really do believe that if I stood here, in the tide long enough the sand and waves would swallow me. I believe that my skin could disintegrate, that my bones would flake away, and my hair and eyes would sink the bottom of the ocean. The kiss of salt on my thighs and the cold breath of the sea on my neck are like numbers falling into unison. Like the lunacy that settles into the curve of my spine, the moon pulling the blood to the surface of my skin. They fall into waves, into roll upon roll of a drum that picks up each vibration of each bone and waves me forward.
My skin is translucent. You can see the blue of my veins braided together, the blood rushing through like cars on a turnpike. You watch my organs pulsing, cleaning alcoholic blood, and converting food into energy. Each muscle quivers with exertion or emotion. You brush your fingers across the pale flesh of my stomach, leaving little ash trails, just to watch the scattered ripples through my nervous system and the way my blood sputters, lingering against your fingerprints. You kiss my side, my ear, the inside of my wrist, to watch the light that pulses there, where yours lips touched.
I cannot find you in our bed. A sea of blankets overwhelms and I breathe deeply. They smell like the ash of your hair and hands. And the cotton, the cotton will cling to each willowy hair waving in my lungs until I am peppered white on the inside. Until I breathe heavy and shallow, oxygen fighting through all of the sticky white fibers. Until I take up smoking, since I sound like a smoker already. And then will you come to bed? Share a derma ocean with me: vibrating hands and rattled breath.
“It’s beautiful.” You say. You, like everyone else, are obsessed with the way my body begins to mimic your own. 2. I imagine you’d want a cigarette after sex. You would smoke it in bed, sitting up and leaning against the wall. You would exhale right into my face and stain the sheets. It’s all part of your badassery. Fuck lung cancer. My skin would be marked by your tobacco fingerprints, the grooves plain and dark with nicotine. A tattoo I didn’t ask you for.
4. Did you know that your hands would stain my skin? That I would breathe in so much cotton and salt-water trying to reach or touch you? Where are my bones now? Where are the things that blossomed inside of me?
After your post-coitus smoke I’m sure you would pull your rumpled and stained shirt back on, take a swig from the beer on my nightstand, and say something like
• • • 48
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
The Birds Did Sing… by David Elliott
he birds did sing at Auschwitz. Despite the testimony of many who’d visited the museum, it was clearly nothing more than folklore. Perched on the fences, the tops of buildings, the watchtowers, fluttering from tree to tree, the members of the dawn chorus were as numerous and vocal in this place as anywhere else. Adrian had always found the idea of any creature maintaining a respectful silence for the dead a little too fanciful. It was edging into the realms of psychic phenomena; birds picking up on the negative vibes of the camp, as if they had some concept of its history, an innate knowledge of the atrocities that had taken place. Human beings, on the other hand, were different. As Adrian followed the tour guide, Monika, occasionally adjusting the volume on his headset to hear her commentary more clearly, he noticed that while the majority of visitors were silent, respectful, awestruck by man’s inhumanity to man, there were some that seemed to be treating it as a family day out. One of the passengers on the minibus from Krakow had even complained about the graphic content of the documentary film shown on board. ‘That wasn’t exactly suitable for my children,’ she’d said to the driver, after sitting through footage of the camp after liberation. ‘I’ll be complaining to my travel agent.’ Human beings, thought Adrian. Fucking human beings. What, exactly, did people expect from a visit to Auschwitz? It had been a relief to finally get off the bus after an hour, to be alone with his thoughts again. Why had he assumed the place would be empty though? Groups of people were wandering around, most with tour guides, but several making their own way. Aside from the family on the minibus, Adrian had noticed another clan with a slightly different take on their visit; to look as solemn as possible whenever a camera was in sight. As they wandered throughout the different blocks - each bleeding history, each playing a distinct role in this theatre of death - they would talk about any irrelevant detail that came to mind; the children’s school grades, the negative equity on their house, whether they should buy another car before the start of the new tax year; topics that were hardly suitable for a place in which millions of innocent people had been systematically murdered. All of these shallow concerns became unimportant, however, when the camera appeared. Adrian had watched, with something approaching horror, as Daddy arranged his wife and two teenagers in front of the one remaining gas chamber, and started to set up a shot.
‘Okay, everyone. Try to look serious. Diane, look off into the distance as if you’re deep in thought. Right, that’s good. Jennifer, you put your head on your brother’s shoulder, like he’s comforting you. Okay. Ready?’ Human beings. Fucking human beings. It wasn’t the idea of taking photos here that upset him. In many ways, that was why he had come here. He was a photographer by vocation, not simply profession. Adrian had known what he wanted to do, what he’d wanted to be, ever since receiving his first camera. He’d been completely entranced by the process; the sound of the shutter, the glare of the flash. Everything about the art thrilled him. It always had, and he’d thought it always would. But here he was, thirty years later, with his own photography studio, taking pictures of snot-nosed brats, pretentious weddings, and sickeningly saccharine family portraits. Yes, photographs of human beings. Fucking human beings … Hence the trip. He’d purchased a round-Europe train ticket, choosing Krakow as his first stop, but with an in-depth itinerary in store. He’d left the Adrian Moorcroft Photographic Studio in the hands of his partner, and flown to Poland to start his artistic adventure. Finally, he’d be able to take photographs that mattered, that said something, that were real. And today was day one. Day one, and he’d already found something and somebody to complain about. Fucking human beings. Why couldn’t he just get away from them? He’d seen the rest of Auschwitz One; the extermination block with its mountains of human shoes, hills of false limbs and crutches, waves of human hair washing away any thoughts of art and photography. He’d seen the discarded suitcases, the corridor lined with photos of deceased prisoners. And had one of those faces moved? Had its expression changed, ever so slightly, a split second before he looked away? No, that was ridiculous. The DSLR camera felt heavy around his neck; a dead weight, a burden. He’d almost forgotten it was there, as Monika led them back down the dusty path, between the blocks, through the gates, and back aboard the minibus. And then, it was time to go to Birkenau … Birkenau, or Auschwitz Two, was immense. Vast. Adrian hadn’t been expecting it to be this large, but then what had he been expecting? There was something wrong with him. He’d been prepared to feel moved, was ready to be emotionally affected by the experience, but he felt … he felt wrong. That was the only word to
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
describe it. Adrian felt wrong, and as he left the minibus, something else suddenly struck him. He hadn’t taken any photographs … He had to pull himself together. After all, this had been the whole point of coming to Poland, the entire basis of his round-Europe trip was photography. Art. A chance to do something important, something thought provoking, something real, something right. And so why did it feel so wrong? They were standing before an arch framing the railway line; a line with an infamous destination, but that had long since ceased to have any origin. He followed Monika and the rest of the group through a doorway, and entered Birkenau; following the tracks, walking along the very platform where the Nazi’s appalling selections had taken place. On the railway line was a single cattlecart; one of those used, said Monika, for the original transports. It was draped with flags, banners, each with the Star of David upon them. Here and there, a variety of pebbles had been placed on the cart; every one painted with its own message. One of them had fallen underneath the carriage. Adrian bent down, knelt to reach it. It was dark under there. It was too dark. For a moment, he thought he’d gone blind; one split second of panic, of pure blackness, before the shapes of things reappeared. He spotted the pebble again, withdrew it from the gravel, and placed it back on the cart. He turned around. Nobody was there. Only seconds before, there had been a few families, single visitors, tourist groups, wandering around the various locations, but now nothing. He could still hear Monika’s voice in the headset. But where had they gone? He looked around. Barracks in every direction, but no people. He’d lost them, and he still had no photographs. He could hear Monika talking about the gas chambers, the selections. She must have headed in that very direction, down the footpath. Adrian had taken the virtual tour on the website, had seen the photographs. He knew the way … A mound of gravel had been laid across the adjacent railway; easy access to a path that nobody could ever wish to take. He walked across, stopped by a wooden hut, and looked through an entrance in the wire fence; hoping to catch some sight of his group, of Monika, of anyone. Nothing … Oh, well, I might as well get some good shots … He took off the lens-cap, looked through the viewfinder, and turned back to face the railway. Jesus! Adrian choked on his own breath. He removed the camera from his eyes. Had he really seen that? No, there was only one cattle cart. He hadn’t seen a long line of them, hadn’t seen their doors opening, hadn’t seen the skeletal people, the dead bodies, the unidentifiable things cascading out onto the platform. He was tired. It was his subconscious playing tricks on him, trying to stop him from taking photographs; trying to ruin his adventure, to destroy his artistic break. Fuck it. That’s why I’m here …
He raised the camera, and looked through the lens. And there it was again. A vivid, moving, black and white picture. People had left the train now; a swarm of them, wandering around on the platform like lost cattle, arranging themselves into lines. Two or three SS officials were standing at one end, clearly engaged in lighthearted conversation. One of them, however, was not involved in the fun. He was ushering the people forward, one by one, directing them to the right or left with a careless motion of his hand. A couple who had been sent to the right - an elderly woman, and a young boy - started to walk across the gravel mound, across the railway tracks, and straight towards Adrian. The old woman raised her eyes, and saw him … He dropped the camera. He was still alone. No train, no people, no SS officers. No black and white world … There was a blue sky, the grass was green, the barracks were brown, there was only one cattle cart. One. And it was empty. His camera lay on the floor, mercifully still in one piece. Jesus. What the hell is happening to me? He picked up the camera. Maybe he should wander back to the minibus and wait for the others. He was clearly ill. Come on. Get a grip! If you leave here without photographs, you’ll never forgive yourself … He had to try again, had to brave the hallucinations. He looked through the camera once more. They were walking past him now; hordes of black and white people, children, elderly, disabled. With a stab of terror, Adrian realised he could feel them; their clothes brushing past him, the occasional foot trampling on his, the slight breeze as they passed by. Not only could he see through the camera, he could feel. With mounting fascination, he realised that he could also smell the sweat of the crowd, could taste the ice cold winter air, and he could hear. He could hear the hushed conversations, the muttered prayers, the calming words mumbled to children, as they headed down the path. Adrian turned, still looking through the view finder, and followed them. If he were to keep looking, to keep following, if he were to press the button while seeing these things … What would happen? Would he be able to capture something? Could he actually photograph one of the darkest moments in history? He followed them further down the path. He knew where they were going. He knew the way. He knew that the gas chambers had been dismantled by the Nazis pre-liberation, that they no longer stood, except as ruins, rubble. But if he was to continue on this path, if he was to walk slowly, looking through his lens the entire time … Then what? Would he see the fully-constructed gas chamber? Might he actually witness an extermination? What the fuck is wrong with you? Do you actually want to witness that? Of course he didn’t. But the photographs. Oh, the photographs … He was moving faster now, could feel himself being carried along by a current of people. An SS officer 50
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bellowed something behind him. He could feel the spittle on the back of his neck. Something hit him. Hard. A blistering heat spread across his face, followed by an intense pain. He was being shouted at, screamed at. He was panicked, anxious, was having trouble breathing. They were turning the corner now. He could see a chimney rising above the fence … Okay, enough is enough. Go back to the bus … Adrian wanted to drop the camera, wanted to run, to hide, to cry. But it was futile. He’d lost all sense of himself, of the solidity of his own body, the feeling of his hands holding the camera. He’d forgotten what it was like to see things in colour, forgotten what he’d once regarded as real. Maybe this was reality, and everything else - the life he’d considered as normal - had been viewed through a lens; a full-colour vision of a future age. And there, as Adrian rounded the corner, was the newly constructed gas chamber. They were being ushered down a stairway now, passing through a doorway, being asked to undress. Adrian wouldn’t undress, wouldn’t expose himself to strangers, wouldn’t compromise his dignity for anyone. He felt the cold pierce parts of his body that should have been protected, and looked down. He was naked. Others were naked too; hanging their clothes on pegs, tying the laces of their shoes together. The human stream was moving again now. He was being taken along, his legs not moving, not having to move, being swept away like a leaf on the breeze, floating towards another doorway. He knew where they were going. Of course he knew. But what did he have to worry about? He was simply a spectator… Unless this is reality. Could my entire life have been a dream? He entered the chamber, felt himself plastered against other bodies. He could hear crying, whimpering, people gasping for breath. It would happen soon. It would happen any minute now. But it wasn’t real, not for him. It was only real for these people, these black and white ghosts. And what if I could actually capture this on film? He’d be a fool not to try and get a few shots. But if he could capture the moment on film, then did that make it real? Could anything actually happen to him? He could feel the button under his index finger. He stared into the faces of those gathered in the chamber. He was one of them. Adrian was one of them. Adrian was just another human being. Human beings, he thought. Fucking human beings… He pressed the button. Click… ●
Gulls by Emily Rose Cole They climb eye over wing, slicing November gusts with feathered Ginsu knives, the air bleeding salt beneath them. This is why we love water: It’s the lack of gravity – our arms pump rippled foam and we are makeshift birds. In my next life, I will be melody made flesh, and four winds will ricochet their refrains through the hollows of my bones.
Momentum by Emily Rose Cole Tonight I kindled flame between my palms. Flint and steel – miracles are possible with enough momentum. Smoke cuts patterns through shadow, white wisps of spirit creatures, of ancestors whispering, trying to protect me. Not tonight. Tonight, I am dragon-ready to spark blue-hearted flames through my chest, to taste their rusty edges against my tongue, to roast that son-of-a-bitch until the flesh peels, until the bones split, until the heart yields. • • • Emily Rose Cole is an emerging poet and folksinger currently residing in Indianapolis. She has had poems published in The Eunoia Review and the Emerge Literary Journal. Her debut solo album, “I Wanna Know,” was released in May of 2012.
••• David Elliott is a writer and musician, living and working in Cheshire, UK. His short fiction has been published by Flashes in the Dark, Twisted Tongue, Whispers of Wickedness and Delivered. He is currently working on his third novel.
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
My Son, the Parrot *My Son, the Parrot first appeared in Hellroaring Review.
Gimme.” My toddler, Tommy, can talk now. His first word was not ‘mama’, as I’d hoped, nor ‘dada’ but ‘gimme.’ A mother shouldn’t be proud that her sons’ first word represents greed and selfishness instead of love and adoration but, his sweet, tiny voice, moves me none the less. The fact that he can talk at all is reason for celebration. Having a successful pregnancy at forty after more than a decade of fertility testing and drugs, leading to marital strife and counseling, and finally acceptance that I would not be a mother, it happened. We knew the increased risks: Downs Syndrome, spina bifida, cleft palate and other birth defects with varying degrees of severity. When my prenatal testing came back with less than stellar results, the doctors recommended termination, but we were determined. We wanted a baby, not perfection. We wanted someone to love, to mold, to cherish. Tommy is my true miracle. Given the risks, we were fortunate. Tommy’s form of autism was supposed to leave him low functioning and noncommunicative. He started talking last week. At thirty-nine months. “We don’t say ‘gimme’. We say ‘please’,” I’m standing across from him, preparing dinner: rosemary Salmon for Glenn and I, plain white rice and hot dogs for Tommy. The kitchen is painted in light pastels, gentle tones are easier on Tommy, keeping his tantrums down. The corners of all of our cupboards and doors are rubberized, in case Tommy ever learns to walk. My apron has Thomas the Tank Engine on it. What he wants is the model train car on the counter in front of him. It’s a replica from Polar Express. He loves trains. His room is wallpapered with them; his mobile depicts the Orient Express. We had to special order it. It cost three hundred and fifty dollars, plus shipping. He watches them go around and around and he squeals and claps his chubby hands. Money well spent. The Little Engine that Could. Thomas the Tank Engine. These are his favorite stories. He’s perched in a high chair which he’s almost too big for, attached to the kitchen counter and the train is just out of reach. With a grunt he stretches and strains. His chubby legs stretch, his feet curl into grotesque talons. His arms flail and flap, frustratingly close to his goal. His blonde hair dances awkwardly. “Gimme,” he says again, his face turning red with frustration, his nose scrunching into a curve. “We don’t say ‘gimme’. We say ‘please’,” Dr. Anderson told us to repeat what we want him to say. With enough repetition, he would get it.
by Justin W. Price “He’s a person, not a parrot!” I told him then. “Yes. Indeed. He is a person. And, like all people, he will learn through repetition and observation. It’s especially important, given his condition,” he said, chewing on his ball point pen, rapping his fingers on Tommy’s chart. Given his condition. So cold. So calculating. So… clinical. He’s my son, not a parrot! I may have said this again. I’m not sure. I didn’t like it; don’t like it. Yet I’m here, repeating myself; treating Tommy like he’s nothing more than a parrot. Tommy stretches and strains and finally cracks. His blue eyes grow wide and then close. He scrunches his face. He looks like a Cabbage Patch Doll. His lips purse, before opening and bursting forth with a terrifyingly, dramatic squawk—a squawk I have come to associate with my son. “Gimme,” he says again, with tears streaming down his fat cheeks. Only this time, it’s sad and pathetic. It sounds like ‘Mah-mee’. I burst into tears and before burying my head in my hands, hand him the model train, and listen to him begin to squeal with delight. ●
• • • Justin W. Price is the managing editor for efiction horror magazine. His writing can be found in the Bellwether Review, efiction magazine, the Rusty Nail, The Crisis Chronicles, eFiction Humor and the Hellroaring Review as well as on Hubpages and his blog. He lives in a suburb of Portland, Oregon with his wife Andrea and their labradoodle Bella. He is an avid football and baseball fan, amateur theologian, film junky, cook, and the owner of a rabid sweet tooth. He is currently in school working towards his PhD. Follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/authorjustinwprice) and Twitter (@PDXJPrice). His book of poetry, Digging to China, is now available from Sweatshoppe Publications.
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
The Roots of Home by James Orr George,” I said, “I wish I could talk you into leaving this poverty stricken country. There's no earthly reason for you to keep hanging on here. The rest of the guys we grew up with have already left. John has a good job in California, and Tom was telling me just the other day that Perry has a job working for the telephone company in Dallas. There's nothing to keep a man in Pine Lake.” George sat silently for a few minutes, chewing on a sassafras twig. Although he was pondering my question, I could tell he was listening to the bull frogs in the old quarry down by the gin. I wondered if he were remembering the times we used to swim there at night, when we could slip in without Old Man Tate hearing us and running us out. George shifted the twig to the other side of his mouth. “I dunno, Bud,” he remarked. “I sometimes get to thinking about leaving Pine Lake. I went to Dallas once to see about going to work for the brick plant. I made a wrong turn and got tied up in some of that there heavy traffic and like to have spent the day trying to get across town. I just up and came home after that. “I'll admit it don't nohow seem fitting for a man to work his fingers to the bone for three dollars a day, like I have to do down at the gin, but I wouldn't be no account anywhere else. “I got a letter from John the other day. It came all the way from out in California. He was telling me about the nice house they live in. Said it even has one of them there store-boughten bathrooms. Said he has a car that still has paint on it and will start on all but the coldest mornings, but somehow I got the feeling he was hankering to hear the bull frogs in Tate's quarry again.” We sat in silence for a minute listening to Bert Cofelt's dogs running a fox on the other side of Possum Creek. The bell-like sounds drifted faintly across the hollow and mingled with the smell of dogwood blossoms. Even the bull frogs seemed to be listening. Then the dogs must have crossed Cooper Hill, for the sounds faded from hearing, or became so faint they blended with the sound of the whippoorwills. “George, I know it takes a little git-up-and-go to break away from here and go to some civilized place where you can make a decent living, but a man doesn't have the right to subject his family to this kind of life. I think of Sarah cleaning clothes for you and the kids on that old rub-board, and it makes me want to cry. And having to burn that old green wood. If you would move to Dallas, you could get a gas stove and a washing machine. You could get the kids out of this damp, swampy, fever-ridden country and make a real home for them.” I broke off talking, to scratch a chigger bite.
Another fault with this back-woods part of the country, I thought angrily. “Bud, George finally said, I know this is a hard life for women and kids. I can't really put my finger on what it is that keeps me here. But you know you never get the swamp-fever here as long as you eat plenty of pokesalad. If you do get it, we've got plenty of may-apple roots and sassafras right here.” He paused for a moment while he adjusted the lamp wick. “I bought Sarah a new wash tub just last week. And when I think of all those cars rushing by in a place like Dallas, I just get the heebyjeebies. That's the biggest town ever I seen. I do declare, if I had to go without a fresh mess of cat-fish, or some baked possum and poke-salad, I don't rightly know what I'd do.” We fell silent, and nothing broke the quiet but the bull frogs in Tate's quarry. The far-off echoes of Bert Cofelt's horn, calling his dogs in, had faded in the silence of the night. ●
• • • James Walter Orr was born in Amarillo, Texas in 1930. He has lived a life of adventure, having traveled in over thirty foreign countries and having lived and worked briefly in several of them. He rode as a cowboy on the Indian Lands of Oklahoma, traveled as a hobo, worked as a manufacturing engineer for a major semiconductor manufacturer, won the most versatile writer's award in creative writing at SMU, and headed an import and distribution corporation from 1972 until his retirement. He has three books of poetry and a novel in print, with another novel slated for publication in early fall of 2012.
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
Miss Bunnlever Meets Mister Leominister by Dennis Brock
position in a children’s library. Her children are nearly grown. She watches her husband drift further away. There are papers to read, lectures that must be given. Obligations must be met and advancements made. Alice marries soon after she finishes her studies. Her husband takes her a thousand miles away. But there are no grandchildren to write Missus Leominister loving letters. Maybe later, Alice says. I’m too busy. I have a job. We may go to Europe for a year. Mister Leominister reads too much. Odd ideas fill his head. He’s away more often, trying hard to be better at the library, attending seminars and workshops. Missus Leominister puts on her sister’s lace and tulle gown. It’s still a little too long. She gathers the skirt into her hand and begins her slow dance in the attic pretending she’s not alone. James is little Jimmy no longer. He becomes brutish and insolent demanding it’s necessary for his art. He wears black and lets holes grow in his clothes. He moves to Greenwich Village and creates socially relevant art. He cries against injustices and outrages, but becomes a simple cliché with limited direction. In time, he is reigned by a necktie and conforms to computer graphics. Missus Leominister puts the lace and tulle dress in her closet so that it is close. She begins to play the out of tune piano for the children at the library, leading them in songs of hope and learning. Mister Leominister wanders away, drawn by other urges, other hopes. He tests love again but no one wants to go to that out of the way place where you can dance, where a tuxedo is a perfect companion to lace and tulle. He takes a job in a small library, one that demands less, and he wishes he had done that long ago. He writes Alice and telephones James. Do you hear from your mother? How is she? But he can never ask the question that bothers him the most, has she found someone else? He buys a tuxedo from a second hand shop. He dances about his apartment. The routines seem lost and vacant, empty of lace and tulle. A position opens at the library and Mister Leominister goes about his daily routines. He helps those who need him and guides them through the stacks. Then he goes home to his little apartment. Some photographs hang on the wall. Alice. And James. Mister Leominister who stands next to Miss Bunnlever who wears a dress borrowed from her sister. Somehow, in the unreasonableness of life’s decisions, the position at the library is filled. Miss Bunnlever starts Monday. Mister Leominister walks the weekend away. He is nervous and can remember dance routines he learned so many years ago. He waits for her early on Monday. He can almost hear the piano with the waltz that wants to be heard.
ometimes Mister Leominister remembers her standing on the stairway, her dress all lace and tulle. He leads her away dancing through the beauty of the evening. I can lead, he tells her, as they touch the edge of the dance floor. My gown’s a little too long, she tells him. Miss Bunnlever gathers her skirt into her hand and follows him. He doesn’t hesitate. He is awkward. She waits for him as the confidence begins to take him onto the floor, slowly, circling, cautiously, carefully. A piano plays the music, Miss Bunnlever strikes the keys in her mind. She’s hit those keys many times before under Miss Gibbons regularly scheduled lessons. He leads, more certain of his movements as the waltz progresses. He never tells her he spent four months at the Adele Brice School of Dance to prepare for this evening. He remembers the steps, running the routines through his head. The piano singles itself out of the orchestra just for them. The music stops for a moment to catch its breath. Mister Leominister never notices as he continues to lead Miss Bunnlever through the dance floor. People step aside then slowly join them. The orchestra leader has spotted them and strikes up another waltz. The sounds and the sights spin them through the heavens. They forget about the years as Miss Bunnlever becomes Missus Leominister but the songs of that prom cannot be forgotten. She has Alice soon after the ring circles her finger. Then James. Little Jimmy. They waltz a little slower now. Mister Leominister finishes his studies and finds a position in a university library. With the music and excitement of future hope, they buy a little house and settle into it, welcoming visits from friends and family. Mister Leominister goes to the library and tries to be helpful. Missus Leominister begins her studies now that the children are in school. And that lovely couple on the dance floor, she in her sister’s dress, he in a rented tuxedo, dance a little further into the background. Mister Leominister finds the little restaurant off the highway. It’s not easy to find but he faintly remembers. Isn’t the place you brought me after the prom, she asks. We didn’t want to stop dancing that night. Faintly the piano begins to play. She hasn’t let her fingers embrace the keys in a long time. She gathers up the lace and tulle into her hand and follows her husband inside. It’s a pretty night and the small orchestra is playing those wonderful songs. Mister Leominister leads remembering the old routines and the orchestra leader gives them all the waltzes they want. Missus Leominister finishes her studies and finds a 54
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
She works with him during the ensuing month accepting an infrequent lunch filled with conversations safe of lace and tulle. Yes, the children are fine. Do you remember...but he cannot risk a no, I don’t remember, so he leaves the question unasked. Her office is upstairs. She is being indoctrinated into the world of grants and proposals. It’s all a test, he knows. Soon, she’ll be involved in the everyday, sandwiching the routine into the necessary. I know a lovely place, just off the highway, he tells her one day. They have dancing. The last time I was there, they played waltzes all night. I have a gown. It’s my sister’s actually. They find the restaurant once again. The street isn’t as lonely any longer. Neon lights intrude upon the memory, but still they go in. Casually dressed couples gape incredulously. He in his tuxedo bought in a second hand store, she in a lace and tulle dress once borrowed from her sister. They sit together at the bar and have a drink. We can’t draw them anymore, the bartender tells them. Not like we used to. Times change and so do we, if we want to stay in business. Mister Leominister takes Miss Bunnlever to the edge of the dance floor. The pianist is singing popular songs. She watches them. I can lead, Mister Leominister says. Miss Bunnlever gives him her hand. My gown’s a little too long. She gathers the skirt in her hand. The music is unimportant. They hear what they need to hear. The waltz is ageless and the memory strong. She can hear the piano and knows which keys to strike. She’s been practicing. Mister Leominister remembers the routines very well. He has been practicing, recalling every move. They begin to circle the dance floor and the pianist catches up with them, remembering all the waltzes no one asks her to play. It’s been such a wonderful evening, he says as they drive down the highway. We really have to go back there again. He drives to his little building. He leads her up the stair to his apartment. It’s been such a lovely evening. Would you like to stay and talk for a while? Mister Leominister looks out the window. He can see Miss Bunnlever’s reflection in the glass. She takes off her shoes and gathers her skirt in her hand. She reaches out for him. It’s up to you. ●
Insanity by Ashwin Arun Cold winds Wolves Howling Shadows creep Endless roads Forlorn streets Desert town Running Away Darkness looms Evil sounds “Lost Memories Distant Past Gold Locket” Far Away From darkness Towards haven Safe Places Miles Away Beyond Reach Darkness spreads Stars die End awaits Lights Glow Thunder Strikes Lone Cell Padded Walls Steel Door Watchful eyes Devils’ Lair Trapped again Like before Must Flee Ill-gotten place Any means Mortal Hands Bend not Moulded Steel Mortal Thoughts However destroy Grand confines
• • •
Back upon Desolate Streets Free Again. Distant Storm Closing In Must Run.
• • • 55
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
The air smells fresh as a warm breeze struggles with a cold undercurrent. I sit on a narrow wooden bench by the side of the brook and watch the ripples of water pass. My mood is serene, maybe even a tad lazy. I reflect back on the memory I had earlier, the one with me taking a bath in the sink, which if you think about it, it’s a little disgusting, but none the less, cute. When I focus on that moment, that feeling, I can remember life with my mother wasn’t all bad. We baked cookies on Sundays, and went to church together. She turned me on to all the cool rock and roll bands growing up as she was only sixteen years older than me. We sat and watched old movies together on rainy days and holidays, and Saturday matinees were a weekly adventure. After about a half hour of blissful peacefulness I feel selfish enjoying the lovely breeze and watching the little fish swim in the pond while my mother could hardly breath. I head back to her room I am surprised to see her sitting up. She motions for me to sit beside her in the one and only ratty, old chair in the room. I hope she doesn’t want me to watch game shows with her. I hate television. All my life my mother was in and out of work and when she was home during the summer months when I was out of school it was the worst. Her days started with game shows then went into those god awful soap operas where everyone turns out to be a psycho and kills their lover, and her nights ended with the news broadcasting people stabbing each other with pocket knives for a quarter. Lunch came before noon, it’s repulsive. A slab of gravy soaked brown meat sits on a white plastic dish with running corn, and watery mashed potatoes. My mother’s appetite has diminished greatly over the last few days and looking at the crap they serve who could blame her. She keeps dozing on and off, it’s really annoying. I quietly flip through a few magazines and decide I’m going to tell mom I’m heading out and I will be back tomorrow. She opens her crusty eyelids and looks up at me with her muddy eyes. At one time her eyes were hazel with gold and green flecks. She points to the pitcher. I pick it up and fill a matching pink plastic cup halfway with ice water. She leans in and sips slowly. Then she puts her head back on the pillow. I put the glass down and adjust the pillows behind her head. Aside from the few white hairs her hair still looks good. Light golden specks spark against thick, wavy milk chocolate brown hair. My lungs squeeze together in my chest and my throat clinches. I feel sorry for her. Gaunt bones sit beneath her thin skin. Her once full, rosy lips are now white and thin. She lifts her head slowly straining to speak with a croaky whisper. “I’m sorry Mom, I can’t hear you.” I say as I lean closer. “The boys, I did it for you.” “What did you do?” “The boys, for you,” she says.
The Shed by Susan Alongi
ow I sit across from my mother, who is coughing up a lung. Her sallow skin smells sour. Thin strains of white hair fall along her narrow cheeks. She smiles at me when she’s done coughing then her eyelids fall upon her muddy dark eyes. One part of me cares that she’s sick and another part of me couldn’t care less. I know I shouldn’t feel this way. I know it makes me a horrible person, but you have to understand, by loving my mother I lost out on my life. Middle school kisses behind the handball courts, I didn’t have them. Getting felt up at movies, didn’t happen. There wasn’t a high school prom, no college dances or parties, (I didn’t go to college). There wasn’t any wedding day. The sun streams a ray of light across my mother’s half sleeping, worn face. For a brief moment I see the beautiful woman I remember. I notice the baby pink water pitcher sitting on the small wooden end table is almost empty. I leave the room and walk down a pastel blue hallway with matching rug and chairs. The kitchen in the common room is painted a sunny yellow; it’s a very nice nursing home. I run the pitcher through a bucket of ice and turn on the faucet and fill the pitcher with cold water. The sound of running water makes me think of happier days when I was young and my father was still at home. I remember my mother and father giving me a bath in the kitchen sink. I can see the bubbles and I smell baby shampoo. I listen to the ice rattling in the pitcher as I walk back. The cold surface feels damp. It feels good against my skin. My mother’s breathing falls with deep sighs and raises with a low hum. I watch as the nurse checks her vital signs. The nurse smiles at me with pointy teeth set in a pale face. I place the pitcher down where I found it and walk back down the blue hallway. My sneakers sink into the plush material with each step I take past the half opened doors of people dying. That’s what they are doing here, all of them, dying. This was purgatory, the last stop on earth before one reached the pearly gates of heaven, or the fiery flames of hell. As I step outside I wonder, which one of those two places my mother would wind up, it really was a toss-up. If she were to be judged on my abusive upbringing then it was sure to say if she got to the pearly gates Saint Peter would lift his foot and jab it square in her ass sending her straight down to meet Satan. If one considered how her father abused her when she was growing up then it may be safe to say heaven would take pity on her.
The sun streams a ray of light across my mother’s half sleeping, worn face. For a brief moment I see the beautiful woman I remember.
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
“I don’t know what you mean mom. You shouldn’t try to speak. You should get some rest.” “They weren’t good for you.” I stare into her eyes the same eyes that animated bedtime stories for me when I was a little girl, the same eyes that pleaded with me to still love her after she beat me. “That Alex boy,” she clears her throat. “The one who wrote poems, he wasn’t good for you.” “Alex wasn’t good for me mom, I know, you told me that.” “That Eric he was the worst.” She wedges herself into her fortress of pillows trying to get comfortable. “That pathetic little diamond he bought for you.” She struggles to lift a pillow out. “Didn’t have a penny or a nickel, what kind of husband did he think he’d make?” I watch as she finally frees the pillow out from under her. “So, I made them go away.” She chokes down a ball of saliva. “What are you saying to me mother?” I swallow the dry lump that forms in my throat. Tears swell in her tarnished eyes. “I did it for you.” She says again. “I heard you the first time, but I don’t understand what you’re trying to say to me.” I feel heat rise in my cheeks, up into my head until my brains feels like it’s going pop. “Yes you do my loving daughter.” The whites of her eyes float on tiny rivers of clear liquid. ‘My loving daughter’ she said that to me when I was growing up, as though those three words erased whatever she did to me. “You made them go away? You mean forever?” I swallow. My saliva cuts my throat like tiny razor blades. My heart pulses forcefully burning hot in my chest. My stomach flips and twists as though someone had reached in pulled up my intestines and started ringing them out like a dish cloth. “Love letters mother. That’s all I have are love letters from two boys who loved me, lying in a dusty cardboard box, in a dusty, smelly shed!” “I did it for you my loving daughter.” Her hoarse voice trails off. Uncontrollable tears dampen my cheeks. She rolls on to her side and leans toward the end table. “My pills,” she murmurs as her bony fingers fumble for the draw. She tries to pull on the beige cord that is wrapped in knots on the bed railing. Tiny puffs of breath escape her cracked lips as she draws on small gasps of air. Wires pulse from her arms as she rolls on to her back, and the white machine hanging over her head begins to hiss as the vertical lines on the screen descend quickly flattening one by one. My eyes fuse with hers, years flash by us as memories melt into one another. Her eyes widen, clear, pupils shining, smiling, lovingly. I rise from the ratty chair, walk out of the door and down the long hallway. I feel the blue carpet, plush and thick beneath my feet.
I watch the sun fall into dusk through the glass on the front door. A nurse runs by me. I open the front door. Two more nurses run by me. The sun is warm. It feels good on my skin. ● • • • Susan Alongi’s published works consists of a Sci-Fi piece in a fanzine magazine, a flash piece in a Romance magazine, and a flash piece in a college literary magazine. She belongs to the Bronx Council on the Arts, and The Bronx Writers' Center.
Curiosity by Ashwin Arun They say it killed the cat But the cat never died Nor did it live. To answer riddles, One must question first. Questions that none could answer Questions many fear to answer Questions many fear to ask And many many more... However primal forces hinder Sapien thoughts. Fear of the unknown And delusions of reality. Passed down by teachings But not answered by questions. Why? Some say. Why Not? Ask others What be the truth? Ask both And you shall know. But never, shall believe! For enquiry leads to scepticism A state where none be real And none be false It’s merely what be more likely. So you ask! If there be no clarity, No good answers, And endless confusion. What be the point Of such an existence? Well, Sir, I ask, Are you not curious? • • •
The Rusty Nail, February 2013
Are you a novelist with a story to tell? Or maybe a poet or short story writer with a collection of work ready for the world? If so, we want to hear from you. Sweatshoppe Publications specializes in helping independent writers get their work out into the world. We realize your work is your child and we want to handle it with all the care possible. We do not charge authors for our services and we underwrite all the expenses of getting a book onto the market. In addition, while most publishers offer anywhere from 10-20% royalties, we pay 50% of royalty profits to our authors. We also offer a 50% discount to authors who wish to purchase their own books for book signings or author events. Sweatshoppe is something of a hybrid publishing house. Traditional in the sense that we don't charge authors to get published, but they get the higher level of input, customization, and personal care one might expect from a paid service. We are hoping that this will start a trend among publishers that will return the power to the authors. Sweatshoppe Publications has been privately publishing books since the mid 2000s. In February 2012, it undertook the publication of The Rusty Nail literary magazine, which has grown quickly since its first issue in March of that year. Sweatshoppe Publications now is expanding to offers its publishing services to authors. Sweatshoppe intends to maintain the vision with which it began The Rusty Nail: to offer independent authors a place to showcase their work and make a go of it in day when the only options are bowing to big-time publishers or fighting as a lone voice among millions.
The February 2013 issue of The Rusty Nail includes work by Thomas Pitre, Ali Zahiri, John Grochalski, Raymond Cothern, Brandon Egervari, Con...