Issue #8 Spring/Summer 2018 www.sblaam.com
Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine issue #8
fiction Murali Kamma
The Intentions of Weylend Raines
non-fiction Patty Somlo
All the Way Home
untitled They Cray you can look and you can touch
49 50 51
The Second Plate of the Muscles Until There is No Reason
First Tattoo That Geometry Teacher
Messin' with Monk
henry 7. reneau, jr
eyes shut wide: in response to every cowardly, self-serving Amerikkkan poet who has taken a hands-off approach to every disturbing reality . . . 62
David Anthony Sam
Black Bread Harvests of Flesh
P C Scheponik
Green River, Utah
images Jim Zola
cover by staff artist Jim Neuner
Editor's Note We continue to showcase an eclectic collection with this, our eighth issue. Guinotte Wise and David Schultz examine people on the edges of society, while John Grey and Adam Matson delve into the lives of everyday folks. There is offbeat love in the poems of Omar Alexandre and love of nature in Bobbi Sinha-Morey's poem. David Anthony Sam gives us two wonderful lyrics on life and death. And Jay Jacoby pens a paean to Thelonious. I hope you enjoy these and all the other carefully crafted works we are proud to present.
Black Bread Black bread for supperâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and the stars in the water of the black lake behind the porch of the darkened cabin. Breadsmells play in and out the screen door, knowledge of the oven. Breadsmells play with me on the porch, brinked at the beach of the black lake. Recipe. Ingredients. Time and the oven. The kneading hands age puffy, dough-white, as fast as time darkens the rising bread, the lowering horizon. The clock burns the crust, but the taste is not offended. Cut the crust, eat the soft middle brimming in salty sweetbutter. Cup hands for warmth around the hot crust of bread, the night cold with a wind from the black lake, and water-stars quivering up close to the shore. Got the time, the taste, the hands to knead this black bread of late summer, flour dust in my hair, hands caked with dried wheat and dark age spots. I curl against the chair on the porch with a loaf and the slow, insistent wind. Close enough, I read the misplaced stars at supperâ&#x20AC;&#x201C; a recipe of blackness in the water. David Anthony Sam David Anthony Sam lives in Virginia with his wife and life partner, Linda. He has four collections, including a chapbook, Finite to Fail: Poems after Dickinson. His poetry has appeared in numerous journals and publications.
Harvests of Flesh You lie in a delirium of twisted hospital sheets, turning and turning images and flesh while we attend your ravings as we try to gather you in gentle whispers presaging death. Suddenly you wake to usâ&#x2C6;&#x2019; remembering how your mother would wield an ax with her nearsighted arm, harvesting a chicken or two for supper from the stench of coop outside the kitchen. Then you remember how your sotted father returned from a day of peddling and drink to demand of her another quick fuck before he would pass out and snore. How your mother bled from a rape of marriage bed. How your sister stood in his way when he wanted more soon after a birth. How he went to strike her but your older brother
knocked him into a quick silence as the fire crackled in the hot fireplace. You know these vivid images of gray flesh boiling for supper and brute flesh demanding hunger from the fragility of flinching loveâ&#x2C6;&#x2019; but you cannot remember yesterday, or today, or an hour ago when I arrived, or a phone call from the distance that is growing between us. Then you are distracted again by a flurry of chickens and a fluttering of fabric as bird and woman flee from harvests of their flesh. David Anthony Sam
Femme Fatale I was fifteen, and the prettiest girl I ever saw was a boy bouncing off the wall behind St. Nick’s. Greg Mundzig knocked him back with a short left, grabbed him by his throat, and pinned him to the bricks. The boy’s cheeks were streaked with black tears, and despite his flailing, Mundzig pushed into him and started to grind. Normally I would have walked past. This wasn’t any of my business, I was on my way home from All-Ball. On Thursday nights Saint Nick’s opened the grade school gym and everybody got to play, but the sound of the kid sobbing, all desperate and me against the world, I had to step up. “Leave him,” I said. Mundzig’s expression sharpened. He knew me the way you know a plastic bag stuck in a tree at a bus stop. “Leave him be,” I said again, and that’s when Mundzig delivered a straight right into the kid’s middle. The kid buckled and it was all on me. I lifted my guard and fluttered in with a combination, but when I skipped back, Mundzig followed me, grabbed me by my hair, and yanked me to the concrete. That’s when the kicking started. I can’t tell you how long it went on, and I can’t say that I felt anything until it stopped, but it did stop, and when it did I looked up and it was raining, and Mundzig was splashing west down the alley, desperate for cover. Mundzig, the thug, the goon, the bruiser with a blunt force trauma embossed on his future, was running away from the rain. I propped myself on my elbows and looked over at the kid. He was slumped against the wall, watching Mundzig, too. The rain was a break, but we had to go. I crawled to my feet and started past him. “Come on.” In a few steps we were side by side running east towards Kimball. From there we hooked south towards North Avenue. It was late, late summer, and the rain was warm and intense. The drops were as big as grapes, bursting as they stung me. We ran full out with our mouths open, spitting water with every breath. As soon as we got to North Avenue it stopped, and for a second the world was coated in glass. Lights shimmered off everything, yellow
and red, blue, green, purple, and gold. It looked like a candy store at Christmas, and then it all ran into the gutter and down the sewer. We ran until we reached Juanita’s Tacos, a Mexican place owned by Linus Shin’s mother. The Shin’s were Korean, and Linus’s mom was not Juanita. The sign came with the restaurant. “In here,” I said and pulled the glass door. Linus was behind the counter. He frowned. He didn’t like us dripping all over the floor, but I was a little too banged up to care. “Let me see the key, Linus.” “Jeez, what happened to you?” I frowned at him. He tapped the tip of his nose. I ran my hand under mine; there was a streak of blood from my wrist to the end of my finger. Then I saw the red drips on the white floor. Without the rain washing it away a rivulet of blood ran down my lip. “Just, lemme see the key,” I said. Linus hesitated. “My Mom’s here, you gotta order.” Juanita’s had a strict, no food, no bathroom policy. I dug through my pockets and came up with a soaked bill and two quarters. “Small coke.” Linus put the key on top of a couple of clean counter towels and pushed them towards me. “Here.” I took the key and handed the kid a towel. The bathroom at Juanita’s was tiny, but clean enough. There was a sink with a mirror over it, about a foot in front of the toilet. I closed the door. The kid squeezed in on the right side of the sink. I was on the left by the door, with my head back stuffing wads of brown paper towel in my nose. “Are you all right?” he asked. “It’s just a bloody nose.” “Thanks,” he said. I nodded.“Mundzig’s crazy… really… a documented psychopath.”
He didn’t say anything. Usually, after hearing something like that, people will tell you about a freak they know, a messed up uncle or somebody from school that lost it, but this kid just dried himself with the counter towel. “So, what’s your name?” I asked. He paused like he was trying to decide something. A second passed. “Mike,” he said. “What’s yours?” “Burns. You’re not from around here.” He shook his head. “How old are you?” “Fifteen. Why?” He didn’t answer. “How old are you?” I returned the question. He paused again. “Sixteen.” “Where do you live?” “I’m not from here.” “Where then?” “Philadelphia.” I was impressed. I never knew anybody that wasn’t from Chicago. “Yeah?” “Uh-huh.” “You visiting?” “A layover.” “What’s that.” “I’m on my way to San Francisco.” “Yeah?” I was even more impressed. “I’m taking the bus, the Greyhound. We’re changing buses. Mine doesn’t leave until one twenty-five.” “Tonight?” “Uh-huh.” I pulled the wad of paper out of my nose. “I think I stopped bleeding.” “Already?” “I’m a quick healer,” I smiled. He did not. “If we’re in here too long,” I said, “the owner will be pounding on the door.”
“Wait.” Mike pulled three tubes from his pocket. He dampened a corner of the towel, rubbed at his eyes and lips, dried it thoroughly and started putting on eyeliner, mascara, and lipstick. I watched him. He watched me watch him. It didn’t take him long. He straightened his hair and when he was done, he pointed to the mirror. “Look,” he said. I looked at our reflection. He was a little taller. His blond hair framed his cheek bones. He had a delicate nose, a broad mouth, narrow chin, and his eyes were large and blue with paper thin lids that sat half way closed, like he was sleepy. I was darker. My hair was straight, but even damp, it stood up and had a soft, spiky look, like somebody spent a long time trying to get it to look messy. I had round eyebrows and wide open eyes. People said I always looked a little scared, and maybe I was. “You know who we look like?” he asked. I shook my head no. Right then Linus’s mom started banging on the door. “Hey, too long. Get out.” We opened the door and pushed past the angry woman. We put the towels and the key on the counter and I took my coke. “Thanks Linus.” “See ya.” I turned back to say something, but Linus was staring at Mike. “Mundzig,” I said, like it explained the makeup. Linus caught himself and his eyes shifted. “When are they gonna lock him up?” “As soon as he messes with somebody with money,” I said, and me and Mike walked out the door. The rain had rinsed everything off, and I could smell Humboldt Park’s trees on the breeze. Mike was looking at the sky above the streetlights. “What time do you think it is?” he asked. “I don’t know,” I answered.
“I should get back to the station.” “Okay.” He looked up the street, then down. “Gonna take the bus or the El?” Mike shrugged. “El’s faster.” “What about a taxi?” “That might take a while. Not a lot of cabs come through here.” He shrugged again. “I’ll wait with you if you want.” “Yeah, okay.” I held out the small coke. “Want some?” He took it and pulled a little through the straw. “Thanks.” We stood together and I tried to think of something to say. Then I remembered. “So who do we look like?” I asked. Mike smiled. “Nico and Edie.” “Huh? I don’t know who they are.” He pulled his phone from his pocket. “An Apple, nice, did it get wet?” He poked at it. “Not too.” He stabbed at it a few more times, then turned it so I could see the screen. “Here, see” He said and showed me a picture of a blond woman. She looked like Mike, with the same high cheek bones, and the same mouth and eyes. “This is Nico.” “Nico who?” “Just Nico.” “Who is she?” “She was a singer with a band called the Velvet Underground. Did you ever hear of them?” I shook my head no. “Lou Reed?” “No,” I said.
“This was a long time ago.” “How long?” “The sixties.” He turned the phone and poked it again. “And this… is Edie… Sedgwick.” A picture of a skinny dark haired girl came up. Mike smiled. “You look like Edie, and I look like Nico,” he said. He handed me the phone and I held it and stared at the picture. After a minute I said, “They’re girls.” Mike was watching me look at the picture. “What do you think?” “I don’t know,” I said, then closed out the window. “What am I supposed to think?” Mike boosted up on his toes and checked for cabs. “It’s no big deal, it’s just— what’s the word, irony, ironic? It’s ironic, I guess.” “Okay.” I shrugged. It was obvious I didn’t get it. “See,” he said, “Edie Sedgwick was a famous model who hung around with this artist, Andy Warhol, who asked this musician, Lou Reed, to write a song about her… and he did. The song was Femme Fatale, and Nico sang it.” “Why’s that ironic?” “Because we look like Nico and Edie.” I shook my head. “I don’t get it.” Mike went on, “And it’s my favorite song. Femme Fatale, did you ever hear it?” I shook my head. “I don’t think Nico and Edie were friends or anything, they were just linked by that song, and, I don’t know, really, but look at us. You have to admit that we look like them, so maybe the universe wants Nico and Edie to be connected, and that’s why… ” Mike thumbed back down North Avenue; he was talking about Mundzig and the alley. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t either,” he seemed to shrink a little, “but every once in a while, I want something to mean something.” I understood that perfectly.
Mike stepped off the curb and looked “Maybe you should try and catch a bus,” I said. Mike looked at me like I was crazy. “I’ll get lost. I’m not good with directions.” “You’ll never catch a cab around here, and you know they’re expensive; it’d be like twenty bucks to get to the Greyhound station, you know that, right?” Mike didn’t answer. “Well, if you take the North Avenue bus to the six corners at Milwaukee and Damen you can catch a cab around there easy.” Mike nodded his head. “There’s a bus stop just down the block. Come on.” We stood at the bus stop. “How much is it?” Mike asked. “Two and a quarter, but you gotta have exact change.” He smiled. “What?” I asked. “Why are you taking care of me?” I blushed. “I’m not.” He nodded. We waited. “Have you ever been to San Francisco?” he asked. “I’ve never been anywhere.” He paused. “Me neither, until yesterday.” He bobbed his head, “But now I’ve been to Chicago and I’m going to San Francisco.” “What’s in San Francisco?” Mike looked at me and almost smiled. “I don’t know, that’s why I’m going.” “What’s Philadelphia like?” His expression changed. “Philadelphia is home.” I knew what that meant. I wondered how bad he had it.
My mom was a twenty-four seven drunk, and DCFS had pulled me and my brother out of the house a bunch of times. The house— just three rooms in a basement and we were on every kind of welfare there was, but when I was at Maryville, a foster care service place, none of that mattered, I always wanted to get back to my mom. I changed the subject back to San Francisco. “What are you going to do out there?” Mike sucked his lips and looked up past the streetlights. He was dreaming. “I’ll have to couch surf at first, but just until I get a job. I’m going to be a barista. Did you know they make almost as much as bartenders?” Mike nodded his head. “And bartenders make a lot.” He’d been thinking about this for a while. “As soon as I save up some money I’ll get an apartment, anyplace at first. I’ll have to find a roommate, but I’ll have my own room.” There wasn’t a bench at the bus stop so I walked over and sat on the stoop of somebody’s doorway. North Avenue was lined with old two and three story brick buildings, some fancy, some not. Most had store fronts on the first floor with big shop windows and inconspicuous doorways that led up to the second and third floor apartments. Mike followed me over and squeezed in next to me. The stoop was just a few inches up off the sidewalk and we put our knees up. I retied my shoes. I was wearing black high tops. Mike had on baby blue suede creepers. He looked at me looking at his shoes. “Like my skids?” I shook my head no. “I don’t know nobody that wears shoes like that.” “But do you like them?” I didn’t want to answer. Mike brightened. I think he thought I was funny. He looked up the street for a bus. There was nothing coming. “You don’t have to like ‘em because I do.” “It’s better to blend in.” “That’s what everybody says.” “There’s a lot of Mundzigs around.” “I know.”
“It’s easier if you don’t have to deal with them.” “Everything costs.” “I guess.” Mike leaned back into the doorway and let his legs unfold in front of him. “Do you know what I’m saying?” “Not really.” “If you come out, it costs some skin, stay in the closet, it costs you some of your soul.” “Wait, do you think I’m gay?” Mike’s lips folded into his mouth and he brought his knees back up to his chest. We sat silently for a minute, but it was too much. Mike stood, walked to the street, and looked for the bus. After a break, I followed him to the street. “It’s okay, you know, I’m not mad.” Mike looked at me. “Why should you be mad?” “Exactly, and why should you?” He crossed his arms. “I’m not.” “Me neither.” He uncrossed his arms and shifted from one foot to the other. “I’m just. . . well. . . why did you jump in back there?” “Mundzig’s an asshole.” “What about,” Mike made quotation marks with his fingers, “blending in?” “It’s like the zebras, you want to blend in so the lions, or the Mundzigs, have a tough time getting a bead on you. ” Hector Rodriguez’s burnt red Riviera did a U-turn on North and stopped in front of Mike and me. My older brother Tommy was in the passenger seat. “Burns, you all right?” I nodded. “I heard Mundzig put a beating on you?” “It was nothing, just a scrap, I walked away with a bloody nose.” I said.
Hector was bent over in the driver’s seat looking out of Tommy’s window. His sunglasses were halfway down and he was looking over the tops, staring at Mike. My brother wasn’t done with me. “Don’t cross Kimball. Stay in the neighborhood.” “I was at All-Ball.” Tommy knew I liked shooting baskets on the wooden court. We indulged each other whenever we could. “Just be careful.” “So, Burns,” Hector was talking to me, but still looking at Mike. “Huh?” I said. “Is this the hustler?” “What?” I looked at Mike, and he went red. He turned and started walking the opposite way of the car. Hector’s laugh was sizzly, like a hamburger hitting a hot pan. “Bumpy Tores said that Tosslov brought some hooker home and when the kid left Mundzig followed him.” “What does Bumps know about it?” “He lives over there by St. Nicks. He’s under house arrest, sits on his porch all damn day.” “How does he know it was a hooker?” “It was Tosslov.” Everybody knew about Tosslov. He was a school custodian who paid for boys. Hector went on, “So Mundzig catches the faggot at the alley, pulled him behind the church, and that’s probably around the time you showed up.” The laugh came again. “The whole neighborhood’s buzzing.” Tommy elbowed Hector and opened the passenger door. “You want a ride?” I shook my head no. Tommy sat a second then shut the door. “Are you sure you’re all right?” “Yeah.” “Do you want me to pick up mom?” Our mom drank at the Five Step on Division. One of us had to walk her home. It was my turn.
“I’ll get her,” I said. Tommy nodded his head and Hector jetted off. I saw the marquee on the North Avenue bus. It was down around Pulaski, It’d be at the corner in a few minutes. Mike had his arms crossed and was leaning against the building. “Your bus is coming,” I said. He was looking down the street. “There’s always some guys at the bus station looking for it.” Mike shifted his weight again and looked the other way down North. “How did you think I was paying for my ticket, anyway?” “I didn’t think about it.” I bobbed my head. “It doesn’t matter to me what you do.” The kid couldn’t look at me. “Why not?” “Cause it doesn’t.” He changed the subject. “Want to go with me.” “To the Greyhound Station?” “To San Francisco.” “Are you serious?” “Why not?’ I didn’t have an answer ready. “Do you like it here?” “It’s where I’m from.” “So you’re just going to hang around ‘cause it’s where you’re from?” “I don’t have any money.” “It doesn’t matter. I’ll trade in my bus ticket and we’ll hitch hike.” “I don’t think so.” He bit his lip. “I got almost a hundred dollars, I’ll pay your way.” “Your bus is almost here.” “I’ll be your girlfriend.” “You’re not a girl.” “Doesn’t matter. I’ll be the best girlfriend you ever had.”
The bus pulled up, and the door opened. “Come on,” he said, and I stepped backwards. A month later I found the song “Femme Fatale,” and for a while it was my favorite song, too. I never told anybody about it. It was like my secret song, like a moody, bleak blister that I kept beneath my skin, and when I’d listen to it, I’d go to this real place inside myself, real, but separate from everything, separate from Chicago, and the neighborhood, and even separate from my mother and brother. I wanted things to mean something, too, just like Mike. I wanted the beating I got from Mundzig to add up to something. I wanted proof that surviving a drunken mother somehow made an impression on the universe. I wanted that face that made me lose my breath, reach in and twist my life, change me, or change the world, but it didn’t. In my neighborhood, on my block, in my house, a body moved from one event to the next, pain or pleasure, it was all the same—and if you were to ask me, not that you would, I’d say the only thing that means anything is a song that you can keep under your skin. David Schultz David Schultz holds a BA in Creative Writing from Southern Illinois University. His stories have appeared in Aphelion, Common Line Journal, and 5th Wednesday.
The Fear I wake at 3:45 a.m. The stars still grazing in the sky. Dawn, bright shepherdess, has not called them yet back to darker folds the color of death— places in deep space where stars grow old and die. I hold the pillow closer, press my face into its feathered mold and stare into what’s left of night— what’s left of life, of hope this story can be told without a veil of tears. I believe in endings. I know they play their necessary parts— but it’s the fear of denouement with its conquered spirit and broken heart that haunts me, makes me want to hold on, makes me watch the backs of fading stars even as they walk away. P C Scheponik P C Scheponik has published four collections of poems: Psalms to Padre Pio, A Storm by Any Other Name, Songs the Sea has Sung in Me, and And the Sun Still Dared to Shine. His work has also appeared in a number of journals, most recently in All the Sins Literary Journal and Adelaide Literary Magazine.
Astrologer As Aquarius is rising Jupiter takes a snooze and Achilles bares his bottom. Misogyny outlawed. Pregnant elephants scattered all over the desert. Sheep get shorn in their sleep. Monkey business improvised on the moment. Shooting star rubbing its back against the everglade. Notify my resident gnome at once. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m not at home here. Are you? Raining fire tonight. I have to take a step back in order to make room for hope, and the glory of my apotheosis. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m ready for an orgy. Send some angels. And let me blow with the westward wind. Thomas Piekarski Thomas Piekarski is a former editor of the California State Poetry Quarterly. His poetry and interviews have appeared in Nimrod, Florida English Journal, Cream City Review and others. He has published a travel book, Best Choices In Northern California and Time Lines, a book of poems.
Pasture The automatic double doors of D Wing shuddered open as Charlotte pressed the button on the wall. She stepped through the doors and was hit by the pungent blue scent of disinfectant, the yellow fever of alcohol, the green stench of feces. Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” crooned out of the tinny speakers on the ceiling, as if she needed a reminder that the past, no matter how glorious, would never return. Charlotte slipped into Bert’s room and set her purse on the table beside his bed. Bert, now a gray, shrunken form from which tubes and wires sprouted like untrimmed ivy, lay beneath a crisp white sheet, his eyes pinched shut, his mouth drooping open. Charlotte opened the curtains to let in some sun. Bert’s condition was “progressing” rapidly- that’s what the staff said. Charlotte supposed that any movement toward a destination was progress, but progress for whom? The traveler, or the ferryman? She had made peace with Bert’s brain cancer after he had stopped communicating. Now she only wished that he would finish quickly. With a certainty that she could not explain, she knew that this was Bert’s last day. No more Bobby Darin. The machines that administered his fluids and medications would soon beep for someone else. And mercifully, she would be spared the specter of D Wing. She could return to A Wing to contemplate the ensuing years before she would inevitably move “down the hall.” She sat with him for two hours. Tried to read her magazines. Tried to watch TV. A nurse came in and wordlessly inspected Bert’s machines. Through the window Charlotte could see into the courtyard, where the staff was putting on an ice cream social for the residents. Residents inched across the grass, firmly clutching canes and walkers, flinty sugar cones with one scoop of either vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry ice cream bobbing precariously in their grips. It reminded her of a child’s birthday party. She thought back to the birthdays of her youth, frolicking in white lace through the verdant back yards of Lincoln and Chapin Parkways, towering cones of ice cream dripping down her fingers.
Bert’s chest barely moved. Charlotte watched it, too tired to cry. In her mind she saw herself standing on the deck of the Canoe Club boathouse waiting for the Fourth of July fireworks, summer 1946. The first summer after the war. Bert, eighteen years old, strolled across the walkway, hair slicked back, sharp creases in his pants, sport coat the deep blue of the lake. Her heart pounded as she waited for him to come to her. “Fancy meeting you here, young man,” she whispered, reaching over now to squeeze her husband’s shoulder. His body was all bones, warm but without warmth. He did not respond to her touch. Charlotte decided she would not stay for the final moment. Sixty-seven years of marriage had contained more moments, some grand and others not, than she could possibly consider, and she did not want to trivialize them all by sitting there waiting for the foghorn trill of Bert’s heart monitor. She picked up her magazines and quietly left the room. It was September, the days growing shorter, and she did not want to be in D Wing when it got dark, when the Man from Beyond came around to collect that day’s souls. A round of downsizing took place after Bert’s funeral. The primary downsizing effort had occurred when she and Bert had moved out of their house on Norwood Avenue in Buffalo and relocated to the Golden Acres assisted living facility in East Cherry. That’s when most of the furniture had gone to her children. A whole house worth of possessions had been culled down to fit into a cozy two–bedroom apartment. Charlotte had presided over the move, watching as her children swarmed from room to room with thinly-veiled glee, murmuring about Antiques Roadshow and imagined dollar values. “I’d like for most of it to stay in the family,” Charlotte had instructed. For months she had gone around to their various houses to make sure that this order was being respected, and so far it seemed nothing had vanished to the auction block. One of the pieces which disappeared from Norwood Avenue without Charlotte’s consent was a 19th-century Japanese Satsuma vase, which she and Bert had purchased on their trip to Japan in 1974. The vase had resurfaced in the dining room of their son
Peter and his wife Desiree’s house on Chapin Parkway. Charlotte had worried that the movers had stolen the vase, before Bert sheepishly admitted that he had let Desiree take it. Now her progeny sifted through the smaller things, Bert’s clothing, books, gadgets, photographs. The things Charlotte wanted to keep for herself she had boxed up and put in the coat closet, but there was still plenty of loot to be salvaged. Desiree seemed to be leading the charge. She had shown up with Peter, and Mary and Oliver, an hour before the scheduled time of the event, to head off Peter’s siblings and their families. She scanned the apartment with her falcon eye, a legal pad and several colored pens clutched in her talons. Peter inquired briefly after Charlotte’s health, speaking in his over-patient tone as he verified that she was taking all her medications. Then he went to the kitchen to make coffee --for everyone, he said. Desiree perched in a stiff, straight-backed chair, eyes darting around the living room for susceptible morsels. As the campaign turned to the tedium of dividing up Bert’s shoes pair by pair, Charlotte retreated to the living room. “You sure you don’t want this sports coat,” she heard Peter saying in Bert’s bedroom. “Gramp was bigger than me, Dad,” Oliver replied. “Wider.” “They’re perfectly good coats.” “I know, but why do I need so many sports coats?” The only one not treating the downsizing like Christmas was Mary, Charlotte’s eighteen year-old granddaughter. The girl slouched in Bert’s chair next to the TV, studying her relatives with anthropological curiosity. “Mary, sweetheart, don’t you want anything to remind you of your grandfather?” Charlotte asked. “I took this,” Mary said, holding up a framed photograph of herself as a child sitting on a horse at the Buffalo Riding Club. Bert, still a relatively young man, held the reigns. “I’ve been writing down things about Gramp in my journal,” Mary said. “Things I want to remember.”
“Oh, really?” “I wish I had asked him more questions. About his childhood and stuff. How things were. We’ll never know if we don’t keep a record. But I don’t need his things.” Charlotte watched Desiree square off against Daniel’s wife Linda over one of Bert’s wristwatches. “I don’t see how one watch makes a difference,” said Linda. “We just need to make sure everyone gets a fair share,” Desiree said, writing down a description of the watch on her legal pad. “Vultures,” Mary muttered. The event trickled to an end, and none of the children accepted Charlotte’s invitation to stay for dinner. “I think we should all let Mom rest,” said Daniel. “This is a difficult transition.” Of all of them, Daniel hated the food at the dining hall the most, as evidenced by his frequent grimaces during their weekly meals. Peter sat down on the couch next to Charlotte’s chair and fixed her with the serious look he had cultivated somewhere. “Do you need a ride to your appointment on Wednesday, Mom?” “I’m right here, you don’t have to shout,” Charlotte said. “No, I’ll drive myself.” “It’s no trouble,” said Peter. “We don’t have to talk about it today, but soon we need to have a discussion about the car. The roads are only getting more dangerous.” “I’m not the one making them that way,” said Charlotte. “Gram drives that big old Buick, Dad,” said Mary. “She could squash a Land Rover.” “We don’t want her squashing anything,” said Peter. “I’m nobody’s Miss Daisy,” Charlotte said, standing to face them all. “Now take your booty and scram, if you’re not going to stay for dinner.” And thus the exodus, boxes of loot jingling into the corridor, as Charlotte took inventory of her apartment to see what was left.
Mary stepped off the bus at the front circle of Golden Acres, breathing in the crisp autumn air. She visited her grandmother every Tuesday and Thursday after soccer practice. The broad sliding doors of the main building opened for her at the entranceway. The corridors of Golden Acres were wide, like highway lanes, to accommodate the various transportation conveyances of the residents. Wheelchairs buzzed past her as she walked toward A Wing. Hunched residents paused over their walkers, resting at bends in the hall. Some smiled at her. Others blinked in a foggy search for recognition. Golden Acres was divided into four Wings: A, B, C, and D, the letters roughly corresponding to levels of resident health, as if everyone’s body had received a grade on an entrance exam. Gramp used to say F Wing was the East Cherry cemetery. Mary passed into A Wing, where the residents were more mobile and there was less mechanical traffic. She knocked softly as she entered her grandmother’s apartment. “Gram?” She found her grandmother in the living room dressed in her athletic suit, stretching on the carpet in preparation for their afternoon walk. They would do three miles around the neighborhood. “Hello, sweetheart,” Charlotte said as Mary set down her backpack in the foyer. “I’m almost ready.” They set off from the well-groomed lawns of Golden Acres under a cool afternoon sky. They spoke little, walking briskly through the sparsely-forested McMansions of East Cherry. SUVs whizzed by them on the street. The plain uniformity of the houses bothered Charlotte. It seemed that society was losing its inspiration for existence. She wondered why people aspired to live in coldly anonymous chateaux. “Do you like East Cherry, Gram?” Mary asked. “Are you happy out here?” “No,” Charlotte replied. “I don’t like it. I miss the city. Buffalo was so beautiful in the fall. Even in the winter. We used to walk the parkways when it snowed. Out here I feel like I’m going to get run over.” “Your apartment is nice though.” “It was good for your grandfather. After his hip replacements he couldn’t do all those stairs on Norwood.”
Mary knew it was mainly for her grandfather that they had moved to Golden Acres. “Do you miss Gramp?” she asked quietly. “It’s very strange without him, dear. Very strange. I wish I had more friends here. I don’t get into the city much anymore. We used to see everyone all the time. Now I have to drive half an hour just to visit Mrs. Dunleavy.” Mary laughed. “I’ll bet Mrs. Dunleavy won’t move out here.” “Oh, no. She’ll die on Norwood, long after the rest of us.” Charlotte stopped on a street corner to let the traffic pass by. “When I was a girl this was all farmland,” she said. “Horse pastures. We came out here to go riding at the country club. That was all there was.” Back at the apartment they sipped tea in the living room. Charlotte took long sips, felt the warmth reviving her body. Mary’s soccer jersey rode up slightly from the waistband of her pants, exposing a thin band of pink skin, from which something metallic sparkled. “What have you got there on your belly?” “Oh. Well….” Mary lifted her shirt to reveal the piercing. “Doesn’t that hurt?” Charlotte asked. “No.” “What did you mother say?” Mary put a finger to her lips. “I’m waiting for the right moment. My boyfriend likes it though.” “Oh, so he’s seen it?” They stared at each other for a moment. “I guess you kids show each other everything,” Charlotte said. “He hasn’t seen everything,” said Mary. “I’m still virtuous, Gram. My friends call me the Virgin Mary.” “Well… good for you.” “Gram, I want you to listen to something.” Mary plugged her smart phone into her grandfather’s stereo and selected a song.
“What’s this now?” Charlotte asked. “Mumford and Sons.” “I think that’s the company that helped us move.” “You’re funny, Gram. They’re from England. Marcus Mumford is married to that actress you like. Carey Mulligan.” Charlotte closed her eyes and thought of the trips she and Bert had taken to the British Isles, their rented cars cruising on the wrong side of the road through foggy green hills. “I like it,” she said. “I can hear the English countryside.” They listened to a couple of songs before Mary turned the volume down. “I have something for you,” Charlotte said. She stood up and walked over to the coat closet. “I remembered what you said about keeping a journal.” Mary watched as her grandmother crouched down and sifted through a box on the closet floor, brushing aside overcoats and winter boots. “Do you need help, Gram?” “No, no.” Charlotte returned holding an old leather-bound journal with yellowed pages. “This was your grandfather’s when he was a young man,” she said. “If you want to know what things were like back then, what he thought, well, here it is.” She handed Mary the journal. Mary ran her hands over its soft cover. She opened the pages, looked at the stilted cursive penmanship, read a few random lines. “I can have this?” she asked. “I’ve read it,” said her grandmother. “It’s interesting, if you’re in our family. But it’s hard for me now. My eyes are going,” she added, though Mary suspected that’s not what she meant. Mary slid the journal carefully into her backpack. “You and Gramp started dating when you were teenagers, didn’t you?” “We called it courting.” “So is there anything racy in there?” Charlotte shrugged and sipped her tea. “May be.”
In the evenings Charlotte felt anxious. The apartment was like a museum, filled with artifacts of her life with Bert. She was afraid to touch anything. Sometimes she turned on the television for company. Outside the darkness was black and absolute. Gone were the siren songs of the city, the soft yellow glow of the night sky. She recalled their old library on Norwood. She and Bert often turned off the lights and watched the winter snows. Steady swirls of white crystals covered high rooftops and spidery tree branches, blanketing the sidewalks and streets. Bert said snowstorms reminded him of his ancestors, hearty English and Germans who helped build a city beside the lake. Buffalo had verdant summers with warm winds. But in winter those same winds brought Arctic cold. You had to be tough to live in Western New York. The library on Norwood was proof of the ancestral spirit, a warm room with a fireplace, a sanctuary against the cold. Her living room now did not feel like a sanctuary. It felt like an empty box, without Bert sitting in his chair watching hockey. She sat alone on her couch, weighted down in the corner, throwing off the balance of the room. To escape the apartment she walked through the corridors of the building. There was a path one could follow for exercise, winding through all the wings, up and down three flights of stairs. Charlotte walked through the halls and found a deeper silence. She passed door after door, each one decorated with flowers, or a wreath, or a mat on the floor, the names of the inhabitants etched on plaques on the wall. Door after door. Stillness. Charlotte drove into the city to visit Mrs. Dunleavy. Their weekly bridge game was the one event that routinely brought her back into Buffalo. But Mrs. Blanchard was sick, and Mrs. Dnieper went to visit her daughter in Albany, so Charlotte and Mrs. Dunleavy played gin rummy instead, supplementing their game with a bottle of Beefeater gin. “So Mr. Caraway finally died,” Mrs. Dunleavy said as they played cards in the drawing room. “In the end it was pneumonia.” “What’s Esther going to do?” Charlotte asked.
“Well, she’s moving out to the Acres with you,” said Mrs. Dunleavy. “Teddy and Kay can’t wait to get her out there either, what with her Alzheimer’s.” “I thought she was doing well.” “She can’t live on her own. They both should have been out there years ago.” Charlotte played a hand, clicking her tongue against her cheek. Her luck against Mrs. Dunleavy was usually terrible. “Do you still see much of Mr. and Mrs. Keats?” Mrs. Dunleavy asked. “No,” Charlotte said. She put down her cards. “Not since Mr. Keats fell into the pool.” “You’re kidding.” “Everyone assumed his hip went out. He had his done the same time Bert did. But it was a stroke.” “No.” “They moved him into D Wing. Alice spends all her time down there. I hardly see them.” “And you probably don’t want to go to D Wing.” “No, I don’t.” “Poor Bert.” They played out their hand. Mrs. Dunleavy won. “Well, it sounds just grand out there, Lottie.” “It isn’t. I’m thinking of moving back into the city.” “You would, too.” “I might.” “An Indian family bought your house. They’re both doctors.” “I’ll buy another house.” “You can do whatever you want. There’s plenty of money left.” “There is plenty of money left.” Mrs. Dunleavy poured each of them another gin. “There are no greener pastures,” she said, raising her glass. Charlotte drove home slowly, her body feeling heavy. It had been a long time since she’d had more than one martini. Usually during their bridge games they all just
drank tea. There was no hard liquor at Golden Acres. Residents could drink wine with dinner, but they had to supply it themselves. With a snorting laugh, and then a stab of panic, she realized she was too drunk to drive to East Cherry. She steered the Buick up Layfette Avenue with the nervous precision of a freighter captain guiding her vessel through a canal. At Gates Circle she crept up to the stop sign, sat there for a moment wondering what to do. A long moment. The driver behind her beeped. She made a thorough inspection of the rotary before pulling in. She drove at a fraction of the speed of traffic, and was barely moving at all when the Toyota cruised into the rotary and hit her. Mary sat in the living room listening to music and reading her grandfather’s diary. She had found a passage written when he was nineteen, home from Cornell for Christmas break. I think I would like to marry Charlotte Newton. I have made a list of the most suitable girls on the Buffalo scene at present and she comes out on top. She was always the best partner in dancing school, and she won the mixed doubles tournament at the tennis club. Lottie is a fine girl, and fun to look at. My only reservation is that last year at the Buffalo Club New Year’s party she told me she would like to go to college and then get a job, either as a typist or a fashion designer. Obviously she will not be working when we are married. Money will be no problem. Father has promised me a job at the firm when I complete law school. But Lottie’s job, as such, will be to organize our social engagements and supervise the help. I will, of course, allow her to continue to play tennis, which she does perhaps better than any woman in the city. Hopefully I can even improve my game to the level where she would consider taking me on as her partner. “Obviously the woman will not get any sort of job,” Mary said to herself. “I want to know who else was on that list.” She tried to keep reading, but her mother was on the phone in the kitchen, speaking as if the phone would not work properly unless she shouted. “So you heard about the accident…. She’s fine, but the car’s totaled…. No, not yet, but we weren’t really expecting it yet. Bert left it all to her…. Well, if she keeps
driving it might not be long…. It’s her life, I won’t tell her what to do…. Susan, let me tell you about the solarium we’re going to build….” Mary stood up and took Gramp’s journal up to her bedroom. She closed the door and sat down at her computer. She went online to Ticketmaster and ordered two tickets to the Mumford and Sons concert coming to Buffalo next month. Afternoon sun streamed into Charlotte’s apartment. Peter sat uncomfortably in his late-father’s chair. The cushions had conformed to fit Bert. “Mom, I am categorically against you getting a new car,” he said. With beads of sweat poised along his receding hairline, and his moustache flickering in the middle of his fleshy face, Charlotte thought her son resembled a seal. “I cannot be trapped out here,” she said. “I’m suffocating.” “What do you think Dad would say?” “I know exactly what Dad would say.” “What does that mean?” “Your father worked hard to give us all a very nice life,” Charlotte said. “And we’re all grateful. But his idea of my life was for me to sit at home all day making sure the ice cubes were cold for his next cocktail. I will not be controlled by him in death. If I want another car, I’ll get one.” “So you can get in another accident. Maybe a fatal one.” “That should never have happened. I’d put back a few with Mrs. Dunleavy and my reflexes weren’t all with me.” Peter closed his eyes for a long moment. “Let’s hope that doesn’t make it into the police report,” he said. “It was his fault. The officer said so. The only thing I could have done was brake sooner.” “Mom.” Peter shifted in the chair, squirming for a position he could not find. “I think the verdict has come down on the driving issue, I don’t see the point of an appeal. There’s something else we need to discuss. We all know how Dad felt about the money, and I’m happy that you have enough to live comfortably here. But I was
hoping we could free up some of the additional funds. The rest of us are getting older too, and there are things we’d like to do.” Charlotte did not say anything. There was no reason to interrupt his discomfort. “Des and I would like to travel, the way you and Dad did,” Peter continued. “We’d also like to put an addition on Chapin Parkway. Desiree has a solarium planned that will really open up the house. There are things we want to do, and it might be time to use the money.” Charlotte patiently inspected a stack of magazines on her coffee table. She had known they were going to come to her about the money eventually. Bert had been a strict family banker. “My vase will look nice in your solarium, won’t it?” she said. The chairs in the dining hall had wheels on the legs, providing mobility in the event of an emergency fall. But Mr. Simms lost his balance reaching for his walker, and like a great Dutch elm he tumbled backwards onto the floor, knocking his chair out from behind him. Charlotte and Mrs. Kline looked up from their dessert as the dining hall staff rushed to restore Mr. Simms. Charlotte felt warm blood rise to her cheeks. Bert had fallen in the dining hall, and she knew how embarrassed Mr. Simms must feel now with everyone watching him. “Poor David,” said Mrs. Kline. “Looks like he’ll survive this one,” said Charlotte. Four members of the serving staff, plus the manager, stood around Mr. Simms like coaches protecting an injured player on the field. “Would you like us to call for assistance, Mr. Simms?” the manager asked, nearly shouting. Mr. Simms waved his hands ambiguously, sitting on the tails of his coat. “You know what I worry about now are stairs,” said Mrs. Kline. “In fact, I’m terrified of them, Lottie.” “You’re fit as a finch, Gladys,” Charlotte said.
“No,” said Mrs. Kline. “It’s the fear. Every time I come to a staircase I get assaulted by this image of myself falling, and breaking my bones. I envision myself lying at the bottom of the stairs, and I can’t move. I call for help, but nobody can hear me.” Two nurses from D Wing arrived in the dining room, and stood on either side of Mr. Simms. Everyone in the dining room watched with inert interest. The nurses crouched down and looped their arms around the fallen man. The dining hall manager pushed the walker forward. “We’re going to count to three, Mr. Simms,” said one of the nurses. “One….” “I’m going to apply for a first-floor apartment,” said Mrs. Kline. “I don’t even like the elevators. What if I’m stuck in one, and the power goes out? I just don’t think I can deal with stairs or elevators anymore.” “Three!” The nurses hoisted Mr. Simms off the floor. Together they stood precariously, Mr. Simms’ knees shaking, the nurses’ legs buttressed against the floor. With a lunge Mr. Simms grabbed hold of his walker, but his forward momentum knocked a glass off the table. “Don’t worry!” said the manager. “Just shoot me, Lottie,” said Mrs. Kline. “Poor David. He was a champion tennis player.” The nurses walked Mr. Simms out of the dining room. “If I fell down the stairs I’d break every bone,” said Mrs. Kline. “I can hear the bones breaking even now. It keeps me up at night.” “Don’t scare yourself,” said Charlotte. Mrs. Kline took a deep breath and sipped her coffee. “I’ll feel better when I’m on the first floor,” she said. Charlotte moved out of Golden Acres and into a one-story carriage house down the street from Mrs. Dunleavy. Her lonely chord of freedom drowned out an orchestra of familial complaint. Although it was autumn, Charlotte felt the nascent promise of spring. The air was electric with possibilities. The city pulsed with memories of the
life she and Bert had shared. The old majestic houses with their tall windows and front gardens seemed to welcome her back into their stately embrace. Attached to the carriage house was a small garage, in which Charlotte parked a brand new black Mercedes S-series, another gift to herself. To exercise the new car, she picked up Mrs. Dunleavy and together they cruised around Buffalo. “I can’t believe you bought a sports car, Lottie,” Mrs. Dunleavy cried as they bellowed down Delaware Avenue. “Let the liberals drive their Priuses,” said Charlotte. “I want to hear my engine.” At a stoplight a rusty sedan pulled up beside the Mercedes and four teenagers gawked at them. “What are you looking at?” said Mrs. Dunleavy. It was a gray December afternoon when Charlotte pulled up to the curb on Chapin Parkway. The bite to the air suggested snow. She walked up to Peter and Desiree’s front door, gazing at the towering solarium protruding from the front of the house. Peter answered the door with disapproval chiseled on his face. “Hi, Mom. So you’re popping in.” “I’m not popping. Mary and I are going to the concert.” “Oh, that’s right.” Peter stepped aside as Charlotte walked in, peering out at the street as he closed the door. Charlotte watched his shoulders sink. “Mom, what is that?” “It’s a new car!” Charlotte cried, impersonating Bob Barker. “You bought a Mercedes?” “I did. That was Bert’s favorite.” Peter shook his head. “And you had to get black? You’ll look like a drug dealer.” “Black as the coal in your stocking, kid.”
They stood in the foyer and stared each other down. Peter looked sad and overweight, and she felt sorry for him. Bert had always kept trim. The younger generation seemed suffocated by acquired pressures. “Let’s see this solarium,” Charlotte said. Peter showed her into the sunroom. It was an octagonal space with high windows, furnished with comfortable-looking wicker chairs and couches. Charlotte quietly admired the solarium’s defiance of a city that was hampered by clouds for much of the year. Then she saw her Satsuma vase sitting on the coffee table. “Impressive,” Charlotte said. Peter leaned against the doorway. “Desiree keeps bothering Buffalo Magazine to come photograph it.” “I thought she’d be here sitting in it.” “She’s watching TV.” They heard movement in the living room and then in the foyer. Then there was an audible sigh. A moment later Desiree appeared in the doorway. Her smile faltered for just a moment. “Hello, Charlotte,” she said. “Hi, Des. You’ve built a fabulous sunroom.” “Didn’t we?” Desiree wrapped a talon-like finger around the crook of Peter’s arm. “Peter, may I talk to you for a moment?” Peter sighed and followed his wife into the foyer. Charlotte heard Mary’s hurried footsteps descending the stairs. “Gram?” “In here.” Mary walked in, adjusting her outfit. “I’m ready. This is going to be so much fun. Is this your first concert, Gram?” “I’ve been going to the Symphony since before you were born.” “But I mean a real concert. With a band, and beer, and people smoking pot?” They heard murmured voices in the foyer.
“She’s spending all the money,” Desiree whined, and Peter mumbled something in response. Mary flashed her grandmother an embarrassed look. “I’m sorry, Gram. Sometimes I can’t believe I came out of her.” Charlotte shook her head and touched Mary’s arm. “Let’s skedaddle,” she said. She walked up to the coffee table and picked up the Satsuma vase. In the foyer Peter slouched against the grandfather clock which had been in Bert’s family for three generations, and Desiree stood with her arms crossed, her lip quivering like a child told to be quiet. Her eyed widened when she saw the vase. “Mom,” Peter said. Mary led the way past her parents and opened the front door. “Oh my God! Is that your car, Gram?” “That’s it,” Charlotte said. “It looks like the Batmobile!” Desiree took a tentative step toward the vase. Peter stepped submissively backward. Charlotte ignored them both. “I’ve been looking everywhere for this,” she said on her way out the door. Adam Matson Adam Matson's fiction has appeared internationally in over twenty magazines including Day One, Straylight, and Soundings East. He has also published a collection of short stories, Sometimes Things Go Horribly Wrong.
Bright Familiars The cats are wound up By the stormâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s sudden violence. Their demeanors change, So different From their morning sleep Under the trellis vines, The sun lounging Into their dreams. What rattles them, Also rattles the china, The cabinets full of wine. Also rattles the heart, Its dormant Tuesdays. Beside the white porcelain The cats grow sensitive As jungle plants. Their magnetism scares me. I can feel their charged fur Against my skin. Seth Jani Seth Jani currently resides in Seattle, WA and is the founder of Seven Circle Press. His own work has been published in The Chiron Review, Pretty Owl Poetry, El Portal, and others.
Facing the building, soon after he stepped out of the cab, Anil experienced— again—a frisson of surprise. Never having stayed in a place like this, why did the Devi Residency look so familiar? He’d felt the same way, days earlier, when he came across its picture online while doing research for his trip. Sitting at a desk halfway around the world, with his hand on the mouse, he was so struck by the quaint old building that, after reaching for his credit card, he booked a room in the lodging house. Until now, for one reason or another, Anil had been putting off a visit to the town where he’d briefly lived as a child—but when he chanced upon the Devi’s website, it took him only a moment to make his decision. Finally, after three decades, he’d be back in the town. For what, though? Both his parents were gone, he scarcely remembered what now seemed like a city, and there was just one person still living there who had a connection to the family. Nevertheless, Anil knew he had to go, if only to stay at the Devi Residency. “Yes, I’ve passed it many times,” Colonel Mistry wrote, in his response to Anil’s email. “Do give me ring me after you check in. Let’s meet. I can see why you picked the Devi. It’s comfortable, it has character—but also, isn’t there a personal connection?” Anil exhaled. So he wasn’t wrong to think the building had a link to his past. Not as a lodging house, of course, because that was only a decade old. What had it been earlier? A private residence, perhaps, although it was hard to believe they’d known the owner. Busy with last-minute tasks before his departure, Anil let the thought hang in the air. Just as the swirling mist on his early-morning commute cleared up by the time he reached his office, the question would be answered in due course—or, at least, he hoped so. His online searches had yielded nothing. After paying the cab driver, Anil opened the gate and rolled his suitcase along the narrow path of a courtyard filled with sweet-smelling jasmine creepers, other flowers he couldn’t identify, and a holy basil plant (or tulsi) in a brick receptacle.
Yellow wicker chairs were neatly arranged on the veranda between thick round columns that held up a sloping red-tiled roof. A weathered stone elephant eyed him warily. The tall, old-fashioned teak door and the steps leading up to it, with decorative arches on the sides, also reminded him of an earlier time. It was more up-to-date inside, starting with the stylish furniture in the lobby, where a smiling young woman sat behind a computer screen. She said hello, brightly. The lighting was sleek, ample, and the carpet below his feet felt plush. Framed paintings showing imaginary village scenes bracketed a slogan that read “Modern Comfort in a Traditional Setting.” A couple of bigger hotels he’d seen that morning looked new from the outside, their bold architecture reflecting the town’s desire to be seen as prosperous and happening, rather than provincial. The Devi Residency appeared to be making the same point, albeit in a different way. Realizing that the town he’d lived in had largely disappeared, Anil wondered if there was anything else here that would be as recognizable to him as the Devi Residency. He doubted it. Following years of frenetic growth, the transformation was so dramatic that even the rail station, which Anil had passed through several times, looked unfamiliar. And yet, he continued to refer to it as a town. After a restless train journey, he was eager to rest for a bit and take a shower. Declining the offer of breakfast, he asked the smiling young woman if she knew anything about the building’s past. Apologetically, she said no, explaining that she’d begun working there only recently. The manger, who hadn’t come in yet, may know something, she noted. Thanking her, he took his key and headed to the room for what he hoped would be a short nap. The phone jangled. Waking with a start, he took a quick look at the clock beside him as he grabbed the receiver. He’d slept for over two hours. Groggily, he said hello. “Anil? So sorry if I disturbed you. This is Russy Mistry.” The man spoke with a clipped accent and his deep, rumbling voice was authoritative but not gruff.
“No, not at all. I overslept, so I’m glad you called. I wanted to get in touch with you.” “I’m wondering if we can meet now rather than later. Can you come to the Coffee Club, which is right across from the Devi? I’m coming that way…I’ve to attend a funeral.” The colonel wryly added, “That’s not an unusual outing for me these days.” The Devi was on a side street—and because here it wasn’t busy like the nearby main road, from where came the rumble of traffic, Anil could easily cross to the other side. The Coffee Club, he noticed, hadn’t succumbed to the trendiness of Café Nation, a popular chain that drew young Wi-Fi addicts who sat hunched over their devices and fizzy, pricey drinks. A man was sitting near a cash register in the front, and inside, little seemed to have changed in two decades. Anil found a table easily. The customers, mostly older, were gossiping as middle-aged, uniformed waiters wearing white topis brought steaming cups of beverages and plates filled with savories. Not only was Wi-Fi absent, Anil failed to see even one device when he looked around. The Coffee Club was so close to the Devi that, before walking over, Anil had been able to shave and shower. Now he was ready for his coffee. Putting his notebook and pen down, Anil was skimming through the menu a waiter had given him, when he saw an elderly man enter the café. Col. Mistry, he thought. His posture erect as he walked, and looking dapper in a crisp white shirt that matched the color of his neatly combed hair, he came straight towards Anil—apparently, the colonel also had no trouble locating him—and shook his hand vigorously. “Today I have to attend a funeral, and tomorrow I’m going out of town for a wedding,” he said, sitting down. “There’s never a dull day, even at my age.” “Hope I’m not imposing, Col. Mistry. I heard that you still lead a busy life.” “Not as busy as the friend who is getting married.” His eyes glinted and a smile puckered his cheeks. “I’m happy to spend time with you, so no worries. Please call me Russy. My friend, by the way, is not much younger than I am. I said, ‘Hey, how
come you’re getting married now? What made her say yes?’ Can you guess what he said?” “I won’t even try.” “He said, ‘She had no choice…I made her pregnant.’” The colonel guffawed and struck his hand on the table, drawing the attention of a few customers. He picked up the menu. After placing their order, the colonel regaled Anil with more anecdotes, ending each one with laughter—and then, abruptly, asked what he hoped to achieve during his visit. “Nothing…I have no agenda,” Anil said, a little flustered. “I just wanted to visit.” Why had he come? What was he trying to recapture in a town that had become so unrecognizable? “That’s fine. You don’t need an agenda. I was just curious because…well, because you had no contact with your father. It’s been so long. Do you remember anything? For instance, do you remember going to this building where you’re staying? You went with your mother as a child. I know only because your father mentioned it.” “Yes, it did look familiar! That’s why I chose the Devi—and, to be honest, that’s what drew me to the town. What was it before?” Putting his cup down, the colonel smiled mysteriously and dabbed his lips with a napkin. “You know, your mother was a courageous lady,” he said, not answering the question. “That visit helped her make the decision—and it wasn’t an easy one for her back then.” “You’re referring to the divorce, of course,” Anil said, leaning forward. “Yes. You can imagine how hard it was to walk away from the marriage, given the stigma in her community. Her own parents didn’t support the decision, and she lacked the qualifications for a good job. Thankfully, her brother—your uncle—stood by her. With a young child, it must have been very difficult for her.”
It was, and that’s probably why Anil hadn’t bothered—or cared—to get in touch with his father or find out more about him. But with his parents gone, that was all in the past now. Anil was about to speak, when he saw the colonel glance at his watch and stand up. “So sorry, dear boy,” he said. “I have to go. Let’s meet again. How about dinner this evening?” Why was the colonel being so secretive about the building? Did he want Anil to make an effort to remember something? Anyway, he might as well wait until this evening. It was bound to come up during dinner. Anil, too, stood up and said he’d be happy to see him again. The colonel turned to leave, but then stopped and, looking at Anil with piercing eyes, said, “Do you have any recollection of Baba Bala?” “The name is vaguely familiar.” “Think about it…we can talk later.” Smiling again, the colonel said goodbye and walked out of the café in the same purposeful manner. The colonel was a native of this town—his father and Anil’s paternal grandfather had been friends—but he’d been away for many years when he was in the military, and only recently, following his retirement and the death of his wife, had he moved back. While in active service, he’d visited the town periodically to see his parents. And though he and Anil’s father had been acquaintances rather than friends, the colonel apparently knew enough about his family and what had happened between his parents all those years ago. Anil sat down and, before beckoning the waiter, looked at the menu again. Hungry now, he wanted to eat something and have another cup of coffee. After the waiter took his order, Anil opened his notebook to a blank page, picked up his pen and slowly began writing. ***
Will I be able to, as I’m scribbling here, recall what happened all those years ago? I didn’t think so until now, having lived in this town for only a few years as a child. But the colonel’s mention of Baba Bala has triggered a memory and I’m going to put my thoughts down as they come to me. The very act of writing, I think, helps us uncover what’s hidden. Are the details going to be exactly correct, with all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed? Obviously not. What’s factual may become blurry sometimes, given the passage of time—but that doesn’t make it fictional or false, I’d argue. Anyway, I’ll stop rambling and get on with the story, as I know it. My father was an alcoholic, and though I’m not sure whether it was his drinking that led to his job loss, what I do know is that his problem became worse—and my parents’ relationship deteriorated—after he began spending a lot of time at home. There was much fighting, which meant shouting, using harsh language, throwing things—only to be followed by days of tense silence. Was there physical abuse, too? I cannot say—maybe I’m unable to retrieve certain episodes because they were too painful. What I do remember is being sent away sometimes for short periods to stay with relatives. But the uneasy truce I witnessed on my return didn’t last. While many things from those years remain a blur, as I write, the words “Baba Bala” have magically unlocked a door, and I feel I’m in a darkened theater to watch a scene unfold on the big screen. At first, as I open my eyes and look around, I’m confused. Then I realize I’m in my room, hiding under my bed as if I’m playing hideand-seek. But, no, I’m not playing; I’m cowering in fear because my parents are fighting viciously in another room. Following a crashing sound, a door slams—and then, silence. The door to my room creaks open and my mother walks in, sobbing. Her feet are visible, but I remain silent when she calls out my name. “Where are you?” she hisses. I finally crawl out and stand in front of her. Her eyes are red and she looks sad, not angry. “Come, let’s go,” she says softly, taking my hand. There’s no explanation as we walk briskly to the street corner, which functions as an informal autorickshaw stand, with enough room for three or four vehicles. A
driver we know springs to his feet and asks my mother if she needs to go somewhere. She nods and soon we’re off, with a cool breeze blowing in our faces. Having rained the previous night, the road—not so crowded because it’s Sunday morning—looks cleansed, and the temperature is lower than usual. There’s enough sunlight, however, making objects sparkle. But my mother’s mood is somber and I feel guilty about enjoying this unexpected trip that has taken us away from the gloomy house. Though silent all the way, she doesn’t let go of my hand. We reach our destination—and yes, it’s the future Devi Residency. Much would change, but the building looks much the same from the outside, with its sloping redtiled roof, round columns and large wooden door. I see the compound, which has one well-tended tulsi plant surrounded by unruly flowering shrubs. The area around the private house—for that’s what it seems to be—is open, sparsely populated, and the road going past it is unpaved. We’re in the countryside, I realize, and it’s not that far from where we live. How different this area is going to look years from now. But the stone elephant watching me, as I walk with my mother along the narrow path, is not going anywhere. Even before my mother knocks on the door, it opens, as if somebody was expecting her. I’m mistaken. The woman facing us seems surprised, and she’s not smiling. She must have seen us through the window. “Did you make an appointment?” she says. “We’re not taking more visitors today.” “No, I did not,” my mother says. “I thought it would be okay to come now.” “Earlier, it was okay, but now we get too many visitors.” The woman sighs, and I can see that she’s a little exasperated rather than unfriendly. Perhaps she has to say this repeatedly. “Please…it’s urgent,” my mother pleads, teary-eyed. “I don’t know when I can come again. I’m willing to wait.” Embarrassed, I look away. Now I wish I hadn’t come with my mother.
Unexpectedly, the woman relents. My mother’s demeanor must have made a difference, because she says, “Okay, you can come in—but when you ask your question, make it quick.” My mother nods, gratefully, and we follow the woman into what looks like a waiting area. The room is airy but barely furnished, with only a couple of long benches for people to sit. Little do I know how, years from now, the inside of this house would be transformed, even as the outside would largely remain the same. The stone floor has a few cracks and the stained wall needs a fresh coat of paint. Clearly, though the old house is elegant and probably belonged to a rich family, it has seen better days. Several people are either sitting or standing, and while a few are talking in low voices, the rest are staring at the floor or the wall, looking anxious. A family is summoned, just as we find a place to stand, and I see them enter another room. That’s when I spot a picture of Baba Bala by the door. The framed black-and-white portrait is so big that I’m surprised I didn’t notice it right away. He has a longish grey beard, but not much hair on his head—and as he is staring at the camera, with only a hint of a smile, I can tell that his dark hypnotic eyes are his most prominent feature. I wonder why the people gathered here, including my mother, want to see this man so badly. In a curious lapse, I cannot remember if I actually saw Baba Bala. My mother must have been summoned, and I must have gone in with her to see him. But my memory is playing tricks, unfortunately, and what follows is a blur—a blank, actually— as if the recording has malfunctioned, leaving a gap in the film. Or it could be an erasure. Did Baba Bala sit in a throne-like chair, as depicted in the picture, and gaze imperiously at the supplicants who came to see him? I couldn’t say. I also have no idea what my mother asked, and what he said in response. Anyway, the next thing I recall is our return journey by autorickshaw, with my tight-lipped mother still looking grim beside me. I’m filled with dread when I hear my father emerge from his room as my mother is unlocking the front door.
“Where were you?” he says. His eyes are bloodshot and his gait a little unsteady. “I didn’t know where the boy was. You didn’t tell me—” “I went to see Baba Bala,” she says tersely, trying to go past him. “That fraud!” My father laughs, startling me. “I don’t know what you see in him. Maybe he’s a letch, too. How do you know he’s not trying to bed you? Or maybe—” “Have you no shame?” My mother is quaking with anger. “How dare you talk to me like that in front of him? Why can’t you provide for the family if you’re such a big protector?” A battle has erupted, I think, but my father doesn’t respond. Before turning away to go back to his room, he glances at me. Although it’s hard to describe his expression—“stricken” comes closest—whenever I try to remember him, no other expression seems more vivid. *** Putting the pen down, Anil closed his notebook and leaned back. He hadn’t been writing for long; still, he found this unaccustomed exercise in autobiographical writing emotionally draining. After paying his bill, Anil walked back to the Devi and asked the receptionist if he could use the other computer in the lobby. She gave him the password. When a web browser popped up on the screen, he typed the words “Baba Bala.” Back in the room a little later, Anil was untying his shoelaces, when the phone rang. It was the colonel. “I paid my respects, but the funeral made me thirsty,” he said. “A chota peg was a big help, if you know what I mean. So, do you remember anything now?” “This used to be Baba Bala’s house, and I came here as a child with my mother.”
“Aha…so you figured it out. Do you know what happened to him?” “Yes. I googled him.” That visit to Baba Bala’s house, all those years ago, turned out to be fateful— Anil’s parents separated soon afterwards, and he and his mother began living with his uncle. The charismatic guru’s rise, according to the article Anil read on the hotel computer, had been spectacular—as was his fall. Around the time Anil’s mother took him for a visit, he’d been drawing wider attention with his talks, which he called discourses, and the advice he dispensed to anybody who came to see him. Free at first, these so-called consultations became more exclusive as his popularity grew. Anil wondered if his mother was among the last people to see him before they began soliciting donations—or a booking fee, one could say—for appointments. Not long after their visit, Baba Bala moved to a newer, larger property that became a commune, drawing followers who chose to cut ties with their families and live there. Although donations poured in from some wealthy devotees, the success didn’t last. From the beginning, Anil read, there were rumors of sexual improprieties —rumors that were aggressively quashed by Baba Bala’s staff. But dogged reporting by a well-known newspaper, coupled with the willingness of victims to share their complaints publicly, led to Baba Bala’s downfall. Another article detailed how, after Baba Bala’s arrest, the commune broke up and its residents dispersed. It didn’t say anything about the house Anil had visited with his mother, but it was clear that none of the followers stuck around to defend or promote Baba Bala. Many of his followers probably didn’t take long to find other gurus. While Baba Bala did spend some time in prison, there was no word on what happened to him after his release. His disappearance from the scene, it seemed to some observers, was as dramatic as his appearance. “Interesting,” the colonel said. “Even though it happened many years ago, I guess you can read about it online without much difficulty. I don’t use the computer much, I must admit. A friend had encouraged your mother to visit Baba Bala and seek his counsel. I heard all this later. She was not a follower, you see. But she was going
through a rough time and needed help. In those days, it wasn’t easy for somebody like your mother—” “So you think Baba Bala advised her to leave my father and begin a new life?” “That’s what I thought, but we underestimated your mother. She wasn’t gullible. Baba Bala advised her to work things out with your father—because, as he said, a woman should stay with her husband and keep the family together.” “And she did the opposite of what he told her to do,” Anil said. “Exactly! Your mother wasn’t highly educated, but she was ahead of her time. Your father…I came to know your father in later years, after he sobered up. He wasn’t a bad person, but he was—how should I say it?—weak. It was a mismatch. Do you want to see where he lived? That area has changed, of course. Somebody else lives there now, but they won’t mind.” “Sure. Thank you. I should have contacted my father. I have my regrets.” “Well, that’s understandable. We all have our regrets. Let me give you my address.”
Murali Kamma is the managing editor of Khabar magazine. His fiction has appeared in The Apple Valley Review, Rosebud, Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts, and elsewhere. He has interviewed Salman Rushdie and Anita Desai, among others, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has published his columns.
untitled I died a long time ago on the eastern coast abducted from silence and placed in the middle of a five pm traffic surrounded by apes pretending to know what they're doing behind a steering wheel time advances and the months get marked off the crows take turns ripping into my flesh and I allow my bones to rot for a simple yet incoherent pleasure the wild man with a sad face who has been pushed away to the outskirts sees the sky mourn and writes a song about it And the girl that never texted back and dreams of becoming a star comes to her senses and rides off to the desert searching for a lost promise a dirty lost treasure I come back from the dead after hearing the sad man's song and being rescued by the girl And I find transparency within all the trash and fall deeply in love Omar Alexandre Omar Alexandre is an aspiring filmmaker in Miami, Florida. He has recently completed his first short film and has a music video scheduled for screening during the 16th annual Miami Short Film Festival.
They Cray She told me her vagina is like Christmas in a taco shop So I reached for my Wenger Swiss Army Knife, ripped my chest open and instantly gave her my heart We're in a relationship now but not really She does her thing and I do mine i.e. she drinks mojitos all day and trains her cat to murder her next door neighbor's rooster because it doesn't have any concept of time and when the neighbor shows up with the dead rooster and accuses her cat she'll respond, "well maybe you shouldn't have food as fucking pets!" I write her poems and tell her how much I've missed her She says she only misses flip phones I tell her I suffer from anxiety so she lets me touch her boobs for fifteen minutes Then we drift and go back to doing our own thing i.e. she drinks more mojitos and reads Simone de Beauvoir's Le DeuxiĂ¨me Sexe and texts me in the middle of the night to tell me, "He bled for our sins but I bleed every month, tell me who's the real motherfucking Jesus?!" I lay in bed disoriented and confused staring at my bright white screen and simply text back, "down?" She replies, "sure." Omar Alexandre
you can look and you can touch a guy gave me head today and my next door neighbor saw us his fingers gripped tightly unto my thighs i felt the top of his head touch my stomach it was sweaty his lips wrapped around my dick and his tongue going in circles i left the blinds open and i honestly don't care the president once again proved today why he isn't fit to lead but no one honestly gives a shit so i play an LCD Soundsystem record on a Wednesday evening and i dance and keep dancing and wonder why the girl in my poems doesn't want to fuck me i'm bored and lonely but mostly bored and lonely so i prepare the table and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for uninvited guests Omar Alexandre
First Tattoo You look in the window of the tattoo parlor. Birds and flowers, angels and devils ink the cheeks of your reflection. You are considering changing your skin but from within you You ask, "Am I bird or flower, angel or devil?" You know the answer but an hour under the needle and others will too. Your shoulder has first choice of decoration. It's already scarred with inoculations. Maybe a bluejay can soar above that old blemish or a rose bloom in its soil. Imagine the face of Gabriel sprouting wings from the damage or a bright red demon growing horns. You're sixteen. You'll need your old man's permission. He has his own scars of course. He's come through blade and fire, bar fight and busted windshield. What can he say? You'd rather choose your own welts, damage yourself in the name of beauty or truth. Besides, all your friends are getting tattooed. Without one of your own, you're blemished already. John Grey John Grey is an Australian poet and US resident. He has recently appeared in Front Range Review, Studio One and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Naugatuck River Review, Abyss and Apex, and Midwest Quarterly.
That Geometry Teacher Geometry and coffee rule the dusk teacher examining papers sadly wonders why none of them understand anything certainly not the secret language of shapes on blackboards they claim the circumference wasn't round to begin with, that a straight line would prefer to be curved, and a square has no business being equal sided he is this thing he knows and it gets no respect from the pervading dumbness he sits by himself within the confines of a convex polygon he alone knows all the angles. John Grey
The Second Plate of the Muscles Even without his skin, he is beautiful, curves marked with letters Rippling as he strides purposefully to the left Of the page, eyes turned towards Heaven, hands beckoning to something Cut off by the bookâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s seam, he radiates pleading, perhaps Calling his billowing skin down from the clouds. The palazzo lies in ruins just behind him, perhaps symbolic Of the man whose skin was ripped from a still-pliable carcass Perhaps not. Trees have dug their roots in between the arches of Crumbling stonework, prying apart the clay bricks as efficiently as The round, metal lobes of a sternum retractor. Holly Day Holly Day's poetry has recently appeared in Tampa Review, SLAB, and Gargoyle, and her published books include Walking Twin Cities, Music Theory for Dummies, and Ugly Girl. She teaches writing at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Until There is No Reason I will rip the flesh from their thin, white bones, suck the red, wet meat from between their fingers and toes, I will catch them when theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re running from the house to the water to chase the tiny frogs that dart velvet among the blue-green river rushes, the bright yellow marsh marigolds, the thin brown stalks of cattails and last yearâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dead floribunda. The layers of dirt and mud and smooth river rocks that separate your/their world and mine/me will part like water, like air, like the thin streams of fog that divide the land of the living from the land of the dead. My hands will be real and will take them down with me, kicking and screaming, as insubstantial and ineffectual as mist themselves, my fingers entwined tendril-like in their fair hair, filling their ears with my cilia and their skulls with my song. I will tell them all about the place they will live now, and forever, with me, among the bright shards of crystal that lie buried far beneath the earth, sparkling in the dark where no eye can see. Holly Day
The Intentions of Weylend Raines At the far end of the small rolling meadow the ancient eucalyptus stood out of the wind, just below the crest of the hill that overlooked a steep ravine, rampant with manzanita and royal blue Ceanothus cascading down the gorge to within a javelin toss of the Pacific Ocean. At the base of the trunk, a gnarled burl of knotted roots formed an ergonomically correct seat, where Weylend Raines would sit for hours in what he considered luxury. Weylend paused to listen to the roar of the distant surf as if far below Tamerlane himself where banging at the drawbridge gate. Today Weylend had set aside a new biography of Sir Richard Burton, scholar and adventurer, a beautifully rendered copy of the Arabian Nights, translated by Burton, a collection of Chinese poetry from the Tang Dynasty, and a small paperback of The Man Who Was Thursday. He held these in reserve, as crafty as Napoleon surmising Wellington’s designs. He sat calmly in perfect comfort against the huge trunk and opened a copy of Labyrinths by the Argentine master, Jorge Borges. The stories were short ornate puzzles, ripe with obscure forgotten texts of every civilization and speculation. According to Raines, discovering great works of literature was a matter of mutual timing. The reader and the author had to be congenial in mindset and this didn’t happen any day of the week. “Every great book ovulates and the true lover of books has to be both patient and timely,” Raines would explain when pressed on the subject. He turned to the folded page marking his place and read, “My slaves were sleeping; the moon was the color of the infinite sand. A bloody rider was approaching from the east, weak with exhaustion.” Now Weylend glanced quickly from the book, stifling the impulse to shout, ‘Did you hear that!’ as if the very tree he was sitting under had been struck by lightning. Somewhere far off something rustled in the underbrush and he hesitated a moment before reading on. When he finished the story he immediately heard the same rustling sound, only closer and more insistent than before.
Weylend stood, then rose up on tiptoes, straining to locate the source of these repeated interruptions. All was silence and after a while he settled back into the embrace of his tree trunk and again took up the book. Before he could turn the page something crashed close enough to shake the chaparral surrounding him.Weylend sprang to his feet, striking a defensive stance as the brush parted and a man stood a few yards away. The stranger was both unexpected and incredible. His clothes were torn and he was filthy, covered with cuts about his face and arms that ran with streams of blood. He turned his head back and forth, as if some thing, were in hot pursuit. Then he leaned over the barranca, looking from the crest down the hill’s windward slope, listening intently. Apparently satisfied, the man started forward and stumbled so that Weylend had to leap to catch him before he collapsed face first to the ground. The man straightened himself and balanced again then ran both hands frantically over Weylend Raines’ face. Weylend lifted his hands to free himself when the man suddenly stopped, put a finger to his lips and listened again toward the crest. “At last I have found you!” he whispered.“I have been searching EVERYWHERE!” Weylend was struck silent by the abrupt nature of their introduction. “You’re Weylend Raines, correct?” Weylend had a rapidly growing sense that the stranger was in some sort of lifethreatening situation and again he studied the man red with blood. Weylend Raines nodded his head in the affirmative. “Raines? You there?” The man reached up and touched Weylend again, who answered reluctantly, “Yes, yes I am. Weylend Raines, that’s my name. Do I know you?” “Not much time,” the man said ignoring the question. “No time at all really. I’ve got it here, see. I brought it with me.” The man reached into a small backpack and pulled out a well-worn book.
“This is for you.” “For me?” “Yes, it was written specifically for you. No one else can touch it. Handle it with care. This damn thing has cost me 30 years of hard living.” Weylend peered down at the book and asked, “Why me?” “Hard to say why you. If only you were a woman I could call it true love.” He held the book up between them. “I burned the first copy of this manuscript after working on it for over five years and five years later I completed a second version. I burned it too. That’s when I figured it out.” The man stopped, as if this had cleared everything up. He waited, but Weylend Raines didn’t say anything, so the man asked, “You do see what I’m driving at, right?” Weylend had no answer and the man went on: “I wrote all those years hoping, searching for an audience. Then a few weeks after I burned the second manuscript, it came to me. THAT WAS THE PROBLEM! It was that impending sense of audience that was stifling my creation. “It was the endless compromises I was making to engender some kind of response from the public – the changes were destroying any hope of creating a literature that would grow up and stand on its own two feet. Simply put, the process was making a liar out of me. That’s when I figured it out.” He pushed the book into Weylend Raines’ hands. “I hereby officially abandon the public. I free myself from the tyranny of consensus and popular thought. I wrote this book for one man and one man only, and that man, Mr. Weylend Augustus Raines, happens to be you.” A loud crack and then its echo sounded close by. Weylend thought a large branch had snapped, the blunder of a deer in the brush. The blood-soaked author immediately ducked down. He crawled through the dry grass, first one way then the other. Only gradually a suspicion crept into Weylend Raines awareness – he was suddenly confident that the sound he’d heard was a gunshot. Weylend leaned over the prostrate author and hissed in a stage whisper, “But
why me?” “They’ll be on us on now,” the author added with certainty. “It’s in your hands, Raines – ” The man who had delivered the book jumped up and hurried across the meadow. He fell, over and over, then scrambled up, and regaining his balance, broke into a tentative run with his arms stretched out as if he were blindly racing on a dark moonless night. At the edge of the clearing, thirty yards away, two men broke out of the brush, two men who shouldn’t have been there, who shouldn’t have been anywhere. The one in front took aim, while the other tamped the load into what looked like a blunderbuss, in the manner of a soldier in the Revolutionary War. The first report was one huge booming spit from the rifle, followed by a cloud of black smoke that gradually hovered over half the meadow. The author staggered, then fell. The man who fired put his rifle butt to the ground and hurried to reload while his partner took four steps forward out from under the smoke then fired the gun with the bell-shaped barrel. The author had struggled to his feet and now took the second ball and somehow skittered on, before falling at length at the far edge of the dry meadow grass. The second assailant trotted toward the unfortunate author who lay still. Flintlock in hand, the shooter was outfitted like a frontiersman, with a buckskin frill coat and fur hat. His partner, who quickly followed him now, wore long hair, braided randomly with feathers, a calico shirt and a loincloth over buckskin chaps. He had reloaded and came up close to the victim, and took careful aim, before firing the third, deciding shot. The man with the leather coat hit the lifeless author once with his gun butt, then the two of them got on either side, each taking hold of an arm and dragged the body into the chaparral. Weylend Raines scooted down below the lower edge of the meadow. He was both confused and frantic. He stared at the book, suddenly sure that it was tied to
the murder. With a stick, he scooped out a shallow hole in the dirt under a dead clump of blackberries, put the book in, and buried it with loose soil and fallen leaves. This calmed him some. He crawled under a bush and began covering himself with dirt and leaves. He was covered from feet to calves when he wearied of the process. He stopped and sat perfectly still for what must have been an hour. Finally he crawled into the open, then crept up and peeked out into the meadow where one man had died and two strangers had murdered him. There were no signs of anyone. Weylend climbed to the eucalyptus and sat down again in the arms of the great tree. He began by examining the book. The covers, front and back, were green velvet, with triangles of red stained leather at the corners. The spine, in gold stamped print, read simply “Weylend Raines.” He turned it over in his hands. Now he saw he’d overlooked the detail of the small crest embossed in gold on the front cover. Two crossed rifles framed a leafless tree. Dangling from one of the lower branches was a hanged man. Weylend opened the book and a gust of wind blew the manuscript half way through. The pages were all completely blank. He closed the book and looked at it from every angle, searching for some clue to its manufacture or ownership. He cracked the book a second time and the pages remained blank. He touched the first page and turned it over; miraculously, the page sprang to life. In bold print the title page read: Crafted Anticipating the Intentions of One Weylend Raines Weylend turned the page and words scattered across the once-blank paper, random as rain. The next page was a table of contents, followed by this preface: This book has been created and organized specifically for the purposes of one human being, Weylend Augustus Raines. No other will be given access. Upon
investigating said tales he will have a grand sense of their purpose, though he will be unable to recall specific points of plot, scenes and descriptive passages, as they relate exclusively to the immediate conditions of his life. He may not read selected passages to friend or relation. He may not note or otherwise scribble within said margins â&#x20AC;&#x201C; if he does so, all print will vanish forever. In the last hour of his life, but not a minute before, he will have opportunity to select one successor to whom the identical tenets will apply. Good hunting, sir. Your brief companion, on just such a day, Robin Greenfield Dwight. Weylend Augustus Raines looked up from the book and examined his surroundings. Weylend carefully placed the book in the low fork of the eucalyptus and skirted the edge of the meadow, moving stealthily within the shade of the line of oaks. He waited for some time, checking in all directions for any sign of others. He broke out into the meadow, then bent and dipped his finger into a small muddy pool of blood. Satisfied that a man had really died, he made his way back to the great tree, found his book, wiped his fingers across his pant leg, and opened its leather cover. He checked the glade one final time, then turned to the opening page of the first story. Rees Nielsen Rees Nielsen grew up farming stonefruit in Selma, California. After the passing of his wife, Riina, he retired and moved to Indianola, Iowa to take an active role in the raising of his grandchildren. His prose, poetry and visual art has been accepted by magazines here and in the UK.
eyes shut wide: in response to every cowardly, self-serving Amerikkkan poet who has taken a hands-off approach to every disturbing reality . . . maybe, i should write a poem about the twelve-year old who committed suicide, the future cure for democracy, now muted silence, hanging from a rafter in his bedroom of Amerikkka, while blue-blood silver spoons tucked in tight & sweet buzzed on prescription meds despite it’s open season on them who are least of those among us. maybe, i should write a poem about Etan Patz, the six-year old who vanished on the first day he was allowed to walk to school alone & became among the first vanished children to appear on a milk carton; maybe that would bring some level of closure to the parents— unlike poets contemplating rays of sunlight illuminating window blinds, explicating the zebra-striped landscape of their lover’s thighs, out of sync with the precarious tilt of Amerikkkan life. maybe i should write a poem about the county dump seagull, squawking away, persisting at the meager hint of a crumb amongst scraps of outdated technology, concrete & tons of plastic obsolescence— its whole life spent never having seen the sea, weened on the fossil fuel of mammoth dozers sifting human waste, that reeks of gimme’ more!, & not so much, we’ve taken more than everything we need. maybe, a poem explicating innocence, that teaches what it feels like to be used, a beggar’s empty cup, the sweet dreams made of anything that gets us seen— en-flocked—despite the dangling noose of bigotry like the polluted air of thorns we breathe.
maybe i should write a poem about five-year old Ella, who imagines my “fixie” bike as an earring heirloom chained to a tree: pink rims colorful & chrome-bright; or seven-year old W. James, who can only envision a game of marbles as a kaleidoscope scatter of stars, their flash & sparkle of pinball chance colliding inside a circular galaxy, despite the circumference of plausible deniability that children just can’t see—their tiny hands clasped in optimistic prayers of rote, make-believe salvation—children filling soon exponential dark spaces with repetition, with the meaningless plea: Now i lay me down to sleep . . . Note: Among the first vanished children (1979) to appear on a milk carton, Etan Patz became a symbol of a movement to draw attention to child safety. The day of his disappearance, May 25, became National Missing Children's Day. The case bedeviled investigators as leads emerged and fizzled over the years; Etan, never found, was officially declared dead in 2001.
henry 7. reneau, jr henry 7. reneau, jr is the author of the poetry collection freedomland blues and the e-chapbook, physiography of the fittest. Additionally, he has self-published a chapbook entitled 13hirteen Levels of Resistance, and is currently working on a book of connected short stories.
All the Way Home The bed and breakfast where we’d spent the night sat feet above the shore of the Columbia River. After enjoying a breakfast of quiche, fruit, muffins, freshsqueezed orange juice and plenty of coffee prepared by our hostess, Richard and I walked across the gravel lane to look at the water. Most of the year, Astoria was a wet, dreary town. But on this July morning, sunlight sparkled across the mostly calm water. I was wearing backless sandals, so had to step carefully down rocks that led to the river. The thought of losing my footing made me nervous enough, but something else was tying my stomach in knots. We had driven to Astoria to pick up Richard’s unsold photographs from a gallery exhibiting his work. Before heading over there to wrap Richard’s framed prints and haul them out to the car, we had the entire sunny day to kill. Since we were out of the city where traffic was light, I needed to take the opportunity to practice driving. I was gnawing on that old driving fear, even as I gazed out on the water and took in the soothing scene. The flowing emerald-colored river was lined on the opposite bank with dark green pine and fir trees. I couldn’t help but glance to my left, at the Astoria Megler Bridge that spanned the river, thinking how high it was and long. I was about to drive over that bridge for the first time. As I looked at the bridge, the fear of heights that still plagued me at times brought on a momentary lightheadedness. What if I got scared halfway across and couldn’t go on? I’d been on the bridge multiple times as a passenger and knew there was no place to pull over and stop. For over a year now, I had been learning to drive our silver Toyota Corolla. Richard was determined that I should master all the necessary skills and gain enough confidence to be able to take the car and drive wherever I wished. As much as I wanted to rid myself of the fear that had gripped me for decades, owning a car and having the freedom to drive anywhere still seemed like a dream. When Richard and I
made plans for one of my practice sessions, I felt hopeful and confident. But when the time drew near to my getting behind the wheel, the old fear reemerged. I lingered by the river as long as Richard would let me, willing the serenity of the view to seep inside my brain and wash away the anxiety. It worked for a time but then the gnawing worry barged back in and sent my mind flying up to the bridge. “Why don’t we get going?” Richard asked. I reeled my mind back to where we stood on the Columbia’s southern bank, and reluctantly nodded. We crept around and up the circular ramp, then I courageously began to make my way across the span. Accustomed to being a passenger taking in the sights, I needed to keep reminding myself to blink and breathe, while aiming my attention straight ahead. Before I knew it, we had come to the bridge’s end. The traffic light was red, so I slowed down and stopped. “You did it,” Richard said, and we high-fived. I nodded, then took my right hand off the steering wheel and wiped a sweaty palm on my shorts. Before the light turned green, I rushed to do the same with the left one. Once I’d conquered the bridge, the rest of the drive on the Long Beach Peninsula was fun. The speed limit stayed below forty-five. In many places, hardly any other cars shared the road. For months before and after that weekend, I practiced. The lessons always took place on back roads. The first occurred east of Portland, on the Historic Columbia River Highway, a two-lane road that ran parallel to Interstate 84. The first time I drove there, on a sunny April afternoon, I wanted to do anything but drive. Why weren’t we taking advantage of a rare rain-free day to go for a hike? We weren’t because Richard was determined that I should learn to drive. Several aspects of driving terrified me. Every time a car came toward me on the other side of the yellow line, which because of the curves and frequent small hills
was often solid, I feared turning the wheel too hard and plowing into it. This never happened, of course. The second, and more towering fear, was that I didn’t feel even the slightest bit in control of the car. Instead of me driving, the little Corolla seemed to be powering itself. This odd and scary sensation would last through numerous practice sessions, I was to find out, as the months passed. Luckily, this out-of-control car never got into an accident on its own. Even though I didn’t think I was in control, it appeared I was. My favorite back roads driving occurred in Montana. On a bright August morning, Richard and I flew from Portland to Spokane, Washington, where we rented a red Toyota Corolla, and headed east. After passing through Idaho, we crossed the border into the Big Sky Country of Montana. There, in those wide-open spaces, the speed limit, even on a two-lane highway, was eighty-five. Ever since entering Montana, we had passed few other cars. This was one of the central characteristics of a back road I could drive. I knew that we were somewhere I would be somewhat less afraid to take the wheel. Richard turned to me and asked the question, “Do you want to drive?” After I agreed that, yes, I should drive, even though I couldn’t say it was what I wanted to do, I switched seats with Richard. At first, I was wary of edging closer to the speed limit. By that point, I had never driven above fifty-five. But soon I was literally flying, at sixty and sixty-five, then seventy, and finally up to eighty. The following day after spending the night in a cabin just outside Glacier National Park, I found myself driving the winding, climbing, narrow road through the park, appropriately named the Going-to-the-Sun Road. In places, the road looked as if it were heading straight to the sky, or at least to the summit of Mt. Everest. There was just one problem. We wanted to stop and see the sights. For a normal, experienced driver, pulling over to the side of the road and parking would have been no big deal. But I was no normal driver. Up to this point, my lessons had only consisted of straightaway driving on rural roads. I hadn’t moved on to parking and backing up. It’s true that my long-ago driving instructor, Roger, taught me these essential techniques and made me practice them. But I had forgotten everything. I
didn’t have the nerve to even attempt to back up, since I wouldn’t have known which way to turn the wheel. So, Richard had to take over. He vowed that when we got back to Portland, my lessons would move onto the city streets. Parking and backing up were at the top of the agenda. Close to a year into my lessons, after he had instructed me on how to back up and parallel park, Richard announced, “We need to buy you a car.” Given that I had never driven alone, and even with Richard next to me in the passenger seat, still needed to frequently wipe the sweat off my palms, this seemed to be jumping the gun. “Why?” I asked. “The car would just sit in front of the house. I can’t drive by myself. I’ve hardly even driven here in Portland.” “But you won’t drive if you don’t have a car,” he argued. Once I got over my initial objections, the idea of buying, owning and driving my own car suddenly appealed to me. Even in that long-ago time when I assumed I was saving money to buy a car, I never actually believed it would happen. I never believed it because I couldn’t imagine driving my very own car. I began to look at the car ads online. As I did, for the first time I began to visualize myself driving. Rather belatedly, I also allowed myself to acknowledge the burden of not having a car. Some of the simplest trips took such a long time. My dentist’s office, for instance, was a ten or fifteen-minute drive from our house. In order to get there, I needed to take two different buses. The bus schedules weren’t in sync, which meant that I had to catch the first bus early, in order to reach the second bus stop on time. When I arrived at the second bus stop, I had a good fifteen-minute wait there. What would have been, at most, a fifteen-minute drive took close to forty minutes on the bus. I also started to fantasize about my car, much like I used to spend time thinking about a new lover. Before we bought the Corolla, Richard and I had considered a pudgy little Toyota Echo. We even rented one for the weekend, and Richard tested it out on the winding Historic Columbia River Highway. He said at the
time that the Echo was peppy and fun. But we ended up finding a pre-owned Corolla with very low miles at a good price and bought that instead. I was trying to be practical and not spend too much money, so told myself I would be happy with whatever good pre-owned car we could find. Every time I came across an ad for a contender, I showed it to Richard. Unfortunately, none of the possibilities were Echoes. Toyota had stopped making the model after a few years, and it had a bit of a cult following. So there weren’t many around for sale. Once in a while, I perused the cars being sold by dealers. They were all priced above what I wanted to spend. Plus, I was still afraid to drive on the freeway. So, that forced me to eliminate all the dealers located in suburbs only reachable on busy, multi-lane highways. For once, it wasn’t raining. Richard and I were both home early on a warm, sunny April afternoon. I had seen a Corolla listed for sale by a man who lived in a Southeast Portland neighborhood not far from our house. Richard called and made arrangements for us to see the car. From the outside, the white Corolla parked in front of a small white bungalow looked fine. Richard asked the owner, James, to open the trunk. At that moment, James mentioned that he didn’t have a spare tire for the car. After James closed the trunk, Richard walked around checking out the tires. Even I could see that they were smooth, more like the inner tubes we used for swimming when I was young than what ought to be on a car. “Can I take it for a drive?” Richard asked, and James said, “Sure.” As we were about to get in the car, James decided to mention something else. “By the way, the engine light keeps coming on. I don’t think it’s anything to worry about.” Richard looked over at me now. He gave the slightest shake of his head. This was something to worry about, he was saying. We got in the car anyhow. After a short spin around the block, in which the engine light never shut off, Richard said, “I think we’ll pass.”
James announced that he would be willing to lower the price. But Richard repeated, “I think we’ll pass.” In our perusing of The Oregonian, I had seen an ad for a Toyota Echo, being sold by a suburban dealer. The price was above my top limit. On the positive side, it was metallic blue, the exact color I wanted. “Let’s go look at that Echo,” Richard suggested. A block before we reached the dealership, I spotted the car. Perched atop a slanted ramp high above the lot, the pudgy little vehicle looked about to take off, headed for the sky. “There it is,” I said to Richard, as he searched for a place to park. I didn’t add what popped into my mind the minute I saw the car. It’s exactly what I want. Richard got out of the Corolla, walked over to the ramp, and I followed. Sunlight winking off the shiny blue metal surface practically blinded me. From where I stood, the car looked brand new. As much as I judged the car to be absolutely perfect, the price wasn’t. And there was something else. We were a long way from home. If we bought the car, there was only one way to get it back to our house. I would have to drive it, down the busy highway from which we had just come. It was after three o’clock, edging dangerously close to rush hour on a Friday night. “Do you like it?” Richard asked. I did, of course. But there was the cost. “Yes,” I said, almost in a whisper. “But it’s too much.” “Don’t worry. We can negotiate the price.” We had already spent at least forty-five minutes at the dealership, talking about the car. When it came time to take it for a test drive, I demurred, saying that Richard should drive. Bud, the salesman who was sitting in the passenger seat, turned around and asked, “Don’t you want to drive?” and I said no. When we got back to the dealership, Richard leaned over and whispered, “I think we should take it.”
According to the Carfax report, the Echo had only had one previous owner, a woman in Fairfield, California. The mileage was so low, it had barely been driven at all. That, Bud explained, was the reason for the high price. Richard leaned into the desk and asked Bud, “What can you do for me on it?” I swallowed hard. This was really going to happen. We were buying a car. I would have to drive it home. Bud mumbled something back to Richard, but I missed what he said because I’d gotten lost in my head, wondering how on earth I would manage to get this car to Portland. Bud got up, ostensibly to go consult with his manager over Richard’s last offer. “I’m scared,” I whispered to Richard. Even though I felt sure he knew, Richard asked, “About what?” “I’m afraid to drive it home.” “Don’t worry. You can do it. I’ll be right behind you.” I nodded. It did feel better to at least voice my concern. The reassurance from Richard, though, didn’t change anything. The fact was undisputed. I had never driven alone. Over all the years I attempted to learn, someone always sat next to me in the passenger seat, ready to wrest the wheel out of my hands or even slam on the brakes. Now, I would have to venture out solo, and on a busy highway, smack in the middle of rush hour, on a road far more congested than any I had driven before. Bud got up from his desk several more times during that interminably long afternoon. I felt as if Richard and I had been sitting across from Bud for months. Of course, a part of me wanted the time to drag on, pushing that terrifying drive farther and farther into the future. Late in the afternoon, Bud came back, eased himself down into his chair, looked at Richard and said, “This is the best I can do.” Richard reached his hand out and said, “You’ve got a deal.” Bud mimicked Richard, and the two men shook hands and grinned. As if I weren’t terrified enough, before we stepped out the glass door of the dealership, Bud warned, “Traffic’s too heavy this time of day for you to make a left turn coming out of the lot. You should turn right and go around the block.”
The words, traffic’s too heavy, reverberated in my mind. When we moved outside, instead of walking toward my very first car, I felt as I were heading for the guillotine. I took my time adjusting the seat, testing and retesting that I could reach the pedals for the gas and brake with my right foot. I wasn’t exactly sure where I needed to situate the mirrors, but I spent several minutes fiddling with them. Richard stood outside the car, as I lifted my foot to press down on the pedals another time and looked up at the rearview mirror to be sure I would be able to see him in the Corolla behind me. “Are you ready?” he asked. “I guess so,” I said and swallowed. “You’ll do fine.” He leaned in the open window and kissed me. “Remember, I’ll be right behind you the whole time.” I pulled out of the lot and made a right turn, checking in the mirror that Richard was behind me. I strangled the steering wheel with my hands, as if holding on tightly might save me. Every few minutes, I took the risk and lifted one hand off the wheel to wipe it on my jeans, and then repeated the move with my other hand. There wasn’t much gas in the car, so the first thing I needed to do was find a gas station. A few minutes after leaving the dealership when I was just beginning to settle down into the drive, I spotted a Chevron sign ahead on the right. I put on my turn signal and moved over to the right lane, which I’d been avoiding up that point, because I quickly saw that it became an exit-only lane over and over again. I eased the car up next to the gas tanks, to a location I thought would be right, then stopped and shut off the engine. Richard pulled up behind me. “You’re doing great,” he said, his arms around me, pulling me close. “You okay?” My legs were shaking, the way they did after a long bike right. Spaghetti legs, I called this. I was still scared, my throat dry, palms sweaty. But I also felt happy, even exhilarated. I had made it this far. Not only that. I had managed to look ahead on the
road and see that I needed to avoid the exit-only lane in time. And I’d found the gas station. All of this boded well for the rest of the drive. I was relieved that I didn’t have to learn how to pump gas at that moment. State law in Oregon prohibits drivers from touching the pumps. I told the young attendant to fill it up with regular, as if I’d been doing this for decades. When he finished, Richard paid him. The four-lane highway passed through several small, worn-down Oregon towns, where the speed limit dropped to thirty. We could have taken the much faster freeway back but I wasn’t prepared for that. This highway was enough. The road left another small town with a lovely park, a smooth stretch of green lawn that ran alongside the Clackamas River. I snuck several quick glances, gulping up the golden light on the river, then just as quickly steered my attention back to the road. The road had now become lined on both sides by tall trees. It looked like a highway and the speed limit went up to fifty-five. I was still gripping the steering wheel, sitting stiffly forward. Even though I was going faster here, I began to settle down. I had worried that cars would be zipping in and out of my lane and I would need to watch out for them, but this wasn’t the case. Everyone kept obediently moving forward, as if we were all on a conveyor belt. Before long, the trees disappeared, and we were back in an urban area. Traffic slowed for a stoplight up ahead and I did the same. After stopping, I checked the rearview mirror. Richard was there right behind me. It wasn’t long before I finally got my bearings. I was in the city of Portland and didn’t have far to go. Cars were zipping from lane to lane, and I paid close attention to the road. Then I passed Rejuvenation on the right. Richard and I went there all the time, when we were renovating our Victorian house, to buy light fixtures and doorknobs, and gaze longingly at the antique lights we couldn’t afford. I was almost home. Minutes later, Belmont Street came up. I made the right turn and let out a sigh. Here, all three lanes were heading in the same direction – toward my house. This was the street I traveled by bus from my job. Since I wouldn’t be pulling over at every
other corner like the 15 Belmont bus did to let passengers off, I knew the drive was almost done. The light was lovely and the evening warm, something Portlanders celebrated this time of year. The traffic light was red at Twentieth and Belmont. After I stopped, I turned to my right and gazed at Colonel Summers Park. People were chasing Frisbees and throwing colored balls to dogs. It was spring and I’d almost driven my very own car all the way home. I turned right at Thirty-Second Avenue. The street, like so many in our neighborhood, was narrow, with cars parked on both sides. A blue truck was heading my way but the lane wasn’t wide enough for both of us. I pulled over to the curb, letting the truck go by, thinking, I have all the time in the world. I’m almost home. I moved back into the lane after the truck went by, drove the half-block to the corner, and made a left turn on Yamhill. My street. Like many of the vintage houses in the area, our Victorian cottage had neither a garage nor a driveway. But I was in luck. A huge empty space loomed in front of our house, big enough for two cars. I pulled in, put the Echo in park, and shut off the car. My palms were damp and my mouth dry. But I had done it. I had driven my cute metallic blue Echo all the way home. Even though I managed to drive my car home, every time I took it out after that was a trial. If I needed to drive some place I’d never driven before, I took Richard with me on one or sometimes more test runs. I was terrified of not knowing the exact way to get to my destination, so I needed to make sure I had embedded every turn in my mind. I had spent so much time practicing on less-traveled country roads that were straight shots from beginning to end, anything that deviated from this pattern intimidated me. Making left turns was high on the list of maneuvers I dreaded, along with changing lanes. Since I had a dentist appointment coming up, I wanted to be ready. On several Sundays prior to the appointment, I practiced driving over to the dentist’s office, with Richard in the passenger seat. Like the drive back from the dealership, the route to the dentist’s office consisted of busy, multi-lane roads.
Even though I had the route down, I was still worried the morning of the appointment. But everything went well and I pulled into the parking lot and found a space fifteen minutes early. Then I called Richard at his job. “I made it,” I announced. When I hung up, I realized that I hadn’t even thought about the upcoming appointment. I’d had a phobia about the dentist since childhood, and normally would have been practically trembling with anxiety over that. Patty Somlo Patty Somlo’s most recent books are The First to Disappear and Even When Trapped Behind Clouds: A Memoir of Quiet Grace.
Green River, Utah As I bend to my soup spoon, here by the fireside, the memory of day so fresh in my mind, I finish the dried bamboo with my rice, smoke opium to parallel the calm of my idle heart while I am gleaning, admiring, the gem stones I'd been gathering on foot in Green River, Utah. Carnelians, striated agates, glittering in the late sun by my window; and, when I sleep, I see a jade-flecked dream dangling from an eagle's beak, sere land before me, red buttes and curved rock, a morning sun burnishing the upper cliffs till a gentle wind wakes me up. Bobbi Sinha-Morey Bobbi Sinha-Morey's poetry has appeared in a variety of journals such as Pirene's Fountain,Toasted Cheese, Helix Magazine, and others.
Orion Cadillac Touring Coupe, what he drove. No chrome, all black. Smoke windows too. Alligator shoes. Happened to fit. Off a deceased in the building. Put his own on the corpse. Good ones too. Loafers with tassels, looked too, he didn't know, effete? Sounds like feet. Hurry on. Borsalino lid. Man in Omaha crushed it. He beat the man with top of a barstool, red Naugahyde, chrome rim, old school seat. Left him for deceased, left Omaha. The hat resumed its shape after he held it over a vaporizer but smelled a little like what they used in it, Mentholatum? Not a bad smell, and it was going away. That racetrack in Omaha, crooked anyway, Aksarben. Nebraska spelled backwards. He'd picked that up right away, had to do with the crazy way words appeared to him since boyhood, but that track wasn't even on the Vegas boards, so crooked, but he came out even anyway. That car slid through the desert night like a greased black silence on rails and he listened to Art Bell turned low, conspiratorial, just the two of them, Orion listened Art talked, speculated, in this way they ate up miles and L.A. got closer. Orion slept in daytime, he only drove at night.The airwaves were too full of bullshit talk and rap music during the daylight hours and the scenery angered him with sameness but night driving was full of large birds and round light balls that followed alongside like escorts, and horse-sized animals that leaped out from the sides, and he would swerve, avoiding them like a gamer, the wheel his control. To sharpen his reactive jerks he nose-sucked benzedrine inhalers and drank codeine cherry flavored cough syrup, slapped his face, recited a song he'd heard which had haw haw haw haw as a loud refrain, ZZ Top he thought perhaps, the refrain being the only thing he could remember of it but just that brought back the crashing music and guitar scream. In L.A. he drove during the day. He ordered steak and salad with ranch dressing. His ears were sharp. He heard the waitress say to the cook, he said he wanted raynch and she laughed and this told him he would have to lose his accent to blend in and truly escape. Guinotte Wise Guinotte Wise is a sculptor and author of two fiction collections, a novel and a poetry collection. His poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous journals including Santa Fe Writers Project, Atticus, The MacGuffin and others.
Messinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; with Monk Think of one cat in the hats and trinkle tinkle paws who pounces and bounces black black black black black and blue Monk strikes all the wrong notes just right nutty lyrical Spherical straight no chaser round midnight brilliant corners mysterious oh so mysterious muscular crepuscular, I mean evidence well you neednâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t ask me now I surrender dear Ruby my dear felonious Thelonious who has stolen our ears away. Jay Jacoby Jay Jacoby is a retired professor of English, having spent most of his career at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. He has also taught at UNC Asheville and at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNCA. His poetry has appeared in The Asheville Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, Light, and others.
Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine issue # 8
Bruce Spang Susan Coyle Gail Hipkins Meredith Norwood
Susan Coyle Larry Hamilton Steve Wechselblatt
John Himmelheber Pete Solet