Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine #9

Page 1

Issue #9 Fall/Winter 2018 www.sblaam.com


Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine issue #9

fall/winter, 2018

fiction John Hearn

Palmetto Groves and the Banyan Tree

44

Tom Hearron

Food of Love

17

Liz Larson

First Love

36

Susan Canale

I Rang the Bell

32

Rich Ives

Factors Contributing to My Reluctance to Conclude the Investigation

non-fiction

8

poetry Bob Elmendorf

Crabapple

31

Garth Ferrante

two figures, by francis bacon (1953)

15

Martha Golensky

The Wordsmith

5

Road Trip (1964)

6

Glenn Ingersoll

Janice Northerns

Jared Pearce

Sleep, my darling

38

The Elephant

40

I would like you to go now

42

Shiny Brite

69

Mother-Daughter Dresses

71

Camelot

68


Nanette Rayman

a graceful surrender

10

Chiune Sempo Sugihara - Toda

12

Delicate

13

sunnily homeless

14

Brett Stout

An Ode to Truffle Shuffle and Tong Po

66

Robert Joe Stout

Neurosis

7

images Michael Burch

Ocean's Dawn

16

Jeffrey DeCristofaro

Winter Moon

70

Winter Walk

43

Brittany N Jaekel

January Woods I

35

W Jack Savage

After Two Months Layers

9 65

Cover art by staff artist Jim Neuner.

Editor's Note With the aim to foster and support the creation of new contemporary and postmodern visual art through publication of emerging artists, we are happy to announce, in cooperation with TaDa Gallery of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, a $100 prize for the best new photography/artwork submitted to the magazine each year (combining submissions from both spring and fall issues). Competition for the 2019 prize will begin with the next issue (spring, 2019), so submissions are now open. They will close in June (the deadline for submissions to the fall issue). The winner will be announced in each spring issue of the following year. In addition to the cash award, winners will be featured in a one page interview in SBLAAM highlighting the work and artist. We ask that all submitted photography and artwork be new, i.e., created in the eighteen months previous to each issue's publication date. Submissions may not have been previously submitted for publication in this magazine or elsewhere, nor have won or placed in any competition in the United States or internationally. SBLAAM staff, the competition judges, and members of their immediate families are ineligible to participate. All works submitted to SBLAAM will be eligible for the contest and for possible publication in current and future issues. To send us your work, please see our guidelines: http://sblaam.com/guidelines/photography_art/. In this issue we feature the poetry of Nanette Rayman, fiction by John Hearn, creative non-fiction by Rich Ives, photography by Jeffrey DeCristofaro, and many other notable and new authors and artists. As always, we strive to present an eclectic collection, from traditional forms such as Martha Golensky's pantoum Road Trip (1964) to Garth Ferrante's edgy ekphrasis, two figures, by francis bacon (1953). We hope you enjoy!



The Wordsmith What's it like? Someone asks. Imagine you're passing through a well-tended garden, You stare at a clump of white blooms with lemony yellow centers, at the puffs of blue on the bush holding court in the corner. Then you learn it's your garden, that you picked and placed each flower, each shrub, but you can't speak their names. On Sunday I used to set aside time to hone my vowels, polish my consonants. I was Dame Melba running scales, the Babe in the batting cage, giving loving attention to the tools of my trade. Now, spiders crawl across my kitchen, spinning black threads that spell stove, refrigerator, microwave. When I go out, I always carry a card: If found wandering, bring me back home. I live an honor student's nightmare-a pop quiz on ordinary subjects for which I have no answers, and those fine tools just gather dust, useless as a broken hoe. Martha Golensky Martha Golensky began writing poetry after retiring to Greensboro, North Carolina. She teaches writing as a volunteer instructor for a local non-profit serving older adults. Her first collection, Pride of Place, was published this year.


Road Trip (1964) a pantoum She seldom talked about it. He called her from work: Pick me up; something's wrong. She did as she was asked. He called her from work. What must she have thought, and yet did as she was asked. He said, Drive me to Albany. What must she have thought hearing the fear in his voice? He said, Drive me to Albany— a seventy-five-mile journey. Hearing the fear in his voice, why not question the wisdom of a seventy-five-mile journey rather than go to a local hospital? She did not question his choice— just set out on that fool's errand. Rather than go to a local hospital, they drove off into the night. She pursued that fool's errand as his pain grew worse and worse. Their drive off into the night, a series of fits and starts. As his pain grew worse and worse, did she have any misgivings? That series of fits and starts foretold their mission would fail. I think she had a few misgivings, but panicked to hear something's wrong. Their quixotic mission did fail. She seldom talked about it. Martha Golensky


Neurosis In mirrors could see just who he was: mild-mannered not-bad-looking man of slightly more than average size. But on the streets became a mouse, bristle-faced, twitching nose, leaping back from trolley doors that snapped, jaws of a cat. Chewed sacks of grain and rounds of cheese, old box tops, women's hats, wiggled into cellars, squinted at bright lights. And bit the thumbs of those who tried to pick him up and hug him, squealing fear of capture, soft neck in banging traps. Robert Joe Stout Robert Joe Stout’s writing has appeared in Subprimal Poetry, The Tishman Review, Third Wednesday and others. He has received journalism awards for spot news writing and has several volumes of poetry currently in print.


Factors Contributing to My Reluctance to Conclude the Investigation I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth, and while looking in the mirror I thought about what I had eaten, which wasn’t exactly what I had wanted to eat. I didn’t understand how that had happened. Or I should say I wasn’t sure if I didn’t understand it or if I had forgotten. There wasn’t anything to eat in the bathroom, so I went to the kitchen, where I noticed for the first time in weeks, or at least as long as I could remember, a note on the refrigerator. Remember to brush your teeth! You might wonder how old I am, but then I might wonder how old you are too. A fully functional system reaches a plateau, which appears to be stable but is actually merely so adjusted to adaptation that its adaptations appear to be stable even while they continue to adapt. These systems do not actually explain but parallel real explanations, much as my life does. I have no intention of giving up my life. Rich Ives Rich Ives has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and others for his work in poetry, fiction, editing, publishing, translation and photography. His writing has appeared in Verse, North American Review, Massachusetts Review, and more. His books include Light from a Small Brown Bird, Sharpen, The Balloon Containing the Water Containing the Narrative Begins Leaking, and Tunneling to the Moon.


After Two Months

W Jack Savage


a graceful surrender When I happened upon veracity I must be in a dreamed garden remembering the dance of backyard weeping willows in N. Massapequa, NY. I am grateful I remember beauty as I live in thorns. I remember seasons—totems of unfastened years replete with unfastened birds getting up from the night. I hold my breath. When I happened upon veracity Tears made me blind for I had stopped desiring anything more than Bustelo coffee, a cigarette a sundress and a long sleep. Sad—I’ve (when I was the real me) never desired anything more than that blue day again and for real on the sand tassels of Dennisport, when I lay down with you and your chestnut mane, your long wiry body in your whitest t-shirt drawn up your belly a little, and the fervent mosquito in a swarm mating over us, and I dreamed then the beauty and sexy and lofty of the world would be my fate, that only Nanas were old, they just were that way. I dreamed the frothy soup of sky, the dream that survived me— the world—would never let me go. When I happened upon veracity suddenly I was a daughter of Abraham, barefoot and happy, dancing in cool corners shaded from desert, the first time I met joy. And the barefoot me is quiet there, tucking my head into my shoulder as a duck tucks her head into feathers. And I dance and relish the replenish of essence in that resplendent lesson of the open wild and its freedom from being young accelerated to old. When I happen upon veracity in my still bedraggled here all stillness detaches to remove need for wing development in a sky blown clean of all blue but the edges of lavender light. Darker, my days, wingless a weight lifted for one who needs only Bustelo, a cigarette a sundress and a long sleep


and old eyes to see the sluggish heartache of a New York City transplant to the misty stunning smoky mountains. When I happen upon veracity, I live I live I live I meet joy for the first and the last time. Nanette Rayman Nanette Rayman has been published in The Worcester Review, Sugar House Review, Stirring's Steamiest Six and others. Her collections are Shana Linda Pretty Pretty and Project: Butterflies. She studied at Circle in the Square and has performed off off Broadway.


Chiune Sempo Sugihara - Toda Chiune Sempo Sugihara was known as the Japanese Schindler. The Japanese diplomat to Lithuania, he went against his own government to issue thousands of visas to Jews escaping Lithuania during the Holocaust. Toda: thank you in Hebrew

He’d been finding fraught men and women outside the black gate in front of his house swaying on the sidewalk as he tried to eat breakfast. And he’d begun to push aside the lace curtain. And he’d begun to open the window and wonder at the fracas, the desperation, the tears, and he’d begun to speak to them as if they were wayward featherless birds— hoopoes with drowned headdresses, spastic lonely sparrows soundless and some lying hungry by corner rose bushes in rain and in the infectious pink eye of sun. He hears words for grief and weary, unabashed, shy, angry, please— b’vekesha, still moments between thoughts of losing his own job, still audible in burnt air. His wife’s willful work the full melody of compassion and courage—a swan on fire and full with higher clouds, like the highest line of a string section alive with a flock of escaped arrows. An octave below the window, torn swans and hoopoes on cement. The lower octave to be liberated as weather’s tightrope steadies for many nights. Nanette Rayman


Delicate It’s so gossamer, our freedom. And it tears more winged each day. The enslavement paves it over. We thought our freedom was as sure and sweet as Madeleines baked into a mold. Just delicate moths, our freedom In a boundless dark. So let’s be porcelain with it. Treasure it. So red white and blue poppies will drench with it. So our alphabet and bone, our muscle and blood our air are equal, not ashes. I light a cigarette. I wear black eyeliner together with Cherries in the Snow—they still make that sexy look! I’m a woman lipstick. I stare at the eclipse. I dream too close to the sun. That’s why. Nanette Rayman


sunnily homeless Down deep in Madison Square Park, sexily sunnily dressed, the homeless woman is glaring, she who will smoke her last cigarettes ‘til she drops, knows this is the neighborhood of trees, an orchard of hope middle class had once offered, the maples, the elms, the squirrels, the suits and others. They envelop they pretend they are Gramcercy with the wrought iron fence witness-protecting that private park across from her old synagogue and the men in tallit tied at the corners— tzizit blue as robin’s eggs in the wild blue yonder. Their fringe, their reminder to follow commandments not their forlorn hearts. Oblivious to her absence in her newly Poorish religion, they commingle and walk slowly up stairs to the sanctuary. Later while the homeless woman smokes in Madison Square Park near a liver dis-ease awareness collapsible table, a synagogue rebel lights up a smoke and runs his eyes down the immaculate lilacs, the pushy strollers, cranes his neck in the direction from which the sunnily sexily dressed woman had usually strolled from to attend Friday night services. Lilac-scented night now and G-d is the gut now—the life now and the rebel mourns though fringed in faith and observance while he frets in his muscles, he loses confidence and will live so long in darkness. He lost his vigor of light, never asked after the sunnily sexily dressed woman. Wilderness awaits for he thought the woman was too heavily fortified. Nanette Rayman


two figures, by francis bacon (1953) (British, b. Ireland 1909)

what's the translation for this one?: don't go firing wildly when there are no doors on the hinges, and you know they can storm in like nazis and arrest them both for sodomy... the old man cracks up and calls them sinners, but you know the feeling even if you haven't been on the business end of it, your cock in her ass instead of in her sex, and not that it's the kind of thing that'd do any good, but you'd tell him if you thought it'd change things, that you've tasted your own cum just to see what it was like: that's not going to earn you any angel's wings anytime soon, but then again, what's the big deal?: who are they hurting, and who did you hurt with your own seed in your mouth? now you know why so many don't like to swallow, it's strange and not "good" strange, either... but he'll never get it, and you say to yourself if only you could've gone that way, life might've been easier... not really, not at all in fact, but it would've meant making an entirely different list of mistakes, and doesn't that all sound so glorious right about now, to be the ones in the frame intruded upon as the shots fire wildly somewhere outside and they rush in like a nightmare where doors don't even exist Garth Ferrante Garth Ferrante writes because he loves to, because he finds meaning and purpose in it, and because if he didn’t, life would be lifeless.


Ocean's Dawn

Michael Burch


Food of Love The winter storm sweeps over the Nantahalas. The gale drives snow over mountain crests, mounds it around hemlocks leaning over ice-bordered creeks, fills valleys where naked hickories rattle like wind chimes. Nestled in coves surrounded by mountains, trailers cower from gusts that shake their walls. Blue light flickers on deepening drifts from TV’s tuned to the Weather Channel, announcing that snow is general over the Carolina mountains. In the little town of Franklin, anyone watching First Methodist Church would have seen flakes big as demitasse saucers form cornices that crumble off a slate gable and blend with gray vapor creeping from the parsonage garage. But no one was watching, so no one saw. In his Camry, Reverend Ben Coffey watches exhaust vapor rise, curl upon itself, shimmer and float upwards. On the garage’s front wall, nozzles perfectly aligned, spray paint cans stand at attention in rainbow order. Hoes and shovels hang in neat rows, but the snow shovel dangles at an awkward angle, handle pointed at the lawn mower like an accusing finger. Ben wipes away tears. It’s all so wrong. Actually, lots more than a crooked shovel is wrong, but there’s no time for a long flashback to explain. His head throbs--first symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning, he remembers, which comes before being unable to remember. He clutches a crumpled note, the writing melted by tears, but there’s no time to read it to you, no time to rewind to when he found it, and anyway it didn’t start there. It started so long ago even he can’t remember everything that’s led him to kill himself in First Methodist’s garage. He’s careful not to wrinkle his suit, the one his note in the bedroom asks that he be buried in, the one he wore when he and Shelly--but there’s no time to explain! Already fumes gather so thick that the tools fade like guilty ghosts, but he can’t let


that shovel stay crooked. What would his congregation think? So, he leaves the car, flicks a spot of dirt encrusted on the shovel blade. He lifts, taps, nudges until it hangs straight as the other tools, straight as life should be, straight as, oh God, it never is. The wind blows a door open, letting the fumes escape. Damn it, he thinks, but it’s good—now we have time. It all began, he thinks, when he came home from Bible study and found his wife’s note taped to the oven door. It said she was leaving. It also said she’d left a casserole in the oven. The cookbook lay open to the recipe. Tuna Noodle Casserole 2 cans of tuna

1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup

1 lb. egg noodles

1 pkg. frozen peas

Salt, pepper, paprika, oregano to taste 1. Precook peas, drain water, cook noodles part way. 2. Mix peas, tuna, cream of mushroom soup with salt, pepper, paprika and oregano. 3. Layer noodles in oven-proof dish, then a layer of tuna mixture. Alternate layers. Top with paprika. 4. Put in oven for husband to cook at 350o for 20 mins. when he gets home. Tape to oven a note saying that you’re leaving him for good. 5. Add that you’re leaving him supper. 6. Write that you’re sorry, even though you aren’t, and that you wish it could be otherwise, even though you don’t because you’re excited that for the first time in years you might be happy. Cross out the last part, tear up note and start over. 7. Tell him you hope he’ll be happy. Wish him a nice life.


8. Sign the note. Cram in “Love” between your name and the nice life wish. Cross it out. 9. Look around (you’ve done it often, but take one more, it’s your last), sigh over the wasted years, check that the door is locked (your husband likes things in order, and you try but aren’t good enough because you just can’t, can’t, can’t be the way he wants), climb into Charlie’s Volvo. 10. As the car leaves the drive, silently mouth, “Goodbye.” When he got home, Ben read the note, re-read it, sat for a long while on the carpeted stairs, mind numb, listening to the clink-clunk of the wall clock with birds that sang the hour when the battery worked. He felt like, felt like--he didn’t know how he felt. He’d never felt this way before. Shelly was gone. That was all he thought clearly. His wife of twenty years was gone, or so the note said, but he refused to believe. She wouldn’t, she couldn’t! He burst into her closet. Empty. Of the dozen shoe boxes nothing remained but indentations in the carpet. The clothes racks were bare except for jangled hangers, which he rearranged, the ones for pants on the left, for dresses on the right. The earrings in the nightstand, the three kinds of toothbrush her dentist recommended, the assortment of colognes--vanished, gone. All gone. Shelly was really gone. He did what anyone would. He put the casserole in the freezer and had peanut butter crackers and grape juice for supper, and as he ate, he wondered when it all went wrong. Two years ago? He and Shelly had moved to Franklin, a town impoverished by hard times that had struck like an asteroid. The gem mines, where gleaming opals, garnets, sapphires once promised a bright future, were shut down, their stones


sparkling on necklaces at soirees in Charlotte, Charleston, Atlanta. Now the mine pits were as empty as the hopes of those who’d worked there. Shelly had felt out of place in Franklin. In the town, tiny Baptist churches of cheap pine clad in vinyl siding sprouted thick as spring violets, but she was the First Methodist minister’s wife in a church built of red brick as solid as the Three Little Pigs’ luxury house. Unlike the wildly passionate Baptists, Methodists, according to Charlie the choir director, Ben’s best friend, were devout, hard-working people who wanted their religion safe, in small, easy-to-swallow capsules. No fire, no brimstone, no blood-smeared lambs. They wanted sermons which confirmed that going to Heaven didn’t preclude doing well in this life and which finished in time to get the family a Shoney’s table before the Baptist hordes overran the place. When Ben preached about faith as an anchor in a storm, he got compliments accompanied by vigorous hand shaking in the church doorway. When he preached what he truly believed, that Jesus commands us to help the poor, to serve the weak and the oppressed, the congregation rushed out like water from a freshly-Dranoed sink. One parishioner stopped to say, “I admire your sentiments, but as you might not have noticed, we ain’t got too many nigras ‘round here.” His real ministry was personal. Visiting the sick and the dying. Burying the dead and comforting the bereaved. Counseling the troubled, who were mainly married women sick of their husbands, sick of their children, sick of their lives. At night they came to the church office in heavy makeup, dabbed Kleenexes to mascarasmeared cheeks and sat with legs crossed under miniskirts which hinted that the comfort they sought wasn’t entirely spiritual. Sometimes reeking of alcohol, they brought jiggly jello salads, casseroles drenched in cream of mushroom, steaming-fresh pecan pies. Pecan Pie 1/4-1/2 cup butter

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar


4 eggs

1 cup light corn syrup

2 cups broken pecans

1 Tbsp. vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 Pet-Rich pie shell

1. Cream butter and brown sugar. 2. Beat in eggs, one at a time 3. Stir in other ingredients. 4. Fill shell and bake at 450o for 30 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. 5. Take pie, still warm, to your minister. Linger in his study, hands groping across the desk for his, and weep that your life feels as empty as an abandoned sapphire mine. (Metaphor optional) 6. Ask him what the hell you should do. “The reason life is so hard,” he told the weeping women, “is to make us long for Heaven.” He didn’t believe that but didn’t know what else to say. He didn’t believe in Heaven, didn’t even believe in God, whose name crossed his lips only in roundabout ways like “our heavenly mentor.” To the women he suggested joining the church choir, the garden guild, a health club. A man of God’s life was filled with such temptations of the flesh, women lured by the forbidden fruit of a married minister. But Ben told Satan to get behind him, and although Satan didn’t always, at least Ben kept Satan out of his arms and his bed, and when he came home late and Shelly suspiciously asked what had kept him, he told the truth. He was comforting the afflicted and the lonely. She served him a dried-out cherry pie from Bi-Lo. “At this hour?” “Especially at this hour.” Yes, especially at this hour, for it’s during the darkest time of night, when BiLo’s closed and the TV has nothing but the Shopping and Weather Channels, reruns of “Mash” and “Leave It to Beaver,” that the wolf of loneliness howls.


He sipped reheated decaf, wrinkled his nose at the burned aroma. “I have to be there when my people need me.” Brown eyes flashing, she slammed the pot onto the coffee maker. “I need you too. I feel all alone here. All my friends are back in Michigan.” He knew, and it made him sad. “The church there didn’t want me, Shelly. Michigan’s gone. You’ll make friends here. Lots of good people in Franklin.” “I know.” She rubbed a finger over her lips and brushed her brown hair back with three hand strokes. “Everybody’s so goddamn friendly, always saying they have to have us over some time, but they never do.” He held her tight, stroked a cheek slick with tears. “Well, you could do volunteer work with the Wesleyan Women. The church choir needs altos. You’ve always liked to sing.” She joined the choir. Was that, he wondered, the moment he’d lost her? No, poor fool, he thought, he’d been losing her from the moment they met in art history at Michigan State. He liked the slides flashed on the screen, though at times he couldn’t make out what they were supposed to be, and he couldn’t distinguish impasto from contrapposto. When he guessed on one quiz that Giotto was the artist in Padua’s Arena Chapter, he was dinged five points for having only one “t.” To keep his student deferment from the draft, he had to pass his courses, so he needed help. Majoring in art, Shelly taught him how to study it, a field as different from accounting as calling balls and strikes was from measuring for a first down. Ben wasn’t particularly interested in college, but he didn’t want to go to Vietnam and, surely, from what President Johnson’s people were saying, the war would be over long before he finished school. She taught him about life. As they stretched on the quad on spring’s first warm day, she in her paisley skirt, blue eyes shining behind granny glasses, he learned the joy of touching naked earth with naked feet. She taught him life came in colors


instead of the gunmetal gray his parents lived in. She also taught him about drugs. Most he didn’t care for. Mescaline made him throw up. LSD was a terrifying funhouse ride, which wasn’t any fun at all, where glowing snakes sprang from wall niches, and dragons rushed swooping out of darkness. But marijuana, especially when baked into a brownie, how it made music soar, and shapes acquire a new—significance. Marijuana Brownies 1/2 cup butter

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 oz. marijuana

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour an 8-inch square pan. 2. Powder the marijuana leaves in a blender. 3. In a large saucepan, melt 1/2 cup butter. Remove from heat, and stir in sugar, eggs, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat in 1/3 cup cocoa, 1/2 cup flour, salt, and baking powder. Spread batter into prepared pan. 4. Have a couple of tokes to prime the pump. 5. Stare at the lava lamp, how it twists, entwines, rises, sinks, folds upon itself like a writhing kaleidoscope! Wow, man, like a braided rainbow! 6. Laugh when you notice that the oven isn’t on. Try to remember what this stuff in the pan is. 7. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Do not overcook, so set a timer, you idiot. 8. Eat in small quantities. This stuff can blow your fucking head off. The war went on, the body count grew, friends who’d dropped or flunked out of school didn’t come home. The college’s draft counselor explained his options.


Have or acquire a disqualifying physical defect, like a missing hand or foot. File as a conscientious objector, damn hard to get so close to being inducted. Go to Canada. Fatherhood deferment was out because he’d had a student deferment, but there was a special deferment for ministers. After graduation, he enrolled in a divinity school, and by the time the draft ended, he was licensed as a Methodist preacher. He’d learned a lot about religion, and the worst part was that it didn’t make sense. Why did Luke mention the shepherds but not the three wise men, while Matthew had the magi, but no shepherds? After he was crucified, where did Jesus go for three days? When did it become okay to eat barbecue? If we’re saved by faith alone, then if Hitler accepted Jesus as he died, is he a greeter who says, “Welcome to Heaven”? The day before graduating he confessed to his gray-haired advisor that he was having a crisis of faith. As he puffed on a pipe, the aroma of cherries filling the room, his advisor said that was perfectly normal. God would give him faith, but the important thing was to persuade his congregation that they had it. “And when you can’t do it,” he’d said, “you have to fake it.” He and Shelly had married young. They’d caressed with words like “forever” and “never,” words that shouldn’t be used by the young, who have no idea how long forever is, how fast never comes. Did he lose her when the baby died? After the doctor said she could never have another, she’d sat pale and tiny, hair stringy with sweat, rocking on the edge of the hospital bed as if holding a still-living daughter. “Days of Our Lives” played on the room’s TV. She watched sand slide through an hourglass and whispered, “We’re being punished by God.” “Shelly, no. God isn’t that way.” “How would you know how God is?” she hissed. “How could you know when you don’t believe in God?”


After Shelly returned from the hospital she drifted away, slowly at first, then faster, like a pebble kicked off a cliff. After a time all they talked of was the dripping kitchen faucet the church handyman had failed to fix, the shoe boxes she left in ragged rows, the closed-off nursery, crib covered with dust, that he wanted for a TV room. They stopped hugging and after a time touched only by accident and that with a muttered “Sorry.” When she sat beside him on the couch, crossword puzzle halted at a Persian Gulf seaport’s name, she gazed into the distance at a catastrophe only she could see. And now she was gone. The next week a man from her attorney delivered the divorce papers, and Ben thought he would die. He wished he could, but dying isn’t easy. For some it’s pretty near impossible. He came to hate Sundays. His congregation had changed. When he preached he saw it in their faces. Some couldn’t look at him, but let eyes rove over the bronze crucifix, the fake-candle chandeliers, the stained glass of Jesus with hands outstretched as if asked a question he couldn’t answer. Some pitied him. Some thought he’d gotten what he deserved. Late one night while preparing a sermon on how life without charity, without true, unselfish love was like sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, the realization hit him. He couldn’t give that sermon. Not without coming apart and melting at the pulpit. He wadded up his notes and was staring at the cold winter stars, immense Orion’s jewel-encrusted sword, angry Taurus red-eyed and charging, when someone knocked at the door. Shelly! No, probably another desperate mini-skirted woman. He prayed it wasn’t. His prayer was answered. It was Jason, the church board head, who slouched his gangly frame into the study. “Hope I ain’t disturbing you.”


Ben said he wasn’t and invited him to take a seat. Ben sat erect as a heron, hands on his knees. “Sorry about your wife,” he said. “Been meanin’ to tell you that. It must be hard.” Ben confirmed that it was. “I’m here,” Jason said, glancing about the room, “because folks asked me to tell you--well, folks say they don’t know how to act around you.” “They should act the way they think is right.” “They don’t know how that is, so if they don’t talk to you or nothin’, that don’t mean--well, you know.” Hands folded in his lap, Jason glanced at the log smoldering in the fireplace. “You sure burn a lotta wood.” “A fire’s nice on a night like this,” Ben said. “Yeah, but our guy took a coupla weeks solid to cut that pile. The minister we had before you made it last all winter. You Yankees must think firewood grows on trees.” Ben took a deep breath, remembered that a soft answer turneth away wrath. “I’ll start using less.” “Hope so. Some folks are sayin’ you’re mighty free with what ain’t yours.” “Sorry they think that.” He rearranged the pages covering his desk. They were covered with “Shelly, Shelly, Shelly” in three colors of ink, scrawled, printed letters illuminated like an ancient manuscript. “But I need to get back to this sermon, so--” “There’s something else the board wanted you told.” Jason pressed his hands together, picked at a callous on one finger and looked into his lap as if praying. “Some folks think--I ain’t sayin’ I agree with ’em now--but they think you preach too much about the poor and the homeless.” A log shifted, threatened to roll out. Ben poked it back in. “I preach the way Jesus would.”


“Well, you ain’t Jesus. Now about your wife and all. See, I don’t know much about her.” Oh, but Ben knew a lot about him. A stylist from The Mane Event Salon who came for counseling confessed he was having an affair with her. Jason went on, “That Shelly of yours wasn’t exactly the friendly type, you know, but her leaving, well, things like that make the church look bad. Attendance is off real serious, collections have dropped like a rock, and you’ve probably noticed how the choir’s gone downhill.” Ben hadn’t. “We’ve lost the best durn choir director we ever had. So,” Jason said, “the board took a vote. I ain’t gonna tell you who voted how, but we decided that when your term’s up next month we ain’t askin’ for you back. Not that there’s anything wrong with you, you understand, just that we think you’ll be happier someplace else. Must be a lotta sad memories in this house.” Ben snapped the cap onto his ballpoint. “Lot of happy memories too.” While he waited to be reassigned, Ben reached out to friends but found he didn’t have any. They were all friends of the Coffeys, Ben and Shelly’s friends, with whom they’d evolved a complicated dance. Now that he was dancing alone they jostled and bumped. Some of the church ladies brought him casseroles, and at divorce support group meetings, attractive women in their forties lingered long after the metal folding chairs were stored in closets filled with Styrofoam cups and defunct coffee urns, long after the last “Hello, My Name Is” badge was tossed into a frayed M & M’s box. They suggested adjourning to a dim bar, to “continue the conversation.” Sometimes they turned up at the parsonage with pies and velvet cake.


Velvet Cake 1 cup butter

1 cup buttermilk

2 cups sugar

3/4 teaspoon soda

2 egg yolks

2 1/2 cups sifted flour

2 whole eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Cream butter. Add sugar and cream well together. Beat in egg yolks and mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. 2. Stir soda into buttermilk and add to creamed mixture alternately with flour, blending well. Add vanilla. 3. Pour into three greased layer cake pans and bake at 375o for 20-25 minutes or until done. 4. Cool and frost with white frosting made from the egg whites left from the 2 yolks used. 5. Serve with Christian love and ulterior motives. Pretend you’re concerned because he’s just been divorced. Tell him you know the tear-soaked pillow, the heartache when you turn to tell something to someone who isn’t there, the mornings when you forget and put out two coffee cups. 6. Accompany with cassette or CD of Bobby Vinton singing “Blue Velvet.” 7. Hope for the best, the best that never comes. All the women hurling themselves at him like bugs against a windshield could have been exciting, except for one thing. He didn’t want them. What do you do when all you’ve ever wanted, all you’ve ever loved is gone? You breathe your car’s exhaust. God, Ben thinks, why is dying taking so long? His headache is fading, the mist clearing enough for the rake handle to swim into view. Then he sees why. The garage door doesn’t fit. Exhaust seeps out as fast as it crawls from the tail pipe.


Shelly urged him to fix it, but he’s no handyman. If he couldn’t fix something with duct tape--. Duct tape. Closing the door tight when he leaves the garage, he searches kitchen drawers, bathroom cupboards, comes across the envelope “To Be Opened in the Event of My Death” he left propped against the teddy bear Shelly gave him on their twentieth anniversary. The note blames her, curses her and that rotten Charlie, wishes them a lifetime of misery. Too harsh, he decides, so he turns to the computer. Rewriting his note gets so complicated he settles for “Life without love is no life,” but that doesn’t explain anything, and he can’t leave with things in disorder, so he tears it up and flushes it down the toilet. Getting it down takes three tries, the bowl filling slowly each time, another problem the handyman didn’t fix. At last he settles on “Goodbye. Tell Shelly I love her.” Once the garage door is sealed, he settles in the seat and closes his eyes. The motor hums underneath the sound of his breathing, which stubbornly keeps on. How foolish this flesh, he thinks, how the body clings to life even when there’s nothing to live for, when mind, heart and soul yearn for an end. He drifts off. How peaceful. The motor’s throb fades like something from another world, another time, another life. Dying, he thinks, isn’t so bad. People should do it more often. When he awakes expecting another world (no bright light and opening tunnel, no vision of souls flitting like fireflies. no heaven or hell), he sits in a frigid garage in a silent Camry. The gas gauge shows empty. He meant to fill up after shopping at Wal-Mart but had a committee meeting. God, he screams silently, why is everything so hard? Even dying. Why doesn’t he have a gun? Sleeping pills? Why can’t he ever do anything right?


He puts his head in his hands and cries hot tears. After a time he leaves the car and, tears freezing on cheeks, creeps to the house through a paperweight world of swirling snow. Tomorrow if the storm is over, he’ll walk to town for gas. He makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich One jar peanut butter

One jar jelly

Two slices of bread, preferably white 1. Spread peanut butter on one bread slice. 2. Spread jelly on the other. 3. Put slices together, the peanut butter and jelly between the slices. 4. Eat while a lump forms in your throat, which might be the peanut butter or might be inconsolable grief. 5. Drink a glass of milk, and if the lump remains, it’s grief. 6. Peer out the window and watch the snow mount higher. Remember that you have two more weeks to give sermons to a congregation that doesn’t want you before you move on to a life you don’t want. As he stands at the kitchen counter choking down the sandwich, he watches the flakes falling against the lamplight. The Weather Channel says that snow is general all over the region. It is falling on the Balsam, Snowbird and Nantahala Mountains, falling on the valleys in between, falling on Asheville and Spruce Pine, falling into the storm-tossed waves of Lake Lure. Anyone listening at the parsonage window would have heard a low moan, a shrill voice cry “Shelly!” and a howl like a wolf on a frigid, snowy night. But no one is listening, so no one hears. Tom Hearron Tom Hearron learned to write at the University of Buffalo under John Barth and has taught writing at colleges around the world. He is published in Panache, Just Pulp, Huckleberry Press, and others.


Crabapple Stopped by the tangle of your branches in a thicket by the pond side, I hear the spring Phoebe, and the gray wind, behind ripples, shifting with each pass. Several weeks from bees, I await your blossoms. It has been a year since I last sat on this bench, trammeling myself in your vine’s script, making a decision at each of your forks. Now the ripples zebra to the shore, erasing themselves for another pattern, while the cold earth releases its first scents. Bob Elmendorf Bob Elmendorf has been published in Little Star and elsewhere. He has been teaching Vergil, Catullus, Ovid, Horace and Sappho pro bono to home schooled teens the last twelve years.


I Rang the Bell “Come back and see us again,” the letter said. Or was it a phone call? Though only five months ago, my memory is hazy, time-capsuled, unreal. Then, a week later, “You’ll need to come back and see us for more tests,” they said, after my diagnostic mammogram. Ten days later, after providing the image to guide the needle biopsy, the ultrasound techs said, “We’ll be thinking about you.” Their looks showed grave concern as I walked away after having a sample-sized bit of my left breast sucked out by a noisy machine. My stomach sank. Did they know something I didn’t know? “It’s probably benign,” I said to the nurse who was escorting me out. She paused, composed her face. “Well, sometimes it is,” she said, unconvincingly. Another ten days went by before my doctor’s PA called. “Let’s see, what does it say?” she mused as I heard paper shuffling while she read through the report. Did she really not read the report before she picked up the phone? Some medical jargon followed. I stopped listening. I got the gist. It wasn’t good news. My regular annual exam happened to be two days later. My doctor walked in. Neither of us spoke at first. I broke the silence though there wasn't much to say, except, “Oh, crap!” No one said the other “C” word. She referred me to a surgeon and her PA gave me a copy of the report. My Google search history shows scary words-invasive lobular carcinoma, positive this, negative that. Five days later I sat in the surgeon’s office, toting an arm full of definitions and a whole truck load of denial. Surgery was scheduled for the next week; friends were more concerned than I; I went along my happy way. But my truck load vanished the morning of the surgery. Finally, as I climbed onto the gurney to be wheeled off to the OR, I realized that this was actually happening. Denial wasn’t working anymore.


I awoke from the anesthesia to find that I still had a breast but a chunk of it was missing. Although there was some pain, and much nausea and vomiting, I had thought of the whole thing as something that had to be taken care of, like a broken bone, or a toothache. And the surgeon took care of it. Until a week later when the pathology report said that she hadn’t. Any scrap of remaining denial was shredded, stomped on, and kicked out to the curb. A second surgery produced more pain, but no nausea or vomiting, and a much better outcome--clear margins. The cancer was out. But there was one more stop for me on this health care journey--radiation. Radiation is used to kill any little cancer cells that might still be floating around in there, as if they could see the surgeon’s scalpel coming and took a nose dive to hide behind a fat cell. “You can schedule the radiation around my vacation,” I declared. I was going whale watching in Baja California--already scheduled and paid for--and I didn’t care what they said, I was going. I petted whales in Pacific lagoons, took walks on sandy beaches, and got sea sick only one night. All very therapeutic. On my return, every day for four weeks at 2 pm, I sat in a waiting room with grizzled old guys in wheelchairs and overweight women dragging oxygen tanks for my date with a giant machine in a cold, dimly lit room. A huge painting of the galaxy was unfurled across the ceiling, illuminated with tiny tinkling lights, there for me to stare at while I lay on a narrow table, my left breast being irradiated. At the end of four weeks, with irritated skin and the oddest-shaped suntan one would ever see, I was done. I returned the little hospital jacket that I had been issued at the start of my treatments to the receptionist and thanked her for being so kind through all this. “Look what I have for you,” I said gleefully, as I pushed the rolled up greenprint jacket across the reception counter. “You’re all done?” she asked, in a congratulatory tone.


“Yes!” I said emphatically and turned to leave. “Don’t you want to ring the bell?” she called out. There, to the right of her desk, mounted on the wall, was a brass bell, with a short rope attached to the clapper. “Is that what I’m supposed to do?” “Only if you want to.” I thought about it for only half a second, realizing instantly how glad I was that these treatments were over, and thinking that, yes, a little ceremony to mark the occasion was appropriate. I grabbed the rope, gave the clapper a couple of good solid yanks, and the bell rang out. To my surprise, I turned around and found all the ladies who were sitting in the waiting area applauding. I smiled, gave a little bow, and left the building. Susan Canale Susan Canale retired and moved to Asheville, North Carolina six years ago. Earning her living through numbers but always expressing her passion through art, she now finds endless creative possibilities in crafting words.


January Woods I

Brittany N Jaekel


First Love The bell over the front door chimed when she came in. “So what have you brought me this time, Elizabeth?” She wheeled a vacuum to the counter. It was the second new vacuum cleaner she had brought into his shop this spring after the 30year-old Hoover had finally died a wheezy death like the COPD her late husband had succumbed to years ago. Hector put the Aha! 200 upright vacuum onto the work table and flicked on the overhead fluorescents. They blinked twice; the ballast surged, coating the upright in a sterile glow. Its canister, a hazard-yellow shell, still held that fresh-out-of-the-box look, but she’d told him that it had sucked up a sock and now declined to inhale anything else. Elizabeth stood there looking not guilty or chagrined, but expectant. A shy anticipation spread across her face and she demurred. Had she blushed? He couldn’t tell. He turned his attention back to the vacuum, surprised at the trembling in his own hands. As he turned, the torque needled a serrate twinge in his lower back, reminding him of his body, that road map of who he was, how he got here. The chronic wince of nerve and muscle made Hector wish that ibuprofen came cheaper, worked faster, and carried more of a kick. Yet, having watched his son’s struggle with pain meds, he steered clear of script. He did what he had to do. His father, the most senior of the Hectors, and his namesake son bookended him with addictions. Hector removed the collection canister and unscrewed the plate that held the drive belt in place. Desiccated dust bunnies jounced away across the work bench, took briefly to the air. Motes glinted in an arc of light, like snow without joy. The belt was broken. The sock, a periwinkle blue no-see-um, had won. The toe peeked discreetly from between the bristled rollers. He turned away from the Aha! 200 and faced Elizabeth, his back against the evidence of her repeat customer status. He tried to hold her gaze, but ended up staring at the floor, her sandals, her feet, the perfect pedicure and polish, the sinew and sag around the ankles. . . . Face flushing red, his hands flailing through the dust


motes, he couldn’t help himself. He said, “The funny thing about love at first sight is that you don’t realize it never happened to you, until it does.” “Are you saying this is an impulse purchase followed close with buyer’s remorse?” “With the vacuum? No, it’s a good one. Does the job, easy to fix.” Elizabeth fussed with her hair that was gathered into a messy bun atop her head. She frowned briefly, “And with this first love, which is not buyer’s remorse or an impulse buy, but a sound decision, is it too late? Too late even if you finally do realize it’s there in front of you?” She glanced at her hands, the knobs and twists of them, the silky wrinkle of her fingertips, the spots across the back that swam around the ley lines of her veins. “Hector, is it too late?” He dared a look, eyes peering over the top of his trifocals, the heavy black frames underlining his view. Elizabeth’s halo of hair, the silvery wisps like arcs of electricity springing from her temples, was almost a distraction from saying the thing, the right thing. Instead, Hector said, “You need to stop running over socks,” and turned away to the workbench to face the Aha! 200. The chime over the front door tolled her leaving. Liz Larson Liz Larson is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the Arkansas Writers Workshop at the University of Central Arkansas. She serves on the staff of Arkana, a literary journal of marginalized voices and is also on staff at Et Alia Press, a small press for big voices.


Sleep, my darling The radio is telling me about a vice presidential pick, he's authentic, he's a national figure. Caller Bill says, "I wanted to address the biggest problem --" Through cobwebby windows I look at a gray sky, an unquiet air. Yesterday my mother found a WWII era jacket, like-new, fleece-lined, "$15!" When she shlepped her bags to the car she said, "There's less traffic here than usual." Than the night before she came? When the nice young couple knocked on our door, "Do you have a white cat, with stripes on his back? We think he might have been hit by a car." We laid his breathless body on one of my old shirts on the couch. He was dusty, his mouth ajar, his eyelids parted. Otherwise beautiful. On the phone Kent's mother sympathized, said doctors have spotted a growth in her brain that may be the reason she's had difficulty speaking lately. I'm going to go ahead and take classes this fall. If we are still alive there is a future, what to do with it? On the carpet the dog wakes and grumbles. She crosses her forelegs. Her dark eyes


catching my look, her tail wags, which makes her whole body wiggle. Meanwhile on the radio a man has gone home to Jamaica for a funeral and is robbed, beaten, shot dead. Glenn Ingersoll Glenn Ingersoll's recent work has appeared in Askew, Crack the Spine, and Poetry Superhighway. He has two chapbooks, City Walks and Fact. He works for the Berkeley Public Library where he hosts Clearly Meant, a reading and interview series.


The Elephant The woman in white is going from house to house, knocking on doors. “Have you seen him?” she asks, offering a picture. “Have you seen the elephant?” Well, sure, folks have seen an elephant. But this one? This particular elephant? It’s hard to say, you know. To those without personal acquaintance one elephant looks much like another. “Yes,” says one woman, tugging at her hair. “I saw this elephant yesterday at the grocery. He was ahead of me in line and he was buying bananas. I’d gone there especially for the bananas. Because they were having a special. They were 39¢ a pound, which is very good. And besides what else he had he had emptied the shelves of bananas. I was very angry, I remember. I was very angry and I wanted to protest to the store manager. And I should’ve. It is very bad of you to let this elephant take advantage like that.” The elephant buying bananas had long graceful tusks and a yellow robe, while the elephant in the photograph has stubby tusks and a blue robe. “Thank you anyway,” murmurs the woman in white. “That is the elephant,” says the man just home from work. He’s loosened his yellow tie and unbuttoned his collar. “That elephant has been trampling my flowerbeds. I used to have zinnias and petunias and violets and mums. And now I have nothing!” They go together to the garden. An elephant is plucking the petals from a nasturtium, laying them, one by one, on her broad tongue. But it is not the elephant the woman is looking for. Under a striped umbrella, the café overlooking the river, the woman puts down the glass of iced tea, dabs her forehead with a wet hand. The glistening of the river mends and comes apart and mends. An elephant wearing a stevedore’s cap pulls out the chair next to her and sits down.


He looks the woman in white up and down. “I understand you are looking for me,” he says. She smiles. “You are right, I am looking for an elephant, but it is another elephant." The woman is surprised to see tears well up and course down the wrinkled cheeks of the elephant as he gazes at the photograph. “I do not know this elephant,” he sobs. He blows his trunk with a steam whistle toot. He looks away over the water. The woman in white longs for the simplicity of cats. You can get to know a tiger. Trust a tiger? No, but you know what he’s thinking. I am beginning to think my mother was an elephant, she says to herself: Sentimental, secretive. She would never put away the dishes without remembering where she’d bought each one, recalling the aunt who’d brought four matching table settings to the wedding party in the back of her camper van. The waiter brings a telephone to the table. It is an elephant and the language of the elephant contains words the woman remembers from childhood. “Is it you?” she asks. She cannot understand the answer, though the lilt of the tongue seems soft as the wavelets that are patting the shore. “I will believe it is you,” says the woman in white. There is a silence on the line. Then the elephant begins singing. Though the singing is soft as a lullaby, it hurts her and her eyes fill with tears. She looks out again at the river and the elephant beside her looks out at the river. Glenn Ingersoll


I would like you to go now all the way to the other side of the world merely in order to see you returning me thinking in the torments of my thoughts how ever could I have tasked you with something so hurtful to myself to be alone all the time it took for you to get there the dangers to surmount and then sitting over a meal the food they serve on the other side of the world considering its benefits perhaps enjoying things too much and you did what I told you to you went away I imagine you laughing about coming home home! being where I am a lot of world to cover just for that I watch the horizon I read the papers and stare deep into glowing screens I listen for the call of devices but then you are whispering and my ear opens for your breath so close I am breathing it too and I think but you haven’t gone anywhere you haven’t gone anywhere yet I was missing you a world having risen between us I would like you to come back who haven’t gone at all Glenn Ingersoll


Winter Walk

Jeffrey DeCristofaro


Palmetto Groves and the Banyan Tree Good-bye, New Bedford This was Henry Kraft’s last new start. His wife died the year before; his only child, Tess, left for college and then for the wider world twenty years before that. She and her two kids lived with her second husband in White Plains, New York, a three-hour drive, four if you count bathroom breaks. He had visited once and knew there was a vacant in-law apartment above their three-car garage, and he also knew it wouldn't be offered. "What you need is a nice little condo in South Florida," Tess said. "Exactly," said her husband, Carlos. "On a golf course, with a pool and gym. People your age. I'd give anything for a deal like that."

 He left the Whaling Hotel and Conference Center in New Bedford where he had been staying since the house sold, and spent three days driving to Coconut Glen, Florida, where he bought a one-bedroom condo in the Palmetto Groves. The complex was bordered on three sides by major roadways, but was camouflaged by lush green vegetation and a lack of visible signage. It was possible to drive around the Palmetto again and again without knowing it, which is what Henry did when he arrived. The movers were waiting for him. They needed little time carrying in what he had taken from the house he’d shared with Marcy for over thirty years. Most of the physical embodiment of their history was gone. The bed was too big for the new bedroom and the couch too big for the living room, so he left them behind. The dining room furniture had no place in the 780-square-foot second floor unit. The attic and basement and garage had been full of boxes stuffed with memories, half of which were hauled away by strangers, the rest—impossible to discard—put in storage. All of it was usable, some of it meaningful, but none of it wanted by Tess. Even the owner of the consignment shop didn't want it. "No one will buy it," she said. "Today, no one knows what a hutch is or what they'd do with it. They don't have dining rooms. That cherrywood hope chest is just a heavy box they'd have to lug from apartment to


apartment. They're not sure where they'll be living next year."
 
 When it became clear that there wasn't room in the condo for even half of what Henry had shipped down, he told the movers to keep it. "Use it, sell it, do whatever you want with it," he said, feeling generous.
 "We'll take it," Jose, the head mover said, "but it'll cost you half what it cost to move the full load down here."
 "What?"
 "It's the landfill. They have steep fees."


 The next day he headed to Publix to buy what was needed to fill the kitchen cupboards and refrigerator. Getting out of the complex was as challenging as getting in. The narrow streets were a labyrinth, lined on both sides by identical trees and plants. The buildings were architectural clones attached to one another by patches of unnaturally green lawn. The street names were dizzying, with tens of them descending from a common lineage. There were North and South and East Palmetto Drives, leading to Palmetto Glen and Palmetto Lane and Palmetto Course and Palmetto Boulevard.

 By day three he had yet to meet his neighbors. He thought he’d heard movement in the unit below but wasn't sure. There were two cars in addition to his own in the parking lot, but neither had moved since he arrived. He went for a walk to get his bearings, clear his head, smile at a passerby, say hello to a neighbor. He stepped out onto the sidewalk-less roadway and walked to the end of Cypress Creek Drive South to Cypress Creek Drive West; he took a right at Cypress Glen.
 
 Henry felt as though he were walking through a painting, a masterpiece. The colors were spellbinding: fuchsia and jade and lime and dark green in the same small garden; pink and yellow leaves sitting like small birds perching in the sunlight; pink flowers with yellow collars; magenta and violet blending into a color with no name. And the palms. Short with dangling white flowers; tall with slick reddish-purple or green casing sealing the top of the trunk; spiked, silver-green leaves bursting into


circular halos above a stout grey trunk, its totality resembling a family of multicolored iguanas.
 
 He walked for a mile or so when he realized he had yet to pass another person. In fact, he had yet to see or hear a single one. No one walking or driving by; not a soul on their patio; no open window emitting the sound of an afternoon soap opera or the aroma of an early dinner. No kids throwing balls or riding bikes. Suddenly the Palmetto had the eerie feel of a post-apocalyptic movie scene, an intact material world devoid of human life.

 After walking for another hour, he came to the complex's Activity Center. The outdoor pool was empty, as were the billiard room and gym. He called out, "Hello! Hello!" but got no response. He shouted out again, this time much louder. He wished he had the cell phone Tess had given him as a gift. "This way we can maintain regular contact," she said. But after a handful of awkward calls, the phone had fallen into disuse. It crossed his mind that the device was like a miniature, digitized Palmetto Groves. Complicated, mysterious, in a way, deceitful in its promise to bring people together. Lifeless.
 On his way back he passed a banyan tree. He had never been this close to one. He left the path and ran his hand over the tree's bark, its dimpled scars and protruding gnarls. He saw where its seeds had germinated in its own cracks and crevices and grew both skyward toward the branches and downward to the ground. There were eight such growths or vines, several wound thick and tight around the original trunk, a couple like ligatures cutting into a living thing, choking the life from its own past. Cleaving too tightly, like a child who's afraid of the world or who loves her parents too much. He read once that the vines eventually strangle the tree to death and hollow its core. He recoiled when he heard a faint flapping sound, as though an animal's tail—an iguana?—was tapping down a nest inside the trunk, and noticed eyes staring at him from the dark cavity.
 He felt as though he were walking through a cemetery. The barely-beige buildings looked like monuments to the memories of those wealthy enough to have purchased a unit in them. It occurred to him that if he were living over his daughter's


garage, he'd at the very least hear her voice every now and then, see her boys playing in the back yard, smell the meals that once identified their family life, maybe his own wife's lasagna or chicken stir-fry or any of a host of meals whose recipes Tessa inherited years before.
 Or, if he were home alone in the New Bedford neighborhood Tess had deemed no longer safe, he'd hear the sounds of that life, see a lingering neighbor who hadn't yet died or moved away, hear the familiar voices and complaints on the local talk radio programs, hear the accent that envelops his memories, when he and his wife were young parents and exhausted and worried and broke and happy.
 
 He was back on Cypress Glen Drive South but couldn't remember whether he should turn left or right onto Cypress Glen Drive West. Half an hour later he was on Cypress Creek Drive North but couldn't recall what came next. He walked for another hour, convinced he was repeating a circular route. Exhausted, he approached a door and knocked. No response. He tried another and another. Dusk settled in, the street lights came on, the fountain in a nearby manmade lake spit its water into the air. Henry felt a chill. He shouted, "Hello?" "Hello?" He screamed, "Help!" "Help!" "Please, help!"

 Quinn A voice from the walkway above called down to him. "Do you need 9-1-1?"
 Twenty-six year old Dubliner Quinn Quigley had been living in Palmetto Groves for six months when she heard Henry's calls for help. He did appear helpless. And scared. She gave him a ride to his unit, which was less than a quarter mile away, walked him inside, got him a glass of water, talked him to a relative calm, and gave him her number with instructions to give her a buzz any time.
 "I don't have a phone," he said.
 
 Two days later she was at his door. "Come on, Henry, let's go for a ride."
 "Now?"


"No, two weeks next Monday. Of course now."
 "Today's not good. I haven't even showered yet."
 "Jesus feckin' Christ, Henry, I'm not taking you for a prostate exam."
 She drove a beat-up Corolla that Henry had trouble lowering himself into and bigger trouble extricating himself from. He was pleased that he had somehow exited the vehicle before she could make it around to his side of the car to yank him out and up into a standing position. Their initial meeting had been embarrassing enough. 
 A line of customers wound its way from the Apple store into the mall's promenade. The room itself, which had to be at least 5,000 or 6,000 square feet, was as crowded as a downtown Boston subway car at rush hour. "What's going on here?" Henry asked.
 "Nothing. This is how it is every day."
 "Why are we here?"
 "We're getting you a phone."
 "I have a phone."
 "You told me you don't."
 "I have one...but it's in the Crapo Hill landfill in New Bedford."
 

 A service specialist met them at the store's entrance, tapped Henry's name into her tablet, asked why he was there, and assured him that a sales associate would be with him momentarily. They were led through the almost solid mass of people, most young and engaged, a few old and adrift.
 There were technical questions Henry couldn't answer, so Quinn did. When he was asked to sign his name on the clerk's tablet, he couldn't locate a stylus nearby.
 "With your finger," the young woman sighed.
 Henry's finger wasn't working. It wouldn't leave its mark.
 "Finger," the clerk growled in a whisper. "Not fingernail."
 
 How was Henry supposed to know to sign a digital screen with his finger and not his fingernail? The fingernail is more "writing-instrument-like," like a bony, fleshy


pencil; the finger resembles more an eraser. That's how he saw it. He left the mall thinking that if an old person wants to feel his age and get a sense of why he's viewed as worthless by those who believe they themselves are not, go to an Apple store.
 Back at his condo, Quinn tutored him on the phone's basics. She left only after being sure he could make a call and answer one, get online to retrieve information, and access the GPS so he wouldn't get lost again.
 
 A week later he put his phone's navigational skills to work and found his way to 1st Street. O'Shea's Irish Pub sat on a desolate patch of real estate around the corner from both busy Atlantic Boulevard and the even busier Federal Highway. On one side of the building was a vacant hair salon that looked like it hadn't been patronized since women wore their hair in beehives; on the other was a storefront whose sign identified it as the New Water Pentecostal Church. Across the street an original Florida house, a short and small cottage, sat alone on the block, sagging and moaning its loneliness.
 When Henry's eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness, Quinn was limping along, holding an oversized bucket of ice that bounced against her thigh. The place was empty except for a guy sitting at a table at the end of the bar, behind a drink, reading the Sun Sentinel. This guy, with his ruddy complexion and reddish hair and what appeared to be a large and distended belly, was the only suggestion that the establishment was in any way connected to Ireland. Except, of course, for Quinn.
 Henry placed the gift he’d brought for her on the bar and thanked her as she approached.
"Why? Because I gave you a lift to the mall?"
 "That too, I guess, but for your kindness. Your humanity." She set a glass of Jameson in front of the old man as she unwrapped the gift. "I'm not sure you kids today even wear necklaces," he said.
 "It's beautiful," she said.
 "I have to agree. I think it's beautiful,” he answered, remembering the day he clasped it around his young wife’s neck.


Two days later, they had lunch at an outdoor cafe on the water. Quinn cleaned houses during the day and had just finished cleaning Henry's. She had two hours free before heading to O'Shea's. Quinn didn't drink; Henry allowed himself a glass of wine. They walked back to the parking lot on the beach, by the waves. She insisted Henry remove his shoes and socks. He guessed it was close to half a century since the soles of his feet absorbed the sun's warmth, since he felt the ground open to accept the weight of each step. He tasted the ocean's salt and remembered the tight grip of Tessa's small hand as she inched hesitantly toward the calling waves, afraid they would take her away. He could feel that hand this afternoon and, through it, the little girl's apprehension. It must have been Horseneck Beach, he concluded. He and Marcy had taken their daughter there to see the sunrise, to show her where her world began each day.
 "So your name is really Quinn Quigley?"
 
 A Father’s Death Daniel Quigley married Mary O'Shea when they were teenagers. The electrician and the store clerk had five babies in as many years. The youngest, Quinn, benefitted from being the only girl and her father's favorite, and by coming of age during the economic boon of the Celtic Tiger, Ireland's growth spurt following billions of dollars of foreign investment. By the time she was ten, her parents had purchased their first home and were pricing a second car. And unlike her brothers, the adolescent Quinn had her own closet, which was full of new clothes. A decade later, the country's financial crisis shattered the Quigley family. When the building surge stopped, her father didn't work; the house was lost, and all three boys left the country in search of work. Eventually, Quinn took her teaching degree to Florida to tend bar and clean houses. Her father's drinking increased and his health declined. And now Daniel Quigley, a man younger than Henry, was dead. "My da has died," is what the text message said.


Except for the Irish guy with the newspaper at the end of the bar, O'Shea's was again empty. Quinn's eyes were puffy and red. She came out from around the bar and they hugged. She cried. Henry remembered embracing Tessa when her grandmother, Marcy's mom, died. He wanted to assure his daughter that everything was okay, that her only living grandma, “Gabba”, was now pain-free and in a better place, that she had been the best grandma in the world and would be with them always. Instead, he remained silent and let the twelve-year-old cry. 
 Henry drank Jameson as Quinn talked about her father. He was often without work, and when he had it he was seldom home. He drank too much but was never violent. He tried his best to protect his family. He sang melancholy songs about loving and fighting and losing and death. He was a storyteller who could make anyone laugh and scare them at the same time. His ghost stories were legendary and, Daniel himself swore, true. He loved his wife and his daughter and sons, and he was loved by them. He was loved fiercely by his daughter. "He was a stereotype, I guess," Quinn said. "But he was a true stereotype."
 "Did your parents ever consider emigrating to the States?"
 "They did, but my da would dismiss it when he was sober. 'It's a fake promise,' he'd say. 'It's only an idea. Only a postcard.’"
 "So he'd entertain the idea of leaving Ireland only when drunk?"
 "Not drunk, really. At some point before drunkenness. It was when he was 'feeling good', not sober and not wasted, that he'd think about it. When he was really drunk, he'd listen to a favorite song of his whose lyrics warned of the problems of emigrating to America."
 "What song is that?"
 "It's called Fairytale of New York."
 "Never heard of it."
 "Most people over here haven't."
 "Where can I find it?"
 "On your phone. I can show you. Or right over there." She glanced at the electronic music system on the wall.


"How does that thing work?"
 "Put your money in and type in the name of a song or an artist on the digital keyboard and it'll come up."
 "It has Fairytale of New York in there?"
 "Not 'in there' exactly, but it can get that and over 400,000 other songs."
 He slipped a five into the bill insert. An alphabet box appeared on the screen. He touched the “F” with his finger tip, being careful to not graze the screen with his nail. Nothing. He tapped it again. And again. He tried another finger and then another. And then his thumb. He rubbed his fingertips against his shirt and tried again. He pressed his finger on the F and kept it there. Nothing. Disregarding the Apple clerk's advice, he gently scratched at the keyboard with the edge of his fingernail. He jumped from one letter to another but the screen wouldn’t respond, his touch wouldn’t register, he was unable to alter the device's energy flow. Or maybe his own. His pulse was undetectable.
 The Irish-looking guy mumbled a few words from a wheelchair by Henry's side.
 "What?" He pointed to the digital keypad and slurred what sounded like, "Problem?"
 “I think so. A technical malfunction, I guess.”
 “Wha sung” the man seemed to ask, in more of a singing voice than a speaking one.
 “Fairytale of New York.”
 "Ah, favor of Quinn's," he sang. Henry looked at the screen as the guy tapped out F-A-I-R-Y-T-A-L-E-O-F-N-E-WY-O-R-K with what appeared to be his one usable arm. Dublin The flight attendant offered them headphones which they declined. Between naps, Henry listened to Quinn's stories.
 "I saw my father last night."


"In a dream?"
 "In my closet."
 "You were dreaming in your closet?"
 "I heard a noise coming from my closet. When I opened the door, my father was there."
 "What kind of noise?"
 "Sort of a slapping noise."
 "Slapping?"
 "He was shining my shoes. Slapping them with an old t-shirt. Back and forth."
 "That sounds odd. Are you sure it wasn't a dream?"
 "No dream. He was there."
 "Why? Why would he be in your closet polishing your shoes rather than, say, talking to you or to your mom?"
 "He always polished his shoes. For hours on end. Shoes were a big deal to my da. He believed well-polished shoes said a lot about a person. He'd tell us how his own father, as a boy, often went without."
 "So he came back from the...from the dead...to work on your shoes?"
 "Mine had become dull and rough. He wanted to make sure they looked good for his memorial service."

The Uber car was waiting for them outside the Dublin airport terminal and took them directly to 432 Linden Street, the home of Quinn's Aunt Darby, and where, according to the text message, Daniel Quigley's body would be "reposing." Quinn introduced Henry to her mother and brothers and various aunts and uncles, after which he stood silently for a few moments before the open casket. Men and women congregated in their separate clusters, with the men drinking whiskey, the women tea. Tired, Henry excused himself early and took a cab to the nearest hotel.
 
 The next day, a local priest adhered to a ban on favorite songs being played and eulogies given, making the Mass itself longer and more formal than it would have been. The gathering formed behind a black hearse for the slow walk to the cemetery,


wet with rain. A prayer was said at the gravesite where the excavated dirt sat in a pile. Large sections of the root system from a tired oak tree nearly a hundred feet away criss-crossed the dirt like marbled fat in a steak. Henry could see the end of an amputated root descending from the grave's interior wall and dangling down its length. He wondered how the gravediggers could be so careless.

Mourners regrouped at the Irishtown Inn, a short walk from St. Patrick's

Cemetery. Looking older than her years, Mary Quigley was a wider, worn version of her daughter. Brothers Daniel and Conor and Niall were tall and awkward in their illfitting funeral suits, each outfit an amalgam of styles and fabrics and colors. 
 Daniel handed Henry a shot of whiskey and toasted Ireland. He said he was trying to make it as a construction worker in Boston, a city that never stopped growing and where there was always an American Irish willing to help. He said he'd been to New Bedford once, with a friend he'd met from Fall River.
 "Moby Dick, right?"
 "Right. Melville. The whales."
 "Gotcha."
 When Henry declined a second shot, Daniel gulped them both. It was clear he was drunk. "I get that Moby Dick was a whale. What I don't get is this: what kind of 'dick' are you?"
 “I hope I’m not any kind.” "Doubtful. I mean you're clearly a pathetic old man hanging out with a beautiful young girl. That's plain fooked."
 "Maybe it looks bad, but I don't mean her any harm. We're really just friends. And neighbors. Friends and neighbors. I'm just a lonely old man and your sister’s being kind."
 "What are you giving her cash for?"
 "I'm not."
 "You paid for her plane ticket, didn't you?"
 "I offered to pay for it. She declined."


"You'd have to be thick as a plank to try anything with her. My brothers and I can get to Florida in three hours, and we will if we hear you're being a fooking eejit with her. Am I clear?"
 “Yes.” Daniel turned and walked to the bar. Henry scanned the room for Quinn. In a corner booth by the window, he saw the constant customer from O'Shea's, his folded wheelchair against the wall. Henry bought a whiskey for the guy, thinking it was a good time to introduce himself. But then he was gone. 
 Conor and Niall introduced Henry to Kate Marsh. She appeared to be in her early seventies and was a retired department store clerk. Most importantly, the brothers seemed to suggest, she was a widow, and one who always dreamed of visiting the United States.
 "'Tis a pleasure meeting you, Henry."
 "And meeting you, too, Kate; if it were only under better circumstances."
 "That's so." Kate tilted her gaze downward. "Now, tell me all about Florida!" Dreams 


 The bar was loud, almost rowdy and soaked with drink, so he headed to the upstairs bed and breakfast where he’d rented a room for his second night in the Irish capital. Small and a bit shabby, its single window looked down onto the street. Rain pattered on the roof; the noise from the bar floated up through the floor. The bed felt like a set of uncovered, uncoiled springs that had given up their mission to firmly support whatever weight they were assigned. Henry immediately fell into a deep sleep.

It was one of the thousands of nights he had shared a bed with Marcy. It was

actually early morning. A Sunday morning. Through the open window he heard a vehicle back out of the neighbor's driveway and, minutes later, pull back in. The engine knocked late as doors slammed shut; Roy Conroy admonished his son Kyle to put the damn donut back in the box. Henry felt his wife's heartbeat through her flesh


and blood, through the back of her ribs, against his heart. Her loose hair grazed his face, tickled his nose, a sensation he remembered from twenty years earlier and twenty years before that and what felt like a thousand years before that. His forearm rested on her waist, at the end of the steep drop from her hip; his hand held hers, his palm on the back of hers. He dreamt he was alive. How could he have come to take that experience for granted? How could he have assumed that it would always last?
 He heard Marcy whisper “Please,” and he thrust forward slightly to confirm his desire. He waited for a response, an acknowledgement, a pushback. An invitation. His intent was misunderstood and overlooked, ignored. Or it was understood exactly? Or his pulse was simply undetected. She murmured “Please” again, in the voice she had when they met, before age lowered its pitch and reduced its volume. Before cancer made it tremble. Once again, doors slammed shut, the Oldsmobile's engine groaned and finally turned over, and the Conroys were off to church.
 On the flight home Henry asked Quinn about the guy from the end of the bar. 
 "That's John, the owner. Uncle John."
 "He's your actual uncle?"
 "Yep, my mother's brother."
 "What happened to him?"
 "You mean the wheelchair?"
Henry nodded.
 "He was beaten in a fight. Bad. He almost died. Lost the use of his legs and one arm, pretty much, and a small part of his brain."
 "How old was he?"
 Quinn thought about it. "I can't say exactly. I was five or six when it happened, so it was nearly twenty years ago."
 "Who did it?"
 "No one was ever identified. Uncle John has never been able to recall a thing from that night."


And Dreams Back in the Groves, Henry slept the entire day. His dreams were more real than his life had become. He and his dead brother Frankie were children again, terrified and laughing as they ran from a pack of attacking squirrels. He saw his father, his open hand extended, waiting for, hoping that, his son would accept a silent, painful, and overdue apology. His mother, sitting at the kitchen table holding her rosary, reassuring him that everything would be okay. Tess and Quinn stood together in the distance, waiting. Henry called to them, but his voice wouldn't carry. When he approached, they disappeared and were replaced with a banyan tree. Henry was sipping on a beer when he said he wanted to visit his hometown. "Sounds like a great idea," Quinn said.
 "And I'd like you to come with me."
 "Not so great an idea."
 "We'll fly up there together, you go to your brother's in Boston immediately, return to New Bedford the next day, I'll show you my hometown, and we'll fly back to Florida that night."
 "It sounds complicated."
 "It's simple."
 "My savings are sort of depleted."
 "I'll pay."

 Home Again Henry was waiting when the Boston Express pulled into the New Bedford bus terminal. The car rental place had a limited inventory and had run out of the kind of mid-size sedan he ordered, as well as everything else, except for their only two highend vehicles, a sleek Corvette and a gigantic Escalade. Entering and exiting the lowprofile sports car was out of the question.


Quinn congratulated Henry on having "a bitchin', pimped-out ride."
 "What?"
 "It's just a phrase, an obsolete expression."
 The first stop was 456 Maple Street, the old Kraft homestead. Henry knocked on the front door and asked the new owner if he could show his former home to his friend. Everything had changed. The downstairs walls had been removed, leaving a huge, exposed kitchen. Upstairs, Tess's room had become a bathroom and closet. The basement workshop where Henry had made his daughter's cradle and hobbyhorse and hope chest was now a media room. Tessa's childhood swing, which Henry had taken down and put back up year after year, even after she married, wrongly anticipating that her children would use it, was gone, as was the tree from which it had hung. He found it difficult to breathe, a struggle not to cry.
 As they were exiting the Escalade at the fishing docks, four young teenage boys walked by.
"Gold digger," one of them muttered. "It's called a whore," said another. He pronounced the word as though it had two syllables. "Who-ah."
 "I'm sorry," Henry said to Quinn.

 The next stop was Westport Point where the weathered clapboard cottages huddled around the wharf as hand-built lobster boats bobbed in rhythmic waves. In the marsh-filtered breezes, they ate chowder and lobster rolls on the deck of Marguerite's, as Henry gave a history of his extended family. He talked about his parents and two deceased brothers, his wife and daughter, Catholic elementary school and Vietnam, love and loss. They walked along the rocky beach, braced against the wind rolling in with the tide. They stopped at the base of the jetty on which Henry had proposed to Marcy, and by mid-evening, they were on their flight back to Palmetto Groves.


The Banyan Tree He didn't hear from Quinn the following day or the one after that. On his third day home he took his first solo walk through the grounds since getting lost. When he was getting his sneakers from the closet, his best shoes caught the bedroom's afternoon light and glistened for a moment. Outside, the landscape was still a master's painting, and was as vivid as his dreams had been. The colors stirred a sense of passion and joy, calm and excitement. From a wooden walking bridge he saw hundreds of short spurts of water leaping into the air from the centers of rippling circles, and he wondered how that could possibly be, not realizing it was raining. By the time he reached the banyan tree, he was drenched. He ran his hand along its bark, followed its long, visible roots with his eyes, exhaled a deep breath, and softly asked, "What's up?" "I have a favor to ask," a voice said in an Irish accent.
 "What's that?"
 "I didn't have the opportunity to say goodbye to my daughter before I left. I want you to give her a message."
 "Why me?"
 "Because she trusts you. And because she knows you're a skeptic. She's more likely to believe what you say."
 "She would believe her mother."
 "True, but I can communicate with you more directly."
 "Why's that?"
 "We have a language, you and me, that most don't share."
 "We're both fathers?"
 "No, no. It's that...I'm in one world and Mary and Quinn and the boys are in... another."
 "And...?"
 "And you're in between."
 "You mean I'm -"


"I do...you're dying."
 "When?"
 "Soon."
 "How soon?"
 "Soon enough that you can hear my voice. The fully living can't."
 Henry felt dizzy but serene. He was touching and talking to a tree, in a rainstorm, but it felt normal and good. "But - "
 "You do have enough time left to give her this message. Will you?”
 There was a pause. "Okay."
 "Tell her I'm sorry. Tell her I didn't know it was happening until it was too late. Tell her I made sure it stopped and wouldn't happen again, to her or anyone else. I ruined a man’s life, put him in a wheelchair and am paying the penance, but that doesn’t undo anything. Tell her I wish I had been more protective, that I had been a better guardian, a good father. She was a little girl, an innocent kid, and I trusted the people around her too much. Tell her I love her still. Be sure to tell her that.” "I'll pass the message along. In turn, I have a favor to ask you."
 "What is it?"
 "Will you arrange for me to talk to my wife?"
 "I would if I could, but I can't. People like me are in a waiting room of sorts. We didn't make it into the Big Leagues, so to speak. We each did something wrong, very wrong, in our lives and are stuck in this ill-defined netherworld, neither here nor there. We can communicate among ourselves and with the near-dead, but not with the fully living or the saved."
 "You're stuck there forever?"
 "Maybe, maybe not. If we can make right a sufficient number of our wrongs, we might someday make it to a higher place."
 "How can you make the mistakes right?"

"Through people like you. By convincing people like you to help us find forgiveness.”


The next day, Henry and Quinn sat at his kitchen counter drinking coffee.
 "I'm glad you came by, Quinn."
 "No problem."
 "I've missed you."
 "I'm sorry."
 "Sorry?"
 "I've known you were lonely, and I've wanted to drop by, but...my brothers have been on me to...my mother, too...they've been encouraging me to...to spend my time with people...people my own age. I told Daniel the truth, that I had flown up with you, and that you had paid my way. He's pissed."
 "That's understandable. I'd be pissed, too, if Tess were in your situation."
 "They're only trying to be helpful, protective. It's not about you, it's -"
 "I understand." Henry sipped his coffee and continued. He wasn't sure how to begin talking about so unreal an event, so he just did. "I've talked to your father."
 "Where?" Quinn asked without a hint of surprise.
 "A banyan tree down the road. He asked me to relay a message to you."
 "What message?"
 "He said he was sorry for failing to protect you when you were young but that he didn't know until it was too late. When he found out, he did something about it. Still, he's sorry. And he loves you very much."
 Quinn slumped into the counter and sobbed. Henry wanted to hold her, but didn't. When she finally caught her breath, she asked, "Is he okay?"
 "Yes."

Return to the Whaling City Henry's call to Tess was sent to voicemail. "Hi, Tessa. I know you must be busy. I'll call back later." His second call went to voicemail. "Hi, Tess. This is your dad. Can you give me a buzz when you get the chance? Thanks."


He tried again that evening. "I hope I'm not bugging you, Tess. I'll call again in the morning." He called early the next morning, thinking he'd catch her before her busy workday began. "It's Dad, again, Tess. I'm calling to ask if I can come by for a short visit later this week. Just to say hello, see the boys. I know it's short notice, but it'd be nice to see you all again."
 When he woke from his nap, there was a voice message waiting. "Hi Dad, It's so nice to hear your voice. It sounds like that beautiful Florida weather is agreeing with you. We'd love to have you visit, and we don't want it to be short. But this week is tough. Carlos and I are going to Aruba for our anniversary. Can you believe it's been ten years? And Michael and David are spending their vacation week with friends on a ski outing. I'm sending a video of Michael skiing Sunapee last Christmas. You won't believe how skilled he is." A long silence. "Thanks for calling, Dad. I'll get in touch as soon as we get back."
 Henry considered how his life had been cleaved from his existence; how his existence rendered his heart.


 Two days later Quinn asked the Groves property management team to check in on Henry. They sent a maintenance man who found a list of instructions on his nightstand that was identical to one he had sent to his long-time New Bedford lawyer. His body was cremated, his ashes sent home. Tess and Quinn were invited to his attorney's office for a reading of his will. Quinn was sent a round-trip plane ticket, Tess was offered a car and driver. 
 The conference room at Littman, Kaplan, and Mello was lined with windows offering a view of New Bedford harbor. They looked down on brick buildings and cobblestone streets and clapboard houses dating back to the late 1700s; down onto the brave houses of the whaling captains, with their wide porches and colorful gardens; and onto a string of fishing boats, hugging each other as they dangled from the edge of ancient gray docks like consequential charms from the bracelet on an old woman's forearm.


When Kenneth Littman entered the room, Tess and Carlos and Michael and David were sitting on one side of the table, Quinn on the other. "Good morning, everyone. I'm Ken Littman." He made his way around the table, shaking hands and learning names. "If you guys don't mind, let's move to the other end of the room. It may be a bit less formal." Littman had arranged chairs in a circle by his desk. "First, I want to extend my condolences. Henry was a client of mine for years and while we weren't friends, I always found him to be a caring, honest man."
 He read the will. "To my daughter Tess, I want you to know how proud of you your mother and I have always been. Your intelligence and focus and drive were apparent from birth. We marveled at your independence and were comforted knowing it would serve you well in today's world. And it has. "We are also grateful to you for the meaning your existence has lent our lives and marriage. The first eighteen years of your life were the best eighteen of ours. The time we had together was the best of times. Our holidays, vacations, evenings, weekend mornings, Sundays, all of our days, all of them, were special because you were there. Your mother and I cherished them and we kept them, in our hearts and minds, in our marriage, and in a thousand physical artifacts containing those memories: photographs and notes and drawings, many of which are in unit 26 B in the UStore on Acushnet Avenue. My hope is that they one day help to fill your life, and possibly, to some small extent, that of Michael and David, as they have your mother's and mine." Littman stood, took a few steps toward Tess and handed her a key. He continued reading. "To Ms. Quinn Quigley, I ask a favor, and that is to scatter my ashes in Horseneck harbor, at dawn, tomorrow, the anniversary of my marriage to my loving wife, Marcy."
 Littman stood and handed Quinn an urn. "Are you okay with this?" She was crying as she nodded. He continued.


"Also to Quinn, the young woman who helped a lonely old man find his way, I leave the balance of my physical and financial assets." Tess and Carlos gasped. Michael asked, "What?" David smiled.

"I hope I've

given you each what you most need." Littman placed the will on his desk.
 "Any questions?"





 John Hearn John Hearn’s work appears in Epoch, The Tulane Review, River Styx, and others. In 2011, he coauthored Shade It Black: Death and After in Iraq.


Layers

W Jack Savage


An Ode to Truffle Shuffle and Tong Po The blood oranges are on fire in the Djibouti sands, two cigarettes and freedumb with a side of glazed figs and restitution, the lion without a heart a concrete laden fighting man and eating hotdogs on my TV Saturday night on the late Eastern Time Zone shift, lower the bucket into the depths of despair for vintage pennies and children’s bicycles, my life as a Russian gulag with one eye closed holding candles and dynamite designer 80’s wardrobes metallic smiles and don’t move you subhumans, four quarters equal three dollars in Oregon abandon the toupees like unwanted children. rivers of deception and WD-40 hey you guys


where did I leave my heroin and that corporate pizza from last Tuesday, Pepsi is never truly free sell your soul to Peruvian maids sweep the dead skin cells inside of bankrupt museums suspenders that don’t choke and swords that never kill a sloth’s love in extremely slow motion, a fifty dollar bill erodes under quicksand barbed wire door handles my name is all over it funny farms and paternity tests, a bald man chased me so I ran so far away with a Flock of Seagulls my future is in Los Angeles arriving LAX a caged and pissed off baboon that needs a slight trim, Attila the Hun Nietzsche and Superman all need an inauthentic hug. Brett Stout Brett Stout is a writer, artist, paramedic and former construction worker in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He has published two hybrid-genre novels, Lab Rat Manifesto and Baking Cookies with Whores.


Camelot My father is the reigning king, His reason gripped like Excalibur, The stunning queen who gave meaning To his play, creativity. Our soldiers stood to storm his keep And keep our own from other hands, But dad’s pawns cut my vanguard down And built a wall I couldn’t breach, His knights would leap the checkered field Until my glorious ranks all fell, A moldering ditch. It didn’t matter much, My age or his, he spoiled my siege And shot my dream, for there are some things A man or king will refuse to lose. Jared Pearce Jared Pearce's work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Pirene's Fountain, Rosebud, Review Americana, and others. His debut collection, The Annotated Murder of One, is due this year.


Shiny Brite I ache for Mid-Century Modern kitsch, longing for atomic gloss, space needle sheen of aluminum trees hung with Shiny Brite orbs. Trademark of our duck and cover days is now an innocent cloud of mushrooming dust in the attic, a crumbling cardboard box of radiance never meant to last. Janice Northerns Janice Northerns lives in southwest Kansas, where she teaches at a community college. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Laurel Review, The Chariton Review, Roanoke Review, and elsewhere.


Winter Moon

Jeffrey DeCristofaro


Mother-Daughter Dresses I refused to buy them when she was a toddler— the lace-trimmed polished cottons and matching taffetas. But now we slip in and out of one another’s closets, taking all we can. She finds me listening to her music but forgives me, for it’s Nirvana, and this night Kurt Cobain is dead. She settles beside me and we whisper a eulogy to “Heart-shaped Box” and “Come as You Are.” I describe how her dad and I did this, turned the lights down, played music making words more than flesh, the night we heard about John Lennon. We sing around the real worry — the iconography shading her remaining days — her father, last spring, at church front in his shimmering blue coffin, heavy American flag from a Viet Nam tour draped across his best brown tweed. The flag, folded into a perfect trinity, filled her hands, but still she clutched the rough lapels of her daddy’s jacket. Tonight, she says I’m sloshing gin and tonic on the carpet, so I go to bed, leaving her to the silent six hundred seconds ending Cobain’s “Nevermind,” straining for secret tracks. I’m afraid she knows she won’t find them. Friends bear mascara smudges like ashes, as if they’ve lost a lover or a god, but for her it’s only another prop pulled, just as mine fall away when I open the liquor cabinet to find she’s watered the vodka one more time. At sixteen, this daughter looks nothing like me, yet every day she edges closer to the fit. Dresses slip over our shoulders, come floating down. Janice Northerns


Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine issue #9 fall/winter 2018

staff

Susan Coyle

fiction, non-fiction (editor)

Larry Hamilton

non-fiction

John Himmelheber

poetry, editor

Gail Hipkins

fiction

Jim Neuner

artist, art & photography (editor)

Pete Solet

poetry

Bruce Spang

poetry, fiction (editor)

Steve Wechselblatt

non-fiction