Eugenia Loli originated in the technology sector, but she left that impersonal world behind in order to build new, exciting worlds via her art. Her collages, with the help of the title, often include a teasing, visual narrative, as if they’re a still frame of a surreal movie. The viewers are invited to make up the movie’s plot in their mind. Cover Art – “Ωmega-3”
A New Poetry Book by Anil CS RAO - Forthcoming from CYBERWIT
“Three Minutes to Nirvana” by Eugenia Loli
â€œAtlantic City Elegyâ€? by Marcie Ruderman
Jazzed up Trumpets screech In the summer glitz of night Red-eye flights of madness Fly me Hit me Twice I lose Undone Un-strung Out And down The silent streets of shame To look for salvation Where humans are cloaked In dirty doorways Colt 45's coursing Through their needled veins Singing spirituals in popping ears Some songs die on insane breath Rage and madness Bruised Bombed Buried Waves of promise Washed ashore To rot In blues
Marcie Ruderman while teaching English at Kingsborough Community College, (a division of the City University of New York), her essay entitled "For Whom the Bell Tolls" won first prize in Brooklyn Bridge Magazine. Shortly thereafter, her essay entitled "Abigail" was published in Golden Retriever World Magazine. Her short story, "Ode to Joy", was recently accepted for publication in Midstream Magazine, and will appear in its next issue. Currently, she is working on several new short stories and poems. She has lived in New Jersey for the past several years, and tries to take advantage of its resources, in particular the Jersey shore.
“Person of Interest” by Eugenia Loli
“Cyberian Gulag Archipelago” by George Djuric “It is no more according to Plato than according to me, since he and I understand and see it the same way. The bees plunder the flowers here and there, but afterward they make of them honey, which is all theirs; it is no longer thyme or marjoram. Even so with the pieces borrowed from others; he will transform and blend them to make a work of his own. His education, work, and study aim only at forming this.” Michel de Montaigne
he human race, in short, has had no important thought which it has not written in stone. And why? Because every thought, either philosophical or religious, is interested in perpetuating itself; because the idea which has moved one generation wishes to move others also, and leave a trace. Now, what a precarious immortality is that of the manuscript! How much more solid, durable, unyielding, is a book of stone! In order to destroy the written word, a torch and a Turk are sufficient. To demolish the constructed word, a social revolution, a terrestrial revolution are required. The barbarians passed over the Coliseum; the deluge, perhaps, passed over the Pyramids. In the fifteenth century everything changes. Human thought discovers a mode of perpetuating itself, not only more durable and more resisting than architecture, but still more simple and easy. Architecture is dethroned. Gutenberg's letters of lead are about to supersede Orpheus' letters of stone. The invention of printing is the greatest event in history. In its printed form, thought is more imperishable than ever; it is volatile, irresistible, indestructible. It is mingled with the air. Until recently, when thought entered the parallel world of cyber. Initially, nothing seemed much different; pages just sped up flying around for quick convenience. This time, though, they were launched from sites, not books or manuscripts. Since dusters barely altered, what took it on the chin were internals. Holding a kangaroo court in their imaginary nation, to an industry that has read its own obituaries countless times, tribesmen of the new order went for the coup de grâce, their lances high in the vacuum. Before my outdated brain could comprehend this paradigm shift, mediocrity went viral and airborne: people are gathering around quippy bonfires, as dusk turns into darkness and temperatures drop, and human body seeks human warmth. Although Livy describes it as being tunneled out beneath Rome, he was writing centuries after the event. From other writings and from the path it takes, it seems more likely that Cloaca Maxima was originally an open drain, formed from streams from three of the neighboring hills, channeled through the main Forum and then on to the Tiber. The system then remained with not much progress until the 16th century, where in England, Sir John Harington invented a device for Queen Elizabeth (his godmother) that released waste into cesspools. However, many cities had no sewers and relied on nearby rivers or occasional rain to wash away sewage. In some, waste water simply ran down the streets, which had stepping stones to keep pedestrians out of the muck, and eventually drained as runoff into the local watershed. This was enough in early cities with few occupants, but their growth quickly over polluted streets and became a
constant source of disease. Growing up, I had to use an outer house. In order to get to it, I'd walk through the front yard, commercial yard, and a part of the garden. My roundtrips became an exercise in free thought, which for the naive reason of my youth I envisioned as a barely populated snow-capped mountain peak. Not to mention my imagination being unable to stretch beyond an old medieval craft typical of Central Europe. It is remarkable that the craft has survived, and you can still buy red leceder hearts, honey cookies, necklaces with a cross, little crucifixes and other ornaments – all made of dough. Sitting above the round hole cut out of thick wood board and polished to perfection by bare bottoms of my ancestors - which for some funny reason reminded me of a misplaced halo, an indispensable content of any sanctity - I couldn't even grasp the concept of sewage: all I knew was that crap stays where crap drops, petrified like eulogy and unable to spread thin by motion. Those were 'one shot but you better make it good' days, and I miss their substance, the gravitas of every drop I made. Come to think of it, what if the gravity itself was more forceful back then, before wearing itself out by entropy and caving in to speed. One day, while cautiously climbing weathered wooden stairs leading to the attic - an oversized boy with a large, heavy head - I slipped and fell like a tombstone, landing straight on my crown. As soon as I hit the ground fear-frozen - after a brief vision of starry universe followed by session of weeping and whining - what shook me even harder was the sudden insight how quickly speed could evaporate, how deceiving and fragile is its beauty: nymphs' song to willing ears of wasted sailors. 'When I invented chaotic inflation theory, I found that the only thing you needed to get a universe like ours started is a hundred-thousandth of a gram of matter,' Andrei Linde told me in his Russian-accented English when I reached him by phone at Stanford. 'That's enough to create a small chunk of vacuum that blows up into the billions and billions of galaxies we see around us. It looks like cheating, but that's how the inflation theory works — all the matter in the universe gets created from the negative energy of the gravitational field. So, what's to stop us from creating a universe in a lab? We would be like gods!' In response, I offered him my thesis that gods must be crazy, since we already invented our cyber universe out of a single milligram of antithought. Flipping this rusty bronze coin into a shiny banknote, 'Ten Thousand Cents' is a digital artwork that creates a representation of a $100 bill. Using a custom drawing tool, thousands of individuals working in isolation from one another painted a tiny part of the bill without knowledge of the overall task. Workers were paid one cent each via Amazon's Mechanical Turk distributed labor tool. The total labor cost to create the bill, the artwork being created, and the reproductions available for purchase (to charity) are all $100. The work is presented as a video piece with all 10,000 parts being drawn simultaneously. The project explores the circumstances we live in, a new and uncharted combination of digital labor markets, 'crowd sourcing,' 'virtual economies,' and digital reproduction. In his book '7000 days in Siberia', Karlo Štajner - Tito's komrad since Moscow days in the thirties, when singing L' Internationale had the same cheerful effect as a six-pack of Löwenbräu today, and Babel was given a villa in the writers' colony of Peredelkino - who spent 20 years in Soviet gulags between 1936 and 1956, has described Soviet concentration camps as a nightmare even the greatest writer could not portray (sic!). He said Solzhenitsyn had not experienced even a
part of what he, Štajner, had in the Soviet gulags. 'Aleksandr Isayevich was not sent to the distant, cold areas but was imprisoned in camps near Moscow, in the so-called Yellow Home, a camp for internet intellectuals (oops, a typo: interned). Of course, the prisoners there also suffered, they did not enjoy their stay there, but their sufferings cannot be compared with those we experienced in the far north, under inhuman climatic conditions... I mention these examples in connection with Solzhenitsyn because Soviet citizens were not able to notice the changes that had taken place (after World War II), but I noticed them.' But upon reflection, knowing the new theory of fundamental nature of the universe is just learning more physics. And while intriguing, this is not like proving scepticism to be true. David Chalmers contends that there is still a 'physical world' which we interact with; what is different, its fundamental physics is not strings and particles, but bits. Furthermore, learning that there is a creator outside of space and time who allowed our minds to interact with physical world, while obviously of great metaphysical and personal import, it is akin to learning that a particular religious view holds. This would be an earth shattering revelation, but it doesn't mean we are not situated in the external world we believe we're in.*
My only comment to the above story is not mine. It belongs to a Dutch genius who happened to be an artist. Berndnaut Smilde creates clouds using a smoke machine, combined with indoor moisture and dramatic lighting to create an indoor cloud effect and take surreal shots worth Dali.
George Djuric is a former rally racing champion, master chess player, taxi driver, street fighter, student of anti-psychiatry and philosophy, broker with Morgan Stanley… and a writer all the way. He published a critically acclaimed collection of short stories that altered Yugoslav literary scene – ‘The Metaphysical Stories’ - was dubbed Borges of the Balkans as well as reborn Babel. Djuric infiltrates flashes from his vivid past into fictional alchemy for the salient taste of the 21st century. He lives near Palm Springs, CA. His stories were published in Hobart (Print), Serving House: a Journal of Literary Arts (April and October 2013), Fresh Literary Magazine’s Printed Anthology, Los Angeles Review, Grey Sparrow Journal, Independent Ink Magazine, The Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, The Fat City Review, In Other Words: Merida Literary Magazine (Mexico), Busk Journal, TheNewerYork’s Electric Encyclopedia of Experimental Literature, BareBack Magazine, Anastomoo (Tasmania), Commonline Journal, Gloom Cupboard, Extracts, BRICKrhetoricDanse Macabre, and Moral Relativism Magazine.
“Amphitrite” by Eugenia Loli
“Charon in the Third Millennium” by Colin Dodds The bridge across the Verrazano Narrows takes into account the curve of the earth. An endless succession of rivets murmurs the nervousness of its blue arcs. Born of a peculiar chaos into sunlight, starlight and headlights, the thrust of creation aches within you. A pause in the traffic lays bare the high hiss that taught the word Silence —the sound of a whole universe rushing through such a narrow, nervous channel. It’s that rare, clear day. The land of the dead is only as far as Jersey City. And heaven as near as Staten Island. There’s a fort beneath the bridge, whose guns were obsolete they were finished. But the river is cold and may be deadly. And you can not cross the bridge on foot.
“Aphrodite in the Third Millennium” The discarded daughters of the American empire do the magic tricks that suck the magic from the world Pornography flickering on the screen tells its truth about a furtive nation of prodigal sons and wayward women Hoarding images and scorning daylight tending to an ongoing personal dilapidation like a garden of mild nightmares, inside a billion-dollar decay
The land, crowded with second-hand heavens and hells, catches fire with half-informed desire Ejaculating into the rubble, it’s a joke to try to justify how you feel
“Clotho in the Third Millennium” From the cactus to the murderer from the iron mine to the poet watching tv we all inhabit a single yearning. On tv, the successful man shouts commands to the satellites, until, satisfied, he can only squirm when our bewildering reward reveals that the story was never exactly about us. Quietly, the temple is destroyed again, the mechanism of the heavens scattered on the wind that bears the airplanes. Prometheus paid off and handsomely retired. And the train starts again, rushing us past one discarded version of the future after another— this one called Queens, called Nassau, then Suffolk County. And we are horny for the future. To never know what happens next is the point of life— both its defining characteristic and the main reason to stick around.
Colin Dodds grew up in Massachusetts and completed his education in New York City. He’s the author of several novels, including The Last Bad Job, which the late Norman Mailer touted as showing “something that very few writers have; a species of inner talent that owes very little to other people.” Dodds’ screenplay, Refreshment – A Tragedy, was named a semi-finalist in 2010 American Zoetrope Contest. His poetry has appeared in more than eighty publications, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife Samantha.
“Faboosh, Part II” by Eugenia Loli
“Of Earth and Wood” by Adrienne Anifant
he backs of my thighs stuck to the leather seats as we drove home from the Batman movie at the old Roosevelt drive-in, the thick balmy air of a July night pressing down upon me. For some reprieve, I leaned my head out the window to feel the wind. The wide country sky was full of stars. My imagination was suffused with images and legends of bat-people--evanescent souls of the dead unable to find peace or the rebellious daughters of Minyas turned into bats as punishment. “I don’t think Mary is here,” my mother said, suppressing a rising panic. We drove up our driveway through the long corridor of trees. My father ignored her as he tried to aim the car into the garage, going forward two feet then backing up four. It sometimes took ten minutes. “I’m getting out,” my mother said. Before he finished his maneuverings, my mother rushed to the front door, opened it, let it swing widely, ricocheting off the wall. “Mary, are you here?” My parakeet regarded us with grave, black eyes through the bars of his cage. It was odd that my mother was anxious: Mary was rarely home this early. The smells of Patchouli and Mary’s body still lingered in her room. Clothes that were usually on the floor, quilted into a second carpet, were gone. There were no longer the familiar edges of things in her room: the stereo, stacks of books, the porcelain doll who stood like a sentient corpse. The bare corners of her desk and bureau jutted nakedly out of the dark. Her bed was stripped except for a heavy bedspread my grandmother had crocheted. My mother turned on the light. A tight band of pressure squeezed my head and heart. Mary was gone. My sister had left me. My mother made a high-pitched trill, her eyes squeezed shut, her fists curled in distress. She held her arms out—for me? I didn’t think so, but I went to her anyway. She grabbed me in a hard hug, heaving harsh and deep. My parents launched into their usual screaming, imbued with blame and insults: their only means to comfort one another. I snuck into my room, checked Mary’s stash of hidden supplies. All the toilet paper, Q-tips, Tylenol, canned soup and granola bars were gone. She was planning her escape for months, but it never seemed real. But, now it had happened. I saw the note written on an index card left on my pillow. Mary’s script, waves of rolling letters all slanting dramatically to the left. “Dear E., I’m so sorry. But you know I had to go. I’ll write to you very soon. Love always, Mary.” “I stared at the card in my hand. Her words entered me, hurt me.” I was careful not to let my tears smudge the ink. It was all I had, so I hid it from them. That night my mother and I slept side by side in my bed. She woke up every few hours keening like women at ancient Irish wakes and funerals. My father sat all night in the den with
the TV on, his face a brooding mask of threat and fury until he fell asleep. Then his angry contortions gave way to sadness buried deep between his brows and in the crevices around his eyes. ************ The sound of the doorbell pulled me out of my daytime TV torpor. I went up the stairs like a wounded gazelle, my legs cramped from sitting all day. I felt the blood rush back into them as I fumbled up the stairs. My parents were at work, so every day during the summer, I was home alone trying to contend with our maze of rooms, each imbued with a foreboding resonance of anger. As I approached the front door, I heard a voice. I stopped in confusion. It was my sister’s. It seemed I were listening through a conch shell; rolling her voice around in its salmoncolored basin. I straightened the mat with my toes, my hand on the doorknob. It couldn’t be her. After all this time. So many days I lay on her rug looking around her empty room, trying to breathe in the last of her smell. So many days I waited for her letter—the one she said she would send. I tried to draw comfort from the few desultory items she didn’t take, ugly stuffed animals and cheap knick-knacks. Every day after Mary ran away I took the index card out from under my mattress, reading it over and over, imagining her thumb and fingers guiding the pen to fashion the elaborate sweeps and curls of her cursive. Then I felt Mary was near to me again. After all, I was her sidekick, her Sundance Kid, the one who loved her most. Surely she had not forgotten me. The doorbell rang three, four more times followed by an abrupt staccato knock. I didn’t know what to do; my parents said she could never come in this house again. They would kill me. But she was my sister, after all. I hadn’t seen her in a year. “Helloo, are you in there--it’s only me,” she said. I pulled open the heavy, oak door, my palms catching on the rough edges. It was early summer and the rain showers had just stopped, the air was cool and exhilarating with the fecund smell of rot and new life. Mary stood outside the screen door with a Rottweiler restrained between her legs. She wore her old leather jacket over a Sid and Nancy t-shirt, black cotton pants tucked into Doc Martins. Her shaved head was smooth, chocolate colored velvet, coated with a light patina of rain. The two looked like wood nymphs against the lush emerald back drop of vine covered oak trees. Soaked leaves hung like heavy lids as the storm’s last drops fell from the sky and smacked their bent backs. She smiled at me like we were kids again, running through the sprinkler, our faces pressed together for a picture. I pulled open the screen door and held out my hands to her dog. He stood on his hind legs and boxed the air, trying to lick my hands. Mary unhooked her dog’s leash, his massive shoulders pushing me aside. “This is Milo,” Mary said. Our father hated dogs. So, I watched with fierce joy and dread the contours of Milo’s muscles swell under his black, shiny fur as he disappeared up our staircase. Mary hugged me the way she always did, pushing my head to her squishy breasts and kissing my forehead. I stood for a moment with the cool wetness on my brow, uncomfortable, feeling too old for that and at the same time feeling embarrassed for growing up. I slouched in shame so my emerging cone-shaped breasts weren’t too obvious.
Mary brushed past me like she had just been out for a walk. She wasn’t supposed to be in the house or even alone with me. We weren’t allowed to talk on the phone. I couldn’t let her know I cared what they thought as I surreptitiously glanced down the hallway trying to look for Milo without Mary noticing. “So, do they just leave you alone like this?” “They’re at work.” I was shocked by my defensive tone. Angry. She had left me too. “Assholes,” She looked around the house assaying what was out of place or new. She inspected porcelain figurines, read the spines of books, and the titles of magazines. She opened doors to cabinets and the refrigerator. “When will they be back?” “Around six,” I shouted, resetting figurines and straightening the books. She moved out of view; I strained to see where she had gone. The grooves of her steel tipped boots had tracked in bits of grass and earth. I calculated how long it would take to vacuum before they returned. She emerged from my father’s den, stuffing something into her pocket. She glanced down the hallway, where we used to play cave. Mary would shut all the doors making the hall dark, then lay out sleeping bags, blankets and food. Now we stood facing one another in the living room. We didn’t sit down. My father had draped antiseptic white towels over every chair so our sweat wouldn’t stain the fabric. “I’ve missed you,” said Mary, holding me tightly, her pain and passion crushing me. “Let’s leave.” She pushed hair out of my face. I pulled away. “With you? For good?” “Yeah. Why? Don’t you want to?” Horrified, I gazed at her. Of course, I had imagined it a hundred times. But where would we go, what would we do? What would they say? “OK, OK, let’s start with a drive. To the mountains—to Awasting Falls.” She laughed, bringing her fingers to my throat. They were cracked and scarred from eczema. Mary rolled the silver dragon’s claw I wore around my neck between her fingers. She had yanked it off me years before, and when I said I wanted it back she had thrown it at me screaming she hoped it brought me bad luck. If they found out I went with her, even for a drive, the screaming would last for days. But I wanted to go with her, to get out of this house. She wanted to hang out, to take me somewhere. I was usually just the little kid lying awake, blinking at the distorted shapes my room formed in the dark as I heard her heavy step on the landing, my father and Mary spitting words at one another, then the weary sound of her hauling her body up the stairs, clomping down the hallway. The springs in her old mattress squeaked as they caught her tired, falling weight. I pulled the strap on my sandal through the buckle as I rolled my thumb over the worn leather, until I hooked the eye. How could I not go—she had come to get me? We walked down the driveway, Mary’s boots pounding fallen leaves into the blacktop, Milo prancing at our heels, his ears twitching. I looked up at the canopy of boughs; the sunlight
falling like milky ribbons through the lace-like leaves. Mary’s car was a Cutlass Supreme with rusted trim siding. The driver’s door couldn’t open so she climbed in through the passenger’s side. Plastic bags full of clothes, food, pillows, blankets and her old sleeping bag were in the back seat. I climbed in. “Whose car is this?” I asked, monitoring her reaction. “Aah, a friend’s.” Her eyes looked away. Milo leaned his weight against me. I could feel him breathing. We sped down Netherwood Road, our neighborhood flying by, like film on a malfunctioning projector. The car smelled like an ashram. Patchouli emanated from the upholstery radiating like heat from the desert floor. “Mary where are you living? Not here—not in the car?” She stared out the window, tense and annoyed. “I just got an apartment,” said Mary. Her deadpan tone chided me. I felt afraid and undervalued in the clear presence of her lies. I was excluded from her new life. I was angry with her for having it, for not allowing me to know all of her. As I watched my sister who once snuggled up to me under her Star Wars sheets, I resented her for supplanting the hours, days and years we had spent discovering life as kids. Why did she need to change and want other things? I looked out the window as we crossed the Mid-Hudson Bridge. Steel cables were suspended towards the vertical towers like silver sinews. The cobalt blue river stretched to Kingston and Saugerties, the Adirondacks and Lake Tear of the Clouds. Downriver the Hudson bowed around the haunch of a mountain before disappearing in the summer haze. We followed the road towards the Minnewaska mountains. “Wee’rree heere,” Mary said in a singsong melody. As Mary parked along the road, I peered down the mountainside thick with rhododendron, green brier, and evergreens. We walked into the forest, jumping over mud patches, avoiding certain flowers and plants while crushing others. Over the top of a ridge, a braided river ran over white quartz and greywacke shale like a silver band bending and folding white light. We ran and slid down the hill by the side of the waterfall. Milo leaped into the water, submerging and splashing, like a mythical, subaquatic creature. “I’m going in,” I said. When I stepped in, the icy water traveled up my legs like new blood, new life. My core went numb when the glacial cold hit my upper thighs. “Oh my God, you really went in, is it cold?” Mary stuck her toes in and wrinkled her nose. I dove in with my clothes on and opened my eyes underwater to see the seams of burnt orange and white in the quartz rock. When I surfaced, I sat under the waterfall letting the water cloak my back and shoulders like a luminous shawl. Mary laughed and said she couldn’t believe me. “Am I going to have to come in there and get you?” Mary shouted from the beetled
rocks. I had never done anything like this before; just leave home, go to a mountain, and sit under a waterfall in my clothes. At that moment everything in the world was at its most beautiful. Even myself. I was content. I was strong. I leaned back into the falls. I realized, then, that I could live without her. I didn’t need my sister. And I didn’t want to be the little sister anymore. I wasn’t going to leave with Mary. “No, I’m Ok,” I shouted back to her. My voice echoed up the bedded, rock walls into the still, quiet branches of chestnut oak and hemlock trees. She turned around to chase Milo. I watched the shining zippers of her leather jacket until they disappeared. At twilight we hiked back to the car. My hair was still wet, and it smelled like mountains.
Adrienne Anifant graduated from Mount Holyoke College. She has an MA in Writing and an LL.M. in Human Rights and International Law from the National University of Galway Ireland. Her fiction, essays, and book reviews are published in Ireland, England and the U.S. She lives in Ireland and New York City.
“The Wreck” by Eugenia Loli
“Ashley Among Slightly Annoying Leaves” by James Grinwis It was okay we loved each other I thought. So the leaves were only what we made them to be. I wondered if I would get her to make out with me under those leaves, I didn’t know, it could be awkward, and in the back of my head all this time was the idea I was going to write a groundbreaking poem, like getting to the bottom of a leaf, its multiple avenues and circuits, how each one holds this attine version of a whole person, the way light hits and can send a needle into the soul if you looked at one that way which welcomed such a needle, and perhaps I would place my love against the light post, and go in with my mouth, like it was not this toothy, wolf like thing but more like a Mexican baron, hair slicked back and just enough oil to grace her lips and tongue with pulsations of lofty, squalid joy.
James Grinwis co-founded Bateau Press in 2007. He has two books out: THE CITY FROM NOME and EXHIBIT OF FORKING PATHS, which was selected for the National Poetry Series and published by Coffee House in 2011.
“Normalization” by Eugenia Loli
“The Canine Protocol” by Kirie Pedersen
s a last-ditch effort to save her marriage, Elisa invested her end of year bonus in an expensive spa vacation. On the flight from Portland to Cabo, her tall, handsome, cancer-ridden husband was filled with ideas. It had been years since Elisa saw him like this; never since the diagnosis. Paul would complete his degree. He would become a chemical dependency counselor. He would stop working in the engine rooms of giant ocean-going vessels, and thereby cease exposure to chemicals that might have caused his cancer. “We’re so lucky to be free of our addictions,” Elisa said. “Addiction is so expensive.” She laughed and touched Paul’s arm. She didn’t know, or did not want to admit to herself that Paul had already returned to secret drinking. “So life-limiting,” she said. She was certain; she had convinced herself: This trip and the power of her love would save Paul’s life. Encouraged, Paul produced additional plans. He would be cured of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, his disease of the blood and marrow. Paul extracted a document from beneath the seat and placed it on Elisa’s lap. “Tell me what you think of this,” he said. Paul’s daughter Meredith, just turned fourteen, released her seatbelt and leaned on Elisa’s shoulder. The papers described a procedure called the canine protocol, an experimental bone marrow transplant. “I’ll be the first human they try it on,” Paul said. “They’ve only used it on beagle dogs.” Elisa felt chilled to her bones, and the cabin air seemed too thin for breath. She scanned the pages of disclaimers. “It’s the McDonalds of bone marrow transplants. A walk in the park.” Elisa and Meredith exchanged glances. They had to be careful that Paul, now dozing against the small window, exhausted as always, not intercept their doubt and fly into one of his rages. Seven years with this cancer, and the threads that bound the three of them were frayed right through. Paul tested positive for something called the ZAP-70 marker, which meant the average life expectancy was also ticking away. Paul awoke enthused, and he did not ask their opinion of the protocol again. “Next year, we’ll go camping to Cabo,” he said. “We’ll come down a week before our physicals. We’ll rent a tent trailer and stock it with gourmet food, books, sketch pads, and snorkeling gear. Bring the dog. I’ll make a solar heated shower, and we’ll be completely independent. We won’t need anyone.” “The annual physicals,” Elisa said quietly, hoping to calm him. She didn’t want to think about the annual physicals. Each year, Paul’s union paid for the three of them to travel to Oakland, Boston, or New York for medical exams that lasted half a day. That was how Paul’s cancer was detected so early. If Paul hadn’t learned about the leukemia, untreatable except for this thing tried on beagles (what happened to the dogs?) they might have lived every day as joyously as they could, rather than this prolonged death sentence the past seven years had become. They might have escaped Paul’s terrible anger. The illness flung him into a fury, as if they, Elisa and Meredith, should throw themselves onto his not-yet funeral pyre and die in his place, or at least die with him. “This gives him plenty of time to plan,” Jason, Elisa’s young assistant at work said. “He can provide for you and Meredith once he’s gone.” But Paul didn’t plan. He didn’t provide for Elisa
and Meredith. He donated huge amounts of cash to the monastery where he’d spent his twenties. “We aren’t supposed to live on,” Elisa said, and then felt guilty for betraying the secret. And shame. This was an odyssey of shame and guilt. The plane landed near Cabo San Lucas where a man from the spa awaited them with a van, and they headed north, winding through the beige and gold desert. As she spoke with the driver, Elisa’s Spanish floated back as if it had never left, the words like butterflies, hovering a moment, and then emerging from some almost-lost place. “You want to see the zoo?” the driver asked. In the middle of nowhere, he pulled up beside three cages that contained miserable animals exposed in the scalding sun. “The lion protocol,” Meredith said, but nobody laughed. By the time they arrived at Spa Buena Vida, the sky was overcast. The man escorted them between gardens of red and purple blossoms, and then stopped in front of a thatched bungalow. He opened the door to a room that held two double beds. Meredith leapt onto one of them. “This one is mine!” she said “We need another bed,” Paul told the man. “What for?” Meredith asked. Meredith was turning into a beauty, with porcelain skin, high cheekbones, and large dark eyes with long lashes, like her father’s. “We have two beds in here.” “I need my own bed,” Paul said. Again, Meredith and Elisa exchanged their glance, and again, they were careful not to let Paul see. Immediately following his diagnosis, Paul set up a separate bed in his office, but he continued to sleep with Elisa at night. Occasionally, they even made love. Recently, Elisa found a newsletter from the monastery where Paul spent his twenties. “He has sworn before the Great Assembly to foreswear women in this life and in all other lives,” she read. “This is evil,” he would say after they made love, as if the watermelon ghosts he talked about from his monk days were crushing his chest. “This is bad.” “You think the cancer’s a punishment for being with me?” Elisa asked once. “You already had Meredith before I ever came along.” Then Meredith banged on the door to their room, seemed furious that her father had shut her out, or that they were being intimate in the middle of a fine spring day, and Elisa never dared bring up the subject again. The third bed occupied what little space remained in the bungalow. Elisa was ashamed for Meredith to see her so forsaken. She hoped Paul would change his mind, but he quickly fell asleep in the other bed, and Elisa fell asleep too. She dreamed of a man she could not stop kissing. She wanted to throw herself into the kiss and seduce him. Anxiety thrust Elisa back into the room. As she started to unpack, she found a stack of old magazines under the bed. An article claimed women were having their best ever sex in their forties. Who were they having sex with? They were having sex with Jason. It seemed every woman in the office wanted to have sex with him, or already had. Well, Jason needed to go back to college and grow up. As soon as she got back, she would tell him. But gently. Jason was very sensitive.
She huddled in the bed, reading and shivering. Sometimes she wished Paul would just die, get it over with, although most of the time she felt blank with sadness. She was sick of his jealousy and questions like knife blades, how he let her pay the bills and care for his daughter while he gave his money away. “You look stupid when you read.” Elisa hadn’t known Paul was awake, watching her. “You make faces. And you make stupid noises too. You breathe weird.” Paul hated it when Elisa and Meredith read, which they did deeply, as if inhaling food or life. Their absorption was a betrayal of him, an abandonment. In a deep and profound way, Paul hated them for drawing away from him, for having the audacity to live. In a locked metal chest in his room were three handguns. The last night of his life, Elisa would arrive late from work, not understanding why she was late but only knowing she must not, could not bear to hurry to him. She found him sweating, in delirium, his eyes rolled back in his head, and what she thought was a look of terror. Even as the air car arrived, he slipped into a coma. The loaded guns were beneath his pillow, waiting. “Will you sit by me at the pool?” Meredith asked. “Even if Daddy won’t leave the bungalow, you and I can still have fun.” They collected a stack of books from their luggage and settled into lounge chairs beside the immense pool. “Are you making goals for the new year?” Meredith asked. “Are you?” “I asked first.” “I’m going to become a calm, spiritual person.” Elisa leaned forward and tried to touch her toes. “You already are,” Meredith said. “That’s exactly what you are.” “Not even close, but sweet of you to say.” “What about, like things? Don’t you want things?” She wanted to make partner, with a huge bright new office where she would confer with clients, sign documents, hire people, and give orders. Kindly of course. “And our offer on the new house will be accepted,” Elisa said. With Meredith a teenager, they needed more room, and they had found a house they all seemed to like. “Now. Your turn.” “Daddy won’t die,” Meredith said. Her eyes were wide and vulnerable, as if she truly believed her stepmother could make this happen. “And the offer. They’ll accept it. We’ll move in and I’ll have my own room.” Elisa didn’t point out that Meredith already had her own room, that in their household she, Elisa, was the odd woman out. She touched Meredith’s arm. “What else?” “I’d like to play piano again.” Meredith placed her hand on Elisa’s, linking them. “It’s sad to see it sitting there, taking up space.” She looked down at her body. “And I need to lose weight.” Elisa jumped up, uneasy with all this intimacy. She never knew how to talk with her stepdaughter, or what her role should be. Left alone together as they were when Paul left for long stretches at sea, Elisa confided too much, tried to make the child her friend. It couldn’t be right, to be so desperate. It wasn’t fair to Meredith. “Let’s take a long walk along the ocean,” Elisa said. If she lost weight, Paul might Paul stop saying she looked like her mother. “Size six,” Elisa said. “I’ll settle for that. Or eight. Hell, ten would be fabulous! I’d give ten a great big kiss!” In the bright hot sun, it all seemed possible, just
as Paul’s idea of camping with sketch books seemed possible, though none of them were artists. The canine protocol that hadn’t saved a single beagle would work for Paul, and the three of them would breaststroke together into the future. Hey, and why not? “You have a one in two hundred thousandth chance,” the oncologist told Paul seven years earlier. “Those are the odds of beating this.” “Why the heck not?” Elisa’s head felt light, and she almost fell. “Let’s go run along the ocean.” Maybe Elisa’s friends could have warned her, but they’d given up trying after she insisted on marrying a former monk with his fragile child. When Paul was diagnosed, they vanished entirely, as if cancer was contagious or her grief might be too great. As it was. She didn’t care. She was enveloped by love at work. She gave chances to people, and they adored her for it. That was something she could believe in. Elisa had no idea it was to be her last year of anything: her last year at the firm, the last year of her marriage, the last year of Paul’s life. That Meredith would move out to live with her mother. Elisa would lose weight, lots of weight, but it would not be for the reasons she expected. That Jason would climb into her bed at a conference, and then later, after she was fired as a result, he would, most humiliatingly, leave her. Elisa’s own betrayals began with Meredith. The third morning at Spa Buena Vida, Meredith painted on the thick mask of make-up she had taken to wearing, and pulled on her bathing suit. “Are you going out in public with your gear hanging out like that?” Paul asked. He meant her breasts. Meredith looked stricken. She crossed her hands over her chest and sobbed. Normally, Elisa would have stood up to Paul, demanded he stop, placed her body and brave adult self between Paul and his daughter. Instead, she remained silent. She had paid for this trip, and its purpose was to save the marriage, the family. Besides, Meredith’s bathing suit was too small. Elisa felt sorry for Meredith, but let Meredith and Paul battle it out, for once. Maybe Paul would speak with her. Maybe they would make love. Meredith vanished into the tiny bathroom, and when she emerged, she was clothed head to toe, ankle to wrist, wearing jeans and a baggy shirt. “I’m a bhikshuni,” she said. “Does that make you happy, Daddy? You’d prefer I’m a monk with no body and no life?” She ran out the door and slammed it hard enough to dislodge dust onto the beds that occupied every inch of the room. Elisa lay in her bed and Paul in his, listening to the neighbors hack and cough through the thin walls. Paul fell asleep, and Elisa fell into nightmares about work, the entire place in chaos, an audit conducted, and her boss standing in fury in the doorway as her staff sat around with nothing to do, defying Elisa when she asked them to work. “I have nightmares too,” Paul said. “I dreamed I was killing people.” “Who were you killing?” “You and Meredith.” The following morning, though, Paul offered peace. He offered Meredith a scuba lesson. “We can do yoga together,” he said. Over breakfast, they shared resolutions for the upcoming year. “I’ll be nicer,” Paul said. Meredith and Elisa exchanged the edge of a glance. “I’ll be nicer too,” Meredith, said.
Meredith and Paul headed off to the yoga class, smiling, and Elisa walked back to the bungalow, eager to be alone. She heard a scratching sound in the bougainvillea that lined the path. She poked around and found a tiny white kitten, damp, its eyes sealed shut. A thin white cat ran up to her, crying, and then darted into the bushes. Deep in the brush was a second kitten, also white, but twisted into a terrible shape. One of its rear legs appeared to be attached backwards. Both kittens were alive, though barely, and Elisa carried them to the bungalow and made them a bed beneath hers. She ran back to the kitchen and begged the staff for morsels for the starving mother. “Don’t feed them,” the chef said, but he was too polite to refuse a guest. Elisa lay on the bed and listened to the rustle and suck of the mother cat and kittens. Then she went to meet Paul and Meredith by the pool. Meredith had convinced her father to sit with them in the sun. Elisa was glad to see both of them glowing from their yoga class, and that other teens vied for Meredith’s attention from the pool, splashing and calling up at her where she leaned against Elisa. “We need to push her out,” Paul said when Meredith finally dove into the pool. “Force her to relate.” “I don’t see what the benefit is.” Elisa chose her words carefully. She had no desire to disturb the casual peace. “She’ll never see any of these kids again. This is a chance for her to be close to us.” Back home, Meredith had little enough interest in her father or stepmother, and although Elisa loved Meredith’s friends, she wondered about them. Did they smoke? Did they do drugs? They still seemed like children, content to hang around the house, as least when Paul was gone, talking silly talk, teasing each other, mocking, slapping each other in play slaps Elisa didn’t think were so funny. The only thing Elisa could do was hang on for the ride, not become attached, as Paul would say, to any particular outcome. “Let’s call her Ghost,” Meredith said when Elisa showed her the kittens suckling beneath the bed. “Because she showed up out of nowhere.” “She’s a sign this will be a good year,” Elisa said, and even Paul kept to his vow to be kind and allowed the animals to remain in the room. When Elisa finally slept, she dreamed their new house was crumbling. The walls were all melting concrete, like the bungalow. In the dream or perhaps not in the dream, Paul said, “This was the wrong choice.” “Why did we buy it then?” “Because I was afraid you would want a bigger, more expensive place,” he said. “You know I don’t care about things,” Elisa said. On their final night at Spa Buena Vida, Elisa and Meredith settled into the huge Jacuzzi. Across the pool in the darkness, a couple made love. Elisa was paralyzed, unsure if the couple knew they were there, and she stayed in the hot water far too long. Then, when she returned to the room, she vomited. She was sad to be leaving the rescued cats, the sun, fresh sheets every day, meals prepared by someone else, a few positive days with Paul and Meredith. She, for one, would keep her resolutions. She would be positive, happy, and kind, and if things got tough, she would simply become even more positive, happy and kind. She would never again be the beautiful girl Paul married, the beautiful girl Meredith and her friends were now, but she could find enough in herself to admire and maybe even like. She had to be healthy, strong, and wise
because all these people, her family and her staff, even stray cats, depended on her. Her goals for losing weight and looking better weren’t vanity for lost youth. They were necessary so she could be useful to others. The sun was bright and hot. The bougainvillea was richly red and purple. Her hair was thick and curly and wavy, blond from the sun. Today, a family again, they would fly all day, back to the cold north. She was proud. She had made this happen. She was in her prime as a woman. It didn’t matter if Paul could no longer work; she would work more, take on another job if necessary. In the winters, they would travel somewhere warm. She would see that Paul stayed healthy. She would help Meredith navigate adolescence. Everything would be wonderful; she was sure of it. It had been so long, as long as Paul’s diagnosis, since she felt any kind of joy. Now, it was as if she was welcoming back an old friend, a lover even, someone she had once deeply cherished, but had lost touch with. She spoke to one of the waitresses, a pretty young woman with whom she’d struck up conversations. Would the girl accept Elisa’s resort clothes and some cash, get Ghost spayed, and care for her until the kittens were old enough to adopt? Ghost was thriving, and even the crippled kitten could move around. Of course, the girl said. I’d love to. On the van ride back to the airport in Cabo, they passed little homes lined along the highway across from the shore. Elisa could imagine living in one of these with Paul as they happily aged together. They boarded the plane, stowed their carry-ons, and Elisa and Meredith slid into their seats, but Paul did not join them. He waited to see what seats were empty, and then he seated himself several rows away. Elisa was too happy to care. Her arm resting on Meredith’s tanned bare shoulder, she chatted with acquaintances from the resort. “You have a huge hole in your mouth.” Paul’s voice was loud and clear, slicing through the conversations. Everyone turned and stared at him. For a moment, Elisa did not know what he meant. Then she remembered. Just before the trip, she had a dental implant, and while she waited for the crown, she was letting the surgery heal. “It’s a huge black empty hole,” Paul said. The acquaintances from the resort turned away, their bodies receding into their seats and out of sight. Elisa and Meredith curled together. “Why do you put up with it?” Meredith whispered. “How can I care about myself when you don’t?” “I care about you,” Elisa said. “I mean you don’t care about yourself.” Back north, rain fell relentlessly, and Elisa took long walks in her yellow raincoat. Teenagers roamed the streets, and drunks stood on the corners. Paul disappeared into his room. “I’m going to sit in full lotus bolt upright for a full forty minutes,” he said each evening, and then he fell asleep. “We’ve taken on the characteristics of prisoners of war,” Meredith told Elisa. When Jason crept into her bed at the conference, Elisa went rigid with fear. She shook uncontrollably. He leaned over and kissed her. “I’ve wanted to do that for a long time,” he said. After Jason told everyone in the firm, Paul filed for divorce, and Elisa was fired. Then Paul called and invited her for dinner. He was sober and clean, he said. He wanted to reconcile. The canine protocol had worked. As she drove slowly towards the house they had
briefly shared, a minor infection in his ear surged out of control, and thirty hours later, he was dead. Elisa called Jason. He was recently married, a woman his own age. “Paul’s dead,” she said. Jason wept. “I’m still stalking you,” he said. “I drive by your house all the time.” Elisa and Meredith met at the house. They cleaned up Paul’s final blood and vomit. They found the three guns and the note. “I’m going to dust someone,” he wrote in his loose scrawled hand. “Don’t read that,” Meredith said, lifting it out of Elisa’s hand and holding it to her heart.
Kirie Pedersen’s writing has appeared in Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio program, Eleven Eleven, Folly, Chaffey Review, Caper Literary Journal, Avatar Review, Utne Reader, Seven Days, Wisconsin Review, Eclipse, RiverSedge, Alcoholism the National Magazine, Bluestem Magazine, Regeneration (Rodale Press), Glossolalia, American Motorcyclist, Folly Magazine, The View from Here, Northwest People, Teachers and Writers, A Gourmet Notebook, r.kv.r.y Quarterly Literary Review, Laurel Review (Greentower Press), and elsewhere. She holds a M.A. in fiction writing and literature, and divides her time between the rural Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, the Upper West Side in New York City, the Upper Ojai in California, and other wild places. Blog: www.kiriepedersen.com
“Powerful Incentives on Uneven Terrain” by Eugenia Loli
“The Relative Speed of Disintegration” by Amanda Frankel
hen the Greenberg’s oldest was killed over there, no one in the neighborhood knew what to do. That just didn’t happen around here. Not in Suburban America, no sir. David Greenberg was a good boy; he used to mow our lawns for us, all the neighbors, in the summer and used to wash his father’s 1955 Chevrolet once a month except in the winter. He was the oldest by a few years, followed Sarah, then Rachel, then the youngest, Adam. Adam and Rachel were only a few years apart but looked like they could be twins and Sarah was by far the prettiest. She wasn’t like Marcia from the Brady Bunch but she had a very plain way about her. All the Greenberg children were but even so, Sarah’s particular plainness made her stand out as the prettiest. She never spoke much but then again, I only saw her when she waved as she walked their large German shepherd twice a day, once in the early morning when I open the blinds, and once after dinner when dusk sets. Sometimes she walked it more than twice in the summer. Sometimes her other siblings walked the dog. They all had the same walk: straight for the most part with shoulders bent slightly forward and their faces empty of expression. No, it never occurred to me that the Greenberg children’s names were from the Old Testament. Henry and I had several Bibles in the house from when our own children were in Catholic school. That was long before the Greenbergs moved here. The bibles hadn’t been read in so long that I almost always forgot what to say before going to bed at night. I pray for world peace, I pray for sunshine, and I pray that Henry doesn’t have another stroke or that if he does, he lives again. It worked the last time. I guess that’s why I believe. I believe that God is somewhere and he saw how much I needed Henry that right before St. Paul wrote his name, God came down and told him to go back to Elie, she needs you more than that book of names Paul has. Henry never called me Eleanor, only when he got angry at the cat for knocking over a plant and said that damn cat, Eleanor, one day I’m going to skin it. He never did. I wondered if the Greenbergs had a cat before that big shepherd of theirs. I remember one afternoon a black car drove by with official plates. Henry would tell you that he knew almost immediately as he wiped the sweat off his forehead from mowing the lawn what had happened. Now that David wasn’t around to cut our grass, it was almost like Henry forgot how to do it himself and so he stopped often. So this was one of the times he stopped. It wasn’t planned, it just happened right then. Isn’t that something? Of all the times to stop, right when that car drove by. It was just by chance that he stopped right when this car passed by with enough time for him to squint and see the little white license plates with the words ‘Washington D.C.’ on the bottom. He took off his hat and bowed down a little. I ran outside to tell him he was going to get more sunspots and he shooed me off with his hand. Elie, he said, shush now, the folks up the street just lost their boy. I can’t tell you what it is like to have two men in suits come to your house to proclaim some order of official business on behalf of the United States Government, but I can tell you that
when Mrs. Greenberg opened the door, she yelled so loud, the whole neighborhood shook. She knew immediately why they were there and my husband kept looking in that direction, hoping they would catch each other’s eyes and Mrs. Greenberg would know that someone else heard her voice, someone else knew. I didn’t realize it then or maybe I didn’t want to. In my ignorance (self-generated or otherwise), I told him to stop staring. I said: Henry, you don’t know what happened and he responded with: no one screams like that Elie, no one screams before they open a letter from two government officials, I would know, I was— And I cut him off there and said yes, you were in Germany, but this isn’t Germany. This is America, no one dies in America. But I knew that was a lie. I knew I was lying to myself and I felt angry that I was creating these baseless, lofty claims while Lucy Greenberg had to be accepting some sort of hard truth. People die in America every day, Henry almost died. My mother died, my aunts, some cousins, some people I don’t even know and some I will never know, but for some reason, telling myself no one died here made me feel a little bit worse for Mrs. Greenberg because maybe, if David was here, he wouldn’t have died at all, not now, not ever. The next day, when Henry went to the store to get some nails to fix the garage shelves that held his tools, I sat outside with a small cup of tea and read the newspaper. There was no mention of David’s name in the obituaries and that gave me solace. I felt odd though, I did not know the Greenbergs that well but I felt like if David’s name was not there, maybe Lucy was just so overcome with immense, absurd sadness for the whole human condition and the whole inhumane conditions that go on everywhere. Maybe the Army went to go see her like she was the Oracle at Delphi and was prophesying on the fate of humanity. Or maybe she really was crazy and those men had come to take her to a hospital somewhere far away. But, no matter how many times I tried to rework the situation, the way Henry looked when he told me that they just lost their boy kept coming back to my mind. My Henry’s face was old, he looked so old and we weren’t that old, collectively, we were less than one hundred and sixty. We were still able to drive to our children’s homes in South Carolina and in Vermont and see our grandchildren whenever we wanted. We could still take airplanes to the Grand Canyon. We were still breathing and could smile often and remember with great agility the day we met, the walks in the park, our wedding, everything but on the day those men came, the day Henry watched the car drive by, everything slowed down and it felt like millennia had gone by just trying to tell him to put his hat back on. But this was not forever. He was old and I was old. We mirrored each other and I saw my wrinkles in his forehead, I saw our youth in the distant glimmer in his pupil. We were so old just facing each other and realizing our memories were gone, the only thing we had was each other and it felt like we were turning into dust just standing in the hot July sun. It was 1968. The Greenbergs had moved here about ten, maybe fifteen years before. David and Sarah were still young and every so often, we would babysit them if their parents could not find anyone else. It was only two or three times, actually. David was polite and Sarah spoke very rarely but she was also polite. Back then, you would have never guessed David would join the military, him with his almost black untamable hair covering his hazel eyes and lopsided smile with rounded teeth. But then again, no one wanted to join anything that would send them out of their warm beds and into trenches with guns going off every minute. I guess it doesn’t matter if
it was voluntary or involuntary, no one wanted to leave (when do they ever?). Not even brave Davy Greenberg. No, David always spoke about being a doctor and how he wanted to help animals because he wanted a dog and if his dog was ever sick, he would be able to take care of it. When Sarah spoke, she was very quiet and sometimes I would have to tell her that I couldn’t hear her, could you speak louder dear, old Elie is getting quite old. She would shake her head and run away. David would yell after her. When she runs away now, does anyone yell after her? I was still waiting for Henry when Sarah and the shepherd were walking down the street. She looked the same as every other day before this one, every year before this. If we hadn’t been outside yesterday, I would have never felt like I knew some dark secret about her, as if it were something silly like which boy she liked in her class. But it was worse than that, this had to do with Davy. I felt like I was now watching her solely to see if she would give away any sign that something bad had happened but she kept walking. I knew her route. She would walk down to the park on her side of the street. It was a far walk and then, twenty or thirty minutes later, she would reappear outside my house in the same slow, lucid motion as she had started out walking with; it was like clockwork, no surprises. So, I waited. I felt very odd realizing I was almost obsessed with asking her what happened yesterday, who were those men, was everything ever going okay like it used to be? I wanted to hear it from her rather than sit on my porch and speculate like a fool. It was wrong to think maybe she would tell me every detail. It was unjust to even want to speak to her; I was overcome with curiosity about her and about Lucy that whatever was actually going on over there as the paper reported it was not very interesting. The thing about Lucy Greenberg was that she was not beautiful, she was striking. Even while she screamed and those men in suits walked away, there was true, unadulterated beauty in the destruction of a childhood cut short and the family from whence it came, of the mother whom had borne its life. She never wore makeup or those silly headbands the other women in the neighborhood wore. She kept her hair neat and back or down and tame. She was always thin and I remember grabbing her wrists in a supermarket once and feeling the bones under my own and seeing how little distance there was from my thumb to my pointer, which tried to lightly pull her hand up, her and her heavy existence. Lucy never wore patterns or anything that made her stand out in crowds but if you caught her eyes in the midst of other faces, you were pulled into the deepest blue irises and drowned in the intensity that she looked at you with. Her life was more than suburbia, it was motherhood. She had a stern face but when she looked away, when she smiled at her children, scanned for Sol in a busy store, or daydreamed on the front step waiting for the mailman, her face was often somber and looked as if it could smile. I’ve never actually seen Lucy Greenberg smile, actually smile. I’ve only seen the corners of her mouth flicker. Maybe she smiled at night before she went to bed. Or maybe she used to, before those two men came. I kept thinking of what that letter could have said and how bad it must have been to make her holler the way she did. I heard from Florence, my cousin in Wisconsin, that when her nephew’s friend was killed two years ago, two men in suits came to his parents’ door and said nothing but only handed the parents a folded flag, an envelope, and a small, haphazardly assembled wooden case with a medal inside that clinked around. Florence said it was as if no one thought to encase
it in order to preserve it. I didn’t know anyone to die in war so I was skeptical in light of my cousin saying she swore on High. I feel like the government would want to be a little more personal doing something like that, telling some poor mother that her son was killed and she’ll never see him again. It just didn’t seem right to go about it that other way, but what did I know? When Sarah was coming back, I heard the jingle jangle of her dog’s collar. I straightened my back up and pretended to still be reading the newspaper but it was awhile since I had read any of the print. She walked by a few seconds later, looked up and waved. I wanted to call out to her, say to her Sarah, Sarah what happened, where’s Davy, where’s your bother? Is he coming home this summer to mow my lawn, I’ll make him lemonade and tip him real good. He probably needs some money to get a new car, right? A nice one to drive all the girls around in instead of your father’s clunky old thing. Listen, I have some old magazines too, if you want to look at them, old Cosmopolitans from when I was a girl and some jewelry if you would like to see it, you can have it. I had so much to say, so much to ask but instead, I was silent. She waved when she walked by the porch. By the time I found my voice again, she was taking the leash off her Shepherd and opening the front door to her little blue house. They had recently painted their door, the Greenbergs. I remember now. Yes, they had recently painted it red. When they first moved in it was black. When Adam was born, they painted it white, when David graduated high school they painted it grey, and then sometime between then and that day, they painted it red. It was an unusual red and I only remember it because Henry and I were having dinner outside the night David had his promenade at the high school and the girl he was with was wearing a very unusual red coloured dress. I told Henry to turn around, to look at the young kids getting ready, wasn’t that nice? Henry shifted to look, still chewing on his steak and stared for awhile in that direction. He turned back as we heard David call for his mother loudly. He said Ma, Patricia just stabbed with the corsage in my chest, it went right through the suit. Ma, there’s blood on my shirt. Jesus Ma, do you hear me? And he stormed inside leaving the girl and everyone waiting while he presumably changed. Then, a month or so later, I ran into Mrs. Greenberg in the supermarket crying over her cart. I stopped and put my arm around her. Lucy, what’s wrong, what’s the matter? She looked at me and held up an envelope with one token in it. She dangled it, making sure I heard the coin hit the enclosed paper case. One token, Eleanor, one. God dammit. God dammit, David is going to Vietnam. The way she said it made me feel empty. Dhaav-ihd is going to Vee-ette-nam. She pronounced everything sharply through her tears. Every syllable was like the last call played on a bugle. She sputtered and tried to look up to the lights to stop crying but she just collapsed onto the floor and wailed. I tried to help her up, thinking how fragile and bony her small wrists felt. She flinched and asked if I remembered watching him and Sarah while she and Sol went out. You remember, don’t you Elie, you remember how small he was and how happy he was and how he wanted to be a veterinarian, now he’s going to God forsaken Vietnam. He’s never coming back and he’s going to die there! My son is going to die in the jungle. My own children were too old to feel her pain, they were too far away but they were staying where they settled, they were not going to be in trenches halfway around the world. We had no commonality, she and I, except for the few, brief nights when my husband and I watched her children while she and her own husband tried to have a personal night away from their quiet
house on a quiet street in a town that talked amongst itself. All I could say was: Lucy, stop talking like that, stop right now. Just leave your cart here, I’ll drive you home, we can have tea and you can just relax. I’ll even come back with you to get your car. Stop now, stop crying, come with me. She didn’t come over that day or any day after that but she did leave her cart. She stood up, walked away from the cart towards the exit. Before she left the store, she threw her hands up and screamed that David was going to die again and again and again. Everyone just stared at her just like they all stared at the moving truck on the first day the Greenbergs moved in. They would hiss like alley cats about how the meno-whatever-they-had-that-they-lit-for-too-manydays would offset the Christmas decorations. It wasn’t as if we were entered into the Town of the Year Awards and everything had to be perfect. But no, even then, it still had to be perfect, it had to be Christly. I expected someone to yell at Lucy as she ran out of the store but everyone went back to shopping when the automatic doors closed. If they said anything, I always wanted to tell them that being Jewish had nothing to do with losing a son. Doesn’t our own God tell us to honour thy mother and father and to love thy neighbor and here was Lucy, a neighbor, a mother no less, grieving for her son and no one stepped forward. All these…people, they just stood by the candy bars and pinched each other’s elbows under their crossed arms as if to say, ‘look at how those people grieve, we would be more composed and private.’ Some covered their mouths with their hands but I could only imagine serpent tongues flicking behind them slyly. Would it be acceptable after Lucy left to tell them all that the day that Henry was captured in Germany while he wore his crucifix underneath his camouflage, he saw a Jewish family being beaten down as he and his captured group of soldiers were driven across Germany? Should I tell them that the family had the same eyes as those who beat them as those who now stand at the cashiers saying nothing on account of what book they read on the holy days: exposed and vulnerable? No, no it wasn’t important; they would understand eventually and it would only be when they realized they had to mow their own lawns in the summer. I never told Henry about that day, I just kept it to myself and could not fall asleep that night. I tossed and turned and kept thinking of moments where I saw David and maybe there were more moments I forgot about but I couldn’t comprehend seeing him one day and not the next, at least not like that. At least not seeing him for years at a time and then the ultimate emptiness: never seeing him again. Will he cross the threshold between living and dying? Has he already? Is the River Styx a long line of trenches all in a row? Is Davy in the middle? Is he about to step in that river; is he about to step in that trench to fire at all directions and then just stop? Will all be quiet on the eastern front? The trenched front, that God forsaken Vietnam front? I dreamed of river banks filled with deflated balloons that night when I finally closed my eyes right before Henry’s alarm clock went off in the morning. Bright red, deflated balloons that flowed down like vessels in a blood stream, the ones the dead no longer know anything about. When I realized Sarah had gone back into the house and that there was no sign of her reemerging, I too went inside. While Henry was still gone, I figured I would water the plants in the den. Through the tilted blinds, I thought I saw Lucy and Mr. Greenberg’s car driving down the street. It was only for a moment and I could have turned too quickly past the grey curtains to
really be sure but maybe it was them. Her scream kept playing over in my head. It was not blood curdling, but it was loud and piercing. It was halfway between a wail and a shriek. At the end of it, her voice got raspy from yelling and maybe she sobbed quietly because she had no more air left to do anything else. After she went silent, I remember, the black car did not drive by again. Maybe they went down another street, maybe there was no black car at all and this was all one big, ugly suburban daydream. But no, I saw it, I was sure of it. The car was very clean, almost meticulously clean, and made no noise aside from a low hum of the motor as it passed by. But it might not have been the motor; it could have been the reverberation of air hitting the metal and resonating off into the summer air to show the passage of time in the July heat. The letter that the two army officials must have handed over, I kept thinking back to that letter. Did it say: We write to inform you that your son, David Jonah Greenberg, was engaged in battle on 06 June 1968. He was stationed in Cam Ranh, a city seven hours north of Saigon. He was innocent. As innocent as they come, we assure you. Your son was an American and will always be one. He served with honor, dignity, and a bold spirit. He did not scream, he did not cry. He only closed his eyes. Enclosed are his medals, including his purple heart, please display them proudly, he would want you to. He was so brave, Mr. and Mrs. Sol and Lucy Greenberg, tell your other children their brother was a hero; make sure they tell their children about him and their children after that and so on, ad infinitum miserrimam. David was not killed, he was saved. Saved from an ephemeral life that he would not want to inhibit because when he came home, he would be called a baby killer and cruel. He would have been hated for seeing things no one would ever see and could never understand, but surely you do, Sol and Lucy, surely you understand what he went through because you went through it here. You went through the loneliness, the hot nights in a trench of sheets not speaking to each other because you didn’t understand what was going on and reasoned that silence was better than philosophizing. That’s all those boys did, philosophize about why they were there in the first place. David was saved from an endless war. We can assure you, it will not end. Ideas will always be ideas and people will be the ones to make them policy that make good boys like your son be sent to bad places. David was saved from that even though he was part of it. It won’t happen to him again. We loved him as much as you. He was a good man, a good soldier and we hope to have the pleasure of having your family for dinner real soon, Davy included. Or was it like what Florence said her nephew’s friend’s mother had gotten; something so impersonal that it could have been generated by a robot? Something so cold it could have been scratched into ice? Something like: We regret to inform you that your son, Army Corporal David J. Greenberg, was killed at 9:54 on the morning of 06 June 1968 in Saigon, Vietnam in the service of his
country. The department extends to you its sincerest sympathy in your great lost. On account of existing conditions the body, if recovered, cannot be returned to you at present. If further details are received, you will be informed. To prevent possible aid to our enemies, please do not divulge the name of his station. His purple heart for bravery has been included in this letter.
Sincerely, General Uncle Sam General Uncle Sam United States Military If there is no body, where would Lucy pin the medal? Would it keep clanking around in its makeshift wooden boxes until they eroded away? Who would she pin it on? How could she pin it on Davy? And if she could, would she pierce his skin like that girl Patricia did months even years ago at this point, or has time just stopped completely? Would he still bleed? Are the Greenbergs going to sit down tonight at dinner, wherever they are now and bow their heads to pray or just sit in silence? Will they watch each other and finally realize what they are: humans disintegrating at the speed of light. But aren’t we all? Aren’t we all now disintegrating after David or were we disintegrating all along? We should all receive purple hearts for that, for our existences; we are wounded in our realization. I wanted to phone up the other neighbors and say don’t you remember the time David cut your grass, or the time he walked your dog when you couldn’t, or the time he won that big football game for the high school and his name was in the paper and you were all so superficially proud because you felt like you had your moment of fame by knowing him: he was that boy who lived next door, up the street, across the street. Your kids played together, you watched him and his sisters and brother once, twice maybe but tutted your tongue around the holidays. Didn’t we all laugh together when he got older at the block party and we all admired him and secretly wished our kids could have been like him despite your quiet bigotry. He was so ambitious and now what is he? What was he? He was alive and now he is dead in a jungle somewhere. Probably, maybe. Is he? Why doesn’t anyone answer? No one ever answers these questions in times like this. Those. However long ago it was from where we are now. Sometimes, I too want to throw my arms up and scream in supermarkets like Lucy and grieve for all the ghosts that haunt us, the ideas that divide us, the nation that barely contains us. But how can I? David wasn’t my son, but we are all in this together, that war, this life, the minor scratches we make on the surface of existence. When I think about the date on the letter and I think about the day Lucy got it, I know she was clutching herself in a doorway, screaming out not just for salvation but also for complete damnation at the same time because she thought he was alive all this time, those weeks between late June and early July, but no, no Lucy, he was dead. He was dead, dammit, just like she said and she could have sworn she felt his heartbeat in her empty womb like when she carried him around for nine months all those summers ago.
Henry still wasn’t home but time felt like molasses as I racked my brain. I remember making tea in the kitchen and letting the water heat until the kettle screeched. It was a tone higher than Lucy’s and maybe this was what she sounded like to their dog; you know how they have those dog whistles only the dogs can hear, that’s probably, maybe what she sounded like to the shepherd. I watched my knuckles move under my old skin, the small sunspots, the small scars from gardening. I saw the wrinkled skin and the blue veins; I saw everything that was once young that had aged significantly, even more than when I turned sixty-five. The thirty-six hours between the black car and the tea kettle whistling had defined the wrinkles and probably made Lucy Greenberg age by decades. I wanted to ring her up right then and tell her that David will never age, he will be beautiful and young and forever innocent. I wanted to ring up Sol and tell him his son was forever our neighborhood hero, the eternal homecoming king. I wanted to ring up the Sarah and Rachel and Adam and say nothing but rather listen to them, let them speak and tell me about their brother, their big brother David. As I poured the hot water into the cup, Henry opened the door; he kept on his shoes and said he was back. I grabbed another cup from the cabinet for him, asking him if he got what he needed and he replied yup, they were just silly old nails for that damn shelf that keeps falling and scratching the car. I handed him the tea and he grunted, pulling the receipt out of his pocket and putting in the drawer. I asked if he thought the Greenbergs were okay, he looked up confused. What do you mean? Henry, their son died yesterday. You told me yesterday that they lost their son; you said David was dead, don’t you remember? You took off your hat and you said it, I was with you, we stood on the lawn. Elie, please, what are you talking about? Has the heat gotten to you, you shouldn’t stay outside too long. Plus, I don’t know what I saw or what I said. It was the middle of the day, it was hot, and I was delirious. And I didn’t say he was dead. How would I know, I’m not God. I don’t control that stuff. But there were two military men in a black car, they weren’t just delivering mail. When I was in Germany and when I was captured in Dresden, do you think— This isn’t about you. It’s about David. What do you think the letter said? I don’t know, Eleanor. I don’t know what happened. I said what I thought because that was what I thought at the time. Maybe the kid’s dead. Maybe he isn’t. It isn’t our place to speculate or even to care. The letter isn’t for us. It is for Lucy and Sol. Sometimes I wish you would just listen to yourself. You’re walking around like a crazy person, why don’t you go ask them yourself if you’re so damn curious. You keep saying that he’s going to die in a jungle but it is more than that. You don’t get it, Elie, war isn’t just fighting in a jungle, it is fighting alone somewhere. You might have people around you but you don’t have friends, you have your gun and if the person next to you dies, you just thank your lucky stars it wasn’t you. If David isn’t dead already, then he’s a lucky boy. If he did die, well, he didn’t die in a jungle. No one dies where they get shot,
everyone dies in a war, and war is its own thing. When I was in Germany, I wasn’t afraid of dying a soldier, I was afraid of dying a prisoner. Now, I’m going to fix the garage. He went into the garage and I went outside again. Our little suburban town was sleepy with its white fences; houses with neutral coloured shillings that made none of them stand out; manicured lawns with perfect shrubbery around the walkways; and chalk drawings on the sidewalks of princesses and hopscotch squares. When I walked down the stairs, the morning was fading into afternoon. A few cars drove by but mainly, it was quiet. Everything denotes harmony but nothing affirms it. The houses with the shades open so sun sprawls onto the wood floors but no one is home to sit in the warmth. No cats are in the windows sleeping. No one is here but it wasn’t always like this. I remember when children were out on the lawns, when parents washed their cars on the weekend, and when everyone waved to each other. Now there are hat tips, now there are fake smiles complimented by turned in wrists holding glasses at block parties, and children being rushed into cars to get to school. What happened to the lazy? What happened to this town? I watched the emptiness for a bit, just sitting. I felt the chair under me but did not feel myself occupying it. It was only when I got up and my bones creaked that I remembered my existence, my frail existence that had outlasted that of a child. David would not be the first teenage to die, nor the first soldier to die in war. He would not be last and each time I thought of all the babies who died and all the children hit by cars, I grimaced until I forced myself to stop and walk across the street. When I got to the Greenberg’s house, I looked back to see if Hank was still in the garage. I looked to see if the world had moved at all in the time it took to cross the empty street. When I knocked, I did so softly at first. I used the bone between the knuckle and the fingernail, where the finger bends and curls. I rapped softly again. There was no immediate answer. I felt around for the doorbell; the plastic was slightly warm and lit and I pushed it and held it, hearing the chime echo throughout the house. I thought I heard quiet sobs in some nebulous part of the house. I had not been inside the Greenberg’s home in many years and could not remember the layout, though I was sure all the houses in the neighborhood were similar. Maybe they had rearranged their entire house; maybe they placed the letter on the refrigerator like they did David’s elementary school artwork or Sarah’s soccer photos. Whatever noise I had heard before, whatever silent sob had managed to reach the door was no more. The house was quiet. I did not ring the bell again; I did not use the bone between my fingernail and knuckle to knock again. I merely walked away slowly, afraid to turn back to see Lucy in the doorway like a phantom with her hands in fists, forever forsaking fatality and those two men in suits. I would have to justify my visit. Feigning sugar was absurd and everything else was too encroaching. I had indeed become the old woman whose neurosis was insatiable but in my own defense, I just wanted to know about David. The sun was beginning to set but the air was thick with humidity, it was eventually going to rain. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow When I sat back down on the wicker chair, I picked up the newspaper just as I had done this morning but this time I actually read it, cover to cover. There was an article on last month’s assassination of Robert Kennedy, there were articles of course on
Vietnam, articles on Africa. I read every single one of them and when I put the paper down, the exact moment when I folded it back up neatly and placed it on the table beside me I heard the jangle of a dog collar. Sarah Greenberg walked by, waved like she did this morning, but this time stopped to give the shepherd some water. When had she taken the dog out again? I stood up and went over to the porch railing. I could no longer contain anything. Sarah, I said, Sarah, how’s David? Sarah looked at me but was real quiet for awhile. We watched her dog drink and bark at some birds. She didn’t look at me and I think she had an answer prepared well before she responded but just did not want to speak but rather soak in the fact that the afternoon was dying. She looked up again and squinted at me in the setting sun, her hand in the form of a salute on her eyebrow. He’s dead, Mrs. Cutler. He died last month, we just found out yesterday. He died over there, in Vietnam. Oh, I said. Oh, Sarah. Sarah, I’m sorry. I really am. I’m so…I remember watching you both when you were babies. Do you remember? Oh, Jesus. I’m sorry. How are your parents doing? How are Rachel and Adam? She shrugged and said they would all get through it, that’s what people do: heal. She said sometimes she hears him at night, David. She hears him in his room reading Dante’s Inferno and when she goes to the room, it is empty and cold; the window shades were down just like on the day Sol drove him to the train-station. He wasn’t there, Mrs. Cutler but I heard him; I swear I heard him. There are ghosts and then there is David, Mrs. Cutler. Sarah said there were times when she would be alone in the house and she would walk by the pictures that were hanging and she realized how unbelievably still you can be at times and then, when you shift focus to the window, you know it is a lie. The clouds are going in one direction and you are going in another. You know you are moving even if you can’t feel it right away. But eventually, you do. You lay on the grass and feel it shift and feel yourself inch slightly to the left. That’s what it will always feel like now, like we keep inching towards something but that something never comes. It was always there, this feeling, but now we have made its full acquaintance like it is an old friend. David always said once something moves, it keeps going and Sarah openly wondered if the bullet that killed him went right through him and kept going until it went around the world at whatever velocity it was shot out at. Where did it go? Where do we go? I didn’t have answers for her and she understood that no one would ever be able to give them because if they could answer those hard questions, whoever they were, they could give back David. Sarah asked if this was the relative speed of disintegration. She would be able to sleep in a few nights as soundly as she did before the letter came whereas her mother would never be able to sleep again. It’s all relative, isn’t it, Mrs. Cutler, how the same tragedy just affects all of us and
we all deal with it differently. Even if there were two Lucy Greenbergs, they would deal with the death of David Greenberg entirely differently. Sarah looked to the shepherd and then to me. She said she had to get going and that the funeral would be in a week but it would only be a headstone, just a reminder of what was once and what should be there. The body wouldn’t be in the coffin, whatever was left of it anyway. Sarah, I said before she started walking back to the blue house with the ever-changing front door, what will you say at the funeral? She didn’t hesitate this time. She looked at me without blocking the sun and almost whispered: Fear not; because our passage none can take from us, it by Such is given. But here await me and thy weary spirit comfort and nourish with a better hope; for in this nether world I will not leave thee. It’s Dante. I nodded at her. I had so many things to tell her, so many stories to remind her how precious his life was but I felt every time we made eye contact, she already knew them. She knew the words, she needed nothing but to be alone in her room, sitting on the floor with knees bent, head back, eyes closed, listening, always listening for her brother. With her palms on the floor to mirror her mother’s clenched fists, she could channel him. She could reach him. And all the while, the chaos was all around the rest of us. The war was still raging and yet, the worst was yet to come. The world was still burning but still, the flames were yet to completely engulf the globe. With all the water in the seas, the tears Lucy Greenberg cried at night would be the most wet, the most salty aqueous solution to drip onto concrete. David is a memory, a dream, but we are all the makers of dreams. After that day, I would lay awake at night and just think. I would think about constructing the short lives of long-tailed comets and about my own children, the countries I never traveled to, how many stars I made wishes on as a child, the day Hank first walked into me in the bookstore while I picking up Christmas gifts for my parents, the way the neighborhood seemed eternal even though each year something about it changed, and the star of David which probably outshone all the stars in the galaxy by now. The Greenbergs were and would be lost forever in their own disintegration and their own dreams but every once in awhile, the colour of their door would change as if to remind the neighborhood that through everything, they were and would still be there. That they were little whispers and whimpers of life that came after the chime of a doorbell on a midsummer afternoon’s interlude of being awake and being asleep. The changing colour of the door would remind us that we are all eternally caught in that interlude of being completely consumed by our own existence while at the same time, being on the cusp of perpetually dreaming of someone else’s, whether they still existed or ceased to be. We all disintegrate at different paces in different ways but the only constant is that we will all crumble relentlessly until we are nothing. Even then, even when we are a quiet dust storm in a desert or a rainstorm in some jungle across the world, we will be the dream of someone yet to come if we have not already stepped into their sleeping reality. We will never stop breaking down; we will exist in terms of dust to dust, forevermore.
In the days and years to come, I would plant flowers in the spring no matter if my arthritis got worse. I would watch the neighborhood children grow up, watch new families come and old families move away. All the while, the Greenbergs stayed in their little house on the corner, surrounded by a blurriness of ambiguity that you see in fading photographs. They would become the tall tale of the town, the little secret everyone mentioned once in awhile; there go the Greenbergs, you know the family on the corner, yes that one, well I heard their oldest was killed over there, that just doesnâ€™t happen around here, you know?
“Stockholm Syndrome” by Eugenia Loli
“Leaving Delhi” by Jolene Brink
The baby with henna-covered arms clings to her mother, bouncing with the chug and sway of our bus. We’re passing the Ganges, the temples, the garbled villages: shit-caked roads ancient and rioting against the rubber tires carrying us into the mountains. Which is why I’m here. To see the mountains. In a village pegged to the hillside, I climb past concrete windows, and noodle shops where Tibetan refugees spin mittens and prayer flags drip in the rain. I walk to where the staircase ends inside muted fog and sky. The mountains are shy women, they say, who only appear when you look the other way.
Jolene Brink is a writer and publicist for the University of Minnesota College of Design. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in dislocate, Post Road, and Camas. For more information visit jolenebrink.tumblr.com.
“Enceladus Spring (Persephone)” by Eugenia Loli
“Moonface” by Alexandra Kesick
have a certain condition. I would type it here, but just like yourself, this computer has never even seen the word. I was diagnosed with it when I was a child, and my parent’s confusion was something I could recognize when they were told that I was born without the ability to recognize faces. I wasn’t so bad with my Mom, just because she’d always call my name, Jimmy, before I’d come bounding out to her. But my Dad was a problem. He’d never speak. He was always so quiet. I remember so many times, this strange man being in the house, and running to look for my mom—and that’s when the trouble would start, you know, cause I could never find her—and finally hollering for her. “There’s a stranger in the house!” I’d scream it. And, Jesus, how many times did that happen? Every single time I saw the guy, I’d start screaming how there was someone in the house. And this guy would just keep on sitting in our living room, reading the paper. But he’d look at me with his eyebrows high up. What are you doing? But he wouldn’t actually say it. They caught on. My dad finally spoke to me when I was screaming for my Mom one day. She was too slow and he wanted me to be taken care of so he could relax. “What the hell are you yelling for?” His voice struck me, and all these memories filled my head. I remembered each and every time I had called for my mom, and this man, my father, had spoken to me. But his face seemed different each time. It was that fleeting moment where everything clicked, and I’d say to myself, Oh, right, he is the man with the mustache and the graying hair. How did I forget that? And I would reply sheepishly, “Nothing, Daddy.” But I forgot his face again a few minutes later after I left him. I grew out of the shouting by the time I was eight. Just don’t shout in the house, no matter who you think you see. This happened with not only him, but everyone. I could only remember voices. My parents had to remember this (doctor’s orders), and remember to speak each time they saw me. No meds for this sickness. I got to know my dad better from it. He was forced to talk to me. When I was a teen, the years of when you needed to look in the mirror to fit in, I’d flinch at the reflection. The person in the mirror was not me. I couldn’t even recognize myself. I’d have to speak to the stranger in the mirror, “Who are you?” before I realized that it was me. I was scared to think my voice might change with puberty, and that one day I wouldn’t recognize it. I got so scared that I ended up taking the knife mom would use to slice sweet potatoes and slashed myself at the height of my cheek bone. I wanted it to scar. The stranger’s face screamed until I could distinguish it. But now I could always recognize myself. You might have seen it. I have a white scar right under the corner of my right eye. It’s like the moon, right? Moonface. The moon I can recognize; faces I can’t. I’d stare at myself in the mirror for hours, saying over and over, Jimmy Manchester, Jimmy Manchester, Jimmy Manchester, trying to memorize. But it’d never work. That scar saved me from my own strangers.
That’s how I know myself. That’s how I don’t scare myself when I’m on the sidewalk waiting for the bus, and I see a reflection of a man with a moon on his face in passing cars. I know it’s me. So many years later, even now, I know myself by that scar. I can’t tell in the mirror that I must be an older age…at least twenty seven…but I know that I am. That scar keeps me knowing I’m real. There was this girl. This woman, really, I think, because I don’t imagine myself to be fancying a girl, per say. She had to have been a woman. A woman with breasts and curves and skin you could say was extra soft, because it was taken care of. But this woman was different than the rest. I had written down her description in such a rush that day. I have never written down a description of someone before or after her. “She has black hair, choppy and short, and brown eyes, and pale skin, and pink lips, and high cheekbones, and a pleated skirt, and a button up coat.” Written right on a scrappy napkin. I don’t know what I was thinking. Why the fuck would I remember that? I don’t understand myself. Every girl I see has high cheekbones, pink lips, and black, choppy hair. And the clothes? I guess they must have just looked really good on her. I had really liked them. But shit. I wish I could remember her, not the clothes. I had seen her from the street, on the sidewalk. She had been sitting on a bench and I remember her boots being muddy from the rain, those sort of sad, slouchy boots that were in fashion. She had been pressing buttons on her cell phone. The person next to her was reading some book. People who read in public like that really piss me off. You can’t read in public. It ruins the point. You’re supposed to really read when you read a book, not half-ass it. The only reason people read books in public is to have someone come over and say, “Oh, hey there, what book are you reading? Mind if I take a look? Why, I’ve never heard of it; you must be so educated.” Arrogant, I think. Wanting people to grovel to you just because you’re reading a book. She didn’t do that. She was just texting away on a phone with a number I’d never get. I wish she had been talking on it. I watched her for a while, stepping away from the strangers I had flowed with to get to her. I didn’t want to forget her. I couldn’t go up to her and just ask for her to speak. She would avoid me. I had to find the right moment and opportunity to hear her speak. I watched her and heard nothing. I followed her to places that I don’t remember, because I always watched her face, or the back of her head, or the way she walked. It was hardly a challenge following her, because she was always in public, and I could disappear between faces she didn’t recognize. No one knew anyone except me. I knew her. I was excited. I was this smiling crescent following her through the crowd of city people. But she never said anything to anyone. She’d just look and listen. She ended up living in this apartment, and I watched her go into a shop and go up into the sanctuary above it. I watched her window from down below. It wasn’t too far up. I saw her flit past dingy lights, and I’d know it was her. I’d always know it was her, as long as I could always watch her. But I didn’t know how to make her speak. I’d return, day after day, and watch her apartment. I ended up buying an apartment right across the street so I could watch her and make sure that I always knew where she was, just so I didn’t forget. I couldn’t forget. It was such a long time. It took so long. I’d try to catch her outside, but she’d always slip by, or I’d call her from across the street and say good morning, or good afternoon, and she’d only smile at me. She’d never talk to me.
I’d start slipping notes underneath her door. Please, get a tattoo on your face. I just wanted a tiny one. I would always recognize her and remember her. I was so afraid to forget. I’d send her a note each day, elaborating. Just a tiny one. Just one I can see when I look at you. Please, it’s so important. My name is Jimmy. A needle was less frightening than a knife. I didn’t want to tell her what it’d be like to live the rest of her life with me. Like a star, you’d like stars. Just like your eyes. Your eyes are just like stars; it’d match. One day, I was slipping one note beneath her door, and she opened the door and bored holes into me with dark eyes. I can’t remember what she looked like, but just how much she hated me. She didn’t want me there, and I knew it. I was on my knees before her, and she still didn’t speak. She said absolutely nothing. I wanted to hear her voice rushing to my ears so I could recognize it and understand and never forget, but when she just looked at me like that, I couldn’t look away. It wasn’t even the expression that scared me. She had looked beautiful and alive when she looked that angry, and I never wanted to forget it. I already have. Her face, as I imagine it now, is blurred and blank with only dark stars. They look like the star I wanted on her face so I could recognize her; the star I wanted right beside her eye, just a white star, just like my crescent moon. I didn’t leave her. If you don’t know this story, you are probably going to say I should have run so she didn’t hurt me or send me away with the cops. She backed away from the door to allow me inside, and I crawled in, clawing my way up only when I was fully inside the place I was invited. The splinters of the floorboards scraped against my jeans and against my flesh, trying to pull me back. I was determined and went through the doorframe. You know, I had never seen sign language before in my life. I had never realized how beautiful anything could be, though. I think it only could be through her hands. Her hands were musical. Her fingers drew lines in the air when she signed and I think I begged aloud for her to teach me. It looked like some sort of dance. She shook her head, and symbolized more angrily to emphasize what she was saying, but gave up when it was obvious I didn’t understand anything. Grabbing a pad and pen, she scribbled something down and ripped off the sheet. Why do you keep watching and following me? Her handwriting was terrible. But I loved it. The imperfection in her hands made me know that she was real, that this was not a dream. Her hand trembled as she wrote, making her writing jerky and sharp. I couldn’t tell her. I didn’t want to. I kept shaking my head. I knew she was angry with me and wanted me sent away immediately. I was thankful she had not called the police. I said something that was a horrible excuse, something that made her give me a skeptical look. She left me in the living room and I could hardly sit still. I wouldn’t sit, actually. I couldn’t. I kept looking for her and watching her through the tiny gully of a kitchen. She ended up getting tea for herself and then wrote down a whole paragraph of words for me to read. She wanted me to stop sending notes, and she wanted me to leave the apartment across the street. She said she was sure that I would listen and would not follow her again. Her fluent fingers dropped two sugar cubes in her tea. We sat in the silence, and I hated it. It was hard for me to sit there and not speak. “Please, can I hear your voice?” I blurted out. The way she looked at me, her stars wide with surprise, made me awed. I can’t talk. Haven’t you figured that out?
I was near tears. I wish I could give her a voice as much as I wished she could give me her face. I held the paper in my hands and it shook like a leaf. I had thought that maybe she just didn’t want me to hear her voice. Everyone needed to speak. How could she be different? Why was she different? Why did I find her? “Why?” I just can’t. Her words were less neat, less scripted and more emotion. She wanted me to leave. All at once my senses went to her, and I almost thought I’d be able to memorize her face and remember her. I kept staring at her, expecting her voice to come out of her mouth, but her mouth never opened. Her mouth would never open to kiss me or tell me she loved me like I imagined and yearned for. I would never know secrets about her, or be able to read her like I wanted, just because she could not speak. By writing things down for me, she would always be able to think thoroughly before “speaking.” She was inhuman, and I loved her for it. “A tattoo, a mark on your face, that’s all I ask.” I pleaded. She didn’t respond, and she never would. The stars had set my fate to the door. It was the last time I saw those stars; staring at that door. I don’t remember the rest of her face. I moved out of the apartment, moving to another place that was not too far or too close. The apartment had no mirrors. If I saw my own face, it would disappointment me to know that I could recognize my own but not hers. I watch the sidewalks and look for her. Maybe you found this or maybe I handed it to you on the street. You can recognize me by the moon on my face. I’m looking for some girl with choppy black hair and star eyes and who doesn’t have a voice. If you’re her, my name is Jimmy Manchester. I won’t hurt you. I’m always hoping I’m looking at you. I don’t know you, but you know me. I just want you to recognize me.
Alexandra Kesick is finishing up her bachelor's degree in professional writing at SUNY Potsdam while holding a position as Editor in Chief of the Racquette newspaper. She maintains a small blog, writingwings.tumblr.com, for her creative writing.
“Morning Coffee #3” by Eugenia Loli
“Recovery” by Sharon Siegel
nother Wednesday morning in Starbucks, Ellen the Goth girl, works the register. Her attitude only slightly brighter than her pitch-black mascara as the line continues to grow. Some newbie customer can’t figure out how to order a latte. When I get to the front I have to peel my eyes away from Ellen’s oversized nose ring. She already has my grande bold waiting for me. She grunts, “Hey, Martin, finish that book yet?” For the tattooed and pierced, Satan worshipper, that's polite. Though, I’m not sure if she’s asking a question or wondering if I’m ever going to finish writing this thing. Was it a thousand mornings ago I started? Feels like more. It’s not a book I’m writing, it's a life sentence. I go to the back and sit in one of the brown leather chairs. It's the one I always sit in. I open up the Times. I turn it straight to the sports section. I don't even know why, anymore. I used to be the biggest Yankee fan, back in the day. Me and my friends, Johnny, Pete and Mark, we’d cut school, whatever we needed to do to see them play. We used to memorize stats and test each other. The smell of cheap beer and hot dogs in summer seemed to change the world. And the field was so green. Perfect. We’d walk to our seats up in center field, looking down at Rickey Henderson; do our “Man of Steal” chants, hoping he’d rack up more stolen bases for the record books. Number 24. That was his number. One year for my birthday, the guys gave me a #24 jersey and, from then on, I wore it to every game. Baseball mattered. We’d take the subway in from Penn Station. It was second nature for us. The big city was our life. We would joke around. Mark always thought he was hilarious back then, making jokes that weren’t even funny. Things like, “Hey Johnny nice shirt, did your grandma pick it out for you?” And he’d laugh right after whatever he said, even when no one else did. Whatever became of Mark? What’s his life like now? It’s been years since the last time I saw him. I wish things had turned out different. For all of us. The summer after high school graduation was the last time I spent with the three of them. They all went off to college, and I didn't. I continued to live in my apartment with my dad in midtown Manhattan. My dad said if I applied to college, I could take over his business, someday. He had high hopes for me back then. But I didn't know what I wanted. So, I took time off and worked as a waiter at Romano’s restaurant, a checked tablecloth place run by a family that never had a good word to say about each other. I guess it was as good as any job. But at the end of the night, if we had open bottles of Chianti, or whatever, the shift manager let me take it home. Before I knew it, I was drinking about a bottle a night. It wasn't like I had a life or anything. I was just drifting, I guess. Drifting away from everyone. And then, drifting into oblivion. The guys came home for holidays but they never really reached out to me. They’d moved on I guess. I didn't reach out to them either. I barely even thought about them. Life was just work and then back to my empty apartment where I knew a bottle would be waiting for me. I drank
from boredom. I drank so I wouldn't feel worthless. I drank because I did feel worthless, if I thought about it. Maybe after another round it’d change. No one and nothing else was there for me. Nothing but alcohol. Who needs college? And those guys weren’t really friends, were they? Not like Mr. Jack Daniels and Mr. Sam Adams. Those were my real friends. I take another sip of my black coffee and turn the page of the Times. I read the headline “24 year old Leah McKenzie Killed in Car Crash”. It makes me think back to Johnny and Pete that summer so long ago. After a DUI conviction, I ended up in rehab at The Phoenix House. I had to face up to the truth about me and alcohol, that maybe we weren’t exactly a match made in heaven. One day, my dad came to visit. He had this look on his face that said it was serious. He couldn't even talk for a minute. We went outside into the courtyard. We just sat there awhile. Then he told me. “So, Mark called yesterday.” I stared at him blankly, taking a few moments for it to register. Why would Mark call my dad? “He had some bad news,” my father continued, “Well… Johnny and Pete were on a road trip to California. Some sort of celebration for graduating college. They left two days ago. They were headed through Pennsylvania. It was on a back road. They had an accident. It was pretty bad.” I kept staring at him, not knowing what I should be making of this. I had been in rehab for 3 months. The outside world seemed so far away. I hadn’t seen Johnny and Pete in 4 years. “So what happened?” I asked. My dad sighed, then, “They were going about 80. They hit a deer. And…” He took a deep breath; his voice got shaky, “They both died, son.” I didn't go to the funerals. I still had to stay in rehab as part of my deal. But when I got out, I went to meet Mark. We went to Mustang Sally’s restaurant and bar. We sat in a corner table against the window. It was lightly snowing outside that day. We talked briefly about his job at Chiat-Day ad agency. We didn't talk about my drinking or rehab. Mark probably felt it was wrong to bring it up. The thing that brought us together was Johnny and Pete. We talked about some memories. But it was clear that we had nothing in common anymore. “Remember that old drunk guy that came to every single game and sat right by us in the bleachers?” Mark asked, “He’d always be trying to start chants that didn't even make sense.” I laughed awkwardly at the memory. Then I thought how it was me who became that drunk guy a few years later. That was the last time I ever saw Mark. Now it’s been years and neither of us has contacted the other once. It’s kind of what I expected though. The only thing that really brought us together that day was a tragedy, and now we’ve moved on. I flip the pages, occasionally sipping my coffee. I look into my cup and think how it looks like a black hole of emptiness. I look up as I hear the door of the Starbucks open. A woman walks in trying to calm a crying baby in her arms. My eyes follow her as she strides to the counter. She reminds me of my wife.
Her name was Sarah. She was beautiful. We were in rehab together, though we never officially met there. We weren’t allowed to speak with patients of the opposite sex during the program. Especially not with patients that were in other groups. Sarah was not in my group because she had more severe problems than I did. She was a heroin addict. All I really remember about her when we were in the program was that she was always eating chocolate bars. She would sit in the cafeteria and peel off the foil then tuck it away in her pocket. I would stare at her while she did this everyday and think that she was some sort of freak. But then again, who was I to judge? I don't know why she kept the foil but I later found out why she ate chocolate like a 5 year old in a candy store everyday. Basically all drug addicts are after serotonin, a chemical that the body produces from food sources and makes them feel happy. Addicts have a problem producing serotonin. The chocolate would temporarily kick her addiction but she would never really be cured, not even if she lived in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I never thought about her after I was released. Not until that day I saw her on the subway, anyway. I was on my way to work at the Acura dealership. I used to be a salesman there, but now I moved up to the sales manager position. I used to like it, but now I just go through the motions, especially since I don't have her anymore. She sat down next to me on the subway that morning. I didn't even look up from the Times until I heard her voice, “Hi, Martin, right?” I turned to her, taken off guard. She didn't look familiar at all. I nodded then began to scan her for clues. “I don't know if you remember me. I’m Sarah Beller.” But right as she said it, I noticed the purple scars on her left arm. In the bend of her elbow. I looked back at her. “Yes. Yes, of course” I finally said, “How are you?” “I’m great now. I’ve been out of Phoenix House and clean for over 3 years now.” I was still stunned that she was the chocolate eating, heroin addict. “That's good to hear. You look wonderful,” I said in a tone of surprise, wishing I could take it back. She just laughed though. “Yeah, well things are finally working out now. I’m actually on my way to work. I’m an assistant buyer at Macy’s.” It was pretty obvious she had traded in her Hershey’s for boots and handbags. I wonder if she ever wanted to work in fashion before she started using. “Wow, great” I respond after realizing that I’ve been looking at her accessories and clothes and pretty much anything other than her eyes. “Yeah I’m on my way to work too, been a salesman at Acura pretty much since I left Phoenix.” “I’m so glad things have been working out for you too. You know maybe we could get together sometime for coffee or lunch or something?” It was hard to contain my excitement. Nothing this great had happened to me since I caught that fly ball hit by Ken Griffey when I was 16. “I would love that.”
“Great. Well, let me give you my card,” she said as she rummaged through the fuchsia purse I’d been staring at all along. “And you just give me a call and we can set something up.” She handed me the card, and stood up. “This is my stop. It was great to see you, Martin.” “Pleasure was all mine,” I told her as she walked through the double doors. And I meant it. We started dating right after I made that first call. We did everything together. We went to movies and dinners. Took vacations together. Saw shows off Broadway. We even went iceskating in Central Park one time. I was finally happy, and it wasn't because of scotch on the rocks or vodka tonic. I look back to the counter where the woman is calming the baby. She looks just like Sarah did. She has shiny, chestnut hair and pale, freckly skin. She’s very skinny, but not too skinny. She’s tall, and even taller with the black boots she has on. They look like a pair of boots I got Sarah for her birthday one year. Too bad they were the hiding place she used for the heroin she started using again. We were married less than a year after that day on the subway. But it wasn't long until it all fell apart. I never knew Sarah started using again until it got bad. But once I did, I thought back to a conversation we had one night. “Martin have you ever drank since you were released from Phoenix House?” She asked. “Never. Why?” “I was just wondering.” She sat in silence for a few minutes after she asked. I was reading a book so I didn't really notice. I had almost forgotten what she even asked when she kept talking. “Because you know how they used to tell us it would be a lifelong recovery? And even though we might be done in rehab it could likely be a struggle forever?” She sounded like she was expecting an answer that I wasn't giving her. Did she want me to tell her that I drank? That didn’t make sense. I closed my book. “I remember. But I haven’t felt the need to. Things are so much better now. Don't you think?” I asked hoping that she would give me reassurance that she was okay. “Yeah, you’re right. It’s just something I think about sometimes I guess.” She flashed a weak smile after she said it. I just chose to believe that she was fine. Though she clearly wasn't herself anymore. I tried everything I could. I knew she didn't need heroin. And I still can’t figure out why she thought that she did. Once it started, it was impossible for her to stop. I stayed with her every night, trying to get her better. Through the cold sweats, the ballistic screaming, the shaking and the crying. I bought enough chocolate bars to feed a small country. But nothing worked. Then, one day, when I got home from work, I found a note. It was sitting on the kitchen counter. It was written on a piece of foil from a Hershey’s bar. All it said was “I’m sorry. I tried.” I never saw her again. We’re still married. I never tried to find her. I was embarrassed and disappointed. The pieces of my life were falling apart again. How could I face it? So, I didn't.
I told people that we got divorced. But I couldn't bring myself to do it. I’m not even sure if she’s alive. I think about her every single day. It never gets easier. I look up again and see that the Sarah look alike’s baby is calm now. I wonder if it would be different if we had had a baby. But I don't think that would solve anything. I guess I’ll never know… I take another sip from my black hole of a cup, and I watch her walk through the door. I wonder what she’s like, if she has any problems in her life. I look back down to the Times. Flipping the pages, not knowing what I was looking for. Then, there it is. The crossword puzzle. I sit up straight, ready to solve it. I always finish the puzzle. Sometimes I feel like I should be on some sort of game show. Maybe “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” That one’s definitely the best test of random knowledge. I pick up the pencil on the table beside me. I look at #1 down. “Rugged Cliff.” I know the answer is “Crag” and it reminds me of a chapter in my book: “Chapter 12: Drive an Acura and then please drive me off a cliff”. The title pretty much sums up my mood at work after Sarah left. And now it may as well sum up my thoughts on this book. I can’t seem to finish the thing. I haven’t typed a word in over two years. The only thing left to write is the end. And how can I end a book about my life when I don't have an ending? I’m nearly finished with the crossword puzzle when I see Ellen out of the corner of my eye. She’s walking to the back with a broom and dustpan. “Do you have a son, Martin?” she asks as she makes her way toward me. I shake my head. “Well, I swear, this guy comes in here sometimes. He looks just like you.” She starts to sweep the floor, her black combat boots getting in the way. I just shrug, “I don't have any kids.” “You’re married though right?” I shake my head again. I’m not about to explain my saga. “Hmm, that's strange. You always looked like you would have a family to me.” She walks to the opposite corner. I fixate my eyes on the freaky, Blair Witch Project tattoo on her neck. Was she asking me a question or trying to tell me something again? I finish the last sips of my coffee and fold up the newspaper. I take out my cell phone and walk through the door. I dial information. I need an ending to this book. The operator’s voice tests me. She dares me to say a city and state. “New York, New York,” I tell her. My tone is harsh. “Say a listing.” “Sarah Beller.” The operator taunts me. She goes through Sarah Beller after Sarah Beller. Refusing to give me the right one. Until, finally, I find myself writing down an address and telephone number on the corner of the Times. My hand shakes. This is the right one. She’s right near here. I begin to walk in the direction of her apartment. I contemplate my decision the whole way there. Then, somehow, I’m in front of apartment #6667. It’s like I’ve forgotten how to blink and there’s glue between my feet and the sidewalk.
I exhale. Now, I’m moving forward. I approach the steps and my heart’s beating so hard, I swear everyone around can hear it. The closer I get to the door, the more concerned I start to feel. “What the hell am I doing?” I freeze. I can’t do this today. Maybe I can’t do this ever. I need to get out of here. I turn and walk down the steps quickly. As I go to cross the street, I look back one more time at #6667. Then, I hear a loud voice from in front of me, “WATCH OUT!” Someone pushes me out of the way of a speeding cab. I lay on the ground. I don't know what just happened. I look up, blinded by the light, and I see a young man. “Are you ok?” he asks me, out of breath. He offers me a hand. “I think so; I must not have been paying attention.” I take his hand. He helps me to my feet. “Well, it's a good thing you didn't take one more step in that direction.” I study his strangely familiar face. I feel like I know him somehow. “Can I invite you inside to wind down for a moment? Maybe have a cup of coffee?” I hesitate. Then I nod. “Thank you, that's very kind.” “Great. This is my apartment right here.” I look at him, confused. The apartment he gestures toward is Sarah’s. “I’m sorry. Is this apartment #6667? I thought Sarah Beller lived here.” “Oh. Do you know Sarah? I’m her son, Martin.” I can’t believe it. There’s no way. A son. A son named Martin. “Would you like to see her?” he asks, oblivious to my shock. Then, without any more hesitation, I say the only thing I can say. “Yes. Yes, I would.”
Sharon Siegel is from Long Island, New York and received a B.A. in English from Tulane University where she excelled as a Student Athlete on the Women’s Tennis Team. She is currently working on an MFA in Fiction at Sarah Lawrence College. Her writing has been published in Burning Word, The Montreal Review, The Cat’s Meow for Writers and Readers, Mouse Tales Press, the Rusty Nail Literary Magazine and the Pittsburgh Flash Fiction Gazette. Her website is www.shaysiegel.com.
“Corset” by Eugenia Loli
“SUMMER GODS” By Daniel Zampini
he first thing Charlie noticed about the Tropicana Motel was the black plastic marquee lettering arranged, auspiciously enough, to read, “Good Times Are a Shore Thing.”
The motels in this section of Wildwood, located a few blocks from the boardwalk and the convention center, are notable for each having adopted a signature aesthetic and geographic theme. The Nantucket, a short distance from the Tropicana just across Ocean Avenue, announces its New England heritage with a neon lighthouse vacancy sign. The Safari, a block away, has a heated pool - ringed with plastic imitation palm trees - that promises an oasis from the desert peninsula of New Jersey’s southernmost limit. You can find, within a quarter mile radius: a deep space outpost, a festive Mexican villa, a cactus and tumbleweed homage to the American southwest, a half dozen more unique and fantastic escapes priced just so for working families looking to spend a week of relaxation and togetherness at the shore. The Tropicana styled itself after Miami in the sixties. The motel, cloaked in pastels and pink flamingo designs, had a disorienting effect. Either the building hadn’t been renovated since midcentury, or else some architect’s imagination had made it appear that way. Sitting in umbrella shade on the patio and sipping rum punch from disposable cups, guests found it difficult to shake the feeling that time had simply forgotten them. The stucco walls and ceiling of the room on the second floor were the same lavender color as the outside of the motel. Framed mosaics hung above the twin sized beds and there was a small television on the dresser opposite the mosaics. The bathroom was clean, although it was small, and there was a cushioned toilet seat cover painted to look like an aquarium. Charlie and his friend Jake, dismayed at first by their accommodations, shook their heads and laughed. “This is the best you could find?” Jake asked. As usual, he’d made Charlie figure out the details. “What about the place across the street? It’s got a pool.” “Too expensive.” Charlie tossed their bags onto the bed closest to the door. Jake shrugged his shoulders. “Still.” It was the first vacation Jake and Charlie had taken on their own, a final hurrah for the twilight, adolescent summers before they were expected to go away to college and then, presumably, to deliver themselves into the waiting embrace of adulthood. Their trip down the shore after graduation was a sacred tradition, a pilgrimage to the state’s wooden summer god. Hungry from a long morning on the road, they washed up and crossed over to Atlantic Avenue looking for a place to eat. Three blocks north they came to a low, pillbox shaped building painted bright pink with checkerboard trim on the window frames. The Pink Cadillac Diner sold postwar nostalgia to baby boomers alongside the usual fare of allday breakfast, cheeseburgers, and ice cream. The jukebox played records by Roy Orbison, The Four Tops, Frankie Valli, and, of course, the King. Elvis Presley was the patron saint of the restaurant; his famous pompadour and sneer gazed down in benediction from clocks, mugs, posters, even a framed gold record of his nineteen fifty-six debut album, “Elvis Presley.” Inside, families crowded around chromed tables and booths and chatted to one another in English and Quebecois French. The Jersey Shore and Wildwood in particular, was a popular
destination for vacationing Canadians, many of whom stayed on for the summer as a migrant workforce. During the season it was as common to see “Je me souviens” emblazoned on a license plate as it was “Garden State.” Jake and Charlie sat at the counter and asked for menus. Their waitress was a slight young woman about their own age with sun bleached, dirty blond hair which was pulled into a short ponytail. She wore white tennis shoes, denim cutoffs, and a several sizes too large Pink Cadillac Diner t-shirt, which was kept from ballooning out around the waist by her apron strings. Her name tag read Holly Delon. She took their orders in a practiced tone, at once friendly and curt. Every busy diner waitress has some variation on the theme: flirtatious without being inviting, efficient without being mechanical, spirited without giving offense, instantly recognizable but forgotten in a moment’s time. Holly’s accent lingered behind her words, present in a shy way, as if unwilling to make a fuss. “Cheeseburger, well, and a vanilla milkshake,” said Jake. Holly turned her head toward Charlie while she scribbled down Jake’s order. Charlie ordered the corned beef hash with eggs, thanked her, and then handed back the menu. “You’re very welcome.” Holly gave a smile, obviously forced but not without warmth. “Be right back with it, boys.” They ate and rushed back to the Tropicana to get ready for a day on the beach. Jake’s older brother had agreed to buy them a case of beer and a bottle of cheap spiced rum for the weekend. They mixed half of the bottle with a carton of fruit punch they’d bought from a convenience store down the road from the motel and filled a large thermos with the cocktail. Properly outfitted, Jake and Charlie walked toward the ocean and staked out a spot on the sand. For the first hour they passed the thermos back and forth until it was empty and watched passersby from behind their sunglasses. Jake fell asleep belly up on his towel. Charlie attempted to follow suit but couldn’t get comfortable on the packed sand and went swimming instead. The water was cold, especially for July, and strands of seaweed and dead bits of jellyfish beat against his legs with each incoming wave. Finding Jake asleep upon returning to their spot, Charlie put on his shirt and picked up his sneakers and took a walk along the beach. Sweat ran down his back and darkened his shirt in a funnel shaped pattern, pooling above the waistline of his swim trunks. Families retreated within their rented puddles of shade where mothers cried out to their children to apply yet another layer of sunscreen. Two boys built a sand castle not far from where Charlie came out of the water. The younger of the two dripped handfuls of wet sand onto the outer wall of the structure; the sand, drop by drop, dried in the midday sun and cascaded upwards into spiraling melted wax statues. One boy ran out of sand and returned to the ocean to fill his bucket. The other, sensing an opportunity to strike, took a shovel to their castle, and hacked away with fierce, childish joy as the labor of an hour was brought to rubble. The boy with the bucket, seeing what had happened, ran after the boy with the shovel and tackled him in the sand. They wrestled, but the boy with the shovel was stronger. A man got up from his beach chair and separated them. The rum had mostly worn off as Charlie turned from the waterline to the boardwalk for a snack and some water. He bought two slices from Jumbo’s and ate them on a picnic table next to the
amusement park on the pier. He dropped a piece of crust for a seagull and watched a flock of the summer-fat birds descend on the handout. Jake was noticeably sunburnt and only just stirring awake when Charlie returned and tossed a water bottle at him. The splotchy red skin on his shoulders and chest seemed to crackle at his involuntary jerk. He tried to stand, but he grew dizzy and sat back down almost immediately. “How long was I out?” Jake asked. Charlie told him he’d been asleep since noon. “I think I’m gonna throw up.” Later, Jake lay on his bed with a wet towel over his chest and sipped lime flavored sports drink through a straw. Charlie sat just outside the room reading a book of detective stories. He checked up on Jake every few chapters. An afternoon nap. The rattle and hum of the air conditioning unit. The border of light along the room’s lone curtain snuffed out, leaving them in darkness except for a single yellow line that leaked under the bathroom door. Charlie could hear Jake’s labored breathing, and the irregular grating of bedsprings from the adjacent room while, outside, other guests made their plans for the evening in muffled voices. +++ Holly Delon was working a double at the Pink Cadillac Diner. After a busy lunch shift, the dinner crowd was sparse, only an elderly couple sitting at a table and a family of three, just about to leave, in one of the booths. When her cousin got her the job two summers ago, she’d told her never to count tip money until the end of the week, and if it was a bad week, to wait until the end of the month. It all evens out. Holly repeated the advice to herself and tried not to watch the clock. Margaret probably has someone over, anyway, she thought, so I might as well stay here and try to make some money. A customer walked through the door, accompanied by an electronic chime that resounded uncomfortably in the almost vacant restaurant. He was tall and wiry, with thick black hair and a hawkish nose, broken once and bent slightly to the left. His face was ugly enough that it had a certain quiet dignity to it; it didn’t seem to belong to a young man. “Hello again,” he said, sitting back down at the counter. “Hello yourself. Where’s your friend?” She’d remembered the friend. He’d had a strong jaw and the dumb, sad eyes of a domesticated animal. It was a familiar look. “He got sick.” “I hope it’s not too serious.” “He’ll be fine; he just needs to sleep it off. Stayed out too long in the sun, he’s burned up pretty bad.” “I’m sure he’ll be alright.” “Yea, he’ll be alright.” The restaurant, empty now except for the American at the counter and the remaining staff, seemed to tighten around them and shut out the night beyond its walls. Holly knew that, at least
for the intermittent lull, the carefully maintained barriers between staff and customer no longer applied. It reminded her of a dream she’d had, a few months ago. She was in a bar where she used to work. She was surrounded by strangers. As one, the patrons stopped their conversations and looked, first to the television above the bar, and then, in mute dread, turned slowly to face something outside. She couldn’t bring herself to turn around and find out what that something was, but instead kept her gaze leveled at the television and braced herself against the familiar interlaced fingers woven through the hair at the base of her skull. The American’s name was Charlie. She sat next to him at the counter, though after she couldn’t say exactly why. He was finished eating, but seemed reluctant to leave, as if he was waiting for something and wasn’t sure exactly what it was. Together, they indulged in the kind of narcissism reserved only for strangers. Unaware of the act, they committed fully to their roles. “Listen, you want to wait for me outside?” she asked. “I need to close up.” Holly changed out of her uniform in the restroom and checked her face in the mirror. A line of mascara curved down her cheek where, in a busy moment, she’d satisfied an itch with a sweaty hand. She walked out the rear kitchen door and around to the front of the restaurant. Charlie was outside waiting. “Let’s go for a walk,” she told him. “I don’t live far from here.” The mood at the diner clung to her and she knew it wouldn’t go away until she did it. She could feel the dream coming on again. Charlie hurried to keep pace. She led him up three flights of stairs to the door of the apartment she shared for the summer with her cousin, Margaret. The lights were still on, and the remains of a dinner for two sat unwashed in the kitchen sink. “Do you have a condom?” Holly asked. “What - no, not with me.” “That’s fine, hold on. There’s one around here somewhere.” She dug around in a drawer and, finding what she wanted, took Charlie by the hand into her bedroom. “I - I’ve never done this before,” he said. “I’ll show you.” “I mean, we don’t even-” “Stop talking,” she said. She kissed him. “Just go with it.” In the bathroom, after they’d finished, Holly washed her face and scrubbed away the leftover streak of mascara from earlier. “You should probably go,” she told Charlie, who was sitting up on the bed waiting for her. “Did I do something wrong?” “No, nothing’s wrong. But you should probably go.” “Can I see you again?” Holly smiled with one corner of her mouth. She walked him to the door, and let him kiss her.
“Goodnight,” he said. Holly, still smiling, eased the door shut. A man in a tank top walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator to get a beer. Soft music played in the room he’d just left where the flickering of a television cast an irregular, blue light on the wall. “Who was that?” he asked. Holly walked past him on the way to her bedroom. The man shrugged and went back inside the blue room. +++ “Bullshit.” Jake applied another layer of sunscreen to the exposed red skin of his arms which was quickly becoming a tan. “I’m serious.” “And she just kicked you out?” “Something like that.” Jake gave a low whistle. “I guess some guys have all the luck.” “Yea, that’s me alright.” “Don’t be so sure it isn’t.” “C’mon, it’s only a semester, you can transfer after that. That’s what everyone there does. Besides, we’ll all be home for breaks.” “It doesn’t feel right. Everybody’s leaving.” Jake grabbed the last beer out of the cooler and took a sip to wash out the thought. The afternoon sun was interrupted by patches of cloud to the frustration of would-be bathers who packed up their gear and made for their rooms. Rain, they muttered, hasn’t rained all month and as soon as I go on vacation. Among these, Margaret Delon was particularly vocal. “First day off in two weeks.” She cursed as she lost her grip on a folding beach chair which bit into her ankle. “I’m bored already.” “Well, call someone. What do you want me to do about it?” replied Holly, trailing behind. “Don’t you know anybody? I don’t want Taylor getting any ideas about moving in.” “He practically lives with us already.” “I know, right? I wish he’d get the hint already.” “You’re terrible.” “You’re a fine one to talk. How about last night? He still in town? Does he have a friend?” “They’re a little young for you.” “So he does have a friend.” Margaret laughed as Holly took out her phone. By sunset the rain had stopped and a cool mist settled over the town. There was a collective buzz of anticipation as vacationers, trapped inside damp arcades and rented rooms for most of
the day, made tentative forays outside to check the weather. The amusement park crews scurried to dry off their rides before the nightly rush of thrill seekers, compensating for a wasted afternoon, choked the boardwalk. As the lights came on for the night, they offered every reassurance that the storm was over, that vacation had resumed. Jake and Charlie washed up after dinner. They slicked back their hair and found the cleanest shirts they had left in their overnight bags. There was still a half hour until their date with Holly and Margaret, and so they finished what was left of the beer. “Can I ask you a question?” “Yea?” “I mean, is there anything I should know? With Holly later. Something that might help.” Jake laughed. “Think you’ll get another shot?” he asked. “Shut up, I’m just saying, if, you know?” “Just stop worrying so much.” “That’s it?” “That’s it.” They met at the convention center just after nine o’clock. Margaret was dressed in a thin cotton dress and a short jacket against the cool breeze that blew in off the water this time of night. Her hair was let down and it swept across her face with each gust of wind. She appeared more wholesome than her younger cousin, who was somehow fragile looking, like she might bruise at the touch. By unspoken agreement, the group broke off into pairs and made its way down the boardwalk. The crowd split occasionally along parallel concrete tracks built for the electric tram cars which ferried passengers up and down the two mile stretch. Breaking apart to avoid being struck by the tram, the sundered crowd fell back in place behind the last car and resumed its anarchic circuit of carnival games and frozen custard stands. Charlie thought he recognized the two boys from the beach yesterday, but he lost sight of them behind a passing tram car. After several unsuccessful attempts to win Margaret a stuffed animal - “Just one more try and I would’ve had it,” Jake confessed, away from the girls - the couples found themselves at the amusement park on Morey’s Pier. “I’ve always loved this Ferris wheel,” said Holly. “I don’t really know why. It doesn’t really do anything, but still. Margaret, do you remember when Uncle Bill took you on it when we were kids?” “I think I screamed the whole ride,” added Margaret. She had a way of appearing to laugh even when she was serious. “What do you say we give it another try?” Jake asked her. “Not this girl, I’m never getting on that thing again.” “Count me out too,” said Charlie. “I don’t go much for heights. Why don’t we try something else?”
“Suit yourselves,” replied Holly. “Jake?” “You bet.” On a bench across from the Ferris wheel, Charlie watched Jake and Holly get into the ride together. Halfway to the top Jake had his arm around her shoulders. It was always like that, Charlie thought, some people up there and some people down here and it’s always the same people too. If you’re up you’re up and that’s it, there’s no changing it and you can’t just step off when the rides over either, you’re there for good. He imagined the two of them together and flinched. “Why don’t we get out of here?” Margaret asked. She always felt bad for the boys her cousin got involved with. “She told me she had a thing for your friend. No reason to let it ruin your night.” “Yea, I’m getting that. I could use a drink.” “See? That’s more like it, come on.” Margaret asked him to wait outside while she bought a six pack from a liquor store down the street from her apartment. Up the stairs and back inside, it was a familiar scene. The dishes from last night were still in the sink. “Try not to think about it,” said Margaret, catching him looking at the door to Holly’s bedroom. She smiled. “You aren’t the first one she’s kicked out in the middle of the night, you know. I don’t think my cousin really likes men all that much.” “What about you?” “I’m easy to please.” Margaret got up to get two more beers from the fridge when someone began pounding on the apartment door. “Maggie! Open up! I know you’re in there!” “Shit,” she whispered. “Let me take care of this.” “One of the guys saw you. Open up!” Margaret went to the door. “What do you want, Taylor? I’m trying to sleep.” He pounded again three times in quick succession. “Who’s in there with you?” Charlie, stunned by the disembodied voice, sunk into the couch in the living room and waited for a sign from Margaret. “Nobody. You’re drunk, go home Taylor. I’ll call you later.” “Let me in,” he begged. “C’mon Maggie, let me in.” “Not tonight.” They listened to Taylor’s receding footsteps as he walked down the stairs to the street. “Who was that?” Charlie asked, once the man was out of earshot. “Nobody you need to worry about.” She sat down next to him and rested a hand on his knee. “You okay, honey?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t, this is just - I’ve gotta go.” “You sure?” she gestured toward the door. “Is this about him?” “I’m sorry, I...” Margaret removed her hand and nodded. She said she understood. The streets were silent as Charlie made his way back to the Tropicana, and so he noticed the two men following him almost immediately. He tried to run as they got closer, but the faster of the two caught him by the shoulder, spun him around, and punched him in the jaw. He fell to the ground. When he tried to stand, the other man kicked him in the stomach and knocked him back down. “What’s the matter? Did you get tired of her? Or maybe you just couldn’t get the job done?” He punctuated each question with a kick. “That’s it, isn’t it? Couldn’t get it up, could you?” The speaker laughed and kicked him again in the ribs and then the two men walked away. Charlie wasn’t sure how long he lay there on the sidewalk, but after a while he stood up and limped back to his room. He cleaned up his face and crawled into bed with his clothes still on. +++ “Mind if I ask you a question?” “Go ahead.” She turned over to face him. “Why didn’t you let him stay last night?” “Why am I letting you stay, you mean?” “Well, that too.” “I’d rather not get into it. Last night I wanted to be alone and tonight I don’t.” “So, that’s it?” “Well, what else is there?” “I don’t know, I think you messed with his head. He feels like he did something wrong.” Holly shrugged. “You don’t know him like I do,” Jake continued. “He doesn’t let stuff like that go.” “Listen, Charlie is sweet, but-” “But what?” “Honestly, if you’re so concerned about him then why are you even here right now?” Holly rolled over onto her back. “See? You can feel guilty all you want but you aren’t leaving. Nobody’s stopping you. Nobody made you get in that ride with me.” Jake traced the pattern of the ceiling tiles with his eyes. “Listen,” she continued, “some people get what they want, and some people just take whatever they get. Those are the only two types of people in the world. Last night I wanted Charlie. Tonight I want you. There’s nothing else.” The apartment door creaked open and shut. They heard Margaret talking outside the room.
“What did you do to yourself this time?” “Punched a streetlight,” a voice replied. “What’d you do that for? You idiot, I think you broke it.” “I dunno, Maggie, you know how I get sometimes. You’re my girl.” They heard a faucet turning and the sound of running water coming from the kitchen sink. “I’m not anybody’s girl.” “Maggie...” “What?” “Maggie...” Margaret giggled, softly at first, and then, with a gasp, “stop it, you idiot, let me get this bandage on first.” “That mean I can stay?” Another door closed shut and the voices stopped. Holly turned back to Jake. “Well?” +++ He’d only slept a few hours, but he wasn’t tired. The boardwalk was empty except for a few joggers and the cool dawn air sent goose bumps racing down his arms. He leaned against the metal railing while the sun peeked over the horizon. When he was a kid, his father used to wake him up sometimes in the middle of the night to drive down to Sandy Hook for a surprise fishing trip. He caught a baby shark once, one of the small, tan colored species that swim in close to shore. They always got breakfast together afterward, and he would fall asleep in the passenger seat of his father’s truck on the way home. It all seemed like a dream then, waking up in his driveway pretending he was still asleep and hearing the other kids playing at the bus stop while his father carried him inside and tucked him back in bed. I guess not everything is different in the morning, he thought. He felt himself reaching out for something more than another memory, so many flashes of sepia lurking about uncertain corners of life. Charlie parked outside Holly’s apartment and waited. He blew the horn once when he saw Jake walking down the steps. Jake got in the car and Charlie began driving. They’d been on the highway for some time before Charlie spoke. “You couldn’t let me have it, not even this once, could you?” Jake counted the mile markers on the Garden State Parkway.
Daniel Zampini is a recent graduate from The College of New Jersey. He lives in Branchburg, New Jersey.
“Overly Sunbathed Woman with Map Hat” by Eugenia Loli
â€œLet My Songâ€? by Raj Sharma
Let my song stand bare,
braving this knife-edged
december wind the way
these gaunt beeches do
till the bones blossom
into april asters,
pristine snowdrop anemones,
“Chakra” by Eugenia Loli
“VRINDAVAN” by Raj Sharma
the streaming call
surging thru leafy lanes
spills upon moonlit swards
beside the dark river and seeps
beneath the skin, melting bone
till my limbs sway into dance then time stops, and the gold
kadamba blossoms never fade away.
NOTE: It was at a village, Vrindavan (India), that Lord Krishna grew up and often sported with the milkmaids. According to Bhagwata Purana, they would forget everything and run to the groves along the banks of the Yamuna river, when he played his magic flute. The tale is basically an allegory of abiding spiritual love.
Raj Sharma’s poems have appeared in literary magazines like GREY SPARROW, FOLLY, JD REVIEW, EXERCISE BOWLER, THE FINE LINE, RED OCHRE LiT, ASCENT ASPIRATIONS (Canada). Red Ochre Press is bringing out a chapbook of some of his poems shortly.
South Jersey Underground