to the first issue of Inkspill Magazine. About six months ago, I got it into my head that I could put a magazine together. Turns out, it’s harder than it looks. I didn’t expect an unknown publication to receive so many submissions; choosing which submissions to publish was tough. A big thank you to everyone who took a chance and sent something in. There are a lot of talented people out there. There are no readers’ letters yet—so if you have something to say about anything in this issue, or anything about the creative industry at all, please feel free to get in touch and your letter might be printed. Lastly, a big thank you to Lauren Hayward and Robin Lupton for their support and for helping out with submissions; and a big thank you to Paul Masek for his help with the website and his constant encouragement. I hope you enjoy the Inkspill Magazine debut. Remember: be creative, and don’t be afraid to spill some ink along the way. Sophie Playle Editor
www.inkspillmagazine.com Mail: email@example.com Twitter: @inkspillmag Read submissions guidelines at www.inkspillmagazine.com/submissions before sending material. Cover Artist: Alexander Gordeev has received a vocational education from NNGU Lobachevsky, and continues to study in higher education at the same university. As well as studying, he works in one of the Russian restaurants known worldwide. He writes and publishes an official magazine called McNews http://musicboy08russia.deviantart.com Model in a picture: Turutina Ekaterina
Contents issue 1 35 41 52
ARTICLES 100 Stories for Haiti – Greg McQueen Performance Poetry – Ray Morgan Watership Down – Lindsay Oberst
4 12 18 31 49 54
SHORT STORIES The Art of Invisibility – Angela Readman Before Helping Others – Kat Hausler Kevin – Bernard Brachya Cohen The Carver’s Son – Django Gold Jasper’s Betrayal – Jessica Patient The Pump Twin – K. R. Sands
9 11 29 30 34 45
POETRY A Woodchip Fell from the Sky – William Doreski The Course of Empire – Gardner Mounce Red Door – Neila Mezynski Speaking of Mayer – Lee Minh Sloca Any Dope Can Write a Ditty – Russell Bittner Pedro – Ray Morgan
10 34 40 44
ART Swell – Gardner Mounce Steps Leading Up to Lookout Hill – Russell Bittner Attack of the Furies – Jim Fuess A young Midwestern girl looking bored, lace curtains in window light and the silhouette of a flightless bird – Todd R. Behrendt
| Short Story
slip through the cosmetics department, shiny and white as a spaceship. Salesgirls squirt ‘Lovely’ at middle-aged women, but don’t glance at me. They sniff whiffs of cough-drop as I pass, but can’t locate the unlovely source. Lipsticks line-up like delicious bullets of cherry, but I resist. Today is silver. When I reach a gun-metal compact I slip it into my pocket right in front of the orange smile of the L’Oreal lady. Being invisible makes this easy. I can’t have been born invisible. No midwife would wrap a pink blanket round a bundle of warm squirms and hand it to a mum for her to figure head from feet. I was as visible as the next girl; nurses looked into the clear plastic crib. I wonder though, if there are more like me, if any are born invisible; almost mothers giving birth to nothing. At night, I listen for the starving cries of invisible girls, hollered mouthfuls of ‘feed me’ dismissed as the wind. I didn’t happen that way; I’m lucky. 4 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
Even if I wasn’t winning any bonny baby contests, people peered into the pram hopefully. Then, people stopped looking because I was invisible, or it was the other way round. My condition’s a mystery. Sometimes, it’s an art, like stealing or being a really good singer who can’t stop when the music’s turned off. Other times, it’s something wrong with me. Possibly hereditary, from my Dad who’d been a no show since I was born, but it definitely wasn’t passed from Mum, who no one could miss if they tried. Everyone saw me with my mother. She won every My Mum’s Prettier than Yours contest at school. The sleeves of her furry jacket whispered to her ears as she tucked her blonde hair behind. At the fishmongers, the man gave us an extra whale shaped fishcake, handed them over and winked, ‘Hope you and your sister enjoy them.’ Mum would laugh, all sparkly. Her laughter bounced off the wooden counters and sneeze
guards; all eyes followed it like a glimmer they wanted to catch. At home, I tried to coax it out, so it would shimmer through our flat, but Mum didn’t laugh much there. Her laughter lived with an audience; it belonged to fishmongers, bus drivers, tradesmen and teachers who kept their arms by their sides to hide sweat patches when Mum came to school. Sometimes, Mum worried I was contagious. On her tip toes, before the mirror, she ‘put on her face’ everyday before work, like she knew if she didn’t, one day it wouldn’t be there. At night, she lounged on the sofa staring at her complexion in a magnifying mirror, tweezers perched. Mostly, I was ordinary, though there were symptoms. I said things which weren’t heard, told Mum I was hungry and she’d look through me as she added up the bills. I wasn’t yet invisible, but was learning to shrink. When we went on the bus I kept my mouth shut about all the numbers I knew, slouching when I looked tall. ‘Look small,’ Mum hissed, ‘if the driver asks, say you’re four, so I won’t have to pay your fare.’ When I grew, Mum let down my hems and stroked the fabric sadly, asking, ‘How will I afford more? You’re growing me into an early grave.’ Mum took a second job in a pub down the road. She closed the curtains, locked the door and told me not to answer. ‘Don’t make a sound,’ she said. ‘If anyone sees you on your own the police
will come and take you away.’ It wasn’t hard to stay out of sight. My condition was already starting to kick in, the sort of kick that’s a leg under the table, tapping a knee until a bruise comes and no one knows why. The first time I noticed disappearing was at school. Everyone was making Father’s Day cards; Miss went from desk to desk, looking at crayoned hearts and round bellied men in cars, not pausing at my drawing of nothing. The vanishing went into overdrive after she read my work in class. For days after, laughing boys spotted me a mile away: my shoes, my coat, my nose couldn’t hide. The next time we wrote stories I ended mine with ‘then I woke up’ like the slower kids did. My hand faded as I held it in the air. It blurred
[I wasn’t invisible all at once, but parts of me blended into walls]
softly at the edges like a watercolour at first, then, even the colour was gone. I wasn’t invisible all at once, but parts of me blended into walls. A graze on my shin where some kid ran into me, a holey shoe, slipped past Mum’s vision. I was glad. Last time I got too big for my boots the gas man had just been. Her laughter with him still made the hallway blush, glow, as she saw me struggle to squeeze into my wellies. ‘Gas to pay, now this,’ she said. ‘Don’t I work hard enough?’ Her laughter left like a light switchInkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 5
| Short Story ing off. I spoke, but she didn’t hear. It was hard to hear me I guess, when I was barely there. She talked about all the nice things she couldn’t have because of my ever growing feet, took her purse, and threw a tenner on the floor. ‘There, have your shoes. I’ll walk to work’ she said, slamming the door. I left the note where it fell on the carpet, as if the money tree she always talked about would grow. I sat quietly clasping my toes, trying to push them inside. I looked at my feet and they grew faint as ghosts, until they didn’t seem to be there and I saw right through to the foot of the bed.
s I got older, there was no hiding my invisibility (or there was, because no one saw me.) Mother’s laughter bounced through the flat like a hard ball as she sat on her boyfriend’s knee. Laughter cracked them up, it seemed to crack Mum’s face open to show the gold inside. Asking what’s so funny made them laugh more. The first time she brought him home, I knew to stay out of sight. It had been a year of worrying, guilty feet and sky rocketing fuel.
‘Just be quiet when he’s here,’ she said, ‘and we might get to go on holiday. I might even get you a new Dad.’ I wasn’t sure I wanted one, but I’d do just about anything to make her happy. I sat on the floor in the gap between the sofa and the wall, fading fast as they watched a movie with the lights down and Bob’s hand moved across to her bare leg on the settee. ‘Bedtime,’ she said. I closed the door with a transparent hand, heard them laughing and sighing through the walls. Bob moved in, with his records, hair waxes and the endless combs he ran through his hair, two at a time (one in each hand, like a gunslinger fallen on vain times). My school report needed signing, we’d run out of shampoo, but no one saw. I watched the pair dance in the kitchen, Mum giddily swirling in her nightdress as her ‘Fred Astaire’ in Simpsons boxers span her from his hand. They collapsed onto a chair giggling like they say schoolgirls do. She got up to make him a sandwich and fake tutted when he slapped her backside. At school, I tagged behind gaggles of girls who neither invited me nor shooed me away. They gasped round the
[I left the note where it fell on the carpet, as if the money tree she always talked about would grow]
6 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
hand-dryer sniping at teachers. ‘Did you see his bogie on the projector? The more he cleaned it, the more he smeared it,’ I said. No one looked at me. I was like the Popular Girl Whisperer. If I made a joke no one could tell where it came from, but within seconds a cool girl would repeat what I said and everyone would laugh.
stroll through the food hall, inhaling the smell of bread and coffee, and sneaking only a packet of those funny silver cake decoration balls into my bag. A woman with a basket walks across my foot and can’t see to say ‘sorry’. Being invisible isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes I’ll have flu and because Mum can’t see my Rudolph nose, but remembers I must be there, she looks at the clock and says, ‘Get a move on… School.’ I’ll read the blackboard through a glassy haze, my sneezes wafting the ponytails of girls in front of me, but no one sees to send me home. These days, I mostly leave the flat and just walk to the park. I sit on swings that seem to be merely swaying in the breeze The worst part of being invisible is no one can see; it’s also the best. In class, I look out the window or play Friends episodes in my head. Teachers don’t ask. Girls get their bra straps flicked by boys, and I know I’ll never have to decide whether to be embarrassed or outraged. After school I walk through stores like this and salesgirls never notice me slip something into my pocket: packets of lozenges from the newsagents, a
lipstick or nail varnish for Mum to make her smile. ‘I saved up,’ I’ll say, or, ‘I found it.’ Mostly, Mum doesn’t ask. Nice things just appear. I love watching her marvel at the designer fragrances, as if the shapely bottles hold her reflection as a genie inside. She paints her nails before work and reads the names of the colours out loud, ‘Siren’, ‘Pink Temptation’, as if they’re spells. Stealing is so easy I set myself little challenges. One day, I’ll lift only pink things, another, blue or yellow. It’s more fun. Mainly, I just kill time till Mum comes home. She returns from the betting office at 5.30; Bob doesn’t put on his security guard uniform till 9. He wakes from his shifty sleep when I get home and wanders round the flat like a sleepy bear looking for food or a small animal to reawaken his hunting skills. When he first came to live with us, he ran his hands through his hair, stumbled along in his underwear towards the TV or the fridge, unaware of me. These days, I never slip by; I remind myself to fade, but somehow he sees. Times I’ve been visible, like on my birthday, they watched my every move as I unwrapped the Nintendo. ‘Happy Birthday, Teenager. Just so you know, I won’t trade in your mother and run away with you till you’re eighteen.’ Bob winked. He and Mum laughed like clogged drains. ‘It’s just his way, teasing. You should be nicer to him, we can do a lot worse. There’s much worse men in the world,’ Mum says. Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 7
| Short Story She’s right. Things are better since Bob. She cooks chicken on Sundays; sometimes we eat steak. There’s new worktop in the kitchen and the tap doesn’t leak. The living room got painted like Mexico and is full of little Yuka trees and music. Sometimes we go for Pizza or rent movies and have Chinese food delivered in foil trays; Mum’s laughter rolls through our street. Things are better, but it’s like I’m growing more invisible to everyone else, and more visible to him everyday.
t was winter. The lock on the bathroom door got stiff when the wood swelled with damp and didn’t fit the bolt. I had little call for it as an invisible girl, with a mother who was usually at work anyway. I was showering over the bath when Bob walked in, in his half-slumbering state. I stood behind the frosty plastic curtain, cold and clinging in places to my skin, holding my hands over myself like a more visible girl. He didn’t say ‘Oops’ or ‘Sorry’; he rubbed his eyes and looked at me for a moment, as if he was still sleeping and this may be a dream. Through the shower curtain, I could make out his bulk, standing over the toilet. I heard water falling and he left the room without flushing so the shower wouldn’t turn cold. Invisibility’s lost on him. He’ll be hanging out in the kitchen when I come home and look directly at me to offer me half his sandwich. ‘Watching your figure?’ he smirks, when I decline. Even if I come home late he notices. 8 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
‘You got a boyfriend? Bet you have. Do you open your mouth to kiss him?’ he asks. ‘Stroke him, over his clothes?’
hy don’t you like him? He never laid a hand on you?’ Mum says. It’s true. She’s looking tired. She tells me to be more civil, and reminds me how much better things are, how happy she is, or will be, if I don’t get in the way.
browse the kitchen department, shining with more silver than I can carry. A ladle, an egg timer, whisk, a small vegetable knife, I place into my schoolbag as I head to the exit towards home.
Angela Readman’s graduated an MA in creative writing with a distinction. Her work has won the Biscuit and Ragged Raven competition. Her poetry collection Strip, about women and the porn industry, was published by Salt. Her poetry has been in The Times, Mslexia, Ambit, Dreamcatcher and Staple. Her prose is written more secretly.
A WoodchiP Fell From the
William Doreski Watching my cat ride her bike through relentless Boston streets I feel wanton as a parent. This morning a woodchip fell from the sky. Now it leans against a skyscraper. That chip measures two hundred feet wide, five hundred feet high. Its grain ripples in twenty-foot waves. What tree produced such a fragment? As a crowd stares at this monument my cat bicycles past, grinning. No one startles, no one cares that lacking opposable digits my cat cycles more adroitly than most children. I photograph the woodchip from every angle. It must weigh many thousands of tons, yet the skyscraper looks undamaged, and no one was hurt.
‘The Second Coming! A chip off God himself!’ someone jokes. My cat wheels past again, her expression ferocious as she closes on her prey. City workers arrive with chainsaws and a crane. They stare at the massive woodchip, then adjourn for coffee and donuts. I find my cat’s bicycle flopped against a tree on Boston Common. She’s munching half a squirrel. I scoop her up and wheel her bike home in hopes of resolving this slanted day in a snifter of brandy dark as a sundown, rich enough to cancel my sins. William Doreski’s work has appeared in various e and print journals and in several collections, most recently Waiting for the Angel (Pygmy Forest Press, 2009).
Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 9
Swell - Gardner | Mounce Short
10 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
The Course of Empire Gardner Mounce
It seems the course of empire is such that a piano string will sonically stretch to mud. Or as the heartstrings snap and fuzz like circuitryâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; the copper wiring is pulled backâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; the atomic alien is revealed on his throne. He says he hijacked us forever ago. Gardner Mounce is currently in the undergrad Creative Writing program at the University of Memphis. He has been published once previously in the Claremont Review. www.gardnermounce.com
Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 11
| Short Story
andy wondered whether anyone on the plane was a first-time passenger. Probably not. No one was watching the sour-faced stewardess demonstrate the usual emergency procedures. Except Sandy. The stewardess had unflattering straight bangs and no visible waist; in one hand she held a disconnected seatbelt, in the other a sagging yellow oxygen mask. Sandy had been on hundreds— thousands?—of flights, had even already flown this route between Boston and DC. Nevertheless an almost pious sense of duty compelled her to pay attention to the safety procedures, to look over both shoulders for the nearest emergency exit, to which a thin row of red lights would guide her. After all, what if this were the flight where it happened, a real emergency? You never knew. Ted said Sandy’s frequent flights—or more accurately, her constant absence— were ruining their marriage. But who had pressured her to take this position in the first place? They had known what 12 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
kind of commitment it would be, known there would be travel. Meeting with foreign and domestic vendors was Sandy’s most important task. Brisk, charming, competent: the friendly face of Fifth Avenue. Just enough lines around her eyes to look experienced, yet still attractive, with wavy blonde hair and rosy complexion, her figure a little more feminine since thirty, but not much worse for the wear. Braxton’s on Fifth favored domestic vendors, and most of Sandy’s travels took her no further than the Eastern seaboard. Not that that made any difference to Ted. Gone was gone. The only difference was whether they called or emailed. Emails came from Japan and Europe, where calling was too expensive. Sandy preferred communication at this distance, where she could write to him, her words and his free from mood or tone of voice. Though she was occasionally gone long enough to miss her husband of nine years, the phone calls—overextended,
full of stilted remarks and pauses neither could fill—brought Sandy no sense of closeness to him. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Ted had said, when the chain of department stores in which Sandy had scrabbled her way up from salesgirl to manager to corporate staff member offered her the position of buyer. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for what? To make money, she supposed. Ted worked at a tutoring company which prepared students for SATS, LSATS, and MCATS. His earnings varied sharply with the time of year and the state of the economy— could parents afford an SAT prep, or should they just buy one of those howto books?—and no matter how much he and Sandy tucked away into their joint savings account, his vision of the future was haunted by the specters of desperation and poverty. Already he worried about the cost of sending children they hadn’t yet conceived to Ivy League colleges. Children. Another fighting point. In Sandy’s private opinion, Ted didn’t want them any more than she did. He just thought he was supposed to. But she’d never felt sure enough of herself, of them as a couple, to tell him that. She’d married him on the pretence that she was willing to consider having children, because at twenty-five the problem had seemed too far in the future to break up over in the present. Now thirty-five loomed near, and Ted had mentioned adoption, maybe in an effort to drown out the loud ticks of Sandy’s biological clock. He wasn’t any readier than Sandy;
she knew that. From the beginning, they’d talked about waiting, how it wasn’t yet the right time. And neither was ready to give up that comfortable procrastination. The convenient lie that a right time would come. As far as Sandy could tell, children were little packages of endless demands, things you had to attend to before you could look after yourself. It wasn’t that Sandy disliked children, or disapproved of couples who had them. On the contrary, she admired parents. But she admired them in the way she admired aid-workers in the third world: without any desire to emulate them. If Sandy had to sum up what turned her off of having children, she might have said it was because they always came first. Except on airplanes. The sullen, figureless stewardess, her mouth set in a grim line parallel to her unfortunate bangs, was now demonstrating how passengers should pull the loose rubber sacks over their mouths in the event of a drop in cabin pressure. She looked directly at Sandy as she spoke, maybe because Sandy was the only one looking at her. She explained to Sandy how to affix the mask, and reassured her that, although the rubber sack wouldn’t inflate, it was working and she could go ahead and breathe normally. Then came that familiar little reminder: Sandy was to be sure she had her own mask on firmly, before helping others. Having exhausted the subject, the sour-faced woman in her poorly-cut grey uniform—adorned with miniature Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 13
| Short Story airplane wings—wandered off in search of a drink cart and several dozen singleserving bags of crackers. Sandy closed her eyes. She’d flown this route enough times to know its length, the way a highschooler knows the number of minutes until lunch break without looking at the clock. Long enough for a satisfying sleep, long enough that she’d get bored without. An ideal length. Washington to New York was so short you woke up more tired than you’d fallen asleep, whereas flying overseas or to the West Coast, Sandy couldn’t sleep the whole flight and had to ration the pastime of napping, interspersing it with in-flight movies. That’s what the passengers on either side of Sandy were doing, wearing headphones and blank expressions, occasionally convulsing with silent laughter. On her right was a heavy-set young woman holding a—mercifully—sleeping infant in her arms, watching some Harry Potter sequel. On her left was an ostensible businessman, the generic kind she saw so many of on routes like this, major metropolis to major metropolis. Young, overdressed—who needs a silk tie on an airplane?—probably recruited straight from the MBA program. As much gel
as thick brown hair and a bored, lazy expression in his mud-colored eyes. Smug to compensate for his insecurity. Oh yes, she knew the type, had known it even in college, when she and her fellow liberal arts students saw them on their way to class in the Business Department, absurd and incongruous, with backpacks over suits. Sandy had majored in English Literature, minored in Theater, and planned on having a much more interesting life. She smiled to herself. She wasn’t bitter, just well, yes, a little bitter. And tired of arrogant young men like the one sitting next to her, tired in fact of all kinds of people, and especially the ones she did business with, who required her stale jokes and artificial cheer. The more contact she had with her fellow men, the less she could stand them. When was the last time someone had surprised her, been any way but just as she expected? Ted maybe, though that had been more a gradual transition from best-friend to boy-friend than any sudden plunge into love. Thinking of Ted back then was nicer than thinking of her upcoming meeting, was much nicer than thinking of Ted now, with yesterday’s fight like a black
[Sandy dreamt of love the way she’d used to dream of flying: In the dream she rediscovered it as something she’d once known how to do]
14 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
gathering cumulus over her peace of mind. Sandy fell asleep wondering how long she could put off their usual phone call, whether Ted would make it if she didn’t. Fell asleep and dreamt of Ted, young and without all the dull worries he’d put on with his wedding ring. Or no, not Ted—someone else. Young and free and new to her. Sandy dreamt of love the way she’d used to dream of flying: In the dream she rediscovered it as something she’d once known how to do, but forgotten all these years. Something at once easy and magical. Her marriage to Ted was over, and she and—what was his name? No matter, they had their whole lives to find out about each other—flew away into a blissful pink sky and forgot it. They spent their lives together in peace and fidelity; they traveled the world, slept under foreign skies in one another’s arms. There were no children and no work and no worries. Just the two of them, and all eternity together. Even when the thud of the plane’s wheels coming out reminded Sandy where she was, she remained under the lovely spell of her dream, truer than any truth she could awaken to. She kept her eyes closed, not wanting to shatter the thin shell of bliss which had grown around her. She was warm, luxuriously warm and comfortable as she’d never been on any flight anywhere. Not even resting her head on Ted’s shoulder en route to a honeymoon in Hawaii neither could afford. The reflection was bittersweet, a happy moment,
but sad now that it was over between her and Ted. Sandy opened her eyes a sliver to see whether she was really awake. Through the soft filter of her long eyelashes, she saw herself sprawled and draped and tangled in the young man to her left, who was breathing peacefully, his head on her thighs and an arm around one of her knees. Her stomach against the curve of his spine and their hearts beating against each other. So he had dreamt it too; he was still there. Sandy wasn’t embarrassed and made no attempt to change their positions. Of course. She hadn’t recognized him in her dream but of course it had to be him, had always been. And what lay between them was beyond embarrassment, beyond good and evil and age and marital status and all of it. But she was already asleep again, already back in the beautiful dream of this new love. And it was as beautiful as before. Or almost. Nothing was missing; the love was as whole, as fulfilling as it had been. No, nothing missing, only—something added. Ted. Ted and his twenty travel guides for their ten days in Hawaii, Ted pale and nervous in the ugly tropical shirt he’d bought especially for this trip. Or the day before that first long plane ride together, Ted, his round blue eyes host to a close cousin of fear as he said ‘I do’ too loud, so loud that even the pastor had laughed. Ted now, waiting for her to call and say she’d arrived, waiting for a call that might never come. She couldn’t, she just couldn’t. Lovely as this all was, she and Ted had Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 15
| Short Story made a promise to each other, something sacred to the two of them. Bigger than all the fights and pettiness, bigger even than the warm glow which had settled over Sandy’s heart in this rose-colored dream. It would be hard, so hard to say why, but she had to give it up. The plane hit the runway with a jerk and Sandy sat bolt upright, already speaking before the clouds of sleep had cleared from her thoughts. She turned to her left, where the young businessman was yawning and blinking bleary eyes, the dream as heavy on him as on her. ‘I’m sorry.’ Sandy didn’t allow herself time to consider what she was giving up, but let her voice betray that this hurt her as much as it did him, ‘But I’m married.’ Bewilderment in the lazy, mudcolored eyes. The recent MBA looked around, as if an explanation might be in his seatback or across the aisle. ‘Excuse me, Ma’am, were you talking to me?’ The dream was gone, the understanding between them dead. Everything within Sandy sank so suddenly she almost expected sagging rubber bags of oxygen to drop from the ceiling and save her. Awake now from every illusion and wishing nothing but to have dreamt those last three words, Sandy opened
and closed her mouth a few times, feeling hot blood fill her face. He had felt it too, she’d been so sure. ‘Did I say something? I must have been talking in my sleep.’ Sandy’s explanation came too late to keep the young businessman from looking at her askance and hurrying out of his seat as soon as the fasten-seatbelt signs were turned off. After all they’d been through together. She pretended to look for something in her carry-on luggage under the glare of the heavy-set mother with the infant she must have drugged because it was still asleep. Waited until the young man was out of sight before exiting. She saw him again in the airport, with a few more of his ilk in age and dress. Seen from a new angle, he was younger than she’d thought, maybe still a student, sauntering along as if he owned Dulles International. Passing him on the way to the baggage claim, she overheard him entertaining his companions in boasting, juvenile tones. ‘This weird middle-aged lady fell asleep on me on the plane, and you are not going to believe what she said when she woke up.’ Weird? Middle-aged? That kid wouldn’t know love if it bit him in the
[‘This weird middle-aged lady fell asleep on me on the
plane, and you are not going to believe what she said when she woke up.’]
16 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
ass of his expensive khakis. Sandy wished Ted were there, so she could hide in him, hide her shame. Watching that other man, that other life, walk away, she felt weak and used-up, as if he’d taken something from her. You’re not going to believe what she said, he’d told his friends, and no, she bet they wouldn’t. Her cell didn’t get reception in the airport but there was a row of payphones against the wall, and Sandy fed one of them quarters until it connected her to home. It would cost her time, time she didn’t have, and now she’d have
to rush to dress and make the meeting. But this was an emergency. Bigger than work and bigger than children and bigger than anything they could fight about, because when the plane’s going down, none of that matters. If they survived, maybe she’d get a different job, make less money doing something she cared about. Make more time for Ted and for herself. Learn how to be happy awake. Because it was like the stewardess had told her, she couldn’t help anybody until she helped herself. Ted answered on the first ring.
Originally from Virginia, Kat Hausler is a graduate of New York University, and now lives in Berlin. While training as a translator, she completed her first book, The Heroes & Other Stories (All Things That Matter Press). Outside her day-job as barista, she is completing a second book.
| Short Story
kevin Bernard Brachya Cohen
arianne opened a book which she feigned to read, then glanced up to survey the children before her. This was her ritual: observing them all—the babies in their strollers, the preschoolers climbing and running about—giving each candidate a turn before deciding which child she would imagine as her own. She settled back on the wooden park bench in her favorite spot in Rittenhouse Square, near the bronze goat with the dark green patina. As always, the goat seemed to wait patiently as tots clambered to straddle it with the assistance of a mother or nanny. The cluster of women, children and strollers was larger than usual, drawn to the Square by the sunny warmth of the April day. Dressed in muted good taste with an open book in her lap, Marianne could remain inconspicuous among the regulars in the Square: the children, students, retirees, dowagers in wheelchairs navigated by attendants. Here and there a homeless person sat alone on a bench 18 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
beside an overstuffed plastic bag. Glancing up from her book, Marianne noticed a pale, tired-looking young woman pushing a stroller in her direction. The woman, perhaps still in her teens, pointed to an empty space on Marianne’s bench and asked, ‘Is that taken?’ ‘No. Please sit down.’ Marianne moved over to make more room, not taking her eyes off the baby. It was asleep, tucked in with a blue blanket and wearing a blue knitted hat. Marianne continued staring—it was rare to have a child so physically close. ‘What a beautiful baby,’ she murmured. ‘How old is he?’ ‘Nine months.’ A remote quality about the woman caught Marianne’s attention. ‘It’s your child?’ The woman nodded yes. ‘There are so many nannies here,’ Marianne hurried to explain. ‘Sometimes you don’t know.’ ‘He’s my baby.’
‘You’re lucky to have such a beautiful child.’ Marianne continued staring at the baby, at the round face, the beautiful long lashes; she was now totally absorbed, almost forgetting the child’s mother. ‘His name is Kevin.’ Marianne nodded and smiled, without looking away. After a few silent moments, the young woman spoke again. ‘Would you like him?’ Startled, Marianne could not believe what she had heard. ‘What did you say?’ ‘I asked if you’d like to have my baby.’ Her thoughts a jumble, Marianne suddenly realized that the woman was waiting for a reply. Then the words finally came out. ‘But why? Why would you do that?’ The woman remained calm, her voice a low monotone. ‘I can’t tell you why. I just have to do it. I’ve been waiting for the right person. For weeks. I’ve been watching you. You love children, I can see that. You’d be a good mother for my baby.’ The shock of the offer was too great to bear. Thinking only that she had to get away, Marianne rose from the bench. Resisting the urge to run, she walked rapidly, past benches whose occupants looked up as she fled. She reached the safety of the library where she worked, then hurried to the staff lounge to compose herself in the privacy of a bathroom stall.
efore getting married she and her husband Arthur had agreed that Marianne would work full-time until they had a baby; then she would stay home with their child. Living in their condo near Rittenhouse Square, he could walk to work and they’d have the advantages of city life—the restaurants, concerts, theaters—all nearby. When the child— or children, they had hoped for two, perhaps three—would be ready for school, they’d buy a home in the suburbs. But that was not to be. After ten years of marriage and an assortment of physicians and medical procedures had transformed their sex life into a depressing mechanical ordeal, hope for a child faded, ending when she reached her fortieth birthday. Arthur refused adoption. ‘I don’t want someone else’s baby,’ he said. Except for when it rained or snowed, Marianne went to the Square every day during her lunch break. By quickly finishing a sandwich or salad brought from home, almost an hour remained for her visit. Marianne had never revealed
[The shock of the offer was too great to bear] her ritual to anyone, but now decided she must tell Arthur about her strange, disturbing encounter in the Square. At dinner, as they sat by the window at Treetops, a restaurant overlooking the Square, Marianne kept waiting for the right moment. When at last the waiter brought their coffee, she realized she Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 19
| Short Story
could not tell her husband what had happened. Why remind Arthur of their inadequacy and failure? It was a matter to be dropped and forgotten. She would never see the woman again. But the image of the baby would not leave her. Replaying the scene, Marianne remained awake much of the night, condemning herself for running away. It was a foolish, impulsive act—an opportunity lost. She had to go back to the Square.
fter looking repeatedly at her watch the next morning, Marianne decided to skip lunch again and hurry to the Square. It was another warm, sunny day. The benches were crowded with young workers on their lunch hour, men in their shirtsleeves, women wearing slacks 20 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
and bright summer dresses; several people were scattered on the Square lawns, lying in the sun. Passing two men tending a flower bed, Marianne headed for the bronze goat. She searched for the young woman and her baby among the cluster of children and strollers; and saw that the woman was not there. Uncertain, she stood still for a moment as two preschoolers sped by on tricycles. Scanning the crowded benches, she found a spot being vacated by an older couple. She watched the children for a while, listening to the high pitched voices of play, the rapid bursts of small running feet. From time to time she glanced at the entrances to the Square, hoping the woman would appear. Soon her lunch hour was over. Marianne felt she couldn’t leave; somehow she’d make up the time. Then, as the lunch crowd began thinning out, Marianne saw the woman in the distance, walking along the path toward her. Alone. She had given the baby to someone else, Marianne thought. Engulfed in despair she turned away, hoping the young mother would ignore her and pass by. But the woman soon stood before her. Hesitant, Marianne looked up and asked: ‘Where is the baby?’ ‘At home.’ ‘At home? Alone?’ ‘No. My neighbour is watching him.’ ‘I’m sorry I ran away yesterday—it was a silly thing to do.’ As if they had known each other for
a long time, the young woman sat down beside Marianne and said, ‘I knew you’d come back.’ Again there was remoteness, a blank quality in the thin, unsmiling face. What seemed at first to be a lack of emotion, Marianne now sensed as a deep sadness. ‘I could see that you loved my little boy. You have no children, right?’ Marianne nodded. ‘I hoped you would change your mind, after thinking it over.’ Marianne was reluctant to reveal more about herself to this stranger. ‘Why do you want to give up your child?’ ‘Because—I want to make sure he’s well taken care of—before I go.’ ‘Go? Are you sick?’ The pallor, the stringy hair, the thin unsmiling face—they all suggested a serious illness. ‘No. But I’m going to die.’ An abusive husband or boyfriend? Or a bizarre premonition? Puzzled, Marianne asked, ‘You’re so young— young enough to be my daughter. Why do you think you’re going to die?’ ‘I know it.’ Marianne glanced at her watch. ‘Oh, I’m very late,’ she said, rising from the bench. ‘I wish I could stay but I’ve got to get back to work. Will you be here tomorrow?’ The woman looked up at her. ‘I don’t know.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘I can’t wait much longer.’ ‘I want the baby—but I have to talk to my husband. I can’t just take the baby
without talking to him. Can you come here tomorrow?’ The woman hesitated, then nodded. ‘Okay. We’ll talk tomorrow.’ Marianne extended her hand, as if to formalize the agreement. ‘I’m Marianne,’ she said. ‘Your name?’ The woman’s voice dropped to an almost inaudible whisper. ‘Sandra.’
he baby preoccupied Marianne for most of the day. Staring at a book on the library counter, she would suddenly be pulled back to the reality of her job when someone would say: ‘Miss?’ She tried to focus on her work, but her thoughts drifted away. How would she tell Arthur about the baby? She had to act at once, and as the workday drew to an end Marianne began to anticipate the confrontation with her husband. ‘Didn’t I tell you I don’t want to adopt?’ he’d say. ‘I can’t even think about it.’ And then he would bring up the offer he had been given to join a prestigious Philadelphia firm that traced its origins back to the colonial period. He was in the middle of negotiations—why was she subjecting him to more stress now? It was his anger, the rising voice, the flashing eyes, that she dreaded. Arthur was an attorney, trained to be adversarial, to press an argument forward until he emerged the victor. At times she wondered which came first: was it a confrontational personality that led him to choose law? Or was it legal training and experience that produced his combative nature? Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 21
| Short Story But there were times when one had to take a stand, and now she had no choice. Reasoning would not work; he could always counter her arguments. Only an expression of feelings might reach him. At dinner she waited for the right moment. They were at their favorite windowside table at Treetops. Arthur had ordered wine for their dinner, something he did only on special occasions. ‘It looks like they accepted my conditions,’ he announced, smiling. ‘That’s wonderful!’ She leaned forward and gave him a kiss. ‘Now we can splurge—do something to celebrate.’ She was delighted with his good mood. When he smiled, she saw again the boyish handsomeness that had first attracted her to him. It was then that she thought of the baby. ‘I have some news too,’ she said. He looked up from his plate, expectant. ‘It’s a strange adventure of a sort, really. I met this young woman in the Square yesterday. She came over to me— she was wheeling a baby—a beautiful child. She sat down on my bench beside me and...’ Marianne hesitated, suddenly overcome by an urge to cry. ‘Go on,’ Arthur said. Taking a deep breath and regaining control, Mariann lowered her voice. ‘I was admiring the baby and she asked me if I wanted it.’ ‘How bizarre!’ ‘Yes. It upset me so I had to get up 22 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
and leave.’ ‘She must be some kind of a kook,’ Arthur said. ‘There was something strange about her. A lost quality.’ Arthur picked up his knife and fork and cut into his steak. ‘I hope she doesn’t bother you again.’ ‘Well—I saw her in the Square today.’ ‘You did?’ ‘Yes. She said she was expecting me. She seemed to sense something—my wanting a child. She said I would be a good mother for Kevin—her baby. She wanted me to take him right away.’ ‘God! I can’t believe it. What did you say?’ ‘I... I said I’d think about it.’ ‘Think about it? The woman is sick. Crazy. Her child should be placed with a relative, or put in a foster home.’ Marianne reached out and rested her hand on her husband’s arm. ‘Arthur— the baby is beautiful. Such a sweet temperament...’ Arthur shook his head slowly. ‘We’ve been through this before. You know how I feel about adoption.’ ‘I know. You only want your own child. But I’d love for you to see this baby.’ ‘I don’t want to see it.’ ‘Arthur. Please. Don’t jump to conclusions so quickly. Just think about it for a while.’ ‘I don’t want to think about it.’
hen Marianne arrived at the Square the next day, the lunch time crowd was missing, kept away by an
overcast sky. She walked past a woman with disheveled long hair and a tattered coat feeding a cluster of pigeons, then walked by a homeless man stretched out on a bench, asleep. Otherwise the Square was empty and silent. The bronze goat stood alone, except for Sandra, with Kevin in his stroller at her side. ‘I hope you haven’t been waiting long,’ Marianne said. Sandra shook her head. ‘We just got here.’ Marianne turned to the baby, who was looking up at her with a direct gaze. ‘Hello, Kevin.’ Marianne thought she saw a smile; Kevin’s hands waved at her in short, jerky motions. A surge of love welling up within her, she asked: ‘Can I hold him?’ ‘Sure.’ After fumbling with the seat belt, Marianne lifted the baby and took him in her arms, feeling his soft cheek against hers. Then she held him forward so that she could look into his face; his lips were parted in a gummy smile; with a low cry of pleasure Marianne clutched him to her breast, then finally returned him to the stroller. As soon as she was seated Sandra asked: ‘Did you talk to your husband?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well?’ ‘I need more time,’ Marianne said. ‘It was sort of shock for Arthur. So sudden. I just have to talk to him some more. I know I can convince him.’ Sandra shook her head. ‘If you can’t
decide by now, you never will. I’ll have to find someone else.’ ‘But I have decided,’ Marianne insisted. ‘I love Kevin. I want him. It’s just that Arthur doesn’t make decisions quickly. He’s a stickler for details—a perfectionist. He goes over and over—’ Sandra shook her head again, her face drawn. ‘I can’t wait.’ Her patience strained to a bursting point, Marianne demanded: ‘Why?’ ‘I can’t go on.’ ‘Just one day? Tomorrow?’ Then the reply, matter-of-factly, ‘I’m going to kill myself.’ With a gasp, Marianne pulled back, again feeling the urge to flee, yet aware of a need to somehow rescue this young woman. ‘You mustn’t. You have a beautiful child, you’re young, you have your whole life before you. Why would you want to end it? Have you talked to someone—a doctor, a minister?’ The woman ignored Marianne’s questions and concern. Her face was drawn, not with irritation but with sadness. ‘I have no family. No one. It’s—it’s too hard. I want to end it. I just have to make sure my baby has a good mother before I go.’ Her tone indicated the decision was final. ‘You mustn’t,’ Marianne insisted. ‘We all go through bad times—when life doesn’t seem worthwhile. I know.’ Had there not been moments when she herself, in the depths of despair, thought of ending it all? Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 23
| Short Story ‘You have your health. There are other jobs, other men. You may not see it now, but that’s the truth. Things can change. You must never give up hope.’ As soon as the words had left her, Marianne realised the significance of what she had said. If she could convince the young mother not to take her life, would the woman give up her child? Of course not. Had she ruined her chance to have the baby? The woman was shaking her head. ‘I have to leave my apartment in two days. Things haven’t worked out for me in this world. I’ve suffered all my life—things won’t get any better. It’ll just be more of the same.’ ‘But Kevin! What will happen to Kevin?’ ‘I’ll find someone—’ ‘No! I’m sure I can convince Arthur. Please, just one more day.’ Sandra was silent. The overcast sky had darkened and Marianne stood still, waiting. Finally Sandra said, ‘All right. Tomorrow.’
arianne was too distraught to return to work. Her agitation would be visible to others; she might lose control and cry in front everyone. She decided to go home and phone in; it would not be a lie to say she had taken ill during her lunch break. She hurried out of the Square toward the high rise building where she and Arthur lived. The wind was now gusting and a few drops fell. A piece of torn newspaper blew up against Marianne’s leg, clutching at her as though it were 24 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
alive. Turning to let the paper blow away, she glanced back hoping that Sandra and Kevin had escaped the rain. She reached her building and entered her apartment just as a clap of thunder sounded. To get through the remaining afternoon hours, she flopped down on the sofa and picked up the Philadelphia Inquirer. Attempting to read, Marianne realized that the content was not sinking in; despite her going over the same paragraph two and three times, thoughts of Kevin kept intruding. Again she saw the blue eyes, the long lashes, the toothless half-smile; again she felt the weight of the small body in her arms, the smooth cheek resting against hers. Dropping the paper, she yielded to the imagery of the baby, running it over and over in her mind.
s soon as Arthur stepped into the apartment Marianne announced that she had ordered dinner from a neighbourhood Thai restaurant. ‘Did you go in this rain?’ ‘No. I had it delivered.’ ‘Fine,’ he said. ‘It’s miserable out.’ She set the table while Arthur had his martini in the living room. The table, against the wall of their small kitchen, was just big enough for two. She decided to wait until after dinner before confronting Arthur, but could not hide her preoccupation and concern. Helping himself to a couple of spoonfuls of Pad Thai from the white cardboard container, Arthur asked, ‘Why so quiet? You look grim. Bad day?’ When Marianne hesitated, he added:
‘Is it the baby?’ She nodded. ‘We’ll talk about it later.’ ‘Why later?’ ‘It’ll just be unpleasant. I don’t want to spoil your dinner.’ Arthur shrugged and they sat in silence. He finally said, ‘You’re not being very good company. I think you’d better talk about it now.’ ‘All right, I will. I saw them again— the woman and her baby. She said she can’t wait.’ ‘Can’t wait? What’s the rush?’ Marianne paused, then said: ‘She is going to kill herself.’ ‘Oh my God,’ Arthur murmured, slowly shaking his head. ‘And you want us to get involved with this woman?’ ‘I tried to talk her out of it but she’s determined. She’ll give the baby to someone else tomorrow if I don’t want it. I do want it. I want that baby, Arthur.’ He sat back. ‘And if I refuse?’ ‘I can’t give up this chance. If necessary, I’ll raise the baby myself.’ He stared at her, his mouth open. ‘That’s crazy. You don’t really mean that.’ ‘I do.’ Neither spoke for the remainder of the meal. They cleared the table together, and Arthur broke the silence. ‘Let’s talk more about this.’ They took their favorite spots in the living room, she in a corner of the sofa, he in his recliner. They were like two antagonists in a courtroom, she thought, he the lawyer having the advantage. But the agitation she’d felt all afternoon and the racing of her heart at dinner were now gone. The decision to take Kevin
even if it meant the end of her marriage, a decision that she had not consciously planned until she heard herself utter it, now produced an unexpected calm within her. She felt a distance as he now spoke to her. Was she emotionally preparing to live without him? A life in which she would be dependent on her small income? It meant cheaper quarters, scrimping; how would she manage? In their decisions—what to buy, where to live—he was the more practical one. She, the book lover, would give little thought to these matters: as always, she followed her heart. ‘This woman is suicidal,’ he said, with slow deliberation. ‘She is planning to end her life. Isn’t it our duty to prevent her suicide? By accepting her baby, aren’t we sanctioning–-even abetting—the taking of her life?’ Stunned, Marianne was unable to reply. Her first thoughts were selflacerating. In her eagerness to have Kevin, she was willing to be an accomplice in Sandra’s death. The awful word reverberated in her mind: Murderer. Arthur, facing her in silence, let his accusation sink in. Her eyes welling with tears, she felt a sudden explosion of anger. ‘How horrible! What an awful thing to say! You’re wrong, wrong! I tried my best to stop her—I urged her to get help, I told her things can change, one must never give up hope! But she is determined... What else can you do? If someone insists on suicide, how can you stop it? She is going to do it—someone Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 25
| Short Story has to take the baby—I want it to be me. You’re accusing me of murder—I hate you!’ She ran into the den, slammed the door and threw herself on the day bed, sobbing. Then as her crying began to subside, her life plan emerged with a new clarity. Yes, she would leave Arthur. She had thought of it early in their marriage, but decided to adapt to his cool, distant personality. Now with his preoccupation
at her she was soon asleep, only to be awakened by the sensation of a weight pressing down on the bed; someone was sitting beside her. ‘Marianne...’ It was Arthur’s voice, subdued so as not to startle, but insistent enough to wake her. She said nothing, but turned to face him in the darkness. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I had to talk to
[In her eagerness to have Kevin, she was willing to be an accomplice in Sandra’s death] with work, she was more than ever being taken for granted, like a piece of furniture rendered invisible by familiarity. She considered leaving at once, but the hour was too late; she’d spend the night in the den, then pack in the morning; she’d move in temporarily with her widowed mother, back to her childhood house in Narberth. It would be the beginning of a new life. There would be preparations needed for Kevin’s arrival—food, bottles, diapers, a crib. It would not be easy, but she felt confident she could handle it all. Rather than feeling overwhelmed, she found the challenge exhilarating. Ignoring Arthur who sat watching her, Marianne left the den for the bathroom, pulled a sheet and blanket out of the hall closet and made up the daybed. With the image of the baby smiling 26 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
you.’ He paused, then seeing that she would remain silent, went on: ‘What I said was very unkind. I’m sorry I hurt you. It was out of desperation—I don’t want you to leave me. I love you.’ She was beginning to make out the shape of his body. He reached for her hand through the cover; she didn’t move. ‘I had no idea this baby meant so much to you,’ he said. ‘Of course I’ll accept it. I want us to be together, the three of us.’ Her eyes filling, she slipped her hand out from under the cover and he took it, then leaned over and kissed her. ‘We’re in this together,’ he said.
rthur called his office in the morning to cancel all appointments and Marianne informed the head librarian
she had to take a personal day for an emergency. The rain had stopped, and when they left for Rittenhouse Square the streets and sidewalks were still wet in places with a lingering fresh smell. ‘We’re early,’ Marianne said as they headed for the bronze goat. Only two women with their charges were present. ‘She isn’t here yet.’ They found a bench in the sun that seemed dry. Marianne nudged Arthur. ‘There she is,’ she said, indicating with a turn of her head. ‘She’s coming down that path... Oh, she’s alone.’ ‘That doesn’t mean anything,’ Arthur said. ‘I know. But it still scares me.’ ‘She wouldn’t just hand over the baby here in the Square.’ Marianne gave his hand a squeeze to hush him. ‘Here she comes.’ They both rose as Sandra approached. She looked the same, Marianne observed, shabby yet clean, but for the first time there was a faint smile on the wan face. ‘This is my husband, Arthur.’ Sandra nodded, and after they sat down she turned to Marianne and said, ‘I want to thank you.’ ‘Oh,’ Marianne said, ‘We have to thank you.’ Sandra said quickly, ‘I mean I want to thank you for helping me. For letting me talk to you about my troubles. I was up all last night, thinking about what you said—that I shouldn’t give up hope, that things can get better.’ There was a sudden heaviness in
Marianne’s body; she slumped forward and Arthur quickly put his arm about her, gripping her shoulder. Sandra said, ‘My neighbour—the woman who watches Kevin when I have to go out—she said we could stay with her until I find another place.’ She paused, looking at Marianne. ‘I guess you’re disappointed.’ Marianne remained silent, and Sandra rose to leave. ‘Well—thanks again.’ As they watched Sandra walk away, Marianne stared into the distance and began to cry. Arthur reached into his back pocket for his handkerchief. She turned and pressed her face into his coat, her crying a muffled whimper. ‘You really helped that girl,’ Arthur said. ‘You saved a life. That’s more than I’ve ever done.’ When Marianne failed to respond, he leaned over and asked: ‘Are you all right?’ She didn’t answer. Finally he broke the silence. ‘Remember, we’re in this together. We’ll begin looking tomorrow.’ She wasn’t listening. Her face still buried in the darkness of Arthur’s coat, she saw Kevin in her arms, looking up at her, making gurgling sounds and smiling. ‘I’ll make some calls,’ Arthur said. ‘I’ll contact a family agency.’ Marianne sat up and Arthur relaxed his arm. She turned to him and said, ‘No.’ ‘But they’re the people to see about adoption. This time we’ll do it right.’ Marianne shook her head. ‘Oh, come on now, Marianne. It’s Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 27
| Short Story over with Kevin. You heard what the girl said. It’s over. We have to move on.’ ‘Maybe she’ll change her mind. She’s—she’s an unstable person. Maybe she’ll change her mind again.’ Then it occurred to Marianne that she knew nothing about Sandra. What was her last name, her address? How would she find her? ‘This is getting ridiculous,’ Arthur said. ‘We’ll adopt another child. I insist on it.’ ‘Oh you do?’ Marianne said. Fixing her gaze on the entrance to the Square, she suddenly rose and began walking down the path. He called out, ‘Marianne!’ She didn’t stop. He hurried after her and was soon at her side. Grasping her arm, he tried to lead her back to the bench. She pulled away, staring ahead. ‘I want my baby,’ she said.
rthur watched as she reached the edge of the Square; when she disappeared from view he remained standing. Finally he walked back to the park bench he’d shared with Marianne, waiting for her to return. He found himself thinking of the past—his and Marianne’s life together. He wondered if it was over. Then it occurred to him that Marianne might have gone back to their apartment. Impatient to see her, he hurried home; upon opening the apartment door he was overwhelmed by a depressing, tidal wave of silence. He found scraps in the refrigerator for a solitary dinner, then fought the 28 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
silence by turning on the television, not really watching anything on the screen. He considered contacting the police, local hospitals, or Marianne’s mother, but decided his mother-in-law would be frightened and it was probably too soon to make the other calls. He fell asleep and awoke at dawn, surprised to discover that he was dressed and facing the morning news on TV. He was able to go back to the Square and wait again by skipping lunch. In the days that followed, the lunch hour visits continued.
rthur settled back on the wooden park bench in their spot in Rittenhouse Square, near the bronze goat with the dark green patina. As always, the goat seemed to wait patiently as tots clambered to straddle it with the assistance of a mother or nanny. The cluster of women, children and strollers was larger than usual, drawn to the Square by the pleasant warmth of the September day. Dressed in muted good taste and feigning to read his paper, Arthur could remain inconspicuous among the regulars in the Square: the children, students, retirees, and dowagers in wheelchairs navigated by attendants. Here and there a homeless person sat alone on a bench beside an overstuffed plastic bag. Glancing up from his paper, Arthur noticed a pale, tired-looking young woman pushing a baby stroller in his direction. It was Sandra. Soon the stroller was near enough for him to see the baby; it looked up at
Arthur intently with wide-open eyes, as if studying his face. ‘This must be Kevin,’ Arthur said. ‘Yes,’ Sandra said. She looked about, then asked: ‘Where is your wife?’
Bernard Brachya Cohen is a clinical psychologist whose career includes both clinical practice and teaching. His short story, “Healing,” is in the current, April 2009 issue, of Workers Write Journal: Tales from the Couch. Earlier stories have appeared in Midstream, The Villager, The Reconstructionist, Lines and Letters, and other publications.
Red Door Neila Mezynski Listen. I’ll tell you about that red door. I know that door. It doesn’t squeak. Sure. Still. I’ll close it soft as a smile. Piercing air. Screams, at me. Not well you know. Make her complete. Me. He in the next room, Geronimo and him, scotched. Tight lipped, kicking foot holding back the disappointment of not wanting. Only. Her only. It will come in the middle of something and bite when you’re not looking, like the needle in the doctor’s office after you catch the kid and then they see it. Big brother one, no trouble. A fine specimen. Nose in his books and beautiful Brahms. Hated her, until when he nearly blew off his hands in the tackroom, I didn’t tell. Brother two, rocker musician, me and him. Out all night. He could, fix me up. Yeah. I’ll be good. She’ll keep baking those chocolate chip cookies and looking for my trouble (to be complete). I’ll give him one of those fresh baked cookies. Dancer choreographer turned painter/writer, Neila Mezynski has fiction and poetry published on Snow Monkey Journal, Word Riot, Kill Author, Dogzplot, Rumble, Mud Luscious, Scrambler among several others.
Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 29
-Speaking-of-MayaLee Minh Sloca
Lee Minh Sloca: I escaped Vietnam two weeks prior to its collapse. After college, I worked for 14 years with special needs children. I live in Los Angeles, CA. After campaigning for Obama in the ’08 election, I’m currently seeking works that will align with the President’s philosophy of community.
here was a skilled carver of wood and he lived deep in the forest with his wife and son. They lived by themselves, the three of them, as they had for many years. Most of what they needed was on their own property; the carver had cleared an acre for vegetables and a bit of wheat, and they had chickens and hogs and a milk cow. Every year, just before winter ended, as the trees began to unfreeze, the father would ride into town and pick up supplies for the coming year. Besides this, the carver’s family kept away from the outside world. Everything they needed could be taken from the earth or cut away from the forest. But the carver’s wife became ill. One day she complained of fever, the next she could not stand or eat, and the next she was unable to speak. The carver’s son was very scared. His father told him that his mother would die without a doctor, and so he had to make a trip to the nearest town to fetch one. He told his son that he would ride straight
through to town and that he could make it back with the doctor in three days. He told his son that he must take care of his mother, keep her warm, and change her rags, and give her water when she could drink it. There were many orders waiting in the workshop, a set of chairs and a long table, but the carver told his son that he had only to worry about protecting his mother, and that meant also to keep the torches lit at night. In the winter months, the animals of the woods slept and there was no need to fear their presence. But from spring through autumn they prowled through the woods and would kill the carver’s livestock and uproot his crops if allowed. This is what the carver’s son had been told. The carver had built a strong fence around their property, and every fifty feet or so there was planted a torch handle, which the carver would light at dusk. There were drums of pitch in the carver’s workshop for this purpose, a dozen or more. The carver spoke to his son. The Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 31
| Short Story trees that surrounded their property, all trees, were alive. They were not alive like humans or even animals, but they could think and speak to each other, and move, wrench their roots from the ground and lurch like giants. For three generations the family of woodcarvers had lived among the trees, harvesting their bodies for craft. The trees hated the human presence, but they were powerless to remove them. They slept through the day and through the winter season, and could only move when it was warm enough for their roots to slip away from the soil. But they were deathly afraid of fire; they feared it more than even the axe or the saw. They feared the heat, which could chew away at their innards, and the light, which curled their skin. The carver revealed all this to his son. He told him that their family had been able to stay deep in the woods, for many years, but that the trees would always both fear and despise them, and
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for that reason they must be careful to keep the torches lit at night. The carver looked at his son and asked him if he believed him. The carverâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s son looked at his father and said that he did. They embraced, and the son was left alone. The carverâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s son believed his father. On the first day of his absence, he marched along the boundaries of their property, spying into the faces of the trees beyond the fence. Thousands of them gazed back at him with dead and wrinkled faces. Evening arrived and he broke flint on one torch, using it to ignite the pitch on the others. He spent the night with his mother, held awake at her bedside, wiping her face with cold water when she cried out and keeping his eyes on the forest wall. He did not sleep on the first night, but did so the following morning, waking at noon from dreams of wooden hands and teeth, tearing his mother in half. He spent the second day as he had
spent the first, circling the fence and staring into the forest wall, both hoping and fearing to catch a piece of movement. He lit the torches well before evening. Over the second night, his mother was in great pain, she moaned and shivered through much of the night, and when she was silent she stared into her son’s face with a look like cold glass. Again he did not sleep, and the next morning he waited for the sun at the fence line, staring defiantly into the dead faces of the trees. He spent the rest of the day in a sleepy haze, glaring into the forest wall with only hatred. As evening approached, he crawled in bed with his mother, and remained there as the night seeped in. The moon was only a sliver. The soil was faintly warm. One by one, the trees pulled themselves up from their sleep, their branches creaking. The wind whispered through their leaves. They felt, for the first time in as long as they could remember, that the torches were not lit, and after a moment’s counsel they advanced. Their roots tore through the dry soil, thrusting into the air and clawing at the next patch of land to bring them closer to the carver. They approached the fence and wordlessly collapsed and splintered the dry rails that were the bones of their murdered brothers. They crowded closer towards the carver’s house, thousands of them, crushing the crops and stepping on the animals that blocked their way. The carver’s son awoke to the sound of grating. He stumbled to the floor
and saw legions of tree trunks, shifting blindly against the stone walls of the house, their leafless limbs twisting through the window. His mother remained asleep, but with eyes open, her face a mask of dizzy wonder. The carver’s son screamed and crawled to the fireplace, where a glow still showed. He grabbed a live coal in his hand and flung it through the window. A low moan emerged from the outside as several branches thrashed across the room in pain, overturning a chair and showering the air with slivers of bark. The carver’s son reached for an ember and charged into the window with the orange fire in his hands. The wall gave way and he was suddenly overwhelmed by a clutch of branches. They tore at him and crushed him into the stone hearth, spreading the live brands of the fire into nothing. The trees leveled and scattered the carver’s home, grinding it all into blood and dust, until the sun peered over the horizon, holding them as towering monuments to their avenged brothers. What became of the carver himself is unknown. Whether he returned to his former land, or abandoned it, whether he swore revenge on the trees that had consumed his work and bloodline, the story does not say.
Django Gold is a journalist and writer currently staked out in Northern California. The “D” is silent. His fiction has appeared in such publications as BostonNOW, Stylus, Naked Singularity, Paper Street, and The Smoking Poet. He doesn’t have any kids or dogs.
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Any Dope Can Write a Ditty “Some have at first for Wits, then Poets past, Turn’d Criticks next, and prov’d plain Fools at last; Some neither can for Wits nor Criticks pass, As heavy Mules are neither Horse or Ass.”
Any dope can write a ditty without pity, without hope; and yet few surpass the witti ness of Alexander Pope. Short on grit, he’d often deftly denigrate with eloquence, hoping he could hook a hefty lefty with benevolence. Let me “live, unseen, unknown,” & “unlamented,” let me die. Solitude, with wit, cemented Pope’s relentless slam on wry. Any dope can write a ditty, Scriblerous, and lacking hope; only one could write as wittily as Alexander Pope.
Russell Bittner lives and writes on a small island off the East Coast. The island is called ‘Long’ and his borough is called ‘Brooklyn.’ Like Hobbes, he believes that “life is short, brutish and nasty.” He also believes, however, that—like this tiny clod of an island—art is long; and, with Donne, that no man is one, entire of itself—either an island or a work of art.
100 Stories for Haiti:
The Editor Speaks Author Greg McQueen asked hundreds of writers worldwide to contribute to a collection of short stories, 100 Stories for Haiti. This is the projectâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s story.
f someone had told me at the beginning of January that by March I’d have a book out, I’d have laughed, ‘By March? You must be kidding!’ Yet, a book did come out, thanks to the generosity of hundreds of writers and editors, and now, thanks to readers it is starting to do some good. 100 Stories for Haiti has been out for three weeks at the time of writing this and has sold nearly 400 copies. I’ve yet to receive the first month’s figures from the publishers, but a quick tally tells me that the book has raised over £2000 for the Red Cross Haiti Earthquake and Disaster Recovery appeals. But it doesn’t stop there. BBC Audiobooks America is making an audio version of selected stories from the book appearing on iTunes and other audiobook stores by the summer.
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Garimpo Editorial are working hard translating 100 Stories for Haiti to Portuguese ready to release a paperback and ebook edition, 100 Histórias do Haiti!, for the Brazilian market. The idea for the book came quite spontaneously one morning. I didn’t sit down and make a BIG PLAN. I decided I wanted to do something for the victims of the Haiti earthquake and expected nothing more than to produce a cobbled together ebook to raise a few hundred pounds. The experience of producing 100 Stories for Haiti has taught me a lot in a very short period of time—the book went from concept to publication in six weeks! Yet the most valuable lesson is that, above all, what we produce as writers can take on a life of its own.
One Morning From 100 Stories for Haiti
sit up on the edge of the bed. Floor cold under my feet. I yawn and rub the sleep from my eyes, head heavy. Tiny hands hook onto my shoulders, and my daughter’s bright little face pops into view. ‘Mummy making breakfast?’ ‘It’s Daddy’s turn today, sweetheart.’ I slide my arms so she can climb on my back. ‘What would you like?’ She frowns, as though deciding what to have for breakfast is the most important decision in the world. ‘You need the bathroom, darling?’ I ask. She shakes her head. ‘You sure?’ She nods. I’m desperate for a pee. But I get up and glance to my wife still dozing under the duvet before piggy-backing our daughter downstairs and depositing her on the sofa. ‘I’d like yoghurt and toast and blueberries,’ she announces. ‘And can I watch television?’ I smile and pick up the TV remote. The news comes on. BBC World. A reporter standing in front of a collapsed building, something about the rescue efforts in Haiti continuing, despite the fading hope of survivors. I flick away. Cartoons. Then I glance at my daughter – she’s giggling, good, the news didn’t register – before wandering into the kitchen. Our house is small. Three bedrooms,
a bathroom, an open plan lounge and kitchen, fake wooden floors throughout, and a garden the size of a postage stamp. We love it. As I stick the kettle on and pop a slice of bread in the toaster, I hear the shower upstairs. Routine. My wife gets ready, while I make breakfast, so our daughter gets to day care by 9AM. ‘So, do you want butter or honey on your toast?’ I ask my daughter. Again, she frowns, the weight of the world on her eyebrows. ‘Butter,’ she says. ‘No wait... Honey,’ she nods quite vigorously, ‘honey, Daddy, honey.’ I finish making my daughter’s breakfast and pour myself a cup of tea before joining her on the couch. Honey covers her mouth and chin, as we watch cartoons, together. I sip my tea. Head filled with an image of a reporter and a building reduced to rubble. I get an idea. Forget all about needing to pee. Ten minutes later my wife comes downstairs. ‘Hey, why aren’t you dressed?’ She’s talking to our daughter while looking at me. ‘Oh, yes, time to get dressed, darling.’ I switch off the television, and my daughter cries and kicks, as I carry her upstairs. I raid my daughter’s wardrobe. None of the clothes I put on her match. They never do. I don’t know the ‘What not to wear’ rules, as long as she’s warm and comfortable and dry, that’s what matters. My daughter is still snivelling as we make our way downstairs. She wants to watch more cartoons, but we’re running Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 37
| Article late. Routine. Wipe her nose. Ask whether she needs to pee. Coat on. Shoes on. Gloves on. Hat. Kisses. ‘Have a lovely day, sweetheart,’ I say, waving from the front door, as my wife and daughter climb into our ice-covered car. I close the front door, and a shiver hijacks my body. It’s been snowing on and off in Denmark for two months. It’s bloody freezing. Yet, most mornings, I stand in the doorway of our house wearing nothing but a t-shirt and pyjama bottoms. I go upstairs. Wash. Throw on some clothes. Then I wander into the spare room and switch on my computer, intending to start writing the last bit of the novel I’ve been working on for nearly a year. Idea. Reporter. Rubble. ‘Right,’ I say aloud. ‘Must do something...’ I type some notes. A few strungtogether facts from the news reports I’ve seen about the earthquake in Haiti. I print them. Switch on my webcam, and... Like a shiver, the idea hijacks my body. I glance at the notes, but I am not really reading them. The words come out because they are already there. ‘Dear Twitterverse,’ I hear myself say. ‘On January 12th, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck near Haiti’s capital…’ When I am finished, I post the video to YouTube, and embed it on my website. I post it on Facebook and Twitter for good measure, and then wander downstairs and stick the kettle on. 38 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
As I am making tea, my mobile phone chimes. An e-mail, someone commented on my YouTube video. Blimey, I only just posted it. I read the comment. Then I read it again. Thought. What the heck have I done? I hear the front door open, and my wife comes in. She smiles, peels off her coat, and dumps it on a chair before joining me in the kitchen. She slips her arm across my shoulders and kisses my cheek. ‘The drop-off was fine,’ she says. Then she frowns, because she’s seen the look on my face. ‘You okay?’ ‘I don’t know... Think I might have just made a total arse of myself.’ Her frown deepens. ‘I just posted a video online, asking writers to send me their stories. I am going to publish a book and donate all the money to... I don’t know, Haiti. Maybe, the Red Cross.’ She’s still frowning. ‘Some guy on YouTube posted a comment,’ I glance at my phone, not because I need to, because I am nervous. ‘He says I’m taking the piss out of the aid workers over there.’ ‘What about your novel?’ she asks. ‘I thought you needed to finish it?’ ‘I do. But...’ I shrug. Don’t know what else to say. ‘You haven’t thought this through, have you?’ she says. I shake my head, as though I am a ten year-old confessing to breaking a window. My wife smiles. Now let me tell you something about that smile, because
it deserves at least a paragraph. It’s a fantastic smile. Stunning, actually. My wife never half-smiles. It’s always teeth, and always gums, and there’s something in it, as though she somehow has hidden knowledge of the workings of the universe. When my wife smiles at you, you’d best be prepared... It’s as if she knows that some mystical force is going to bless you. ‘I think it’s a wonderful idea,’ she says. Smiling. ‘Really?’ ‘Yeah. I’ll help you make the cover if
you like.’ ‘Cover?’ ‘Books need a cover, don’t they?’ ‘Yeah,’ I say, ‘A book needs a cover... ’ Shit, she’s right... I haven’t thought this through at all. ‘And it needs quite a lot of other stuff, too.’
100 Stories for Haiti is available in shops and online. Proceeds go to helping the victims of the earthquake: http://www.100storiesforhaiti. org/buy-the-book/
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Attack of the Furies - Jim Fuess www.jimfuessart.com
Thoughts of a
Performance Poet Ray Morgan
erformance poetry is a bit scary. Not watching it- although several times I have felt the tension in a room while hearing an epic 8-page ode to unrequited love. No, the performing itself takes a lot of balls. About a year ago I decided to bite the bullet and start reading out my poetry, which had sat on the page for a very long time. It came about because I had started volunteering at a spoken word and music event and people were asking if I was going to step up to the mic anytime soon. I resisted for a few months then decided to be brave, and read out a silly poem I had written called ‘The Inner Pensioner Tuts’. It was a short, snappy piece about how I’m convinced there’s an elderly person inside my soul, who gets frustrated with bad customer service, sighs loudly in Post Office queues and tuts at swearing on buses. I got on stage with Bambi legs and the spotlight in my eyes, holding a rattling piece of sweaty paper in my
hands. I rushed through it, not waiting to hear the reaction from the audience and hopped off stage as quickly as I’d hopped on. I sat back down as the open-mic section of the evening continued, with a sudden feeling of relief. I had done it. It wasn’t fantastic, but I had done it. When the interval came, people came up to me and said “Hey that poem was really good!” and I was a bit stunned. They’d actually listened? It felt great. Over the next few months, I performed at every open-mic slot during those events. My delivery picked up, I began to relax, and I was getting good feedback. I started to get that feeling I had when I was at university (studying for a creative writing degree): I was learning, and it was exciting. It may not have been learning from an experienced scholar, but I was learning on the job. I had written poetry ever since I started school but it had always been just for me. I mostly kept it in a brown paper-covered book my dad bought Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 41
| Short Story me aged 10, and that stayed firmly in a drawer. But when I started performing it I decided to make it public: why not share my words? I have become truly obsessed with – and loyal to – blogging. I set up my blog because I had files and files on my computer but never did anything with them, plus it was nice to say to people after performing a slot “Have a look at my blog!” I don’t mean to sound egotistical but I felt like I was really starting to do something with my poetry. It added something extra. This way it also meant I could look objectively at how I was writing. If you keep it in a book to yourself you’re never going to be truly critical – in any case I wasn’t going to be. So each time my mouse hovered over the Blogspot ‘publish’ button, I cast a very critical eye over what I had put down. I was putting my words out there: they were going on show. This was my own editing service and it was making me think “How would I read that out? Would that work, me standing on a stage and reading it?” – I was starting to look at how to write not just poetry, but poetry for performance. Something I was learning was that you have to pick poems to suit the audience. I had never realised this before as my writing was only ever seen by my own eyes. There were some poems I’d read out at a pub open-mic which would get belly laughs, yet at smaller, more poetry-central events I’d be met with a series of blank faces looking back at me. I wrote one poem, a long poem that used magical realism and was quite description-heavy that I had read once at 42 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
an open-mic night and got a devastatingly tumbleweed reaction. I swore I’d never read it out loud again. Yet one evening at a lovely poetry night held in Wivenhoe – where the audience was almost entirely over sixty – I decided to read it again. I took my time, savouring each word and description and really trying. When it finished there was complete silence,
Top Tips • Set up a blog or a website, a place to point people to if they want access to more of your work. • Try to relax. It’s natural to feel nervous, but you may feel more confident the more you perform. • Pick poems to suit your audience. • Enjoy the experience and remember that performance poetry is not just about reading off a page! followed by someone sighing contentedly, and then big applause. It had been a success and I felt great. I now knew that with some poems I had to bide my time; I had to wait for the right audience. I tried another technique when my confidence was waning slightly and I was asked to support the vivacious and hugely talented Salena Godden on her tour of East Anglia. I hadn’t written anything
| Article new in a while and although it meant honing my existing poems, I was worried I wasn’t good enough to do a gig like that. Luckily, the venue was one of the coolest I’d seen; decorations hung from the ceiling despite no discernible holiday being on the horizon, people lounged in comfy seats, they sold Blandford Fly ale (more on that later) and there was a whole menu just for their different types of tea. In short, it was my sort of place – see I really am a pensioner at heart. The night was called ‘Speakeasy’; ironically the one thing I worried about was it not being easy. I had seen Salena performing before and knew that she held the audience in the palm of her hand, the crowd was getting rowdy and the compere alone had everyone bellowing with laughter. Was I going to be able to do this? I decided to bolt the bottle of Blandford Fly. I was nervous anyway; maybe the booze would kill off some of my
nerves? The ale was so easily drinkable it went down the hatch swiftly, and with time to do a quick burp I was being introduced and my legs were carrying me to the stage. I started off introducing myself and before I knew it I was ad-libbing, adding extra bits to my patter, bantering with a couple of ‘hilarious’ audience members and performing my funny poems (this wasn’t the place for an ode to lost love). More than that, I was enjoying it! Now, I’m not suggesting you get blind drunk every time you perform. In fact since then I’ve never drunk alcohol before a gig. But what I did learn from that one example was that I needed to loosen up, and ever since that slightly merry performance I’ve been a lot more confident. The audience responded to my enjoyment with their own, and I think it was the first time I really ‘performed’; this wasn’t just reading off a page. I guess that’s the whole point.
Ray Morgan started writing stories on her mum’s typewriter aged six. She graduated from Roehampton University with a degree in Creative Writing in 2007 and now runs an arts organisation that specialises in spoken word events. Ray is a performance poet. She loves cold mornings, the sea, and real ale. Todd R. Behrendt hails from the Adirondacks. His work has appeared in Burn Magazine, Fstop Magazine and Direct Art, with other work due to appear in Fractions, SpringGun Press and Unheard Magazine. This image is from a series of silver gelating prints created in a traditional wet-process darkroom using non-traditional techniques. No digital methods are employed. www.trbehrendt.com
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| Short Story
A young Midwestern girl looking bored, lace curtains in window light and the silhouette of a flightless bird - Todd R. Behrendt
Pedro was sweating. Not just the kind of sweat you get from taking the stairs instead of the lift. Not just a bead or two on your forehead, or upper lip. Pedro had soaked through his t-shirt, trousers, and bed sheets. The duvet was cold. He padded to the bathroom, dabbed his face with toilet paper and didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t notice the snowflakes of paper left on his brow. Everything was damp; he felt like a baby, or an incontinent old woman. Sleep never came easy for Pedro. The morning brought cold light, harsh, and made his fingertips feel like hard pads. He put the kettle on, staring through his slatted blinds at the brackish tree outside, hung with silvery rain. There was a bitter smell mingled with the hot metallic scent rising as the kettle started whistling on the stove,
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high and lonely. He made coffee, letting the steam steam his glasses, gulping the hot liquid down like nectar. Pedro showered, powdered his pale body, smelled his armpits, applied deodorant, and bundled up his clothes. He wore a red and blue checked shirt, clean jeans, everything worn with that white scuff of overwashing. The cigarette he lit walking down his street unfurled into the air in blue clouds, his other hand clutching his bindle stick of dirty clothes, clean on yesterday, now crusted with his drying salt-sweats. Mary was his saviour. She stood beside the whirling washers, the smooth, bouncing dryers, hands clasped resting on her ample stomach, then flipped the shop sign from OPEN
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to CLOSED when Pedro came in the door. He brought the cold in, slicing through the detergent warmth, cutting a draught around Maryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s legs. They exchanged simple conversation, he untied his bundled clothes as Mary, ever tactful and polite, busied herself with work behind the counter. He tipped sweet-smelling powder into the hollow drum, looked over at the warm, rounded woman, and she walked towards him. Her thighs rustled under polyester layers, and she budged the machine with force, knocking it into motion, no coins needed. He sat back, a grateful smile, her cheeks blooming with blush. They sat on the bench, deciding this was the coldest January theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d ever seen, and this daily ritual held their hearts in its hand like baby sparrows, with softly beating wings.
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| Short Story
Jasper’s Betrayal Jessica Patient
addy pretends Jasper doesn’t exist. But he’s wrong in the same sort of way that having spaghetti rings and baked beans together is wrong. Daddy brings in three sets of knives and forks. He gives me a spoon too. ‘What about Jasper?’ I ask, staring up from my seat at the dinner table. My legs swing and bash against the chair legs. One day I’ll grow and my feet will touch the carpet. Daddy frowns. He walks off but immediately storms back with an extra spoon. Mummy stands in the doorway with her arms crossed. She always puts out a dinner for Jasper. Mummy can’t see him because she looks in the wrong direction when she talks to him. Sometimes they argue about whether or not I should have a brother or sister but I have Jasper. We eat in silence. Jasper tries leaning across to taste my food. He likes peas. I don’t, they taste like grass. I tip a spoonful onto his plate. 48 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
‘A new family moved in across the road,’ Daddy says, pouring the peas back onto my plate. ‘Another single mother in this street.’ Mummy tuts. ‘I helped her unload the van,’ Daddy says cheerfully. ‘Aren’t you friendly.’ Mummy chews her meat: she swallows, I swallow, Jasper swallows. ‘You’ll like Meg, her daughter,’ Daddy says. Mummy snorts, she sounds like my Piglet toy. I don’t answer. Friends always have to go home but Jasper stays. We play sleepovers and hide under the bedcovers. Friends can leave you on the swings and run off. I don’t like friends. ‘It would be nice for you to have some real company.’ Mummy glares at Daddy, ‘You make it sound like Katie is lonely.’ ‘You’re blaming me?’ Daddy says and slams down his fork. ‘Are you arguing?’ I say, shifting my
gaze between them both. Daddy shakes his head. Mummy smirks the exact way as me when I’m in trouble. I look at Jasper; he mouths the word ‘liars’. I giggle. ‘No laughing while you’re eating,’ Daddy snaps. Mummy shouts, Daddy yells back, Jasper runs off. I climb off my chair and follow him upstairs but Jasper isn’t waiting for me at the top of the stairs. I creep into my bedroom but he’s not under the duvet. Cindy’s droopy buttonholed eyes give me the same answer as my searching: he has disappeared. I cover her ears so she can’t hear the raised voices. I hold Cindy’s rag doll body tighter. Jasper needs to come back. addy slowly unloads the shopping bags from the car. I want to find Jasper but if I wander off than I won’t get sweeties. Jasper usually comes shopping with us: he chases me down the aisles, I help him push over displays and we ram the trolley into the grown-ups. But today he didn’t turn up. Daddy said my behaviour was good. A woman walks towards us, her long black hair blows in the wind. A little girl
wearing a denim mini-skirt holds her hand. Mummy would never let me wear one of those. Jasper crawls out from under the car and hides behind me. He’s shy around new people. Daddy kisses her on the cheek, she blushes. They talk in a whisper. The girl stares at me and turns her head slightly as if she can see Jasper. She sticks out her tongue. The woman’s hand rests on Daddy’s back. Jasper mouths, ‘I need a wee.’ I copy the words and the adult conversation stops. The woman kisses Daddy on the cheek.
y favourite toys mess up the living room: teddy bears lean against the sofa legs, dollies in frilly dresses and tea cups arranged for a party. Usually Mummy lets me play all over the house but Daddy said no. It’s unfair; I don’t like being contained inside one room. The doorbell rings, a few minutes late Meg’s Mummy appears and she pushes Meg into the room. ‘We’re going to watch the television,’ Daddy says and points his fingers to his lips. Meg sits beside me, she doesn’t smile. The stairs creek, maybe Meg’s Mummy is getting ‘the tour.’ Daddy likes showing
[Mummy shouts, Daddy yells back, Jasper runs off. I climb off my chair and follow him upstairs]
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| Short Story people around our house. We were the first ones in our street to get a television. Meg starts playing with my tea set. Jasper sits between us; he watches Meg, then me, then her. He sticks out his tongue at her, I chuckle. ‘That’s rude,’ she says. He bows his head. I stop slurping. ‘Jasper is mine,’ she proudly says. He nods. It can’t be true. Meg slowly sips from my pink cup but keeps her eyes on me. ‘Did someone tell you about him?’ I say, folding my arms. I feel like an adult. ‘He came to me when I moved here.’ ‘It could be anyone.’ I huff and puff just the way Mummy does when she and Daddy are shouting at each other. ‘What’s his favourite food?’ ‘Fairy cakes,’ she says, grinning. She’s right. ‘And beans,’ she proudly adds. I shake my head but Jasper nods. Tears build and my chest tightens. Meg’s Mummy peers around the door. Her hair is messy like mine when I wake in the mornings. Meg runs and takes her hand. ‘Say bye,’ she sweetly smiles. Meg leaves with Jasper trailing behind. He doesn’t even say goodbye. I leave Jasper’s cup sitting on the coffee table, he might come back and want a drink. Daddy finally appears. He’s wearing a different T-shirt. He wants to know if Jasper and I want juice. I ask for only one.
’m playing parties, Jasper’s favourite game. The tea sits cold in his teacup,
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dolls slump across the blanket and the teddy bears hunch against each other. I bet Meg has him captive. I creep downstairs and crawl along the hallway carpet so that Daddy doesn’t see me from his study but he’s quiet today. I climb onto my step which I normally use for reaching worktops to unlatch the front door. It’s chilly outside but I can’t reach the peg for my coat. I run across the quiet road to Meg’s house. My arms ache with the stretching but the kitchen door finally opens. Groaning noises are echoing around the house. I tiptoe, ready to pounce on Meg. Floorboards squeak with my footsteps but her bedroom is empty. She’s probably hiding in another room. A screeching sound scares me. The hinges creek as the door slowly opens. Through the crack I see Daddy sitting on the bed putting on his socks. It must be Meg’s Mum’s room because it’s painted in boring grown up colours and has clothes covering the floor like a furry rug. ‘Daddy?’ I say, widening the gap. He stops. ‘Sweetie?’ ‘I’ve lost Jasper.’ I can hear a woman singing behind another door. ‘Why aren’t you wearing your shoes?’ ‘I was looking under the bed for Jasper,’ Daddy says, putting on his shoe even though he doesn’t have on one of his socks. ‘Will Meg’s Mum know where he is?’ ‘No, no we should leave,’ he says. Daddy takes my hand. We walk back in silence.
ometimes Daddy doesn’t look after me. On those days the study door is closed because Mummy has told him to search for a job or we’ll lose the house. Mummy has to look after me. I follow her around; she says I’m her shadow. ‘Lets sort out the washing,’ she says and lifts me onto the worktop. I match her actions: picking up a tiny pink sock and rummaging through the clothes mountain until its twin sister appears. I line up the family of pairs all waiting to be rolled because it’s hard to fold the pairs together, Mummy always takes over. We get to the end, one spare: Daddy’s faded black sock. Mummy peers inside the hollow drum of the washing machine but finds nothing. The laundry basket is also empty. Daddy wanders through; Mummy waves the sock at him, I giggle. ‘The washing machine swallowed the sock,’ she says, looks at me and winks. Daddy doesn’t laugh. When Mummy
winks it usually means a joke. He turns away, puts down his mug and switches on the kettle. ‘I remember, I remember,’ I say, wiggling on the worktop. ‘You left the sock at Meg’s house.’ Mummy throws the sock at Daddy and runs out the kitchen. He calls after her but the boiling of the kettle is too noisy. It rumbles louder than my belly.
wake up from a nightmare. I call out for Mummy, then Daddy, but they’ve been shouting so much lately that they probably can’t hear me. I yell, nothing. Mummy stands by the front door. Daddy is loading a suitcase into the car. I pull on her baggy green jumper. She looks down at me; her eyes are red and puffy. ‘Is Daddy going on holiday?’ I ask. She shrugs. Daddy pulls out of the drive. He doesn’t even say goodbye.
Jessica Patient is 25 years old and lives in Bedfordshire, England. She has had several stories and poems published including 3:AM magazine, The Beat, Sleepy Orange and Ink, Sweat and Tears. Links to her writing can be found at her blog - www.writerslittlehelper. blogspot.com.
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An Animal Tale for Kids and Adults: Lindsay Oberst takes a look at Richard Adams’ novel and the 1978 animated film.
hen revisiting books you loved as a child, you might often find yourself grappling for something else. You grow up, move on and want more from your literary selections. But Richard Adams’ richly detailed rabbit saga Watership Down has almost as much to offer adults as it does kids. The 1978 movie adaptation seizes this possibility successfully, yet overcondenses Adams’ offerings. Enter Watership Down—through a 496-paged wonder or a 103-minute animated film—and find yourself immersed entirely in the bunny way of life. Either way, the story isn’t cute, cuddly or boring like the pet you had as a child. As Adams writes, ‘There’s terrible evil in the world’, and a rabbit is 52 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
‘the prince with a thousand enemies.’ To escape, rabbits can run and rabbits can trick. After shy young rabbit Fiver foresees the coming destruction of his warren, he and a group of fellow rabbits search for a safe home. Along the way they encounter one warren complacent in its deadly way of life and another controlled by dictator-style chief rabbit General Woundwort. Some of them die. Others are wounded by elil, as enemies are called in the book. Yet all of them courageously discover a purpose under the sun god Lord Frith, who gave them life. Calling upon his wartime experiences, Adams creates an intoxicating tale capable of first drawing in readers with sweeping descriptions and then nailing
them down with accurate realism. He develops an historical context for his characters by exploring their traditions through stories and by explaining their Lapine vocabulary in footnotes. (This unique rabbit language is dropped in the movie to reduce audience confusion.) Through each chapter, Adams deepens the philosophical impact with quotes and literary references. He even explains every aspect of rabbit life, from the strength of their smell to the reason they find going downhill easier than humans. Despite this abundance of detail, rarely is the plot bogged down. Movies, however, cannot accommodate this abundance. The life-shaping stories, typically told by Dandelion, are cut out to shorten the length. The opening scene, which shows
the creation of rabbits, is an exception. Original director John Hubley created this sequence, which appears to be more artsy and symbolic than the rest of the 2-D animation. Under producer, writer and director Martin Rosen, a simple, realistic style reminiscent of old Disney originals was used. The objective viewpoint focuses on the rabbit perspective. Set against an unmoving, painted background, each character is often difficult to distinguish. The screenplay almost seems like one of those religious films watched in Sunday school. It takes on a reverent tone, unlike the broader, adventurous tone of the book. The movie is solely about action and contains little tension. In the book, Adamâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s uses extraordinary descriptions to slow down the plot. The darker moments are especially effective. But sadness, unlike violence, is skimmed over in the movie. Watch the film as an un-patronizing, graphic alternative to normal kidsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; movies. Read the novel at all costs. It will give you a fresh, new outlook on life. Welcome to the warren, everyone. Only when you enter can the story begin...
Lindsay Oberst writes whenever she can and feels at home when words are around. Recently, she was published in the 6S Love Anthology and in The Best of 2009 #fridayflash Anthology. She believes in positive psychology and dream research. She hopes to open minds and spread passions through her words. Word-Wild Romp: http://lindsayoberst.com
Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 53
| Short Story
Pump Pump Twin Twin
K. R. Sands
oices above the surface. Eight hours to remove the parasite’s internal organs... amputate... Who’s speaking? Talking about? Nervous system disorganized... chaotic... Circles of pink light. Spreading fast. No paralysis in the autosite... Bitter. Smell? Taste? Four hours to suture... Metal clangs. Water runs. Where? Earlier separation... much simpler... Murmuring, mumbling, laughing. Twelve years old... quite late... psychological adjustment... Tapping. Slapping? Voice, very close: ‘Daman. Are you awake? Can you wake up? Your father is here.’ No moving. Eyes closed. Cold cocoon. Sleep. Later? Daddyji’s voice: ‘Daman. Daman. Wake up now. Everything went fine. It’s all over. All you have to do now is rest and recover.’ What does it mean? Remembering. 54 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
Today is the operation. Separation. Amputation. Something. But Kalki’s still here. I feel him, the weight of him, on my belly. He can’t move either, but he’s here. I hear a whisper. It’s me: ‘When will it happen?’ Laughter. Daddyji’s voice: ‘It’s already happened. It’s over. It’s done. You’re fine.’ Whisper: ‘But—Kalki? I feel him.’ Daddyji’s voice, harder now: ‘No. It’s gone. You’re normal now. Open your eyes and look.’ White ceiling pocked with little holes. A cold hand slides under my neck, lifts my head. Blue walls, white sheets, silver metal things. Daddyji. My body, flat and bandaged. I can’t see Kalki, but of course he’s there. Where else would he be?
e were born not one or two, but one and a half. Born with ‘twin reversed arterial perfusion.’ Our one heart
was inside my body, making me the pump twin. His tiny lower torso and legs protruded from my abdomen, his vestigial head buried inside me. You can still see that ghostly head on the X-rays. His shoulders and arms never developed. When people asked me how it felt to have someone else’s head inside me, I never knew how to answer. What does it feel like for you not to have a head inside your torso? ‘Normal’? There’s your answer. But Kalki wasn’t dead—oh, no! I could always feel his life, our heart pumping blood through his little body. I felt his temperature fluctuations, his tiny toes stretching and flexing. He twitched constantly, even in his sleep. You know how you can use a ticking clock to simulate a mother’s heart beat, to reassure an infant or a puppy? That’s how his constant tiny movements were to me—reassuring, comforting, like rocking in a cradle. He smelled like life. Strange to say, I suppose, but the smell of life is piss and shit. (The dead produce neither.) He always wore a diaper, of course—he dribbled and dripped constantly—but his closeness to my nose meant that I always smelled him. I don’t remember ever thinking that he smelled bad, I guess because the smell was always with
me. It was just Kalki’s smell, my brother’s smell. Later, when I got older and more interested in our penises, I noticed that his sometimes got hard. I tried a few times to make him come, but that never happened. His smell was always babyish, never adolescent. The doctors always called him the parasite. It annoyed me that they didn’t use his name. After all, they called me Daman, not the autosite. Mamaji used his name and so did I, but no one else ever did.
reg, my supervisor, looks worried. He shuffles through the papers on his desk. I know he’s been arguing with some jackass in the Human Resources Office. Greg’s a good guy, he’s on my side, but he’s wearing out. He says, ‘Now, Daman, about this request you filed with HRO, this Request for Reasonable Accommodation. Why do you need this software? What’s it called again? Yeah, this Dragon Naturally Speaking with PDF converter? Christ, Daman, it’s two thousand dollars!’ I feel sorry for him. It’s been a bad year, budgets tight all around. He’s had to cut back a lot, no training for anyone this year, no conferences. He even had to lay off our legal intern last week—our first intern from Harvard—and that
[He smelled like life. Strange to say, I suppose,
but the smell of life is piss and shit]
| Short Story really stung. She was great; we were all sorry to see her go. But I give it a shot in my brightest talking-to-the-boss voice: ‘Well, it’ll help me create contracts, dictate briefs, and so on. It even does email. Huge legal vocabulary and... and it also formats legal citations.’ I’m running out of bullshit, but I push out a few more buzzwords: ‘Let’s see... builds templates... um, transcribes...’ Greg’s worry lines deepen and his mouth tightens, so I stop talking. He sighs. ‘Yeah, I know all that. You attached the marketing blurb to your request.’ He leans forward and puts his forearms on his desk, hands clasped. ‘Daman, we’ve got to talk about you, not the product. Why do you—you specifically—need this thing? We’ve got to have a documented disability. We need to prove that you can’t do your job under the current conditions.’ I scoot my chair back a little. My face feels warm. How do I explain this? ‘Well, it’s just that I’m having a hard time getting close enough to my computer to use the keyboard.’ Greg raises his eyebrows. ‘I don’t understand. We bought you screen magnifier software last year. Have your eyes gotten worse?’ ‘No, no, that screen magnifier is great. It isn’t that. It’s not my... vision.’ ‘So what is it then?’ Silence. He stares at me. I know I should make eye contact, but I’m looking out the window. Silence. He says, ‘Daman, I can’t help you unless you help me.’ 56 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
I look back at him, but my eyes drop to his desk. ‘Well, it’s my... arms, I guess. They aren’t long enough to reach the keyboard when I’m sitting. I ... uh, need the voice-activated software because I can’t reach the keyboard.’ His forehead softens. ‘Oh, I get it. Sounds like tendonitis or bursitis or something. You know, there are other solutions—cheaper ones.’ He smiles. ‘You could put your laptop on top of a filing cabinet and stand up to use it. Or we could get you a reclining desk chair.’ ‘No... no. The chair’s not the problem.’ I’m running out of excuses. He thinks for a minute, then says, ‘Can you show me? Show me on my computer.’ He stands up and walks a few steps away from his desk. Yeah, I can show him, but I’m starting to get a dragging feeling, like this won’t work either. I sit down at his desk, face his computer, and adjust his chair so I’m comfortable. ‘But you’re—what?—a good twenty inches away from the desk! You can’t get any closer?’ I look at his computer screen. There’s nothing on it, just a bouncing tetrahedron, one of those default screen savers. He’s a conscientious guy; he wouldn’t leave sensitive documents up on the screen during an employee conference. I say, ‘It’s hard to explain, Greg. I just can’t. If I get any closer, I feel claustrophobic—like I’m suffocating.’ I stand up, and we return to our chairs. Greg looks brighter. ‘A phobia, you say? Interesting. How about a
therapist? We could probably get a referral today if we—’ Kalki kicks; I interrupt. ‘No. No therapist. This isn’t something I can get rid of.’ Today, at least, I’m sure. As if I haven’t already thought about seeing a therapist a million times. As if a million times I haven’t already cursed Kalki for being born. Daddyji, for arranging the separation—or not arranging it much earlier, at our birth, before I knew Kalki. Mamaji, for giving birth to us, for teaching me to love my brother. Myself, for not being able to live without him, even years after he’s gone. Greg begins again, reassuring me— never say never, even the worst cases, blah, blah. I interrupt again: ‘Greg, no. I can’t get rid of it.’ Silence. ‘No therapist. I just can’t.’ We stare at each other for a minute. My face feels really hot now. His face clenches, like a fist. I hate to do this to him. I hate to do this to myself. But Kalki ... . Greg’s eyes close for a second, then open. His mouth tightens. There’s a long pause before he says, very evenly, ‘Well, Daman. I’m sorry. I don’t think we can help you.’
amaji was a devout Hindu. She wanted Kalki and me to have the appropriate ceremonies, but there were problems. During the Jatakarma, when new babies are welcomed into the world, Daddyji was supposed to drop ghee and honey onto our tongues. Then he was supposed to pierce our earlobes—so
we’d have good memories—and whisper the names of God into our ears. But Kalki had neither tongue nor ears, so Daddyji was stymied. Also embarrassed, and he hated that. But the ritual worked for me. I have a good memory. I remember Kalki all the time. During the Namakarana, the naming ceremony, Daddyji named me Daman, ‘the controller,’ because I was the pump twin. Kalki’s name, ‘destroyer of sins’, was Mamaji’s choice. Maybe Daddyji should have thought more about the meaning of Kalki’s name before deciding on the operation. Daddyji saw these traditional ceremonies as a waste of time and money. He didn’t see Kalki as a person. Kalki was just an ugly thing sticking out of me, an excrescence like a wart or a mole. After we were born, Daddyji never made love to Mamaji again—no more children. He just worked harder than ever, staying away from home as much as possible. Kalki and I were left to the care of Mamaji and the private tutors that came to our house to spare us the ordeal of going to school and being taunted by the other boys. But Mamaji’s guru said that God doesn’t make mistakes. So Mamaji bathed and clothed Kalki until I got old enough to care for him. She trimmed his tiny toenails. She put warm socks on his little feet in cold weather. She never knew that he didn’t like wearing socks—he’d kick and kick until I secretly removed them, then he’d settle down again. She made me promise that I’d Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 57
| Short Story always treat him like a brother, not like a wart. When Mamaji died during our tenth year, Daddyji made some changes. He was determined that we would not continue to shame him. Many conjoined twins come from India and Italy, places that begin with I. Isn’t that strange? Look at it: I is the most solitary letter in the alphabet, so different from H. If Kalki and I had been born conjoined but equal, like Chang and Eng, we would have been an H. But we were born a Y. And now I’m just an I. Just I. But it always feels like we. Anyway, some of those other conjoined twins earned big money by exhibiting themselves. There were even some fakes, usually Anglo actors in makeup who attached rubber ‘twins’ to their bodies. Daddyji has always had a healthy respect for money, but not money earned that way. He’s an educated man. He didn’t want ignorant fools throwing rocks at Kalki and me or (perhaps, in his mind, even worse) praying to us because they thought we were a manifestation of Vishnu. He had been outraged by the persistent approaches of an ‘entertainment entrepreneur’ who wanted to buy us to display in a circus. That was the last straw. His sons in a freak show! So he sent us to live with our aunt in Boston. But he didn’t intend for Kalki to stay long. He didn’t want a pariah or a god or a monstrosity for a son; he wanted an engineer or a lawyer or a professor. One normal son, not two abnormal ones. 58 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1
I did try to keep my promise to Mamaji. But Daddyji was stronger. He was our father, after all. I still wonder if there was any way I could have prevented the separation. We were only twelve. Kalki and I do the best we can with what we have left. But every night, before sleep, we rewrite the past. We win the argument with Daddyji. Or kill him. Or run away from home. Sometimes we go with the freak-show guy. Sometimes we go to Tibet, become monks. Or to the beach at Orissa, hide out in the ruined Gopalpur temple. Make occasional appearances as Vishnu. I protect Kalki. We stay together.
t first, Mona was okay with the bedroom rules. Maybe they seemed weird enough to be interesting, or maybe she thought they were exotic, like my dark body next to her light one. But after a while she started to complain. ‘Too many don’ts, Daman. Don’t touch my stomach! Don’t unbutton my shirt! It’s always got to be doggie style—I get tired of that! You never spoon me or hold me close. You’ve told me a million times that your scar doesn’t hurt, so what’s the deal?’ She knows I had major abdominal surgery as a child. (I tell everyone it was Crohn’s.) So I trot out the old ‘You know I don’t want you to see my huge ugly scar. I’m really self-conscious about it in bed.’ But it’s not working this time. Her voice is impatient, not sympathetic.
[Now I’m annoyed. She’s changing the rules after the game’s begun] ‘Daman, I love you. I don’t give a shit about your scar. Everybody has scars. I hate tippy-toeing around it in bed, always having to avoid it. I hate the way it keeps coming between us.’ I laugh at the literalness of her objection, and, after a moment, she laughs with me. She leans in to kiss me, leaving the usual space between our bodies, and says, ‘Okay, okay. How about something simpler: we’ll do it in the dark. We’ll leave the lights off. I’ll keep my eyes closed. I’ll wear a blindfold. We’ll buy a whole wardrobe of blindfolds for me to wear in bed. How does that sound, me in a blindfold and nothing else? You get to pick a different one each night: the fluffy black marabou blindfold, the red leather blindfold with Xs over the eyes, the black lace blindfold, the metallic blue satin blindfold with the fringe, the—’ Her eyes are closed; she’s pretending to be blindfolded. Kalki relaxes, I relax. I kiss her; she relaxes. I love kissing her. I haven’t ever felt this close to anyone else—except Kalki, of course. I’ve never told anyone about Kalki. But Mona and I are planning to get married. Shouldn’t she know? I try to anticipate her possible reactions to the knowledge, try to anticipate how each response might affect us. What if she got interested in
him, wanted to know more, welcomed him to the family, treated him like a brother? Or like another husband? What if she just blew him off, thinking (like Daddyji) that he was a wart? Or if she laughed at his fantasies—his and mine— of running away together? I don’t like any of the possible reactions I can imagine her having. I need to think carefully about exposing him.
ow I’m annoyed. She’s changing the rules after the game’s begun. She’s known from the beginning that I don’t drive, that I’m not going to drive. One of our reasons for staying in Boston instead of moving to the suburbs was the public transportation system. Anyway, a lot of people don’t drive here. Parking spaces are rare and hugely expensive. Driving during rush hour is hair-raising and blood-pressureraising. Auto insurance premiums are sky-high. Auto theft is a recreational sport in East Boston and plenty of other places. So I’m definitely not alone in not driving. Mona and I discussed all this before we got married, and she was fine with it. When we wanted to get out of town on a weekend, she drove. She liked having her own car, didn’t mind maintaining and garaging it. Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 59
| Short Story But now: ‘Daman, I’ll need you to drive me to the doctor during the last trimester. I probably won’t be able to get my big belly behind the wheel. And of course you’ll drive me to the hospital for the birth.’ ‘No, I won’t. We’ll call a taxi. Plenty of pregnant women get to the hospital that way. I’ve even heard of women who drove themselves to the hospital while they were in labor.’ She stares at me like I’m crazy. Then she shakes her head like she’s shaking my words out of it. Her face and voice get hard (like Daddyji’s). ‘Daman, please try to focus on the big picture, not on a specific example. There will be errands that need to be done by car, not by subway or bus. When I’ve got the baby, I won’t be able to do them.’ ‘So we’ll hire a nanny with a car. It won’t be a big deal; I can get some referrals today from Jack. He and Melissa have used driving nannies for all their kids.’ ‘Daman, stop it! You keep offering solutions to every problem except the one I’m talking about. You have to learn to drive!’ Kalki stiffens, his toes curling with apprehension. He hates being compressed; the steering wheel would make him feel like a prisoner. I say, ‘I’ve got to go. We’ll talk about this later.’ ‘Right. As usual.’ The sarcasm is automatic, not heartfelt. She looks tired and distracted. I don’t kiss her good-bye, but she doesn’t look like she misses it. I don’t either.
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aman, would you please take him for a minute? I need to duck into this restroom.’ I take Jason, bending his legs up in front of him so they don’t hang down onto my stomach. He’s ten months old now. He’s not really heavy for his age— only about twenty pounds—but he’s definitely going to be tall. Already he’s over thirty inches long and growing fast. I wish we’d brought the stroller inside the mall with us, but Mona said we’d just be a few minutes. At first, I couldn’t get enough of holding Jason. It was like Kalki had returned to me. His tiny toes spreading out like a fan. The constant motion, twitching and fluttering, even in sleep. The smell of his dirty diapers—it was almost like being boys again together, back home, with Mamaji still there. Mona was amazed that I never complained about diaper-changing, that I was happy to do it all. The feeding was a different matter—Kalki hadn’t needed that. But as soon as Mona finished feeding Jason, I wanted him back. It came to an end one night when I was changing Jason on our bed. I was exploring his little body, comparing him to Kalki, comparing his diaper smells to Kalki’s. I didn’t know Mona had come into the room and was watching us until she said, ‘Uh... Daman, what are you doing?’ I jumped when she spoke, and my answer was louder than it should have been. ‘Nothing! Just changing him!’ I fastened the diaper roughly, startling Jason and making him cry. She picked
him up off the bed and gave me a strange look. I don’t know what she thought I had been doing. She didn’t say anything, just stared at me for a minute before taking the baby away. Since that time, she’s always been the one to change him. And now that he’s older, he doesn’t want me to keep him close all the time. He doesn’t like me to keep his legs bent. He wants to dangle them, to stretch them out. But I don’t want his feet kicking my stomach. That’s Kalki’s space. I won’t be able to hold him much longer. I’ll need to make sure that we always have the stroller with us. Jason is really squirming now. I sit down on one of the wooden benches that surround the palm trees inside the mall and set him on my thighs. He stands up and lunges to embrace my neck with his arms, pushing one foot hard into my solar plexus. I feel Kalki gasp with pain and quickly thrust Jason away, holding him at arm’s length on my knees. When Mona returns, he’s crying. Again, she says nothing as she takes him from me. She and I talk less and less these days.
s far back as I can remember, I thought I could understand Kalki. I had this idea that when he straightened his left knee and stretched apart his left toes like opening a fan, it meant he was cold and wanted to be covered up. And when he straightened his right knee and stretched out his right toes, he was too hot and wanted to be uncov-
ered. Whether I was reading his signals correctly—whether these were really signals at all—I responded as I thought he wished, covering or uncovering him. Then his body would relax, and his legs calm down. I remember wondering if he would get too hot when the cats slept in bed with us during our first winter in Boston. As boys in India, we had known only feral street cats, teeming with scabs and fleas, who spent their lives scrounging for a bare subsistence—fighting to the death over the rotting fish eyes discarded in the city’s household garbage, accompanying their rape-matings with bloodcurdling yowls, and spitting ferociously at any human who dared to approach them. So when Bua Shanti, our father’s sister in Boston, introduced us to her indoor tribe of cats and kittens, we were initially fearful and even a little disgusted. Many of our neighbors in Bangalore had seen cats as vermin, no better than rats. But these well-cared-for animals were so different from the feral cats we had known that we soon lost our fear. Kalki especially liked it when some of the kittens slept in our bed during the cold nights of that first winter in Boston. They burrowed under the blankets to nestle against us, and he rubbed his little feet on their dry, woolly fur. He never kicked or showed any impatience with them. I know he couldn’t hear them purring and chirping, but he always seemed to relax into sleep when they made these quiet noises. His favorite kittens were Bali and Punit, who were often in our bed. They Inkspill Magazine | Issue 1 | 61
| Short Story licked each other (sometimes pretty roughly), wrestled, kicked against each other’s bellies, and bit each other on the back of the neck. When they got tired, they slept, curled up together in a ball with their heads, tails, and feet tucked inside. At the time, I thought I was afraid that the kittens’ tiny thorn-like claws might hurt Kalki. But maybe I was just jealous of his attention to them. The following spring, when Kalki and I were twelve years old, I began shutting the cats and kittens out of our room at night. I don’t know if Kalki missed them. That first year in Boston, Daddyji had arranged for us to settle in with our aunt, then have the surgery and recover from it before beginning school in our new life—or, rather, in my new life. He wanted me to have a fresh start. But I was lonely. Daddyji would continue to live in India (although he promised to be with us for the operation). I would probably never see my tutors or Mamaji’s guru again. And Mamaji was dead. All I had left was my brother. I didn’t really understand what was coming. Daddyji had explained the surgery to me, of course, and I nodded my agreement, as he expected. But how could I imagine life without Kalki? If you can feel, smell, and love someone, how is it possible for that person not to exist?
f course, Daddyji doesn’t understand my self-imposed isolation.
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For a long time, his letters, calls, emails, and videos have been full of urgent paternal advice on doing my duty, living up to my responsibilities, and so on. He hasn’t been harsh or judgmental—well, no more than usual. I think he really has tried to understand why I’ve given up on my family and career. But his urgency is lessening. When I made my usual Sunday call yesterday, his second wife spoke to me for a few minutes before putting him on the phone. ‘Daman, you know your father would never complain about his health.’ (Right; he’d see that as a sign of weakness.) ‘But he’s having some real problems now with his high blood pressure and diabetes.’ (Ironic—he always joked that his big belly was a sign of prosperity.) ‘I know you were counting on us flying out to see you this year as usual, but I suspect his traveling days are over. You know you have a standing invitation to visit us any time, for any length of time. And if you wanted to return to India to live’ (she means now that my career and marriage have failed) ‘our house is quite big enough to give you all the privacy and space you need. Would you consider coming to us? If not to live, then to visit? Soon? It might be the last time you see him, Daman.’ My voice sounds sympathetic, reassuring. ‘Of course, Radha. I understand completely. I’ll see what I can arrange.’ She knows perfectly well this isn’t going to happen, although she’ll never understand why. Airplane travel is agonizing for Kalki, just like car travel. The travel time from Boston to
Bangalore by air would be over twenty hours. And once we were there, we’d have to endure the same daily irritation of making excuses for what others perceive as our—my eccentric behavior. Kalki and I are happy at home. Her voice is subdued. ‘Okay, Daman. Here’s your father now.’ His voice sounds old, with an irritating whiny undertone that it didn’t used to have. ‘Daman, I heard what she
told you, and it’s all bullshit! I plan to be around forever.’ He laughs, then coughs. ‘But if it takes a big lie to get you out here, all right: I’m on the way out. That’s what they think, Radha and your brothers.’ (Half-brothers—I have only one real brother.) ‘They all think I’m going to die soon, but at least I won’t die alone, like you.’ I smiled. That’s not going to happen.
K. R. Sands is creating a collection of stories based on the displays of pathological human anatomy and other exhibits in the Mütter Museum, Philadelphia. Her work has been published in The Tangled Bank: Love, Wonder, and Evolution, edited by Chris Lynch. She is a university English professor who has published scholarly work on the history of demon possession and exorcism. She sees a connection between demon possession and medical pathology.
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