featuring stories & poems by rosebud ben-oni valentina cano jennifer clark alexander francois george freek john glass boris glikman tim hehir leah kaminsky paul kavanagh craig pay kathleen radigan jim schoen murzban f. shroff karen tobias-green mark turnock changming yuan andré zucker
£3.50 / €5.00
winter & spring poetry
for issue seven
Cover: Adapted from Der Bibliothekar (The Librarian) by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1556)
Editor’s letter I
get asked every now and then about the kind of work we publish in the magazine. On the website we explain it like this: We print writing we love, which often tends towards the slipstream end of things. When you’re trying to market a piece of writing, it’s a lot easier if it has a built-in audience. Some people read mainly crime novels, others only epic fantasy series, and so if you have a book which can be labelled as one or another of these categories, it makes selling that book a lot easier. Quite often this works out fine for all involved, as many books fit well within a certain genre – it would probably be fair to call Iain M. Banks’s Culture series science fiction, for example – but there is writing which cannot so easily be pigeonholed. Writing which straddles genre. The term, or at least one of the terms, for writing that occupies that no-man’s-land in-between literary and speculative fiction, is slipstream. Something is slightly different in these stories; their universes are not quite aligned with our own. Here’s where it all gets terribly subjective – and there is definite overlapping with the various shades of speculative fiction (such as the new weird) as
well as postmodernism here – but authors who might well be writing slipstream include Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, Victor Pelevin, Scarlett Thomas and Steven Hall. Not to mention, however retrospectively, writers like Franz Kafka. Still, it’s the first half of that sentence over there that matters, and this issue is a perfect example. Only a couple of the pieces published here could be described as slipstream, and indeed that’s the point. While we might particularly enjoy a certain sub-genre, it is never at the expense of good stories and good writing – and I hope you agree that there’s plenty of that on the pages that follow. Our thanks this issue go out to Marc Nicolau for his help in commissioning the illustration on p.7, and to Aimeé Heuzenroeder for introducing us to the wonderful world of The London Library. Euan Monaghan (Bucks., December 2011)
Credits & legal gubbins Editor/designer: Euan Monaghan Contributing editor: Keir Pratt Copy editor: Elaine Monaghan Editorial board: Tim Leng, Matt Cook, Elaine Monaghan, Keir Pratt & Euan Monaghan ISSN: 2044-8244 (print) & 2044-8252 (on-line) Stockists include: Rough Trade East, London; Cornerhouse, Manchester; The Albion Beatnik, Oxford; MK Gallery, Milton Keynes; Shakespeare & Co., Paris; Do You Read Me?!, Berlin For subscriptions, as well as submissions information, see structomagazine.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find us wasting time on Twitter under the not particularly surprising username of @structomagazine All text contained within the pages of this magazine is protected by a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales licence. Nothing in this licence impairs or restricts the individual author’s moral rights. The Structo logo is protected by the above Creative Commons licence. All photos of The London Library are © The London Library and the Newspaper Club logo is © Newspaper Club. And that’s that
Fall Ball by j o h n g l a s s O
n the 158th day of a tortuous 162 game where I was going, I’d be ready. Mike and Hal, well, baseball schedule, Mike and Hal’s grandfather they still had baseball on their minds. Younger than cussed, fussed, and at one point even threatened to I by a few years, they were about to begin playing in turn the channel. The four of us were plopped down the fall ball league, and dues were due. But they were in his dusty little condominium, drinking iced tea broke, hell, we were broke, all of us, we base-ballers that was flat, and doing what most Braves fans in of Nicholas Lane, Mike, Hal, Denis, John, Laverne Alabama did when a game was on: sit and watch. and I, all of us the product of single-parent workingThe 1988 Atlanta Braves were cemented in a mom households. Yet here I was, about to entertain seven-year slump, the gutter-dwellers of Georgian the dream of going to college, and my neighbors sports, outright lousy, and there was no bigger fan their hopes of one day being drafted. than Grandpa. The Braves were losing, of course, “Grandpa,” Mike plugged on, running his fingers but we still cheered them on, providing the low through his stringy, brown hair, “it’s just thirty rumble of good living-room chatter that allowed dollars. We could work it off.” He’d gotten up and Mike to gradually bring up the point of our visit crossed the outdated red rug that covered most of with Grandpa. Mike and Hal were cousins, neighthe living room floor, in pursuit of his grandfather. bors of mine who lived together, and they’d basiI assumed that Grandpa asked how because I then cally roped me into coming along, even though I’d heard, though barely, Mike say something about planned on staying home to look over my college yard work and laundry. Although I couldn’t see applications. There was only a week left before each down the hallway I worked up a good visual of the school’s deadline and I’d been trying to get a little two, an amusing pair, little Laurel and young Hardy, closer to making a decision. walking and talking. It wasn’t until Mike asked Grandpa for the third For a moment all was quiet in the dingy little contime if he wanted a refill of his tea that the old man dominium. A colossal, black cloud moved in outside began to get wise. He fiddled with his rolled-up TV the window, and the even-inflected low monotone of Guide and looked at his grandsons with suspicion. the sports announcer rattled on as Hal and I sat in Hal remained fixed on the game, characteristically silence, he with the probable anxiety over whether silent, his short red hair complementing his red and the fall league thing was going to happen, me and blue Braves cap; but Mike was on a mission for him the decision that I soon had to make. and his cousin, and his determined eyes returned the I had the freshman butterflies, for sure. I’d taken gaze of his grandfather. Grandpa must have finally the Greyhound bus one hundred miles over to deduced what his grandsons were getting around to, Southern Mississippi’s campus in Hattiesburg for a for he snarled and stood up out of his chair. summer visit, my first taste of campus life, and it “You ain’t been here to see me all summer. And was daunting. Thousands of milling students, the now you decide to come!” enormity of looming concrete academia, the simple Dusty, unwashed coveralls covered his skinny, five intimidation of it all. I was much more in control foot eight frame, and a sweaty John Deere hat was when I visited Faulkner State Junior College, basipulled down over almost half of his brown, creased cally just a stone’s throw from my house, over in face, which, I surmised, had seen a lifetime of outBaldwin County. Faulkner would be easier, I’d been door labor. I sat back and looked at him, still trying telling myself. Community college. I could carry on to determine exactly why I had come along, for I my comfortable little schedule, continue to live at was now stuck. home, work my little part-time job at K-Mart, com“We would!” Mike countered, leaning forward, mute to class every day. almost shouting due to his grandfather’s hearing, But Faulkner didn’t have the Spanish program “But you never pick up your phone when we call you. that Southern Miss had, and learning Spanish was We don’t know if you’re here or not.” Mike had red basically the reason that I wanted to attend colKool-Aid stains across the tattered front neckline of lege. Nor did they have the leggy Dixie Darlings, his white T-shirt, and I had to fight back a laugh as I those five-foot-tenners who kicked up their muscled, watched him. fishnetted legs at every home sports game. The Dixie “Aw, hell,” Grandpa muttered, as he walked toDarlings were the university’s dance team, and they wards the hallway, “I’m always here.” were what really caught my eye during my visit to “And Grandpa,” Hal chimed in from where he sat, Southern Miss, every bit of the wrong reason to “we’ve had summer school every day.” want to attend a college. “What the hell are ya yelling for?” he retorted with The sky rumbled a low murmur, and the rain was a half-turn. “I can hear you just fine!” now coming down in soft-slanted sheets. I looked out Hal shrugged his shoulders with an I can’t win and stared at the rain, hoping that it wouldn’t get in look, and leaned back in his chair. He’d made a the way of my pie since we had to walk home. But good point, though, I thought, as I sat back in my then Hal was excited over something. own seat and looked down at the little bowl of Milky “Hey Joel, they tied it up.” Ways on the coffee table. Unlike my two comrades, That’s right, the game. There was some joy left, I’d declined to dig into them, and was instead saving apparently, for the Southeast’s only professional my relish for mom’s last piece of pecan pie that lay baseball team because the game was tied. Hal was in wait back home. But more importantly, there were now rambling on, something about a double, single, the two college applications I had to look over. I’d double when I heard Mike calling from the hallway. spent all week thinking about my decision and soon “Joel, man, you’re tall. Come here and see if you can had to narrow them down to one. reach this.” Baseball. We were bonkers about baseball, and it It was an old Buster Brown shoe box, ancient, was what the three of us did in the grassy lot at the high up on the top closet shelf. As Hal relayed with end of the street a good three to four days a week. It jubilation the game’s on-goings to the others, I was the reason Mike and Hal were barely passing walked over and looked up at all of the closet shelves, summer school, and it was the reason that I’d missed weighted down with the clutter of probably forty or the fall deadline to attend college, and was instead fifty years of hoarding. Grandpa was now looking at looking to begin in the winter semester. me, and I could see the fire in his pupils. I wondered But I was now ready, or at least, once I decided on how many cities, people, and situations those eyes
had seen. “Can you reach that box there, slim?” “Uh, yeah, Grandpa,” I said, instantly feeling stupid. I stood up tip-toed, the box just out of my reach, my fingernails whisking the bottom corner. “You got it, college boy?” asked Mike. “You don’t need a chair, do you?” I shook my head, stretching my fingertips as high as possible, fighting the stench of what looked to be an enormous stack of forgotten Floyd Cramer albums, jars of coins and clothespins, Fish and Wildlife magazines and Lord only knew what else. “He’s got it,” said Grandpa. “He’s tall.” And then he added, with a shift in his voice, “Sonny, Mike here told me you’re about to go off to college.” My plan to pull the box back with the top of my index finger backfired, and instead the box tipped over, the Buster Brown puppy logo barking at me as the box somersaulted once or twice before crashing to the floor. Mike and I dropped to our knees and began putting the items back in the box, everything from old Halloween napkins to Dixie cups to a rusty naked lady pen. “Knew I shouldn’t have left that checkbook up there,” Grandpa muttered, as we got it all stuffed back in the box. I stood up and handed it to him as he looked at me and grinned. “Ain’t wrote a check in a month of Sundays.” I remembered what he’d asked me, and as he picked through the box I shuffled my feet. “Yessir, uh, that’s right. Hopefully be starting college in January.” He located the checkbook, and then after picking the naked lady pen from amidst everything else, he wagged it at me. “Well, sonny, if you have the means, then go for it. Just make sure you go for the right reason.” Mike looked on, fighting back a snicker at this grandfatherly moment. But gramps was as serious as a train wreck. “You don’t have time to be horsing around,” he lectured, now jabbing me in the chest with the pen. “I attended a trade school in Biloxi, which was unheard of in my day. But I did it. And it helped pay for things.” “Did it?” I answered weakly. “Damn right it did. Bought me this little house. Paid for our groceries. Helped my kids out. Hell, it helped,” he said, looking around, trying to locate Mike as he finished, “it helped everybody out. So you keep that in mind, slim. Get what you can out of it, and don’t horse around. ” He looked at me from under that great big John Deere hat, his eyes sparkling with time, and he jabbed me with the pen once more, though lightly. “And you know what I mean.” The little lecture had come out of nowhere but I was grateful. I was but a skinny seventeen-year-old kid that wanted to learn Spanish. And I did know what he meant. *** It was the ninth inning of the 158th day of the 162 game baseball schedule and Atlanta was now up by one. Grandpa’s frustration with the financial woes of his grandsons had ebbed, his mood lifted by the game’s turnaround. Mike’s mood was certainly in a better place, what with a crisply-folded check tucked away in his back pocket. Hal was calm and pensive as always. The rain had stopped but I hardly noticed because the Cardinals suddenly had two base-runners on; we all honed in even closer to grandpa’s fourteen-inch RCA, aggravated and nervous. “Strike the sumbitch out,” belted out Grandpa, and I looked over and saw him gripping the arms of his old arm-
chair; I realized he’d probably been a Braves fan for longer than any of us could ever hope to be. As it turned out a strikeout was just what the doctor ordered. The Cards were down to their last out, and we were hooting and hollering like it was game seven of the World Series. Atlanta’s closer, big Roscoe Roberts, was on the mound, and I suddenly had a visual of me watching such a game not too long from now, sitting out in the right field bleachers rooting for the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, maybe a few friends beside me, people of my new world. I clapped a few times, trying to rally the Braves, and noticed Grandpa holding the rolled-up TV Guide like it was one of those cheerleader pom-pom sticks. Yep: junior college would be too convenient, I concluded, what with living at home and commuting to class. My own grandfather had always said there was an upside to escaping one’s comfort zone. The strike zone, though, was what big Roscoe was having a hard time finding because out of nowhere the bases were loaded. Clumpy, black clouds moved in outside the window and we sat with rattled nerves in the dark little room, fit to be tied. There was something about a game that late in the season, a game the Braves were winning, that meant something. I could be just as excited, I surmised as I looked through the branches of the crape myrtle tree just outside the window at the ominous sky, out there in the right field bleachers, in the heat of Hattiesburg, cheering the home team on. The toc of the bat, though, brought me back from right field, as this ball, apparently, was headed for right
field. Back, back, and well, gone. Grandpa hurled his TV Guide across the room and yelled out the most bloodcurdling gd I’d ever heard; Mike threw his head back and moaned; and Hal, poor ol’ Hal, just stared blankly at the screen, perhaps the most affected one out of all of us. As if on cue the rain returned, this time coming down in dark, heavy sheets and it didn’t look we were going anywhere for a while. As the Cardinals circled the bases I resigned myself to the high likelihood that little brother was at home decimating my piece of pecan pie. Then I looked over at Mike and Hal and knew that though it might be another twenty years, they would one day laugh and cheer as the Atlanta Braves battled it out in the World Series. I watched as my elderly counselor continued to grumble and cuss, swatting his old John Deere hat against his knee. I didn’t really know what he’d said to help me make up my mind; but sometimes the simplest things said in the simplest way is all we need. And as Grandpa vented to a nodding Mike over the idiocy of the losing pitch Roberts had thrown, Hal and I exchanged a look worth ten thousand words: despite the grief of the loss and the close of yet one more agonizing season, there was a humorous beauty here, a moment that resounded throughout this quiet afternoon in this quiet little town. Fret not, neighbors mine, all is well: fall ball is just around the corner, and life is good. You’ll soon be hitting your own home runs out to the right-field bleachers, circling the bases with nary a thought of how the Atlanta Braves are doing. And as for me, I’ll
be hanging out in right-field at the Golden Eagles ballpark, looking for that home-run ball to catch, in between those long dorm-room hours of deciphering irregular Spanish verbs. Oh yeah, and here and there, sneaking a peek at the Dixie Darlings. Life is good, huh Grandpa?
Doctor’s Surgery by c r a i g pay ‘I
mean, now what I’ve been told is, it is actually weeks and weeks. But she said – the secretary said, that if you leave it for a week or two weeks, and then… ring us up, we can kind of see whether they can—’ ‘Yeah, but she—’ ‘But if you feel that she’s that bad, then she’ll need to come in and be seen for a referral to somewhere else. Because obviously she’s seen somebody and they’ve opted for this, and they must know that the waiting list is going to be long, there’s going to be a long wait.’ ‘I know it were about three weeks before, ’cos I can’t phone ’cos they said “Do you want to?” they said, ’cos it’s – I’ve found it’s… you know it’s hard, I’m sort of hiding things.’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘You know like—’ ‘Do you not—?’ ‘I feel it’s a bit difficult surviving this, so whenever I say anything, it’s like…’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Down your throat. You know what I mean?’ ‘Would she not come and be seen then? I mean, will she not come and be seen again then? And then, maybe they can do a quicker referral for her to somebody else?’ ‘Yeah, and get her some medicine—’ ‘Do you want us to send this off ? I mean, we can still send it—’ ‘Just – still send it, and then what I’ll do, I’ll speak to her. And just say—’ ‘And if there’s any problems then tell her to come in.’ ‘Yeah, yeah.’
‘Alright?’ ‘I’ll just speak to her and so, ’cos she was just – when that comes—’ ‘Any day.’ ‘You know, ’cos one minute, she’s like you can speak to her, then next minute… it’s awful, or I can argue with her.’ ‘When they need it desperately. It’s never there.’ ‘I know.’ ‘Straight away, it’s months after.’ ‘This is it, this is it. You know what I mean? I’ll see what she says anyway.’ ‘Alright.’ ‘That’s all I can do. I’m only… doing… the errand.’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Messenger.’
My Life as a Horse by m a r k t u r n o c k T
o say we were surprised when our neighbour Mr lower voice, which my parents pretended not to hear Callaghan became a horse is an understatement. – good riddance. It simply wasn’t the done thing at the time, least of That night I had a dream: of running, running all in a little town like ours where everyone knew through snow and wind, breathless, free. And of Mr everyone, and the sight of a stranger moving across Callaghan, running beside me, his great mane flowthe vast and empty plain was cause for immediate ing as his hooves beat out a rhythm on the soft earth, suspicion. each thud seeming to caress me, fill my body, mingle Which is not to say we had anything against the with the beating of my heart. I woke up soaking wet horses, you understand. When they blew through in the cold grey light of dawn, an erection throbbing town, twice a year, each and every one of us – young, in my pants; terrified that my brother, asleep beside old, male, female – would gather on their porch to me, would wake and see on my face the traces of my watch them come sweeping in: snorting, thrashing, dream. flanks bulging, to dash through town, before vanishFor almost six months I dreamed, as the snow ing back into the wasteland. Where they came from slowed to a halt, the sun returned – weakly at nobody knew. Where they went to, or why they first – to melt the ice and slush; as the slush dried up chose to cascade along Main Street, their pounding and spring broke out, sprouting lilacs along Main hooves churning mud and clay into one gelatinous Street; and still, as the sun burned hotter yet, and evmass, we couldn’t say. But in their perpetual race we erything dried up and the lilacs died, I dreamed my each saw something: something so alien, so beautiful, dreams, of me and Mr Callaghan and all the horses, that every six months we would clear the streets and and kept my dreams hidden from my family. watch in awe as they thundered past, breath streamThen, as the horses’ return approached, I let slip ing from their nostrils. to Annette – a local girl I had been seeing – the plan It was on one of these occasions that we witnessed I had already formed, as I lay in bed each morning, Mr Callaghan’s unexpected transformation. We were watching the sun rise over the wasteland: to join standing together, my family and I, huddled deep the horses, to join Mr Callaghan, to run – perhaps inside our jackets against the driving snow, fresh off forever. Instead of the understanding I had hoped the tundra. I was shifting from foot to foot as I had for, perhaps even the solemn promise to run with since I was eight, to simulate the horses’ motion, me, I watched as she turned pale, then vanished in when Old Grandpa exclaimed, from deep inside his the dust and heat, sprinting across town to where overcoat: “Mr Callaghan?!” my parents sat, unprepared for the shock approachSure enough, there he was: still wearing the suit ing them. And so it was that I found myself, on the we saw him in only yesterday, bounding along beside morning of the horses’ return, locked inside our the herd; snow flying in his face, his tie fluttering kitchen, able to do no more than listen to their apbehind him. Open-mouthed we watched him soar proach, and curse the girl whose treachery had cost along Main Street, canter gracefully past the church, me my escape. toward the General Store that marked the edge of Sat at our wooden table, head in my hands, I everything. heard the first cries go up. I felt the kitchen tremble “He must need something from the store,” I heard as they rumbled past, hooves beating the earth; my mother say, weakly. “Perhaps they’re out of hard vibrations that passed into my gut, made me milk?” But Mr Callaghan reached the store without shiver. Somewhere, out there, Mr Callaghan was slowing, passed it, and disappeared into the blizzard, running – if he had survived the winter – running as lost in the vast grey emptiness surrounding us. in my dreams, across a vast, open landscape. And it The next day the town was alive with gossip. seemed, in that instant, that to let the herd pass, to People shook their heads, whispered to one anlose my chance to run, would now and forever leave other behind closed doors, or went around to offer a hole in my life which I might never fill, but leave their condolences to Mrs Callaghan, who received me malformed: an unfinished person. everyone with the same air of tragedy. At dinner So I ran. Without even knowing it, I ran. Headthat night, inside our warm, cosy kitchen, we sat long through the window; onto Main Street, covered watching the snow fall cold outside the window, and in blood; into the herd, the cries of my family dying Grandpa shook his head and declared that was the away as we passed the store, smothered beneath the last we’d see of Mr Callaghan, and – he intoned in a pounding of the hooves, the furious rhythm which would never stop, never cease. And there was Mr Callaghan, running beside me: his mane flowing, steam pouring from his nostrils as the dust and sand kicked up about us, burning in the noonday heat. And, together, we ran. For six months, we ran. All through the summer, the autumn; across continents that raged and shook; through oceans that stretched, glittering, further than the eye could see; past cities made of gold, cities of iron, of clay, of sandstone, basalt, glass, alabaster. Magnificent, unstoppable, we ran. And, for a time, I was one with those I ran with; as glorious as they, and I thought that I, too, would never stop. Then winter set in. The air became cold. The ground first turned to liquid, then hardened, then turned to liquid again; and suddenly I realised I couldn’t keep up: that my brothers, Mr Callaghan, no longer surrounded me, no longer ran as one with me; but galloped along the horizon, distant ghosts vanishing in the wind and rain. I cried out, begged them to stop, mustered all my reserves and ran, but it was not enough. And soon, they vanished. And I ran
alone, until I could run no more, and then I stopped. I caught a steamer back from England, watching the world pass from my cabin window, thinking how slow it all seemed. Then a slow-moving train, a long mule ride and, finally, I returned home, weary, covered in mud and miserable. I got a job, settled down with Annette – who, when all is said and done, is really rather sweet – and set myself to growing old, ignoring the remarks people still make from time to time, the ones that go: ‘Remember that time you thought you were a horse?!’ followed by a loud, braying laugh. And I laugh too, at the vagaries of youth. But sometimes, on the cusp of sleep, I dream I’m running, and I remember everything: the pounding hooves, the breath pouring out in smoke, the vast world we crossed together, long ago. And in these moments, just before I fall asleep, I almost feel like crying: because I know I can never go back, can never stop myself from doing what I did, and I recognise that running only made the hole in me bigger, harder to fill. Left me malformed, an unfinished person, unable to run, unable to live as I am now and shall always be: human, stationary.
illustration by da i s h u
Bevlieging by a n d r é z u c k e r I
wanted to remember Edward kissing me under bottom-lit baroque buildings topped by golden statues in a cobblestoned square with a light summer rain falling on us. Instead I only got a quick glance at him while the police officers tried to restrain me. I was screaming belligerently and throwing my high heels at his head as the police struggled to stop me. I lunged at him hoping to grab his head and slam it into the New York City pavement, but the large NYPD officer caught me in mid-air. In the grip of his bear hug I tried to squirm and wiggle my way free to get at Edward. “Big Man,” the arresting officer said to his partner as I strained to break away from his tattooed arms. “We better Mirandize her.” “Mirandize?” I was kicking his thighs; luckily for my criminal record I missed the family jewels. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law.” They placed handcuffs on me, walked me towards a white and blue police car and sat me in the back. “You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?” Loud police sirens started blaring. “What’s Mirandized mean?” “Miranda rights?” “My name isn’t Miranda, it’s Joke… I’m from Belgium.” “Belgium?” He looked across the hood of the car. “Big Man, which one’s Belgium?” “I don’t know, Big Man,” his partner replied. “Europe or something.” The car started to accelerate away from that Manhattan corner, Edward and the crowd that had grown while I was arrested. I looked over my shoulder out of the rear window and saw Edward, frozen, standing like a lost child as the siren lights illuminated him in blue and red. Edward Green and I met in Antwerp ten years ago at university. We fell in love and broke up in less than two semesters. He barely learned any Dutch, failed all of his classes and broke my heart in an incredibly short amount of time. It was this reunion, years later, which brought out all of the lingering emotions inside me. Seeing Edward’s face and hearing his voice was always synonymous with emotions I just wanted to get rid of. From the back of the police car I realized it was a bad idea to come. I kind of laughed at myself, and the officer looked at me though the rear-view mirror. “Am I under arrest… like on TV?” The police car raced through the New York City streets. Outside the car window the city blurred into a symphony of neon lights and yellow taxis. People, cars, buses and bicycles cluttered the New York street scene. Thousands of people in such a small amount of space, but I was the only one handcuffed in the back of the cop car. “Big Man, she doesn’t know if she’s under arrest.” “Which one of you is Big Man?” I asked. “Both of us!” the two cops yelled in unison. In Antwerp Edward stuck out because he was short. The first time I saw him sitting in a lecture hall, I thought, “I hope he doesn’t get trampled at dismissal.” But his personality was bigger than his height. His voice was loud and he managed inadvertently to gain attention from the second he sat down. A bright light flashed in my face. “So you liked him because he was short?” the police photographer asked. “That was out loud?” “Turn to the left,” she ordered. “I thought I was having an internal narration.”
“What? Was he like a circus midget?” an F… but here I am.” I wasn’t listening. “I spent all of my teenage years dating men who Standing in Antwerp’s Grote Markt moments towered above me. At university it was nice to have later under the bottom-lit baroque building topped someone who didn’t look down on me.” with golden statues, he kissed me and that light “Turn to the right.” summer rain fell on us. It was the memory I wanted, “His eyes were level with my breasts, so he didn’t a moment that I wished to stretch out as long as look up to me either.” possible. I dug my fingers into his shirtsleeves, kissed I first spoke to Edward on a crowded Thursday and kissed, as the rain strengthened. I was doing night in one of the student bars. He was trying to everything possible not to lose this moment; to stop get a waitress’s attention but she couldn’t see him be- time and have one less thing disappear into the hind the towers of Flemish men. He had his hands atmosphere… it didn’t work. stretched in the air with his loose-fitting sleeves That was the memory I was expecting before I dropping below his elbows. “Um… excuse me,” he was arrested. Another moment when things could said to no one. Everyone else was fine waiting for slow down and I could stop maturing so rapidly. the bartender except Edward. I watched him for a That kiss was almost ten years ago; the world, Edmoment then approached from behind, grabbed the ward and I had all changed. When I entered the bar money out of his hand, pushed through some men, Edward chose, I looked right past him. In New York slammed the money on the wet bar and said, “Beer.” he wasn’t short any more. I scanned the place twice It was my last memory of using Belgian francs. I before he waved at me. turned and handed him one of the beers and kept “How you doing?” he asked as I gave him a plathe other for myself. tonic kiss. “Thanks for buying me a beer,” I said, “American?” “Oh… very well. It’s the early morning in my “Yeah.” head, but I’m ok.” I was unbelievably disappointed. “Cheers.” We clinked glasses. “Are you taller?” I felt like I was in an American movie, we were “What?” drinking our beers too fast, talking about noth“How has the last ten years been?” ing significant, and shouting to be louder than the “Ehhh… same old, same old.” crowd around us. It was in that moment when our “Same old?” conversation was meaningless and our beer glasses We were talking about stupid grown-up stuff. I were empty that I fell in love with Edward. And wanted to have one of those useless philosophical because of this emotional rush, I felt compelled to conversations about nothing. That’s what Edward ask, “What’s your name?” was good at. I looked up and down the dark bar; it “Oh yeah… Ed… it’s Edward… Green.” was ugly, illuminated by neon advertisements and I smiled and went to get more beer. He seductivelacked any type of ambience. I wanted to have a ly looked over my body and once I felt his eyes from great night with Edward and all I got was “the time behind I purposely walked a little slower with extra being”. swagger in my hips. “I have some bad news.” He handed me a large “Swagger in your hips!” A uniformed officer was glass of beer. pressing my index finger into an inkpad. “Finally, an emotion,” I thought. “What?” I asked “You already took my retina at the airport.” with no inflection. “Swagger in your hips… where’s a European learn “I lost some investments back in ’08, like all of to talk like that?” He laughed. them, and I’ve been working really hard as of late.” “Some things only sound right in American.” I looked around the bar for something more interHe released my finger and pressed the other into esting than this conversation. the wet black ink. “It’s really bad.” He was looking at me, expecting “Don’t touch your clothing.” something. “You know what that sounds like in Flemish? “This beer is watery.” Wiegende heupen.” “Forget it. I was expecting something more from “Flemish?” you.” He stood up in a fit of anger and stormed out “It’s a language… dialect… language… I never of the bar. I froze as he walked away silently. People gave it much thought.” turned their heads, sensing his emotions, as he went The semester moved by, kisses were exchanged, for the door. A moment of silence as the eyes of the weekend trips, friends were met, and only one bed patrons veered over to me. I shrugged as if confused, became necessary. Edward never did any work or only trying to maintain my cool. When the eyes bothered attending classes. It was sheer laziness, he moved away from me, I jumped up and ran out the wasn’t occupied with anything better, and he just bar. Edward was halfway down the block and I took couldn’t bring himself to work. When the failing off my heels and started to run to catch up with him. marks came, the idea of Edward continuing became “I don’t care about your investments!” impossible. “Is this when the police caught up with you?” a “What are you going to do?” I asked him, looking very large woman asked from across the holding cell. at the red marks on his results. “Slapping the holy hell out of him?” “Start again… when I get back to New York. Can “I threw my heels and tried to slam his head on the I just crash here for the time being?” pavement.” “For the time being?” “Nice.” “Yeah, you know… for… the time being.” “I hit him in the head… but I’m a girl… that’s not It’s such a harsh way to think about our relationa crime… hitting a man… wait, is it? – you never ship… “The time being”… it’s just the time that’s know in a foreign country. ” passing. Our relationship, my life, his life, all of us “So how’d you two break up back in… in… where were expiring one second at a time. This rage and are you from?” another cellmate asked. anxiety escaped my mouth in one sentence. “Of “Belgium.” course you can crash here.” I gave him a fake smile; Another silence. I didn’t need to explain what or he didn’t notice. where Belgium is. “I figured in a welfare state it’d be impossible to get “Time just ran out on us, he had no classes, which
meant no visa and I wasn’t a real enough reason to stay on the other side of the world. So he left… it was more like we expired than broke up. No big explosion of emotions but rather just packing bags and promises of phone calls and visits that never happened. It was just a fling… I never thought of it… a fling.” Something felt better. “That night when I kissed him in the square with the beautiful lights and the warm rain we’d peaked, nothing better was coming. I just knew… you know… I wasn’t wrong.” Silence in the cell and I didn’t want to break it. This was not in my vacation itinerary. I looked at the reinforced concrete walls and cell bars and realized that not many Belgians had seen this place. I simultaneously decided not to tell anybody about it when I got home. At the airport in Brussels I had started idealizing everything from my early twenties. Through email, social websites and video conferencing, Edward and I re-established contact. It started small about a year ago with messages exchanged and became inflated into unrealistic expectations and false memories. Suddenly I was buying plane tickets and making plans to see him. I don’t remember who initiated our reconnection but it was nice to have something to look forward to in life. Disappointingly he turned out to be Edward Green, not some image I had constructed, not a memory I wanted back, just a boy that expired into another adult. When I chased him and slapped him in the head I didn’t even care. I wanted to hit myself for having expectations, for being let down again
and most of all for coming all the way to Manhattan to learn it was just a fling. A guard came and opened the cell, breaking the silence among the women. “Joke Pelckmans you are free to go. Wait, wait… Joke? Your name is Joke?” “It’s pronounced Yo-ka not joke… it just looks that way in English.” “It’s spelled J-O-K-E.” “I can spell my name… it’s pronounced… ehhh… I can go?” “All charges have been dropped.” “Joke? That’s a name?” one of the women asked. “I’ll never forget you ladies,” I said, exiting my incarceration. Outside the police station I realized I had no idea where I was or where I was going. I saw the officers who arrested me, smoking cigarettes on the corner. They both approached me. “Hey Big Man and Big Man.” “How you doin’,” they replied in unison. “My heart has been broken for over a decade and it took a trip to America to realize this. You?” “Can’t complain. I’d love to take you out… show you around.” “That’s nice of you Big Man, but I think… I think… I need to learn to like myself. Me and that guy in the bar… it was just a fling… years ago.” Big Man looked at his partner. “You must be a hell of a firecracker.” “You don’t know the half of it.” I smiled. Big Man laughed, his partner didn’t. “Just stay out of trouble.”
“I’m glad it was you who arrested me… you seem like a nice guy… nice arms too. Which way’s MidTown? My hotel’s there.” Big Man just pointed to an endless street that lay in front of me. Rain had fallen and the lights of the city reflected off the concrete as I started to walk away. I looked forward and smiled, thinking to myself in English, “This is a hell of a way to start my vacation.”
English Irrationalities: A Languacultural Poem by c h a n g m i n g
y ua n
There might be love in between gloves But no egg in eggplant, or ham in hamburger English muffins did not originate from England Nor French fries from France Sweetmeats are actually candies While sweetbreads are meat though not sweet at all Readers read, singers sing But typewriters no longer type, and fingers never fing A mouse can multiply into mice But a grouse never into grice People may recite at a play and play at a recital Their noses run while their feet smell They park on the driveway, or drive on the parkway Ship by truck and send cargo by ship Teachers may be taught, but preachers are never praught One goose may stand between two geese So may one tooth between two teeth But a booth can never between two beeth If vegetarians eat vegetables What would so-called humanitarians do to humans?
Free Tacos by k at h l e e n r a d i g a n N
ever in my wildest dreams did I imagine being dumped for a taco. They say that high school-aged boys can be superficial, but I never truly embraced this philosophy until now, preferring not to stereotype my fellow human beings. Now, listen. I can accept being conditioned to hate my body by the impossible standards of beauty imposed by our society on a daily basis. I can accept being perceived as an object by half the world, like a toaster or Rogaine. But when I get broken up with for a taco, that is where I draw the line. Long before Bobby asked me to come over his house and watch movies with him, he dated Maryann Taco for three and a half months. He described her that night as we compared our completely unexciting romantic histories. “She wasn’t really a good girlfriend. Kind of talked like a valley girl.” “Her last name is… Taco.” I said. “I know.” “That’s so funny! You went out with a taco! Ha! Ha! Ha!” “Alright, whenever you’re done laughing.” “Ha! Okay, okay, I’m done.” “Thank you.” “So, was she hard shell or soft?” He sighed. “She was nice. Half normal chicken, half undercooked.” “So now we’re speaking in heavy-handed taco metaphors?” “Yes.” “Okay. You went out with undercooked poultry.” “And she dumped me.” “Well, thank God. She could have given you salmonella.” Perhaps, looking back, I was a tad insensitive in referring to his very recent heartbreak as possibly toxic. But how was I supposed to know his hard shell had cracked? That, before I could blink, he would salsa right back to his taco belle? It’s a crime only a teenaged boy would have the gall to commit. That night, the night of the Maryann Taco conversation, we sat on his couch and watched Zombie Strippers. “I hope this movie is cool with you. I’ve been wanting to watch it.” “Yeah, absolutely! Totally!” “I mean, like, obviously, it’s a comedy.” “Obviously!” “Because I don’t actually get turned on watching zombies strip. I’m not like –” “A necrophiliac?” “Or like a pervert or something. Yeah.” It was a very educational film with lifelike effects and a socially relevant message. I sat in the dark for two and a half hours as some chicks with black lipstick climbed poles and killed people. Also, as Bobby tried to casually put the moves on me. First, his arm kind of inched by my hand, then it crawled toward my shoulder like some sort of a vagrant snail, and at last in a sputter of vibrato swung around the back of my head. This was an unfortunate day to have worn chopsticks in my hair. I’m pretty sure they stabbed him in the hand, but if he was injured he showed no signs of pain. I suppose these are the battle wounds men must endure in the name of love. When the last zombie had stripped its victim, we sat staring at the blank TV in contemplative silence.
“What did you think?” he asked hopefully. “Wow,” I said, hoping to contort my face into one of almost orgasmic happiness. “Do you want to be my girlfriend?” I looked at him. “Yes, Bobby.” Bobby was a tuba player in a marching band. In a friggin’ marching band, with the red velvet pants and cufflinks and the tall marshmallow hats. It should be a giant sign screaming I’M DESTINED TO A LIFE OF CELIBACY. And yet, somehow, the fairy of attractiveness sprinkled a disproportionate amount of magic dust on his face when he was an infant. There was no denying that Bobby was unfairly good-looking, smashing all known tuba-player stereotypes to smithereens. We went out for a little under a month, on the last day of which Bobby called me to his locker after school. He was gathered with a flock of his marching band brethren, who were putting their retainers back in their cases and snorting about a flautist who didn’t know how to transpose minor keys for shit. “Hi guys,” I said, and they all began to clear out, faces drained of color as if I had started speaking Farsi and talking about houseplants. “We’ll catch up with you later, man,” mumbled Eric, who played the bassoon. “What’s up?” I said, eyeing Bobby’s suspicious look of terror. “Look, some things have come up,” he said. “Uh, like what?” “Well, you know, like, I have to focus on my tuba this year.” He cleared his throat. “And, I like this other girl.” “Oh? Who?” “Maryann. I’m really sorry!” “Your ex? The undercooked poultry?” “She isn’t really undercooked. Or poultry,” he added as an afterthought. “Why?” was the only thing I could think of to say. He said, “I’m sorry. I think we’re soul mates. Maryann and I are meant to be. We’re just right for each other, you know? I hate to break up with you like this, but it’s like some sort of a higher deity is telling me to do it.” “Are you blaming God for the fact that you’re an asshole?” “I’m sorry. I really am.” “Okay, Bobby. Have a nice night then.” I tried to let him fade away into the crowd à la Degrassi season finale, but his hat was taller than anyone else’s heads and he was carrying an instrument the size of a baby seal. *** The first person I called in my infinite heartbreak was my best friend Maggie, who said, “I hope his tuba goes on strike.” “We had everything… (sob! sob!) … in common from our favorite movies to bands and we both really liked alpaca and the early works of Chuck Klosterman and we thought crocs were ugly…” “Everyone thinks crocs are ugly!” “But that’s… (sob!) …that’s not the point the point is that we were perfect together, everyone (sob!) said so, and how could he just ditch me next to his locker… We were going to move to Sweden...” “Listen,” she said, “This dick sack made you
watch Zombie Strippers. You had literally nothing in common. He only pretended to like Chuck Klosterman because he wanted to touch you.” “You think so?” “Trust me,” she said, “I know so. Go find a guy who doesn’t play the tuba. Someone who didn’t fall off the dick sack tree and bang every girl along the way down.” I sniffed. “Okay.” “You gonna be alright?” “I think so. Is dick sack even a real word?” She said, “Of course. Now go take a bubble bath.” I suppose I knew all along that in reality, it wasn’t the taco’s fault. But underneath I harbored a grim resentment for Maryann Taco, tacos in general, and even most other Mexican food groups, which is a sad shame. The thing that I hated most about her was that there was very little to hate about her. Maryann was the most exceptionally normal person I’d ever encountered. She was in “Spiritual Life Counsel”, a club for people who clearly have no idea what to do with their time. She shopped at name brand stores. She quoted the Bible a lot and sometimes showed up at meathead parties I never went to. She never made waves, had hung out with the same four girls since pre-K and planned to be a veterinarian. I mean, give me something to work with here! The only good material was her last name, which wasn’t even her fault. Bitter spores grew and proliferated within me like dandelion seeds of anger. *** I don’t remember talking to Bobby again, or even caring about his various post-breakup activities. He and his tuba remained a permanent fixture in my past. When did he dump the taco? I don’t remember. Just that it happened, it must have happened. Maybe it was at the homecoming dance. I remember flushing the toilet and coming out of the stall to find an alarmingly bloodshot, snotty faced, sobbing Maryann. She was in a conservative pink dress and she was all alone. I thought about talking to her, asking “Are you okay?” In the end I just left the bathroom, feeling that justice had, in some way, taken its bitter course. The fact of the matter is: most people suck most of the time, and I’m one of them. People do sucky things every day like break up with their girlfriends in public places, wear crocs, produce movies about stripper zombies, bomb innocent civilians in foreign countries, call people “dick sacks”, make fun of marching band geeks and walk out of bathrooms without making any effort to console a clearly crying, lonely girl. Maryann, wherever you are, I’m ordering tacos tonight in your honor. I will take them without a side of revenge. Just plain, ordinary tacos.
Ice Cream by j i m s c h o e n I
rene shrieks, “Geoff !” It takes me a minute. I mean, the thing just happened. “The ice cream, Geoff !” Irene shrieks again, just so you know what I’m dealing with here. I am still stunned. My fall was not intentional. When I look down at the hand I’m not hanging from, sure enough, I’m holding the bag from Dillway’s, with the half gallon of Raspberry Fudge Truffle inside. If there’s one thing Irene is good for in bed, it is ballast. She gets up and I’m like one kid on the high end of a teeter-totter, for about half a second. I wake up on the floor a lot, and I hear her downstairs, crunching the Deluxe mixed nuts she likes to add to our Ben and Jerry’s, whatever Dillway’s is carrying as their flavor of the week. It is easy to imagine her hunkered on the couch in the dark, with the container in her lap, and a serving spoon in her fist; or a horse at dinnertime, with its head in a feedbag. As if she’s not big enough. I’m bigger, but there’s a saying about people that live in glass houses, and I’m not the one chucking rocks. I’m not the one calls somebody Tubba Geoff. Irene tells me she only eats the stuff so I won’t. I ask her, you’re so concerned about my health, when you gonna take up smoking?
I have always been willing to share. What’s mine is yours, Irene, is what I told her when we first got married. I look at our old pictures and it’s hard to believe. Back when I was a young and strapping used car salesman with a 24/7 membership at Marv’s Muscle Magic, and Irene was a delicate little dental hygienist with a smile that made grown men wet themselves, I never imagined. You swear it’ll never end. One good fight and you swear it has, until you make up and things are nice again; then bad, then nice. Until one time she sets your underwear on fire, a scary deal, I can tell you, if you’re standing in them. People turn to drugs and alcohol, or they take up smoking. These are The Big Three, the ones you always hear about. There’s others, though, like me for instance, me and Irene, who go right for the hard stuff. Years pass and you stop even wondering how. Sitting across from the little woman, who’s not anymore, you’re careful not to look up her housedress. With one of her knees pointing North and the other South, and she’s sitting like six feet away, this is like trying to ignore the second coming. No pun intended. You know your heart can’t take many more drum rolls, or maybe you’d just like to save what’s left of your eyesight for another sunset. The thing up her dress looks like a biter, you think, like something that snarls a lot that you keep in a cage. One glimpse is like a glancing punch; a good look, though, could start your eyes bleeding. So you spoon out another nut and a chocolate chunk, making your little hmm-ing noise as you do, but quiet-like so as not to disturb. You peel some ice cream up with it and bring it to your mouth. Paying attention. And being neat. You’re not some slob dripping on your shirt and wiping Raspberry Fudge Truffle juice onto the furniture. You have put on one of those cop shows she likes, Miami Vice or whatever. Also, you offered to serve her a bowl. But no; she would rather watch you eat. She
would rather watch each maneuver of the spoon, then follow it to your mouth, taking a bite of air as you take one of ice cream. You half expect to hear her shriek, “I’m telling!” Like you’re both of you maybe seven years old and she walked in on you tugging your tulip. She is a witness and she is going to testify. “Yes, Your Honor,” she is going to say, “I saw the whole thing!” Because that’s her ice cream, too, that you are eating. Never mind that you offered her some. Never mind that if you didn’t bring it home, she wouldn’t eat it. You did, and that is her ice cream too! Now she is going to have to get up in the middle of the damn night to get her share of the horrible stuff ! She is planning to kill you. You are sure of this, because suspicion under these trying circumstances is inevitable. You have already imagined any number of ways. Are those ground rat pellets in your Mint Chocolate chip? Paraquat in your Cherry Flip? Let’s just shove him off the cliff, Biff ! Biff ? And this is the worst, when it finally occurs to you that there is someone else, someone who doesn’t even like ice cream, someone with whom she will be reborn in her earlier dental hygienist delicacy. Duh? How, you wonder, could you have missed this? When she asks if you want to go for a drive, maybe take a nice twilight walk along Booger’s Bluff, you are certain that this is it. Of course, you say yes; you are past worn out with all of it. Despair is too pale a word. If she tries the big heave-ho on you, you might even help. There’s no telling in your present condition. Yet, some desperate part of you clings to the notion that this may be a turning point. The stop at Dillway’s is your idea, the tiny napkins and the little plastic spoons, because you picture the two of you eating your ice cream together, innocently, as you used to do, up on Booger’s Bluff. So when you climb out of the truck, you snag the blue-on-white plastic Dillway’s bag, take it along. All set, yeah. Except for the little plastic spoons you had stuck in the glove box, which you forget. Irene shrieks again, “Geoff, gimme the damn ice cream!” I would rather hear, “Hold on, honey! Just hold on now, okay? Jeeze, what’d you do that for anyways?” Of course, I didn’t do anything. I’m at least as surprised as she is that I’m hanging here, maybe more. Enough to wonder, anyway, if Irene hadn’t greased the trail just a tad in that one spot, if she hadn’t already worked out the distraught-husbandsuicide angle. Irene has no way of knowing that I’ve found a toehold. I can hold on indefinitely now, or at least long enough to eat some of this ice cream. I’m thinking that if I can pry the lid off with my teeth, I could gnaw it right out of the container. Yeah, it could work. Irene says, “Geoff ?” She says, “Geoff, honey?” I look up at her in the fading light. It used to excite me that Irene liked to run around bareback, before this became the stuff of nightmares. Just now, though, the view up Irene’s dress, with her legs bent and her muscles flexing, is more inviting than it’s been in some time. The critter up there looks almost kittenish, pet-able even. But it
is bald fear I see in Irene’s eyes; in her voice, the little warble there, that’s desperation, and it turns me on. Close to three hundred pounds hanging by one hand from a tree as big around as my thumb, and I feel, what, maybe three ounces, stiffen? It occurs to me that something is happening here. Is it possible we really have reached a turning point, Irene and I? “Irene?” Irene bends further, reaching. “I’m here, Geoff. I’m right here.” She wiggles two fingers, then brings them together. They are nowhere near enough to hold my weight, but they’ll work just fine, it occurs to me, for catching the loops on the Dillway’s bag. Yeah. Then my grip on the tree slips. As I recover my footing, and then my grip, I get a quick flash of a tangle of heavy rope, and I remember. The rope is lying in the bed of the truck, back in the parking lot. It is tied like a maniac, so it won’t come loose from the cement block I use as an anchor for the boat. I don’t carry any kind of pocketknife, like some guys, and there is no way Irene is going to be able to untie those knots. She could carry it, though, the rope, the block together, I am sure, as sturdy-built as she is. No problem. And if she can pick it up, she can sure as heck throw it down, or give it a good heave. Uh-huh. I turn to the view and shudder. Booger’s Bluff is a long way up. Below, the discarded cars and stoves and refrigerators look like kids’ toys dumped from a toy box and kicked around. Irene says, “You gotta at least try, Geoff honey, okay?” And I think, hopeful, “Maybe…” “Go ahead,” she says, reaching her farthest yet. And I think, maybe she cares after – Which is when Irene interrupts my thought. “Okay, Geoff. I’m pretty sure I can reach now,” she says – “if you wanna go ahead and swing that bag up here.” After that, of course, it’s no contest. “I’m just thinking, Irene,” I tell her. “Why don’t you run on back to the truck for a minute –” “Yeah, Geoff ?” she answers. “Yes, sweetheart?” “– and get us a coupla those little plastic spoons…”
Barcode by a l e x f r a n c o i s H
er black Gucci pumps glide across the vinyl floor which is white and ingrained with the fallout of past commerce. She wears red lipstick like the dame in an old detective movie, the kind so red it pierces the TV screen even in monochrome and is only parted by the occasional exhalation of cigarette smoke. Her lips are unable to caress a cigarette here as the store enforces a strict no smoking policy, but I would make an exception for her. She flutters around the checkout counters as if treading water. This is the part they struggle with, the refusal to accept that their Wal-Mart experience must come to an end. She surveys the checkouts. The elderly woman at my register is intent on finding a 20 cent milk coupon and has been searching for the last 30 seconds. If I can dispose of her before Jason’s lane is free I know she’ll come straight to me. There’s no threat from Janice, a large family with two carts looming over her conveyor belt. One of the kids sneaks a candy bar into the cart whilst her mother is attempting to silence a crying newborn. The old woman has been talking to me, I think I laughed. Claris shops here daily, only buys enough to carry her through the night. The store is central to her routine, her sanity. She talks a lot. Cousins in Wisconsin, her nephew the research scientist, how kids are too loud, her blind cat, and how she used to know Barbara Stanwyck. She finally leaves, talking to no one as she exits through the sliding doors. A gust of wind finds an opportunity as they open, for a moment I catch the scent of pine, but it is quickly assimilated into the warm air of the heating system. Six. The number is suspended above my head at full mast. She glows under the fluorescent lights as she approaches the counter and begins to unload her basket. “Hello ma’am, how are you this afternoon?” This is the thirty-eighth time I’ve used this phrase today. She smiles and says nothing, the white light painting her skin almost translucent. I lure the conveyor belt towards me, ensnaring a carton of milk in the lights of the scanner. Half and half, fat-free. She doesn’t need to lose weight, I wish I could tell her. Maybe I could forget to bag it, then run after her in the parking lot. You forgot your half and half. I noticed it’s fat-free, I just want you to know that you’re not fat. In fact you’re perfect. I can change it to full-fat if you want. I have that power. She would probably reject the offer, she’s far too modest. She’d smile and that slender vein would fill her cheeks with a crimson blush. Her manicured hand would reach for the carton, making contact with mine as it passes hands. My hair stands on end. Would you like to… this is stupid, she wouldn’t look twice at a guy like me, and yet… one of the children drops a pickle jar at Janice’s register. It shatters into large shards, held together by the label. Would you like to go for a drink some time? Linguine, 16 ounce. We’d go out somewhere classy, like Lombardi’s on Main St. She’d order the Linguine alle Vongole, extra parmesan. Ragu pasta sauce, 10 ounce. I’d order the Cotechino in Potato and Parmigiano Crust, the same dish cooked by Iron Chef champion Mario Batali in his 2007 battle with Andrew Carmellini. Mineral Water, liter. No wine as I’m driving her home. The night was perfect, she’d let me know this as we’re parked outside her apartment. Fair-trade Ground Roast. Yes, I’d love to come up for coffee, sex. A rush of excitement runs through my body, hidden by the waist-high counter. I swipe a bag of cotton swabs past the scanner several times before keying in the barcode, making the red L.E.D. read 99 cents. Heavy items first, always first.
Wonder Light, 16 ounce. She’d bring me breakfast in bed, or at least what constitutes breakfast for her. She makes no claim to being a great cook. Smucker’s Goober’s Peanut Butter & Jelly, 18 ounce. The bread is thick and tasteless; a sweet mass clings to the roof of my mouth like napalm. She hands me a cup of coffee to wash it down and sits on the edge of the bed, her slim frame barely disturbing the mattress. The newborn in Janice’s lane resumes its protest; the anger in its voice can be heard through its wailing, anger at being ejected into this world against its will. Her eyes gesture towards me and then the baby, I smile. You don’t have to be crazy to work here but it helps. There would be no suggestion of dating, it would just happen. The kind of mutual appreciation two people share for an event or a landscape that needs no vocalization. Like a visit to the Grand Canyon without a fucking tour guide pointing out how breathtaking it is, or how many football stadiums it could fit inside. She’d stare at me for hours whilst we lay in bed. My hand pulses as her body is pressed against my forearm, my heart struggling to pump blood past her delicate neck. Heinz Ketchup, 14 ounce. Her parents live in one of the large houses on Lynchfield Avenue. I gaze through the car window at the ’02 Dodge Ram that sits in the driveway. She turns to me. ‘Are you feeling nervous?’ she places her hand over mine. ‘Nervous? No of course not, why would I be nervous?’ I have no reason to be nervous; her parents are going to love me. They’ll tell her not to let this one get away, they’ll compare me to the long line of jocks she’s been dating since high school and comment on how it’s about time she found a decent man. Her mother was raised a housewife and performs her occupation to perfection. The placemats are set around the table in an identical fashion, the floral pattern framing the bloody steak and heap of mashed potatoes that sit on my plate. Betty Crocker, 6.1 ounce. Her father served a tour in Vietnam and he’s impressed with the knowledge Discovery History has bestowed upon me. He asks if I’ve ever been hunting before. I respond honestly but express how I’ve always wanted to, causing his eyes to light up with the excitement of a child at Christmas. ‘Now you’ve got him started!’ Her mother exclaims, pouring steaming coffee from a silver cafetiere. He leads me to the garage, leaving the women to converse in the lounge. The room smells of labor, this is a man’s sanctuary. The fluorescent lights flicker on, revealing a huge mass of steel piping and aluminum panels. It’s a top drive hunting rig. I’ve seen these things in magazines before but not in person. I’m aware of how they function but I let him explain regardless. He passionately details every inch of the contraption, how he had it custom made and shipped from a specialist in Three Rivers, Texas. It fixes to the roof of the truck, adding a self-contained open-air top deck. The gear shift, steering and brakes are all attached to their respective counterparts so the truck can be operated from inside the rig. It’s a triumph of American engineering and even contains a beer cooler; after his daughter it’s his most treasured possession. Next Saturday? Yes, I’d love to go hunting. Beef Cold Cuts. The rig is great, like hunting from your own living room. He even brings a portable TV which sits atop the cooler. We could easily pick off deer from here but he insists we go on foot to give me a taste for the hunt. The rifle shakes as my hands tremble with excitement and my nostrils sting from the sharpness of the air. I walk slowly, turning dead leaves into dust
under the combat boots her father has loaned me. His face is a picture of concentration, as if he’s back sweeping the jungles for VCs. I stalk towards the animal which stands elegantly, framed by the divine beams of light that pierce the woodland canopy. “Okay, here’s good. Steady, keep steady. Aim for the shoulder or the neck. Nice and steady. Okay, go for it.” The buck is dead in my sights as I squeeze the trigger so hard it hurts. The gun kicks like a mule and the muzzle flash sends me deaf and blind for a second. I didn’t see the round enter but the animal silently drops and lies motionless on the ground. I experience an unfamiliar high a thousand times better than sex. I feel I should be running over to the carcass and sinking my teeth into the flesh, feeling the warm blood run down my throat. Her father walks over to confirm the kill whilst I kneel frozen in my sniper’s posture. He smiles, thumbs up. Duracell Ultra, 4 pack. A man forms a queue at my checkout, his flustered face a red beacon distorting my attention away from the vision of perfection he stands behind. “There’s a free checkout further down sir.” The fat fuck sighs and waddles off like an emperor penguin cradling a six pack, Miller. We stay in for our first anniversary; she loves it when I cook. I found a recipe online for salmon parcels. She lies on the couch watching adverts as the potatoes gently sauté. Because you’re worth it. Only two places in town sell the bok choy needed for the parcels, Franklins of 4th and the Chinese supermarket on Warren Street. “You don’t need to make anything fancy, don’t be silly, I don’t want you to spend any money on me.” She knows I will and she wants me to. She tells me she’ll wear them forever, Tiffany jade earrings that hang from her ears like teardrops. We watch The Notebook, she cries, I think of the buck dead in my sights and the warm blood. I hold her in my arms. Maybelline Makeup Remover, Oil-Free. I awake to the soft hiss of steam rising from the iron. I admire the way she moves around the apartment in the mornings. She treads like a ballerina, making every effort not to wake me with her swift movements that are so light the air surrounding her barely parts. She brings in my work uniform and gives a gentle smile to ease me into the day. Today will be the day I ask her to marry me and she will accept. My hunting excursions would continue once every two weeks in season, my grip growing firmer and my accuracy deadlier with every session. Her father’s various friends would also attend, men of high standing in society all remarking at the speed at which I was improving, becoming a master huntsman. By the fall I would have 16 bucks under my belt. “Are you ready for the big game?” he asked as we were driving back one night. “Elk?” My reply caused him to erupt with laughter. “Grizzly,” he answered. The state has strict laws against hunting bears, the key being that it is prohibited, but I didn’t raise this point as he was completely aware of this. One of his hunting group was a senator. We were above the law. Coca Cola, two liter. Double-bag it. A man begins to survey the checkouts. He’s young and handsome, cradling his items with one arm, no need for a basket. I’m panicking, desperately looking for an empty checkout to direct him towards but it’s too late. He forms a queue behind my love, rubs his chiseled jaw with his free hand and glances down
at me before looking at her and slowly opening his mouth. “Barefoot Merlot, someone’s partying tonight.” A weak attempt to start a conversation, I doubt she’ll even dignify it with a response. She giggles out of pity. “I assure you it’s just for cooking with.” She sounds different… must be the sore throat. I told her this would happen if she kept forgetting her jacket. I think we’ve got medicine at home, Cepacol: Sore Throat and Cough Relief, 18 pack. “What, both bottles? What’s the recipe, wine soup?” “I prefer the term stew.” They both laugh. It’s just like her; she’s a sweetheart, brightening up this pathetic hack’s day. He’ll pay for his groceries and go home, alone. We’ll have a quiet night in and a few glasses of wine. She’s still laughing. The bottles are clouded by the blood red wine inside. I carefully double-bag them. Finding a replacement babysitter at 6 pm on a Saturday night isn’t the easiest thing in the world, and screaming at me is not helping. If she’d have been ready earlier this wouldn’t be a problem but she always takes so long applying her makeup, Rouge Dior Lipstick: Hypnotic Red 862. We’re booked at Lombardi’s for six-thirty but we’ll never make it in time. The shrill, high-pitched voice of the girl on the other side of the phone is hardly comforting. She’s fourteen but ensures me that she is an honor student and reads out a list of her achievements to date: captain of the girls’ volleyball team, mathletes, highest earner at the hospital bake sale, Pillsbury Snickerdoodle Cookie Mix, 17.5 ounce. She’s the best we’ll find at such short notice and I’ll do anything to quell the voices that simultaneously pierce my ears. She waits in silence, no longer acknowledging the man behind her whose eyes reveal his desperate search for another conversation starter. Del Monte: Diced Tomatoes, 14.5 ounce. We arrived in the highlands without the rig to avoid attracting unwanted attention. The thick dawn fog that had tailed us had all but cleared, and on looking over the ridge a vista of rocky woodland was visible below. The senator lit a cigar as her father pulled out a map and surveyed it closely. “Ok, we’re headed for that stream down there.” The intrinsic authority in his tone told us he was back in Khe Sanh. We performed a quick check of rifles and supplies before setting off towards the sequined blue line in the distance. Her father and the senator lead ahead, I walk alongside the owner of a statewide used car dealership. His gleaming bald head and flustered round face are exactly as they appear in his advert: If you can find a cheaper used car, pinch yourself, you must be dreaming! We joke about the advert. The senator has taken to using a large branch as a walking aid. It seems inappropriate to laugh. Instead we walk in awe of his power as he lumbers with his shamanistic staff, the earth seeming to shake each time the hilt beats the ground. We’re close enough to the stream now to see the shards of light ricochet from the surface of the water. Her father signals to us and we all come to a silent halt, squatting on the balls of our feet. He gestures towards an object in the distance. Grizzly. Through our scopes we observe the beast’s huge neck arched downwards, drinking from the stream. He begins to whisper. “We won’t get a clean shot from this range. We need to get in closer.” We stalk towards the animal. The senator bows his head, shifts the staff to his left hand and unslings his rifle with the right. “I think we should let our friend have this one.” The senator hands me his rifle in an unearthly ceremony, his staff looming over me. The .300 Winchester Magnum dwarfs my rifle. I rest my elbow on my knee and peer down the scope. My world becomes a circular ball of light surrounded by dark-
ness. My senses are enhanced a hundredfold and the beauty of the flowing water is revealed to me. The bear’s mane is ruffled by a slight breeze, individual hairs dance in the wind. I take aim. Trojan Ecstasy, 10 pack. A cold sweat envelops me. I thought she was on the pill; she’s definitely on the pill. So this is why she’s been tied up at work, putting in a lot of overtime. Who is he? I’ll find that cocksucker and slit his throat. My eyes catch Jason’s on checkout five, he winks at me. Please, anyone but him. The gun spasms like a pneumatic drill but something isn’t right. The bear’s tranquility is broken as it jumps to attention and begins to hobble away deep into the forest. I attempt to put the animal down but my hands are erratic, the others take aim but it is too late. It fades into the trees, wounded. Her father looks at me, disappointed. Johnson’s: Hand & Face Wipes. I committed everything to you and this is how you repay me, by turning everything we’ve had into shit. $65.82. She hands me a $20 gift card and I swipe it: 188 Maple Drive. The registered address isn’t ours; it must be his, the card was probably a gift to impress her. He must have told her about how he’s beating me to the assistant manager position, how he’ll soon have power over me. She always loved power. She pays on credit card, Bank of America: Visa. She picks up her groceries and passes me without a second glance, making for the exit. The conveyor belt slowly drifts towards me. “Next customer please.”
A City Tree by m u r z b a n f .
s h ro f f
A tree hung its head in shame for living beyond its time It had no right to live this way in the enclosing concrete grime. Darkened branches denied their right to live and breathe and fight And one man rubs his sleep away in the silence of the night.
Load-bearing Books by e ua n
m o n ag h a n
his new feature is all about fascinating ‘book spaces’ – libraries and bookshops – viewed through the eyes of the people who work there. What’s so special about these stacks of books? What keeps them there? And is Amazon going to ruin everything? When pondering the shortlist for our first subject, there were some fairly obvious choices: the British Library for one, the legendary Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road, the Bodleian in Oxford… And yet, while they are all interesting – and hopefully we’ll get a chance to have a poke around them at some point in the not-too-distant future – there is one which has a bit more of an air of mystery about it. One which not too many people have even heard of – The London Library. Even if you regularly pass its St James’s Square home, it would be quite easy to miss The London Library altogether. It’s hidden behind an unassuming façade in the corner of the square, and it is only once you enter that the sheer scale of the place becomes clear. The Library was founded in 1841 by the great intellectuals of the time, and over the intervening decades it has evolved into the world’s largest independent lending library. It now contains over a million books on sixteen miles of shelving.1 Inez Lynn is the tenth Librarian of The London Library, the first female Librarian in its 170 year history. As such she is also chief executive of the large charitable organisation that keeps it all going. I sat down with Lynn and the library’s Communications and Public Affairs Manager Aimée Heuzenroeder to talk about the philosophy behind the collections, why the Library is such a draw for authors, and of course about ‘Death, Dentistry, Devils & Demonology’.
structo: How did you initially find out about the Library? lynn: I was looking for an interesting first professional post,2 and saw this one advertised. And I have to confess, that like many people at that stage, I had not heard of The London Library. It was only when I came for an interview and saw the scale of the collections that I thought, yes, this is a place I would like to work. And the longer you engage with the collections here, the more fascinating they become, because they’re so widespread and yet so astonishing. structo: Do you have a feel for the entire catalogue? lynn: I have a sense of it, and also because – and I think this is one of the things that makes us different – you would be hard-put to find many libraries on this scale where the librarian is directly involved in the selection of books for the collection. So in that sense yes I do have a feel for the collection, where our strengths are, what we’re still collecting. And I’m constantly reading book reviews and publishers’ catalogues, selecting books to add to it. So yes I do have a good feel, but it takes a few years to build up that knowledge, and that’s one of the reasons why it gets under people’s skin. It’s not unusual for our staff to have been here for ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, or even forty years; and then you really do get to know the collections. structo: I suppose the fact that you’re the tenth Librarian here and the Library has been going for 170 years rather illustrates that! [Laughter]
lynn: Absolutely. Although Hagberg Wright, who I still think of as the great Librarian, from 1893– 1940 – he died in-post – might account for a lot of those years! structo: I first heard about The London Library through Ian McEwan. One of his characters in Enduring Love spends the morning doing some research in The London Library. Do you know how featured you are in fiction? lynn: We know we’re featured heavily in fiction, but not the full extent of it. James Bond is sent here in one of the novels, Sherlock Holmes sends Dr Watson here, Aldous Huxley writes about the Library in his novels. There have been several crime novels set in the Library, with murder by crushing in rolling stacks, as was used in the plot of [BBC TV drama series] New Tricks recently. We turn up all over the place, and I collect them whenever I come across the reference. I have a little file on The London Library in literature. One of these days an article is going to come out. heuzenroeder: ... and then people’s letters of course. If you read Virginia Woolf ’s letters for example, she ‘did this, walked down the street and bought this, then went to The London Library’. structo: Just how do you choose what kind of books to buy in for the collections? lynn: It’s a case of building on the accidents of history. If you go right back to the beginning when the Library was founded, and the people who did found it: Thomas Carlyle, John Stuart Mill, Dickens, Thackeray, Gladstone…3 In many ways they were creating a collection to meet their own reading needs. So if you’ve got John Stuart Mill choosing your political economy and philosophy, you can imagine that you’re going to have real strength and depth there, and so successive Librarians have continued growing on that. There were two early Librarians who were passionate about Russia, and had excellent contacts – Hagberg Wright was a personal friend of Tostoy – so we have got a very strong Russian collection, and you carry on building on the strengths that you’ve got. heuzenroeder: We’re also very responsive to members’ needs; our members are always suggesting books to add to the collections, and by and large they don’t make silly suggestions. They might be working in a particular section of the collection they know very well and see that there’s something needed. We add 8,000 books to the collections each year,4 but they’re not necessarily newly published books, they’re a mix of new titles and ones which we can see that there’s a gap in the collections for. We’re constantly responding to what the members want and how they use the collections as well. It makes the growth both organic and coherent I think, because by and large members wouldn’t suggest a book they didn’t want or a book which would seem oddly out of context. lynn: We’re also always trying to find the books that are of lasting value, because one of our principles is that we don’t throw books out. We try to avoid acquiring things in the first place which are not going to last the test of time. structo: That must be a difficult job… lynn: It is a difficult job, because the latest bestseller is not necessarily what people are going to be
1 Some of these are the ‘load bearing books’ of the headline – the 1890s saw the building of four floors of stacks, designed in a typically robust Victorian way and made from cast-iron, which support the weight of the building directly through the shelving itself. It’s quite a sight. 2 Lynn studied Classics at Liverpool, deciding to train as a librarian after several years in postgraduate research.
3 … Tennyson, George Eliot, Leslie Stephen, and, well, you get the picture. 4 This relentless growth means that the Library is always planning (and fundraising for) the next few decades of expansion. The most recent upgrade added 30% to the book capacity, as well as spaces such as the new Art Room. The Library was kept fully operational throughout the renovation work.
interested in in ten or fifteen years’ time. We have an inner core where we’re looking at different aspects of life really: culture, life and thought. Everything from history and people and places and social culture, philosophy, social science, and then the arts and performing arts side of things. At the heart it’s European and Western – because that was the world view in the nineteenth century when we were founded – and then with moving out we have less depth, but will still collect in all those areas, moving out first of all into Western European, American, Commonwealth, then the rest of the world. Then there’s the periphery which has something about the whole of the world, and every aspect of knowledge, so if a book comes out on the history of Tupperware we have to have it! Somebody somewhere will want to know that. We’re not going to have lots of them, but it’s an idea. structo: So that would go into Science & Miscellaneous? lynn: Yes that would probably go into Science & Miscellaneous.5 [Laughter] structo: Which I loved the idea of. What was it now? ‘Death, Dentistry, Devils & Demonology (See also: R. Hell)’?6 [Laughter] heuzenroeder: We like to remind our members of their mortality. [More laughter] structo: Speaking of the members, are there many different kinds of member? heuzenroeder: There’s a wonderful community of day-to-day members, and then there are people who will come in and they’ll work in briefer bursts, or will come in simply to collect books rather than to work in the building. There are different communities of members but they all meld together very nicely. lynn: There’s a whole community, for example, who never come here at all, and do everything by post. They can’t get here, whether because they’re far away or because they’re disabled, and we do it all for them and send out parcels by post. structo: How long do those members who visit tend to stay here? Have any never emerged from the stacks? [Laughter] heuzenroeder: I think some people would like to be lost. It’s very easy for people to become absorbed and lost, in the best sense, and it does feel like a real haven. You step off St James’s Square and you forget you’re in central London. I know that some people come here not to be found, which is lovely, but no, we haven’t found any skeletons in the stacks. structo: Why is the library such a draw for authors in particular?7 lynn: The reason that the library was founded by Thomas Carlyle was on the basis of what Carlyle couldn’t find anywhere else. This was before the public library system, and the British Library wouldn’t let him take books home, so for him the important thing was that it would let him take books home and read them alone. He said that you can get more out of a book in the comfort of your own home when you’re alone with it in one hour than you could in many days reading it in a public space. So for him it was being able to take the materials home, and not having to work surrounded by other 5 The Library was founded pre-Dewey Decimal Classification, and so has its own system. One of the categories is ‘Science & Miscellaneous’, which is a catch-all for everything that won’t fit in elsewhere. This results in some amusing sequences. 6 While Heuzenroeder pointed out this one, some of Lynn’s favourite squences are: ‘Wine, Witchcraft, Women, Wool &c, Wrestling, Yachting’ & ‘Cremation, Cricket, Crime, Crosses, Cruelty to Animals’. 7 A very small selection of authors who were, or still are, members: Arthur Conan Doyle, E.M. Forster, Kingsley Amis, T.S. Eliot, Agatha Christie, A.C. Grayling, Stephen Fry, Monica Ali…
people. But for other writers I think it’s exactly the opposite. Writing is quite a solitary occupation, but being able to come somewhere where you know that the people around you are similarly committed to the endeavour and value of creativity, you feel that you’re not alone, and know that there is this community of the mind, even if you rarely talk to each other. So a lot of different reasons. The depth of the collection that you get here, in one place, on open shelves, is very important. The public libraries could probably get you, through inter-library loan – if you know exactly what you want and ask for it – exactly what you want. But very often you don’t know what you want until you see it, and it’s only when you’re wandering down the stacks looking for something specific that your eye catches on How to Keep Rabbits for Profit and Pleasure, written in the 1920s, and you think, ‘That’s just want I need for my novel’, that bit of detail. heuzenroeder: There’s also the quality of the assistance you get from the staff and the depth of their knowledge. You can ask them, ‘I’m interested in Korean pottery of this era’,8 and somebody will know exactly what we’ve got and where our strengths and weaknesses are in the collections. And there are more intangible qualities I think. Tom Stoppard, our President, has said that when he passes someone on the stairs of The London Library, that they are on the right side of life, that there’s a set of values that The London Library has and never needs to articulate. But again it’s a very disparate community of readers and members who are standing up for books and knowledge and text. lynn: And it’s not just the famous and well-known writers, it’s people at the very beginning of their careers, people who aspire to write a novel and maybe will never get it published. lynn: It’s a huge range down to the core people who just love reading – serious reading – and the Library is a very important place to us. We received a very big legacy a couple of years ago from a woman called Mrs Carr, and she had become a life member at the age of 21, I think. She had been left some money and she decided she would spend it on life membership of The London Library because she said, ‘No matter what else happens in my life, I have no idea whether I’m going to be poor or rich, but I will still be able to read and belong to The London Library’. As it happened actually she did extremely well in life and left us a very large legacy, but it’s that sense that having access to books is important. heuzenroeder: Our literary heritage is such a wonderful thing, but it can also sometimes be quite a big thing to overcome because people think that you need to be a famous writer to become a member of The London Library, and actually if you look at our database, what we do when members join, is ask what their occupation is. So you can go back through the database and see people who are now Booker Prize winners or very famous historians, and their occupation will say ‘student’ or ‘bookshop worker’ or ‘researcher’ or whatever, because that’s what they were when they joined. They didn’t join as fully-fledged, lauded public intellectuals, they joined as people who are just like the people who are coming in now working on their first book, or dreaming about becoming this or that.
Clockwise from top: the Victorian stacks; the new Art Room; the Reading Room
— For more information about The London Library, including details of free tours of the building (definitely worth it) and membership details, head over to londonlibrary.co.uk. A longer version of this interview (with even more footnotes) is available on-line at the Structo website. 8 The art book collection is one of the gems of the Library, as is the Arts Room itself.
k . j . p r at t
What I talk about when I talk about lying in bed
love my bed, which is a good thing, as apparently the average person spends more than 25 years in bed during their life. Many writers have favoured soft pillows and firm mattresses for their literary contemplation. Proust wrote In Search of Lost Time from his bed, in a room which also served as his memory. That said, he also suffered from severe bronchial asthma, so it might not just have been for the purposes of literary endeavour. Nor so Mark Twain, who in his old age was often photographed beneath his blankets, smoking and writing. Then there’s Truman Capote, here in conversation with the Paris Review: I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.
And so the list goes on: Wharton, Nabokov, Walker Percy, Colette, Joyce… Why shouldn’t Capote and Proust and all the others find this soft, warm haven conducive to contemplation? Take any wintry morning, work day or not, and imagine: there you are, just awoken, before your alarm perhaps, waiting for the heating to come on. You have created this cave of warmth beneath your duvet. Move your foot an inch to the left and you’ll get a cold jolt of reality. Even on a warm day, the bed can be a cool and inviting break from the sun outside. Turn over that pillow and bury your flushed face into its coolness. Doesn’t that sound good? All of this without even considering all those other fun things you can do in bed. You might not be shocked to hear that I am writing this in bed right now – no doubt ruining my eyes with my poor excuse for a bedside lamp – but here I have everything I need: a pen, a notebook, a cup of tea (I’m no Capote) and a world of information at my fingertips through my iPhone. Yes, here in bed everything is right with the world. Or is it? When I picked up Haruki Murakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, I had only just begun my own journey into the world of exercise. While reading the book, I found the spiritual aspects, which he put forward as the root of his own running, were a little irksome, seeing as at the time I could barely make it to the shops and back for a bacon sandwich. His love of getting up at 5am might abhor many – it certainly did me – but, he also writes in the book that this was his response to a body image crisis in his teens. This is something many of us can relate to, perhaps writers more than most. I certainly can. I’ve always suffered from that same disinterest and apathy which keeps many of us in our beds, and I realised recently that if I stay there too long, I get slowly poisoned by it. Which is why I took up running as well, and ended up buying Murakami’s book. But the root of my purpose is something slightly different. I hoped that by getting up earlier – especially at the weekend – and doing anything other than lying in bed, I could stem that malignant attitude which can set in when bedridden. As well forestalling that swingeing mood, however, there is a more relevant reason: I can’t write when I’m lying down. Some people can only write when they’re horizontal, but I can’t.
My thoughts went thus: does “getting up = happiness = writing genius?” Can these things really be related to such a simple object as a bed? Is my daily happiness and writing motivation related to my laziness and, consequently, how long I spend in bed? Let’s see. The test takes the form of a careful scientific analysis of the factors surrounding my bed. (Okay, so the test in truth is a bit woolly, but it’s only a literary mag; so if you’re reading this, Ben Goldacre, please don’t write on your blog about my questionable extrapolations, terrible methodology and sample size of one.) Let’s look first at the inputting factors. The Time I Get Up – I have to be up at 7:30 am to get to work, but sometimes I get up earlier, the earliest time being 6 am. At the weekends, this can vary from 6 am to 1 pm. So, to give each time a score from 1–3, the results will look something like Fig. 1. The Good Diet Scale – Like Murakami, I had a crappy body when I was a teen. In truth, I was a fat little sod until I was 23, at which point I became a slim little sod. I did this mainly through dieting. I lost 4 stone in my final year of university and have managed to keep it off, but sometimes I fall back into old habits and eat dirty pies, filthy biscuits and sordid chips. Once, I actually ordered a pizza on my phone while I was doing sit-ups. The diet scoring will look like Fig. 2. Exercise – The exercise scale is measured as follows. When I get up at 6 am, I go running. I can only manage about 50 yards without having to stop for a cigarette and a sit down, but that’s not the point. I also walk to and from work, weather permitting, which is 3 miles each way. This is a bit of exercise I actually enjoy, although mainly because I hate the Tube even more. Finally, I try and tone all the fat on my body by doing some exercises at home, attempting to shape it into more user-friendly fat. So the marking is as Fig. 3. The Social Aspect – Human interaction is important, and although it is certainly possible in bed, it isn’t always entirely appropriate to include in a scientific methodology. So let’s mark it as Fig. 4. I measured each of these contributory factors for 2 weeks, along with my resulting happiness generally, which I marked out of ten. I also made a record of my writing habits, which looks like Fig. 5. Without going into how atrocious a test this is, ignoring such things as how the scales interact (getting up early, and going running in the morning, both score high marks), the aim is to see whether my bed habits affect my general wellbeing. The graph came out as Fig. 6. I could sit down and perform a complex statistical analysis on the above results, with standarderror bars and p-values, but I’m not going to. Needless to say, there appears to be a trend, with a few exceptions here and there. As we all settle into winter, and the salads and new potatoes turn into the comfort food of stews and roasties, as that 6 am starts to look black and dark and freezing cold, the pressures on the inputting factors are harder to control. This test took place in July; it’s November now, and trust me: it’s a damned sight harder. And although running in the darkness, or even the rain, around the empty streets of London gives an exhilarating rush of
6 am Weekday
10 am–11 am + –
Fig. 1: The Time I Get Up Mark Very good boy
Minor chocolate-related incident
Où est le biscuit tin?
Who ate all the pies?
Fig. 2: The Good Diet Scale Mark Run, exercises & walk to work
Exercises or run & walk to work
Fig. 3: Exercise Mark A day at work
Work and drink afterwards
Work and some other social engagement
A weekend with at least 7 hrs of social interaction
A weekend of lying in bed watching terrible movies
Fig. 4: The Social Aspect Mark Actually wrote something
At least considered writing
Fig. 5: Writing Habits
by pau l
k ava n ag h
Fig. 6: Data! anonymity, it remains depressing to get up when it’s still dark and cold and empty outside. So I stopped running for a while. Just temporarily. And then the diet started to slip, and the exercise was forgotten. Then one weekend I find myself in bed at 3 pm watching some terrible Jennifer Aniston movie that has only just come out on DVD but which I feel like I’ve seen a hundred times before. So I have to lie there and resign myself to the fact that I am destined to have to get up early the next morning to go for a run, to eat healthily and interact with other people like a normal human being. All those things which seem necessary to make me a writer. Bugger.
had a toy. You had a toy. My toy was different than your toy. My toy had four wheels. It went very fast and very far when I pushed it. My toy could drive up walls, climb the stairs, it floated in bath water, it could fly, it traveled to the moon, to mars and beyond. You are saying you had a toy that could do all this and more. In the day my toy was iridescent. At night my toy was a phosphorescent blue. Now I am losing you. You had a toy that glowed. You had a toy that made silly noises. No matter how hard I played with my toy I could not destroy it, I threw it against a wall, I placed it on hot coals, I submerged it in water, I attacked it with a hammer, with a butter knife, I covered it in paper glue, I placed it in the microwave. You broke your toy. You placed it on the fire. You forgot about your toy. It eroded. My mother said my toy was made out of cardboard. My father said my toy was stainless steel. As long as I did not put my toy into my mouth my mother and father really didn’t care what my toy was shaped from. My toy tasted of bread and butter, fried chicken, of strawberries, of vanilla ice-cream, of popcorn, of treacle. During the day when I played with my toy in the front room, in the dining room, in the kitchen, I did not put it into my mouth, but at night in my bed I sucked upon my toy, instead of the pacifier, instead of my thumb, instead of the sheet. In my mouth it hummed softly, stirring slightly, my nights were very pleasant, my dreams happy. You had a toy like this. You loved that toy. But your toy was not like my toy. When I asked my toy to stop, it berated me and abused me and called me stupid. My toy bit me. The bite swelled and bloated, it hemorrhaged, it scabbed and it healed. I forgave my toy. My toy was not a dog, not a cat, not a mouse, not a spider, not a centipede. My toy allowed me to climb on its back and it took me on many journeys. We traveled over vast lands, through thick jungles, between deep valleys, down mighty rivers, over vast oceans. I have lost you now. When my toy screamed windows smashed and glass shattered and mirrors cracked. My toy knew all the dirty words and taught me each and every one and how to use the dirty words. My toy told me about booze and drugs. My toy knew how to steal, how to lie, how to cheat. It told me about the secrets of my mother and father and about their naughty bits. At night my toy showed me dirty pictures of women and men. My toy showed me women with women, and men with men. My toy showed me how to pleasure myself. My toy pleasured me. My toy engulfed my penis and sucked my penis. My toy inserted itself into my anus and stimulated the nerve endings. If there were movement in the hall my toy stopped. Now I have lost you. You never had a toy like my toy but you wish you had a toy like my toy. When I was happy my toy sang soft songs about rabbits, squirrels, butterflies, about walled-in gardens, unicorns, lions and beautiful Madonnas. When I was upset the toy shouted that I should hit the person that had upset me. My toy taught me how to garrote, how to poison, how to attack with a knife, how to aim a gun. My toy had two guns at the back and three rocket launchers on the front. My toy gunned down my mother and father. My mother’s apertures bled profusely. My father was turned to ash. My toy blew up my home. It went through the neighborhood killing, destroying, breaking homes, blowing up cars. It went to my school, my church, my mall and broke them all. My toy fired rockets into the night sky and huge mushrooms clouds turned the day into night, it turned grass into dust, pets into slush, and the people into shadows. My toy like an eraser rubbed out the moon and the sun.
God Bless Us, One and All (A Christmas Story) by t i m
he following is the last known entry from the journal of the promising young writer, Terrance Bartleby. It was found in a cottage deep in the Forest of Dean. The whereabouts of its residents, Terrance and his two companions, Mabel Trenthorp and Algernon Booth-Naughtin, have not (as of this date) been established, although extensive searches have been made of the surrounding areas including all rivers, lakes and quarries.
being as black as my boots though not as shiny. ‘Oi, you,’ said Mabel, who has a way with the working classes. ‘You can’t leave us here. Take us to Bodkin’s Nook this instant.’ ‘Can’t go no further, Mum,’ said the fellow, as he scrambled about the back of the cart throwing our belongings into the night where they landed with a ker-lump. At least I think that was what the fellow said. His accent was as thick as one of Mrs Argyle’s congealed split-pea soups. The last words in the journal were written in scrawl‘Can’t stay ’ere, no ’ow, Mum. Not after dark,’ said ing and, as yet, unidentified handwriting... in blood. the odd little fellow, and he and the cart were off down the road, faster than a... er... than a hungry They simply read - “the end”. ferret up a Yorkshireman’s trouser leg. ‘Little blighter,’ said Mabel, reaching for her Cap Department of Parapsychology stans. ‘I’ll have his knackers for horse brasses if I see him again.’ and High Strangeness, ‘Rather,’ said Algy. King’s College, Oxford. I lit a match. The trees stretched up like the pillars 21st June 1912 of some pagan cathedral. I took a moment to assess the situation. We were in a forest, in the dark, with 23rd December 1911 a turkey and no lamp, and not the foggiest notion 7:23AM… where Bodkin’s Nook was. My dear Mr Journal, you will not be surprised ‘Look, over there,’ said Mabel. to hear that Mabel was late as usual. The train I followed the direction of her finger. There was was already chugging in as she galloped down the a sign. I went closer and lit another match and held ramp, all teeth and elbows. She blamed the turkey, it up. The words Bodkin’s Nook were scrawled across a which admittedly, was larger than anticipated. The whitewashed plank. A painted arrow pointed into an portly little porter fellow wrestled the cases, hameven darker forest track. pers (and the aforementioned fowl) into the First Class compartment while the train whistle tooted ‘This way,’ I said, as cheerfully as I could. to hurry him along. Algy fell into his seat and lit up Mabel picked up the turkey and most of the his pipe. The adventure had begun, we were off to luggage and we headed into the darkness, lighting Gloucester. matches as we went. (I felt rather like an intrepid ‘Bodkin’s Nook, here we come,’ said Mabel, unexplorer in darkest Africa, Mr Journal. If Mabel screwing her hip flask and delving into her tweeds for would agree to blacken her face the scene would be her Capstan Navy Cut. complete. I jest, ha-ha!) ‘Rather,’ said Algy. Just as I was coming to my last match I saw it – a We’d been planning our getaway ever since the white gate against the black night. Bodkin’s Nook was Boat Race. Rather than spend respectively miserable painted along it in the same dubious copperplate as Christmases at our respective family piles we had the sign we had left somewhere behind. made a pact (albeit a drunken one) to forsake insane Using some of Algy’s matches, we managed relatives and hide away in the Forest of Dean for a to retrieve the key from under the flowerpot, as creative Yuletide break of food, wine (brandy, whisky arranged, and gain entry to our haven of festive and gin) and writing. We are all writers, you see, Mr tranquility. In next to no time Mabel had bullied the Journal. Mabel specialises in murder and mystery; range into working and I had lit a couple of lamps Algy, in Gothic melodrama (with a hint of irony); and explored the bedroom and pantry situation. The and yours truly in historical fiction (also with a hint pantry was crammed to overflowing, as arranged, of irony). and the beds appeared to have been freshly made. The train chuffed through fields sprinkled with All was in order. Algy dropped pipe ash into the frost, a lone fox stopped to observe our passing (oops) frying pan as he sizzled some festive sausages and I mean… our procession. Already my prodigious midnight saw us sitting down to bangers and a bottle imagination was creating characters as alive and as of impertinently good red from my old man’s cellar. vital as a new-born babe. There is… was… a story ‘As Tiny Tim once said, “God bless us, one and of… of a wily, old fox in the time of… of Ethelred all”,’ I said, by way of a toast. We clinked glasses and the Unready. Marvellous, Mr Journal, simply mardug in to our supper. vellous. 24th December 1911 7:12AM… 5:36PM… The next morning was Christmas Eve (as you Toward evening we climbed down onto Glouceswould expect on the 24th of December). I lit the ter Station’s icy platform. The greyness was setting range and knocked up a breakfast of fried eggs, in like a fungus – no, change that – greyness, like a black pudding, rashers, kippers, fried potatoes, fried shroud, settled on the land (much better, aye, what, tomatoes and mushrooms, all drowning in dripMr Journal?) As arranged, an obliging little rustic ping. Mabel belched her appreciation and Algy type with a horse and cart was there to meet us. We said ‘Rather,’ as we sat back to have a post-brekky three intrepid writers (and the turkey) huddled in the back with the luggage and bobbed around for an smoke – the best of the day. At mid afternoon we hour or so until we found ourselves deep in the forest. stirred from the breakfast table to set up our respecIt was blackest night by now, and cold enough for the tive writing desks. By 5 o’clock Mabel was already enshrouded in a frost to bite. plume of Capstan haze as she attacked the keys of The cart creaked to a stop. her Smith Premier. Algy was staring at his Rem‘’ere it be,’ said the fellow. ington as if it were a dead cat and I was chewing How he deduced this I know not, Mr Journal, it
my favourite 2B pencil stub while I wrestled with a thorny plot problem regarding my heroine and a blind mongoose. Outside it was dark already but the fireplace was alight and filling us with festive cheer. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. ‘Who can that be?’ said Mabel. Algy continued to stare at his typewriter. Rap, rap, rap, went the door. ‘Well answer it, then,’ said Mabel. I picked up my lamp, went to the door and lifted the latch. As I opened it an icy breeze rushed in. There, standing on the flagstones, was a very little and ragged boy. ‘Please, sir, can I have some more?’ he said. The icy breeze snuffed out the lamp. ‘Ahhh!’ I screamed and slammed the door. ‘What in heaven’s name… ?’ exclaimed Mabel. I stared at my writing chums. I must have been visibly trembling because Algy got to his feet and said ‘I say, are you all right, old man?’ ‘I… I… I… ’ I said. ‘Spit it out, Bartleby,’ said Mabel. ‘It was a little boy.’ ‘A little boy?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘What did he want?’ ‘He said he wanted “some more”.’ ‘Some more what?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Well, why didn’t you just give him a sixpence, or something?’ ‘Because... ’ ‘Because what, cretin?’ ‘Because… I was frightened.’ Mabel snorted, marched to the door and flung it open. I cowered as she looked out into the blackest evening an English winter can provide. The doorstep was empty. Mabel stepped outside. ‘Don’t go outside,’ I called out. Mabel had been a boarder at The Cheltenham Ladies’ College in her youth, consequently she feared nothing. She disappeared into the night. ‘Mabel!’ I shouted. There was no reply, only the wind in the trees. I waited. ‘Mabel?’ I whispered. I was just about to slam and bolt the door when she came back. ‘There’s no one there, Bartleby, you idiot,’ she said, slamming the door behind her. ‘Probably a crofter’s or shepherd’s son looking for a few coppers.’ ‘Rather,’ said Algy. ‘You really should stop being so nervous of the working classes, Bartleby. It’s not as if they’re going to revolt or anything.’ ‘It wasn’t that, Mabel… it was…’ ‘It was what, you buffoon?’ ‘… his eyes…’ 6:36PM… After three stiff whiskies my trembling began to diminish somewhat. I couldn’t get the boy’s eyes out of my mind. You see, Mr Journal, the boy’s eyes were dead. And his skin... it was the colour of mouldy porridge. And there was blood dripping, like treacle, from his mouth. 7:41PM… Mabel clattered around in the kitchen area beating our supper into submission. Algy kept the whisky flowing. None of us had said anything for an hour. The grandfather clock ticked its oaky tick and the
fire crackled. It’s Christmas Day tomorrow I thought to myself. I hope Mabel hasn’t bought me socks again. Good night, Mr Journal. Sweet dreams. All the doors were bolted… he was only a very little boy… even if he is undead. That night I slept fitfully – wind howled and the trees beat their branches against our little cottage. 25th December 1911 7:23AM… The morning arrived bang on time, like a sturdy steam engine. The birds sang and whistled and the dew dolloped itself everywhere. It was one of those wintery, blue-sky mornings which seem to say ‘everything is just fine, you silly old fool’. I breathed in the country air before lighting up my first cigarette of the day, and, Mr Journal, I am glad to say, I had convinced myself that I had been just too damned imaginative last night. The curse of all brilliant writers. Mabel gave me socks for Christmas. I gave her a tweed scarf. We both gave Algy a pouch of Condor Ready Rubbed. We toasted the morning and the gifts and then had a breakfast of eggs and bacon with Coleman’s on the side. ‘God bless us one and all,’ said Mabel after a ritualistic belch. I felt a cold hand run down my back – like the hand of a dead man. ‘Don’t say that, Mabel.’ ‘Why ever not, Bartleby?’ ‘Because....’ ‘What is it, old man?’ asked Algy. ‘Nothing,’ I replied. (What could I say to my chums, Mr Journal, that would not sound ridiculous? “God bless us one and all.” To me, this gobbet of Dickensian syrup held not the naive optimism of Tiny Tim any more but the threat of unspeakable things to come… was it not said before our visitor came to call?) 10:14AM… We decided to go for a brisk walk to clear out some room for the turkey et al. to come later in the evening (and for me to dispel my foreboding). Nature is always at its best on Christmas Day, don’t you think, Mr Journal? It’s as if it’s producing the colours and the whole pageant of life just for the fun of it, just for one day, before it goes back to work along with the servants and tradesmen. (Although, having said that, I do recall servants working on Christmas Day. I assume they get a day off somewhere else in the year, when there are not so many things to serve and to do.) Back at Bodkin’s Nook, we piled up the fire again and sat at our typewriters to create and smoke for a few hours before we took on Christmas dinner. I must say, Mr Journal, this has been the best Christmas yet – no mad relatives or sulking, sniffing brats, only good friends, nature, food, alcohol and tobacco. Splendid. (If only I was not cursed with so much imagination, Mr J.) 10:31PM… The turkey was cooked almost to perfection after only two arguments and one bout of crying (from Algy), so we all counted it as a success. The roast potatoes were exquisite, the bread sauce angelic, the Brussels sprouts captivating, the cranberry sauce perfectissimo and the stuffing divine. We settled back with our cognac and cigars and only then realised we had completely forgotten the plum pudding and brandy butter, not that anyone had any room for them in any case. ‘God bless us one and all,’ said Mabel, raising her snifter. An icy finger touched my spine, making me start. ‘Mabel!’ I said.
‘Oh, sorry... I forgot.’ (That incantation again, Mr Journal… like the smile of an assassin.) We all stopped puffing on our cigars and listened. Only the wind was howling, nothing else. Algy laughed nervously. I wanted to pee. ‘Does it feel cold to you?’ I asked. ‘What are you talking about, Bartleby?’ demanded Mabel, staring accusingly at the blazing fire. My teeth began to chatter. Mabel snorted the sort of snort that brave people do to cowards when they are being particularly cowardly (not very well put, Mr Journal, but you know what I mean). I looked at the face of the grandfather clock. It was 10:35. ‘Let’s play Charades,’ said Algy. Mabel and I looked at him until he bowed his head in shame. I reached for the cognac. I had made a decision – to get as drunk as I possibly could in the hope that it would make me less cowardly or at least less conscious. (I’m all for experimentation, Mr Journal.) Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. I dropped the bottle. No one moved. Rap, rap, rap. No one moved, again. The cognac clugged onto the carpet. ‘I think our young friend is back,’ said Mabel. ‘Do you think so?’ I asked. She and Algy looked at me. ‘Pretend we’re not in,’ whispered Algy. Mabel and I looked at Algy. rap, rap, rap. The door strained under the blows. ‘Bugger it,’ said Mabel as she vaulted to the fireplace and grabbed the poker. She strode to the door and flung it open as she lifted the poker, ready to strike. Algy and I watched from the table. The doorway was obscured by her tweed back. We waited. Mabel slowly lowered the poker. I heard mumbled voices outside. Mabel said, ‘Not today, thank you,’ and gently closed and bolted the door. We watched her slowly return to her seat as if she was in some terrible dream. Her eyes were wild and wide. ‘Who was it? What did they want?’ I whispered. ‘It was three men... collecting a subscription for Christmas dinners for the poor,’ she said into the sauceboat. ‘Did you give them anything?’ ‘No.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Because... ?’ ‘Because what?’ ‘Because I was frightened.’ Algy made a sound. It was a sort of a groan but I can’t swear to it, Mr Journal – it might have been a whimper. ‘Why?’ I asked. But I didn’t want to know why... I knew. ‘It was their eyes. Dead.’ ‘You should have given them something,’ said Algy. ‘It’s too late now.’ ‘Do you think they’ve gone?’ ‘No.’
‘I have a theory,’ I said, to break the terrifying silence. ‘Really,’ said Mabel, sucking the life from a cigarette. ‘It has something to do with Dickens.’ ‘Really.’ ‘We shouldn’t have said... that thing we said.’ ‘What? You mean “God bless us one and all”?’ said Algy. ‘Don’t say that, you idiot.’ An Arctic claw clutched my heart and squeezed. ‘Sorry, old chap.’ ‘That’s what calls them from… from somewhere in… in our imagination.’ Mabel and Algy looked at me. There was nothing else for them to do... while we waited. ‘It’s some sort of incantation, or something?’ ‘What?’ said Algy, who was no Dickens scholar. ‘The first undead caller? I think that was Oliver Twist. The second callers? They were the charitable gentlemen who called on Mr Scrooge on Christmas Eve.’ Mabel snorted. ‘No, think about it,’ I said. ‘Can you think of another explanation?’ ‘Who’ll be next, then?’ asked Algy. ‘Little Dorrit?’ I said hopefully. ‘Bill Sykes?’ said Mabel. ‘Or Mrs Gargery... Mr Jaggers?’ A cold chill ran down my back. I envied Algy his ignorance. ‘Wackford Squires?’ proposed Mabel, who was on a roll. ‘The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come? Or... or Abel Magwitch in the graveyard?’ ‘All right, all right,’ I said, as Dickensian phantoms crowded my exceptionally gifted visual imagination. (Oh, Mr Journal, my friend, would that I was not plagued with such splendid creativity!) We sat in silence... waiting. ‘We should have tipped that rustic with the cart,’ said Algy out of nowhere. Mabel and I looked at him. ‘Who?’ ‘And that porter... the little fellow who lugged the cases at Euston. I mean... it is Christmas after all.’ ‘You mean you didn’t tip him?’ ‘I thought you did?’ ‘Me? I thought you did!’ ‘Well... it’s too late now,’ said Algy. ‘Stop scribbling in that infernal journal, Bartleby,’ said Mabel. How can I stop writing?… you are like breathing to me, my dear, dear, Mr Journal… There was a knock at the door. rap, rap, rap. … goodbye, old friend. The clock struck midnight. the end
Two minutes later, by the grandfather clock, we had barricaded the windows with furniture and pushed the kitchen table against the door. Mabel began to search the cottage for firearms and Algy filled his pipe with some of his Christmas Ready Rubbed. I trembled and drank. The grandfather clock said 11:58. Outside, the wind still howled. Inside, we waited. Mabel had managed to find a blunt sword, I had the carving knife and Algy had the poker.
The Curious Story of Frank and His Friend Mr Stims, the Hydrophobe by b o r i s
gl i k m a n
o anyway, like I was saying, I was sitting comfortably in this nice chair when Mr Stims told me what he wanted to do with his invention. But please don’t interrupt me again, because I am going to forget what I was saying and wouldn’t be able to tell you the whole story of what happened that day. And please, could you turn off that bright lamp? It is making my eyes sore. The two detectives looked at each other and one of them reached out to switch off the lamp. Let me begin again from the start, as I can’t remember now what I have already told you. My name is Frank. I finished school two years ago. I stay at home most of the time and watch TV. I live with my mum. I like her a lot. She is very smart and knows about everything. So I don’t see what’s wrong with saying, “That’s what my mum told me”, but the other kids used to laugh when I said that and called me a retard, which would make me angry. Now I can’t hang out with them any more; my mum tells me I have a bad temper and could hurt them. My only friend is my next door neighbour Mr Stims. I enjoy being with him. I like the brain games that he is so good at inventing. The game that I particularly like is the one in which he asks me to guess what he is thinking of at that very moment. It is not an easy game to play at all. Usually I spend time in his living room, where we drink tea, eat some biscuits and discuss interesting topics. But that day Mr Stims invited me into his study room, and asked me to sit in a comfortable chair beside his desk. He himself sat behind the desk, on which lay writing pads and folders, all neatly organised. After staring at me in silence with an odd look in his eyes for about a minute, Mr Stims started talking: “For the past five years, I have been engrossed in a fiendishly difficult task, as you probably have noticed. I no longer need to be secretive about what I do. But I did want to apologise for being evasive and unpredictable in the past.” He was right. He never told me what he did for a living, but it seemed to me that he was spending much of his time working on some scientific problem. All his rooms were cluttered with books, whose titles I didn’t understand, and papers that were covered with calculations and formulas. And his strange ways did confuse me sometimes. I remember once asking him how he would like to be remembered, and it produced an odd reaction in him. He turned first red, then white and only replied that he had great hopes for the future. Another time I told him that we don’t know much about the oceans, and that there could be big sea monsters and other curious fishes living in their depths. For some reason, he got all agitated and started going on about the chemical properties of water. Then, suddenly, he stopped in mid-sentence and started talking about something completely different. But I still find him a fascinating person to be with. He knows so many things and can always answer my questions. Mr Stims continued: “You might remember from your school days, my friend, what a polar molecule is. Well, water just happens to be comprised of polar molecules. This fact is the linchpin of my work.” I did not actually remember anything about those molecules. To tell the truth, I really do not recall much from my school days. I was always surrounded
by people brighter than me, which made me afraid back, he was carrying a small, shiny box and a full to speak up and say what I thought, in case I might glass of water. I thought it was really nice of him to say something stupid. That is why I like Mr Stims so bring me water, because I was really thirsty. I was much. He has never seen me as a fool and is always about to reach out my hand and say “Thank you happy to listen and explain things to me. Mr Stims, it’s really thoughtful of you”, when he put “The fact that it is a polar molecule, does that that shiny box over the top of the glass. There was a suggest anything to you, Frank?” he asked. Not wait- hissing sound and the water disappeared before my ing for my reply, as he usually does, he continued: “I eyes. Well, it didn’t actually disappear straight away. will get straight to the point. For your benefit, I will For a second, it looked like the water was cut in half, state it in simplified terms. The water molecule is like a fresh bread roll with a sharp knife, and then a charged particle. Charged particles respond to both halves vanished. I was a bit miffed, as I really magnetic fields. By creating a magnetic force of did want to drink that water, but still the sight was so appropriate strength and by aligning it in the right amazing I could not help crying out: “WOW!” direction, we can separate the water molecule into its The room filled up with a funny smell, like a cross constituent parts! We can turn liquid water into the between rotten eggs and fresh pineapple. Mr Stims gases of hydrogen and oxygen. The theory behind it must have noticed me sniffing, for he said: “That’s is of course much more complicated than that, but nitrous oxide. The oxygen released by the process what I have just stated is my work in a nutshell.” has combined with the nitrogen in the air. You have He stopped talking for a short while, to give me to be very careful with nitrous oxide. It messes with time to understand what he had just said. But to be your mind.” honest with you, I did not really see the point of it I knew he expected me to say how impressed I all. I thought it would be much better if you could was and I did say so. He didn’t reply for a while and go the other way and make water out of gases, so then he started a long speech. I am sorry, mister that people everywhere would have enough to drink. policemen, but I can only remember bits of it. He then went on: “The idea sounds simple “I have great plans, great plans. Imagine magnifyenough. Let me tell you, putting it into practice was ing the strength of this machine a hundredfold, a another kettle of fish. The years that I have spent thousandfold. Look at the map of the world, Frank! trying to create a functional apparatus, attempting to Look at how much space is taken by the oceans. Two discover the right alignment. Failure followed failure. thirds of our planet is water. Two thirds! How much Many a time I was tempted to throw it all up in the land is wasted because of it! So many regions are air and just walk away. Only one hope kept me going. overpopulated. This leads to stress, stress leads to I cannot say it was a well-defined sensation, but it crime. And on top of that, the world population is was something like… well, that by achieving my goal, growing at a faster and faster rate. What use is ocean all my past deeds would gain the meaning they were water? We certainly cannot drink it. And in any case, lacking.” many regions that are now ocean used to be land I looked closely at Mr Stims’ face. Sweat had once. We need to reclaim that land. And we need gathered on his forehead and there was a distant not stop there. The time has come for the oceans to look in his eyes, but it quickly disappeared. go! We will make them disappear, just like the water He then said: “Let me tell you a little of my past, as in this glass. Certainly, this might cause some climate it will explain to some degree the present. I was a bril- changes, but they will be easily fixed. And just liant university student, majoring in chemistry. I was imagine – land, land, land everywhere! One great heading straight for a conventional academic career. continuous continent! No barriers between counBut my personality did not sit well with the scholastic tries! The whole world finally united as one, living in surroundings. The claustrophobic atmosphere and the peace! Room to plant crops, room for cattle to roam! daily routine were stifling my natural creativity. The Spaciousness that at present mankind doesn’t even imperiousness of the professors, the ceaseless comdare to dream of ! Whole continents underneath the petitiveness prevalent amongst the students… Once I oceans are just waiting for us to populate them! The left the university, there was no way back. To this day potentialities are breathtaking in their scope! Yes, I remain an outsider to the scientific community. You, there will be a price to pay. And that price will be Frank, are the first person in the world to hear of my paid by the ocean inhabitants. But we need not conachievement.” cern ourselves with that. Intelligence arose on land Although I was flattered, I still thought it would and it is the land dwellers that will rule this planet. be better if water was made out of the invisible gases. And I will go down in history as the man who made “But what are we waiting for!” he exclaimed. “Acit all possible, the new saviour of humanity!” tions speak louder than words. Just one minute and I Mr Stims was getting very excited. Whenever he will show you how it works.” gets excited, he walks from one end of the room to the other and waves his arms around. Well, he was While he was gone, I stretched my legs; they had certainly doing that then; his arms swung like the almost gone to sleep. I also had an itch on my back blades of a windmill and he shouted out: “Liberawhere a mosquito bit me and I gave it a good scratch. tion from the tyranny of water! The time has come! I could not do that while Mr Stims was in the room. The possibilities are endless!” When I am with him, I try to behave properly so that he will respect me. I remembered dinnertime It was all very interesting but as I was getting rather was coming soon and wondered what my mum had hungry, I kept thinking more about the fish fingers cooked for me. I hoped that it would be fish fingers with the mashed potatoes. It was then that a terwith mashed potatoes. That’s my most favourite rifying thought startled me so much that I felt like meal in the whole world. someone punched me in the stomach. I realised that My friend wasn’t gone for long. When he came without oceans there would be no more fish, and
without fish there would be no more fish fingers for me to eat. As I said before, fish fingers really are my most favourite food. I said: “Hey, wait a minute Mr Stims. I really like fish fingers. You can’t kill all the fish. Give me that shiny thing! I don’t want you to destroy the oceans.” “Fish, shmish’’, he replied. “Who needs them? They don’t sing, you can’t pat them and they smell terrible.” He refused to give me the box. A scuffle broke out between us, because I was getting a bit angry
about not being able to eat fish fingers any more, all because of his silly invention. I reached out for the gadget and tried to take it away from him; it was then that I accidentally pressed the round red button on its top. What happened next was the strangest thing of all. You know when you blow up a balloon, and then let it go without tying it up and it flies all around the room, letting out air. Well, something similar happened to Mr Stims. All this vapour started coming out of his eyes, nostrils and mouth and he was getting thinner and thinner and chang-
ing in shape before my very eyes. Then he just fell to the floor, or rather what was left of him, for by now he looked like a gigantic squashed raisin. “I am sorry about this, Mr Stims”, I said to him, “but I really do like fish fingers.” I then took the box that was lying on the floor and broke it into small pieces. You both know what happened after that. The two detectives looked at each other and one of them said: “Looks like it’s going to be a long night for all of us, Frank.”
Leaving Present by k a r e n t o b i a s - g r e e n H
ow long had she worked there? Some said four to eat at one of the nice wine bars in town, maybe go on to a club after. That’s much more her thing.’ years, some said five. Mandy on Reception said Tom said he wasn’t sure about the music really, he she’d been here when she first started, remembering her being one of the first ones to welcome her when didn’t know her tastes, and it was hard to cater for she came in. As she’d walked past the desk she’d everyone. Gail said that’s why going out was a much looked up and said ‘Oh, hello. You’re new aren’t better plan. Mandy thought she’d like the meal bit you?’ And Mandy had thought that was so nice, just but not the club afterwards. Didn’t she live quite a typical of her. She had remembered that. way away? Didn’t she often go home on the train Chris in Finance said he thought she started and have a bit of a walk from the station? Now she before then actually. He thought he could remember was on her own she wouldn’t want to be getting back her at the first Christmas party they’d had at that big too late. converted warehouse in town and she was wearing a ‘On her own?’ Gail was sure she was seeing somevery low-cut dress and dancing with Phil from Head one from Purchases, Floor 4. Office, but Mandy rolled her eyes and said don’t Mandy snorted. ‘Eddie? From Purchases? I don’t be stupid, the one in the dress was Emma from I.T. think so. He’s always fancied her but she wouldn’t They had been seeing each other though and that look at him. No, she’s just getting over splitting from was the Christmas his wife found out and threw all Ken. Six years they’d been together, talking about his stuff out on the pavement. ‘She’s not the low-cut kids and everything. That’s one of the reasons she’s dress type, anyway.’ leaving. She says she loves it here but she needs a Chris wasn’t so sure. He had a very clear sense fresh start.’ of her breasts, lively and busy inside a tight t-shirt Gail was puzzled. ‘Train? I could’ve sworn she as they’d sat opposite each other in the canteen, once parked next to me in the car park.’ discussing holidays. Jess said no, that wasn’t how she Mandy took the card round. Floor 4 signed it and thought of her at all, wasn’t she always pulling that sent it down. Everyone had wanted to write somecardigan round her, trying to cover up her chest as thing. ‘But it’s weird, ’cos when I had the card in though she was a bit embarrassed? front of me it was hard to think of anything,’ Clare ‘By its riches,’ Chris suggested, ‘an embarrassment from Post said to Jess at coffee break. of riches?’ ‘Me too. I just put it’s been great working with you. Mandy thought they should get her a scarf maybe, Although really I haven’t worked with her that much. something floaty and silky in a nice pastel shade, to Hardly at all.’ go with her skin. She started a collection and the ‘She’s more Personnel than Customer Care, money grew steadily. Soon they had enough for a though, isn’t she?’ said Jess. But Mandy was Personvery good scarf indeed, maybe some other odds and nel and she didn’t think so. ends. Mandy and Laura (from Floor 2) went in their Gail had heard rumours that Phil from Head Oflunch hour and spent some time wandering round fice might come. ‘After all, he’s split up from his wife John Lewis admiring summer coats until Mandy, now. He’s a free agent.’ bringing them back to the job in hand, picked up a ‘I doubt it. Not after what happened last time. shawl and held it out. ‘Peach, I think, don’t you?’ And with only her to blame.’ ‘Oh, no, really? I thought something bold, much Gail was surprised at this. ‘Mandy, that’s a bit more her style: a red or a deep mauve. Like those harsh. It takes two you know.’ blouses she wears.’ Mandy sniffed. She wasn’t so sure. But the leaving Mandy frowned. ‘I see her as more of a pastel card continued to circulate. Accounts and Finance person; nudes and pale pinks. That’s much more her.’ wrote funny messages, about how she’d be missed for They settled in the end on a black, fringed scarf and her eagle-eyed spotting of their adding up errors and some expensive dark chocolates, gift-wrapped by the meticulous pursuit of her travel claims. Customer assistant. Neither of them was quite sure if this was Care said she was almost one of them and often a the right sort of leaving present for her, but they only lot more patient with complainants than they were had an hour. (ha ha exclamation mark). Eddie in Purchases wrote Floor 3 started planning a bit of an afternoon do, a little rhyme, praising her sunny smile and endless some nice nibbles from M&S, a couple of bottles of supply, freely offered, of strong mints. ‘Funny, as he hardly knows her,’ Mandy commented. sparkling wine and soft drinks for the drivers. They Chris volunteered to drop the card off at her ofcould start straight after work and go on until they fice but Gail said no they’d give it at the party, with locked the building at seven. Tom had some CDs the present, make a little speech, probably Tony the and there was plenty of space in the staff room for section manager, and Mandy might want to say a everyone. Gail on 1 had other plans. few words. Mandy wouldn’t commit herself. Anyway, ‘I thought we’d go out after work, get something
there was some confusion about exactly where her office was. Chris said G corridor, near the watercooler but Rich in Planning said she’d swapped recently with Heather because Heather’s office was bigger but she’d cut her hours since the baby came so she didn’t feel it was fair to take up such a big space for only three mornings and alternate Tuesday afternoons. Gail felt they could have done with that office because she and Sharon were quite squashed up. Laura said it was who you knew, not what you knew, and Mandy had to agree. Chris from Finance said Gail could come and squash up with him any time but she said you’ll be lucky. They settled on a smaller gathering on Floor 3 in the end. Quite a few people who’d said they were coming had had to give back word in the last week and there had been quite heavy snow which meant transport was disrupted and no one fancied a late drive home on uncertain roads. Mandy had the present and card ready and Laura and Gail had set out all the food and drink. There were paper cups and plates, plenty of serviettes, someone had put up a few balloons and Tom had chosen some music which would, he hoped, fit the occasion. They gathered at 4.30. The snow outside cast a bright light on the wide, gleaming windows. Mandy went round shutting the blinds and making it look a bit cosier. Chris popped the first bottle of sparkling and started to fill the paper cups. Mandy stood by the door, arms folded, looking down the corridor. Tom came out and stood beside her, sandwich in hand. ‘She’s not here yet?’ ‘No. Thought she’d be on time for her own leaving do!’ Gail walked towards them from down the other end of the corridor. She looked puzzled and was frowning as she reached them. ‘She’s not here yet,’ Mandy explained. ‘I know,’ replied Gail. ‘I think I’ve just seen her leaving.’ ‘What? No, you can’t have done. She’s on her way up. Rich said he saw her about ten minutes ago getting her bag and coat and making her way up here.’ ‘I’m sure I’ve just seen her, though, in the car park. Blue Golf, parked next to mine. She nodded at me as she drove past.’ ‘No,’ said Mandy. ‘It wasn’t her. She definitely uses the train.’ They stood in the corridor and looked at each other. Outside, the snow, which had been predicted to be only a passing flurry, began to fall in thick, heavy flakes.
Love in the Obituaries by j e n n i f e r c l a r k “The cow is a poem of pity.” – Gandhi
n death, one can find love. Ernest knows this because he had found it every night for the past three years. His hands tremble in anticipation as he rinses a dinner plate and places it next to the cup on the dish rack. Between washing spoon and fork, he takes a break. Ernest rests his ever-thinning body against the kitchen sink and gazes out through the open window, into his backyard garden. For seven decades, his hands have worked this small piece of earth. He recalls as a child his mother placing seeds, sometimes no bigger than an eyelash, into the palm of his hand. He was amazed, and still is, that life can spring from but a sliver. His eyes travel the lavender-lined brick path he laid down the year after his father’s death. The path leads to a bench at the back of the garden. On either side of the bench, clumps of pink and white peonies nod off to sleep, their perfumed heads too drowsy to be aroused by the evening breeze. This was his mother’s favorite spot. Each morning, he would wheel her out into the garden, scoop her out of the wheelchair and set her on the bench. Even after she had forgotten her own son’s name, surrounded by a profusion of earth and sage and lilies, her lips could summon the words: iris, peony, tulip… He has been faithful to this garden, having taken leave only to attend college and then pursue his master’s in Classical Studies. If his parents had not become ill, he might not have returned, might have led a less solitary existence. But he is grateful for the garden, has tended it with care, and it, in turn, has treated him well. No joy is so great in a life of seclusion as that of gardening. He says aloud these words, quoting from memory a line from his favorite poem, Hortulus, written by the 9th century monk, Walafrid Strabo. Finished with his nightly chore, Ernest shuffles into the living room and sinks into his chair. After catching his breath, he leans over and, after some doing—for his fingers are warped and knotted from time—he clicks on the table lamp. Rolled up on the edge of the table, glowing with promise, lies tonight’s newspaper. Gingerly, he picks it up and lifts it to his nose. He inhales into the depths of his lungs, papery hope, tinged with ink. He knows love lingers here. A woman is curled up, inside, waiting to be born again. Waiting for him. He stands the rolled-up newspaper on the table. With the palms of his hands, he eases the rubber band down the length of the paper, like a groom removing the garter from his bride’s leg. With a shaky finger, Ernest absently nudges his bifocals, and resting the open paper upon his bony legs, turns to the obituary section.
“Obitus,” said Ernest, standing before his class. “Say it with me.” “Obitus,” replied the class in unison. “The Latin word obitus is the root of the word ‘obituary’. Obitus means ‘departure’ or ‘encounter’. Some argue that the Romans were searching for a euphemism for ‘death’.” “What’s a euphemism, Mr S?” shouted Anthony, sprawled out in his chair. The boy is all legs and arms. The girl slouching in the seat in front of him spoke up. “It’s using a different word to make something sound better than it really is.” “Good definition of the word ‘euphemism’, Roberta. I couldn’t have defined it better myself.” Roberta sat up a little straighter. She, like most of the students, had promise. The trick was getting them to
realize their possibilities, to believe in themselves. At the start of the school year, his students sauntered into his classroom full of attitude. Why should they care for Latin—a dead language of some white guys—when nobody seemed to care about them? For many of Ernest’s students, the adults in their lives were missing, too busy surviving to raise their children and so they were left to raise themselves. These children needed attention, a little pruning, a sprinkling of kind words and a heap of compost-rich Latin to thrive. To be a decent teacher, Ernest found he had to be both gardener and fisherman. Standing on the shore of their youth, he cast out lines of Latin. If they nibbled, it was a good day. And most days were. His students were hungry to learn. Hungry to be loved. “I know it’s Friday, but I have a mission for you to accomplish this weekend.” The class offered up an expectant groan. Ernest walked up to the blackboard and wrote the chalky, white words Amor animi arbitrio sumitur, non ponitur. “These words were written by our old friend Publilius Syrus. It translates to: ‘We choose to love, we do not choose to cease loving.’ I want you to write this phrase down. Think about it. What does this mean? We’ll pick up the discussion on Monday.” The bell rang, sounding the end of class. None of the students were in a hurry to leave. Ernest missed his students. Retired from teaching for over a decade, he still hears from former students, mostly in the form of postcards and letters, most of them written in Latin. Three of his students, including Roberta, went on to become Latin teachers. He had told his students that the ultimate goal in life is to think. He has come to regret this in his old age. Ernest now believes that the ultimate goal in life is to love. He studies the obituaries. Which woman does he want to know? Which woman would be the easiest to love? If a picture accompanies the obituary, he will look at it but he will not fold what his eyes see into his decision to ask for their hand in marriage. He will not factor in age, race, beauty, or marriage. Insignificant distractions. Ernest has married women who spent a lifetime happily married to the same man. He has married lesbians, women with skin as black as night and others with skin as white as cream. The survived by, and the preceded in death by are mere niceties, bookends to prop up a life lived well or not. He sweeps these aside. It is the words that draw him in. The words hovering between the bookends, sometimes timidly, sometimes boldly, that loved ones have pulled together to sum up a life of a woman now lost to them. Loved ones, Ernest had come to believe, too often mistake facts for a life. Daunted by the task of putting a life into words, facts are simply stringed together. Fact. She was a member of Freeland Church of Christ. Fact. She was employed as a teller at the credit union for the past 20 years. Fact. She is survived by her children. Fact. She was preceded in death by three brothers. He lingers over the words and rests in the spaces between them. He lifts the facts brick by brick until he uncovers the woman her survived bys have missed. He discovers a life lived between and behind facts. Take the case of the teller. As a child, she didn’t feel as if she belonged anywhere. She felt different. She came to the conclusion that her sense of “otherness” was because the blood that coursed through
her seven-year-old body came from some other world. As she grew into adulthood, she tucked this belief safely inside herself, like a stone slipped into the pocket of her favorite jeans. When Ernest courted her, this belief—this hope of hers—was dulled around the edges from time, but still she carried it with her. And because Ernest knew the workings of her heart, she did not mind it when he would catch her stealing glances at the night stars. Ernest looked past wealth and fame. He had married a socialite once but that was despite her wealthy, influential social standing. Shortly after that, he found himself married to Ethel Marie Standish. While her name never graced the society pages, she was the most genuine, loyal woman he had ever met. Preceded in death by nobody, and survived by everyone, Ethel Marie liked to hug and laugh. She bagged groceries at her local supermarket. She had Down’s syndrome. His marriage to Ethel Marie was bliss. Each evening, upon his return home from work, she would greet him at the door with a lopsided smile and a white apron dotted with red cherries tied around her wide waist. They would eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches she had made. Ernest would taste the sticky, gooeyness of her thick love slathered between white layers of wonder. After dinner, they would play dominos at the kitchen table. Later, they would fall asleep in each other’s arms. Sometimes, the manner of death would be the door through which Ernest would enter to know a woman. A few years back he had married 25 yearold Sandra Messing. She was a teacher’s aide who had “died tragically when she fell down a flight of stairs that led up to the apartment she’d shared for three years with her loving husband, Marvin, a self-employed magician.” Sandra was studying to be a teacher when she met Marvin. He waved his wand and Sandra dropped her friends, dropped out of college to be assistant to his magic act and married him. She instantly regretted her actions. Marvin was an alcoholic and as the span between magic gigs grew, so did Marvin’s destructive tendencies. Marvin was big and powerful when he performed magic. He knew what his audience did not, and this awareness lifted him high above their heads until they were insignificant specks. Yet, while he had them eating out of the palm of his hand, he was dependent upon them to feed and sustain his sense of importance. With the magic gigs drying up, he was a balloon, deflated, drifting back down to earth. He wanted to feel big again. The only way he knew to accomplish this feat was to deceive, to create the illusion of an imbalance of power. He depended upon Sandra more than ever; he needed her to believe she was not good enough. He needed desperately to hold someone in the palm of his hand… Sandra walked slowly up the flight of stairs, carrying a bag of groceries. Even before she pushed the door open, Sandra could see Marvin sprawled on the couch, a glowing cigarette butt wedged between his reedy lips. She could already see the sweaty beer can melting on the coffee table next to a pile of spent cigarettes. Marvin would see her and immediately begin to barrage her with insults and foul language. This was her life and she was tired of living it. She did not have the energy to walk back down the stairs and start over. She gathered the last bit of strength she had and channeled it to the balls of her feet. This allowed her heels to inch backwards. Her toes followed suit, and—poof—she was gone. Marvin, with a cigarette dangling from his lips, was the only witness to her disappearance act.
The paper didn’t say these things, Ernest intuited them. It was his gift. After years of practice he had honed his skill for living amidst the secrets of dead women. With each marriage, his understanding grew—of the spaces between words, the what wasn’t saids—that would allow him access into the intimacy of their souls. He knew their failings and yet, he loved them. And that is why his women loved him back. He lived inside them and they drew comfort in his knowing presence. Tonight he has his pick of three. Valerie Fulchom. The obituary summed up her life in five words: “She enjoyed decorating her house.” Five words. The culmination of a life. Not decorating others, just hers. Ernest hopes for her sake it had been an extremely large house. But he quickly learns otherwise. It was a modest, one bedroom, one bath home she shared with her husband, a man wired to notice the meat and potatoes on his plate but not the little touches a wife makes to turn a house into a home. She would point them out to him—the ceramic rooster perched upon the refrigerator, his aunt’s doily gracing the back of the sofa, the plastic flowers artfully arranged in the vase on the kitchen table—and if she was lucky, he would grunt. She would take the grunting as approval. Valerie, Ernest thought, was a possibility. The next one, Marcella Martin, lived a life pared down to four words: “She enjoyed watching television.” Four words of a life not lived, of gifts untapped, a life un-explored. A life, Ernest was sorry to say, not deserving of even a second read. Ernest would come across this type of obituary now and then. Perhaps it was reflective of a life poorly led, or perhaps the individual had outlived everyone who knew or cared about them, so details were scarce. Even Ernest, while he was quite skillful at intuiting, had his limits. And this Marcella Martin was one of them. He moves on to the last obituary. Sidonia Ferris. Her family dared to use these six words: “She enjoyed photographing other people’s cows.” Ernest’s fingers tingle. She enjoyed photographing other people’s cows. His heart surges. His body begins to sweat. Sidonia. This is the woman. Photographing other people’s cows would take some doing. Sidonia. A woman with passion barely contained. Sidonia, his wife. He asks her why she won’t photograph her own cow, the cow that he bought for her as a wedding gift. He is worried that perhaps this is a sign that she does not love him. She offers him a quiet smile. Ernest smiles back. In the pasture of their speechless love, he grazes upon the mystery of her. Sidonia at midnight. Walking through a cornfield alley. A camera, attached to a leather strap around her neck, swings gently against the front of her mustard-colored field jacket. Jeaned thighs slip over a wooden fence and in dung-clad boots, she stands before other people’s cows. She encounters a big brown eye staring warmly at her from under a veil of lashes. She discovers breath, having tumbled in the heat of the cow’s body, rising like a prayer, offered up to the night by two large, humble nostrils. Sidonia lifts the camera to her eye. He waits for her return, wandering about the farmhouse they share—thin walls blanketed with close-up shots of hundreds of brown eyes watching, cow ears of many colors listening in all directions, udders swollen with warm milk, bursting to be touched. Enveloped by such plain, raw beauty, he weeps. Ernest is still weeping when she returns. Eyes shiny with moonlight—she presses a cold cheek against his whiskery face—he forgets to breathe. His love for Sidonia is almost unbearable. He is thirsty. His lips slide over her middle finger
and he suckles, with abandon. He feels her shudder against his body. Ernest and Sidonia will give every last drop of themselves to each other. Theirs is a steamy, milky love. He has waited an entire lifetime for her. He holds her in his lap. His fingertips caress her inky face. He does not want to let her go.
Cursed & Trapped *
by va l e n t i n a
c a no
worked for her, * They those twisting syllables, the ones she whispered as the morning wove itself together. They bowed their sloping heads and scattered their meaning like dust all over her hands. She let them do as they pleased, with her half-smiled consent, with eyes that spoke of candlelight and cinnamon. She didn’t know what they’d bring back in their jaws, those syllables, those fanged words. crystal of thoughts has formed † Aaround him. Chiseled out of fears that glint, like teeth, it is a fearsome, cruel thing. Its light is yellow, sick, a cheap lightbulb in an empty room. He stares out of the crystal walls, his face smudged, attempts to ask a passing creature to help him out. Yet, through the solid bubble he can see nothing. Just darkness as solid and tight as the inside of a mouth.
Never My Story, My Name is Yours by ro s e b u d
be n- on i
e had held on for a few more days after the New Year, so that his passing would not seem symbolic. Even after forty years of living under the close inspection of his sisters-in-law, only Keren recognized that her father wasn’t a man who tried to make a statement, but one that hid behind the stories he told. He came from a famous, once wealthy family who’d been purged from Tashkent. Not having been old enough to appreciate those times, he’d always lived among their ruins. Or rather the stories that his father had told and retold without variation, without mistake, The Great Itzhak Babaev who’d never studied in Europe and wrote exactly a hundred sonatas and twenty-four concertos in the seven years before his family was exiled from his homeland. The Great Itzhak Babaev had held onto every bit of his wealth before the years of the Great Purge, when the Soviets would no longer accept his bribes. Forced down to his knees, he’d watched as his beloved cottage was gutted and razed. It had been where his family had slept away the days of summer, as they had done every year, while he worked on a new score in solitude, drinking endless glasses of green tea with butter. Later he’d join the others who awoke in the cooler evening and mingled in the inner courtyard adorned with Moroccan tiles. They’d refresh themselves with nuts and fruit and discussions of their dreams, as men sang of divine love in the shashmaqam warbling on his prized Victor phonograph. When the soldiers found these records, they had been most pleased; it would further prove that he’d had feudal leanings. The Babaevs then had been marched all the way to his estate. The trip had taken almost a week on foot and by the time they arrived, the pillaging was already underway. Forced to his knees again, he’d read a list of his capitalist crimes as soldiers set the fires to the great estate. The annual winter balls held there were legendary, and it is said that even in the ruins today, one can still feel the warmth of his trysts in the cellar among racks of arak and preserves. The Great Itzhak Babaev had been a skilled lover whose jealousy often got the best of him. Yet his wife and his women had not only tolerated being beaten but extolled it, for it had been a sign that he – their guardian, their guide and root of all happiness – cared what they did. And before he was ruined, he’d had nothing but faith in his people, in the gifts infinite as He who gave them, and above all he had been a man who’d held himself as the rule and not the exception that Bukharan Jews prospered no matter what they did, or what was done to them. Keren had never known The Great Itzhak Babaev, or what he’d said the day everything was taken from him, when neither Soviet passion for his music, nor his wide-reaching fame, could save him. Imprisoned for over three years, her father was the only Babaev child out of five who’d survived. A prolonged bout of dysentery finished off her father’s mother just before they were released. Using what was left of his connections, The Great Yitzhak Babaev had himself and his son smuggled out of the country. After he was granted political asylum in America, he swore he’d never compose again. They settled in Rego Park, Queens, which was just becoming the Bukharan stronghold it is today. He took a job at a toll booth, became a thin, impassive man who had no interest in the international beauties of the city who passed through his station.
Sometimes he taught piano lessons to Russian-speaking families, but always under a pseudonym. He would’ve died in relative obscurity if a classical music journalist hadn’t caught the obituary, recognized the name and sparked a revival of his work. All this happened long before Keren was born. The death itself was quite mundane, and was only mentioned once in passing. Her father told her he’d just begun courses at City College, and had been waiting on the stoop, as he did every Friday afternoon so he and his father could eat dinner together, although they never observed the Sabbath. After crossing the quiet street, The Great Itzhak Babaev had suddenly lost his balance and fallen hard, face down into the sidewalk only a few steps away from their building on the corner. Keren’s father recalled how the long shadow had passed over his body, the yellowed sheets of Pachelbel’s Canon scattering in the street by the wind. “Once he told me that I was never to say Kaddish for him,” he’d told her with a slight chuckle, “because it’s a prayer for the dead that never mentions death itself. Because it’s really to comfort the living, not to immortalize the departed.” Her father had told her this without a trace of emotion. The funeral was sparsely attended, and it was some time before he realized that The Great Itzhak Babaev was, after all, only a man. That he could fall and crack open his head just like anyone. Before, her father had believed that his father would outlive everything on the earth, the nuclear wars, even the cockroaches that would thrive in the radioactivity. And while she hadn’t had such high expectations of her own father, Keren never had expected his death to be so anticlimactic. That she too would speak of it without emotion.
ing in there, though their theories had ranged from penning treasonous revolutions to looking at smutty magazines. Enough, Keren told herself. Running a hand across her father’s books, she walked the entire length of the bookshelves which took up an entire wall behind the desk. All were hardcover because, according to her father, paperbacks were only bought by people who didn’t care about the ravages of time. Although more of a skeptic who felt unfairly beholden to the truth of his five senses, her father had practiced the beliefs of a devout pragmatist. All of James and Dewey were accounted for, as well as an anthology of Pierce’s essays. Fiction was completely absent, for he had called it the “excessive abuse of the imagination”, while poetry was nothing more than “surfaces posing as substance”. Only Ponge was allowed to represent verse. On the top three shelves were all of his father’s scores wrapped in plastic covers, except the marches, because they reminded him of conscription. The ravages of time could have their way with them. And against his wife’s pleas, he’d burned all the waltzes because they encouraged the aristocratic impulses that lie within the humblest of men. The biggest grievances of her father’s life, though, were the dictionaries that dominated the shelves. He’d bought a new one every other year since he was nineteen, prompted by a sense of linguistic obligation. He’d never liked the onset of new words, and admitted that he hoped that discovery in general would one day stop. Curiosity was a disease, he’d claimed, that beset humanity with new problems, and brought about rivalries that led to wars and resentment. During his last days, he’d confessed to Keren he’d refused to throw away the obsolete dictionaries because he’d hoped – in vain, he knew – that the English language would revert to its older form and therefore, simpler times, so that with fewer details and fewer needs, all those theories that the first great, convoluted men let loose into the world just might work. And yet he then said to her, “When your ambition becomes another’s belief, and then another, and then another, soon you won’t be able to tolerate anything else. You’ll destroy what doesn’t come from you alone. Like books. It always starts with books. Then they take away your homes, burn your synagogues, and after that, it was Siberia or squashing your entire family into a single room if you’re stupid enough to stay and have to change your clothes, your expressions, your history, your very name.”
In the study, Keren sat down on the small stool that her father had chosen because he believed comfort led to idleness. On top of his desk was an ancient blotter, a golden pen and pencil set still wrapped in the case, a small spiral notebook, and stationery tucked into gold-foil envelopes. None of these things showed any indication of use. The drawers of the desk remained locked, and she knew her mother’s sisters would barely wait for shiva to end to push back the sleeves of their minks and prod the locks with a coat hanger – or whatever it took. Surely there was something about all the riches that had accrued from their savior The Great Yitzhak Babaev. The study had been her father’s refuge from the medical equipment that besieged the other rooms of their home for the last year. He’d held onto his much- She was there when he’d passed, after a long day at a loved accounting practice for as long as he could, but hospital in Forrest Hills for another round of chemo. his illness had left him reciting the belated figures of Everything usually went fine, but that particular day his clients, the sums of numbers soothing him, need- her father – who was by then wheelchair-bound ing nothing more of him. – kept disappearing. Each time Keren’s mother sent All of the sisters-in-law agreed that that was the her to find him. first sign of his sickness, poor fool, what led him First she’d found him in the gift shop flirting, in his to lock himself up in his study for hours, not even own way, with the young Dominican cashier whose coming out to use the toilet, while the machines that heavy, golden bracelets clinked as she turned the were to keep him alive uselessly raged and clicked. pages of a newspaper for him. When they saw Keren, As his mental condition turned more inward, his her father told her to let him be, for he’d found a body built up an immunity to their visits. When they place outside of the world, where nothing ever died knocked on his door – could he spare a minute to and where everything was motionless, organized and chat? – he heard the sardonic plea in their voices, wrapped in a protective transparency, or otherwise their knowingness that was actually quite misled, but kept out of the reach of strangers. As Keren began he no longer lost his temper. He simply deigned to to wheel him out, the cashier leaned over the counter answer, refused, shuffled some papers to signal his and kissed her father on the forehead. existence. They’d never found out what he was doHe would not stay put that day. Just before his
cided to consider Keren’s father, and on an ordinary name was called, he disappeared twice more. Once running, Keren’s father was breaking into a slight day at that. Keren found him in the handicapped stall of the sweat when he felt her presence come upon him like Just as they were about to shake hands, the most ladies’ room, and then she was called down to the a tidal wave and drown in his ear. His entire body beautiful girl in school pranced over to Lamar and hospital’s cafeteria. There sat her father, slightly was turned around by that force. whispered in his ear. He quickly withdrew his hand. frosted, having broken into the walk-in freezer. For a while, she toyed with the silence until he Lamar decided to remain Lamar a moment lonKeren’s mother, fed up with his antics, excused herpicked up his head and looked her almost in the eye. ger, and refocused his attention. She was the only self for a moment, but never came back. She smiled without showing her perfect teeth. Dominican in their grade, and was known to break It was Keren who sat with him during his last He blinked and refocused his eyes on her until her in her toe-shoes near the stone benches while the round of chemo. All his hair had fallen out, and he image blurred. had large, scaly patches of skin on his hands. She took other girls skipped rope to inane rhymes. Her leather “But I don’t get it,” he heard himself speaking pocketbook was widely noted by teachers as being his right hand, and asked him what was wrong today. in Bukhori, the voice he reserved only for his head. “unacceptable” to carry books, but always she had Her father’s eyes were very wet. She could feel “Why me? Why does it matter what I do?” a note from her father. Clever notes that explained that he was trying to squeeze her hand, but couldn’t. At first she smiled, satisfied although she didn’t the need for impractical purses. Exemptions from So she squeezed for him, and he said to her, “before understand him, mostly at knowing she didn’t owe p.e. that might hamper her ballet technique. It only I met Rosalinda, I never liked my name.” him an answer. increased the other children’s fear and worship of Keren shook her head. But then something strange happened, Keren’s faher every move. “This Dominican girl at my school. She looked a ther told her in the hospital, his grip loosening even And now she was whispering in a tight whisper little like that bronze goddess in the gift shop.” more, his eyes almost fully closed. into Lamar’s ear, which was turning as red as his He told her that he had always hated his name He recalled how her red curls seemed to be reachface. Her words were just loud enough to joyfully and not just because his was eclipsed by that of his ing up toward the sun, and his stomach lurched his embarrass him. He froze on the spot, fearful to move entire body forward. He waited for her screams after father, twice in one lifetime, when he was a child in or she’d disappear, so she had to smack him gently Tashkent and again here in America. When he first he threw up all over her pink-and-white saddle shoes, on the chest. Get going, her blows said. came to New York, he was ten years old and wanted but her forehead remained steady. It was a pale, Lamar straightened up and cleared his throat, and uncluttered space that calmed his heart long after his a fresh start. No one knew his father, their imprisonwhen he gazed upon Keren’s father, he had aged to ment, their days of starvation and roll calls and bugs feet gave way, long after he coded among the circle someone of importance. “What I want to know is…” of patients receiving their chemo, and sent Keren running over them in their sleep. Lamar began and then quickly looked over to see if It was his good fortune that when he’d started in a search for her mother, in search of the goddess she was still there. school, he met another kid who didn’t like his own on the playground who seemed to have returned for The girl folded her arms across her chest, and name and that was Lamar, who thought he was the him. nodded. only white kid with such a name. For a reason she could not explain herself, Keren He came out with it. “What I want to know While The Great Yitzhak Babaev claimed that first stopped by the gift shop, but there was another is…what will you give me?” he’d given his son the name of a king, Keren’s figure behind the register, an elderly Jewish matron Keren’s father stared at him. “You get name mine, in a long dress, her wig of perfectly combed hair father didn’t want anything. He wasn’t one to expect you I get.” things for himself, and was quite aware that if he belonging to a much younger woman. They stared “No.” He shook his head swiftly, pausing for the never spoke up, he’d be ignored. That only suited at one another for a minute, and then Keren bought audience that grew and swelled with sweaty faces. him more. Unlike other kids, he did not want to be two bars of chocolate. After she texted her mother The silence was, of course, deafening. “What will a superhero or athlete. He left the prowess of a big the oncologist needs to speak to you, she ate both on the you give me?” man who moved entire buildings with huge, yellow street as she walked to the train, hoping to catch one Keren’s father shook his head, wondering if he trucks to kids like Lamar who wanted the name of before rush hour, so she could sit down. was being had. a king. Not Keren’s father. He only wanted to leave “No. What else?” things alone, and be left alone. He did not want to Her mother still won’t speak to her for surprising her Keren’s father looked at the girl, but she was starbe considered. like that, and Keren holds her breath for a moment, ing at Lamar proudly. Apparently there was nothing Though her father’s English was still spotty, they chiding herself for not being a more filial daughter, he could do, but swallow hard and whisper, “Forget, agreed to trade. Everything was planned well in adfor not feeling that required sadness of mourning. forget,” and walk away. He felt worse than he’d ever vance, though neither knew what they were waiting She looks back into the spiral notebook, which still felt in his life, and extremely nauseous. for. Neither dared ask his father for permission, and looks new on the outside, and again is absorbed in figured as soon as it was done, it was done and everyLamar, unprepared for the reaction and not quite her father’s failed dreams. one in their respective worlds would simply have to sure of his next move, looked quickly to the girl, who In the quiet of his study, under the reader’s lamp deal with the outcome. shrugged in disgust and scampered away as if she’d that flickers a dim, fluorescent light, Keren rereads been held up by gratuitously long conversation. When the boys finally met in front of the jungle how he’d run away the day that his family had Walking just quick enough to not seem like he was planned to flee Tashkent when he was only four. gym to finalize the deal, it was then that life had deHow he’d always wanted to have immigrated to Israel during the movement of Hibbat Zion, as some of the other Bukharan Jews had. How his predictions had come true: he’d never be happy in America. How he was grateful his only child – a girl at that – had. Thank God she couldn’t make Bukharan dishes such as kichree rice, a small thing that kept Bukharan excellence alive, just as Bukharan men like The Great Itzhak Babaev with their Bukharan smarts kept the Bukharan bloodlines clean of any foreign matter, despite the recent haredim occupation of their Bukharan synagogues in Jerusalem – and what of that word Bukharan anyway, a name given to them by European travelers. There are clouds in the distance. And thank this secret, silent God Whom her But they pay me no mind. father unlike his own father couldn’t bring himself to They exist in other-worldly time. trust, nor to completely doubt, Who for some reason brought His people to believe that any story going Yes, I’m out of sorts. unread might as well not exist, thank God that life I think things are not right. Stars was just beginning for his self-assured Keren, how like knives slice the night he hoped that she’d always say Kaddish – this last entry read, before he could sign his own name, the and the moon gives no light. sentence ending abruptly, the words pressed so hard I see nothing. There’s nothing to see— into the page that their imprint could be felt for nothing but the shadow the next pages until they grew faint, the marks like ravines from which he’d fallen, his last hope in being of a make-believe blackbird forgotten by everyone but his daughter. in the shadow of a make-believe tree.
Stanzas Without Music by g e o rg e
The THIEF of Suburbia and Beyond! by l e a h
k a m i nsky
nder cover of darkness, a lone figure sweeps sunrise workout routine? Yes, I see you, ROTC kids, across the streets of Seattle, pauses, then all rigidly lined and full of song. I see you, broadbounds from one curb to the next. For a moment, a shouldered rowers, all buoyant and rapid across streetlamp illuminates the creature’s terrible features: choppy water. You think you’re so fit and strong, but mangled, pointed teeth; piercing hazel eyes; deathly come out here and try me. I’ve raced thick army pale skin. men in Prague and Vienna, heard them cry out in Who–or perhaps what–is this mysterious silhouCzech and German. I’ve worn a US infantryman to ette, striking terror into the hearts of all who pass? a pale, shaky shell. Be it man? Be it beast? Be it the personified form of Do you know how this can possibly be so? Well, I an abstract concept, such as “dread”, “fear”, or “evil, believe I’ve mentioned it previously, but it seems as the extent of which has never before been visited on if I should probably clarify in case it wasn’t entirely this earth”? clear when I said it several times before that I am the Why, it is me, thank you for inquiring. I do hope THIEF of Suburbia and beyond! you are intimidated, for I am quite the intimidating No, do not cross me, not even you, morning comfigure! You see, I know these streets better than any muters speeding down the freeway! In this world of being–man, woman, animal, or otherwise–that has darkness, you too may have arisen, but only along ever lived. I know how they arch up steep hills, how this narrow corridor. Oh how cute you are with those they tremble across fault lines, how the rain gathers dutiful headlights, all pointed towards the Oz gleamin wide-mouth yawns, and how… often dog owners ing in the distance. Oh, look at you! With your… neglect their civic responsibilities. modes of income… and measurable contributions to For I am no ordinary creature of terror. I am the the economy. And health insurance. And direction in THIEF of Suburbia and beyond! life. And significant others. And actual impact on the “What is this?” you ask. “I know not of this creaworld that surrounds you. ture to which you refer.” As you rush towards your jobs, do you catch a Well, that only means I have fulfilled my mandate glimpse of something over there? A pair of pigtails all the more successfully: before the sun rises, I cut bobbing over the horizon? NO YOU DO NOT! For a thick swathe of destruction, but I am nowhere to I am the THIEF of Suburbia and beyond! be found when the sky has fully lightened. Veni, vidi, But oh, how the sun doth rise as I turn my back to vici, skedaddle. That is my feared motto. the lake. Oh, how the sky lightens into such persisAn average autumn morning in the Pacific North- tent grey. No matter. All I must do is wait for four west goes something like this. Six am: darkness; rain. o’clock in the afternoon and then I shall be back Six-ten: darkness; rain. Six-twenty: darkness; rain. out here in the dark and the gloom: soaring, speedSix-thirty, six-forty, six-fifty, and yes, seven o’clock: ing, terrorizing. Fear the blue rain slicker! Fear the darkness; rain. dreaded pigtails! And just where, might you inquire, are the majorFor here comes the THIEF of Suburbia and ity of the city’s occupants at such an hour? Why, they beyond! are tucked safely into their beds, snuggling out the — darkness and the rain. But not me. I am a creature of bad weather, a To hear The THIEF of Suburbia and Beyond! read in malevolent encourager of SAD. I slither between incredibly entertaining fashion by the author, head raindrops like I’m made of plasticized synthetic over to www.structomagazine.co.uk/thief resin. I grin when I open my door to clouds, zip my windbreaker over my chest, brush the hood from my forehead, run. And oh, the joy as I jog towards the silhouetted mountains! The surge as I sail undetected past one alleyway after the next! How I coast, how I sprint, how I pump, how I SOAR! But for the thumping of my heart: silence. But for the churning of my legs: stillness. Beware, ye o! zoned-out dog walkers of Seattle! As your furry companion squats over the grass and your glazed eyes bore into the maple leaves, a menace approaches. Yes, that’s right! Jump suddenly out of the way as it barrels down upon you! Emit a cry of dismay! Struggle to rein in your surprised dog! For you have just been mildly startled by the THIEF of Suburbia and beyond! I challenge all who DARE impede me–human, animal, nature, or otherwise–to a battle of wills. Pah! Is that the best you can do, pouring rain? I will soak you up thoroughly; I will jump in your puddles! Pah! Wind, hip-checking me into a stop sign. I will blow my own breath right back into yours; I will flash my middle finger at your pathetic currents! And what is this, sun? Now you’re pinking the clouds that crest the eastern mountains? Oh no, I don’t think so! You’ve shown you cannot rise in a timely manner; there will be no reversals. And what about you, fellow early-morning exercisers? Do you dare challenge this scourge of the pre-
Author biographies Rosebud Ben-Oni – p.24
Rosebud Ben-Oni is a playwright at New Perspectives Theater, where she is currently developing her new play Shamhat, which will be previewed in 2012 as part of the theatre’s 20th Anniversary Season. Recently her short story A Way out of the Colonia won the Editor’s Prize at Camera Obscura, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Recently VIDA selected her essay ‘On Writing Quimera and other Fears’, based on her work for New Perspectives, for their State of the Art feature. Contact her at RosebudBenOni@gmail.com
Valentina Cano – p.23
Valentina Cano is a student of classical singing who spends her free time either writing or reading. Her works have appeared in Exercise Bowler, Blinking Cursor, Theory Train, Magnolia’s Press, Cartier Street Press, Berg Gasse 19, Precious Metals, A Handful of Dust, The Scarlet Sound, The Adroit Journal, Perceptions, Welcome to Wherever, The Corner Club Press, Death Rattle, Danse Macabre, Subliminal Interiors, Generations, Super Poetry Highway, Stream Press, Stone Telling, Popshot, Golden Sparrow Literary Review, Rem Magazine, Lowestoft Chronicle, White Masquerade Anthology and Perhaps I’m Wrong About the World. You can find her at coldbloodedlives.blogspot.com
Jennifer Clark – p.22
Jennifer Clark is an American writer living in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Her first book of poems, Necessary Clearings, will be published by Shabda Press in 2014. Raven Chronicles, Centrifugal Eye and failbetter are just a few of the on-line and print journals that have made a home for her work. Her obituary will note that she was often accused of having an extremely low inspiration threshold, as evidenced by her ramblings on such topics as spoons, aging actors, corn, and laryngitis
Alexander Francois – p.12
Alexander Francois was born and raised in southeast London. He writes most forms of prose and is in the process of writing his first novel. Much of his work explores the postmodern, finding new ways to play with the reader’s mind. He currently writes for The Read Horse zine at readhorse.morekasia.co.uk
George Freek – p.25
George Freek is an American poet/playwright living in Belvidere, Illinois. His recent poems have appeared in The Stone Hobo, Red Fez, Symmetry Pebbles, The Whistling Fire, The Vein, Talon Magazine and Toucan Magazine. His short play HERE COMES GODOT was recently published in Freight Train Magazine. Other plays have lately been produced in America by The Laurel Mill Playhouse, Maryland; The Auburn Community Players, New York; Theater Unleashed, Los Angeles; The Fells Point Corner Theater, Maryland; and in the UK by The Leeds Amateur Theatre Club
Boris Glikman – p.20
Boris Glikman is a writer, poet and philosopher from Melbourne, Australia. The biggest influences on his writing are dreams, Kafka and Borges. The story featured in this publication was partly inspired by the work of the great British writer H.G. Wells. His stories, poems and non-fiction articles have been published in various online and print publications, as well as being featured on national radio and other radio programs. Recently, one of his stories has been showing on a giant screen in Melbourne’s city centre. He can be contacted at email@example.com
John Glass – p.4
John Glass is originally from Alabama but has lived and taught in Dallas and New York. He has finally settled in southern California. John has published poetry and short fiction in journals like SLAB, Cooweescoowee, and Marco Polo Quarterly. John is a Spanish teacher, and he and his wife have a two-yearold daughter
Tim Hehir – p.18
It is a long story but to be brief – he was born in England in 1965, raised in Ireland and ended up in Australia. An avid reader all his life, he decided to try his hand at writing about ten years ago. Since then he has written novels, short stories and short plays (all unpublished until now). His short play Pride and Prejudice in 10 Minutes Flat is his most successful venture so far, being produced about six times in four countries, including India. He does not have a blog or website but can be contacted by email on firstname.lastname@example.org
Leah Kaminsky – p.26
Leah Kaminsky is a writer and private instructor from Austin, Texas via Seattle and upstate New York. Her creative interests range from absurd comics and short stories to highly lyrical prose, all of which she is currently working to fuse into a young adult novel. She received her MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Washington in 2009, has placed twice in Glimmer Train top 25 lists and was nominated for inclusion in Best New American Voices, 2008. Her work has previously appeared in The Rumpus and Pindedlyboz and is forthcoming in The Yellow Ham. Read more at leahkaminsky.wordpress.com
Paul Kavanagh – p.17
Paul Kavanagh’s book The Killing of a Bank Manager is published by Honest Publishing
Daishu Ma – p.7
Daishu Ma is an illustrator with a love for story telling. She has created illustrations for poems, short stories and novels, and her work ranges from pen and ink drawing to woodblock engraving. She is currently working on designing the covers of new editions of great 20th century Latin American literature. She is also the co-creator of Shanghai-based design studio ‘alien and monkey’. Find out more at daishuma.com and alienandmonkey.com
Craig Pay – p.5
Craig Pay lives in the north of England and runs a writing group in Manchester. Sometimes he writes fiction that people label as ‘literary’, other times he writes fiction that they label as ‘genre’. He loves it when they’re not sure. This year Craig won the NAWG David Lodge trophy and he appeared in a number of magazines and websites including Murky Depths and Daily Science Fiction. He has just finished writing a historical/genre/literary novel set in the 1800s. He is now learning Chinese. He can be reached at craigpay.com
Kathleen Radigan – p.10
Kathleen Radigan is a sixteen year old writer, person and girl. She currently resides in the small state of Rhode Island, where she attends high school and spends an inordinate amount of her free time reading and drinking tea. She has been previously published in such journals as Hackwriters, PANK Blog, The Newport Review, Prick of the Spindle, Blood Lotus, Crashtest, The 2nd Hand, and several others. She hopes to someday make a living out of her furious pen scratchings and weird revelations, but for now she is content with fortuitous opportunities to share and publish her thoughts
Jim Schoen – p.11
About his childhood, Jim remembers most vividly warring with ten siblings for the best food. College educated at four institutions, each of which firmly declined to be named here, he took his degree on the job as a carpenter and mason. Jim is thoroughly married, with five children. A woman picked him up hitchhiking and next thing he knew – suffice it to say that hitchhiking is dangerous. Still, he has an interesting sense of humour, kept well hidden in the story Treasure, coming soon in the next Mutant Nation anthology, but having a good romp here in Structo, with ‘Ice Cream’
Murzban F. Shroff – p.13
Murzban F. Shroff is a Mumbai-based writer. His poems have been published in journals in UK, Australia, and India. His debut fiction collection, Breathless in Bombay, published by St. Martin’s Press, U.S. and Picador India, was shortlisted for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in the best debut category from Europe and South Asia. The recipient of three Pushcart Prize nominations and the John Gilgun Fiction Award, Murzban is in the market with a larger-than-life India fiction collection and a book of poetry, No Shades of Grey. He can be reached at email@example.com
Mark Turnock – p.6
Mark Turnock is a writer, filmmaker and sometime hobo. When not wandering the big old world he writes whimsical, magical stories, the best of which have appeared in various anthologies. His other passion is filmmaking: so far his films have been screened at the BFI in London and the Up and Coming Festival in Hannover, Germany. The focus in all his work is on the strange, the fantastical and often the downright bawdy. You can read more, and other assorted ramblings at markturnock.wordpress. com
Karen Tobias-Green – p.21
Karen teaches dyslexic students in an art college where she encourages exploration of the links between creative art and the written word. She has written since she was able to hold a pen and has recently had three stories accepted for publication all at once which seems to prove the old adage about buses… You can contact her at dkja12@ntlworld. com
Changming Yuan – p.9
Changming Yuan, (co-)author of Chansons of a Chinaman (2009) and Three Poets (2011) as well as a three-time Pushcart nominee, grew up in a remote Chinese village and published several monographs before moving to Canada as an international student. With a PhD in English from the University of Saskatchewan, Yuan teaches independently in Vancouver and has poetry appearing in more than 400 literary publications across 18 countries, including Barrow Street, Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, dotdotdash, London Magazine, Salzburg Review and Taj Mahal Review.
André Zucker – p.8
André M. Zucker was born in the Bronx, New York. He is the author of several short stories. His work has appeared in Blaze Vox, And/or, This Great Society, South Jersey Underground and several others. He works as an English teacher in Antwerp, Belgium. Find him at facebook.com/andre.zucker
Online edition, April 2012 Limited-edition printed copies available from our website: www.structomagazine.co.uk