Synesthesia Literary Journal 4:2 ÂŠ Christopher H. Gorrie and Seretta Martin 2016 All rights reserved. Except as permitted under U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Patent-Paradigm Publications All inquiries or other correspondences should be directed to: email@example.com Front and back cover artwork by Haven Blue
Table of Contents Chromonema Music At Half Staff Emily as What the Blue Tells Emily as Apple Milk And They Danced Identity Spring, 1968 The Horse Capturing a Comet Fleeting Everlasting The Fall The Call of Cthulhu Beauty Is as Beauty Does Adult Crowding The Lamentation of a Mother Self-control Widdershins Heading to Hot Springs Bookstore by the Tea Shop The Synesthete Contributor Biographies Notes & Acknowledgements
4 5 6 7 10 17 18 21 22 24 25 27 28 30 41 44 45 47 56 57 58 66
Chromonema Music Lloyd Milburn I've finally reached the core of my chromosome, this "color thread" I will follow to its end. I have this lamp that rings high pitches, have you heard the type? The fader turns, the filament reacts to it. That's why clips of Judy Garland still pull at certain strings, like my zitherâ€™s highest wires always out of tune with the fat ones, but the high strings were impossible to adjust, the frame not strong enough to hold them. Photos of Anne Sexton too, thin arms crossed, cigarette pointing away from the folded pose to draw a smoky line between herself and any invading sounds, and gradually, everything else. Still glowing from first assay, I lift out this gem I found under 35 years of gravity: I hear my zither strings pulled with reasonable force, then released, shaking off their spring fever dust, overtones rising out to the old kitchen, blended with humming over the sink; dishes bumping underwater: incidental percussion, â€”my size-four left foot answering. But we confess, at times the strings were pulled beyond reasonable tension, actually wanting to break them, to show how severe our need for this vaporous food called music, and to try to outdo offending sounds, to make a sharper, finely-pointed, terminal sound.
At Half Staff Lloyd Milburn Last school day of the decade, a.m. announcements, then silence, the myrrh day crushed, its fragrant lesson a final gift for those who will receive this energy to keep limping toward their star. All day the flag's rope snapped against its pole as sharp gusts stretched it out from the mast's center. That evening the bus loop grew encircled by a full emptiness, slowly pierced by shadows reaching from the trees and pole. The flag kept its post above the snow, its rope clanging at the empty school between long moments of silence. Clanging, silence, clanging, woven together into a knot. That lone rope grew longer, its knots tighter by gusty, blinding storms, keeping its ties clanging against the pole into the new year, tolling our flag's half-raised survival.
Emily as What the Blue Tells Darren C. Demaree I felt her softness harden against the knife of the wind & I did not know I wanted to be her skin or the blade against it. Real, elemental love is as dangerous as any evolution.
Emily as Apple Milk Darren C. Demaree There is a bit of Emily tucked behind each morning. Itâ€™s a slight pressure that brings me to the foot of our bed before the dogs wake up to join us there & before the children cascade down the stairs & each drop of her that joins the sun before the sun can be joined tastes like the first light.
And They Danced Donna Walker-Nixon This morning Lizzie craved her mama's homemade biscuits with their crispy peaks and valleys, the leftover ones that would not fit into the tin mold. Not biscuits and gravy like every other mother made on Saturdays, but the ones Lizzie knifed in the middle and slapped on a thin layer of mustang grape jelly, preserved from the wild fruit Mama made Lizzie's sisters pluck from vines that caused their hands and lower arms to itch. Instead, Lizzie plucks the remaining one-quart bottle of Dr. Pepper from the miniature refrigerator her parents purchased for her to use in the dormitory-styled room graduate students rent at the Prom Town House Hotel. She toasts two slices of bread and slathers them with Smucker's grape jelly that costs more than her budget as a teaching assistant should allow, but the jelly is her own way of reconstructing Central Texas in this Midwest city. When no customers come to the Prom Town Hotel Gift Shop to buy nick-knacks imported from Portugal, newspapers, and magazines, she skims the assigned reading for her next class assignment Waiting for Godot. Often, she does not understand the necessity of reading cold words on a cold page. The passion is lost, she thinks, but she does not realize that fact in the reading journal she keeps. For some unconnected reason, she remembers sitting next to a girl on the plane from Ostend to Bangor, Maine. That summer, she returned to the United States and hamburgers that were not raw inside with onions that remained hard in the center. The girl dressed in Army fatigues and challenged all of Lizzie's hometown beliefs. When they passed through customs, the girl proclaimed, “Fuck the whole Fascist U. S. of A.” She uttered other words that caused officials to sort through her luggage only to discover bikini panties and D-cup bras. Every Saturday morning, an old man who lives in a crumbling house behind the Prom Town House arrives at 10:05, a few minutes after Lizzie has unlocked the store and put down the “Sorry, we are closed at this time” sign that Bernice, the manager, had her male companion Bruno write on yellow cardboard. “Vell, Vell,” the old man chants. “How are you this vine day?” Lizzie nods and tries to wipe the crusts of sleep out of her eyes. “Fine,” she replies. “All is gut?” Lizzie has not finished Bernice's ritual that clerks must follow when opening the gift shop. The old man searches the magazine rack, not because he plans on purchasing Cosmo or Good Housekeeping. Rather he meanders until Lizzie can take the dime he pays for The World Herald where he will scour the obituaries to see if anyone he and his late wife Greta socialized with has died. So many times, he has teased Lizzie, “Ve are passing to that other Vorld in droves, like the ones cowboys from Texas vent on vhen they brought cows to market.” This morning he examines the contents of one magazine. Lizzie continues to place the money from the coin bag Bernice has left in the cash register. He moves the Playgirl to the back of the magazine rack, and Lizzie will move it to the middle after he has left. He winks and says, “Vell, I suppose vhat's gut for the goose is gut for the gander.” “Yes,” she answers. “I see I embarrassed you. Again. For that I apologize.”
From the newspaper rack, he takes a copy of the Saturday edition of the newspaper. A few ads fall to the floor. He gives her a dime and again apologizes. “Vhen my Greta valked this earth – Ah!!! – she vould have cautioned me not to say such things.” As he does each Saturday, he repeats the story closest to his heart: she suffered greatly from “that Silent Killer” and she complained of bloating, feeling too full after eating a simple salad. Something is horribly wrong, she told her doctors, but they would not listen. “No!! They knew better.” Yet they did not, and she suffered for twelve-and-a-half long months before they discovered the cause. “Ovarian cancer. They could have found it sooner, but “vhe must live with vhat vhe half.” Outside, Stefan parks his yellow-squash colored Mercedes. His cheek muscles move in and out, and Lizzie knows he's whistling, just like he often does when he walks into restaurants or when they sit in parking lots waiting for valets to take his keys. Before she met him, Bernice had offered advice, “This gentleman grew up in Germany.” Her Bohemian-Czech accent often strikes Lizzie as separate from her physical image of a woman with ruby red lips and fingernails polished almost the same color, but more red than ruby. “He is stationed at Offutt. If he asks you on an evening out, go. He vill treat a girl to nice dinners at expensive restaurants. You vould be foolish to turn him down.” The first time Lizzie met him, he wagged his index finger at a car that reminded Lizzie of a box, different from the putrid-yellow Chevrolet Vega her parents bought for her sisters to drive. “Look!” he commanded, and she looked. “I paid $14,000 dollars. Special ordered.” He paused and finished, “From Germany to suit my needs.” And he asked her to accompany him to dinner at Mayumi's for a Japanese meal. He ordered for them—a bottle of plum wine. She gagged when the tartness caused her throat to constrict. She puckered while she used her green cloth napkin to hide her wretching when she swallowed. She placed her fist around the water glass and drew it toward her mouth. He almost noticed her cheeks moving in and out like a fish blowing in water. He ordered sukiyaki, and a waiter brought a hot plate and began to simmer cubes of steak. He sauteed clear see-through noodles that reminded her of the Mylar icicles Mama strew on their Christmas tree. Thick white pillows shifted like jello from side to side. “Tofu,” Stefan explained. When the waiter finished the preparation, he ladled a large portion onto her bowl. The first bite tasted fine; the next caused her to gag. “Drink your wine,” Stefan instructed. With each swallow, she doused her throat with ice-cold water, which the waiter refilled often. Even before Stefan opens the plexiglass door of the gift shop, Lizzie recognizes the last few chords of of “Schön ist die Nacht” as it lingers in the air. “Vell, Vell, Vell,” the old man says. “That tango returns me to a sad, sad time. In Berlin the people danced vhile my family died in camps” “Ultimatively, you must realize the German people did not know.” Stefan searches for a rationale for atrocities Lizzie understands only because in a modern novels class she is reading The Painted Bird. Not within her known reality, a Polish boy's parents pay sadistic strangers to protect their six-year-old child. He escapes but suffers deeply like a wild bird that is captured and then sent to fly far, far away. Instead, other birds attack him and he dies. After the war, the boy turns twelve and becomes a mute for another six years. The old man repeats, “My family died vhile in Berlin the others danced. My father, my mother, my brother Itzhak. The rest of my family remains unaccounted for.” “I also suffered,” Stefan explains. “During the war, people of Russian descent endured. Ultimatively, we endured.”
“But you lived to tell your stories. My family, it was different.” He places his dime for the newspaper on the counter and leaves. “This man,” Stefan explains, “fails to comprehend all peoples suffered. Bombers shot a substance into the air that caused the night sky to transform into Christmas tree lights that permitted bombers to know their targets. One time, we walk for blocks until we find a cellar. When we crawl out, rabbits are singed with fire. My sister Trudy moves neither forward nor backward. She holds hands to ears to block the screech of the rabbits as they burn to death. Earlier, when we leave burning building, we place gas masks on our faces. The rubber melts into our skin, and we remove our masks. Many women hold dark brown statues. Mutter comments she did not know so many people own statues. When we pass neighbor holding statue, we learn not statues after all, but her charcoaled baby.” In this moment when Stefan explains a story beyond her own experiences, she twists around in the rotating stool where she takes money, and she yanks toward her body a dingy white sweater that cramps her shoulders as she forces her body to fit into it. “Are you ready?” she asks. “Of course,” he replies. He announces his plans. “We will watch movie The Exorcist. There is nothing to fear but your own mindful creation of things that bump through the night. We dine after at the Glockenspiel.” The movie would have come to Lindsey two years before, but Mr. Ferrill's Pentecostal brethren issued a petition demanding this godless movie not be broadcast in the Majestic Theater since impressionable minds would be influenced to follow the ways of the devil. “Nothing to fear,” Stefan repeats, and Lizzie remembers when she was five and her grandmother drove past a drive-in movie in Fort Worth and chanted to Lizzie and her sisters, “Hide your eyes, Girls.” Lizzie will not hide her eyes while Regan places the Ouija board on top of a ping-pong table as her fingers manipulate a pale brown plastic object. “Captain Howdy, do you think my mom's pretty?” Regan asks while her mother stands by and the Captain will not permit the mother to play. Stefan explains, “The planchette appears to move from letter to letter of its own accord, much like the spiritual writing practiced by your poet William Butler Yeats. Still, the scientific community has determined this movement as an ideomotor response.” Lizzie shudders, and Stefan explains again, “Nothing to fear. All faiths are illusions. Man-created temporary visions that cloud our perceptions.” Lizzie recasts Stefan as a young boy, no older than six or seven, pacing the streets, scratching for food at back doors of charred bars and restaurants in hope that someone will offer scraps as he strived to clear from his mind memories of bombings that resulted in mothers holding the burnt bodies of their children, in a city where Herr Hitler established the Nazi party in 1920. Stefan adds,“Pazuzu refuses to remain a defeated enemy of Father Merrin.” In college, Lizzie's friends would not speak the name of the demon. Instead, they scribbled Pazuza's name on pieces of lined yellow notebook paper. Stefan offers his comfort, “Such fear that spreads through the towns of this country. It's merely a name. No fear. Promise me, no fear.” Regan vomits pea soup; her head rotates like a red and blue toy top. This does not scare Lizzie who has sat in Pentecostal services while her grandmother tolerated Lizzie's step-grandfather's view of a world Lizzie will never comprehend. Like Regan, Mr. Ferrills's eyes lit up like vacant kaleidoscopes of color and mazes of light as he hurled words into a void, “Praise Jesus!” He wiped his stigmata from his forehead with a stained handkerchief. “Verily, I take on His Crown of Thorns!!” The rancid odor of his
sweat on that humid August evening transmogrified into Old Spice After Shave. “He sanctifies me with the blood he shared on Calvary's cross.” Mr. Ferrill bellows the second verse of “At Calvary,” and the people are presented with no option but to follow his lead. Without opening hymnals, the congregation in unity sings over and over again this fragmented hymn: By God’s Word at last my sin I learned; Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned, Till my guilty soul imploring turned To Calvary. Another August, Mr. Ferrill veered Mrs. Joiner's lime-green Dr. Pepper station wagon onto a shadowy gravel path where the Barnetts used to live. Louis Barnett rode the bus with Lizzie, and her oily hair stuck out like strikes of lightening. Mr. Ferrill cut off the engine next to the mustang grape vines where her grandmother took them to pluck fruit that stained their fingers and clothes and caused their hands to itch. Few people ventured onto this abandoned dead-end path. He thrust his lizard tongue between her teeth, and he complained her braces interrupted his sordid pleasures. He whined about his dead first wife, “Willie never understood me. Not a true wife ordained by God.” With his webbed fingers, he pawed at her developing pubic hair until he wrangled her clitoris like a cowboy does a wild horse. Against her will, she breathed in and out. “You want me. I know you do.” He pushed her spine into the passenger side of the Dr. Pepper station wagon. Only because his webbed fingers left him unable to control her completely was she able to pry open the door. She tumbled onto the ripe grapes and a sticker bush. The grapes stained her beige blouse, and the bush entangled her legs. She struggled and pulled herself free, but she took no notice of the blood beading in clots on her skinned calves. The hot summer breeze normally would have stifled her breathing. “I must escape,” she chanted as she paced back to Old Decatur Road and past the red brick house where Karen, her first best friend forever, lived. She stumbled by the Putnam place where in second grade the old man's fierce dogs chased her back to Karen's house. “Nothing to fear but your own mindful creation of things that bump through the night,” Stefan again lectures. Regan's pea soup vomit. Anything to repress her inner memories—the sweltering August breeze, the grape stain on her new blouse, and Mr. Ferrill's tongue as it slithered down her throat. As Stefan whispers his analysis of the movie, Lizzie recreates a day when Mr. Ferrill sat on the first step of the side porch entranced by a plane that nicked the clouds as it descended to Meacham Field. Holding her baby sister's paddle-board, she leveled it at the back of his head and aimed the ball to hit his bald spot. “Sorry,” she said while her clitoris itched. She manufactured in her mind the symptoms of syphilis—or maybe gonorrhea. She could not be sure; with the scales on her pubic area, she had her own proof that he shared his diseases with her. “If God forgives me, why can't you?” Mr. Ferrill implored her to dismiss everything that remained before, but forgiving takes fortitude. She scratched off scales on her pubic area gone and revealed to no one her ruination. In her fevered mind, his venereal disease ravished her body and she would die before she graduated from Lindsey High. She graduated. His disease would certainly consume her life before she graduated with honors from college. Again, she graduated. She moved to the Midwest for her master's degree.
Now she rides buses to West Roads Mall for hamburgers at the London Grill. She manages to study, but in health class in high school she learned syphilis consumes the body by slow degrees. When she cannot easily bring into conversations with Mary definitions they discussed two days ago, she internally blames this groping after connections as evidence she has passed into stage three syphilis and will soon lose all cognizance. Sometimes, on the bus to the mall, she tells herself, I will pull the stop cord. I will get off this train wreck. I will seek help. Numbed, she leaves the theater with Stefan. “Do not fear, my dear.” Stefan sounds almost like the old man who still mourns for his wife. “We will dine at the Glockenspiel.” While they drive down Dodge Street, the light turns red. Stefan hacks his fingers on the black leather steering wheel. He whistles that irritating song about the beautiful night. Lizzie can not blot from her mind inked Rorschach images of Mr. Ferrill's webbed claw with the disparate black spots under his fingernails where he accidentally hit himself with his hammer when he worked as a carpenter before Willie passed on, most probably glad to rid herself of the stench of his sweat. A boy on a date with his blonde girlfriend whips on the brakes of his Opel GT. After the tires squeal, Stefan complains, “Spoiled American children. Their parents fail to control.” Stefan guns the engine as the lights change, and the boy guns his. While Lizzie hides her eyes, Stefan accelerates and passes the boy. “I show American child he does not win always.” After the standoff, Stefan pulls into a parking lot anchored by a few businesses. “I love a good steak. It can't be beat, as you Americans have told me.” He ushers her to the faux wood front door of the Cork 'n Cleaver restaurant. “Of course, most foods here are delicious, but bah!! The seafood lacks definition. You must eat the steak, rendered here in Omaha.” Stefan orders, “The lady and I will share the Châteaubriand.” Stefan adds to his order, “Medium rare, of course. For the lady. I would prefer it rare, but we make exceptions. Of course, we will also want a bottle of Château Margaux.” “Sir, we do not carry that wine because of the economic crisis in France. Might I suggest...” Meaningless words pass back and forth as Stefan proclaims Americans know nothing of the world outside their narrow confines. Before the artichoke appetizer arrives, he motions for her to feel his knuckles, all the surface actions of a couple in love. Their fingers mesh into a webbed mania, and he pulls her hand into his firm fist. By intuition, her body retreats. He assures her, “Nothing to fear.” He possesses a black belt in some kind of martial art, he explains. The Viet Cong had a price on his head. One day, during his third tour of duty, his commanding officer separated him from “the herd” and congratulated him. “You have just signed up for a fourth tour.” Stefan accepted the challenge. She does not know how to eat the pine cone spines of the artichoke. She gags on her red wine and waits for his next move. He tears off a leaf and dips it in the clarified butter and lemon. She follows his lead in an effort to extract the bitter inside of a vegetable that appears to her as useless as eating persimmons for one little bite of the fruit. She smiles, and he appears pleased she has engaged herself in enjoying the finer things in life. The waiter presents the steak where beads of blood in the sinews ooze out. Mr. Ferrill bellowed songs about Calvary and the blood of the lamb. And the blood on her unshaven legs shaped itself into clotted knots. Lizzie retreats to the powder room where she vomits, gags, and vomits again, swept into the rhythm of heaving as she clings to the rim of the toilet bowl. Once Lizzie almost believed she could experience normality when she sat with a boy on the low-hanging limb of a post oak tree. He put his arm
around her waist and positioned her so that her head reminded her of the posing couple in Rodin's The Kiss. Unlike the sculpture she studied in art appreciation, their lips touched while they French kissed. Almost normal, but the sculpture depicte4d a couple whose erotic, forbidden love scandalizes the world in 1893's Chicago, or so Lizzie recaptured key words she once committed to memory for a test. Lizzie craved an image of her and this boy scandalously dancing under the stars at a pasture party where they kissed under the blood red moon. Yet she feared tongues wagging as they shared their fragmentary gossip about this disease she carried in her soul's soul. As Lizzie grasps the lid of the commode, she remembers an old woman with thin dyed cotton candy hair at the table next to theirs, extracting marrow from a bone with a miniature fork. That woman washes her hands and asks, “Are you all right, dear?” Lizzie coerces herself to the real world where she must write a paper on Jerzy Kozinsky. One writer compared his own novel to the great suffering the sixyear-old mute boy endured: My novel is based on my experiences in South America. As Kosiński did, I write from memory filtered through imagination. Lizzie possesses few memories, except the fragments she suddenly retrieves in intersections with old women who dye their thinning hair blonde or blue and then diligently cleanse their hands in restrooms and ask if everything's all right, dearie, when it sure as hell isn't. Involved in her own inner dance, Lizzie dabs soap and water on her face, pats herself with expensive green wash clothes, and returns to sit at Stefan's table—determined to tell him before the evening's end they live in different worlds and must each return to their own separate spheres of existence.
Identity Cristina DeSouza I hide for endless hours while I search for myself in the mirror, whose eyes stare at me. I hibernate for days in skin that is not mine, in bones that fracture slowly and I donâ€™t feel it. I retire to a dark cave called bedroom, in which there is a white bed where I die alone every day and lie sleepless every night. I cross my name from my identity card, I lose my photo, I erase my face with the sleeve of an old coat. I forget myself in a drawer.
Spring, 1968 Cristina DeSouza Spring in Brazil, Fall in the United States. The Beatles on the radio: Strawberry fields forever… Death in the fields of Vietnam, Death in the torture chambers of the Brazilian dictatorship. Sun rising in the Southern Hemisphere, leaving behind the rainy winter and the shadows of your birth. Born from unknown mother and ghostly father, you opened your eyes for the first time on a fine September day, 1968. Rejected by your birth parents, you were a transplant injected in other people’s lives. Given for adoption immediately, you never knew your birth mother’s lap. Yet, the voice you heard “in utero” haunted you everywhere: sharp and deep it was much different from your adopted mother’s and you cried and cried to that unfamiliar voice which sang to you:
Let it be, let it be… Time passed and as you grew older, your adopted mother’s voice became more familiar, and you were able to sleep to her songs. Much later on, you realized that you were no longer a shadow of the womb you had inhabited, you belonged to the world and not to mothers or fathers. you still don’t know your biological parents or your past history, but now, so many years later, there is no longer death in Vietnam, torture in hidden Brazilian chambers. There is just a wish for movement, for freedom, for something in the way she moves me…
The Horse Holly Day there were eventually too many miles between us to let it die where it fell. ironically, because I didnâ€™t kill it and let it hobble, burdenless, behind me as we traveled I had a superior traveling companion: one that didnâ€™t interrupt when I spoke never said anything itself.
Capturing a Comet John LaMar Elison truth is: "that was so intense" never "this IS so intense" because truth, like the other truly intense things in life, is too powerful for words in the moment try giving a soliloquy with a blade between the ribs too brief for comment you can't interview the storm
I can remember looking out at the crowd telling them how I knew the Truth "with every fiber of my being" like my being were somehow made of straw a bale of hay a corn doll perhaps and they nodded back in doll-like agreement wearing doll suits doll ties doll shoulder pads and doll bouffants truth is too intense for doll-like sound bytes too sudden for "I know" it can only be captured in sandman haze and past tense I knew Truth and she was beautiful...
Fleeting Everlasting Carlos A. DeJuana Gently I lift my daughter from her seat, careful not to wake her from the battle she fought so valiantly against the eventuality of sleep. Her breath on my neck vanishes in the January moonlight, I carry her weightless body home. We live our life in moments, too delicate to grasp. Forever moving forward, forever fighting to make the fleeting everlasting. We cannot make the fleeting everlasting. We are imperfect beings, created by an old sun, who long ago forgot us but everyday pulls us back to his embrace.
The Fall Carlos A. DeJuana They must have held hands, I think, when they left the Garden, palms sweaty, their bellies sore from nervous anticipation, both scared and excited by the dawn ahead.
The Call of Cthulhu Glen Armstrong Cthulhu is back in vogue. Each of its tentacles sings a song. The recital takes an eternity. The Elder Gods take naps. These are the darkest nights imaginable, but nights, darker still full of ill-considered pleasure, wait in a vast beyond for the chance to uncurl. They question our methods of birth control as they engage the signup sheet. They will sour our appetites for love and shrimp cocktail. They will look to us for praise and barber college tuition. Light a candle then hide the matches. They are coming for us with appetites and tap shoes.
Beauty Is as Beauty Does Glen Armstrong If she could hold the story together and remain popular with her readers, she would do so. As a former test pilot, she knew more about the sky than most. If she could hold the story together and piss most of her readers off, she was willing to do this as well. The sky was a baklava of wind currents and shifting temperatures. Her heroine had a â€œkite-likeâ€? relationship to the world. The townsfolk had grown so tall and bushy that they obstructed most of the obvious points of departure . . . . . . when she opened her eyes and the room had cleared. That odd little gang that had followed her for so long had left a sheet cake on top of her janitorial cart with a rather long message piped in that slightly translucent blue icing that never matches the rest of the cake. The message read: Abra, We think that you are one of the most beautiful women we have ever seen, and we all agree that you could become a fashion model if you could just stay still long enough for someone to take your picture.
Adult Crowding Laura Hulthen Thomas (An excerpt from the forthcoming short fiction collection States of Motion.) The Gold Star driver’s education sedan, a real tin can, needed a tune-up. A rattle behind the glove box was unnerving the student driver at the wheel. She pulled up to the stop sign east of the Brecon strip mall and brushed away a strand of golden hair curling at her eyelash. Clamped her hand back on the wheel, fielded a glance at Jerrell’s clipboard, wondered if he’d note her failure to keep her hands at nine and three o’clock. When he was a student driver, Jerrell had learned to position his hands at ten and two o’clock. Another rule he’d had to unlearn as an adult. At ten and two an airbag’s force would ram the driver’s arms into their face. Who knew that such a minor adjustment in position meant a driver walked away from a crash unhurt? Most of what Jerrell knew about driving he found out was either outmoded or just plain wrong when he trained at Courtesy Driving School. Earned his wings, Ethel liked to joke before her decline, back when she still could crack one. Then again, Tammy might be staring at the blood he’d smeared on the student assessment sheet. Ethel had sure done a damn number on him, just when he thought she was plumb out of digits. Jerrell daubed at the oozing punctures stippling his hand with the towel he’d grabbed from Assisted Living. Snapped open the glove box to hunt down a Band-Aid. “Turn right at the Big Boy up there, about a half mile down.” He’d given her plenty of time to anticipate the turn, so Tammy’s choppy acceleration through the stop Jerrell first took for nerves, not confusion. Pretty Tammy was a real Betty and Veronica type. Tom, Dick and Harry sat slouched in the back seat, eyes wide and wary. Mr. Salisbury. Jerrell always referred to the young men as “mister,” just in case they needed the reminder about who was boss in the driver’s training instructional environment. But a young man’s cockiness usually evaporated in the Gold Star car. Jerrell chalked up the humility to the situation, not anything about Jerrell’s demeanor. No, the men just wanted that license fast, with no hassle. The first step towards getting out of this town. Deflating the blowhards sure made the job easier to stomach. Jerrell’s change from construction manager with Southeast Michigan’s largest contractor to driver’s ed instructor began as a desperation move during the recession but was looking more and more like a permanent career shift. At least he’d traded up on dealing with assholes. Jerrell dug out a Band-Aid and slammed the glove box shut. Tammy flinched but kept her hands firmly on the wheel. “Mr. Jerrell? Where’s the Big Boy?” The Big Boy was now The Palace, home of finer family dining than the Big Boy ever was. At times the places of Jerrell’s youth still seeped through the town’s canvas. “Well, it used to be the Big Boy.” With his uninjured hand he pointed to the restaurant’s steep purple roof just past the Dairy Queen Brazier, which had always been the Brazier. Like the Speedway gas and Jackie’s Tavern at the four corners, some businesses had escaped the state economy’s rip tide. The A&P, the Farmer Jack, the Shanghai Shack, all had gone bust. Although the Shanghai Shack was history because the Chinese immigrant family had relocated the business to a strip mall in liberal Ann Arbor. Not that Brecon wasn’t liberal, in the small town sense of the word.
“Can we get an ice cream for the ride?” Mr. Salisbury asked. Jerrell tore open the Band-Aid and pressed it to the punctures. The deep impressions circling the wounds were filling with purple. He could just make out a bracket’s smug dimple smack dab on each tooth mark. No wonder his hand hurt like hell. Dr. Frank’s office was open until five on Wednesdays; Jerrell ought to know. Best to drive Tammy around a bit so he could cool off before paying the good doctor a visit. “What did we learn about driving distractions in Unit 6, Mr. Salisbury?” Salisbury slumped in his seat. “I was only kidding. My dad says eating while driving increases your chance of a crash by 80%.” “Doesn’t the textbook say 65%?” Tammy was bearing down fast on the Brazier. “Watch your speed, young lady.” Tammy dutifully slowed to the posted limit. Salisbury piped up, “That’s the number of near misses caused by eating while driving. Right, Mr. Jerrell?” “Any type of distraction is to be avoided behind the wheel.” Jerrell stared out the window at the Dairy Queen’s squat barn-red roof and impassive row of shining glass windows. He hadn’t even understood what a Brazier was until he was these kids’ age. He’d only been to the Dairy Queen once before he could drive there himself, pay for his own damn burger and fries. Even that one time, a special occasion, Ethel only allowed him to order the smallest ice cream on the menu. “Will eating and driving be on the test?” Tammy cruised past the Brazier. On the other side of the DQ lot, the Palace’s parking lot was hopping. An elderly couple, bundled in bulky coats and sweetly holding hands, was hurrying in the front door for the senior special of the day. Tammy was still failing to signal the turn ahead. “Signaling turns will be. Left blinker, Tammy, don’t forget.” “Are we doing the highway today, Mr. Jerrell?” Was the boy eager or nervous? When the young men’s voices dropped their octave, it became harder to tell genuine bravado from the tough guy act. Mr. Salisbury looked to be a reluctant tough at best. The hoodlum jacket was a size too big. The leather puffed at the shoulders, shrank his round head to a pale, tiny globe. The slicked-back look didn’t achieve the desired effect, either. A boyish nest of unruly curls bounced along the pizza-pie pimples on his brow. The small town young these days were so very harmless. And, well, so very young. “That’s for next time, Mr. Salisbury.” “Where are we going today?” Nervous, Jerrell decided. The childish persistence was a give-away. Mr. Salisbury had a habit of bobbling over the center line. His over-corrections mashed the wheels to the curb. Mr. Salisbury might turn out to be one of the rare few who failed driver’s training. “Thought we’d stick to town today. That ok with you, Mr. Salisbury?” The kid nodded, curled his hand around the door handle. Frequent stoplights would work to his advantage. The white, even smile flashed in the rear view mirror. Lucky kid to have that smile. Luckier still if it stayed that way. Jerrell positioned the rearview mirror to Tammy’s view. “Adjust your mirrors before you begin driving, remember. Swing a left at the golf course.” He’d take Tammy out of town a bit before circling back to the four corners in the heart of downtown Brecon, if the dinky village could be said to have a downtown. Or a heart. Give the hand some time to settle into a dull throb, because the way it was howling now made Jerrell want to punch Dr. Frank right in the pickets.
“Did you know that the force of a crash can wrap a golf club right around a guy’s neck?” Mr. Salisbury offered. “That would never happen.” Tammy performed a dainty nibble at a hangnail. “Right, Mr. Jerrell?” “It did, though.” Mr. Salisbury popped a fly over Jerrell’s reassurance that no, such a thing could never happen. “How do you know?” “My dad’s a crash site investigator. Sees all kinds of bizarre shit.” “Let’s watch the language,” Jerrell suggested. His glance into the back seat held the embers of a warning. Mr. Salisbury grinned, blister-white. Hard to tell whether it was the curry-favor type of smile or the wise-guy preamble to more trouble. “You’re seeping.” Tammy hung a left past the greens without signalling. “Left blinker next time, young lady. Don’t forget.” “Your hand, Mr. Jerrell. You’re seeping. What happened?” Jerrell studied the wound. Blood had soaked through the Band-Aid. He wondered how Tammy could have seen it and kept her eyes on the road, since his hand had been tucked in his lap. Under the clipboard. Which meant she’d scrutinized his lap. Jerrell clicked open the glove box. Rummaged for another Band-Aid and a packet of Kleenex. No future in thinking about where a little girl’s gaze might rove during her driving maneuvers. “Just got hung up on something sharp there. Watch your speed.” “Did you know that in a crash a Kleenex box can kill you if the sharp edge hits you in the temple?” the backseat peanut gallery informed them. “That would never happen.” Tammy’s nibble was more doubtful this time around. “Can so. Killed this one guy. Dad said it was a freak thing.” Tammy glanced at Jerrell’s tissues. Jerrell tucked the packet between his knees, under the clipboard. Swabbed the blood, criss-crossed another Band-Aid over the first. “Dad said anything can kill you if it hits your temple dead-on,” Mr. Salisbury added. “I don’t think we should be talking about car accidents during driver’s training. Right, Mr. Jerrell?” Tammy applied the brake, glided to a four way stop. Already they were in the suburbs. The threshold between town and country in this flat patch of Michigan farmland was a matter of a couple of miles. Modest ranch homes lined the private cul-de-sacs cut rudely from long-fallow cornfields. An abandoned cobblestone farmhouse stood near the intersection, the weed-choked driveway shaded by maples just shedding their crimson leaves. Traffic was backed up behind the Gold Star sedan. Tammy was waiting for Jerrell’s instruction. Which he’d failed to give, fooling with his hand. He rode out a wave of rage over Ethel’s nasty decline, Dr. Frank’s chintzy orthodontics, the blood dribbling from the second Band-Aid’s tan edge. “There are no accidents when it comes to transportation. Only crashes.” Mr. Salisbury leaned forward, gripped the back of Tammy’s headrest. “My dad says someone’s always at fault.” Jerrell couldn’t agree more. *
Before this decline, Jerrell could make short work of Ethel’s care. Between sessions he’d pull up to Brecon Heights Assisted Living for a quick dash in. Need anything, Mom? He’d have to sort the errands from the complaints. My legs feel like pin cushions, son, I’m so fuzzy in the head, I have my taste for butterscotch back so bad. So during the next instructional run he’d grab a bag of Werther’s, the only obtainable mercy on that list. But with this decline there were mercies of the body to perform, rituals just shy of washing the dead. That’s what the Assisted Living Staff was calling his mother’s condition. This decline. Like this and that. Like there would be this decline, and then there would be that decline. The Assisted Living Staff would only do so much for Ethel and Jerrell did the rest. This decline meant stiff, painful limbs to massage, groans of pleasure to endure under the sensual relief of his hands. This decline meant thrush. Jerrell would thrust his fingers into his mother’s mouth to clear the cottony fungus so she could swallow. Ice chips under her tongue soothed the inflammation. Despite the gruesome infection, Jerrell came to realize that he found her mouth comforting in ways he didn’t care to investigate. Like her baby’s milk-breath, sour and new. Like the last thing she would ever give him was this tenderness. Maybe make up for the mother she’d never been, or the son he’d failed to be, their chicken-and-egg, their covenant. Also the warm sensation distracted him from the hope that this decline would turn out to be the decline. Yesterday the Assisted Living Staff told Jerrell this infection might be resistant to the usual treatments. The Assisted Living Staff blamed the thrush on the morphine, but Jerrell had his own ideas about the cause. He’d looked it up, had goddamn confirmed, that the braces could be, were very likely to be, the wellspring of the trouble. Metal complicated the mouth’s environment, he’d read. One obtainable mercy was to have the damn brackets removed. Yet another was a refund. Today, before he left Ethel to meet Tammy and Mr. Salisbury, the situation had escalated. The mucus lodged in Ethel’s throat like a jellyfish. Clearing the goo and scrubbing his hands at the kitchenette sink was a long, painstaking process. After he was clean, Jerrell filled a Dixie cup full of ice chips and pulled a hard chair from the dinette to her bedside. As he slipped ice under her tongue, he let his fingers linger in her mouth. Her irritated gums pillowed the gleaming brackets. He had to be careful around the unmoored wire dangling from her left molar. The damn braces made the swabbing and the icing a freakin’ hazard. Yesterday he’d nicked his palm on the wire. He’d taken up pliers himself, tucked the wire back into her cheek’s soft pouch. Yet another reason the braces had to go. Dr. Frank was no longer returning Jerrell’s calls about his mother’s oral health and welfare, so a visit to the man’s office was, in Jerrell’s view, unavoidable. Anyway, the student drivers never minded a mid-session break, he reasoned. The kids could grab a soda at the Lucky Drug while Jerrell took care of business. A quickening of his mother’s parchment eyelids startled Jerrell mid-icing. He pulled his hand from her mouth. “I feel like a zombie.” Ethel blinked at him as if he was a puff of air, the looking-through he’d always hated. “What, Mom?” Jerrell had heard her perfectly. But Ethel’s spiritual and moral outlook did not include the possibility of the undead, so her statement was odd. “I feel like a zombie.”
Well, that could mean anything. She could barely move her legs. She complained constantly about her sizzling nerves, live wires under her skin that ignited sensation but not movement. Or morphine could be the zombie. This decline involved liberal, even dangerous, levels of morphine. The Assisted Living Staff had cautioned against accidental overdose, but the caution had been given with that clinical boredom he resented, as if to say don’t be too careful, might be doing her a favor. Any accident was all up to Jerrell, was what they seemed to be saying. “Come again, Mom?” Jerrell pulled the chair closer, looked deep into those periwinkle eyes. Hammered metal was her usual expression, but she was soft today, fuzzy, addled. A film on her gaze, her limbs dopey and slow. Good things come in threes, had been his thinking there. So did death. Not that Jerrell was superstitious. But she’d barely spoken in a week, so if she said one thing three times, well, that could be a sign. But she wouldn’t say it the third time, only looked at him placidly. Like she used to watch his silent weeping, satisfied he was keeping quiet after she decked him for his smart mouth.Mama’s little man. Back then messing him up had been her only joy. Maybe she was just screwing with him now for old time’s sake. Jerrell stood up. One of Ethel’s Hull Collectible treasures, the Sad Eyes puppy, mooned over the wadded Kleenex and pill boxes scattered on her bedside table. The baseboards hummed. Geriatric humidity wafted from the slats, reeking of rose water and rubbing alcohol. Jerrell took up a tissue. Wiped a rivulet of cloudy water from her chin. “Want a popsicle, Mom?” “Butterscotch, son.” A command. A plea. Hard to say anymore what she was really trying to tell him. The blue bird clock on the kitchenette wall chimed the hour. Another of those damn Hull Collectibles she’d worried would never make it to Assisted Living in one piece. Ethel especially treasured her Swan Planters, a horrifying duo trumpeting from the sofa table, enormous brown bills held high like military buglers, open backs filled with sparse sprigs of dried flowers where the internal organs would be. Jerrell had carried in each bird under Ethel’s anxious watch from her old green recliner he’d placed by the apartment’s only window. He’d positioned each swan so the light wouldn’t catch the jagged fracture line where the bills were glued to the downy white jaws. His mother did not like to be reminded of Jerrell’s hoodlum stunt. Cared more for the collectible’s welfare than his. He’d never liked that schmaltzy crap, anyway. Used to scare him as a kid. Who was frightened of puppies and swans and tiny birds daisy-chained around a clock face? But the exaggerated features had upset him when he was, himself, tiny. He still cringed at the puppy’s droopy eyes, those trumpeting swan bills like trippy clown feet. Jerrell crossed to the refrigerator. The clock finished chiming. School was letting out. Tammy and Mr. Salisbury would be arriving at the Gold Star Training Center for their second cruise. He dug more ice from the plastic bin in the freezer. Slivered some chunks with a steak knife. Wished he could afford to install an icemaker that would crush the cubes for him. He filled the cup, unwrapped a Werther’s. Hard candy wasn’t allowed on the Brace Watcher’s Diet, but seeing as those damn things were coming out if Jerrell had his way, what was the harm in a little sweet? A high sound drifted from the bed. Jerrell turned to see Ethel’s arm arcing in a ballerina’s flourish. Her back arched off the mattress. Her loose breasts rolled under her lacy housecoat. Blood soared down her chin, freckled her housecoat’s scallop neckline. The broken wire must have cut her when she cried out.
Quickly, Jerrell buzzed the red button by the wall phone. The response was prompt. With that practiced, bored efficiency, the young Assisted Living Staffer took in the arcing arm, the stiffened limbs and arching back, the high pitched lonesome wail. “She’s keening.” Jerrell moistened a cloth to clean up the blood. “Come again?” “Keening.” The young woman moved to the bedside. A real Morticia, with the pale skin and perfect ebony widow’s peak. A lovely cloak on a ghoulish heart. She pressed the morphine drip pump’s button. A hiss, and Ethel’s arm floated to her hip. Her legs shuddered, her back relaxed. The lonesome wail dropped to a low whistle, faded into the rosewater air. “It’s a stage of this decline.” Jerrell squeezed the cloth to Ethel’s chin. Rage bathed him, the source of which he didn’t care to investigate. Might be the blood foaming around the brackets, a sign of his failure to fix and please her. Might be the way this Assisted Living Staffer, not much older than his teen drivers, viewed his mother’s terrifying ballet as routine. Might be Ethel, acting out just to scare him. He wanted to pinch her wrinkled chin, get her to cut that shit out. Show her a thing or two now that she was down for the count. Didn’t it stand to reason that after all those years of being slapped around he’d want to give her some of it back? What was his duty towards Ethel anyway, considering the mess she’d made of her duty towards him? The Assisted Living Staffer moved to the bedside table. Her soft shoes hummed on the floorboards. She checked the pill box contents. Must have approved of Jerrell’s organization because back the box went between the Sad Eyes puppy paws. Well, no future in thinking about who owed whom, anyway. There his mother lay, and over her suffering body he would stand under Assisted Living’s watchful eye. As Lydia would say, quit your brooding and do what you have to do. Which ended up being exactly what Lydia did. She was always complaining about his complicated feelings for his mother, but a woman didn’t leave a man just for being a dutiful son. “I have to go to work,” he told the Assisted Living Staffer. “Can she be left like this?” “The final stages could go on for hours. Or days.” Jerrell noted stages, plural. So there would be this stage, and then that stage. Assisted Living was likely to withhold from him the secrets and torments of the future, and anyway it didn’t occur to him to ask what came next. “We’ll notify you of any change in your mother’s condition.” The young woman gave him what he supposed was meant to be a reassuring glance but appeared sly, a prompting, a knowing exchange. What was he supposed to know? His father had dropped dead of a stroke. Only one stage to that passing. The Assisted Living Staffer checked the pump and left. As soon as the apartment door clicked shut, Ethel’s eyes fluttered open. A flush rose to her cheeks, as if the blood the braces had drawn was rising to her skin. She flashed the hideous smile. The brackets glittered, the blood washed away, swallowed, or healed. Her hand flew to cover her mouth and her ugly puckered chin. Both Jerrell and Ethel smothered mirth with their open palms. Crowding was their shared trait. Their narrow jaws stabled horsey teeth. Their canines jutted like rock outcroppings over the lower teeth twisting half-cocked. For all of six months in high school, Jerrell’s braces had fixed the problem. He endured two years of painful adjustments. The old-style wrap-around bands pushed deep into his gums, ended up causing permanent
recession. But after the suffering, he’d flashed a perfect grin. He’d broken the habit of slapping his hand to his mouth when he smiled. He laughed more often. He’d worn his retainer as directed. But in the end the teeth buckled back to their natural state of crowding. The rage stirred again. Dr. Frank and his chintzy work. “Don’t worry about those braces anymore, Mom. They’re coming out, I promise. Here’s your Werther’s. Open wide.” The mouth yawned open hungrily. White scales blanketed the tongue like unraveled lace. He tucked in the candy. Left his hand there a moment, tunnelled back a bit to feel the warm soft pressure. Her eyes widened, flashed their flinty metal. Her jaw stiffened, snapped shut. Her teeth sank hard into the back of his hand. Jesus! He grabbed her jaw sockets with his free hand, pinched hard, hard! Rammed his hurt hand down her throat, down, down, thrusting with all his might to the place where he began. She gagged and let go. Jerrell yanked out his hand. Goddamn punctured. Blood bubbled from the wounds. Her teeth and brackets imprinted his skin in a craggy oval. He wrapped the wet towel around it and stared at her. Was she out of her mind? Or was hurting him, even now, her natural reflex? Was that a bruise rising along her jaw line, seeping through her wrinkles’ waterfall? She stared at him, clear-eyed. He followed a movement of her throat. The butterscotch candy eased down the stubborn gullet. His hand moved to the morphine pump, her gaze attached. He punched the button. His arm tingled with the machine’s hiss. How much juice would it take to get her to quit staring at him? To assist her to sleep? To ease his pain? “Do you feel like a zombie now, Mom?” Come again. He willed her to speak. Third time’s the charm. Her arm sailed. The keening rose from a low place in her throat. Jerrell pulled his finger from the button. When the machine fell silent, she looked right through him again, unruffled. No matter how strongly he came at her, she would always come right back at him stronger. He hated her with a searing hot flame. He loved her with all his heart. No decline would ever be thedecline. Jerrell had stepped away from the bed, pulled on his Gold Star jacket. He’d stop for Vernors on the training run with Tammy and Mr. Salisbury. He’d return to quench Ethel’s tormented thirst, pour that butterscotch right down the goddamn hatch. *
“It’s Dad’s job to find fault because there has to be someone to sue. Although you can’t really sue Kleenex for a freak incident, Dad says.” Mr. Salisbury’s face was level with the front headrests, his pale skin backlit with excitement over his old man’s outlook on the freakish. Tammy nibbled another nail. “Both hands on the wheel, Tammy. Proceed through the intersection.” Jerrell glanced at Mr. Salisbury with an uptick in the strict act. “Let’s sit back in our seat, Ace. Your job right now is to observe.”
Mr. Salisbury sat back dutifully. The next four way stop, the last one before they arrived back in town, was a mile down the road. Traffic picked up, glided past at a fast clip. A Chevy Suburban passed Tammy with a roar. She jumped. “Never mind that, Tammy.” Jerrell resisted the urge to pat her knee. “You’re doing fine.” The glove box rattled on a gravelly stretch of pavement. Tammy fiddled nervously with the rear view mirror. “What is that noise, Mr. Jerrell? Is something wrong with the car?” “Do you see a warning indicator lit up?” Tammy’s lovely green eyes flickered down to peer between her hands. “No.” “Then there’s nothing to worry about. The cause of a dash rattle is notoriously tough to pin down. Could be a screw, or something with the wire harness. But it’s not serious. Not if there’s no warning light.” Tammy looked at him with the feminine doubt hardwired to assume that any niggling noise meant that something critical to the vehicle’s operation was about to blow the car up. His reassurance speech had never worked on Lydia, either. She was always complaining that Jerrell never kept the Bronco tuned up, but a woman didn’t leave a man just over minor lapses in auto maintenance. Jerrell wadded up the bloody tissue and stuffed it in the glove box. Checked quickly for the rattle’s source but found only the expected soft detritus. Vehicle manual and registration in the cheap vinyl pouch, some ketchup packets from the Burger King. The box of Band-aids he’d left open had toppled over. His silver flask was stashed in the back, real silver, too, but filled with whiskey there no way it was making that much noise. The car definitely needed a tune-up. Just in case, Jerrell stuffed the bloody towel he’d thrown on the floor mat around the flask. “Knocks and pings are just routine engine sounds. Get ‘em checked at the earliest convenient opportunity, is all there is to that. Turn right at the cemetery up there.” Tammy pulled the turn indicator. “You ever hold your breath, Mr. Jerrell?” “Come again?” “When passing a cemetery.” “I used to do that.” Mr. Salisbury fidgeted with his lap belt. “I still do.” Tammy caught her breath the moment the Gold Star fender drew parallel to the town cemetery’s iron fence. Her slender fingers gripped the steering wheel. Her knuckles, smooth, fleshy half moons, flashed white. “Let’s breathe through the intersection, Tammy,” Jerrell suggested. But Tammy held her breath through a roll past the stop sign. Her cheeks pinked. Her lips tensed in a pout. Her thighs flexed under her tight jeans. Jerrell fastened a stare on the windshield. No future in noting stimulating changes in a little girl’s physique. He covered the instructor brake, checked for any cars barreling through the intersection, blessedly none. “That’s called a rolling stop, Miss.” Tammy breathed, a moist whoosh that blended with the air vents’ hum. “Sorry, Mr. Jerrell.” The glove box rattled over the uneven pavement in front of the Brilliant Ford dealership. Tammy whiteknuckled the center line to avoid the broken asphalt. “You can’t observe traffic safely if you don’t bring the vehicle to a full stop.” “Especially if you don’t breathe. Stupid little kid trick,” Mr. Salisbury muttered. Tammy shot him a furious look in the mirror. “It’s not. The souls of the dead can ride right inside you on your air.”
“So, I breathed. Why don’t I have dead people in me right now?” “Who says you don’t? Didn’t kids ever hold their breath in your day, Mr. Jerrell?” Somewhere along the way Jerrell’s youth had become your day to the young people. “Proceed for a half mile. No, I never did hold my breath,” he added when Tammy glanced at him, a brief, sidelong disappointment. He’d always felt something was dead inside of him, anyway. And the town cemetery, beautifully manicured, populated by regular funerals and cheery blossom sprays left by the adoring living, was a damn safe sight, in his opinion. He’d welcome in any dead so well loved. “Aren’t you religious?” Mr. Salisbury piped up. Tammy chose to ignore Mr. Salisbury by keeping her gaze firmly on the gentle curve into downtown. Good call. “Start slowing down past First Lutheran,” Jerrell instructed when the familiar gold-tipped spire glided into view. “The posted limit there is twenty-five. Take a left at the four corners.” “Your mom taught Sunday School, right?” Mr. Salisbury had decided on a persistence he never brought to bear on mastering his driving skills. “So what?” Tammy flicked him a brief, dismissive glance in the mirror. Braked mildly at the four corners’ stoplight. Lucky Drugs and the tavern stood opposite one another on Michigan Avenue. The home decor shop where Ethel used to buy her Hull Collectibles was long gone. So was the Kresge. A bank and an optometrist occupied those storefronts now. Tammy eased into the left turn lane next to a silver Volvo. The driver, a real Ozzie Nelson type, glanced doubtfully at the lurid Gold Star decals. The company mascot, a cartoon car with rubber balloons for wheels and a blubbery grin, filled the passenger door. Garish yellow stars splashed the side panel. A real carnival to announce the student drivers. “Left blinker, don’t forget,” Jerrell reminded Tammy. She dutifully pulled the turn indicator. “So, you believe that souls rise to Heaven. So, in that case, there wouldn’t be any souls of the dead left on Earth to get inside you. So, why hold your breath?” “Not everyone gets to Heaven, Ace.” Jerrell couldn’t help defending Tammy’s superstition, harmless and cute. Just the type of girlish habit that would make her a kind, spirited woman to love. “So we’re talking zombie-souls here.” Jerrell’s hand throbbed. Across the intersection two men dressed in Con Ed blue overalls walked across the UAW lot on their way to Jackie’s Tavern. With the workday shift finished, the drinking shift could begin. Jerrell used to be one of the Jackie’s late afternoon regulars, but the driver’s training afterschool schedule prevented him from joining in now. “There’s no such thing as zombies.” The light clicked green. Although the oncoming traffic cleared quickly, Tammy’s sneaker didn’t move from the brake. “That’s dumb kid stuff.” “Proceed cautiously through the intersection,” Jerrell reminded her. With a swift, careful sweep of her slim neck, Tammy took the turn down Michigan Avenue. “So all I’m saying is, if you believe in heaven and you don’t believe in zombies, why hold your breath?” Mr. Salisbury persisted. “How do you know my mom taught Sunday School? You don’t go to my church.” Mr. Salisbury clicked his tongue. “I just know.” “How do you know?” Tammy stared at Mr. Salisbury in the rear view mirror. “Eyes on the road, young lady. I’m gonna have you parallel park up there at the meter outside Dr. Frank’s office.” Jerrell turned as if to check the traffic and instead fixed a warning glare on Mr.
Salisbury to lay off. Unlike the tough guys he used to deal with on site, young Ace shrank into his seat. His turn next, was what he understood from Jerrell’s glare. Tammy slowed to a creep. Glanced doubtfully at the tight space between a tan Ford Expedition and a burgundy Dodge Ram. “Think there’s room?” The Gold Star sedan could fit into any dinky crawlspace. Jerrell ought to know. “Plenty, Tammy.” Tammy relaxed a bit. Fatherly reassurance offered at just the right moment was the best part of the job. Tammy positioned the vehicle just as she’d been taught. Rear fender aligned with the rear of the Expedition. She craned her neck backwards, rotated the wheel, released the brake. Jerrell glanced back to check her aim. Saw Mr. Salisbury guiding her with a low flutter of his hand. Keep coming, keep coming. An unexpected kindness from young Ace. Jerrell tamped down a flicker of annoyance. After the endless amateur jerking back and forth, Mr. Salisbury guiding every adjustment to her alignment, Tammy pulled the gearshift to park and beamed at Jerrell. She glowed with relief at the successful completion of what the student driver thought would be the hardest test. But Jerrell was saving the real tough stuff for kind guide Ace back there, the maneuver that had quickly made Jerrell a legend. The dodgy turn, the one his former students always talked about, past Beech to Fuller where the road t’ed into State at the old train bridge. There the old bridge column completely obstructed the left sightline. The student driver had to nose out practically to the middle of State to see. Even for an experienced driver, the turn was a wing and a prayer. The kids always accused Jerrell of trying to trick them by taking them to the one impossible turn in the worst part of town, where no one ever goes anymore, anyway. Well, it was his job to teach them the tough stuff, wasn’t it. “Well done, Tammy.” Jerrell scratched some notes. Mr. Salisbury flashed a thumbs-up. “Tell you what, kids. Gotta run a quick errand here at Dr. Frank’s.” “He was my ortho.” Tammy’s sculpted jaw and perfect grin was a damn testament to that. “Mine, too,” chorused from the back seat. “Stretch your legs, why don’t you, and switch drivers.” Jerrell glanced into the backseat. “Ready for your spin, Ace?” Salisbury nodded, all contrite. Actually followed the affirmative with sir. We’ll see about that, was Jerrell’s reaction. Golf clubs and Kleenex would be the least of Mr. Salisbury’s concerns this afternoon. Jerrell heaved stiffly out of the vehicle. Didn’t mean to slam the passenger door so hard. The chintzy Gold Star corporate stars wobbled under the impact. The mascot flashed a perfect picket line of white teeth. The sedan looked real rinky-dink between the Detroit steel boxing it in. Inside the car, Tammy had swiveled to face Mr. Salisbury. Her slim leg was slung over the armrest, swinging girlishly. She twined her golden hair between two slender fingers. Jerrell felt a sudden stab of longing. Not for the girl, no future in that thinking. He loathed admitting he missed Lydia but she’d taken his soul when she’d left, no denying it. She could blame the recession all she wanted, but a woman didn’t abandon a man just over money. Always more to it than a man’s fortune. Tammy nibbled the frizzy ends of her golden hair. Rinky-dink Gold Star clown car. Rinky-dink recession job. Jerrell would have to find his way to change, and soon.
The Lamentation of a Mother Indunil Madhusankha “Amma, when I come the next time, prepare me some Welithalapa.” Saying thus you left for work, but all of a sudden like one of your most remarkable surprises you came home deposited in a reddish wooden box, meritoriously adorned with white coloured flowers. I fanned your face with a handkerchief just to chase the flies away, and caressed your forehead gently putting some tufts of hair to the top of the head. You were our only son, the greatest treasure of ours as you were so catching and handsome a young man, and an influential commander in the Army. We had dreamt of a grand wedding ceremony for you of sublime calibre accompanied by music; yet I heard the smoothing rhythm of neither the violin nor the piano, only the deafening cacophony of brownish iron horses that they called a respectable gun salute, and the lachrymose craws of the participants I can remember, unlike the others I didn't weep or whimper except at the moment the telephone glided from my hand hearing the very news! I curse it, the horrible death messenger Huge banners of milky white colour fluttered in the air On them in plain black letters inscribed the cliché, “Anichchāwatha Sankhāra.”
Your coffin submerged slowly in to the grave I exclaimed clamouring and wriggling to loosen the clasp that mitigated against my movement, you could not be in that gloomy pit all alone Yet the gathering was deaf They say that now I am going mentally out I am neither crazy nor violent But definitely, so should be those war-mongers Oh, forgive me, my putha, my golden gem, for not having made Welithalapa for you.
Glossary: “Amma” – Mother “Anichchāwatha Sankhāra” – Part of a Pali verse with the meaning, “everything is subject to decay having been created from perishable bases.” “Putha” – Son “Welithalapa” – A Sri Lankan sweetmeat made of rice, sugar, and coconut.
Self-control W. F. Lantry Along this rockface every cautious tread must be planned out, each handhold carefully considered as we move from stone to stone. Looking ahead, behind, examining possible paths, each climber moves alone, brushing away fragments, the rough debris of earthquakes, and the flaking granite crust, even when dazzled by the lambent dust. Sometimes a vein of outworn quartz appears, provides a ridge to let the climber stand or walk slantwise along the glistening rock scarp, well balanced by a single hand pressed against stone, until the passage clears. But mostly I must find a cleft and lean away from the cliff face, moving between solidity of stone and open airâ€” the line dividing them hard to define exactly when the torn sky's darkening as hollow forms fracture and recombine, until those clouds, breaking, restore the glare and we refind our passage overhead.
Widdershins W. F. Lantry Dance clockwise, always, we were told, or dare the consequence: to flow against the sun encourages the wrath of unseen sprites who hold, firmly, to nature’s devout course. And yet, something in each of us delights in unwefting a thread the spindle’s spun, unwarping every cloth we’ve ever known: the ripened wheatstalk and the tournesol grown to follow, clockwise, an unbending arcwhy should we imitate them? Why should we be shadows of an overwhelming force? Is there, in counter-currents, ecstasy? Can we, writing, obscure the watermark, in singing, overcome the rhythm’s pace, dancing, discover unfamiliar grace by moving, counterstep, against the flow, until our motions reinvent the stream winding in freedom from its mountain source along an open plain, whose borders seem boundless, while in the evening’s afterglow we turn, in countercircles, unaware?
Heading to Hot Springs Jim Zinaman The good citizens of Florida in their Toyotas, Hondas, and Subarus sped past him up the entrance ramp to I-75. Will León, now without a car, was a bum at the side of the road. Turning onto the bottom of the ramp was something he had seen as one of those metal dinosaur carcasses rusting in the woods further down the railroad tracks outside his hometown of Donne, NY, or as an Internet photo from some proud owner living in a low-humidity paradise like Colorado: a 1955 Chevy Bel Air. A gleaming chrome strip on the rear quarter panel separated the white upper half originating at the trunk from the salmon-pink running the length of the car and washing over the hood. As its engine purred with a gentle chug, it slowed to a stop beside him. Behind the wheel sat some old geezer, his face bristling with gray stubble beneath a red beak of a nose. “Where you headed?” the old man asked. “Hot Springs, Arkansas,” Will replied. “Practically on my way.” “What do you mean, ‘practically’?” “I’m headed for Kansas City. I can drop you off in Little Rock.” “How far is that from Hot Springs?” “Less than an hour.” He lifted a six-pack of brown beer bottles off the passenger seat and set them on the floor. He lifted an open one from the pack. “I could use a second driver.” A drinking driver was not exactly what Will had in mind for a long journey, but what the hell. He’d take over driving when necessary and let the guy sleep it off. “Sure,” he said. Will hoisted his backpack onto the back seat, stepped in to sit and ride shot-gun, and off they went, sipping beers and watching miles and miles of pines slip by. “So what’s in KC?” Will asked. The man smiled and sang the chorus to that rock ‘n roll tune topping the pop charts around the time their chrome-adorned chariot was manufactured: Well I’m goin’ to Kansas City, Kansas City, here I come They got some crazy little women there And I’m gonna get me one. Charlie—that was his name—turned out to be quite a singer. He had sung and played guitar in several rock bands back in the Fifties and Sixties until he met Lorraine. For Lorraine he was willing to work a steady job, raise kids, and, as far as making music when there was time between coaching the teams of his boys year-round in Midget League football and Little League baseball, play a Saturday night gig here and there with some of his friends, but mostly just sing along with tunes he liked on the country stations. His children now living with families of their own—it was his daughter and grandkids he would be visiting in Missouri, his wife recently dead from “the cancer” after thirty years of smoking the free cigarettes available at her employer, a tobacco company, the songs were the only companions
Charlie still possessed from that seemingly endless, but eventually quick passage of life known as raising a family. He sang them hour after hour, draining beer bottle after beer bottle, keeping his eyes trained on the road as he slid the first into its slot of the six-pack carton by Will’s feet and later dropped others on the floor behind his seat. And he could impersonate each vibrant voice in its throes of ecstasy or pain: Bill Haley and the Comets in “Rock Around the Clock”; “Elvis Presley in “Blue Suede Shoes”; Buddy Holly in “That’ll Be The Day”; Roy Orbison in “Only the Lonely”; Johnny Cash in “Folsom Prison Blues.” And when they rode by Macon, Georgia, Charlie launched into a medley of voices which had repeatedly rained upon this hallowed soil for any lover of rock and roll. Little Richard with “Good Golly Miss Molly.” James Brown with “I Feel Good.” Otis Redding with “Dock of the Bay.” The Allman Brothers with “Lord I Feel Like I’m Dying.” As they approached Atlanta, Charlie said he needed a break. “You can take us to Memphis, and I’ll take a little snooze,” he announced. He stopped the car on the highway shoulder; they switched places; and Will drove on as Charlie sat back in the passenger seat with eyes closed and arms folded across his chest. The old man’s breathing sounded as if it were settling into the prolonged inhalations and exhalations of slumber, but listening more closely, Will heard that his companion was humming another tune, or a blend of tunes that reminded Will of the early ones by the Beatles and the Stones that his father used to play on vinyl records pulled from faded photo-print cardboard sleeves. Suddenly near Birmingham, Alabama, Charlie’s eyes snapped open with those piercing blue pupils. “All right, son,” he stated. “Time for me to take you home.” Once again they changed places. Charlie headed out toward Arkansas and gave voice to what he had been humming. Indeed it was early Beatles and Stones in the emulation of their favorite American rockers: “Rock ’n Roll Music”; “It’s All Over Now.” Will heard Charlie’s singing as another version, another wave in that Southern tide of talking. The kind of word flow he had shared with those whom too many in New York would deem white trash in Florida, but who had given him food and shelter during his migrations this past year when he had nowhere else to turn. He had hoed crops with these people, slaughtered pigs, and prepared and shared meals with them. With them he had lived amid a thickness of human presence, as thick and filling as the deep-fried food. Everything which had once struck him as so overdone in the South—the heat, the deep-fry, the eyeliner and mascara and teased-up bleach-blond hair, the rising inflection as if every sentence ended embroidered as a question—now impressed him as what they really were. A spicing up, an emphasis, and more than that, a request for reaffirmation. Like the verbena, jessamine, and wisteria blaring their colors and scents throughout the countryside or the kudzu vine blanketing more and more forests in an undulating crescendo of green fronds overwhelming green leaves, these people in the South were saying in voice and cosmetics, “Here I am! Amidst this land of profusion, can you see me? Can you hear me?” And the chorus of a response could be heard in every Southerner’s “Yes, sir” or “Yes, ma’am.” This presence, riding upon Southerners’ layer after layer of self-affirmations, was like a musk. Far stronger than the stench of Charlie’s sweat or the coarseness of his language when to himself he would give some inept driver in front of them a piece of his unedited mind. There was a presence enveloping them in something fathomless, something akin to sleep. Something, if only during this late afternoon, this blessed dimming of the day, in which one could feel cradled and free of having to think about the next step or anything else…
Will awoke to being shaken gently by a hand upon his shoulder. Everything was black beyond the glare descending from the interstate highway lamps. “Where are we?” he asked. “There he is,” Charlie replied. “My lids keep drooping. You can do the final few hours.” “To Hot Springs?” “Hot Springs? Fuck no. To KC.” “What about Hot Springs?” “What about—” Charlie’s lips suddenly pursed “—shit.” “Tell me we passed it.” “Okay. We passed it.” “You were supposed to drop me off!” “Looks like I didn’t, son.” “You have to take me back.” “The fuck I do. It’s almost as far back to Little Rock as it is to KC.” “But you have to.” Charlie put the beer bottle to his lips and emptied a last little stream down his gullet. “Do I?” he said. Will considered his choices. Fight this guy while he’s driving? Snatch the beer bottle out of his hand and wield it as a weapon? Yet Charlie had gotten him probably twelve hours closer to his destination than he had been this morning. Will sighed. “Where can you drop me off?” “Well there you’re in luck,” he said. “Why?” Charlie nodded at the approaching illuminated overhead green highway sign with white letters: Fayetteville 1 MILE. “We still in Arkansas?” Charlie grinned. “O-o-oh yeah. College town. Get yourself some strange there.” “Strange?” Will said. “Tail. Get you some sweet stuff and then have them drive you down to Daddy and Mommy’s in Little Rock or probably even Hot Springs. Where the rich people live.” Will considered the prospect, the suddenly available possibilities of unattached pretty young women. “I’d join you,” said Charlie, “but duty calls.” “Too bad,” said Will, actually glad that the old man would not be directing him to the fun and thereby ruin any chance of having it.
Just a few houses up the hill from the I-40 exit ramp on the outskirts of town, Will found the perfect spot in the dimness from a street lamp. The front yard was a patch of feathery-headed grasses growing chest-high. One end of the gutter hung below the edge of the roof. Catching the light was the spider web of cracks surrounding a large jagged hole in the picture window above the porch. Nailed to
the post of a white picket fence engulfed by the grasses was a hand-painted sign in red letters: For Sale By Owner. Will slipped into the house through the unlocked front door and lay upon a couch with a pillow tucked under his head. For a few moments he wondered if there were anyone still upstairs in this abandoned heap. Then amidst the faint reek of mildew he let himself sink into a sweet dark silence beneath the blanket of the warm night. He awoke to a day of brilliant sunshine. A clear blue sky peeked through the gaps in the green leafy canopy of the tree outside the picture window. Cool air streaming through the jagged hole in the glass washed over his face. He sat up and heard the din of people outside in the distance. The morning, the presence of people not too far away awakened his hunger. He could not recall when he last ate yesterday. Slinging the backpack over his shoulder, he walked out onto the porch. Up the slope of the street was a young woman in jeans and tee shirt, the curtain of bright blond hair upon her back waving at the edges as strands rose off her shoulders. She led a man and woman with gray-flecked hair wearing light jackets. A student with her visiting parents. They descended over the hill out of sight toward that sound of gathered people. He followed them. The beckoning noise grew loud enough for him to distinguish notes of laugher and the cacophony of many conversations at once. Cresting the hill he passed through the end of a residential neighborhood and entered a park with several ballfields and an expansive parking lot. A group of kids here or there were playing pick-up games of football on the fields, but a cheerful mob thronged the lot. Parked cars fringed its perimeter. Filling it were rows of booths constructed next to flatbed trucks. Families strolled up and down the aisles, the fists of little ones in tow clutching tall white cones that held clouds of pink cotton candy. Their little fingers and lips were sticky in gritty red patches where touched by that pink delight. A teenage girl squealed with gleeful terror as she raced weaving through the crowd, chased by a beaming boy who plucked a tuft from one of the cotton candy clouds without missing a step in his pursuit. Men or women handed green dollar bills to ruddy-cheeked boothkeepers for brown paper bags brimming with apples and pears, green and yellow bell peppers, carrot greens and celery. Men in denim overalls and John Deere or Arkansas Razorback hats hauled sacks of rice or oats upon their shoulders toward the lot perimeter where fashionably dressed men and women stood waiting by the raised trunk lids of their shiny Toyotas. At one edge of the lot a young man in a denim jacket and a black cap with the brim turned to the back of his head unshouldered a sack of potatoes onto the flatbed of a brown truck with a rusting fender. He flipped the gate shut with a slam and headed around toward the passenger door as the engine began to whine its way toward getting started. The man opened the passenger door as the engine continued turning over, but could not reach the roar of ignition. It stopped for a few seconds and then resumed several seconds more. Then again. And again. “Pop the hood,” the man commanded the driver with an exasperated sigh. He shoved the passenger door shut, trudged to the front of the car, and raised the hood. “I told you to let me clean the carburetor this week.” “I didn’t have time,” a female voice retorted from the front seat. “See what happens when you don’t make time?” “So what are you going to do—stand there complaining about what didn’t happen?”
“Just hold on,” he said. He ducked under the hood and about a minute later stepped back from beneath it with the air filter in his hand. “All right, try it now.” Again the engine whined without end. “Keep pumping it!” he shouted. “What the fuck do you think I’ve been doing?!” The engine whine began to waver, as if straining to continue. “All right stop! Stop!” he directed. “You’re just draining the battery.” The engine whining ceased. The man raised the black cap off his head and scratched his scalp of dirty blond hair. “Wait here,” he said. “I think Marty’s got some cleaner in his truck.” He headed away down the line of parked vehicles. “I can’t afford to miss this gig, Z,” said the female voice in the cab. “Worrying about it won’t help,” replied another female voice. “Right,” said the first voice. “In your world you just meditate it all away.” Will walked from behind the truck to the passenger window. “Could I help?” he asked. A woman with a smartly cut helmet of brunette hair turned, and her radiant blue eyes stabbed him with a glance. She lingered in that glance, her expression making it evident she liked what she saw. “If you’re a magician,” she said. “I’m a mechanic,” Will said. “You flooded the engine, that’s all. Just hold the gas pedal down for like thirty seconds and release it. Then try starting it again without hitting the pedal, giving it only a little gas if it doesn’t catch.” The brunette turned back to her companion, who sat slouched back in her seat, her face mostly out of view behind the brunette’s head. “You heard the man,” said the brunette. “Give it a shot.” The driver did not respond, and Will took a step to his right to catch her eye. The brunette sat forward to keep her face in his view. “Just give her a sec,” she said. “She and Mr. Lovebird having trouble in paradise.” “Fuck you, Zelda,” said the driver. Will stepped back. “Best of luck,” he said to the brunette. He turned and started walking away. He didn’t come all these miles to get bogged down into the quagmire of other people’s petty spats. “Please,” said Zelda. Will turned back to her. “We’ve had better days. Could you just wait to see if it works?” He liked the long sharp lips on this brunette. And the inviting expression they continued to bear. Her look said, Will León, welcome to the world of Fayetteville strange. “Sure,” he said. “Thirty seconds isn’t too much to ask.” Zelda turned back to the driver. “Just do it, Beth. You want to get out of here?” A moment later she flashed a thumbs-up sign at Will out her window. He silently counted to thirty as his eyes roved the lithely muscled extent of her bare arm dangling beside the car door. The engine began its whine. Then it chugged a bit. “Now a little gas!” Will shouted. “A little gas!” Zelda repeated.
The chugging thickened until suddenly giving way to a roar of ignition. “Just keep feeding it,” Will said, stepping slowly forward and patting the air before him like a conductor establishing the tempo to be followed. “Keep feeding it.” Soon the engine settled into a lovely loud purr. Zelda began pounding the side of the passenger door with a metallic reverberation in the kind of conga rhythm that rouses hordes at a rock concert. “Go, engine! Go, engine! Go, engine!” she chanted. Will found himself shifting his shoulders and sliding his feet forward to the beat. He was dancing, dancing as he enjoyed being able to share the fruits of his expertise with grateful company. Maybe, as always, he was just enjoying the company of an attractive woman and the intoxication of her laughter. “Yeah baby!” Zelda cried as the engine kept purring and she kept pounding the car door and watched Will in the throes of the beat continue shimmying his way across the stage of browning grass in front of the car. His upturned palms swept up to the sides until nearly meeting above his head and remained there vibrating like the frenzied discs of a shaken tambourine. “Well, lookie here, sis!” Zelda exclaimed. “Check the mechanic shakin’ his machine!” “Abra cadabra, ladies!” Will announced. “The magician at your service!” With that he suddenly stooped in uncontrolled laughter, his palms sweeping down to hit his knees with a large slap. He then straightened up, purged of the hilarity, feeling exhilarated. He stepped aside, and with a sweep of his hand, gestured for the ladies to proceed as they pleased. Beth opened the driver’s door and with finger tips upon the truck roof edge, pulled herself up from the seat to raise her face above the window frame. “Thank you,” she said. For Will, amidst all the commotion of the farmer’s market fading in the background, there was only her face, radiant as the sun. Framed by shaggy hair with red-gold wisps shimmering in the breeze. There were those delectable cheeks and a little dollop of flesh beneath the chin. And little thin lips, which suggested those of a child except for the knowing glint in her eye. He stood transfixed by the fairest of faces he had ever beheld as everything went still. The space engulfing the two of them was an axis on which everything else rotated. The stillness was not so much something fixed as something dancing in place, with everything vibrant where it was meant to be. A tree bough tossing in the wind. A heart throbbing. The stilled center of the turning world. Will’s hand fell to his side. “You’re welcome,” he managed to say in a hoarse whisper. Beth too lingered in the gaze they shared. Then pursing her lips, she gave a little nod and lowered herself back into the cab. Will’s heart now sank in knowing that yet another newfound companion would soon depart. Yet there was no clank of the truck being shifted into gear. The engine purred. Beth raised herself again above the window frame. “My little sister wants to invite you over for supper at our apartment. Her apartment, actually. In return for doing us this favor.” Through the windshield Will glanced at Zelda, who looked down, suddenly now the shy one. Will gave Beth a sly grin. “And you?” “Well, you did help me out, big-time.” Will nodded. “What time you want me over to help cook?” “Whoa. He fixes cars and cooks,” she said. “How about 6?”
“6 it is.” “You know the corner of Sunset and Cleveland?” “Can’t say I know anything about this place. Just got here.” “Where’s your car? You can follow us. We’re just a few miles from here.” “Can’t say I have a car either.” Beth looked at him. “Long story,” Will said. “I’ll tell you over dinner.” Beth now eyed him as if assessing what she was getting herself into. “And no place in particular you have to be?” “Nope. Not at the moment. Have to meet someone out in Hot Springs, but in no particular rush.” She studied Will a few more moments and glanced at her sister, who nodded. Beth nodded back toward the flat bed. “Hop in. You can hang with Zelda at her place ‘til I get back.” Will moved to the rear tire and placing a foot atop it, swung himself up over the side to land on a canvas that covered a pile of hay spanning the front half of the flat bed. Beth slid open the rear view window panel. “You good?” she said as they began moving forward off the paved lot onto the grass. Will unshouldered his backpack by the window and lay down on his stomach with his arms folded atop the pack. Lying on the canvas was like nestling upon a firm soft bed. “Real good,” he replied. They turned onto the paved road that led to the parking lot. Will looked through the windshield. “What about your friend?” he said. “Who?” Beth replied, her eyebrows knitted in the rearview mirror. Will pointed ahead, and her eyes in the mirror shifted to follow his direction. Approaching them along the side of the road was Mr. Carburetor Cleaner himself with an aerosol can in hand. He stopped and stared when he recognized the truck that was about to pass him. His jaw dropped when he saw Will on the flat bed. “You guys are cold,” Will shouted against the wind whipping over the cab as he observed the receding diminished figure still gaping behind them. They sped down the road toward a wide gap in the fieldstone wall rimming the park. “Nah,” Beth shouted back over her shoulder. “I’ve just had it with guys who are cavemen. He thinks I’m his girl.” “Small wonder, cave girl” Zelda remarked. “You’ve been sleeping at his place most of the time for nearly a year.” “Zelda!” Beth exclaimed. Will saw her cheek blush in the mirror. “Well it’s true,” Zelda stated. “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean he can treat me like property.” Will plucked up a long straw of hay and stuck it between his teeth. “You guys have horses or something?” “Horse singular,” Beth said. “Zelda’s. A real black beauty.”
“An old boyfriend gave him to me,” Zelda said. “He thought the gift would make me change my mind about breaking up.” She grinned. “He thought wrong. No one can lay claim to the Lecoeur sisters.” The young women laughed. “So what’s this gig you have to get to?” Will asked. “A photo shoot,” Beth said. “Really. I’ve always admired photographers. I couldn’t hold a camera completely still if my life depended on it.” “Don’t get too impressed,” Zelda said. “She’s taking pictures of a store for an advertisement.” “Zelda,” Beth stated, “is the real artist in the family. With a capital A. A dancer. A dance professor at the university, really. She doesn’t appreciate that there’s an art to every job done well.” “Of course I do,” Zelda countered. She let her head roll back against the headrest and gazed out the passenger window at the passing apple orchard. “I just don’t make more of a thing than is there. A store is a store. You’re just helping them sell their goods.” Not another word was spoken for nearly a minute. In the mirror there was a stony glint in Beth’s eye. Her jaw was clenched. “I’d like to see you do your work,” Will said. “You would?” Beth said. In the mirror, the corner of Beth’s mouth turned up in a faint smile. “Sure. I could help you move stuff if you needed.” “Thanks. I appreciate it. But I’m telling you it could get boring. We’ll be alone in an empty clothing store for maybe two hours. You’ll be sitting around most of the time just watching me do my thing.” “Beth,” Will said. “It’s not like I’m so busy, right?” The curl at the corner of her mouth blossomed across the lips into a full smile. Zelda eyed her sister, then glanced at Will. Her eyes slid back to her sister.
Bookstore by the Tea Shop Jon Wesick R.I.P. Del Mar Book Works Craving cozy bookracks stocked with Russell Banks, Milan Kundera, and Hiroki Murakami I climb stairs, round a corner, and find it empty. Lawn sculptures, potted plants, cookbooks on tables, and the familiar creak of wooden floorboards gone. The iron laws of economics— no more browsing before movies, Henning Mankel, and Best American Short Stories. No more cards with wineglass and dark triangle of Merlot between a woman’s thighs. The stone Buddha once by the cash register whispers from the past, “Care for the present moment. Cherish the miracles still here.”
The Synesthete Cynthia A. DiTaranto He was born a synesthete, But outgrew it in infancy. He needed a resurrection. If he could hear colors, Smell, taste and touch sounds… His music would rival the greats. Eyes closed; senses alert. His earbuds piped in Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Vibrations sent to Ernest’s brain. She wore blue-grey chiffon that tasted like whipped cream. Her perfume felt like a newborn’s skin. Their bittersweet chocolate kiss aroused his senses. Euphony. He found his music synesthesia muse.
Contributor Biographies Haven Blue is an artist exploring the world. She grew up collecting and arranging objects to discover new perspectives and different ways of experiencing. Her childhood was full of varied interests that lead her into many creative activities, but the seclusion of the California countryside allowed her to focus on visual expression through painting and sculpture. She has illustrated for children's books and curriculums and her work has appeared in exhibitions at the Boehm Gallery in San Marcos, CA and the Baron Gallery in Ocean Beach, CA.
Tom Darin Liskey spent nearly a decade working as a journalist in Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in the Crime Factory, Driftwood Press, Mount Island, The Burnside Writers Collective, Sassafras Literary Magazine, and Biostories, among others. His photographs have been published in Hobo Camp Review, Roadside Fiction, Blue Hour Magazine, Synesthesia Literary Journal, and Midwestern Gothic. He lives in Texas where he tells his children that he has done worse things for less money.
Lloyd Milburn has taught composition and creative writing for over fifteen years in the Rochester, New York area. He earned an MA in English/creative writing with poet William Heyenâ€™s advisement. In addition to having work published in Permafrost, Willow Review, Ithaca Lit, The Sandy River Review, and Talking River Review, he is currently nearing the completion of his first two books of poetry. His lifelong love for music and a personal interest in synesthesia inform his writing, and he has lectured on the subject at RIT where he designed and taught the course "Synesthesia and Music."
Darren C. Demareeâ€™s poems have appeared, or are scheduled to appear in numerous magazines/journals, including the South Dakota Review, Meridian, The Louisville Review, Diagram, and the Colorado Review. He is the author of As We Refer To Our Bodies (2013, 8th House), Temporary Champions (2014, Main Street Rag), The Pony Governor (2015, After the Pause Press), and Not For Art Nor Prayer (2015, 8th House). He is also the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology. He currently lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.
Donna Walker-Nixon was a full professor at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, where she received the distinction of receiving the Mary Stevens Piper award for excellence in teaching. She currently serves as an adjunct lecturer at Baylor. She lists her five primary professional achievements as 1) founding Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature in 1997, 2) co-editing the Her Texas series with her friend and mentor James Ward Lee, 3) cofounding The Langdon Review of the Arts in Texas, 4) publishing her novel Canaan's Oothoon, and 5) serving as lead editor Her Texas, which has jettisoned Donna's faith that the voices of women writers and artists truly mean something to both men and women.
Cristina DeSouza is a physician and poet living in Phoenix, Arizona. She is entering my fourth semester of Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry. She writes both in English and Portuguese and often composes her poems in both languages. As a physician, she is an internist, and as a poet, she prefers free verse and imagistic poetry.
Holly Day has taught writing classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minnesota, since 2000. Her published books include Music Theory for Dummies, Music Composition for Dummies, Guitar All-in-One for Dummies, Piano All-in-One for Dummies, Walking Twin Cities, Insiderâ€™s Guide to the Twin Cities, Nordeast Minneapolis: A History, and The Book Of, while her poetry has recently appeared in New Ohio Review, SLAB, and Gargoyle. Her newest poetry book, Ugly Girl, just came out from Shoe Music Press.
John LaMar Elison is a second-born librarian currently working in Marin City while crossing the bridge every morning from Oakland. He writes and fights and bathes by candlelight. His poetry may be reminiscent of letters from prison, but John has never served time.
Carlos A. DeJuana is a husband, father, native Texan, and long-time resident of Washington, DC, where he works for the State Department. He had a prior career as a foreign correspondent for Reuters, with stints in Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo. He has written poetry on and off since high school, and had some of his work previously published in the Rice University student literary magazine University Blue and in riverSedge, a literary journal published by University of Texas-Pan American.
Glen Armstrong holds an MFA in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and teaches writing at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. He edits a poetry journal called Cruel Garters and has three recent chapbooks: Set List (Bitchin Kitsch,) In Stone and The Most Awkward Silence of All (both Cruel Garters Press). His work has appeared in Poetry Northwest, Conduit, and Cloudbank.
Laura Hulthen Thomas heads the undergraduate creative writing program at the University of Michiganâ€™s Residential College. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including The Cimarron Review, Epiphany, Nimrod International Journal,Witness, and Novella-T. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and received an honorable mention in the Nimrod Literary Awards. She is a contributor to Ghost Writers: Us Haunting Them, an award-winning collection of stories by noted Michigan authors. Her short fiction collection, States of Motion, is forthcoming from Wayne State University Press in Spring 2017.
Indunil Madhusankha (B. H. I. Madhusankha) is currently an undergraduate in the Faculty of Science at the University of Colombo. Even though he is academically involved with the subjects of Mathematics and Statistics, he also pursues a successful career in the field of English language and literature as a budding young researcher, reviewer, poet and content writer. He explores the miscellaneous complications of human existence through his poetry by focusing on the burning issues in the contemporary society. Moreover, Indunilâ€™s works have been featured in several international anthologies, magazines, and journals.
W. F. Lantryâ€™s poetry collections are The Terraced Mountain (Little Red Tree 2015), The Structure of Desire (Little Red Tree 2012), winner of a 2013 Nautilus Award in Poetry, and The Language of Birds (Finishing Line 2011). He received his PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Houston. Honors include the National Hackney Literary Award in Poetry, Patricia Goedicke Prize, Crucible Editors' Prize, Lindberg Foundation International Poetry for Peace Prize (Israel), the Potomac Review and Old Red Kimono Prizes. His work appears widely online and in print. He currently works in Washington, DC and is an associate fiction editor at JMWW.
Jim Zinaman is a recruiter for finance, accounting, and IT professionals. Previously he was a non-profit development director after twenty years at Goldman Sachs as a hedge fund relationship manager, securities lending trader, and computer programmer. After graduating Yale, he hitchhiked around the United States, working as a carpenter and a restaurant cook and waiter, and joined and later helped deprogram members from a cult. Jim is married with three grown children and lives north of New York City. He has published three short stories to date.
Host of the Gelato Poetry Series, author of the poetry collection Words of Power Dances of Freedom, and an editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual, Jon Wesick has published over three hundred poems in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Pearl, and Slipstream. He has also published nearly one hundred short stories. One was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. One of his poems won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists contest. Another had a link on the Car Talk website. Jon has a Ph.D. in physics and is a longtime student of Buddhism and the martial arts.
Cynthia A. DiTaranto has selfpublished two color illustrated children’s books. She has been published in Narrative Northeast Literary and Arts Review, Goldfinch Literary Review and various goat journals. She is a member of NJ’s Women Who Write and a former volunteer at her local battered women’s shelter.
Notes & Acknowledgements — Front and back cover art, “The Colour White” and “Thread, Strings, Tone” respectively, by Haven Blue. — Photographs on pages 6, 9, 16, 20, 23, 26, 29, 40, 43, 46, and 55 by Tom Darin Liskey. These photographs compose a photographic essay on Quito, Ecuador, the nation’s capital city. — John LaMar Elison’s poem “Capturing a Comet” on page 22 was originally printed in Mt. San Jacinto College’s Flight 2009. — An excerpt of Laura Hulthen Thomas’s story “Adult Crowding” appears between pages 30 and 39. This story is part of Thomas’s forthcoming short fiction collection States of Motion, which will be published by Wayne State University Press in Spring 2017.