THE FINE LINE ISSUE 3
Cover Art “Fixed” by Francis Raven
Editors Cyndi Gacosta Bradley Tomy Danna Berger
To Submit to The Fine Line please visit the website: thefineline00.wordpress.com All rights remain with the author.
â€œAs Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.â€? Franz Kafka The Metamorphosis
Table of Contents
Fixed by Francis Raven
Timeshift by Dorothee Lang
Sunny Snow by William Hicks
The Turning Point by Caroline Krieger Comings
Weathering the Storm by Carolyn Coe
At the Turning Point by Amy Tolbert
Filigree Gold 3 by William Watkins
Untitled 1 by Ruben Monakhov
Dancing Grid by Francis Raven
Breaking Skin by Eleanor Leonne Bennett
Transformation by Francis Raven
Untitled 2 by Ruben Monakhov
Landscape 12-22-10 by William Hicks
Untitled 3 by Ruben Monakhov
The River Jordan by D. Krauss
Casualty of a Parking Lot Injustice by Lynn Kennison
Parental Discretion Advised by Karen Beatty
Rosewater by Brian Alan Ellis
The Sermon of Vegetarianism by Ilya Prints
The Ants by Keith G. Laufenberg
Doggone It!! by Wayne Andrewartha
The Rite Steps to Manhood by Ciara Harris
The Nanny by Rita Buckley
Back to Zero by A. Frank Bower
Cutting Scenes by Michael Young
Treebone by Raj Sharma
End of Girlhood by Annemarie Ni Churreain
Segue from Age to Age by Barbara Westwood Diehl
In Her Thirteenth Year by Karen Douglass
Even Now by Susan V. Meyers
How Womanhood Began by Annemarie Ni Churreain
Innovative Love by Gary Beck
Metamorphosis by Susan V. Meyers
Cocooned in Sheets by Duane Jackson
Lunatic Speaks by Caroline Hagood
The English Teacher Retires by Richard Glowacki
On the Last Train by Gary Glauber
House by Annemarie Ni Churreain
Conversion to Digital, A Consolation for the Aging by Barbara Westwood Diehl
Notes on the Contributors
Cutting Scenes Michael Young
It started in the elevator, the smell almost a stink of artificial strawberry bubble gum, followed by memories of chewing a block of Bubblicious sugar, walking my first time alone to see a movie in 1977, the self importance and authority I felt, skipping along like a film that suddenly jumped ahead to a few days ago when the smell of orange sweetened my hands after peeling the rind, and all of these episodes spliced together into one step through a revolving door entering the gray air under the scaffolding outside: wood blocks nailed into cement, posts, crossbeams, platforms â€” the whole patchwork structure of preservation, the massive effort to endure the change of scene and seasons, to keep the history intact of a building labeled in the tour guides as such for its antique architecture and this, even as each character interrupts himself where the page goes blank, and he feels the gear slip out of alignment and knows he couldnâ€™t stop the machine now if he wanted to, like that moment in a New York cab years ago, speeding through Village streets, reciting a poem I knew like a litany for ten years, an invocation of familiar comforts when, without reason, the words were gone, as if the files had been stolen and the drawers of an empty cabinet banged open and closed while the violent lurch of the cab rocked me.
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Treebone Raj Sharma
The frail leaf Withers But the battered Treebone Fights frosts, Unyielding And skies Stern, To wear Green again.
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The River Jordan
It was $50,000, about a year's salary. Carl didn't know about it until three days after his wife dropped dead in the kitchen. "You have a rider on your insurance policy," the agent said. "What?" Carl was sitting on the couch, lost. "A rider. Most people have them. You'll receive a check." He did and left it uncashed for another three days. "An aneurysm," the doctor in the emergency room, pale and worldbeaten with an expression of distance, had said. "What?" Carl had been sitting on a gurney, lost. "It was instantaneous." That was true. She had turned to him laughing, suddenly stopped laughing, looked a bit stricken, then fell to the floor. "An aneurysm? But, only angry people get those. That's what I should die of." The doctor shrugged and looked annoyed. "Anyone can get them. Things wear out," and he walked away. Carl knew, right then, it was his fault. "It's not your fault," his son said, draping a big, carpentry-formed arm about Carl's shoulders. His daughter, half the look of his wife, especially in the hidden grief of her eyes, nodded and added an arm and they both mouthed this over and over while the grandkids made every effort to remain solemn but the imperatives of youth overwhelmed. It was a closed casket because Carl and his wife thought a viewing barbaric. The grands should remember her properly, homemade cookies and backyard snowball fights, not as a waxed and rouged face, nightmare, lying empty on a satin pillow. - 13 -
He remained silent, did not correct his children, but they were wrong. The thinning artery was his work. He had forced on her pressures she could not bear. He had placed the loaded pistol against her head and took thirty-seven years to pull the trigger. He didn't mean to. Carl simply didn't realize how things accumulate. She was of a generation and culture that took as its theme "Stand by Your Man," and would never do the grand and dramatic gesture necessary to wake him up. Maybe if she had walked when he threw a beer bottle across the sunroom because the warehouse had delivered the wrong ceramic for the upgrade, or when he punched a wall because the county inspector wanted a little too much money in the envelope this time, maybe then. But she didn't. She cleaned up the broken glass and drywall, spent time soothing him, kept the kids at bay. All of that wore. Each time, it shaved a bit of tissue out of a critical artery. He found the check tossed among the mail, more bills than cards, this time. He'd wanted to pay the bills earlier because life demands attention, no matter what's going on, but the cards distracted. They were all deep felt sympathies addressed to him. Error. Should have been addressed to her. Carl was thinking of error when he uncovered the check. He had not forgotten it; you don't forget about such a sum. He'd been afraid of it but couldn't say why, not having a command of words or description like she did. It had something to do with his soul, for lack of a better word, with what a man ultimately was. He studied it. A year off doing nothing, that's what it represented. He could sit quietly in the kitchen for that year and stare at her absence, hoping some direction, some assurance would form there. It would not; that chance had passed. Improve - 14 -
the business, then, or buy a car for his son and daughter, take a trip, all possibilities. But that would end and he would sink back to his distant, disapproving self, still with the ability to shave arteries. No. He would not profit from long-term murder. He would not have blood money. Carl squeezed his eyes shut and groped for his soul, lost somewhere in the hard shell. It evaded his grasp. He almost sent the check to the Red Cross, where she had volunteered for most of those thirty-seven years, but stayed the pen. It would be dismissal, a single act throwing her and her shredded artery away. Insufficient. The artery needed repair. He sent it to the equity loan and paid the remaining $3472.16 a week later with the two invoices that came in from the Court House job. That was a good start. The equity loan had worried her. She would say to him, "Carl, is there any way we can send them a little extra?" Debt frightened her. She'd spent her childhood thrown out of one perfectly good house after another because of her Dad's gambling. Carl's Master Certificates for Interior Remodeling, Plumbing, and Electricity ensured she would never, ever be thrown out of another house in her life, especially because he was a sober, unimaginative man for whom gambling, or theater or dancing, were frivolities. She loved that, though. The safety. But safety is a relative term, and a high price to pay for things lost, and she never really felt safe, actually, because he didn't have her concerns. His Dad was a tile setter, too, and Carl grew up convinced debt was an instrument of business, a base for doing more. "There's a new KD wet saw out," he announced and $3000 went against the house. "That new Dodge truck has more torque and can tow a bigger trailer," and there was $38,000, just after the equity had been paid down to about - 15 -
10 or so. She did not add to it, only he did. She spoke of things she wanted, new furniture, new carpets, a new kitchen, after the debt was made manageable, say around the 5,000 mark. It never got to that mark. She never got what she wanted. She never got the house she wanted, either. They lived in his inherited three-bedroom 1 Â˝ bath on a half lot, three streets back from the railroad and four streets away from the storefront. Convenient for him, and remodeling of the rooms and the baths and the adding of a garage he thought sufficient upgrades. The kids went to adequate schools and had adequate friends to prepare them for another generation of the business and the town. But she spoke of Victorian farmhouses in mountain settings, two or three stories with five to ten acres, fences, woods and rivers. She knew the burdens of maintaining such a property, accepted his common sense arguments about isolation and distance from customers and stores and familiar schools and teachers. Still, she looked at pictures. He did not understand, until shortly before paying the equity, that there was permanence in land and Victorian farmhouses, an assurance she craved. Carl stood in the twilight at the end of the driveway and looked at the house, no longer an instrument of debt, but a standing accusation. He had arranged their lives inclusive for him, exclusive of her. He had flanked her possibilities, put his son on a narrow road, loped off his daughter's hopes. He groped, again, for his soul, thinking the equity payoff would surface it, but there was too much mud. More dredging required. "What are you doing?" his son asked, horrified, when Carl put up the For Sale sign. "I can't afford to live here anymore," he said. "What? What are you talking about?" Alarm, his alarm, Carl knew, taught to his son over the past 28 years whenever - 16 -
something different emerged. "We're more than flush!" He should know. He did the books. "Still." It was all Carl could say. He could not explain what he meant by 'afford.' "But, Dad!" There, Carl's own exasperated arm waving. He'd last used it when she had talked about buying an RV and touring the country. Each flail was a reach inside and a scraping at that artery. "You own this house outright!" Carl said nothing, just hammered the sign in a bit more, leveled it. "This is about Mom, isn't it?" his son had said and then said a lot more, the gist all those Hallmark cards about sympathy and moving on and Better Places. Carl said nothing. He got $425,000 for the house, cleared 417,328.35. Simply astonishing. Simply a matter of markets. The city, 50 miles away and prohibitively expensive, drove its poorer workers into Carl's neighborhood. They considered Carl's house a bargain. He considered them insane. "Here," he stood on his son's porch and gave him the cashier's check for $200,000. He also gave him power of attorney, the business title and the various registrations. "Sell the shop. Take what's yours. Share the rest with your sister," he said. "What are you doing?" his son was shocked. His daughter-inlaw was behind in the kitchen, kneeling down, holding a grandson, looking afraid. Don't be, he thought to her. "You wanted to go to school and be an architect." "Dadâ€Ś" "Go," and he turned and got in the truck, which now pulled a used 18 foot Airstream, courtesy of what was left in the savings and checking accounts. He knocked on his daughter's apartment door. "Dad!" she was close to crying when she opened it, "Bobby just called meâ€Ś" - 17 -
"Here." $217,328.35. "Dad!" she did cry now, his baby, his little girl, as fragile and thin of artery, if not more so, than his wife. "What are you doing?" "Send your kids to that academy. Give them a chance." He went to the truck. "Where are you going, Dad?" she managed, through the tears, to call after him. He paused. "I don't know exactly." She was framed at the top of the landing and from her, and from her brother, he felt cessation. Their thinning was over. If it started again, it was on them. He groped, testing, but still encountered layers of mud. "I'll call you," and he drove away. He didn't go that far, only four hundred or so miles. He looked over as he crossed the Ohio River from Williamstown, changed his mind about continuing up 77, and turned off into Marietta. He got some directions and settled the Airstream in the dark next to the Muskingum River, about 15 miles north on 60. He slept well. The next morning he drove back to Marietta and walked around. Nice, a row of Victorian mansions on the street overlooking the Ohio, an Indian mound at the top of the hill with a Revolutionary War cemetery around it. The headstones named soldiers who had come here for land and homes. Their wives' stones often showed a death a few years after the husbands'. That was unusual for the time. It spoke of good men, who did not thin arteries. The Ohio decided it. He walked to the banks, the bluffs of West Virginia towering on the opposite side. The water was brown and a Coast Guard tug floated slowly by, a thin sheen of oil trailing behind. But the water was fast and carried all of its
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impurities away. Carl put both hands in it and let the water carry his impurities away. He worked out $300 a month with the camp site, even though the owner thought him crazy for wanting to spend an Ohio winter in an aluminum tin can. He took a job as an assistant setter, even though the owner thought he was crazy for not subcontracting. It was all he needed and he remained silent during the jobs, remained steady. The jokes and insults finally stopped. He called his daughter and his son. And every day, after work, even in the winter, he went to the Ohio and washed his hands.
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End of Girlhood Annemarie Ni Churreain
The first time a tree called me by name, I was thirteen and only spoke a weave of ordinary tongues. It started with a leaf and next, a mist came down from the hills, beating a lone skin drum, looking for me. Scarlet pimpernels dropped hints that could not be ignored: no red is innocent. Badger trails called me aside for a word. Come underground, they said, see what we are made of.
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Segue from Age to Age Barbara Westwood Diehl
The people here are happy now. They have forgotten their fires. They have forgotten what smoldered. Any embers have been tamped down. The smell of charcoal doesn’t conjure smoke. What the fires consumed has no more weight than ash. The smell of campfire on a jacket brings back songs. Humming a bar doesn’t fill them with longing. The old intoxications don’t even make them giddy. A whiff of marijuana brings a sweet déjà vu. A gin and tonic on the breath makes them fizzy. They have forgotten the sharp pins of morning after. Tobacco on the fingers is sophistication. It is the happily acrid cocktail hour. The children are nestled all snug in their beds. The guests who stayed too long have left. The burns on the maple table have been buffed. The yellow stain on the blouse has been bleached. The smell of chlorine reminds them of ironing boards. They forget the lonely pull-chain light in the laundry room. They forget the vacant business suit. They recall the bathing suit with polka dots. They have forgotten not knowing how to float. They have forgotten the undertow. Oceans smell of thighs, or only oceans. The tide leaves the scent of a Coppertone girl. The children leave the scent of Popsicle in their wake. Anything bitter has been sweetened. A whiff of furniture polish comforts. It doesn’t recall the cobweb corners of rooms. What was slipcovered over remains that way. The oven is closed over the scorches inside. The dish soap bubbles make everything lemony. Once, children sold lemonade on the lawns. Once, children blew bubbles through plastic wands. The Wonder Bread was wonderful. The smell of yeast is the bread of memory. The people here remember, and they’re happy.
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Caroline Krieger Comings
The Turning Point
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Casualty of a Parking Lot Injustice
I circled the shopping mall five times before finding an open spot close enough to the mall entrance, I wouldnâ€™t need an umbrella for the impending storm. I waited patiently as a mother of two small boys stuffed her shopping bags into the trunk of her car and then struggled to get her rambunctious little ones strapped in.
Being a mother and having raised two boys close in
age myself, I could empathize. The pressure of knowing someone is watching while you pretend that you have complete and utter control of the situation can be somewhat nerve-racking. My boys loved an audience, and it seems her two, undoubtedly, posses the same wild gene. While she was coaxing her two young ones into submission, I noticed a teenaged boy walking through the parked cars as he chatted away on his cell phone with his hoody was pulled tightly over his headâ€” I guess anticipating the coming rain as well. Once they were in, the mother looked back and gave an apologetic waive. I smiled and gave her an understanding nod. She started her car and proceeded to back out as expected. What I hadnâ€™t expected, was the obstacle suddenly standing in the parking spot. The teenaged boy, wearing the hoody and mobile device stuck to his ear, blocked my immediate entrance. At first I was confused, but then my thoughts suddenly became crowded with obscenities when I realized this boy was presumably holding my parking spot for someone. Sure enough, a moment later, an obnoxious humming noise caught my attention as the source zoomed up the lane behind me. Appearing in my rearview mirror was a bright neon green and purple car. It looked more like an absurd
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trapper keeper or Easter egg than a mode of transportation as it sat idling like a sickly little bee behind me. Surely this boy knew that I had been waiting for this spot. I rolled down my window to kindly let the young man know—just incase he was genuinely oblivious to his surroundings. His dark hoody and chrome tinted sunglasses concealed his facial expression, but he told me in not so many words—just two in fact—to get lost. The only way I was getting that spot was to put my car on top of him. Feeling it wasn’t worth it, I moved on to find another. I gave up trying to find a spot near the mall entrance, and then gave up trying to find one near the closest department store entrance before heading next-door to the movie theatre lot. Finally, I found one between a curb and a huge pickup with scary looking tires. The owner of the truck must have not realized that his vehicle was a bit too large to fit exactly between the lines, and I was forced to exit my car through the passenger-side door. Once I managed to squeeze out, I maneuvered carefully between my car and the boxwood bushes adorning the curb, but one of the branches reached out and snagged me. As I tried to free my sweater, one of my buttons became a casualty— popping off and rolling up under my car. I took a deep breath to calm my nerves and got down on my knees to peek under and look for it. After all, it wasn’t just any button; it was an antique button I found in my grandmother’s sewing room about ten years ago. She had two of them and gave me both. I put them on a sweater and have always received nice complements when wearing them. I reached under as I spied my button lying close to the back tire. I felt around blindly in the spot next to my tire and pulled it out. As I rose to my feet dusting myself off, I opened my hand to blow the dirt off of my button; but when I opened my hand, lying in my palm wasn’t my button, it was a tossed out - 25 -
piece of hard candy with all kinds of nasty things stuck to it. I immediately tried to throw it down, but I had such a firm grasp on it when I first retrieved it, that it was now determined not to part from me. Slinging my hand around like a lunatic wasnâ€™t working, so I desperately began rubbing my hand over the bushes, for which worked on freeing my hand, but I also gained a nice splinter doing so. Holding in my frustration, I began walking towards the mall. Sorry Grams, the fucking button is staying put. Besides losing a button, gaining a splinter, and feeling the beginnings of blister on my left heel from the long hike, everything was going good until the rain, led by thunder and followed by lightning, began to fall. I was too far gone from my car to turn back, so I made a mad dash for the mall. As I ran passed the trapper keeper car, I gave it the middle finger. No one was inside of it, but I did feel somewhat better doing so. I made it inside just short of taking a shower in my clothes, so my first stop was the ladies room. I hunched up under the hand dryer to get as dry as I possibly could. Several women ended up leaving without drying their hands as I clung to the dryer with my teeth chattering uncontrollably. My hair and makeup were unsavable, but I managed to tame the running mascara and tone down the overdone Goth appearance before exiting and searching for the nearest coffee stand. As I walked through the mall sipping my coffee, I spotted the little shit that had stolen my parking spot earlier. It wasnâ€™t too hard; he was still wearing his obnoxious sunglasses indoors while he read the back of a video game cover. I entered the video game store and eased over. I wondered could I get away with spilling my coffee on him. I could just bump into him and pretend it was an innocent accident. As I looked around to see if there were any cameras to witness probably the worst offence - 26 -
I have ever committed, I heard him telling his friend to check out the cute blonde in the pink sweater across the way in the food court. Having a closer look, I realized that he wasn’t a teenager at all—he just dressed like one. I gained the courage to approach him, but as he turned around, I soon lost it. I was surprised to learn that he recognized me from the parking lot, and as he made a joke to his friend, I fought the urge to literally hurl my coffee at him. Instead, I smiled and I thanked him for taking that parking spot from me. As he looked at me curiously, I explained that while I was on my way in, I witnessed someone smack into his car crushing that lovely tea tray attached to the top of his trunk; they didn’t even leave a note! “The nerve of some people,” I told him.
He was so upset,
he ran out of the store with unpaid merchandise still in his clutch. The sight of him being tackled by security in the food court, next to the girl in the pink sweater, was worth the hike.
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Weathering the Storm
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In Her Thirteenth Year Karen Douglass
She never mastered pin curls, but she bled and borrowed lipstick at school, got caught, outgrew her training bra, imagined that she was scullery maid to a mad queen, At thirteen, she shouted four younger brothers and sisters up to bed while her stepmother went next door to smoke and play cards. Our girl studied starch and steam ironed her father’s white shirts—woman’s work. Friday night she swept, scrubbed with pail and rag, waxed white linoleum. The next Friday and the next Friday she found no frog with great potential, only spilled red sauce and the smell of floor wax. Upstairs those giggling kids refused to sleep. She dreamed away her free hours in a field of gladioli, brazen as forbidden girlfriends with laughter and makeup on their faces, trailed her fingers through the silky mouths of open milkweed pods. Kissed her pillow. But the wax was real. There was always that linoleum. Had she dared, she would have danced naked on the ceiling.
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Even Now Susan V. Meyers
more than a decade later, she still loves to tease sea anemones shut with her shoe. She likes their surprise, that startled gasp of closure, as brightly-colored fronds dissapear like sound. "You never know what you're going to do," she says, looking down at the tightly shut stub of sea life, its purple arms swallowed up in security. "That's the scary part." She means the divorce. She means leaving my father to live with a woman. And I'm still trying to remember just how many years ago I stood here with both parents, my small feet teetering and slipping between the rocks. I'd wanted to take everything home with me--crabs and limp beach grass, sea urchins, gulls-but my parents had pointed to the sign, which is still here: Do not remove living sea life from the tidepools. "You can have sand dollars," they'd said. "Or beach grass, or broken barnacles." Dead things only, weathered and used, but still precious somehow in their casual decay. "When we were here before," I say, "I found a dead starfish out here in these rocks," remembering its stiff salute, its curiously vibrant death-glow: miraculous and orange.
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"Oh?" she answers, distracted by the anemone still cautious and closed at her feet. I nod, feeling even now its shape, its weight over-big in my hand, and that strange leathery surface after it had dried where I'd left it on the back steps of our beach house. My mother motions toward her shoes, and I watch with her as the purple-armed anemone begins to reopen, still timid in her shadow. "You just never know." I nod again, feeling more definite about this statement than anything else-and think back to my childhood anxiety years ago, how I visited those back steps every hour to examine the starfish, to make sure that it hadn't moved, that it was still dead. Because I had to know, I had to be certain not to take anything living from the sea.
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How Womanhood Begins Annemarie Ni Churreain
Occult, rose-headed, my first blood came in the last month of summer. Inexplicably mine, a love-ink letter delivered finally, I too had something to conceal.
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At the Turning Point
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Parental Discretion Advised
Have you any idea what it’s like to catch your elderly father tongue-kissing a woman fourteen years his junior in an obscure corner of the local McDonald’s? Let’s just say it induces a mental state somewhere between primal horror and black comedy. The scene was set for this psychic out-take about two months ago when I got a letter from my widowed Dad. Ever since Mom died almost two years ago he had been living alone in the small New Jersey home I grew up in, about five hours from my current home in Boston. Several months ago Dad wrote that he had met Cynthia, a most wonderful woman—a widow—who was rejuvenating his life. At first, I was thrilled: maybe this relationship would alleviate the guilt I suffer from rarely visiting him and from not extending an invitation for Dad to live with me. Not that he had asked; after all, I’m a 54-year-old divorcee, children grown and dispersed, and not that far from retirement myself. Neither my father nor I had entertained the notion of combining households. Still, I knew that one day in the near future I would have to make some kind of “arrangement” for him. I sighed in capitulation to the inevitable. Both Dad and I are destined to contend with the disabilities of aging on the limited resources of making do with Medicare. I’m one of those baby boomers who free-wheeled employment for decades to avoid selling out to the establishment and planned to live off love, peace and rock ‘n’ roll in the extended youth of old age. But my father had
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certainly done the so-called responsible thing. He was an educational administrator—had worked hard for his pension and counted on Social Security to tide him over during the “golden years”. What he had not counted on in all his careful planning was inflation and the high cost of minimally covered healthrelated expenses. Back in his day you bought a house on property that would accrue in value, so that you could turn it over in latter life for more inexpensive digs and a financial cushion. Sure, Dad could sell the family house now, but then where would he live? Certainly not with me, and there really are few affordable alternatives for aging adults of modest means. I understood all this, yet was unable to tolerate poor old Dad’s going for the love in his twilight years. This Cynthia, I calculated, is only thirteen years older than me: what could she possibly want from my 81-year-old father? Probably, I surmised, the house and what’s left of the funds my parents had set aside to sustain themselves in their old age. I telephoned my father right after I got a second letter announcing that he had invited Cynthia to move in with him. At the time, I was vaguely uneasy, but tried to be supportive. In a subsequent letter, however, when he mentioned the possibly of getting married, I quickly made plans to visit and throw interference. Dad described Cynthia as “charming, energetic, and well-spoken”. Of course (I shrewdly concluded), just the qualities required of a grifter to hustle an old man. You read about it in the papers all the time: there’s always a son or lover skulking in the shadows, coaching the shill and waiting to swoop down on the elderly person’s possessions and bank account. My father, no doubt, was one of numerous geriatric victims ensnared in this evil scheme. Thinking about it now, there was also the Bingo connection, further evidence of Cynthia’s moral lapses. Dad had reported that he met Cynthia at the weekly Bingo - 35 -
rounds sponsored by St. Joseph’s Church. We’re not even Catholic, and my dear mother had viewed Bingo as a form of gambling. (That the Catholics condoned Bingo made it all the more suspect.) Dad had obviously mingled with predators and was ensnared. I did, of course, have another more mature “voice” regarding all this: Dad is lonely and so is Cynthia. They want another shot at happiness. My father has good genes; he’s still trim, only slightly stooped, a full head of white hair. With the exceptions of a depression he slipped into just after the loss of my mother and a tendency toward high blood pressure, he is healthy, has a sense of humor, likes to dance—all promising signs of vital years to come. Why not rejoice that he has found a partner? It was hard to find this more reasoned voice, however, when I was in my father’s house. All it takes for grown children to be reduced to adolescents is for them to step through the portals of the family home. A friend had told me of her mortification, while visiting her elderly father, at checking his list of medications and discovering a prescription for Viagra. She confessed, “I felt like a kid in sex ed class having, for the first time, to think about what my parents must have done to conceive me.” At the time I had joked about finding out if condoms were also covered by her father’s insurance. Later, I read in that AARP Bulletin that AIDS is on the rise among seniors. Really, it’s true. When I arrived in New Jersey Dad’s car was in the driveway, but I simply let myself into the house as if it were my own. The stillness was disconcerting but the neat airiness of the living room stopped me like a stun gun. My parents had typically kept the place dark and rather on the shabby side, always with the TV blaring. Now there were bright new curtains and plants that were - 36 -
actually thriving. In a little kid’s voice, I tentatively called out, “Daddy?” When there was no answer, like a detective securing a crime scene, I quickly swept the premises. Obviously, nobody was home. I peeked into but was reluctant to closely inspect my Dad and Mother’s bedroom. OK, I told myself, remember to breathe. Since it was a beautiful spring day, Dad would likely have walked either into town or to the park on the way toward town. I decided to drive into town first so I could pick up a few things like diet coke, which he never kept on hand. I parked at the McDonald’s and decided to check inside, since the restaurant is one of those destinations for local seniors who cannot afford Starbuck’s. That was how I came across Dad and Cynthia in their compromised embrace. I had not intended to spy; it had not even occurred to me that my father would be making out (gross) at McDonald’s with that woman. Oblivious to my lurking as they snuggled up, the two of them malingered over paper cups of tepid tea used to secure their extended stay at the restaurant. Dismissing my own regressive state, I began to muse about the similarities of mindset in old age and adolescence: the propensity to ignore consequences, the disregard for societal norms, and the abject negation of long-standing family traditions. I caught myself inadvertently bobbing my head to Janis Joplin’s anthem: Freedom’s just another word for nuthin’ left to lose. Shaking the lyrical diversion off, I shifted back into disciplinary mode and quickly retreated from the restaurant. Fortunately, my father, who only had eyes for Cynthia, had not noticed my presence. Returning to the house and sitting on the living room sofa to await the return of the dynamic duo, I considered my father’s uncharacteristically neat stack of magazines and selected a news - 37 -
weekly to employ as a prop. I no longer felt so free to poke and roam about the house. My rational voice kicked in again: C’mon, the place looks nice, your father seems happy. Cynthia is healthy—she can take care of him, save you some worry and trips home. I was pretty convincing until my eyes drifted toward the mantelpiece. My parent’s wedding photo was gone! It had, in fact, been singled out and removed from its spot among several other framed family photos. I felt as if my Mother’s grave had been desecrated. I heard voices and approaching footsteps. Clutching the magazine to my lap and pressing my feet to the floor to steady myself, I hoped to appear nonchalant. As the front door opened I observed my father sling his arm around Cynthia to escort her inside, a simple gesture he had never afforded my mother. “Surprise!” I chirped in feigned good will. Standing and setting the magazine aside, I explained, “I arrived early.” Self-conscious and guilty, I quickly added, “Well, that was silly. I guess you saw my car. Anyway, I hope you don’t mind I let myself in?” “Of course not,” Dad reassured, smiling broadly. “You’re always welcome home. I’m just sorry we weren’t here to greet you.” I shrugged and forced a return smile. Dad gently supported Cynthia’s arm as he guided her toward me. She was wearing pale blue linen slacks, navy pumps and a modest white blouse. Her hair was splotchy blonde-covering-gray, teased underneath for body—a style favored by the aging beauty parlor set. (Thankfully she was not disheveled-looking from their very public romantic antics.) Dad’s face lit up as he looked toward Cynthia and proclaimed, “This is Cynthia, the best thing life has doled out to me in a very long time.” - 38 -
Cynthia seemed a little anxious as she stepped forward and reached out her hand. Smiling, she said, “Anna, I’m so pleased to meet you.” The way she met my eyes and said my name so softly made it impossible for me to withhold a smile or to quickly withdraw the hand I had placed in her extended one. The rest of the day Cynthia was gracious and attentive, both to Dad and me. He was atypically extroverted in her company, bragging about his career achievements and about my children and me. Cynthia listened intently and chuckled at Dad’s corny attempts at humor. She even reminded him that his favorite news program was about to start. My “elimination” game plan rapidly became defunct. If Cynthia was running a scam she was a grand master, and I could only surrender. I was also relieved that she seemed more like his generation than mine. If she had put on Beatles or Stones music instead of a classical selection, I think I would have burst into tears. That weekend I only stayed one night in my father’s house and then returned to Boston, if not assuaged, at least with more clarity. My issues were less about Cynthia, I decided, than about the discomfort I was experiencing around my father—his newly acquired enthusiasm for idle conversation and the kind of emotional engagement he displayed around Cynthia that was never there for my mother. Worse was the self-centered way he carried on about himself and angled for attention. My mother would definitely have called him on that, but such pretensions did not seem to perturb Cynthia in the least. At dinner with some women friends a couple of weeks later, I tried to express my reservations about my father’s new relationship. “It’s hard to explain,” I began. “I just don’t like who he’s become. He’s not the man I knew when he was with Mom. And it’s not just different—he’s not better. It’s like—like she’s catering to his narcissism. I can’t explain it.” - 39 -
I could tell from the way my friends cut their eyes quickly toward each other and away that I was not making sense. I let the topic go. At home that night I sat down at my computer and created a little sign to contemplate at my desk each day. It was not comforting but it did proclaim an essential truth regarding my perspective on my elderly fatherâ€™s foray into romance. In three simple words the message I gave myself was: GET OVER IT.
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Brian Alan Ellis
“Well,” said Doctor Shire, the man maneuvering Rosewater into a white, fluorescently lit room, “here we are.” “Doctor,”
wheelchair, “about the dream I had, last night…” “Do tell, Mister Rosewater, do tell…” “Well, I dreamt that Mother came to visit. It was in a room like this one. She came to me as a nurse.” “Oh?” said Dr. Shire, sleepily. “She injected me with something.” Rosewater thought about it. “Heroin,” he said. “Just like in real life.” “Mr. Rosewater, are you saying that your mother actually shot you up with heroin?” “Oh, yes,” said Rosewater. “For many years. She said it was her way of facilitating our relationship.” “Fascinating.” “You won’t believe it, Dr. Shire, but the heroin allowed me to
eventually I got the hang of it, and so I went over to Mother, who of course asked how her little boy was doing and I said, ‘Oh, just fine, just fine,’ and we kissed, and after our kiss she told me to sit down on the floor, which I did, and she said ‘good boy’ and then laughed that sweet, raspy laugh I remember her having, and I laughed also, and then she nudged me with her foot a little, and so I got real excited and began hugging and kissing those strong, wonderful legs of hers and then… then something bad happened.” “Something bad?” “Yes… the skin on her legs started to blacken and flake, - 41 -
much like paper does when it’s held under a match—or when it’s left on the stove—and so I looked up and saw that Mother had just burst into flames, and she held out her hands, which were melting, and cried, ‘What’s happening to me?’ and so I latched onto her, thinking I could put the fire out, but I couldn’t, and she turned to dust, right in my very arms.” “Remind me,” said Dr. Shire, “to order you a psychiatric evaluation.” “You really think so?” “Yes,
something. Ever.” “Have you ever lost a loved one, Doctor?” “I had a cat drown when I was seven.” “Ah, yes,” said Rosewater. “Burning and drowning. They say those are the two worst ways to go. What do you think?” “Never gave it much thought, really.” “Yes, right, right…” “Now,” said Dr. Shire, “we want you on your best behavior. Because, frankly, Mr. Rosewater, we’ve all grown sick and tired of your antics—knocking over trays of food, putting holes into walls, coaxing patients and staff into doing strange things… Again, everyone is just sick and tired of it.” “Sick and tired, huh? Those words again…” Rosewater sat up as straight as he could. “Hospitals are made solely for sick and tired things, aren’t they, Doctor? Things taken into rooms—cold, lonely rooms—where they wait to be fed and forgotten and, if luck permits, to die too.” “Now, Mr. Rosewater…” “See it, Doctor?” Rosewater motioned to the open window across the room. “The afternoon breeze… as it dances through those transparent blue curtains? A miracle the breeze can fit through those mesh bars, don’t you think?” For a moment, both he - 42 -
and Dr. Shire stared curiously at the window. “Honestly,” said Rosewater, “I can’t think of anything worse than those blue curtains.” He smiled. “Doctor.” “We know you’ve been through a horrendous ordeal,” said Dr. Shire, shortening the stem of a yellow flower before placing it in a glass vase beside Rosewater’s bed, “but you shouldn’t take it out on people. We’re here to help you.” Rosewater nodded sadly. “I know, Doctor, I know…” “Well,”
going. Nurse Diestrum has been assigned to aid you. She’ll be here shortly.” He turned to leave. “Be nice to her,” Dr. Shire added. “You’re in good hands.” Rosewater watched as the blue curtains continued in the breeze. beside
excited him, and so he rolled up to it. Gently, he ran his fingers along the stem. When a thorn cut into his thumb, he plucked the flower from the vase and snapped it in half. Then he brought his hand over the petals and squeezed, crushing them in a tight fist. He put what remained into his mouth and chewed, eventually chasing it with water from the vase. Then he pulled away
stumps his accident had given him, and masturbated as the blue curtains danced some more. “The sound of your shoes squeaking down the hall amused me.” “Why,
presenting her hand for him to shake. Rosewater
longingly at it. “Mother,” he said, now running his bandaged thumb
these. Long, white, and pudgy.” - 43 -
“I beg your pardon!” “Oh,
beautiful.” He looked Nurse Diestrum up and down, smiled, and said, “Nice breasts, too.” “Excuse me?” “Mother,” said Rosewater. “She had excellent breasts. Round and healthy. Well built lady, my mother.” “I understand you’ve been in some sort of accident?” “Oh, yes, yes. Terrible one. Mother didn’t make it.” “I’m sorry to hear that.” “Oh, it’s fine. Really. She was cancerous. Better to go out in a blaze, I say.” “Well,” said Nurse Diestrum, “you’re in good hands with me.” “No doubt. Even Dr. Shire thought so. He was right, too. Lovely hands.” Nurse pillow.
clucked his tongue. “Burning and drowning. They say those are the two worst ways to go. What do you think?” “Never thought about it.” “Say, are you married?” Rosewater asked. “I’m sorry?” “It’s just that, with you being my nurse and all, I figure we should get to know each other a little.” “Well… no… not exactly…” “Boyfriend, then?” “Girlfriend. Eleanor. She teaches kindergarten. Any more questions, Mr. Rosewater?” “A
something. I never had much opportunity for that. Mother always needed me around, especially after cancer.” - 44 -
“Well,” said Nurse Diestrum, placing a thermometer under Rosewater’s
something.” “That’s true,” Rosewater mumbled. Nurse
mouth and read it. “A little high,” she said. “But you’ll live.” “Would you care to see?” said Rosewater. “The accident left me two little guys. May as well get used to them.” “Why, Let’s
Rosewater. “Well?” Nurse Diestrum turned and began dry heaving into the back of her hand. “It’s… it’s a very… unfortunate thing…” “Say hi to the pretty nurse,” Rosewater said to his two bobbing stumps. “What’s that?” He looked up at Nurse Diestrum and said, “They want you to touch them.” “No, that’s quite all right,” she said. “Oh, they won’t bite,” Rosewater insisted. “Well… I… I suppose…” Nurse Diestrum reluctantly placed her palm over one of the bruised appendages. “There,” said Rosewater. “Not so bad, is it?” “No, I”—Nurse Diestrum nearly fainted—“suppose not.” “Something to drink?” Rosewater nodded. “Cranberry juice. No vodka.” He winked. “Not allowed.” Nurse Diestrum handed Rosewater a plastic cup filled with orange juice. “You know, Miss Diestrum, I couldn’t help noticing your legs. You’re real lucky to have a pair like that.” Rosewater sipped his juice. “How much?” “I’m—sorry?” “Your legs,” said Rosewater. “How much you want for them?” - 45 -
Nurse Diestrum smiled and said, “Not for sale.” Rosewater looked at her very seriously. Then he laughed. “Of course they’re not,” he said. “If I had pretty legs like you, I wouldn’t give them away for anything.” “Well, I’m flattered you think so,” said Nurse Diestrum. “I’ve always been a leg man, you know—ever since I was a child.
looking up at Mother. She had legs just like yours, in fact. Real thick, strong ones.” “Yes, well, I think it’s time you—” “Listen,” Rosewater whispered, “would you be so kind… as to lend me a favor? Maybe have me sit somewhere on the floor… looking
Diestrum. Maybe even kick me a little, with the tip of your shoe—not too hard, now—just enough for me to feel it some. Would you do that?” “Absolutely not!” Nurse Diestrum placed a metal tray of food on Rosewater’s lap. “Now—” She held up a spoonful of peas. “It’s time to eat.” “Please, it’s been so long, I—” Nurse Diestrum shoveled the peas into Rosewater’s mouth. “Go on,” she said, “chew.” “Yack! Terrible!” A gob of half-chewed peas dribbled down Rosewater’s chin. “Please, Ms. Diestrum, don’t make me eat this— this sick-and-tired food.” “Hush!” “No—no, damn it!” Rosewater used one of his stumps to knock the tray of food to the floor. “I told you I don’t want it!” “Fine. Have it your way, then.” Nurse Diestrum knelt down to pick up the mess. “After this, I’m putting you to bed. You hear?” Rosewater reached over and put his hand on Nurse Diestrum’s - 46 -
several times with the tray. “No! You hear me? No, no, no!” A thin trace of blood formed on Rosewater’s forehead. “You tricked me,” he muttered, the bitterness of two pills sliding uncomfortably down his throat. “You always trick me…” “Just
things. “Dr. Shire will hear about this.” Dazed, Rosewater looked towards the window. It was now shut and locked. The blue curtains no longer danced. He heard Nurse Diestrum shouting for Dr. Shire as the squeaks of her shoes moved out of the room and then quickened up and down the hall. He laughed; it was still amusing. Then he thought about his mother—her long, pudgy white fingers; the healthy round breasts spilling out; the thick, strong legs. He began masturbating to these visions. He continued doing so until the pills took him under, mid-stroke.
- 47 -
Innovative Love Gary Beck
The eternal triangle between two rivals for a desirable woman has been reinvented for the Information Age. While surfing the internet, an addictive diversion for underutilized minds, two men were welcomed by an enticing woman who built a relationship using remote control that provoked one suitor to murder the other. An investigation revealed the enterprising woman used her daughter's web page to pose as an eighteen year old and lured the distant victims to a violent end, deceiving them electronically.
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Metamorphosis Susan V. Meyers
Because butterflies are beautiful I have no fascination for moths, their thick-blunt wings buttered brown as cinnamon, or rusted blades. I don’t care for the miracle of their birth: the parental corpse, the forgotten apple, like a planet now. They feed on my accident. The underside of the bed, like a margin, becomes universal. Did I ask for this? Did I invent this? Some night lapse of the brain, some dream? And then their appearance like a subtext, below. I will clean everything. I will not tolerate their rushed cocoons, their unannounced arrival. These white worms weaving themselves into my cotton sheets, my dreams. Poised—in the interval of their transformation—rigid as a ballerina, or bone. Better, if they had been butterflies: beautiful, seasonal, whole. More symbol than insect. What if butterflies had flown up out of my mattress one night? What if one had brushed my sleeping cheek, forearm, thigh? Could I have guessed: butterfly or moth? What difference would that have made, waking?
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Filigree gold 3
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The Sermon of Vegetarianism
The mayor of the woods was the Big Man – the Bear. They said he was appointed to duty by himself, long ago, but none of animals argued. The Bear was, really, the very-very one – the biggest, the strongest, and so the fairest and the wisest. In short, the Big Head. Life in the woods was calm and fine. Animals were busy with their regular businesses: making bunches of flowers, gathering berries and mushrooms, shopping, or visiting with each other. And everything would have been very well if not for the Wolf. While he was on friendly terms with sheep from the close village, the Bear did not pay any attention to the Wolf’s activity. But, when some rabbits, hares, and even moose began to complain, the Bear decided to talk with the Wolf. “It is very shameful to hurt the weak, good animals! The animals who want to make bunches of flowers, gather berries and mushrooms, shop or visit each other as well the other creatures in the wood!” the Bear said. The Wolf was pretty ashamed. He hung his head. If not for the thick hair on his muzzle, everyone would see how the Wolf turned red. He was very, very ashamed. “Look around. You can go to the raspberry bushes or taste the honey. It’s pretty delicious!” continued the Bear. And with those heartfelt words, the Wolf’s eyes were filled with tears. Everyone could see that the Wolf was suffering. “All animals have to live in love,” the Bear proceeded with his sermon, inspired more and more by his own words. “They are like pets. You, Wolf, could be welcomed to every home in our woods!” And the Wolf shed a tear. And each could see that reeducation and persuasion succeeded. But…but just at that moment, - 51 -
the Wolf saw the sheep returning to the village from a pasture. “Oh, my dear lord,” the Wolf said. “I am so tired… Let’s take a little break, only for half- an hour. It will take no more… I am so exhausted… And… and…I may miss my supper!”
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Cocooned in sheets Duane Jackson
A pouch of dreams is gummed to leaf – a bed in misted jade-green sheen. Cocooned in sheets, sleep’s silken feel reforms my bones for winged retreat.
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The Ants Keith G. Laufenberg -1THE INVASION When they came to the Valley of the Ants, an ant said: ‘Go into your dwellings, ants, lest Solomon and his warriors should crush you.’ —The Koran.
Betty Ross looked at her husband and could not fathom his unbridled anger, as he glared at the mass of small ants scurrying over the cupboards and kitchen table. They had gotten onto the left-over dinner plates and then inside the cupboard, where the sugar container, which was a supposedly insect-proof Tupperware Bowl had been totally infiltrated by the small red balls of fury. “Good Gawd Betty—do you believe this—the little devils are everywhere. I’m gonna make this my first priority, to kill these bastards!” Stephen Ross, an aerospace engineer at nearby Lockheed Martin, in Marietta, shook his head sadly. They had just moved into a new house in the country and he had given no thought to the insect population, until now. “Well Stephen I’m sure there’s no need to kill them.” “Wha’ … Betty—oh, right—well—ain’t that just like you. You don’t think there’s any need to kill these buggers? Are you crazy Bet’? Look—look?” Ross spread his hands out, palms up then moved them furiously back and forth around the room, signifying
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that there were ants everywhere. He walked to his large kitchen table, a solid mahogany beauty that had been a wedding present, and slammed his open palm down hard upon it, again and again, turning his hand over after every slap and then wiping the results onto has pants-leg, before continuing his one-handed assault. He only stopped when his wife walked over and grabbed his forearm. “Honey, why don’t you just take a shower and I’ll get rid of the ants for you.” Ross glared at his wife and then at the innumerable ants spread throughout the kitchen and dining room, then shrugged his shoulders, seemingly calming down, but only on the surface. “Fine, what the hell, it’s only midnight and I ain’t gotta get up till six in ah morning.” He stormed towards his bathroom, warily eying the ants, which seemed to be everywhere, now. He knew that no one could get rid of the little buggers, much less his wife of less than a year, but, as he stepped into the shower he smiled smugly; this would finally teach her something, as she was always complaining about all the pollution and how it, and progress, were so dangerous. She was against nuclear power and had history, such as the near meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, to solidify her nature-first philosophy but her lectures on the environment drove him crazy. Stephen Ross stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around his waist, hurrying out of the bathroom and into the
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dining room, where his wide smile soon faded, when he looked around the room, which was devoid of even a single ant. It was as if someone had taken a vacuum cleaner and sucked them all away, but, as he searched for one, he could plainly see that there was no such household appliance in the room.
-2THE SECRET God made all the creatures and gave them our love and our fear, To give sign, we and they are his children, one family here. —Robert Browning, Saul. St. vi.
Betty Ross sprinkled the water onto the flowers and smiled, as several bees flitted about pollinating first one than the other of the white and red roses. She nodded at her neighbor, as the woman approached her, eying the bees warily. “Oh hello Missus O’Brien,” she said, smiling. “Oh, call me Emily please—Betty?” “Well alright then—Emily.” “God—how can you stand these bees? Oh my God. Emily O’Brien put her hands above her head and began fluttering them noiselessly, flailing in exasperation as several bees, sensing her fear and frustration, began swarming around her. “Oh, Emily, please just stand still and forget about them and then they’ll leave you alone.”
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Emily O’Brien gasped and paled noticeably. “Stand still? God, how can I? They’re so noisy. Why, I’d be stung for sure?” Betty Ross shrugged her shoulders and set her water-pail on the ground. “Well, won’t you come inside for some breakfast then?” “Well, maybe just for some coffee.” “Alright then,” Ross replied, as she walked her neighbor to the back porch of her large home, which sat on two acres of relatively undeveloped land—out in Cherokee County. As she motioned her neighbor to a table on the back porch, Betty Ross walked into her kitchen and grabbed a pot of coffee from her stove. She brought it to the table, along with two porcelain cups and poured one hall-full of the dark liquid, then nodded towards the empty cup sitting in front of her neighbor. “Say when?” As she poured, the other woman smiled and cut her off when the cup was almost to the top. “I take it black,” she said and, as they sat sipping their java, Emily O’Brien smiled. “Oh, you do make a good cup of coffee, Betty.” “Why thank you Emily.” “Oh, it’s so beautiful out here, isn’t it?” “Yes-yes it certainly is and I hope it stays that way.”
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Emily O’Brien smiled languidly at this statement. “Oh, I know what you mean. We do need to keep the area as private as we can.” Betty Ross sipped at her mocha and smiled imperceptibly. “If it wasn’t for these damn insects and bugs it would be paradise out here, you know?” Emily O’Brien said. “Well, they were here before we were, you know!” Emily O’Brien smiled at her neighbor and stared out the screened-in porch. She had ascertained from her husband, who worked with Stephen Ross at Lockheed Martin, that Betty Ross was part Cherokee Indian, which she had considered a romantic idea at the time, but now she wondered if the woman weren’t just a little too strange for her taste. She was about to light a cigarette when Betty Ross quickly interjected, “Oh, I wish you wouldn’t—please.” “Oh … what … you mean my cigarette?” “Yes—and thank you very much for not smoking,” Ross replied, smiling. O’Brien kept the cigarette between her second and third fingers but didn’t light it, instead crossing her legs and leaning towards her neighbor to lower her voice, as if someone would hear them. “Of course dear, I won’t smoke if it bothers you. Oh Betty, by the way, could you please let me in on your secret?”
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“My … secret … my—” Emily O’Brien rolled the cigarette in her fingers aimlessly and leaned closer to Betty Ross, as if they were discussing a conspiracy that reached into the highest levels of the government. “Oh come now Betty, don’t be coy with me, please. Just tell me what brand of poison you used to get rid of those pesky ants. They’re all over my house too. Bob says it must be some sort of a secret Indian herb that you use?” Betty Ross smiled languidly at her neighbor and shook her head. “Well Emily you could say that that is what it is, but it’s not a herb and it’s really not much of a secret, not among the Cherokees anyway.” “Oh? Oh, you’re, you’re part Cherokee then?” “Yes, my mother is an Anidjiskwa.” “An an-nadish …” I thought you said she was a Cherokee, Betty?” “Yes, she is, she’s a full-blooded Cherokee and a member of the Anidjiskwa—it is the Bird Clan— my ancestors were members of the Raven Clan, a clan that is now called the Bird Clan. She has taught me many things, only one of which is that we must live in harmony with all creatures and if you treat the ants in your house as you would treat human beings who were guests in your home they honor your wishes.”
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Emily O’Brien’s mouth dropped open, as her eyes magnified. “Wha’ … what … wha’ …? But what poison do you use? That’s all I wanna know?” “Ah, but I don’t use poison—Emily—no, I use love.” Emily O’Brien’s brows furrowed together in serious consternation. “What? You can’t be serious, love? You mean you love the ants?” Betty Ross smiled laconically and sipped her coffee. “Yes, I guess you could say that, although respect might be a better word.” “Love …? Respect—but they’re only ants—they’re insects.” “They are living beings, Emily.” Emily O’Brien stood up uneasily. She felt she was talking to a crazy woman; either that or a witch. She had just seen a movie about witches and Emily O’Brien whose I.Q. was only a point or two above a baloney sandwich, believed whatever she saw on the big screen, especially if there were any big-name stars in the picture. She bid her neighbor a hasty farewell and hurried out the back door; lighting her cigarette almost before the screen door slapped shut and inhaling on it greedily, as she hurried towards her home and safety.
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Speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee. —Old Testament. Job, XII, 8.
Betty Ross placed the plastic baggie inside her apron pocket, just alongside the clothespins and walked out into her backyard. It was early in the afternoon and she had a load of wet clothes to string upon her clothes-line. She stared up into the sky and saw the sun shining brightly and stopped abruptly. Suddenly, she was a little girl again and it was 1950, and she closed her eyes and saw her grandmother who was also her teacher, and this caused her to verbalize her thoughts, without her even realizing it, a she whispered: “A ke yv ku gv, Squa ne lv nv hi Ha do, wa do. Ye ho waah, Oo n jl nauh hi. Yo, U ha lo te qa, A at nv ti.” ‘Sun, my Creator, thank you. God, Maker of all things, good and great beyond all expression, here is the place of uniting.’ She stared at the sun for almost ten minutes before walking to her clothesline and hanging up the wet clothes. She then left the empty clothesbasket and walked to the first of the mounds— which was slightly sloped and similar to what Betty knew her ancestors had copied on a much larger scale, in centuries past. She pulled the plastic baggie from her apron and spread some of its contents across the mound, closing her eyes as she did so.
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“Ah—workers—I know you have been wronged by my husband, as well as so many others, but they do not understand you as I do and I am here to make things well, as I promised you last night I would and I have Ye ho waah’s blessing in this. I will not forget my promises to you, as I know you will respect mine also. I am sorry that the house I live in has destroyed some of your mounds but I will see to it that it never happens again here.” Betty Ross spread the sugar granules liberally around the mound, then stood up and moved on to the next mound, several feet away.
**** Emily O’Brien spoke into the telephone, almost in a whisper, conspiratorially, as she exhaled a stream of toxic fumes from her nostrils and sat her burning cigarette in an ashtray, on the counter-top of her dining room table. “Yes, yes I know Sherry but I’m telling you I saw her putting the poison on top of the ant hills and they have absolutely no ants in their house. What? Well, I’m not sure about that but I think she’s some sort of a witch. Oh yes—yes—well it would explain a lot of things—how else could she stand watering those flowers among a mass of bees and not even be afraid of getting stung? And how else could she have plants blooming practically overnight? And....and wait’ll you hear this, she said she loves ants, yes-yes and worms, worms Sherry. Yes, really, she said
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they, the worms, can help save Mother Earth. Mother Earth Sher’, I mean weird, weird, she, she must be a witch.” Emily O’Brien stood up and walked towards her picture window, the one that afforded a splendid view of both her and her neighbor’s backyards, and, as she did so, the telephone cord knocked the ashtray with her lit cigarette onto her new rug, and on top of the front page of some old newspaper, but Emily O’Brien was oblivious of it, as she chattered on and on— gossiping—her favorite pastime, since moving to the suburbs.
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“Yes, of course I can talk. Why not? If a horse on TV can talk, then surely a dog would have no problems. Everyone knows dogs are way smarter than the average horse.” “Okay. Let’s get back to what I was saying. I’m an intelligent, and, even if I say so myself, a cute, black Doberman called Angel, who can talk, although only to Toby, my master.” “I know what you’re thinking. I can hear it in your silence. What’s this stupid dog on about? Dogs can’t talk, period. But you’re wrong - I can. And not just regulated barks or woof woofs either - plain English. And before you say it, just because you haven’t heard me talking doesn’t prove anything.” “Alright – I concede I have a doggie accent, but Toby seems to understand me. He just can’t tell anyone else. You might ask why? Because no one would ever believe him, that’s why. Especially since I’ve decided to talk only to him. Even the friendly females who rub my ears and say “Isn’t he cute?’ don’t get a word out of me.” “Thinking back to the time when he first brought me home, I didn’t need to talk to get my message across. I remember that first night so well. Everything was strange to me – new smells and new places to investigate, and a new owner to train. I recall that Toby was sitting at the kitchen table eating sirloin steak and fresh vegetables. It smelt so good; I was drooling. He’d already fully laden my dish with food - dog roll and dry biscuits. Oh, very nice, if only I couldn’t smell his steak. Now, I ask you – is that fair? When did equal rights disappear?”
- 65 -
“From that very moment, I needed to re-establish his priorities towards me. Otherwise, I’d be eating doggie-type food forever. To change his attitude, I must admit I was a bit naughty. I waited for my chance. It came shortly after Toby went to the fridge to get another beer. When he returned and sat down, I walked over to the table, carrying my tray containing my untouched food in my mouth. Without warning, I dropped my food all over his black trousers - made a hell of a mess. I just looked up at him with my big brown eyes, as if to say ‘it wasn’t my fault.’ It got his attention though, because the very next night, I dined on steak just like he did. Best thing was – I didn’t need to say a thing.” “Before I tell you how I first came to talk to Toby, maybe you can answer something for me? Why do humans only clean the top part of their furniture? Don’t they know there’s an underbelly? As I crawl under furniture like the dining table, all I find is cobwebs, dust, and other undesirables. Not good for a dog’s fur, now is it? It makes me sneeze a lot as well.” “Carrying on with my story, I promised to share how I first started talking to Toby. It all happened when I was very young. I was so full of energy, I just couldn’t sit still. Toby had been trying to read a book, but couldn’t concentrate with me racing around the room, banging into furniture and knocking things over. He’s a slow learner, but finally he got the hint. He decided to take me to the park, so I can burn off this energy, and sniff out every nook and cranny, a doggie’s dream. In this particular park, there are many interesting nooks and crannies, I must say.” “Oh no, I shouldn’t tell you that – I forgot – dogs aren’t supposed to talk. “ “Anyway, back to the park. Toby had bought a ball along for me to play with. After he’d released my lead, he flicked the - 66 -
ball across the grass. Immediately, I scampered after it like any good dog would. Holding it in my teeth, I raced back and dropped it at his feet.” “He threw it again, this time further away. I raced after it, perhaps a tad less enthusiastic than the previous time. I dropped it at his feet again, and my tongue was already dangling from my mouth like an engorged lizard.” “Oblivious of my heavy panting, Toby fired it away again. Who was having fun here?” “I shot after it, and caught it between my teeth before it had even stopped rolling. ‘I’ve still got my speed,’ I mused. Halfway back, I stopped dead in my tracks, and flopped to the ground. A thought had suddenly flashed through my mind. ‘What am I doing this for? He’ll only throw it away and I’ll have to chase it again. It’s far too hot to race around like a mad thing.’ “So I rose and strolled slowly back. As I dropped the ball at Toby’s feet, I casually said, “I’m over chasing balls today. Next time you want it, you fetch it.” “Well, talk about blowing his socks off. Momentarily, he stood there flabbergasted with a stupid expression on his face. After a few moments, he sat down quickly, his eyes as wide as saucers. You could say he was stunned. Yep, a talking dog will do that every time.” “Well, that finished our day in the park. He couldn’t get me home quick enough. He kept looking at me all the way home as if I was going to bite him or something. Of course, I wouldn’t. I love the big bozo, even if he’s an idiot.” “In the days that followed, Toby was that excited, he told all his friends, but they all laughed in disbelief – even his stuck-up girlfriend, Rachel, thought he’d lost it.”
- 67 -
“Eventually, he couldn’t handle looking like the village idiot, so he stopped telling people about his talking dog. Now it’s our secret, and that’s the way I like it.” “Just talking about being an idiot reminds me of the day when Toby started confiding in me about his new girlfriend, Mary-Anne.” “Yep, you guessed it. Rachel dumped him when he put the hard word on her a few weeks back. I was curled up asleep in my cosy bed at the time, but Toby told me later. I said she was stuck-up.” “Anyway, back to Mary-Anne. Toby and I’ve had endless discussions about her. I know her well. Toby often buys her flowers and chocolates, takes her to dinner and maybe a show, but at the moment, she’s playing hard to get. All he receives in return is a good night kiss. And he’s deliriously happy with that!!! “I can’t understand that. In my world, if a female wants me, we just do it. No preliminaries – we may not even know each other’s name. Much better, don’t you think?” “Then there’s this thing called WORK!” “Toby goes off to work every day, and leaves me alone in the back yard. When he first started leaving me behind, I thought I’d been punished for doing something wrong. So I was extra nice to him when he returned that night and continued my affectionate behaviour throughout the next morning, but it made no difference – he still left me at home. Now I’ve gotten used to it, and it doesn’t bother me anymore. In a strange way, I now enjoy my own company. At least, I can get a lot more sleeping done without him around.” “One day we were talking and Toby said he works to earn something called money, which pays for our food (two steaks per mealtime is fairly expensive), and, of course, there are my vet - 68 -
bills. There’s a wonderful nurse at the vets who always makes a big fuss of me, so occasionally I pretend to be sick just to go and see her again. If Toby was to ever find out ... well, bugger me!! “Oops, sorry - another thing we don’t do in our species. Not enough closets, I guess ...” “Toby works in all temperatures, while I laze around, sleeping, eating and drinking, and occasionally, if I’m lucky, the other. When he gets home tired from work, he still has to take me for a long walk, whether he wants to or not. I have to keep healthy you know? He has to amuse me whenever he’s in the house.” “The pleasure is not all one-sided. I do have my uses.” “For example, like the night Toby and Mary-Anne were out, and I stopped a burglar from taking all Toby’s nice things. It all happened so quickly; I surprised myself with what I did.” “I was sleeping inside the house when I heard the sound of breaking glass in the lounge. I was instantly alert. I spotted a man slightly smaller in build than Toby climb in through this broken window. I sensed something was wrong. Toby didn’t know this man.” “He kept the lights off, which gave me a decided advantage.” “Curious, I followed his flitting shadow as he went from room to room. He scooped up jewellery, a small TV and DVD, and Toby’s model car collection. He laid them out on the kitchen table, before raiding the fridge for food. I crept up behind him and whispered, “There’s an angel at your table, and he doesn’t like you eating his food.” The man jumped up in fright at the sound of my voice. When I gave him my best impression of an angry Doberman - you know the one what I mean – the snarling jaws, the rolled back, - 69 -
demented eyes, and the ears pointed upwards, he just about choked on what he’d been eating.” He leapt up onto the table to escape my snapping jaws, but, when I jumped up beside him, he made a break for it. Ignoring his booty, he rushed headlong towards the window he’d broken to enter in the first place. Disorientated and in a blind panic, he dived through the wrong window. He hit the ground outside, covered in glass confetti.” “Without a moment’s hesitation, he rose and raced off into the darkness, nursing his cuts and bruises. My growl urged him on.” “If dogs were meant to have a sense of humour, I would’ve laughed ‘til I dropped. When I told Toby later, that’s exactly what he did. I guess humans are better equipped in some ways.” “At least Toby appreciated me much more after that. In fact, I’m spoiled rotten; a situation I can heartily recommend.” “They say humans are much smarter than dogs, but guess again. I know who my money’s on.” “See You.”
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Lunatic Speaks Caroline Hagood
In the dream I’m under a cow tent in Africa somewhere, sucking my own sweat though a straw, feeling that I am nothing but a sum of small things, snails, fly wings, dust bunnies, candle drips, leftover air. When I wake, I feel so empty I eat everything in sight. My hurt is crystalline, taking on never before seen patterns of beauty, subtle in that way of things that belong to the mist, like cotton candy and the blue drool that follows, or the haze of teeth whiteners and skin powders that leave a dusting of synthetic snow across the dermis, newly fallen shadows, so close to not being, spinning alone in a vacuum. I still smell of cow and my eyes have started to rain. I married a weatherman so that he could tell me when my brain would start playing misty for me. The plan backfired and I'm up in the middle of the night watching TV, can’t sleep with this buzzing in my head, not quite pain and not quite light, something crueler, a mooing of the mind trying to run away from itself. If I'm not crazy, then why do my thoughts speak a language that I can’t understand? Is the oddball orange peel of this world in an atlas all there is? The globe carved up and impotent, like a discarded foreskin? Watching episode after episode of this stupid surgery show reminds me that people are really just pieces of meat, tendony, with puffy unindentifiables, many-colored protrusions that can be undone with instruments like the felling of the first tree that I do nothing to stop, just swivel hips, shake some rump in the lunatic disco as the jungle goes down.
- 72 -
Eleanor Leonne Bennett
- 73 -
The Rite Steps to Manhood
Today I danced and proved all that I am. The thick wood smoke burns through my nostrils. Sweat trickles down my back, stinging the lash wounds along the way. My muscles seize but I stand my ground. I have made it to the end.
I started the first steps just a boy, naked and exposed to the early morning air, every eye on me eager for the outcome. Through the lashings, inflicted by my own to test my endurance, I persevered. Deep into the waning light my stamina prevailed. Even as my bare feet caught the stray embers that spilled from the fire pit, nothing could damper my rhythm, my steps.
Now I stand inside the ritual dance circle with the beat of the drum bound to my soul as my village, my people, look proudly towards me. Today I danced and proved all that I am, and I stand before them a man.
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Annie was the oldest nanny the agency had sent for us to interview, but there was something about her that the baby liked. She toddled over and held onto her leg. “Coe-coe-coe,” she said, tugging at the hem of her coat. “Coe-coe-coe.” Steffy didn’t want to let her go. Annie was the first nanny out of 40 that she’d didn’t shy away from or avoid. The baby liked her. For the life us of, we couldn’t figure out why. Annie was 63 years old, a washed-out former schoolteacher, with a dead husband and four grown kids, all living out of state. She had a deep voice, mousy brown hair, sad eyes, and sagging boobs. “Are you able to live in our guesthouse?” I asked. “Yes.” “Do you like dogs?” Our two English sheepdogs ran into the room and sniffed her flat ass. She moved it out of their way, and patted them on their heads. “Yes.” “Will you also do cooking and cleaning?” “Yes.” “Why’d you leave your last job?” I asked. “I retired with a decent pension,” she replied. “Not only that, the kids were bringing knives and guns into school. One student had a machete.” “Those are good reasons,” I said. My wife, Jane, sat back and took it all in. She was the antithesis of Annie: tall, all legs, with a mane of thick blond - 75 -
hair, and a body that could turn a stiff into a sex fiend. She’d never held a real job in her life, and was proud of it. She leaned back in her chair and filed her well-manicured nails. “How long have you been doing this?” she asked. “This is my first time out.” “How do we know you’re any good with kids?” “Well,” Annie said, “I raised four and they turned out pretty good.” “What‘s pretty good?” “One’s a physicist, one’s a lawyer, and the other two are doctors. A brain surgeon and a neurologist.” “That’s fine,” Annie said. “But are they happy?” “All happily married with kids. My oldest son just had his 24th wedding anniversary.” “Do you have a husband?” “No. He died about 10 years ago.” “Do you have a boyfriend?” “No” “Do you want one?” “No.” “What do you do for fun?” “Play the cello, paint, swim” “Are you healthy?” “As far as I know.” Steffy was trying to climb onto Annie’s lap. She picked her up and bounced her on her knee. The baby cooed with delight. Jane and I looked at each other. Annie seemed like a fit to me, but I couldn’t tell what Jane was thinking. I could never tell what Jane was thinking. She always surprised me. That was one of her charms. “We’ll let the agency know tomorrow,” I said.
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Annie reached down and picked up one of Steffy’s stuffed bears. She held it in front of her and turned it this way and that. “Mr. Bear wants to play with you,” she said. The baby reached for the bear and she handed it to her, then eased her onto the floor. Annie stood up, slipped on her coat, and picked up her pocketbook. “Thank you,” she said. I stood to walk her to the door, but she waved me off. “I can find my way out,” she said. “I’m impressed,” I replied. _______
The house was big, a 4,500 square foot custom-built contemporary. It had granite counters, stainless steel appliances, a SubZero refrigerator, a wine cellar, a marble bath with a soaking tub and Swedish shower, a master bedroom suite to die for, heated indoor and outdoor salt water pools, a gym, a billiards room, and a library. I bought it after I made a killing in the stock market. We also had a small guesthouse out back for the nanny. Actually, it was an in-law apartment with a fireplace and a loft, custom made closets, a flat screen TV, and a skylight. It had a whirlpool tub and steam shower. The windows overlooked the baby’s playground and one of our gardens. Jane’s parents were supposed to stay there when they visited, but they never did. _______
Annie moved in two weeks to the day we hired her. She drove up to the guesthouse in a Honda Accord and started to unload her stuff. She brought very little with her. Just a couple of suitcases, a laptop computer, a cello, a box of music and a - 77 -
stand, canvases and painting supplies, photos of her children and grandchildren, and a framed portrait of her dead husband. He looked like a banker with rosacea, a tall thin man in a suit, with a ruddy face and piercing, grey eyes. I hung him over the fireplace for her. The bed was already made, the kitchen stocked with supplies, and the linen closet filled with plush towels, an extra blanket, and clean sheets and pillowcases. I gave her a map of downtown Westwin. We spread it out on her desk. “Can you read maps?” I asked “Yes,” she said. “Good,” I replied. “The bank is about here,” I marked it with an X, and did the same for the supermarket, post office, theatre, and bowling alley. “We’re very close to town,” I said. “Just go to the end of the driveway, turn right until you hit the first light, then take a left. It’s no more than 10 minutes away.” _______
Jane was spoiled, and I did nothing to change that. If anything, I made it worse. We were patrons of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and went to concerts at least three times a month. We were on the advisory councils of several philanthropic groups, and attended expensive benefits on a regular basis. I was a ranking member of the local Democratic party, and we often held fund-raising events at the house, catered affairs with caviar, Moet et Chandon, scallops wrapped in bacon, mushrooms stuffed with heart of mongoose, and generous portions of parlez vous Francais. I sat on the boards of a software company, a new social media group, a leading advertising agency, Bank of America, - 78 -
Pfizer, Novartis, Chi Chi’s Mexican Restaurant, IBM, and the local bagel shop. I finagled seats on several boards for Jane, to occupy her time. We didn’t need the money, but I liked to see her dress up and act purposeful. She never had much to say at the meetings, but she sparkled like a jewel and added an aura of elegance to any room she entered. That said, she was a less than an ideal mother. For some unknown reason, she was awkward around the baby, and put off by the messiness of feeding her and changing diapers. If the baby woke in the night crying, she generally slept right through the racket and left it up to me to provide solace. She needed her beauty sleep. I couldn’t understand her. I didn’t mind being a dad. In fact, I was thrilled by it, filled with wonder at this tiny person we’d created. I enjoyed comforting the baby and rocking her back to sleep. I loved her fresh, clean scent and her unadulterated joy at every new thing. I enjoyed feeding her, wiping the mess off her face after she ate, playing with her, reading to her, being in the pool with her. I savored every moment with my beautiful little daughter. She had my dark hair and her mother’s blue eyes; my smarts, her mother’s charisma. She’d get the best of everything. I’d see to that. _______
“Wha, wha, wha. Wha, wha, wha. Wha wha wha. ” It went on and on, a never-ending, ear-piercing wail. The baby had cholic, and I’d spent half the night driving around with her, hoping she’d fall asleep, and the rest of the night humming to her, reading The Duck and The Beast, and walking back and forth in the nursery, holding her on my shoulder. Nothing seemed to work.
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Steffy was still crying in the morning when Jane came into the kitchen. She took her in her arms for a few minutes, bounced her up and down a little, then handed her back to me. “I’m going shopping,” she said, and headed into Boston. When Annie came in to make breakfast, she took a quick look and asked if we had any vanilla extract. I handed the baby over to her and searched through the cabinets until I found a small bottle of it. Annie put the baby in her highchair, gave her some Cheerios to play with, mashed a spoonful of vanilla into her food, and tried to feed her. “Wha wha wah.” Steffy pushed it away.
Annie told me to get the bear. I
ran upstairs and brought it down. “Mr. Bear wants to eat,” Annie said. She pretended to feed the bear. Steffy stopped crying for a minute and watched warily. “One for him, one for you. Open wide.” She took the food. “One for Mr. Bear, one for you. One for Mr. Bear, one for you.” Annie made Mr. Bear jump up and down. “He wants more,” she said. Steffy ate faster, until all her food was gone. She’d stopped crying and was sleepy. The vanilla had worked like magic. We took the baby upstairs, put her in her crib, and watched over her until she fell asleep. I was exhausted, also ready to sleep, but Annie insisted on making me breakfast. I couldn’t resist the eggs, pancakes, and coffee. Then she handed me a mimosa in a fluted glass. “You deserve it,” she said. “Now,” she said, “come with me.” - 80 -
She took my hand and practically pulled me up to the master bedroom.
She pushed me onto the bed, took off my shoes, and
covered me with a blanket. Within minutes, I was asleep. I didn’t wake up until late afternoon. By then, the floors were sparkling clean, and the kitchen looked better than it had since we moved in. The dirty dishes were out of the sink. The spoiled milk was gone. The coffee, donuts, Cheerios, baby food, bread, and crackers were off the counters and in the cabinets. I didn’t see a single crumb anywhere. Everything was orderly and neat. I looked out the window and saw Annie working in one of our gardens. She was weeding the flowers. The speaker that connected her to the baby’s room was on the ground next to her.
heard Steffy wake up. I climbed upstairs. Annie was right behind me. “Listen dad,” she said. “Go downstairs and let me do my job. I’ll be along with Steffy in a few minutes. If you’re hungry, brunch is in the refrigerator. Just dig in.” I went into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and took out a platter with grapes, pineapple, sliced apples and mangos, a big triangle of brie, and stoned wheat crackers. The coffee was perking and a bloody Mary was sitting on the counter. It had a little sticky note on it. I took it off and read it. It had my name on it. “Ideal,” I said, and started in on the grapes. ______
Jane came home with two large bags and a glow from an afternoon at the spa. She took the booty into the living room and put it on the sofa. “Look,” she said, pulling out a Prada handbag and matching alligator boots. “This will look wonderful with the business suit you bought me for the Cabot board meeting.” - 81 -
She opened the second bag and held up a sleeveless black cocktail dress, one of five she already owned. “I can always use another little black dress,” she said. Finally, she looked around the room. “Where’s Steffy?” she asked. “Working in the garden with Annie.” Jane went to the window and looked outside. “How sweet,” she said, “but a little dirty, don’t you think?” _______
Jane decided that she wanted to go to graduate school at Cambridge College and get a degree in public health. “But you’ve never shown an interest in public health,” I said. “I’ve just never talked about it, but I’m very concerned about malaria, HIV, polio, and some other thing…I can’t remember what it is.” I tried to talk her out of it, but it didn’t work. “What about the baby?” I asked. “What about her,” she said. “You won’t be around much to watch her grow.” “I’ll see enough,” she said. “Are you sure?” I asked. I sat down next to her and kissed her face and lips. I unbuttoned her shirt and slipped off her bra. I kissed her shoulders, neck, and breasts. I held them in my hand and squeezed her nipples. “And what about me?” I asked. Jane smiled slyly. “And what about you,” she answered, stepping out of a black leather miniskirt and blue silk panties. - 82 -
I pushed her down on the bed and lay poised over her. “What about me,” I whispered. Then the baby screeched. ________
“A little fall,” Annie said, holding the snivling Steffy in her arms. I looked at the tiny scrape on her knee and kissed it. “There. All better now,” I said. Jane took the baby from Annie, but she squirmed and put up a fuss. She reached for Annie, and Jane gave her back. “I don’t like this,” she said later. “The baby wants her more than she wants me.” “You need to spend more time with her,” I said. “Changing diapers and wiping muck off her face?” “That’s right,” I said. “You need to put her to sleep and be there in the middle of the night if she wakes up. You need to feed her three times a day and wipe her little ass. You need to get on the floor and read Mr. Duckling Goes to Town 40 times.” “I give her a bath every night.” she said. “Isn’t that enough?” “No,” I said. “It’s nowhere near enough.” “That’s why we hired Annie,” she said. “Then don’t be surprised when she reaches for Annie instead of you.” It was the first fight we’d had over the baby, one of many to come. Jane was always full of surprises, but her lack of motherly instincts was one I couldn’t fathom. She checked her fingernails, made sure the manicure was perfect. “Go change a diaper,” she said, and walked out of the room. - 83 -
It went downhill from there. Jane went to school and took an apartment in Boston. She only came home on weekends, and was always too tired to make love. “You have no idea how busy I am,” she said, giving the baby her bath. “The work is overwhelming.” I could feel anger rise in my throat like bile. I’d given her everything she ever wanted, and now she was abandoning us, leaving us behind like an extraneous limb in her useless pursuit of a degree she’d never use. “You’ll never go to Haiti and develop programs to get rid of tuberculosis,” I said. “You’ll never mentor anyone. You’ll never do a fucking thing with that degree.” “Up yours,” Jane replied, and walked out of the room. That was her answer to every problem: walk out of the room. But now she was walking out of the house and out of my life. I cancelled her credit cards and moved into one of the guest suites. _______
Jane was in Boston on a perfect summer day, when the three of us went in the pool. I was holding the baby, bouncing her up and down, in and out of the water. Annie was swimming laps, one after another, like a pro. When she’d finished 10 of them, she took her turn dunking Steffy and I did a few laps. Afterwards, we walked down the manicured path to the guesthouse, Steffy between us. For the first time I noticed Annie’s strong arms. She also had nice legs. “That was refreshing,” she said. I agreed.
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We each had one of Steffy’s hands and every now and again, would swing her into the air. She loved it; whenever we did it, she squealed with delight. We continued until we got to Annie’s place, then I hoisted Steffy onto my shoulders. She had a great time slapping my head with her little hands. She was happy. I was happy. Annie was happy. It felt good to spend time around her. She was kind and mature—a real woman, not a selfish child, like Jane. ________
One Sunday night, I woke up at 3 a.m., restless, hungry for something, but not food. I tried reading, but couldn’t concentrate. I paced around the room for 15 minutes, then threw on a bathrobe and went outside for some air. I sat by the pool for a while, enjoying the warm breeze on my bare skin. I walked down the path towards Annie’s place. One dim light was on inside. I roamed around the backyard for a while, then knocked softly on her window. “Come in,” she said. “The door’s open.” I slipped inside without saying a word. Annie was in bed, the sheet pulled up to her neck. Except for the soft glow from a nightlight in the bathroom, the room was in shadows. It was so quiet; I could hear my heart beating. Annie watched me stand against the wall for a few minutes, then pulled back the sheet, inviting me into her bed. I hesitated, wondering what in the world I was doing there in the middle of the night with our 63year-old nanny, and yet, I was drawn to her. I climbed in beside her and she took my hand. Her touch was firm and reassuring. After a few minutes, I let go and sat on the edge of the bed. She got on her knees and rubbed my shoulders.
She worked her way up and down my back. Then she
started in on my chest. She rubbed my pecs, and I felt them - 85 -
relax. Her hands made their way to my abs and worked each set, one side at a time. When she reached my belly button, I put my hand on top of hers. It paused, then started to pull away. I held it in place. “Don’t stop,” I said. I released the hand and lay back on the bed. A finger traced a small circle at the top of my hip. “Don’t stop,” I murmured. The hand moved down slowly. It wrapped itself around me, softly at first, then with a firmer grip as it started to stroke my skin. “Don’t stop,” I whispered. Annie leaned over me. I could see the years on her body, but didn’t care. Neither did she. “Stop?” she asked. “Don’t,” I said. “No way,” she replied.
- 86 -
- 87 -
The English Teacher Retires after lines by Emilio DeGrazia, teacher Richard Glowacki
He started emptied, let them pick him clean of the abandoned stuff they hoped to spin into ruts of progress, left the gates open for the next campaign to swarm in with their mistakes. As he stole away, he sat facing backwards on that slow train out of town and didnâ€™t ask how much farther he had left to go; he let the receding fields widen, green as the future he once looked to. He let his eyes fall in love with illegible skies, redundant hills, and blue mirror seas with nothing to say, let his ear ease in the wordy singsong of lark, warbler, and wren. He let his tongue appetently assess the subordinating of salt to sweet and savored each fragment of fragrances born of sun and shade, returning those years lost to a life measured by clocks. He let the atonement of sleep revise the poor mechanics of how that world continued to work. After years of amending to at last astound them with that seamless answer, he now delights in the perfectly flawed fabric of each day, a dumbfounded, inarticulate student of it all.
- 88 -
Ruben Monakhov - 89 -
On the last train Gary Glauber Semi-colons litter the bleak landscape, remnants from a time when punctuation held as stronghold against opposing forces that exploded full sentences from their footings and proclaimed the revolution in short shrill bursts. Now rogue consonants dot the decimated countryside, filled with the dream of alliterative activism, and the hope of restoring this communicative art to its once esteemed place on societyâ€™s shelves. That occurrence seems more remote with each passing day, as the viral pandemic spreads vapid emoticons and insipid acronyms like poisoned barbs that soundlessly wield damage on an infinitude of wavelengths and devices. Insouciance, wit and wisdom are the innocent victims, as particular tropes and devices go unnamed, unremembered, lost somewhere within a trove of perfect metaphors and cultural allusions wasted on blind eyes and deaf ears, resonating only in the tired memories and provincial ideations of geriatric warriors. This was ever the battle, it seems, a generational challenge of values and mores, a fight to the death over salt and water, split infinitives, and subtle points of logic. The iron wheels clank heavily on the tracks and slow progress reveals more of the carnage: abandoned screens and lost passwords, obliterated diction and a confused syntactical jumble that reveals ignorance entwined with indifference, and laziness worn as a badge of entitled pride. What is this new universe where symbols hide in plain sight and still get misread, this desolate and intrepid terrain of darkness and misunderstandings? The shadows climb across the far horizon and obscure the views from this aging conveyance. The cloak of nightfall gathers up the stragglers who seem to congregate in search of a phrase, a saying, a word weapon against the encroaching silence.
- 90 -
Back to Zero
A. Frank Bower
Today is Sunday. Ten minutes ago, I poured a cup of leftover coffee and put it into the microwave oven, but the damn thing wouldn’t run. I hate cold coffee. I put the mug on my ceramic stovetop; it wouldn’t turn on, either. I assumed there’s a power outage and sipped it cold. I looked out the window over the sink to check the neighborhood for lights, didn’t see any and observed it’s a gray day. When I opened the front door to get the newspaper, I noticed there were no clouds. The sky was gray. It was eight a.m. I thought, Shouldn’t sunlight be brightening the world? There was no paper, so I shut the door. I looked into the living room with its cobalt blue walls and navy furniture. Everything was gray. There were no colors anywhere. I thought of Ross Palmer, shuddered and grabbed my microcassette recorder, thinking, It’s battery operated; maybe…. It failed to respond. I retrieved the notebook from my briefcase and began to write this, using the sketchy notes I did yesterday as a guide. Ross Palmer says the damnedest things. He opened last week’s session with, “Dr. Baron, I can’t see you through your skin.” It’s no wonder I look forward to meeting with him more than any of my three dozen cases. His circuitous mind, albeit delusionally paranoid, is fueled by an IQ of 184. My experience with geniuses, limited to four others, taught me they usually use their wits to construct elaborate rationales to avoid facing their illnesses. Ross accepts his and has worked with me for seven years to wrestle with it. Ross, not his real name, due to his right to privacy—a joke now—is a vegetarian. He believes the increased mental illness in - 91 -
America is traceable to chemicals in food. He washes and scrubs most things he ingests. Not surprisingly, he’s a slight man: five-seven, a hundred twenty pounds. Ross trims his beard and hair bi-monthly; just enough to eliminate split ends and unevenness. He always wears a fatigue jacket, even in summer. Flannel shirts, sneakers and shredded jeans complete his unkempt image, supporting his background as a flower child in the nineteen-sixties. Whenever I mentioned his appearance, he used the Einstein defense, claiming casual comfort as justification. Ross confesses, rather brags, about taking LSD from 1968 until 1973. He admits it altered his brain chemistry, but insists the changes were positive ones. He adamantly denies connections to his psychiatric condition and claims, “Acid made me aware of the true nature of existence.” When I questioned why he stopped taking it, he said, “I maxed out on it. I’m perpetually in tune now, so I don’t need it any more.” Therapy sessions with Mr. Palmer taught me caution about what I choose to disbelieve. Sorting out paranoid verbalizations from expressions of actual perceptions is difficult. For example, the above statement: I can’t see you through your skin. When he said it, I suppressed laughter. I thought, That’s literally true. Reaching further, I wondered if he was saying something about my character, that I use my profession as a “skin” to hide myself from the world. This uncertainty led me to a vague feeling of fear during last week’s session. Ross said, “No one knows what ‘zero hour’ means.” “Which is?” His eyes were glassy and wide. “It’s where we’re headed. Back to zero.” “How so?”
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Ross breathed deeply. “Have you seen the home security system ad on TV, the one with all ones and zeros flowing over the outside of a house?” “Years ago, I saw one with them on the inside of a home. Why?” Ross leaned forward in his chair. “It represents binary digitalization. We think it’s everything today. Like we used to believe in radio waves.” He pursed his lips. “I had an old issue of a Superman comic in which he perceives everything all at once and almost goes mad, until he finds a way to stop it. It taught me that our senses aren’t consciousnessexpanders, but consciousness limiters. Otherwise, we couldn’t function. Imagine if we could see all different waves of radio frequencies simultaneously. We wouldn’t see; everything would gray out.” I didn’t get his point immediately. Ross shut his eyes a moment and sighed. Sometimes he lost patience with my intellect. Warmed to his subject, he kept talking. “The same applies to sound. Take music. I used to believe in infinity and that there’d be no end to new songs. Wrong. Have you noticed how more and more melodies are copies of earlier tunes?” He paused, eased back into the seat, nodded to himself and said, “We’re nearing the end.” “Ross,” I said, “I think I get the idea. If we heard all music at the same time, we’d just hear some high-pitched hum.” “Perhaps.” He sighed again. “Maybe nothing.” Struggling to keep up with him, I frowned. “What do you mean by, ‘nearing the end’?” Ross appeared frightened. “Are you familiar with entropy?” I shook my head. He said, “Google it.” He stared ahead, licked his lips and went on. - 93 -
“Consciousness limiting is the digit one. The universe is the digit zero. That’s the binary nature of our existence. When the last new song is composed and the final wavelength transmitted, we will have filled the electro-magnetic spectrum, caught up to creation.” He didn’t blink. His eyes widened and his face paled. “Our binary existence will have no alternative but to return to true zero. Nature will require that the universe collapse. The implosion will cause another Big Bang and start all over again.” Ross chuckled dryly. “We will have gotten too close to deity.” I’d never heard anyone’s paranoia expressed on such a cosmic scale. I’ve listened to my share of patients claiming to be Jesus. Misplaced religiosity isn’t the same. Ross’ speech, although difficult for me to follow, showed me deeper delusions than before. He had no history of violence toward self or others; for the first time, I wondered if he might harm himself. I tried not to let him see my concern. “Ross, what are your plans?” He scoffed, “I’m not suicidal, Dr. Baron. I’m letting you know you’d better get your affairs in order—internally.” Ross wouldn’t listen to my attempts to delineate where his logic was faulty. My inferior intellect, a contributing factor, prevented me from countering him effectively. I tried to end our session on an optimistic note. “Ross, your theory is fascinating. Let’s resume this next week. I’ll see you then.” From the doorway, he said, “I hope so.” As I said earlier, when I opened my front door to get the newspaper, the colors of autumn were gone, replaced by visuals more like an old-fashioned television picture from before color transmissions. I shut the door and realized my home was also in black and white. Looking into my living room, I saw black fading - 94 -
and white darkening, as if each sought some middle ground. I thought, Oh, my God, and decided to write this down, regardless how illogical it is. Sweating, I laughed at myself, thinking, Ross was delusional—and illogical. His ideas made no sense. Yet, there is a power outage.
I tried to write this with a black pen; it was
almost invisible, gray letters on pale gray paper. For whatever reason, red ink, although also gray, works better. I can still read it. Dread assailed me until I accepted the truth. I’m laughing again. One huge, galactic guffaw. It doesn’t matter that I’ve gotten this down. Soon it will be illegible, as if I composed it in invisible ink. Besides, who’ll be around to read it?
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House Annemarie Ni Churreain
On that grave, bare soil I could return completely, feel my way back towards the centre as a blind woman might, with only love as her guide. In the wide open where not a single thing grows now, the one sure thing is memory: rooms, nooks, all the cherished holding-places survive. The stacked delph, the black trunk brought from America by ship, the box of photographs beneath the table in the high bedroom. I could reach through darkness, find them every time and know immediately â€“ the earth underfoot, where in summer we set out chairs to watch who was coming in, going out at Kit Dhonnachaidhâ€™s hill.
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Conversion to Digital, A Consolation for the Aging Barbara Westwood Diehl Rest assured that most days will be days of high definition, your widescreen image not degraded, the resolution so much sharper than earlier broadcasts, though there may be moments of pixelation, of feeling fragmented, your parts exposed, or black bars above and below the action, and a niggling sense of things you might be missing, and perhaps some audio artifacts, some popping and hissing, scrambled signals, like trying so hard to convey those words that start out as something urgent, simpleâ€”but come out as something else, though these will seem trivial as subliminal images when you recall that once your world was analog, subject to snow and ghosts, and sometimes both, and how hard you tried to discern the actors drifting through their plots like the conjured dead you can channel now in their true, immutable colors.
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Notes on Contributors
Wayne Andrewartha lives in Auckland, New Zealand. He graduated from the Wellington Correspondence School for Writing many years ago, and was in corporate accounting for 35 years. In the past 5 years, he has written 3 novels, and 38 short stories. None of the above have has yet been published. Gary Beck is a New Yorker who worked as a theater director and art dealer (when he couldn't earn a living in the theater). His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway, and in other venues. His poetry has appeared in hundreds of literary magazines. Eleanor-Leonne Bennett is a young photographer from North West England, UK. He has won numerous photography competitions, such as Wrexham Science Festival's Photography Competition, and National Geographic's UK kids photography competition 2010. To see more of Bennettâ€™s work please check out his website: http://eleanorleonnebennett.zenfolio.com Karen Beatty thinks of life as a river, coming and going, surging and flowing. Born in Eastern Kentucky near the temperamental Lickinâ€™ River, she eventually settled in Greenwich Village, between the Hudson River and the East River, on the isle of Manhattan. A. Frank Bower retired early from mental health work to write and spend time with his wife Carol. An ex-patient inspired this story. Other clients have led to numerous tales. Bower hopes his complete psych hospital memoirs will find print. Rita Buckley is an award-winning freelance medical writer. Her fiction has appeared in print and online in Versal, Calliope, Danse Macabre, Bartleby Snopes, and other journals. Caroline Coe is a visual artist and writer experiencing the transition out of a 25-year marriage and diving, headfirst, into her lifetime love of creating art. Barbara Westwood Diehl is founding editor of The Baltimore Review and an employee and M.A. in Writing student at Johns Hopkins University. Her short stories and poetry have been published in a variety of publications, including MacGuffin, Confrontation, Rosebud, Thema, JMWW, Potomac Review, American
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Poetry Journal, Measure, Little Patuxent Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Caper Literary Journal, and Gargoyle. Karen Douglass writes poems, novels, a blog, and grocery lists. She lives in Colorado with three dogs, one cat, an old car and her family. You can visit her at KDâ€™s Bookblog [kdsbookblog.blogspot.com] or you can go to Colorado. Brian Alan Ellis lives in Gainesville, Florida. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Skive, Zygote in my Coffee, Thieves Jargon (as Brian Rentchek), Corduroy Mtn., The Big Stupid Review, Dogzplot, The Splinter Generation, Flashquake, Underground Voices, Midnight in Hell (as Alan Shivers), Glossolalia, Conte, Fiction Fix, and G Twenty Two. He wishes you a fine day. Gary Glauber is a poet, fiction writer, teacher, and music journalist. He knows that each ensuing day is a transition of sorts, an opportunity too. His poems will be forthcoming in The Compass Rose, Front Porch Review, Kitchen, and StepAway Magazine. Richard Glowacki lives in the Seattle, WA area and teaches high school English. Some of his poems have been published in magazines such as Great River Review and English Journal. Caroline Hagood is a poet and professor of literature and creative writing. She has written on arts and culture for The Guardian, Salon, and the Huffington Post. Her poetry has appeared in Shooting the Rat (Hanging Loose Press), Movin' (Orchard Books), Angelic Dynamo, Ginosko, and Manhattan Chronicles. She's always looking for adventure, the perfect slice of pizza. Ciara Harris is a 23 year-old student earning her second degree. Engaged in books from a young age, she completed her first work of 400 handwritten pages in 6th grade. Since then inspiration has struck in many forms, flash fiction being one. William D. Hicks is a writer who lives in Chicago, Illinois by himself (any offers?). Contrary to popular belief, he is not related to the famous comedian Bill Hicks (though heâ€™s just as funny in his own right). His writing has appeared in other journals such as Highland Park Poetry Muse Gallery and Outburst Magazine, The Legendary.
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Duane J Jackson is a 30 year-old poet from Kolkata, India. While he is not writing, he enjoys dabbling in the ‘what’s what’ of current affairs, reading, listening to rock, folk and world music, dream weaving and mind surfing. His work has been published in other literary journals such as Danse Macabre, The Scrambler, and Red Fez. Lynn Kennison currently lives in the sunshine state with her husband, our four dogs, and a poofy gray cat. She works in an office setting where her boss loves to hear himself talk and tends to give long-winded speeches. It is during these times, she likes to daydream, and later compile her thoughts into short stories and poems. D. Krauss is a retired USAF officer currently working for the State Department on contract. He has 21 other stories published in various EZines, such as "A Fly in Amber" and "The Battered Suitcase." Caroline Krieger-Comings has been studying and producing twodimensional artwork since childhood. She was raised in Hackensack, New Jersey, just outside of New York City, and have lived and worked in San Francisco, Aix-en-Provence, Antwerp and New York City. Travel, photography and teaching artistic drawing techniques to adults enhance the expression of her heartfelt passion for visual art. Dorothee Lang is a writer, web freelancer and traveller, and the editor of BluePrintReview. She lives in Germany, and always was fascinated by languages, roads and the world, themes that reflect in her own work. She keeps a sky diary, is still captured by the possibilities of the web, and currently is focusing on collaborate projects. For more about her, visit her at blueprint21.de. Keith Laufenberg has been writing for over 30 years and has had over a hundred poems and short stories published in numerous literary magazines and journals and have had 2 novels published: “Miami Rock” and “Semper-Fi-Do-or-Die”, both in 2007. After growing up selling corndogs and cotton candy at carnivals up and down the West Coast, Susan Meyers extended her gypsy habits into other lands, spending several years living in Chile, Mexico, and Costa Rica. She still enjoys travel, though she has settled down (somewhat) back home: the Pacific Northwest.
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Ruben Monakhov was born in 1970 in Leningrad (USSR). He graduated from Serov Art School (at present time Roerikh Art School) in 1991. He is a member of St. Petersburg section of Russian Federation Artists Union since 1999. His works can be found in public and private collections in Russia, Belgium, Germany, USA, UK. From Donegal in Ireland, Annemarie Ni Churreáin has a BA in Communication Studies and an M.Phil in Creative Writing. She is a writer, editor and arts promoter. Her poetry has been published widely in Ireland and abroad. Her creative interests include folklore, the Irish Language and children's writing. Ilya Prints is from St. Petersburg, Russia and lives in Boston for about 10 years. A few of his other works, poems and flash fictions, were published in other literary journals. Francis Raven’s books include Architectonic Conjectures (Silenced Press, 2010), Provisions (Interbirth, 2009), 5-Haifun: Of Being Divisible (Blue Lion Books, 2008), Shifting the Question More Complicated (Otoliths, 2007), Taste: Gastronomic Poems (Blazevox 2005) and the novel, Inverted Curvatures (Spuyten Duyvil, 2005). Francis lives in Washington DC; you can check out more of his work at his website: http://www.ravensaesthetica.com/ Raj Sharma is a retired professor of English, who has worked at universities in India, Iraq and U.S. When Amy Tolbert became interested in photography, her only camera was the very low resolution one on her cell phone. She downloaded some free photo-editing software to disguise the poor quality of her photographs. She soon grew bored with "good" photography, ditching it for what she calls "extreme photomanipulation." William Watkin’s art has appeared in The Maguffin (cover), Flashquake, Song of the Siren, Able Muse, EOTU, and The Pedestal and has illustrated two of his books, Suburban Wilderness, and The Psychic Experiment Book. When not drawing, he races dirtbikes with his son, Chad. Michael T. Young prefers a glass of Dalwhinnie to a slice of red velvet cake. He lived in the East Village in his 20s with a novelist and a filmmaker. He once sat in front of Picasso’s Les Saltimbanques and read Rilke’s 5th Duino Elegy. He still follows Joseph Brodsky’s advice to “be obstinate.”
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