The Paragon Journal Fifth issue - October 2016
The Paragon Journal Journal of creative arts
Warning: Some published pieces may contain graphic language, violence, and/or nudity. We are sorry if this may cause any discomfort. Consider this to be the only warning, and we hope that you enjoy reading this issue.
The Paragon Journal: Journal of Creative Art - Fall 2016 Cover Art courtesy of Will Trostel
Cover Text set in Moon Flower Bold Body Text set in Times New Roman Heading and Subheading Text set in Moon Flower Bold All authors/artists retain the rights to their work. All work that appears in this journal has been published with the author/artistâ€™s permission. ISSN 2470-7775 (print) ISSN 2470-3834 (online)
Want to be published? Submit your work to the Winter 2016/17 edition of The Paragon Journal. The Winter 2016/17 edition deadline is December 16th. Include your name, and genre of your work in your submission email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial Statement Welcome to the fifth issue of The Paragon Journal. I would like to start by thanking you for taking the time to read and enjoy our magazine. We have included various literary works from Pennsylvania citizens as well as international submitters. The Paragon Journal was started by one of my friends, the editor-in-chief, Austin Shay, and this is the first issue I have gotten to be a part of but it definitely will not be the last. I started working on this magazine because as an English major at Pennsylvania State University, reading and writing are my life. An opportunity to work at a magazine is an excellent opportunity to put everything I've been working for together and into an application. Getting a chance to work at a small independent magazine gives me the opportunity to be more hands-on in the production and creation of an issue. There is more freedom with being an independent magazine that some big corporations do not have, and being able to get my hands deep into the literary world while also having more freedom and involvement was a life changing decision that I'm proud of making. The process of putting together an issue of our magazine took a lot of time and effort from a multitude of people, and we are honored for you to see the end result. Thank you so much for your support, and we hope that you enjoy our issue. Thanks, Rishika Goel Managing Editor
Table of Contents Poetry Fireflies, 97
Widowâ€™s Work, 95
One Teensy Favor, 74
4th of July, 46
my blue, 113
If You Are Not A Mechanic, 1
The Devil Inside of Me, 148
where purple once was, 114
My Demon, 197
I Wonder, 29
High Fidelity E-chord, 110
Chocolate Latte in a Canning Bittersweet Grief, 111 Jar, 30 Dark Romance, 45 Bewildered, 31 Revolution in Progress, 65 Lock and Key, 199
Paralyzed in Molten Rock, 201 Destructive Bliss, 203
Only the Lonely, 67
Borderline Racist If Need, 13 Final Chore, 68 The Poor Devil Beside Me, Missing Your Birthday, 70 14 Patriachless, 71 On A Bus in Paris, 60
Visual Arts Screenshot 1, 75
Self Begotten, 169
Perfumed Earlobes, 47
Fading Identities, 76
Trostel 1, 98
Lost Archives #3, 204
The Silence of Astonishment, 173
Trostel 2, 142
Trostel 3, 170
Hit By A Smooth Criminal, Safe as a Button, 174 Trostel 4, 195 198 Evanescent as a Deerâ€™s Eye- Trostel 5, 196 lash, 15 8.14.16 Nerves, 59
Monkey in a Drawer, 141
Cat, 152 Surfing Alien, 194
Fiction Sticks and String, 126
In the Wake of Trains, 49
Claus + Effect, 101
The Bone Hunter, 77
A Dead Texan, 2
Fox Hunt, 86
Yesterdayâ€™s Death Bed, 149
Trail of Yellow Post-It Notes, 89
Etymologist, 34 Fifth Grade Vigilante, 120
A Small Moment of Undisguised Sadness, 99
The Final Testament, 171
Red, White & Blue, 143
Illegal Positions, 175
Creative Nonfiction Once Upon a Jerusalem, 16
Comic Strips Imaginary Friend, 28 Getting Out, 27 Fire at Work, 27
Play Bartleby, My Boy, 115
Interviews/Advertisements Modified Dolls, 109 Interview with Bryce Coleman, 205
If You Are Not A Mechanic* by Bryce Coleman If you’re not a mechanic, you don’t know tools; you can’t know tools. The tools are what make the mechanic's life a breeze. The tools make the job done faster than a sneeze.
All of the tools make a job as an easy as a nighttime snooze One being that there is no effort to use. If you’re not a mechanic, you don’t know the tools. If you’re not a mechanic, you don’t know the engine; you can’t know the engine.
The engine is the son of the mechanic. When the engine purrs, there is no panic. Soon, the car will be back on the road. Waiting for the next oil change, goodness knows. If you’re not a mechanic, you don’t know the engine. If you’re not a mechanic, you don’t know the grease; you can’t know the grease. The grease is the mechanic's heart and soul. The grease to a mechanic is never old. More importantly, the grease can be removed. The more that is there, the more money too. If you’re not a mechanic, you don’t know the grease. If you’re not a mechanic, you don’t know the pain; you can’t know the pain. Page 1
The pain is what hurts the best of all. The pain is what makes me stand tall. The more it hurts, the more I see. That being a mechanic is right for me. If you’re not a mechanic, you don’t know the pain.
If you’re not a mechanic, you don’t know me; you can’t know me. I am one of you, as you can see. If only someone can relate to me. The more I think, the more I see. I can be successful; I can’t wait to see.
If you’re not a mechanic, you don’t know me. *”If You Are Not A Mechanic” is the winner of the 13 to 16 year old poetry competition.
A Dead Texan by Eileen Herbert-Goodall I strike the smooth, curved keys of my typewriter, exploring the seemingly fictional world of a Texan who has insisted upon relaying his experiences. Beneath the intermittent clatter, I hear birds; their trills drift through the window, reminding me that beyond these walls life goes on. The tone of light permeating the room suggests twilight is drawing near. Soon I will leave my desk. I moved out west around six months ago, not long after ‘the episode’, as my mother calls it. The doctors can’t be sure what caused my psychosis – emotional stress, genetic disposition, an indefinable spiritual malady? Who could tell? The intricacies of the human brain continue to baffle leading neuroscientists. Indeed, as my psychiatrist Doctor Myers has said on several occasions, the brain is the most complex structure in the universe. I remain unconvinced about the veracity of this assertion, but can accept the gist of it; basically, we’re too smart for our own good.
Doctor Myers has also noted that mental illness and creativity are often linked, citing Gogh, who cut off an ear, Plath who stuck her head in an oven, and Hemingway who took himself out, as evidence to support his thesis. He believes it remains to be seen how much destruction this symptomatic connection might wreak upon my own life. He’s not the most sensitive man. No doubt having relocated to a place where I can breathe beneath a night sky littered with swollen stars has helped me resume a sense of normalcy, as has maintaining a routine. My typical day consists of rising at dawn, making coffee, tending to the chickens – which I let roam about the yard – taking my medication with breakfast, then heading to my desk. After my midday meal, I work for a few more hours. Towards sunset, I secure the chickens in their coop, shower, prepare dinner, and indulge in a beer or two. I don’t own a television, but occasionally listen to news on the radio. If I’m not too tired, I head to bed with a good book. I’m presently reading ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, which has kept me enthralled from the first page. Jackson’s work suggests we all possess a phantom consciousness that is separate from, yet intrinsically connected to, our psyche; this makes for compulsive reading. It also begs the question: who is my phantom, and what are their intentions? It seems Jackson’s foray into the realm of supernatural horror has influenced my own creative endeavours, for the character presently inhabiting my imagination is, in fact, dead – or so he claimed last night. His name is Chase. Page 3
Evidently, I’m a writer. I’ve experienced significant success in this field; apparently many lovers of short fiction now recognise the name William Carlson. At times I wonder what other pursuits, interests, or traits might constitute my identity. Answers elude me. I used to be a good son and call my mother once a week. She would often ask if I was lonesome and I would tell her that, while I may be alone, I’m not lonely: I have my characters to keep me company. She’s never swallowed this line. I know she’s tried to call several times this month, but I’ve had an aversion to picking up the phone. I wonder, too, if my ex-wife has attempted to reach me. Judith left a year ago. In hindsight, it was an inevitable outcome: she is everything that I’m not. An executive with a well-established publishing firm, Judith is extroverted and certain about what she brings to the table. My self-doubt frustrated her no end. When we met at the launch of my second short story collection, she said my characters moved her, that they touched the most private corners of her heart. My own cardiac chambers jerked in response. I think it’s fair to say that my initial encounter with Judith derailed the rhythm of my heart. I should have known then that our relationship was doomed. No children were conceived during our three year union. Judith hadn’t been ready, or so she said; I surmise she only ever loved me with one foot on the ground. Still, it’s clear she cares for me. Besides my mother, Judith was the only person who visited me in the psychiatric ward.
We sit in the hospital’s foyer, if you could call it that; it’s really a corridor lined with plastic chairs. I stare out the barred window, wondering whether to tell her about the sleeplessness, the paranoia, the desolation that has threatened to devour me since she left. Instead, I say I’m glad to see her. Judith reacts in her characteristically forthright manner. ‘What the hell’s going on, Will?’ ‘The doctors think I need time out, a chance to get back on track.’ ‘Christ, I never realised you were this far off track.’ ‘It’s not something I had planned.’ ‘I’m sorry.’ She cups her chin with a hand. ‘I just didn’t see this coming.’ ‘Me neither.’ We fall silent as a young man named Johnny approaches. He seems incapable of properly lifting his feet and his slippers hiss as they slide along the linoleum floor. Johnny is ridiculously handsome, sporting classic Lantino looks. He claims he’s been locked up by a secret organisation determined to sabotage his mission to protect Queen Elizabeth II, whom he believes is in grave danger, as Diana had once been. Page 4
‘Morning.’ Johnny flashes his straight white teeth. Judith and I answer in unison. ‘Morning.’ ‘I’ve not seen you before,’ he says, addressing my ex-wife. ‘It’s my first time here.’ Spreading his arms wide, Johnny turns in a circle. ‘Quite a place, isn’t it?’ Judith smiles faintly. ‘Do you have any cigarettes?’ he asks.
She shakes her head. ‘Sorry, I don’t smoke.’ He nods as if this is the response he’d expected. ‘That’s good – smoking’s bad for you.’ ‘Yeah,’ says Judith, ‘I know.’ ‘Did you also know William is a famous writer?’ She smiles again. ‘Yeah, I did.’ ‘We’ve all got a calling, our own special reason for being on the planet.’ Johnny leans towards Judith and continues speaking in a quiet voice: ‘Personally, I have some important tasks to tackle, but there are those who want to clip my wings. Know what I’m saying?’ ‘Sure,’ she says. ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Judith.’ Johnny extends a hand, which Judith grasps. ‘I’m Johnny. Lovely to meet you.’
‘Likewise.’ ‘Are you two together?’ His gaze shifts between us. ‘Look,’ I say. ‘Judith has to go soon – do you think you could give us a minute?’ The disappointment on Johnny’s face tugs at my soul. ‘Okay,’ he says, ‘no problem. I’ll catch you around, Judith. See you at dinner, William.’ He gives me a wink, then shuffles away down the hall. I try to think of something to say in order to fill the quiet, but draw a blank.
‘How long will you be here?’ Judith asks. ‘I’m not sure. They originally said three weeks – now they’re saying it could be longer.’ Page 5
‘How much longer?’ ‘Three months.’ ‘You’ve got to be kidding?’ I shrug. ‘I don’t have much of a say.’ ‘How does that work?’ ‘I’m on a compulsory treatment order – if the doctors think I’m still showing signs of instability, they can apply to have my treatment extended.’
‘Have they diagnosed you with anything?’ ‘Schizophrenia has been mentioned.’ She drills me with her eyes. ‘What’s your mother think about all this?’ A rush of air escapes my lips. ‘Do you mind if we change the subject?’ ‘Alright.’ Judith leans back in her chair. ‘What do you want to talk about?’ ‘I don’t know – how’s work?’ ‘It’s been busy. We’ve signed a new author – he’s said to be the next Stephen King.’ ‘Impressive,’ I say. ‘Yeah, well, we’ll see. How about you? Are you writing?’ I shift in my chair. ‘I’m tossing around ideas.’ ‘That’s good.’ I nod, then verbalise the fear that’s been knocking around inside my chest. ‘Are you seeing anyone?’
She avoids my gaze. ‘No.’ I know she’s lying. ‘You can tell me. I won’t break.’ ‘Okay, I’ve been on a couple of dates with a guy.’ ‘Who is he?’ She looks at me as if I have to spoil everything. ‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘It’s none of my business.’ Before she leaves, we embrace and for a moment I’m able to absorb her scent. Afterwards, I go to my room and cry. For some reason, it feels like she’s left me all over again.
The call of a bird commands my attention. I stand and stretch, then move towards the back door; I need to put the chickens away into their little house. After I’ve showered and eaten, I relax on the couch – this time without a beer – and listen to the familiar buzz of insects. I wonder whether last night’s visitor will return, or if it was a one-off.
As I rest my head against the couch, a voice pipes up: ‘Goddamn locusts! Them creatures destroy everything in their path.’ I turn to see a man seated beside me. He’s about my age and dressed like a cowboy. I’m not frightened by his sudden appearance, simply perplexed. It occurs to me that perhaps I’m dreaming. The man holds my gaze, one end of his mouth turned up into a cantilevered smile. ‘I’m Wilson,’ he says. ‘Chase Wilson – thought I’d call in, see how you’re doing.’ I shut my eyes for a second or two. When I open them again, the man is still there. ‘Got any more of them beers?’ he asks. ‘Sure.’ I stand and walk to the fridge. On the way, I wonder what Dr Myers would say about this latest development. Perhaps he’d put it down to a glitch in my neural mechanisms, or inharmonious brain chemistry. When I return, Chase accepts the can and cracks it open. ‘Thanks. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve had one of these.’ He takes a swig, then smacks his lips together in satisfaction. I swallow several mouthfuls of beer in turn. ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Nowhere close by. Now, let me ask you something,’ he says, ‘how you gonna get better by hiding way out here in the middle of nowhere?’ ‘I’m not hiding.’ ‘Sure you’re not.’ I examine his features, noting the web of lines around his eyes, the slightly hooked nose, the angular chin; he looks like someone who’d be competent at working the land, or repairing fences. ‘Who are you?’ ‘I’m your ghost.’
Inexplicably, I laugh. ‘My ghost?’ ‘You think it’s funny?’ Page 7
I rub my chin stubble. ‘I don’t know what to think. Maybe you’re a delusion. The doctors said I could still suffer from them occasionally.’ ‘Of course they did – their brains aren’t wired like yours.’ ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ ‘They don’t have your depth of awareness,’ he sips his beer, ‘and never will.’ ‘You make it sound as if I have some sort of gift.’ He shoots me his crooked grin. ‘Could be a gift, could be a curse – it’s whatever you want it to be.’ ‘Are you suggesting I may not be crazy?’ Chase lifts his impressive riding boots and crosses his ankles. ‘I’m not qualified to answer that, but I will say this – other people might not hear or see what you do, but that don’t mean such things ain’t real.’ I think for a moment, then say, ‘If you are my ghost – ’ Chase interrupts: ‘What do you mean, if? I am your ghost, William Carlson. I’ve been sent here to help you straighten up and fly right.’ ‘No offense, but wouldn’t that be difficult for –’ I pause, ‘– an ethereal being such as yourself?’ He points a bony finger at me. ‘I can guess what you’re thinking – how could a ghost affect anything in the land of the living? But there’s a real clear view from where I’m sitting and I can recognise things for what they are.’ ‘Like what?’ ‘Like how you’re still hung up on your ex-wife.’ ‘Jesus, I need another drink.’ I stand and head back into the kitchen. Opening the fridge, I talk to myself: ‘Please don’t let me fall apart. Not again.’ I grab two more beers, return to the couch, and hand one of the cans to Chase. ‘Thanks,’ he says. ‘You’re welcome.’ I open my beer and down several mouthfuls. ‘Don’t get me wrong – your ex is pretty and real nice – but there comes a time when you’ve gotta let things go. You’ll lose your mind otherwise.’ Chase drinks his beer. ‘When my wife left, I didn’t cope so well either.’ ‘What happened?’ Page 8
‘Did myself in.’ ‘You killed yourself?’ ‘Ahuh. After the last drop in cattle prices, I fell behind with the bills. I tried catching up, but things only got worse. I felt lost without Carolyn and couldn’t see a way out. ‘How did you do it?’ ‘Went down an abandoned water well with a gun and pulled the trigger. Look here – ’ He turns to show me a bullet wound on the other side of his head: it’s a small black hole rimmed with crusty blood; the exit wound is near the base of his skull. ‘The powers that be in between worlds cleaned up the mess, made me more presentable.’ ‘Why did you go down into a well?’ ‘Didn’t want anyone to find me. Problem was, when I disappeared without a trace, the cops suspected Carolyn of being involved.’ ‘Seriously?’ ‘Yep. They said she was after the life insurance and charged her with first degree murder. In the end, the prosecutor failed to convince the judge there was probable cause to believe any crime had occurred. I never meant for any of that to happen – but once you’re gone, certain things can’t be undone.’ Unsure of how to respond, I guzzle my beer. ‘Anyhow,’ he says, ‘that was then and this is now. Speaking of which, you’ve gotta stop pining over what’s already been and gone, otherwise you’ll end up like me.’ ‘I’m not pining.’ ‘Is that a fact?’ ‘Absolutely – Judith has moved on and so have I.’ Chase narrowed his eyes. ‘I call bullshit.’ ‘What would you know?’ ‘I know you write for her, that you’re trying to win her back with your stories. That’s why your latest work has been such crap, by the way – you can only squeeze so much blood out of that stone.’ The truth of this statement snatches at my breath. Leaning forward, I place my beer on the floor and cover my face with my hands. ‘Hey,’ Chase says, ‘it’s okay. You’ve just gotta get your mojo back. You had talent way before Page 9
meeting Judith, remember?’ ‘Why should I listen to you? You’re probably no more than a figment of my imagination.’ ‘You want me to prove I’m real?’ ‘That would be good, yes.’ I wipe my eyes on my sleeve. Chase looks around the room and I see him fix his gaze on a photograph – the one of Judith and me on our wedding day. A second or two later, the frame’s glass casing cracks as if it’s been hit by a stone. I stare at him without speaking. He shrugs as if his paranormal powers are of no significance. ‘Mind if I say something else?’ ‘I’d rather you didn’t.’ Chase ignores me. ‘You need to let shit go, like what happened to Johnny – ain’t nothin’ you could have done to stop it.’ I get to my feet. ‘I think it’s time you left.’ ‘Already?’
‘I’ve heard enough.’ ‘Alright.’ Chase stands and I realise he’s tall; he looks down into my face, his brow furrowed. ‘I need to know I’ve made a difference.’ ‘Pardon?’ ‘If you could say I helped you somehow, I’d be most ‘ppreciative.’ ‘Why?’ I ask. ‘It’s part of the deal?’ ‘What deal?’ ‘The one that sees me get out of purgatory.’ I cross my arms, waiting for him to explain. ‘I committed a mortal sin – in order to get past that, I need to help someone who’s dealing with the same demons I faced while alive. Make sense?’ His eyes are filled with longing. ‘Sure,’ I answer.
‘And?’ ‘You’ve certainly shed a different light on things, if that’s what you want to hear.’ Page 10
‘So you’re not gonna do anything stupid? I shake my head. ‘Good, ‘cause you don’t wanna get stuck like me – it’s the worst.’ ‘I can imagine.’ ‘S’pose I’ll be on my way.’ He offers a final lop-sided smile. ‘Stay well, you hear?’ I give a nod and move towards the door. I open it and Chase crosses the threshold. He steps into the moonlight and disappears, leaving me breathless and shaking. I turn to face the bare room, then look towards the photograph; it calls to me. When I pick it up, Judith stares back at me, her features distorted by the fractured glass. I put down the frame and head to my room. There will be no reading tonight.
In my dream, a vision of Johnny invades my psyche; he is swinging in mid-air, eyes swollen and bloodshot, neck bent. I sense myself crying, as I do most evenings while I’m asleep.
When I wake, it’s well past dawn and my head throbs. I enter the lounge room, which is exactly as I’d left it last night; I see empty beer cans and a broken photograph frame. Crossing to the kitchen, I put the kettle on. Soon, I’ll tend to the chickens before taking my medication with breakfast, although I don’t have much of an appetite. Later, I’ll sit in front of my typewriter and begin a story about a dead Texan seeking salvation from a man who’s struggling to find life worthwhile, about the blind leading the blind. But first, I walk to the phone, lift the receiver and dial my mother’s number.
Postscript: This story is dedicated to all those suffering from a mental illness.
Grounded by Cimberli Banton Page 12
Borderline Racist If Need Be by Ben Nardolilli Go boycott and leave me out of it, I want to boycott your boycott if that’s fine, tell the papers and the local media that’s gone underground, this way I can do my best to publicize you, my dissent running up against yours, don’t worry, it’s how things work, people want to hear about a struggle within a struggle, it sells a boycott, gives people a side to choose, don’t worry, I’ll make sure my opposition is poorly sourced and incoherent, borderline racist, if need be.
The Poor Devil Beside Me by Ben Nardolilli I was never a good patient, I screamed, I cursed, I accused, I dared say, My insurance was a mess While I turned my charts over Into typographical crossword puzzles, Asking everyone to find the ailment Running across me, The experts were terrified and called Upon different geniuses to restrain me In dire straitjackets, I only complained Further about the reading, The used magazines in the room, They tried tongue depressors on me, But I broke them with a joke, And when pressing cold metal on my chest, My heart skipped a beat To fool those doctors that I was dead.
Evanescent As A Deerâ€™s Eyelash by Bill Wolak Page 15
Once Upon a Jerusalem by Hebatullah Issa We walked down the steps of the Damascus Gate passing a group of Palestinian men sitting on the steps and laughing. They turned around to stare at us, as most Arab men do. I don’t ever seem to get used to it or understand it. No matter how old they are and no matter what country I’m in, no matter what I wear, they stare. I, in part, felt content that they only stared and didn’t utter some ridiculous pick up line, but in part embarrassed because I feel they could feel how uncomfortable I was in my hijab. I wanted to tell them that I’m not uncomfortable because of the hijab as a concept. I’ve worn it many times before without a hint of discomfort, but I was uncomfortable because someone made me feel uncomfortable about it. We walked down the steps, and noticed a couple of young ladies dressed in long tunics and jeans had their hijabs on the way I had mine on before I was discouraged. I wanted to ask the women if people thought they looked Jewish, but I thought that all of this overthought was just that, overthought. We entered the Gate, and it seemed calm. Usually there is hustle and spirit, but it was calm. The air was frigid and it was raining. The winter months meant many shops had shut their doors for business. I guess there aren’t many tourists in November, so opening shop may not be worth it. I remember seeing more life in people the last time I walked these very steps in 2008, but then there was life. This time I felt I was walking through a true zombie nation. I couldn’t see anger, joy, hunger, eagerness— nothing. A sea of expressionless faces. Usually merchants beg you to even look their way, but this time there was very little of that. They went through the motions, inviting us into their stores in Arabic, English and Turkish, surprisingly. But there were no smiles on their faces, there was no hunger for a sale, just a melancholy repetition of words. But Turkish? Did that many Turkish tourists go through Jerusalem? I thought Israeli- Turkish relations were a bit too strained for that. I wasn’t sure I liked this Jerusalem. I wanted my old Jerusalem back. Sure I didn’t feel pressured to buy anything like I usually do, but I couldn’t bear to walk amongst the living dead. Last time a little wrinkled old lady, with a hijab draped over her head and shoulders, wearing a traditional Palestinian red and green embroidered galabiya was selling tiny prickly pears out of a crate as she sat on the ground. She tugged at my hand as I walked by and said in a weak voice, “My daughter, have a prickly pear…” She uttered a price, but I couldn’t hear anything past her desperation. How did that woman get to that point in her life? Her hands were shaky as she picked up a knife to carve open a prickly pear for me to eat on the spot. She offered me the fruit, raising her arms as high as she could, barely reaching my knee. I kneeled down and gave her more than she was charging. She reached to give me some more prickly pears for the price after she insisted I take the change and I refused. I couldn’t take the change; Page 16
it was nothing to me to lose a half shekel, but to her I imagine it meant more. But this time, there were no old ladies. The one beggar woman doesn’t even seem to be putting any effort into her begging. She too was going through the motions. There were no kids selling tissues and gum, which was a relief because that means they must be in school. But I almost wanted those kids there. They were sure to bring life to the lifeless. I missed the laughter, kids playing tag and futbol in front of Al Aqsa and through the souq. I wanted to run back out the Gate and go back to the school children on the field trip. I wanted that bright feeling I felt when I was passing them by. Dareer and I turned and wound down streets and pathways, making way for the occasional young man pushing his cart of goods about, down the ramped portion of the road. It reminded me of how ideal it was to have half the walkway be ramped and the other half staired. I wanted to know whose idea it was when to have this implemented? The Old City is relatively unchanged, how old was this ramped road? I wanted to show my appreciation for the halfstaired, half-ramped road, but I didn’t think anyone would have understood why. I’m not sure I understood why. The residents of Jerusalem probably pay it no mind, but I am forever in awe of the half-half road. Maybe I was so curious because other cities aren’t very handicap accessible. Granted not all of the OldCity is this handicap accessible and it was probably set up like this to make the merchants’ lives easier. But nonetheless I wanted to send this city planner a ‘thank you ‘card.
Dareer and I walked on, passed by store after store that seem to be selling the same things. Evil eye bracelets, embroidered bags, scarves, Handala necklaces, galabiyas and sweets. We made our way down the cotton market, our eyes catching the different coloured kaffiyas, red, black, green. At this rate we would never make it to Al Aqsa, we just kept getting distracted by our urge to shop. “Dareer, let’s go pray first, then we can shop,” I tugged at her arm and whispered. I’m not sure why I whispered, but I might have been afraid that the merchants would hear a hint of an accent in my Arabic and that they would be more inclined to get us to shop at their store. The only thing worse than an enthusiastic salesman trying to make a sale is a salesman that reluctantly wants to sell you something. “Okay, but how do we even get to Al Aqsa?” she laughed. “This is too funny. I was going to originally come to Jerusalem alone, but our family insisted that I don’t go alone because I don’t know the way by myself. As if I have never travelled abroad before. And here we are and I’m pretty sure I know the way better than you do,” I laughed back at her and pointed in the direction we should be heading. As we got closer and closer to the Al Aqsa grounds, open stores became more scarce. The walls were covered in brightly coloured Arabic calligraphy and pictures of Mecca welcoming back the Hujjaj from Hajj. These brightened up the scenery, but the city was grey, both in the skies and in the eyes of the people living there. Page 17
We kept walking and looked over at Dareer. I grabbed her hand, “Dareer, you still don’t have your hair covered or your long skirt on and we’re getting really close. They’re not going to let us in like this.” “You’re right. I remember last time they got really difficult with us because I had a tiny bit of hair sticking out of my hijab,” Dareer remembered, as I lovingly shoved her into an alley way and stood in front of her so as to guard her from the eyes of the grey streets. She slipped on her long skirt over her jeans and then stood straight, pulled her scarf off her neck and held it out. I turned around completely and looked at her in a way that said, Why are you staring at your scarf like that? Dareer laughed again like she always does and asked me, “ How do I put this on?” “Dareer,” I replied, “You pray. You pray every day. How do you not know how to put a scarf on your head?” I laughed at her, took the scarf out of her hands and covered her hair, Iranian style. Dareer continued to laugh. I admired her ability to laugh in almost any situation. We emerged from the alley as new people “proper looking Muslimahs.” As we continued to walk towards the Al Aqsa grounds a young man sitting in a curved nook in the wall, on a yellow plastic chair, leaned back and told us in Arabic, “Al Aqsa is this way,” pointing in the direction we were already walking. “But be sure to tighten up your hijab, you can’t have your hair showing,” he warned us, more so Dareer. She didn’t look at him or pay him any mind, but I could feel she was irritated. Her jaw tightened and she mumbled something I couldn’t quite make out, but we continued walking. A minute later we came across a man in his 40s, standing and watching the passer-bys. He pointed us in the direction of the church, much to our surprise. How could he not see that we were covered up, going in the direction of Al Aqsa, and he thought to guide us to the church? We again paid him no mind and kept walking on. “I really hate that. When I was applying for internships last year the employers would always assume I “had to be Christian and that I couldn’t be Muslim,” Dareer grumbled. How do people make such assumptions? “Why? Why couldn’t you be Muslim?” I asked. “Religious beliefs aren’t always transparent.” “The way I dress maybe, but we all dress relatively the same, Muslims and Christians. The only thing that really sets us apart is the hijab, but most Arabs in Haifa are Muslim and even though there are more women wearing hijab now than ten years ago, most of us still don’t wear hijab.” “You’d think people would have noticed that by now? Is it just Jewish people who think you are Christian?” I asked. “Yeah, usually. Sometimes really religious Arab men don’t believe I’m Muslim, Page 18
but it’s usually Jewish people. I think some Jews want to believe that most of us are Christians because otherwise they’d think that we’re all suicide bombers. It makes them feel safer. Even the blonde Arab student I work with, they give her a really hard time at work and in school because “Muslims can’t be blonde.” Both Arabs and Jews don’t believe her.” We reached the gates to the grounds that lead to Al Aqsa where we were met by two men. The first man, in his forties, was dressed in light blue jeans, white sneakers and a white and light blue striped polo. The other man seemed to have a bit more counterfeit authority to him, dressed in all black with a black hat. He carried a large rifle over his left shoulder with discomforting ease. The man in the white striped polo stopped us, waving his hand in front of us, and the man in black inched closer. They both towered over us, looking down on us, and stared at us. “Where are you from?” the man in the white polo asked. “Haifa,” Dareer and I responded promptly. “Only Muslims are allowed in at this time,” responded the white polo’d guard. I’m not entirely sure what kind of authority he had, who hired him, if he got paid, who paid him, his name, nothing. There was no way of really identifying him from any other man on the street. “We are Muslim,” said Dareer as the grey sky drizzled down on us. “No, you’re not,” said the man in white, while the man in black still stood there silent. “Yes, we are,” I said. “The church is just that way,” the man in white pointed in the direction of the church. “For security reasons we can only let Muslims in.” “We are Muslims,” Dareer and I repeated. “Where are you from? Show me your ID,” said the main in black, with a smile on his face and Druze accent on his tongue. He had to be around my age, not much older or younger. He actually seemed sweet; he smiled, but that irritated me. His smiles couldn’t hide his ignorance. Dareer gave him her ID and I showed him my NJ Driver’s License. “Where is your real ID?” he asked. “I live in American, I don’t like to carry around my passport all the time.”
He looked over our information and asked, “If you are Muslim, why is your last name Issa?” still maintaining the silly smile on his face. “Excuse me?” I asked. Page 19
“Why is your last name Issa?” he asked. “Umm, we, Muslims believe in the Prophet Issa,” I said, stunned by his question. “Lots of Muslims have the name Issa. It’s a really popular family name. Usually Christians refer to Jesus as ‘Al Masih,’ they don’t typically say Issa,” Dareer interjected. “You see we can’t let non-Muslims in for security reasons,” went on the man in the white polo. Doesn’t he have anything else to say? The same banter and repetition of questions went on for what seemed an eternity. The man in black finally asked us, “Are you both Muslims?” “Yes,” we responded, with our heads held high. “Do you want me to say the Shahadah in front of you? I have never experienced this before. I have been her almost every summer of my life and prayed in Al Aqsa. Do you want me to describe the carpets for you to prove it? If it’s for security reasons, do you want to check my bag?” I got frustrated. I didn’t yell, but my heart couldn’t deal with the heartbreak of this moment. The man in black still smiled. “You just don’t look Muslim,” said the man in white.
“What does a Muslim look like exactly?” I responded. The man in black still had our IDs. He handed them back smiling and said, “You both have religiously ambiguous names and we can’t let non-Muslims in for security reasons.” “I understand that you can’t let non-Muslims in, but your methodology of thought is lacking,” Dareer argued in a polite manner. The man in black laughed; I believed it to be an admission of guilt or fault because he waved us in and allowed us to step through the gate. As we were about to step through the gate, the man in white yelled at us, “It’s not our fault you look Turkish.” What does that even mean? We stepped through the gate, and not a moment later did another man in jeans and blue t-shirt stop us. He asked, “Are you Muslim? What can I do for you here?” “We just got asked the same questions right out there by your colleagues,” Dareer and I complained. “You have to understand that we can’t let non-Muslims in for security reasons,” he said. My God, does no one have any other variation of words other than this sentence? I felt as though I was in a scene of the film Idiocracy. “We are Muslim, ask them,” Dareer and I said and pointed at the two men we had just spoken to standing just a yard away. Page 20
“It’s just that you look so Turkish. You don’t look Muslim,” said the man in the blue polo, standing in front of six Israeli soldiers in green, three on each side of the gate. The soldiers sat there on plastic chairs, in uniform and armed with their weapons, staring at us and at each other. They seemed bored. Bored of sitting, guarding, trolling, staring and even seemed bored of talking to each other. I couldn’t help but think that all of this questioning by the plainclothes Palestinian men at the gate was a sad attempt to show that they have authority that they were in charge in the face of these Israeli soldiers. They needed to feel big, but could only do so by attempting to put us down. They had to get the last word in because they know they can’t get the last word in anywhere else or in any other conversation.
Ultimately, we all knew that these six armed Israeli soldiers had more political, official and bullet power than any of the Palestinian guards, the Druze guard included. The sooner these guards come to terms with their ineffective role in this game of ineffectual peace talks and senseless hatemongering division, the sooner the people of the Holy Land can build a respected and intellectual authority that demands the rights of all humans, instead of leaving people to put each other down in order to feel more in control. I wish I could have said all this to the guards, but in the moment I knew it would just make things worse, and all I wanted to do was pray, particularly after being told repeatedly I wasn’t Muslim. I wanted to pray to prove my Muslimness to God, pray to relieve people of their closed minds, pray for peace and freedom, justice, health, sanity, clarity I wanted to pray to God to keep me calm, to keep my cool, to relieve the pain and suffering of anyone who has to be told they are not who they are. I wanted to pray to God to show or give me a reason to live on. I just wanted to pray, and in the moment, I responded to the guard, “What are the Turks? Most of them are Muslims.” With that he stepped aside and let us pass. Maybe the rain was progressively getting heavier and I hadn’t noticed because I was in the heat of the moment, but it seemed that at that statement a waterfall of rain showered us, soaked us, cleansed us of the hard feelings and refreshed our frustrated spirits. Before us lay the Dome of the Rock; the gold dome glistened and was more stunning in the rain that it might have ever looked in the sun. It stood out in this grey emotional wilderness. We were drawn closer to the Dome, almost unable to not walk in that direction when Dareer stopped me and asked, “Wait, Heba, which one is the Dome and which one is Al Aqsa?” she laughed knowing how silly her question was as the sky rained down on us. “Really, Dareer, really?” I couldn’t believe her question. “Are you serious Dareer? You’re the one who prays and is religious?” Dareer softly smacked my arm and said, “Don’t laugh at me. I don’t know these Page 21
things.” I didn’t really understand how it sometimes seemed like I knew more about the history of this place than some people who lived here. I think I felt the need to prove myself, to show how Palestinian or Muslim I am, I felt the need to study up and know as much as I could. We walked up the steps and through the arches that led to the Dome of the Rock, the rain still pouring down on us, stepping in puddles and tiny-ever-widening water streams that occurred due to the lack of proper water drainage or soil to soak up all the water. We reached the Dome of the Rock building entrance, blockaded by shoes of prayer goers. I couldn’t understand why everyone leaves their shoes scattered about the entrance, making it difficult for anyone to get in or out, when there are cubbies made specifically for shoes once you enter. There was a man sitting at the entrance on a metal chair who stopped us before we entered or took off our shoes. “Where are you from?” he asked. “Haifa,” we both responded and walked on into the Dome of Rock, not giving him the opportunity to question us any longer. We took off our shoes and put them in neighbouring cubbies near the entrance. “Where is the rock?” Dareer asked me laughing. “Dareer, you silly girl, you have been here before and it’s in the middle, duh.” As I walked through the calligraphy covered building, dazzled by the tile work, ornate chandeliers, soft carpet, colours and silence, my eyes drew to the bookshelves full of Qurans donated by fellow prayer-goers. I looked around, walked around, unaware of where a women’s or men’s section began or ended, but so did everyone else walking around entranced by their surroundings. Men passed women and women passed me in prayer reciting Quran or just sitting with their friends and families. Men and women sat together, ignoring a difference in gender and instead finding solace in a fellow believer. At other masjids, in the past, if a woman past the age of puberty, passed by a man praying or through a men’s section, a fuss, a scorn, a reprimand was almost always sure to occur. But here, it was as if there was no one but God and me a peaceful, uninterrupted time where no exchange of words, looks or bickering could exist or intervene with my personal correspondence with God. After all the hoops, the criticism and the questioning, no one could take this feeling from me. I wouldn’t allow it. Admittedly, I don’t pray as much as I should, although that never hinders my daily non-stop conversation with God. And even though I typically become irritated and angry when family and friends try to force me to, preach to me, or even “guilt” me into praying, when I’m in Jerusalem I want to pray. And so I found a spot of my own, paying no mind to Page 22
whether it was about to be prayer time, put my bag down behind me, faced Mecca, made sure my hijab was covering my hair completely, slowly raised my hands to my ears and said silently, “Allahu Akbar.” I brought my hands down to my chest, right hand over left and recited Surat al-Fatiha and Surat al-Ikhlas. Raised my hands to my ears again and said, “Allahu Akbar,” and bowed into the ruku’ position, only to meet face-to-face with a toddler waddling around in my prayer space while she nibbled on a cucumber. Paying no mind to the child I recited, “Glory be to my Lord Almighty,” three times. Stood up straight once again and said, “God hears those who call upon Him, Our Lord, praise be to You.” And I really wanted God to hear me. I always knew and felt He did, but I thought I needed it now more than ever. I raised my hands up again and said, “Allahu Akbar,” knelt down on my knees slowly, put my head to the carpet entering sujud, and recited, “Glory be to my Lord, the Most High,” three times. Despite being covered from head-to-toe with the exception of my face, hands and feet, I had never felt so naked, so vulnerable. As I remained in sujud, my lip quivered and my eyes welled up. I grasped onto the carpet as if to hang on for dear life and asked God to give me the strength to lift my head to face this world both metaphorically and physically in this moment and hereafter. I sat back up, my vision hazy, and said “Allahu Akbar,” then prostrated myself back onto the carpet, forehead to the ground, recited, “Glory be to my Lord, the Most High,” again for another three times. I couldn’t help but wanting to stay in that position in that moment just a little longer. In that moment, I was Heba, I wasn’t an Arab, Palestinian, Israeli, American, rich, poor, thin, fat, fashionable, weird I wasn’t anything other than Heba. I continued on with my prayer. I prayed to rak’as, consisting of the same motions, but each time containing more lip-quivering emotion than the last. I did my tashahud and closed my prayer with an “As’salamu Alaikum,” over my right shoulder and an “As’salamu Alaikum,” over my left shoulder. No one sat remotely near me, but I believe the greeting was meant for the angels that surrounded this moment and helped create this bubble of earthly perfection. I wasn’t ready to get up or move and I certainly had forgotten all about Dareer. I had no idea where she was or what she was doing. She could have been sitting right next to me and I wouldn’t have noticed. I turned my hands that lay on my knees palm side up and began to make du’a. I hadn’t memorized any kind of specific du’a, but began instead to thank God for all that he had given me. I wanted to be selfish and ask for things that I needed like money, health or sanity. I wanted so many superficial and non-superficial things in life, but all I could bring myself to ask for was for God to do what was best for me and for God to show ‘us’ the way. I think by ‘us,’ I meant human kind, but at the time, it just came out with very little thought or intention. But the way to what? To peace? Happiness? Love? Simplicity? Knowledge? Acceptance? The way to God? I wasn’t sure, but I had a feeling that God would Page 23
accept my supplication and fill in the blanks. With that I brought my hands to my face, palms towards me, pinkie fingers touching and wiped my face clean of the burdens of life, letting God take over. I looked around for Dareer and found her sitting against a large pole just behind me. “Did you pray?” I asked. “No, I have my period,” she said. “You know, last time I was here a woman told us that I couldn’t even go inside the masjid while I was on my period.” “Really?” Dareer replied, looking surprised. “Yeah, apparently she heard that somewhere and decided to be a dictator about that rule.” “I have never heard that before,” said Dareer, “I mean I have heard that you can’t pray because you are supposed to be clean when you pray, but never have I heard that you can’t even go inside.” “I know. The masjid always has a little section of women who accompany their family to prayer, but they step aside during prayer. It’s especially noticeable during Eid time,” I said. “She really said that?” Dareer asked again. “Yeah, she really upset me that day. I would have argued it, but I can’t argue a senseless argument.” “It doesn’t even make sense. It’s not even logical. I mean, I believe you, but her saying that is completely illogical and out of place. What are we supposed to do, wait outside? What if it’s raining or snowing? It’s cold out. What was this nosey woman thinking? Masjids are happy places, peaceful places, places of acceptance, why would she want to make anyone feel unaccepted? Admittedly, I don’t go to masjids because I don’t feel accepted by people and would rather pray at home by myself, but still, for someone you don’t know to say that… it just… it doesn’t make sense.” “Yeah, I know,” I said. “Can we go under the rock?” Dareer asked. I again laughed at Dareer. “Dareer, we’ve been here before… together. You don’t remember? We went under last time. The entrance is just on the other side of us.” “I don’t remember these things,” Dareer laughed at herself. I really did wonder if Page 24
because I lived overseas I remembered these moments more or did I work harder to remember them? We circled around the rock of ascension until we reached the stairs that take you below the rock. We went down the stairs to see a few young men praying and then decided to go back upstairs. “Do you want to go to Al Aqsa and pray there? I did wudu in the morning and it’s now almost 3 pm… let’s go pray there so we can then find the bathroom. I need to pee,” I said to Dareer. “Heba, you’re still on your morning wudu?” she said surprised.
“The bathrooms here don’t have heat. I didn’t want to have to do wudu again in the cold. I was worried I would get sick.” A silly worry since the rain outside soaked us anyways. “Yeah, let’s go there before your bladder explodes.” We went to get our shoes in our cubbies and left from the same door we came in only to see a group of school children dancing and running around in the rain, laughing, clothing drenched through by the rain. Dareer and I smiled and laughed with them as we put on our still wet shoes and walked passed them huddled under Dareer’s umbrella that only kept half of each of us dry. We walked across the grounds, giving up on trying to avoid puddles as the grounds had turned into one big puddle. We reached Al Aqsa, put our shoes in the cubbies at the entrance just past an archway there were no shoes barricading the entrance as we had seen at the Dome of the Rock. We entered the masjid, no one questioned us, and no one said a word. There was a plain-clothed guard who saw us and acknowledged us, and I wondered if all of the sudden we looked Muslim. I wondered if praying had brought something out in me so that others could see our Muslimness. I wondered if this was an answered prayer. I wondered if security here was just slightly more lax or if this guard had trusted the work of the other guards. I wondered if maybe Dareer and I seemed more confident in our surroundings. I wondered if we had finally been accepted. Upon first step inside Al Aqsa, I seemed to have lost Dareer again; she was most likely standing beside me, but I saw no one else other than the masjid. Men and women shared the same entrance, the same shoe cubbies, men passed through the women’s section to get to the men’s section, men and women who knew each other greeted one another, sat together and talked about their respective families. This was unlike other masjids I had attended in America or in Jordan. Men and women interacted with one another as though we all belonged to one big family. Men and women sat together with little hesitation, in complete comfort, and no one reprimanded them, no one gave a second glance to them, it didn’t lead to sin or blasphemy; the world didn’t crumble. Page 25
I focused on the arches and poles, the red carpets and the new digital prayer time clock to my right. There were ten minutes to prayer time. I walked past a line of mostly older woman too fragile to pray traditionally, praying seated. I sat at an empty spot near what seemed to be a brother and two sisters sitting together talking and laughing. I stared at the carpet, combed through it and committed the pattern to memory when a Muslim girl with down syndrome dressed in a red hijab and burgundy dress sat beside me and smiled at me. I didn’t even notice the older women behind me until one of the younger women in her forties came up to me. “As’salamu Alaikum, my daughter,” she said to me as she tapped and stood over my right shoulder, wearing a black hijab and a traditional Palestinian embroidered dress. “Wa’Alaikum As’salaam,” I replied looking up at her. “Where are you from?” she asked with a maternal look on her face. I could tell she wasn’t questioning me; she was only making polite conversation. “Haifa,” I said without a second thought. “Did you pray two rak’as? One prayer here is worth 500 prayers. My daughter, pray two rak’as and then it is almost time for Asr prayer… come back and pray with us.” She stroked my shoulder and walked away. I got up and prayed two rak’as or at least I thought I did. I became so focused on the words and the meaning of words in prayer that I became a little lost and lost track of how many rak’as I actually prayed. Just as I had finished, I turned around and saw Dareer. “Dareer, did I pray two rak’as? Were you watching me? I got lost in prayer.” I asked her a little embarrassed. “I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention,” she said. “Well, I think I did, but I’m not sure. I guess it’s the intention that counts. Besides, I don’t like it when people watch me pray anyways.” “Yeah, I don’t like when people watch me pray either,” she said. And then the adhan peacefully shot through the loudspeakers and through my ears as I got up and turned around. The woman from before had walked halfway towards me, reaching out her right hand to me. She grasped my left hand and put me in line between an older woman in a chair, wearing a white hijab and a traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, and a young woman around my age dressed in beige from head-totoe. The motherly figure pushed us closer together, forcing some of the women in chairs to move their chairs closer to the woman standing next to them. The masjid wasn’t crowded at all, but we crowded together, shoulder-to -shoulder, as our organizer said, Page 26
“Leave no space for the devil to sit between us. There is no room for the devil here.” She continued to crowd us together, repeating herself, and made sure that we not only left no space for the devil, but that we stood in a perfectly straight line. The Asr prayer commenced, it was the first time I had prayed in a group in more than a year. It was the first time I had ever felt comfortable in-group prayer. As I said my As’salaamu Alaikums right and left, I found myself teary eyed. I looked for this woman who invited me to pray with them, but I couldn’t find her. She must have left really quickly without my noticing. I wanted to thank her for being one of the two people to not question me or doubt me, but not only that, the only person to invite me in, but I never got the chance to tell her. I couldn’t help but feel that maybe she was sent to me to help me cope with this day of interrogation and borderline rejection. I couldn’t help but feel that maybe my prayers had been answered. I couldn’t help but feel that this very moment itself was my home.
Getting Out by Yaki Margulies
Fire at Work by Yaki Margulies
Imaginary Friend by Yaki Margulies
I Wonder by Jim Piatt I wonder if the world gets weary Of bombs, bullets, and angry men, If mountains get weary Of being alone high in the sky, If the ocean’s waves get, weary Of salt, kelp, and the waves’ din, If searing deserts gets weary Of boredom of the sand so hot and dry, If modern men gets weary Of striving for power and gold, If politicians get weary Of playing the fool’s game,
If God gets weary Of man’s absurdities… And if reality gets weary Of trying to remain sane…
Chocolate Latte in a Canning Jar by Jim Piatt Given a restored soul by the jubilant clown in the damp basement of my inner thoughts, I buried my naĂŻve ideals under the roots of a Bonsai tree, squandered my money on essential things, scattered the enigmas soaring in the scarlet winds of my soul, and created an enigmatic nostalgia of sterile platitudes. Skimming over the icing on a rusted spice cake consisting of corroded raisins and false promises caused me to start drinking my chocolate
latte in a canning Jar.
Bewildered by Jim Piatt Imaginary paragraphs, elbow through my Mind exposing jagged similes and Vague structures of shapeless meaning, Causing space, and elastic subject matter To mix obscure poetic form into broken Unintelligible sentences: Egg scrambled poems, grumbling in The haze of the never-land of my being, Dark splintered verses written in the Dark of the night on fire lit walls Of my saddened soul, become Mere ephemeral perceptions: Images of dead poetsâ€™ words become Blurred in my dreamlike world, Disturbing my tranquility: As I sit in the Eroding reflections of my troubled soul, I perceive dim blurry rhymes in the
Obscure tangles of my mind: I visualize Paragraphs of dark allegories where Words implode into iambic ruins, and I Become entangled in the midst of Vanishing thoughts. My fears while I Sit in the burning rubble of shattered verses Are that I will be awakened by acts of seething
Morality, and be forced to become aware of Harsh reality in the worldâ€™s obscene hours, Thus, being compelled to take up my wounded Page 31
Crimson laced pen against an ocean of chaos In a battered warring world, and in doing So, crush what gentleness there is left in My tenuous being: Memories of ancient poems Of long dead poets flood stridently into my soul: I Search frantically for brilliant poems to match theirs, But they seem to be forever goneâ€Ś or perhaps They never existed in the first place.
Etymologist by Victoria Johnson “Mom, did you know that the word ‘robot’ comes from a Czech word meaning ‘forced labor’?” I point at the word’s place on the page. “No! Really? How interesting.” She continues doing her crossword puzzle and doesn’t look over at me. “It’s chek, not kzech, honey.” I feel my cheeks heat up. “Right.” I lean back into the couch and go back to reading through the ‘R’ section of my dictionary. Dad got it for me last Christmas. We already had a dictionary in the house, but this one is better – and it’s mine. When I’m bored, I flip to a random page and read the definitions and etymologies. Courtney calls me a nerd, but I think she’s just mad because I told her that her name means “one with short nose.” I guess Mom and Dad didn’t look that up before they named her. Her nose isn’t short. “What’s a three letter word for ‘sound asleep’?” Mom asks me. Unconscious, at rest, knocked out, dead asleep... All these words are too long. “I dunno.” I chew the inside of my lip. Fast asleep, conked out... oh. “Out.” “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” She pencils it in. Both of my parents are English teachers, so it’s really no wonder I turned out like this. Courtney’s a mystery though, because she’s not interested in words – except using them to get what she wants. Usually what she wants is to hang out with the boys she likes. I found a word for her the other day that fits perfectly: coquette. Coquette is French and came from the word that means... male chicken. I’m the opposite. I’ve never flirted with anyone, ever, except maybe by accident. Page 33
“Amy, are you going to that dance on Friday? If not, do you want to come to Annie with me and your dad?” I cringe. I don’t like dances, and I definitely don’t like musicals. But lately my parents have gotten this weird idea that it’s not good for me to sit in my room with my books for days at a time. They haven’t been too happy about me staying at home when the rest of the family is out and about. “I guess I’ll go to the dance.” My mom smiles at me. She reaches over and fluffs my hair. “What are you going to do with this? You can’t wear a ponytail every day.” “Why not?” I tighten the hair band. “Why don’t you ask Courtney to help you decide how to dress for Friday. I’m sure she’d love to help.” “Yeah, I’m sure she would.” Mom rolls her eyes. “I think you might have fun if you let yourself.” I shrug and push my feet into the plush carpet. “Just try,” she says more gently. “It’ll be better than staying home.” Then, “What’s a five letter word for ‘odd’ that starts with ‘q?’” I sigh. “I don’t know, Mom.” “Oh, never mind. I’ve got it.” She writes it out and taps the page. “Hey, why don’t you invite Leah to go with you? I bet you’d have more fun if you went with a friend.” # Leah sits down on the floor of my bedroom and crosses her legs. I’m going to braid her hair. Fun fact: ‘braid’ wasn’t used with its current meaning until the 1500s. I almost never braid my Page 34
own hair, but I like to braid hers because it’s soft and blonde and smells like coconut. She lets me do it because I’m good at it, or so she says. I separate her hair into three sections. “Are you gonna go to the dance?” she asks. “Um, I guess so, yeah.” I fold one section of hair over another. “Good, because I’m going, and I need someone to protect me from Jake Hanson.” Jake has a big crush on Leah. None of her friends understand why she doesn’t just go out with him, but I do. “You should come over to my house to get ready tomorrow,” she suggests. “Okay.” Maybe it won’t be so bad after all. I finish her braid and tie it at the end. “Done.” Leah turns around and smiles at me. I smile back automatically. Being around Leah always makes me feel pretty good. She doesn’t even make fun of me for being a nerd. “Want to play the dictionary game?” I ask. I think she enjoyed it last time we played. The only other person who will play with me is Dad, but he’s usually too busy. “Sure.” I get up and grab the dictionary from my bookshelf, then sit down next to Leah. “Recap of the rules: You get five points for defining a word right. You get five more if you know the word’s origin. You can only ask the other person words that you have heard of. There are 5 rounds.” “Yeah Amy, I know,” she says, pretending to be annoyed. She pokes my arm playfully. “Let’s do this.” “Okay.” I flip open the book and skim through the ‘G’ section. “Gorgon.” I only know this word because of the Percy Jackson books, but I don’t tell her that. Page 35
“Hm.” I notice that she chews on her lip, just like I do. “Is that what Medusa is?” “Yep.” “So it must be Greek then.” “10 points to Leah,” I announce. “We need keep track of this,” she says. She gets up and grabs a pen from my desk, then sits down again. She gently pulls my arm into her lap, then writes: “Leah: 10” in her neat handwriting. It tickles a little, and I try not to laugh. “Your turn.” I hand the heavy thing over to her. She takes a little while to find a word. “Quarantine.” Crap, I don’t know. She’s going to think I’m dumb. “Um... to cut into quarters?” “Nope. Good guess.” “What does it mean?” Leah straightens up and reads in a formal voice: “A strict isolation imposed to prevent the spread of disease.” “Oh. Latin origins?” “Yeah, from Latin quad-rag-in-ta, which means forty.” I smile at the way she sounded out the Latin word. She hands the dictionary back to me, then writes “Amy: 5” on my arm. By the last round of the game, we’re tied. It’s Leah’s turn to give me a word. I wait, looking at her as she reads, her head bent over the book. Page 36
She looks up at me and says, “Lesbian.” What? “What?” She doesn’t repeat the word, just continues to look me in the eye. My face must be bright red. “Um... I don’t know.” I do know. And I know that some kids our age know this word, but I’ve only heard it said out loud once. Most of the girls at our school are the Christian, goody-two-shoes type. Most people think I am that type, too. “Something to do with women?” “Yeah, what to do with them?” Leah’s sea-blue eyes are relentless. She must know that I know. “Uh, a woman who likes other women. Romantically.” She looks back down at the page, finally. “5 points. Word origin?” I know this too, but I pretend not to. I shrug. “’Relating to the island of Lesbos, home of Sappho.’ Huh. Cool.” The dictionary closes with a thud. “You win.” I don’t know what to say now. Neither does she, I guess. My hands are shaking a little bit, so I sit on them. “I should probably get started on my chemistry homework.” It’s true. I got a D on the last quiz. “Yeah.” She twirls the pen in her fingers. “Thanks for coming over.” “Sure.” She jumps up to her feet. “See you tomorrow.” She’s out of my room before I can reply. # Courtney is trying to decide what I should wear tonight. She tosses a blue dress onto my bed, Page 37
where I’m sitting. “Try that on.” This is the fourth outfit she’s picked out. “I don’t think it’ll fit.” It’s one of her old dresses, and I hate it already. “That’s why you should try it on.” I sigh and take off my shirt and jeans. The underwire of my bra is digging into my skin. I only started wearing one last year and I’m still not used to it. I pull on the dress. Courtney zips it up, then stands back to appraise me. Appraise has roots in Old French, and we used to spell it with a z. “That’s pretty cute.” I glance at the mirror that hangs on my door. I look ten years old again. “I don’t like it.” She throws her hands up. “You don’t like anything.” She’s fed up, but I didn’t even ask her to do this. “Can’t I just wear skinny jeans?” “Yeah, I guess. I don’t know. I don’t understand you sometimes. Don’t you want to look good for boys? You’re not bad looking, but you need to do something with yourself.” “Gee, thanks.” “Whatever, Amy. I tried.” She walks out of my room. I stare at myself in the mirror a little longer, then take the dress off. # Leah’s quieter than usual today. I guess I am too. Her mom brought us some Coca-Cola, and I’m waiting for the caffeine to kick in. Leah is in her walk-in closet, getting dressed. I’m wearing my purple skinny jeans and a black tank top. I could tell Mom was disappointed that I didn’t dress up more, but she didn’t say anything except “Have fun!” What does that mean, anyPage 38
way? ‘Fun’ in the 1700s meant a cheat or a trick. Leah walks out of the closet in a Fall Out Boy t-shirt and a red mini-skirt. It’s an outfit that could only look good on her. “What d’you think?” She puts her hands on her hips. I chew my lip. She looks really good. “I like it.” “Will you braid my hair?” “Yeah, ‘course.” So I braid it. I’m very careful not to accidentally touch her neck as I do. “Do you want to borrow some lip-gloss?” she says. “Okay.” I wait for her to hand it to me, but she glosses my lips herself, very slowly and with steady hands. I hold my breath while she does it. It tastes like peaches. She steps back and puts the lip-gloss in her handbag. “Ready to leave?” “Yeah, let’s go.” # The new Flo Rida song is playing loudly, with some words obviously bleeped out, and the sound quality is bad. Balloons and streamers line the walls of the gym. Everyone is huddled in their groups of friends, kind of dancing, but not really. It’s kind of a wretched scene. Wretch comes from the Old English word wrecca, which means banishment, or something like that. “This song sucks,” Leah says to me. “Wanna check out the snack table?” “Might as well.” I follow her across to the other side of the gym. Leah grabs some Page 39
Cheez-Its and Oreos and puts them on a plate. I don’t really feel like eating for some reason, so I just pour myself some Kool-Aid. Turns out it’s cherry flavor. Yuck. “Look, there’s Jake Hanson.” I point to him. “Ugh, I hope he doesn’t see me.” I can tell even from over here that he’s got a lot of gel in his hair, and I’d bet two dollars that he’s wearing a ton of Axe body spray. I’ll never know why Courtney cares so much about what boys think. We make our way to the seats along the wall. Some of our friends wave at us as we pass by, but we don’t join any of their dance circles. Leah and I sit down, and she eats quietly as I watch the crowd. Taylor Swift comes on, and I’m about ready to walk out of here. “Amy?” I look at Leah. She’s sort of slumped in her chair and her arms are crossed. “Yeah?” She says something, but I can’t hear it over the music. “What?” She says it again, and this time I watch her lips to figure out what the words are. “Are you mad at me?” I shake my head vigorously. Vigorous has French roots, and was once a surname. “No! Why would I be?” “Are you sure?” “Yeah!” She sits up a little straighter. “Good.” Page 40
Rihanna is playing now. I tap my foot to the beat. Leah leans in closer to me and says “C’mon, we might as well dance.” I nod. The caffeine from earlier is making my heart race. We walk over to the middle of the dance floor. Leah dances much less awkwardly than I do. I mostly just bob my head and move my shoulders. “Is that the best you’ve got?” Leah shouts over the music. She’s smiling. “I’m not good at-” She grabs my hands and spins me around a couple of times. I nearly trip, but I’m laughing, and so is she. I watch her dance moves and mimic them. Then the song ends, and “Bubbly” starts playing. It’s too slow for us to keep dancing the way we were. Suddenly, Jake Hanson appears next to Leah. It’s like he’s been waiting for this moment. He’s asking her to dance, and there is dread written all over her face. “No, she’s dancing with me,” I yell, and grab her hand. Jake doesn’t say anything for a moment. He just stands there, looking stupid. “Oooookay then.” He shakes his head and walks away. I think I just heard him say “bitch.” Well, he’s a bitch if I ever saw one. Leah’s hand is still in mine. She leans in close, standing on the tips of her toes, and says into my ear, “You don’t have to dance with me.” “I want to.” I put my other hand on her waist, and then I feel her hand on my shoulder. She smiles, then starts singing along to the song as we dance. It starts in my toes, and I crinkle my nose. Wherever it goes, I always know, that you make me smile... My whole body feels warm and tingly, and I must be blushing like crazy, but I don’t rePage 41
ally care. I spin Leah, careful not to trip her. Her braid twirls around with her, and over the scent of my sweaty classmates, I get a whiff of coconut. When she smiles, her peach-flavored lip-gloss sparkles with each flash of the strobe light. Mom was right: this is better than staying at home. When the song is over, we go to the snack table again. Leah hands me one of the sodas from the cooler. We lean against the wall and sip our drinks. I’m still trying to catch my breath. Her left hand is right next to my right one, and the skin on the back of our hands is just barely touching. How do I say what I want to say? Words aren’t always easy. I take a deep breath. “Do you know what infatuation means?” I’m hoping she doesn’t. “In-fat what?” “Infatuation.” It comes from a word that means ‘make a fool of.’ “Look it up when you get home.” “Why?” She looks up at me, her eyes wide. I swallow. “I’m infatuated with you.” I say it loudly, so I don’t have to repeat it. She makes a face at me. “Alright, whatever you say.” She slides her fingers between my fingers. Her palms are warm and a little bit sweaty, just like mine.
Aviary by Priya Thomas When teachers asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, you didn’t say, “A supermodel.” When your father asked you if you wanted to be a doctor just like him, you didn’t say, “No Daddy, I just want collarbones that click like knitting needles and veins like purple labyrinths and a triangle of air between my thighs.” And maybe it didn’t start out that way. Maybe you began just like any other girl, with dreams of braceletted wrists and and delicate little feet inside braided sandals, and the kind of fragile limbs that people had to handle with care. You wanted your body to be breakable, like your heart. Because you had the kind of heart that broke all the time, for the littlest things--your pencil wasn’t aligned with your notebook, your hair was parted crooked, you forgot to get dressed in multiples of eight. And because you hated your broken brain, you wanted to love your body like the girls in magazines loved theirs. You wanted to tell yourself you could do anything. You could be in bathing suit ads, you could be Jasmine in Disneyland, you could be the cover model of Runner’s World. You could pluck the strings of your neck like a guitar, you could have a bird-cage of ribs with nightingales singing inside, your backbones could be wings beneath your cardigan. Your fingers wanted to feel your uvula and leave crescents in the back of your mouth. Your knees wanted to rest on the mint green bathroom tiles, knotted hair and bubblegum wedged in the cracks, as your right hand explored your throat. Your tongue was too pink and soft; it wanted the friction of scraping against your teeth. Afterwards, your lungs echoed when
you breathed and your stomach was a silver-wired aviary. Nothing but wind and fluttering wings. But soon you began to feel dirty; you dreamt of bubble baths in your throat. Afterwards, as you stared with glazed eyes at bookshelves in the school library, feigning interest in the titles as if to somehow set other people at ease, you felt the slow stream of bubbles down your chin. You ducked your head and shielded your mouth with DVDs, frothing and frothing until you woke up tangled in the sheets, hungry for air. You were eleven and ready to be rescued. You let doctors stitch you inside a cotton swab, erasing points and angles, until everything but your thoughts were nursery-soft. You were spoon-fed off of cafeteria trays, obediently swallowing a rainbow of pills every morning. When they discharged you, you pretended to have ambitions like Real Girls: straightAâ€™s, college, graduate school, a job. But Real Girls liked to talk. They talked about everything you were trying so hard to vacuum out of your head. They all mapped their bodies like you; they knew every coordinate. They flaunted their self-hatred like makeup; at meals they performed the same soliloquies of shame and regret. But somehow they were still alive, still breathing, still happy. You were not a Real Girl. Your body was no longer yours to sculpt and chisel; you were a shriveled plant that needed to be watered, you were a spreadsheet of numbers. You were made of stethoscopes and EKG stickers. You were trying to feed yourself with Real Girl poison; you were swimming against a vicious tide that swept you up like a mermaid. So you made up new things to do: you made patterns in the crook of your elbow with nail scissors. Decorat-
ed your arms with the sharp ends of your earrings and ran your fingers over the dots like Braille. Your body was coated in soft, downy hair you shaved off in the shower. When the razor nicked you, the blood made you smile.
Dark Romance by Eric Johnson “Meine Lieben!” “Meine Lieben!” scribbled alongside a dried wildflower pressed in a wartime diary are all that remains of two star-crossed lovers swept up in the “Axis of Evil”—she a young woman from the Finnish countryside, and he the blond and blue-eyed archetype of an SS Officer.
4th of July by Philipe Ablyouness Fireworks go off from balconies across the way Shouting and whirring
in places they shouldnâ€™t be hot as the tip of my cigarette bleeding into a mouth it shouldnâ€™t be. I wonder if one should hear my loneliness
fly over here set me on fire igniting with the wood balcony as I stop drop and roll the heat would overtake me until I was only ash. Would everyone think I disappeared? Or would they know I burned out? Finding bone or flesh that survived as a part of me always seems to survive independent of the fire ravaging everything else. Page 46
Perfumed Earlobes by Bill Wolak Page 47
In the Wake of Trains by Maria Arena ‘Pardon?’ The man in the natty bow tie and small, round glasses tilted his head in his customary manner; a sure sign of his annoyance. He waited for the rumble of the train to pass and then repeated his question. ‘I said, “Why do we have to play down here?”’ ‘I like the trains,’ his companion replied, centring the chess pieces on the board. ‘Marvels of invention. Wish we’d had them in the sixteenth century.’ ‘Too damn noisy, if you ask me. And look at the grime, and the smell, ekelhaft!’ ‘Yet, what better place to observe humanity?’ ‘A garden might be nice for a change.’ ‘Like Eden, eh Freddy? Are you going to move?’ ‘First off, don’t call me Freddy. I find it demeaning.’ The man opposite Friedrich lifted his gaze from the board, distracted by two young women hurrying across the platform. How impressive they were with their open expressions and eyes flashing with intelligence; so different from the women of his time. He turned his attention to his friend, a hint of mischief in his face. ‘Look, Freddy, she doesn’t find it demeaning; she’s smiling at you.’ ‘Mein Gott! She can’t see us, Baruch. Why must you insist on such nonsense? And, I’ll move when I’m good and ready, you philistine.’ ‘Some part of her sees you. “Mein Gott” in everything, remember? But, come now, old friend, what has gotten that fine moustache of yours in a twist today?’ Page 49
‘Bah! What always vexes me?’ ‘Humankind? Still? Really, Friedrich, I admit their little intrigues and caprices are interesting to observe, but why get yourself so worked up over them? As I posited all those centuries ago: people are irrational and always will be. Nice opening gambit, BTW. We haven’t played that old favourite in a while.’ Friedrich glanced up from the board. ‘BWT?’ ‘No, BTW. You know, “by the way.” It’s that shorthand they use in place of real language. You must have heard it: CSL, IMHO, ROFL, WTF?’ ‘I’ve heard it.’ Friedrich sniffed and his brow wrinkled with distain. ‘But I refuse to use it.’ ‘Oh come now, don’t such an elitist. If we don’t move with the times— yaddah, yaddah, yaddah. What are the odds of me checking you in three moves today?’ Baruch asked, sliding his king’s pawn forward. ‘Slim, mein gelehrter freund. I may be preoccupied, but the game will not be so easily won,’ Friedrich replied, as the men rapidly advanced pieces. ‘So it would seem, Freddy. Cagey, very cagey,’ Baruch said, his hand retreating as he contemplated the imposition of his friend’s knight. ‘But, tell me, what foible of humanity has you so preoccupied?’ ‘Their deaths.’ ‘Ah, that old conundrum. Strange how after all this time, they remain unreconciled to the fact of their demise.’ A train glided into the station, pushing a drift of grit and swirling paper their way. FriePage 50
drich affected a cough, then said, ‘I agree, and their latest attempt to avert the inevitable only illustrates their denial further.’ ‘How so?’ ‘It’s complicated.’ ‘What isn’t complicated about humanity? Come on, talk me through it while I begin your annihilation,’ Baruch said, drawing down his bishop. ‘That’s what I like about you, Spinoza. You’re the eternal optimist.’ ‘Indeed, and not without reason when one analyses your game.’ He raised an eyebrow at Friedrich’s pawn before moving one of his own. ‘But, to the problem at hand.’ ‘It’s the scientists,’ Friedrich replied, with a manoeuvre in kind. Baruch sat back from the board. ‘Oy vey! That lot again. They’re always messing with things. What have they ‘fixed’ now?’ ‘Death,’ Friedrich said and, as if to mock the drama of his statement, a flood of passengers swept past them, alive with the sounds of conversation and the sharp tap, tap of feet. The philosopher, who’d never been a fan of humanity – especially in its feminine form – pressed his shoulder against the subway wall, even though he knew none of them could touch him. ‘Huh, of course, the Immortality Pill, right?’ Spinoza said, returning his mind to the game. ‘I’ve heard whisperings about that over the years, although I understand it doesn’t actually give them immortality. Check.’ ‘True, but the scientists have extended life beyond what anyone ever imagined.’ A grimace that had nothing to do with the potential demise of his king pinched Friedrich’s face. ‘To a thousand years, they say.’ Baruch shook his head. ‘Who would’ve thought it posPage 51
sible: a ‘cure’ for death, as I live and breathe.’ ‘You don’t live and breathe.’ ‘I was speaking metaphorically.’ ‘Yes, well, I’m a literalist,’ Friedrich replied, removing the threat to his king. ‘As I’m well aware. “God is dead” and all that.’ ‘Precisely. Are you sure you want to move there?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘But—’ ‘All part of the plan, Freddy. ‘Fine. It’s your funeral.’ ‘Humour? How quaint.’ Baruch looked at his friend over the top of the chess pieces and smiled, the expression softening the sharp angles that defined his face in a most pleasing way. ‘Why do you see curing death as a problem? Isn’t that good news for humanity?’ ‘Nein! Have you forgotten so readily the words of Silenus to the “wretched ephemeral race, the children of chance and misery”? Clearly, the air down here is affecting your faculties, Baruch. Shall I refresh your memory?’ ‘Please do.’ ‘He said, and quite rightly, “What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best for you is— to die soon,”’ Friedrich said, advancing his queen with a flourish. Baruch leaned over the board and raised his hand to his chin in that thoughtful way of the philosophers of his time. ‘Silenus, eh? Now there’s a name that’s as archaic as your chess Page 52
game.’ ‘You know, for an Orthodox Jew, you can be downright disrespectful.’ ‘What can I say? Herem has its consequences,’ Spinoza replied, castling his king. ‘So, if I understand your quandary correctly, you are nonplussed at the prospect of extended human life. Is there a small measure of envy in such a stance, Friedrich?’ ‘Hardly. You know my position on the horror of existence, and I cannot for a moment countenance the idea of a human animal desiring to live for a thousand years. One existence of fifty-five years was enough for me, and I am not even certain how I endured that limited epoch. No, it is the contradiction that confounds me.’ As he spoke, a small drama opened on the platform beside them. A dark-haired woman dressed in an outfit that shouted ‘tourist’ gave a shrill cry as she went sprawling across the ground. The crowd of commuters parted around her, and opened an avenue for the thief who had torn her handbag from her shoulder. ‘Stop him,’ the woman called, pointing after the thief, but the arrival of the 8:45am train drowned out her plea. Commuters flowed past her, intent on catching the train, but one woman bent to help the traveller to her feet. Together, they searched the throng and, when they caught a glimpse of the man, the women raced off in pursuit. Disgust flickered across Friedrich’s face. ‘Oh yes, a thousand years of that,’ he muttered, and moved his bishop. Baruch tutted sympathetically and brought his knight into the attack. ‘The contradiction?’ he prompted, steering the conversation back into the groove that interested him. ‘Of free will, of course.’ Page 53
‘Right, yes, free will. Or is it the “Will to Power”? I always get those confused. Tell me, my old foe, if I win this contest, will that make me a Übermensch?’ ‘Sometimes I wonder why I play this game with you at all. Oh that’s right, because you are so easy to anticipate!’ ‘Bravo, my friend, a masterful stroke and, yet, I counter.’ ‘Why, you—’ Baruch cupped a hand around his ear. ‘Sorry, can’t hear you. Super-train coming,’ he said cheerfully, as a growling rumble shook the subway. ‘That’s why you insist on this hellish venue, isn’t it, you wily old heretic. Anything for the advantage,’ Friedrich said, when the train had disgorged it cargo and thundered on. ‘Don’t pout, Freddy. The contest is neither won, nor lost. Tell me more about this contradiction.’ For a moment, Friedrich considered calling the game; there was a headache lurking at the base of his skull and the proximity of the living was making his stomach queasy. But, he was in a winning position and – even better – Spinoza had given him permission to wax lyrical on his favourite topic of the day, which didn’t often happen since his friend was usually the deep thinking, silent type. Encouraged on both fronts, he pressed on with his argument. ‘It is simply this: the human animals have no compunction about wilfully extending life well beyond the natural order, yet they prohibit the exercise of free will by those among them who wish to choose the nature and timing of their death. Does that not strike you as contradictory?’ Baruch frowned. ‘I wish you wouldn’t call them that, Freddy, but yes, it does sound conPage 54
tradictory, although perhaps not so much as the wilful sacrifice of a useful pawn, eh?’ ‘So you are paying attention.’ ‘I am riveted, as you can see.’ ‘A ch du liebe Güte, Spinoza, you are as slippery as an eel.’ ‘So they’ve been telling me for five hundred years.’ Baruch laughed, tucking his king out of harm’s way. ‘Do you know what the problem is?’ ‘With your chess?’ ‘No, Freddy, with humanity.’ ‘I know precisely what their problem is. Despite our best efforts, they cling to an antiquated doctrine that has long ceased to be relevant in the face of science and the lessons of history.’ Spinoza nodded, knowing where this line of thought would take them, and shifted his queen into an attacking position. ‘I assume you’re speaking of “Thou shalt not kill.” Is such an edict truly antiquated?’ he asked. ‘Ja!. “Thou shalt kill thyself,” is far more appropriate.’ ‘Zarathustra again?’ ‘He’s a wise man.’ ‘I agree your literary alter-ego may be brilliant,’ Baruch replied, contemplating the white queen. She was as difficult as Friedrich’s argument and needed rebuffing in the same manner. ‘But I’ve seen little evidence to convince me that people have an innate inclination towards suicide. In fact, just the other day, Mill was telling me about a man with terminal cancer, who held off his own death for nine months until his great-grandchild was born.’ Page 55
There, he thought, that should do it, for the argument at least. But Friedrich’s blood was on the rise. He snapped up the sacrificial pawn and countered Spinoza. ‘I heard the story. Yet, touching as it may be, you’ll also be aware that the man had decided to end his life two days before hearing he would be a great-grandfather, which only proves my point.’ ‘Which is?’ ‘Simply that, in the face of meaningless existence, the human animal will choose to end it, if that choice is available.’ ‘Ah, but give a man a reason to live,’ Baruch said, forcing the white queen to retreat. ‘And he will fend off death with every ounce of his being. Just as you fight to save your queen, although you know she must succumb eventually.’ ‘My loss will match your own, my friend, if you are willing to take the risk.’ ‘Sometimes difficult choices must be made.’ ‘Such boldness, yet do you see where this course will lead us?’ ‘I do, my friend, and it is the path I choose to follow.’ ‘And I accept your choice, for to refuse you that, even though I believe it is to your detriment, is absurd.’ Spinoza glanced up from the board. ‘Are we talking about your human animals again?’ ‘Indeed. Just look at them. How can they deem it moral to ‘play god’ in one direction, but refuse each other the choice to play god in the other, tell me that, Baruch? Is that not the height of absurdity?’ Abiding his companion’s request, Spinoza turned his gaze to the passing crowd, searchPage 56
ing their faces as they hurried about their business. In many, he saw the clear light of intelligence and integrity. In others, the qualities were a mere flicker, and he wondered: Have they reached a point of maturity where they could be trusted to make the ultimate choice about their fate? Are they responsible enough? The questions made him feel like the father he had never been, worrying over children he’d never had, who were teetering on the cusp of adulthood; children who were old enough to drive, but not old enough to vote; children who were old enough to choose to live forever, but not old enough to choose when to die. The paradox was, indeed, perplexing, but he saw no reason to confess this to Friedrich, especially when it was much more interesting to play the Devil’s Advocate. ‘Since when has choice been the providence of simple folk?’ he asked, hunching over the board again as Friedrich castled his king behind a wall of pawns, headed by his queen. Baruch circled his hand above the configuration. ‘Choice, as you well know, has always rested in the hands of higher powers.’ ‘Huh! Now you’re being facetious. Higher powers. Quatsch! And, don’t think I can’t see you over there smirking, even though the opportunity to besiege my king was lost to you an age ago.’ ‘Caught out again, eh? Well, you can’t blame an old man for trying to find a way out of this bind.’ Baruch replied, with a wink at his opponent. ‘But, come now, do you honestly think humanity has the maturity to make choices about such matters?’ ‘I believe they have the capacity, but the maturity? I don’t know. So many of them still place their faith in an invention, and refuse to take responsibility for their lives. Yet, we know Page 57
what happens when the human animal is afforded choice. How they advance!’ ‘Unlike this game, eh mentsch?’ ‘An inevitable stalemate, it would seem.’ ‘Like conversations about human morality.’ ‘But we must discuss such things. Have you considered—’ Friedrich broke off as Baruch held up a hand. ‘What?’ he asked in exasperation. The philosopher smiled. ‘Can’t hear you; train coming.’
8.14.16 Nerves by Meghan Baum Page 59
On A Bus in Paris by Jason Allen A woman sits on back seat of no. 26 between Place d'Italie and Gambetta. At Cours de Vincennes, I see her sitting alone behind. At Maraîchers, she snores, lying on the bench, clinging to the pole. Even while snoring, she clings dexterously, holding on tight in deep sleep. Her face is turned toward the empty, hard surface of a step but her skilled hand supports her. The smile of a bourgeois woman threatens to explode, a book’s stiff body bracing against a snort. “This bus terminates here!” Bolt-erect, the woman sits up straight and ready, a quick hand straightens head wrap. Does she remember why she came here? Does she know? “All passengers will please disembark.” Off she goes with the crowd, her hurried step merging with the moving haze of the street.
Interment by Chelsea Gray I've condensed you into snapshots lodged in a cavity of me. My body sewn up tight. All reminders of you
to be captured in jars, preserved with ethanol, so that I may conduct a futile study, with no hypothesis or conclusion.
In my desk drawer, wrapped in the pink scarf I no longer wearâ€” a gift carried over three continentsâ€” is a piece of your windshield, dissected from the remains of shattered bottles and metal. I use your shard to cut open the stitches in my side. Methodical, I peel away my skin. Pull back the muscle. Practiced hands reach under my ribs, gather the intestines, Page 61
lay them out and wrap them in wax paper, to hide all trace of my severance. There are sharp bits of you, growing into me like a parasite. I dig around my lungs, stomach and spleen,
until my fingers catch the intrusion lodged against my liver. I pull. Easy at first, it peels away like a stamp, until theres resistance.
With one swift tug a piece of flesh tears away too. The edges of my prize are lined up neatly, two Polaroids stacked together. I flatten them out with slick hands, careful not to disturb the entrails on display as I perform the tired ritual of remembrance. Creases mar your image, the corners have begun to decay. The vision is stained a dirty ochre, Page 62
the color of my drying intestines, the parchment from which our story will be erased. The first picture shows us, on the cusp of adulthood, laying ear to ear as we watched meteors erupt
in flames. So long ago, it feels like recalling characters from a book I never finished. "Will this be a happy memory?" You had asked as you rubbed my arms.
Even in the dark you knew they were covered in scars. I flip to the next image. You are drunk your knuckles bloody, eyes glazed, staring me down. I was the only one unafraid of those rare savage outbursts. But that night, my stomach dropped as you punched the wallâ€” Just once. Mistaking my own pride for bravery, for love, I grabbed your fist, Page 63
held you while you cried. To that first photo I take my own razor. I close my eyes as I eviscerate it. Unable to bear the broken potential
of the man you should have been. I toss the second photo in a jar, where its image will be preserved, reviewed only when
my longing is deepest. But the shreds I place in a shroud. Gutted memories, set behind my lungs, secure in the hollow they have created.
Revolution in Progress by Samuel Cole I know it’s a problem. I admit it. Pleading to meet once a week, maybe twice —three times a charm, no?— for a burger, a latte, a game of Jenga, a little Battleship, an ear, an eye, a mid-way point between the bomb-dust remoteness of my see-spot-sit in open recollections and your see-spot-run in secret directions arriving later and later leavingfaster&faster so busy, can’t stay long, gotta go. I suspect the going is to him, though I do not ask, as I cannot answer to his name, nor can I stand up to the flight path with which your smile catches air when I ask if you’re happy. I remember when my name made you skip. I understand freshness keeps you going. I see the rebirth of a spirit ascending in color. Goddamn it.
You’ve shed every refrain of my influence. You’ve adopted a new timer, lexicon, gait, and scent.
You’ve relaxed into a proportion of highness I fear I will never reach, terminally grounded to our seed collection growing still in my peripatetic arboretum. What do you want and make it quick. Every declaration I’d practiced sprints off field. Every compliment I’d groomed lurks backstage. Every impression I’d authorized turns on its side. Since when did you become speechless? My friends keep defining insanity, again. My family keeps defining disparity, again. My heart keeps defining finality, again. I don’t eat burgers. I hate coffee. Jenga’s weird. And Battleships for kids. Those are your things. Not mine.
You leave before I can beg you to stay. You squeal away and leave another burn. You don’t reply to my texts. You let every phone call land at the bottom of voicemail. Figures. I rub a hand over the imperfections in the wall. I watch a series of cars pull in and back out. I pack up the burger, the latte, Jenga, and Battleship. I know your ears are mute to my volume. It’s just when you’re with me, I know you’re not with him, at least not in person.
Only the Lonely by Samuel Cole Even on shower days, I backflop in my seething chair & shoot death-eye lasers at the poorly tacked speaker booming the sheetrock, plastic dandruff vaulting from its cheap, synthetic husk, & press play, one-hundred decibels, sinking like a stingray in saltwater love songs drowning the shallowness of our swimming charade, every bombast ballad & casting crown still broken together & one celeb-tongue-
tenor crooning if you need me call out my name . So I call. Scream. Bounce against brine & gather nose bubbles transforming at the surface your watermark impression.
Final Chore by Samuel Cole The house is manic in mid-summer tidy-up. We’re Bose-humming with Tegan and Sara. Swiffers, 409, and lightbulbs are streaming live.
The living room is in the kitchen. The kitchen in the dishwasher. The dishwasher is gurgling its uber-rinse. Three hours in. One hour to go. We’re good. So good. I tickle the duvet and spank the pillows. The music halts. Dishwasher, too. My stomach knots. My posture shrivels. I am not one to terminate. You are a fast hiatus. I am not one to relax. You are a quick unwind. I am hardwood maple. You are softcover pulp. I am broom and dust pan. You are cobwebs and dust mites. I am glued by dexterity. You are unhinged by stringency. I did not see this chasm in the beginning. I find you in the den, in my mother’s chair —a gift my father gave upon her passing— arms dangling from the cherry spindle, Norwegian chin and Italian eyes flung low. Haunting. You are a thinker so I know you are thinking.
I do not pry. It is unwise to stretch your boundaries with stingers and claw. You are saddened so I know you are sad. Tears burnish rosewater cheeks, salmon-thin lips, and a nose that can point me in any direction.
I want to soothe you, to crystallize my appointment, to reaffirm the choices I’ve made by showing you the dimensions of my mother’s chair. See the fissures: the discoloration: it’s still beautiful: Turn it upside down: tweak the springs: test it: it’s still valuable: Run a hand over the fading legs: pluck the scrim in the seat: it’s still purposeful:
Press it against your chest: embrace the vibrations: it’s still perfect: You shoo me away so I know you want me to go. You close the garage door so I know you want me to stay. You return with an armful of blue totes and a roll of packing tape which you put on my mother’s chair, weeping for me and holding out for you.
Missing Your Birthday by Samuel Cole No cake with candles to enflame your mind. No gift from Macyâ€™s to unwrap your hips. No party with balloons to thaw your hands. No card from Hallmark to relieve your tears. No song with friends to expand your range. No photos of family to banner your smile. No streamers with tape to lighten your float. No playlist from funk to blast your rift. No embrace with kisses to shelter your form. No cleaning from dawn to brighten your loft. No bedtime with ease to reverie your years.
Patriachless by Samuel Cole We used to climb trees in the backyard. Roar at the top. I love his first impression & dislike his second act. I admire his garden turnout & reject his shrubbery mass. I should not want to see his nose hairs again. I should not want to touch his chainsaw scar every day. He is my hammered father. I am his nailed son. He is my tear-duct encryption. I am his fingernail jiggers. We used to ride dragons. Swim laps in the middle. I’m thirty-five feet stumbling against his imprisoned stargaze branding my holes. He’s seventy-six millennia running far from my caper moons shaming his raptured soul. I rebuke his guardianship absenteeism. He reprimands my childhood reemergence. “Hell can taste your cadaver, dear daddy-o.” “Heaven can smell your cinders, dear sonny-boy.” I try to move him through jurisprudence, poetry, Instagram, and resemblance. Page 71
He tries to move me through Calvinism, prose, Polaroids, and metamorphosis. I t-shirt Ethridge, Tom of Finland, Mapplethorpe, and Maddow. He books Osteen, Saul of Tarsus, Kinkade, and Oâ€™Reilly. Weâ€™re possessed by garrulity. And sequestration. Wanton. Dehydrated. Blood-bruised. Nits. We used to swing at the playground. Jump rope overhanging the sand. I can shake lifestyle objections from my eyelids. I can swallow decade neglect with my tongue. I can stop blocking your phone number, address, luggage, and heart. Can you? Why must we continue through swift cuts and sharp screens to score signature discontent into layered armor peeling apart tired battle lands. We used to hold hands at church. Pray hard for a new beginning.
Flair by Samuel Cole The size of an orgasm, a FUN METER button you gave as wearable proof that I rate somewhere between a black pointer’s circumference of minimum blue and medium yellow and maximum red, tipping high-red the day you pinned it on my chest and thanked me for the tee-hee’s, the handsprings, the thumbs up, the seasons, the cheers. There’s just no one funnier than you. So I wore out the red for you, leaving yellow to the mediocre, the status quo, the fickle, the needy; leaving blue to the duds, the lonely, the downcast, the seriously out-of-sync; leaving two years later on a Thursday breeze without a choice, or a guide, setting the button tipping low-blue on a pine desk in a rented room from a General Manager at Ford who asked last week while caulking the window why I never wear it anymore and will it ever turn red again and does it prick me if I whisper your name. Page 73
One Teensy Favor by Samuel Cole May I come like morning dew and blanket your bedsheet newness and saturate with kisses your dimple impressions and rub fingerprints over drying pockmarks refracting my mind to your heart which covers lies we neednâ€™t speak with truth we mustnâ€™t pry.
Screenshot 1 by Carrie Zhang
Fading Identities by Fabio Sassi
The Bone Hunter by Stephen John Walker He didn't go to the Wallowas or Idaho anymore. They wouldn't let him drive—wouldn't renew his license after he’d failed the eye test twice. He drove without one for a while, until his oldest grandson took away the keys to his rig and did something to the wiring so it wouldn't start. He must have been in his late eighties when I first met him—still driving then. A wellknown hunting and fishing guide, he’d take his rig out to a campsite in the Wallowas or over into Idaho a few days in advance, get everything setup, and wait for his clients to arrive. Some even flew in on float planes if the camp was on a lake. Pouring booze in the evenings as a bartender at the Basin Hotel, I often heard his name mentioned, mostly by out-of-towners. The Basin was an old southern Oregon establishment that catered to the camo-attired rod and gun folks, many from Portland or the Bay Area. Some actually flew in from other parts of the States to hunt or fish with this old fellow. I gleaned from their comments that he was one of the most respected guides in this part of the Northwest for excursions up in the Snake River country. Big horn sheep, deer, elk, bear, including the occasional grizzly, were his specialty. He lived on the south side of Klamath Falls, where I worked summers for a parcel delivery company trying to save enough for another year’s tuition at O.I.T.—Oregon Institute of Technology. Up at the top end of a narrow gravel drive, his house overlooked the basin and had a great view of the lake and mountains toward Crater Lake. The house wasn't much to look at from the outside, just a one story box built into the side of the hill with a carport underneath for Page 77
his rig—a one-ton truck with a camper on the back—and a small shop. A horse trailer was parked next to the house. He told me later that he’d built it all himself. * “Whatcha studyin’ in school?” He asked once when I dropped off a couple of heavy, long packages. As usual, he had a chew under his lip. “Anthropology. Just the basic classes here. I don’t get to major until I go up to U of O.” “An . . . thro . . . pology.” He said it slowly. “That’s about the Indians, ain’t it?” “Yes, sir. Can be.” “You dig up bones and such?” He spat. “Yes, sometimes. Mostly the archeologists do that.” “Well, son. What’s the difference ’tween the two?” “I’m not sure, sir. I’ve just started. I think the archeologists do the digging and the anthropologists do the analyzing.” ‘‘Well, young man. I haven’t had much time for analyzin’, but have done plenty of diggin’. And picked up lots of stuff just layin’ about on the ground.” “What kind of stuff?” I hoped he wasn’t one of those people who robbed the ancient burial grounds. “Lots of old Indian stuff and bones, and a few old guns and such.” He spat again. “Come on in and I’ll show you.” “I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t have the time right now. Maybe another day. I have to continue with my deliveries.”
He looked almost sad. “Find the time on a day off, son, if you can. Lots to look at. Ain’t goin’ to be here forever.” * More than a month passed before I drove back up the hill in my Ford pickup. The new quarter had started at O.I.T, and I’d almost forgot about the old timer’s offer until I overheard two local guys bragging about their hunting exploits while I sat in the campus cafeteria. I was plowing through a suggested reading text—The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley. My English prof , who knew my interest in all things native, thought I would enjoy it and might just learn something from the works by this famous naturalist. I’d never heard of Loren Eiseley and learned later that neither had most of the planet. Their loss. Passages in his book about wandering across the deserts and wastelands of the Southwest reminded me of the old guide and his offer. When I neared his house, I saw him bent over the engine compartment of his truck. I didn’t honk my horn as most folks do in this part of the country. Didn’t want to startle him. But he heard me and turned. A rag in one hand and a wrench in the other, he had a puzzled look on his face until I got out of my truck and walked toward him. “Hey, son. How ya been?” He looked older and more frail than I remembered. But maybe his stature hadn’t changed, just my memory. His grip as he shook my hand was like a vise. “Come to see my curiosities, have you now?” “Yes, sir. You said you had some artifacts that might be of interest.” He laid the wrench on the fender of the truck and shook his head. Page 79
“Artifacts. No, son, I don’t have no artifacts, just stuff folks left layin’ around. Sure ’nough you’ve been in school awhile.” He grinned. “Sir?” “All this ‘artifacts that might be of interest’ crap. You didn’t talk like that before. You were just a curious kid. No matter. Come inside. Don’t forget to wipe your feet.” He stopped at a washbasin next to the drop-down stairs leading up into his house and cleaned his hands. “After you, son. You’re the guest.” He gestured up the stairs. “Ain’t no formal front door. Drives the salesmen nuts. Can’t find the way in.” He laughed. Two things struck me first as I rose up through the floor into his house: the smell of floor wax and light. The trap door to the carport was in the center of the room. And what a room. I didn’t know if I had entered the salon of a majestic hunting lodge or a natural history museum.
Larger than man-sized picture windows opened the walls to the north, east and
south. Smaller ones were arrayed over the small kitchen counter and sink on the west wall. Plush brown leather chairs and carved wooden tables were scattered around the room. What looked like Indian handwoven carpets covered much of the wood floor. A roll top desk sat under an east-facing window. “Like lots of light,” he said as he came up behind me. “And need to see what’s goin’ on with the weather.” On the walls over and between the windows were the mounted heads of every large game animal in this part of the States: buffalo, moose, elk, big-horned sheep, mountain goat, antelope, and several different deer. At my feet was the skin and head of a grizzly bear. I Page 80
walked around it. The wall space below the stuffed heads and around the windows was lined with bookshelves. Bookshelves was probably not the right word to explain their purpose. They were more like massive vertical scrapbooks. Mixed up with his limited library were things he’d collected: knives, spotting scopes, bits of pottery, bones, matchbooks, wallets, watches, compasses, Zippo lighters, children’s toys, address books, and lately I assumed, cell phones. And an array of postcards—some from Europe and South America . “You’d be surprised what folks leave at their camp sites. It ain’t thievin’. I always try to track down the owner.” Next to the windows to the left of the small kitchen was a gun rack with a collection of old rifles. On the self below the rack was a pile of handguns. “Not much of a reader. Do like Louis L’Amour. Most of my books are about the West. Found some good stuff in the old ghost towns.” My attention became riveted to the shelf over the large stone fireplace that occupied the center of the south wall. Several human skulls were spread across the thick wood mantel piece. I didn’t know what to say, and he answered my questions before they were asked. “I’m not a grave robber, son. I respect the traditions of the Indians. But sometimes their burial stuff gets scattered about the countryside—coyotes, badgers, wolves, even crows and ravens carry bits away from the burial grounds.” He walked over to the shelf. “And these could be white folks who lost their way.” He shrugged. Tomahawks and other ceremonial pieces were scattered among the skulls. “Did you see the cards I’ve gotten from folks? Proud of that, I am.” He picked out one Page 81
from the shelf. “From a Congressman in Idaho. Probably a bum like the rest of them politicians, but a nice guy.” I wasn’t paying attention to the postcards—one skull stood out from the others. The brow ridges above the eye sockets were prominent, the forehead flatter, the cheek bones were swept back, and the nose orifice was larger. No expert yet, but I knew there were major differences between this skull and the others. “Wanta see the guns?” “What?” His question broke my concentration on the skull. He walked over to the rack and took down a rifle. It looked new. “Model 94 Winchester, this one is.” He worked the lever action. “Pretty bad shape when I found it leaning up against a tree in the Strawberry Mountains south of John Day. Sure wish I knew the story behind that. Had my buddy, Phil, the local gunsmith, fix it up for me.” He handed it to me. “’Bout like brand new now.” “This is just like the one you see in all the Westerns, isn’t it?” I didn’t know what else to say. Raised in Eugene by two aging hippies, guns were an anathema during my childhood—no war toys allowed in our home. No television watched except Oregon Public Broadcasting. Used to watch Westerns at my friends’ houses. “My buddy, Phil, checked the serial number with the Winchester folks and found this one was bought by the army. Must’ve been used by the cavalry.” I handed the rifle back to him. “Do you keep the guns loaded?” I pointed to the rack and shelf of handguns—heard too many stories about unloaded guns killing people. “No, son. All the ones you see have had their firing pins removed or otherwise disaPage 82
bled.” He replaced the rifle in the rack and lifted a big pistol off the shelf. Holding it with both hands, he said, “Know anything about old revolvers?” “No. Not really. Don’t know much about guns at all.” I also dropped the pistol when he handed it to me. “Four and a half pounds it weighs. Called a Walker Colt. Only ’bout a thousand made back in 1847. Been told it’s worth a pretty penny. Found it in a tin box wrapped in oil skins under a porch. That’d be on an old homestead near Cobalt. Over in Idaho. Wouldn’t have found it if the porch boards hadn’t been rotted. Broke right through when I stepped up onto ’em.” He took the pistol back and laid it on the shelf. Turning back, he looked hard at me with his clear green eyes. “Surprised you know so little about guns, being a Klamath Basin boy.” “I’m from the valley . . . Eugene actually. Just came over here to go to O.I.T.” I hoped he wouldn’t think less of me. “Well, son, you don’t look like one of them Oregon web-footed weirdos with long hair and earrings.” “Not a fan of the Ducks?” “Not a fan of any of them stupid sports. Don’t teach them boys nothin’ ’bout the real world. It’s all money and politics.” He walked toward the small kitchen. “Like a cup of coffee?” He turned to face me. “Or are you one of those phony organic Asian tea drinkers?” “No sir, or I mean yes, coffee would be wonderful.” “Nothin’ fancy. Just coffee.” He clanked about in the kitchen. After filling the aluminum percolator with water, he measured out the grounds to add to the basket, replaced the lid and plugged it in. I’d never seen this procedure before—no one, that I know, goes through this rouPage 83
tine anymore. Then it dawned on me that I was watching something that an anthropologist should note. These small, maybe insignificant at the time, changes in behavior, were important. While the coffee brewed, I continued to look around the room. On a wall leading down a hall hung a collection of framed photographs. Most were of him and his clients and their trophies: dead animals and big fish. Above and centered was a faded black and white photo of a young man in uniform on a horse. Inside the frame around the photo were several military medals and ribbons. “That was taken in Italy in ’45. I was in a mule-skinnin’ outfit with the 10th Mountain Division. Heard of ’em, have you?” He stood behind me. “No, sir. I haven’t.” “Teach you anything about history in school these days?” “Some, sir. But usually just a survey course, just covering the highlights.” “What’s a survey course? Surveyin’ is about measurin’ land and property, ain’t it?” He went back to the kitchen. “Not exactly. It’s a college term for sort of, like, just an overview of major events, and a reading list for further study. Doesn’t go into a lot of details.” “You goin’ in the service?” He handed me a cup of coffee—didn’t ask if I wanted anything in it. “No, sir.” That question surprised me. “Hadn’t thought about it.” “Everyone should serve the country. Peace Corps, military or something. Should give something back for what we have.” “You were in World War II?” Page 84
“You betcha, son. Joined up in ’40 when FDR called up the Guard. Got sent to a quartermaster remount outfit in Colorado. Some damn fools still thought we could fight Nazi tanks with horse cavalry.” “Is that a mule?” I pointed at the photo. He almost spit out his coffee. “No, son. That ain’t no mule.” He laughed. “Found her wanderin’ about near Monte Cassino. Beautiful sixteen hand mare she was. Musta belonged to some Kraut or Italian officer. The captain kept her for a while—we all had our photograph taken on her—before she was sent back to regiment. Probably some general, like Patton, ended up prancin’ around on her for them newspaper folks.” A telephone rang. It made a metallic clanging sound, different than what I was used to. He walked across the room to the roll top desk. Black plastic with a rotary dial, the phone was a museum piece. “Yessir, Doctor Brown. Let me check the calendar.” He opened a green ledger that lay on the desk. “Yessir, those dates should be just fine. I’ll send you a letter confirming it all. Thank you, doctor. Be good seein’ you again.” He placed the receiver on its cradle and made an entry in his book. A Smith-Corona manual typewriter was on the desk. He sat in the desk chair, opened a drawer and withdrew a sheet of paper, which he inserted into typewriter. I’d never seen this done before. I should be taking notes. “Do you have a website?” I looked around for a computer, and then realized I hadn’t even seen a television set. He spun around in the chair like he was startled and jumped up. “So sorry, son. I’m so used to working alone and getting my affairs arranged as soon as possible, I forgot you were here.” He turned and picked up his coffee cup. “Website? No, son. No website. No computer. Page 85
Never saw the need for one. Folks know who I am and what I do. They contact me.” “Do you have a TV?” I thought there might be one in his bedroom. “Used to. Got rid of it. Nothin’ but garbage on it anyway.” “But you said you liked to check the weather. How do you know what the weather is in . . . wherever you’re going?” “Don’t give much credence to weather forecasts, son. Listen to the local stuff on a transistor in my room. Got a short wave in the rig. It keeps me aware of what’s goin’ on.” I walked over to the fireplace and stared at the strange skull on the mantle. He noticed my interest. “Found it near an old line cabin on the edge of the Alvord, north of Andrews. Just layin’ above ground, it was. Like someone had placed it there for me to find. Come across some strange things near Steens Mountain.” “How long have you been doing this . . . the guide business, I mean?” “Ever since I returned from Italy in ’45.” He pointed toward the leather chairs. “Let’s sit.” He brought the coffee pot from the kitchen and refilled our cups. “Worked a lot of years as a mule wrangler and hired hand for a couple of outfits. But got tired of bein’ bossed around—just like in the army. Got married, had two sons—one died in Vietnam, the other lives back east. One grandson, some kind of lawyer, lives up in Portland. Comes down for a visit from time to time. His wife only came the one time, saw my collection,” he waved his hand at the heads on the walls, “and never returned.” He stood, walked to the desk and brought back a framed photograph of a young woman. “Charlotte, my wife. Married more than thirty years, then the cancer took her.”
* During the next eighteen months before I transferred to Oregon, I would visit with the old wrangler as often as possible, usually when delivering some gear. The visits became less frequent after I acquired a girlfriend. I took her to the house on the hill for a visit, but her reaction was the same as his Portland granddaughter-in-law. The last visit before returning to Eugene showed me that his age had finally caught with him—the horse trailer and camping rig were gone. A couple of times I had shown up for a visit and the vehicles were gone, but he was off on an outing. This time I knew he was at home because I called earlier that morning. “Well, son, they’ve shut me down.” He stood at the top of the dropdown staircase. “What do you mean?” As I entered the room everything looked the same. “Say I’m too old to drive. Won’t let me hire on anyone for that. Damn lawyer grandson took away my rig. Talkin’ about puttin’ me in one of them homes.” He pointed toward the kitchen. “Coffee’s on. Be ready in a minute.” He looked at me and grinned. “You’re lookin’ fine, son. Ready to go back to the big city?” “Yes. I am, but I’ll miss our talks. Is there any way to stop all this?” “No, son. I don’t think so. When you’re my age, you don’t have many choices. But, there’re some things still to do.” He walked over to the old roll top desk. “You never signed my guest book.” He pulled a black leather book from a drawer and opened it. “Lots of famous, and some infamous, folks in here.” He handed me a fountain pen. I’d never used one before. “I’ll write my parents’ Eugene address, if that’s all right?” “Of course, son. I may start sendin’ out Christmas cards.” He laughed.
“What about your things?” I looked around the room. “If you have to leave, I mean.” “Don’t rightly know. Haven’t figured that out yet.” He looked around the room. “Anything you’d like to take along as a souvenir?” That was a surprise. More like a shock. There was so much. How could I take something of his life? Our talks together would be my best souvenir. “No. I can’t take anything from your collection. It wouldn’t be right.” “Must be something you could use in your anthropology work.” He was insistent. “Okay. The different-looking skull on the mantle. May I borrow that? I’d like to do some research about it.” “Oh, of course. That’s what an anthropologist would want.” He walked over to the mantle and took down the skull. Then he brought down another skull in his other hand and held them side-by-side at arm’s length. “Most assuredly something different-lookin’ about these two fellas.” He handed me the skull. “Don’t be puttin’ it up on that eBay thing.” “How do you know about eBay? You don’t go online. You can’t. You don’t have a computer. Did you get one?” I took the skull from him and wondered if he had a paper sack or something I could put it in. “No, son. No computer here.” He placed the other skull back on the mantle. “All my clients are . . . I mean were . . . always yappin’ about it ’round the campfire in the evenings.” He turned to face me. “They’d also talk about how much it costs ’em to send their kids to go to them Ivy League—Is that the right name?—schools back east or down in California. And about them student loan things that’ll put young folks in debt for many years. How you doin’ in that area, son? If you don’t mind me askin’.”
“I do have to watch my pennies. Won’t be putting that down payment on a Ferrari anytime soon.” I grinned, but didn’t think he understood the humor. His faced sort of twisted. “Why would you be wantin’ to buy one of them foreign jobs. Buy American, I say.” “Sorry. It was just a joke.” I wondered what to do with the skull as we chatted. “I’ll keep driving the pickup until the wheels fall off.” We both laughed, but his laughter seemed forced. “You gonna keep workin’ for them delivery folks?”He held out a hand. “Here, son. Let me have that. I’ve got a small box you can hide it in. Don’t be wantin’ the sheriff to be stoppin’ you and seein’ this on your front seat.” He went down the hall, and then returned with the box. “Wrapped it in newspaper so it won’t bounce around.” He placed the box on a table. “Would like to know what you find from your research. Let’s sit. I’ll get the coffee.” We sat in two of the leather chairs. He didn’t say anything for a while, just enjoyed the coffee and looked around the room. It was like he forgot I was there. He set his cup on the table, leaned back, and looked at me. “What were we talkin’ about, son? Oh yeah, your finances. You gonna have to work over there? Where you goin’ to live? The school have a place for you?” He reached for his cup. “I’m sorry, son. Don’t mean to pry. Just curious. Not talked to many college boys.” “I’ll stay with my parents. Not the best arrangement, but free. Yes, I’ve been offered a part-time job with the parcel company’s Eugene office, and I’ve a lead on a bartender gig.” “Your folks helpin’ out?” It would be embarrassing to tell him that my parents had never put aside a penny for my education, or anything else for that matter. They were parasites—taking advantage of any government handout program that came along. I would stay with them in my old room until I
could move to another place. Hopefully, as soon as possible. “No. They don’t have any money. But I do get to live at home. I’ll make do.” “You gonna get stuck with one of them student loans?” “Maybe. I’ve applied for a couple of grants and scholarships, but no feedback yet. The only problem is my gap year.” “Gap year? What’s that? Sounds like something your dentist would say.” He went to the kitchen counter to get the coffee pot. When he returned and refilled our mugs, I explained. “A gap year is when a student goes off to study, travel, or work in an area of interest.” “Sounds like a boondoggle to me. Same as politicians goin’ off to France to check out the wine business.” He took a drink. “Where you goin’ on your gap year? And who pays for all this? “Panama. I’m hoping to spend time in the San Blas Islands with the Kuna Indians. I want to see how they’re adjusting to the increased tourist trade.” “Panama? Sand Blast Islands? Kunas? Son, you’ve lost me there . . . but wait.” He stood and went to a bookshelf. “Got a National Geographic atlas here somewhere.” Pulling a large volume off the shelf, he looked at the title. “Nope, just the States.” He walked around to another shelf. “Here it is . . . know’d I had one somewhere.” With the world atlas open on the table before us, I showed him the location of the islands. “That’s sure a long way from home, son. Why not study some Indian stuff closer by?” “Too many people doing that already. I need to find a niche that hasn’t been over-
worked.” He returned the book to the shelf. “Hope you’ll be sendin’ me a postcard from them islands.” “Absolutely. More than one.” I wondered what address I would use if he had to go into a home. * My drama major roommate held the skull, which he had lifted off my desk, at arm’s length and affected a pose. “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio.” “And who’s this Horatio guy when he’s at home?” I was absorbed in the editing of a senior paper on the San Blas Indians and didn’t relish the interruption. “Hamlet, dear friend, the bard’s greatest creation.” He placed the skull back on the desk top. “That’s what’s wrong with you physical science types—no culture, no art.” He plopped onto our threadbare, pea green couch, and lit a joint. “I actually had an Ag student ask me today at Sandy’s, while we both were trying to hit on the new barista—gorgeous creature she is, with a great rack, lots of art work and pierced body parts—what they taught us to do in the Liberal Arts. I told him they taught us how to be.” He waved his palm over his head. “Hey, I’m working.” “Sorry, my friend.” He got up and headed toward his room. “When are you going to show that fossil to your prof?” He pointed at the skull. “It might help you get a passable grade.” I had hesitated to show the skull to the faculty at the anthropology department. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was a hot topic of discussion,
and even though I supported the act, I didn’t want my old friend in Klamath Falls, at his age, involved. He said he tried to find the owner of his found objects, but how do you find the owner of a skull? I’d sent him a postcard from Panama. It wasn’t returned—or maybe it couldn’t have been returned—so I assumed he was still at his house. Or, maybe he sent a reply to my parents’ address. I’d moved to an apartment with two other students at the start of my senior year, after my time in Panama. My parents had always been flaky, so any answer he sent may have been lost. * “Where in the world did you find this?” My advisor, and head of the anthropology department, examined the skull I had placed on his desk. I would graduate from Oregon in less than a month, and enter a masters program at Stanford. “Have you been holding out on us? Been doing independent digs on your own?” “No, sir. This a gift from a friend, an old hunting guide, who’s spent many years out in the boonies.” “Did he find it here . . . in Oregon?” “Yes, professor. Out east, on the other side of the Cascades.” “Where? That’s important, as you surely know.” He sounded irritated. “At the base of Steens Mountain, near Andrews.” I thought I had that right—it’d been over three years. I’d sent a graduation invitation to the old guy, but it was returned. A phone call was answered by a recording: “This number has been disconnected or is no longer in service.” “May I borrow this for a while, son. Want to take some measurements, and a few photos,
with your permission, of course.” “Yes, certainly. Just be sure I get it back.” “Any chance you might consider donating it to our collection? We’ve nothing like it.” “I’ll think about it.” What I did think about was did I have time before my final exams to make a run over to Klamath Falls? * It took just under four hours to drive the 175 miles over the Cascades past Crater Lake, and down into the basin. I knew things had changed as I approached the uphill lane to his house— the gravel lane that was now paved, with sidewalks, street lights, and new homes on each side. A block of condominiums stood where his house had been. The woman in the manager���s office couldn’t tell me anything, but recommended I contact their corporate headquarters in San Francisco. I stopped at the Basin Hotel for some lunch and chatted with a waitress who’d worked there forever. She remembered me, but didn’t know anything about the old guide, just complained about how the Californians were moving in and buying up all the good properties. She said she shouldn’t complain though—business was good and they were big tippers. As I drove back to Eugene, I decided to return after graduation and find out what happened to him. He could still be alive in an old folks home somewhere. His collection . . . where’s his stuff, I wondered. * “You got some kind of registered letter waiting for you at the post office,” My roommate said when I walked into our apartment. “Wouldn’t let me sign for it. And your advisor called—
that’s weird for a Saturday. Wants to see you first thing Monday morning. You in trouble, friend?” “Not that I know of.” Must be about the skull, I thought. “How was Klamath Falls? See the old bird?” “No. Waste of time. His house is gone. No one knows anything.” * “Definitely has Neanderthal characteristics,” my advisor said. “Not old, though, in anthropological time, that is. Maybe a hundred years or a few more.” He handed me the skull. “Be a good subject for a study. Probably a genetic throwback. Happens sometimes. Had a biology prof, when I was an undergrad, who had the same prominent brow ridges and low forehead. Given any more thought to adding it to our Oregon artifacts exhibit?” * “So? What’s it all about?” A roommate asked when I opened the registered letter. “Being sued by some tribe for stealing their bones?” “No. Sorry to disappoint you. It’s from the lawyers who handled the old guy’s estate. He must have died. They want me to come to Portland to get something he’d left me in his will.” I read the letter again. “Said they can’t send it. That’s strange.” “Maybe it’s one of those stuffed heads you talked about. Or a box of skulls.” I don’t have time for this, I thought. It’s exam week and I’m stressed enough as it is. But the curiosity is killing me. Okay, if I go up tomorrow morning early, I should get back by noon, maybe. What time do lawyers go to work? Better give ’em a call. *
I arrived early for the 1:00 p.m. appointment. The office was on the sixteenth floor of a glass and steel tower in the center of the city. The receptionist—blond, svelte, and no tattoos or body piercings like the Eugene co-eds—led me into one of the offices. Windows on two sides showed wonderful views of the city, the river, and Mount Hood. The lawyer apologized for the delay in contacting me. He said the probate of the will had been a hassle. The property in Klamath Falls was left to the old man’s son, but the grandson in Portland thought he was entitled to part of it. So the legal battle went on for a time. “I’m sorry, sir. I don’t mean to interrupt, but I didn’t know that he had died.” “Of course. You’re not a member of the family, so you weren’t involved in the custody issues. He died last year. Prior to that, his family—I won’t go into the details—moved him to the Veteran’s Home in The Dalles.” He stood from behind his desk and walked over to a small table. A sealed cardboard box lay on it. “In his will, he specified that this should be given to you. It took us awhile to find you. All we knew was you were a student in anthropology at Oregon.” He pointed to the box. “Would you like to open it?” “Do you know what’s inside?” Hope it’s not more skulls, I thought. “Yes, of course. I think you’ll be pleased with the contents. We’ve had it appraised, and its value is quite substantial.” He handed me a letter opener. “This should do the job.” Inside the cardboard box was a tin box. From the tin box I lifted a cloth wrapped heavy object whose shape jolted memory cells in my brain. It’s the Walker Colt. I slowly unwrapped it and laid it on the table. “Latest estimates are about five hundred thousand for one in this condition. We do have contacts with some auction houses in New York City which may bring you more.” ‘‘Thank you, sir. I’ll just take this along and think about it in the future.” I signed some
papers, shook his hand, got his business card, took the box, and left the building. Out in the parking lot I sat in my soon-to-die truck and thought about that future. ***
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Fox Hunt by Desmond Scheerlinck In the city's night-lights, a Biker rode through the streets, chased by a man in a special sort of car. Said car was too small for more than one person to sit in, as well as small enough to be mistaken for a skateboard that rode on its own, but was in fact driven by someone inside it. The Biker was on the street, dodging cars, while the driver drove near the sidewalk. So focused was the driver on chasing the Biker, he didn't see the newspaper booth, until he drove into it. The driver raised his gloved hands in surprise as he saw the newspapers covering his windshield. As he heard people murmuring about what just happened, he saw one of the paper headlines, which read: â€œFOXMAN STILL AT LARGEâ€?, accompanied by a fuzzy picture of a man in a cape. The driver drove his car backward, out of the pile of newspapers and drove away, still in pursuit of the Biker. Once the Biker believed he had shaken off the car that was chasing him, he stopped his bike somewhere midway an alley. The Biker took off his helmet and looked behind him, just to be sure. Nobody was chasing him anymore. Still anxious, he opened up the seat of his bike, where he found a bag, which he opened, to check if the money was still there. He sighed, relieved, while failing to notice a dark man that was sneaking up on him. The Dark Man raised his hands, which were holding a cable, which he wrapped around the Biker's neck. The driver drove by the alley, where he could see the bike parked. He drove into the alley, and parked his car near the bike, after which its roof opened up. The driver emerged, and stepped towards the bike. Its seat was still open, while the bag was found lying next to the bike, its contents spilled. A few yards away from the bike, behind the garbage pails, the driver found a pair of feet. He ran toward the spot, and found the Biker, lying motionless, his eyes bulging, his neck red, and a cable wrapped around it. The driver gasped, and suddenly heard footsteps. He turned to look, and saw the Dark Man. The Man stepped into the street-light, revealing a man in a brown coat and dark clothes, wearing a black cloth for a mask, covering everything except his left eye. The driver swallowed loudly, but stepped into the light anyway, where the Dark Man could see a younger man, not even older than twenty, wearing all black, a mask (which covered his eyes and scalp) and a cape. This, the Dark Man thought, must be this Foxman that the papers have been talking about. The Dark Man growled, and took a knife out of his pocket. Foxman tightened his gloves as he readied himself for battle. The Dark Man lunged forward, but Foxman stepped away. He punched his assailant in the stomach and kicked his knee. The Man fell, but not without grabbing Foxman's cape and pulling him down with him. Foxman grunted as he tried to get up, but the Dark Man was faster than him. He raised his Page 86
knife and forced it down. Foxman rolled away just in time. As he got up, he kicked the knife out of the Man's hand and away from them both. The Dark Man's eye squinted, and he thrust himself forward. He placed his hands on Foxman's neck, and held him against the wall behind him. There, Foxman struggled against the Man's hold. He reached for the Man's mask. As he did so, the Man leaned back, trying to avoid Foxman's hands. This loosened his grip on Foxman, who could suddenly push his arms away and punch him in the face. The Dark Man took a few steps back, temporarily stunned by the punch, which was enough time for Foxman to catch his breath again. But the Dark Man recovered faster than him. He grabbed Foxman and tossed him through the nearest door.
Foxman burst through the rotten door, splinters flying around as he landed on the floor. Except for the spot where Foxman just landed, where the streetlights fell, the entire room was dark. As he tried to get up, the Dark Man was already standing above him. Foxman picked up a sharp piece of the door, and stabbed his attacker with it. As Foxman got up again, he noticed the Man taking the piece of the door out, not even feeling any pain at all. Foxman shivered, and ran into the darkness of the house. The Dark Man looked into the darkness, obviously unable to see anything. He ran after Foxman, into the general area he saw him running into. Somehow, he himself didn't know how, but Foxman found himself at the bottom of the stairs. He heard the Man's footsteps in one direction, getting louder. He looked in the other, where he saw a wall. With no other way out, he ran up the stairs. Of course the Dark Man heard Foxman run up the stairs, so he followed suit. The Dark Man found himself at the bottom of the stairs, where he looked up. He saw nothing, safe for an old cupboard. Slowly, he stepped up, so his footsteps were barely audible for his target to hear them. When he was halfway up the flight, the cupboard motioned forward. Before he had any time to realize he fell into a trap, the Dark Man felt the cupboard fall on him. This forced him back down, where he landed on the bottom, motionless. Foxman laughed nervously, as he himself was surprised his plan worked. As he laughed, he turned his head to the room next to him. Seeing something interesting, he entered to check it out. He found what looked like a shrine, where the walls were covered with newspaperclippings, made visible by the street-light coming from the only window in the room. Most of them were headlines, all about the same subject. One read “VIGILANTE STOPS HYPNOTIST”, where there was a picture of a man in hand-cuffs and his mouth taped shut. Another headline read “OPEN SEASON FOR ONE FOX”, and another said “ELECTROSTAR VS. FOXMAN” with a picture of a man shooting lightning from his hands. Foxman frowned at the sight of that. On a nearby table, he found a scrapbook, which had “CHESTER'S” written on its cover. He opened it, and found much older Page 87
newspaper-clippings. One read “KID MURDERS MOTHER”, accompanied by a picture of a young boy, about eight years old. Another read “DISCHARGED PATIENT CAUSES MASSACRE”. He shut the book and turned around, only to see another wall covered with more clippings, but these were more crudely cut, as though whoever did this had no control over his hands. One read “PICK-POCKET FOUND DEAD. FOXMAN'S WORK?”, another read “FOXMAN THREW MAN OFF ROOF, WITNESS SAYS”, and finally, there was “FOX SHOWS TRUE COLORS”. Foxman's mouth hung open in disbelief. He didn't know about any of this. Someone was killing people, but the general public was blaming him? He turned around, and seemingly out of nowhere, there was the Dark Man again. He swung his arm, somehow causing Foxman enough pain to fall down. He looked down his chest, and saw his Tshirt was cut, and behind the cut, a red line of blood was visible. He looked up, and saw his assailant, holding a knife, which was now covered in blood. The Dark Man lunged down on Foxman, but the latter kicked his head. The Man fell down, accidentally stabbing Foxman in his shoulder. With his now weakened strength, he pushed the Dark Man off him, and tried getting up. He took the knife out of his shoulder, and started walking away. But before he realized it, the Dark Man had grabbed him by his ankle, and Foxman fell down again. The Dark Man crawled over him, while Foxman struggled for his release. Using his one weak spot, the Dark Man pinched Foxman's damaged shoulder. The latter cried in agony, just when he placed his foot against the Man's stomach, pulling him over his head, forcing him to land hard on his back. Foxman tried to get up, but his attacker was faster than him. He wrapped his arm around Foxman's neck, trying one last time to choke him. Foxman looked around him. He saw the table with the scrapbook. He placed his feet on it, and pushed himself away. This caused the Dark Man to fall back, and with the window right behind them, both fell through it. Things turned dark for both of them just before they hit the ground. Foxman woke up. He felt himself lying on something, but he couldn't figure out what it was. He rolled off, got up on his knees (as that was all he could manage) and looked at his assailant, who didn't move and was lying in a pool of blood. He grabbed hold of that cloth the Man used for a mask and pulled it off. He didn't recognize the face, but it did bear some resemblance to the 8-year-old he saw in that picture from the scrapbook. Could it be...? Foxman felt too much pain and exhaustion to think about this at all. He dropped the cloth that passed off for a mask. With great difficulty, he got up and walked back to his car. Foxman managed to crawl back inside it, where he pressed a button that closed his roof, and pressed another button that turned on the engine. Foxman drove away. Since he was no longer in the alley, he wasn't there to see the Man's eye opening, wide and angry. THE END Page 88
Trail of Yellow Post It Notes by Chandler Garland When Calloway woke up he wasnâ€™t in his room. He could tell by the blue polka dots on the sheets he was tangled in. His sheets were grey. Polka dots meant he was in a girlâ€™s room. Or one of his friends got hand-me-downs from his sister. Calloway turned over. The little movement ignited a fire in his brain. His eyes were burning. Calloway groaned. He was alone. He brought his hand up to his head and his arm brushed against something that felt like paper. He moved his head to the side. A yellow Post-it note was stuck to the pillow. The word WATER was scrawled across it in pink marker. An arrow pointed above his head. Calloway lifted himself with a moan and looked behind him. A floral coffee mug full of cool water was sitting there. Attached to it was another yellow Postit pointing down to two round orange pills. He silently thanked whatever lucky girl he ended up in bed with the night before. Calloway sat up slowly and painfully. The covers slid off his bare chest and the cool air
assaulted his skin. Searing daggers of pain sliced through his head. He guzzled down half of the water and then took the ibuprofen. Staring down at the purple and blue tie-dye comforter, he nursed the remaining half of ambrosias liquid. There was a blur of yellow on the other side of the room. His eyes re-focused on the word FOOD written in pink. He moved slowly. First setting the cup down and then throwing off the sheets. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and let them dangle there. His feet were so heavy they strained against the ligaments. He imagined them falling off like he was in a cheap zombie movie and Page 89
bouncing across the floor, or maybe walking out the door like Thing. Calloway shifted his weight and let his feet hit the fuzzy pink carpet on the floor. He curled his toes through the shag for a minute. When he stood his brain sloshed around in the thought soup in his head. He saw spots. Icy-hot pins and needles pierced his cranium like he was being treated by a sadistic acupuncturist. He felt hot.
There was a plastic plate in the mini-fridge with cafeteria breakfast piled high. Eggs from a bag, bendy bacon, over-cooked potatoes, fruit salad from a can: Calloway had never seen anything more appetizing. In the back of the fridge, just next to the light, a yellow Post-it pointed the way to the microwave sitting on top of the fridge. He hit the open button. There was a fork inside. 30 seconds, PS don’t microwave the fork. Calloway replaced the fork with the plate, momentarily pretending he was in The Raiders of the Lost Ark. He’d look good in Indie’s hat. While the food spun in the domestic nuclear chamber, he tried to figure out where he was. There was a bookshelf across the room jammed full of shit. One of those wooden model men was on the desk bent like he was a ballerina. He noticed a Monet on the wall. He was definitely in an art student’s room. The microwave demanded his attention with its shrill chirping. The smell of warm bacon wafted into the room. He could already feel the grease in his stomach. Calloway sat down on
the edge of the bed, cuddling the warm plate into his lap. He noticed a jacket thrown carelessly on the desk chair. It was a faded denim with a pale blue ribbon woven through the collar. He’d Page 90
seen it before. Calloway looked at the open closet. A pair of tall black lace-up boots lay lackadaisically on the floor. The wardrobe was a mix and mash of remade trash found at Goodwill and weird artsy shit from the stores no one actually shops at. A little maroon beret hung off the bedpost. Calloway’s gears were working over time as he chewed. He had a funny feeling in the back of his head that he knew who’s room he was in. There were no photographs anywhere, not one picture frame on the desk. Calloway was surprised. Didn’t girls like those things? Every girl’s room he’d been in before had pictures everywhere – their parents, their best friends, their siblings, their pets, even an old boyfriend was tucked into the windowsill. This girl had no faces on the walls. Not unless you counted the large poster of Brandon Flowers on the back of the door.
Calloway stood, leaving the near licked-clean plate on the bed. His brain was still swimming, but at least he didn’t feel heavy anymore. He moved across the room to the girl’s desk in search of a name. The textbook for his politics class was lay open on a laptop that was covered in stickers. He picked it up, careful not to lose the page. He tried to think, but the alcohol from the night before had blended his thought juice into mush. He set the book down and moved to
a stack of notebooks. His movements had lost the dexterous surety of the star athlete he was. He undershot the cover of the notebook on top of the stack and knocked the spiral-bound tower to the side. A ginormous tan sketchbook hanging halfway off the side of the desk tumbled to the floor. Pages went everywhere. “Shit,” Calloway set his jaw. He knelt down on the floor and gathered up the mess. He picked up a pencil sketch of a soccer player mid-kick. She’d captured his contortions perfectly – the sway of his body in action, the look on his face. Calloway stared at the sketched eyes and Page 91
the outline of a jaw. He’d seen them before in a reflection somewhere. “What are you doing?” the door opened. Calloway froze. “It fell,” he mumbled, hurriedly picking up the last couple of pages. Two small pale hands joined him. Calloway looked into green eyes. “You don’t remember anything do you?” said the eyes. She stood and hugged the book
to her chest. Calloway stared at her cute little nose and long red hair, the tips of which were bleached white. She looked like a fox. He knew her name. He also knew they weren’t friends, not even a little bit. “Shaelyn, did we….” “No,” she turned away quickly and placed the sketchbook on the bed. “You were almost too drunk to move. I slept on the couch out in the common area.” “I was at the house, wasn’t I?” Calloway scratched his head. He vaguely remembered being with his Fraternity brothers for at least part of the night. “Yes, I think so. It would make sense.” “Shae, what exactly happened…” “I found you blackout drunk in the bushes outside the art cave. And don’t call me Shae,” Shaelyn’s green eyes bore a hole into him. “No one was around. I didn’t know where to take you, so I brought you here.” Calloway stared at her. He looked down at her bare feet and then up to the backwards baseball cap on her head. They weren’t friends. In fact, he distinctly remembered his brothers laughing at her two days ago when two wrestling football players knocked her easel over on the main lawn. He was there. He laughed too. Page 92
“Why?” “What was I supposed to do?” she sat down on the edge of the bed. “Go find your brothers? It was past two in the morning. I knew they’d all be just as drunk if not passed out by then.” Calloway leaned against the desk and looked down at his feet. She wasn’t wrong. “I guess I could have called campus police on your ass.”
“You could have.” “I just kind of panicked.” “What were you doing out so late?” “Working on a project,” she shrugged. They sat in silence for a moment. “Did I take my shirt off?” he asked, trying to piece the night back together. “No I did,” she said. “You vomited all over yourself. Your shoes are by the door.” “Wonderful,” Calloway sighed. He ran his hand through his sandy hair. Shaelyn wrung her hands together nervously at the empty space in the conversation. “No one but me knows,” she said. “When I went to the cafeteria this morning, I heard your brothers taking bets on where you ended up.” “What was the verdict?” Calloway laughed. The shadow that crossed her face made him instantly regret it. He stepped closer to her. “Thank you.” “Don’t mention it,” she shrugged. “Ever,” she captured his eyes. Calloway rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m sorry we…” Page 93
“Don’t,” she stopped him. “If you were sorry then you wouldn’t have done it.” “That’s a little harsh.” “Not really, David.” “Why do you never call me Calloway?” he asked. “That’s not your name.” “It’s my last name.” “I knew David a long time ago. Calloway I’ve only know for a little while and even that’s too long,” she cut him with her tongue. “Elementary school was a long time ago.”
“I know,” Shaelyn pushed herself off the bed. She grabbed a folded T-shirt off her dresser and threw it at him. It was his. “You washed it?” “I wasn’t going to unleash you on campus without a shirt,” her lips jerked into an embarrassed half smile and then fell. “Thank you,” he looked down at the shirt in his hands. “Don’t mention it.”
Widow’s Work by Sharon Larsen My 89-year-old mother tore her bed apart yesterday. It took five loads, she said, to wash the quilt, the blankets, sheets, two mattress pads and the small pad from Dad’s side of the bed,
used in case he had an accident in the night. He never did, she said, and she knows she doesn’t need the pad now, but if she took it off the bed, where would she store it? When I arrived to take her to dinner, she was trying to turn the mattress
with help from my brother’s wife. The two of them were struggling, for the mattress is heavy, hard to handle. She had wanted to ask my brother to turn it but had become distracted when he told her of a friend who had died. The death was sudden, unexpected; it stirred a too-familiar grief. I will take my mother to the wake tomorrow. The three of us together turned the mattress. No, my mother said, she didn’t need our help making the bed. If she was too tired when she got home from dinner, she could just wrap a blanket around herself and sleep on the bare mattress. She’d done that once before, she said. Page 95
Weâ€™ll make the bed together, I said. Relenting, she brought out the clean mattress pads â€“ the two large ones and the small one, which she placed carefully on the proper side. Together, we spread sheets and blankets, breathing that sweet laundry scent. My mother put a fresh pillowcase on her pillow,
gave it to me to place on the bed. We left the room, she turned out the light. She was testy all through dinner but she slept between clean sheets last night.
Fireflies by Sharon Larsen Billy and I take canning jars from his mother’s shelves, punch holes in the lids and go into the summer night to capture light and magic. The magic may lie in the blinking dots of white and green punctuating the darkness of Aunt Mary’s yard, some secret revealed in a visual Morse Code. Or the magic may lie with the source of the lights – tiny, ordinary bugs who happen to carry fire in their bellies. The bugs are not easy to catch. We have to be quick. One by one, we gather them into our jars.
We have outwitted the adults, made our own lanterns to light our paths as we run barefoot around the trees. We know if the adults catch us they will make us stop, unscrew the lids
and release the lights back into the night. Page 97
Trostel 1 by William Trostel Page 98
A Small Moment of Undisguised Sadness by Irving Greenfield, Ph.D Neil Cuzack was eighty seven; his wife, Sally, was one month older, a fact that bothered neither of them when it was considered de rigueur for a young woman to date and eventually marry an older man five to ten years her senior. In 1947 at Brooklyn College where they met in a Classics Class there was a plentitude of such men because most of the male students at the college were veterans of World War 11. Both he and Sally were eighteen. Sally was in the beginning of her sophomore year, while Neil was beginning his freshman year, that September semester. That summer Sally had been a waitress in a rich kid's camp near Hurlyville, the Catskills, where she had intense romance with Phil, a swimming instructor, before the camp was closed because of an outbreak of Polio. He passed out of her life, but not before wounding her in a way that years later Neil would realize was rape. But his summer was antipodes apart from hers. He spent July and August as an "able bodied" seaman aboard an Esso tanker, making two voyages: one to the Gulf of Maracaibo, Venicewala, and the other to Marseilles, France. The year before working as an ordinary seaman, he sailed to Aruba and Tunis. Going to college was not his idea. It was his mother's; and to please her, he promised to give it try. His hope was to someday become a captain of a ship. So, by the time he entered college at eighteen, he was accepted as a "veteran" by the other veterans, and he was acquainted with much more of the underbelly of the world than Sally could ever imagine existed.
All of that and much more was part of their sixty- five years of being married. For Neil it was volumes of memories, for her it was nothing, a blank. Her loss memory was swift, and with it came the loss of coherence. She resided in her own world, wherever it was. They had been together for practically all of their adult lives, except for the two years when he was in the army during the Korean War. But now her mental and physical condition necessitated that they lived apart: she in a senior citizens residence and he in a small apartment in the building where they had lived for many years. His daily visits to her consisted of holding her hand were almost always silent interludes. Sometime she would utter a word or two, seldom more. But they were disconnected. Mostly they were the names of her dead parents, brothers and relatives, never a complete sentence. Either they sat in her room or the public space that also served as a dining room for the patients who lived on that floor. For Neil both places were depressing and claustrophobic. He could not tolerate being there more than two hours. He often left choked up with unshed tears. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, he found her sitting in the public space next to a tall, lean man. They were holding hands. Neil called her by her name. She looked up at him blankly. He used her name again. This time she smiled, something she never did since she lost her memory, and said, pausing after each word, "My husband, Neil." The man also smiled and nodded his head.
Neil looked at the two of them. They seemed to be happy. In a whisper, he
be it," and turning, he left knowing he would never come back.
Claus & Effect by Thomas Miscuraca
The elevator door opened to reveal a Santa Claus army. There had to be at least nine plump men with white beards in red suits standing in the hall before me. As I stepped off the elevator, they cleared a path as if I were Moses parting the sea. I watched them cram into the elevator like a vacuum-packed jar of maraschino cherries. Why were there so many Santas in an office building in downtown Los Angeles in the middle of July? I found the answer etched on one of the doors I passed on the way back to my office: SANTA FINISHING SCHOOL. The suite that had been vacant for months had finally been rented. It appeared no different than any door in the hall, but like any Christmas present, I was curious what was inside. Why did they need a Santa Finishing School? How hard was it to say "Ho! Ho! Ho!" and have kids sit on your lap? And why here? Why not the North Pole or at least some place
more fun? And who taught it? A Santa Claus with a doctorate degree? Still, it had to be more interesting than being a receptionist for a talent agent. My boss had over fifty clients and they almost all called on a daily basis to see if they had work. They were never happy with me when I told them there was nothing under the tree for them. When it came to bosses, Ebenezer Scrooge would have been more fun to work for than Mr. Stevens. If it wasn't business, Mr. Stevens didn't want to know about it. So, he knew
nothing about me. And though I was his only employee, I received no Christmas presents or bonus. Bah Humbug! Page 101
As I returned to my desk and disconnected the voice mail, I found visions of Santas were still dancing in my head. But soon my vision was filled with the dancing red lights of incoming calls. This would be some of our clients calling on the lunch hour of the jobs they wanted out of so desperately. "Hi, Greg," one of our female clients was my first call, "How are you?" "Well.... I just saw the strangest thing..." "That's so sweet, listen, I have Friday off, any chance of me getting into some auditions." "Mr. Stevens will call you if something comes up." "Can I ask him myself?" That was a big no-no, Mr. Stevens never took calls from clients, he only made them. "He's busy right now." "I can wait." "It'll probably be a while." "I can call back when he's done." "I'll let him know you called." "Come on, Greg," her voice dropped an octave, "Do it for me."
"I can't--" "Don't be an assho-" I clicked off her and onto another flashing red light. "Any word about that dog food commercial?" a familiar male voice asked me. "They went with another agency," I informed him. "What? I had two callbacks for that spot! The dogs loved me. Why didn't they choose me?" "I don't know." Page 102
"You need to find out and call me back." "Casting agents won't give me that kind of information." "Of course they will, they do all the time. Call them right now. As soon as you hang up with me. OK?" "OK." "You call them and call me right back." "Sure." Click. And to think, that could have been me. At one time, I wanted to be an actor just like them. That was why I came to work here, to try to make some connections, but the last thing Mr. Stevens wanted to do was send his receptionist out on auditions. Eventually, Mr. Stevens came out of his office to fetch something from the filing cabinet. As usual, he paid no attention to me. "Did you see all the Santas?" I asked him. "Santas?" if he were looking at me, he'd be looking at me as if I were crazy, "We're not casting Santas today." He went back into his office and the calls ceased. Sometimes I had absolutely no work to do, but I was stuck in the office from eight in the morning until whenever my boss decided it was time for me to have my life back. I had no co-workers and he frowned on letting me read anything that was not Variety or the Hollywood Reporter. Unbeknownst to him, I spent most of my down time on the internet searching for screenwriting websites. Now that acting was off my wish list, I decided my talents would best be suited for writing and directing. Not that I had written more than twenty pages of the screenplay I'd been working on for almost a year now. I was pushing thirty and nowhere closer to the dreams I
dragged behind me in the tiny red Volvo that carried me across the country.
Things became more interesting when the Santa Finishing School opened. It did brighten my day to see Santas roll off the elevator like a gumball machine out of control. Occasionally, I could hear them singing Christmas carols and practicing their jolly laughs. Every day was like Christmas and my boss and his clients were the obnoxious family members who came over for Christmas dinner. My boredom at work increased. How could I concentrate when there was a winter wonderland of merry men right down the hall? All I had were unhappy men screaming about not getting the latest dandruff shampoo commercial. Sometimes the clients came into the office to drop off new headshots. "What's with all the Santas?" they usually asked. "Santas?" I would look at them as if they were crazy. They wouldn't mention it again.
Eventually, Santa spottings became commonplace. They loitered around the building like fire ants at a picnic. At first, they all looked the same, but eventually I noticed drastic differences. There were Santas of all different shapes, sizes and ethnicities. Half of them were far too skinny for Santa, and their red suits hung on them like tinsel on a Christmas tree. One Santa was so tall, I could see an inch of his bonny, white legs between his black boots and red pants. And then there was Santa with the lazy eye, who I always thought was staring at me, but was probably doing so only half the time. In all, I counted twelve Santa students. Like any costume character, they were in character all the time. Even in the bathroom we shared. Standing next to Santa at the urinal was a bit awkward. Especially when he started whistling Here Comes Santa Claus. Worse was seeing those black boots and pulled down red trousers in one of the stalls. Once I walked in on Santa smoking in the bathroom. The moment he saw me, his eyes twinkled with panic and he threw the cigarette in the sink and drowned it with water. "Season's greetings," he chirped, the last puff of smoke leaving his lungs like frozen Page 104
breath on a winter's day. I nodded and took my place at the urinal, hoping the delinquent Santa would be on his way.
As I sat at my desk one day, listening to twelve bad recitations of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, I considered a change of career. I could be a Santa Claus. I knew all the songs and poems, and I already had people giving me their wish lists. I just had to get used to them sitting on my lap. "Can you get me a meeting with the A ll My Children casting director? My friends tell me I look just like Susan Lucci. I bet I could get a role as her sister." "I'd like to be a spokes person for a fast food company. It would be steady work." "Get me an audition on the new Steven Spielberg film."
But like the Santas down the hall, I had no ability to fulfill their wishes. Even if I did, they'd all be on my naughty list and get nothing but a lump of coal. The more I thought about it, the more I didn't want to be a Santa. I'd feel guilty getting childrenâ€™s' hopes up, telling them they'd get everything they want for Christmas, all the while knowing most of them will be disappointed on Christmas morning. Perhaps the men down the hall became Santas because their own wish lists went unful-
As I was getting into the elevator one morning, I found a lanky Santa already in there. "Ho! Ho! Ho!" he greeted me. "Hi," I returned. "Have you been a good little boy this year?" he asked me. "Uhmâ€”yeah-- I suppose." Page 105
"Well, Santa may have something in his sack just for you." Was Santa coming on to me? Another image from my childhood shattered like a fallen Christmas tree bulb. I walked into my office and found Mr. Stevens flipping through my roll-a-dex. This was nothing unusual. He often rifled through my desk when he was searching for something. "You won't believe what just happened to me," I told him. "Get Ralph Harris on the phone," Mr. Stevens put his card on my desk and returned to his office. It was rare that Mr. Stevens asked me to get a client on the phone. It most likely meant he was letting the guy go. It figured, since Ralph was the only client who wasn't annoying. He was fresh out of college and reminded me of myself when I first moved out here. He might have ended up on my nice list eventually.
I tried to listen at the door, but couldn't hear anything. Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Stevens came out of his office and handed me a press release. "Fax this everywhere," he commanded. It appeared Ralph Harris got the leading role on a new prime time drama. I couldn't be happier for the guy. It was nice to see somebody's wishes come true. And Mr. Stevens wanted to announce it to the world. I had to fax it to every news source in town. I ended up having to take lunch later than usual. The lunchtime calling clients would have to eat voice mail today. I went down to the deli at the bottom floor of our office building. The line was long, and a Santa got in line right behind me. After the experience that morning, I avoided making eye contact. My mind drifted back to work and Ralph Harris. Why couldn't I have gotten such a
good gig when I first came out here? Why was I stuck behind a desk while Ralph was about to be in front of the entire world? When would somebody notice me? Page 106
When it was my turn to order, the clerk behind the counter looked up and asked, "What can I get for you?" "I'd like--" "Ho! Ho! Ho!" Santa's bellows cut me off, "I would like a meatball sub with extra cheese." "Hey, Santa!" I snapped, "Are you blind or just stupid? I was next!"
Every person in the deli stopped and starred at me. "Oh, I'm very sorry," Santa said to me, "Please, tell the kind man what you want." "That's what I was trying to do before you cut me off," I returned. Santa hung his head in shame. The clerk glared at me as I placed my order.
That afternoon, I heard a commotion in the hall. I stepped outside to see a crowd of Santas standing outside of their classroom. A moment later, paramedics wheeled out a fallen Santa on a gurney. He was hooked up to an oxygen machine. The paramedics whisked Santa away faster than Prancer and Vixen. The other Santas shook their heads. I gulped with fear. Santa was dying. "What are you doing out there?" my boss bellowed behind me. "They just took Santa to the hospital," I informed him. "I need you to finish faxing the press releases," he said to me. I watched the sad Santas pile back into their classroom. "I'm not paying you to stand in the hall," my boss barked. I ignored him and started toward the elevator. It was time to face some facts. I no longer believed in Santa Claus. No magical, fat man was going to make my dreams come true. I had to do it myself. Page 107
I would spend the next few weeks finishing my screenplay, then use all my connections to get it out there. As if on cue, the sounds of Santas singing I'll Be Home For Christmas wafted down the hallway like the smell of Christmas cookies. I stopped, listened and thought about how I would be home for Christmas that year like I was every year. And how much that plane ticket would cost. As well as all those gifts for my friends and family on both coasts. With a sorrowful sigh, I turned and walked back into the office. Mr. Stevens had picked up where I left off faxing. He looked up at me and asked: "Is Santa okay?" I was so surprised by his question, I could only reply, "Santa?"
High Fidelity E-Chord by Sarasota Green Isn’t anybody wild anymore? It never occurred to me we should build more sand sculptures. I danced away to another part of the beach I didn’t know I kept ___ twirling in one turquoise window, temperature-controlled shades down, half-asleep. A dream opens in song: a boulevard, a wishing tree runaway trains, stars falling over a blonde Spanish guitar riff. Heat rises from the blacktop streets under raindrops. A Halloween boat parade. Motorcycle sounds. Destined for Monday night happy hour.
It’s late. I keep trying to close the window the air is cool a light breeze sifts through these bamboo blinds. Everything’s always blue gray here. Especially in December. Except for this one giant sunflower hovers over two Page 110
pink and orange hibiscus flower plants. A sunset drumline fades. Dogs still bark in the distance.
Bittersweet Grief by Ashley Foy Time takes its toll on those who watch the clock The arrow does not bend to the will of the waiting Swinging madly into the night for answers seeking comfort but finding none Dead ends keep my eyes wandering Thread the needle through the wound, the scar never healing Eyes wide my insanity aside heaven above hell below This broken heart has hardened and feels hollow Lost control, bending low On my knees and I begged, and I watched you as you fled The neglected flower ceases to grow Unrequited, thoughts unraveling, sifting through the density too complex for me If I could Rewind the clock what would it mean? Withered wretch hiding Soul unwinding, hands out grasping into the nothing Fear gathering like fog, is my heart still beating? Senses clutched by a force unseen Running nowhere What sights I have seen Snowflakes and fear echo throughout, creating a scene yet a spectacle so serene, abandoning me there, feeling so unclean, critically charging at the night air, baring my soul to nothing that's there, lights disappearing, I can't help but feel this wasn't at all fair. Page 111
Another rocky year passes with Lurking demons unseen Trying to breathe again Becoming easier in fact Never thought it would ever be Trying to Transcend the past with one foot ahead yet always keeping one behind Worries my mind Going in blind Hoping to come out alive, this time
my blue by Safiyyah Motaib a blue butterfly resides within me, limited to my organs' boundaries, it flutters frantically, randomly, as i go about my day i, stop sometimes; my butterfly's causing irregularity but, i shush it before it makes a scene; consistent abnormality in shades of blue, its screams muffled
into whispers by bricks i've stacked to keep it in but, i always keep it company with poetry -- seems to calm it down for a little while -- until we're alone, still lonely, snuggled beneath bed sheets, i
make a tiny tent with my head holding it all up and set my blue butterfly free, for a little while, so she falls asleep without me
where purple once was by Safiyyah Motaib I've got love for a flower, trouble on its mind and blood through its spine;
in time it dies and leaves purple behind in pretty petals, destined to subside. I've got love for a flower, trouble on its mind and
blood through its spine; I sit with the bees, where she used to be still seeing pretty purple where her petals used to be, coloured with innocence, she was oblivious to me
Bartleby, My Boy by George Freek THE CHARACTERS
HERMAN, An attorney, 40s ELAINE, His wife BARTELBY, Their son, in his 20s
Herman and Elaineâ€™s conventional, middle-class living-room
(We are in the living room of Herman and Elaine’s home. Herman, his arm in a sling is trying to lift a large, heavy garbage bag. ELAINE looks on anxiously. BARTELBY sits in a corner of the room, glancing through a pop magazine, listening to rather loud music on a radio. ELAINE and HERMAN consider their problem for a while.)
ELAINE The garbage man comes tomorrow, Herman. We need to get that garbage out. HERMAN I just can’t seem to lift it with this broken arm. ELAINE I’d better try. HERMAN
What did you say? ELAINE I said I’d better— HERMAN Wait. I can’t hear you. (To BARTELBY) Son, could you please turn that music down just a bit? BARTELBY (Without looking up) I prefer not to. HERMAN (To ELAINE) I was afraid of that. What were you saying, dear? ELAINE (Louder) I said I’ll try to lift it. (She makes a move).
HERMAN Don’t be silly. It’s too heavy. You’ll put your back out again. ELAINE But what are we going to do? HERMAN (Pause) Maybe I could hire someone. ELAINE That seems silly, doesn’t it? HERMAN I’m stumped. Do you think one of the neighbors might give us a hand?
ELAINE I’ll give Bill and Judy a call. (She rings on her phone. Pause) There’s no answer, and I think Paul and Phyllis went to that school play their daughter was in. Do you think the city might have someone available? HERMAN Look, before you call the city. (He clears his throat, looks uneasy) Bartelby? (No response, he speak louder) Son? (BARTELBY looks up at him) Do you suppose you could give your mom a hand with that garbage? BARTELBY I prefer not to. HERMAN (To ELAINE) There you have it. ELAINE Herman, I’m getting tired of this! Page 117
HERMAN I’m sure, but that psychiatrist told us that Bartelby is an extremely sensitive young man, and he is terribly vulnerable right now— ELAINE Why exactly?
HERMAN Something about his hormones, I think, and if we try to push him into things, it could send him over the edge. ELAINE I think he’s already there. HERMAN What do you suggest? ELAINE Is simply talking to him going to put him over the edge? HERMAN (He looks at BARTELBY) Son? (No response. HERMAN warily turns the music down. Startled, BARTELBY looks up). Son, your mom and I would like a word with you. I think you realize you’ll soon be thirty. We feel it’s time you began to consider what you’re going to do with your life. Have you give that some thought. BARTELBY I prefer not to. HERMAN
(Jocularly) Of course I can understand that. When I was your age, I felt exactly the same way— Page 118
ELAINE Herman— HERMAN But I was about to say that I realized I wasn’t going to get anywhere, lying around like a lazy slob doing nothing. (He begins to get quite worked up) I realized I had to get off my fat butt and look for employment, or I was either going to starve to death or become an intolerable burden to people on whom I was totally dependent. Am I getting through that thick skull of yours, son? Will you at least give some thought to what I said?
BARTELBY I prefer not to. (He turns the music up and returns his attention to the magazine). HERMAN (Pause; To ELAINE) I guess I didn’t handle that too well. ELAINE At least I don’t think you did any harm.
HERMAN Look, I’ll see if I can find a city number to call. (He takes up the phone book).
(As he is looking through the book, ELAINE’S phone rings)
ELAINE Hello? Judy? Thank heavens! Yes, I did. We hate to ask you, but we were wondering if Bill could possibly spare a few minutes to help us take out the garbage? (Pause) He could? Oh, that would be marvelous! Thanks so much! (She rings off, to HERMAN with relief) That’s one problem out of the way. (There is a BLACKOUT)
THE PLAY IS OVER Page 119
Fifth Grade Vigilante by B.D. Martin “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” Phyllis stared at the application, pen in hand. Each time she had to answer this question, she thought to herself, “No, but if they only knew…” Her mind wandered back to her fifth grade year. Mrs. Butler introduced herself to her captive audience. It was the first day of school, August 30, 1971. For the next nine months, she stated, we were hers. We were at her mercy and attempted escape would be futile. She began by selecting as her exemplum a hapless boy who had the misfortune of being held back the previous May. We watched with unease. “Jackie, come up here and stand before the class,” Mrs. Butler requested sweetly. “We are going to tell your classmates what to expect this year.” Jackie silently complied. “Jackie flunked last year,” she announced. “If anyone in my class fails, he or she will not be assigned to another teacher the subsequent year, isn’t that right?” Jackie nodded. “So if you don’t like me this year, you can be sure that if you fail, you’ll despise me next year.” Jackie stared at the floor. “If you think I’m unfair or I do something you dislike,” she asserted, “it is of no avail to complain, right Jackie?” Jackie agreed. “You see, I am tenured. That means that no matter what I do or how much you or your parents complain, they can’t fire me, so if you know what’s good for you, you will keep quiet. Isn’t that right, Jackie?” Jackie nodded. By that time, his eyes were brimming with tears. We shifted apprehensively in our seats. We got the picture. “I will tolerate no tardiness, no disobedience and no backtalk,” she declared. “Never question anything I say or do; do exactly as you’re directed when you are directed to do so and we will get along nicely. If you don’t, I will concoct a reason to fail you and you will be standing here like Jackie next year. Isn’t that so, Jackie?” At this point, Mrs. Butler pulled a towel from her desk, walked over to the boy and wiped the tears from his eyes with mock compassion. “I’ll have this towel at hand whenever any of you require it,” she cooed. “Feel free to cry your little eyes out. Thank you, Jackie. You may return to your desk.” Jackie exhibited the look of a man condemned to die. I tried not to train my gaze upon either of them; I kept my eyes on the blackboard. I momentarily held out the hope that she was jesting. Then I recalled Jackie’s genuine tears. Mrs. Butler’s ample frame attested to her fondness for confectionery of any ilk. Bribery was encouraged, one of few means of attaining and staying in her good graces. She had an aversion to grading tests, she said, so we would each grade a peer’s papers. Veritably, Mrs. Butler abhorred almost anything her job dictated. We were exhorted to induce our parents or siblings to become participative in our education, meaning they would be the actual teachers, such as they were. At recess, several of us congregated around Jackie, looking for reassurance that Mrs. Butler was bluffing, but that reassurance did not come. He told us that by the conclusion of the day, she would designate a pet and a target. We listened with great trepidation. He continued that she would provide sufficient opportunity to prove ourselves worthy of the former title, but that only an attractive child would be eligible. That disqualified me, not that I would find that Page 120
designation favorable. I was homely as a mud fence and I was cognizant of it. He went on to explain that the target would be the most frequent victim of her insatiable appetite to inflict cruelty. He said she would look for whoever appeared weak or vulnerable. I spent the remainder of the day with a presentiment of evil portent. Following our final recess, she had made her selections. She remarked to the class how pretty Susan was, with her raven hair and alabaster skin, which brought to mind a china doll. She urged us to strive for Susan’s standards in dress, grooming and comportment. I fingered the sleeve of my brown dress and thought of the navy one hanging among the gaily colored dresses in my closet. It had taken Mother all day to find them. They didn’t make little girls’ dresses in black, but these would do. My father was having a good day as I left for school, but I knew it was only a matter of time before he succumbed to the cancer. My reverie abruptly concluded and I returned to what was happening in the loathsome classroom. I glanced around at my peers discretely. We all wore our best new back-to-school apparel, but Susan’s was superior in every way. Susan sat up straight and smiled radiantly, proud of the honor she had won. The moment of doom came swiftly. Mrs. Butler began comparing me to Susan in the most unfavorable ways imaginable. Her bobbed hair was unmussed, while my long tresses had become tangled by the wind. My naturally long nails were described as dingy, while Susan’s short ones were clean and proper. My posture was criticized and Mrs. Butler referred to me as a four-eyed scarecrow. “Phyllis, come up here,” she commanded. “Face the class and let them have a good look at you.” I complied, timidly turning to face my silent peers. Only Susan was smiling. The others looked on with dazed expressions of relief that she hadn’t selected them. “Have any of you heard of Phyllis Diller?” she queried. A few heads nodded. “She is a very funny lady.” I cringed. I knew what was coming next. “She is ugly, has knobby knees and tangled red hair just like our Phyllis. I’ll bet you will make us laugh, too,” she said to me. “Don’t you all think Phyllis is funny?” she polled my peers. She and Susan laughed, several others snickered. “I’m sure she will keep us entertained. Let’s have a round of applause for our funny girl.” They clapped obediently. “Thank you for giving us a good laugh, Phyllis. You may return to your seat.” As I sat at my desk, I resisted the urge to weep. I felt guilty for feeling sorry for myself. My trials paled in comparison to my father’s. At home, he was slowly dying and here, I thought, I would surely die too. The next morning I awoke with a stomachache. All night I’d had nightmares of a witch torturing me as a throng of onlookers cheered. My mother took my temperature and pronounced me fit for school. I walked to my bus stop with feet of lead. I hung my head at the thought of the jeers, the teasing and taunting awaiting me. All my fears were realized that day. At the first recess, Susan and an entourage of girls smart enough to gain her favor moved in for the kill. They ridiculed and tormented me, culminating with Susan rubbing a fistful of dirt on the front of my new dress. I reported her to the recess monitor. When we returned to the classroom, Mrs. Butler and Susan were conspicuously absent. The monitor had taken Susan to the principal’s office, where Mrs. Butler had been obliged to retrieve her. They entered the room with heads held high. Mrs. Butler asked Susan to apologize to me. Page 121
Susan faced me and said, “Sorry.” That was it. Both were indignant and it was evident what would happen to anyone who dared to smear Susan’s reputation. I observed her passing a note to the girl behind her. Both of them giggled. Mrs. Butler observed the interaction and called the recipient of Susan’s note before the class. She was told to write on the blackboard one hundred times, “I will not distract Susan.” The classroom was hot and humid, with no air conditioning. It was a never-ending battle to keep my heavy glasses at the top of my nose. Mrs. Butler saw her tenuous chance to reprimand me. She walked to my desk and stood so close to me, her skirt brushed against my arm. And she waited. She watched as my glasses slid down my nose. “Phyllis!” she barked. I sat up straight and looked at her. “Come with me young lady!” she commanded. I had no alternative, as she had a death grip on my arm, her talons digging into my flesh. She snatched the paddle from her wall and marched me across the hallway where she rapped on the door of the pretty new teacher, Miss Zimmermann. Another teacher had to bear witness to any paddling. Mrs. Butler told her of my infraction. “Phyllis was rude and disrespectful to me,” she lied. “I called on her and she looked at me over the top of her glasses.” She demonstrated how rude and disrespectful such a look might be by insolently looking at the terrified novice over her own glasses. “Do you like it when I look at you that way?” asked Mrs. Butler. Miss Zimmermann shook her head. “Neither do I,” Mrs. Butler fumed. I was then instructed to grab my ankles. I was given five resounding swats. We returned to the room, where Mrs. Butler detailed my infraction to a stunned class. “Let that be an example to the rest of you,” she hissed. Susan smiled. School policy dictated that any time a child was disciplined, a note went home to the parents to be signed and returned. I had been forewarned in previous school years that if I ever got a paddling at school to expect another when I got home. My mother had enough worries, taking care of my father and I hated to bother her with it whether it resulted in a second whipping or not. “What is this?” Mother said, staring at the notice. “I got spanked at school.” I replied, hanging my head. “What did you do?” she demanded. “I was sweaty,” I responded. “Mrs. Butler whipped me because my glasses wouldn’t stay up.” Mother was furious. She asked if the principal was aware of this. I told her I didn’t know; I was pretty sure he knew that Mrs. Butler liked to hit kids. Mother said she would call and ask to speak to him the next morning. I begged her not to do it, but she wouldn’t listen. I knew when my mother’s call came. The secretary’s voice came over the intercom, calling Mrs. Butler to the principal’s office. Immediately, she focused on me. Her eyes narrowed and she could tell by my flinch that I was the culprit. I had a feeling I was about to become another example. Page 122
Upon her return from the office, I was ordered to the hallway. Again, the frightened Miss Zimmermann was called to bear witness, this time to an apology. “It would seem that Phyllis’ mother feels that the punishment for her daughter’s impudence was too severe,” said Mrs. Butler. “Her mother called the principal to report this perceived wrongdoing. Now I am called upon to say I’m sorry. Thank you Miss Zimmermann, you may go.” That was my apology. Meanwhile, back at home, my father’s condition continued to deteriorate, with frequent trips to the hospital. I was shuffled from neighbor to neighbor never knowing when a call might come telling me that my father was dead. My mother was a nervous wreck. I tried to shield her from my troubles at school. A few weeks later, I got my second whipping. Mrs. Butler had made me miserable at every opportunity. Now, at last she had found reason sufficient in her mind for turning to the paddle. We were given a multiple choice test. We were instructed to circle the correct answer. At the conclusion of the test, Mrs. Butler made a beeline for my desk. She had already made up her mind that whatever method I had chosen, it was wrong. I would later wonder if she lay awake at night planning this. I had circled the letter preceding each correct answer. This, I was soon to discover, was incorrect. I was instructed to circle the correct answer, not simply the letter before the correct answer. So, for failing to pay attention and follow directions, I was summarily spanked again. As I returned to my seat, I glanced at my classmates’ papers. Half of them had circled answers as I had done. I had learned from my previous mistake and did not take the note home to my mother. Instead, I hired a forger. My brother had become an expert at forging our mother’s signature, and for the right price, he was happy to come to my aid. Mrs. Butler eyed the note the following day with approval. Once, I thought, I had escaped her wrath. I believe that at the back of Mrs. Butler’s mind, night or day, she was thinking of ways to humiliate or degrade me or Jackie. That afternoon, Jackie raised his hand and asked to use the restroom. Mrs. Butler said no. She watched and waited. Finally, Jackie wet his pants. She made him stand facing the class the rest of the day. In late October, the dreaded call came. My father had died. I joined my family for four days of grieving. Upon my return to school, I was to get an unexpected welcome. After she had taken attendance, Mrs. Butler called me out to the hallway in a soft, hushed voice I had become familiar with. I was surprised that she, of all people, would offer condolence. She looked at me with a solemn face. “I realize there has been a death,” she spat, “but don’t think for one minute that I’m going to make it easy on you. You have until tomorrow to complete and turn in all the work you’ve missed.” I stood stunned looking at this thing I had thought was human. It was at that moment that I decided it had to die. *** I had just turned eleven. I had no idea how to go about killing someone other than the Page 123
obvious: shooting, stabbing or strangling. It had to be easy enough for an eighty pound kid, and I had to be able to pull it off without getting caught. The hardest part, as far as I was concerned, would be not to gloat afterward. Where could I turn for help? My answer came the following day with a class field trip to the public library. We were shown the non-fiction, fiction and children’s sections. Then we were shown the marvelous card catalog. The librarian told us we could find virtually any book in the card catalog. If they didn’t have the book we were searching for, the librarian would order it for us. If we had a question, any question, a research librarian would be happy to assist us. It was almost too good to be true. The next Saturday I persuaded my brother to drive me to the library. I went up to the reference desk and whispered, “Would you please show me how to use the card catalog?” You can’t imagine the look on that librarian’s face. It was as if she had waited her whole life to hear that question. She was elated. “What are you looking for?” she sang. It was the moment of truth. Would she assist me in my humanitarian endeavor or turn me in to the cops? “I’m looking for a book about how to murder someone and not get caught,” I murmured. I held my breath awaiting her response. She never hesitated. “Fiction or non-fiction?” she asked. “Nonfiction,” I replied. I heaved a sigh of relief. She was helping me find it, but would she let me take it home? I wondered. “Here we are,” she said, indicating a card. “Three six four point one five two three. It’s in the adult nonfiction section.” I followed her. My heart was pounding in anticipation. She plucked the book from the shelf and handed it to me. Here, in my hands, was the key to ending my woes and the woes of no telling how many kids to follow. “Do you have a library card?” she inquired. “No,” I responded, my hopes dashed. She saw tears welling up in my eyes. “Oh, that’s okay, honey,” she reassured me, placing a comforting hand on my shoulder. “I’ll issue you a card. They’re free! Are you twelve years old?” she asked. I nodded. I felt guilty at having lied. I’d had no such pangs of guilt while plotting to murder someone, but now I saw what a tangled web of deceit I might be weaving. I tried my best to stand taller and look twelve years old. Having received the library card and checking out the book, I clutched it to my chest, hoping my brother wouldn’t notice the title. Upon arriving home, I immediately hid the book under my mattress as I’d seen my brother do so many times with magazines. Under cover of night, I read the book completely. To my delight, I found a method which sounded perfect. It would result in a slow, painful death, with no traces whatsoever. All I needed to do was secure the easily acquired, deadly ingredient and put it into a batch of macaroons. With Mrs. Butler’s penchant for sweets, I was pretty sure it would work. I put my plan to the test the following week. I baked a batch of macaroons for my family and took six of them to Mrs. Butler. I had to deliver them surreptitiously Page 124
to avoid suspicion. I tossed the plastic bag of macaroons onto her desk as we filed out of the classroom for recess. My plan worked brilliantly. Having found the cookies, she gobbled them all greedily. I smiled in satisfaction. I spent most of the following weekend in preparation of the deadly confections. On Monday, I was ready. I had prepared for every possible contingency. We entered the room after recess. I brazenly tossed the cookies onto the desk in full view of several classmates. My plan if she decided to share them with someone was to claim that I’d spit on them, thus preventing killing the wrong person. I was willing to take a beating to spare another person’s life. She ate them all. My heart pounded in my chest. I was nearly giddy with excitement. I had fantasies of her running screaming from the room, or better yet, keeling over right in front of us with a look of pure agony on her face. But she didn’t scream. She didn’t cry out in pain. She didn’t even flinch. I left school that day utterly dejected. I couldn’t think for the life of me what went wrong. In my eagerness to have my tormentor destroyed, I had forgotten the long, agonizing death detailed in the book. The following day, I arrived at school to find a substitute at the chalkboard, writing her name as means of introduction. My heart thrilled at the sight. Hope was not lost. The teacher informed us that Mrs. Butler was sick, but that she hoped to be back tomorrow. I knew better. I started to act concerned, but thought better of it. It was best to act naturally. On Wednesday, Susan was starting to get worried. She’d been sent to the principal twice by the substitute who, Susan claimed, didn’t know her place. On Thursday, the principal came into our room and solemnly told us Mrs. Butler was in the hospital. I sat up attentively at the news, wondering how long I could keep a poker face. Beside me, a classmate reminded me that there was no need. “Boy,” she said, “I’ll bet you’re glad. I think this sub even likes you.” I nodded in agreement. When we came to school Monday morning, the principal was in our classroom with yet another teacher. They were both quiet, with somber faces. We all took our seats. Mr. Clark announced that Mrs. Butler was dead. Just like that. All the cruelty, the heartless, demeaning torture, was over. Susan cried; she cried all day. I’d like to say I felt sorry for her, but it would not be true. Most surprising of all, my classmates said, were Jackie’s and my reactions. When we went out at recess, we stood facing each other for a moment, embraced and cried. Other children gawked, unable to believe what they saw, unable to comprehend that we’d been through hell together and survived. *** I checked the box marked “no,” with a smile.
Sticks and String by Anthony Pezzula I first met Mavis five years ago, although it seems much longer than that. I feel I’ve known her all my life. It was knitting that brought us together. I decided I wanted to learn the craft, although looking back I’m not really sure why. I always admired seeing what was created, but it never occurred to me to try it myself. Todd had just broken it off with me. Not that I was crushed or anything, far from it. I liked him enough, but there was no love there, and I think he knew it. He said things like, “Sarah, I don’t see this going anywhere.” I think deep down he wanted to continue the relationship, but he was looking for a girl to fall head over heels in love with him and that wasn’t going to happen with me. So I had time on my hands, I needed something to fill the void, not in my heart, but in my nights. Anyway, when the adult education flyer from our school district came around, the beginner’s knitting class caught my eye, so I signed up. Little did I know I’d learn a lot more than knitting. I liked Mavis from the start. She was a tough old broad, or at least that’s how she described herself, and it fit. She was in her sixties, about five feet three with white hair in a shaggy cut as though she couldn’t be bothered fussing over it. While short in stature she had broad shoulders and a posture that most likely in her younger days projected a tomboy image. But she had thin, feminine hands with long fingers fit for a pianist and no doubt helpful with knitting.
Her laugh was contagious, but when angry her tongue could be biting. Yet she had a heart of gold. We hit it off from the first day of class, although I’m not sure what she saw in me. When she went around the room asking why each person wanted to knit most said things like making gifts for relatives or friends, or creating something from nothing, things Mavis later told me she heard many times before. I just said that I was looking for something to do, which was the truth. I remember her smiling when I said that, and she later told me she liked my fresh, direct reply. She also said that I “got her.” She didn’t have much of a filter, so her comments could be crude sometimes, and brutally honest. Once she told me a striped outfit I was wearing made me look like a walking bar code. I witnessed similar comments, if not worse, to others who were obviously offended, but I just laughed along with her, and she liked that. But I think it was more than that. I suspect she sensed I was lost and adrift and that she could help. As I said earlier, she had a heart of gold. Mavis was not one to shy away from the most difficult knitting pattern and I think she saw me as another kind of project. Knitting didn’t come easily to me. You need dexterity, persistence and patience, all of
which Mavis had. I was not blessed with an abundance of those qualities. Perhaps that was another reason Mavis took me under her wing. I was slower than the others in learning casting on, and maneuvering the needles was a challenge. I made plenty of mistakes initially, yet Mavis never lost her patience or enthusiasm in working with me. “Sarah, try to catch your mistakes early on,” she told me, “so you can tink and avoid frogging.”
“What?” I said, not having heard those terms before. “Tink, which is knit backwards by the way, is undoing knits to get back to the point of the mistake. You would usually do that when you notice the error right away and only have to go back a short way. Frogging is basically unraveling to the point of the error, or the whole thing if needed. It’s a much more drastic technique.”
“Why do they call it frogging?” I asked. “Because you have to ‘rippit, rippit, rippit.” She spent extra time teaching me the finer points of knitting until I came to enjoy the process despite my struggles. It was during those extra sessions that our friendship formed. Mavis said that knitting created not only garments but relationships. “It’s a sisterhood,” she said to me, “we help each other with projects and give advice on how to overcome difficulties or how to make things better. You’ll see.” And I did see, with her anyway. As we got to know each other we went from talking about knitting to discussing other things and eventually our most inner secrets. Yes, I can make
socks and scarves now, not nearly like the ones she made, but good enough. However that’s not all I got from our lessons. As time went on we would sometimes get together socially. Mavis loved sports, especially baseball and football, almost as much as knitting and many nights we’d have pizza and some beers at a sports bar to her heavenly delight. Other times we’d hang out at her place and while she was not one for word games or crossword puzzles so was no fan
of Wheel of Fortune, she liked Jeopardy and we’d often keep score of how many each of us got right. She’d always win, and always phrased the answer in the form of a question. Page 128
After about a year or so, as my tension became more consistent and I got better at working the needles, my knitting improved so our lessons got fewer as did talk of knitting. It was one night at her favorite sports bar after a supreme pizza and a few beers, that she told me her story. She had asked me if I had a “young man” as she put it. I didn’t bother telling her about Todd, that was old by then, so I just said no. “You’re not one of those lesbians are you?” she said, but somehow in a non-judgmental way. “No, I like men fine, I just haven’t found the right guy, and actually, I’m okay with that. I’m happy just the way things are.” She gave me a doubtful look and said “Sure sweetie, if you say so.” “What about you?” I said ignoring her sarcasm. “Just because I like sports doesn’t mean I’m gay,” she said as she waved to the waitress for two more beers. “I mean,” I said, “don’t you have any men in your life?”
“Oh I’ll mess around sometimes, not often at my age, but when I want some I can get it, trust me honey. There was a special someone once though” she said, “but you don’t want to hear about that, it’s not pretty.” “Yes I do,” I said. “C’mon, I’m interested, I can take it.” “All right,” she said chugging from the new bottle the waitress had just put in front of her downing nearly half of the contents. “Here goes. It was the late sixties, I was a junior in high school when I met him at a party; he was a sophomore in college. You can just imagine Page 129
how that was, an older guy taking an interest in a young girl. I felt special; I was the only one of my friends seeing a college guy. Nate was handsome and charming. He was nearly six feet tall, had light brown hair and blue eyes that twinkled when he smiled. He would hold doors open for me, pull out the chair when I sat, the whole bit. We’d go to movies, picnics in the park, and talk about our future. I was young and impressionable, and he showered me with attention. I loved it, I loved him. “He dropped out of college in his junior year and got a decent job in retail at Sears. After I graduated high school we got married, his plan was to go back to school and get his degree so he could eventually pursue a management position. Of course that never happened. “We lived in an apartment at first. I got a job at Caldor, a department store of the day
that has since gone under, like me, a relic of the time. Nate inherited a small fund from his grandmother and after a few years we were able to buy a starter home, a small raised ranch with a garage, basement and even a fenced in yard. I was happy, for awhile at least. The change came gradually. Nate began stopping at a bar after work with some co-workers and he’d come home half drunk. We started to argue a lot, can you blame me; I went from the cen-
ter of his life to being neglected. “One night I accused him of seeing another woman and he hit me. I was shocked and he was immediately contrite, falling to his knees, crying. He told me how his father beat his mother and he never wanted to be like that. He begged for forgiveness, which I gave, attributing the incident to his drinking. But that was just the beginning. “It wasn’t long before the strikes became more frequent as he drank more. That escalat-
ed to verbal abuse when he was sober and before long he’d hit me whenever he felt like it, even if he hadn’t been drinking. Those blue eyes turned from twinkling to menacing. I see that look you’re giving me, why didn’t I leave him? It’s easy to judge from afar, but unless you’re in the situation you don’t know what it’s like. I was afraid. I couldn’t make it alone; my parents had moved to Florida and had little contact with me. They disapproved of the marriage in the first place, I couldn’t turn to them. Besides, he had threatened to kill me if I ever left him, and I believed him. He would track me down and kill me, he was capable of that and I had no doubt he would follow through on his threat. When life gives you lemons it sucks, and did you ever suck a lemon? “It was knitting that kept me sane. That piece of wool is always there, reliable, there to work with, comfortable. Knitting would take me to a different place, relax me. Like the eye of a hurricane, it would provide me peace and quiet between his rants. You’re almost there, you’ll see, but when you get proficient enough you can knit and do other things like think. You know how we always talk about tension on the yarn and how it should be consistent for the proper tightness of the finished product? That’s what my knitting did for me. While he was
boozing at the bar, I’d be home knitting and thinking, pondering my situation, my future. I’d work those knitting needles like synapses in the brain, connecting, creating. “One night was particularly bad. He came home smelling of alcohol, as usual, and he was furious that his dinner wasn’t waiting for him. I had been knitting a sweater and was nearly done, just about ready to cast off, you know, finish it, and lost all track of time. His fists
started flying, and while most of the time he avoided my face so he wouldn’t leave any marks, this time he struck me just above my eye. I dropped out cold. When I woke up he was gone. I Page 131
staggered to my feet, and it was at that moment that I decided I needed to “cast off’ this relationship. I’d had enough. I found Nate on our bed, still in his clothes, snoring loudly. I knew from past such poses that he would be out for hours. The timing was perfect to put into actuality one of my fantasies dreamed up while knitting. No, I didn’t use my knitting needles for anything violent; I would never desecrate those precious tools that way.
“Our bedroom was right above our garage. I went down to the garage and stuffed towels in spaces around the garage door. Then I started our Dodge Dart and let it run. I kept the door from the garage to the inside of the house open, got my purse and went for a long walk. I stumbled upon the local bar; one of the ones frequented by Nate, and went in to have a few beers. I
should have been nervous I know, but I wasn’t. I was finally doing something to take back control of my life. Like controlling that piece of wool and forming it into something useful, if not beautiful, I was doing so for my future. “After spending some time at the bar I took a bus to the mall and walked around for awhile. I was gone most of the evening and when I returned home noticed the flashing lights as I approached the house. In my daydreams I would remove the towels and call the police selling the story that I got home and found Nate on the bed and that he must have forgotten to turn off the car in his drunken state. I didn’t know that Nate made plans with a friend to go to a ballgame that evening, and the police were called by Nate’s friend who heard the car running when he didn’t get a response after ringing the doorbell. As I walked down our street toward the house I briefly toyed with a suicide angle, but realized that wouldn’t work. There would be an autopsy and his blood alcohol level would be revealed. Drunks don’t commit suicide, at least Page 132
in such a thoughtful deliberate manner. I was too tired to come up with any other ideas. “Officer Brennan, the lead cop on the case, fortunately, or unfortunately if you think about it, had a great deal of experience with spousal abuse cases. When he saw my black eye, he put two and two together and was a sympathetic ear. However, murder is murder and there was no getting away from that. Officer Brennan was kind enough to convince the District Attorney’s office to go for lesser charges, some level of manslaughter I think. My public defender worked out a deal combining prison time with probation and the judge accepted it. The sentence was ten years in jail with an additional ten on probation. With good behavior I served seven, my probation ended years ago, so I’m free and clear now. “So there you have it, I’m an ex-con. I’ll bet you didn’t think this little old white haired
lady could do such a thing, and I wish I didn’t have to. If there’s a hell I’m probably ticketed for it, maybe I can plea bargain there too, who knows. I feel bad that Nate is dead, I loved him once after all, but I don’t regret what I did, I had no choice. I hope you don’t think less of me.” I must admit I was taken aback by her story. We didn’t talk about our past personal lives much; however I never suspected anything like this. But I certainly had no malice toward her, it seemed to me her actions were justified, if extreme. “Of course not,” I said to her, “you were in a tough spot, I’m not going to judge you because of that and besides, you paid your price, that’s all in the past.” “Thanks,” she said still sipping her beer. “I appreciate that.”
“How was prison though, I’m curious.” “Pray you never have to find out. The first few years were horrible. To have every miPage 133
nute of your day accounted for and controlled by someone else is a shock to the system. To not be able to do what you want---you have to experience it to know what that does to you. But the worst part was that I missed my knitting so.” “That must have been tough for you,” I said. “There were lot worse things I won’t go into, but I couldn’t turn to my knitting to es-
cape, to relax, to think. It nearly put me over the edge. But I befriended one of the guards who became pregnant during my stay. I told her I wanted to knit a sweater for her coming baby. She took a chance on me and smuggled some yarn and needles in after I told her what I needed. She trusted me, but not totally, she’d bring the stuff to me at the start of her shift and then collect it before she left. She loved the little sweater I knit for her, it was one of my best if I do say
so myself, and it wasn’t long before my talents got around to the other guards and eventually to the warden herself. “I was commissioned to knit hats, scarves, sweaters, all kinds of things and was paid in the form of extra privileges. I’d have discussions with the warden about what knitting meant to me and how it helped me mentally. She got this idea that perhaps it could have a beneficial effect on others in her charge, and initiated knitting classes for the most trusted inmates. This was closely monitored, especially our needles, but it was then that I realized I had a knack for imparting my ability and my love of knitting. To this day I’m still very good friends with some of my students from those days. I figured if I could successfully teach them I could have similar success on the outside. So my rehabilitation was a shining example of the value of our prison system. I haven’t killed anyone since.”
She smirked as she said this and downed the rest of her beer as she looked around for the waitress to order another. She asked me again about my love life and I once again deflected her inquiry. “Sarah sweetie,” she said slightly slurring her words, “it would do you well to get you some. But when you’re ready you’ll tell me your story.”
And a few months later I did. We became even closer after she told me her story. I felt she was so honest and open with me, she must have trusted me and liked me well enough to be so. I felt a connection to her after that night, the way she mentored me, cared for me, invited honesty in return. My knitting had progressed enough that she thought I was ready for a lesson in stranding.
“You’re ready for this Sarah,” she said. “Two strands of yarn at one time and it’s important to keep an even tension which I know you can do. But the fabric will be much stronger and you can be creative in your designs.” I went to her house for my first stranding lesson, which didn’t go all that well, but it was a start. We gave it up just in time for some wine and a rousing game of Jeopardy. After being once again trounced by Mavis, we relaxed and just talked in her living room over some wine and cheese. She once again asked me about men and I finally told her about Todd. “He was right,” I said, “it wasn’t going anywhere, I just wasn’t feeling it.”
“Sarah,” she said taking my hand, “I suspect you have trouble with your feelings. Please forgive me for saying that, but I feel like we have the kind of relationship where I can be up Page 135
front with you.” “Why do you say that?” I said. “I think you bottle things up inside. And while you’re honest with me, and probably other people, I’m not sure you’re being honest with yourself.” “I’m not sure I know what you mean,” I said. “Tell me about yourself. I mean you’ve never told me about who you are, you’re prior life, where you’re from, something that tells me who is Sarah really.” I sighed. Maybe she was right, maybe I needed to reach down and share. Who better to share it with than her? She poured us each another wine as I squirmed wondering where to start. “All right,” I said sipping the merlot. “When I was a little girl I loved my father. I don’t remember a lot about him, I just know that I adored him. He treated me like a princess, like I was the most special child in the world. Like I said I don’t remember a lot of details, just spotty things here and there, but I can remember how he smelled, how his clothes felt, how his hands felt on my hair as he tucked me into bed. “But my clearest memory of him was that last day. I was five years old. He put me on his lap and his eyes looked wet, but I didn’t know why. ‘Honey,’ he said, ‘I love you more than life itself, always remember that. I’ve done some things, but I’m going to fix it, I’m going to make sure you’ll be taken care of.’ I saw a tear running from the corner of his eye and said,
‘Are you sad Daddy?’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘I just love you so much sometimes my eyes get so happy they overflow. Now go out and play and never forget your Daddy loves you.’ Page 136
“Later that day when my Mother got home from her part time job I heard her scream. I ran into the house and up the stairs to see her standing outside the bathroom, my father on the floor with empty pill bottles strewn about. That is the lasting visual memory I have of him, dead on that bathroom floor. “He left a note for my Mother detailing the trouble he was in, some sort of embezzlement or something, and that he did this to protect me. He couldn’t stand to see his little girl disappointed in her father and he figured the insurance would provide for me. He must have been under a lot of stress and not thinking straight because there was a suicide clause in his policy, so there was no insurance money for us. As much as she hated him for what he did, my mother blamed me too. ‘If it wasn’t for you,’ she’d tell me, ‘he’d still be alive; I wouldn’t be in this mess.’ “That attitude lasts to this day. My Mother resented me and we’ve never had a close relationship. Like I said, I loved my father, but I felt he abandoned me. I learned at an early age to be okay with myself, by myself, and that I didn’t need anyone else. I felt getting close to people only invited disappointment and pain, so why bother.”
I had never talked to anyone about this before and I suddenly felt a sense of relief, an unburdening. I didn’t realize that I had been leaning forward, my body tensed as I said all this and could now feel my body relax as I sat back waiting for her reaction. “I’m sorry you went through that Sarah,” Mavis said taking my hand. “So much pain for such a little girl, it must have been tough for you.” Page 137
I just nodded feeling that I’d already spent my words. “Did you ever hear of the Fibonacci sequence?” Mavis asked out of the blue. “No,” I said. “Fibonacci was a mathematician from the middle ages and he figured out this relationship of proportions. I don’t really understand it all, math was never one of my strong points, but
the sequence starts with zero and each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two. So it goes zero, one, one, two, three, five, eight, and so on.” “Yeah?” I said, still not knowing where this was going. “I know this sounds like a non sequitur, but bear with me. I learned of this on one of the knitting web sites and that if Fibonacci’s idea is used in knitting it can create unusual designs. So I’ve decided I want to try it. It’s out of my comfort zone, and will be challenging, but I’ve seen some of the resulting designs and they’re beautiful. Who knows, I may wind up frogging the whole thing and it will have been a waste of time, on the other hand I can wind up with something rewarding and satisfying.” “I hope you don’t want me to try it, I’m not sure I can even conquer stranding,” I said.
“No, that’s not why I’m telling you this,” Mavis said patiently. “I think you should try something similar. I think you’re comfortable keeping people at a distance, not letting them in. I feel honored that we’ve become so close, I think that’s a good start, but I think you need to be even more open. Come out of your comfort zone Sarah, find people to trust and let them in. Let love in. You may find something beautiful if you do.” Page 138
I was speechless at first. I didn’t think of myself as shutting people out, but her words rang true. I’ve always told myself I didn’t care if I had friends or if I was close to anyone, and that’s how I really felt. But after hearing this from someone I liked, no, I’ll say it, loved, it hit me. Maybe I needed to question my own feelings. Did I care, did I want to have relationships, maybe even a special someone? Would it be worth the chance of the pain of failure? “Thanks for listening,” I said as I gave Mavis a hug. “I really should be going.” “Oh,” she said, “I hope I haven’t upset you.” “No,” I assured her, “not at all, you’ve given me something to think about.” I never did pick up stranding. It was a few days after our third lesson when Mavis died. A massive heart attack they said. She always said that when it was her time she hoped she’d pass with knitting needles in her hands and a ball of yarn in her lap. But that’s not how it was. One of her ex-con friends found her in her favorite chair in front of the TV, an empty beer bottle on the end table. Somehow I think she’d be just as pleased to have gone that way. I miss Mavis dearly. She left me with the gift of knitting, which I still enjoy and get better at every day. Who knows, I may try that Fibonacci thing some day. But more than that, she showed me good friends, good relationships, are their own reward, and they don’t have to last forever to be worthwhile.
I took her advice, although it wasn’t easy for me. I have a couple of friends now that I
feel close to. And I’m “seeing someone” as they say. In fact I’m knitting him a sweater. Will the relationship last? I don’t know, but I think I love him. I’m letting myself love him and its Page 139
okay. Iâ€™m prepared to lose his love if that happens. Like the sweater Iâ€™m knitting for him, both will be beautiful things and worth the effort no matter how long I can hold onto them.
Monkey in a Drawer by Kyle Hemmings
Trostel 2 by William Trostel Page 142
Red, White & Blue by Jack Plants The darkness of a Saturday Night’s 57th street finds itself creeping in corners, clinging onto grimy walls in the fleeting hours before the moon retreats once more. He walks east up the north side of the sloping hill, rising from the Hudson River, ascending into the structurally sophisticated metropolis. Apartments dimmed with tenants unknown reach high into softly illuminated grey clouds. Ninth Avenue – in a residential area such as this one the stores have begun to close, each with a rolling portcullis protecting each and the treasures hidden inside. Neon lights glowed dimly with a phantom greenish hue. The bright and familiar walkman graced his presence from across the racetrack of fares and congestion. Eighth Avenue – He walks under scaffold, reassuring structural soundness. Footsteps echo in the enclosed space, only one, maybe two, faces passing; eyes forward, empty. This track was not welcoming, yellow flashes shooting by blaring advertisement with sharp backlights. He slips through along the dotted white passageway when the space permits. Seventh Avenue – outside of the Carnegie Hall fur coats and silken bowties collect in small conversation. The manicured cube houses high music, precise and expressive. He scans the street, north side and south. A pair of matching rectangular signs read “Uptown & Queens” on one side, “Downtown & Brooklyn” on the other. He assesses the passing vehicles then crosses the street. He takes his final terranean steps, departing from the bitter cold. He descends into the subterranean world, proceeding down hackneyed steps teeming with Page 143
age-old energy, collective canvases brushed with unique palates leaving mark with mind body and sole. Twenty steps and he’s below the surface. Then, a right. Five more steps and he slides his master key through the gates, followed by the blaring racket and a satisfying click of admittance. Ahead, a meticulously constructed mosaic on the facing wall. Halfway down the stairs he looked down at the platform, met with a group of black leather boots. They possess a shine from shoe polish reflecting the powerful luminescence above the platform. The boots were attached to slacks which came into sight, slacks dyed in the characteristic blue: A blue of power, and security; or, perhaps, of fear, of injustice. The boots and navy blue slacks spin and shift just slightly, indicating conversation between them, or perhaps directional surveillance. As he proceeds down the last few steps, the slacks meet tucked shirts of the same blue, with regal symbols and shining badges. He is met with scowls – demeaning looks from those protecting and serving. The ancient terminal stands before him, walls and floor coated with varying layers of sediment. The platform stands symmetrical, upheld by rectangular pillars, illuminated by
shocking white lights. Individuals break the symmetry, biding at point A, waiting to be delivered to point B. He fits into the presented form, doing as the others do. He walks, he looks around. He checks his watch as if he knows when the train car will arrive. He searches desperately for stimulus to protect him from the inherent doldrums of the public transportation process. He looks down the train track – left, further into the unknown, and right, back towards
the trope of police officers. Past the threshold of the platform’s domain is a visual silence, an impassible darkness. Yet with the squinting of eyes, at the furthest point of human sight is a Page 144
flashing: three colors in slow waltzing sequence, red, white, blue. The stimulus grabs hold of his eyes more forcefully than any subway map or station sign ever could, piquing his interest. The flashing lights are not just something to observe and pass the time but something out of place. In the train’s corridor, there is a perpetual lacking, a murky blackness dominating the space, yet now there are three lights: red, white, blue. Red, white, blue… With hard headed courage and expert stealth he slips over the edge. With a singular, split second decision, curiosity has overwhelmed him. The slime underfoot is slick and pungent, litter is worked into the crevices between the railroad tracks. Rodents’ eyes shine, examining the guest in their domain. He crouches, teeming with adrenaline, shaking just slightly, looking around hoping he has slipped onto the tracks unscathed and unseen. He glances down the seemingly endless track, the three lights remain, flashing: red, white, blue. Red, white, blue. He packs himself into the space beneath the platform’s slight overhang, reaching forward and feeling out an area with his feet before taking a timid step. Time turns elastic, elongating and swirling unpredictably. Each pace forward is centuries apart. The sleepy, red-eyed Queens-bound stragglers do not see who inhabits the Brooklyn-
bound track; they are separated from him by two sets of tracks and the pillars that keep the world from crashing down upon the underground tunnels. Police voices from up above bounce off the surrounding walls. He is adjacent to them now, yet hidden in the shadows. The murmurs of the officers are indecipherable. He reaches the end of the platform, right next to the stairs down which he had so casually stepped and enters the subway realm. Crossing the threshold, all sources of light have dimmed except for the lights flashing red, white, blue. Curiosity had transformed into primal drive. His yearning to understand had Page 145
become necessity. He moves again, but now more freely. His crouch reverts upright posture. He walks with confidence, having escaped the worried wandering eye of police and passerby. After just a few steps more came a rumbling: the ground began to shake, shockwaves ripping through his very core. Down the corridor, a train zooms along its curved track, headlights preceding an ungodly piercing screech. He tosses himself across the downtown track beyond a set of pillars, into the middle express track. The train rumbles and beeps its horn as it flies by. Soft yellow lights from within the cabins illuminate the track beneath him. A gigantic “Q” is stamped on every other car. Ahead, beside the platform, it screeches to a halt. The doors snap open with the characteristic “ding-ding”. Civilians board while He catches his breath, engulfed in the odiferous grime into which he has tossed himself. He is one with the slime, besmirched head to toe. The subway cars stand motionless for an eternity – He uses the time to think and curse his poor luck. Even with the decreased frequency of trains in the dark of night, a locomotive still manages to find its way onto the track at precisely the wrong time. “Stand clear of the closing doors, please.” The subway departs, leaving no trace. The platform has been emptied of the few standing passengers. He crosses between the pillars frantically back onto the local track, frightened at the possibility of another train stopping by. He moves closer and closer to the source: the three lights, shooting unshakeable beams into his very core. He reaches the point where the train tracks curve off to the right. He has lost his railed guide, and now must forge his way down an unmarked path, earth packed beneath his feet. The trifecta of lights is growing closer. His feet shuffle in the cavern’s tangible silence, broken only with resounding water droplets. Page 146
Closer to his destination, the clarity begins to dawn. The three luminescent orbs hang by thick wire from the ceiling. From left to right they slowly flash: red, white, blue. Red, white, blue. Behind the bulbs hangs a shield. From ceiling to floor, wall to wall, a thin, shiny visual barrier is suspended. His mind drove an impulsive hand towards the shield. He touches it gingerly and feels energy, electrons exploding and zooming in every direction. The thick aluminum sways slightly from his disturbance. Satisfaction overwhelms him: physical contact has been made. The source has been uncovered. The mysterious and unattainable has been made familiar. Yet, just as fast as the satisfaction washes over him, it fades. Standing between the shield and flashing lights, he looks back toward the platform. A submersion deep into the flowing realm of curiosity for an affirmation of what was already clear: three lights flashing red, white, blue. With a snapping of the mind, curiosity becomes recklessness. He turns around to face the aluminum barrier. Vicious anger flows at breakneck speed through hidden ventricles, and with a single swipe, he pulls away the shield. Step one: he crosses the barrier. Another step: the shield falls behind him. A final step: his foot reaches forward but does not land. Forward he falls, downward into ashamed darkness.
Tricolored fantastical beauty in a blanketed nation, swathed in the warmth of purported liberty. Collective fears and deep rooted anxieties trapped behind the characteristic shades â€“ none can cross the iron sheath. Moments suspend, falling becomes entrapment. He is not headed to a destination. He is seized in limbo. Who can implore oneâ€™s own curiosity without hindrance? There is danger in the unknown.
The Devil Inside Me by Heather Searfross I ain’t gonna scream I ain’t gonna shout I won’t break a frown No not even a pout.
This monster of fire Tries to consume my flesh By releasing my smooth blood He thinks he knows best.
He doubts I know his scheme But in truth I know all To the beat of my heart To the scruff of a fall.
What can beasty do? But unleash cold evil Just a man not a spirit His other makes him feeble.
I am not immortal, invincible My weaknesses can be picked No fear to show my soul Though the truth appears slick. Page 148
I question said authority And soothe the air I breathe What force is so cunning But the devil inside of me.
Yesterdayâ€™s Death Bed by Viktoria Dahill You would think with the way she talked about love, with that twinkle in her eye, that she would not be just a Cotswold housewife. One held down by a twenty year marriage, but perhaps, rather a young fashionista who had secured a foreign lover. This man's primary endeavour was to locate her seams. Every human has them, you see. We are all secretly sex-starved fanatics, the lot of us. But she seemed something controlled, because her seams -- the places that grant her the most sexual pleasure -- are well looked after by a young stranger, who fantasises about her power and social prowess. Someone eager to please regardless of broken English. It is interesting watching her because her physicality is truly something. Even the curve of her brow in amusement calls attention to her. There is one issue in her character. She is fidgety. She cannot sit still and she removes herself from her seat several times within the hour. She walks along the corridors. Up and down with a grace that is hard to believe. Her thick legs give her a slight waddle that reminds me of our dire human condition. Aren't we all just waddling about on the earth's surface? Working towards only the things that make us happy, and paying no mind to anything or anyone around us . . . unless this person or thing rekindles our motives. She has done this to me. She doesn't want to talk, but that's okay. I have read many an article on how to approach women even if they don't care for it. Surely this isn't hostile as long as I mean no harm. However, I know this woman. Well, know of her. So it isn't that I am approaching a complete stranger and beginning a conversation from nothing. Hopefully we share similar interests. We did live in the same neighbourhood at one point. She drove her husband's white Range Rover after his accident totalled their seven year old BMW. I was one of the first cops on the scene. I felt sorry for the poor guy. He was in good health otherwise. She was hanging on me begging me to save him. And good god, she had slim shoulders wired with muscle. The skin on her neck stretched taut when she cried out for him to be okay. It isn't a suburban legend, he was much older than her. It is kind of traditional around here. But she didn't fit the average repressed housewife. She was a professional and she fought him tooth and nail in order to work. I don't think he was a Page 149
mean guy, but she wanted another kid, and that would make three of them in total. He wanted her to stay home. Yeah, I understand that, kids need their mom. And here she is again, upset yet contained and oh so beautiful over a man that got to her first. A man who got here before me. "Sarge," an officer says to me in passing. I nod, but I'm transfixed on her. She moves her hair to the side and runs her fingers through it. Her fingers are wild on the screen of her phone as she texts someone. I'm guessing the offspring. Probably telling them about how the hubby's condition has advanced. She abruptly answers the phone, and a valve in my heart pinches upon hearing her voice. There are gentle waves in my heart, and the tide is coming in. There was a time that that voice traveled with me everywhere, everyday. Jesus. We briefly exchanged pleasantries after the initial accident. I got her name. It was an interesting story of hippie parents and too much smoking. Her mother gave birth in a pool of water. One of those natural birth things, and the first thing she thought of was the way the sun reflected over the water when it set. So she named her daughter Horizon. She didn't look like a Horizon. She looked like a conservative Sarah with an h or even a Virginia -- you know, the southern blond that wins all of those beauty pageants? But she spited the stereo type with wild black hair and rusty amber eyes. It was as if the conservative agenda snuck up on her. As if she didn't want this life. But I know it's just me praying she'd be working class so I could reach her. Her dangly earrings are making a clinking noise. They move on her ears as she jolts away from the phone and hangs up, her face crinkled with frustration. That's my way to identify her. It's as if I've purchased my dog an ID tag, I can hear her now wherever she goes. It's starting to get under my skin. It's like an itch that I'll never be able to scratch. I shake my head. I figure I should approach her and say hi. Maybe it would stitch up the wound between us. The one I started last time she was like this. "You look great." I had said to her as we left the hospital. There had been good news about her husband's condition, and I offered to drive her home because she was shaking. "Oh Ben," she had replied, "you're a terrible liar." "But everything is going to be all right. It will all go back to normal." This did not seem to comfort her at all. "But my life is horrible." New tears grew in her eyes, "I'm sorry you probably don't see it, but this isn't the life I wanted. I'm a doctor. I studied to help people in impoverished areas. I wanted to travel. But instead I met Cam, and well, here I am." She held her face in her hands. "I'm sorry." She began again, "you didn't need to hear that. I love him, but I can't hold this life together. It's killing me." We'd arrived at my car by this point, and I didn't really know what to say. I settled on, "what do you need?" "Nothing." She replied, "but I want so many things." I started the car and pulled away from the hospital. I put her address into my gps, and I focused on the windy suburban roads. "Oh," I said when I realised, "you live just down the street from me." She was silent looking ahead. Something about the fragility of her face suggested she might cry again. "Ben," she whispered and then swallowed, "do you have a wife?" Page 150
"No." I answered. I didn't look at her. She spoke faster, a bit louder, "any kids . . . a girlfriend?" "No," I gripped the wheel tighter. Thanks for reminding me. I looked over at her at a red light and she met my gaze. Her face was cold and sad, but even though I was scrutinising in my approach. Why was she asking all of these questions? What did she want from me? I was about to turn right when she asked me, "Can I go home with you?" I put on the hazards, "go home like what?" I asked. She shook her head, "Cam doesn't love me like that anymore. I'm losing my mind." "He's just been in an accident." I replied, I returned my gaze to the road again, feeling uncomfortable. "And it will make our marriage worse." She sighed heavily, "we just don't love each other anymore, Ben." I honestly could not believe what was happening. I pulled into the road and continued straight, instead of pulling off to the right and going to her place. "Ben," she retrieves me from my reverie, having seen me first. "Do you have the tickets?" I nod. "Good." She smiles. It's lovely. But I feel so, so guilty. "My mother has the kids." She puts a flat hand on her risen abdomen, "and I got the scan done so we don't have to in El Paso. We can lay low for a few months." "And his diagnosis?" I ask. "Heart failure." She replies easily. "They won't ever suspect the antifreeze."
Cat by Kyle Hemmings
Traveling (For Laura) by Andrew Lee-Hart Deborah Lord I am only young, even now barely seventeen although I feel much older and wiser. Who will marry me now? I did nothing wrong but I cannot escape the rumours and gossip, however far I travel; even in London I am sure that they are talking about it, maybe even abroad. I was fifteen and a good and innocent girl when I became a maid for the new minister Rev. Baker. My parents had been going to the Presbyterian Church in High Green for ever so long; my father since he married my mother, my mother since she was a girl. They were always there in the church, attending the various meetings and active as much as they could be. But now my mother goes to a Congregationalist church in another part of Nottingham, and doesnâ€™t like to tell people her name, whilst my father stays at home and hides his shame. After it happened my aunt found me a position as a maid over in Derby, but the family I work
for now know all about what happened. It is short distance between Nottingham and Derby and scandal travel fast. I was naĂŻve I suppose, even for my age; I read my Bible every day and went to Sunday School, but I did not know what goes on between men and women and had not even been kissed by a boy. I was respectable and so were my parents; we may not have been rich but we were decent and we feared God.
The Rev. Baker had not been there long. Our previous minister, the Rev. Dunlop had got a post in London and for about three months we had various men from the Nottingham District tendPage 153
ing to our needs, and then we were told that the Rev. David Baker would be our new minister; he had taken a trial and preached a sermon a couple of weeks earlier, and now here he was. He looked in his mid-thirties; a fine looking man but perhaps a bit clever for the congregation. The Rev. Dunlop had preached with passion and gazed deeply and darkly into the eyes of everyone present; even a nervous young girl like me. But the Rev. Baker lacked that fire, and his eyes were kind and with humour and it was as if he were preaching from a book. His wife Ruth was there at his first Sunday; a dark lady, finely dressed, and whose eyes never left her husband. Next to her was Miss Morton; with her red hair and green eyes who was Ruthâ€™s companion; a quiet, rather willowy woman who gazed about her as Baker preached about King David. The Bakers had no children which might have made a difference.
Things had changed the old queen had died a year earlier and now we were in the Twentieth Century and a corrupter, wicked time was upon us. I wish I had not been dragged into it, but what could I do; a young girl with no say in anything? Yes, I had bad thoughts; was jealous of my brothers and sisters, coveted things that were not mine. But did I deserve this? Mrs Baker had a word with my mother; the household needed a maid. The previous lady who had looked after the Rev. Dunlop had followed him up to London. I was flattered to be offered the job and I was not scared of hard work; on the contrary I saw it as important; as a way of worshipping God. Perhaps I was nothing special in the scheme of things, but at least I could work zealously and do my functions in life well. My parents were also pleased; they were both in awe of the Bakers who had an air of superiority, more so than previous ministers, and they were anxious that I held myself well and did not embarrass them.
The Manse was a large house; dark and with heavy furniture, which smelt of damp and food. It had been left to the church by one of the first Presbyterians in the area, a business man my mother vaguely remembered but who was dead well before I was born. I had been in there before for the yearly garden party and other activities the church held. But now I was going there to work and to spend most of my day. And so I came into the house at six in the morning and stayed until ten at night cleaning and polishing, serving food, running messages and answering the door. The minister seemed to spend much of the time in his study; a dark room at the back of the house and down a long corridor which meant it was rather separate. I rarely went in there apart from on a Thursday afternoon when Baker visited the poor and sick and I was then supposed to give it a clean, but not to move any of the books or the papers on his desk. And there were so many books; not just Bibles but books about the gospels, the Pentateuch, the Psalms, books about the Jews and about Moslems who I knew a little about, and the Cathars and the Rosicrucians who I didnâ€™t, and there was poetry and all sorts of books I have never come across since and donâ€™t particularly want to. There was nothing there that would appeal to
a young girl although I always did well at school and could read far better than my parents. But when the Rev. Baker lost his job, they also accused him of blasphemy as well as immorality, and I think it was on account of those books. He seemed a kindly sort of man; he often spoke to me and asked after my parents and my brothers and sisters, and he did not scare me, like the Revered Dunlop had done. I also liked his wifeâ€™s companion; Miss Morton, or Naomi as Mrs Baker called her. She was a quiet woman but she was friendly and somebody who I instinctively to trusted; she never hurt me and Page 155
that is something. When we talked, she was always present in the conversation unlike Mrs Baker who rarely listened to anything I said. I could not like Mrs Baker; always sneaking up on me, catching me out. Telling me off, and there was that patronising voice. “Come on Deborah, I think you know better than that……why not try that again……oh dear I
thought you would have been taught better……where is your common sense girl?” And the way she dressed; too fancy for Highgreen, and I could not understand her Yorkshire accent; she tried to sound posh, but when she was flustered; which was a lot of the time, her voice became broad and I had to say “excuse me ma’am could you repeat yourself”, but then she would get cross, so it was easier to guess what she had said. Once he called me into his study. He was sitting on a sofa with a book in his hands; it was poems by someone called Donne, and he asked me to sit down and he read to me. He always seemed a bit scruffy; I don’t know why because he wore lovely clothes, chosen by his wife I think, but they never sat well on him. He seemed to read well although I did not understand very well what the poems were about; lots of angels and there was one about the sun and love. Great I am sure, but not really for me. After that he often read poetry to me, even some of his own, and I loved the sound of his voice even I could not always understand what he was saying. I wondered if he had nobody else to read poetry to; perhaps his wife did not like it although I imagined that Miss Morton was poetic, but perhaps she preferred to read to herself and maybe she liked different poets. And then Naomi and the Reverend Baker did not seem that close but Page 156
avoided each other. I did not understand Miss Morton; she seemed a clever lady so why just sit about the house all day as companion to a woman who really did not need one? And why was her bed sometimes not slept in? The blanket had been mussed up but it was easy to tell that she had not lain there all night. And she loved going out; even when it rained, and it was a very wet autumn that year. She would go out and come back drenched and would asked me to dry her and help her put some dry clothes on. Previously the only grown-woman’s body I had seen was my mother’s by candlelight, but Miss Morton’s was beautiful; far shapelier than you would expect when seeing her dressed or even in dishabille. Once I was helping her dry herself in her room; she was pale and naked, and we chatted about
the town and the people in it, as I rubbed her back with a towel. And then Rev. Baker walked straight into her room without knocking and looked straight at her. “Naomi” he said, the first time I am heard him call her by her first name. And then he saw me and turned red, and muttered something before walking out. She laughed and quickly put on a wrap whilst I found her some dry clothes. “That man is forgetful, probably came into the wrong room” she said, but she sounded false, which was unlike her. And I had seen the look in the Rev. Baker’s eyes, and it was not shock at seeing her naked, it was shock that I was there. Then Autumn was almost over and the house was cold. Rain sometimes came through the roof, and there was a damp smell which never quite went away no matter how hard I scrubbed and cleaned. Often the only fires that were lit were in Baker’s study, and in the sitting room. Page 157
Even when all the fires were burning the corridors were cold and dark. And I hated going home at night into the darkness, but there was nobody to walk back with me. One Friday morning there was a loud knock at the door; I knew that Mrs Baker was in the kitchen cooking; she often spent hours in the kitchen, face flushed but at peace. It was Mr Smythe; the senior elder of the church, at the door. He always scared me with his strong Scottish accent, and that fierce look that never left him. I could not understand what he said but assumed he must want to see the Rev. Baker. I hurried back into the house and knocked on the study door, but perhaps too quietly and the rain was loud and heavy, so the Rev. Baker canâ€™t have heard me as I walked into his study and found him on his settee, with his head between the legs of Miss Morton who was naked and
head lain back in ecstasy. I was in shock, but automatically turned to walk out of there and make some excuse to Mr Smythe, but he had followed me into the house and was just behind me starring at his minister who was still unaware of the intrusion, and behind him stood Mrs Baker who must have known what was going on. She kicked me hard as I stumbled past her and out of that house, my leg throbbing. I never saw any of them again; Rev Baker, his wife or Miss Morton. And yet I do find I miss those days; I loved the reverend Baker reading poetry to me, even if I did not understand it all, and I liked the kindness of Miss Morton. But Mrs Baker, I do not miss; a savage creature who was lucky to be married to a clever a man; no wonder he did what he did. She could have stopped what happened if she had wanted to. I know it is a sin, but I hate her, and nothing will
change that. I was questioned by one of the sisters from the church, who was embarrassed and cross. What had I seen? Had I been involved? And then I fled to Derby. But shortly after I left Nottingham the story made the newspapers and I was even mentioned by name. Suddenly I was shamed; everyone thought I had done things. Everyone knows about it now, and I cannot bear it. My aunt is going to arrange for me to go to Canada; perhaps it will be a fresh start and I can marry a farmer, and live a happy, hard-working life, amongst good people who donâ€™t know anything about me and where such goings-on are unknown. Ruth I remember the first time I saw him; it was the welcoming service at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Leeds. I was eighteen and had been going to the church since I was born, and was now a teacher at the Sunday school. He stood there looking down upon us, the window behind him giving him a sort of halo. He looked so young and innocent that I wanted to protect him, although he was in fact eight years older than me. And he had this sense of boundless possibility about him, which suited me as I wanted to get out of the city, and out of Yorkshire, away from my parents and live a life with a great man by my side. I am an attractive and beautiful woman and was even more so then. In that church with all these provincial bankersâ€™ daughters and virgin teachers, it was easy to turn his head and within a year of my first seeing him I was installed in the Manse with his ring on my finger and the world my oyster. He never quite fulfilled my expectations, even though once I became his wife I spurred him on, Page 159
providing everything he needed for his great career. He stayed in Leeds far longer than I wanted him to, and then three years in the North-East, before Highgreen, another dead end part of a provincial city, although we were slightly nearer London I suppose. But then there was the scandal after that stupid girl Deborah caught him in flagrante with Naomi. But it wasnâ€™t her fault, if only Baker and Naomi had been more discreet, saved all that stuff for the bedroom at night when nobody could catch them and Deborah was at home in her bed safe with her innocence. Sex had been a problem from the start; it just hurt so much. I let him have his way a couple of times but it was impossible. I went to a doctor who told me it was just something that I would have to endure. But I couldnâ€™t, not for anything, and to be fair to Baker, he did not want to hurt me. He was sympathetic, but I know he needed that, it is what all men need and I was ashamed that I could not provide it. So when I heard from my friend Naomi a couple of years later it was ideal; she was reasonably attractive, and regarded herself as an intellectual which would suit my husband. We had known each other since children and then she had got married and moved to Sheffield, but her hus-
band had died leaving her with nothing, and she did not want to go back home. I suggested she move in with me as a companion, I did not mention the other stuff; I would let nature take its course. She became company for me as we moved to Newcastle and then Nottingham, and she helped deal with the physical side of the marriage which I could not do. I just left them to it, I did not need to know, and I had plenty of other things to be getting on with. Occasionally I was jealous; when I saw them exchanging a look which made me feel excluded or when I heard them Page 160
in his bedroom at night. But if I could not provide what every woman should provide then could I really complain? It is only physical after all; a relieving of the humours. And then after he was thrown out of the church, it was me who suggested that he become a teacher. We had money between us; my parents were dead by this time and I had no surviving siblings. Naomi gladly gave what little she had and Baker had some savings. One of Baker’s friends knew of a school in a town called Ware a little outside London where the teacher was retiring. We went up and soon took it over. It was a select school with fourteen borders aged between eight and fourteen; and we were able to charge a good amount as it was a wealthy town, with prosperity etched all over its’ grand buildings and large houses. Baker taught the oldest amongst them, myself the youngest,
and then there was Mr Daniel Henderson (Cantab) who taught the rest. Daniel was tall and handsome, with his beautiful Cornish vowels; he strode above the pupils, who all adored him, but then how could anyone not? He lived in town and came into school every day. I would watch him walk up the drive, looking so unconcerned; his mind on higher things. And when he looked at me, my heart beat so fast and I felt myself go red. I knew that he was the man I was destined for, having that ambition and brilliance that my husband unfortunately lacked. Naomi lived at the top of the school away from the boarders, and on occasion I would hear Baker go up there at night. “You need to be discrete” I told him, “the children are not stupid. We cannot afford another scandal.” Page 161
He said not a word, just looked at me as if I was a particularly impertinent child and stalked off. He was remote and austere now. But he seemed to blame me for the scandal and humiliation, and he and Naomi were closer now as if the intimacy of the bed had pervaded to the rest of their relationship. I had hoped Baker would prove to be an inspired teacher; he loved books and I remembered him speaking to the congregation so eloquently and intelligently. But he seemed to have lost interest now. “They are just not interested” he told us; “I try to talk to them of beauty, of the mysteries of love and God, about politics and injustice, but all they want is enough to pass the time until they work for their fathers, or get a job in the city.” Naomi was sat next to him as we drank coffee in the room we had commandeered for us meals. “I am sure you are inspiring some of them” Naomi told him, “you are a great teacher”. I had never seen her so demonstrative; cool, reserved Naomi who seemed to have undertaken her sexual duties as a favour to me, could she be falling in love with my husband? And then I saw Daniel outside in the garden gathering plants and I forgot about Baker and Naomi. I decided to get some air so left the house and soon met Daniel. He took my arm as we strode about. “You seem sad” he told me. I could feel his hand on my arm, and was never so conscious of another man’s presence. “I worry about the children of course; their welfare is such a responsibility.” Page 162
â€œOf courseâ€? and then we talked of various pupils. This became our habit; walking through the garden in the early evening, talking of the children and then as we became more intimate, of wider matters. I had never felt happier, and at times wondered what it would be like to be married to Daniel. Perhaps sex with him would be loving and joyful, or perhaps we would not need that. We could sit and read in the long evenings with nobody to disturb us, and forget the past. I loved him and knew it was only a matter of time before he would take me away with him to begin our life anew. Naomi And so we were on our own. David and me. When my former friend ran off with that soppy teacher we tried to carry on with the school. After all David was the best thing about it; but the scandal was too great. Ware is a small and respectable town and soon we were a school without pupils, and then somebody found out about that nonsense at High Green and we had no choice but to go. When I moved in with them it was Ruth who was my friend and David her husband. The marriage was not happy and it was because she struggled with physical intimacy. Nothing was ever said; but about a week after I had moved in he came to my room and we made love. For him it was a physical release; men have their needs but over time I began to feel something for him, and when my heart beat when he came to me it was not for the physical sensation of him inside me, but just being with him; his smell, his humour and his teaching. He was a born teacher; always telling me things about religion, about books, nature, politics, the stars. He loved learning new things and then spreading that knowledge. And I loved to lisPage 163
ten. I am not a stupid person and have read well therefore I can listen and hold my own in a conversation, and I can learn. Often he would read to me before and afterwards and we would talk. Sometimes the sex was just perfunctory as if the main reason was for us to chat and to learn, and perhaps it was. But other times he was filled with lust for me and for my body, and I did not mind that at all, not one bit. So I went with him when he left Ware. We sold the school to a family and travelled. Ostensibly he wanted to write a book like his hero Daniel Defoe. A description of England in the new century. “Things will change” he told me “I feel it. There is a sense of unhappiness and discontent about the country.” “What do you mean?” He thought for a moment; “poverty, dislocation, the worship of power. It is in the air we breathe, in the looks that people give us.” He began to rent rooms in the cities we visited and gave talks. We started nearby in St. Albans where for a fortnight he gave lectures on a range of subjects; the poetry of William Blake, Islam, the music of Henry Purcell, the abolition of the monarchy, the Jewish prophet Obadiah, the evils of colonialism and Chartism. He charged a fee for entry and got enough people to make a small living. The lectures seemed almost improvised, perhaps he had been practising when he lay with me in his bed and we talked.
We moved up the country; Reading, Oxford, Leicester, Sheffield, Manchester, Carlisle and Durham. The more he spoke the better he became. But then being a minister and a teacher he Page 164
was used to speaking in public, and he started to get a reputation particularly in the north where they appreciated his radical ideas. He was even asked to contribute to various radical newspapers. Perhaps this was when he started to fulfil his destiny. I helped him with his writing; he knew what he wanted to say but was not sure how to compose it. We would sit in the afternoon him musing aloud whilst I made notes and later wrote it all down. How much of the finished book was actually his is a matter for conjecture, but it was under his name that it was published by Hammond and Taylor, a well-known publisher, who encouraged him to write more. It sold well and he became a least a minor public figure for a time. And then Ruth wrote to me; a long letter full of regret and sadness. Her elopement had not
worked out “the usual problem” and she was living with her parents, looking after them. She had heard about David’s talks and asked if she could see him. I destroyed the letter as I did the others that she subsequently wrote to both David and me. Burnt them as I wished I could burn her. “We need to travel” he told me; “I want to see Europe; Paris, Germany and Italy. And then Russia. That will be what my new book is about.” So we took trains and we travelled. He had assumed that I would go with him and he was right. We stayed in Paris for a month he taught, spoke at various colleges and we wrote together, and then we travelled to Rome. We had a suite of rooms in a hotel near the centre. We hired a young maid called Leontyne who he taught English to in between writing and teaching.
We are a family I thought; he is my husband and we will grow old together. But of course he wasn’t, and I knew that if he left me I would be alone and virtually penniless. But could he manage without me? Much of what he had become was due to me, but I am not sure he saw that, rather saw me as his secretary who he also happened to share a bed with sometimes. When weren’t together I visited art galleries and churches and examined the great buildings and ruins. I loved Rome and wanted to stay there; it was my home which I had now discovered after living so long in damp England. Until one day, walking into his rooms when he was supposed to be away meeting a professor, I found him on the bed, Leontyne naked and astride him; their shadows moving against the white walls. I suppose I was like that poor maid Deborah when she found him with me in his study, and I was equally shocked.
I had been so happy; in a beautiful city, helping the man I loved write a masterpiece. I felt that I was doing something that would make a difference. I was part of the world, not some poor girl from Leeds who knew nothing. “It is only my needs. Love is the essential.” “No, it is more important than that.” I told him, “you betrayed me. Why did you need somebody else? You could have me anytime you wanted to.” I could smell the perfume of her body as I stood in front of him as he lay on the bed. He looked pathetic and feeble and I felt heartbroken. We stayed in Rome for a few more weeks as I helped him finish off his writing, but other than
that we had little to do with each other; I did not know what would happen but there was no way I was going back to England. Page 166
“I am going to Russia” he told me, one September morning. “Come with me; I will leave Leontyne behind.” “I doubt she would go with you anyway; she has never been outside Rome.” “She would if I asked her to. But I want you.” “No. I am happy here in Rome and I can make my way. Up to you what you do, but I am stay-
ing here.” Leontyne did go with him; I watched them leave from my window the following morning; both unhurried as if they knew what they were doing. They put the cases into the carriage to take them to the railway station and then far away to the north and east; away from the hot sun and beauty of Italy. Neither of them looked up at the hotel, they were concentrating on getting their stuff packed and away. They were leaving me behind. I stayed in Rome; taught in a school and then married a widower who lived opposite the pensione that I rented a room in. I am happy now; I love Italy and I love Paulo, a kind man who is patient with me and who helps me learn. I am no longer an ignorant Leeds girl, but a sophisticated Roman and I have two children who have stayed in Rome and are true Romans too, and only know about cold, dark England from pictures in books, and from stories I tell them about my youth. I often wondered about the Rev. Baker, particularly during the war and the revolution that followed in Russia. Had he survived? Had he even got to Russia? Did he finish his book? Our
lives are such frail journeys it is a wonder that we get anywhere at all. This was all a long time ago. Europe is falling apart and we have that clown Mussolini posturPage 167
ing and preening himself; but I think and hope he will be with us for only a short while and then the grown-ups will take over. And I am getting old, my temptation is to keep my head down and weather what comes.
Whilst Paulo talks to his old friends I sit in cafes, drink coffee and smoke cigarettes, and think
about the past and how I got to where I am now. And yes I would like to meet Baker once more, to discover what else he has learned and seen; to sit him down and tell him that now he can rest from his travelling. But somebody like that can never be at peace; he will always want more, and even in paradise he will still be searching for something and somewhere just out of reach.
Self-Begotten by Cimberli Banton
Trostel 3 by William Trostel
The Final Testament by Cameron Mitchell What you have to understand is that not all villains are evil. I'm not. Not really. I meanâ€Ś evil brings to mind something profoundly horrible, and I don't think I'm profoundly horrible. What have I done in my life but sit in a gilded home with precious trinkets, silk clothes, decadent food, and more free time than I knew what to do with? That's not evil. Is it? Right, introductions are in order. Call me Nicola. It used to be Marquis Nicola, but things have changed. Lots of things have changed. The King is dead, for one, and so are a lot of other people. France has catapulted itself into chaos and Iâ€ŚI am in jail. My ending up here was inevitable. I was a Marquis in a France that did not want Marquises, or any other ruling class for that matter. Men like me were being sent to the guillotine day in and day out. It's a wonder there are still more of us to kill. I have watched brothers, friends, and cousins be sent to Lady Guillotine to receive their final kiss. I have watched their blood stain the gray stones of Paris' squares. I have watched the peasants smile as their eyes
followed the lifeless head of one of their betters fall into a wicker basket. And all this time I knew, one day, it would be me up there. My blood staining the square. My head that the peasants smiled at. And here I am. I was granted one last gift before being sent to my death. They said I could ask for anything except my life and my freedom. I could ask to see my wife. I could ask to see my children.
I could ask for food. I asked for ink, and I asked for paper. And they have given it. I did not believe they would give it to me, but they did. I asked for these things to make one thing clear: I am not evil. None of my kind are evil. The ruling class of France has done nothing wrong. Maybe some of us made mistakes; everyone makes mistakes. This does not mean that they should be slaughtered in droves. That is
evil! The bourgeoisie and peasants are evil! How could I be evil? I grew up in the south of France on an estate whose grounds covered more than a Paris city block with loving parents who treated me kindly. I didn't have a want in the world, not for food, for toys, for cloths, for education. I had all I wanted and more. Yet somehow I am a villain. All Marquis are villains, they said, all King, Counts, and Princes too. So label me villain, go ahead, but I am not evil. I have not an evil bone in my body. I don't know why I felt the need to write this. It won't change my fate, it won't change my memory. It won't change anything. The history books will not remember me. I'll be one of the thousands of headless bodies that are counted up in an attempt to quantify this revolution. So I'll set down my pen now, and die like a good man.
The Silence of Astonishment by Bill Wolak
Safe as a Button by Bill Wolak
Illegal Positions by Bill Schillaci
It was less the shout of a single wor d – “Stop!” – than a rude rending of the reassuring drone of shuffling shoppers and industrial air conditioning and the occasional rumble of a passing de-
livery truck slipping through the store’s automatic doors. At once Arief knew the voice belonged to Linda. He knew this even though he did not recognize it, its timber or pitch, not exactly. How could he? Not only had he never heard Linda raise her voice, he had never heard her speak at all above a whisper. This, he had feared, would be problematic when she was on cashier duty. It was standard check-out, cashier facing customer
across the counter with the items and cost on the register seen by the cashier only, a privacy feature essential in a pharmacy to keep curious eyes off the purchases of the buyers. The cashier had to annunciate the total clearly to avoid misunderstandings and bruised feelings and Arief being summoned to the front end to impersonate King Solomon. The night before Linda’s first day at check out, Arief lay awake fighting to keep the disaster scenarios out of his head and failing. As soon as she took her station, he fled to his cramped office in the rear of the store, shut the door, and turned the face of the security monitor to the opposite wall. He tried to occupy himself with inventory data, all the time thinking himself a coward for not planting himself at Linda’s side to coach her through the process and make some sort of managerial decision if needed, mainly urging her to speak up. But Arief had come to believe that Linda would perceive such a request as a violation of her personhood, no less
insulting than asking her to shave off her eyebrows. An hour passed and then another with the dreaded call from the front end never arriving. Just before lunchtime, Arief slipped quietly back into the store and crept up an aisle past the personal deodorants to watch, unseen, as Linda scanned merchandise. Her unvarnished lips formed around the numbers and the customers paid up. Her voice never rose any more than it ever had. Observing, Arief decided it was not so much the volume of her voice as her presence that heightened and riveted the faculties of customers. It was because, as Arief knew and as he had known the moment he first shook her broad, hard hand and she said “Sir” like she was biting off a bottle cap that Linda was scary. That’s how Arief knew it was Linda who had shouted. He knew because what he heard caused the blood to rush to his face and his hands to become cold. It was because he was waiting for this, or something like it, from Linda, whom of all his staff had the singular capacity to cause him to instinctively forget that he was in charge and not a scared nine year old engaging in a peculiar walk, trot, run to get back home past the Albanian kids on Sunday mornings carrying a shopping bag with the lapis lagit his aunt had made. This was stupid, he regularly told himself, but now, as he hurried by the cold and allergy remedies toward the source of the voice, he
thought otherwise because there, striding implacably toward at him from the other end of the aisle was Linda with one iron fist enclosed around a braid of a young woman whose features were squeezed into a mask of tomato red terror. Linda held the captured rope of hair aloft like a trophy, forcing the woman’s head into an unnatural cant. “Shoplifting,” Linda whispered, stopping in front of Arief. With her free hand she held up a
package of four three volt lithium batteries in front of the girl’s face. Arief looked straight through the batteries to the woman, whom he recognized at once as Connie LaForgia, the Page 176
daughter of his dentist, Chet LaForgia.
Linda was str aight and star k. From a reasonably off-center part she combed her sandcolored hair neatly left and right with the wider side kept out of her eyes with a single black pin. She was unadorned by jewelry or nail polish or makeup even after she became entitled as
an employee to a forty percent discount on beauty products. There was an earthy, fragrancefree scent to her, kept under control with plain soap and water. She could have passed as a woman who was either about to join or about to leave a religious order. In fact, Linda’s most recent place of residence and employment was the state’s medium-security prison for women, a mere two miles from town center up I-684. She landed in Arief’s lap following an agreement
Poulan Pharmacy Corp. struck with the state DOC to usher parolees back into free society with decent jobs. Linda had filled out the standard application for employment. She had a BS in horticulture from UConn and had gone straight from graduation to one of the largest organic farms in Connecticut where she worked as a “specialist, sustainable food crop production.” The only other entry under employment history was “gardener, November 2013 – February 2016, Taconic Correctional Facility.” She sat predator still, pale blue eyes regarding him flatly across his desk. The old security monitor grumbled, a sound that when he was alone alternately kept Arief nervously alert or lulled him into a dreamless sleep, chin on chest, drooling on his tie. He glanced at the application. For the first time in his twelve years of management he saw a “Yes” in answer to the
question, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” The inch-high box available for an optional explanation was blank. He wondered out loud how her impressive background in agriculture qualified her to serve as a customer service associate in a chain pharmacy. “It doesn’t,” she said. “Excuse me.”
“It doesn’t.” “Is there another reason I should hire you?” “I had a perfect attendance record in my last job.” “Oh?”
“Never missed a day.” The interview was a formality. The letter from corporate had informed Arief that his store was one of several selected to pilot the reentry program. Following two and a half pages describing the required behavior of the parolee and Arief’s reporting responsibilities, a single sentence tacked on at the end right above the signature of the CEO stated that as a store manager Arief reserved the right to not participate in the program, although he would need to provide a detailed explanation as to why the candidate was not acceptable. Arief chuckled when he read this. Back at Fordham Business School a communications professor referred to such statements as “offers you must refuse.” Any demurral about participating in a program promoted by a company cleanup hitter would be silently viewed as internecine disrespect for the corporate brand and would sooner or later locate Arief securely on the fast track to career mediocrity. Page 178
He opened the new-hire folder on his desk. The “Your Future with Poulan” pamphlet had a cover photo of a model with a deranged smile advising a couple about vitamin supplements. The brochure contained a list of key expectations that he was supposed to read out loud to the new hire to ensure there would be no confusion later on – good hygiene, punctuality, the standard outfit of black pants and buttoned white shirt – all comprising one and two syllable words that could have been crafted by a moderately above average eight year old. And then, “Poulan Pharmacies are customer-friendly environments. All staff should greet customers with the time of day –‘Good Morning,’ ‘Good Afternoon,’ ‘Good Evening’ – and smile as they do so.” It was the guideline Arief secretly enjoyed reading since when being told of their duty to smile, hirees reacted in any number of fun ways. Some blinked and then smiled in the completely artificial manner that probably was exactly what the writer of the guidelines had in mind – just turn up the corners of your mouth, you don’t have to mean it. Others were real, laughing or blushing, which was also good enough. Of course, there were those whose faces were locked in nervous grins the second Arief met them and didn’t change that expression no matter what he said to them.
Linda didn’t smile. She didn’t smile when he read that part of the job description, nor when he again gripped those formidable farmer fingers in a congratulatory shake, nor, as far as he knew, not once in the month of otherwise impeccable service to the corporation that followed. Arief could not decide if this was an issue. Was Linda scaring away customers because she refused to react like a grinning imbecile when exhausted new mothers asked to be directed to the nurs-
ing pads? He reviewed the managerial guidelines but found no insight into what measures should be taken when the expected level of warmth was not attained. Page 179
Back in Jakarta this would not have come up in the first place. Not for his father, who manufactured batik for forty years in a small factory near the Tanah Abang market. All the workers were either Arief’s cousins or offspring of those who had once occupied the same jobs. They understood on a genetic level what was expected of them, from dyeing and blocking the fabrics to arriving early and leaving late without being asked to smiling from ear to ear whenever Arief’s father walked the production floor with clients. Arief still visited his father twice a year, stopping en route to check operations in the single offsite retail store in Bangkok, to assure himself that save for the installation of online sales, nothing about how the business operated had changed. Once, over tea, he laughed with his father that the old man wouldn’t know what to do with a problematic worker; it was like asking him what his next move would be if he woke up in bed one morning with an affectionate tiger. There was just no experience that would point to a good answer. Neither could Arief come up with a precedent to apply to Linda. Mentally, he played with options. “Linda, you’re doing excellent work, but there’s one thing…” or “Linda, do you remember the guideline about smiling?” He could also slip the brochure with the key instructions
highlighted in yellow through the louver on her locker door. Or he could mention that studies showed more customer satisfaction when retail staff looked happy. He had actually found such a study on the Internet by a statistics researcher at the University of Canberra. Linda was educated; she would appreciate the value of studies. He could print out the paper and squeeze that into her locker. “Linda, please read,” he could write above his initials. Or should he sign his
whole name? Arief rubbed his face in exasperation – what a waste of energy. The opening, if it had even been there, had passed. He would say nothing and do nothing. He would not rePage 180
quire any person who had just been derived of her freedom behind twenty-foot tall chainlinked fences topped by triple rows of concertina wire to smile for any reason. He wouldn’t do it even if Linda wasn’t scary.
“Linda, let go of her hair,” Ar ief said. Without intending to, he had copied Linda’s whis-
per. Linda’s fingers sprang open and the thick braid bounced off Connie’s shoulder. “I was going to pay for it,” Connie groaned into her palms. Linda’s face compressed slightly but sufficiently to express utter contempt. Arief first saw Connie during a visit to her father’s office. It had been summers ago. She was filing at a tall cabinet, her back to Arief as he checked in with the receptionist, shifting her weight from one hip to another in UMass basketball trunks, considering each folder with a sigh of tragic exhaustion. When she turned, he saw that her moon-shaped face was much like her father’s. Unlike him, the rest of her was lean. Running down the outside of one taut thigh from the hem of her trunks to her knee was a gently curving line of raw red gouges as if inflicted by the business end of a carpenter’s rip saw. “Chet will be right with you,” said the receptionist. “What?” said Arief. “Have a seat,” she said, pointing to the small anteroom. “Oh,” he said, forcing himself to turn and remembering to breathe.
“That must be your daughter,” he said to Chet in the chair. “She’s back from UMass and needs money,” said Chet. “So she takes the mail to the post office and straightens out the magazines in the waiting room. And for this I pay her.” “What happened to her leg?” “Fell off her bike. Something may be developing here. We need to keep an eye on it.” “Let’s fix it.” Surprised, Chet withdrew his explorer. “It may be nothing.” “You always tell me to be proactive.”
“I do say that.” Chet scraped at the tooth again and said okay. Arief scheduled himself for the very next opening and told the receptionist to call him if someone cancelled sooner. She did and he was back at her desk the next morning. “Where’s your summer helper,” he said with feigned indifference. “Out getting Starbucks,” said the receptionist. Back in the patient chair Arief waved off Chet when he reached for the lidocaine. “Just drill it,” he said. “I need to get to work.” Chet shrugged, jammed some cotton rolls against Arief’s inner cheek, and began to bore into what was probably a perfectly sound tooth. When the bit reached his nerve, Arief squeezed his eyes shut. There in the blackness, waiting from him was the exquisite arc of wounds on Connie’s tanned thigh, a string of stars in which the Greeks no doubt would have discovered a godPage 182
dess. As the burn intensified, each wound grew brighter, wider, and deeper, the pain gushing from each opening, reaching and filling every part of him. Somewhere in a corner of this were Connie’s coal-black eyes, smiling with cruel pleasure.
“Come with me,” Ar ief said, lightly touching Connie’s elbow to direct her to the back of
the store. In the short walk to his office, with Linda left behind, Connie’s terror transformed into fury. “Here,” she spat, slamming a ten dollar bill on Arief’s desk. “Sit down,” he said. “I’m not sitting down. I’m taking my fucking batteries and leaving, and if that skinny bitch comes near me I’ll punch her in her disgusting cunt.” Arief swept up the handset of his phone and waved it in front of Connie’s face. “Sit down or I’m calling the police.” Connie dropped indignantly into the chair. “Am I being held against my will? “Not at all. Leave if you want.” “And you’ll call the cops,” she said squinting. “Smart girl.” She wore a long military looking coat that she folded protectively over her lap. The top of the coat was unbuttoned, revealing a scoop-neck tank with floral embroidery. Bare prominent Page 183
clavicles adjacent to a deep indentation above her breastbone shone, either from nervous perspiration or skin mist. A tiny stud, iridescent blue, gleamed just above the flare of a nostril. An oversized UGG slipper swung arrogantly from the big toe of her naked foot. She seemed a combination of adolescent trappings and hard adult angles. There was actually a corporate procedure for juvenile theft. Unless it was drugs or anything over twenty five dollars in value, call the parents. Arief had captured teens stealing before, mostly girls from good homes engaged he had learned in a small town right-of-passage. In each case, the prosperous, deeply embarrassed parents appeared and silently listened to Arief’s description of events and his decision to keep the matter private. Apologies and profound thanks followed. But Connie was not a teen, not anymore, even though she appeared to be impersonating one. He sat back and rotated the security monitor. “See this?” he said. “What? Your porn?” The screen was filled with overhead image of the front-end check-out counter angled to show the face of a man buying what seemed to be a large box of band-aids. The screen switched on its own to a view of one of the store’s aisles and to another and then to multiple perspectives of the pharmaceutical section and a white-coated figure bent over his concoction. “So, batteries,” said Arief. “Aisle four.” He clicked a couple of tabs at the bottom of the screen until it settled on one aisle with a cus-
tomer perusing the shelves. He typed in a time on the clock and the screen blinked and sped backwards. He rewound to where Connie’s unmistakable braids made their backward enPage 184
trance. “There you are.” More rewinding located the point of her on-screen exit. Arief stopped the image and zoomed in. “Glorious technology,” he said. “Okay, action.” On the screen, Connie, now moving forward in time, scanned the shelves briefly before her hand plucked the small package off the shelf and stuck it in her coat pocket. “Most shoplifters are faster than that” said Arief. “Doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to pay for it,” said Connie, looking sideways at the monitor.
Arief hummed, still watching the grainy black and white footage. After checking the aisle left and right, on-screen Connie turned her back to the camera and took two strides before her arm shot out and grabbed another item that disappeared in front of her body. “Now that was fast,” commented Arief. Despite the speed of Connie’s movement and the low quality of the image, he knew at once what she had seized. The section was stocked with iPhone ArtCases, which were wildly popular with the town girls. Connie exited the screen, and Arief turned off the monitor. “This changes things, doesn’t it?” Connie’s slouch was so pronounced she was essentially supine save for her bent knees and her head angled against the back of the chair “I never left the store, I’m paying for the batteries. What more do you want?” Page 185
“How about the other item you stole?” “Why are you so dense? I didn’t steal anything. I never left your fucking store. If the merchandise is still in the store, it can’t be stolen.” Arief nodded. He opened a drawer, flipped through some hanging folders and withdrew a single page.
“I got this off the Internet,” he said. “Legal definition of shoplifting. There’s a paragraph on concealment you might want to note.” He drew a circle on the page which he pushed to Connie’s side of the desk. She didn’t budge. “Have it your way,” he said, taking back the sheet. “Concealment,” read Arief. “In most states, the definition of shoplifting includes the intent to remove merchandise from the store. Intent can be established by concealing merchandise. Concealment can occur inside or outside the store.” “Yeah, and what about your goon trying to rip off a customer’s scalp?” she said. But she brought down the outrage a notch, a flicker of uncertainty pulled at the corner of her mouth.
“Good point,” he said, reaching for the phone. “Let’s let the police sort it out.” “I’ll accept an apology, and we’ll call it even.” “An apology?” “From your goon,” she said, shooting her thumb at the door. Arief grinned. “You are quite the piece of work, young lady.” He ran his forefinger down his list of emergency numbers and began to dial. Page 186
“Wait, you know my father,” she said. With a speed that caused Arief to flinch, she hoisted herself in the chair and reached across the desk for the phone in Arief’s hand. She didn’t grab it or try to knock it away, she simply placed her hand on it and in doing so, one single finger touched Arief’s. The small contact between them immobilized him entirely with its heat, not just his physical movement, but whatever inner direction he was taking to resolve the time he was wasting with this punkish young woman. Arief felt his face go limp and Connie noticed. Her finger did not move; in fact to Arief it seemed to press tighter against his. And that’s where he wanted to stay, filling himself with the warmth that caused the barbarity and beauty to pass into him from a spot of contact no wider than a small shirt button.
The phone returned to its cradle, lowered there, Arief vaguely perceived through his distraction, under the slow, firm pressure of Connie’s hand. She sat back again, the same recumbent posture. But this time, she allowed her coat to fall open. Her tank top and black leggings wrapped around her athletic body without a wrinkle or bulge, except for one rectangular anomaly just below where he estimated her navel would be. “It’s a small town,” she said. “You don’t want enemies.” “Chet?” he said, dubious. But he had already risen and come around to Connie’s side of the desk. He half sat on the edge. Her expression was now one of detached curiosity. It was a look Arief had seen before, in some of the older girls, who were less afraid, although “older” was relative as was “less afraid.” He supposed it was fitting, this look. He knew there was something about him, something in his own face perhaps, that was different than lust, that sig-
naled nothing about what was going to happen next. It was something he wondered about himself because it seemed he never did know what would happen next; it just did. Mainly, to Arief what proceeded seemed to occur in a series of skip frames with the critical parts excised as with an editor’s knife or whatever the cinematic term was. And that maybe caused the anger because there was little anticipation of events to come, and afterward there was little memory of them either. It seemed to him a terrible loss given all the time and energy he expended, which only served to cause more anger. So it was not a complete surprise when Arief became aware as if just waking from one of his midday naps that he was being forced down face first over his desk. His right arm had been captured in a steely grip and was being bent painfully into the small of his back. His other arm got the same treatment and simultaneously his legs were being kicked apart behind him. He made a small effort to straighten himself and his head was driven down so that his nose got bent against his stapler. Once his wrists were locked together, the back of his collar was yanked. “Stand up,” Linda said in her familiar sotto voce. He did and was turned by the shoulders to face her. Except for a slight mussing of her hair, there was no difference in Linda’s appearance save for the silver shield attached to a lanyard hanging from her neck. She placed a hand flat against his chest and pushed. “Sit down,” she said. “So what is it, stand up or sit down?” “Shut up.” Page 188
Behind Linda, just on the other side of the partly opened office door, stood Connie. She was speaking into the cuff of her coat, which she held near her mouth, and was pressing a white cotton pad, which had a slightly pink coloration, against her forehead. Her tank top had been ripped partly at the neck, revealing the scalloped fringe of a bra that matched the color of her nose stud. Lower, hooked on the top of her leggings, was a silver shield that looked to be identical to the one Linda wore. The floor, he saw, was strewn with papers from his desk. Beyond Connie were several astonished faces, including that of his pharmacist, a lifelong townie who had invited him once to his tennis club. “Linda,” Arief whispered. “Please shut the door.” Linda swiveled, crossed the floor in several sideways steps so she could keep an eye on Arief
and kicked the door open wide. The larger view allowed Arief to see two uniformed policemen marching toward him from the front of the store. One of the officers said something to Connie, who laughed nervously. The other entered the office, swept right past Linda and put his face very close to Arief’s. There was the scent of aftershave that Arief recognized. “Blind Barber,” he said and smiled. The cop’s face compressed above a muscular neck and broad chest that pushed smooth the black fabric of the front of his cop jacket. “Do you think this is funny?” he said. “What? The entrapment part? I certainly do not.”
“Oh, that’s right. You people are so good at the law. Maybe I should pop your shoulder now before you weasel out of this.” Page 189
Although he didn’t know which part of himself the “you people” referred to, Arief did not find the comment about the law unflattering. Still, he was wondering if his legal position would somehow be improved if he said something that would provoke the cop to follow through on his threat. But Linda was inserting herself in front of the cop who was either truly struggling to contain his impulses or putting on a good show that he was. Arief was well aware that there was nothing that set off cops more than an assault on one of their own. Still he wanted to point out to the cop that he had no knowledge of Connie’s true identity. Didn’t that provide some cushion against the revenge factor? he wanted to ask. Consideration of his precarious position was progressing as Linda subtly steered her colleague out of arms’ length. Arief’s view of the doorway was restored so that, to his sorrow, he saw that Connie was no longer there.
He was booked at the town’s Lilliputian police station near the public libr ar y, but after many hours sitting in the station’s single holding cell he was removed to the back of a van and driven in the middle of the night to the state police headquarters in Hawthorne. There, in a
room stripped bare except for the emblematic metal chairs and tables, two men, one looking tired, the other angry, both bleary-eyed and wrinkled and clearly not long out of bed, sat across from Arief. “I would like you to know that I am a member in good standing of the Mt. Kisco Safety Patrol,” said Arief. The inside of his mouth was thick and dry, made more so by the feebleness of his statement. “May I have some water?”
The tired man looked at the angry man, who shrugged. A short time later, a paper cup the size of the cup that sat on the tiny sink near Chet LaForgia’s patient chair was placed before him. It was half filled with water. They watched as Arief took several sips. “Better?” said the tired man. “Yes, thank you.”
The tired man asked Arief if he was aware that he had assaulted and sexually assaulted a woman and an agent of the law. “That’s four felonies right there.” “What I am aware of, sir, is that I was entrapped by a conniving she-devil who offered sexual favors so that I would not have her arrested for thievery.” The tired man pretended to look impressed. “Well, let’s set that aside. Right now, we’d like you to look at these.” He opened a folder sloppily extruding its contents and withdrew a three-by-five photo, which he placed before Arief. Another photo was placed beside the first, and then a third. Three fac-
es observed Arief from the tabletop. “Recognize them?” Arief did, one at least, a slightly overweight girl who had colored her hair hot pink. That was different and easy to recall. He was not sure about the two other girls, who sported the standard rubescent hair and would be hard to distinguish in the crowds of bangs and tresses that swung freely in the neon miasma of Asoke Road. What he could not remember at all were the multiple dark bruises, an eye swollen shut and resembling a rotten plum, and a vivid two-inch Page 191
slash along one girl’s jawline. “There’s one in particular you should see,” said the tired man, flipping through the contents of the folder. “Ah, here it is.” He withdrew a fourth photo, which joined the others. It could have been an image lifted from any newspaper on earth, one result of a suicide bombing near a public bus in Tel Aviv or Islamabad or the collateral damage of a drone strike – a small figure on a cot, one arm in a wrist-to-shoulder cast resting on a blanket, hair spread outward in erratic shards on a pillow, wide stunned eyes enhanced with smeared makeup into roundness in a narrow face, lips barely parted below a translucent tube taped to her nose. “Eleven years old, we are told,” said the sad man. “Even so, something like this might have fallen through the cracks, just another casualty of the life. Or so we’ve heard. But it seems the head of the army just happened to be touring the hospital. Probably some public relations stunt because the television crews were there, but the wheels started turning and now the Royal Thai Police want you back. They say they’ve grown weary of your business trips.” “This proves nothing,” said Arief, nodding at the photos. “We agree. So we decided to run a test of our own. And you aced it.” “I think it’s time I received legal representation.” “Of course,” said the tired man. “As soon as the court opens. In the meantime, check this out.” He glanced at the angry-looking man who lifted the lid of a laptop and turned it roughly to-
ward Arief. The video, unlike the overhead images recorded by Arief’s own security program, was taken from chest height, captured, Arief estimated, from corner of his office where his single effort at decoration, a Balinese Barong mask, hung on the wall. The angry man turned up the volume as Arief and Connie sparred over the fine points of concealment. And then, to Arief’s sincere shock, papers flew off the desk, Connie’s chair tipped over, the door swung open, and Linda charged into the frame. The ensuing grappling was compelling theatre, but Arief willed himself to close his eyes. The image he raced toward and grasped was familiar of course, a few details lost over the years, but its power untamed. A very young woman on her summer break from school not even trying to look interested in her made-up summer job in her dad’s office. Triviality and innocence transformed by the crimson remnants of a fall from a bicycle into something both brutal and irresistible. The video ended and the angry detective pulled him by one arm out of the chair. But Arief held his image tightly. Though he had tried mightily, he had never been able to replicate its power, not in the real world. Now he wondered if it alone would be enough to sustain the shreds of his life that spilled out before him in trembling entrails. For someone like him-
self, he thought, perhaps it might. END
Surfing Alien by Kyle Hemmings
Trostel 4 by William Trostel
Trostel 5 by William Trostel
My Demons by Amanda Alexander He is my Master, My Sun and my Moon. He is my spellcaster, Through the tragedies of June. He is the ocean, And I am his storm, He earned my devotion, And I earned my horns.
Aurora by Amanda Alexander
Possession by Amanda Alexander At that moment I saw life leave her eyes. But, she was not dead... Someone released a demonâ€” â€”and it now danced inside her head.
Hit By A Smooth Criminal by Amanda Alexander
Lock and Key by David Mayerhoff Finding the right lock to match the right key Opens all doors in life For some this is magical For others this is natural Without this connection One is out of sync The effort is not met with success Much frustration ensues in the undertaking One must get a sense
Of what resonates with them Latch onto it And make it work From that everything flows You are humming to the proper vibration And able to build a foundation To open more doors This is no small task for most But for a select few For whom it seems to arise for Effortlessly There is great value in the effort Even before the right fit is found Because when everything clicks Page 199
This will not be taken for granted Just be aware That the process doesn't end there For those with the right fit Will also be challenged To find a stronger more useful
Lock and key So they can build upon the original foundation And resonate in sync to a higher frequency
Words by Jameson Burnett If it’s stories by your favorite author or the language of where you will go, words will be the greatest notion you will ever know. From paragraphs in school textbooks to articles online, the words you know will ring inside your head for all of time. The finest songs you’ll ever hear to treaties of defense, some words you’ll find amusing, while others read them as offense. When you speak in any form the one thing you must know is that the words you speak will follow you everywhere you go. No obstacle that can stop them dead, no place that you could go. These words will plague you forever more and that is certainly so. It won’t be any burden but that’s scenario, because the words you speak don’t leave your mouth but instead they add onto your soul. Choose your words with extreme care or darkness shall descend upon, because any mistake that you may say will never truly be gone. But don’t your dread and fear to speak after what you have heard. Just remember to keep your head up; and always watch your word. Page 200
Paralyzed in Molten Rock by Tara Naveaux The ground quakes from my heated heart. Undesirable, complex emotion erupts; A tangible gloom rolls over the edge of the volcano, As the inevitable approaches. Aggression bursts through the cracks, Covering all others with itâ€™s ashes. Ashes of the unforeseen, Suffocating any strength it encounters. Like a savage beast ready to defend, The lava hunts for trespassers Guarding, fighting to ward off the ideal. Heavy soot clouds our Utopia. Filling my lungs with doubt, Smoke grips my last breath. Pompeii never had a chance, How could I?
Girly by Kyle Hemmings
Destructive Bliss by Richard Hunt I must search no longer, For I have found her. My caramel colored goddess, My patron Saint of all Saints. I hear a short squeak and light pop, A sharp crack and light chime Her siren song baiting me. I shall soon know her embrace. Ice falling into a pristine, polished glass The melodic sound of her travels, An ethereal experience which transmits History and skill devoted to her. Licking my lips, I am loosing myself Within her aroma. Vanilla, Cinnamon, Honey Sheâ€™s intoxicating. Washing over my palette, Flooding my senses. She warms me, She comforts me. At what cost? Oh my sweet, Bourbon. At what cost?
Lost Archives #3 by Fabio Sassi
Interview with Bryce Coleman by Austin Shay Bryce Coleman was the winner of our recent contest to get more teenage aged children interested in poetry and other aspects of creative writing. His poem about being a mechanic had the most votes by the staff at The Paragon Journal, and we had a chance to sit down and interview him. Austin (AS): Why donâ€™t we start out by telling me why you wrote the poem? Bryce (BC): I had to write a poem for class, and I thought that it was pretty obvious the topic I would choose, but it had to at least follow a certain format. AS: Why did you pick engines? BC: Engines have so many different things that you can do with them. I can use an engine to power almost anything in my workshop, and it allows me to get dirty. AS: Okay. What are some examples about how you get dirty when you work on an engine? BC: It all starts when you have to clean the engine. They can get really dirty, and I love to clean all of the grease out. It is expensive to buy degreaser, and sometimes I will use two gallons on one engine. About one of those gallons are used to clean the engine and the other I spill on the floor. I am not the most organized person. But I do love reinventing older things. AS: Reinventing things is always a good thing, but why do you enjoy it so much? BC: I love the challenge of getting it started again. AS: You spoke earlier about degreaser costing money. Would you say that working on engines have taught you about the value of money? BC: My parents make me buy things for myself, so I really have to work for the things that I want. I also have to make sure that I am not wasting things, so yes.
AS: Getting back to the poem. Was this your first poem you have written? BC: No, I have written a few last year for school, but this was the one that I had the most freedom with and I really enjoyed that. AS: I can clearly see that you are more interested in the engine aspect of this poem. What are some mechanical things that you have done that you are proud of? BC: I took apart an old Gravely and put it together into a new masterpiece. But the work that I am most proud of is my dadâ€™s 1953 Ford Tractor. I took apart several sections of it and put it back together and got it to start. That saved us a lot of money and it was a nice learning experience. AS: Where do you learn all these new things? BC: YouTube. I look a lot of things up on YouTube but my dadâ€™s friend Doyle has taught me a lot of stuff.
AS: Okay, so one last question. What else do you besides working on engines? BC: I work on a local dairy farm. I love it. I get to get dirty, and use the skid loader. I rake the beds and shovel the manure into the pit. It is an amazing part of my weekend, and when I am not working in my shed I am at the farm.
Contributors Sharon Larsen is a semi-retired editorial page writer and editor fro a small daily newspaper in Western New York. She has a master’s degree in creative writing from State University of New York at Brockport, but didn't begin submitting any of her poetry until autumn of 2015. Her work has appeared in Mused Literary Review and Door is a Jar Magazine, and is scheduled to appear in October in Open Minds Quarterly. She lives on an acre of land that is carved out of her family’s farm near Corfu, New York. Philipe Abiyouness is from New Jersey. Anthony Pezzula of Colonie, NY is a writer of plays and short stories. His short stories have been published in such publications as Midnight Times, Aphelion, Fictionville, River Poets Journal, Pens on Fire, The MacGuffin, and Crimespree Magazine. His short story, Making Friends, was adapted into a short film and was screened in a number of film festivals around the country. His plays have been performed around New York State’s Capital Region, New York City, Connecticut, New Jersey, Chicago, San Diego, San Francisco and Tampa. In 2010 his one-act play, The Waver, was voted audience favorite at the Circle Theater Players Original One-Act Play Competition, and in 2016 his one act play, Family Meeting, was also voted audience favorite at the same festival that year. In 2011 he received a Meritorious Achievement in Playwriting award from the Theatre Association of New York State (TANYS) for his one-act play Home Again. He lives in upstate New York with his wife Valerie. Thomas Miscuraca studied writing at Emerson College in his hometown of Boston, before relocating to Los Angeles. He is the author of over 90 published short stories and two novels, including the vampire parody novel, Lifestyles of the Damned. Over 100 of his one-act plays have been produced or stage read in almost every major city in the United States as well as the UK, Canada and South Korea. He has won multiple audience favorite awards. Seven of his fulllength plays have been produced, including Geeks! The Musical, which went on to be produced Off-Off Broadway. In 2014, Tom won two writing awards: The Pickering and the Las Vegas Little Theatre New Works Award. For more information, visit www.tommiz.com.
Eileen Herbert-Goodall holds a Doctorate of Creative Arts and shares her knowledge by coaching other writers on how to improve their skills. She also offers editing services to online businesses and marketing strategists. She is also the co-director of Field of Words, the writing web-
site and associated competition, which aims to help emerging writers develop and publish their work. Carrie Zhang remains a mystery Heather Searfross is from Mechanicsburg, PA. She graduated from Penn State University with a Bachelor Degree of Humanities in May 2016. She enjoys the outdoors and plans to return to school for a second degree in history or criminal law. Desmond Scheerlinck is from Belgium. Chandler Garland has been previously published by his campus literary magazine but would like to spread his work throughout the world. George Freek is a writer living in the United States. He has taken a new twist on a classic Melville piece. Priya Thomas is a senior at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, CA. Victoria Johnson is working towards an MFA in Writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She has previously had her poetry published in Calliope Art and Literary Magazine. She is currently the assistant blog editor for Lumina Journal, and lives in Yonkers, NY with her girlfriend.
Jim Piatt is from California. B.D. Martin remains a mystery. Cameron Mitchell is from California. \David Mayerhoff is a West Orange NJ resident. He is a newly emerging writer while being a practicing physician and psychiatrist for the last 33 years after graduating from SUNY Downstate College of Medicine. His areas of specialty are in Graduate Medical Education, the chronic mentally ill, and academic research with a focus on the heterogeneity of schizophrenia disorders. His current work involves caring for the mentally ill within the developmentally disabled population. Ben Nardolilli currently lives in New York City. His work has appeared in Perigee Magazine, Red Fez, Danse Macabre, The 22 Magazine, Quail Bell Magazine, Elimae, fwriction, Inwood Indiana, Pear Noir, The Minetta Review, and Yes Poetry. He blogs at mirrorsponge.blogspot.com and is looking to publish a novel. Jason Allen is a Callaloo Poetry Fellow and worked under Gregory Pardlo as a participant in the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop of 2016 held in Barbados. My poetry has appeared in sx salon; “ Knowing Home for the First Time” was published in the magazine’s February 2015 issue.
Jameson Burnett remains a mystery! Hebatullah Issa is at Darmouth studying Middle Eastern and Islamic studies. Bill Schillaci is a freelance environmental writer and a cabinetmaker. He lives in Ridgewood NJ." Maria Arena resides on the Sunshine Coast, in Queensland, Australia, where she spends her days immersed in words. She has two published novels MIRA FALLING and SISTERHOOD, and her most recent short story, THE OBLITERATION ROOMS, was published in Tincture Journal. When she is not writing, Maria teaches creative writing for the University of the Sunshine Coast and The University of Southern Queensland, and co-runs an international writing competition at Field of Words. For more information about Maria, please visit www.mariaarena.com.au. Stephen John Walker remains a mystery/ Chelsea Gray is from Virginia. Safiyyah Motaib is from Chapel Hill, NC. Sarasota Green is a writer, poet, and traveler. She grew up fascinated by the way the ocean touches both the sky and the sand. She currently travels around the Americas studying the way humans love. Ashley Foy is originally from central New Jersey but has resided in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania for almost 5 years now with her fiancĂŠ Josh and White German Shepherd, Voltaire, whom she adores. Ashley is a Penn State graduate from the class of 2012, is an animal lover and avid Broadway enthusiast since she was a child. She enjoys traveling, reading, and the sciences. She hopes to return to school as well as publish again one day. Currently, Ashley is engaged working on a childrenâ€™s story book, and wants to thank the Paragon Journal for this wonderful opportunity and their support of her art. Eric Johnson lives in Northern Minnesota. He has a B.A. in English and Sociology from the University of Minnesota, Morris as well as a M.S. degree in Sociology from Purdue University. He has taught First-Year writing at various campuses. Samuel Cole is from Woodbury, MN. His poetry explains contemporary middle class American life in lucid tones of melancholy, grit, and surprising wonder. Andrew Lee-Hart remains a mystery!
Fabio Sassi makes photos and acrylics using tiny objects and what is considered to have no worth by the mainstream. He lives and works in Bologna, Italy. His work can be viewed at www.fabiosassi.foliohd.com
Bryce Coleman is a 8th grade student from Middletown, PA. This is a first publication but not his first poem. He currently works on a local dairy farm and wants to be a mechanic when he gets older. Yaki Margulies is an actor, screenwriter, improviser and stand-up, author of short stories and poetry, and an independent musician. He grew up in Seattle, WA, graduating with a BA in Drama from the University of Washington, and moved to Los Angeles, CA to further pursue the arts. Amanda Alexander is from Hanover, PA. She holds an Associates in Art, and has been previously published in The Muse (HCC Literary Magazine). She is an artist, it means she lives and breathes in creative media, ranging from jewelry design to drawing, even writing stories and poetry. Meghan Baum is a two-dimensional artist from Palmyra, PA. She graduated with her BFA from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania in August 2015. And she will be included in the Artist in Residency program at the Vermont Studio Center this Fall 2016. Cimberli Banton obtained a B.A. in English from the University of Tennessee and a P.G. Dip. from the University of Wales. She has had work published in the Phoenix Literary Arts Magazine and Lucid Moon. She currently lives in Phoenix, AZ where she captures the beauty of the landscapes in her paintings. If you are interested in her you can check out her artist on page on Facebook. Bill Wolak is a poet, photographer,and collage artist. His collages have been published in The Annual, Peculiar Mormyrid, Danse Macabre, Dirty Chai, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, Lost Coast Review, Yellow Chair Review, Otis Nebula, and Horror Sleaze Trash. He has just published his twelfth book of poetry entitled Love Opens the Hands with Nirala Press. Recently, he was a featured poet at The Mihai Eminescu International Poetry Festival in Craiova, Romania. Mr. Wolak teaches Creative Writing at William Paterson University in New Jersey. Will Trostel is from Lebanon, PA, and actually has no former training. He is self-taught. He has had work published in The Elephant Mag, The Daily Shutter, The Vision Concept, and various blogs as well as social media accounts. He is just here to capture things in an abstract way beyond what most people consider. Hopefully everyone enjoys his photos as much as he does. Tara Naveaux was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Florida. Recently receiving her Bachelors Degree in English Literature and Cultural Studies, Tara plans to work on her craft by blogging and freelance writing. She enjoys reading and writing horror and sci fi, going on hikes throughout Florida, and taking long road trips. Richard Hunt is an actor, singer and comedy writer but mainly a full time Mixologist and bar-
tender at the Vinoy Renaissance Resort in St. Petersburg, Florida. He has performed his cowritten musical comedy show Canteen at the Laurie Beechman Theater in NYC while also working as a bartender in many New York hotspots. This is his first publication. Jack Plants is from New York City and is an undergraduate student of Anthropology, Creative Writing, and Music Composition at The New School. He likes to write and play the classical piano. Viktoria Dahill has received a degree in Food Production and Supply Management at the Royal Agricultural University and lives in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom. She has previously published a paper titled “We Have a Love-Hate Relationship with Food and That Needs to Stop Now” in the Thought Catalog, and if you want to read more by Viktoria check her out at: https://onmogul.com/users/vikki-day Austin Shay is a currently studying English at Penn State. His previous publication history includes From the Fallout Shelter, Komorebi, Zaum, and The Burg. He is originally from a small town in Western Pennsylvania but relocated to Middletown, PA to attend school. Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Elimae, Smokelong Quarterly, This Zine Will Change Your Life, Blaze Vox, Matchbook, and elsewhere. His latest collection of poetry/prose is Future Wars from A nother New Calligraphy. He loves 50s Sci-Fi movies, manga comics, and pre-punk garage bands of the 60s. Irving Greenfield’s work has been published in Amarillo Bay, Runaway Parade, Writing Tomorrow, eFictionMag, Contrapositions and the Stone Hobo; and in Prime Mincer, The Note and Cooweescoowee (3X) and THE STONE CANOE, electronic edition. Hippocamus magazine In addition to the short stories I have had several novels publish. MacKENNA’S PIECE, a novel, has been published by Blueberry Press. My wife and I live in Manhattan. I have been a sailor, soldier and college professor, playwright and novelist.
The Paragon Journal | october 2016 | issue 005 |