PARAGON JOURNAL journal of creative arts
inside: Tennessee Williams Wins a Prize Dinner Cancer Roar Anyway
PARAGON JOURNAL journal of creative arts
The Paragon Journal: Journal of Creative Arts - October 2017 Cover Art by Chris Shearer Text set in Georgia Text set in Times New Roman Heading and Subheading Text in Georgia All authors/artists retain the rights to their work. All work that appears in this journal has been published with permission of the author/artist ISSN 2470-7775 (print) ISSN 2470 3834 (online) Want to be published? Submit your work to the eleventh issue of the Paragon Journal More information available at theparagonjournal.com
PARAGON JOURNAL editor in chief
copy editor graphic designer
kelleigh stevenson chris shearer
TABLE OF CONTENTS in order of appearance
Letter from the editor The Time Killer The Lion’s Den The Dinner Cancer The Dead Boy’s Shoes A Pledge to You Your Story The Man in My Kitchen You and I One Morning For Those Who Travel Without Maps So Gingerly We Take the Statues Down Amid Talk of Placing Solar Panels on the U.S.’ Very Own Berlin Wall The First Day of our Marriage In the Land of Oz The Shape of Things Confounds Breeding Violence mercy cotton candy marlboro My- - - The - - A Pair of Little Red Shoes cloud Middle School two(are)for(delicious)one(and)donuts(nutritious) Between Fault Lines Your Bell Influence Incineration of Money Roar Anyway Dramatic Monologue to a Hesitant Reader Tennessee Williams Wins A Prize
LETTER FROM the editor The Paragon Journal has recently started to publish every other month instead of quarterly because of the amazing content that we are receiving. We are so grateful that people have considered us a home for their work, and we are even more pleased with the amount of people that are reading our work. In our mission to be one of the great literary magazines on the internet we have sent work to be considered for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. We want to create a home for new writers and watch them grow into their own literary careers. This is our tenth issue and we couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t be more proud of the work that is included in this journal. Sit back and relax as you read some of our favorite pieces. Best,
Austin Shay Editor-in-Chief
Page 2 | The Paragon Journal
The Time Killer Ellery D. Margay
It was on the eve of my sixth birthday that the fear first touched me. I remember as if it were yesterday; ‘twas nearing the June solstice, and only late afternoon, but the family flat lay already in darkness, eclipsed as it was by the shadow of Goliath, the village clock tower. The lamps had been lit, and in their golden glow sat my proud, dark-haired mother, stitching, lengthening the legs of my best wool trousers; “so my little gentleman doesn’t look like a street urchin on his special day,” she said. At this particular hour I had taken to spinning, round and round like a top in the center of the parlor rug—as children are wont to do when left idle—and I was chattering merrily away as if the world were my audience. “I’m getting so big, Mutti,” I bragged. “Can you believe I’ll be six already? And next year I’ll be seven, and the year after I’ll be eight, and then nine…” My mother peered at me quizzically, likely wondering if I was about to name every year of the human lifespan, but I had fallen silent, for an ominous and peculiarly un-childlike thought had entered my mind: the birthdays would keep coming—faster and faster, as is the nature of years—and no matter what measures I took to slow or arrest them, time would eventually have its way with me. Year six had arrived in the blink of an eye; so would year seven, year eighteen, year forty-five, year seventy—my decrepitude was nigh! Then in my fertile young imagination, an image arose, one that would haunt me the rest of my days: all of humanity, crowded shoulder to shoulder, moving as one, marching, ever marching, unable to rest or break free from the ceaseless forward motion, like leaves born along in a stream… and ahead of them all, deep and jagged and blacker than night, stretching
Page 3 | The Paragon Journal
from horizon to horizon, lay an abyss. Those in front fell noiselessly to their doom as those not far behind looked on in terror, powerless to assist them. I stopped my spinning at once and dropped to the floor, feeling rather ill. It would be decades—a lifetime, really—before I myself neared that awful trench of nothingness, but then, at that moment, I felt the pull of time... felt its infinite, boundless strength, and I knew I was one of the marchers—and that someday my march would end. I glanced then at my mother; although her face was yet unmarked by age, she was older than I, and, realizing that I would someday lose her to the abyss, I burst into inconsolable tears, and would not, for all her coaxing, explain what had prompted them. Fortunately, my father returned early from work that evening, carrying with him the ingredients for my birthday cake, and the bleak thoughts were dispersed as quickly as they’d formed. I was a child after all, still in my heart of hearts endowed with the childish belief that I, unlike every other member of my species, was immortal. Nevertheless the seed had been sown, and twelve months later, as the sun set on my sixth year I thought of the abyss once more, and I wept at the knowledge that it was one year closer —wept before the laughing green eyes of Anja Klein, the prettiest girl in my grade, and for this indignity I loathed Time all the more. The following birthday, my eighth, was precisely the same, only excepting the presence of the beautiful Anja, who had since banished me in favor of cheerier playmates. When my friends had gone, my mother, with her quiet wisdom, suggested that in future I might like to forget my birthday entirely. “Since it brings you such unhappiness,” she said, “we shall pretend it isn’t happening, and I’ll make you a chocolate cake at Christmas instead.” I gratefully agreed and we never spoke of it again.
Page 4 | The Paragon Journal
But wily old Time continued to stalk me. After all, it was Time, and not mankind, that truly ran the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;Time the omnipotent master, and we his cowering subjects; marking dates, winding watches, celebrating the same holidays year after yearâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;homage, all, paid to the greatest tyrant the world had ever seen. As a matter of principal, I have never consented to carry a timepiece of any kind, and thus it has always struck me as one of fateâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s cruel ironies that I should have been born into a village of clock makers. Small and exceedingly cramped, with streets no wider than alleys, it sat perched between the peaks of two mountains amid stands of ancient pine, and its air of stagnant isolation inspired in me daily fantasies of escape; someday, I resolved, I would flee its confines and travel the world. By the accounts of gypsies, sailors, and other perennial wanderers, the pull of time grows weaker if only one stays in motion. I spent long hours daydreaming of such a life, of trekking a lazy meandering path across the continent or hopping a steamer to America. But money was scarce, and I knew it would be many a year before I would have the funds for such a venture. When I came of age to seek employment, I did so with single-minded fervor. In provincial villages, however, where vocations are inherited rather than gained through individual merit, such an undertaking can prove problematic, and, indeed, my list of potential employers was pitiably short. I first approached the butcher, but grew weak at the sight of blood and was promptly dismissed. Then I enquired at the brewery, but was sent away amidst laughing assertions that my scrawny frame could never bear the weight of a barrel. My father suggested that I, with my sharp wit, might prove a fine asset in the construction of the new road through the mountains, and, against the wishes of my mother, brought me with him to the yard on Dorfstrasse, and taught me about hand tools and explosives and Page 5 | The Paragon Journal
various other deadly contraptions. To my mortification, I could scarcely lift a pickax, much less swing it, and I returned home prickled by shame of a poignancy known only in youth. “I hear that Herr Braun is in need of an apprentice,” said my mother. “He lost his own son several years ago and I’m certain he would be pleased to have you.” “No,” I groaned. “Never.” Old Herr Braun was a clockmaker, proprietor of the village’s oldest and grandest clock shop; I would sooner have worked for the undertaker! But the undertaker did not want me; and neither did the baker, the chemist, nor the cobbler. By the end of the summer, I had been rejected by every business in town, so at last, like a man on his way to the gallows, I shuffled dejectedly through the door of Herr Braun’s establishment. The old gentleman’s round bespectacled face lit up at my hesitant enquiries, and since I have always been cursed with singularly wretched luck, he hired me straightaway. I would be trained in the art of timekeeping, and, following the conclusion of said training, a modest wage would be afforded me. “We will begin at sunup if you are able,” he said. “What providence that you live so close.” Sleep escaped me that night. I tossed and turned in a cold sweat, my thoughts a chorus of critics. Weakened by desperation, I had made a foolish decision. While a regular income was vital to the success of my future plans, I feared that spending my days surrounded by clocks was liable to unhinge my already delicate mind. Herr Braun had lined his walls, floor to ceiling, with the fiendish things. Their ticking reverberated throughout the room, and every hour they emitted in unison all manner of bizarre and unnerving sounds. Every way I turned would be my enemy Time, obsessing me, taunting me—there would be no escape! So it was with the greatest trepidation—and against my better judgment—that I returned to Herr Braun’s shop at dawn, shivering and feeling very sorry for myself. The old clock maker proved to be a lively and patient tutor, flitting enthusiastically about the crowded room, Page 6 | The Paragon Journal
explaining each clock and demonstrating its function. There truly was a vast array of them: grandfathers, music clocks, wall clocks, cuckoos, many of them intricately carved. Herr Braun did not merely build them, he repaired them as well, and, in the following weeks, he taught me much about their anatomy and maintenance; and while I still loathed the clocks and would never be truly at ease in their presence, I was unable to deny that they were possessed of a certain beauty in form and complexity. Before six months had elapsed, it occurred to me that I had settled into that which I’d always dreaded: a routine. Each morning at sunup, I walked the same route to work—past the church and the great clock tower, Goliath; the bakery, which always exuded the aroma of fresh bread; and the bookshop, where I could now afford to purchase books but lacked the time to read them. The labor itself was so repetitive in nature that the days and weeks blurred together, causing in my memory an odd foreshortening of events; it was as if I had become trapped in one continuous day, with nothing before it and little hope for anything after, and I was struck by the distinct sense that, although I had technically lived all that time, I had still somehow lost it. I must quit, I decided. I liked and admired my employer but I was not prepared to waste another hour of my youth on such monotonous and ultimately hypocritical endeavors. Yes, I would quit the very next day, pack my rucksack, and begin my journey. I’d be in France within the week! My mother and I were just finishing that evening’s supper when a quiet knock sounded at the door. When I rose to answer it, there stood Stefan, my father’s friend and colleague, holding his hat and looking very glum. There had been an accident, he said. The tunnel they’d been blasting had partially collapsed, burying my father in rubble. He was dead. Page 7 | The Paragon Journal
“It was the timing,” said Stefan, “the damned wretched timing. If only he’d turned and run but a few seconds earlier…” My mother went pale as a ghost, but never lost her much-prized sense of composure. She listened and nodded, then replied that she’d always known such perilous work would be the death of him. When Stefan had taken his leave, she rose from the table, took a bottle of brandy from the cupboard, and disappeared into her bedchamber. For my own part, I was stunned—frozen in place like a frightened animal, as if declining to react to the unwelcome news would somehow render it untrue. As I lay in my bed that night, the grief finally came, and with it the sickening realization that my father’s death had suddenly bestowed upon me a role for which I was ill-prepared: that of provider. It was now my monthly wage—sufficient for one person, meager for two— that must keep the wolf from the door. Should I shirk this duty and flee to France, my mother would starve—a travesty my conscience would never allow. Time had taken my father, and, in so doing, it had bound me firmly and indefinitely to this town of my birth. I would never be free to wander as I wished, not until my mother’s passing finally released me, at which point I was sure to be too advanced in years for such a strenuous venture. The prospect of this decidedly grim future filled me with terror, and I wished I were possessed of a crueler heart. Few attended my father’s memorial and I wondered at the utter lack of consequence with which he’d exited this world. He’d been a good man, generous and even-tempered, but no one seemed terribly aggrieved by his passing—no one, that is, except my mother, who drew her curtains and spent alarmingly long hours gazing at the wall, her eyes distant and glassy. I brought food to her room—nut bread, fine cheeses, and candied fruits; all her favorite things— but she refused them and asked instead for brandy, which she had taken to like a fish to water.
Page 8 | The Paragon Journal
Herr Braun, sympathetic to my predicament, granted me a leave of absence to care for her, and I passed much of each day reading her stories, tending to household chores, and scouring the market for treats that might tempt her appetite. When at length the pall of grief began to lift and I returned to work, it proved an unexpected relief. Routine soon reclaimed me; I walked to the shop; I mended clocks; I assisted the customers; I trudged home and supped with my mother in weary silence. She eventually regained the ability to run her little household as she always had, but she no longer smiled or laughed. I knew that a part of her—the part attuned to levity and joy—had died with my father and that her days, like mine, were now drudgery. We had lost sight of our reasons for living, yet we toiled on, slaves beneath the yoke of circumstance, and as the years passed, I became inured to the changes they brought and the rapidity with which they came and went. Herr Braun’s clocks ticked and boomed and chimed, counting down the minutes of my precious, irreplaceable life—and I felt nothing, only a vague and baseless panic that no amount of liquor could quell. Shortly after my 25th birthday, my employer informed me that, having no living sons, he intended to make me his heir. It was clear that he’d been lonely before I’d arrived and was grateful to have another soul with whom to share his tales and advice. “Why haven’t you found a girl to marry?” he asked abruptly. “At your age, I already had a beautiful wife and a child on the way.” “I’m not the marrying sort.” “Is it because of your mother?” he persisted. “You’ll have to leave her side someday. Don’t you want to build a life of your own?” “I can’t abandon her—leave her all alone… She’s not strong anymore.”
Page 9 | The Paragon Journal
At this he let the matter drop, but his question had set me pondering for I suspected that the excuse I had given was only a partial truth. Why did I shy away from the prospect of marriage? It was not as if I were repulsive, simple-minded, or otherwise fundamentally flawed in some way that would prevent me from attracting a wife. I had, in fact, come very close to wedding my first sweetheart when we were both eighteen and I was hopelessly infatuated. What had prevented me? She’d been a handsome girl with an infectiously broad grin and a disposition so sunny and sympathetic that I had grown to trust her. One New Year’s Eve, while at the mercy of my obsession, I had made a grave lapse in judgment and described to her my vision of the abyss. She had taken my hand, and, in a voice laden with spiritual zeal, proclaimed that I was safe from that imagined fate by virtue of the fact that only sinners and evil-doers are cast below; since I was a good man of a God-fearing nature, a more skyward destination must certainly await me. “I’m unsure about God,” I had admitted. “And as for the abyss, it does not contain fire and demons and damnation everlasting; it is a void, an eternal black nothingness, a smotherer of light and thought and memory, from which nothing ever arises.” “How do you know?” she had asked. “Since you’ve never seen the bottom, how do you know what’s there?” “I don’t know with perfect certainty, and neither does anyone else, but since what I’ve described is a possibility—and in my view, the most likely one—I'm entitled to my dread of gaining firsthand knowledge on the matter.” To my relief, she had then introduced the comfortingly trivial question of which frock to wear to the theatre that evening, and I had never again spoken of the abyss or any subject of near-equal dreariness. Nevertheless, we had soon drifted apart, having been made from Page 10 | The Paragon Journal
different stuff, and I could not truthfully say I’d been sorry. Indeed, it was as if a weight had been lifted, for you see, had she remained by my side, I would have been forced to endure the inevitable torment of watching her age; time would tear at her fine face and figure, slackening her skin, and bending her straight spine double. And this, yes, this is why I shall not marry, for a spouse is a human clock. Banish every timepiece from your sight, but beside you will remain your aging wife, each white hair on her bowed head a stark reminder that your own time is running short. Upon arriving home that night, I discovered my mother curled on her bed, seemingly in the midst of a violent stomach cramp. “It will pass,” she moaned. “The ham I ate for lunch perhaps was spoiled.” I ignored her protestations and left immediately in search of the doctor, Jurgen Bayer. He made a cursory examination then instructed me to watch her closely and to fetch him lest she worsen. The following evening her innards seemed still to be in a state of violent rebellion, so I called on him once more. A tense silence descended as, seated upon the bed beside her, he made his evaluation. He asked her a few short questions, took her pulse, felt her glands, and looked inside her mouth. When he had repacked his gadgets in their glossy leather case, he stood and made his way toward the door, gesturing for me to follow. “Your mother is very ill,” he said. “It is possible that she is not long for this world; only time will tell.” “What can I do?” I asked. “Give her water and broth, as much as she can drink, and try to be strong for her.” With that he took his leave and I was left reeling, a queer emptiness in my chest.
Page 11 | The Paragon Journal
My mother was dozing when I returned to her room. She appeared somehow smaller, as if she had shrunk. Her cheeks were pale as candle wax and her heavy dark hair lay in damp, tangled ropes. Only time will tell, and if that were the case, she was certainly doomed; time would claim her as it had claimed my father, and I would be powerless to prevent it. “I’ll be all alone,” I whispered, and realized only then that I was trembling with fear. I adhered to the doctor’s instructions as if my very life depended upon them, but my mother did not improve and instead grew weaker and increasingly despondent. She refused all food but broth and warm milk, being, as she claimed, too ill to swallow without retching. Aware that her link to our earthly realm was growing tenuous, she summoned the pastor to read from the scriptures, but seemed, on the whole, quite apathetic to her worsening condition. “Perhaps,” she said, “I’ll be reunited with your dear father in the afterlife.” I thought I would go mad as I watched her surrender. I avoided my vocation in a most cowardly manner, having lost the gumption to face the clocks or endure Herr Braun’s pitying glances. My left eye developed a twitch, my heart skipped and fluttered, and my belly cramped and seethed at the slightest provocation. I neither ate nor slept, and only left the flat to purchase such necessities as brandy and reading material. To my consternation, the only shops that provided these items lay in that block of street bordering the town square—perilously close to the clock shop, and this fact gave rise to much creeping and darting, behavior of which I am not proud. Hastily, I would skirt the square’s perimeter, and upon reaching my destination, I would duck inside then peer out again to be sure I had not been observed. By human eyes I never was, but always, high in his tower, loomed the implacable marble face of old Goliath. I despised that monument, that grand tribute to Time whose stony permanence made a mockery of my present predicament. I had Page 12 | The Paragon Journal
been born in his shadow, raised in his shadow, and soon in his shadow, alas, I would die, for I was certain that my days, like my mother’s, were now numbered. Precisely when this morbid notion first entered my consciousness I could not say, but once there it took root and spread, like some monstrous perennial vine, choking all hope and poisoning my every waking thought. In daylight, it lurked in the background casting shadows; in the stillness of night, it descended upon me, unrelenting and terrifying in its potency. The abyss was drawing close! I could already feel the upward rush of frigid air that would accompany my plunge toward oblivion. Each night, when I’d drunk my fill of brandy, I lay in my bed, my heart pounding against my ribs as if trying to escape, and sleep did not come. I tossed and I turned, opened the window, shut it again, thought of soothing things, but still the fear was heavy upon me and I lay awake in the darkness, waiting. Soon the cloaked figure of Death would come to collect his due—and he would come with the cold, mechanical face of a clock. It was on the third night of this madness that I became aware of the ticking. It was faint at first, and intermittent, and I wondered from whence it came for our own unobtrusive little wall clock hung in a kitchen cupboard by the stove, and was thus too muffled to be audible from my bedroom. It did not belong to a neighbor; ours was the only occupied flat on this side of the building. Therefore, I reasoned, the sound must be emanating from the clock in the kitchen; perhaps someone had left the cupboard open. But upon investigation, this theory was shortly disproved: not only was the cupboard shut fast, but the tick of the mystery clock grew fainter the farther I moved from my own room. “I shall never sleep now,” I groaned. And I did not. The following night it was louder, steadier, and sounded for all the world as if it were coming from very near my bed. Someone is playing a trick on me, I thought. Yes, it’s a trick Page 13 | The Paragon Journal
and a dreadfully cruel one. Someone—that swindler of a doctor perhaps, or Herr Braun in retribution for my absence—has learned of my weakness, my hatred for clocks, so they have planted one—yes, they have hidden a loathsome, loud, ticking clock right here in my own home! Well, they would live to regret such folly; I would find the thing, and a way to punish whatever fiend put it there. I began with the chest of drawers beside the bed, and, upon finding nothing suspicious in its contents, moved on to the wardrobe where I checked inside each shoe and the pockets of every coat. I hauled the antique music box off the top shelf and inspected its inner workings; it played a jaunty circus tune when opened but was quite silent when shut. I pulled my bed to the center of the room, uncovering a layer of dust and filth that would make my mother weep, but of course no clock—nothing resembling a timepiece of any kind. Wearied by my search, I crawled into bed and fell fast asleep—and remained that way for precisely one hour. In this brief period, the ticking had intensified. I shut my eyes tightly and buried my head beneath my pillow, but I did not sleep for my heart pounded and the clock ticked, and the former eventually melded with the latter, matching beat for tick in terrible rhythmic synchronicity. Finally, when I’d reached the pinnacle of absolute discomfort, I leapt from my bed, and, like a man possessed, tore the room asunder. I would find the phantom clock if it were the last thing I did! I emptied the wardrobe. I overturned the book case and pulled up the rug. I fetched a carving knife from the kitchen and cut into the mattress, almost certain I’d find the offending timepiece nestled in the ticking, but uncovered only mouse leavings. Still undaunted, I brought a hammer from the tool cupboard and set to prying the nails from the wall. Whatever the identity of the prankster, they were cunning indeed and had evidently gone to great Page 14 | The Paragon Journal
lengths—but I would prevail! Dismantling a wall, however, is no easy feat, and I must have made some racket for I awakened my poor mother. “What in the world are you up to?” Although weak and distant, her voice brought me sharply to my senses. I answered that I was rearranging some furniture, then I extinguished the light, and, feeling not a little foolish, returned to my ruined bed. Of course the clock was not in the wall; by the look of them, the nails had not been removed for decades. But from whence did the sound originate if not from this very room? All at once, I seized upon an answer: Goliath. But of course! The largest clock in the village must certainly emit a powerful tick. Given my flat’s close proximity to that grand old edifice, it was a wonder I had never noticed it before, but eager as I was to accept this new explanation, I immediately dismissed the anomaly. The following afternoon, my mother mentioned a little wistfully that she missed the sunlight, for, even at midday with the windows open, the flat was a gloomy place to linger. “Put on your coat and I’ll help you outside,” I offered. “We’ll sit in the square, perhaps bring some seed for the pigeons...” “No,” she decided. “I mustn’t be seen like this. But, oh, how I did love the sun, the warmth of it. Light a fire, would you? I’m chilled to the bone.” Well, I can honestly say, without in the least overstating, that it broke my heart to see her so. I wanted nothing more than to gather her in my arms and carry her to the meadow at the edge of town where blue wildflowers grow and the light is warm and welcoming, wanted to lay her down beside the little brook and wash the filth from her hair. My mother’s unwaveringly fastidious grooming habits had been suppressed by disease, but her unyielding vanity remained intact, and it now threatened to rob her of what simple joys remained. Page 15 | The Paragon Journal
I left early for the shops that evening, much in need of a reprieve. As I walked, I pondered the problem of daylight. My mother wanted sun, and she must have it, but how? If only Goliath had been constructed but a few yards to the left or right. While crossing the square, I paused beneath that marble monstrosity, and for once did not shrink before him. Emboldened by righteous anger, I stood my ground and regarded my foe. Bathed in the orange glow of sundown, he was majestic, remote, but above all exceptionally well-built, crafted from varying shades of marble and certain to last centuries longer than his mortal creators. To the villagers, Goliath was a testament to the ingenuity of the human race; to me he was a ticking demon of iron and stone, an agent of Time soon to wrench from me the last thing I held dear. In a flash of startling clarity, I knew what must be done: I must destroy him, smite him down as David smote his biblical namesakeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and I knew already how. I glanced once about the square, suddenly fearful that my nefarious musings had been observed, but it was deserted with the exception of a band of gypsies, who sat peddling their wares before the church. Satisfied that my plot remained a secret, I hurried home to prepare. The planning itself took little time, but the waiting felt interminable. My mother seemed somewhat agitated, so I kept her company, reading passages from her favorite books until she had drifted into a fitful sleep. Finally, at the stroke of the second hour, I slung a rucksack over my shoulder and crept quietly outside. There was an unseasonable chill in the air, and I shivered and pulled my coat tighter about me, but the night was mine; not another soul crossed my path as I strode with a previously unknown confidence toward my destination: Dorfstrasse and my fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s old yard. All was dark and quiet upon arrival, but, as expected, the door of the warehouse was locked. From my rucksack I produced a small hammer, its head wrapped in sackcloth, and gave the lower right windowpane a short, sharp rap. It did not break easily, but with several more Page 16 | The Paragon Journal
blows I dislodged a sizable piece—large enough, at least, for me to slip my hand through and undo the lock. Once inside, it took me all of three minutes to light my single candle, locate the storeroom wherein were kept the explosives, and to quickly (but not at all irreverently) stuff my rucksack near to bursting with the deadly sticks. I hurried home then, my nerves all ablaze of the excitement. Scarcely an hour had passed; Time, for once, was behaving itself. I snatched up twine and scissors, and at the kitchen table I bound my sticks into a bundle, bound them as my father had shown me many years ago: tightly, with an exceedingly long fuse. My mother was sleeping silently when I once more slipped from the flat; all was going according to plan. As I reached the square, I paused in the shadow of the town hall to survey the scene. The gypsy caravan was still in front of the church, an unfortunate position to be sure, but no one stirred. A few scattered notes of violin were the only evidence of life, and these seemed to be drifting from the tavern, well away from my projected route. There would not come a better time to act! Tentatively, I made my way toward my target, boots clip-clopping dreadfully against the cobble stones, and felt my courage falter as I approached the heavy doors at the base of the clock tower. Could this truly be done? Could a thing as grand and mighty as Goliath meet defeat at the hands of a weakling with a bundle of flammable sticks? Perhaps not, but I must try for I would never forgive myself were I to back down now. The air within the tower was dank and frigid, and I did not tarry. I lit a candle and followed the stairs upward, directly to the closet-like room that housed the mechanism. For all my work with clocks, I had not seen Goliath’s interior since I was a boy, but I hadn’t forgotten the basic conformation. The going train is the series of gears that animates the clock, and it was atop this most essential part that I placed my bundle. Then I lit the fuse, and, quick as a cat
Page 17 | The Paragon Journal
from a pond, I fled down the stairs, through the door, and clear across the square. There I took refuge in the corridor of my favorite bookshop, and, breathlessly, I waited. The explosion rent the still night with the force of a million thunderbolts. One moment Goliath stood dark and serene beneath a sky full of stars; the next his center was shattering outward in a fiery blaze, his gabled roof collapsing inward, and countless blocks of stone were careening to and fro at a dizzying speed. Soon, the panic-stricken shopkeepers and their families burst forth, choking on the dense layer of dust and acrid-smelling smoke that had quickly enveloped all. Some clutched each other and sobbed; others simply stared, agape, at the devastation before them. Rubble lay everywhere, and many of the storefronts had suffered damage of its accord. Much of the town hall roof was destroyed, but it appeared that the church had borne the brunt of the impact; the steeple still stood, but in the building’s left side lay a dark jagged hole. Near as it was to this scene of destruction, the gypsy caravan seemed peculiarly untouched; its inhabitants had gathered outside with expressions of terror on their sun-browned faces. In the churchyard, their horses tore at their bonds, in a dreadful state of disquiet but apparently unharmed. As for Goliath, he had been largely reduced to rubble. Naught but a stump of the tower remained to attest to his former glory. Indeed, he had been vanquished, clearly and unequivocally—yet my mood was not one of victory. For some time, hours perhaps, I stood amongst the wreckage pondering this, stood like a ghost and watched as the townspeople—my compatriots—surveyed the ruin I had wrought. When at length the smoke had dissipated and the majority of the villagers returned home, I chanced to glance upwards and caught sight of the building that housed my own flat, visible now in the clock tower’s absence. It appeared to have been hit! I raced home, fearing the Page 18 | The Paragon Journal
worst. Yes, yes, as I approached I saw that indeed a wall had collapsed! From the position of the hole, I gathered that it was my own room, rather than my mother’s that had sustained the damage, but still my heart was in my throat as I fairly flew across the street and through the door. “Mutter!” I shouted as I sped down the hall, past my bedroom which was surely in shambles, straight to the room at the back of the flat, the room from which no answering sound emanated. On the bed lay my mother, curled on her side, and although her eyes were open and gazing in my direction, the light had gone out of them, and I knew instantly that she was dead. A single cry escaped my lips, strange and savage as that of a wounded beast. I had killed her! I, her devoted son, who had wanted nothing more than to bring a ray of sunlight to her final days! Trembling, I crawled onto the bed and felt her throat for the pulse I already knew would be absent. She had flung the covers back and appeared to be clutching at her chest; apparently her weakened heart had not withstood the shock of the explosion. My skin prickled with horror, and despite the crushing guilt that now threatened to overwhelm all logic—or perhaps because of it—I hastily covered her with the bedclothes, then left the room. At that moment, there was but one thought at the forefront of my fevered mind: Get out now. It infiltrated every corner of my consciousness—insistent, repetitive, rhythmic—yes, like the ticking of the phantom clock that echoed, even now, in the air around me. Get. Out. Now. ‘Twas not a mere thought but a compulsion, and as the last bonds of reason crumbled away, I surrendered to its power and fled, taking with me only my small savings and the clothes on my back. To the square I ran, to where the gypsies were readying their ponies. Dawn was approaching, and they would soon be leaving this town and its noisome little troubles in the dust of their ever-spinning wheels. Page 19 | The Paragon Journal
“Take me with you,” I cried. “Deliver me from this monotony that dulls the mind and kills the soul. Bring me the open road, where every day is different, and the living never wonder if they are still alive.” I must have looked a fright and spoken like a madman, for my request was met with baffled stares, and there was much shaking of heads until I produced the purse containing my savings. “I can pay my way; I shan’t be a burden.” “Climb in,” they said. “We’ve a long ride ahead of us.” I crawled into the supply cart, which was filled with wine and soft sheepskins, and there fell directly into a deep sleep, from which I did not awake until we had reached Metz. I am one of them now, a nomad, wandering the roads of life, free from the chains of routine that serve no other purpose than to bind the human spirit. I have never returned to the sleepy village of my birth, and, since I cannot face its ghosts, it’s probable I never shall. The years are long and the clocks are scarce, and a nomad I shall remain… for while I could not kill Time, I might just outrun him.
Page 20 | The Paragon Journal
Page 21 | The Paragon Journal
The Lionâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Den J. Ryan Sommers I believe that the reason there are so many interpretations of love is because we all experience it differently. No two people are alike. That is a given. Even twins. The love you feel with one person will always be different than the love that you have with another. In fact, the person you are in love with may even experience love completely different than the way you understand it towards them. No matter how similar the feeling may be, the love will always be at least a little bit different each time around. You may be able to fall in love, break up, and fall in love with the same person all over again. That does not necessarily mean that you will experience love the way you did the first time. You can never go back home, they say. And, you can never step into the same river twice. They say that one all the time. I say, love is always different. This all inevitably comes down to two major factors: time and life. Time, because it only moves in one direction, and life, because it is unavoidable. Countless poets and musicians have tried to define love in masterful works of art. Crappy harlequin novelists write their version of love for bored housewives. Painters and photographers attempt to capture the essence or moment of love. Everyone down to a stranger at the bus stop has an opinion on the matter. And they are all different. No matter how many ways we try and explain it, love is something that can not be defined. Perhaps that is what makes it so interesting. All I can say is love exists. Love is real. That is why when I say I love two women, you can know that I mean what I say. Equally, without bias, I love them and will never be able to decide between them. For as different as the women that I love are from each other, so am I from myselfâ&#x20AC;Ś *** Page 22 | The Paragon Journal
Where am I? I have that old scrambled feeling in my brain again. Like my grey matter has just been served up for breakfast. I’m coughing. I realize I’ve been coughing for some time now, as I try and catch my breath. An empty cough syrup bottle lies on the floor with the cap off. I slow my breathing and concentrate on what is in front of me. A steering wheel. Fuzzy dye swing from the rearview mirror. I’m in my car. The windshield wipers slosh patiently, clearing the build up of scattered droplets from the glass. I’m parked. The car is on, so I turn it off. The wipers stop in mid stroke. Out the window, I can see a gloomy street lined with nearly identical row houses. Where am I? This is not where I live. I’ve never seen this street in my damn life. But somehow I know, before my eyes focus on the street signs, that I’m at Willow and Burden. Not quite the Bog, but not far from it. Humbert Square. How did I know that? What the hell is going on? I get out of the car and there is a familiar stench of backed up sewers, permeating the neighborhood, carried about with every drop. The rain is not hard, just consistent, like a routine. As I look about, I’m trying to remember how I got here; where here is; what brought me here? I look up and see a tiny yellow house with a small lawn and a chain link fence. The bushes are half dead and the flowers are practically coughing their death rattle at me. But something inside me says to go closer. I can’t help it, my feet just move below me, guiding me, dictating where I go. The least I can do is lock the car, so I reach into my pocket and press the fab. BEE-doop. I get to the door and freeze. What am I doing? None of this makes any sense. I want to go back to my car and go home. Snuggle up with Iris, watch TV. But that same something that told me to approach the house is now telling me to open the door. It’s locked. Thank god. That would have been creepy. On a whim, maybe out of muscle memory, I use the keys in my hand and flip through until I see one I don’t recognize. I try it, and the door opens. This is too weird Page 23 | The Paragon Journal
to stop now. I walk inside and find two more doors. The one on the right is open with stairs going up, so I follow them. Each step creaks with a familiar groan that I anticipate before it happens. At the top of the stairs I try my key again. The door opens to a converted attic/studio apartment. It’s dark and musty with wood floors. The ceiling slants to a point making me feel claustrophobic. Against one wall is a bed. It’s the bed I had when I was a child. I thought I got rid of it a few years ago, when Iris and I needed something new. The sheets are unmade, and smell of use. Across from the bed is a dresser with a TV on top. Both are mine. Both, like the bed, I thought I got rid of years ago. A pile of folded clothes is on the dresser, and when I look closer I realize they are old baby clothes my mother used to dress me in. What are they doing here? On a side table, next to the bed, I find a framed picture of a woman I’ve never seen before in my life. She is beautiful and blowing the camera a kiss. She has short dark hair, a nose ring, and the two happiest eyes I’ve ever seen. Next to the frame is a wristwatch with a leather band. I’ve been looking for it since I was a boy. Thought I’d lost it. What is going on? As depressing as the apartment might seem, it has an air of joy to it. Like the people who live here love each other so much, it’s been absorbed by the walls. Suddenly the door opens behind me and in walks the woman in the photo. She’s sporting an old worn black hoodie and a ribbed white undershirt. She is carrying two handfuls of plastic bags. Her face is stunning; beautiful in the way that is unassuming and calming. When she smiles at me, something inside goes off, like an explosion of euphoria. She is wearing baggy clothes, but I distinctly see a tiny bulge in her belly. She’s not fat; she has too slender a frame for that. She must be pregnant. I feel a tickle in my throat again and I begin to cough.
Page 24 | The Paragon Journal
I hear her say, “Hey Cash, help me with these groceries would you?” The last thing I think to myself is, who the hell is Cash? *** When I wake up I’m in bed next to my wife. The room is dark, pervaded by the bluegray of night. It was just a dream. That was fucking weird. Maybe Iris is right. Maybe I should lay off the red meat. I take a deep breath trying to calm myself. But it was so damn real. I’ve never had a dream like that in my life. It’s nothing a little spooning won’t cure. So I role over and throw my arm over Iris, first stroking her arm, then her breast. She’s sleeping in the nude again. I love it when she does that. It makes me feel like more of a man. I cup one of her breasts, and don’t realize for a moment that they’ve gotten smaller. Significantly. She’s lost a lot of weight recently, but not like this. This isn’t even the same shape. She shrugs in her sleep and I move my hand to her waist where I pull at her hip. But, instead of her soft stomach, I find a stiff bulging belly. I open my eyes and let them adjust to the dark. When she rolls over to face me I realize it’s not Iris. The smiling face with the sleepy eyes says, “Hi.” Immediately, I pull away like I’ve been stung, and fall out of bed letting out a yelp. The light goes on from the table on the other side of the bed. “Cash? Cash, baby, what’s the matter?” I scramble to my feet and in the faint light discover I’m as nude as she is. I’ve never slept in the nude. Something too unrestrictive about. Boxers and a tee-shirt, ever since I was ten years old. Not cool. Who took my clothes? I grab a pillow to cover myself and start to look about the apartment from my dream. No. Not a dream. It was all real. “Cash, what’s going on? You’re scaring me.” Her face is still tired, but showing distinct concern. “Who the fuck is Cash?” Page 25 | The Paragon Journal
“You ar—oh Jesus.” Her eyes go wide as I clearly come into focus. “Oh Jesus, what? Who are you? Where is my wife? Why the fuck am I naked?” She looks up at the ceiling, trying to remember something. “Oh God…Rob?” “Okay, that’s better. Now why do you know my name?” I look down at her nude form illuminated by the table lamp. Looking down at her breasts, she realizes she’s naked. She covers up immediately, like she’s just been walked in on in the middle of changing. She goes pale and shy. “I, ah, um. I’m Ingrid. Your, I mean, Cash’s…” I know it before she says it. “Wife?” “Kinda, yeah.” “Who is Cash?” What kind of a stupid name is Cash anyway? It reminds me of the kind of name a pimp gives his illegitimate son. “Maybe you should just go. You shouldn’t be here.” Her tummy pushes out the sheet wrapped around it so I can make out her protruding belly button. “Fine by me. Where are my clothes?” I search the room and see only dark. “Over there, on the chair.” She points into the shadows, but I know exactly where to go. I put on my clothes as quick as I can and head for the door. I’m not even done buttoning my shirt before I’m at the top of the stairs. I stop and turn back to her. “Who is Cash?” The words that come out of her mouth are fuzzy and faded, but they hit me like a Mack truck. She says, “You are,” and everything goes black. *** What fucking day is it? Like that matters, Rob. When was the last time you even new what month it was? My throat itches as I find myself clearing it again. And once again, my Page 26 | The Paragon Journal
brain feels like mush. What is happening to me? I need answers. This shit is starting to get old. I look around and find myself at the Lakeview Botanical Gardens. A large complex of glass bubbles, housing all varieties of flora, on the edge of the city. Inside, it’s lush and green. But, I’m outside and it’s snowing. When did it get to snowing weather? It was cool and raining just yesterday. That was yesterday wasn’t it? Christ, Rob, get a grip. I trudge up the shoveled path, along the walk, to the entrance. This is where Iris works. I’ve always thought it was funny that a woman named for a flower worked in a garden. But she’s always been good with that kind of stuff. She says she get’s it from her mother. I see her through the glass doors, inside at the help desk. She perks up when she sees me, and I wave at her to come outside. Her smile makes me feel so much better. Seeing her face is like coming home. I feel like I haven’t seen it in weeks—months even. She meets me outside, on a bench that I have to brush the snow off of, and gives me a kiss. “Hey, babe. What you doing here? I thought you were supposed to be with Dr. Guise today.” Her voice makes her sound sincerely surprised and excited to see me. She leans over and I plant another kiss on her like I haven’t seen her in years. Maybe I haven’t. At this point, who knows? “I…don’t know.” I suddenly realize I don’t remember how I got here. I look around for the car, but it’s nowhere to be seen. I shift to face her head on. “I think there’s something I need to tell you about. Last night—or I think it was last night—I don’t even know anymore. I found myself in this weird apartment, with this woman… I thought it was a dream at first, but it was too real. What was her name? Ingrid. I don’t know how I got there, but…” How in the world does someone approach this conversation rationally? It’s not like I expect her to believe me. I’m fully expecting her to flip out. I just need to get this off my chest. But, her eyes don’t Page 27 | The Paragon Journal
seem phased at all. Maybe she’ll be able to help me make sense of it. “She kept calling me Cash. Does that name mean anything to you?” Her smile drops instantly and she turns away from me. “They told us this wouldn’t ever happen. You’re not supposed to know about this. How did this happen? Why does this keep happening?” Now she’s making less sense than my past two days put together. She seems panicked and genuinely scared. Which, in turn, makes me scared. She knows something alright. My wife knows something and isn’t telling me about it. “Iris, what is going on? Yesterday, I wake up in front of a house I’ve never seen and have the key in my pocket. Last night, I wake up next to a pregnant woman who seemed to know who I was at first, but then acted like I was a complete stranger. Now, I’m with you and I can’t even remember how I got here. I’m really starting to freak out here. I need someone to start giving me answers.” She looks up at me and her face is flushed. Her rosy cheeks match the color of her lips, and as mad as I am right now, I can’t help but be reminded at how seeing her face makes every part of me ache. “I know,” she finally says to me. “I know about it all.” There’s that damn truck again, hitting me like a crash-test dummy. “What do you mean you know? What do you know?” “Ingrid should have called me. Any deviation, any hiccup, we’re supposed to let each other and Dr. Guise know immediately.” “Hiccup?” “Rob, honey, listen. I don’t know that I’m supposed to tell you this. Maybe you should go see Dr. Guise. Or your mother. Maybe she should tell you. She told me, after all.” “My mother? What are you talking about? How do you know Ingrid? Jesus. I just want some fucking answers.” I drop my head in my hands as I try to focus my thoughts. Note to Page 28 | The Paragon Journal
self: Pick up more cough syrup at earliest convenience. This coughing is really starting to make it hard to concentrate. *** When I lift my head up from my hands I’m in an office. It’s nice, with a wall of books to my right, a nice desk made of swirling mahogany in front of me, and framed degrees filling out the other wall to my left. A man in a white lab coat sits behind the desk. Dr. Guise, I assume. He is old with a bald, liver-spotted head, and a crest of hair that sticks up in back. He wears glasses and a goatee. The mustache and chin beard aren’t connected. Why is he looking at me like that? Like I’m a piece of meat on the grill; wondering if it’s time to flip me yet. Beyond him is a wall of glass looking over the whole of the city. I know this view. I’m in BigCorp tower. I can tell because the statue of Lady Columbia is staring at me outside the window. Whatever sick carnival ride I’m on—I want off. It was weird and interesting at first, but this is really starting to fuck with my head. “Hello Robert.” His voice is a rusted saxophone. Smooth and pleasing, but certainly weathered. “How are you feeling?” “My brain feels like mashed potatoes with hot sauce. My throat is sore from coughing so much. I’m not really sure who the fuck you are, which is making me the epitome of anxious. Other than that I’m just swell.” This is me testing him. Seeing what I can learn from him by being agitated. You can tell a lot about someone in the face of anger. Fight or flight and all. I wonder what that says about me? He smiles and grunts a laugh. “As I figured. Iris tells me you’ve met Ingrid. What was that like?” “I’m sorry. Dr. Guise, right?” He nodded. “Maybe you could stop asking me questions and start answering mine. Like why the fuck am I here? Or, why do I keep blacking out? Why Page 29 | The Paragon Journal
is my wife hiding something from me? Or just the overarching—what in the holy fuck is going on?” “My apologies, Robert. I am Dr. Adolfus Guise. I must say, this is all very exciting. We’ve been waiting to see how this might turn out. Do forgive me. I forget my bedside manner from time to time.” He leans forward and clasps his hands, like a child about to open a present. “Robert, this is going to be difficult for you to accept, but I need you to stay with me.” He says the last bit as though I’m gonna up and leave. Which now that I’m thinking about it, doesn’t sound like a bad idea. “You have what we like to call dissociative identity disorder, or DID. Also known as multiple personalities. It’s extremely rare. It exists in only one to three percent of the general population, and is three to nine times more likely in females than males. Which is one of the many factors that makes your case so noteworthy. Though, the exact cause is widely debated, many in my field feel it stems from trauma at a young age. Much like PTSD.” He paused for a moment and cleaned the lenses on his glasses. “However, your case, Robert, is quite unique. You see, while you undoubtedly experienced trauma at a young age, you have a physical transformation as well. A metamorphosis of sorts, that fully transfigures you from one ‘alter’ to the next.” My head is swimming. This guy is nuts, right? This only happens in bad movies and Victorian horror novels. Walking out on this guy is starting to sound like a better idea with every word he says. But part of me won’t stand up. Part of me can’t help but ask, “Alter?” “I’m sorry. An ‘alter’ is the term we use for your ‘alternate personality.’ Up until now, you’ve only had one that goes by the name Cash. Or Cashmere, your middle name.” When he says it out loud it makes me wince. I’ve always hated that name. It’s a family name, sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth passing on. Page 30 | The Paragon Journal
“Up until now?” “Yes, well… you see, Cash has been a part of your life since you were young. He is nearly your opposite in every way imaginable. Even physically, though you resemble one another, he is characteristically different. While you go clean shaven, he has a very dark five o’clock shadow. His hairline is different. He’s thinner, taller, and more muscular.” “So me…if I were a male model.” He chuckled again, replacing his glasses. “Yes, you could put it that way. Cash is everything you’ve ever wanted to be, but fell short on. Though, that’s not to say he is the more perfect you. Cash definitely has his flaws. He’s crass. He’s manipulative. He lights up the room with charisma, but doesn’t know when to turn it off. A chronic philanderer and chauvinist. Frankly, if I can speak from personal taste, he gives me the willies.” Well it’s not all bad. At least I’m not completely the worst version of me. Things could be worse. “You were saying, ‘Up until now.’” “Up until now, Cash has been your only alter. For years it has been only the two of you. Never once were you aware of the presence of the other. As you grew, you followed different paths. You dated different women. Had different groups of friends. Even worked different jobs. You majored in Earth Science, while he majored in Communications. You even married different women. I must say, between the two, you have always been the more intelligent. The two of you have gone on for many years simply living your separate lives. If ever an instance came up where Cash would be revealed to you, or vice versa, you would immediately go blank. A temporary loss of hearing or blindness. Sometimes you’d even look directly at something and your brain would refuse to register what you were looking at.” He looks away, and out the window for a moment, and then turns back to face me. “But recently, there has been some…
Page 31 | The Paragon Journal
slippage. Your alternate lives have begun to overlap on one another. Cash as it seems is, for a lack of a better word, dying.” Say what? “I’m dying?” “No, no, no. You—Robert—are healthy as you’ve ever been. It is Cash that is dying off in your consciousness. We believe this is because of one of two possibilities. Either you are beginning to come to terms with the trauma you experienced as a child and no longer need the alter… or he is being killed off in order to make room for another alter we have yet to observe in full stasis.” “How long?” Suddenly I’m feeling panicked over the death of some guy I’ve never even met. None of me wants to believe he’s telling the truth. “There’s no saying, really. Cash could be gone as we speak, or he could malinger along for years.” “No. I mean, when did this start?” Iris knows. She knew all about this. Why didn’t she tell me? Like you’d believe her, Rob. This doctor is telling you now and you hardly believe him. Why do I know what he’s saying is true? “Oh. Well, you began exhibiting symptoms around nine, right after your trauma. At first your mother says she assumed you were playing, like any normal child. But soon, for brief periods of time, you started answering only to the name Cash. That’s when she brought you to me.” I can’t take my eyes off the glare of his shiny bald head. There’s certain things I tend to remember. I feel like that would be one of them. But this man is still coming up as a stranger in my brain. “Why don’t I remember you? If I’ve been coming to see you since I was nine, how could I possibly not remember you?” Answer that one asshole. Gonna tell me I’ve got a split personality. Too many holes. Page 32 | The Paragon Journal
“Hypnosis.” When he says it, it’s like someone reassuring me there’s leprechauns protecting pots of gold at the end of rainbows. “It is a common treatment in these cases. To ease you through the treatment, I hypnotized you to believe you were watching television or a movie.” That’s convenient. “If I’d treated you outright at such a young age, it might have been catastrophic to your mental health. You could have very well gone catatonic. It is imperative to ease the subject through their treatment as peacefully as possible.” “Hypnosis? You know how hokey that sounds, right? So, I’m guessing you’ve taken me out of hypnosis now because of this ‘slippage,’ as you put it?” Watching TV? That would explain why nobody ever knew what show I was talking about all those years. And, why I kept watching despite the fact I never really liked it to begin with. “You always were the more perceptive one.” He takes off his glasses and begins cleaning them again. Breathing on the lenses—Hah—then wiping them clean. Seriously, how dirty could one man’s glasses be? “When your mother brought you to me we worked for years with no success. When you were about thirteen, I began to administer you a new medication created by the scientists here at BigCorp. XR-21. It was experimental and kept off the books, but I assured your mother this might be our last hope. She gave me permission to use you in our case study. The results were, to say the least, astounding. The XR-21 triggered a natural growth hormone in your cells that became the harbinger for your transformation. Though, we hadn’t expected it, you changed physically, for the first time, fully becoming the living embodiment of your alter. I told you in your hypnosis that the XR-21 was simply cough syrup.” How does he know about the cough syrup? This isn’t at all funny anymore. This is a scam. He’s running some sort of elaborate con on me, or something. “So you’re telling me that
Page 33 | The Paragon Journal
I’m taking an experimental drug that turns me into a completely different person? And this is legal, how?” “No. Not at all. The XR-21 is administered to limit your switching back and forth. When you were a child you advanced to the point where you were switching so often, every other word might be given by a different identity. Your mother was worried beyond belief. With every switch your health seemed to deteriorate. You got sicker and sicker.” That would explain why I missed all of the 8th grade. But they told me it was mono. Fuck, now I don’t know what to believe. He places his glasses back on his face and smiles at me placidly. “For all intents and purposes, the XR-21 saved your life. The transformation was a side effect. While the drug only limited your switching, when you did switch it was a full mutation.” My clothes feel tight. It’s not hot in here, but I’m definitely starting to sweat. “Sorry, I just…I don’t believe it. Any of this. It’s impossible. Science and nature don’t work like that. You’re gonna have to prove it to me. I appreciate this wild story you’re telling me. Truly, well executed. You almost had me. But until I see some proof… it’s all bullshit.” There we go. Stick with the facts. You can’t fake hard data. “I anticipated you’d say that. Always the scientist, Robert. It’s what I probably appreciate about you most.” He turns to the wall of books. There is a television in the center that he flips on with a remote. “These are some of our earliest case studies with you. If for any reason it gets to be too much, just let me know.” “It’s a little late for that, doc.” On the screen I’m sitting on a table in a doctor’s office. I’m about thirteen—skinny and gangly, very emaciated—sitting on the examination table in my boxers. I’m catatonic, staring into nothing. I don’t remember any of this. A voice off screen begins to talk. “Subject has Page 34 | The Paragon Journal
extreme deterioration of immune system due to MPD switching. We are now administering XR-21 for the first time. Subject will stay in isolation as we observe the effects of the drug and record our data. Please note the subject has been placed in a catatonic state via hypnosis to ease his way through the process.” A man walks on screen in a lab coat. He is a younger version of Dr. Guise with a full crop of curly hair. “Cash, can you hear me?” “Yes,” I say in a detached voice. “You have quite a nasty cough. I’m going to give you some cough syrup to make it all better. Is that alright?” “Is it cherry? I only like cherry.” I hate cherry. I hate all cough syrup. It’s been a struggle for me my whole life. Guise turns to the camera and smiles. “Yes. It is the best tasting cherry medicine you’ve ever had. Now, open up.” I open my mouth and he pours a dose in my mouth. “Mmm. Now wasn’t that tasty?” “Yes.” I shiver a little in my seat, watching the screen, while I imagine the taste of cough syrup in my mouth. Guise begins to stare at the monitors recording data, then it switches and his voice continues over some rudimentary graphics. “Over the past week the subject has responded very successfully to the XR-21. Subject’s health has significantly improved while the switching between personalities has decreased significantly. Blood pressure is down, white blood cell count is up, and muscle mass is beginning to regenerate. We will continue to administer XR-21. As of yet, the subject has decreased switching from ten to fifteen times per hour to only twice per day.
Page 35 | The Paragon Journal
“That being said, there have been some astonishing side effects that none of us could have foreseen. While the subject’s switching has greatly decreased, when he does take on his alter-personality there is a full metamorphosis. The subject changes physically now in addition to his mental state.” A shot of a boy on the same examination table comes on screen. His hair is different. Darker and shorter. His face is different. Leaner and more angular. His build is broader and filled out. This is not me as a boy. I’ve never seen this kid before. “Subject has grown two inches in height. Hair color has darkened. Facial features are radically different. And has now begun to use his left hand predominantly over his right. After the transformation, subject only answers to the name of Cashmere, or Cash, the original subjects middle name. Any mention of the name Robert is blocked out, much like before. It is as though the initial subject has been erased completely. We were able to catch the transformation on film after hours of relentless monitoring.” The boy on screen begins to cough incessantly. Loud, hacking yawps that shake his whole body. Suddenly, the boy’s hair begins to lighten with every shake. What the hell—he’s shrinking. It looks like he’s inside an invisible trash compactor. His face is twitching. The nose just got bigger. The brow line is sinking in. Jesus, what is this guy making me watch? This is disgusting. I think I might puke. Abruptly, the boy stops shaking and is very still. He looks up at the camera. Bullshit. That’s not possible. That’s…me. I’m healthier looking. I don’t look so pale. But strike me down if that’s not me. I turn to face Guise at his desk. “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me with this shit, doc. I see it. I know it happened. But it’s just…not computing.” “We had very much the same reaction at first. For a long time, I fought the notion. It was simply too much for me to process. It took your mother quite a while to get over as well.” I can imagine my mother in hysterics watching me change into this other person. I’m starting to Page 36 | The Paragon Journal
remember a period when I was a boy that my mother seemed really distant to me. I assumed it had something to do with me getting older, going through puberty. Nothing like this. “Eventually, like us all, she came around. Surprisingly well, to be honest. She took on this new boy as though he were a completely different son. She loved him, cared for him, and saw to it that he and you were always protected from one another. Without your mother, Robert, I can’t say you and Cash would have ever made it this far.” I get up from my chair and walk about the room in no discernible direction. I’m trying to process this. What’s getting me, surprisingly, isn’t so much that I transform into a completely different guy half the time (though it’s still fucking weird), it’s that everyone around me seems to know about it, and hasn’t told me—once. Everyone I know knows more about me than I do. I feel violated. It’s like I’ve just been molested in a mob of people and when I look to see who did it, I realize it’s the entire crowd. “There’s more,” he says. “I have one more interview to show you. If you’d please just take a seat.” He motions with his hand toward the leather armchair and I sit down. The screen shows the very same room I’m in now. The camera is pointed directly at my chair. A man with dark buzzed hair is sitting where I am now. He’s wearing a white and blue button up with a gingham pattern—Wait. I look down at my shirt. Fucking white and blue button up with a gingham pattern. I see where this is going. Though the man is bigger than me, more solid, more hansom, he looks sick. He’s got shadows under his eyes. His nose is red and irritated. And his skin, though darker than mine, seems to have a slightly clammy-green hue. Guise can be heard off screen. “Cash, how are we feeling today?”
Page 37 | The Paragon Journal
“Like a shit sundae on the hottest day of the year. I’m sick, you son of a bitch, what’d you think?” His voice doesn’t sound like me in the slightest. It’s harsher, like he smokes a pack a day and drinks a fifth for lunch. It’s truck tires on gravel. “Anything new at home?” “Just found out Ingrid’s gonna have a boy. Pretty stoked about that. To be honest, she’s the only thing that makes being sick bearable.” His face brightens when he starts talking about Ingrid. And down deep, I feel an anxious infatuation flutter at the mention of her name. Like I can’t imagine ever being without the stranger from the other night. “Are you still fooling around behind her back?” “How did you—Yeah.” He’s quiet for a moment, and then, “I can’t help myself. I try, doc, I do. But it’s like I see a woman makin’ eyes at me, and bam, before I know what happened I’m in bed with her. It’s like I’m fuckin’ bloodthirsty or somethin’. I could be in a bar, an elevator, in line at the Jackalope Jerry’s. Doesn’t matter. Suddenly, I’m in the stairwell, or the bathroom, or some stranger’s apartment, pumping away, pants around my ankles. Licking every inch, nibbling on nipples… Afterwards I realize what I’ve done and I feel ashamed as can be. Fuck. I down right hate myself. But sure enough, the next set of eyes lands on me and there I am again. Off to the races.” He slumps over as he’s talking. What a fuckhead this guy is. I don’t know Ingrid, but I know what it was like after my bachelor party with Iris. I kind of felt the same way. Like I was doing things that I couldn’t control. “Cash, as you know, unfortunately you don’t have much time.” “Just say it, doc. I’m fuckin’ dying.” “Have you made any plans with Ingrid for when you are gone?”
Page 38 | The Paragon Journal
Tears are running down his face as he wipes them away. “No. I mean, there’s my mom. I’m sure she’ll help. It’s her grandkid after all. But financially? No. We barely have enough to pay rent each month, let alone savings.” “What if I told you there was a person who’d be able to help Ingrid? Someone you’ve never met. But you needed to convince him. What would you say?” He looks up at Guise behind the camera. “For real?” “Suppose it was. What would you say?” He looks at the camera directly. “I’d say, I love Ingrid more than life itself. I’m scared shitless of the idea that she’s gonna be a mother all on her own. She’s the best damn thing that ever happened to me. I feel like I’m letting her down. Like I’m about to become the ultimate deadbeat dad. No pun intended. All I ever wanted was for her to be happy. The first time I saw her she was taking my order at a restaurant, and I went straight puppy dog for her. I screw a lot of women. I’m a scumbag. I won’t deny it. But Ingrid and my baby deserve better. They deserve more than what I’ve given them. If you’re willing to help…I need your help. I’m desperate.” He looks back at Guise. “How’s that?” The video pauses. Every word he said is true. I can feel it in my spine. The way he talks about her is the way I felt the first time I saw her. Like I was feeling someone else’s emotions. I haven’t felt anything like that since Iris and I first met. Just knowing that he screws around on Ingrid makes me want to take a baseball bat to his face. But something is making me empathize with him so much, I feel like I’m going to tear up. The guy’s a prick, but he’s sincere. “As I’m sure you’ve guessed, this was taken just a few moments before you and I started this conversation. I’ve treated the two of you for over twenty years now, Robert. In that time, as unprofessional as it is, I’ve grown attached to you both. It pains me to see Cash like this. Page 39 | The Paragon Journal
He’s not a bad person, just flawed. And it’s been a great stress on my brain knowing that Ingrid might be left to fend for herself. She’s known all along of the possibility of Cash disappearing. Iris was told the same thing. I’ve had some one-on-one sessions with Ingrid, and I can tell you she is deeply troubled about all this.” When he says this my heart aches for this interloper, this foreigner, in my life. “I’m asking you to please consider bringing her into your family. Obviously, you’ll need to discuss it with Iris. But please know when Cash does go, she was never legally married to him the way you and Iris are. Cash has no social security number or birth certificate. She has no rights to anything. She needs your help. But before you can do that, you need to come to terms with the trauma from your childhood. If you don’t, another alter might soon move in and take the place of Cash. Or worse—yourself.” I think about it for a while in silence. It’s a lot to process. “You keep talking about this trauma from my childhood. What are you talking about? I don’t remember anything like that.” To be honest, I don’t really remember my childhood. Nothing before age nine or ten, at least. He looks away from me, out the window again. It’s as if, for the first time, he’s afraid to tell me something. “Some things, Robert, are better for me to tell you. The medical, psychological, scientific information for example. There are other things that your mother should talk to you about. I hate to string you along, but the trauma is one of them.” Answer one question, you get fifty more. This is no way to live. *** Finding my car was an undertaking. I don’t remember where I parked, or even that I’d driven, so it takes me about an hour, walking around downtown, to find my car. I stick with it though, because Guise assured me I drove. The snow from before, with Iris, is gone. How long has it been? I can’t even keep track of what month it is, let alone what day. The whole drive, out to my mom’s place in the suburbs, I’m understandably distracted. But the monotony of Page 40 | The Paragon Journal
driving eases my brain and gives me a little relief. Something familiar. Something that hasn’t drastically changed. Traffic is the same. Exits are the same. Even the trees that swallow you up in the sanctuary are the same. Same curves. Same lights. Driving through the Arbor Sanctuary is about as much of a relief as I’ve felt in what feels like months. Please don’t tell me it’s been months. The driveway is empty. My mom still lives in the house I grew up in. After the drive from BigCorp tower I can appreciate all the times she must have driven me back and forth. Some parents drive their kids all over for a traveling soccer team or violin lessons. My mom drove me because I had another person living inside of me. I wonder how the college admissions board dealt with that little ditty? The front door is bright pink. That’s my mom for you. She knows who she is and what she likes, despite how different it is. Wish I could say the same. The door is never locked, so I walk right in. “Mom? You home?” “Hey, honey, in here,” she calls from the kitchen. The smell of chocolate chip cookies rests on the air. She only makes them when she’s stressed about something. Which makes sense why, when I was a kid, I put on so much weight. The more I think about things, the more they seem to tell a sort of hidden story. What I assumed were random acts, suddenly, now have meaning. Thank God I’m the smarter one… Row upon row of cookies are cooling on racks. There are three plates already piled high off to the side. When she sees me she comes over and gives me a kiss. Her hair is greasy and frazzled. It doesn’t look like she’s showered in days. The bags under her eyes tell the same story. Page 41 | The Paragon Journal
I glance at the dessert disks encroaching on the kitchen. “I think you’ve got enough.” “Oh, I, ah, just felt like baking. You know how I get sometimes.” Her eyes betray her. There’s worry there. True, visceral fear. “Right. Mom, put the spatula down.” I say it as jokingly and lighthearted as I can. She forces a smile. “We need to talk.” Her smile disappears. “Kay. S’pose you’re right.” I follow her into the living room and we take a seat on either side of the coffee table. She won’t look at me. She swipes the streak of gray that runs down the center of her hair, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s existence has anything to do with me. My mother has always kept a tidy house and, being an empty nester, she’s now able to have the designer and antique furniture she’s always wanted. The couch I’m sitting on is stiff and uncomfortable with a floral pattern. I’ve always thought furniture should make you struggle with the idea of ever getting up from it. But this damn thing is like a torcher device from the Georgian era. “I met with Dr. Guise.” “I know, he called.” “He showed me the videos of me…and Cash.” “Yeah.” It’s like making eye contact with me is a painful endeavor. She can’t look in my direction for more than a few seconds. “Mom, enough. I need you to look at me. Why keep this from me? Guise kept talking about some fucking trauma. What trauma?” I get her full attention now, but she remains quite, trying to find the words. “I didn’t know what to do, Rob. You were so young, and you were only getting sicker. Dr. Guise assured me that, if we told you about Cash, it could be harmful to your overall Page 42 | The Paragon Journal
health. He always said there would be a right time to let you know, but after you started with the transformations, the prospect of telling you kept getting pushed further and further back. It was hard enough caring for one son as a single parent. Then, overnight, I had two. You have to understand, honey, my hands were full.” “So you kept the charade up into my adulthood? Mom—I’m married to two different women. One of which is pregnant.” I’m so mad I’m having trouble collecting my thoughts. My mother has a way of doing that to me. Secrets suck. But they’re even worse when they’re something you didn’t even know about yourself. I feel so fucking exposed. “Honey, you’re having a hard enough time coming to terms with this now. Imagine how difficult this would have been as a child.” She has a point. “How many people know? Answer me that.” “Everyone.” She says it as a fact. “What do you mean everyone?” “I mean, every time you met new friends, got a job, dated girls—I was right there to explain the situation. Lot’s of people were frightened by it and ended up turning their backs on us. But the few that did stick around I swore to secrecy. Your college buddies, Iris and Ingrid, school faculty—they all respected my wishes. And on the few occasions someone did try and tell you…I don’t know, it was weird. Like you suddenly went deaf. You’d see their lips moving but you couldn’t hear the words. It was like your subconscious was protecting you or something. At least, that’s how Guise explained it.” As before, my entire adolescence is starting to make sense. I didn’t realize people knew about that. I thought it was my little secret, the random deafness. Something I was afraid to tell anyone about. But here I am, discovering I’ve got psychosomatic selective hearing. This is too weird not to be true. Page 43 | The Paragon Journal
“What about the logistics? I live with Iris and I live with Ingrid. How in the hell does that work?” When I use to go to my happy place, I’d imagine Iris’ face smiling back at me. But now, Ingrid is there too. Both are in focus. They’re equals in a void. “The way Dr. Guise puts it, the consciousness not being used goes into hibernation. Very rarely have I ever seen you get a full night’s rest. Sometimes you’re able to sleep through the night and have the same identity when you wake up. Most of the time though, you go into this sort of transitional state, like you’re on autopilot. Kind of like sleepwalking. You get up, get dressed and find your way back to the other home. It’s been harder since you’ve been married. You live so far apart now. When you were younger you had apartments next to one another. In college you were your own roommate.” In an instant, my entire college experience comes into focus. So that’s why that guy was never around. “But now, you get in a car and drive across town. Robbie, I get so worried thinking about all the things that could happen. What if you were hit by a car or mugged or you simply ran out of gas? Who knows what could happen?” This is all getting to be a bit much. I feel so overwhelmed. It’s like I’m being forced to take the SAT’s and I didn’t study. “And the girls—they just went along with it? They agreed to marry a man they would ultimately be forced to share?” I don’t know if I hate them or love them for that. I can’t even imagine what it must be like, day in and day out. “It hasn’t been easy. I’ll be honest, I’ve had my reservations. But the truth is, they love you both. Maybe more than I’ve ever seen four people love each other. The girls struggled for sure. But I’ve been there all along, helping them through the process. I gotta tell you, Robbie, it’s rare you see two people light up when they see one another. So when I saw that both you and Cash had that with the girls, I knew I couldn’t stand in the way. I’ve done everything in
Page 44 | The Paragon Journal
my power to help you boys out.” It feels like I’m meeting my mother for the first time. This is the most earnest and caring I’ve heard her speak with me in years. “And the girls, they know each other?” “Yes. It’s not like they’re great friends. Although, if it were under different circumstances, I think they could be great friends. But yeah, this could never work if they didn’t talk.” I’m finding out shit about Iris I never could have imagined. She’s far stronger than I ever gave her credit for. “So Cash…you love him?” “Like a son. He is my son. Just as much as you. Don’t get me wrong, he pisses me off with some of his bullshit. But, so do you. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to love you with all my heart. Call it a mother’s burden.” *** I’m quiet for a long time. Staring at nothing, I’m so inside my head I don’t even notice when she moves to sit next to me. She puts an arm around my shoulder and I feel like a little boy again. Suddenly, I’m remembering the unintelligible fear that followed me around throughout adolescence; the shear confusion that pervaded every moment of my teen years. Being home schooled was lonely enough, but now I know why my mother has always been so omnipresent throughout my life. And at the same time so distant. I can’t say I blame her. Like any mother, she was doing what she had to for her child. “What trauma?” I say it without looking at her. “Dr. Guise said I’ll never be done with this unless I come to terms with this trauma. He wouldn’t tell me. Said you should. What the hell happened to me?” She takes a deep breath. “Robbie, I don’t know—” “I want to be done with this, Mom. Tell me.” Page 45 | The Paragon Journal
She gets up and walks to the window, staring into nothing. “What’s your earliest memory?” I have to think about that for a minute. I don’t typically think about my childhood. “I remember coming home for Christmas. I must have been somewhere else for a long time because everyone was so excited to see me. I think I was about eight.” “You don’t remember anything before that?” I meditate on it again and I’m met with a shiver that consumes my whole body. “Not really. Just snap shots. A dark room. A lion…A bed?” She takes both of my hands in hers. “Robert, I really need you to listen to me. This is not going to be easy to hear.” I know she’s serious because she called me Robert. “I am not your birth mother.” Cue the ton of bricks. “You came to me when you were eight, as a foster child. On Christmas day. That’s what you’re remembering. Shortly there after, I adopted you.” A lump swells in my throat as I try to force words out of my mouth. All I can muster is, “I don’t understand.” “The truth is we don’t know who your parents were. Child services found you after the police raided an underground brothel in The Bog.” My heart is crashing against my ribs and I’m having trouble breathing. “They found you in a dark room with a single light, in the basement.” She stops, afraid of what comes next. “You were chained to the bed.” The tears are starting to stream freely down her cheeks. I can see this is just as painful for her to talk about as it is for me to hear. “The man in charge would sell you to men. He made them wear animal masks, when they were with you, so you wouldn’t be able to recognize them. When they found you, you were covered in bedsores and under nourished. For Christ sake, I could see your rib cage.” That really gets her going and she inconsolable for at least a few minutes. The picture of the person she is painting holds no weight with me. She might as Page 46 | The Paragon Journal
well be telling me about one of her friends from her book club. All I’m able to see in my head is a faceless child who suffers with every breath of his life. I want to know his pain, but he is not me. “We believe your mother may have been a sex slave that died while there. It’s more than likely she gave birth to you at the brothel and, when she died, they chained you up. There’s no telling how long you were in that basement. All I know is you were still getting used to daylight when you first came to live with me. At first, you were like a wounded animal I was nursing back to health. But before long, you latched on to me, and the idea of ever letting you go was out of the question. And I needed you just as much as you needed me. My Robert had just past. You didn’t have a name when you came to me, so I named you Robert and told you he had been your father.” My identity feels like shattered glass. Fragments all breaking off in different directions, stabbing me with their truth. I’m a popping balloon. Not even my name is real. “I think I’m going to be sick.” I rush off to the hall bathroom and food I didn’t even know was in my stomach comes back up. When I finish, I run my mouth under the sink and reluctantly return to the couch. “That’s not trauma, mom. That’s sadistically systematic and deranged torcher.” I feel like my whole world is crashing in. Falling in on itself like a sandcastle at high tide. Imploding like the projects they tore down in The Bog. Fuck. Even the thought of that word makes me cringe. I don’t want to believe it, but once again, something tells me every word of it is true. I’m not even a real person. My name isn’t Robert. My name isn’t Cash. I have no name. I am nobody. There’s a scratch in my throat, and before I know it I’m coughing again. My face begins to swell; my ears feel like they’re on fire. I feel sharp pains pulsing through every part of my body. My insides feel like they’re being cut up with shrapnel. And my Page 47 | The Paragon Journal
head is throbbing so hard my hearing and vision fade. The last thing I remember is the smell of my mother’s cookies in the next room. *** It’s like I’m consciously dreaming. Everything around me seems so real. I can hear, see, taste and… I can smell my mother’s perfume. My real mother. It smells of lilac and jasmine. I have the taste of blood in my mouth as she rocks me back and forth in her arms. She’s not speaking to me in English, but I know what she is saying anyway. She says, “It’ll be alright (rebenok). You are safe. Mama will keep you safe.” I cry into her breasts, soaking up every ounce of the scent I can. My face hurts, like I’ve just been hit. I look up at her and she is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. She is very young. Sixteen, maybe seventeen. I look about the room, full of half naked stickily women. So thin they almost don’t look human. They smoke cigarettes and stare into nothing with emotionless faces. A few of them are passed out on stained mattresses with needles hanging out of their arms. Green stains around their nostrils. The room is dimly lit with creeping high window light. The green walls are chipped in spots, exposing the wood and wires beneath them. There is no happiness here, only my mother. * I’m being ripped from my mother’s arms. I’m a bit older this time. A woman screams at the top of her lungs. “Pyotr, no! You can’t take her baby. You can’t take her son.” I struggle in hands as big as paws. I fight but to no avail. When I look up I see a large chubby man with a cheap dime store lion’s mask. He stares down at me with expressionless eyes. I claw and scratch, but it is no use as the man throws me under one arm and takes me Page 48 | The Paragon Journal
out of the room. This is the last time I will see my mother. Her skin is blue, and I don’t smell her sent. * I’m crying in a dark room. There’s something cold and stiff on my wrist. “Mama, mama,” I whimper. No one comes. Bang, Bang. I hear a pounding on the door and an angry voice calling out in the same language as my mother. “Stop your crying before I give you something to really cry about!” The voice shocks me to a hush. The only light comes from a sliver under the door. I’m wearing saturated underwear. It is so cold. I shiver all the time. * I’m awakened by a bright naked blub that swings on a cord from the ceiling. The room is small with burgundy walls. I’m chained to a naked mattress, stained with blood, shit and piss. The man with the lion mask grabs my free arm and shackles it to the other side of the bed so that I’m face down. He wipes me off with a cold wet rag. Over my shoulder I can see the lion leading a group of men in animal masks into to the room as they circle the bed. There is an elephant, a hippo, a tiger, and a chimp. Each of them takes his turn mounting me. It seems the more I thrash and scream the harder they get. By the end I’m so exhausted I hang limp from the brass bedposts. This happens again and again. I loose track of how many times the animals attack me. How many times the lion tells me, “Don’t bight. Bad boys bight,” as they choke me with their erections. The taste is the worst, like gym socks and old cheese. * In the dark I hear a commotion. Lots of yelling and then, suddenly, shots fired. Two holes burst through the wall letting in two pillars of light. The floating dust makes them solid Page 49 | The Paragon Journal
streaks across the room. The door is kicked open, and two policemen turn away, holding their hands to their faces due to the stench. They turn on the light and find me chained to the bed in my stained underwear, covered in bruises. I hear one of them say, “Fucking hell.” * I’m scared beyond belief as I sit on a wooden bench with a blanket tossed over my shoulders. A police station is a busy place. People rush by me in every direction, while across the room I see the two officers from before speaking to a dark skinned woman, pointing at me with concern on their faces. The noises are too loud. The light is too bright. They give me crackers and a soda. I don’t know what they are. * I’m curled up on my bed now, in a room filled with beds and other little boys. A couple of them try to speak to me, but I don’t know what they are saying, so I stay quiet. They don’t like me and when no one is looking they hit me in my sleep. I start to cough. The dark skinned woman catches them once and punishes them. But that does not stop them from doing it again. Where is my Mama? Save me, Cash. * I’m getting out of a car. I can hear the crunch of snow with every step. My tiny feet make their way up to a bright pink door. I’m being led by the dark skinned woman. Her face is speckled and her smile is large. She is nice, but I’m still afraid of her. I think she wants to eat me. When the pink door opens I’m greeted by a room full of people. A large Christmas tree is off to the side of the room. Decorations hang from every corner. I wonder if this place is magic. Is this where Santa lives? Page 50 | The Paragon Journal
A woman approaches me and extends her hand in a greeting, but I’m afraid. Then I notice she smells like my mother; lilac and jasmine. I jump into her arms and hold on tight. I say, “Mama,” and she begins to cry. *** When I come to, I’m lying on the couch with my feet up and a wet cloth on my head. It’s dark outside, so I can only imagine how long I’ve been out this time. Once again, my head feels like an explosion. Like someone cut open the top of my head, tossed in a line of firecrackers, lit the fuse, and clamped the top of my skull down tight. I’m freezing and as I sit up I noticed I’m drenched in sweat. I can hear voices at a distance. “He changed? Is that a good thing?” “I don’t know? He started changing and then it just kept going. Like he was changing every couple of seconds. Changing faces. Lots of them I’ve never seen.” “What did Dr. Guise say?” “Nothing. Just that he was on his way over. He should be here soon I imagine.” “I don’t know about this. Are you as scared as I am?” “Honey, it happened right in front of me. I don’t think I’ll be able sleep tonight. Christ, maybe ever.” “But he’s not Robert? Not Cash? That must mean he’s coming to terms with everything. Right?” “I mean, that’s my thought too. But who’s to say?” “I’m gonna go check on him. Make sure he’s okay.” A few seconds later Iris walks into the room carrying a bowl of steaming water. “Oh, you’re up.” I look at her and when she sees me she lets out a little yelp and drops the water.
Page 51 | The Paragon Journal
“Iris, what’s the matter?” My mom and Ingrid come rushing in and both have the same reaction. “Who are you? Who is that?” Ingrid holds her hands over her mouth. “What are you talking about? It’s me.” Iris looks at me like she’s straining to see a magic eye poster. “Rob?” “Who else would it be?” “Oh my God, honey, you look so… different.” My mom is the only one brave enough to approach me. “What do you mean?” I get up and hurry past them to the bathroom I threw up in earlier. In the mirror I see a stranger. It’s not me or Cash. If anything, it’s a mix of the two of us. My eyes, nose, mouth; his brow line, hair, ears. I’m thinner, but not built like Cash. I can’t help but run my fingers all over my face. Poking and prodding. Holy Shit this is weird. But at the same time, I know exactly who I’m staring at. In the reflection I see my mother and two wives (I don’t think I’ll ever get used to saying that) gawking at me. Ingrid and I lock eyes, and that’s when it happens. A sudden rush of memories comes flooding back into my head. As if I’d been staring at the same painting my whole life close up. But when I step back a few paces I can see there is so much more. Where I once saw brush strokes, I now see landscapes. Where I once saw separate colors, now I see a face. I can remember everything from Cash’s life. I don’t know how, but I can. I know about how he spied on the neighbor girl while she was changing all throughout high school. She eventually caught him and then started doing it on purpose. That’s when he lost his virginity.
Page 52 | The Paragon Journal
I remember when we joined a fraternity at Ivy Pines. Pi Omega Rho. I did all the studying while he did all the partying. They guys were okay with it because they got a brother with the best of both worlds. I’m remembering when he first met Ingrid at the sports bar she waitressed at. He grabbed her ass and she slapped him. She wasn’t having his chauvinist bullshit. That’s what won him over. He came back the next night, a white rose in hand, and said he was sorry. Asked her out and, when she agreed, was a gentleman from then on. I feel the moment when he fell in love with her. It feels drastically different than when Iris and I fell in love. It’s almost like it’s more playful. There’s more laughter. He feels safe with her. I feel safe with her. As I focus on her in the mirror, back in the real world, I can’t help but let a fat tear escape and roll down my cheek. “Cash?” Her voice is hopeful. As if her husband hasn’t really died. I haven’t. In the mirror I watch myself change into Cash. It’s not painful. I don’t cough. It’s like flexing a muscle. I’m both of us now. Both of us, and so, so many more. I turn to her and she rushes up, kissing me on the lips and face. I kiss her back, but quickly pull away. “Hold on. Cash, yes.” A smile crosses her face as she bites her bottom lip. I look to Iris. “But Rob too.” I see a spark of optimism cross Iris’ face. As effortless as before, I flash into Rob, and then back to the face they didn’t recognize. “And yet, I’m neither.” I look to my mom. “I remember everything. Before I came to you, Cash’s life, things I blocked out. Everything. It’s like I’m a mix of both men. No. Many men. Maybe even a woman or two, as well. But this face, here. I think this is who I really am. Who I would have been. Pyotr…Peter. My real name is Peter.” “Precisely.”
Page 53 | The Paragon Journal
We all look to see the source of the voice. Dr. Guise is in the doorway with a look of astonishment. “Remarkable. The third personality wasn’t new at all. It was you. The real you. The XR-21 must have fundamentally affected your genetics in ways we never considered. I’m going to need to go back and look at the data again, but Robert and Cashmere were both false identities. Protective suits of armor to shield you from the trauma you experienced throughout your childhood. My boy, it appears you have evolved.” He says the last bit like an excited schoolboy. My mother hurries over to me and gives me a hug like when I was little. Her perfume has never changed. *** I don’t know about all that. Evolved seems like a pretty big word at this point. But I do feel whole. For the first time in my life I feel like a real person. Not that I could have ever come to that conclusion before. How or why would you suspect you’re only half of an entire personality? What I do know is I have three women staring at me with jaws dropped and hearts open. Each of them loves me in a very different, yet genuine way. One of them raised me. One of them married me. And one of them is having my baby. I never asked for two lives; two wives. Polygamy is the last thing I ever wanted. But it happened, yes. That’s something I’m going to need to deal with. Not exactly a conversation I’m looking forward to. And we’re not alone, either. There’s more of us. Everyday I find a new person inside of me. Everyday I discover new ways to live, to love. We are all so different. Different ages, sexes, desires, needs. On the up side, I never feel alone. On the down side, I never feel alone. All I know is no matter how you experience it, you can’t control love. It is an unstoppable force that is irrational and uncompromising. It is both painful, sour, and absurd as well as soothing, sweet, and maybe the most logical of all emotions. If you are confused,
Page 54 | The Paragon Journal
join the club. We don’t get it either. We’ll be figuring this one out for quite awhile. What I can tell you is I love these women with all my heart. And I’m never letting go.
Page 55 | The Paragon Journal
The Dinner Cancer Tim W. Boiteau 1 – Menu
Cocktails – Cranberry Margaritas – Aaron Johansson Hors d’Oeuvre – Grilled Eggplant Dip – Lindsay Porter Starter – Apple, Pecan & Goat Cheese Salad – Molly Johansson Starter Wine – Castelnau de Suduiraut Sauternes 2009 – Darren Jasper Main Course – Rosemary Garlic Pot Roast, Maple Butternut Squash – Molly Johansson Dinner Wine – Domaine Chasselay Fleurie, Beaujolais 2014; Folie à Deux Pinot Noir, 2011 – Virgil Porter Dessert – Chocolate Pumpkin Cake – Carol Jasper Digestif – Amaro Nardini – Aaron Johansson
2 – Cocktails and Hors d’Oeuvre
When Lindsay Porter and her husband, Virgil, arrived with a bottle of red wine and a platter, she notified everyone at the dinner party that her cancer was running a few minutes late. “Your . . . your cancer is coming?” Molly Johansson said, putting a steaming dish of maple butternut squash down on the hot pads on the island in the Johansson’s spacious, modern kitchen. A hot rush of embarrassment overcame Lindsay. “Oh, I thought—err—assumed it was invited, too. Would it . . . be okay? I don’t want to inconvenience you.” “But-but I-we only have six sets of good silverware, and where will he—” Page 56 | The Paragon Journal
“It,” she corrected, placing the platter down on the island. “Where will it sit? There are only six places at the dining room table,” Molly pleaded. “Relax, honey,” her husband, Aaron, cooed, accepting the wine from Virgil, appraising it, and taking it to the bar in between the kitchen and living room. “We’ll pull out a folding chair or something. Pop him in the corner.” “It.” “It. Right. Sorry,” he said, pouring out two cocktails from a pitcher. “Lindsay, does it even eat?” Carol Jasper asked in lieu of a greeting, adjusting the glasses beneath her graying bangs. “Well, of course it eats. Thanks, Aaron,” she said, taking one of the cranberry margaritas out of his hand. “It’s no longer attached to my body, so it has to sustain itself somehow. Mmm, this is excellent.” “And what have we here?” Aaron asked, nosing around Lindsay’s platter. “Grilled eggplant dip with parmesan fried pita,” Lindsay announced, unveiling the appetizer. “It’s not contagious or anything, right?” Carol pursued after everyone had crunched through several mouthfuls of eggplant, complimented Lindsay’s work, making small talk and expressing their delight that the dinner club had resumed meeting after the yearlong hiatus. “No . . .” At this point the doorbell chimed, breaking off Lindsay’s train of thought. The Johanssons and the Jaspers froze. “Shall I get it?” Lindsay asked, wrinkling her pointed nose. “Yeah, uh, make yourself at home,” Aaron said, running a hand through a tuft of his generous platinum hair. Page 57 | The Paragon Journal
And so Lindsay left the room while Molly paused in her salad-making to smooth out her tight blue dress and to ask her husband how she looked; the Jaspers whispered uncomfortably to one another; and Virgil sipped his drink in the no man’s land between the two couples, wondering which pair it would be more polite to engage with. In the end he deemed it best to engage with the grilled eggplant. Before long they heard the front door shut, followed by Lindsay’s light steps on the hardwood floors accompanied by an unpleasant, squelching shuffle. She appeared in the kitchen doorway first. An attractive woman with shoulder-length blond curls, Lindsay was only in her mid-thirties, and the cancer had taken everyone by surprise, especially Virgil, fifteen years her senior, who had lost his first wife to cancer only five years ago. Her smile tight, she glanced behind her and gestured for the cancer to present itself. What shambled up behind her shocked everyone in the kitchen (save Virgil, of course, who ruminated his eggplant). They had all seen it last year when Lindsay and the cancer had still been attached, but at that time it had just been the size of a dark golf ball sprouting out of her right shoulder blade. Now, at eight feet tall it loomed over her, a black mold golem, moist and dripping onto the Italian porcelain tile floors. “Oh . . . lovely,” Molly gasped, red lips quavering. Aaron put down his cocktail, swaggered over, and shook one of the thing’s many appendages. “Nice to meet you, sir. Name’s Aaron Johansson—” he trailed off, looking at the strange, wet stain left on his hand. However, not wanting to be impolite, he rebounded quickly. “Quite a grip you got there. Virgil, of course, you know. That over there is Molly, the old ball and chain.” “J-just . . . delighted,” Molly tried (and failed) to brighten, the intensity of her fear ramping up. Page 58 | The Paragon Journal
“Simmer down, honey. Pay no attention to her. Then over here, these eggheads are Darren and Carol Jasper.” The Jaspers, white as sheeted ghosts, made movements resembling nods. The cancer said nothing, swaying in the doorway. In one of its lumpish appendages it unfurled a bottle of Folie à Deux. “Well, come in, come in. Let me take that from you,” Aaron said, accepting the bottle of wine. Bits of itself remained pulsing against the bottle. “Let me get you a drink. We’re all having cranberry margaritas. Would you like one?” Aaron escaped to the bar in the corner, where he wiped down the bottle and examined his hand, attempting to remove the stain. Lindsay glared at her cancer, making a few curt gestures towards the kitchen. “Dear, if he—if it wants to just stand there, that’s fine with us,” Molly suggested, black ringlets trembling, for the first time aware of the reek of turned flesh that would soon overpower the autumnal bouquet of the dinner. “Nonsense, Molls. Will you get dinner ready and quit minding about the guests?” Aaron said, then turning back towards the uninvited guest: “Now, how about that margarita?” “It likes gin and sugar,” Lindsay commented. The cancer scanned the room with its one, segmented eye affixed to the corner of its mouth—a hyper-mitotic cell. The sundry pupils honed in on Virgil, and at last the creature limped over on its fungal-humanoid body to the only other person it knew at the party aside from Lindsay. Meanwhile, from the bar Aaron was making a confused face towards Lindsay. “Gin and sugar?” Lindsay crept over. “Sorry, it’s all it’ll drink. Just put like ten spoons of sugar in a glass of gin.” Page 59 | The Paragon Journal
Aaron shrugged and did as he was told, glancing at Lindsay’s pleasing figure as she returned to her husband and cancer. The surgical scar on her shoulder had healed nicely. Darren Jasper was saying something he thought was interesting. “Actually I golf with a fella had cancer. He’s doing fine now. So is cancer.” (Ever since the disease had made its entrance, no one could think of anything else to talk about.) “Usually it serves as caddie.” “Who?” Virgil attacked. His voice was unsteady, either with emotion or drink. “Sorry?” “Whose cancer is it? Who was it that had the cancer?” Roving cancers were after all a rarity, Virgil’s dubious tone implied. “Oh . . . you wouldn’t know him. Business associate,” Darren dismissed, attempting to sip his rattling cocktail, looking everywhere but directly at the cancer. “Here you go,” Aaron said, carrying a milky tumbler over to the group. “Gin and sugar. Just what the . . . doctor ordered.” With a nod of its tumorous head, the creature accepted the glass into one of its appendages. Aaron was careful this time not to make contact with the dark, piled flesh. The creature guzzled the drink and in the process slopped a grainy wave into the maple butternut squash on the kitchen island. “Oh, do be careful, dear,” Lindsay said, standing on tippy toes and wiping the creature’s mouth with a napkin, removing much more than just the saccharine gin dribbling down its chin. “Honey,” Aaron whispered, moving away from the group and approaching his wife, “where’s the steel wool?” “What?” Molly, knuckles white, was still gripping the knife and apple for the salad she had been preparing when Lindsay had let the cancer in. Page 60 | The Paragon Journal
“Look at this, will you?”
3 – Starter and Main Course
“So I was saying about my friend who had cancer,” Darren said half an hour later when the humans were all switched to white wine and seated around the dining room table, nibbling the apple pecan salad. The Johansson’s dining room was a practice in grandiose, Speerian austerity with startling winged columns and a high ceiling. The table was long and narrow, the high-backed chairs spaced far apart. “What was his name again?” Virgil riposted, voice now margarita-slurred. “Beside the point. But his cancer was quite a character. Very knowledgeable golf-wise,” Darren continued, watching out of the corner of his eye as the cancer, seated in a folding chair at the corner between Lindsay and Aaron, shoveled its third helping of salad into its mouth, gulping it down without even a munch. Clued into Virgil’s doubts, no one dared respond to the apparent lie. The cancer, however, cleared its throat. “Let’s talk about something else, yes?” Molly suggested, her smile cracking. “The salad is lovely,” Lindsay was quick to say. “Where did you get the recipe?” This set off a brief sojourn into non-cancer-related topics, when the Beaujolais was opened and the dinner party proceeded onto the main course. “The roast is so tender,” Lindsay said. Aaron, nodding to himself, found her perkiness stoic. Indeed, the knives were superfluous, the meat yielding with only a bow from the fork. However, while it looked good—bloody inside and herb-blackened outside—the flavor was a Page 61 | The Paragon Journal
challenge to appreciate with the cancer’s putrescence filling the room. No one but Lindsay mentioned the maple butternut squash, everyone else merely poking the honey bronze chunks and experimenting with their taste before sequestering the dish to the hinterlands of their plates. A section of the platter of squash had begun to rot, sprouting a bruised mold. The cancer stirred everything together with plastic utensils and shoved it all into its face. It nudged Lindsay with its empty plate, and she gave it another helping of everything, which it polished off in a matter of seconds. “Such an appetite,” Carol tittered. Darren’s eyebrows made a brief appearance over the rims of his glasses in order to reproach her. Ignoring him, she addressed the cancer: “How do you manage to stay so trim?” The creature, nudging Lindsay for a third plate, turned its eye(s?) towards Carol Jasper and blinked infinitely at her. “I’m sorry,” Carol backtracked, consulting the rest of the table. “Was that rude of me? Do they not like to be called trim?” “Oh no, Carol,” Lindsay piped up, taking the plate out of her cancer’s hands. “It’s still a little shy around company. Dear—” Virgil, lost in his wine, turned towards her for a moment with a glimmer of delight, saw she was addressing the cancer and not him (the once-Dear) and returned to the dregs of his glass, “—why don’t you answer Mrs. Jasper?” The cancer shook its head, pieces of it splattering against the wall, one bit striking the tablecloth in front of Carol, who tossed her napkin on top of it, and another chunk splatting against Darren’s glasses, who obsessively ignored the wood-ear-like mass as it streaked down towards his cheek. “Don’t be shy,” Lindsay urged. Page 62 | The Paragon Journal
It cleared its throat again and said in a creaky voice, “I have hypermetabolism.” The Jaspers and Johanssons, polite smiles painted over their strained faces, waited for more, but when an elaboration failed to come, Carol asked what that term meant. Her husband mumbled an excuse and fled from the table. Virgil, who had not witnessed the splatter, assumed the man didn’t understand the meaning of “hypermetabolism” and had run to the restroom to look it up on his phone. “It’s common with cancers,” Lindsay reassured her, preparing a plate and setting down in front of the disease. “I see,” Carol said with feigned satisfaction. “Lindsay, do you—” Molly started, then checked herself, “—is it okay if I speak to you and not the cancer?” “Sure,” Lindsay shrugged. “I didn’t know if it would be offended if it wasn’t the center of attention,” she said, sounding offended herself. “It’s fine.” “I saw that video you posted yesterday. I thought it was inspir—” The cancer cleared its throat. Lindsay looked embarrassed. “Sorry, it doesn’t understand social media. Maybe we should just talk about something we can all relate to?” “Like what?” Aaron said. He was wearing a black leather driving glove now (the steel wool had done nothing but manufacture screams) and had become rather sulky over the course of dinner, brooding about his hand and Lindsay.
Page 63 | The Paragon Journal
“Where does it sleep?” Carol blurted out another thought bird, which danced before the eyes of the guests before settling on Lindsay, to whom the Jaspers and the Johanssons turned expectantly. However, it was Virgil who responded. “In the rocking chair in the corner of our room. Except, you realize, cancers don’t sleep. They just sit up all night, rocking, staring at you, growing. You can hear it grow, you know. Just listen.” He paused for effect, and aside from the autumn wind whining against the corner of the house, there was a ripping or devouring sound, quiet but distinct, as if heard from across a foggy lake. “Thus, you don’t sleep either,” he continued. “You stare into the corner of the room where the darkness grows darker still. And sex—you can count that out too—” “Virgil,” Lindsay objected, face flushed. “What, dear? I’m just giving the people what they want to hear.” Indeed, everyone interpreted what he said as an excuse for his recent tartness and presidential aging. “They don’t need to hear everything,” she spoke in a hushed voice. “Aren’t you all curious?” Virgil asked, attempting to rile support from his audience. “Rather,” Aaron said, staring at his gloved hand, which he fancied had started to move and balloon on its own accord. “Oh, I know all about this,” Darren began, glasses removed, face wet, returning from wherever he had rushed off to. “The cancer I golf with—” “Well, does it have a name?” Carol interrupted her husband as he squeezed back into his chair. “A name? Don’t be absurd!” Molly was bordering on hysteria, watching the butternut squash growing beyond the confines of the dish, bubbling blackly onto the white linen.
Page 64 | The Paragon Journal
Lindsay helped herself to another spoon of the squash, and everyone watched in horror as she forked the pulsing mass into her mouth, chewing it delectably. “Actually, we did name it. Peewee. We thought giving it a silly name would make it less intimidating, help with the healing process.” Virgil shook his head in disgust, refilling his glass, the fungal mass of food on his plate untouched. “How do you like your name, Peewee?” Carol asked. The thing blinked at her, passing its empty plate to Lindsay. “You’ve had enough,” she whispered. It slumped in its chair. “Don’t worry, Lindsay. Why don’t you just give it the rest of the squash?” Molly hinted. “It did seem to enjoy that especially.” “Oh, I couldn’t.” Virgil whispered something to Lindsay, or rather he would have whispered had he not been so drunk, instead slurring: “It’s been contaminated.” “Ohhh, right,” she nodded, expression pained and apologetic, and loaded as much of the squash onto its plate as possible.
4 – Dessert and Digestif
When Carol’s cake was served, the cancer consumed half of it. Color- and texture-wise (dark and moist) it was an unfortunate menu item: the Johanssons and Jaspers inspected every one of their forkfuls for growth and movement and gassy heat before finally gulping them down with shudders. Virgil helped himself to the wine he and Lindsay had instructed the cancer to Page 65 | The Paragon Journal
bring, leaving his piece of cake untouched. When everyone but Virgil had finished their cake, they sipped dark amber Amaro Nardini from liqueur glasses. The cancer stayed its course of sweet gin throughout the evening, and Aaron found himself wondering if the thing, which had seemed unsteady to begin with, was at all affected by the bottle of Beefeater it had consumed by the end of the meal. All in all, dessert was a subdued affair, Lindsay making the odd compliment, Virgil almost comatose, and the rest of the party tried not to seem too obvious in their monitoring the cancer’s spread: Aaron saw that the stain covered by the glove had begun to eat its way up his arm; Molly trained her peripheral vision through the door into the kitchen at the black growth that had sprouted out of the remains of the squash and spread over the sides of the kitchen island; Carol, on the other hand, kept adding to a growing network of napkins to cover the progress of the pulsing tendrils of rot snaking out across the tablecloth; and Darren cleared his throat and coughed and orchestrated all kinds of other novel orifice-cleansing maneuvers in order to sneak glances up towards the dark bits that had splattered against the walls and had burgeoned upward onto the ceiling like inky storm clouds. No one knew where the latter had deposited the bit that had struck him in the glasses, but the Johanssons assumed they were in for an unpleasant surprise later that night. Aaron in particular, whose mind did not shy away from the unseemly, planned to make a thorough inspection of every toilet in the house once his guests had left. The uneasy quiet was broken when the cancer dispatched a bold tendril to venture across the table, coil around Virgil’s uneaten cake, and convey it back across. Lindsay was mortified, by turns apologizing to Aaron and Molly and the Jaspers, and scolding the creature as it shoved the crumbling cake into its face. “I imagine it’s just a cultural difference,” Carol hazarded charitably. Page 66 | The Paragon Journal
“Oh sure, we have all kinds of interesting disagreements on the golf course,” Darren nodded. “Why one time—” Aaron, at the end of his tether, snorted. “It’s damned rude is what it is.” Lindsay offered a pleading look, apologizing again. “Forget it, Lindsay,” he railed, both touched by her prettiness and infuriated by Virgil’s unwillingness to take control of the situation. “It’s got nothing to do with you. God knows you didn’t choose to be burdened with the thing. Listen, buddy,” he pointed with his gloved hand at the cancer beside him, which responded with a disorder of blinks. “We’re trying to have a civilized dinner party here for Pete’s sake. If you can’t be more polite, you can go wait outside . . . for Pete’s sake,” he faltered, hoping no one would notice the repeated phrase that betrayed the flicker of terror as the cancer stood up, towering over him. “D-dear,” Molly said, afraid the cancer was about to wolf down her husband. “Well, what are you going to do? You’ve got some gall trying to intimidate me in my own home,” Aaron said standing, clenching his fork. At only six-foot-one, no one at the table expected he would be a match for the creature. But there was no fight; it did not attempt to eat Aaron, instead turning away and lumbering out of the dining room. The five sober diners eyed each other in turn, listening as the front door opened, a gust of wind carrying the stench of decrepit flesh back into the dining room for one final, olfactory punchline. Then the door closed. Everyone heard it shuffling along the wraparound porch, finally settling onto a groaning porch swing. After a minute of silence, Molly suggested they all play Throw the Smile. Lindsay burst into tears. When Virgil, having trouble sitting upright, failed to console his wife, Aaron walked Page 67 | The Paragon Journal
over and rubbed her scarred shoulder with his cancerous hand. Now it was his turn to apologize. No one faulted him for the outburst, but nor did anyone express their relief that the creature had been excised from the party. Darren began to adjust his glasses, startled when he poked himself in the eye. “I rather expected this might happen,” he commented to everyone’s annoyance. Carol asked her husband if cancers were always in the habit of leaving parties earlier than everyone else, and he mumbled something vague and authoritative about golf. With such tepid steps as these, the party began to resume. They followed Molly’s suggestion to throw smiles and gradually noticed that, with the creature now banished from the house, the satellite cancers that had begun to consume Aaron’s hand and the walls and ceiling and the maple butternut squash and the linen—they receded into the dark, mental corners where they grew darker still. At the end of the evening, red-eyed and wearing a tartan shawl, Lindsay left the warmth of the party and stepped onto the Johansson’s wraparound porch under the weight of her drunk husband, and there was a long, indulgent moment when her dread turned to hope, when she gazed into the shadows and imagined there was nothing there at all. Then the shadows stirred and blinked back at her infinitely, and the cancer lurched forward and assisted her with the burden as the trio made their way down the stairs and over the twisting, wooded path to the street and then home. END
Page 68 | The Paragon Journal
The Dead Boy’s Boots Valeri Paxton-Steele
I am being haunted by the dead boy’s boots. They just won’t shut up and leave me alone. The boy himself is dead and gone and he sure as hell doesn’t care anymore. He doesn’t care about me or the boots or anything else that has gone unwanted or unclaimed. Still, the boots keep yelling. I am not at all surprised that they’re angry. They are combat boots, after all. They don’t have any strange ethereal quality, either. They are decidedly dull, and quite boringly real. They are a rough, black leather, permanently fixed in the shape of his feet, with worn treads. They started yelling at me from the spot where he had last left them, in that scrub wasted parking lot, under the railroad trestle that spans the river. I passed by his things every day. He left his backpack, socks, boots, and a half-empty can of Coke. At the time I had no idea of who owned them, or why they were there. The police tape was a grimy, dirty yellow. It flapped in the dusty wind like a triumphant banner. For the first few days his things went untouched. They reminded me of listless, lonesome sentinels. I got the feeling that they were trying to get used to the idea of being abandoned by someone they loved. I took the Coke can first. I dumped the last of it into the curling grapevine that twisted itself amongst the rubble. I turned it in for a nickel deposit. No one cared. As the days went on, I noticed that some daring soul had gone through his backpack. It was opened, violently upended, a lonely pair of sweat socks strewn over the debris of cigarette butts and broken glass. Oddly, the boots remained stolid and silent for three more days. It seemed that they were accusing me of some horrible transgression of which I was wholly unaware. They seethed at me. They glared. The next time I saw them, those damned boots had crossed the lot, tucking themselves into the shadow of a delicately arched abutment which ran parallel to the outdated metal support beams of the trestle. They were staring at the whickering plastice tape below the column that led to the top of the railroad tracks. That’s when they started yelling. By then I knew who the dead boy was. I read about him in the papers. It was a sad death by suicide. He had left his few possessions on the ground before he went up and out over the turgid water and jumped. The only problem was at the end. He screamed, in the last moments… screamed to be saved while the swirling current was drowning him. He was carried to the nexus of the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers, where he was caught under a stretch of clotted reeds. He had changed his mind at the very last, and by then it was too late. The socks became soaked, moldy from the rain. I took the backpack home. No one seemed to mind. No family member came to claim them. No police took his few meager things away as evidence. I became petrified of those godforsaken boots. They were so loud. Page 69 | The Paragon Journal
Screaming out so often that I had to muster my courage to touch them. They wanted my attention. Their very existence shamed me. I understand now why they turned their dry hatred toward me. It was supposed to have been me. The jumper. The deadboy. I was the one who had been suicidal, after all. I was the one always fascinated with the idea of drowning myself. It was ME who was supposed to die. They told me so. Over and over again. They accused me. I’m wearing them right now. The heavy, dead weight of them are crunching on the fallen leaves. They are softly smoonching and slipping on the gravel of this abandoned parking lot. These rugged boots are walking me right down the wasted path toward the pylons. They told me to climb the trestle. I will cut my hands on that crumbling, rusty ironwork bridge. I will jump into that brown, murky water. I will leave his boots on. That’s what they want. That’s all they have ever wanted. The combat boots will finally, finally stop their incessant shouting after they are finally reunited with the dead boy… the dead boy they love and miss so much.
Page 70 | The Paragon Journal
A Pledge to You Kelleigh Stevenson
I pledge allegiance, to my heart, to never let you in again. One who was supposed to help me, guide me, protect me from harm, The one who, with a groping hand, ripped me from my childhood. The swift breeze of your fingers brushing past my skin is still present in the goosebumps that cover my body today. No matter how much time passes, the fear of seeing you again is the strongest one. No needle blade drug cigarette or poem could ever make me forget your fingerprints on my skin.
Page 71 | The Paragon Journal
YOUR STORY Carl Boon
Your story could be paragraphs of children building backyard tents, September turning cold, and their school books scratched with bad equations.
You could capture a woman who was loved, who passes weekends in the suburbs, her husband’s Mitsubishi, packs the lunches with napkins Sunday evenings.
Paragraph after paragraph of purchases at Meijers: paper towels and diapers, food for the parakeet, limes for her husband’s cocktails, foil for the leftovers.
It could be she remembers the joy of sonnets, the joy of what she learned long ago when joy was close and lit on matchsticks in the wind. It could be you mean for her
not a story but a sonnet, or Brahms playing softly in a scrubbed bedroom. There she brushes her hair, examines her hips and whispers I am not the woman they know.
I stood beside a pond in winter and counted black walnut branches until my mother called to say it was time to go home. So I did and let my hair grow and married and when
Page 72 | The Paragon Journal
the children came already I knew it was too late. So I watch the joggers and the cars and Channel 5 that says it’s going to be sunny until clouds arrive in the afternoon.
Page 73 | The Paragon Journal
THIS MAN IN MY KITCHEN Carl Boon When you love another, I can love you more, he says, this man in my kitchen exploring the pantry, fascinated, craving. He fingers the semi-sweet chocolate chips— something can be done with these, he says, something amazing. We could have a party! But I am tired. The people will come, they’ll leave their glasses on the mantle, their super-deluxe store-bought hors d’oeuvres in various corners of the bedroom, all the while making plans for other parties, other women, men. This man in my kitchen straightens the placemats and says I’m special, says I should part my hair down the middle like the girl on The Bachelor, that my skin’s a Nevada wildfire. I have no idea what that means, but still I listen, hoping someday we might go to the sea and be strangers once again to fall in love again and be away from Cleves, Ohio, its gawkers and absolute certainty. I pray he won’t touch the forks and knives, the pepper grinder my mother gave me before she died. He says (before he leaves) that love is a thing that must be shared, Page 74 | The Paragon Journal
that I am spirit fully, and fleshÂ â&#x20AC;¨ is an instinct, like a tree, a flower.
Page 75 | The Paragon Journal
YOU AND I Ayse , Teksen , You cannot talk to people, and I canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t look them in the eye. You have a thing with words. I have a thing with eyes. You do a handstand. I sit still on the ground watching your amazing performance. You stand on your hands. I sit on my butt. You want respect, work and reputation in this life. I want you. You want to build, grow, raise, rise and shine. I want you. You want to find you, and I want you. Curse, blood, death and fallâ&#x20AC;Ś You fear those are expecting you. I fear wanting you already means those things, and I still want you.
Page 76 | The Paragon Journal
ONE MORNING Ayse , Teksen , One morning I woke up, and I was a different person. My tongue was no longer the thing that was speaking, no longer the thing that was producing those sounds. It was somebody else’s. And what about my face? I couldn’t feel it anymore. I touched it and touched it again, but not a single damn nerve was working there. I couldn’t even write a Facebook status update or send a Tweet. The words betrayed me. Then years and years later I met you, saw you, read you. I decided to write things myself. I wrote this. See? I wrote all the things you read above. But does this make these words mine? Actually, why don’t you take them all? Come on, take them. They are yours. I insist. They look beautiful on you. Now you see what I mean.
Page 77 | The Paragon Journal
FOR THOSE WHO TRAVEL WITHOUT MAPS King Grossman longing to be driftwood bobbing in the surf not beached & no longer wayfaring granted on this sand flowing veins of decaying logs present themselves as voluptuous Adonis curves or straining thighs of Hermes art for sore eyes but i believe these remnants secretly await the next high tide fueled by an unusually greedy squall that reaches onshore and takes them back to a briny sometimes bitter sea even so with promise of floating endlessly toward no particular destination plenteous stretches for bliss to sing softly quietly Page 78 | The Paragon Journal
as if placing shadows of liquid lovers in sunshine or moonshine each for a revolution before so many vanishings like say Leonard Cohen would have crooned about the unknowing buoyancy of waterâ&#x20AC;Š
Page 79 | The Paragon Journal
SO GINGERLY WE TAKE THE STATUES DOWN King Grossman In Charlottesville, Virginia, General Robert E. Lee rides his bronze steed at a gallop into the air-conditioned museum. In Washington, D.C., General John F. Kelly sits on the cushioned chair as White House Chief of Staff. These so-called good soldiers turned away from deeper threads then and now are acquittals for Orwellâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s timeless 1984. If only reality were a sophist space to fret over or offer twisted appreciation of our brutal future. If injustice and death dealing for raw power were sculpted with clay and forever placed behind glass in an exhibit.â&#x20AC;Š
Page 80 | The Paragon Journal
AMID TALK OF PLACING SOLAR PANELS ON THE U.S.’ VERY OWN BERLIN WALL King Grossman Tie to the end of strings hanging from the ceiling names of deaths at the border; raise red flags in desert badlands at the foot of watery tanks, invitation signals for migrants to quench parched mouths; laugh at the iron barrier for thousands of miles while wielding claw hammers to take it down; every megawatt if produced off this sun-splashed façade will slip wedding rings on Mephistopheles’ jutted middle finger.
Page 81 | The Paragon Journal
The First Day of Our Marriage KW Zerbe
The rain is falling again. The snow is Coming. All is still, Except the creek down the hill. Still running. There’s deer on the road. So we’re not Alone. The chimney smoke Is hanging low In the valley. It’s getting cold at night. So I hold you Tight. And if there’s morning sun I won’t need none. Because I’m happy. Now the mountain tops Look cold and Lost. But that’s okay. Because we’re here to stay. Forever.
Page 82 | The Paragon Journal
In the Land of Oz Judith Quaempts They walk our town for hours, two innocents who wander endless city canyons hand in hand. They walk looking down as though they fear the ground will disappear. Or maybe to ignore the voices, voices we are lucky not to hear. Once I saw them stop, saw him gently, oh so gently, stroke her hair. Her eyes came up and fixed on his. The wonder there! That shared glance stopped my breath. I had no right to witness it. Two lost people hand in hand, two people lost but holding on to wonder.â&#x20AC;Š
Page 83 | The Paragon Journal
The Shape of Things Confounds Judith Quaempts Every day you look for your wife. Every day you ask when she’s coming. She doesn’t know I’m here, you cry. How will she know where to find me? The rooms in your brain betray you. Walls move. Doors dissolve. I’m light as air, you say. Look, I can float. On good days you know Your mind is going, Know you wife is dead. Kill me, you say then. Please.
Page 84 | The Paragon Journal
Breeding Violence Haris Čolić
A pill to numb the pain Makeup to cover up All the scars and bruises Shirts with long sleeves So others won’t notice She kept quiet about it Hoping it would stop One day perhaps When he gets sober And reason takes over A punch after punch Straight to her face Calling her worthless While she’s sobbing And their kids watching A pill to numb the mind Bandages on her arms Blood soaking her lips Her skin full of scars Still hoping it will stop She phoned the police One day, after a beating Wanted her kids to be safe But they just made a report And told her they’ll be fine He got mad after that Stripped her naked And beat her with Page 85 | The Paragon Journal
A wooden plank Until blood gushed out One day, her son Couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t take it anymore He took a kitchen knife Stabbed the drunk father Numerous times A pill to numb the pain Makeup to cover up All the scars and bruises
Page 86 | The Paragon Journal
mercy Dave Garcia yesterday, i took my tea with way too many sugar cubes, and i sat down at my flower patterned glass table, facing Death as it drank its hot chocolate. this morning, i woke up to offerings on my nightstand, and when i got out of bed, i stepped on shards of hard candy. Death’s bandages are quite sloppy because their hands shake just like mine, but it has a gentle glowing, and i trust its sunken smile. this afternoon, the ground is sinking. it starts downtown, tendrils of free falling rocks, the blood vessels of the earth popping, and the ground - a shifting perspective in the eyes of a god. this evening, i’ll be dead, in Death’s garden, far away, and i’ll be sipping molten glass out of a cupped-hands shaped grail.
Page 87 | The Paragon Journal
cotton candy Tom Lawlor If we got any higher we’d be floating away, among our bubblegum pink cotton candy nimbuses, twisted and intertwined before drifting apart as you climb and climb with a one way ticket through the stratosphere granting me just enough time to wish goodnight and good luck on your way up.
marlboro Tom Lawlor I sit and wait for the rain. It’s one of those days today where I wish that I smoked; where I’d steadily exhale and trace, right before me, the warm Marlboro mist rise before plucking it out the air like a stray, flailing ribbon, folding it together to frame up and file away as a keepsake.
Page 88 | The Paragon Journal
my - - - the - - Valeri Paxton-Steele what do you want me to say? my heart, the place of breakage my world, the place of distance my soul, the place of chaos my fear, the place of me what can I say to change it? what can I say to make it go away? my nightmares, the memoriesâ&#x20AC;Śâ&#x20AC;Š
Page 89 | The Paragon Journal
A Pair of Little Red Shoes Valeri Paxton-Steele Whiteness beyond human measure. The memorial a pyramid of stone, and an erect iron cross. Unfathomably, they endure and transcend through time… We decided our own fates… That each of our lives were worth living even through our sufferings. We touched God on that mountain. We consumed the flesh of our loved ones, the sanctified… they sanctified us. Them, who wanted only that we should survive… We took of their holy communion. Our souls intertwined with the dead. We gave thanks, and blessed them, and so, too, our endless horizon. Against every odd, our small lives prayed the faithful rosary. God blessed us with this mysterious journey, for whatever His reasons…
Page 90 | The Paragon Journal
Our friends are not alive to share this tale with you that life is worth living. Now, I live my life to honor them. Our memories span 72 days, and fall upon the salvation promised with necklaces of little red shoes… Wine, chocolates, and cigarettes. The thin-aired trek across frozen peaks… I touch this stone this Andean shard of basaltic black, and this single little red shoe, and my thoughts turn to the snow, to the shattered wreckage, to the hunger… and the bitter cold, and to the sacrifices our loved ones had never asked to make…
Page 91 | The Paragon Journal
cloud Tom Lawlor I kiss a cloud with the tip of a finger, punching a gap in its wide, shit-eating grin. It stirs and swirls into a deep, nauseous grey. Ducking inside, I watch through a window at the first sprinkles of a slow summer shower.â&#x20AC;Š
Page 92 | The Paragon Journal
Middle School Naima Hirsch How we climbed up the jungle gym Talia clunky clamoring for the highest perch Becca narrow-eyed leading by scoffing & me shoelaces dragging in the supposed safe wood chips. Once the boys came wind whipped in space between us & we forgot starlit secrets for caramel kisses It didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t matter what we wanted (not that we knew to ask) Once the boys came & went Becca & Talia sunbathed in the wreckage. & I burned.
Page 93 | The Paragon Journal
two(are)for(delicious)one(and)donuts(nutritious) Pigpen Madlgan the
nature of the ride
(been allowed otherwise
fill the recess and
could focus on how mad she was a me (our heads
we built the dam
we passed too
laid the foundation
(probably hers we didn’t have to speak told me so
(doen os taht) she
taking the deep sigh that we wouldnt have)
for anything to matter anymore anyway
love me and
Ion my island when the road screamed welcome to Omaha)
she wouldnt say anything and I wouldnt either (watching the water
on the idea
many old homes and poured the concrete)
and it became clear that she didnt
we didn’t have to
run with the
when I asked but it wasnt like love or the possibilityoflove
(it was magical the bliss
of quiet for the first time
going make me feel
in my life
into the seat as
(sun picked apart the shadows and anything else that didn’t make sense
and) the summer
it wasn’t futile either)
Page 94 | The Paragon Journal
BETWEEN FAULT LINES Sam Megson The rumbling foreshock sends a warning, but you and I do not shelter in place . Out we rush into the waylaying night, mockingeach other’s teetering, tottering until scorn arouses our kind of hunger to sift the rubble for bits of life eaten raw. Around us falling, falling, beauty falling — then the beginning of a new desolation. Dawn materialises into a hardened ground, too solid for ourgame of weave and bop, so we hurl unleveled words into the walls and hiss as a choir of lamentation sings. Even in the numb afternoon of assessment, we offer no salve for neighbors’ wounds, only wish we had suffered their fractures to lay further waste to our shattered home. Night’s illusion cannot provide us cover when the earth moves into its flood lights, revealing our suspicion swirling in debris: you and I, we thrive within these breaks.
Page 95 | The Paragon Journal
YOUR BELL INFLUENCE Sam Megson The Fates weaved from a molten metal thread of past, present, future to round your silhouette, a voluptuous embodiment of lifeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s continuity. You were forged in a foundry named progress. Experience dismantled the scaffolds of youth, age ripened your purpose with a verdigris will to move a reformation from within to without. Your tower now rises in the tree line of grace, with vibrations reconciling sans transcription through the echoing chime of natureâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s rhythm. Sound of your generation, both near and afar, ring in the air with harmonic notes of reason.
Page 96 | The Paragon Journal
INCINERATION OF MEMORY Sam Megson Careless, careless, we are human folly with flame, arsonists whispering fire in every mountain wood. From your inflammable continent round to mine, we go scorching throughout the forests of history. Careless, careless, we scatter our drunken embers, teasing fever into roots, lighting crowns unworn. A look backâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; and we claim the sparks are rubies then dance for remembrance until it burns smoke. The particulate matter smothers down the slopes, obliterating nests, burying our fragments of bone. Careless, careless, now gone the verdant drenched, up there as below we bequeath only a shadow crisp.
Page 97 | The Paragon Journal
Roar Anyway Elisabeth Ferrell-Horan Don't be careful with your words tonight, let me hear you roaring. Howl and tell me it is only us holding hands in the darkness. I'm crying now, but who's to know my tears, they come so easily. Just a silly girl, with a heart-full of holes bleakness grabs hold of the weakest. We are the only fools here. No one else is peeking in nor snatching fragments of us; our dids and didn'ts, our shoulds and shouldn'ts, Surely an omen of further abuse, amid the wars against us. It's just me and you. Shelter my face. Shoulder me in yon tufted silken firelit mane. Wrap me up. Hold me close. Lick my open wounds. Don't go away. Stay with this fearful kitten. Swat me to behave. I am not the love you feel this night. I pray, roar anyway.
Page 98 | The Paragon Journal
Dramatic Monologue to a Hesitant Reader Elisabeth Ferrell-Horan i. Why hello there what's your name? I’m poem… What type do you say? Well, what type do you prefer? I can be a naughty little diddyOoh, look at that body, girl! I can be a wicked lez: butch or femme. Eat me, eat you - either way, I’m good. I can be a straight rich white man, listen: For the stars in the sky never fell So hard as the night you left me. ii. I’m trying too hard, aren’t I? It’s just that I feel like there could be something more between us. Something special. It’s been so long since I felt that. My writer tells me I need to get my shit together and win her some money Be in a chapbook, sell some copies. I have no idea what she is talking about. Besides, the writer is essentially a spy. See, I just like to meander along taking you with me Like the tracks under a train
Page 99 | The Paragon Journal
I follow a path to a destination But I will never let on to where we’re headin’ ‘till we get there That’s a rule of the poetic craft, she told me. All them abbreviations, that’s my rule of the ff’ing craft. A trick, if you will casual word play to make you feel safe with me; To win you over, to seduce you to make you mine, all mine. I’ll hide you away, then do what I like... iii. That was too much, wasn’t it No, please don’t leave! I’ll stop, I promise. Take it easy there, poem… Back to the smiling emoticons like overripe bananas I think again and again I am like… I am like… Searching for the perfect metaphor so you will know what I look like, taste like, smell like So you will KNOW me, finally and then in the end you will love me as I love you, and I’ll be your poem Your one and only, your Guy de Vere Minime peccavimus! Lenore, Lenore I am knocking at your door.
Page 100 | The Paragon Journal
Can you just open it already? I am cold and tired and hungry and lonely - mostly lonely. Also poor, suggests my poet lady. iv. You may not remember but you loved me once before The woods were lovely dark and deep. I was the thing of hope and feathers As the Soul selects Her own society Till you shut the door (in my face). Two roads diverged and I went one way, you chose another path in those horrid yellow woods I thought I would never see you again. v.a I picked up rocks and mended walls, trying to earn a buck; I heard you were killing brutes using stakes to the heart; navigating the luftwaffe and the gobbledegoo. Those were dark times - ugly angels spoke to me. Strong was the phenomenology of anger; I, in the house of Bedlam; You, my daughter in law, with shaven legs like tusks. v.b But you must remember the woods! Her softness and her midnight sighs
Page 101 | The Paragon Journal
But nothing new will ever come into my head. So they say, The jig is up! Mein Kampf… Buttercup. vi. I’m a poem, nothing more, I am very, very small. I have nothing to say except Trump this, Trump that; My dreams, my dreams: Look at me! I’m falling down the rabbit hole - thank you Lewis Carroll: (Now slay I the Jabberwock with my silver blade of vorpal!) vi.a Watch it like a train wreck you will - Cantcha look away lil’ lady? What’s that? Ditch the inappropriate colloquialisms, did you say? They are making you uncomfortable, aren’t they… I ’m getting carried away I do that sometimes with the casual speak - I’ll try to be more formal: Stars like holes of endless ebon, dippedinblather Turkeys! I’ll take a stab at them too for that matter: vi.b Toms hens: cluckingpecking pathos pathos: rachelzucker Mentalhealth [therapistsarejusttopicalbandaids] ECT video games for shock value: [feel free to insert anything here in metaphor of my brain] Eg: a sieve/a net/a gourd/a rattle/an urn/a coconut/a chasm/violent spasms/my mother’s/ Schloopy messes of phrases and stanzas. Who cares? No meter - no idea. Just me me me, ad nauseum.
Page 102 | The Paragon Journal
But nothing new will ever come into my head. So they say, The jig is up! Mein Kampf… Buttercup. vi. I’m a poem, nothing more, I am very, very small. I have nothing to say except Trump this, Trump that; My dreams, my dreams: Look at me! I’m falling down the rabbit hole - thank you Lewis Carroll: (Now slay I the Jabberwock with my silver blade of vorpal!) vi.a Watch it like a train wreck you will - Cantcha look away lil’ lady? What’s that? Ditch the inappropriate colloquialisms, did you say? They are making you uncomfortable, aren’t they… I ’m getting carried away I do that sometimes with the casual speak - I’ll try to be more formal: Stars like holes of endless ebon, dippedinblather Turkeys! I’ll take a stab at them too for that matter: vi.b Toms hens: cluckingpecking pathos pathos: rachelzucker Mentalhealth [therapistsarejusttopicalbandaids] ECT video games for shock value: [feel free to insert anything here in metaphor of my brain] Eg: a sieve/a net/a gourd/a rattle/an urn/a coconut/a chasm/violent spasms/my mother’s/ Schloopy messes of phrases and stanzas. Who cares? No meter - no idea. Just me me me, ad nauseum.
Page 103 | The Paragon Journal
No lagos (sic.) logos to be found around here! Nevermore, Lenore. So what the hell - then, a formal feeling comes. vii. How do they get that spark? Those poems! The ones they read and buy. The ones they spend them hard earned dimes on, boy! Is it in the lines, the words, the characters? Or that certain élan - that I never figured upon. It’s their magic - like fairy dust sifted over the readers’ eyes, and they become believers The big ones have it but I’m no Baraka, no Sexton, no Cullen, no Hughes. Never Etheridge, never Frost, never Angelou - I’m neither Rich nor a Dove. No Bishop, Plath or Poe… not even Ashbery, love. vii.a But I have to keep going - exist on a page of pixels, trapped in her Chromebook for the world could stop turning if I got deleted. The sun up at night and the moon in the day - she who writes me: she needs me, she loves me pursues then divorces me. We fight like dogs then fuck under the covers vii.b For she has me taped to her wall - like a lost ancestor I could fall, forgotten; flutter to t he floor - the tape yellowed with crackled time. She would be alone and frightened without me; might summon the guards, even call her family They are farmers, I am a thief. Her kin would never know how to care for her as I do. viii. So, remember me, when that Block arrives, Panic not, lest ye parse to write, love Me for the chance at words, love me
Page 104 | The Paragon Journal
Though our words, like birds, must die For only I, her Romeo, protect I must, this little pet - if she doth walk, then I to follow; e’er she is my Juliet. I am her nurse and come, Anon! These rules We’ve made are fair and just, so if she be my spy - Cruel Editor begone! I guard Her gates, her words entrust - For be I truth This day, come morrow: I’m a lie. Who then To sift the stardust upon her weary eyes? Who then to kiss her loyal lips, judge me not, uncouth.
Page 105 | The Paragon Journal
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS WINS A PRIZE A One-Act Play
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS WINS A PRIZE
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS WINS A PRIZE A One-Act Play
When Tennessee Williams is awarded an important literary prize, he shows up at the reception late, inebriated and accompanied by a male hooker.
3 (2 men, 1 woman)
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: Age—72. Speaks slowly and expressively, as if always reciting poetry. (Casting note: this part can be played by a younger man—even a much younger man— who embodies the essence of Tennessee Williams in the last year of his life.) CALVIN SERANDAPOLOUS: Age—20s. A good-looking, shrewd male hustler. LOUISA DRAGONI: Any age. A solicitous but hassled board member of a literary organization.
A hotel ballroom.
A table and 3 chairs.
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS WINS A PRIZE
A hotel ballroom. We see just the head table. It has two chairs and place settings. A third chair sits off to the side. LOUISA paces nervously. LOUISA He’s already 45 minutes late—what impertinence! TENNESSEE enters with CALVIN. TENNESSEE is drunk. LOUISA Oh, there you are! Mr. Williams, what an honor it is to meet you. I’m Louisa Dragoni. TENNESSEE Now, Louisa, dear, I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve brought someone along with me. LOUISA Your publicist didn’t say anything about a guest. TENNESSEE Then I shall fire the blackguard in the morning! LOUISA Oh, really, it’s no bother. TENNESSEE He didn’t know. Nor did I for that matter. You see, my friend arrived unexpectedly this afternoon. Allow me to introduce my old, old friend, Mr. Calvin Serendipity. CALVIN (aside to Tennessee—correcting him) It’s Serendapolous. TENNESSEE Are you sure? CALVIN Uh, yeah. TENNESSEE Funny, I’ve gotten that wrong all these years. (to Louisa) Then allow me to present Mr. Calvin Serendapolous.
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS WINS A PRIZE
Where did you two meet? In college back in Missouri. Uh, I ain’t never been to college.
LOUISA (suspiciously) TENNESSEE (obviously lying) CALVIN (aside to Tennessee) TENNESSEE
It don’t matter, baby. (to Louisa) We were on the wrestling team together. (to Cal) Let’s show her our favorite hold, Cal! TENNESSEE grabs CALVIN in an improper way. LOUISA Oh! (forcing a laugh) Ha ha! . . . (flustered) Why don’t I go get us another place setting? LOUISA exits quickly. TENNESSEE lets go of CALVIN. TENNESSEE Pardon me a moment while I attend to a bit of medicinal business. TENNESSEE takes out a bottle of pills. Gets a glass of water from the table. Takes some pills. TENNESSEE Much better! I can already feel rivulets of relief flowing throughout my body. CALVIN What is that? TENNESSEE
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS WINS A PRIZE I have no idea.
Then why do you take it? TENNESSEE Because pills are meant to be taken. LOUISA enters with an extra place setting. Gets the extra chair. LOUISA Now, come—let’s get you all settled. The program’s about to start. TENNESSEE and CALVIN sit. LOUISA exits. TENNESSEE So, what do you think about all this, Cal? Pretty swank, huh? CALVIN I thought we were going to your place. I thought you wanted to . . . you know. TENNESSEE I hired you for the entire evening. Just humor me, baby, will ya? I can’t face these people alone. CALVIN Where are we anyway? Why are we here? TENNESSEE This is the New York Literati Club. They host the annual Clyde Fitch Award dinner. I’m being honored with an award tonight. CALVIN For what? TENNESSEE For survival, baby. CALVIN Are you a writer? TENNESSEE (disappointed) You don’t know me? I thought I was renowned throughout the male escort circuit.
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS WINS A PRIZE
Are you a big shot?
TENNESSEE No, I’m just a large ant in a colony of sycophantic little ants. Any day now, a beetle’s gonna come along and piss all over us and no one will pay any more attention to me. Speaking of which, I think it’s time I made a visit to the little boys’ room. CALVIN You want me to come along and help? TENNESSEE I’ve been handling these matters by myself since long before you were born. But thank you for your kind offer. Stay out here and get to know these nice people. TENNESSEE exits. LOUISA enters. LOUISA So, Mr. William says you met in college, is that right? CALVIN He was just joking. LOUISA I suspected as much. How did you really meet? CALVIN He hired me. LOUISA So, you’re his assistant! I’d heard he was having issues, but I didn’t realize it had come to this. Should you let him drink? CALVIN He hasn’t had a drop since we got here. LOUISA But he seems . . . well, under the influence. CALVIN Oh, that’s probably just from his medicine. He takes a lot of pills. LOUISA Will he be able to make it to the press conference tomorrow morning?
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS WINS A PRIZE
A press conference?
CALVIN (trying to understand)
LOUISA All the media will be there. It’s a great opportunity for the Club to get some publicity. And I imagine Mr. Williams would welcome some good press himself. CALVIN I’ll make sure he goes. Where is it? LOUISA It’s at Sardi’s at 10AM. CALVIN He’ll be there, don’t you worry. LOUISA He’s very lucky to have you. CALVIN Thank you. LOUISA exits. TENNESSEE enters. TENNESSEE What an ordeal! There were no urinals in the men’s room, so I had to use the sink. Then these women descended on me and started screaming louder than the Furies! CALVIN You prob’ly wandered into the ladies’ room by mistake. TENNESSEE That thought did cross my mind. I’m not ashamed to tell you the experience shook me down to my very core. But when I came out and saw your heavenly vision across the room, my equilibrium was restored. Thank god you’re still here! CALVIN Why wouldn’t I be? TENNESSEE They don’t always stay. Especially if I’ve already paid them. I paid you, right, baby? CALVIN Just a down payment, “baby.” We’ll settle up accounts later.
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS WINS A PRIZE
TENNESSEE Oh, honey, there isn’t enough money or forgiveness in the world to settle up my accounts. CALVIN I bet you’re a good writer—the way you talk and all. What’s that accent? Where are you from? TENNESSEE Oh, here and there. Mostly the land of daily disappointments and occasional flights of wonderment. CALVIN You’re funny. I like you. TENNESSEE I bet you say that to all your johns. CALVIN I don’t talk to most of my johns. You’re different. TENNESSEE Let’s drink to differences! Now who do you suppose I have to screw to get a drink around here—other than you, baby? CALVIN What would you like? TENNESSEE A glass of red wine would be most appreciated. CALVIN Wait right here. CALVIN gets up. TENNESSEE Don’t worry. I’m not about to leave the comfort of my seat and confront that multiheaded medusa out there. CALVIN (looking at the audience) You mean those people? They look nice enough. TENNESSEE
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS WINS A PRIZE
Don’t be deceived. They’ve paid a small fortune to come here and witness my execution. CALVIN I better get you that wine. CALVIN exits. LOUISA enters. Sits by TENNESSEE. LOUISA It looks like you’ve been abandoned. TENNESSEE The story of my life, my dear. LOUISA I’m sure your assistant will be right back. TENNESSEE Who? LOUISA Mr. Serendapolous. TENNESSEE Oh, yes—my assistant. Frankly, I can’t wait to get him home so he can start giving me the kind of assistance I hired him for. LOUISA (solicitously) I was wondering if I might ask you a favor? After dinner, we’re planning to offer a few items for sale to raise money for the club. Could we trouble you for a few signed copies of the program? And would you be willing to have dinner with some of our patrons sometime? We could auction off “an evening with Tennessee Williams” for, say, six or eight eight people! (brightening at an idea) Or how about doing a dramatic reading? If you’re game, we could arrange a benefit and sell tickets. CALVIN enters with TENNESSEE’s wine. TENNESSEE Help me, Cal! TENNESSEE grabs the glass from CALVIN. Drinks it in one gulp.
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS WINS A PRIZE
TENNESSEE Madam Chairman, I’m afraid I’m coming down with something and won’t be able to help you out later this evening. We’ll be lucky if I make it through the presentation. LOUISA Oh, dear. Then I suppose we better start the program right away. Excuse me a moment. LOUISA rushes out. CALVIN sits. TENNESSEE Well done, Cal! I’m delighted to discover you have talents beyond the obvious ones. CALVIN Hey—did you know you’re supposed to go to a press conference tomorrow morning? TENNESSEE Oh, I never bother with those things. CALVIN They’re expecting you at 10AM. TENNESSEE They’re probably also expecting Saint Nicholas to come down their chimney on Christmas Eve, but I never appear in public before noon. CALVIN But I promised that lady you’d be there. TENNESSEE Were you plotting against me with the dragon lady while I was relieving myself in the ladies room? CALVIN If you accept their award, shouldn’t you go? How painful can it be? TENNESSEE You’re too young to know anything about pain. CALVIN Look, I’ll get you up. TENNESSEE (seductively)
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS WINS A PRIZE
Baby, you’re already getting me up.
CALVIN If you behave yourself, I’ll show you a real good time back at your place later tonight AND get you up with a smile on your face tomorrow morning. TENNESSEE I thought the Stone Angel of the Fountain was just something I made up. But I think it came to life when I walked into that bar. CALVIN Who? TENNESSEE The Stone Angel stood in a park in Glorious Hill, Mississippi and offered a cool drink of water to passersby overcome by the southern heat. But some people need more than water. I am one of those people. And you appear to offer me exactly what I need. CALVIN Does that mean you’ll go? It’s at some place called Sardi’s. You know it? TENNESSEE Never heard of it. CALVIN I’ll go ask her. TENNESSEE Never mind. All right, my multi-talented young deceiver, I’ll let you wake me up at that ungodly hour. And if you manage to bring a smile to my face, we’ll make our way over to west 44th street where you can look for my portrait on the wall. CALVIN Your portrait’s on the wall? TENNESSEE I said you can look—but no, you won’t find it. They keep asking to do my portrait, but I always refuse. CALVIN Gee, I wouldn’t refuse to have MY portrait done. TENNESSEE Then perhaps we’ll ask them to do yours while we’re there. Personally, I find the prospect of matinee ladies from Scarsdale scrutinizing my face while chomping on their chicken tetrazzini revolting.
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS WINS A PRIZE
LOUISA enters and stands at the table.
LOUISA (addressing the audience) Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to introduce tonight’s special guest and the recipient of this year’s New York Literati Club’s Clyde Fitch Prize. This award acknowledges the complete body of work of an American playwright. Tonight’s recipient is one of the greatest. I present you the man who needs no introduction! TENNESSEE stands up unsteadily. TENNESSEE Madam Dragon, thank you, but I suppose you could say the same of Jack the Ripper, so I’m not sure that’s really a compliment. So, let me present someone who DOES need an introduction—Mr. Calvin Serendipity. No, no, that’s not right. What is it, baby? CALVIN Serendapolous. TENNESSEE (addressing the audience—a real performance) Yes, so sorry. Calvin Serendapolous! A Greek name befitting this Greek god of a man. Cal was the inspiration for many of my greatest characters. He may strike you as too young, for some of my creations go back more decades than I dare admit, but that is his secret—he is the eternally young man. When I write, it’s HIS smile I hope to elicit. His approval I crave. His desire I attempt to arouse, knowing full well that the possibility of accomplishing such a magnificent and life-affirming feat becomes more remote as the years and failures pile up. And yet I persist. Thank you for this award. Calvin and I shall cherish it—always. (to Calvin) Now let’s blow, baby! Help me out of here before the vultures latch onto us. TENNESSEE staggers and CALVIN supports him as they move to the side of the stage. LOUISA exits. TENNESSEE (drunk and staggering) I feel like I’ve been run over by a dragon. CALVIN (hailing a taxi) I’ll get a cab and get us home safe and sound. Then in the morning I’ll take you to that press conference.
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS WINS A PRIZE
TENNESSEE Oh, no, no, no! I won’t be in any condition to meet my firing squad. CALVIN Yes, yes, yes! I promised that lady you’d be there. And it’ll be good for your career. TENNESSEE What do you know about my career? You’re just some hustler I met in a bar. What have you ever managed? CALVIN I managed to get you out of that reception. And now I’m gonna manage to get you home. TENNESSEE Why in the name of Tallulah Bankhead’s flea-bitten fur coat do you want to take on such an impossible challenge? It would be a lot easier to go back to that bar and pick up another trick. Use your beauty while you’ve still got it, baby. CALVIN You need help. TENNESSEE What do you know about my needs? CALVIN One look at you and anyone can see you got needs. And I don’t see anyone else volunteering. So, I’m gonna take care of you. TENNESSEE No, no, no! This is all wrong! It’s not how it would happen! CALVIN I don’t understand. TENNESSEE breaks away from CALVIN. Addresses the audience. TENNESSEE This isn’t the way I’d write it. I’ll show you how it’s done. TENNESSEE goes back to CALVIN. TENNESSEE is very drunk. TENNESSEE (CONT’D)
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS WINS A PRIZE I feel like I’ve been run over by a dragon.
CALVIN tries to slap TENNESSEE awake.
CALVIN C’mon, wake up—it’s time for you to pay me! TENNESSEE I already paid you for your services earlier this evening. CALVIN I told you—that was just a down payment. TENNESSEE Then help me home and make it worth my while. CALVIN I’m not going home with you—you old degenerate! Give me your wallet! CALVIN grabs TENNESSEE’s wallet out of his pocket. Pulls out all the cash. CALVIN (CONT’D) Shit! This ain’t enough. Give me your watch! CALVIN and TENNESSEE struggle over the watch. CALVIN finally punches TENNESSEE in the stomach. TENNESSEE collapses. CALVIN kicks him, grabs his watch, and runs away. After a few moments, TENNESSEE gets up slowly. Brushes himself off. He is fine. TENNESSEE (addressing the audience) Now that’s more like it, baby! END OF PLAY
Ellery D. Margay is a freelance food and fiction writer who currently resides in a crooked cabin in the California redwoods. His work has previously appeared in The Sonoma County Gazette, Tigershark Ezine, and the FunDead anthology, "Night in New Orleans." When not dreaming up tales and occasional poetry, he can be found sampling and reviewing the newest restaurants and wandering the world in search of weirdness, wonder, and misadventure. J. Ryan Sommers has an MFA in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago. He and his wife have recently left the windy city and relocated in Houston where Sommers teaches and continues to write. This story is part of his thesis, Conduits, a novel in stories. Tim W. Boiteau's fiction has appeared in such places as Every Day Fiction, The Writing Disorder, LampLight, and Kasma Magazine. Tim holds a PhD in experimental psychology from the University of South Carolina. He lives in Michigan with his wife and son. Valeri Paxton-Steele is the author of the paperback 'Shadowstyx By Valkyri, Poetry and Prose of Depression,' and the chapbook 'Underneath, Poetry by Valeri Paxton-Steele.' Contributor to 'Silver Lining: Poets Against Violence,' 'Insert Yourself Here' and '100 Voices.' Pigpen Madlgan is a poet who used to live in Chicago. Used to. Naima Hirsch is a self-identified theatre person and ice cream connoisseur. She has been writing poetry for as long as she can remember, and received recognition for her work from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards in 2014. Her work has appeared in Crab Fat Magazine, The Rising Phoenix Review, and The Stray Branch. Naima studies English at Hunter College in New York City. Elisabeth Horan is a poet mother student lover of kind people and animals, homesteading in Vermont with her tolerant partner and two young sons. She hopes the earth can withstand us and that humans may learn to be more kind to each other and to Mother Nature. She has recently been featured in Quail Bell Magazine and Dying Dahlia Review. She has work forthcoming at The Occulum, Alexander & Brook and at Switchgrass Review. Elisabeth is a 2018 MFA Candidate at Lindenwood University and teaches at River Valley Community College in New Hampshire. Kelleigh Stevenson is a senior at West Perry High School. She is an avid writer who has been pushing herself to share more work with the public. AyĹ&#x;e TekĹ&#x;en lives in Ankara, Turkey where she works as a research assistant at the Department of Foreign Language Education, Middle East Technical University.
King Grossman is an award-winning poet, novelist, and writer of short prose. His poems and short prose have recently appeared in The Round, Licking River Review, Crack The Spine, Forge, Tiger’s Eye, DMQ Review, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Qwerty, Burningwood, Ignatian, and Drunk Monkeys. Letters To Alice, his current novel, in 2017 received the Independent Press Award as the Distinguished Favorite in Visionary Fiction, was a Finalist for Literary Fiction in the National Indie Excellence Awards, and received the Gold Medal for Inspirational/Visionary Fiction from the Global Ebook Awards. All royalties from King’s work are contributed to Occupy the Word Foundation, a nonprofit organization King founded to offer writers residencies and publishing opportunities to fresh, radical writers of poetry and fiction. King is the host of Artivism–which explores the intersection of writers and artists with social justice activism–on Your Town televisions program broadcast throughout the Monterey Peninsula, California area. A longtime fugitive from the worlds of Wall Street and Capitol Hill, these days he also regularly participates in nonviolent public actions to address climate change, economic injustice, institutionalized racism, inhumane immigration police, oppressive violence and militarism. He lives in Camel-by the-Sea, California with his wife, Lisa, dog, Bogart, and sun conure parrot, Sunny. "K.W. Zerbe is a naturalist who researches and writes about humanenvironment interactions, in particular the themes of conservation and land ethics. His written work includes academic and scientific articles as well as literary works, namely poems and essays. He is a researcher and instructor at Montclair State University, where he is also earning a PhD in environmental management. He lives with his wife in northern New Jersey." Judith Kelly Quaempts lives and writes in rural eastern Oregon. Her poetry and short stories appear online and in print, most recently in Windfall a Journal of Poetry and Place, The Poeming Pigeon, and Diane Lockward's Crafty Poet II. Haris Čolić was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He started out by publishing short stories and poems in school magazines. He currently writes for web portal AKOS and publishes fiction and poetry, both in English and Bosnian language, in literary magazines all over the world. He is currently working on his first book, a poetry collection. More information on https:// hariscolic.wixsite.com/haris-colic." Sem Megson’s work has been published and produced in the United States, Britain, and Canada. For more information, visit semmegson.com. Dave Garcia is a non binary writer, whose work centers around the celebration of complex identities. They live in rural Romania.
Tom Lawlor has been a writer all of his life and has been a published writer for the previous two years. He is currently working on a Creative Writing degree at Coventry University. Mark Gunther has been many things in his life–student, hippie, cook, husband, carpenter, father, administrator, entrepreneur, athlete–but always an activist, musician, and dancer. In 2015 he received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of San Francisco. Since then, his work has appeared in Thin Air, Ducts, Noctua Journal, Still Standing and Nonprofit Quarterly. His novel, Living With Jenny, will be published in March of 2018. Carl Boon lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American culture and literature at 9 Eylül University. His poems appear in dozens of magazines, most recently The Maine Review and The Hawaii Review. A 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee, Boon is currently editing a volume on the sublime in American cultural studies. WILLIAM IVOR FOWKES is an author and playwright based in New York City and Connecticut and a member of the Dramatists Guild. His plays have been presented in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Several have been published. Several have been broadcast on the radio. His fiction has been published in many journals.
NOMINATIONS Best of the Net 2017 Poetry london | Valeri Paxton-Steele Issue 3 the bedroom closet | Valerie Paxton-Steele Issue 6 1995 | Alex Moyenne Issue 7 I Wonder | Jim Platt Issue 5 Internment | Chelsea Gray Issue 5 Revolution in Progress | Samuel Cole Issue 5 Fiction A Dead Texan | Eileen Herbert-Goodall Issue 5 Surviving | Sara Stevenson Issue 7 Nonfiction Once Upon a Jerusalem | Hebatullah Issa Issue 5 Explain This to Me | Patty Wylie Issue 7
Pushcart Nominations 2017 Surviving by Sara Stevenson | Fiction nce
on eru le
on c on
1995 by Alex Moyenne | Poetry o
The Dinner Cancer by Time Boiteau | Fiction
on c on