Kennesaw State University
Fall / Winter 2020 | Issue 2
ABOUT the MAGAZINE Everyone is a storyteller Waymark is a student-led publication of Kennesaw State University that welcomes submissions online from any storyteller. We are committed to fiction, literary nonfiction, poetry, and art of the spirit and heart, that will mark the lives of those who read them, those who write them, and those who publish them. DISCLAIMER All literature, artwork, and digital work published in Waymark are selfexpressions of their creators and do not represent the ideas or views of our staff, advisors, or the university and its affiliates COVER ART â&#x20AC;&#x153;Guidanceâ&#x20AC;? by Jessica Madisetti | Graphite on Bristol Board
TROY DEL FAVERO
Editor in Chief
DANIEL EDMONDSON Poetry Editor
KAYLIN KIRK Poetry Editor
MARY SIMS Poetry Editor
TABLE of CONTENTS A Course of Serotonin
The Sky is No Mirror
Psilocybin Introducing the Balance
While Buttering Toast
Washed in Astonishment
In the Eye of the Beholder
Walk Along West Lake
In the Restaurant
Winds of Chicago
Hurrah, I'm Vaccinated
Poem For My Mother
Look Ma No Sanity
When My Tenant Leaves
The End of the Marsh
Luck of the Draw
Dave and Larry's Halfway House for Gay Republicans
Vibin on Shrooms
One of the Wind Chime Clan
Beautiful China Girl
The Woman in the Wheel Chair
Yellow and Blue
A Pandemic Spring
A COURSE of SEROTONIN By Andrew Oram slinky little knives incising trauma; … … blindness explodes to fill all fleeing niches— and still the world is two-dimensional to the eye (drops are no salve for tears) but what?…
⚕ Parents are not allowed to accompany patients after this point in the procedure Mrs O. emerging [only months later] twitches and involuntary rituals one gram of what the schizophrenic ingests, in wholesale every day
⚕ A third operation will be necessary as the previous ones did not completely correct the astigmatism. luckily my mother refused the third operation but much later I opened my eyes to the other side
handy ❈‾for lobbing far-fetched associations at emergent outrages while it streams <<through the electric cortex>> slinging 3D metaphors at the pundasphere ¡ seed for shocking connections across lobes mannerly squinted technicalities married to rivers of consequences Ganges and Danubes of revelation!
A COURSE of SERATONIN
a career in disclosing to thousands copious self-knowledges pirouettes and vaults ☓ thirty-five years Quick — conjure a combustion
FISHING By Benjamin Maughan 1 His white beard had grown long and curly. He hadn’t shaved it since his wife died — an untidy memorial of her passing. He looked at himself in the mirror and was bored at the age he saw. The thought of someone’s sympathetic voice came into his mind. It told him that wrinkles were like pages of a book with words of prose that told his long life’s story. He blinked. They were just lines to him, nothing more. He was cold and alone in his bedroom in front of his mahogany chest of drawers – the first piece of furniture he and Laura bought for their first place. His sunken shoulders, like the round brass handles on the drawers in front of him, looked like little knobs on top of his arms. They jutted out from his skeletal collarbone at a sickly angle and it made him decide to put a shirt on. Every morning it was the same thing and he couldn’t escape it. The neighbors said he needed a vacation, but he really just wanted to be left alone, not go away. His memories were here in his home and he needed them, not a view on a beach somewhere. The routine kept him, surrounded him, and propelled him forward to the next day. He needed the same thing every day to keep sane, to keep going. He slid open the drawer, pulled out a red plaid knitted shirt, and put it on. He opened the drawer next to the first and took out a pair of dark blue Wrangler jeans – he only wore Wrangler jeans. He remembered when Laura had bought him Dickies and he smiled, but she’d seen right through it and started to cry. It was his fake smile, she told him. She didn’t tell him until years later that she worked for three months to save up the money for those jeans. He looked down into his drawer and saw the fresh blue pair of Dickies – still with their brand new, unwashed
sheen – and gently pulled them out from under his other pairs of Wranglers. After folding up the first pair, he held the Dickies by the waistband looked at them as they unfurled in front of him. He noticed the creases were still in the jeans from the person who had folded them at the store where Laura bought them. He undid the waist button and slid the jeans on his white, wiry legs. He turned around to face the table at the foot of his bed, upon which three photographs stood framed – one of himself in his Army uniform, one of Laura in high school wearing her tennis team outfit, and one of both of them in each other’s arms on their wedding day. He looked at Laura and smiled at her horn-rimmed glasses. He gazed at her in her white wedding dress and thought of the feel of her waist when they first danced as husband and wife. She’d always loved dancing with him. He tucked his shirt into his jeans, looked down at himself, then back up to Laura as if to ask, well? Then he turned back to the dresser, pulled out a balled-up pair of white socks, and stretched them onto his feet. His breakfast consisted of two sliced up hardboiled eggs placed on two pieces of buttered toast – his usual. Nothing new for Frank today. Laura always liked trying new things: breakfast quiches, crepes, strudels, and others. She’d make them, he’d eat them, and then they’d go back to hardboiled egg toast the next day. He looked, as he chewed the toast, at the little brown mark on the white cupboard above the sink – a little dent in the paint from when Laura had thrown a mug of coffee at Frank’s head and missed. He didn’t remember what the argument was about, but he remembered cleaning up the splattered coffee after Laura stomped out of the house. He smiled as he thought about her face when he opened the front door and she entered with tear-reddened eyes and strawberry cheeks, and then he
embraced her as they apologized simultaneously for their pig-headedness. He swallowed the last corner of his toast and the final gulp of his milk. He walked to the door and slipped on his white sneakers. He opened the door to the garage and pulled his blue hat off of the hanger adjacent to the door. Then he walked to the driver’s side of his grey Chevy pickup, swung the door open, kicked his right leg up, pulled himself in, and shut the door securely afterwards. 2 Frank kept the music off as he drove. Music didn’t entertain him anymore – it was just noise now. He’d given all of the tapes to their kids anyway, and he hated listening to radio because of the commercials. The road stretched out for miles in front of him with fields of barley on either side. Up ahead, a small row of trees and shrubs crossed underneath the road, under a bridge. The trees were where the water was, and he could already begin to smell it: the fresh, cool scent of his river’s rushing water. Once he crossed the bridge, he pulled over and got out of his pickup. He went around to the back and pulled the tailgate down to reveal his favorite fishing rod (dark green with a firm cork handle) and his khaki-colored tackle box. He looked behind him, down at the river, and thought that this particular day was a spinner kind of day. After clicking open his tackle box, he pulled out his bright red, yellow, and green rooster tail spinner lure and secured it onto his line. He slammed the tailgate back up and walked down the small path – crowded with grass and curling ferns – toward the river. Now he felt free. There was a gentle breeze that morning which brought the sweetness of spring into his nose. He stood, looked at the river, scanned its bottoms for some sign of living movement, and saw a long black shape moving ever so slightly in the water. He saw it sway side to side, the way a fish swims against the current. The fish was right in the middle of the river where the flow of water would lead little insects that had hatched on the bottom and were
struggling up to the surface to fly away, alive and liberated. He walked upstream about twenty yards. He held the fishing line tight with his finger against the handle, flicked the rod ever so slightly toward the river, released his finger, and let the line plunk gently into the water. The river pulled the lure downstream toward the fish. Holding the cork handle firmly with his right fist, he pinched the flat handle of the reel with the fingers of his left hand, stopping the lure from moving any farther. In his mind he held the vision of where the fish had been twenty or so yards downstream, visualized the lure being suspended, the metal piece of the spinner twirling, catching and releasing the sun’s reflection, and attracting the fish’s hunting gaze. He felt the water rushing past the lure, the living pulse of the moving water was strong, but not strong enough to be a bite. He concentrated on his hands, the only connection he now had with the fish, and paid close attention to any twitch or nudge that the tip of the rod carried down its length to the handle. He felt a small tug. There was a whine behind him and he wheeled around, jerking the rod around with him. Behind him in the dirt sat a small yellow puppy. It was filthy and dirty all over, like it had been rolling in mud. It looked at him and whined softly. He turned back around, trying to refocus on his hands and the mental image of the fish. Soon he was greeted again by the dog as it padded up gently beside him and sat, looking at him and the river. Frank again shifted his attention and looked down at the animal. He decided it was time to try a new fishing hole and reeled in his spinner He walked another twenty yards downstream, looking behind him every so often. As he expected, the puppy doted on his every step. Its tongue was out as it bounced happily along the trail behind Frank’s footfalls. Frank stopped and looked down again. It looked up at him with dark brown eyes and it tilted its head. “Where’d you come from?” said Frank. Its ears twitched and it scratched its neck with one of its
hind legs. There was no collar – it was just a runaway puppy. He thought, for a second, about taking it home with him. He’d had a dog when he was a child, but it had died two weeks before his twelfth birthday and he really couldn’t remember much about it. The puppy, with its golden fur, reminded him of his old dog and he smiled. “Let’s get you cleaned off then,” he said, and bent down next to the river, reached his hand inside and splashed the cool water onto the puppy, who quickly flinched and shook the water off as Frank laughed. Frank repeated, and the puppy drew closer and closer to the water’s edge. Frank stopped splashing and the puppy sat directly beside him, river water droplets coming off of its black nose. Just then a fish jumped on the other side of the river and the puppy immediately started and leaped in, splashing Frank when it impacted the surface. The puppy struggled for a moment and then slowly swam back to shore, now about ten yards downriver. Finding a place to exit, it walked out of the river and shook itself off, and then ran back to Frank while its tongue wagged around the side of its mouth. Frank chuckled and said, “Okay, come on then.” He walked around the puppy and back up the dirt path toward his pickup. He opened the passenger door and pulled a thick wool blanket out of the small back seat and reached down for the puppy, who had followed him up the path to the truck. He placed the blanket on it, drying it while it squirmed and panted. Finally, the old man stood up and tossed the blanket on the front bench seat of his pickup and patted on the seat for the puppy to hop in. The puppy just sat there beside the truck, tilting its head again. Frank bent down slowly and grasped the puppy by each side while he hoisted it up into the passenger seat of the truck. Then he shut the door and walked around to the driver’s side. The puppy stood on the bench seat and wagged its tail while Frank opened the door and climbed into the truck and started the engine. He slowly turned the truck around and then headed for
home. Frank looked at the puppy and rolled down the passenger window only slightly. The puppy stood up on its hind legs, placed its nose and head out the window, and howled, making Frank laugh. It was good to hear music again.
CHRISTMAS GIFT By Marian Shapiro
Nothing else matters (None of it matters) when The Great Horned Owl stares unblinking from the winter-bare tree outside the kitchen window. When the mayfly glues herself to the doorscreen in July. When the rainbow arches over the highway, its asphalt surface slick as patent leather shoes. When the full moon arrives again, exactly on schedule. When the baby howls its bloody entrance into this lovehate world. In which its exit is certain and unknowable. Today I pray for the gift of light. The understanding that there is no understanding. The light that bears that sureness forward. Into the future, into the moment just beyond our next breath.
THE SKY is
NO MIRROR By DS Maolalai afternoon, walking up the quays from our place smithfield into the city centre like a bite of good teeth going into an apple. we swagger quite steadily, stealing glances at the windows of closed bars and offices, admiring our steps as we take them. the thing– we look best when we're looking in mirrors– I doubt that on bridges our silhouettes stand. but we go over anyway, crossing the river which lies like grey meat on a table, shiny with grease and humidity. storms later then; you can feel them, the air duvet-heavy and the sky is no mirror, or perhaps it is, but clouded from a shower in the morning. either way, there is no reflection– the earth is ugly, standing badly on a bridge, hands in its pockets.
PSILOCYBIN INTRODUCING THE BALANCE By Annabelle O'shields
WHILE BUTTERING TOAST By John Tustin While buttering toast Drinking the second cup of coffee Driving bleary between jobs Crying with the spray of the shower nozzle Listening to Randy Newman Or Tom Waits or Nick Cave While putting Genoa salami and Swiss cheese On rye bread Doing the penance of Sunday dinner Feeling the golden paradise of beer tumbling into my empty stomach Trying not to make eye contact with the neighbors Sweeping up the shards of a broken plate While getting between the sheets Shivering and numb, just useless at 7 A.M. Whenever I close my eyes I will see Only Always You
WAVELENGTH By Frank Diamond Dad and big brother, Jason, got along well — great, in fact — except for those stupid occasional arguments that any two family members can have; the kind often forgotten before they’re forgiven. If taken out of context, the one argument that changed everything and deviled Dad to the grave really couldn’t be called much more than hurt feelings. These feelings were usually not voiced; they were a mundane emotional bruise which healed quickly. Life. It’s just a part of life everywhere, and everywhere includes even us, the Crane family. But Dad Crane never forgave himself, even though we had the recording, a recording that would make any reasonable person feel exonerated. So, of course, that leaves Dad out. Listen. I can just hear Jason: “You think too damn much, Ovis!” His nickname for me; means sheep. My name is Otis. Otis Crane. Anyway, I digitized that recording long ago. It’s in the cloud, on several computer hard drives, and on USB flash drives that I keep in my little home safe. It is also typed and written in ink, just in case some future artificial intelligence devours our collective online consciousness. Jason left the message on our home answering machine (remember them?) as he paused on one of the floors of the South Tower.
bashed cymbal. I’ve thought about it a lot over the last 20 or so years and talked to experts and never really got a satisfactory explanation of what that noise might have been. We’re left only with the fact that it stops Jason’s message. My brother did college on a baseball scholarship and his voice before that interruption calmly measured the challenge before him, like a hitter in the on-deck circle might take the measure of the man on the mound. Jason sounded like the super salesman he’d become, deftly closing the deal. And in spouting the list of those he loved, he certainly would have said “Dad” next. He would have. Everybody knew that except Dad. And Diana? She was technically Jason’s girlfriend at the time, but everybody knew that he’d finally found the one. Poor Diana never got that call because the Tower fell and Jason became dust hovering over Manhattan. According to Mom, Dad fell as well when that happened. He fell emotionally and couldn’t get up, as that old commercial put it. Dad had taken that day off from his job managing the stone quarry because of his back. When the spasms hit, he couldn’t sit too long, stand too long, or walk too long. After a day or two of the heating pad and ibuprofen, he’d be good for another six or seven months. He refused to go anywhere near a doctor.
“I love you,” he says, his calm register ushering the bedlam about him into the background. “Just know that.” Then he coughs, in fact chokes for a few moments. He recovers, continues: “But I’ll be home. Tonight. I promise. No way I’m staying in the city. I love you all: Mom, Otis, Kathleen.… Whoa! OK, hanging up now. Gonna go call Diana.”
So, Dad and Mom had been together when they heard about the attacks. They left their full grocery cart in aisle 9, and hurried home. On that short drive, Mom kept trying to reach Jason by cell, but no. They got home, turned on CNN, and stood before the set. When it happened — it — Dad collapsed into his recliner.
The noise that triggers that “whoa!” sounds like a
When you hear people say that someone "was
never the same after,” I always thought that whatever tragedy befell the person precipitated the big dirt nap, a quick exit. But some people, they hang on. Dad hung on. He hung on to Mom, for one, and Mom hung on to me and my sister, Kathleen. But, unfortunately, Dad also hung on to that argument. It was over the Philadelphia Eagles. Right? Dad season ticketed a lot of friends and family members to games over the years. Even I went — twice. Mom went maybe three times. “I paid my dues,” she’d say. Jason must have gone something like 50 times. And they were supposed to go the week after 9/11, to see the Eagles take on the Giants. A big game. The Giants had won nine straight against the Eagles. But people in Philly were saying that this could be the Eagles’ year. (Of course, Dad said that every year.) Still, they had a hot young quarterback in Donovan McNabb, and a coach who just might be a football genius: Andy Reid.
probably didn’t register: one son of his would in fact “give up” the Eagles for a lot of things. Almost anything, in fact. But Dad had momentum. “The Eagles are bigger than business,” he said. “Bigger than sales. The Eagles are bigger than … they’re bigger than … than ….” “Than life, dear,” Mom said. “Your mother just said that the Eagles are bigger than life. This is your mother saying that. Even she knows.” Mom sang, “I am being sarcastic,” but too late, she had said it. “Jason, get your priorities straight!” Dad yelled, before slamming down the receiver. Mom threw the flag. “Call Jason back. Make it right.”
“What?” Dad shouted, when Jason called to say that he wouldn’t be able to make it. Dad was in the kitchen and at first I turned up the volume of whatever it was I was pretending to watch as I worked on my thesis, but then I turned it down as it became clear this wasn’t just a squall. I learned later that Jason had to meet a client — a huge client — and that client wanted to see a Yankees game and nothing else would do. Jason wanted that deal, also in the category of nothing else would do. “Call in sick!” Dad ordered Jason. “Don’t you have an assistant? But it’s Sunday! It’s the Eagles! You said you would!” It escalated, at least on Dad’s side. Jason kept calmly stating his case. I, at least, knew my brother. I knew Jason. Dad pretended not to. “Are you my son?” Dad yelled. “No son of mine would give up the Eagles because of the Yankees.” I faked a cough to try to remind Dad I was in the next room, but even if he had heard, my point
“Meh!” “You are being ridiculous.” “I’m being ridiculous?” “Call Jason. Call your son.” I did not fake-cough again. I heard a kitchen chair scrape the floor, Dad giving the table one solid slap as he stood. Then a pause. “OK, then!” Dad shouted, as if he’d won the argument. “There’s the phone,” Mom said. “Yeah, and it’ll be there tomorrow, too.” “Tomorrow you’ll be working, dear. Wait. Oh, now I see. Your back. It’s your back again, isn’t it? That explains it.”
“Where’s that damn heating pad?”
was sports. Not me.
Dad stomped down the cellar to his man-cave. This was September 8, 2001. Dad was 58, Jason 28. I was 24 and Kathleen was 22. Mom was 58 and a half.
Mom held my hand in the driveway as they pulled away in Dad’s old Mercury Marquis.
In the years since, I’ve learned a few things and I’ve come to accept that I am ignorant about most things. So, according to Socrates, there’s hope. I am a high school English teacher and I read all the time. I married a woman as open as I am closed. Her laugh carries me along and I’ve learned to laugh with her. We have two young children so you either laugh or perish.
“Dad says you need to be a little older, Otis,” Mom explained. She read to me for a couple of hours that day and the tragedy of abandonment abandoned me in her first few sentences. When Mom grilled chicken for dinner, I got dessert beforehand: a bowl of vanilla ice cream. Unprecedented.
I’ve come to think that wavelength plays such a crucial part in relationships. If you were to ask my father which of his children he loved the best, he would say — predictably enough, as most good parents would —- that he loved us all equally. That would be true. But there’s no question that Jason and Dad were on the same wavelength. They understood each other, liked the same things, and approached life the same way. Same with Mom. Loved each of us. Equally. And I do truly believe that. But wavelength? Mom and Kathleen were almost the same person. I remember during Kathleen’s teen years when other mothers would complain about their daughters, the fights, and the tantrums, Mom remained silent. Kathleen never gave anyone any trouble. She’s still that way. Where does that leave me, Otis? Left behind, but not really resenting it. In fact, rather relieved after the first few disappointments. “Bring Otis,” I remember Mom calling after Dad when he was taking Jason to see a Phillies game. “Otis isn’t ready.” Meaning I would be a pain in the ass at the game acting my age — 5 — and squirming and not paying attention. ,Dad had taken Jason to his first Phillies game when Jason was 4. But Jason liked baseball. Jason
The next time Dad went to a Phillies game, I cried again. But this time I cried because he brought me along. The first thing I noticed was that there were no TV announcers, whose banter I’d come to appreciate, even while I couldn’t quite follow it. (A preparation for operas I would be dragged to in later years.) I love Dad. Dad loves me. But no wavelength. Which leaves me struggling just a bit now as I sit in the hospital chair while Dad lies dying. His downfall has been sudden, but oh so predictable. I sat in this very same hospital about two months before and watched Mom die. Up until then, Dad would be what you’d describe as hale old. He exercised with the weights, walked, and didn’t put on too many pounds in retirement. But after Mom, hale became frail like that. I mean just like that. Kathleen and I knew that would happen; we’d known forever. If Dad died first, Mom could conceivably continue for another 5, 10, or even 15 years. For Dad, we reasoned, it’d be more like 15 minutes. The medical history is stroke, recovery, heart attack, recovery, another stroke, and finally the big stroke. It was like an audition. It wasn’t suicide; Dad didn’t believe in suicide, but something inside of him had surely said, “I quit.” Kathleen and I take shifts as Dad sunsets. “Talk to him,” she says.
“Sure.” “Really, Otis,” she says. “Talk to him.” I shrug. Dad hasn’t said anything in two days and the breathing gets shallower. He’s on hospice and we told them to snow him. Kathleen says, “We don’t know if he can still hear. Talk to him.”
spinning into the room. Oh, I forgot. She’s a nurse, now. She stayed single a long time after Jason, but then married around 35 to one of Jason’s best friends. Mom and Dad went to the wedding, finding comfort in Diana finally working through her grief. Or, at least they pretended to. I gesture toward my father’s wakefulness.
“OK. I’ll talk, already.”
“Yeah, that sometimes happens at the end, Otis. I’ll get Kathleen. I just saw her.”
“Good. I’ll be back quick. I just got to call home.”
I resist the urge to beg Diana not to leave.
Kathleen raises two teens, and her husband can’t keep a job. There’s always a reason to call home.
Instead, I continue talking. “It’s OK, Dad. It’s me Otis. You need to look for Mom and Jason, now.”
I really try to talk to Dad. I do. I talk about my job. My family. How Dad’s brothers — my uncles — are doing and how they will probably be stopping by today. (They better.) I am a monologist, used to holding sway over advanced placement students. Young people who want to learn. Imagine. But I am not, as she who must be obeyed reminds me, much for small talk. They don’t call it small for nothing. And I now lay minutia before my shrunken father. I plow on through the tedium until I switch tactics. I do launch into a monologue. My riff on The Brothers Karamazov.
“Jason?” He says it clearly, as if half of his face hadn’t collapsed into his neck in that final stroke.
Dostoevsky takes on the big questions: morality, doubt, faith, reason. I leave out that the plot involves patricide, something I realize a few minutes in. After this, maybe I’ll go on to War and Peace or perhaps Remembrance of Things Past. It doesn’t matter, I think, as Dad’s face seems to set like drying concrete. But that’s not how this ends. I spook easily, I am ashamed to say, a trait I was born with. Mom called me “Startlebaby.” I startle now when Dad’s eyes open.
Where’s Kathleen? Where’s Diana? I reach, touch his hand. “It’s me, Dad. Otis. I love you. Kathleen will be here, too.” “Jason? Forgive me?” “He does, Dad. Jason forgives you!” Dad doesn’t quite look at me, but his head tilts toward my voice. “Jason’s gone, Dad,” I explain. “Jason’s dead.” “Oh, no!” His eyes close and his head sinks further into the pillow. One of the machines beep. I glance at what might be the gadget that shows the flatline. But there are at least five bright lines on a couple of different machines, and none of them appear to be flat. Where’s Kathleen? Where’s Diana? “Jason?” Dad whispers.
“Jason?” he rasps, Just let go. Please. “Oh!” I cry out. “Everything OK?” Diana asks,
“Jason?”I grimace as if straining in the gym. “Yes, Dad,” I say. “It is Jason. I am Jason.” “Forgive me, Jason!” “I do, Dad. I do forgive you and I love you.” And this subterfuge which accompanies my father as he leaves this life connects me to him in a way I’d never felt before. Finally, Dad and I are on the same wavelength.
A STORY By Ben Anderson I don’t always carry a pen so I carve things into the Earth and hope I cross them again. I don’t know how my tongue will be tomorrow, so I plant all fruit trees and hope one grows well. I don’t know how to stand out well, so I wear my socks mismatched. I grow cold waiting for the light to finally hit me right, so I light artificial fires. I don’t know how to tell a story, so I give you what is and hope you take it.
JOURNEY HOME By Pam Knapp The order rang out. They would stop for food. Overseers must eat. Legs buckling, he fell to his knees, still gripping the hooked blade. Dust and chaff that bit and clawed caked on the sweat of his bare ebony chest. His head, hair matted, thick with plantation filth, bowed until it reached the ground. He waited for the dreams to come. Visions of life before. Soon, he sensed the old freedom of cool river water powering over rocks. He thought he could feel its glassy weight thunder against him as he’d stood beneath its fall. Once again, he was king and strode among his people. Proud. Strong. His face against the dirt, a sigh gusted away grains of soil. He did not feel the burden of the sun as it stacked its burn on his shoulders, for in his bliss, fast by, stood his faithful steed of jet. Its bridle reins glinting their gold, a peel of singing chain ringing out with each shake of glossy mane. He felt the rolling speed of the stallion beneath him, each leap speeding him into the arms of his queen, her eyes of brown, her heart of red. He dreamt of joy in his children’s laughter, felt the embrace of their kisses, knew the shape of their hands in his. A tear swept a path from crusted eyes to his pillow of earth and shuck. He did not feel the whip as it split another weal red across his back, since in his dream, there paraded such glories of old. Lakes like shimmering flame. Cobalt oceans edged with silver sand. Swathes of emerald shaking with the caws of painted birds. All were spread before him now as they once were, once when they were his own. Darkness too, was full. Infinite forest melodies trilled liberty. Lion roars shuddered black air, hyena cries cloyed the ear. Life unleashed a thousand rhythms that pounded through night’s sightless depths. So wild and free
these songs, they started him in his sleep. A smile curled his blistered lips as he marvelled at their raucous call. The petulant whip sliced again, its tail tearing, this time at his cheek. But the deepest sleep had seeped through his dreams and left his body a fractured shackle that his soul had cast aside on its journey home.
HER GIFT By Judy Decroce She had left me a door. The will was clear in this. blue... windowless… attached to nothing... It leaned near the table in the kitchen, where most of her living happened. narrow… plain... with a glass knob... I remember asking why it stood useless there. She said it’s to touch the magic and light my heart when it blows out. I took her treasure, and have it still. It leans near my table. The magic, unfamiliar with the new space, needs time to settle. But today, I heard a soft knock called, “Come in.” and watched the knob turn.
ENYA By Jessica Madisetti Graphite on Bristol Board
BLUE CARPET By Lacy Wolfe A large room In a horrendously tiny town. “From Powder Springs, Georgia The McEachern High School Marching Band.” A big band in a A large room In a horrendously tiny town. “From Powder Springs, Georgia The McEachern High School Marching Band.” A big band in a huge mildewed room With a blue carpet covered in spit and bright blue flags.
My first year of high school. The first time a boy made my eyes sparkle. My first red-face and ripped out heart. The first time I was touched by a boy Who left my body shaking with sobs on a blue mildewed carpet. I met my best-worst friends there, And learned how to spin a watercolor flag.
A year later, I was still broken by the boy. I drove to the building with the big room After the first time a woman with a degree tried to fix me. Still, the blue mildewed carpet welcomed my tears. That room saw me at my uncontained giggles and my shoulder-hunched hurt. I took that hurt and threw my chain print flag.
3 years later I returned to that tiny town. I re-enter that big room, But the room and I no longer recognize each other. That boy no longer lurks in all the dark corners. The new carpet is blue, but it’s not tainted by mildew, Or my broken-down salty tears. And I’m teaching freshman how to spin a bright blue flag.
WASHED in ASTONISHMENT By Michelle Askin Then after the sadness, I remembered the rooms of you and thought how you were every dream of a swimming pool I had ever slept through, even the indoor ones. Especially, the indoor ones with mist from the sauna rooms streaming through and artificial foamy waves. I remember white and yellow volley balls in the air like the fruits of an ancient river pouring over before the first flood of the earth, shaken from the wet palms and curled leaves of the orchardâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;a shaking room stilled with colored light what was then understood as new color. But what is there to be remembered and forgotten. I am in this room with a memory of far away and a radio with retro dreaminess and reports of rain for a city not far but with a different frequency. There were real nights like this and then there were dreams like this. And now the mornings are like this. They have been for a very long time. Green rails round the darker shade of hemlocks and within them the tan concrete bridges and exit loops, the white glassy high-rises with aqua-tinted windows. Rooms with swimming pools. The graffitied red and yellow shell gas stations and their car wash pools. The grey iron healed into basilicas and their baptismal pools. I remember it allâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the water, the translucent water, neon pink water, chlorine blue water. And back now in the land of exit signs, the cities with numbers that suddenly feel close to the wandering ghost in us. But the thing is I really thought I was going to live this life. I really thought the rooms would not just move within sadness and euphoric elation, meaning not just the dream, not just the memory of what so close to beginning.
IN THE EYE of the BEHOLDER By Ken Wetherington The little boat bobbed further away, nearly obscured by the angry sea. Over my shoulder, a towering wave rose. I twisted to avoid the impact, but it struck hard, pushing me deep beneath the salty water. The muffled roar of the ocean rushed past, distinctly present yet strangely remote. I struggled upward, fighting the weight of my clothes. Breaking the surface, I searched frantically for the boat. The spray, driven by the wind, stung my face and blurred my vision. Then I caught a glimpse of the craft, sliding toward me. Before I could react, it vanished behind a large swell and almost as suddenly reappeared, elevated by the undulating sea. Another surge lifted and propelled me toward my salvation. I lunged for the boat, falling short as it spun out of reach. Fatigue strained my muscles, and I began to sink. From somewhere nearby, a voice, soft at first, then louder, cut through the wind and rain. “Please sir, don’t touch the art.” I blinked. A museum guard stood beside me, his hand on my arm. I blinked again. The vivid seascape had receded to its two dimensions. “Sorry, it’s … it’s such a powerful image.” “Just don’t touch it. Please stay two feet from the artwork.” He frowned and stepped aside, smoothing down his thin black moustache. I felt him watching as I eased away, the scent of brine lingering in my nostrils. In the restroom, I wiped the sweat from my brow, splashed cold water on my face, and ran a comb through my hair. The mirror over the sink
reflected the weariness in my eyes. Visits to the museum often exhausted me, though I usually found myself there on my day off. I took a deep breath and exited the restroom. Only a handful of patrons dotted the main concourse. Resisting the urge to revisit the captivating seascape, I meandered into the modernist wing. In the first gallery, a series of abstract paintings hung on the walls. Most of the works featured large blocks of colors. More like geometry than art, in my opinion. Conceptual art filled the next room. In its center lay a pile of clothes. A plaque on a small stand read: Teenager’s Laundry by Denise Landry. “Laundry by Landry,” I muttered, shaking my head at the alliteration. In the far corner of the room, an elderly lady I had not seen earlier cast a disapproving glance in my direction. What drew me to museums with so much passion, yet brought out my aversion to other patrons? Was it their snobby superiority or my own insecurity? I gave her an ambivalent nod and moved on. The canvases in the next gallery oozed with drips and squiggles. Admittedly, a few of the paintings had a compelling quality, but any child could sling paint on a canvas and call it art. What made it art? In front of one of the paintings, a figure of a dark-haired lady lay on the floor. Did the two pieces complement each other? Perhaps they intended to show a person’s reaction to art. A series of pale blue lines ran diagonally across
IN THE EYE of the BEHOLDER
the painting. The artist had allowed the paint to run, creating a blurry effect. In the background, a vague circle nearly filled the frame. Its plaque read: Woman in the Rain by Anthony Wolfe. At least this one made sense after reading the title. I gazed down at the realistic mannequin on the floor.
us, finally focusing on me. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but the guard with the moustache spoke first.
Her chest expanded and contracted. For a moment, she almost appeared real. Then her arm twitched. She was a live person, but could she be acting in some sort of performance art? Could I get in trouble for offering to aid her? I looked around for museum staff. We were alone in the gallery.
“Beats me. She was lying there. I thought she was part of the exhibit.”
Leaning over, I whispered, “Excuse me, ma’am. Are you okay? Do you need help?” She moaned and her eyelids fluttered. I sank to one knee and took her hand. “May I assist you?” Distant footsteps echoed, growing faster as they neared. “What’s going on here?” The guard I had encountered earlier approached. He knelt beside her. “Are you okay, ma’am?” He glanced at me, and his tone sharpened. “What happened?” “I … I don’t know. She must have fainted.” He eyed me with suspicion before returning his attention to the woman. I backed away, relieved of responsibility. “Stay here,” barked the guard. Though I had done nothing wrong, I felt the accusation in his voice. Another guard approached. ambulance,” he said.
The woman seemed to be recovering. “No … no,” she said. “I need a minute to … I was dizzy. May I have some water?” The guards eased her to a sitting position. She appeared to be in her late thirties and wore a white sweater and a blue dress, which had seen better days. Her gaze cycled among the three of
"I’ll get your water.” He motioned for me to follow. “What happened?” he asked when we were out of earshot.
He halted me with his hand on my shoulder. “You thought she was an exhibit?” “Well … modern art, it can be anything.” He fixed his eyes on mine, probably evaluating my knowledge of art … or my sanity. When we reached the main lobby, he gestured toward the exit. “I suggest you leave now and don’t cause trouble next time.” “I didn’t cause trouble this time.” “Sir, you nearly touched a painting. I saw you.” I grumbled under my breath though I couldn't blame him. The ubiquitous “Do Not Touch” signs nearly outnumbered the artworks. Nevertheless, the art must bear a portion of the liability. The images, especially that seascape, drew me into another world. Surely the artist intended his audience to feel the wind and waves. I checked my watch. Only three-thirty. Too early to go home. Dave had Wednesdays off, so I drove over. He lived in half of an aging duplex apartment in a neighborhood that showed signs of urban decay. His salary at the warehouse, where I oversaw the shipping and receiving process, limited his housing options. I had known Dave for years. His older sister had been in my grade in high school. When he graduated a few years ago, I helped him get the job at the warehouse. In an effort to break out of my increasingly solitary life, I began to spend time with him and his girlfriend.
IN THE EYE of the BEHOLDER
He answered the doorbell with a sheaf of papers in his hand. “Hi, Randall. Come on in.”
“A woman fainted. I found her on the floor in front of a painting.”
“Thanks. You working on something?”
“Must have been a powerful piece of art.” He laughed. “Who’s the artist?”
He brushed back his long dark hair. “Yeah, my book. I’ve introduced a new plotline. Now I’ve got to make it fit in with the rest of the story.”
“What’s it matter? She must have been ill, or something. I think the artist’s name was Wolfe … Anthony Wolfe. Yeah, that’s right.”
“How much have you written?” “Oh, it must be over two hundred thousand words, but it’s all in pieces. I’ve got to pull it all together. It keeps branching off into unexpected directions.” He had been writing for a couple of years. His novel kept expanding, and the end seemed as far away as ever. “Dave,” I cut him off, having heard his spiel many times, “you’ll never finish if you keep adding to the plot. You’ve got to settle on the main story and tell it. You can write a sequel with all the material left over.” He sighed, flopped down on a well-worn sofa, and tossed his papers onto the cluttered coffee table. I took a seat in a recliner, which no longer reclined. “What have you been up to?” he asked. “Been to the museum.” “Again? You practically live there on your off days.” “The art is good for me. You should try it.” “Most of it leaves me cold except for that Salvador Dali guy. That dude must have seen some alien worlds.” “I think it was all in his head, Dave.” He gave a shrug, leaned over the coffee table, and squinted at his stack of papers. “A woman fainted.”
Dave threw back his head and gave a long, melancholy howl. Before I could react to his mocking response, the front door swung open and Gretchen entered, carrying her guitar case. “Oh. Hi, Randall.” vacuous smile.
They made an odd couple. Her tall, loose-limbed body, blond hair, and easy manner contrasted with Dave’s slight figure and intense countenance. She deposited her guitar case by the door and joined Dave on the sofa. “What are you doing?” she asked, though she surely knew his drive to write the novel occupied his time and stole the attention she craved. “He’s scoffing at my interest in art,” I interjected. Dave cut me a mischievous grin. “He’s been checking out wolf art at the museum.” “An artist named Wolfe,” I corrected. “And I didn’t even like the picture. It was a blurry, abstract painting of a woman in the rain. ”Dave smirked. “I think he’s trying to pick up women there. He’s hitting on the unconscious ones. They can’t resist his charm. ”The joke had gone far enough. Turning to Gretchen, I asked, “What’s happening with your band?” “Mingo’s come up with a new name for us.” “So, what is it?”
IN THE EYE of the BEHOLDER
“Opposable Thumbs. Mingo thinks it’s a good name for a punk band.” Dave snorted. “Damn, Gretch, Mingo doesn’t know his ass from—” “Stop, Dave. Mingo’s an artist.” Dave harbored resentment toward Mingo and the hours Gretchen spent with the band. I didn’t relish sitting through another round of the wellworn argument. Before I made my escape, Gretchen handed me a flyer, advertising her band’s upcoming gig. As I closed the door, another low, mournful howl from inside reached my ears, followed by laughter. My friendship with Dave had its ups and downs. I didn’t doubt his smarts, and once diverted from his literary aspirations, he could hold forth on many topics with wit and intelligence. Gretchen, on the other hand, floated through life, getting caught up by first one thing and then another. This year the punk band had captured her attention. Next year something else would draw her interest. At least they were doing things while I spent my time admiring the works of others—always the audience, never the creator. I resided in a small house, a few blocks from the warehouse. The place could use a few repairs. I didn’t inform the landlord for fear it would drive up the rent. It was too early for dinner, besides the leftover spaghetti in my fridge didn’t excite me. I got online and surfed over to the museum’s web page and located an image of Lost at Sea. I blew it up to full screen and tried to recapture the emotions I felt earlier. Lacking the texture and size of the original, it failed to move me. I shut down my computer and checked out Gretchen’s flyer. In black print on orange paper, it announced: Opposable Thumbs featuring Mingo DeLorien Friday, April 14 at
No Exit with special guests Roadkill show starts at 10 pm admission: $5 I had attended a couple of Gretchen’s gigs to show my support, but Mingo’s loud, unintelligible screaming always drove me from the bar by the end of the first set. I tossed the flyer aside and, without enthusiasm, heated up the leftover spaghetti. *** Thursdays at the warehouse could be chaotic with lots of orders to be shipped out before the weekend. In the afternoon, I spotted Dave among a group of workers loading boxes of auto parts onto a pallet. As I passed, an almost subliminal howl reached my ears. I made a mental note to avoid him for a week or so, hoping he’d tire of his annoying joke. After work, I drove over to Cassidy’s Books, one of the last remaining independent bookstores in the city. The newly arrived fiction section offered a predictable array of novels by familiar authors. None of the choices thrilled me. Then I saw her. She stood in front of a tall display of art books, searching the shelves. I watched her for a few moments as she touched first one book and then another before finally making her selection. She wore the same washed-out blue dress and white sweater from yesterday. Her dark hair hung to her shoulders in an unruly mass. Suddenly, she snapped her book shut, stuck it back on the shelf, and scurried to the far end of the aisle. She peeked around the shelving unit, anxiety lining her face. From my vantage point, I glanced over the shorter units in the front half of the store. Nothing unusual caught my eye, but her actions captured my curiosity. I arbitrarily plucked a book from a nearby shelf and pretended to peruse it while trying to ascertain the source of her alarm.
IN THE EYE of the BEHOLDER
A small number of customers meandered about the store—a fashionably dressed young couple, an older man in a plaid shirt and jeans, two chattering, white-haired ladies, a tall man with glasses in a business suit, and a couple with a kid. A typical assortment. After a few minutes, I decided nothing of interest was happening. The lady from the museum must be crazy. Just then, the two elderly ladies approached, their eyes lit with joy. “Oh, young man,” one of them began. “It’s so nice to see we have an interest in common. Mabel and I think it’s the most fun a person can have.” I glanced down at the random book I had grabbed—The Art of Knitting. Trying to hide my chagrin, I muttered, “I … I must have picked up the wrong book.” “Don’t be embarrassed,” Mabel said with a wink. “We all have our secret passions.” “Uh … excuse me. I have to go now,” I said hurriedly and departed before Mabel could divulge the details of her secret passions. Rushing to leave, I squeezed past a knot of customers near the exit and unexpectedly found myself face-to-face with the woman from the museum. Our eyes met. A glint of recognition flashed. “Aren’t you …” she began as we passed through the door and onto the sidewalk. Her words made it impossible for me to walk away. “Excuse me?” I said, in an effort to be noncommittal. I didn’t want to be drawn into a conversation with a crazy woman, yet she did arouse my curiosity.
“Thank you for helping me. My name’s Vicki.” “I’m Randall, but I didn’t do anything. The museum staff took care of you.” “You found me, didn’t you? That’s what they said.” “Uh … well, yes. It wasn’t anything, really.” “I’d say it’s something. Can I buy you a drink?” I started to refuse, but her invitation sounded like a movie cliché. Somehow that made it exciting. Besides, I had been telling myself to get out of my rut and meet new people. She wasn’t exactly the sort of person I had in mind. However, it was a short commitment—half hour at the most, I figured. O’Conner’s Pub in the next block provided a convenient destination. At a table for two against the wall opposite the bar, she ordered a gin and tonic and I a whiskey. I expected to hear her life story, but she surprised me by opening with a question. “How old are you?” “Twenty-nine.” Politeness prevented me from asking her. “So, what do you like about the museum?” “The landscapes, mostly. At times, it seems as if I’m there.” “What about abstract art?” “It’s okay. I enjoy seeing it, but it often leaves me puzzled. What about you? What do you like? I saw you in the bookstore with an art book.” “Yeah. I was searching for a picture. When I get an image in my mind, I have to see it again. Know what I mean?”
“Weren’t you at the museum?” Feeling trapped, I sought an exit line. “I’m glad to see you’re better, now.”
“Yes,” I replied, warming to the conversation. Abruptly, she switched gears.
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“Tonight, a man followed me. Did you see him?” “Uh … no.” Her question disturbed me. I only wanted to talk about art. “So, did you find the picture you were searching for?” “No. Gerald came in, and I hid behind a display. You must have seen him, the older man with an eye patch.”
with a couple of “see you Wednesdays.” *** The dark alley vibrated with a cacophony of repetitive guitar chords and thumping bass lines. Halfway down, I took a deep breath and put my hand on the doorknob. At the far end of the alley, a knot of figures huddled. The scent of reefer hung in the air.
“I’m afraid I didn’t notice him.” “Are you sure? He wore a plaid shirt.” “And gray hair and jeans? Oh, I did see him. I wasn’t aware of the eye patch. I saw him from behind.”
I braced myself for the sonic assault and pushed open the door. Roadkill’s long-haired, shirtless lead singer screeched out lyrics, I guess you could call them lyrics, only to have his vocal efforts obliterated by the deafening guitar barrage. An unfazed attendant wearing a black “No Exit” t-shirt took my five dollars.
“Anyway, he left. I don’t think he followed us.” I quickly scanned the bar. Though none of the handful of customers appeared threatening, an eerie sense of being watched crept over me. I took a big sip of whiskey. “Well, I’ve got to go now.” “Wait a little while.” “I can’t. I have to meet a friend for dinner,” I lied. “How about meeting me at the museum on Saturday?” “I work Saturdays. Wednesday’s my day off.”
The joint was small, with a short stage in one corner and no seating except for a few stools by the bar. A half-dozen fans bounced and gyrated in front of the stage, bumping into one another with delirious abandon. Another five or six customers stood listening. Not exactly a sellout crowd. Across the room, Dave stood with a bottle in hand and a faraway look in his eyes. I bought a beer, settled on a stool as far from the band as possible, and waited for the set to end. Roadkill ripped through two more numbers before leaving the stage. Then, in response to an enthusiastic round of applause from a handful of fans, they dragged themselves back on stage for an encore, after which they departed with attitude.
“Okay, next Wednesday, then.” I didn’t really want to get involved with this woman and her stalker, real or imagined, but the idea of having someone with whom I could share the museum experience excited me. It had been a long time. “All right. What time? Does one o’clock work?” “Yeah, that’s great.” We polished off our drinks and parted company
Dave joined me at the bar and immediately began to spill his troubles in an alcohol-fueled rush of words. “I just know Gretch is falling for Mingo. That goddamn faker. He’s twenty years older than her. He’s no artist. He’s using his music to get laid. He’s sleeping with all his groupies. She’ll be one of many. He’s such an asshole. I can’t figure out what to do, Randall. I want to punch him, but he’d probably beat the hell out of me. What should I do? Should I tell him to keep away from her?”
IN THE EYE of the BEHOLDER
“Look, Dave, you can’t make her stay if she wants to go. Getting into a fight will only make things worse. Be nice to her. She’ll get tired of Mingo and come back to you.” "I can’t stand the thought of him and her together.” “What can you do, Dave? You can’t control other people.” Not the advice he wanted. He responded by cycling through several more rounds of the same fears and questions. I patiently listened, but had no words to ease his mind. Finally, Opposable Thumbs took the stage and began their onslaught in the name of art. Mingo must have been in his mid-thirties, not quite as old as Dave had suggested. He wore a ripped white t-shirt, jeans and a sweatband around his long, greasy black hair. Gretchen looked great in her short skirt and loose blond hair. The drummer and the guitarist appeared to be identical twins—pale, skinny guys with red hair and sour scowls. A few songs into the set, Mingo announced a love song, and Gretchen joined him at the mic. They ripped through a duet staring into each other’s eyes. At its conclusion, they excited the sparse crowd with a passionate kiss. Beside me, Dave’s eyes filled with tears. The time had come to take him home. *** “You know,” I said to Vicki, “some paintings suck me right in. Others, well, I could stare at them all day and not feel a thing.” “I understand what you mean. The abstracts overwhelm me with emotions.” “It’s the landscapes for me.” As we strolled along the main concourse, I cast a glance toward the gallery where my favorites hung. “The good ones draw me into a time and place.” “Maybe you want to escape your own world for
one that’s more dynamic. Still, most of them don’t really say anything.” “Being able to transport the viewer is great art to me. Like the saying goes, it’s in the eye of the beholder.” “Let’s go here.” She pulled me toward the modernist wing and stopped before a nearly white canvas with a swath of blue and yellow curling sublimely from one side to the other. I had to admit the image exuded elegance, however it failed to move me. For a few hours, we discussed the pros and cons of abstract art. We agreed on practically nothing, yet the debate invigorated me. She spoke with considerable insight, but didn’t delve into the dry, academic discourse that turns so many people away from art. Almost before I realized it, I had invited her to dinner. We ended up at Angelo’s, which served decent Italian fare at a modest cost. Over plates of steaming lasagna, our conversation continued, and the attraction between us grew. I began to contemplate a relationship with this woman who must be nearly ten years older than me, though it felt a little odd. Had our genders been reversed, no one, including me, would have given the age difference a second thought. I needed to find out more about her, and what was the deal with her one-eyed maniacal stalker? “So, who’s Gerald and what’s his story?” She put down her fork and breathed a heavy sigh. “It’s a long one.” “I’ll settle for the condensed version.” I didn’t want to get too deeply into it, but with a possible relationship hanging in the balance, I needed to get the general idea. Apparently, her thoughts ran along the same lines. “Years ago we were lovers.” “He must be pretty old. I didn’t get a good look at the bookstore. I do remember he had gray hair.”
IN THE EYE of the BEHOLDER
“He’s sixty-four.” It disturbed me that she knew his exact age. “I was young and naïve,” she continued. “Back then, he had a sexy, smoldering quality. But he was possessive and bordered on being violent. Though he never hit me, I feared he might. I broke up with him several times and kept coming back. When I left for good, he expected me to return. I’m over him, now. I’ll never go back.”
frustrated her, but I followed her gaze. A figure with an umbrella approached. “Gerald,” she said, stepping toward him. “What are you doing here? Are you following me, again?”
“Did you go to the police for a restraining order?”
I winced at the mention of my name, wishing for anonymity. It’s amazing how a simple eye patch can make a person appear threatening. The legacy of pirates, I suppose.
“No … The whole affair was as much my fault as his. I was foolish.” “That doesn’t excuse his behavior. Verbal abuse is nearly as bad as physical violence. ”I wanted her to put the blame squarely on him. As an older, experienced man he surely knew he was taking advantage of her. I searched her eyes, hoping for a sign that the relationship had truly ended. “It’s over.” She shrugged, glanced away, and then turned back to me. “He shows up every now and then and tries to persuade me to come back. He’s persistent. I keep saying no, and he goes away … for a while. He doesn’t scare me anymore. He’s just an annoyance.” Vicki reclined in silence and poked at the remnants of her lasagna, giving me a chance to process her tale. If, in time, Gerald went away, I saw the plausibility of a relationship with Vicki. I had allowed myself to settle too comfortably into a solitary lifestyle. My few friends had married or lived with partners. Maybe Vicki didn’t see Gerald as a serious threat, but he’d likely see me as stealing her away from him. The waiter brought the check and we left. Outside, twilight had darkened the sky, and a light drizzle fell. Under the awning, Vicki pulled her collar up and peered down the street toward where I had parked my car. “Shit,” she muttered. At first, I thought the rain
“Come with me, Vicki,” he growled, his good eye bulging as if it would pop out of its socket. “I’m with Randall. Call me tomorrow.”
He lowered his tone. “You know I need you. I can’t work without you.” “Dammit, Gerald.” Her frown deepened. “Get this through your head, I’m not coming back.” His shoulders sagged. “Please,” he begged, now resembling a child imploring his mother for a new toy. “Here.” He held his open umbrella forward. “You’ll get wet.” There might have been a tear in his eye, or it could have been the rain. They stood fixated on each other for a few moments before he spoke again. “You know … You’re beautiful in the rain.” Her face softened, and I had lost her. “Randall, I’d better go with him. I’ll see you tomorrow, after work.” “Vicki, you don’t have to. You can come with me.” She glanced at Gerald. I hoped she would send him away. She turned to me and shook her head. “I can’t, Randall.” Was she protecting me from him? Shouldn’t I be defending her? Everything seemed upside down. “You can,” I said with as much authority as I could muster. It wasn’t enough. “I’m choosing to go with him. I’ve got your address. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
IN THE EYE of the BEHOLDER
I sighed, my arguments exhausted. Gerald stepped forward, put his arm around her, and they faded into the rainy night. *** The following evening, I sat on my sofa after dinner, surfing through the cable channels trying to find something to distract me. I didn’t really expect her to show up on my doorstep, but the bell rang and there she was. “Oh, Randall,” she said as we seated ourselves on the sofa. “He truly needs me, yet he suffocates me.” “Leave him. You’ve got to take care of yourself first.” Did I offer that advice for her benefit or mine? I wasn’t certain. “It’s not so easy. You see, there’s a long history. There are things I can’t tell you. It gets complicated.” “Couples break up all time. My friends Dave and Gretchen—”“Randall,” she interrupted. “You’re a good man. I don’t need advice, just time to think. Can I stay here tonight?” She saw the question in my eyes. “I’ll sleep on your sofa.” The evening passed in an awkward mix of silence and rambling, unfinished conversations about art. Around ten o’clock, I got a pillow and blanket for her and retired to my bedroom. When I arose in the morning, she had gone. But she left a note. Randall, As I said last night, you’re a good man. I hope you find happiness. My happiness, I have decided, is linked with Gerald for as long as he lives. I’m going away with him tomorrow. I can’t always stay with him, but I’ll always go back. Perhaps you’ll see me at the museum sometime. - Vicki
them up with a red ink pen. “How’s the band, Gretchen?” I asked. “I quit the band. It stopped being fun.” Dave raised his head. “You mean you finally wised up to Mingo’s groupies.” “Well … he’s an artist. He needs his muses.” “He just wants to get laid by a different woman every day.” I decided to intervene before their bickering escalated. “So, what are you up to now, Gretchen?” “I’ve been taking pottery lessons. Maybe I can make a little money if I get good enough. Besides, the band wasn’t going anywhere and practicing took so much time.” Dave made a sound somewhere between a snort and a laugh. “Working on your book, Dave?” I asked, though I knew the answer. “Yeah, editing’s a bitch.” He raised his head. “How about you, Randall? Been to the museum lately?” “No, I’m taking a break.” “No more wolf art for you, huh?” I groaned, and he continued. “I checked out that artist on the internet.” “What artist? Wolfe, you mean?” “Yeah, Anthony Wolfe, like you said. Some of his paintings are interesting.” “You like them?”
A couple of weeks later, I stopped by Dave’s apartment on Wednesday. I was only half surprised to find Gretchen there. Dave, as usual, had his nose buried in a stack of papers, marking
“Yeah, he’s a pretty good painter for a guy with only one eye.”
IN THE EYE of the BEHOLDER
“What do you mean?” “Yeah, childhood accident, I think. Wears a patch over his left eye, or is it his right? I can’t remember.” “Pull up his picture on your computer.” “I’m kind of busy with—” “Do it now.” My voice rose. “I need to see it.” “Okay, okay.” A few minutes later, Gretchen and I peered over Dave’s shoulder at the black-and-white image on the screen. Though the picture dated from forty years ago, there was no mistaking Gerald. “Wow,” breathed Gretchen. “He was hot back then.” “I’ve got to go,” I said hurriedly. “See you guys later.” At the museum, I made my way to the modernist wing and stood before Woman in the Rain. For a few minutes, I saw only shapes and colors, but then the rain began to form, and after a while, a figure emerged. It looked like … Yes, it was her. No doubt in my mind. I recalled her note: Perhaps you’ll see me at the museum sometime. She knew I would find her. Slowly, I began to discern her youthful features and heard the rhythm of the rain drumming a steady beat. She moved toward me and softly called my name. I wished for an umbrella to protect her. She gently beckoned and whispered again, but another voice, harsh and loud, spoke over her. “Please sir, don’t touch the painting.”
WALK along WEST LAKE By YI Feng For Charles Bernstein
There are some tides which are echoes of the lake If you swim fast against the tides You could almost hear the bubbling Metros or the sharp voices of sparrows from silent cold mountains A knot is numerous tied ends So is a sound Or a love legend If you swim slowly I could almost catch up with you But never do I see your tired face “Never wait for time Fight against it Or the tides” The boat beats back the tides There are some tides that beat back the boat Under some tides or under the tower are our souls suffering or turning apathetic But you aren’t there Or you are there but not the one who walked beside me But the one who is talking to me In a freestyle way In the future & At present
WALK along WEST LAKE
Along the trail I imagine that on every tenement line the sheets hung by the white snake lady Hide original message is blowing askew like some tides underneath the lake crooked but onward can be beaten but never moderated These things astonish me beyond words
Cloudland Canyon, Rising Fawn, GA By Chalei Marie
IN THE RESTAURANT By JR Solanche Were it not for the dog lying in lazy alertness beneath the table against his leg and the stillness of the man, his utter lack of fidgeting with the knife and fork, we would not have known. Even the eyes, the useless things themselves, were living eyes as they darted toward the waiter's voice and back to us. "I see," we heard him say in response to something the waiter spoke too low for us to hear. And then a bright laugh, and suddenly that old cliche of sight was startlingly new, a blinding flash of light.
WINDS of CHICAGO By James Pollard
you can tell Leslie’s mother if she calls, i’m trying to change. i didn’t mean to break her daughter’s arms or snap her heart the way i did. the bus was a sickly shade of snottish green. it creaked and wheeled through the thick waters of the drowning asphalt, and i watched and i waited for those doors to creek open. i held her hand through the cold winds sweeping through us on that stony winter night. you can tell her mother if she calls, i’m sorry i’ve never known myself, i was still figuring that out when my leslie almost faded into the sky. you can tell her mother if she calls, i’m sorry. please try not to ask why. i’m sorry your little girl almost died because of me. but if she needs more room to breathe i can always lend her a lung. i know instead of a poem, she’d prefer i build a time machine. but my hands were made to destroy, so they’re best kept buried in the pockets of the black coat covering the earth.
HURRAH, I'M VACCINATED By Joe Giordano I stepped outside the doctor’s office and took my first deep breath without angst in over a year. My compromised immune system had condemned me to the high-risk category, so getting vaccinated for COVID-19 meant I could finally return to normalcy. I’d hunkered down in my apartment as if human contact risked death, dreading every physical twinge, worrying I’d need either a doctor or dentist. I was panicked by a cough or sniffle lest mail or an Amazon package had infected me and horrified by an electrical or plumbing problem requiring contact with repairmen who might not be wearing a mask. I chanced doomsday only to food shop, wearing a bandanna and gloves looking like I intended to rob the place. I would gladly have donned a self-contained breathing apparatus and space suit if I owned them. Before I risked my first foray to the supermarket, I’d eaten every scrap of food, including out of date canned goods, resorting finally to stale, dry cereal for dinner. If my destiny was to die alone in a hospital, I wanted that to happen later, much later. My lockdown had settled into routine. Rising, I’d exchange wall raps with my left-side neighbor, confirming we both survived the night. I ignored the guy on my right. We’d feuded over politics (a blood sport between us) and I wouldn’t give him the pleasure that one fatal morning I couldn’t tap. To occupy my mind, I reorganized every drawer, closet, and cabinet at least twice, trashing unwearable rags and knickknacks, taking small pleasure in shredding old bills. Rather than rant at TV news, I binge-watched every season on Netflix’s top one hundred list that didn’t cause me to retch. Napping frequently, my hair grew to my shoulders. Some days, I contemplated suicide just for something different to do.
Not one of the lucky people paid to work from home, unemployment ran out and so did the little savings I had. I interviewed for stay-athome jobs on Zoom, dressing like a TV talkinghead, with a sport coat and tie worn over gym shorts - the only time I even half-dressed. Eventually, all my sloppy clothes had holes. Once vaccinated, I called Zelda, my preisolation, sometimes-girlfriend, hoping our last conversation had faded in her memory. Admittedly, she’d entered my fantasy daydreams on multiple occasions during quarantine with increasing intensity. Her greeting rekindled my passion and she warmed up to me as we talked. Then, I mentioned the time I pulled her into the surf at the beach and her voice turned flat, informing me that she’d developed a list of online dates who took precedence over me. Funnily enough, by the end of the phone call, I didn’t much care about seeing her either. I thought to travel, having been cooped up for so long, but my sister in Topeka showed no enthusiasm for a visit. We weren’t particularly close but had spoken on occasion during quarantine. Still, no amount of hinting on my part could coax an invitation from her. Former drinking and poker playing buddies were hard to reach, like they screened my calls. One had become a Buddhist. Two had learned French and Italian. Others had taken up golf for safe recreation. Apparently, their foursome was set because they didn’t suggest I join them. Afterward, I reflected on how they’d made the best of quarantine and realized that their tone and manner had turned me off, a feeling I’d never experienced before.
HURRAH, I'M VACCINATED
During sequestration, I’d wistfully pined for my former life. Now that COVID-19 no longer threatened me, I reflected on my previous existence and felt a bit empty. Returning to bed, I decided I really didn’t need to leave my apartment, after all.
ISOLATED By Lorena Guerra
POEM FOR MY MOTHER By Mike Walker it's late summer and we're up with the memory of winter's cold call to gather firewood we'll need a lot very soon we climb the would-be logger's ladder on a steep hill rough and rocky paths slogging through the virgin forest picking up leftover heat dead or down heat logs felled naturally we gather the gifts fetching warmth and freedom from high gas bill blues
SHIMMERING By Joan McNerney
That summer, I wanted to take off all my clothes. To be naked under the sun, Tango all over warm grass. So warm, warm. Noontime perfumed berries and lush grass. Beneath honey locust through hushed woods, we found this spring-a secret susurrus disco. My feet began two-stepping over slippery pebbles. Threading soft water, the sun dresses us in golden sequins. Your hand reaches for me.
INDETERMINACY By Ron Torrence interlocking tendrils fall away first freeze brittle fronds swept away winter winds impermanence timeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s true queen
i dropped a pebble deep and waited
as i turned to go faint splashâ&#x20AC;&#x201C; imagination?
haunting me still
LOOK MA NO SANITY By Edward Supranoiwicz
SEVEN SECONDS By Will Conway She wanted to hear what the world had to say, she told him. Drake thought that was a bit silly. The world hadn’t spoken to him in years, after all, and he wasn’t sure it ever spoke to anybody. All those people claiming to be inspired by the blaring horns of taxis, the passing murmur of the subway through iron grates below, the purr of pigeons, and the rustle of leaves in the parks? They must have been lying. Or, at the very least, mishearing. There’s nothing more to this world than the inside of your own mind. But she wasn’t so interested in the taxis or the subway or the pigeons and the leaves in the parks. For her, it was the people. The people she saw everywhere, two-by-two like the days of Noah’s Ark.
longed. By the time they passed the G Train, they were practiced and sharp for McCarren Park, for the endless stream of young couples walking hand-in-hand and old men reveling in sweet nostalgia and women recalling horrors and mothers loving their children and ignoring them, too. “Okay,” she said. “What about these two?” A pair of men—mid-twenties and wearing the black peacoats donned by everyone in the city in early April—approached with puffy red cheeks and jolly smiles and takeaway cups of coffee. “He’s never even been to Boston,” said one. “I don’t know how he could say that.”
She told him she loved those seven seconds of conversation, those briefest windows into the worlds of others, as a passing couple mumbled this or that about their dirty kitchen or construction hampering the L Train or the new Fiona Apple record. This was Brooklyn, after all. And then they’d be gone, forever lost, except for that seven-second impression that could last a lifetime if she let it, she said.
The other scoffed and said something but his voice was too far now, trailing off behind them, and they didn’t hear a word he said.
Drake walked with her because he saw no other option. And so they would stroll down Nassau Avenue from their third-floor walkup in the Polish neighborhood, where the men and women were old and wore tan windbreakers and the language was foreign and mysterious and endearing. But somewhere between McGolrick and McCarren—where the understated Nassau showered and shaved and put on its finest wool sweater and prepared for its metamorphosis into Bedford—the people would lose a quarter century and the Polish would fade and the English would rise, and so they could hear those seven seconds of conversation for which she
And he stayed quiet and serious and she laughed an awkward laugh and then she spoke.
“What do you think?” she asked. Eager. “I don’t know,” he said. “Come on,” she said. “Think of something.”
“Do you want to know what I think?” she asked. “Sure,” he said. “I think their friend has never left the city at all. I think he was born and raised in New York City and he has that apathy for Boston running through his blood the way all New Yorkers do,” she said. And Drake paused for a moment because he
hoped it wasn’t that. He hoped it was nothing so simple. So basic. Not one bit.
over McCarren though he never said so and up to their third-floor walkup
“I’m not so sure,” he said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with New York City or Boston or that pedestrian rivalry at all.”
For weeks, she would stomp about the apartment in a flurry of excitement and flap her arms like she was about ready to take off with the pigeons. She would warble and vibrate and poke her head forward and pace around much the way pigeons do. And then she would ask to go to the park. And he would agree. He said he loved it as much as she did, but she knew he didn’t. And he knew she knew he didn’t.
“I’m listening,” she said. “I think their friend’s been traveling the world for years. He’s been out and about in Paris and Buenos Aires and Shanghai, and he came back with a bit of an attitude. A bit of a condescending, holier-than-thou thing that he never had when he was young. And these two guys? They’re intimidated. And they know he hasn’t been to Boston, so they poke at the one hole he has that they don’t.” “Well, all right,” she said and needled his ribs with her elbow. “This is fun.” And he said it was even though it wasn’t. Even though it felt like voyeurism and even though he wasn’t so sure there was anything to learn. Even though he was certain that if he listened for more than seven seconds, the mystery would fade, and these people would reveal themselves to be ordinary and uninteresting like everyone else. But they walked on and on, past the red brick building that housed the bathrooms and past the softball fields, past the tennis courts. And they listened. To old men on benches and children chasing pigeons and couples scowling at each other and couples smiling at each other and clusters of single men on blankets failing to disguise bottles of wine in their backpacks and all sorts of things. All sorts of people, she reminded him. The sun was just beginning to set and so Drake said he was getting cold and that maybe it was time to call it an afternoon. She pouted but conceded, and home they went, back through the park and onto Bedford with its wool sweater, back to where the G Train snuck up from beneath the concrete and English turned to Polish and Bedford became Nassau. Past the corner bar where he’d prefer to be drinking alone and past McGolrick Park which he favored
And so one day they went to the park and Drake expected to hear all kinds of seven second stories the way they always did, but she sat him down on a park bench right by that old red brick building with the bathrooms, and she told him a story much longer than seven seconds. He couldn’t get out of his own way, she explained. He couldn’t hear what the world wanted him to hear. He couldn’t hear the stories not because he was incapable, not because he was imperceptive, but because he didn’t care to hear anything but the inside of his own brain. So she would keep listening to the stories the world told and she hoped one day he would, too. And if that day ever came, she said, then, well, maybe call her. But she didn’t mean it. He knew that much. But this right here is where their story together was to end, she said. And she wished him well and stood and vanished into the pairings of people walking two-by-two, presumably to collect her things from their third-floor walkup and be gone for good. He cleared his throat and pulled his phone from his pocket and uncoiled the headphones he always kept for moments like this. He stood and walked twelve laps around McCarren, listening to that Fiona Apple record and scoffing at all the people who weren’t though he didn’t like the record at all. He spent the months of May and June mostly by himself, whimpering in despair in his halffurnished living room, swaths of space still absent chairs and lamps since she left. When necessity forced him to the corner store for milk
or to the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew his license, he kept his headphones in his ears and muted the world, silent and dispassionate and walking with a swagger he thought he carried well but which only indicated to the world his desire to be seen, which he wasn’t.
thinking maybe it was her. But it wasn’t. It was an older man in a tan windbreaker. “You dropped this,” he said in a thin Polish accent, extending a wallet. “Thank you,” Drake said. “Really.”
The peacoats had long been forgotten by the time he finally did venture out. He learned she found a new place on the far side of the park and though he never admitted it, he thought maybe there was a chance he would see her there. So he locked the door of his third-floor walkup and skipped down the stairs, his headphones as secure in his ears as ever. He wandered down Nassau where old people presumably spoke in Polish. but he couldn’t hear a thing because he was glued to some esoteric record or a socialist podcast or something else. He walked through the park in the sweltering heat where lips moved but he heard only the rattle of a drum kit long since auctioned off and rusting in a basement. Past the red brick building with the public bathrooms and the park bench where he heard his last story. He paused at the softball fields, where some kind of skirmish seemed to brew at second base though he didn’t quite understand why, but he lost interest and lapped around twelve more times - only because it’s a lovely day, he told himself - and returned to his third-floor walkup. He wandered out day after day after day, rain or shine or sweltering heat or gentle breeze, convinced he’d expanded his definition of a lovely day in some manner that was profound but only really because he hoped to see her at the park. All the while, those headphones stayed glued to his ears and the world stayed silent and he saw but didn’t hear. It wasn’t until the trailing days of summer, when the weather was still hot and the leaves were still green but the air lost its freshness and the leaves lost their pulsing rhythm that he removed his headphones. He didn’t want to. Courtesy demanded it. He was on the path, past the red brick building and before the softball fields, when he felt a tap at his shoulder. And he turned,
And the man said you’re welcome and coughed and said he’d seen him out on his strolls every day, in all sorts of weather, with his headphones in and altogether committed to ignoring the world. He wondered aloud what the purpose of walking through a park could possibly be if you didn’t seem to notice you were there in the first place. “Just nice to stretch my legs,” he said. And the Polish man nodded and was off. But Drake didn’t replace his headphones. He thought maybe he’d hear what there was to hear for a little while. And so, he listened to pigeons purring and the blaring horns of distant taxis on Bedford. He listened to the clink of metal bats hitting softballs and scolding mothers and crying children. And he listened to those seven seconds of conversation spoken by strangers, those snippets of lives he never lived. “I hadn’t expensive,” wondered prompted toothpaste.
thought toothpaste could be so said a woman on her phone, and he what possible desperation had her to ever check the cost of
“We were fourth row at a Mets game,” said a man, to which a friend replied that it was tragic he had to see the Mets at such close proximity. Drake snorted, though he didn’t much care for baseball or know anything of particular note about the talent of the Mets. “Next summer, we’ll pop a bottle of wine and listen to the cicadas in Central Park,” said a woman with tight orange hair and a nose ring. “I have bad news for you,” said her partner. He kept his headphones in his pocket as summer turned to fall, as the final vigor of those green
leaves faded into yellow. And he listened. He listened and listened and came to understand that he wasn’t much unlike these people. He began to think that maybe they said more in seven seconds than he said all summer, that this city of nearly nine million had at least a handful worth hearing. “That’s the way it is, though. People change a little, sure, but nothing real ever changes and it’s just different people and doing the same old thing,” said a petite Hispanic woman with a man twice her age Drake assumed was her father. He wandered to that park in a peacoat in October, listening to the crunch of leaves beneath his feet and overhearing all sorts of things, and he thought maybe he should call her. But he stopped because there was an adorable woman standing with her arms folded and telling her friend how she wished it was socially appropriate to eat ice cream in October, at least with a cup of coffee. So, of course, Drake introduced himself and mentioned that Davey’s is still open this time of year. And she said she knows everything about Davey’s—it’s in the Zagat Guide, after all. But she smiled, and her friend had somewhere to be and Drake marched right over to Davey’s with her and they ate their way through a pint of something or other. And they spent the next day together and he saw her place—a modern getup on Kent—and she saw his third-floor walkup in the Polish neighborhood in Greenpoint. And Drake forgot all about the girl he had once known and seven seconds of conversation and McCarren Park. But then snow fell for the first time a few weeks before Christmas, and so Drake stomped around the apartment and told her he wanted to go for a walk. She shook her head but said she supposed that would be fine even though it was so cold, so they pulled on their boots and walked down two floors and strode down Nassau to the park, where the world was muted not because they wore headphones but because the snow had a tendency to do that itself. There were people out and about, wearing their biggest, grayest coats and most monochrome scarves. This was the first snow in Brooklyn, after all. Drake told her
about the seven seconds of conversation, about the old men and the mothers and the couples and all sorts of people. But she said no, she didn’t think that was such a good idea, that there’s something far more beautiful about listening to Frank Sinatra as the snow falls. So they pulled their phones from their pockets and uncoiled their headphones and walked twoby-two, saying nothing and hearing nothing but the sad voice of a long-dead crooner.
WHEN MY TENANT LEAVES By Lori Levy I condemn the man, condemn his bearded laugh, print silk shirts, and extra-large size for leaving me dust and grime, dead roaches laid out like offerings on sandy floors, burnt ironing board stranded in the hallway. For missing bulbs, torn screens, rust and mold; flower pots, barren, holding nothing but dirt—though I soften slightly at Earl Grey tea bags in assorted flavors and an animal lover’s cartoon above the desk. And stifle smiles over microwaveable diet dinners, cat food, and a bowl full of keys and coins; brochures of Spain, black dress shoes with a pair of socks inside. I raise eyebrows at frying pans crammed in the spare room closet, silverware jumbled in the bread-drawer. But all else pales when I step in the garden and see the old feather pillow he’s left me, curved over the white metal arm of the swing: I could forgive a man who’s rested his head in my favorite spot, under the lacy jacaranda.
THE END of the MARSH By Keith Grimes We walk along the rough wooden planks forming a boardwalk trail strewn across the bustling Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve. The planks form an ordered walkway over the shallow water, through stands of trees and across small meadows, and guide us through various ecosystems. Small green signs posted along the path point out the local species of both flora and fauna. The scorching July sun is high overhead and the air shimmers with humidity just above the water. The birds are not as lively at midday as at daybreak or sunset, but the display teeming with life around us doesn’t disappoint. We walk this peaceful path because we need a reset after last night, where we might rediscover old memories and moments that once bound us so tightly together. I take the lead, my wife beside me, since I am the more avid bird enthusiast. She is enthralled more by what is occurring under the duckweedcovered surface of the marsh, eager to spot a family of painted turtles or a school of sculpins. Her ears perk up at the “gullup” of a wary bullfrog hidden beneath a thick stand of stinging nettles, while I stand mesmerized by the acrobatic dance of a handful of tree swallows feeding on insects in mid-flight. Their erratic flight patterns, darting left then right, quickly gaining altitude then dropping just as fast, changing directions on a whim—a reminder of how tenuous our bond has become. Michigan marshes are accustomed to loss. Over 80 percent of the Great Lakes coastal marshes have been lost to man-made development. This Arcadian jewel is now one of only 16 coastal marshes that remain in Michigan. A combination of marsh and sedge meadow, the preserve stands at approximately 300 acres and
is home to over 250 bird species, 200 plant species, and nearly 30 fish species. All thanks to the conservation efforts of the Grand Traverse Regional Lake Conservancy. I feel the vibrancy of this place in my bones, its will to survive against all odds. I look at my wife and I want to fight for what we have left—our children, our home, our memories—to rebuild on the remains of our 30 years together. We hold hands as we walk down the path. A stiff breeze blows across the lake and nearly takes her hat with it. We laugh after spotting another hat already embedded in a solitary stand of blooming arrowheads. A previous catch by the plucky bluster. I marvel aloud at the cloudless azure dome above us, encircling us, touching down at the far corners of the verdant earth. She echoes my wonderment. Farther along the path we encounter a mating pair of mute swans lazily floating along a hidden current further out in the water. Their snowwhite plumage and fiery orange beaks offer no camouflage against our prying eyes. They are alone, separated from the other swans, and we wonder if this is normal behavior. Are they a gregarious species like other birds, or do they actively prefer their solitude? In direct opposition to my wife, I prefer my solitude and enjoy separating from the group at large. She is gregarious and out-going, much like the redwinged blackbirds hovering and calling loudly out over the tall cattails. They appear to float on the wind, then dive toward the lower tree branches in screaming packs, chittering and chirping among the group. I wrap my arm around her waist and pull her close. She doesn’t resist and I am relieved. This
marsh is a respite for the many species of birds that travel through it. Calm and inviting, welcoming travelers into nature’s bosom. We are caught up in the moment, like the birds, without worry of what will come tomorrow. No talk of divorce, not in this moment. A green heron passes overhead, squeaking out a solitary honk as it settles into the upper branches of a dead elm tree, its handsome green feathers sparking in the sunlight give life back to a tree long past its prime. A stunning stand of Allegheny monkeyflower spreads out before us with its blue and purple monkey face petals staring back, taking our collective breath away. Like some opulent Persian carpet unfurling to the horizon, daring you to remain unaffected. It reaches out across the marsh, touching land far off to the east. Among them sprout several caches of purple bull thistle. Goldfinches flock in the area feeding on the thistle seeds, a stunning display of canaryyellow flitting among the purple landscape. These birds, so energetic and vibrant, personify joy of life. I quietly thank God for this moment. For the beauty of this marsh and the hope it inspires. Hope that my wife's feelings about our marriage have changed, mollified. Suddenly we reach the end of the marsh path and she says she wants to talk. We watch in silence as the solitary pair of swans take to flight, low over the marshy lake, but gradually gaining altitude over the trees spreading out over the horizon. They disappear into the clouds. I don’t want to talk, but I keep that to myself. I would prefer to hold this moment before us, to revel in the small miracles occurring everywhere in the remote recesses of the marsh. I don’t want this to end. I don’t want to hear about the future I fear she envisions without me. This marsh has survived against the odds. Can we? A pair of monarch butterflies hover around us, their flight intertwined in a beautiful spiraling dance. Their orange and black wings blaze in the afternoon sun. This marsh will blossom to life as the day cools and the sun sets over Lake Michigan. Tomorrow, it will begin its cycle anew. Suddenly, the butterflies part in midair
and flutter off to different parts of the marsh. Their spiral dance ended. I wonder if they will find each other again. Perhaps they have done all that they came here to do.
LUCK of the DRAW By David James Think of everything that could have happened but didn’t. The tractor accident. Cancer. The lost child. The affair. The knife in the stomach. The loaded gun. The tornado. The addiction. If you and I had fallen out of love, then say goodbye to these three children, these six grands disappearing into thin air. Once you made this decision, it erased that dark alleyway where you lost your left eye. This turn here stopped you from earning a share of the lottery, that choice to stay in and listen to Debussy prevented your house from burning down. Like a mystery play, you walk on stage, improvise your lines, act like you know what you’re doing. Stand here, run there, sit on this, try your best to stay on book, but there is no book. In fact, there’s no guarantee there ever was a book. Think of each day like a quiz show with no host and no answers, with an audience ignoring your every move. What’s in store for you next year: a cute bungalow on the lake? God only knows what’s behind door number three.
SINGINGTREE City Park, New Orleans, LA By Chalei Marie
NEGATIVE CREEP By Edward O'Casey have we started the funeral early creeping silence in here today or are we waiting for it to begin itself burning around you lungs with smoke teflon frying pan handle push back against oxygen
your kitchen was on fire filling your black smokers house paint insulation stovetop heating element dry drowning the mortician will fix it
darkened your tan do what I told you you didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t pushed me aside bottle empty, needle full cables hanging against the wall
shame activated fire alarm battery loosely melt in the oven sunheat all that amateur cooking
DAVE AND LARRY'S HALFWAY HOUSE FOR GAY REPUBLICANS By Sean Winn “How bad do you think it will be?” Dave asked. He clicked on the TV to KRUX 4, the local Fox affiliate in Lincoln, Nebraska for the evening news. “Bad,” was all Larry had to offer as he sulked into the room and flopped onto the couch. They had received a heads-up that afternoon that Steven Hastings, a young man who had been coming to their Thursday night gatherings, had been waylaid by a reporter following an event during the festival. Steven had apparently stepped on a landmine in the process “You’re so negative. Grumble Grumble.” Dave Spellman was bald, average height, and showed the slight paunch of middle age. He tended to see the bright side of things. Larry eyed him with crossed arms. With his curly hair and round eyeglasses, Larry Kowalski looked the younger of the two when he was in a good mood but seemed more a grumpy old man at the moment. “It couldn’t be that bad.” Dave propped his feet up on the coffee table. “It was a parade, for Christ’s sake.” The top local story was the Pride Parade held earlier that afternoon. It wasn’t the first for Lincoln, but 1998’s parade was larger and more visible than in past years, traveling along a section of the main avenue and ending downtown. The news clip showed an impassioned and earnest Steven wearing a
white button-down and khakis. He wouldn’t have been out of place going door to door with Jesus pamphlets. The anchorman explained that the young man’s speech was about how LGBT individuals would be more politically conservative if they weren’t so demonized by the right. “He called out the church for lack of support and made a plug for the Gay Republicans, a new organization on campus,” the anchor said turning to his colleague, his baritone voice not entirely neutral. “Our university?” the heavily made up copresenter stated more than asked. As Steven left the stage in the video, the camera pulled back. The crowd was a mélange of people in a party mood. Many were waving rainbow flags; some of the men were bare chested in the June heat. A babble of voices mixed with music from another stage. People milled about, focused more on fun than politics. Steven waved, exiting to only a smattering of applause. That’s when the reporter caught him. He was pumped-up from the limelight and failed to note the sarcasm in her voice when she put a camera in his face. There he was now, grinning on screen, guileless and in the moment. “Isn’t being Christian and being gay at odds with one another?” the reporter asked. She often sought out religious stories to pursue. The pointy, felt covered microphone darted from the reporter’s chin to his. “Not at all … uh, why would it?” Steven hadn’t
DAVE AND LARRY'S HALFWAY HOUSE FOR GAY REPUBLICANS
caught on that her question wasn’t born of genuine interest. “There are some passages in the Bible that get cited — I guess you are referring to those — but the literal reading, um, for me anyway, contradicts its broader themes.” “And you think that Republican candidates should court the gay vote.” Her microphone darted again, almost an accusing finger poking him in the chest. “Look. I’m not saying that a majority of the LGBT community will ever be Republican, but the tent can certainly be bigger than it is now. Many of us here today grew up in the Midwest and share the same values as the farmers that ring the city. It would be great to see a couple openly gay candidates in Republican primaries.” “And where do you come by these notions?” “Well, for one thing, there is this group that meets on Thursdays a few blocks from campus — a shout-out to Dave and Larry.” Steven gave a little wave to the camera with a boyish grin. “Great guys. Really. We talk about current events and try to see things from all sides’ perspectives. Most issues are more grey than black-and-white, you know.” “So, these guys, Dave and Larry, you said. They are indoctrinating young men like yourself. Were you gay before going to their parties?” “What?” Three of Steven’s friends had been closing in tighter around him, one gently nudging him in hopes that he would wrap up the interview. They now dropped all subtleties. The spikey-headed guy spun Steven a quarter-turn, while the one on his left hooked a tattooed arm around his waist and whispered harshly in his ear. They whisked him away with little ceremony. The reporter turned to the camera, her somber face out of synch with the dancing and music in the background. “There’s an opium den of sorts, it seems, right here in Lincoln, Nebraska. Marybeth Middleton reporting for Fox 4 News.”
Silence settled over the living room. Dave muted the volume and neither man spoke for a moment. On the TV, the anchor man and woman mouthed something to one another before turning to the next story. A video box appeared showing nighttime footage of a patrol car and an EMS vehicle. Their lights whirled red and blue while a new headline about a stabbing appeared in the ticker at the bottom of the screen. “That was utterly misconstrued!” Dave stood up and spun towards Larry. “She didn’t state that she was with Fox News before she started asking questions. They have to do that, right? To say which magazine or program they’re with?” Larry raised his fingers to his temples, pressing them with his eyes closed. “It wouldn’t have mattered. If his friends hadn’t hauled him away, he would have continued prattling on. It’s not his fault.” Larry climbed out of the couch, exhaling heavily. “I feel a migraine coming on. I need to lie down. How do you come back from that, basically being called a predator on the news? Sue and it really goes public. Ignore it, and then what?” “I didn’t get that. Nobody called us predators. Besides, he didn’t give our last names. I mean —” Larry snorted. “A camera crew will be knocking on our door with a follow-up story within a week.” His voice trailed off as he thumped up the stairs. “Mark my words.” “You worry too much.” It was Dave’s oftrepeated response to Larry’s fretting. Only this time he wasn’t entirely sure. Dave sat for a moment, then padded into the kitchen and poured three fingers of whiskey. He wondered how many people at work knew he was gay. A couple of people did, but who else had they shared the information with? It was a conservative firm, operating as best he could tell on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. He was sure that several people knew that he lived in a historic home near campus and that he usually left early on Thursdays for a social event. It was
DAVE AND LARRY'S HALFWAY HOUSE FOR GAY REPUBLICANS
going to be a tense Monday at Farmers Spirit State Bank. Dave recalled the evening that Steven had first come by the house, about a year earlier. Thursday was debate night, where a mish-mash of students and older friends would gather for political discussion over drinks. Some were corporate-types, others were creatives. There was never an invitation list. People just knew when to show up and who to bring based on how well they would fit in, with an effort made to balance views from both the left and the right. Larry would usually cook something that could be served in bulk, and Dave usually acted as master of ceremonies. Topics could range anywhere from foreign policy to the role of the National Endowment for the Arts. It wasn’t a debate club style discussion where one tried to corner an opponent and win an argument, but more of just a dialogue. Things often deteriorated into joking and light party chat as more alcohol was consumed, but at least the start of the evenings were earnest. Dave had been chatting with Steven as things were winding down that first evening. “So,” he had direction?”
“Well,” Steven nodded across the room to where a thirty-something sporting a grunge look was in animated discussion with a commodities broker. “Craig brought me after I was moaning about getting shouted down at a QSA — Queer Students Association — function on campus. I made a comment about Newt Gingrich and got dogpiled. ‘He’s kind-of a jerk, but not all his policies are bad,’ I think I had said. That hung in the air for a moment, then I got bombarded with, ‘How could I’ this, and ‘What’s wrong with you,’ that. Seems like you have to be all-in or you’re some kind of oddball. Was it like that when you were in school? I’m pretty sure they don’t want me back.” Steven spoke more to his shoes than to Dave. The irony with the Fox report was that insensitivity in the gay community had set things in motion. After pouring himself a second
drink, Dave wandered from room to room. He hadn’t stopped to appreciate the details of the old Victorian house for quite a while. He ran his hand along the wainscoting in the dining room, then noted the comforting creak of the hardwood floors in the hallway. Being unsettled by the implications of the newscast had put things in perspective. He tried to calculate when he and Larry had moved into the house — fifteen years ago? No, more. They had graduated in 1982, so they must have moved in in 1980. Almost twenty years ago. He wondered if they had any old photos from those days. They might be nice to frame and put up in the entrance. Only three blocks from campus, the once-grand old house had been something of a Co-op back in the day. It had been carved into a warren of bedrooms and was slowly crumbling. Dave and Larry had recently graduated but had not yet moved out when the old lady who owned the place died. Her only daughter was living on the coast, unable to oversee the property; nor did she relish having to come out of pocket with the funds needed to fix the place up in order to sell it for a decent price. Dave and Larry were fortunate to have both landed good jobs. They approached the landlady’s daughter and managed to convince her to sell to them with a note that they could pay down over time. The scheme was Dave’s idea. He was good with numbers and Larry came up with the technical plans to rehabilitate the property. Part of their salaries were set aside to slowly breathe refinement back into the place. Tenants supplied labor in exchange for rent reductions, and two architecture grad students got class credit for documenting aspects of the renovations. Over the years, as they aged and received raises, they reduced the number of borders and opened up interior walls that the old lady had put in to cut the upstairs into more units. “Well, we’ve sure seen some changes, haven’t we?” Dave said to the old house as he thought through all the work that had gone into it. There had been no tenants for some time now, and the property was starting to approach what it might
DAVE AND LARRY'S HALFWAY HOUSE FOR GAY REPUBLICANS
have looked like back in its heyday. The last few tenants to go were lost souls — not of the junky or “what am I going to do with my life” variety, but young people grounded enough to have come to terms with who they were, but who were being tugged by opposing forces. A little plaque out by the mailbox still read “Halloway House.” It was the family name of their former landlady, but it was during those last few years of boarders that the name began to morph, with people affectionately referring to 1308 St. Albert Street as the “Halfway House.” Dave and Larry’s Halfway House for Gay Republicans. The name had stuck with the Thursday night crowd. Dave didn’t figure that that would help if reporters got to snooping around.
following week, a couple of people idled on the sidewalk in the afternoon. Then there were four. An additional pair had showed up with markers and poster board to make signs. Larry went to get Dave when he noticed them. The pair were peeping through the curtains upstairs discussing what to do when Mrs. Larimer from next door marched across the lawn to the protesters. She was eighty-one, but still found the strength to divide irises, turn over her compost pile, and prune her rose bushes. She had on her big floppy hat, gloves, and was still carrying her garden shears.
“Standing up for what’s right, ma’am.” The one who spoke was the oldest of the half dozen. The others nodded in affirmation.
It took longer than Larry had predicted, but on the fourth Thursday after the broadcast, Fox followed-up. Busy cooking and preparing inside, Dave and Larry didn’t notice the camera crew setting up on the street. As the first guests made their way to the gate, the lighting equipment sprang to life. The same reporter as before lobbed questions at arriving guests. As the commotion grew, some would-be guests drove past the house and called from a pay phone to see what was going on. A few simply slinked away without explanation. But most hiked undeterred through the glare to support their besieged friends. Inside, views swirled on what to do.“Let’s close the blinds. They shouldn’t be shining those things in here.” “No; it will look like we have something to hide.” “We could march out there together and chew them out — or call the cops.” “They’re on the sidewalk, not the lawn.” “What, general harassment is no longer a crime? Just sitting here doesn’t feel right.” Eventually, the film crew left without a showdown. When Dave left for work the next morning, he noticed that two fence pickets were broken and some flowers trampled. The
“What do you think you are doing out here bothering these people?”
“Is that what I think it is?” Mrs. Larimer pointed to a sign with barely-dry red ink that read “Genesis 19.” “If you are referring to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, then yes. It is about—" “I know what it is about, and you’re a damned fool. You must think you are pretty smart, but you don’t know anything about what goes on in there. I’ve been to their gatherings, and they are a far more respectable than the likes of you. Your mothers ought to be ashamed of you.” She chomped down her garden shears, taking a chunk out of the sign. “Now go on. Get. Before I take these things to your neck.” The crew packed up and settled into the back of a truck while she glared at them, then headed back towards her house. Dave ran out and caught her. “Thank you, Mrs. Larimer! You want to come over tonight?” “No thank you. I’ve had enough excitement for one day.” Others were more sheepish in their defense. Jerry from the office had brought by a house
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plant. “I just wanted to say sorry for what’s happened.” That one was a surprise. He and Dave rarely interacted and had never even had lunch together. Nor did other things go as expected. The first Thursday night gathering after the broadcast was more somber than usual, with attendance down by half. Within a couple of weeks, though, the liveliness and good-natured sparring had returned. Attendance increased as people in the community either wanted to show support or, asked if they could come after hearing from those in the know about the conscious effort to diffuse polarization. # Dave trudged up the stairs and down the hallway to Larry’s studio. Three months had passed since the Pride Parade. “Hey, what’s wrong?” Larry looked at his watch — 11:00 in the morning. He pushed his glasses up, noting that Dave was dressed for work and that it was the middle of the week.
are tough, etc., etc. Redundancy, shrinking. Out of my hands.’” “I thought the bank was doing quite well. So how many? Downsized, I mean?” Dave gave a sarcastic smile. “Just three. Sylvie, who stood up for me after the June parade, me, and some halfwit in operations.” “That’s not a downsizing.” “This was more like, ‘You’re fired, but please don’t sue us.’” Larry was feeling it too. Being a freelance architect had suited him in the past. The city was growing, and he had a good eye for style without going crazy on budgets. Most of his projects came through word of mouth. The tasteful renovations on his own place was a nice selling point when clients came for meetings. Since the newscast, though, business was down by half. #
“You late for work, or back from the office?” “I got fired.”
Larry was fidgeting with his food, glancing up at Dave periodically as he skimmed the newspaper headlines before tucking into his lunch.
Dave unslung his bag from his shoulder, and dropped it with a thud.
“What is it?” said Dave. “You know I can tell when something is up with you.”
“They didn’t.” Dave and Larry had discussed the prospect, but Larry’s view had been that if they wanted him out following the on-air outing, they would do it gradually in order to mitigate litigation: first giving him a bad annual review, then another one at midyear in order to paper his Human Resources file.
“So, I think I want us to take in boarders again.”
“Sure as hell did.” Larry gave him a long hug. “Just like that? They just called you in and said, ‘you’re fired?’ They can’t do that.” “It wasn’t quite like that. More like what you see in the movies: ‘We’re real sorry, Dave, but we’re going to have to let you go. Downsizing, times
“Seriously?” Dave had thought about it too, but couldn’t get comfortable with the idea. He had been interviewing and was making no progress on leads in the area. Their finances were pinched, but it would be too awkward to return to their post-college arrangement. If something didn’t come together before long, though, he was going to have to consider looking elsewhere for work. “You mean like kids paying rent? That was fun hanging out with them when we were twenty-eight, but now that we’re forty? You really want to go back down that road?” “I’m just thinking about the income. Making ends meet without going on food stamps, you
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know. We have this great property, but we’re asset-rich, cash-poor.” Larry pushed his pasta around his plate as he spoke avoiding eye contact. “Not even asset-rich, actually.” Dave was sucking one side of his cheek in between his teeth, the way he did when he was concentrating — or when he was getting worked up. “I don’t know about that.” “Look, I’m not talking about a bunch of wild undergrads in the place. No pot smoking in the living room like before. Maybe just a couple of relatively mature grad students — studious types,” Larry pressed. “I really don’t think so.” “I spoke with Steven,” said Larry. “He would be interested. He feels terrible about the whole thing. He really does.” “You spoke with Steven? About living in our house? Larry, you must be crazy. What if that lady from Fox shows up on our steps again pointing out that there are half a dozen young men living with us? She would make it sound like some kind of bath house orgy. Shit, Larry.” Dave stood up and walked out of the kitchen. A moment later he passed by the kitchen door on the way to the front of the house. “Hey. Just think about it. It’s not like —” but the door slammed. A couple days later, Larry tried again. He knocked on the door to a spare bedroom that Dave had decamped to. “So, listen, about that thing …” “I might be leaving town anyway, then you can do what you want with the house,” Dave retorted. He grabbed his keys and stomped down the stairs.
“Need I remind you that there is still a mortgage, and a roof coming due for replacement as well?” Larry shoved his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Do you know how much that is going to cost — do you?” The next couple of weeks were a dance around the house. If one heard the other in the kitchen, he would hover in his room until he heard the door down the hall close before going down for a meal that was usually carried back to the bedroom. Dave became scarce around the house, throwing himself into a lead that seemed casual at first, but which was quickly taking shape. Although Dave was still miffed about Larry broaching the issue with Steven before even talking to him about it, he knew Larry was right to at least look at alternatives and felt guilty about snapping at him. Larry was coming in from checking the mail just as Dave was heading out. Larry squared up to block the door thinking that Dave would try to brush past him. “Dave, we have to talk. Hey,” he said, shifting directly in front of Dave and stooping down to lock eyes with him, “We have to talk about something — anything. Come on. It can’t be like this.” Dave slung his messenger bag off his shoulder and jerked his head towards the kitchen. “Come on, then. I’ll make some coffee” His face softened but was still not entirely inviting. They settled onto bar stools around the corner of the kitchen island. Larry tried to break the ice. “You haven’t been around much lately.” “Been working on something.” “You’ve got leads, then, on a new job?” “Sort-of,” said Dave. “So, on the renters thing —”
Now Larry was pissed. After all this time, after all they had been through together, to just casually throw that at him like neither he nor the Halloway House mattered.
“Look, I’m sorry for pushing it on you. It’s just that funds are running low, and I would hate for the house to have to be sold.” Larry looked around the kitchen and into the adjoining rooms
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sentimentally. “Yeah, me too. I’m sorry I overreacted.” The men sipped coffee, uncertain how to proceed; the cloud of tension had not fully lifted. “On the renters,” Dave continued, “I’m OK with it — but only as Plan B.” “Thank you. Really, thank you,” said Larry. “Is there a Plan A?” Dave’s mouth twitched into his old mischievous smile, a bit of twinkle coming back into his voice. “Well, it’s not firm yet, but I might have something that would provide modest salaries for both of us. And rental income to boot.” # “How bad do you think it will be?” Dave grinned as he clicked on the TV and navigated to KRUX Fox 4 for the evening news.
“Bad. It’s going to be bad, all right.” Larry rubbed his hands together as he hopped onto the couch. The segue cut to an adjacent set where an elderly gentleman sat on stage with Marybeth Middleton, the reporter who had followed-up her piece at the Pride Parade by camping out in front of Dave and Larry’s house — fortunately, the second piece never aired. A backdrop with the station’s logo was behind them; they were in comfy chairs with a coffee table and rug, talkshow style. The elderly gentleman wore a tailored suit, crisp shirt, and tie that shimmered between pale blue and silver depending on how it caught the light. He was comfortable and relaxed, apparently used to the limelight. The young woman was formal in an angular dress suit and was notably deferential. “Mr. George Weber. Thank you for being on the show tonight. We are honored that you chose our program to announce the new foundation that you are setting up. Can you first tell us a little bit about it?”
Lincoln. I’m starting it with an endowment that should be enough to get it off the ground. We plan to have a speaker series and some events, but of course the more support we have, the more we will be able to do.” “That’s exciting. And where will you be located? I tried to do a little snooping around, but you’ve kept your project under a tight wrap.” She smiled. The gentleman chuckled good-naturedly. “We’ll be centrally located in a spot conducive to gatherings. I’ve brought along a short clip of the facilities we’ve leased if you care to show it.” “Of course, Mr. Weber. We would love to.” While we are waiting for that to come up, when will operations begin?” “We’ll be open next week. Donations, of course, are highly appreciated. We have two staff members, but there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer time.” “I’m certain that people will want to chip in.” The screen behind them flickered to life. “What a worthy cause. A civil society is so important.” The video opened to a cyan and lavender logo with elaborate cursive lettering. That quickly faded to a snug study area lined with books and fitted with two workstations. “Our humble office,” noted Mr. Weber. From there, the camera panned to a large kitchen, then on to a dining space that opened through pocket doors onto a living room with bay windows. The space had folding chairs aligned in rows facing a small speaker’s podium. Next, the camera panned right to a paneled foyer, and out the door onto a wrap-around porch. As the camera pulled away from the porch, it revealed a well-preserved Victorian house in wide angle. A brass plaque below the mailbox read “Halloway House.” The reporter’s cheeks flushed, her jaw taking on
“Yes, well, I’m pleased to be here. Our project is called the Tolerance and Civility Foundation of
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an edge. On the balcony of the house was a young man flanked by two middle-aged men. With a nod from the others, the bald man grinned and pushed a rolled bundle off the railing. A banner unfurled: the rainbow colors of pride. A second nudge and another banner dropped: white block letters on a field of sky blue with the words “Speech is Free — Listen to It.” He nodded back to his colleagues and a curlyhaired man in round eyeglasses unfurled the red, white, and blue of the Republican elephant accompanied by the Democratic donkey. A tap with his other hand, and down spooled several images: a cross, a five-pointed star, a crescent, and a yin-yang symbol with the words, “Together We Stand.” With an emphatic prompt from the others, the young man standing in the center released his bundle: the foundation’s new logo. Large enough to easily read from the street, the banners were a colorful accent to the front of the old home. All three men clapped as the video faded back into the digital logo. That held the screen for a second before the tag line appeared underneath: “We can all do better.” The reporter touched her earpiece and glanced offstage, seeking direction. Mr. Weber smiled a gentle, grandfatherly smile and waited. “That is a lovely facility,” she said. “We, ahem, we certainly wish you the best of luck with the endeavor.” “Thank you, Marybeth. It was good to be on the show again. As you said earlier, a civil society is so important.”
VIBIN ON SHROOMS By Annabelle O'shields
ONE of the WIND CHIME CLAN By Paul Bluestein The wind chimes hang lifeless on the tree branches like poets or prophets finally silenced. Rigid, hollow bodies unmoving in the summer heat and stillness. Calling them lifeless is a lie. They are no deader than a trumpet asleep in its case until kissed awake. The chimes have the will to live. Theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re simply waiting for the wind. Or maybe they're introverts, and need to be encouraged to join the conversation. I understand wind chimesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; lives. Once, I was one of them. Then you arrived like an autumn storm and I remembered how to sing.
BEAUTIFUL CHINA GIRL By Cathy Adams Pandora tried the knob but it wouldn’t turn. A locked door was nothing unusual. Mei always took a long time to get to the door, forty seconds at least. Pandora would count, and if Mei didn’t open the door within a minute she would knock harder to communicate the urgency. She could tell by the drag-clunk, drag-clunk of Mei’s leg if she was up and moving. And she could tell by the creak of the bed if Mei was opting to just lie there. More than a minute had passed, and there was nothing. “Mei, you awake?” Pandora called. “I’m asleep, go away,” said a muffled voice. “You’ll just have to wake up. Your grandmother’s due here in twenty minutes and you need to be downstairs.” Pandora started to walk away. “In clean clothes. And do something with that hair!” From behind the door came a sound between a groan and a curse. Then a loud thump and more groaning. Mei was moving at last. Downstairs on the coffee table was a tray of cheese straws and in the kitchen a pot of tea simmered on the stove. One obscenely full cup of sugar lay in the bottom of Pandora’s guestsare-coming tea pitcher. Soon the boiling redbrown tea water would be poured over it and stirred up into Mrs. J.D. Fricks’ favorite afternoon drink. She was diabetic, but she had never given up her sweet iced tea, and she had long ago told her doctor he may as well go ahead and declare her dead if he expected her to do so. Upstairs Mei stood in front of her bathroom mirror, pushing up her coarse black bangs first one way then another. She held a hank of hair
straight up from her head and stuck out her tongue. Gray and pink and covered in tiny taste buds like a thousand miniscule ugly knobs, her tongue looked like a fish flopped out of her mouth. Just below her hairline on her forehead was a sprinkling of new pimples. She dropped her hair and let it fall over her eyes. Her lips were full, the only part of her face she thought was pretty. Her lashes were barely visible over her lidded eyes. She rubbed her fingers into them, digging out the sleep sand, and she yawned. Then she rummaged through a drawer until she found a pair of scissors with chipped red handles. Mei clutched them in her right hand, stared hard into the mirror, and sighed. At exactly two p.m. the door pushed open and Mrs. Fricks’ voice boomed all the way back into the kitchen. “Knock-knock!” “Come on in, Mama,” Pandora called. “I’m just stirring up the tea.” “I wish you’da made up that tea this morning when I called. Now it’ll go over the ice all steaming hot and it never tastes right if you fix it that way.” “Would you rather have a Coke? They’re cold. Been in the frigerator since last night.” “Well, I reckon, if that’s all you got. Don’t pour it up, yet. Just bring the can and the ice separate.” Mrs. Fricks made her own unique thumping sound when she walked. She plopped her cane down harder than necessary when she stepped, like a woman calling the courtroom to attention before the judge enters. Combined with the sound of Mei dragging and dropping her foot on the floor, the percussion cacophony could be
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heard in the backyard. From the top of the stairs, Mei began her descent. Last winter she had begun refusing to hold to the handrail, an act of rebellion that had already resulted in two falls. The second fall broke a snap off her leg brace and made multiple bruises where she hit her ribs and shoulder going down. Mei had offered up nothing more than a dull grunt as she lay at the bottom of the stairs waiting for the ambulance to arrive. “Mei, for crying out loud, you’d better be holding onto that handrail,” Pandora called out from the kitchen.
Mei was five steps from the bottom. “I don’t wear hats.” “If she goes outside she’ll scare the neighbors,” said Pandora, returning to the kitchen. “Pandora,” hissed Mrs. Fricks. “Her daddy’s been dead only four months.” “What’s that got--” Pandora made a rapid jerk with her hand as if shooing away something distasteful. Mei stopped and rested a moment from the effort before continuing her trek.
“Why Mama? You always say I need to ‘be independent’,” mocked Mei.
Mrs. Fricks tried to change the subject. “Have you put any more thought about moving her room downstairs?”
She swung her right leg in a wide arc down to the next step, and then hopped with her left to the step below before repeating the process.
Pandora started to answer but Mei beat her to it. “I’m not moving into that terrarium.” Hop, clunk.
“Being independent doesn’t mean dispensing with common sense,” said Pandora, reaching into the refrigerator for Mrs. Fricks’ Coke.
“I’ve offered to put curtains up. Any color she likes, but she won’t even entertain the thought,” said Pandora. She disappeared in the kitchen and brought out a tray with three ice-filled cups and the tea pitcher.
Mei’s head came into sight and Mrs. Fricks gasped. “Good God in heaven, what have you done?” Pandora came rushing into the den with a Coke can in her hand. “Mei? What? What did you do?” Mei dropped her leg onto the next step. Her jetblack hair had been shorn, revealing tiny swathes of scalp between clumps. “I did something with my hair.” Pandora put the can down with a smack on the coffee table. “You know good and well I meant comb it, not hack it up. What are we supposed to do now, put a wig on you?” Pandora picked up the Coke can absentmindedly and then quickly put it back down again. Mrs. Fricks just shook her head. “Don’t be so hard on her. Just get her some hats ‘til it grows out.”
“The smell is nearly gone,” said Mei, nearly losing her balance before righting herself once more. “The smell? What in the world do you mean?” asked Pandora. “That room doesn’t smell one bit.” “That’s the point. It used to smell like Daddy, but I can’t smell him anymore.” Mei nearly choked on the last word and she turned her head away. The den had been her father’s space until he died. Mei used to stand in the doorway and stare at her adopted father until he noticed her and motioned for her to come join him in his lounge chair. She would back up to the chair and let her backside fall over the padded arm, and then she’d reach down and pull her dead weight leg with her hands up and over the chair arm until the brace nestled down against the seat. Her
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father would throw an arm around her shoulders and stroke her black hair, calling her his “beautiful China girl,” and they’d watch wrestling, or baseball, or football, or whatever sport happened to be in season. Next to his chair was a small round antique oak table with three spindly legs. It was from the 1920’s, originally meant to be decorative only, perhaps to feature a doily topped with a single vase of flowers next to a framed photo of a sweetheart, but Lance used it to hold his Cokes and snacks. The table was forever covered in food wrappers, tissues, empty mint boxes, dirty saucers, and empty cans that he wouldn’t clear until they began falling off the edge. Mei loved her Dad’s unhealthy sloppiness weighing down and crowding out that useless misplaced delicacy of furniture. But it was his scent she missed most, a mixture of car oil, old leather sneakers, mint chewing gum, and sometimes cinnamon candy. Now the room felt vast and bottomless. She could bring herself only to open the door, stand in the threshold, and peer inside. She would stare at his chair until she could see the outline of his form in her memory. At 190 pounds, her father filled up his lounge chair, and she imagined his elbow crooked over the edge of the chair, shaping her place next to him. “It would be so much easier for you to move into that room, Mei. I can’t for the life of me figure why you’re so stubborn about staying upstairs,” Mrs. Fricks called up to Mei. She took a cheese straw from the tray and ate it in one bite. Mei said nothing, but continued her journey to the bottom of the stairs. She passed the photographs that had lined the walls since her arrival at age three. The first one at the bottom was Mei when she lived at the orphanage in China, her right leg bound in a steel contraption that kept her knee straight. Standing erect like a tiny weed, her round face was crowned with short black bangs jutting from her forehead. She clutched a cloth doll with yarn pig tails and a dirty dress. It was the only surviving photo of Mei before she’d been adopted by the Masseys and brought to America. She didn’t remember the picture being taken, but she remembered the doll. She remembered crying for the doll night
after night after she arrived in the strange house with people who spoke words she could not understand. Pandora had bought her a new one, but Mei had thrown it down, terrified of the hard plastic face and the eyes that opened and shut like those of a baby demon when it was tilted back and forth. Mrs. Fricks had eaten two more cheese straws by the time Mei stopped in front of her. Mei wore a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt she had adorned with safety pins and an Anarchy Rools patch on the shoulder. Her jeans were ripped in parallel rows from thigh to shin, and she was barefoot. Mrs. Fricks forced a little smile and then took a sip of her Coke. “Did that dress fit that I sent you?” Mei struck a pose, her hands on her hips and her head cocked to the side. “She hasn’t tried it on yet,” said Pandora. “Why don’t-” She caught herself before finishing her suggestion that Mei go back upstairs and try it on. “That’s okay. We’ll do that later,” said Mrs. Fricks. “Don’t just stand there. Have a seat and tell me what you’ve been doing lately. I haven’t seen you in three weeks.” “Fifteen days,” said Mei. “Now isn’t that sweet. She counts the days since she’s seen her grandma,” said Mrs. Fricks. “It was the day you backed your car into that Volvo in the Walmart parking lot,” said Mei. “Did you know that lady driving the Volvo turned out to be Tyler Shannon’s grandmother? I didn’t even know that until I ran into Tyler’s mother in the Kroger.” “You ran into her daughter, too?” said Mei, smiling slyly at her joke. She dropped into an upholstered chair and let her arms hang over the sides.
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Mrs. Fricks ignored it and continued. “She started telling me how some old lady had hit her mother’s car. It didn’t take me two seconds to put two and two together, and when I told her it was me that done it her face turned so red.”
“Don’t you want to know what it is?” asked Mrs. Fricks.
“Four,” said Mei. Her head lay over the chair top and she stared up at the ceiling.
“I’m going to treat the both of you to a trip to Florida for Christmas at your Great Aunt Nana’s house.”
“We’re all ears, Mama.” Pandora raised her eyebrows, waiting.
“Since when? You’ve been drinking my sweet iced tea your whole life,” said Pandora.
Mei let out a barely audible grown. “Aunt Nana hates me.” She wrinkled her brow remembering her first encounter with her grandmother’s sister. It happened just before she started preschool, and her English was still rudimentary. Aunt Nana, whose real name was Evelyn, arrived for a visit with Uncle Jack. Late that night from her dark hidden perch at the top of the stairs, Mei had overheard her aunt talking to her Uncle Jack. Will she ever walk . . .wrong with her. . .remember them at all. . .learn to speak right. . .they don’t give away the healthy ones. Then she heard her mother’s voice and they stopped.
“No Mom, I have not been drinking your sweet iced tea my whole life.”
“We’ll have to fly,” said Pandora, framing it as a question.
Pandora rolled her eyes. “Long enough.”
“That’s part of the treat. Mei will have her first trip on an airplane.”
"Four. Two and two make four.” Mrs. Fricks chewed a cheese straw and said, “Just a figure of speech, hon.” “Mei, don’t you want some tea?” asked Pandora, reaching for a cup of ice. “I like my tea hot. You know that.”
“Actually, that tea is hot,” said Mrs. Fricks, looking over the tops of her glasses at the steaming pitcher. Mei put her forearm over her eyes and turned her head to stare out the window. Outside, the leaves were turning murky shades of brown, yellow, and orange. The air was still warm, too warm for an October day. Mei could see the UPS man carrying a big brown box with black print on the side to the front door of the Vickerson house across the street. “Well now,” announced Mrs. Fricks in her formal I’ve-got-something-important-to-say voice. “The thing I came over her to talk to you about will come at about the right time for your hair to grow out.” No one responded.
“She’s been on an airplane before.” Mrs. Fricks waved a dismissive hand. “It doesn’t count if she can’t remember it. Look, your Aunt Nana is alone since Jack Ray died. We can all spend the holiday together. Mei can go to the beach, and we can enjoy the sunshine. It would cheer my sister and get you all out of the house for a change. What do you say?” Mei watched the UPS driver step up into his brown truck and begin backing out of the Vickerson’s driveway. “I’m pregnant.” For seconds, or maybe minutes, the horrified silence consumed the air like an invisible dragon swirling through the room. Mrs. Fricks made a tiny sound down in her throat and finally Pandora’s hands smacked her thighs as if she’d just remembered some vital bit of information.
BEAUTIFUL CHINA GIRL
“Now that is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”
“He’s black, isn’t he?” asked Mrs. Fricks. “That is so racist!” said Mei
Mei shook her head a little and refused to look at either of them. Mrs. Fricks caught her breath and something in her face changed. “That’s not funny.”
“I asked a question. How is asking a question racist?” “He is African-American,” Mei corrected.
“Nobody’s laughing,” said Mei. “Mei Louise Massey you know good and well you are not the least bit pregnant. Now stop trying to scare your grandmother.” Mei raised her arm from her eyes and sat up in her chair. “What makes it so impossible for me to be pregnant? Don’t you think I could get pregnant?” “Listen at her. She acts offended at the thought of not being pregnant,” said Pandora. “I am oh-fended by the assertion that you think me being pregnant is, and I quote, ‘the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard of.” “You know what I mean. It’s not physically possible to get pregnant if you haven’t left the house in three months.” “I’m three months pregnant.” “The last time you went anywhere was to Kroger’s in July and before that you didn’t go out since you graduated in May. You have barely been out of my eyesight at any moment since then. So unless you managed to get yourself pregnant up at the Kroger check-out when I had to go back for ground beef, then you being pregnant is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard.” Mei breathed heavily through her nose and gritted her teeth. With her hacked off hair she looked menacing. “It was the UPS driver. You were gone over to the Redmond’s house to borrow something.” “UPS driver, my eye,” said Pandora, making a little blowing sound with her mouth.
“If you’re on such intimate terms, then tell us his name,” said Pandora. Mei was silent for several seconds. “Lebron.” Pandora pointed a finger at her. “Wrong. It’s Phil.” Mei pushed up from her chair and headed for the front door. The drama of the moment dissipated in her slow progress. “I am not going to Aunt Nana’s for Christmas. And I’m not wearing that dress. It’s yellow. You know I hate yellow! And I don’t know why you think it’s so ridiculous that I could get pregnant. Daddy would believe me!” At the door she gave the two women one last look before slamming it behind her. Neither tried to follow her or stop her. Though Mei didn’t look back to see it, Pandora stood watching her from the window and she gave commentary on Mei’s slow progress. “Good lord,” said Pandora, “I never thought having a teenager could be so hard." Mrs. Fricks rolled her eyes. “You were a teenager once. You weren’t exactly a slice of peach pie.” Pandora shrugged and turned back to the window. “Should we go after her?” “Let her go for a bit. She’s still acting out her grief,” said Mrs. Fricks. “She acts like she’s the only one who lost somebody,” said Pandora, gripping the curtain in her fist. “You remember when you first brought her
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home from China, and she used to go opening closet doors? She’d open the hall closet ten times a day, just standing there with her little hand on the door knob, looking up and down. We finally figured out she was looking for her mother and daddy. Then Lance started picking her up and carrying her around to all the closet doors. They’d look together and make a game of it. After a while, she just wanted him to carry her and she forgot all about looking behind closet doors.” “So, what’s your point, Mama?” Pandora asked, but Mrs. Fricks continued staring out the window from behind her and said nothing. Mei panted in the late afternoon heat and longed for shade. The asphalt on the street burned her feet, so she quickly retreated to the grass. She cut across a lawn two doors down and soon found herself in the back yard garden of a house whose residents she didn’t know. They didn’t appear to be home, so she got a drink of water from the spigot next to their patio door. The sun burned the snippets of scalp and her newly exposed forehead. She pushed the heel of her hand across her sweating brow and up over the remaining clumps of hair. In the reflection of the sliding glass doors, she could see the beautiful China girl looking back at her. Mei stepped closer, made goggles with her hands around her eyes, and pressed her face against the glass; six chairs surrounded a pristine wooden table adorned in bright blue place mats, and in the center was a bowl of apples, bananas, peaches and grapes so flawlessly lush Mei was sure they were plastic. Pushed against the wall was a child’s high chair in the same polished wood as the table. A yellow bib had been thrown on the tray, flipped over haphazardly, as if someone had tossed it after picking up the baby from its breakfast. In front of Mei was a family table where people ate dinner and shared talk of their day: basketball practice, a test at school, at the head of the table furthest from the kitchen area was pulled out and angled toward the back door, as if the father had just sat down and kept his chair turned toward where Mei stood looking inside. She could see him sitting there, looking past her into the yard where dead and dying summer plants
lay in brown heaped beds around the periphery of his yard. The man was thinking, remembering, missing her, missing Mei. Her father sat there looking out, but he couldn’t see her. She pushed her face harder against the glass and made a foggy breath circle. After a few moments, she pushed away and looked down at the clay pots lining the patio. Half-dead ferns and fading bushes sat sadly in the heat. She bent over the first one, careful to keep her balance, and lifted the edge. Nothing. She did the same with the second and the third, and finally found what she was looking for under a fourth. People are so predictable, she thought. She pulled herself carefully up the two bricks steps and gasped at the heat under her feet. The brace made it nearly impossible to hop to get any relief from the burning bricks, so she shoved the ringless key into the lock with shaking hands. It turned easily and she slid open the glass door. Stepping inside, she felt the glorious chill of the air-conditioning that was clearly turned up higher in this house than her mother ever allowed in their own. Mei tilted her head back and breathed in the cool air. The breakfast pots and pans had all been washed and they rested in the dish drain. A cleaning rag was draped over the faucet, still wet from wiping down counters, its dampness punctuating the recent departure of the family. No one was home. No people. No dogs. Every space inside the house a mystery. Mei slid the door shut behind her and let her eyes adjust to the welcome dark haze of the house. Listening, she closed her eyes and took in the house sounds: the ticking of a wall clock, the low whoosh of the central air unit, and from the kitchen faucet the slow plinking of a drip. The air smelled of bacon and coffee tinged with dirty children’s sneakers and what she guessed was crayons. The late morning lure of a nap called to her in this silent place where she had no history, no pain, and no memories. An outsider here, Mei was a stranger who didn’t know the floor plan of the house despite her simple speculation. Mei entered the den, her feet relieved by the cool, soft textures of linoleum and then carpet. The room was all wrong, as if someone had begun moving furniture into place
BEAUTIFUL CHINA GIRL
and then couldn’t decide where everything should go. A sofa was nestled off-center against a picture window. A rocking chair was pushed next to the coffee table, and a child’s chair sat askew in front of the far wall where a big screen TV overwhelmed the sheetrock in a big rectangular maw of plastic and blackness. A low table strewn with children’s books and toys was pushed up to the wall under and slightly to the side of the TV. A large, green, plastic bucket underneath was filled with toys, markers, and a sherbet-colored child’s blanket. To the right of the table was a plush gray chair, its arm and head pads flipped off the back and sides, as if a child had been playing a game with it. Despite her now tired leg, Mei dragged herself to the chair and smoothed the pads back into place. Slinging her leg outward as she moved, she pulled the chair by painstaking inches to the center of the room until it faced the TV. Then she turned her attention to the plastic bucket. She took a few deep breaths and pushed herself the six feet to the table. She reached underneath, grabbed the bucket with both hands, and upended the contents into a pile. She selected one marker and a stray yellow Lego block. Hugging the bucket under her arm with the toys in hand, she returned to the chair, placed the bucket upside down next to it, and arranged the marker and Lego on top. She pushed them into several configurations until she settled on a parallel arrangement: marker on the left, Lego on the right. She eased herself down into the seat and pushed her bottom all the way back until she could recline, and then she reached over the side and pushed the button to release the footrest. The chair reclined and her feet went up so high it was like resting in a dental chair. The fan blades of the light fixture above rotated on the slowest setting, and for a few seconds she tried to follow them round and round with her eyes. She pushed her hand deep into her jeans pocket and pulled out a ball of rumpled, lint riddled tissue that she could not remember having put there. Smoothing it out as best she could on the thigh of her jeans, she placed it with the marker and Lego on the bucket lid table top, and waited. Come home to me, she whispered.
THE WOMAN in the
WHEELCHAIR By John Grey Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a vacation in name only when she can go no further than the cottage window, look out at the young men bathing in the lake. All are handsome, even the ugliest. Splashing and swimming, pushing and floating, they donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t notice her. Nor do they see that face in the window as they step onto the bank, hair wet and shining, bodies awash in rivulets. They grab for a towel. She presses her hand against glass.
THE GARDEN By Zach Murphy wildflowers wilt over their own feet as I trudge through the dusty, jaded soil. One of my legs is broken. My mouth is parched. And my stripes burn. I wonder if the workers before me dealt with this kind of heat. I wonder if the workers after me will suffer even more. I wonder if there will even be workers after me. The honey isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t so sweet here anymore. The dream has melted away. This planet is no longer my garden. As I use my last shred of will to drive my stinger into the wrinkled ground, I pray that my final moments will be graced with a cool breeze.
YELLOW and BLUE By Brian Barbetto
GARDEN WALK By Emily Jobe The work to consume and produce a pattern world. An equation to design a stretch. A foxgloveâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s poison, a small thread in the rug. What can mud dipped ants accomplish in such a solid object, but to destroy ivy pillars and rework the frame in metal stone.
A PANDEMIC SPRING By David Mcvey Stay at home, except for essential shopping and one bit of exercise a day; that’s what we were told in March. The form our daily exercise would take was never in doubt; our part-thoroughbred mare, Fizz, was stabled at a livery yard. On lockdown, the yard was closed with no client access and all horses turned out into the fields. We were allowed to walk across the fields, avoiding the stable yard, to attend to her medication needs. But that was all. ***** A 1970s housing development ends at ragged birch woodland. A path leads west to a worldweary wire fence beyond which fields open out. The housebuilding company still own both woodland and fields and try, every few years, to get planning permission to obliterate them. We crunch over fallen twigs and squelch through mud still liquid with the heavy rains of February. We haul ourselves over the fence into the first, largest field. It is long and hilly and irregular in shape, rising steeply to a turfy green dome of a summit. The bigger mares live here but they could be anywhere; we don’t see them this first time. The hill rises to about 250ft but there are also wet, reedy areas in the field, patches of hawthorn scrub and a few holly bushes. We clatter over a tumbled drystane dyke and encounter a larger, sturdier fence. We cross this with caution and are now in Fizz’s field. Her companions - Shetlands, coloured cobs - look up from their grazing, find nothing interesting about us, and return to the grass. As grazing it’s poor enough. Only mid-March,
the grass hasn’t come properly through yet. The soil is sodden and muddy after weeks of rain. We walk uphill over better ground to another 250ft high point and duck under the electric fencing that forms the eastern side of Fizz’s corral. A ragged hawthorn hedge, gaps filled with rough fencing, forms the western boundary. Two Scots Pines soar above the hedge; one of them has lost its crown to a lightning strike. Fizz is at the bottom of the hill, among her water containers and haylage and a tumbled feedbucket. She nickers to us and waits as we pick our way down steep, wet ground pitted with thousands of hoofprints like little shell-holes. We stop and watch four roe deer gallop across the yard’s outdoor school. Disappointingly, they duck under the fence rather than vault it like gazelles - something they can do, for I’ve seen them do it. Their white rear-ends bob away like low-flying doves into the woodland beyond the fields. The Campsie Fells soar to the north, real hills dwarfing the rolling fields we’ve navigated to get here. We greet Fizz, deal with her medication, and give her some treats. Because of the way the fields are laid out, we can only enter and exit her corral from the top of the hill, so we trudge back up the wet, heavy, uneven slopes. At the top, we rest for a spell in the sunshine, before clambering back through the electric fence and reversing our outward route. Our escape from Day 1 of lockdown is over. We try to keep to the same route every day. We’re reluctant to disrupt the lapwings that are nesting by the fringes of the pond near the bottom end of the field, but we do divert that way once, on a day of south-westerly near-gales,
A PANDEMIC SPRING
to avoid disturbing six roe deer who are sheltering behind the hedge at the top of the hill.
Fizz’s corral, I see the unmistakable speeding form of one lolloping across the horizon.
For the first five weeks, apart from a few brief, barely noticeable showers, the weather stays dry, mostly sunny, though often with a stiffish breeze. Classic drying weather, then, and the muddy path on the edge of the housing estate is soon firm and dusty. The fields are longer in drying, but the going noticeably eases with each passing day. It’s still chilly at night yet this is an easy introduction to 24/7 field life for the horses. It’s usually May when they are turned out for the summer. Covid-19 is the pandemic that changed everything - even grazing regimes.
It’s now nearly May. We pack up our equipment, leave Fizz, and retrace our usual steps. The turf in the fields is now firm and dry; it’s also greener than when lockdown started. It will not get much chance to grow out this spring and summer, not with the horses in full-time grazing since midMarch; but it is now spring grass with all its richness.
On the woodland paths near the housing estate we often encounter dog walkers, carefully socially distancing themselves from us, but in the fields themselves we only ever meet the occasional fellow horse-owner checking their charges. We exchange news as we stand well beyond the recommended two metres apart. We keep seeing roe deer; clearly they’re enjoying the greatly reduced human activity around the stable-yard. One day a pair run right through Fizz’s electric fence; it doesn’t seem to bother them at all. Another gallops across our path and then puts on the brakes, like a cartoon animal, to stop and look back at us. One day, as we near Fizz, a skein of greylag geese lowers from the sky, skims noisily over the outdoor school and goes on to land in a distant field, a graceful and impressive display. Throughout April, queen bumblebees lumber leadenly between the hawthorns, looking for nesting places. On a particularly sunny afternoon, we’re brushing Fizz and we hear an eerie mewing. We look up to see a pair of buzzards, circling and spiralling, barely perceptible at a dizzying height. There are a number of streams and pools around the fields, but when we see grey herons, they’re usually on the wing, gliding gently over the fields, the airliners of the bird world. I hadn’t expected to see many hares, as they’re best looked for in early morning or late evening, but one early afternoon, as I trudge up the hill in
We descend from the shoulder of the hill in the big mares’ field, down bouncy green turf with soft hoofprints embedded and scramble over the fence into the woods. We reach a clearing and look up an open hillside to a small wood at the side of the housing estate; from there comes the hollow clattering of a woodpecker. Each day, each there-and-back mile in the sharp spring sun and breeze, is a joy. The strangest spring we’ve ever known is still spring and our route across the fields provides a little magic every day. ***** As lockdown restrictions eased, the stable yard re-opened. My wife was able to ride Fizz regularly, eventually taking her in the horsebox to hills, forests, even the beach. The weather deteriorated but Fizz had a summer to remember, her muscle tone superb, her coat gleaming. Her underlying health conditions unguessable. She’d had a good lockdown. And then very quickly, in late August, other conditions emerged. She declined quickly and we took the heart-breaking decision to ease her pain in the kindest way possible. On another warm, sunny day - autumn, not spring - we walked that mile one last time. At the top of the hill in Fizz’s old field, we scattered her ashes. And then we turned and retraced our steps as we’d done dozens of times before.
A PANDEMIC SPRING
There is a void, now, but in 2020 Fizz gave us a fund of new spring and summer memories; she made a debilitating lockdown not just bearable, but joyous, a reconnection to everything thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s good about being out of doors.
CONTRIBUTORS Will Conway is an American writer and storyteller. Long ago, he wore suits and arrived at an office at promptly 8:55 AM, but he left all that behind. Now he kind of wanders around, telling stories, writing, and hosting the Baggage Claim podcast: travel stories no one tells. He can be found online at @heywillconway on all platforms. In the real world, he can usually be found in Montreal with his girlfriend, Fanny. Chalei Marie's photography experience began with a passion for traveling and gaining knowledge of cultures and landscapes. Through her photography she has found joy in capturing and sharing the beautify of planet earth. You can find more of her work on Etsy: ChaleiMariePhotos. Lori Lovy's poems have appeared in Rattle, Nimrod, Paterson Literary Review, Confrontation, Poetry East, and numerous other literary journals and anthologies in the U.S., the U.K., and Israel. Her work has also been published in medical humanities journals. Her and her family live in Los Angeles, but "home" has also been Vermont and Israel. Yi Feng is a scholar, translator, poet, and associate professor at Northeastern University, China. Her English poems have been published in The Penn Review, Model Minority, and Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine, etc.. Her Chinese poems have been published in Lotus ( ) and Chinese Poetry Website. She has translated Chinese poets and American poets, including Shuguang Zhang, Susan Howe, Rae Armoutraut and Charles Bernstein, among other poets. Her translation of poems appeared in journals in China and the US, such as Poetry Monthly ( ) in 2019 , DoubleSpeak in 2020 and Anomaly (forthcoming). She was awarded the Hunt Scholarship in 2016. She has won the Bronze Prize in an International Chinese Poetry Competition in 2017. She lives in Shenyang, China.
David James’ most recent books are A GEM OF TRUTH and NAIL YOURSELF INTO BLISS. Besides writing poetry, James has had over thirty one-act plays produced. He teaches writing at Oakland Community College in Michigan. Judy DeCroce, is an internationally published poet, flash fiction writer, educator, and avid reader whose works have been published by Plato's Cave online, The Poet Magazine, Amethyst Review, The Wild Word, The BeZine, and many journals and anthologies. As a professional storyteller and teacher of that genre, she also offers, workshops in flash fiction. Judy lives and works in upstate New York with her husband poet/artist, Antoni Ooto. Ken Wetherington lives in Durham, North Carolina with his wife and two dogs. His stories have appeared in Ginosko Literary Journal, The Fable Online, Borrowed Solace: A Journal of Literary Ramblings, The Remington Review, and others. His first collection, Santa Abella and Other Stories was awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion from the Book Readers Appreciation Group in the literary fiction category. When not writing, he is an avid film buff and teaches film courses for the OLLI program at Duke University. He may be reached through his website: https://kenwetherington.com Edward Michael Supranowicz is the grandson of Irish and Russian/Ukrainian immigrants. He grew up on a small farm in Appalachia. He has a grad background in painting and printmaking. Some of his artwork has recently or will soon appear in Fish Food, Streetlight, Another Chicago Magazine, The Door Is a Jar, The Phoenix, and other journals. Edward is also a published poet. Michael Walker is a writer living in Newark Ohio. He is the author of two published novels: 7-22 and the Vampire Henry. He has also seen his stories and poetry published in various magazines including Adelaide Literary Magazine, PIF, and Fiction Southeast.
Frank Diamond’s poem, “Labor Day,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize Award. His short stories have appeared in RavensPerch, Innisfree, Kola: A Black Literary Magazine, Dialogual, the Madras Mag, Reverential Magazine, the Examined Life Journal, Into the Void, Empty Sink Publishing, the Zodiac Review and the Fredericksburg Literary and Arts Review, among many other publications. He has had poetry published in Philadelphia Stories, Fox Chase Review, Deltona Howl, Artifact Nouveau, Black Bottom Review, and Feile-Festa. Find those and other of his creative work at https://frank-diamond.exchange. He lives in Langhorne, Pa. Andy Oram is a writer and editor in the computer field. His editorial projects have ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. Print publications where his writings have appeared include The Economist, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, and Vanguardia Dossier. He has lived in the Boston, Massachusetts area for more than 30 years. He self-published a memoir, "Backtraces: Three Decades of Computing, Communities, and Critiques", and his poems have been published in Ají, Arlington Literary Journal, Conclave, Genre: Urban Arts, Heron Clan, Offcourse, Panoply, Soul-Lit, and Speckled Trout Review John Tustin's poetry has appeared in many disparate literary journals, online and in print, in the last dozen years. fritzware.com/johntustinpoetry contains links to his published poetry online. Benjamin Maughan was born and raised in Utah. After graduating from high school, he lived for two years in San Diego, California, after which he returned to Utah and attended Brigham Young University for two years. Benjamin is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree of English at Utah Valley University, emphasizing in Literary Studies. He works part-time at a local hot dog restaurant and spends his time writing fiction, poetry, and music. Zach Murphy is a Hawaii-born writer with a background in cinema. His stories appear in Reed Magazine, The Coachella Review, Mystery Tribune, Ellipsis Zine, Drunk Monkeys, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. He lives with his wonderful wife Kelly in St. Paul, Minnesota. Jessica Madisetti is a 24 year-old traditional artist from London, England. She specializes in stylized portraits, creating primarily with graphite pencil. She is most inspired by graphic novels; both Japanese and Western, and has dabbled in manga, and frame-by-frame animation in the past. Her hope is to expand her portraiture to include intricate environments that provide additional depth and atmosphere to her work. She also wants to develop her painting skills. You can view more of her art and contact her on Instagram: @jesuisjeswee Paul Bluestein is an obstetrician and blues guitar player who wrote poetry sporadically in college but soon was sidetracked by medical school, playing weekend gigs and writing songs. He returned to writing poetry in 2018 after he joined a local poetry group in Connecticut where he lives with his wife and an unreasonably demanding rescue dog. His work has appeared in Heron Tree, The Linden Avenue Literary Review, Third Wednesday, Steam Ticket and Penumbra among other publications. His first full-length collection, Time Passages, was published in 2020 by Silver Bow Publishing. Ed O’Casey attended the University of North Texas and New Mexico State University. He is the author of the book Proximidad: A Mexican/American Memoir and other items of interest that have appeared or are upcoming in Berkeley Poetry Review, Cold Mountain Review, Tulane Review, Euphony, Poetry Quarterly, Whiskey Island, and NANO Fiction. He lives in San Antonio, Texas. Michelle Askin's poetry and short fiction have appeared in Pleiades, Raleigh Review, MayDay Magazine, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Arkana, and elsewhere. She lives in Northern Virginia. John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Orbis, Dalhousie Review and Connecticut River Review. Latest book, “Leaves On Pages” is available through Amazon.
Emily Jobe is a poet and editor whose poetry has appeared in Aberration Labyrinth and the first issue of Waymark, and whose academic writing was recently published in the Kennesaw Journal of Undergraduate Research. She holds a BA from Kennesaw State University, while she lives and works as an editor in Georgia. Find more at jobepress.com. Ron Torrence published his first short story at age 50 and his first poem at age 80. Even so his fiction, non-fiction and poetry have appeared in over 50 publications. Joan McNerneyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s poetry is found in many literary magazines such as Seven Circle Press, Dinner with the Muse, Poet Warriors, Blueline, and Halcyon Days. Four Bright Hills Press Anthologies, several Poppy Road Journals, and numerous Poets' Espresso Reviews have accepted her work. She has four Best of the Net nominations. Her latest title is The Muse in Miniature available on Amazon.com and Cyberwit.net