the Curve of Arctic Air
v253, Jan./Feb. 2015
Internet ISSN 1555-1555, print ISSN 1068-5154
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the passionate stuff
The Curve of Arctic Air
Richard King Perkins II
Waist deep in gradual treasures,
an oboe ascends the twitch and hush of Finland,
consuming wholly the second air.
Villagers and blue glaciers are prone to forgive,
receiving justice and resuscitation
in an equipoised curve.
A string of gulls reclaims the sky
as deerhounds ponder a mawkish fisherman
nettled, prodigious back high.
Like Quasimodo, he is holding his breath,
waiting for the seasons to change
into a ruby throne and scepter.
Richard King Perkins II
a purple smudge prickles beneath your eye.
Lurch to awareness—
this time stricken in coppery weeds.
with tin pan vision and silken membranes
through the curious dust of blackout.
Without skewer or spare aegis,
hand in scaly hand,
you hemorrhage iguanas—
having led yourself to slaughter
in camouflage you can’t recognize.
Bagging High Quality Recruits
David S. Pointer
That recruiter that
turned Herbert away
was dead by the time
I graduated boot camp
having had a fatal car
crash on the way to a
recruit signing, seems
going after high quality
high school graduates
by logging odometer
miles wasn’t the safe
road to more rockers,
stripes, promotions or
staff NCO parties and
formal wear functions
Chalk Board Alma Mater
David S. Pointer
Bon Scott was in full fever-throated
roar as a school boy streaked by on
to the other side like Rimbaud and
Malcolm Young and I locked eyes
laughing together, rocking together
as his tiny little uniformed brother
romped hard through fan euphoria
and perhaps his own season deep
in major label hell jamming out in
a performance art asylum as if the
last school release bell wasn’t ever
going to ring unless it caught fire
Neon sign blinks
a thousand times a day
J - E - S - U - S
JESUS! JESUS! JESUS!
J - E - S - U - S
JESUS! JESUS! JESUS!
draws the faithful
to electrified death.
Salvation Mountain, photography by David J. Thompson
There’s a Rowboat Covering
A Leak in the Roof
(last line from “He Brings Home Everything” by Jack Ridl)
He sets one of those plastic fake puke novelties
in the corner of the living room by the couch
to cover an old blood stain.
Incense burns to mask the rotting meat
in the fridge. There is blue painter’s tape
used as molding around the doors. The man slouches
and bends backward to slide under the ceiling fan
drying his underwear and shirts.
Aluminum cans become drinking glasses, toothpaste into grout,
cardboard into stiff bedroom drapes.
With a bottle of Kessler’s, he forgets how her soft hand
touched his face, how her lips felt against his.
The cell phone in a bucket of water keeps his children away.
And the small wooden cross, he uses as a table stand
for a vase of dried flowers next to the moldy grapes.
To My Third Grandchild
Friday, I drive an hour and a half
to my parents’ farm, 34 degrees
on the first day of spring.
As snow melts, dead deer
appear along the shoulder and median.
I count four carcasses
on the drive there.
The deer bodies, broken,
decaying under eighty inches of snow,
slowly float up into sunlight.
I’m going home to carry clothes,
luggage, boxes, bags up to the attic.
Mom can’t do the stairs anymore;
Dad’s losing weight and muscle—
his heart nods off to sleep.
In the attic, I find eleven pairs of my Dad’s boots.
Behind the door of the guest room, he has thirteen pairs
of new and never worn slacks. In the garage, six socket sets
and five packages of wrenches, unopened.
“They were on sale,” he tells me.
On the drive home, I count nine more deer carcasses
scattered on the side of the road, a few legs stuck up,
some bodies half eaten, some ripped open.
At dusk, it looks like the dead pushing out
from the wet and warming ground.
And that’s when I think of your beautiful tiny face,
those little fingers, lips that quiver,
and come September, the smile I’ll have
when I kiss your red cheeks
To See Ourselves as Others See Us
I had not seen him for a year and a half,
and he liked catching me by surprise
in the middle of the campus quad.
Usually he had at least three girls in tow,
each aware of what a catch he’d be,
gorgeous, black, dressed as a campus cop,
shoes and brass always shining.
That job helped pay part of his tuition.
I was glad that he was surviving
regular courses. He had struggled
in his ’remedial’ class from me.
He’d bring each paper to my office
and carefully re-work it as best he could.
At last, fair and square,
he earned a ’C-’, his ticket
into the regular curriculum.
We’d grown to be friends as well.
He was comfortable in his own body
and seemingly not threatened by my difference.
But I did not like our reunion.
He’d sneak up from behind
hold my shoulders, turn me around,
and kiss me. I was in a real fret
the second time he did this
and on the third I told him to step away
with me from earshot of his train.
“What you’re doing is not appropriate,”
I said. “I have never wanted to seduce your body,
only your mind. There are boundaries,
and you’re sending the wrong signal
to all who observe us....”
I’m an Episcopalian and I know all about such things.
I did a smart sissy’s rebuke with all stops out.
I do not understand straight men;
they can be so cool. I am never cool.
I don’t know how to be cool.
Through my scold he kept a gentle,
rueful smile, and when at last
I had nothing else to say, he said,
“Doc, if you don’t want me to do it,
I won’t, but do you mind if I tell you
why I do it?”
“Why you do it?!”
I thought to myself in exasperation;
“you mean you think this is a reasonable
thing to do...” but I had the grace to say
only “Surely; that’s okay. Tell me.”
“I had a brother four years younger than me,
and much sharper and more talented.
I was captain of the football team
in my senior year, but he was captain
his last three years. I did not go to college
immediately, but he did, to NYU,
on an academic scholarship. In the middle
of his first semester, over dinner at home,
he said to the family, ’There’s something
you need to know. I am gay.’
“’You what?!’ I said. No bro of mine’s a fag!”
“Dad joined in, ’No faggots in this family.’
“Mother said something milder but negative
and he left early for his dorm.
“A few weeks later he brought a boyfriend home
and we locked the doors and would not let them in.
“Doc, my brother fell in love with Jack Daniels.
Within a year he had AIDS, the quick kind.
He died after I left your class. I like to think
that if he sees me kiss you in front of the whole world
he’ll know I am sorry. If we had been better to him,
maybe he would have married his boyfriend
and like you and Ernest they might be living together
“I miss him horribly and want him back.”
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
I – Glory Be...
an excerpt (or first part) from the longer poem, “America”
Glory be to America!
Glory be to the Populist Politicians of Washington,
District of Columbia, all Optimates – all Boss Tweed Senators
– Controlling Capitol Hill – the new Tammany Hall! Glory be to the lobbyist
And the kickbacks. Glory to Old Glory flapping on the phallic
Staff. Glory be to the school morning pledge indoctrinating
Children into believing that this political machine was
“for the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”
Glory be to modern medicine! American in every way. Glory be to patented prescriptions and
The two waiting rooms for a treatment, never a cure. Cures can’t cure
the narrowed profit margin.
Glory be to the transformation of human beings into dollar amounts! Insurance, a
Casino, Mafia run. The doctors break knees because our HMO don’t cover extortion.
Glory be to treating, not healing, not curing.
Glory be to the private sector! Glory be to G.E. Standard Oil, US-Steel, Comwealth-Edison, Goldman-Sachs, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase. Glory be to the Fortune 500 and glory be to
Forbes’s top 20. Glory be to the Rockefellers, Steve Schwarzman, the Koch brothers (and their tea party tea bagging the statue of liberty).
They all used to spend the weekend at Bernie Maydoff’s Hampton Home. Glory be to 747 Park Ave, NYC. Glory be to the billionaires bringing back child labor, albeit somewhere else so why should we care? Glory be to Apathy!
Glory be to the fountain sodas and fast-food! Glory be to the brain rot cancer
Caused by diet sodas. Glory be to Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola.
Glory be to High Fructose Corn Syrup.
Glory be to the factory farms and the little, anonymous parcels plastic wrapped purchased at
The supermarket. Glory be to the hormones, anti-biotics, animal cannibalism, and the carcass.
Glory be to Monsanto. Glory be to DDT, pesticides, and preservatives.
Glory be to Napalm! Agent Orange! The Bunker Buster! Atom bombs!
Glory be to Oppenheimer and, “HAVOC!” as we let the leash slip out
Of our hands. Glory be to the Dogs of War!
Glory be to Vietnam, Korea, Bay of Pigs, Operations, “Just Cause” “Desert Storm” “Iraqi Freedom” and the CIA. Glory be to JSOC Praetorian Guard of American Imperators
Glory be to the secrets! NSA spying, phone taps, and Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Glory be to the media! New York Times & Time magazine tell us who
To fear today. Fear them Burqas they’re different! They won’t show
Their faces, therefore, therefore, therefore, we cannot trust them! KILL
Them that we have harmed, fucked, denigrated. Glory be to the wars
Overseas – the White Man’s Burden. Glory be to the patriotic fanatic.
Glory be to Jingoism.
Glory be to the end user license agreement. Facebook, Twitter, Apple
Prostituted privacy of the common human seeking connection with common
Human. Glory be to the fine print! Glory to our sweatshop cellphones!
Glory be to the Church of the Almighty Dollar. Its steeple scrapes the
Sky. Glory be to the Oil Spill floating fish cadavers and the rape of
Our mother, Nature. Glory be to Deregulation, and our Deaths! Glory to
The Clear-Channel Monopoly! Glory be to the trickle down and laissez-faire
Capitalism. Glory be to the free market! Glory be to the Status Quo.
Glory be to the rape of our Bill of Rights and the rape of the inner
City human rights. Glory be to the poor people’s gunshot wounded kids.
Playground. South Side Chicago. Easter Weekend, 2014. Gang Related
Once again. Glory be to Apathy!
Glory be to the police state PATRIOT Act.
GLORY BE TO THE DOLLAR SIGN. GENUFLECT BEFORE ITS ALMIGHTY
PRESENCE! BOW YOUR HEAD TO ITS SACRIFICE!
Glory be to greed, the new Lamb of God.
Yes. Glory be to us.
Standing alone on subway platforms
In this caffeinated, medicated,
World without end.
Of Music and Metaphor
in Somerville, MA
Putting her flip phone on vibrate,
Lila considers her ex, Dave,
who reminds her of an album cover.
Out of the sun, he keeps his colors
(more or less)
but he is not new.
She herself is a CD, smaller,
her case a little cracked
but, inside, not the worse for wear.
Their child Estelle
is a downloaded song,
mysterious, fragmentary, free.
Marianne Szlyk bio
Marianne Szlyk is an associate professor of English at Montgomery College, Rockville, and a member of the DC Poetry Project. Her poems have appeared in a number of online journals such as Aberration Labyrinth, Jellyfish Whispers, Poetry Pacific, Poehemians, and The Blue Hour, as well as in print anthologies by Kind of a Hurricane Press and The Blue Hour. She is mortified over the number of CDs she and her husband have, but she is still proud of having bought an LP (in good enough shape) for a quarter at a used record store on Mass Ave. in Boston.
A Nation Under Elder gods
Minerva’s makin’ a hit list
Spotcheckin’ it twice
Revolutionary leader for an epic
I never wrote
Establishing a New Nazism
By way of
“Only those of raw IQ enough
Are fill in the blank and shall survive.”
Compelling, seriously flawed
Had the idea for the epic, in the 70’s
Never to see light, not Sentence One,
Intellectia as Elite
Seek not their own
But The Brute, as kapo
For they will, you see
Control their useful Brute
The Brute, who trusts only Them
Minervallectia and her merry Elitism
The Brute can be controlled, huh-ha!
If you’ve ever seen even one movie
With hulking, 8 kinds of lethal
Loyal Only to Brilliant, Hatefilled Asshole
The Brute as Alsatian?
That never ends well
Copyright R. N. Taber 2014
Every day for years...
a tramp sat on a wooden bench
on the edge of town, writing up its life
in smoke rings
Passers-by were privy
to profiles of have-a-go heroes
for peace and love, war and hate, etched
in smoke rings
Audiences would gather,
see-feel wrong moves and right,
failures and successes, catching them out
in smoke rings
Smiles and laughter
(public fronts for private truths)
last seen grabbing at defence mechanisms
in smoke rings
Every day for years...
Tramp on Bench, a live sculpture
shaping tell-tale coughs and dragging feet
in smoke rings
Reflection #1 from A (perhaps) Heretical
Lectio Divina Meditation
Just as the rain
falls on the suburban
parents will pose
to be photographed
in front of so doesn’t
it fall on the ditched
or discarded but more
than likely dirty
and when it has rained
enough to clean the
syringes which will
be used again
God still gives his
the same way he does
who will soon
for the university
Reflection #2 from A (perhaps) Heretical
Lectio Divina Meditation
As if St. Francis
was not crazy
the word of God
to the animals he
would also sometimes
suddenly dance in a
frenzy whenever God’s
words became too
beautiful for him
just like they must be
for the woman or man
who suddenly starts
shouting and then punching
and finally grabbing
at what he or she now
realizes are angels and
not demons flying
away from him in
speaking to God
and seeing the beauty
in his angels and words
will get you
Reflection #3 from A (perhaps) Heretical
Lectio Divina Mediation
Before his hands
and his side
by a spear
his fearful disciples
and chest for which
he could already see
flesh that would soon
be sacrificed and
not only is there a
party where the older
women will cry while
the men joke about how
their boy better not come
home with a foreign
bride there is also
a priest who will bless
departing from a piece
of American geography
no bigger than a boxing
ring for some far away
mountain range or
peninsular with perhaps
a Biblical name but
for which no one ever
The Ultimate Uncool
Sheryl L. Nelms
and ninth grade
locked in the backseat
of their unmarked
sheriff’s patrol car
To my son
Robin Wyatt Dunn
And if I bequeath to you
And I will—
And it doesn’t matter what you want
I’ll give you my hope
And my dreams
I’ll give you my loneliness,
And my heartache
I’ll give you my faith,
More Machine than Man, art by Aaron Wilder
in bliss idaho at
the miracle hot springs
i met a woman whose eyes
told the stories of gypsies, while
martin luther king got hitler
to relax; hitler put down his gun
and finally connect with
his inner child
this woman had olive skin
and could read the movies inside
my head; nearby,
albert einstein was teaching lester
maddox chess over a cup of
she looked like she was italian,
but she could've easily been asian
she claimed peace was the only country
she belonged to
miles davis played riffs as mozart
as young jackie kennedy danced
the girl of no country
told me anyone who sat
in the waters
would be young forever
you didn't need money in bliss
freedom here was the only
jesus played video games with
and when jesus lost
holden smiled and said
look at the bright side
i sat in the water with her
as she sat between my legs
i felt like god had finally
answered my prayers
john lennon and general mac aruthur
were busy sticking sunflowers
in the barrels of machine guns
in bliss, idaho
i found true love...
Miley Cyrus is Coming
Ronald Charles Epstein
Look out for your sons!
Lock up your teddy bears!
Hide the foam fingers!
Miley Cyrus is near!
Ashley: A Fairy Tale
T. Allen Culpepper
So there was this twenty-something twink, we’ll call him, Ashley,
pretty as they come, just a little bit fem, but not too much,
and his parents threw him out when they found out he was queer,
and he probably would have ended up homeless
except that he was taken in by his rich old turned-gay uncle.
The catch was that the uncle had two daughters
from a failed marriage, butt-ugly bitches who treated Ashley like shit
and made him do all the work around the house. The uncle did make
sure there was a roof over his head, but he reminded
him of it about every thirty seconds and wouldn’t lend him any cash.
Sometimes he got work as a stripper, but it was sporadic
and didn’t pay all that much.
Anyway, there was this big rave that the butt-uglies
were going to, and Ashley wanted to go too,
partly for the drugs and music but mostly for the hot dudes likely to be there,
but he didn’t have any money. So in desperation, he tried to hook up
online and offer sex to the no-longer-young in exchange
for the “loan” of some cash, but he was surprised how few
of them were actually willing to pay, maybe thinking he ran
this scheme professionally and would probably steal their credit cards too.
He finally met an old queen who wasn’t wanting sex but felt sorry for him
and offered him a temporary rent-free room and enough cash for the rave,
but the condition was that he had to get a real job, and his benefactor
was going to set him up with an interview the morning after the rave,
and he had to get home by midnight so he wouldn’t oversleep.
So Ashley put on his tight white jeans and fishnet tank top
and danced the night away with some hot muscle stud, but when he
pulled out his cellphone to post his status on Facebook, he had
a panic attack when he noticed it was almost midnight
and ran out in such a hurry that he dropped the tank he had stripped off
while dancing and, more disastrously, forgotten to get the muscle stud’s number.
But he made it back to his benefactor’s on time and got up for the
interview the next morning and didn’t turn into a pumpkin or any of that shit.
He was pretty pissed with himself for not getting that phone number though.
But little bastard was so fucking lucky that the muscle stud was really into him
and went around asking everybody who the twink was who lost the shirt,
and someone actually knew from one of his stripper gigs, and to make
a long tedious story short, tracked Ashley down, and it turns out—
this is where the story gets hard to believe—that the muscle
stud was both rich and wanting an actual boyfriend,
so they hooked up and lived more or less happily until they got
bored and decided to make it an open relationship and try some
threesomes, and that worked about as well as you would expect.
agave and view, painting by Brian Forrest
Wheat Penny When Luck Runs Out
Bronzed, patinaed like old bones flecked
with moss and river sediment, the 1956
wheat penny jumped out of the coin debris
in the console of the truck where I sat
eating lunch with my lover.
I knew it was lucky, fingering that bit of
copper minted the year of my birth. Knew
synchronicity was at work, because how
often does one lunch on Mediterranean fare
and find the history of money and luck
etched on a bit of metal?
Value of both is relative, currency and fortune.
How lucky is it to have coins placed on a dead
man’s eyes to pay for the last voyage?
The coin is the self is the coin, stretching
back like a rubber band where other walkers
used silver and gold to measure fortune’s wheel.
Take Alexander’s minted with gods we trust
on either side. Ancient beginning of soldiers
carrying coinage to Iraq and Afghanistan
preceded by drones, or Julius Caesar
stamping narcissism for an imperator ended
by the Ides of March.
Mad Caligula as divine son god who appointed
his horse to the senate, melted down as his
coinage was given back to a molten sun, like
Nazis melting down the fillings in victim’s teeth.
Or the Byzantine recording of the Crab Nebula
on a coin where Macbeth would have lifted his
eyes to the dark sky before visiting Duncan and
casting away his thirty pieces of silver.
What luck is this? Nonetheless, I taped the penny
to the computer monitor. Copper is a conductor
Ralph Monday bio (7//11/14)
Ralph Monday is an Associate Professor of English at Roane State Community College in Harriman, TN., where he teaches composition, literature, and creative writing courses. In fall 2013 he had poems published in The New Plains Review, New Liberties Review, Fiction Week Literary Review, and was represented as the featured poet with 12 poems in the December issue of
Poetry Repairs. In winter 2014 he had poems published in Dead Snakes. Summer 2014 had a poem in Contemporary Poetry: An Anthology of Best Present Day Poems. His work has appeared in publications such as The Phoenix, Bitter Creek Review, Full of Crow, Impressions, Kookamonga Square, Deep Waters, Jacket Magazine, The New Plains Review, New Liberties Review, Crack the Spine, The Camel Saloon, Dead Snakes, Jellyfish Whispers, Pyrokinection, Red River Review, Burningword and Poetry Repairs. Featured Poet of the week May, 2014 Poetry Super Highway. Forthcoming: Poems in Blood Moon Rising. Crack the Spine best of anthology and Down in the Dirt Magazine. His poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Houghton Mifflin’s “Best of” Anthologies, as well as other awards. A book, Empty Houses and American Renditions will be published by Hen House Press in Fall 2014.
Our nine black robed priests
America’s holy writ
with its own black robed priesthood
hearing high profile appeals
of lower court rulings.
And despite disconcerting schisms,
of shrouded deliberation
this conclave finally issues
that puff of smoke
so breathlessly awaited
by media pundits,
the definitive edict,
its papal bull.
They will sleep there, kept down
as if your arms are alongside
falling back and you gag
the way each breath is dried
with washrags and mops
and this towel’s not the same, it’s
too huge and the Earth
is forever covered with snow
left for later –you lag behind
almost in whispers
in ice along roots and rivers
no longer holding on
or falling between, caressed
–your arms are enough, they
don’t close anymore.
About Simon Perchik
Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, The Nation, Poetry, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. His most recent collection is Almost Rain, published by River Otter Press (2013). For more information, including free e-books, his essay titled “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.
Plenty o’Prickly pear (from Osha, Dog Canyon), photo by Brian & Lauren Hosey
After hiding in a love story for thirty years,
they decided to walk away
Their love, a butterfly with fading shades
perching on a flower in its dry spell.
The girl decided to unlearn
how to cross a road
One of the first things that her
dad taught her
and it felt like removing a tether
that limited her wander to the sky
He claimed he is different,
though his first word was also mom
as he took baby steps on the parapet
of a high rise till he got it wrong–
And the day filled with the squeaky
music of baby shoes, one that was
lost and never found.
Aditya Shankar Bio (20140714)
Aditya Shankar is an Indian English poet living in Bangalore, and his work has been published in Shot Glass Journal, Asiawrites, Munyori, The Pyramid, Poetry Chain, Chandrabhaga, Meadowland Review, CHEST, and Vox Humana among others. His poetry collection ‘Party Poopers’ is forthcoming.
I had become, by then, used to the strange,
over-familiar with the chaos and metamorphosis
that had become the almost tiresome norm.
There had been warnings: Scientists predict;
If we don’t change now; Our last chance,
but no-one listened or, if they did, no-one heard.
Those same warnings had rung out for decades-
decades in which millennial prophecies proliferated,
and predicted apocalypses came and went
with bland frequency. Newspapers reported
the occasional whale in the Thames, sheep
with two heads, a Kali child with spider limbs,
but they were brief distractions, page-fillers
for lazy tabloids. There was always something
more serious: the potential boiling point of countries
just beyond the borders of popular imagination;
or, ever present, the economy - who’s getting more
than their fair share? Who’s getting your share?
And as we fretted over fat cats siphoning off
the richest cream, and a shadowy underclass
bleeding the country dry, who noticed for more
than a moment when the light-hearted item
at the close of the teatime news became darker,
more primal, more biblical? When starlings fell
from clear sky, or when dust the colour of blood
scabbed on cars and windows, the office gossip
was full of it, but by lunchtime it was forgotten.
So it barely piqued my curiosity when,
bundling home one February evening after
an uneventful day at the office, I saw that a shape
I’d taken to be a bin bag from a distance
was actually a seal. Such things had happened a lot
a few months previously, but stories had slipped
from the news as viewers lost interest, needing
new distractions. That we were seventy or more
miles from the sea didn’t even cross my mind-
I just wanted to get home, get warm, and eat.
But as I was passing, it half rose up and looked
directly at me. We’ve all seen the photos,
and the streetlight glinted in those inkwell eyes,
familiar from Sunday supplements and greetings cards,
that seemed to study me with intelligence, and even
compassion. It wasn’t an epiphany, as such, but
for a couple of minutes we were still, looking
at each other. I hadn’t noticed until then
that it was raining, very gently. I raised my face,
parted my lips, tasting the metallic sharpness.
I watched a bright drip bulb out and drop
from one of the seal’s whiskers. Perhaps
I should have said something but, blasé
as I’d become, I didn’t expect talking animals.
So I just stood, until it slowly lowered its head
back to the pavement, closing its eyes. I’d like
to draw some moral, some significance, but
after a last look at its dark form, I carried on home.
But I did think about it as I pushed open
my warped wood door, calling a tired greeting
to the emptiness. Then, later, as I caught sight
of my own dead eyes in the bathroom mirror,
I thought of those other eyes, and wondered
if it had been trying to tell me something.
A Strange Moment
If I wasn’t kneeling in a puddle of spilled beer, broken glass and cigarette butts
My white shirt torn down the front where my tie would have been if I hadn’t ditched
it, along with my glasses, once stuff started going over
And bodies started flying
I might have wondered whose blood it was on the right sleeve of my shirt
or just what I thought I was doing
an over 40, out of shape, college educated, bartender that early in the morning
wrestling with young, alcohol and drug fueled students/ nominal adults
Except I knew exactly what I was doing:
I was trying to stop a bar fight from getting totally out of control
It was the why part of the unasked question that was troubling to me later on
It always amazes me how fast a crowded bar will get like totally silent once punches
start getting thrown
And the help kills the juke box and there is nothing audible but a chorus of fuck yous
from the combatants, the sound of breaking furniture and glass and the distant
wail of sirens drawing nearer to the scene
No one speaks except bartenders and bouncers yelling instructions
Pointing out hot spots still not under control
And with lots of help, by the time the cops arrive, most of the serious shit has been
taken outside where it is getting handcuffed or worse for not heeding the
warnings of cease and desist by the heavily armed officers of the law
What happens not heeding those calls always seemed to me to be self-inflicted and
not worth a second thought
And I’ve never seen anything yet to change my mind
The lead cop is a smartass I’ve known like forever and is like one of the funniest
human beings alive when he’s not on duty
On duty his sense of humor tends toward the sick side but I’m not in any position
to question what he does to indulge himself in that vein
I offered him whatever it was I was pouring myself to calm my nerves which
he thought twice about before turning it down
The end of the school year is a busy night with four years of old scores being
settled in one huge sayonara Albany gesture often leading to court appearances
and unexpected prolonged stays afterwards courtesy of the city
The cops says, “Getting a bit long in the tooth for this kind of after-midnight action,
“At least, I’ve got all my teeth which is more than you can say.”
“Not for long if you keep this shit up.”
“You’re just jealous.”
“Of you? Right. You’re just trying to relive your youth. I know what you’re
thinking, ‘you’re never too old for a good bar fight.’”
He said that with a smile on his face but neither one of us was laughing.
Maybe because we were the same age
He retired years before I even thought about it
And he got a generous pension too
I’ll be lucky if I get a free beer
Just goes to show you how overrated what they teach you in college is
Through fallen snow
On golden winter mornings,
My feet tapping icy roads,
Clicking over ruts—
Toes push snowfalls
To the side, off onto ice—
When the wind roars,
Onto a platform
Besides a cardboard backdrop
Near a fountain
And quiet patio.
Nothing was real—
But it was morning—
The world faded—
Time turned to Indigo
Salt And Beer And Sitting On My Ass
David J. Thompson
These days an angel who limps and speaks
only broken English wakes me up early
every morning. First, she reminds me
to make an appointment today to see
a doctor about my blood pressure
and rambles on about my daily sins
of salt and beer and sitting on my ass
in front of the tv, while I roll over in bed,
try to cover my head with the pillow.
Then, she begins to read, in alphabetical order,
the list of people I’ve disappointed in life.
I whip my pillow across the room at her,
ask her politely to please shut the hell up,
but she never does. So, I flip her the finger
before she gets through the C’s, struggle out
of bed, shuffle over to the bathroom. I steady
myself while I pee, tell myself I’ll be OK after
a few cups of coffee, try not to think about
a huge bacon and eggs breakfast with my mom
and dad, or any other of the good things I can
no longer have or probably never deserved.
Catherine B. Krause
The ruthless beaks of the chickens, the ravenous appetites of the mother rodents, the giant erect cocks of the elephants congregating around the watering hole to exchange gossip.
Two Enormous Butterflies Play at the Ichtucknee Spring Head.
Dr (Ms.) Michael S. Whitt
The other morn we went to the Ichtucknee Spring Head for a swim.
The Florida sun was shining brightly as we dived into the cold water
For the most refreshing swim we’ve ever known
As we emerged from the gorgeous crystal clear spring head
Two enormous butterflies were flying and playing close to it
How beautiful and regal were these welcome creatures
And how perfectly they fit with their surroundings
Their exquisite butterfly shapes and the crystal clear water of the head
Provided a pleasure that was most intense and joyful
The gentle and balanced eco-system is full of Love
For butterflies, fishes, turtles, fish, people, and other gentle denizens of the spectacular Ichtucknee Spring Head
“sweet poems, Chicago ”
2005 poem “outsourcing the American dream”
edited 4/26/14 for reading in Linclon Square
at the Chicago 2014 Poetry Bomb
we’ve been doing pretty well over the years,
the center of attention, I know the feeling,
you’re the man with the plan, and you
act so arrogant with your past successes
but Houston, there’s a problem, you
might not want to believe it, but since
we’ve been resting on our laurels all this
time, since our fat uncles have been
sitting on the couch, burping with their
cans of beer, watching the football games
while someone else has been doing all the
cooking and cleaning for them, well,
while we’ve all been feeling cocky,
thinking about how great we are,
other countries have been training their
students in our schools, and because
we’ve been busy basking in our glory
we’ve outsourced all the work we’re too
lazy to do & we’ve trained everyone else
to beat us at our own game
(oh, I forgot to mention, we were so busy
celebrating our military and business
accomplishments that we gave up
on training ourselves to stay ahead)
well, while we’ve gotten lazy and taken a
break for a while, everyone else has started
excelling past us, so we buy our Japanese
technology and drive our German cars,
drink our French water when we’re not
drinking our French wine, and we get
as far away from the United States as we
possibly can when we want to take a vacation
well, I’m waiting for someone to realize it,
maybe having the economy fall out from
underneath our overzealous desire to
get rich quick didn’t allow us to see
but we’ve always been the giant, we were
first to fly an airplane, the first to land
on the moon, we’re in front in the world
with medicines and health care
hmmm, speaking of healthcare, most people
can’t afford it now, because we’ve researched
the Hell out of the diseases we choose
to kill ourselves with, I mean, stats say
us North Americans have the highest cancer rates
in the world, our kids are fat &?get Type 2
Diabetes, we work so many more hours but still
can’t keep ahead, and at this point we
can’t afford the fruits of our labor any longer
do we bring it upon ourselves when we
want to get rich quick by suing doctors,
forcing them to charge higher prices,
driving up the cost for everyone?
we complain that people who are on welfare
still on average own two television sets
and every teen in America now seems to
expect their own free cell phone
is it that our standard of living has risen
so dramatically that everyone now expects
everything handed to them on a silver platter?
do we ask for more without working for more?
our President wants to protect our borders
from terrorists, but he wants to give temporary
work visas to illegal Mexican immigrants,
so that other nations do our work for us
and we wonder why we’re unemployed
yeah, we can talk about how we were the
high school quarterback, & how we scored
so many touchdowns & everyone loved us
while we credit card ourselves into debt
because we deserve the good things in life,
as we train other people to help us
lose in the world economy
pretty soon prices will keep going up
& we won’t be able to afford that convertible,
or the nice clothes, or for that matter,
any of the niceties
& we’ll become a people who have the
basics, but not much else, & we’ll wonder
how we’ve become a third world country
& never saw it coming
In the past, us Americans didn’t achieve our goals
because we didn’t work for them, so, beer drinking
Uncle Sam, can we get to work again
and get back on top again?
more than we should have
when i think of him i usually think about the drinking
actually, i never think of him as drinking
come to think of it
i just think of him as drunk
i can’t even remember seeing the drinks in his hand
but his perception of the world is always altered
but someone reminded me tonight
of when he would work outside in the the cold Chicago winters
and he would come back with his moustache frozen
and there would be little icicles hanging
down toward his mouth
and then i thought of
when i waited with him once at the airport
because we were picking up someone
and we sat in the shrimp cocktail lounge
and he drank, and ate, and i waited
and as we left
we tried to pay the expressway toll with pennies
but some of the coins fell onto the street
and we had to throw more change at the machine
we paid more than we should have
i’m sure we did
Order this iTunes track:
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(a 6 CD set)...Or order the entire CD set from iTunes or Napster
Listen Live at the Cafe,|
now available in a 3 CD set
Listen live to the 2nd Axing|
at the open mic Sing Your Life
Watch this YouTube video
(1:23, at the Coors Brewery in Golden, CO 06/15/07)
Listen to this from the CD release |
from the first performance art show
(08/14/97) Seeing Things Differently
Watch the YouTube video
(1:39) Live, the 11/09/07 Hokin Gallery show The Turn of the Word, Chicago
Or watch the complete video
of The Turn of the Word live
11/09/07 Chicago’s Hokin Gallery 7:54
|Listen from Kiki, Jake & Haytstack|
off the CD an american portrait
Watch this YouTube video
of the Cutting Room Floor at the Palos Park Public Library 10/07/09
or see the full 10/07/09 Video
at the Palos Park Public Library of the Cutting Room Floor
via the Internet Archive
See the YouTube ½ Show
of the 1st 10 minutes of the show the Cutting Room Floor from YouTube, at the Palos Park Public Library 10/07/09
Watch this YouTube video
of the Omniphonic Challenge at St. Paul’s (de-sanctified church), with John yotko music (on the Canon Camera)
Watch this YouTube video
of Kuypers 10/07/11 in the Omniphonic Challenge at St. Paul’s (performing in the de-sanctified church), with John Yotko pre-recorded and live music (from the Sony Camera)
Watch this Complete feature video of the ENTIRE Omniphonic Challenge show 10/07/11 (with this poem) St. Paul’s (de-sanctified church), with John Yotko music (on the Canon Camera)
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Watch the YouTube video
of this poem read 11/21/11 at Café Ballou (Waiting4the Bus)
Holding My Skin Together
is life pre-ordained?
i’ve been trying to remember
all the little details
that i’m supposed to take care of
and i know i’m not even getting
half of them done
and i wonder if you feel what i feel
is it just me
is the stuffing falling out
of my insides
through the stretched seams
holding my skin together
because i keep finding
bits of stuffing fallen out
and i try to put it back in
but damnit, i don’t see the holes
and i just have to work faster
so that maybe
i’ll have a better chance
of not losing my insides
is it just me?
but i’ll keep frantically trying
to hold myself together
so i can be a bit more normal,
so i can be a bit more like myself
and i won’t have to be pre-ordained
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of this, from the CD Change/Rearrange
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Tick Tock ...Or order the entire CD from iTunes:
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the entire CD set from iTunes:
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off the CD Chaos In Motion
Listen: (1:06) |
to this recording from Fusion
Watch this YouTube video
live, the Cafe’s Poetry Wheel (Mach 2) 08/26/08, Chicago
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from the poetry audio CDetc.
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Watch this YouTube video
performed for C Ra McGuirt (Penny Dreadful Press) in Nashville 12/20/08
Janet Kuypers has a Communications degree in News/Editorial Journalism (starting in computer science engineering studies) from the UIUC. She had the equivalent of a minor in photography and specialized in creative writing. A portrait photographer for years in the early 1990s, she was also an acquaintance rape workshop facilitator, and she started her publishing career as an editor of two literary magazines. Later she was an art director, webmaster and photographer for a few magazines for a publishing company in Chicago, and this Journalism major was even the final featured poetry performer of 15 poets with a 10 minute feature at the 2006 Society of Professional Journalism Expo’s Chicago Poetry Showcase. This certified minister was even the officiant of a wedding in 2006.
She sang with acoustic bands “Mom’s Favorite Vase”, “Weeds and Flowers” and “the Second Axing”, and does music sampling. Kuypers is published in books, magazines and on the internet around 9,300 times for writing, and over 17,800 times for art work in her professional career, and has been profiled in such magazines as Nation and Discover U, won the award for a Poetry Ambassador and was nominated as Poet of the Year for 2006 by the International Society of Poets. She has also been highlighted on radio stations, including WEFT (90.1FM), WLUW (88.7FM), WSUM (91.7FM), WZRD (88.3FM), WLS (8900AM), the internet radio stations ArtistFirst dot com, chicagopoetry.com’s Poetry World Radio and Scars Internet Radio (SIR), and was even shortly on Q101 FM radio. She has also appeared on television for poetry in Nashville (in 1997), Chicago (in 1997), and northern Illinois (in a few appearances on the show for the Lake County Poets Society in 2006). Kuypers was also interviewed on her art work on Urbana’s WCIA channel 3 10 o’clock news.
She turned her writing into performance art on her own and with musical groups like Pointless Orchestra, 5D/5D, The DMJ Art Connection, Order From Chaos, Peter Bartels, Jake and Haystack, the Bastard Trio, and the JoAnne Pow!ers Trio, and starting in 2005 Kuypers ran a monthly iPodCast of her work, as well mixed JK Radio — an Internet radio station — into Scars Internet Radio (both radio stations on the Internet air 2005-2009). She even managed the Chaotic Radio show (an hour long Internet radio show 1.5 years, 2006-2007) through BZoO.org and chaoticarts.org. She has performed spoken word and music across the country - in the spring of 1998 she embarked on her first national poetry tour, with featured performances, among other venues, at the Albuquerque Spoken Word Festival during the National Poetry Slam; her bands have had concerts in Chicago and in Alaska; in 2003 she hosted and performed at a weekly poetry and music open mike (called Sing Your Life), and from 2002 through 2005 was a featured performance artist, doing quarterly performance art shows with readings, music and images.
Since 2010 Kuypers also hosts the Chicago poetry open mic at the Café Gallery, while also broadcasting the Cafés weekly feature podcasts (and where she sometimes also performs impromptu mini-features of poetry or short stories or songs, in addition to other shows she performs live in the Chicago area).
In addition to being published with Bernadette Miller in the short story collection book Domestic Blisters, as well as in a book of poetry turned to prose with Eric Bonholtzer in the book Duality, Kuypers has had many books of her own published: Hope Chest in the Attic, The Window, Close Cover Before Striking, (woman.) (spiral bound), Autumn Reason (novel in letter form), the Average Guy’s Guide (to Feminism), Contents Under Pressure, etc., and eventually The Key To Believing (2002 650 page novel), Changing Gears (travel journals around the United States), The Other Side (European travel book), The Boss Lady’s Editorials, The Boss Lady’s Editorials (2005 Expanded Edition), Seeing Things Differently, Change/Rearrange, Death Comes in Threes, Moving Performances, Six Eleven, Live at Cafe Aloha, Dreams, Rough Mixes, The Entropy Project, The Other Side (2006 edition), Stop., Sing Your Life, the hardcover art book (with an editorial) in cc&d v165.25, the Kuypers edition of Writings to Honour & Cherish, The Kuypers Edition: Blister and Burn, S&M, cc&d v170.5, cc&d v171.5: Living in Chaos, Tick Tock, cc&d v1273.22: Silent Screams, Taking It All In, It All Comes Down, Rising to the Surface, Galapagos, Chapter 38 (v1 and volume 1), Chapter 38 (v2 and Volume 2), Chapter 38 v3, Finally: Literature for the Snotty and Elite (Volume 1, Volume 2 and part 1 of a 3 part set), A Wake-Up Call From Tradition (part 2 of a 3 part set), (recovery), Dark Matter: the mind of Janet Kuypers , Evolution, Adolph Hitler, O .J. Simpson and U.S. Politics, the one thing the government still has no control over, (tweet), Get Your Buzz On, Janet & Jean Together, poem, Taking Poetry to the Streets, the Cana-Dixie Chi-town Union, the Written Word, Dual, Prepare Her for This, uncorrect, Living in a Big World (color interior book with art and with “Seeing a Psychiatrist”), Pulled the Trigger (part 3 of a 3 part set), Venture to the Unknown (select writings with extensive color NASA/Huubble Space Telescope images), Janet Kuypers: Enriched, She’s an Open Book, “40”, Sexism and Other Stories, the Stories of Women, Prominent Pen (Kuypers edition), Elemental, the paperback book of the 2012 Datebook (which was also released as a spiral-bound cc&d ISSN# 2012 little spiral datebook, Prominent Tongue, Chaotic Elements, and Fusion, the (select) death poetry book Stabity Stabity Stab Stab Stab, the 2012 art book a Picture’s Worth 1,000 words (available with both b&w interior pages and full color interior pages, the shutterfly ISSN# cc& hardcover art book life, in color, Post-Apocalyptic, Burn Through Me and Under the Sea (photo book), the mini books Part of my Pain, Let me See you Stripped, Say Nothing, Give me the News, when you Dream tonight, Rape, Sexism, Life & Death (with some Slovak poetry translations), Twitterati, and 100 Haikus, that coincided with the June 2014 release of the two poetry collection books Partial Nudity and Revealed. Three collection books were also published of her work in 2004, Oeuvre (poetry), Exaro Versus (prose) and L’arte (art).
Daniel S. Weinberg
Zen master sews a hole in the sock.
My dharma can see for miles.
Clevon... clutch the memories of your rise to greatness.
It didn’t matter your spirit could not control matter.
But he saw the blood and lumpy entrails drip down the sides to a speck of light followed by faint screams.
Continued your dissent, but you slowed to admire your first position over the ordinary ones.
Feeding their screaming addictions gave you that egotistical power surge.
They fell into oblivion and you tip-toed over the putrid situations they created.
Their screams lashed out to grab you but couldn’t.
The misery coated lining propelled you faster.
Now the thirst for recognition was rewarded by the evils of prosperity... no matter what.
Prove that your desire is everything.
A disloyal friend will do.
Your shove became the terrible accident at the rock crusher.
Screams of snapping bone and splattered blood devoured by the blades added a beat to cries of that family’s misery and loneliness.
The front business was bigger than any pain, of any kind.
Space tightens down the walls of depravity.
Anguish and sorrow line the black clouds of your policies.
And, with the power given to you by the people, you rain bloody destruction down on the helpless so their leaders can mirror your wickedness.
Clevon...smell the burnt flesh and human waste, while technologies view them from high above.
Screams penetrate the fingers that cover your ears.
They drown out the congratulations for protecting the empire’s interest.
You ache without a body as screams get closer.
Only a few go through the bottom opening to greatness.
The walls are still slippery with the joy of death, misery, laughter of deception and the quest for gold.
Clevon...you made it. Great was your legacy, but comfort with The Greatest will not be yours.
The screams engulf you and return you to the top to try again.
prose with a Chicago twist
What a Day
It started around 6 AM. I watched squirrels chase each other across my shed, leap on the tree branches next door. But, one squirrel missed and landed on a couple of cats mating and then the melee started. The cats chased the squirrel and tore it apart. My neighbor’s dog attacked the cat. Fluffy was an aggressive little brown poodle. Champ barked like mad and for the first time he cleared our fence. I ran outside in my pajamas to catch him.
I couldn’t believe it.
Fluffy had a cat in her mouth shaking it. Champ ran and tried to mount her. She dropped the dead cat and spun around to avoid penetration. Her owner, Ms. Cunningham ran out of her door with a broom. That petite eighty year old swung that broom like a homerun hitter and whacked my dog on his head. He stopped, growled and jumped on the Poodle’s back and knocked her down. He stood over her growling; the dog was terrified. She turned around. Champ mounted her and rode until they got stuck. Ms. Cunningham was livid. The animals were locked in canine passion. “It’s all your fault...that mutt is raping my Fluffy!”
“What?” Doggy rape! Can you believe it?
She threw down the broom and went inside. Three minutes, if that long, squad cars converged on my property. Officers ran in our backyard. Ms. Cunningham pointed at Fluffy and Champ, who were still stuck. “He’s raping my Fluffy!” Since they couldn’t get loose Champ decided to go for round two. The cops tried to be professional and suppressed their laughter.
“When they finish I want that dog impounded or whatever you do for assault.” She screamed at 7 o’clock in the morning.
“OK, Ms. Cunningham, try to relax.” They left laughing.
Animal murder and rape before I took my shower. Damn!
The dogs parted. Fluffy followed Champ back to the fence; he leaped back over it. He was satisfied. Hooray for Champ! I told Cheryl to keep him inside. The look on Cunningham’s face while she hosed blood and picked up animal parts told me she might try to kill Champ. I backed out of my garage. My angry neighbor came out her front door and flipped me the bird.
I was running late for my computer graphics course. The instructor thinks I’m an idiot. “You don’t or how to navigate the Windows interface.” The thirtyish computer geek said.
No shit. That’s why I’m here.
My diplomatic side kept me from saying it, but that was another challenge to face. He’s the idiot for being intolerant of old students. What ticked me off; I got a radar ticket trying to be on time. The attractive cop, who should be a model instead of carrying a gun, gave me the citation. “You’re the dirty old man whose dog raped that helpless little dog.” She pouted. “Shame on you.” She laughed. “That old lady is going to get you. Slow down, sir.”
I got a text from my wife: village officials were snooping around probably animal control. I replied: tags on top of Champs cage in the basement. Hell hath no fury like Ms. Cunningham scorned.
I learned a little in class so the day had a slight bright side.
I turn the corner and saw cop car near the house. Ms. Cunningham stood on the sidewalk in front of the garage holding a sign: “An abusive animal and its owner live here.”
I had an idea. I fired up the Weber; that would get her attention. She always said it smelled good when I barbecued and at the last block club party she said Cheryl made the best coleslaw on the block. I invited her over; the cop left and later the three of us broke bread. Ms. Cunningham licked her stubby fingers clean. She said all would be forgiven if I would pay to terminate Fluffy’s pregnancy. Abortion for dogs?
the meat and potatoes stuff
Granny told me if I cut a tater in half and buried it, new taters would grow from the eyes. I tried it once, but all I got was a garden overrun by coons diggin up rotten taters. She also told me things like you reap what you sow, and a penny saved, and the Lord giveth. She was always full of shit.
“Garden’s too wet,” Granny said. “Taters like to be mounded up. This summer’s gonna be dry—it’s the fifth year of the cycle—so you should have better lunar luck, and if taters don’t work for ya other things will grow the same way, by cuttin em in half.”
I wasn’t sure if this was more almanac talk or if she was serious, and I didn’t know what she meant by other things, either. I figured I’d try because I could sell taters and I didn’t have a job. Just as Granny predicted, the summer was dry, but everysummer here was dry, regardless of any cycle, unless the cycle was a dot.
When plantin season softened the ground, I drug the tiller out of the shed next to my trailer, pulled the rope twice and she fired. I maintained my equipment. I tilled up a patch of my yard for garden. Granny rolled into the driveway as I hosed down the tiller. She arrived like a storm cloud, drivin a 1969 Chevelle SS, yellow with black racin stripes. She dropped in the 454 herself. The open headers, exhaustin behind the doors, blew the dust off my rock driveway.
“Lookin good,” she said. “I’ll show ya how to plant these taters right this time. Takes a woman’s touch.” She unloaded the contents of the her bag— potatoes, eyes growin like corn roots. She told me how to make mounds and where to plant and how to space and then we were done.
“Took ya long enough,” Granny joked.
“You do it any faster, Gran? Cane and all?”
“Maybe not faster, but better, no doubt,” she said. “Well, I can’t stay and shoot the shit all day cause I gotta run over and pick up Gerri and the baby.”
Gerri’s my kid sister, knockedup at fourteen. Mom left after Gerri’s birth because she “couldn’t deal with another one.” Nobody’s heard from her since. Dad was always gone workin the rails, and when he came home he made comments like, “Still have momma here to cook if it weren’t for you, Gerri,” or, “Miss momma, Gerri? Shoulnda run her off.” But he was gone, out of town or out of his mind. Too much idle time for teenagers resulted in one of two or two things around here: babies and/or addiction. I don’t have kids that I know about, nor too severe an addiction. Gerri, well, Gerri got the baby and the addiction. Granny raised us the best she could.
Gerri still lived with Granny, but I had moved out when I heard about the baby’s future arrival. I lived through Gerri’s childhood. I was six when she was born, and I wasn’t stickin around for another round of the screamin and shittin. I moved across the tracks into my own trailer, a 1971 Detroiter model. Granny helped me find it, buy it, and move into it.
“It’sa good trailer,” she said. “They built em better back then.”
Granny cranked the hotrod to life, givin a few good revs in neutral, rattlin my trailer windows, to let the neighbors know she was there. Then she left to pick up Gerri and Ceres from the high school—the school provided day long childcare for student parents because the school’s graduation rate was low enough without girls disappearin with big bellies. She laid two black marks a hundred feet long when she left—positraction. I finished plantin the rest of the garden. I also dug up one of the taters Granny cut in half. She hid somethin from me when we was plantin, but I couldn’t see what she was doin. After I dug one up I saw Granny had pushed an acorn into the flesh of the taters before she buried em.
The growin season—slow, yet urgent. When I planted my garden I watched it. Nothin happened for the longest time, and then one day I looked out and I had vegetables ready for pickin. Crazy how time works like that. Things went on like normal for a while that summer. A stray cat squirted a litter of kittens under the neighbor’s trailer. The sheriff met his DUI quota. The general store sold more lottery tickets than milk. Semis roared by on the highway. Coal trains slugged through town. The taters looked great.
Late in the summer, I dug a few taters, and picked some tomatoes and zucchini before I headed across the tracks to Granny’s trailer. It was the weekend, so I figured Gerri’d be home too, and I hadn’t seen the baby for a week. I beat on Granny’s screen door with a potato in my hand and she screamed, “come in unless you’re the damn police.” I went in. I wasn’t the police. I packaged pre-packaged cake frostin. Well, I used to before I went to work drunk and fell into a vat of chocolate frostin and got a rare blood disease. I collected disability-barely enough to cover my bills.
Ceres sat on the floor with half a hot dog stickin out of her mouth starin at the Oprah Winfrey program on the TV, somethin about reconciled lovers or lovers attemptin to reconcile or reconciliation of some sort. I didn’t even know what that word meant, but the TV spewed it every few seconds. The baby’s arms were covered with Elmo stickers and several tattoos from what looked to be permanent marker. Granny smoked in the kitchen.
“Anybody watchin this baby?” I asked Granny. “Where the hell is Gerri?”
“TV’s watchin her fine. She’s out with her boyfriend, the new one. I give her some rubbers this time. I ain’t got time to watch that baby, let alone a new one.” Soon as Granny uttered new one, baby started bawlin, so Granny gave her a bottle of chilled coffee with enough sugar for a baby, and they both refocused on afternoon programmin. This was typical Gerri behavior. She’d leave the baby with Granny and then disappear. Sometimes for a night, sometimes a month.
“Fine lookin taters,” Granny said as I dropped my produce on her table.
“Sure are. Why the hell’d you put the acorns in em when we planted em?”
Granny wouldn’t tell me the secret, but I knew how to get it. I made sure Gerri knew she’d be responsible for Ceres Friday night, no excuses this time, and invited Gran over to my trailer. Only one store in the county, All-Mart, sold Granny’s truth syrup: Absinthe. When I heard her thunder into the driveway, I paused the Slam-O-Rama I was watchin, and pulled the bottle out of the freezer. I placed two solo cups along with some fresh-stirred cherry Kool-Aid in a Kool-Aid man pitcher next to the bottle. I couldn’t drink the shit straight but that’s the only way Gran drank it.
I poured two cups—hers green—mine red. “How bout some of that Kool-Aid in mine?” Gran joked. “Oh-yeah, tough guy.” Two-thirds of the way through the bottle, I’d had two drinks, I brought up the acorns.
“See the garden, Gran?” Pretty clever.
“I told you,” she told me.
She was right. The garden had never produced so much produce, taters especially. I gave taters to Gran, to neighbors, and to strangers all summer. Once I got her talkin garden she rambled like a coal train. The only thing that could stop her was her, but the Absinthe was addin to her momentum. She told me how to remove warts usin the mind. She told me how to feed a family by recyclin littered beer cans. She told me she put water, not gas, in her Chevelle. She told me the acorn trick.
“Watchins Ceres stomorrows?” Gran slurred. She stumbled to her car, almost fallin over when she opened the door.
I watched Ceres every other Saturday night. Granny needed a break and Gerri’s absence was startin to resemble Mom’s. Granny had plans too, every other Saturday night. Durin the day on Saturdays she washed and hand-waxed the Chevelle, vacuumed it, conditioned the leather seats. On Saturday nights she’d pull her mini-skirt on and her panties off, pull a too tight sweater over her saggy tits, braless, and head to the city to Pecker’s where she had a reserved table, right next to the main stage. She’d sip absinthe and watch the pretty boys, muscular, tall, endowed—shake. If one of the dancers got close to the edge of the stage, Granny’d get sprinkled with sweat, sometimes back sweat, sometimes ab sweat, sometimes thong sweat. She loved that shit.
Granny pulled up to my place on her way to the strip club, Chevelle runnin better than it did in ’69, to drop off Ceres. I walked to the car and plucked Ceres out of the back seat where she sat on a seatbelt and next to a car seat. The way Granny was slurrin I knew she’s drunk already. I told her to drive safe and took Ceres inside. Gran peeled away, tossin an empty beer can out of her window into my front yard.
My trailer wasn’t baby proof and if I didn’t love Gran like I did, I wouldn’t be watchin Gerri’s baby. But, this was for Gran, not Gerri. I did have a system though. I moved all the trash and adult stuff out of the livin room and turned on the TV. I tied a piece of dental floss around Ceres’ waist and then tied the other end to the front door knob. Baby girl could move when she wanted to, but was still confined to the area lit by the TV. When she pounded her open hands against the carpet, dust rose and floated in the glow. She didn’t have no reason to go into the kitchen anyway.
Ceres = dumb, simple as that, dumb. She was almost three and she knew how to say Gran, although it sounded like Grain, and Dora which sounded like Dora. No Momma, sure no Daddy, no milk, no juice, nothin. I hated Gerri for leavin Gran with this burden all the time. And, with what Gerri’s out doin, there’d be another one in the gene pool soon, a complete idiot just like Ceres.
After I tied Ceres to the door she sat down in front of the TV clenchin her empty hand in the air. I took this as a sign for a drink, so I sucked down a double Jack-n-Coke, put some blue juice in a sippy cup and handed it down to her. Must’ve been what she wanted. I lit a cigarette and blew the smoke into the glow. Ceres sucked her sippy. I made myself another drink and that’s when it happened. I could feel it in my guts. Ceres was eyein a gay-ass-purple-dinosaur, so I figured I’d have time. I took another drink and sprinted down the hallway. I had to shit.
I finished my business just as Ceres started cryin. I didn’t hear anymore sing-a-longs so I figured her show must’ve ended. I left the bathroom and I heard the screams growin more frantic. Fuckin dinosaur. When I made it into the kitchen I saw Ceres huddled behind my La-Z-Boy, pointin at the TV where there was a picture of some starvin African kids and the lack of animation made Ceres mad. Her eyes were red, not bloodshot red like from cryin, but scary red.
“Okay, okay, I’ll get some fuckin muppets or some shit on. Chill, baby.” She stopped cryin, but she still wasn’t happy. I headed for the livin room to get the remote. Ceres came out from behind the recliner, draggin her excess dental floss behind her. I must not have been movin fast enough to make her happy because before I transitioned from linoleum to carpet, she charged me. She may not have been a talker, but she was a runner. The trailer shook with her baby steps as she gained speed. Her arms flew out like she wanted a big uncle hug. I was beyond her reach with the dental floss restraint, but I took an extra step back for safety. The floss loop behind her grew tauter.
When she ran onto the threshold separatin livin and eatin areas—the floss—limit. I watched, expectin her to jerk like a puppy on a chain, runnin until its neck snaps back. She ended up in my arms, two steps beyond the floss’s reach. Well, her torso did. Her legs stood by themselves for a few seconds and then fell backwards onto the carpet. A very clean cut at the waist, like from one of those things they used to kill French kings and shit. I never imagined such a small child could contain so much blood. My face and clothes was speckled with blood droplets from the spray. The kitchen floor became an indoor pool for the roaches, maybe a Jacuzzi because it was still steamin. Ceres looked at me, eyes wild, and said, “are you fuckin serious, you ass clown?” and then her torso died in my arms.
I decided the next time I went fishin—dental floss—that shit is strong—no more snapped lines. After I wound two packs of floss onto my fishin reel, I tried to figure out what to do with the corpse. Gran would know how to fix this problem, but she’d be so drunk by the time she got back she prolly wouldn’t notice Ceres’ wound. Maybe I could put her torso in the car seat and blame it on Gran. “What’d you do, Gran? Where are her legs? How drunk’d you get last night?”
I fixed another drink, moved Ceres’ two halves to the bathtub, and started moppin up the blood in my kitchen. The carpet—fucked already—I sprinkled some bakin soda over the large piles of gore and blood, and half a stomach, and called it good. I sipped my way down the hallway and into the bathroom where Ceres lay in the tub, her legs wrapped around her neck. I heard the Chevelle. Fuck.
Gran stumbled into the trailer talkin abs, cocks, and balls. After a few more drinks and Gran’s retellin of her entire night, she wanted to know why there was cherry Kool-Aid powder all over my carpet. “Well, Gran...
It was all Gran’s idea, her modest proposal, and I couldn’t believe how fast it worked. Gerri wouldn’t notice she said. “I’ll just tell her Ceres’s stayin with her uncle for a few days.” Gran slept in the Chevelle in my driveway that night because after all the diggin and chantin and drinkin she was too tired to drive back home. I woke her when I went outside the next mornin.
“Feel like shit,” she said. I could relate.
The halves had started growin overnight. I was feelin uneasy about it, fuckin with nature and all. Gran said I had too much of a conscience. “When I was your age,” she told me, “I was a conscience objector. I objected to any use of conscience.” Her words comforted me, two Cereses did not.
What happened to Ceres’ halves after we buried em—kind of strange. Her torso sprouted new legs, and so did her legs. We buried the two halves upside down, just like the taters, and by mornin feet were pushin through the soil. They looked like flipper feet at first, like one of those baby’s feet whose momma took too many drugs. Within a week, Ceres was walkin around again, sayin, “Grain, Grain.” When we returned Ceres to Gerri, ten days later—no questions—there were only a few noticeable differences. A white scar encircled her waist, and she had the same equipment that Gran went to Pecker’s to look at. The legs with legs—my wood chipper—pulled the rope twice and she fired.
Gran’s next idea was genius. I wasn’t in, nor ever thought I’d be in what Gran called the baby bifurcation business. Gran and I both needed money though, after my accident. Plus, the nationwide crackdown on food stamps involved both of us, and Gerri.
“We could make a fortune,” she told me. “You imagine what we can get for a white baby on the black market? Gerri didn’t even notice.”
“Yeah, but Gerri ain’t all that observant, Gran. Ain’t like we’re multiplyin em either. One half was useless.”
“Cut em the wrong way. Got more floss?” Gran wanted to know. Oh, shit.
On the Friday before Christmas break at the high school, Gran left to pick up Ceres and Gerri, deliverin em to her trailer, then she went back to the high school. She came by my trailer about four o’clock.
“Look in the trunk,” she said.
How many babies fit in a Chevelle’s trunk? Eight.
“What are you thinkin, Gran? The cops’ll be here directly.”
Gran explained that these babies, all unwanted, would not be missed. “Gerri didn’t miss hers, did she?” I guess she didn’t. “Those little bitches,” Gran went on, “want a night off anyway. If they even notice their babies is gone, they’ll prolly just believe they’re with their Grannies.” True enough. We stretched a length of dental floss from ceilin to floor and tied it to some eye hooks I screwed into a truss and the subfloor. Taut—I plucked it like a banjo—plink.
“Me first, me first,” Gran said.
“How bout a drink first?” This was fine with Gran. Ten drinks later we were ready to begin. After we tarped my furniture and the cleanest parts of the floor Gran hurled the first one. She picked a fat one out of the trunk and threw it at the floss like a baseball. The string plinked once and the baby fell to the ground in two pieces.
“How ya like that?” Gran asked. Then she threw one over her shoulder—a sky hook. Plink. She bounced one off a mini-trampoline she drug in from the neighbor’s yard. Bounce, plink. She rolled one like a bowlin ball. Rumble, rumble, plink. If I wasn’t so drunk I would have been sick, but I was so drunk it looked fun, so I wanted to try. I tossed the next baby, but durin my windup I lost balance so the floss scraped the baby, removin his ear. I tried again, removin his other ear. Gran fell down laughin, gettin a little baby spleen on her shirt. I tried one more time, nose. Granny took over, finishin off the last four with dyin enthusiasm, like it was already routine. When Gran finished, we had eight babies split from skull to genitals—one minus a few parts.
They grew just as fast as Ceres had, but this time they grew the missin parts, not just new legs. Gran had a gardener’s touch I suppose. On Christmas we drove around the village in the Chevelle, deliverin babies back to their mothers. Pretty nice of us. We picked the best lookin halves and explained we found the babies playin in the yard.
“Oh, thanks. That’s little Timmy for ya. Yesterday we found him buildin a cross of rocks between the railroad tracks.”
The remainin babies, the worst halves, were all in my bathtub, but I made sure I took the floss off of my sink because I didn’t want em to hurt themselves.
“I wonder...” Gran said starin at em.
“Oh no, we’re not.”
“But they’re just copies, not real, not real at all.”
“Shouldn’t we get rid of some of these copies first?”
“Done did. Sold one over in the city for fifty bucks.”
“Fifty bucks?” So, we did it all again.
The mess inside my trailer became a problem, and we started gettin funny looks from cashiers at All-Mart because we were buyin so much floss. Gran had false teeth and I had five, no two touchin. The floss wore out after about twenty-five plinks, once it lost its wax coatin.
The carpet in my trailer squished under shoes. I had to stay pretty drunk to live with the smell, alone. We were makin a lot of babies and a lot of money, and the result was mess, everywhere. I had to build a privacy fence around the garden because the vegetation we grew was kinda human. Passersby needn’t see our genius. We had already bought silence from the whole village. We gave some folks ten g’s and others we gave an army of babies they could train to farm or cook or clean—shit got weird with some folks—unprintable. We gave people the choice, Gran’s idea, very generous.
We added a second floor to my trailer so I could live upstairs away from the floss room. My neighbor had a double-wide trailer, but I wanted a double-high trailer. Elevator on the outside. Gran started bussin babies in, then deliverin the post-ops back to their parents and returnin home with her new Jaguar’s trunk full of cash. She gave me the Chevelle. Half a trunkload paid for the addition. Gran liked the double-high so she converted her trailer too. She got an escalator to the top though, instead of the elevator.
The contract Granny wrote stated she’d keep ¾ of the profits. I was okay with that because I didn’t have any more space in my trailer to pile money. I don’t know where Gran put all of hers. Prolly Pecker’s. She paid for Gerri and Ceres to go to some boardin house or somethin so she didn’t have to deal with em.
I asked Granny if we should stop—maybe take a break—we were already rich. Who knew what kind of fuckupedness we may be startin in the world? God knew. He told me. I was tillin a fresh spot of ground one day—our fourth expansion—near the oak in my yard where we gathered the acorns. I shut the tiller off and rested my left hand against the tree—seekin shade.
“Shouldn’t you at least introduce yourself before you feel me up?” the tree asked. I was kinda startled by this.
“How’d you know my name?”
“You have to stop doing this shit, Tom. You also need to say sorry.”
That’s all he said. Granny didn’t believe me, said it was the Absinthe talkin—we had my disability checks deposited into All-Mart’s account and they delivered us a case of Absinthe a month. I told her, no, it was God. He knew my name. She said if this happened, and she didn’t believe it did, “shit” in the way God used it could mean a lot of things, like breathin, or drinkin, or masturbatin.
“Gran if you wanna keep doin this you do it alone. I’m done. There’s somethin weird about all this but I’m not sure what it is.” The next day she showed up with a busload of fresh subjects, cleaved and planted em all, and never asked for help. She knew I was finished, but she wasn’t.
Gran bought a Hummer when the cash wouldn’t fit in the Jaguar. She worked the garden alone. Sometimes I’d watch her. I tied a hammock between the oak, once I got permission, and a 4x4 I buried in the ground. I’d lay there and watch Gran work while I talked to God. I told him I was sorry about everythin. He laughed—he’s got a weird sense of humor. He told me one thing over and over: Make Granny stop. I tried, but she wanted more money, more money, said she wanted to bring it home in an airplane.
“God told me to tell you.” She wouldn’t listen. I told God I told her. He said this:
“If Granny does not stop today, I will take her tomorrow. At 11:59 AM I will come in the form of a tornado and remove her from the world. It is an abomination to me to see one of my creatures used to make another. Final warning. God, out.”
I ran to Gran and told her. She kept hoein the dirt around the phase threes. At dusk she rode the elevator up to the fourth floor of my trailer.
“It’s gettin dark. Be back in the mornin.”
“Gran, please.” Gone.
Her Harley woke me up at sunup the next mornin. Oh, shit, I thought. She was pullin weeds when I went outside. I begged Granny to stop and say sorry but she didn’t listen. I went to talk to God. He told me I should stay out of the trailer and the garden, but the hammock—cool with God since I apologized. I said okay and relaxed. We watched Gran and talked about the weather. It was a nice day. Sunny, few clouds, dew evaporatin off the grass and baby asses. Granny worked and worked, sweated and sweated. I asked God if he wanted some of my Absinthe—he didn’t like it without sugar.
At 11:58 the sky was still clear and I saw Gran peekin at her watch.
“Where’s God?” she asked me. “Runnin late?”
God cleared his throat and a tornado, perfect funnel, like some shit on TV, filled my yard. Gran shook her hoe at the sky—screamin. My trailer disappeared in one piece into the funnel. I caught a glimpse every time it circled around over the hammock, where I experienced no wind. The tip of the funnel sucked up every baby part and reattached em. There were no scars and the babies all made it home. Some were from over a thousand miles away to the north, south, east and west. Gran and that bus. Then the funnel swallowed Granny. As she went higher into the funnel, the funnel went higher into the sky and then it disappeared. The birds started chirpin again and my lot, minus the trailer, the Harley, the fence, the garden, the babies, and Gran, was covered in fresh grass.
“That was fucked up, G,” I said.
The tree wasn’t talkin.
Cheetos, Karaoke, & Beautiful Teeth
The top of the bar is old. Scarred with carved initials and cigarette burns. It’s horseshoe shaped so all the patrons face inward. Look at the bartender. Get her attention to order beers. The bartender doesn’t care. She’ll bring your beer when she’s ready. This defeats the idea of the bar’s configuration.
But this is a friendly bar. They play karaoke on Friday nights. The customers pay a dollar to sing and entertain each other. At the bottom of the horseshoe, right dab smack in the middle, Elton John is sitting with a lovely young lady named Sonja. Sonja is from Madawaska, Maine (not many people know this town. It’s in Aroostook County). Sonja has beautiful teeth. Elton has bought them for her. Not the cheap take-out kind, no sir, these teeth are the implanted type. Sonja said they cost Elton over sixty-thousand pounds sterling. Sonja is very proud of her teeth.
On one end of the bar’s horseshoe legs, catty-cornered from Elton and Sonja, sitting in the extreme corner, is Tommie Chong. He looks stoned but it’s probably all an act. He is an actor, you know. He’s sitting next to an elderly Japanese guy with thick rimless glasses. The Japanese guy looks like Tojo but you can tell he’s not. His left forearm bears an old Marine Corps tattoo. Tojo wouldn’t have had that. SEMPER FI! He’s eating Cheetos in a most amazing way. He orders a ninety-nine cent bag and carefully opens both ends. He then takes out his pocket knife and slices down one side longwise and folds the cellophane open, producing kind of a sanitary place mat with a mound of Cheetos on it. The Japanese guy hunches over this pile and eats them, one at a time using only his right hand. The amazing thing is the speed at which he eats these. His hand is a blur as he consumes Cheeto nuggets individually. Tommie Chong is intrigued by this and keeps saying, “Wowww, man!” The Japanese guy pays no attention to Tommie, he is on a mission. He’s like a lizard snapping up a bug. One minute the bug is there, the next it’s gone. You don’t even see the lizard’s tongue but you know what happened to the bug. When the Japanese guy finishes a bag, he orders another. It takes him as long to eat a sack of Cheetos as it takes Tommie to drink a mug of beer. Tommie is slightly disturbed between the Japanese Cheeto eater and Sonja with her new beautiful teeth.
Just then, Elton approaches the people in charge of the karaoke machine and gives them one dollar (U.S.). They ask him what he’d like to sing. Elton tells them it doesn’t matter because he’s a professional entertainer and can sing anything. They play the 1960’s hit, Ballad of the Green Beret, and Elton nails it. The bar patrons go wild. Sonja broadly smiles and the Japanese guy finishes the last Cheeto in his third bag.
Tommie can’t handle it any longer. He stands up, produces a New Jersey pin roll and with the bar’s full attention, lights and inhales the entire joint slightly burning his thumb and forefinger on the leftover minuscule roach. Tommie holds the mighty toke a full ninety seconds. The bar is ghostly still. They too, unknowingly, are holding their breaths. When Tommie finally exhales, no smoke comes from his lungs. He has captured the entire hit.
Well, you can imagine the pandemonium that erupts. Elton John deeply bows to Tommie and refuses to sing anymore karaoke songs. The Japanese guy gives Tommie four Cheetos. Sonja takes a black magic marker from her purse and blots out one of her front teeth but keeps smiling the rest of the night. Champions are born, not made in this friendly bar.
The Dream Machine
You have your reasons for wanting to go back in time. You gravitate toward anything that suggests those long-ago, lost years. Those classic cars, staples of your youth, can still be bought over at Chevy Land. You’ve been nosing around there for so long now that every time you walk in the owner smiles and asks: “Getting your fix?” He understands.
As you approach the building this time, that nostalgic hunger of yours is beginning to fall prey to “reason.” Don’t be so shy about spending your money.
Listen. . . . Sixteen Candles, by The Crests is playing on that Jukebox standing just inside the door. It’s a Wurlitzer—an original. Look at it; the selections are backlit in red. You like those glass tubes curving around the corners and running up the sides of the machine. They’re filled with some sort of blue liquid in which golf-ball-sized spheres glint and revolve as they course their endless path.
No salesmen are around now. You admire the cars. The white ‘57 T-Bird has been here for a couple of weeks. There’s that black ‘60 corvette with the hard top—very classy. Behind the corvette is a car that wasn’t here last week. A sparkling blue fifty-nine Chevy convertible.
You walk over to it. It’s wide, crouched low. Your reflection appears in its gleaming, stainless chrome. And that rear bumper, it’s like a magnet for the eyes. But still, you look over your shoulder. You know you appear reserved, contemplative. Stepping over to the passenger door, you lean in to scan the dashboard. So many big gages—like ornate clocks. Star-bright steel panels cover the inside of the doors. And the two-tone bench seats? Talk about expansive. The interior of this car looks like the inside of a Bluebird Diner.
“They don’t make them like that anymore,” a salesman says.
This guy you’ve never seen before. You can’t imagine him fitting in anywhere but here. You don’t see many slick, black pompadours. He’s wearing a canary yellow button-up sweater with black boarders running up the front. His face is narrow; his cheeks set deep. He is very tall and stoops slightly toward you, giving the impression that he is about to let you in on a secret.
“No they don’t,” you answer.
“If you have any questions on this car, I can tell you every detail—the car was mine... until recently.”
You’re sure that he realizes you’re slowly but surely being drawn in. He has dreams for sale, and you’re in a position to buy.
He opens the hood. The motor is as clean as a hospital room. There are three carburetors in a row, each having a chrome, coffee-saucer-sized top—three little mirrors. Again, the car has revealed you.
“Three-forty-eight cubes with tri-power,” he tells you.
He shakes your hand. “Jerrold Kellogg is the name. They call me Doo-Wop Jerry.”
Doo-wop? You’ve heard of it. Those old vocal groups where singers’ voices take the place of instruments. A guy with a bass voice, for example, might sing Sha-boom-sha-boom trying to sound like a bass drum, while another guy sings the words to the song. A backup singer sometimes repeats the words giving them that echo effect.
You ask him if he ever sang in a group.
“Still do. Call ourselves The Flashbacks. Do a lot of revivals around this area. We sing songs by groups like The Moonglows, The Skyliners. Have a lot of fun.”
“Weren’t getting to drive your car all that much?”
“With the singing and the car I wasn’t getting enough time with the family. Wasn’t fair to my wife. She’s put up with a lot from me. She’s a good woman. Heck, back when we first met I was short on money, so she paid for my digs. To this day her dad doesn’t know. How about you—married?”
“Single,” he says and ponders the word with a smile. “Certainly has its advantages.” He pauses for a moment, then motions with outstretched fingers to the Chevy’s huge hood and says: “You can have something like this with a free conscience.”
A quick image flashes through your mind; you’re with Darlene Smith and Eddie Player, and you’re talking out in the school parking lot.
“I’ve always wanted something like that,” you say, looking at those white-wall tires.
“Take it for a spin,” Jerry says. “It’s a great car. It’ll take you back in time.”
“That’s what I’d like to do,” you say.
He laughs at this. “Pretend it’s 1959 again. I don’t blame you. There was an innocence then that you won’t find anymore.”
He doesn’t seem to be on a sales pitch.
“Sure, I’ll take it out,” you say.
You leave the top down and drive the back roads leading up to Lancanster Hill. You step on it. You hear the vacuum, a great building up of air that makes you feel a surge of excitement. Out over the hood wheat field’s gleam from the sun—like seas of gold. Below, Blueberry Lake looks bluer that you’ve ever seen it.
When you return to Chevy Land you don’t see Jerry in the showroom window. You park the car by the side of the building and leave the keys in it. So much money, thirty-five thousand dollars. Now you’re having second thoughts. You slowly walk from the car.
Where am I going? you ask yourself.
You turn and start toward the building. You begin singing a song that includes the words “been so long.” You don’t remember ever having heard such a song.
Two Young Lovers Move On: A Bitter Sweet Farewell
Dr. (Ms.) Michael S. Whitt
Amanda Rosaleigh Blake, a recent high school graduate, looked pensively at her first love, Eric Landreneau. He had graduated from the same school, and was reading a poem Amanda had penned for his departure from their hometown, Lafayette, Louisiana. Eric was holding his orders to report to an air force base near Columbus, Ohio. His parents would have a hard time paying for his college education. Eric decided to wait until he could get the GI Bill.
Amanda asked Eric with a lilting giggle, “What do you think of the poem, sweet man? I’m dying to know.”
Eric gazed at the tall, lithe woman-girl with long, curly dark brown hair and turquoise eyes and said, “Beautiful Amanda, the poem is inspiring as are all of your poems, and nearly everything else you do. Yet, it sounds as though you’re saying goodbye forever to me. Are you?”
Amanda paused for a moment. She was temporarily at a loss for words. Then she said softly, “Not necessarily forever. It is for quite a while. You’re going to be who knows where for the next four years. Then you still have your education to think about. As you know I’m leaving for Berkeley soon. I’m lucky to have earned that scholarship to study drama and anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. I still feel deeply for you, but we’re young and no one can predict the future.”
A tear rolled down Eric’s face. He was a gorgeous youth with thick black hair, green eyes, and smooth olive skin. He and Amanda were the same height, a tad over 5' 11". Both had slender, firm bodies from years of playing sports and otherwise remaining active and eating healthy diets. Eric looked at Amanda tenderly as memories of the nine months the two had been seeing each other flooded his consciousness. Eric and Amanda had shared many experiences. Among others, they had cheered each other on in the various varsity sports they played. The two had walked in the woods, swam in the lake, gone camping, and taken motorcycle rides over the countryside, and much more.
Amanda had her own motorcycle. She was committed to major independence, and this did not include riding behind a man. Occasionally, Amanda and Eric studied together. Since they were both exceptionally bright, occasionally was all they needed to study. They knew that would change when they entered the university.
The couple had loved and trusted each other enough to share their first sexual experiences. They were both virgins; there was no need for condoms. Birth control was needed; they were totally responsible in this respect. Amanda immediately went to a doctor and obtained a prescription for birth control pills. Since, the pills agreed with her, and they were the safest means to prevent pregnancies. Their erotic experiences had been pure and intensely passionate. Amanda and Eric loved each other without guilt or fear. Eric touched Amanda’s face with one hand and wiped another tear from his face. The same memories had been passing through her mind in such rapid succession that Amanda felt dizzy.
“Don’t cry, Eric,” Amanda entreated him with a lump in her throat. “Our lives are just beginning. We’ll stay in touch, and maybe our wonderful feelings will stand the test of time.”
“You always know what to say, Manda Rosie. It’s time for me to get to my gate and catch my flight.” After a long hug and several kisses, Eric disappeared into the airport building blowing kisses and saying, “I’ll always love you.”
Amanda felt like a hypocrite, yet she did not want Eric to feel any sadder than he already did. She had known almost from the beginning, in spite of the wonderful feelings they shared, their love would not last forever. They were different in some important ways. Eric wanted at least two, maybe three, children. Amanda had aspirations to teach, act, and write. She could not fathom having more than one. She could imagine a happy life in which she did not have any children. He wanted to come back to Louisiana after finishing college. Amanda wanted to come back only for visits. She had lived there eighteen years. There were worlds waiting that she had not yet explored. Amanda was a fearless young woman who would not miss those experiences for anything. She was hungry for the new and novel. The fact was, Amanda mused, she and Eric did not even share the same deity. Eric was not a regular attendee at the local Catholic Church in which he had grown up as a child, but his taken-for-granted assumptions about religion were more or less congruent with Christian theology in its general outlines.
As a female, Amanda had early on rejected the ideas that god was a male and that his male child is humans’ savior. At the deepest level, she had worked out her spiritual beliefs and experiences. At this fundamental level, god is a sparkling, inspiring, creative process both within her and without. God has no gender at this level. At another level sometimes Amanda represented god metaphorically at which point god becomes a goddess or a goddess-god pair. More particularly, the Earth Mother Goddess, and other earthy designations are the specific metaphors for the sacred and divine areas for Amanda as a female. She had found confirmation for her spiritual beliefs when she became close to a group of women committed to Neo-Pagan or Wiccan beliefs.
As Amanda walked to her parent’s car, she said softly, “As my first love and my first lover, Eric, you’ll always have a warm, loving place in my heart. I’m thankful for the time we shared, and all that we did together. A chapter in my life has closed, and a new one is opening. I’m ready for it.”
Stepped On A Crack
Marilyn June Janson
“You stepped on a crack,” a voice says. “You’re next to die. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Rushing home from my fourth grade class, I stop and look up.
The teen grins, showing rotted, blackened teeth. “He, he, he,” the kid laughs, sounding like the Wicked Witch of the East.
Pasty faced, he leans against the stone wall and smokes a cigarette. The kid wipes his runny nose against the sleeve of a ragged, black leather jacket.
The ally behind the building is empty. The kids living in the apartments across the street were already home. Before school let out, my best friend Susan’s mom picked her up in their car. Susan had a dental appointment. Usually, we walked to and from school. Except today.
He must be lying. Any kid would say I was dumb for believing that you could die from stepping on a crack.
This creep is probably a high school drop out. No one would want him in their class.
Granny Celia always told me, ‘Marissa, stay away from bad boys.’
I hold on tighter to my backpack and run the half-mile toward home. The biting wind makes my eyes blur as it pushes me on the path. Dried leaves whip against bare legs.
Today we got our school pictures taken. Mom made me wear a dumb skirt.
Wind pushes up the cotton material around my legs. I look like a huge balloon filled with helium.
Shaking, I wonder if the boy is chasing me. I have no time to turn and look. He could be right behind, about to grab and shove me into a sewer to be buried alive.
Was he right? Older kids knew much more than younger ones.
Maybe he did see kids drop dead after they stepped on that very same crack.
When I get home, I’ll ask Mom. Grown-ups are way smarter than boys. And I’ll call Susan. She always has the right answer.
Taking quick, shallow breaths, I sink into my navy wool coat as if it will protect me from the death monster.
With only three blocks to go, home seems as far away as Transylvania.
Strands of limp hair come loose from my ponytail and flap around purple, framed glasses.
Worn out, I don’t dare stop to rest. He could be about to pounce on me.
* * *
Whew! Home at last.
With my right hand, I open the storm door wide enough to allow myself to get through.
It snaps shut on my hand.
Stunned, I drop the bag and pull my injured limb from between the metal frame and wooden door jam.
Examining my reddened fingers, the dull pain escalates into agony, as if the tiny bones were shredded by a wood chipper.
Tears sting as they flow down chapped skin.
Through my muddled brain, I hear Mom’s voice.
“Look at that mess!” Wobbling her peroxide red hair, she says, “Now we have to buy a new door. Do you know how much that will cost your father? We spend too much money on you anyway.”
Peering into her parrot size periwinkle eyes, a storm brews behind them.
Shaking, I cradle my hand and say, “It’s broken, Mommy. Make it better.”
She disappears down the hall.
Why is she leaving me here? Doesn’t she love me?
Slumping to the ground, I stare at the glittering shards of glass scattered all over the porch. Like fairy dust, they reflect red, orange, and purple colors from the setting sun. I watch the pieces jab my skin.
Pulling myself up, I pick out the fragments. Bits of blood eek out of my legs.
Stepping through the empty door frame, I collide with Mom.
The broom and dustpan Mom carried falls beside my feet.
“Watch where you’re going,” she barks. “You should be cleaning this up, not me.”
That kid at the school was right. I am going to die. My hand and legs will become infected with gangrene. The poison will travel through my bloodstream and I’ll get that gross flesh eating disease.
“Mom, I don’t want to die!”
Sweeping up the glass, she ignores me.
I run into my bedroom and slam the door. Throwing myself on the bed, I cry.
‘Baby, baby, you’re acting like a baby’, I hear Dad say.
* * *
The sound of a car engine wakes me.
I open my eyes and look around.
The lights are off in my bedroom. Through open curtains, a blue light from a streetlamp provides a soft glow.
The pink light on the Little Mermaid clock says it’s 9:00 PM.
Where is everyone? Mom didn’t wake me up for dinner. And where’s Dad? He didn’t tuck me in like always.
The feathery touch of terror crawls up my back.
I switch on my Ariel lamp.
After pulling on a blanket, I hold my right hand up to the light. Didn’t I hurt it when the door slammed?
Holding my fingers up to the light, I’m happy to see that they’re still attached. That’s weird. The redness is gone as if nothing had happened to them.
Moving to the edge of the bed, I touch the skin on my legs for cuts from the shattered glass. The area is smooth. It doesn’t hurt.
That kid found my house. He killed Mom and Dad. They died instead of me. I’m here alone. Or am I?
The doorknob squeaks and turns.
Shivering, my eyes are glued to the door.
No! He’s coming to get me, too. Mommy... Daddy...Help me.
Freaked out, I crawl under the bed.
“Marissa, come out, come out, wherever you are,” a girl sings in a baby voice.
Susan? What’s she doing here?
Getting up, I inch over to the door and look through the keyhole. She is standing on the other side.
About to grab the knob, I hesitate. “Susan, why are you here? It’s a school night.”
“OPEN THE DOOR!”
I cover my ears from the brain pummeling sound. Her voice is mean and harsh. Not at all like the happy, friendly girl I knew.
The door blows open, throws me across the room and against the window.
The light goes out.
Two huge, bright green disks scorch my body as if I’m on fire.
Falling to the floor, I curl up into a ball and cover my head. “GO AWAY.”
Something snatches my arm. Susan’s icy claws tighten their grip. As the blood flow halts, my fingers tingle and become numb.
“Let go of me!” I whine.
Susan commands, “You’re coming with me.”
“You can’t make me.” Wherever she’s going, I’m fighting my hardest to break free.
Wrestling with her, my strength dissolves as if the muscles were siphoned out. “What’s wrong with you,” I whisper, my voice void of power and pitch.
“THE DENTIST GAVE ME TOO MUCH GAS SO I WOULDN’T FEEL ANYTHING. I’M DEAD,” she howls as my bed, desk, dresser, and stuffed toys whip around the room.
I try to move out of the way when a chair aims for my head.
It hits my eye. Again, I feel no pain.
The ceiling disappears. Thundering rolls of fire hover above us. Its tentacles lick my face and arms. Stunned, I watch my skin smolder.
Clutching the window sill, I struggle to push up its wooden frame. My fingers hopelessly tug at the nails holding it shut.
As the inferno melts my shirt, I grab my former best friend. “NOOO! MAAAKKKEEE IIITTT SSSTTTOOO...”
He was being sent back to Egypt. Ramses I. His mummy, I mean. This 3,000 year old mummy had been in the United States for over 140 years, but now, the Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta, Georgia was returning him to Egypt.
The museum’s website informed me of the move and of his final display in the United States. The museum would be showcasing the famous mummy for the last time from April to September. I had never seen a real mummy before, but when I was a kid, they fascinated me. What kid isn’t fascinated by mummies? I had Egyptian Lego sets, complete with sphinx, hidden tombs, booby traps, the coveted, rare red ruby, and, of course, a mummy. Also, my favorite movie for several years was The Mummy, starring Brendan Fraser as Rick O’Connell, the daring explorer. I had to see him.
I asked all my friends to go with me, but none of them seemed interested. When May finally came, I drove to Atlanta to see the mummy by myself.
During the three hour drive from Greenville, South Carolina, I was full of energy, like I had been chain-smoking all day. I was excited, I think, because, in a way, I was driving back to my childhood. If only for a few hours, I was going to be eight years old again.
“Okay, boys and girls, my name is Miss Rachel, but you can call me Rachel. I’m going to be your tour guide today, and in a second we are going to enter the pyramid!”
I saw the tour guide. She was wearing one of those white dome-shaped safari hats and a modernized version of khaki drill, but instead of pants, she wore shorts. Her hair was blond, and she reminded me of the woman in Jurassic Park. I decided to follow her group, if I could.
“First, I have to go over the rules. We have three rules. Number one: wear this sticker that I’m going to put on you. It tells us which tour you should be on, and it glows in the dark so you won’t get lost in the pyramid. Okay?”
I watched her put the neon-green stickers on the twelve or so children in the tour.
Once they were all on, Rachel said, “Our second rule is that you follow and listen to me because I want to keep you safe and teach you some pretty cool things. Don’t worry though, your parents will be following behind us.”
Perfect, I thought. I would pretend to be a parent or older sibling, keep my distance, but still follow the tour. If I was returning to my childhood, being in a children’s tour was the thing to do.
“Our third and final rule is that you HAVE fun! Now, who’s ready to learn about and see some CREEEE—EEEEPY stuff?”
She bent down to be at eye level with her audience, “I said, ‘who’s ready to see some CRAZY CREEPY stuff, like bones, brains, and mu-mu-mu-MUMMIES!’”
The group of children screamed and swayed, they jostled to get to be closest to the tour guide to make sure she knew that they were ready.
She took us to “the pyramid.” It was only about twenty feet high, and it obviously wasn’t real stone, like the decorations at a mini-golf place, but I’m sure to the kids it looked real. Once we entered, we were in a dark tunnel, but every few feet there were lights designed to look like torches that glowed red and showed hieroglyphics on the walls.
“Okay, boys and girls, we are going to learn our first thing about mu-mu-mu-mummies right here,” the tour guide said as she switched on a light in a room behind glass.
Jackal, baboon, and falcon-headed statues of various sizes stood in the room, and in the middle were two human-sized statues. One was Osiris, god of the afterlife. He was green and wearing the linens of a mummy. I recognized him from my childhood years of fascination with Egypt and pyramids and exploring and preparing for life after death. The other was Anubis, the half-jackal protector of the dead. In front of Anubis stood a set of scales with a heart on one side and a feather on the other.
“This is where we will learn some things about what the Egyptians believed happened to them when they died. . . ”
Meketre knew what would happen to him when he died. He would have to travel through the underworld. He would contend with the gods, monsters, and gatekeepers to reach the Hall of Two Truths. There, Meketre would stand before the forty-two Divine Judges and plead his innocence before them. Next, his heart would be weighed against Ma’at. Meketre’s heart would have to be light in order to pass the test. If not, Ammut, the devourer of the dead, would consume his heart, and his soul would be cast into darkness. If he passed, he would be welcomed into the afterlife, the Field of Rushes, by Osiris. Then, in the Field of Rushes, Meketre would tend his plot of land and worship the gods and goddesses in peace.
Rachel took us deeper into the pyramid until we stopped again.
“The Egyptians really cared about the afterlife and getting there safely, so they came up with some things to help them. One of the things they came up with was the mummification process. Does anyone know why they wanted to make mummies?”
One little girl raised her hand. “They wanted to live forever.”
“Well, yes, sweetheart, that’s almost exactly right! Good job! How did you know that?”
The little girl turned her left foot and twisted her body a little. “My aunt gave me a book for my birthday about mummies.”
“Well, she is a very sweet aunt,” Rachel said as she brought her hands down on her hips for emphasis. “Yes, they wanted to live forever. You see, they thought that a person’s soul left the body when the person died, and they believed the soul would need help finding its body, so they made mummies. If you look in this room, we are going to learn about the first step of mummy making, the embalming process.”
She flipped on another light to reveal a room with a large table in the middle. On the table was a wax figure of a man. The figure on the table had a cut in its side, and surrounding the wax man were the “embalmers.” One of them was wearing a jackal mask, and he was pulling out shining intestines.
“Ew!” said a little boy pointing at the intestines.
The embalmers took Meketre’s body to the place of purification. Together, they washed the body with palm wine. Next, they rinsed it with water from the Nile.
They cut open his left side and removed his organs. They took out his liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines, for they are the first to decompose. The chief embalmer, who wore the mask of Anubis, made sure to leave the heart inside the body. They used a long hook to smash the brain, and the chief embalmer pulled it out of the body through the nose.
They packed the removed organs with natron to dehydrate them, and then they stuffed the body. Next, they would wait forty days.
After the forty days, they washed the body with water from the Nile again and covered it with oils. The embalmers wrapped the organs in linen and placed them back in the man’s body. To give the dried mass human shape, they stuffed it with sawdust, and the chief embalmer covered the body again with oils.
“Wasn’t that stuff creepy?” asked Rachel. “Raise your hand if thought that stuff was gross?”
The children raised their hands. One little girl put her finger in her mouth and pretended to vomit.
“Now, raise your hand if you liked learning about it even though it was gross!”
They all raised their hands again.
“That’s what I thought. Well, we aren’t finished yet, either.” Rachel shook her head so her blond pony-tail whipped around her head several times. It reminded me of the way mops look in old Disney movies.
“Next, we will find out what the Egyptians did with the embalmed body! Who’s ready?”
The children bounced up and down, and one little boy tugged on a belt loop on Rachel’s shorts.
“Ah!” she said and freed herself from his hook of a finger. “Okay, then everybody, fooooollow meeeEE!”
We took a right down the passage way. I noticed that many of the hieroglyphs on the walls were repeats. I saw several snakes, lions, falcons, and feet. Some were blue, others were green, but they were the same design. I don’t think the kids noticed.
Rachel stopped us right next to a torch that revealed blue snakes.
“This is the last room we are going to visit in the pyramid.” She flicked on another light. Similar wax figurines filled up this room, but the figure on the table was wrapped in strips of linen.
“Here, we will learn about how they wrapped the body, the last stage in the mu-mu-mummification process.”
They wrapped Meketre’s head and neck first. His fingers and toes, wrapped individually, were next. Then the arms and legs. A priest positioned the Isis Knot Amulet on Meketre to protect his body and he read spells to ward off evil spirits.
Then, they painted the original layer of linen with resin and added more layers. Meketre’s arms and legs were tied together, and the priest placed a scroll with spells from the Book of the Dead between his hands. A mask was placed over the wrapped head.
They draped a cloth around the body, and they painted Osiris on its surface. One more cloth was wrapped around the body and tied around it. Meketre had become a mummy.
“So now you know how a mummy is made, right?” She looked around at all the nodding and wiggling heads.
“So, who wants to be a mummy?”
Several of the parents laughed when most of the boys raised their hands, and the girls let out one high-pitched “EW!”
“Well, hopefully not soon, anyway. Now, we have learned about how mummies were made, but we haven’t seen a real mummy yet. Would you like to?”
“Then, let’s go, but we are going to have to leave the pyramid for that because the mummy we are going to see is very famous, and he needed more space for all of his visitors. Does anyone remember his name?”
“Close enough. His name was King Ramses I, and he is going back to his home soon. He is going all the way back to Egypt, so you are some lucky kids. Let’s go see him!”
I followed the tour out of the pyramid, and my eyes had to adjust to the brightness. We walked a few yards and came up on a large crowd of people. Obviously, they too wanted to see The Great Ramses I before he went “home.”
The display was amazing. There were several mummies, actually, and coffins, and canopic jars. The little jars had baboon, jackal, and falcon heads. Of course, there was Ramses I, the 3,000 year old mummy. His skin was dark, dry, and stretched, almost like Georgia red clay molded around a thin wire frame. The cheeks had sunk into the mouth, and the skin was pressed in everywhere as if a masseuse had mashed the skin between the bones. He was incredible. 3,000 years old, and I could still see his face.
I looked to the side of the display case and noticed a plaque. It read:
“After the funeral in which the family members mourned the death of the loved one, the priests would perform the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony. The Egyptians believed that the deceased could not hear, see, or speak until the ceremony was completed. Only after this ceremony, they believed, could the deceased’s soul rejoin its body in preparation for the afterlife.”
After Meketre’s funeral, the priests began the ceremony. Wearing the mask of Anubis, one priest held the coffin upright while another touched the mouth of the mummy with amulets.
At the closing of the ceremony, the priest said, “Awake! May you be alert as a living one, rejuvenated every day, healthy in millions of occasions of god sleep, while the gods protect you.”
“Okay, everybody, sadly the tour is now over.”
“I know, I know, but I have to teach other boys and girls about mummies. You don’t want to keep them from learning and having fun do you?”
“YES!” stamped one little boy. I noticed a woman in the group of parents turn red and cover her face with her hand.
“Oh, no. You don’t want that. Now, thank you very much for being such great listeners! Thank you moms and dads for letting me spend this time with your great kids. Have a great rest of your day! Bye bye!”
Rachel walked back toward the main entrance of the Michael C. Carlos Museum.
According to ritual, Meketre’s soul had been prepared for the journey to the afterlife, and he would need his body for that journey, but 2,500 years after his burial, travelers dug his mummy up and burned it in their fire under a dark desert sky. The dry skin stuffed with sawdust burned fast and crackled and curled and Meketre’s ashes drifted across the sand, only to be covered again by morning.
I figured it was time for me to leave. I stepped closer to Ramses’ display case for one final look.
“So, I guess you really did get to live forever, huh?”
I left the museum, stopped at a gas station to pick up some Camel cigarettes, and drove back to Greenville. On the way home, I smoked the entire pack.
The Devil’s Handshake
“So this is...?” “Yes Mathews, this is the site of your final resting place.” It is raining but it simply slips off Mathews’s black suit, a rather torrential rain doing little to change his broad, tall figure and middle-aged businessman’s perpetual scowl lines. He looks down and shakes his head, so little time! Yet it had been a full time, a good forty-six years. For a moment he marvels at all that has passed in his life. In fact in death he sees his life more clearly than ever, exploring memories that come to him as if they had occurred the day before. He smiles a bit retracing his paths before Satan pats him on the shoulder. “Mr. Mathews, we have work to do.”
Satan isn’t really a man. He is simply a shadow, a silhouette, resembling a human yet fuzzy in the outlines, like an anthropomorphic hole in space. He moves his hands and gestures emphatically as he talks, his words sounding like an echo through a tunnel. “Mr. Mathews, I have an offer to make to you, a business transaction.” “For my soul?” Mr Mathews continues to stare at his grave. He feels like a man emerging from a pool only to experience a chilling wind. In a way, he feels as if a part of him is still six feet under, and in a way, it seems as if the Devil isn’t really here yet, just in the distance over the hill.
The devil is patient as Mathews stares, finally responding “Yes for your soul, but truthfully, why settle for one soul? I have a job for you to do that I implore you to accept.” The devil waves his hand and the room turns white before fading to a city street. A boy close to adolescence is wondering the streets with bruises, cuts, and scars all over his tattered clothes. Mathews looks on in shock. “Johnathan!” Satan shakes his head and cackles “This is the future. You may see it already, your wife will not take care of your child and will abandon him to adoption. Your son will go from terrible foster home to the next, eventually dying from a very easily treatable case of pneumonia at the age of 15 due to his caretaker’s negligence and unwillingness to allow him to receive medical treatment due to cost.” Mathews staggers, dropping to his knees. The Devil is over the hill. “I...what can I do? You’re saying my soul won’t be enough?” Satan’s “face” deepens in intensity, becoming so black that Matthews’s fears that death may have an end. “Yes, there is a service I would have you preform for me. In return I will make sure that your son will be well taken care of and will live life to its fullest extent. No wordplay, no catch, only your payment and my service.”
Mathews shakes his head. He doesn’t stop for a moment to think that the image may not be true or that Satan will go back on his word. In a way the vision and Satan’s words have much gravity in a sense, and if Satan had said that the sky is green, Mathews would have believed it. This of course, makes Satan’s job as effective as it is. “I...you know I don’t have a choice. Can I speak to Helen or?” Satan growls “NO. These are my terms and this is the situation. Will you accept my job?” Mathews sniffles, hands over his face. “I guess I don’t have a choice...I can’t let it end this way.”
The scene shifts once more. Matthews finds himself on another city street, this time in a place in Philadelphia that he recognizes. This is the museum district and it is the dead of night. Matthews checks his watch and finds it to be 4 A.M. Which is surprising being that there is a young child sitting on a park bench. Unlike Johnathan he is wearing nice clothes, simply a white polo and blue jeans, his popcorn hair cut short and the darkness of his skin is apparent even during the darkest fare of the night. He happily kicks his legs, as if trusting in the night and the world itself, though truthfully he just knows that his mother isn’t that far away and soon they will go home. Satan points to the boy. “This is the first part of your job, of which there are five parts. I want you to approach the boy, and convince him to take your hand and follow you. You cannot force him to go with you, you must convince him.” Mathews stares at the boy for a moment and then walks towards him, sitting next to him on the bench. For a moment he shakes his head at the circumstance, serving the very heart of evil himself. But this is for his boy, this is for Johnathan. A moment of hesitation is overwhelmed by a wave of sadness. His death he can comprehend, but not his son’s, not Johnathan’s.
“Hey. You have to come with me, quickly.” The boy looks to him and slides off the bench onto his feet, looking up at the adult. “There’s no time, hurry, take my hand.” Matthews outstretches his hand and the boy takes it. Satan nods his head “Now take him across the street.” Matthews does so, leading him to a crosswalk with a “please walk” sign. But then suddenly a truck honks and Matthews hears a loud pop, like his old Ford going over a speedbump. He looks to his side and finds the boy is no longer holding his hand. Instead he is on the ground. His face is squashed like a watermelon, and blood is everywhere. A woman screams and the truck, as soon as it had appeared, vanishes into the night. Matthews feels gravity from Satan, his body pulsing in and out. “Good, I have collected the boy’s soul. One child, and four to go.”
The scene fades and all is black, though through Satan’s throbbing glow Mathews can still make out his outline. In a way Satan seems at home in the darkness, staring at him through socketless eyes. “I sense you wish to speak with me.” Mathews drops to his knees, “I...I didn’t kill him did I?” Satan’s mouth glows bright in an orange slice of a red smile “You did. You will need to kill four others, or your son meets a fate worse than life. I think it’s a good trade don’t you?” Mathews looks up at the Demon. “I...I want Johnathan to live. But do these children deserve to die?” Satan’s “mouth” continues to glow “Does anyone deserve to die? Still, what counts is one simple question to gain from you one answer. Will you do this for your son?” Mathews stands up, instinctively wiping his eyes though in death he cries no tears. “I really don’t have a choice.”
Satan begins to fade. “I won’t hold your hand in the future, so here are the rules. You must take the child’s hand in some way or another with his or her consent. I feel a handshake works best. Afterwards they will die shortly after, you will see each body fall to the ground or at the very least bear witness in some way. There is no time limit and your body has no need for food, water, or pain, which will be of use for you. The first kill was easy, the next children will not fall so easily into your hands. I will be watching you, you are not allowed to in anyway try to influence the fate of your son or anyone you care about. Even if you try you will be thwarted, do save yourself the effort. Know that this task is designed to stretch your moral fiber, else your soul would be of no use to me. Mathews nods, his teeth clenched. “I will do anything possible...anything.”
Mathews finds himself in a park. The trees are green and the sun is hot, grass swaying the breeze and children laughing running around the nearby playground and in the general vicinity. Mathews sees one child alone by himself playing with a dog. He cringes. “So this child has to die.” He doesn’t second guess. Mathews knows that what he is doing is wrong, but in his mind he feels that he is choosing between two wrongs, and his son’s death is the worse. He has a responsibility to him, he is responsible for his creation. He cares for the child he is about to kill, and he feels sick to his stomach as he approaches him with an open hand, “Hello there, I’m Jason.” The child eyes him suspiciously, “who are you?”
Mathews stops for a moment. This isn’t as easy as it was to kill the little black boy in the night, then he had been following orders. But now the orders are far away, and even though he knows that Satan is watching he doesn’t exactly feel as if he is watching over his shoulder. He could stop now and save the boy’s life. He could stop now and save his own soul. Still the words come out “I’m a friend of your fathers. I’m seen this dog before, he’s gotten quite big, I remember when he was a puppy.” Mathews tightens as he lies, but the boy doesn’t notice. “He was a puppy?” “Yes you wouldn’t have remembered, you weren’t born yet, but your parents were very happy when they got him.” The boy smiles, “He must have been a nice puppy.”
Mathews plays with the boy a while. The boy has a Frisbee and together they throw the toy to the dog who returns the disk to them. Soon the sun begins to grow orange and Mathews worries that he may not have too much time before the father comes. Yet he cannot get the boy’s smiling face out of his head, and the face of the first boy he had killed. Like with a wave of nausea one tries to suppress less one pukes, Mathews holds back his sadness with a smile. “Say, you want to get some ice cream. Take my hand and we’ll go get some.” Mathews looks away, he cannot bear to see a positive response and does not hear what the boy has to say. He only feels the boy’s hand in his larger one, and they walk a bit before the boy collapses and shudders on the ground. Mathews walks away into blackness not wanting to see the scene, but finds his head turned. “Look. See.” Mathews cannot help see the boy on his back as a man, perhaps his father, does chest compressions on the boy. But the boy’s face is forever laced with a smile.
“You may rest Mathews, but know that I am here. You will not leave my sight until the task is done.” Mathews stares out into the distance and imagines a beachfront. Suddenly he is there, though he hears no birds and feels no warmth. He only sees the rise and fall of the surf and the sound of its crash. He looks out into the ocean for a while before saying “I am ready, send me to the next child.” The knot in his throat persists but the horror is gone from his mind. Still he is tense, and walks into the darkness with racing thoughts. The next child he sees is a young girl in a nursery playing with blocks. There are other children around her but Mathews immediately knows that this is the one he has to kill. No one seems to notice him, and the teachers sit in the corner chatting. For a moment Mathews fears that he will be discovered, though upon realizing that he feels calm and safe, he wonders if in a way he is being protected. He approaches the girl, not more than six, and crouches down and begins stacking the lettered blocks. Suddenly the girl notices him.
“Who are you?” Mathews smiles “Oh I’m just visiting, do you mind if I play with you?” The girl does not answer, but does build upon Mathews’s structures and laughs when he knocks them down. “My name is Mr. Jason, what’s yours?” “I’m Abby” The little girl continues to shift through the blocks until the teacher calls all the children to the table for arts and crafts. She receive the glue and paper and together they mess around making all sorts of combinations of shapes and colors. Abigail puts a triangle on top of a square, making a house. She draws stick figures all around it, all with frowns. “Are you my Daddy? Mommy said my Daddy would come to me someday when I wasn’t looking for him, even though he’s lost. All I have to do is pray and I pray everyday” Mathews does not answer, only looking to the side. The girl draws a taller, floating stick man with little wings on the back. “This is you Daddy, you’ll stay right.” Mathews forces a smile “For a little while, just for a little while.”
Soon school ends and Mathews walks little Abigail to the bus. She looks at him smiling now, but he does not let her take his hand. “Why?” “Because when you take my hand I will have to go far away, and I’ll never see you again Abby.” Abigail immediately withdraws her hand as the two of them enter the buss. He sits next to her, and again, no one seems to notice the full grown man on the bus full of children, somehow Mathews knows that the universe is conspiring not to interfere with his task. He thinks for a moment if it is the work of Satan, or the work of God? But some things cannot be explained and he stares out the window as Abigail talks incessantly. “So Ms. Carmen says that when the sun comes out it is warm, but when he’s hiding it’s cold.” Mathews again makes a fake, yet warm smile. And soon the bus opens and Abagail’s mother calls out to her. Mathews follows mother and daughter into their house and sits in the corner as the two go on with their day, Abigail forgetting about the strange man in the house. Mathews watches the sun set and the stars come out through the window, content to just sit for eternity, for a moment imagining that his lack of time limit means he can take his time forever. He is still committed to kill the girl, though perhaps for a little while he can relive the years when Johnathan was young. Suddenly he feels a warmth in his hand.
“Come quick, you have to sing me to sleep Daddy, Mommy forgot.” Mathews winces, he does not want the time to be now. He follows the girl up to her room and sits by her side, her hand in his. He sings a song he knows, humming the melody of an old Led Zepplin tune as the girl’s eyes close and her body goes still. Soon her face turns a pasty white. Mathews places his hand on her mouth but feels no transfer of air. He kisses the girl on the forehead “Good night Abby” and exits the room and into the place that can be anything. He wills tears to come but they do not, his body has none. Still he hangs his head standing on top of a snowy mountain.
“So. Do you want to stop Mr. Mathews?” Mathews doesn’t see him but he knows that he is there, all around him is blackness and somehow a circle in the center of the endless black hole beats and reverberates. “My son. My son won’t live unless I truly am torn apart.” “That’s right Mr. Mathews, that is correct.”
Mathews finds himself in a hospital. The beeps of the machines and the various groans remind him of his own hospital room. His son and wife were there constantly as he slowly faded away, he had lost that battle. Is he losing this one? A little girl runs through the hallway playfully skipping and no one pauses to stop her, even the woman pushing the stretcher simply pauses as the girl passes by. It is a winter’s day and before it had been warm, has time really passed that quickly? Suddenly a wall ripples “You really do have all the time in the world Mathews, there are few things I don’t have my hands in.” Mathews ignores the looming darkness and follows the girl. He wants to do two things. He wants to scream, but finds he cannot. He wants to cut the girl’s throat, but also cannot. His hands clench in a pure rage at all this death around him, the death on his hands and the death of the future, the death of his young son. He stares at his own hand so long that the girl walks up to him. “Hello, are you Mommy’s doctor?” Mathews suddenly realizes that he’s in a white coat with the hospital insignia. But he doesn’t respond, until the girl moves to take his hand and he pushes her away “Don’t bother me.” Mathews says and walks away.
He sits in the corner looking up at the sun, then the moon, then the sun again. The little girl sits next to him and kicks her legs “Why are you so sad.” Mathews flinches “I-I” “An angel told me I would see you, she said you were an angel of death.” Matthews looks down for a moment before standing up, beginning to walk away before the girl tugs his arm. “Please, you have to save Mom!”
Mathews follows the girl to the middle-aged woman’s hospital bed. “All I have to to do is take your hand and Mom will wake up, that’s what the angel said”. Mathews shakes his head “All I know is that you will die” The girl furrows her brow in anger “But Mom will live, you have to take my hand! Mom says that people die everyday so that everyone can take their turn to live. Kill me so Mom will live. Please!” Before he can react the girl takes his hand and suddenly collapses. He calls for a nurse but no one notices him, he isn’t even there. So he waits until a shocked cleaning lady comes in a calls for the cavalry, and by that time it’s too late. Mathews stares at the woman’s vital signs, they indeed are starting to rise and get more regular.
As he sits by her bedside he sees the shadowman. “I sense you have some questions for me.” Mathews stares at the shadow, even though the more he gases the deeper his eyes go, the deeper the darkness encompasses his sight. Eventually he has to look away, but the fire in his eyes doesn’t give out. “You say I have as much time as I need right?” “Yes, yes you do.” The Devil crosses his legs. “As long as you do it I don’t care how long you take, you know...” “Stop, just stop talking.” Matthews’s brows furrow “There is something going on here, the girl mentioned an angel, is God vying for my soul too?” The shadow glows a dull red where his mouth would be “You can say that, in a way, but the truth is I just called in a favor to teach you something. I do have you for eternity you know.” “Yes, I can’t go back after what I’ve done” Matthews looks down. “All I know is this is some sick game you and God are playing, and it involves my son.” The devil sits down “Actually it doesn’t involve your son at all, it’s all about you.” Matthews turns his back and walks through a void “When has life ever been about me?”
Matthews kicks a stone. This time he didn’t go back to the sanctuary, dream vision, or wherever he had been before. He just goes to the next job. He wants this to be over. But nothing can prepare him for the image in front of his eyes. He recognizes his target instantly only to realize that his job may not be needed, the young kid of around thirteen has a gun pointed upward at his chin. He’s sweating profusely muttering a prayer in Spanish. Surprisingly Matthews can understand it. He is far away but in a second he is right in front of the quivering boy. The boy blinks twice and drops the gun. “You, you’re Superman.” Matthews shakes his head, “Just call me Mr. Satan.”
Matthews sits down with the child and tells him what he has been told to do. “So you’re here to kill me” Matthews nods. “I would gladly go with you. There isn’t anything left for me here Superman. My mom, she killed herself last month and I want to follow her. Now I’m with my father. He abandoned me when I was born and now he feels obligated to raise me “right”. And right means no Spanish, no rap, and no playing with my friends in the neighborhood. I go to this new school and I have to wear a uniform. I hate it, I don’t know anybody. I’m so alone, but Superman, you’re here to take me away. I want to go away, so, won’t you take me?”
Mathews stares at the child with a long, dead, gray stare. “Do you want to die alone?” The boy shakes his head “But how else will I see my mom again?” “Would your mother be happy that you killed yourself?” The child shakes his head. “Then know this, I will kill you, but I’ll kill you once you’re truly finished. If I had to chose how I die I’d die with everything rather than die with nothing. Then, being fulfilled, I’d be able to pass on better.” The child nods. “I’ll help you pass on, I promise.”
The first step was the father. He wasn’t nearly as bad as the child, Fernando, had described. Mathews had met plenty like him when he was alive, just a cozy, upper middle-class man who believed above all else in appearance and decorum. In other words, a culture shock for a boy who had spent his developing years greasing his hair in the inner city. “Fernando, there’s only one thing your dad wants, and that’s a son he can be proud of. If you do well he’ll respect it, and then he’ll trust you to be yourself. Until then you have to follow his rules, understand?” Fernando did, and commenced with what Matthews told him to do. He cut his hair short, started wearing white polo shirts, and with the help of Matthews finally understood what it was to deal with unknowns in equations. When the report card came his father hugged him for the first time. “I knew you could do it.” he whispers as they embrace. The father opens a bottle of beer. “But dad, I didn’t know you drank.” “Oh I drink all the time, I just never let you see me drink. The truth is son I didn’t want to set a bad example, I’ve seen plenty of friends treat drinking the wrong way. But I trust you, and someday, I’ll pour you your first drink when you’re eighteen.” “Eighteen dad?” The father guffaws in laughter “That’s the age limit when I was a kid and I feel it should still stand.” Fernando smiles and in his mind, finally finds meaning in the word “father”.
Next is school. Even clean cut, Fernando doesn’t quite fit in with the other children, many of them had been there since kindergarten and the cliques were firmly established for years and years. Matthews’s advice is simple, sit at a table...all the tables. Many of the children don’t notice him, they talk without him and he ends up staring out into space. But the fifth table he tries has only one girl, a pasty-haired young woman with gray braided hair. He says hi, she says hi, and they stare at each other for three minutes until Fernando asks “So how long have you been here?” The girl smiles “I’m new, you?”
Each day he meets with Maria and they talk about everything. They talk about movies, they talk about sports. Fernando even tries to teach Maria a little Spanish, which catches on. Soon they have their own little secret language, though half the time Maria uses English words to fill in the blanks of her ineptitude. It moves around school that they are a couple and the two of them smile at that. They don’t even know what a couple is.
The day comes, graduation and moving on to highschool. On the day before Matthews approaches Fernando “We had a deal, I’m sorry, but I have to kill you now.” Fernando nods “I don’t want to die but, you’re dead, right? It can’t all be bad.” Fernando takes Matthews’s hand. A pistol appears in the dead man’s hand and they walk to the park by the river. “I’m sorry, but I have to save my son.” Fernando stares at the rushing river. “I know” Then the gun goes off. Matthews doesn’t even pull the trigger, but he certainly aimed the gun and had long ago killed the boy in his mind.
Suddenly Matthews is once again in a different place, a gray place that is well lit with an air of calm. On the left is Satan, his dark form pulsating. On the right is a figure so surrounded by light that the very substance of the room itself appears to emanate from him. Matthews doesn’t have to think twice to know it’s God. Satan chuckles “I’m afraid that I left out a tiny detail, your soul has a buyer” Matthews drops on his knees and prays, speaking so thoughtlessly that gibberish comes out of his mind. The white mass hovers over to him and a tendril reaches out. Matthews takes it and promptly collapses. “His devotion is good, I’ll leave the sin to you.” And with that the white mass exits, leaving Satan to contemplate on his own, grasping a soul with a chunk taken out of it. He would have had to take the children’s souls anyway, grave digging had never been in God’s interest and as it had been since the beginning, he left the “lower” and more grating and repetitious processes to his most skilled servant. In the end though Satan finds it an interesting way to attempt tasks, going for efficiency by killing two birds with one stone. With a test an ingredient of a pure soul is found, an integral part of an angel, and during that test five souls who had somehow escaped death were reaped. And besides, it made a good show. And what will the next show be called, and where will it be held? Satan makes plans to turn the mundane into the spectacular, for what else can he gain enjoyment out of, this man of immortal years? With a blink of an eye he changes one thing about the world, he makes it shine on the grave of the man who has sinned for love. The mother takes it as a sign from God that everything will be okay, that God will guide her and help her provide for her son. Satan feels a warmth from the broken soul, like a grain of rice ripped of its skin and thus all its nutritional value. But it is useful for Satan. Even the soul of a sinner has some uses, and so the Demon presses his hands together and forms the shape of a crow out of the putty. The crow smells death and flies to it, remembering nothing and happy that it does not, feeling a pang of regret coupled with the thought that sometime before he had done something good. Satan turns his back and goes on to his next task, the task that never ends. He is the gatekeeper to death, and he is the garbage man of God’s Earth.
Word Police Need Not Apply
Personal, national and global problems face us all. The following is not one of them yet. Disciples of political correctness (pc) the word police have elevated changing the name of the Washington Redskins Football Team to a cause celebre. I know I’ll feel much better if I add my two cents.
The Boston Redskins Football team was brought to Washington D. C. in 1933 who retained the nickname and logo. For 80 years this NFL franchise played under the same. The word police duly informs us that the name and logo is disparaging and must go.
Across the U.S. athletic teams ranging from high school to college to the professional ranks adopted the word Indians as a nickname. This wide spread adoption recognized the courage and valor displayed by Native Americans throughout their history.
Sports Illustrated (SI) conducted a survey asking football fans should the Washington Redskins be renamed. Sixty-five % responded leave it alone. Fifteen % didn’t care one way or another. Twenty % favored a change.
Polls from reservations in New York State indicated that the present name and logo was not a problem. The name actually emphasized their singular ancestry.
Prodded by the word police high schools and college teams are now dropping the disparaging word Indians. The University of Illinois downgraded its halftime, football entertainment eliminating the war dance of its official mascot and symbol Chief Illiniwek. As a former student (1956) I witnessed this dance performed by a powerful, muscular, acrobatic figure accurately adorned in authentic buckskin regalia and handsome ceremonial head dress. The physically demanding dance was not for sissies.
There was considerable competition from the student body for the role of Chief Illiniwek. The 81 year old dance was always warmly appreciated by Illini fans rising to their feet greeting the Chief’s proud and dramatic entrance to the field. The dance was last performed in 2007 because pc influence deemed it as “an offensive use of American Indian imagery.” How the challenging, ethnically accurate, artistic dance could’ve been viewed as disparaging eludes me.
More recently Stanford University changed its nickname and logo from the Stanford Indians to the Stanford Cardinal. What an effete downgrading. The name change doesn’t have the same bite and élan vital of the former name. Indeed Native Americans might consider the change as disparaging.
While pc unfortunately continues to rear its unsolicited voice what should the Cleveland Indians do about a name change? The Atlanta Braves? The Kansas City Chiefs? A Brave or Chief can hardly be viewed as disparaging.
In contrast Florida State fans proudly revel in its name and logo. The Seminole Tribe of Florida granted permission to the University to use Chief Osceola as an approved mascot. Too bad Illinois and Stanford wilted to the word police.
Presently pc curiously accepts tribal names. Seminoles, Chippawas, Black Hawks, Utes as team nicknames and logos. Only time will tell if the word police attempts to pressure the NCAA to do something about this insidious problem. But wait. These tribes are members of the redskin nation.
The U.S. Patent Office apparently outraged by the word redskins has spontaneously and unrehearsed summarily canceled the trade mark for the Washington Redskins Football Team. The latter is no longer protected from others using the nickname to sell products of memorabilia. The potential loss of revenue might induce the franchise to reconsider a name change. It is difficult to understand how a relatively small department in the humongous federal bureaucracy would take such a step without approval from above. Perhaps it was prompted to do so when the commander-in-chief opined he would change the name, if he were in a position to do so. For some one serving in the senate and presidency in D.C. for over 5 years, it is not encouraging that he would be so responsive to the word police.
Still, others have threatened to boycott purchasing the team’s memorabilia or avoiding games until the heinous word is removed from the franchise. Many of the team’s fans living in D.C. and the margins of surrounding states are federal employees.
How will the fan base respond to the commander-in-chief’s fiat, who suddenly seems strangely embarrassed that such a disparaging nickname and logo exists in the nation’s capital. Many seats are legacy ticket holders and the waiting list for seats is lengthy. Football fans in other cities may elect to boycott Washington games, but I wouldn’t bet on it for the D.C. fan base.
If the word police aided by the federal government can suppress according to them a disparaging word, they are flirting with violating the First Amendment. There are a whole host of disparaging words which might fall within this ambit. Boche, back of the yards, bogtrotter, chink, cracker, dago, facist, frog, greaser, gringo, guinea, heine, hun, limey, mick, nazi, nigger, nips, PB, papist, peckerwood, pinko, polack, raghead, red neck, snapper, spic, wet back, wog, wop. You get the idea.
For example the NFL is considering assessing a penalty for using the word nigger on the field. Any one other than a black American using this word would be considered a racist. However, black Americans use this word in anger, jest or irony with other members of their race. Playing with black Americans I witnessed this behavior for years. How could the NFL adjudicate this?
“All right you guys,” the referee asks,” which one of you on the line of scrimmage used the n word?” Ridiculous huh!
Maybe we should include George Carlin’s 7 filthy words borrowed from Lenny Bruce’s original 9 words. Carlin’s challenge to publicly use these words went all the way to the Supreme Court. The latter ruled restriction of these words on TV and radio when children were listening. Courts still don’t know how to handle this issue. The folks at South Park apparently didn’t get the memo as their potty-mouthed, animated children continue to ramble on. Carlin would’ve loved it.
Some of the above words are historically more disparaging than others. Further none of the above are used for commercial purchases distinguishing them from the Redskin’s name. The names represent diverse ethnic, religious, and political groups. Living in a mixed neighborhood one did not causally run their mouth. Failure to do so would result in a fight. Did we ever use these words? We did sometimes. But we rapidly learned to zip our lips. Clergy, teachers and parents explained how insulting and inflammatory these and other words were. It was in every one’s best interest to avoid using them to get along with one another. Was this fool proof? No. But for the most part we grew, matured and became more sensitive to using such derisive words.
It deserves emphasizing that many of the above words have been used in a historical or literary context. For this reason alone we should not be so quick to suppress any words.
Changing the Redskins name and logo through government intervention is a frivolous exercise. Moreover, it approaches one of those notorious slippery slopes. If this change is pressured by the government what other words might become grist for the mill. Words neither inflammatory or disparaging, but involving freedom of expression towards government incompetence, corruption or poor management may be considered for purging.
Resolution of this issue rightly resides with Native Americans and the free enterprise system without the influence of round eye government or the word police.
Yeah, you know. You’ve seen it a hundred times. Me too. It happened last year.
A magician on a stage aided by his very sexy wife prepared to perform the longest trick of his life. The longest trick, at least that’s what he said. That’s what the advertisement said. That’s what they all went to see.
There was a drum roll
The sexy wife danced bewitchingly, seductively, alluringly. All eyes were on her. No one was watching the magician. I guess that was the plan. You know, all part of the show. Anyway, he placed her in a box. He did it with style, pose and elegance. All those elaborate motions just to put her in a box. But, people want to feel like they are getting their money’s worth.
There was another drum roll, and in view of a very watchful crowd he made her disappear seemingly forever. He showed the audience the empty box. They all waited for her to reappear. But, she never did. And that was the end.
Some kid in the third row shouted this is a rip off! I agree. Don’t you?
Some time had lapsed, several weeks, before anyone even had a suspicious thought. Then the police came looking for the little bits and pieces they sought. There was no body and the evidence was all circumstantial. The arrest was based on hearsay and rumors, some quite substantial. Whatever that means. That’s how the newspaper reporter wrote it. It kind of rhymes. I guess he thinks he’s a poet.
The courtroom was void of a single caring heart or sympathetic ear. The hangman sat unobserved in the row furthest to the rear. Yeah, I’m surprised that they still hang people in that state. But, they do. Anyway, the hangman smiled as he knew he would earn his daily bread. The judge’s sentence to be hanged by the neck until dead. More rhyming stuff from the poet reporter.
On the gallows the two men stood both dressed in black. The condemned magician was facing forward with the hooded executioner at his back.
There was no drum roll.
As the magician glanced at the trap door on the deck a hood was mounted on his head (just like the executioner’s except there were no holes for the eyes). A rope surrounded his neck.
Still no drum roll.
The trap door was sprung only seconds before the message came that the magician had done nothing for which he was to blame. It was just a misunderstanding the wife was alive and well.
It was a tragic mistake, but something of which no one could foretell. Oh well. Stuff happens.
The lifeless body was brought down and the hood slowly taken. But, the magician’s secret knowledge served him well. The observers were all shaken.
You’ll never guess. I didn’t.
The clever magician was gone. They could not believe their eyes.
In his place the paid hangman was dead instead surprise, surprise.
The School Play to End all School Plays!
“You will all amount to nothing! Do you know how hard it is to become a successful actor? Oh, the pain, the agony of waiting in line to try out for the simplest part, the most cardboard, most minor character, with the teeny tiniest bit of dialogue! Or a tryout to be an audience member?! Like with Michael Moore, all the audience cheering him, do you think they really love him?! They’re paid to be there, to applaud and hurray, like love struck puppies! And you need skin as thick as an elephant’s! All acting is rejection after rejection! And to top it all off, you can’t work at it here, in Pittsburgh! You all want to work in the movies?! You have to move to LA! Do you know what kind of a hellhole LA is?! A bunch of Type A Personality cracker crackpots! Scrawny-necked spoiled brats! And honestly, I don’t see any talent in any of you! Give up your hopes of being an actor! Try anything else, anything but acting! Cause any attempt to pursue a job in Hollywood will only kill, it will lead to suicide! You’ll pay and pay and get no play and get nowhere! Better you hear it from me than from some scumbag LA director with his skin stretched halfway across his scalp!”
Or so the drama teacher said to the ninth graders in the Taylor Allderdice School auditorium on the top floor of the building. Maybe not in those exact words. Later, when the teacher left, the students vented. “He breaks my heart to death,” said Daryl, the actor who was going to play Hamlet. “That’s all we wanted to be: actors. How life is black.”
“Won’t happen, Daryl,” said Claudius. “Become an accountant, or get a specialized degree in Existential Philosophy. The teach is right.”
The actress meant to be Ophelia shed tears all over her blue and white flowered shirt. “This is not an act,” she sobbed. “I’m really sad.”
Polonius said, “No, I will not let the teach crush my hopes. It is not within my best interests to defer from my goal, Daryl. I think your membership in the Trench Coat Mafia is making your judgment too bleak.”
“No Polonius, he’s right,” Hortatio said. “There is no hope. Right, Hamlet?”
Laertes said, “It’s only one man’s opinion. Still, I’ll back you guys up on whatever you want to do.”
“But the teach is an expert,” Fortinbras said. “He has the knowledge, he knows the technique. If he says we’re talentless, we’re talentless.”
“I’ve always wanted to be an actor since I was five,” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern said. “I don’t even know what I want now.”
Hamlet said, “Let’s all get on the same channel first: So we’re failures. We’ll never achieve our dreams. Let’s all sober up and admit this to ourselves. Our dreams are worth nothing. Let’s say it all at once, “I give up!”
“I give up!” they all screamed.
Hamlet said, “Okay, now that we got that out of our system, let’s think of a way to go out with a bang, an exclamation point, instead of a whimper, like an ellipsis.” He walked up to the chalkboard by the stage and screeched in giant letters, “PHAMOUS!”
“Why not spell it right?” Gertrude asked with a smile at Hamlet, red, puffy, candy hearts for pupils.
“Because it’s totally different than ‘Famous’ with an F.”
“So what do you have in mind?” Fortinbras asked.
“Let’s do the play,” Hamlet said. “But for real. We die in the play, we die in REAL LIFE. Someone will tie up teach, so he can’t stop it. By the time they’re on to us, it’ll be too late.”
“Yeah, I have access to weapons,” Horatio said. “My granddad was in the October war in the early seventies. He keeps grenades under his bed. We can find a use for them, somehow.”
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern said, “My dad keeps a whole roll of extension cords under his workbench. We can use them. He also has a shit load of duct tape. I think. If I remember right.”
Claudius said, “I’ll take care of the swords. I can’t believe we’re doing this.”
“Remember, you go twice,” Hamlet said to Claudius. Stabbed and poisoned.”
“Oh God,” Claudius said. “Hamlet, make it short. I don’t want to die, oh man...”
Gertrude said, “My dad owns a pest control business. I’m sure I can find a poison.”
Hamlet said, “LET’S DO IT! GO GO GO!”
Claudius asked his parents for money, and with that, added to the money he had saved up, he walked down to USA Karate and bought three Shaolin Pearsteel 100 Longevity Swords, one butterfly knife, and a Linkrock grinding stone. Later, his mom walked into his bedroom while he was sharpening the swords against the grinding stone. He said, Not to worry, that they’re for the play, and that no one will make actual contact.
Gertrude snuck down into the basement of her dad’s store, looked around, and came up with a gray bag with a green “Mr. Yuck” sticker stuck on it. Then, under that, the words, “Imiprothrin tablets. Mix in water before distilling.” She Googled “Imiprothrin” and found out it’s a form of Cyanide. She went back downstairs with a brown lunch bag, dumped a bunch of pellets in, and traipsed out of the store.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern walked down to his dad’s workbench, fiddled around, found extension cords and rolls of duct tape. He put them all in a few wrinkled lunch bags and trampled upstairs gaily.
Horatio reached under his parents’ bed and came up with three, sand-camouflaged, very heavy, Phosphorus grenades. He decided to take three. That should be enough. He placed each grenade into a brown paper bag, and carried them one by one into his room, and put them under his bed.
Back at school they rehearsed. “From the chest! From the chest!” the drama teacher yelled. “Doing Shakespeare comes from the chest! You breathe the lines!” He exercised them by tapping on their backs as they spoke. He had them jog in place while saying their lines.
At times the teacher would scream, “Eyeballs! Goddamnit! Eyeballs! They wander! Look at who you are talking to!”
Then, later, “Cut, Goddamnit, cut! Daryl, you’re not unhappy enough! What’s with the smile?! You need to feel sorry for yourself! You must mope and moan! AAAAAGH! They warn you never to work with kids or animals! And your Pittsburghese accents! Jesus H. Christ on a popsicle stick! They’re abominable!”
Now, Horatio, Fortinbras and Osric, you three have the most important roles. It’s your jobs to establish order at the play’s end. That’s what makes Shakespeare so brilliant. In his plays things may go south, there could be chaos and total pandemonium, but at the end, no matter how bad the discord, Shakespeare winds it up with order. Everything is resolved! Safe and cozy! Happily ever after! Do you understand?!”
Laertes asked, “But teach, going through the play the other day, I thought, “Man, this play is violent, and not appropriate for a high school.”
“SHAKESPEARE IS NOT VIOLENT! VIOLENCE IS FOR THE UNEDUCATED MORONIC MASSES, YOU KIDS WITH YOUR VIDEO GAMES, M FOR MATURE! AND YOUR CDS, WITH EXPLICIT LYRICS ADVISORIES! SHAKESPEARE IS SWEET AND CLEAN! YES, THERE MIGHT BE A STABBING OR TWO! BUT SO WHAT?! SHAKESPEARE IS A GENIUS! DON’T YOU DARE COMPARE HIM TO YOUR SCHLOCK AND GORE RATED R MOVIES YOU SNEAK INTO AND RENT OFF NETFLIX! 400 YEARS OF FANSHIP BY THOSE OF US LITERATI CAN’T BE WRONG!”
After the teacher left, the kids huddled. “I don’t want a slow death,” said Claudius.
“Don’t worry,” said Hamlet. “I’ll make sure you go down for the count.”
Gertrude said, “With the Imiprothrin tablets, you put them in water, and they dissolve, like Alka Seltzer. So that’s what I’ll drink and what Osric will dip the Shaolin Pearsteel sword into.”
Hamlet said, “Ophelia, your ass goes down in the school pool in the basement. Laertes, it’s your job to drown her.”
Laertes said, “No problem. Consider it done.”
“That’s okay,” she said. “I can drown myself.”
Hamlet said, “No, trust me. You say that now, but your body will fight. The life reflex will kick in. And you two, R & G, you got the electric cord off your dad’s workbench?”
“Yeah,” he said.
Horatio pulled a grenade out of his lunch bag. “I don’t think I can throw these too far. Oh well. I’ll do my best.”
Claudius picked up a garbage bag and dumped out the three Paolin swords and a butterfly knife onto the floor. The kids just stared.
The night of the play came. Before the curtains opened Laertes led a group prayer session. They prayed they’d all meet again in heaven. Osric and Fortinbras wrestled the drama teacher to the ground—both of them were on the wrestling team. They tied his hands and legs with duct tape, and taped up his mouth. They didn’t understand his labored breathing was due to a deviated septum.
“Just watch this, teach,” Fortinbras said. “This will be the play to end all plays.” The teacher’s eyes wobbled fiercely in their sockets as he struggled and wormed like a maggot held between a child’s fingertips. He wheezed violently through his nose. “This is going to be R-Rated, teach,” Fortinbras said. They moved the teacher to a position not visible to the whole audience but where he could see the whole play.
The curtains opened.
Everything went according to plan, the audience looked pleased. Until the murder of Polonius. He stood behind the curtain and Hamlet jabbed him with the butterfly knife, digging it, twisting it. Polonius bellowed for real. “AGGGH! I am slain!” Then he screeched and fell through the curtain. He had worn five shirts, but still some red blood and green gastric juices oozed through his clenched hands like a squeezed, soggy towel.
A few parents stood up: “What the hell are those special effects? This is a high school play! It’s supposed to be PG-13!” And one of them even screamed, “What the fuck is this shit?!”
Hamlet dragged Polonius, who was clasping his guts (a little pale yellow intestine peeked through) backstage to die.
Meanwhile Gertrude talked to the teacher. She told him she’d degag him if he kept his mouth open. He nodded his head Yes violently. She pulled the tape off slowly and tried to shove a funnel in his mouth, but he turned away and close his lips. She pinched his nose shut, forcing him to open his mouth, grabbed him by the chin, and shoved the funnel in. She stuffed raw hamburger meat into it and pushed it down the funnel with a wooden spoon. Polonius lay beside them, moaning, moaning, “Oh man, the pain is too much, too much for my body to take, for my soul to take.” He touched his wound, and the leaking stomach acid burned his fingers.
Laertes and Ophelia walked down to the school pool in the basement. “Okay, here I go,” she said, and crossed herself. “Let’s do it.” Laertes threw her in the pool and jumped in beside her and held her head down, putting all his weight on her as she struggled violently. He kept checking his watch. Finally a huge bubble popped up and out like popcorn, and she stopped struggling. Then, at the twenty minute mark, he pulled her out. Her face was swollen, blue vomit dripped down her chin, her eyeballs were up in her head. She dripped water and was limp like yellow kelp as he dragged her up to backstage, leaving a trail of water. The reek of chlorine filled the room.
In the backstage coatroom stood a row of hooks about six feet off the floor. Horatio watched as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern placed two stools under the hooks. The two stood on the stools, took the extension cords—which were tied in a hangman’s knot, and stretched them around their necks. Horatio kicked away the stools, and R & G choked. They uttered guttural sounds as they wrestled for their lives, like marionettes with a drunk handler, and they evacuated in their pants.
So the scene of Ophelia’s funeral arrived. Everything went okay until she came alive. All of a sudden she exploded in a huge, gaping, giant gasp of air and her body began to struggle for Oxygen, for life; she breathed hoarsely. Gertrude, embarrassed, grabbed Ophelia’s pillow and shoved it over Ophelia’s face and pushed down with all her weight. The whole time Gertrude smiled in fluster at the audience. Ophelia struggled and bucked in reflex as Gertrude did her best to hold her down. Finally Ophelia stopped struggling. The parents were outraged and called for the play to end. They yelled for the drama teacher, but he was choked to death backstage. “This is totally inappropriate for kids this age!” Fortinbras stood with his sword, his real sword, keeping the parents away. They had begun to gather round the stage.
Laertes and Hamlet fist fought in Ophelia’s grave and Hamlet broke Laertes’s jaw—not an intended part of the play. For the rest of the play Laertes talked through grit teeth, drooling saliva and blood.
They skipped the scene with Osric and went straight to the climactic duel. The kids were not sure they could hold the parents back much longer.
Osric, backstage, dipped the two Paolin swords in Gertrude’s Imiprothrin, then he handed Laertes the sword, and brought out onstage the goblet of water, bubbling, mixed with the poison and placed it on the table between the king and the queen. The duel began. Gertrude mouthed a prayer and drank from the goblet. Laertes stabbed Hamlet. Hamlet yelped. They wrestled. Hamlet stabbed Laertes with Laertes’s sword. Gertrude, pale as a ghost, clawed at her throat like an animal, and collapsed onto the floor.
Hamlet: “Oh villainy! Ho! Let the door be locked! Treachery! Seek it out!”
Laertes: (Through clenched teeth): “It is here, Hamlet. Thou art slain. No medicine in the world can do thee good...” He was too stressed out to remember his lines, so he paraphrased, “It’s the king that pulled the whole stunt!”
The actor playing Claudius looked scared—not an act. Hamlet charged him with the sword, shouting, “I’m going to kill you, Larry!” He stabbed him and tried to pour the poison down Claudius’s throat. The actor in turn did his best to turn his head and shut his mouth, then he tried to shove Hamlet away.
“Don’t kill me, Daryl! Please!”
With one hand Hamlet choked Claudius, forcing his mouth open, and then he poured in the goblet of Imiprothrin. Then Hamlet hacked away at the king like chopping wood, blood leaking everywhere, dripping down the improvised wooden throne. Then he jabbed Claudius in the carotid artery, and shortly the king passed out.
Fortinbras swung away at the parents; now even they were injured and bleeding. Hortatio dragged out the drama teacher’s corpse, leaving a trail of chunky vomit and hamburger meat. Then he dragged out the fish-eyed R & G, and then Polonius (either dying or dead), then Ophelia in her wooden coffin. The parents kept dialing 9-1-1 on their mobile phones. Hamlet collapsed into a fetal position on the stage floor, rolled around, gurgled, and died next to the body of Laertes. Horatio went backstage and walked back out cradling in both arms the three Phosphorus grenades. He laid them out by his feet, picked one up, depinned it, and like a discus thrower, did his best to lob it as far out into the audience as possible. It did not fly far, only blowing up the parents who were trying to rush the stage. What’s it like to watch a phosphorus grenade explode? First there’s a flash, like someone taking a picture. Then an ear fissuring Boom! And then, a ghost cloud of green, skin-searing vapor everywhere.
Gargled screams. “It’s a fucking Phosphorus grenade!” a father yelled. Horatio tossed out a second grenade. Then he let the third grenade detonate onstage. And the white phosphorus, at 1500 degrees Fahrenheit, enveloped the good and the bad alike.
Our Kind of People
My husband Dean says the entire point of taking a vacation is to get a change of scene, go somewhere you wouldn’t normally go, and do things you wouldn’t normally do. If you just wanted a rest, he says, you could stop the newspaper, cut off the phones, put your feet up and watch DVDs. That would be more of a traditional rest than dragging your luggage across Europe and climbing the thirty thousand steps to the Notre Dame cathedral.
Of course, there aren’t really thirty thousand steps involved, but it seemed so at the time. We were with Leigh and Wade Bailey, a couple from Iowa we’d met our first night in Paris, and part of our tour group. Leigh had a thing about heights—something I wouldn’t have imagined just to look at her; she seemed so composed—and Dean and Wade had to lead her to the top and back like one might guide a blind person. She might as well have been, I thought, since her eyes were closed practically the whole time.
Still, they were fun, attractive people, and, like the two of us, in their late thirties. Not really our kind of people, Dean observed and I agreed, but we were on vacation, after all, doing things we wouldn’t normally do. During dinner that evening, the four of us decided we’d spend all of our time together—unless we grew tired of each other, of course.
The following day we did the Eiffel Tower, and that went much better than Notre Dame.
“She doesn’t mind the heights so much,” Wade explained while Leigh was in the restroom. “It’s the openness. As long as we’re enclosed”—he gestured to the elevator—“she’s fine.”
That afternoon, we visited a couple of museums. Much to my surprise, Dean seemed truly immersed in the painting and sculptures. It’s certainly something we’d never done back in the States. In fact, it was probably the last activity I’d have imagined him tolerating, let alone enjoying.
But enjoy it he did. Our tour wasn’t one of those where every minute was planned. On the contrary, once we reached our various destinations, we were pretty much free to do anything we liked. As a result, we spent much of the following week exploring at least half a dozen museums in four more European cities.
Leigh was delighted—having confessed earlier that she’d studied art history during a brief stint in college. “I’m so glad we’ve something in common,” she told Dean. “Wade’s a good sport about my aesthetic interests, but I have the feeling he’s rolling his eyes behind my back.”
Wade had chuckled and spread his arms as if to suggest you got me. “I’m not saying if you’ve seen one Picasso you’ve seen them all, but I will say I’ve got a pretty good idea what all the rest will look like.”
Later that evening as Dean lay on the bed, he asked, “Did you notice the gun on Wade’s hip?”
“I caught a glimpse of it when he spread his arms. How do you think he got it? They won’t let you take a weapon onto a plane.”
“You can pack it in your luggage, as long as you declare it,” Dean said. “It just seems unusual he’d carry it while we’re touring.”
“Probably he’s just used to having it with him.”
Dean picked up the paperback he’d been reading. “I suppose so.” He unfolded his reading glasses and slipped them on, then looked at me over the top. “I’ve been watching Wade. I think he finds you very appealing.”
I raised an eyebrow and moved to sit down beside him. “Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed the way Leigh looks at you, too.”
Dean laughed. “I’m sure it’s just my appreciation for the arts.” He put down the book. “You know, at home, I wouldn’t give her a second look.” He reached out and stroked a length of my golden hair. “You know I prefer blondes ... but here, maybe.” His hand dropped to my thigh. “What about you, do you like Wade?”
I shrugged then found my mouth sliding into a grin. “Umm ... maybe; I mean it would be kind of different, wouldn’t it?”
“Wonder if they’re thinking what we’re thinking.”
My grin widened. “I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”
Rome, Italy was the last stop on our journey, and I wasn’t surprised when Dean scoured the hotel’s tourism promotion racks for information on museums. At the dinner table that evening, he fanned out a collection of brochures like a deck of playing cards.
Wade grimaced. “More museums?”
Dean tucked the brochures back into the inside pocket of his blazer. “Well, we have plenty of things to see here other than museums. Let’s think about it overnight and come up with a plan at breakfast tomorrow.”
“Sounds good to me,” Wade said.
“And me,” I offered.
Leigh brushed back a stray lock of dark brown hair and nodded her consent.
It was decided.
The next morning we toured the Coliseum and the Parthenon. Once, when we were standing on the ruins looking out over the city, I felt Wade’s upper arm press lightly against my own. I leaned into him just a bit and looked up at him and smiled. He smiled back.
On the bus headed back into the downtown area, Dean pulled out the brochures again, handed some to Leigh, and the two of them began discussing possibilities for the afternoon.
Wade turned to face me and said, “I don’t know about you, but I’ve had about all the culture I can stand for one day. I’m ready for a quiet lunch somewhere and a glass of wine.”
“Me, too,” I said. “Dean, why don’t you and Leigh take in the museums this afternoon, and we can all meet up again for dinner.”
Leigh looked first at Wade, then at me. “Are you sure you don’t mind?” Then she turned to Dean. “I mean ... if you want to.”
Dean reached over the seat and placed a hand on Leigh’s shoulder. “There’s nothing I’d enjoy more. You can enlighten me about Italy’s famous artists.”
Wade picked a quaint little bistro for our lunch and surprised me by ordering our meal in Italian. “I’ve been boning up at night over the past day or two. I wanted to impress you.”
We waited until the waiter poured our wine and retreated to wherever it is waiters go when they’re not hovering, and then Wade put his hand over mine. “Cathy ... I find you very attractive.”
It wasn’t unexpected, but I still felt my insides grow a little warm. “What do you suggest we do about that?”
As we all gathered for dinner that evening, Wade’s tenseness was apparent—but only to me, I thought. His usually easy manner seemed strained. He looked very handsome, resplendent in a light gray shirt and matching silk jacket I’d helped him select earlier in the afternoon. If he was wearing the gun underneath, I couldn’t tell.
Halfway through our third bottle of Dolcetto, Wade finally held up his glass and proposed a toast. “It isn’t often we find friends like you two, and Leigh and I want you to know how much we’ve enjoyed your company.”
Dean raised his own glass. “The feeling is mutual.”
“Anyway,” Wade continued, “tomorrow is our last full day here. The morning after that we’ll hop on a plane and when we reach JFK, we’ll probably never see each other again. You’ll go back to your job in advertising, Dean, and I’ll go back to doing what I do.”
Perspiration glowed across Wade’s forehead, and he licked his lips. “There are so many things we still haven’t seen, it seems a shame to miss them, so tomorrow Leigh and I were thinking maybe we could split up—just spend the whole day doing whatever strikes our fancy. The whole night even, then get back together for breakfast.” Wade gulped down a healthy slug of wine and glanced at Dean. “And since you and Leigh seem to have such similar interests, I was thinking you and she could pair up, and Cathy and I could do the same.”
The moment of silence that followed was probably not nearly as long as it must have seemed. Then Dean glanced at me, winked, and said, “Why not?”
Later, back in our room, Dean asked, “Are you sure you’re okay with this?”
“Yes, I think so,” I said. “I just wonder if it might make some difference in our marriage.”
“I don’t think it will,” he said. “We wouldn’t do this sort of thing ever again. It’s like we’re in a fantasy world. I mean, we’re not back home in Cleveland; we’re in Rome. And, when in Rome... ”
I grinned. “Is this what the Romans do?”
“Probably,” Dean said, “when they’re on holiday.”
After breakfast the next morning, the men discussed the necessary logistical arrangements while Leigh and I powered our noses. It was all small talk in the ladies’ room—I suppose it was easier to just act as if everything was normal. Then the four of us paired off as planned with nothing more being said. I wish I could remember more about what Wade and I did during the day, but I can’t. Suffice it to say we did lots of touristy things—shopping, taking a carriage ride, and feeding the pigeons outside Saint Peter’s Basilica.
That evening we had dinner and drank wine, but not to excess. Afterward, we retired to my room and spent the night in either love or lust. I never really decided which it was. At some point I fell asleep, and when I awoke, Wade was gone and Dean was in bed beside me. I wondered idly if they had passed in the hall or if there’d been some arrangement made beforehand on the logistics.
In the morning, we all had breakfast together and then left for the airport. Arriving at JFK, we collected our luggage and went through customs. Dean and I had a flight to Cleveland Hopkins airport, and the Baileys had a two-hour layover before heading to Des Moines. Before parting, the men shook hands while Leigh and I embraced. Then I kissed Wade and Leigh and Dean kissed. The scene was so surreal, I almost laughed.
A couple of hours later, we were on the ground in Cleveland, and thirty minutes after that we were home.
We had dinner the following weekend with friends of ours, Paul and Susan Lacy, a very fetching couple we’d known for years, and I wondered what it would be like if we traded partners for the evening. But, of course, it wouldn’t happen. I imagined Dean might be thinking the same thing. He’d always liked Susan. He never said anything, but still I wondered.
I thought about all this again just last week. Dean and his team hit a bank in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and a teller managed to set off the silent alarm just as they were leaving. The police arrived quickly and there was some shooting, and one of Dean’s men was wounded, but not badly. One of the policemen was wounded, too, and another killed.
Dean told me he’d fired his gun a few times, but was pretty sure he didn’t hit anybody. Still, I know both of us were thinking what if it had been Wade Bailey? It wouldn’t have happened, of course. I mean, what would a Des Moines cop be doing in Scranton, Pennsylvania? But what if Wade had been from Scranton instead of Des Moines? What if Dean had shot him? What if he’d shot Dean? Neither of us wanted to think about that.
It amazes me to think I slept with a police officer while Dean was sleeping with a policeman’s wife. It’s just so incredible for me to picture it now—that we had even become friendly with them. But we were two different people then, and Wade and Leigh were different people, too. We were in Europe, after all, which is a whole different universe as far as I’m concerned.
So, it’s like it never really happened at all.
Jamie, With the Blue Eyes
Betty J. Sayles
A small boy trudged wearily along a country road. His golden wheat-colored hair and youthful features looked no different than those of many other small boys his age. His jeans and navy blue pullover were dusty from the gravel road. At first glance, he looked like any seven-year-old boy—until you looked into his eyes. Those deep blue eyes mirrored the sadness of his soul and spoke of wisdom far beyond his young years.
The boy’s name was Jamie. He had been a fun loving boy and he adored his father. They played catch, went to baseball games and went for walks when the father told his little boy about his plans for them when Jamie was older. “We’ll add your name to the firm and we’ll become Calder and Calder, Attorney’s at Law. We’ll be the biggest firm in the state and the best,” he boasted. Jamie looked at his father with love in his eyes; he wanted, more than anything, to please his father.
In his sixth year, Jamie was struck on the head by a car while he was trying to save a kitten in the car’s path, He recovered and seemed fine, but from that time Jamie noticed a change in his father. He was sure his father was avoiding him. One night, Jamie overheard his father talking to his mother. “Ever since the accident he reads my mind, Jane, and he makes me do things by looking at me with those eyes. He actually made me let that stray dog go, the one that knocked over our garbage can. He said they’d kill him at the shelter. Mrs. Murphy told me he cured her back pain just by laying his hands on it and Dr. Preston said he talked to Jamie in Bridgeport last week. That’s 60 miles from here and Jamie was home in bed. That’s crazy. The boy is not normal.His wife replied quietly, “There was an Italian priest I read about, his name was Padre Pio. He could perform miracles and was seen in two places at the same time. They called it astral travel and the church made him a saint. Jamie is a good boy, Robert, he has only done things to help people. He has been given a gift and we should be proud of it.”
“He’s a freak, Jane, he’s scary, and I can’t cope with it. If he comes out of this coma, I’m going to find him a boarding school for troubled kids.”
Jamie’s eyes filled with tears. His beloved father saw his gifts as a curse and couldn’t stand to be near him. Jamie didn’t wake up the next morning. The doctor said he was in a coma and he was moved to a hospital bed.
It was evening when Jamie came to a farmhouse. When he knocked on the door, a sad faced man opened it. “Hello, sir, my name is Jamie and I wonder if you have any chores I can do for some supper.”
“Why on earth is a small boy out alone with night so near,” wondered the man. As the question formed in his mind, he looked into a pair of deep blue eyes. “Yes,” he said, “you can feed the chickens, but first come meet my wife Mary and have some supper.”
Jamie saw traces of tears on the woman’s face. After eating his supper, he said to the man,” There’s a man here who wants to talk to me.”
“There’s only my wife’s father who’s very ill. The doctor doesn’t think he’ll last the night,” said the farmer. Once again, he found himself peering into Jamie’s eyes. “I’ll take you to him,” he said.
The bed-ridden old man was surprised to see a young boy, but as he looked into his eyes, he felt a calmness he hadn’t felt in a long time. “Leave us alone for a while, please,” he said to his son-in-law.
Jamie sat in a chair near the bed, put his young hand over the old wrinkled one and said: “You feel alone and scared and want to talk.”
The old man nodded. “You see they’re afraid of death, too—for me and for themselves. They take good care of me, but they never stay to talk. They don’t know what to say, and don’t want to hear my fears. It makes them uncomfortable. You’re not afraid, are you?” he asked the boy.
“No, I’m not afraid”, answered Jamie. “Tell me what you’re afraid of, maybe talking about it will help. I’ll stay with you as long as you need me.”
The old man talked for a long time to the boy. As the night passed, he became quiet, only rousing to say, “You’ll be with me?”
Jamie answered, “I’ll go with you as far as I can.”
As the clock chimed 2:00 A.M., Jamie looked at the door. It opened and the farmer and his wife entered the room. While they looked at the peaceful face of the old man, who had quietly passed away in his sleep, Jamie slipped out of the door and was gone.
Jamie was nearing a farmhouse when two German Shepherds raced toward him, barking loudly. He stood still, his blue eyes looking at brown eyes. Immediately they stopped barking and followed docilely as he approached the farmer in the yard.
“Good gosh, boy, what did you do to those dogs? They don’t like strangers.”
“I get along well with animals, sir. Do have any chores I can do for something to eat?
The farmer wanted to ask the boy who he was and where he came from, but he never got to those questions. Instead, as he looked into those deep blue eyes he had a vague feeling he had left something unsaid—but couldn’t remember what it was. “Why, I think we can find something for you to do to earn a meal, son. Come along.”
“Thank you, my name is Jamie”.
After the boy had completed the light tasks he was given to do, the farmer took him into the house and told his wife Dorrie that Jamie was staying for supper. The woman had a kind face and fussed over Jamie in a motherly way. She did things slowly and with obvious pain, because her hands were badly deformed from rheumatism. Jamie offered to help her. “No, child, a little exercise is good. It keeps these old hands from stiffening up completely”, she said.
They invited Jamie to spend the night, but he thanked them and said he had to be on his way. As he was saying goodbye to the woman, he took both her crippled hands in his young ones and pressed them lightly. Then he stepped out into the twilight.
The woman sat at the table with her hands in front of her, tears running down her face. Her startled husband asked, “What is it, Dorrie, what’s wrong?”
His wife raised her hands for him to see. They were old hands with age spots and loose, wrinkled skin, but they were perfectly normal hands.
A bearded young man sat on a park bench by the river, staring at the water. Then his eyes moved to the high bridge a few blocks away. He was annoyed when a small boy sat down beside him and said, ”I’m Jamie. The water is warm this time of year. I guess it would be peaceful to sink beneath it letting all your problems float away.”
The young man was startled to hear such words from a child. It was uncanny the way he mentioned the river as a way to end one’s cares. He turned so he could see the boy’s face. Looking into those blue eyes, he saw his mother standing there broken-hearted beside the river, the terrified face of his young brother and a pretty, young woman struggling to cope with the problems he was leaving her to face alone. “Oh, Lord, what was I thinking? There has to be a better way than this.”
Jamie said, “Tell me about it.”
The young man talked for a long time. Finally, exhausted and much calmer, he turned to face the boy, but he had quietly disappeared.
Jamie was desperately tired; he wanted to go home. Maybe things would have changed while he was away. At the sound of his father’s voice, he opened his eyes. He was still in the hospital bed. His father was saying, “I’ve found a school for problem kids that will take the boy if he comes out of the coma. That will be best for everyone, Jane.”
Jamie looked at the drawn faces of his father and helpless mother and closed his tear filled eyes.
A small boy trudged wearily along a dust country road. He looked like any other seven-year-old, unless you looked into his sad blue eyes.