Down in the Dirt

Down in the Dirt
(Cover art by John Yotko)

welcome to volume 90 (January 2011) of

down in the dirt
internet issn 1554-9666
(for the print issn 1554-9623)
Janet K., Editor - click on down in the dirt


In This Issue...

Fritz Hamilton
John Ragusa
H.D. Brown
Christopher Hanson
Kelli Landon
Frank De Canio
Tim Pompey
Brad Buchanan
Sara Sather
Don Ray Crawford
Kofi Campbell
Kevin Heaton
Jon Mathewson
Christopher Klim
Ira Joel Haber (art)
Boyd Lemon
Doug Downie
Edward C. Burton
Mel Waldman
Roger Cowin

(Cover art by John Yotko)

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My brain has foetal alcoholism syndrome/ my

Fritz Hamilton

My brain has foetal alcoholism syndrome/ my
mommy was drining vodka & arsenic every
day when I was a futile foetus & eating chocolate

biscottis dipped in rat poison/ it took two years to
claw out of her womb & then I was crucified
beside the devil, as Jesoo stood by & laughed/

Jesoo even leant his nails to be driven into
my bellybutton/ my belly pops & releases the
furies/ I chase them with my fly swatter, but

there are too many of them/ they tie me down like
Gulliver/ I’d join them, but there are too many
strings attached, & my mommy will not

cut the cord causing discord/ I play the guitar causing
more dischord, making
                                    an ass out of Stravinsky, as

Lichtenstein creates Warhol, &
                                    the soup cans are filled with
blood, & Norma Jean looks down from her

canvas with dismay & Spielberg spills
ET out of a soup can getting Sgt Ryan saved by
the bite, & Tom Hanks is up to

hanky panks as Ophelia floats
down the river in a kayak with Hamlet in
hasty retreat &

not even John Wayne can
do a thing about it, even
if he was an All American at

USC, & Hemmingway was a
2nd string tackle at Oak Park
High School & blew his brains

out with his daddy’s
shotgun in Ketcham ID, &
that’s the importance of being

Ernest, & I reenter the
womb like everybody
else to become the

the earth ...


Wearing the skin off my nose in

Fritz Hamilton

Wearing the skin off my nose in
the longest tennis match in history/ striking
the match on my nose, lighting it up &

scraping the skin off & igniting the nostrils setting
the follicles aflame, the fire spreading to my
tennis balls, lighting up the racket, making

the women hot & boiling their guts in the
biggest racket in the court with Bill Tilden dancing
through the flames at double fault for

serving up the fire in the first place, when
in first place is old Fred Hammy trying to escape the
fire & his Goldbuggy, who drank all of this

morning’s coffee, making Hammy live
on his pills & one orange as I go
bananas, despite my beauty &

Goldbuggy takes my booty as
dear Fred Hammy (me) runs
away ...


45 vinyl holder

The Phonograph

John Ragusa

    “It’s an excellent bargain, sir,” Mr. Winthrop told Larry Hendler at his garage sale. “As you can see, its condition is nearly perfect, and its price is very reasonable. It would make a superb conversation piece. You’d better grab it before someone else does.”
    Peering at the phonograph, Larry had to agree with Winthrop. It was in great shape, no doubt about that. It had an interesting look, too. And where could you buy a record player for $90 nowadays?
    “I think it would spruce up my living room,” Larry said. “Will you accept a check?”
    “Yes, that will be fine.”
    Larry wrote out a check, gave it to Winthrop, and left with the phonograph. He was pleased with himself; the sale had been worth every penny.

* * *

    When Larry returned home, he read the instruction book. Then he played a 45 record of The Crickets’ hit “That’ll be the Day” on the phonograph.
    After the song was over, something astonishing happened. In a puff of smoke, Buddy Holly materialized.
    “Where am I?” he asked.
    Larry was speechless.
    “God, that plane crash sure gave me a scare,” Holly said. “I felt certain I’d die the minute it hit the ground. I guess I was wrong, since I’m still alive. Luck must have been with me. Say, who are you?”
    “You’re Buddy Holly!”
    “I know who I am,” Holly said. “I just don’t know who you are.”
    “I’m Larry Hendler. I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time. How did you get here?”
    The singer frowned. “I don’t know, actually. Is this a hospital?”
    “No, it’s not; it’s my home. I can’t imagine how you got here, either. But you’re standing in my own living room, and you’re not dead, and it’s wonderful!”
    They spent the next hour chatting about music. Holly assumed he had been kidnapped by an adoring fan, but he was grateful to have a breather from his heavy touring schedule.
    “I usually listen to other artists’ music to see what it’s like,” Holly said. “Do you have anything by Bobby Darin?”
    Larry took out “Mack the Knife” from his record collection and played it for Holly.
    The minute the song had finished, Darin appeared from out of nowhere.
    “Bobby!” Holly exclaimed. “I never knew you included magic in your act.”
    Darin blinked. “Like wow, man, I’m sharing a dressing room with Buddy Holly. That’s cool.”
    Larry let the two rockers stay in his guest bedroom. They ate lunch and took a nap.
    That night, he tried to figure out what had happened. It was inexplicable; what could have caused it?
    He used common denominators to unravel the mystery.
    After much thought, he had it.
    Holly and Darin were both musicians.
    They were both dead.
    They had both come back to life after their records were played on the phonograph.
    The phonograph!
    That was what made it happen. Whenever a song by a dead artist was played on the machine, he was resurrected.
    Larry almost dismissed this as too absurd, but he had seen it happen with his own eyes, and seeing is believing.
    And so he proceeded to revive John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison over the next month. He told them that he was a promoter who had arranged to gather them together for a concert. They agreed to do it; the only holdout was Darin, who left after Larry refused to pay him more money.
    Watching the musicians rehearse was a joy. They didn’t get a song down pat immediately; it took several days before their music became acceptable. Dissatisfaction was common among these artists; many tunes were discarded because they weren’t good enough. Some of them liked to improvise; others didn’t. Some wrote their songs down on paper, while others sang the melodies into a tape recorder. There wasn’t any ideal way to compose and perform music.
    Then Larry got an idea. Lennon was a great lyricist; Hendrix was a gifted guitarist; Holly was good at writing melodies; Presley and Morrison were talented singers. Larry would persuade Lennon to write the words for a song, and he’d entice Holly to compose its melody. Then he’d get Hendrix to play the guitar, and he’d have Presley and Morrison do the singing. With all that talent, he’d have himself the greatest record of all time! A record label would pay a fortune for it. He would become rich overnight!
    His name would also go down in history as the world’s most famous impresario. Larry knew that his mundane life would become exciting. It would be fabulous!
    Perhaps he was using other men’s talents for his own gain, which was selfish. But he would not let this stop him from striking it rich. That would be foolish.
    Larry was sure that the musicians would agree to do the record. But when he presented his idea to them, they weren’t enthusiastic about it.
    “It’s too gimmicky,” Lennon told him.
    “I never like to collaborate,” Presley said.
    Hendrix, Holly, and Morrison declared that their styles wouldn’t blend.
    Listening to these protests, Larry could see the money and prestige slipping away. There had to be some way to make them change their minds. If not, he would lose a gold mine.
vinyl record     “Okay, fellows,” he said, “you don’t have to make this record. But if you don’t, I’ll send you back to the grave.”
    (Larry had told them earlier about the phonograph and how it had revived them).
    “Wait a minute,” Presley said. “What do you mean?”
    “I found out that I can destroy you all with the phonograph by scratching your records with its needle,” Larry lied.
    That did the trick. They all decided to write and record the song.
    They went to the patio and got to work.
    It was a disaster. Lennon asked Hendrix to play some chords. Hendrix created some of his trademark feedback.
    “I asked you for chords, not noise,” Lennon said.
    Hendrix was insulted. “How did you get so famous when you know nothing about the guitar?” he said.
    “Quit arguing,” Holly said. “I’m the one doing the melody. You just write the lyrics, John.”
    “I’m as good with the music as I am with the words!” Lennon hollered.
    “What will this song be about?” Morrison asked.
    “It’ll be a love song, of course,” Presley said.
    “That’s outdated,” Morrison insisted. “Let’s write something profound, like a tune about death.”
    “It’s too depressing!” Presley said.
    “Maybe we should include some horns,” Hendrix suggested.
    The others scoffed at this idea. In fact, they rejected every idea that wasn’t their own. Eventually, the yelling and screaming got so loud that Larry heard it from inside.
    He went to the patio and saw Lennon shoving Holly.
    “What’s going on here?” Larry asked.
    “This freak said that my lyrics don’t make sense,” Lennon said.
    “Well, they don’t,” Holly said.
    “All right, crumb, you asked for it.” Lennon took a swing at Holly. Larry stepped between the two men and inadvertently got punched. He fell back, struck his head on a lawn chair, and was instantly killed. His dream of wealth and fame died along with his body.
    You might someday spot one of those famous artists at a restaurant or on the street. If you do, you’ll know your eyes aren’t deceiving you.

live and learn

H.D. Brown

all my life I’ve studied cheatin songs
throw in a little tonight the bottle let me down
alcohol and pills misery and gin
and that about completes my education

at least i had the sense
to lay off the murder ballads

Janet Kuypers reading the H. D. Brown poem
Live and Learn
from Down in the Dirt magazine, v090 (the 01/11 issue)
available as both a 84 page ISSN# issue
and the ISBN# book Along the Surface
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Watch this YouTube video
read live 01/18/11, live at the Café in Chicago

Lutz Park

Christopher Hanson

I had found,
Or stumbled upon
Where the love-birds –
And pave the ways to

My park
By day,
Becomes their park
By night
As they selfishly take away
All the seats
And sights,
Leaving me to drive on,
Drive home
And drive alone.

I leave the seagulls to roam
And shit on them,
Let them
Shit on everything
For that matter.

When I gift
The gulls,
I return to the crows
And vultures of
Solitaire –
As I grow lost,
And maybe a
Little lonely
To the emptiness that I find,
In a one night love
And the run away soon

I don’t smirk,
Or laugh it away.
I almost find a tear
Or a time to cry,
Not quite,
As I keep on driving
Past home,
City limits,
And state lines.

And arrive,
Or reminded,
By the dreams,
Where I don’t die alone,
Or broken
But together,
And maybe with you,
The one I loved
And one I left
At that very same
On a night not
Too far

“The man with many names.” (the Christopher Hanson Biography)

    I was born “Christopher Hanson” in Minnesota; Born in the same hospital as Bob Dylan, not that it matters. I remember very little from this snowbound world having actually grown up in California where I picked up the nick-name, “Cloud,” I don’t know why, simply, “Cloud.” While in good old San Fran, I made nice with some fellows and females of Japanese decent. I picked up a sword, I learned to eat sushi and wander in between the realms of Aikido, Iaido and Zen. They dubbed me “Kazuki.” All aside and all names following me into college, I studied for five years at the University of Wisconsin and graduated with degrees in both Criminal Justice (to bust-up a broken system) and Anthropology – I love people, what can I say? During year five of college, I’d acquire my latest addition, “Yang Yun,” my Chinese name. The name basically translates to, “a tree in the cloud.” This was the name given to me by my wife, the love of my life that I met while studying abroad in China. Since my graduation in 2008, I’ve lived in China for nearly two years as a teacher and within this last year, have finally made it back to the states, wife and all. It’s been a wild ride and something tells me that it’s just begun. As for my “writing” and my “art,” it’s a time-honored tradition and way of life – at least for me.

The Masked Man

Kelli Landon

    “Where have you been?” Kim asked me upon my return to the bar. “It’s been over twenty minutes.”
    “I was just having some fun with the knight,” I said, adjusting my devil horns.
    “What do you mean by fun?” she asked.
    “Oh Kim, you know what I mean,” I answered, unable to hide the satisfying smile from my face.
    I’ve always been a shy person. I’ve never been able to go up to someone and talk just out of the blue. Halloween night always made me feel different in a way I’ve never felt before. It was my favorite night of the year, especially since I was actually able to have my fantasy come true with the guy I had a crush on.
    “Where is he now?” Kim’s eyes wandered the smoky bar.
    “He had to leave. He said he was in a hurry to get back on the road.”
    “Was it Chris?”
    “I told you it was.”
    “Yeah Mandy, but you didn’t know that for sure because of the mask.”
    “But, as you know when you’re doing it with a knight, the metal eye piece keeps moving up and down, so you can see his eyes most of the time.” I laughed, remembering the all too fast moment in the backseat of my car.
    “No, I don’t know that,” Kim said in a firm voice.
    “Oh sorry, I forgot. You haven’t done it with a knight.”
    Just then our friend, Debbie, returned with a glass of white wine.
    “You took a long time in the bathroom, Mandy,” she said.
    Debbie wasn’t the brightest of people. Her platinum blonde hair stood out so everyone assumed the truth about her.
    “Yeah, long line,” I said, giving Kim an eye roll.
    “Halloween is great. You can be anything you want,” said Debbie. “I’m not gonna be a fairy again. My wings are getting heavy.”
    I was trying not to laugh. We only took Debbie along because we wanted more people to go out with and nobody wanted to dress up. We could talk her into anything.
    “Is my hair okay?” I asked anyone who was listening.
    “You look great as the fiery temptress you are,” said Kim holding out her foot long cigarette holder.
    A fairy, a flapper, and a fiery temptress. What a combination, I thought.
    “So, did Chris say when the band was gonna be back together?” Kim asked.
    “We didn’t talk about the band. We had other things going on.”
    “What band is that?” Debbie asked.
    “Eardrum Decay,” Kim answered.
    “What kind of name is that?” Debbie’s eyes almost popped out of her head.
    “Believe me, there are worse names,” I said.
    “Well, I’m not a bar hopper so I’m not up on all this local stuff,” said Debbie as she took a sip of her wine.

    “We know,” I said.
    “So, where is this Chris?” Debbie asked.
    “He’s gone,” I said. “I was talking to him outside.”
    “So, you like him?”
    I caught Kim in my peripheral vision trying not to laugh as she looked around the bar.
    “Yes, I go to all their shows, but they lost their drummer.”
    “I dunno,” I said.
    “You know them, right?”
    “No, she just likes Chris,” Kim butted in.
    “Yeah, I like him, but I’m not good with talking to guys, so I can’t just go up to them and strike up a conversation.”
    “But you talked to him tonight,” said Debbie.
    “Right, I did.” I talked to her like she was a five year old. “Only, I’m in a costume.”
    “So?” she said in a bimbo sort of way.
    “Debbie, when you are in a certain outfit, you feel more confident.”
    “Oh,” she said with a clueless look.
    “Hey Mandy,” Kim said with a freaked out look on her face. “Look over there.”

    I turned to see a guy in a vampire cape. Aside from the white makeup and fangs, he looked like Chris.
    “You gotta be kidding me,” I said.
    “Isn’t that Chris?” Kim asked.
    “It could be.” My heart started doing flip flops. “But he said on their website that he was gonna dress as a knight in honor of heavy metal.”
    “Maybe he changed,” said Debbie.
    I lost my patience in a split second as I turned to her. “You are so dumb!” I said, louder than I realized.
    “Mandy!” Kim said as if she were startled. “Calm down.”
    “I will not calm down!” I yelled as I rose from the table. “Who was it that I was with,” I looked at my watch, “a half hour ago?”
    “I don’t know,” said Kim. “Maybe Debbie’s right.”
    I couldn’t believe my ears. “There’s no way that he would leave, get out of that knight costume, then come back as a vampire that quick!”
    “You never know,” Kim said.
    “Maybe it’s a practical joke,” said Debbie. “And I’m not dumb by the way.”
    “I gotta find a way to ask him,” I said. “I should, shouldn’t I?”
    “How else are you gonna know?” Kim asked.
    “But I like living in the fantasy that I had him.”
    “Was it any good?” Kim asked.

    I gave a shrug of my shoulders. “Could have been better.”
    “What is she talking about?” Debbie asked Kim.
    “Nevermind, Kim,” I said with a wave of my hand. “It’s a lost cause.”
    I walked over to Chris to ask him the stupid question about the knight.
    “Weren’t you here earlier?” I blurted out as soon as I approached him.
    “No, just came from another bar,” he said as he turned, exposing his fangs. “Hey, aren’t you that girl who always comes to our shows?”
    “Uh, yeah,” I said as my heart pounded, both from fear of the knight and the excitement that he remembered me. “When is the band gonna start again?” I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
    “A couple of weeks,” he said.
    “Okay,” I said like a dork and headed back to the table.
    “Well?” Kim asked with anticipation.
    “It wasn’t him,” I said, trembling. “What am I gonna do?” My mouth went dry. “Who was the knight?”
    “I told you to find out for sure if it was him!” Kim blurted out.
    I buried my face in my hands as I felt the stickiness of my fiery red makeup.
    “I gotta go to the bathroom,” Debbie announced as she headed toward the ladies room.
    “Good, she’s gone,” I said as I took a deep breath. “I’m so scared, Kim.”
    “Look, maybe it was someone you like, but have never talked to.”

    “Chris is the only one like that!” I snapped.
    “Calm down,” she said.
    “What if it’s someone I hate? What if my pill didn’t work? Even worse, what if he’s a relative?” I felt sick with that thought.
    “Keep your voice down!” Kim said. “Look, I don’t think that’s the case, so just stop jumping to conclusions.”
    We sat there for another half an hour, trying to figure out this whole thing with Debbie being lost as ever. We dropped her off, then drove around to other bars and scoped them out. We never found the knight. Finally we decided to call it a night and go home.
    Kim drove as we listened to the radio. “You can stay with me if you want,” she said.
    “Thanks,” I told her. “I don’t wanna be by myself tonight.”
    “We’ll find out who he is,” she said. “I bet he’s gonna pop up any minute.”
    Just then we heard a news bulletin on the radio.
    The newscaster reported, “Two female students from Flatsville University were found dead tonight. The students are aware of a campus killer and are taking precautions to avoid any danger. Police are still searching the area for a guy in a knight costume. Again, if you have just joined us...”

    My heart about jumped out of my chest as I stopped listening. My breathing started to increase with every horrible thought I had of the two minutes of anonymous sex I had earlier.
    Kim turned to me as she drove down the dark road toward her house. “Are you okay?” she asked.
    “I don’t know,” I answered, but I knew that I wasn’t okay.
    “Don’t worry about it,” she said. “If he was a psycho killer, you wouldn’t have gotten away from him.”
    “You never know,” I said as I felt a panic attack come on. “Maybe he hadn’t had it in a while and I was the one who turned him on in between murders!” I was outraged. “The one night in my life I do something wild and look what happens! I get lucky with a psycho!”
    “Hey, it was a one time thing and it’s over,” she said, turning into her driveway. “You were innocent in this. Don’t beat yourself up so much.”
    I wanted to believe she was right, but in a way I wasn’t exactly innocent. I felt horrible. The best night of the year turned out to be the worst night of my life. It was also the night I learned that having a fantasy come true isn’t always what it seems.


Frank De Canio

Odd. A sitcom in Chicago
picks up the slack of my business trip,
takes on the contours of desire,
feeds on the meal I’m eating,
digests it in commercial breaks,
repackages its contents. Whimsy absorbs
the tartness of the bass I drink
while flirting with fancy
after a hard day’s work,
pollinates the rose of its conceit
with kinetic fauna,
breaks into the compact of my dreams,
couples itself with soulful yearning,
breeds a contagion of images
which, stealing its fragrance, parades
in masquerades. Nor can I shake the shades
of daydreams from its aftertaste.
Fiction steals my affection
with graphic measures, sets up house
in prime-time recesses of my heart.
And love, since blind, takes the imposter
for the fling, sweetly consummated
in celluloid as it beams projections
on the screen of memory.

Frank De Canio, brief bio

    “I was born & bred in New Jersey, work in New York. I love music of all kinds, from Bach to Dory Previn, Amy Beach to Amy Winehouse, World Music, Latin, opera. Shakespeare is my consolation, writing my hobby. I like Dylan Thomas, Keats, Wallace Stevens, Frost, Ginsburg, and Sylvia Plath as poets.”

part one of the story
Ashley’s View

Tim Pompey

August 21, 2008, 7:03 P.M.

    “Goddang it all to hell,” Jeff Dunn swore as he tripped on a root. He heard his voice echo through the trees like some invisible twin. It was August in Tennessee and hot – boiling hot. Tall and wiry, a veteran of highway crews and construction sites, Jeff’s face was taut and burnt from years of hard labor, booze, and cigarettes. His greying hair was disheveled, his T-shirt torn and streaked. Today, as he shuffled through this endless forest, the heat and humidity made him look like a lost refugee.
    Ever since he read the headline last week in The Mountain Press – High School Girl Vanishes – he hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep. The news had resurrected long buried memories of what he’d known these last three decades – memories about Ashley.
    Now, haunted by the news story, he wondered if Ashley had returned to remind him about the one mysterious night they spent together twenty-eight years ago. Was it her spirit that compelled him to thrash about here among the nettles, mosquitoes, and thick bushes? Jeff wiped his brow and kept scouring the brush. He knew her hiding place was close by, that outcrop of rock she called “Ashley’s View.”
    He also knew he must find her, bring help, take her home. Easier said than done. At this moment, the trail eluded him like a skittish deer avoiding a hunter. Yet, he pushed on, knowing he would have no peace until he found her. Thirty years had passed, but the road, the river, the mountain, all still here. The question remained: Was she?
    Jeff took a moment to survey the woods. He could hear the faint rush of the Little Pigeon Creek. “Shit, I got no idea,” he muttered as he sat on a stump and hoped for something familiar to jog his memory. “Come on, Ashley,” he implored. “If you want this, you gotta help me.”
    In a tree about twenty-five feet to his left, a small glint caught his eye. Metal or glass, he wasn’t sure, but the angle of the late afternoon sun caught the reflection. Jeff felt a twinge of recognition, then a mountain of fear. Slowly, as he stood up and inched forward, he remembered what she said to him when they first ventured into this same forest: I made these things called mobiles from old pieces of colored glass –
    Up in the tree, those same mobiles danced in the breeze. Colored shards, burnt orange, irregular shapes, about the size of a fist. They seemed alive in the warm evening air. More of them strung along a line of maples. She had answered him with his first clue. She had given him direction. Now he felt a growing sense of dread. He had no choice but to follow.
    Jeff huffed his way upward and recognized the opening to the ledge. A small passage, quite overgrown. Two pine trees bent and twisted into the shape of the devil’s gazebo. He remembered how grotesque they had looked when he first saw them in the dark.
    “Oh, Lordy,” he mumbled.
    Through that opening into my own little universe, she had told him.
    He sensed he was being watched. By angels, demons, perhaps Ashley herself adrift in the branches. The sun was near setting. He needed the remaining daylight to confirm his mission. Taking a deep breath, he shielded his face and plunged through.
    In the clearing he saw a plateau with layered rock smooth and curved at its edge. It dropped off about fifty feet to the forest floor. Stretched across a small valley, brushed by the blue haze that hung over this Tennessee forest, he recognized it. Ashley’s View. Except now the blue had turned the color of campfire coals – shades of burnt orange and lava.
    Jeff knew time was short. He turned to face the black cave, mustered his courage, and approached the hole. At the entrance, he bent down and peered in. There she was. Ashley. The bones of her body still where he’d left her: stretched out, clothes removed and folded. Jeff walked over, reached out, and stroked her skull.
    “You been waitin here real nice, darling.”
    Jeff cleaned up the cave and unfolded the bed roll he had brought with him. He had come prepared to spend a repentant night. Tomorrow he’d tell the Sheriff where she was. For now, he was glad for this one last night with her. It was the least he could do. Besides, led by her spirit, within reach of her remains, he believed Ashley was happy to have him back.

August 26, 1980, 11:07 P.M.

    Finally. Quitting time. The last of the tourists had wandered out the door. Jeff finished with his nightly cleanup and hurried to escape his KFC prison.
    Chicken frying. Jeff’s summer job on the way to some type of future, though what that might be, he had little clue. Not really a college guy, he’d been cut loose by his recent high school graduation. Now he spent his days and nights feeding hungry customers.
    It had been a long shift. His fingers were cut and sore from breaking and battering chicken and his hands and arms bore the usual burns from working with half a dozen deep fryers. He threw his apron into a bin and stepped out into the muggy night. For a minute, he lingered by the back door and smoked a cigarette. Then he loosened the buttons on his shirt and stretched his arms. Tomorrow was his day off.
    Reba Regan, the regular back counter girl, brushed by him. “Hey, Jeff. Going out?”
    “Hell, yeah,” Jeff said. “I’m sick a here. Time for some fun. Least a night’s worth anyway.”
    She smiled and wagged her finger. “Well, don’t you be driving crazy on them back roads.”
    “What? Ya ain’t comin with me?”
    “Not tonight honey. You’re scary.” She paused for a moment and gave Jeff a mischievous grin. “And besides, I’m married with kids. You don’t want to hang out with an ol’ lady like me.”
    Jeff eyed her and rubbed his chin. “Don’t be too sure a that.”
    “I’m sure enough,” she said.
    Jeff watched her get into her car. As she drove out of the lot and waved, he wondered what she might be like in the sack.
    Gazing up at the full moon, he shook off these thoughts and marched toward his souped up burnt orange ‚70 Chevy Nova SS. Big spoiler on the front hood, black racing stripes, roll bars and mags. His baby.
    Throttling up the engine, he enjoyed the rumble for 30 seconds or so, lit another cigarette, ignored his seat belt, and punched his favorite Allman Brothers album, Eat a Peach, into his new cassette player. The opening roll of Greg Allman’s piano blasted out. Strains of “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” began to bounce around the car. His exact sentiment. He cranked up the volume.
    Jeff rolled out of the driveway and turned left. On Parkway, he peeled rubber and picked up speed. The music escaped through his open windows and rattled against all the tourist shops. He motored past the city limits on Highway 441 headed for Ed’s birthday party in Waldens Creek.
    The moon was round as a giant white pie and very bright. It made the black summits of the surrounding hills shimmer with pale silver frosting. Jeff loved these summer nights, when the earth was caught between the wane of summer and the birth of autumn. It inspired him to drive recklessly. His left hand held the steering wheel with two fingers. His right hand held the erotic stick shift as he might his own cock. A beer was nuzzled between his thighs.
    Eleven thirty or so, he arrived to a party already in full swing. Ed’s place was an old two story farm house backed up against a corn field. Tonight it was lit up like a roman candle. Cars were parked haphazardly on the lawn, such as it was: weed infested, littered with old farm equipment and the remnants of a rusted auto chassis. The noise of party goers, bolstered by liquor and Lynard Skynard, could be heard several miles down the road. Jeff gingerly maneuvered his Nova through the scrap metal and parked. Ed, beer in hand, waved at him to come in.
    “Hey, Ed,” Jeff said. “Happy 21st birthday.”
    Ed was already one sheet to the wind. “Thanks, buddy. Come on in, let’s get started.” He let out a war whoop and threw himself through the front door. A cheer rose from the crowd inside.
    Jeff stepped on the porch and received an immediate shout from Rosie Parton, one of his high school classmates. “Jeff!” she screamed and threw herself into his half-raised arms.
    Regular drinking buddies, occasional backseat lovers, Jeff and Rosie had remained intimate friends. He laughed as she wrapped her legs around his waist and clung to his shoulders. “Whoa, Rosie. I just got here. Take it easy.”
    “Easy, hell,” Rosie said. She jumped down and crooked a finger at him. “You and me, darling, I’m gonna work you over good.” She shook her well-endowed breasts back and forth. “Come on. Let’s dance.”
    Jeff followed her into the house. Already, he felt lucky.

August 22, 2008, 8:01 P.M.

    The Sheriff’s office was dark at this hour. The occasional squawk of a radio, a few deputy voices, some doors banging.
    Jeff waited in a chair outside Sheriff “Moose” Gibson’s office and thought about what he might say. Already he questioned whether he should have called this morning and wondered what trouble he was about to be unleash on himself. He leaned forward in his chair and rubbed his stubbled chin like a man awaiting a judge’s sentence.
    The Sheriff appeared through the main entrance at 8:02 smartly dressed in his uniform. A man in his 60’s, he was still handsome: square face, grey hair combed straight back, clean shaven, stocky. His black glossy shoes clicked in rhythm as he marched past Jeff, opened his office door, and invited him in. As Jeff entered, Sheriff Gibson nodded. “Evening Jeff.”
    Gibson removed his uniform jacket and placed it just so on his coat rack. He turned and walked back to his executive desk, complete with a large brass name plate that read: Charles “Moose” Gibson, Sheriff, Sevier County. He sat down and took a moment to observe Jeff. Then, hands folded, he spoke. “Well, now, haven’t seen you in awhile.”
    Gibson knew Jeff. As a young Deputy stationed at Waldens Creek, he had busted him several times for vandalism, drunkenness, typical things that rowdy boys engage in.
    “What’s this I hear about Ashley? You say you know where she is?”
    Jeff’s eyes surveyed the floor. “Yessir, I do.”
    Gibson swiveled in his chair like a clock pendulum and locked his fingers in his lap. “Well now, exactly what do you know? Twenty-eight years is a long time to be missing. She come back to town?”
    “She never left.”
    “That so?”
    “She’s –” Jeff paused as if the word on his tongue had caught in his throat.
    “Spit it out, son. You got my attention.”
    “She’s . . . dead.”
    Gibson stopped swiveling. “You know this for certain?”
    “Yessir. I know where she is. I can take you there.”
    Gibson picked up a pencil and tapped it on his desk.
    “Okay, so she’s dead and you know where she is. Is it safe to assume you were there when she died?”
    “And when was this?”
    Jeff shifted in his chair and stroked his chin. “Somewhere round 1980. August, I believe.”
    Gibson leaned back with his arms crossed. “1980? Goddang it all, you been sitting on this for that long?”
    Jeff nodded.
    Gibson shifted forward and placed his big hands flat on his desk. “All right. Twenty-eight years ago. So? Where is she?”
    “Up on a bluff above Red Bank Road.”
    “Did you kill her?”
    Jeff winced and shook his head. “No, sir. I did not.”
    “Well then, how’d she die?”
    Jeff put his head between his hands. “I don’t know. I . . . I can’t be sure.”
    “Why not?”
    “Cause we were, you know, fooling around that night and then I went to sleep and when I woke up, she’s not breathin.”
    “You’re saying she just up and died?”
    Jeff dropped his hands and folded them between his legs. For the first time, he looked up at Gibson.
    “That’s the way it seems to me. Dunno why, but that’s the truth.”
    “Didn’t think to come down and get help?”
    “I was panicked. I didn’t think anyone would believe me if I told what happened.”
    Gibson gave Jeff a hard stare. “You two lovers, boyfriend, girlfriend maybe?”
    “No, sir. I wasn’t with her or anyone else, not steady anyway. We was just looking for a good time. That’s all. Something went wrong and before I know it, she’s dead.”
    Gibson folded his hands on his desk and frowned. “Well, you left her up there for almost thirty years. Doesn’t say much for you now, does it?”
    “No, sir. Worst thing I ever done. It’s why I finally went back. You know, news the other day bout that high school girl got me thinking.”
    The Sheriff paused. “How’d you find her?”
    “I went back and looked. Truth be told –” Jeff’s voice softened. “I think maybe she led me back. I think she helped me.”
    “You telling me her ghost led you to her grave?”
    “Maybe. I ain’t superstitious and I can’t explain it. Just a feeling, I guess.”
    “Uh-huh.” Gibson reached for his pencil and cleared his throat. “Well, for certain, we’re gonna check this out. I would advise you, don’t leave town for the next few weeks.”
    He reached for his phone and dialed. Someone at the other end picked up. Gibson’s bass voice resonated in the office. “Dick, I need a crew tomorrow, first thing, say nine A.M. Can you get your folks together and meet me here at the office? Right. That’s right. We’re recovering a body. Not sure yet, but I’ll get the crime scene folks to go with you. Maybe. Maybe. Young girl, bout eighteen. No, not the Melkin girl. Someone else. Right, thanks, Dick. Uh-huh. See you tomorrow.”
    He hung up the phone.
    “Hear that Jeff? Nine A.M. tomorrow. I’m going to assume you’ll be here cause I’m sending a car to pick you up. What’s your address?”
    “914 East McMahon Road. It’s in that trailer park over by the old Blue Ridge Motel. I’ll be there, Sheriff. No problem.”
    Gibson scribbled notes on a pad. “Oh, it’s a problem, Jeff. If she’s where you say she is and you were with her when she died, it’s a big problem.”
    “Yessir. I know how it sounds. If I was in your shoes, I’d be wondering.”
    Jeff stood up and tried to shake the Sheriff’s hand. Gibson ignored the gesture. Jeff turned and opened the door.
    “So, Jeff –” Gibson said.
    “Better get an attorney.”
    June 7, 1980, 5:52 P.M.

    June hollered from the back bedroom of her small trailer. “Ashley, hon, Where’s my new dress?”
    June Hendricks, mother to 18-year-old daughter Ashley, was due to be at the front desk of the Pigeon Forge Guest Suites for her normal 6:00 P.M. shift. As of now, half-dressed and driven by agitation, she was running late.
    Ashley, equally annoyed by the desperation in her mother’s voice, yelled back. “What, Mother?”
    “My new dress. It was just here this morning in my closet. It don’t have legs to walk. Where is it?”
    “Well, maybe it grew wings and flew.”
    “Come on, daughter. I’m late. I need to get dressed.”
    “Try the hook on the bathroom door.”
    June scooted into the bathroom. There, hanging on the back door, her new dress.
    “Thank you,” she hollered.
    “You’re welcome,” Ashley replied with equal force.
    Anxious and nearly out of breath, June threw on the dress. She paused long enough to look in the mirror and check her makeup. Some crow’s feet and a few extra pounds on her five-foot four frame, but thanks to a good stylist in Pigeon Forge, her blond hair curled nicely around her shoulders. She put the finishing touches on her face, donned the navy blue blazer with the hotel’s insignia on the pocket, and rushed down the hallway.
    “Late, late. Mr. McQuarty is not going to be happy.”
     Ashley listened to June hustle around the house and twirled a strand of spaghetti on her fork. “Mr. McQuarty’s a toad.”
    “He might be,” her mother replied, “but he pays my salary and puts food on that plate.”
    Ashley made a face.
    June stopped for a moment to gaze at her daughter. Despite the fact Ashley was eighteen and quite capable of taking care of herself, she felt a twinge of guilt about leaving her alone on a Saturday night.
    “Where you going tonight?”
    “Becky invited me to go to some fancy smancy party.”
    “Fine,” June said as she rushed out the door. “Don’t be out too late.”
    She ran to her car, a rusty brown Pinto with a cracked front passenger window. After several attempts to fire it up, the beast kicked in and belched smoke out the tail pipe. You could follow her smoky trail as June rolled down Dogwood Lane and turned left on Gate Road.

    Around 7:30, Becky Blalock pulled up to the house in her blue VW Bug. With her long legs, black Satin dress, red high heels, and manicured auburn hair, Becky was definitely out to make an impression. She called out, “Ashley?”
    “Be just a minute,” Ashley replied as she hurried into the bathroom.
    As usual, Ashley had raided her mom’s closet, swiping a pink cocktail top and a shiny pair of black high heels. From her own dresser, she grabbed her favorite pair of dress blue jeans, the ones with the leather eagle sewn on the back pocket. Her long blond hair was combed straight and hung loosely around her shoulders. After a quick once over in the mirror, she hurried out and jumped into Becky’s VW.
    “Right,” Ashley said. “Now. What’s this party we’re going to?”
    Becky, who worked as a receptionist for a local attorney, talked fast and used plenty of body drama. “Rick Carlyle’s house. Very shi shi.”
    “This one of your attorney friends?”
    “Well, not mine personally. He’s friends with my boss. They went to law school together. He came in the other day and just surprised me. You know how attorneys can get. Kind of flirty and all. Then out of the blue, he says, ‚You like parties?’ And I say, ‚Why sure,’ and there he is giving me an address and everything. Even says in this real sexy voice, ‚Bring a friend if you want.’ Ooo, I’m tellin’ you, I coulda died right there. If he’d laid me out, I would have done whatever he asked, what-ev-er, even if he is married.”
    Ashley grinned. “You’re terrible.”
    “Yes, I am,” Becky laughed. “Specially where he’s concerned.”
    They drove for a moment in silence.
    “So,” Ashley said, “what’s the occasion?”
    “His 40th birthday. My boss will be there too. The way I see it, I think Rick just wants to check me out. I say let him.” Becky giggled and fanned her face.
    At the Carlyles, the long gravel driveway was lit on each side with decorative lamps. It merged into a large concrete circle with a fountain in the middle. A valet waited to park their car.
    “Oooo,” Becky cooed to Ashley. “Nice, huh?”
    A crowd gathered on the patio, many with drinks in hand. Becky spotted her boss, Frank Ogle, defense attorney and founding partner of the firm Ogle, Hanson, and Grimaldi. He noticed Becky and made a beeline. “Well, hello there, Becky. How are you?”
    “I’m fine, thank you. Frank, this is my friend, Ashley Hendricks.”
    “Hello Mr. Ogle,” Ashley said.
    “Hello, Ashley,” Frank replied as he brushed past her and grabbed Becky’s arm. “Now my dear, let me show you around.”
    Becky waved at Ashley and disappeared among the guests. Ashley felt as if she’d just been stranded on another planet.

    The party broke up around 11.
    Becky found Ashley by herself in a patio chair smoking a cigarette. Becky was breathless. “Well, what’d you think?”
     Ashley had talked to a few people, none of whom she would ever care to meet again. She did not mince words. “Well, the house is nice, the food is great, but the people suck. Can we get out of here, please?”
    The ride home was quiet. As Ashley stepped out of Becky’s car, she felt relief. True, she might be trailer trash but home was home and this was where she belonged, at least for the moment.
    As Becky drove off, Ashley waved and gazed up at the summer stars. “Welcome to my world,” she murmured.
    A large black truck drove up and parked. It was her mom’s boyfriend, Sheriff’s Deputy Moose Gibson. Moose liked to drop by occasionally for a night cap and a roll in the sack with June. Like June, he was divorced, but even in his mid-thirties the man remained attractive. June liked to keep him happy when she could. He made her feel safe.
    Ashley watched Moose ease out of his truck.
    He spotted her and called out, “Well hey there, Miss Ashley. How are you this lovely evening?”
    He leaned back on his front grill and lit a cigarette.
    Standing on the porch step, she smiled. “Fine, Moose. Yourself?”
    Ashley had known Moose most of her life and, despite their age difference, his pull was strong. Maybe the uniform. Maybe the need for a father figure. Maybe his warm sexual charisma.
    Moose crossed his feet, took a deep drag, and exhaled. “Better, now that I’m off work. Your mother home?”
    “You know she works Saturday nights, Moose.”
    “Oh, right, right.”
    Ashley unlocked the door and looked back. “Want a beer?”
    Moose bounced off the grill. “Well, now, you just read my mind, didn’t you?”
    Ashley stepped inside and took two Budweisers from the refrigerator, popped off the caps, and handed him a bottle. They both sat down at the tiny round kitchen table.
    “What time she coming home?” Moose said.
    Ashley drank deeply from her beer bottle and watched Moose with intense interest. His presence at the table seemed immense.
    “Um, probably 2:30 or so.”
    Moose followed with his own slow drink and placed his bottle on the table. “Where you been?”
    “Over at a party in Meadow Hills. Know Rick Carlyle?”
    Moose looked surprised. “Lawyer friend, huh?”
    “Not mine. My friend Becky’s.”
    “Phew-ee. That’s big time.”
    “Well, big time or not, they’ve got sticks up their asses and I’m glad to be home.”
    His eyes softened. “You’re just a country girl, now ain’t you?” He reached out to cover her hand. “Want to watch some T.V.?”
    She eyed him and paused. “I’m kinda tired, Moose. I think I’ll go to bed.”
    “Mind if I hang around a bit?”
    “Help yourself.”
    Ashley took her time undressing. She listened for the sounds of Moose on the couch as he flipped the station to an old Abbott and Costello movie. For a moment, she sat naked on the toilet listening to his baritone laugh. She felt a certain sense of comfort with him around.
    When Ashley finished dressing, she walked out into the hallway. “Night, Moose.”
    The T.V. clicked off. He turned and looked her over – sheer nightgown and pajamas, hair brushed, fresh scrubbed, the clear outlines of her breasts.
    “Darling, you . . . are beautiful.”
    He walked over, brushed her face with a finger, and wrapped his arms around her back. She rested on his shoulder and gripped his waist. They danced silently in a slow circle. His hands brushed up and down her nightgown, massaged her back, then worked their way forward. She offered no resistance.
    Suddenly, in a sweeping motion, he reached down, lifted her in his arms, and cradled her to his chest. They kissed lightly before he carried her into her bedroom. She heard the door shut and became aware that her body and soul were wrapped in darkness, filled with fire, engulfed.

August 23, 2008, 11:53 A.M.

    The hot sun climbed toward noon. There was a flurry of activity around the ledge and cave law enforcement now worked like busy ants. Overhead, a helicopter hovered and waited to retrieve the rescue basket in which Ashley’s body would be drawn up and transported to a morgue. For now, everyone seemed occupied except Jeff and the Sheriff.
    Jeff had repeated his story several times to investigators. Now, exhausted and spent from the heat, he withered under a large maple tree with his head between his knees.
    Gibson walked over and stood next to him. “How’d she know about this place again?”
    Jeff’s voice betrayed his weariness. “Well, all I know is, she said her dad used to take her here when they went hunting.”
    For a moment, Gibson seemed distracted. “Hunting for what, I wonder?” He stood silent, rehashing the question in his mind, trying to make sense of it. “And you’d never been here before that?”
    “No, sir, and I ain’t been here since. First and last time was twenty-eight years ago, till now, anyway.”
    Gibson stared at the cave. “Hell of a spot she picked.”
    Gibson’s voice softened. “Something special she was – ”
    Jeff’s face drooped further toward the ground. “To be honest, I didn’t know much about her. Seems strange to say, given what we done up here, but hell, we was just kids being crazy.”
    “We all do stupid things when we’re young. Anything else you remember?”
    “We was drunk, Sheriff, and it was a long time ago. I remember waking up and finding her laid out in the cave. She wasn’t moving or breathing. I checked her pulse and just assumed she was dead. Rest is a blur – me running down the hill, getting in my car, driving away.”
    “She tell you anything might give us a clue why she died?”
    “We talked, Sheriff, but it’s way too far back to remember mucha what we said. We was just trying to have some fun, that’s all. I never thought she was going to die.” Jeff shook his head and placed his hands on his temples. “Honestly. It don’t make much sense, what happened. We didn’t do anything up here other’n smoke, drink, and fuck.”
    Gibson looked intently at Jeff. “That’s it, huh?”
    “Yessir. That’s what I remember. I guess I’m hoping you can figure out the rest.”
    Gibson crossed his arms. “You can rest assured. I’ll keep trying.”
    Jeff looked up at the Sheriff. “Yessir, I’m sure you will.”
    One investigator came over to Gibson. “Sheriff, we’re ready to move the body.”
    Gibson marched over and watched as a group of rescuers carried Ashley’s remains in a zipped black bag and lowered them onto the bed. Securing the bag, they stepped back. Gibson bowed his head as if paying his last respects, then raised his right thumb as a signal to the helicopter. The cargo rose slowly until several sets of hands reached and plucked the basket out of the air. In a matter of seconds, the helicopter made a beeline across the valley.
    Jeff stood up and prepared to leave.
    Gibson walked back and looked him over. “You’re quite a sight, Jeff. Should go home and clean up.”
    “I will, Sheriff.” He paused and looked across the forest. “For sure I could use a bath and a drink.”
    “You and me both,” Gibson said as he started the long trek down the mountain.

August 27, 1980, 12:33 A.M.

    The party was in full swing. Even so, with a long shift of work and several beers under his belt, Jeff was spent. He found a vacant patch behind the living room couch and, despite all the noise and bodies around him, stretched out and dozed off. When he came to, a familiar face was smiling at him. Ashley Hendricks, one of his high school classmates.
    “Hello there, girl,” Jeff said.
    “Hello, yourself, sleepy head. You come all the way out here just to snooze?”
    “Just catching a little cat nap, that’s all.”
    “More ‚n a cat nap I’d say. I’m sitting on this couch and I hear this noise. Lo and behold, it’s you – snoring. You know, with all this racket, if I can hear you, that’s saying something.”
    Jeff smiled as he raised up, sat on his butt, and stretched his arms. “Well, I’m back.”
    Ashley held out her hand. “Here we go.”
    He returned her grip and stood up.
    Ed appeared from the crowd and hollered at Jeff. “Where you been? I been looking all over for you.”
    Ashley piped up. “He was right here, snoring.”
    Ed pulled at Jeff’s sleeve. “Ah, you ain’t tired yet, are you? We’re just warming up, brother.” Then he spun around and staggered back into the crowd.
    One drunken soul rushed out and grabbed Ashley around the waist. “Hey, Ashley,” he slurred. “Come on now. Don’t you be a party pooper.”
    Pulling her to the middle of the floor, he tried to dance, but his mind and legs were too wasted. She just laughed and wandered to the other side of the room.
    Jeff watched her for several minutes. Strange, for as long as they’d known each other, he’d never paid her much mind. Now Jeff felt as if a light had shone on her face. He was struck by what he’d missed.
    He felt the sudden need to hit the toilet. Trudging down a hallway, he spotted a couple in a bedroom, door half-open, in the middle of full-fledged sex. Down at the end, another couple leaned against a wall and shared a joint.
    Jeff found the bathroom and closed the door. As he undid his pants, he was startled by a groan behind the shower curtain. Throwing it back, he found his friend, Larry Murtz, half-curled in the tub.
    “Ah shit, Larry. You liked to give me a heart attack.”
    Larry lifted his groggy head. “Oh, sorry, Jeff.”
    He rose to his feet and clumsily stepped over the tub wall. Then, in a type of dead man’s crawl, he lumbered out the bathroom door.
    When Jeff finished, he stepped out into the hallway, only to be startled by Rosie as she jumped in his arms and gave him a tongue-engorged kiss.
    “I told you,” she said.
    “Yes you did,” he replied.
    “Well – ”
    “Well what?”
    Rosie opened a bedroom door and checked to see if it was empty. “Right here would be fine.”
    They stumbled in and collapsed on the bed. As Jeff heaved the door shut with his foot, he felt reenergized.

    When he came out an hour later, the party had wound down. He could hear cars roll down the driveway and voices echo good nights. Rosie had passed out.
    He walked to the living room and looked around. The name that immediately popped into his head – Ashley. Jeff searched the house without success. He sat on the porch for a few minutes hoping she might walk out the door. No sign of her.
    Ed weaved his way up the steps and found an empty chair.
    “Great party, Ed,” Jeff said
    “Sheyiiiiit yeah,” Ed exclaimed. “I heard you rocked the house.” He winked and held up a beer.
    “Well, I think she done kidnaped me more’n I chased her.”
    “But you didn’t fight it.”
    “Had no choice.”
    “And you got the best of it.”
    Jeff grinned. “You ask me, we each got our fair share.”
    “Yeah,” Ed said, “but you’re awake, she’s out cold.”
    “True enough.”
    “I think that makes you the winner.”
    Jeff paused and nodded. “Guess you got me there.”
    They sat for a moment and listened to the night noises coming from the fields. A dog barked in the distance. Fighting off exhaustion, Jeff decided enough was enough.
    “Well, I best be off, Ed.”
    Ed extended his arm toward the door. “Stay here if you want.”
    Jeff rose and rocked his arms back and forth. “Nope, I’d rather sleep in my own bed, if you don’t mind.”
    “Suit yourself. Drive safely.”
    “Don’t you be driving at all.”
    “Ah, now, I’m still good for another round or two.” Ed raised his bottle in a farewell salute.
    Jeff shook his head and walked out to his Nova. As he collapsed in the driver’s seat, he tried to collect his thoughts. Rolling down the driveway, he thought of Ashley. He wondered where she was and why he suddenly missed her.

August 26, 2008, 1:08 P.M.

    June sat on the large porch of her nephew Keith’s house. After the discovery of Ashley’s body, June had taken refuge here. Keith’s wife Rita, an ER nurse at Fort Sanders Sevier Medical Center, had taken some time off to be with June and help with funeral arrangements. June looked out over a small vegetable garden that adjoined the house. The fact she was surrounded by things healthy and growing did her good.
    Keith, son of June’s youngest brother Robert, worked for the County Highway Department. That’s where he was today, on a job repaving a stretch of Highway 441. Rita was in back clearing the persistent weeds that sprouted against their fence. For the moment, June enjoyed some solitude and a cigarette. A glass of ice tea condensed on a small round metal table.
    As she had done so often in the past, her mind wandered to Ashley. Only now she had something concrete to ponder. The where question had been answered, but the how and why questions still rolled in like dense lake fog.
    More immediate, she was dealing with the discovery’s aftermath. Things like the coroner’s inquiry, funeral arrangements, and Jeff’s confession. Jeff Dunn, she wondered. Why the hell was she with Jeff? More important, who was Jeff?
    From the driveway exit off Douglas Dam Road, June spotted a Sheriff’s car approaching. She guessed it was Moose coming to give her more information about Ashley. She had ached for these details for twenty-eight years. Yet, when Moose talked about it, she found it dreadful. Still, knowing was better than not knowing. She watched the car crawl up the driveway and fought off her misgivings.
    Moose had maintained his dignity and good looks, even into his 60’s. June, on the other hand, had grown old. Her blond hair was bleached gray and white. Her face looked weathered from work, hard living, and stress. Problems with her teeth had left her with dentures. Today, she wore a floral print dress purchased almost fifteen years ago. Its patterns had faded. In one or two spots there were tears.
    As Moose walked up the porch steps, she wondered if he remembered all those times they drank together and made love. She felt embarrassed as he sat next to her. She used to notice his eyes hungry with affection. Now he seemed aloof, professional.
    “Howdy, June,” he said.
    “Moose,” she replied.
    “I come to give you an update and see how you’re doing.”
    “I could be better. I could be worse. For now, I’m all right. Rita’s a big help.” June took several drags on her cigarette. “I got funeral arrangements in the works. All I need is for them bone pickers of yours to release her body.”
    “Coroner assured me he’ll have a report soon. I’ll make sure he stays on it.”
    “Sure is strange to be doing this after so long. I gave up this idea a long time ago. Now, here it is, staring me in the face.”
    “I know, strange for me too. Does help to think she’ll have a final resting place. Hope that gives you some peace of mind.”
    “It don’t make it any easier, but at least this is where it ends.”
    Moose shifted and reached for June’s hand. “I’ll do whatever I can to help. You and me, we go way back. I promise, I’ll take care of this.”
    June was touched by his tenderness. “Thank you, Moose. And what about Jeff?”
    “Don’t you worry bout him. I got him under the microscope. If he was involved in this, I’ll make sure he gets what’s coming.”
    “You believe him?”
    “I believe he was there. Not sure I buy his story. I’ll know more after the coroner’s report.”
    June adjusted her skirt and rubbed a finger up and down her ice tea glass.
    Moose swatted at some flies. “I gotta level with you, June. We don’t have a lot to go on here. No witnesses cept Jeff and too much time has passed for much evidence to survive. Still, I’m gonna go over it piece by piece. If there’s something there, I’ll find it.”
    Moose placed June’s hand back in her lap. They sat for a moment and gazed out over the vegetable garden. The air was filled with the buzz of insects. Humidity hung in the air like a warm, wet towel. They listened to Rita as she hacked weeds and tossed them in a pile. The occasional thud of clumped roots hit the ground.
    June took a long drag and eyed Moose. “We were good together, weren’t we?”
    Moose looked at June and felt panic. About not marrying her. About his numerous flings. About what he’d done with Ashley. “No doubt, we had some good times.”
    His discomfort showed in the swing of one leg crossed over the other. The left foot was doing a slow jig.
    “D’you ever love me?” she asked.
    His dangling foot increased its pace. “Darling, I always loved you. You know that.”
    “Well, I just thought, maybe once, you know –”
    “I ain’t the marrying kind, June. You know that.”
    “And Ashley. You love her?”
    He paused. This was the shot to the heart he had hoped to avoid. “Like she was my own.”
    June took another drag and blew out forcefully. “That’s good. I always believed you loved us, in spite a what you done.”
    Moose gazed out again at the garden. “Well, you should know. I ain’t no saint.”
    “Me neither. Guess we was just two sinners searching for love.”
    Moose remained quiet.
    “And Ashley . . . she knew you cared about her.”
    Moose sighed. “Yes, darling, I know she did.”
    “She always admired you.”
    He had reached his breaking point. Feeling the urgent need to escape, he stood up and put his hand on June’s shoulder. “I gotta go, Juney. I promise to stay on top of this.”
    June reached up and grabbed his hand. “You promise?”
    “I do, darling.”
    He squeezed her shoulder and moved deliberately down the steps.
    As he headed down Douglas Dam Road, he thought about all those sermons he used to hear when he was a kid at Solid Rock Baptist Church. Preacher going on about how each and every sin would be found out. How judgment waited for those who failed to confess. How God knew every thought inside a person’s big black heart.
    He remembered what his mama used to tell him about lying. “Don’t you forget son, lies are like a field full a thistles. Pretty soon, no matter how hard you try to hide ‚em, they’ll pop up ‚n sting and scratch you something awful.”
    He chewed on this all the way back to his office.

August 27, 1980, 1:53 A.M.

    She was a thin shadow walking down Ed’s driveway. Jeff slowed and looked over his shoulder to confirm it. It was Ashley hiking in the dark. He recognized her bright red sneakers. She wore a blue windbreaker and had one hand stuffed deep in her pocket. The other carried a flashlight. Jeff could see the beam bounce up and down as she walked.
    Surprised at his discovery, he pulled his Nova to the side of the driveway and began to carefully back up. Ashley waited for him.
    Jeff reached over and rolled down the passenger window. “What you doin?”
    “Walkin,” she replied.
    “I can see that. It’s two o’clock in the goddang morning. Where you goin?”
    Ashley leaned her elbows on the windowsill and poked her head inside. “Don’t know. Party’s over. Just kinda felt like walking for a bit. Ed’s got plenty of room in that old house of his. Eventually, I’ll come back and crash. He’ll take me home tomorrow.”
    “Well now, beinz how Ed’s pretty drunk and crazy right now, don’t think I’d trust him too much if I was you. Way he is, he might yet find a cow or two to screw.”
    Ashley laughed. “You think? Last I saw him, I’m not too sure he could find his dick.”
    “Hmm, that’s never been a problem with Ed. He could fuck a pillow in his sleep. Get in. I’ll drive you home.”
    “And you, being a drunk crazy redneck just come from Ed’s party, I should trust you?”
    Jeff exhaled. “Get in . . . please?”
    “What’ll you do if I don’t?”
    “Follow you around and throw your ass in the trunk.”
    Ashley climbed in. As soon as she shut the door, Jeff drove to the end of Ed’s driveway, turned right, and hit the gas.
    She poked around the interior, examining tapes and various pieces of accumulated junk. “Nice car,” she said, fingering an old Styrofoam container with a KFC logo. “Could use a woman’s touch.”
    Jeff rolled his eyes. “Where you going, really?”
    “Where you want to go?” Her smile was a dare.
    “Right now, home. I worked yesterday. I’m tired.”
    Ashley flashed a mischievousness grin. “Ah, is da wittle Jeffy worn out from too much beer ‚n pussy?”
    Jeff cocked his head. “That ‚n about a hundred other things.”
    They drove along the road for a couple of miles, the strains of The Allman Brothers still groaning from the stereo. Ashley threw her hand out the window and let the air push her fingers back and forth. Around a corner, the full moon suddenly revealed its face. “Oh, pretty,” she said.
    Jeff arrived at a four-way intersection. Idling at the stop sign, he asked, “Which way?”
    Ashley raised her index finger and moved it slowly in a circle. Then, she looked over at Jeff and paused for dramatic effect. “Uh, that way.” She pointed right.
    “Where’s that way go?”
    “It’s a surprise.”
    She laughed, reached over, and turned up the stereo volume until the sound roared out of the car deep into the surrounding woods. Jeff swerved the steering wheel right and floored the gas pedal. The tires squealed against the pavement.

    From Highway 441 in Pigeon Forge, Ashley gave him mysterious directions down various back roads: Sugar Hollow, Ridge, Center View. Middle Creek, Jayell, Pittman Center. Finally they turned right on Red Bank and followed it south along the Little Pigeon River. It was now close to 2:30 and they were on a small road in the forest parallel to Spence Mountain.
    Jeff shook his head. “God almighty, Ashley, where you taking me?”
    “You’ll see.”
    A mile or so down the road she signaled, “Stop here.”
    Jeff pulled the Nova along the narrow shoulder.
    Ashley jumped out and started to dance around. “We’re here, we’re here,” she shouted.
    Jeff eased out of the car. “And where is here?”
    “My spot. My own private hideaway.”
    Ashley bolted about twenty-five yards down the road and disappeared into the forest.
    As Jeff struggled to keep up, he huffed, “Jesus Christ, Ashley. Wait up, would you?”
    He noticed an opening in the trees about ten yards from the river shore. A series of boulders jutted across and served as a rough bridge. With the bright moonlight overhead, Jeff could see the other shore about fifty yards across. Ashley was waiting for him on the near bank.
    “What’s this?” he asked.
    “The trail to my spot.”
    “Your spot?”
    “That’s right. You’re soooo lucky. Only a few people have ever been here. I call it –” throwing her arms wide open, “Ashley’s View.”
    She ran down to the beach and hopped across one rock, then another, as if she knew each one by heart. Jeff hesitated and watched her jump. She looked back and waved an invitation. Jeff, groggy from work, party, and drink, extended his foot to the first rock and teetered from side to side. For him it would be a much longer journey.

    As he took the last jump from boulder to shore, Ashley sat on a log with her legs crossed, smoking a joint. He stopped and watched her. “Where’d you get that?”
    She gave him a naughty girl grin. “I got my sources.”
    Jeff sat next to her and looked across the river. “I’ll bet your sources are all named Ed.”
    Ashley took a final puff, crushed her joint on the forest floor and slid closer. “Now, don’t you feel lucky?”
    “Lucky to be alive.”
    “Well now, maybe this will help.”
    Ashley leaned over and kissed him. When she finished, Jeff remained still for several seconds, eyes closed, like a man who had fallen asleep.
    She smiled and touched his cheek with a finger. He opened his eyes and ran his hands through her hair.
    “Gotta ways to go yet,” she said as she jumped off the log and disappeared into the forest.
    “Holy criminey,” Jeff complained. “I’m gonna die in this place, aren’t I? Die and they’ll never find us.”
    He tried to follow her, but Ashley had vanished. “Ashley,” he yelled. “Come on, now, don’t leave me out here.”
    “Over here. Don’t be such a scaredy cat.” She started to chant, “Scaredy cat, scaredy cat.”
    Jeff followed the voice and spotted her next to a large maple tree. “How you know where you’re going?”
    “There’s a trail, can’t you tell?”
    As she looked up, Jeff followed her finger.
    “I made these things called mobiles from old pieces of colored glass. Learned it in my high school art class. You can’t see them now, it’s too dark, but I put some along here to keep me going in the right direction. Now, if you shine your flashlight in the trees like this –” She pointed her beam straight up. Jeff noticed faint reflections of red, blue, and green shoot out from an underlying branch. “See? Christmas all year long.”
    “Christmas,” Jeff said.
    “That’s right, Christmas. And tonight –” she reached over and gave him another kiss, “I’m your present.” With that, she turned and ran up the mountain, flashing arrows of light in the trees and singing at the top of her voice, “We wish you a merry Christmas –”
    Jeff watched her skip like a kid in a school yard. “All right, then. Christmas.”

August 30, 2008, 7:43 P.M.

    Jeff rested in a battered patio chair next to his equally dilapidated trailer. He could see the bright blue florescent sign shining at the Blue Ridge Motel. Blink, blink. Underneath the large neon lights, a smaller red sign flashed Vacancy. Jeff was mesmerized by each sign’s height and color. They reminded him of Ashley’s mobiles.
    He thought about his miserable life. Hard labor, irregular paychecks, the ups and downs of drinking, so many girlfriends in and out of his life, and always, tucked far back in his mind, Ashley.
    Jeff turned and noticed a Sheriff’s car parked about twenty yards down the road. There was just enough daylight to make out a dark figure inside. He guessed it was Gibson, the same Sheriff who had recently said to reporters: “We will work and do whatever it takes to see that justice is done by Ms. Hendricks, in whatever form the law allows.” Those words kept ringing in Jeff’s ears. <>IIn whatever form –
    Jeff wondered if this was what lurked out there tonight. Southern justice? Gibson justice? He sat and stared at the vehicle for half an hour. Finally, he said, “Hells bells. He’z probably come ta shoot me.”
    He finished his cigarette, stood up, and hollered, “Whaddya want with me? Come on outta that car ya dirty son of a bitch and look me in the eye.”
    No sign of movement in response to his challenge.
    He kept at it. “Come on out, ya fuckin coward.”
    The force of his spit covered his rough whiskered chin. He walked another several steps, then stumbled and fell to the ground.
    The headlamps from the Sheriff’s car covered the entire road with a brilliant white glare. The floodlights followed. Jeff shaded his eyes with his hands. A car door opened and slammed shut. The sound of boots on gravel crunched toward him at a measured pace. Blind as he was, Jeff knew his visitor. Gibson’s voice confirmed it. “Looks like you’re having a bit of trouble there, Jeff.”
    Jeff’s anger returned. “I ain’t got no trouble but you hounding me, sitting in that car like you was God er something.”
    Gibson took a moment to watch Jeff. “I’d say you’re wrong on that count. Your life is nothing but trouble and I’m here to see that trouble come to an end. Guess you might call me a force of justice.”
    Jeff tried to stand. He floundered for a moment and rolled side to side before he managed to sit on his butt with his hands crossed in his lap. “And you’re the one to do that, huh?”
    “That’s right,” Gibson said. “That’s what I’m here to do. That’s why the good citizens of this county elected me Sheriff.”
    “They elect you to shoot me down like a dog in the road?”
    Gibson stepped in front of Jeff. “If that dog is a danger to them, then yes, I wouldn’t hesitate.”
    Jeff tried once again to stand up. He failed. Dirt smudged his face and clothes. Sitting in the dust, he resigned himself to his own end. He leaned forward with his eyes to the ground. His voice was tired and hoarse. “Well, get on with it then. Stop wasting my time.”
    Gibson reached for his holstered 38 caliber and held it in the air.

stay tuned for part two of the story
Ashley’s View
in v091, the February 2011 issue, of
Down in the Dirt magazine

Cottage Country

Brad Buchanan

The less you have, the more you want to keep
away from the government’s flying eyes
under dog and tree, in the clutter and waste
of your shady rural sovereignty.

You honor appliances you have replaced
with undesired permanence.

Your marijuana patch has an air
of the accidental, inevitably.

Your vehicles cry out for uncontrolled
enjoyment, threaten a cynical world
with grease, ungainly godliness
and dangerous dirt.
                                  The buxom girl
profiled in silvery chrome on your pickup’s
wheelflaps traces the absolute limit
of the average male imagination.

The house your parents kept for vacations
has become a place you will die
defending to impatient girlfriends
almost patriotically.

About Brad Buchanan

    Brad Buchanan’s poetry and essays have appeared in more than 160 journals worldwide, among them Canadian Literature, Fulcrum,Twentieth Century Literature, Grain, and the Journal of Modern Literature. I have published two books of poetry: The Miracle Shirker, which won an Honorable Mention in the 2007 Writer’s Digest awards, and Swimming the Mirror, which won a First Prize in the 2009 Writer’s Digest awards. I also run a new operation called Roan Press, Sacramento’s Small Literary Publisher (website, and my most recent book, Oedipus Against Freud, has just appeared from the University of Toronto Press.


Sara Sather

He calls every month
I know the scratching voice.

My guilt rises like bread,
expanding in my stomach.

He donates Southern money
to the clinic,

Like a Catholic
to the church.

The only choice he favors
is his common qualifier:

Specify this gift—
Black babies please.

My methodical task is simple
but the consequences reek of

silent genocide.

Brody’s Bad Day

Don Ray Crawford

    “Are you gonna pay us back? When? Dammit, Brody, I been patient over four weeks. Big Manny ain’t gonna wait much longer. I may not ask you again. You know he don’t abide welchers.”
    “What the hell, Dark, I always paid Big Manny ever fuckin cent I owed him. Hell, what’s a measly ten grand? I’ll get it. Just gimme three more days. I got something in the oven?”
    “Bullshit. All you got in the oven is burned cornbread. He ain’t gonna buy it and you know it.”
    Brody fumbled in his pockets and pulled out his well worn black billfold. It was thin to the touch. He reached in and jerked out four soiled one hundred dollar bills. “Man, this is all I’ve got in the world. If you take it, I don’t eat; maybe lose my room. Come on, Dark, gimme a break for Christ’s sake. Where’s your humanity?”
    He took three. “Three C notes, maybe buy you two hours. What then? Damn it, Brody, I like you but I can’t protect you from your own damned reckless impulses. What made you think that nag, Ghost Dancer, would win at Pimlico? And, why the hell ten grand, you stupid bastard? You deserve whatever Big Mannie orders up for you.” His face was contorted with anger.
    “I know, no sermons, please. You’ve always been a real pal, Dark, and I want you to know I appreciate it. I’ll get the money. Three days. Tell Big Mannie if I don’t have the money by then, I’ll give myself up to whatever he wants to do with me.” They both knew it was just a stall.
    “It’s your funeral, pal. I’ll tell him but we both know what he’s gonna say.” He stared at Brody, turned on his heels and walked back to his car. They’d been standing in the narrow doorway of Brody’s cheap walk-up hotel, called the “PITT’S.” The name fit like gravy on mashed potatoes.


    Brody kept his eyes on the big shiny Chrysler until Dark was out of sight. Then, he dashed across the street to his old Volvo and kicked up the tired engine. It sputtered, died, He started it again and it caught but continued sputtering until he had it up to twenty-five miles per hour.
    He was headed for Shelly’s place, where he intended to hit up his old buddy from prison. Shelly had helped him before; told him never again, but he was desperate. Shelly owned the Green Felt Lounge, a card game set-up. He’d gone to prison for extorting local Korean bodegas. The last chink had called the cops, even though he’d been warned not to. Unfortunately for the chink’s family, he’d suddenly been run over in a hit and run. The driver was never caught.
    “Hey, you sidewinder, how’s it going?”
    “Brody, before you even ask, I’ve told you, never again. I know you paid me back. That ballgame you won saved your ass last time, but I can’t rely on your gambling as any kind of assurances or collateral for the size loans you’ve been asking for.”
    Shelly was standing behind a make-shift bar with a scotch in his hand. Smoke filled the room. His muscular face wore a deep frown, which grew deeper when Brody walked in. A couple of green felt covered tables with six chairs were filled and Brody could hear the chortling of the players.
    “Come on, its only fifty, Skip, give me a chance to get even.”
    “Damn it, Shelly,” Brody almost in tears now, “I gotta have at least five G’s to stay alive. I’ll pay you back, I swear to God! We go way back, man. My life is hanging by a spider web. If I don’t come up with something by tonight, it’s adios Brody. You don’t want that on your conscious, do you?”
    “That’s facetious, Brody. Don’t play me for one of your marks. You know better.”
    “I know, man, but I’m desperate; damned desperate, like never before. I ain’t got no one else I can turn to. It’s life or death this time, no shit, Shelly, that’s the dead honest truth. It’s Big Mannie, and you know how he treats welchers.”
    “I should, I’ve taken a beating from his goons more than once in the old days before I got lucky.” He took a long swig of his scotch.
    “Wanna drink. Maybe that help relieve your nerves, but don’t get the idea I’m soft, see. I aint gonna give you five G’s, that’s for damned sure.” He wheeled around and grabbed a glass from the shelf and poured out three fingers of Cutty Sark Scotch.
    Brody grabbed up the glass and downed it in one gulp. “Can I have another?” Shelly stared at him hard, but poured out two more fingers.
    “Better take this one slow; it’s the last one I’m givin you.”
    “But, about the five G’s, Shelly, how about just a part of it?”
    Shelly sighed and rubbed across his mouth with his sleeve.
    “God dammit, Brody. Why you always have to come here?” He winced when he saw tears forming in Brody’s eyes.
    “Okay, okay, you damned jerk. He reached under the counter and took out two thousand in wrinkled bills. He squeezed them in his beefy fist for a moment; reluctant to give them up. Then, he shoved them into Brody’s face. “Take these two and get the hell outta here. I expect it back within a week, dammit; no excuses.”
    Brody grabbed the bills, sat the glass down and raced for his car. Maybe Big Mannie will give me some slack for two G’s, God, I hope so. He never heard the slug that pierced his lung.
    I’m gonna live the docs say. But, for what? The next time . . . .


Kofi Campbell

    The painting came alive under his thoughtful stare. Even she, Sarana, could only gaze in wonder at the new perspectives opening up before her. This was her painting, her master-work, yet she saw suddenly that she had never really seen it before. Not truly. Not through the eyes of another. It was a rite of passage for her. Each new piece completed beheld through the gaze of her lover. Or, in this case, her prospective lover. But this time it was different. The thought intruded, unbidden, that this time, it was for real.
    He moved a few paces to the right, and she, mirroring his every step, saw what had prompted the motion. In the upper right hand corner of the painting the sun had begun to rise, casting a blinding shadow upon certain features of the landscape. He had shifted to put the light at an oblique angle behind him. The streaks of fire were clearer from here, she saw, although the mountain ranges seemed smaller, less imposing when out of the direct sunlight. She wondered again what forces had contrived to shape them so much against her desire. She had imagined them to be harsher than the surrounding landscape, jutting brutally into the sea and sky, piercing each in turn with a regularity that shifted her thoughts again to him.
    When he turned suddenly and said, “I think I need to take a break,” she knew completion was near. The Indian landscape behind them could wait a little while longer. This lover-to-be, like all the lovers-who-were, must give his all before he could even dream of transcendence. Before he would be able to join the landscape and surrender wholly to her art. She smiled and shivered.
    “Of course.” She led him through the short hallway and into the living room of her apartment above Bloor Street. The rooms were as sparse as her art was dense, a few pieces of furniture scattered here and there, blank canvases hung at irregular intervals, and an odd collection of knives buried in ornate scabbards along many of the walls. “Can I offer you a drink?”
    He nodded absently, still lost in inner contemplation of her masterpiece. She watched him as she poured two finger of cognac, neat. He was handsome enough, not that that mattered to her. What mattered were the green in his eyes, and the heat in his blood. They were the completion she was so close to. That she needed so desperately. She’d known this as soon as she laid eyes on him, strolling easily through Kensington Market, stopping occasionally to sort through the stalls and spice racks. She approached him confidently and invited him to join her for coffee. She was an attractive woman, she knew. Her Indian features and long dark hair seemed to make her irresistible to men in this strange city. She’d discovered this almost as soon as she stepped off the plane five years past. It had been an easy matter to lead coffee into an invitation for wine the following night. And so here he was.
    She offered him the glass and waited expectantly. He did not disappoint her.
    “It certainly is beautiful,” he said finally, nodding towards the room they had just left. The painting, as she had known it would, had transfixed him. Her art always did that to the man for whom it was intended. Then the question she had been expecting. “But all of your other works seem so saturated with violence. They’re so intensely red, with such hidden anger, such a quiet rage. It permeates everything you do, except for this last piece. Why is that?”
    She smiled the smile she knew would melt him, confuse his thoughts and mix with the cognac. “Which ‘why’ are you asking? Why are my other works filled with violence, or why is this one not?”
    He shrugged uncertainly. The motion was so youthful that for a moment she forgot he was six years her senior. But the intensity of his gaze and the perceptiveness of his questions did not allow that illusion a long life. She knew, as always, that she must be careful. He could turn on her without a moment’s notice. Completion was so near. But he was, after all, only a man. Not yet the demon he must become. Not yet.
    He interrupted her thoughts as his own continued to flow. “I mean, look at this piece right here.” He laid his palm on one of the original three paintings she had discovered within herself during that brutal first year in Canada. A piece she had named, aptly enough, simply Julian’s Flower Bed. Julian had been her second Canadian lover.
    “It’s so grotesque in its depiction of death.” One long finger tapped the canvas. “Here, this mutilated body with its organs strewn all about the field. And this,” his voice deepening with introspection, “this must represent the circle of life, the beginning and the end of all things.” He was slowly stroking a convoluted figure eight symbol which winked and disappeared as it wound its way about the eviscerated corpse. The symbol seemed to support the body it entangled, at the same time holding it firmly in place. “Why all the blood, I mean? Your point could have been made more subtly, perhaps. And this one sculpted finger laid on top of the canvas! Realistic, mind you, but superfluous if you see what I mean.” He looked around the room, nodding at each painting in turn. “All I see is violence and more violence, as if that is all there is, all there ever was.”
    “You don’t like them?”
    “What?” He was surprised. “My God, I love them! They’re brilliant, each in its own way. I’m only asking for my own understanding. Why are you so obsessed with gore and blood and violence?”
    “Only blood and violence, not gore. Gore is only a side-effect. It is what completion demands.”
    Sarana laid her glass gently on the table beside her. She walked over to him and, twining her arm through his, led him to a couch in the centre of the room. She pushed him down gently, unprotesting as she knew he would be, and straddled him, raising her sari and bundling it about her waist. She felt the need rising between his legs, her own growing to match it, but the time was not yet. She must fathom him, she knew, or he would escape her before she was done. If they were to make art together, to become art together, completion could only come in the fullness of expectation and time.
    She stroked his brow with one hand, holding both of his in her other. His face, smooth against her palm, was enticing. She laid her cheek against his and crushed her breasts onto his chest. From that position she whispered into his ear, “Would you really like to know why I am so obsessed with blood and violence?”
    She sensed his surprise at the timing of the question, then came his slow nod. She settled herself onto him so that she could feel the hardness of his sex against her own. Then, her arms about his neck and her legs around his waist, she took him back five years, to the beginning of her life as an artist.

************* ************ *************

    Fifteen year old Sarana Nanpoor heaved and shook as she struggled to hide her tears behind her perfectly brushed mane of ebony hair. Her back was turned so that her relatives might not see this shameful display of immaturity. She was a woman now, leaving on her own for the promised land that she knew as Canada. Ever since she could remember, her mother and father, uncles and aunts and cousins and friends had spoken of Canada, and the day they might take their pilgrimage there as so many had before them. Three years ago her uncle Ghandar had finally saved enough money for the move. That too, she remembered, had been a tearful farewell. But it had been one full of promises, too. Promises to send for the others as soon as money could be earned and saved. Promises that were now being fulfilled. Sarana was the first of the relations to be sent for. Her parents had received word from uncle Ghandar a scant fortnight ago, and now here she was. Preparing to leave everything she knew behind.
    “My dear Sari,” her mother whispered through her own tears, “today is a happy day for us. Another of us goes to freedom and opportunity now, and you must pave the way for the rest of us, ya. You are our shining star, our hopes, our dreams.” She wiped her eyes carelessly and said for the hundredth time that morning, “Our prayers go with you, little Sari. May your shanti always remain untroubled.”
    Her father was more philosophical. “You are a bright girl, my daughter,” he told her, his voice strong and unwavering as always. “I know you will have no problems there. My brother too is smart, and he has money to make sure you get a good start in life there. And we will be seeing you as soon as we can.” But even he could not hide the sorrow and trepidation that her leave-taking had buried in the breasts of her family and friends. Canada might be the promised land, but it was an unknown, and Indians had more than enough reason to fear the unknowns of the West.
    “Oh papa, mama!” She flung herself onto them and held them tight, making no effort now to hide her tears. Everyone who had come to see her off, which meant almost everyone who had ever known her, joined the circle, and soon the waiting room was filled with the sounds of wailing and sorrow and joy, lamentation mixing smoothly with shouted words of advice and the sounds of laughter.
    “Eh, remember, girl, it is very cold in Canada, but you must never light a fire in your igloo, ya, or it will melt.”
    “Girl, watch out for thieves in the airport before you find your uncle. They will try to take everything from you when they see you are a young girl traveling alone.”
    “You must remember to thank your uncle. He has been very kind to us, and to you. You must make the most of this opportunity.”
    “Sari, watch out for the men down there. They are not like our Indian men, they will try to take your virtue without even taking you out for dinner first.”
    This last was greeted with laughter, and a voice cried out, “Ya, Sari, at least at home they buy you some naan first to give you the energy.”
    Laughter rang out louder than before, and sorrow melted into a general quiet anticipation, until Sarana’s boarding call came. Then the wailing began again, and the tears, and the shouts of advice until Sarana, frightened and sad as she was, was glad to escape to the plane where she could experience the depth of her emotions in her own solitude. So withdrawn was she that she barely noticed the take-off and flight. She was mature and self-aware enough to know that she was in a state of shock, but beyond that she was aware of little else. She ate when they offered her food and spent the rest of the flight in a deep sleep, broken only by troubled dreams she would half-remember before sinking into slumber again against the deep rhythmic pulsing of the jet’s engines. She felt as if she was being rocked to sleep in the cavernous belly of some strange flying giant who had agreed to carry her, but cared little about her beyond that simple act of transportation. For the first time in a life surrounded always by a thousand people, she felt truly alone.
    Sarana screamed as an impact jolted her awake, and looked over into the smiling face of the man beside her. “We’re here.” He nodded out the window, and she saw that they were on solid ground once more. She breathed deeply to calm herself, gathering her things to hide her confusion and embarrassment. She followed the others off the plane and went where they went. Fear still remained, but it was tempered now by an overwhelming excitement. Her new life was about to begin.
    Then it was her turn at the immigration desk. She stepped forward and extended her passport to the man seated behind the counter. He took it without looking up and laid it on the table beside him.
    “Name?” he asked, fingers poised above the keyboard on his desk.
    “Sarana Nanpoor, sir.”
    He looked up at the sound of her voice. This was perhaps the third time in her life that Sarana had been face to face with a white man. Deep green eyes fixed on her own.
    “Age?” he demanded, not unkindly.
    “Fifteen, sir.”
    He looked up again, seemed surprised. His gaze left her eyes this time and traveled the length of her body before returning to his computer screen.
    “Aren’t you a little young to travel all this distance by yourself?”
    His conversational tone put her at ease and she smiled at him as she said, “My uncle is waiting for me.”
    “Uncle? What about your parents?”
    “They are in India, sir. They sent me to live with my uncle.”
    His hands moved away from his keyboard as he regarded her thoughtfully. “And your uncle is your only relative in Canada?” His tongue flicked across his lips, once.
    “Yes, sir.”
    A strange excitement flared in his dark eyes, a thing for which she had no word or concept. He shook his head suddenly and became business-like again. “Very well, shall we examine your bags? Place them here, please.”
    She put her bags on the counter before her. As he opened the zipper, the customs officer asked, “And have you ever been to Canada before?”
    “No sir.”
    “Have you ever even left India before?”
    “No sir.”
    He stopped suddenly and held up a package. “What’s this?”
    She pointed to the words written plainly on the packet in both Hindi and English. “It is Madras Curry, sir, from home, for my uncle.”
    He frowned and dropped the package back into her bag. “Surely,” he said, “you know it is illegal to bring certain substances into this country. This is one of them.”
    “But. . .”
    “Bring your bags and come with me.” He turned and moved off without another word. Confused, she did as ordered. She knew very well that her relatives and friends often traveled with curry from home. She must have forgotten to package it properly. Or perhaps there was a form to fill out somewhere. They came to a door at the end of a series of hallways. A female customs agent approached them and waved at the man.
    “Hey there, buddy, what’s up? You need a female agent present for a search?”
    Sari’s confusion grew as he grinned back at her and shook his head. “Naw, this is an old friend of mine. We’re just going to have a little talk, that’s all. Are Brad and Jimmy around, though? They’ll be happy to see old Sarana here again.” He nodded to the room. “Can you send them in if you find them?”
    “Sure thing, buddy.” She smiled, shook hands with Sarana, said, “Nice to meet you, dear,” and walked away. The man held the door open for her. Sarana was relaxed now, though. She’d done something wrong, and this man had lied to help her. He had even pretended that she was a friend of his, to help smooth the way. She turned to him as the door closed behind them.
    “My thanks, sir,” she smiled timidly up at him.
    He arched one eyebrow. “Whatever for?”
    “For helping me, sir. With the curry powder.”
    “Oh, that!” He smiled a cryptic smile and waved her thanks aside. “That’s nothing, don’t even worry about it.” He paused, then said, softly, “however, there is something you can do to thank me.”
    “Anything, sir.”
    His smile grew. “I hope you mean that, Sarana, I really do.” He took her hand and led her to a table and chair in one corner of the room. She started to sit on the chair, but he guided her on to the table instead. “Now, about that favour.”
    “Yes sir?”
    He turned his back to her and did something at his waist. When he turned to face her again she beheld something she had never seen on an adult. “Do you know what this is?”
    “I. . . I. . “ Sari, uncomprehending, could only stare and stutter dumbly.
    His smile slipped a little. “I understand that women are very sheltered in your country. Have you never seen one of these before?”
    “I. . .” And then silence.
    “Are you a virgin?”
    She raised her eyes to his, vaguely beginning to comprehend what was about to happen, nothing in her experience having given her the words, the thoughts, the emotions to describe it. And suddenly he was at her side, pushing her down onto her back and climbing onto the table beside her. She could not scream, she did not know she was supposed to. She felt, from a distance, his hand raise her sari to her waist. His face loomed over hers, green eyes boring into her, forcing her to share this moment with him against her will, all against her will.
    Consciousness abandoned Sarana for an instant as he pushed her underwear aside, then returned with terrifying clarity as he slammed into her, thrusting through her virginity and filling her with the brutality of his manhood. He grunted as he moved. And she could only stare up at him blankly as he violated her, not really seeing him, or feeling him, or hearing him, only tasting the sweaty sourness of the air, and wondering from afar at the blankness of her own emotions. A thousand years later she heard, from a million miles away, the door open and then shut again, footsteps echoing in the small room. She didn’t see the two other men until he had lifted himself off her and, slapping her thigh once, got off the table. She didn’t start screaming until the second man entered her.
    The rest of the morning passed in a dream. The men watched as she mutely dressed herself, each moment an eternity of pain. The customs agent, the first person she had met coming off the plane to Canada, released her into the arms of her uncle, explaining that there had been a small irregularity in her passport, nothing to worry about, all taken care of now. Her uncle thanked him profusely, pressing some money into his palm in gratitude.
    “It’s okay, my dear,” he beamed, squeezing her hand tightly as they drove to his home. “You don’t have to speak. I was overwhelmed too, when I first arrived here. It’s so different, isn’t it? So much less crowded, and cleaner, and. . .” and so on and on he droned until they reached his house, she still not responding to his monologue, he not expecting a response, content with the knowledge that he had helped to ease the lot of his relatives, and that he would be praised forever for his generosity.
    It was only when she had not spoken for hours that he began to question her silence. She remained stoic as long as she could, but she was only human, only fifteen years old.
    “Nuncle,” she began, before the tears stopped her words and she collapsed in a heap onto the living-room floor. It took him another hour to get the full story from her, and when he had heard it he too sat in stunned silence, unable to credit what his brain told him his ears had heard. It was Sarana’s turn to become afraid of the silence, and of consequences. She could not bear to think what the news would do to her parents. Her parents who had pinned all their hopes on her, their dreams for a better life, a new beginning. She reached out to touch her uncle.
    “Nuncle, what shall we tell mama and papa? What will they. . .”
    And he flew into a rage. He struck her arm away with such vicious force that the blow numbed her to the shoulder.
    “Your mother and father?” he stormed, eyes wide with disbelief. “Tell my brother how you have dishonoured his name, how you allowed yourself to be soiled by the white devils of this land, how you have sold your most prized possession for a bag of curry?” He leapt across the room and wrapped his fist into her hair, yanking her to her feet.
    “Nuncle!” she screamed, clawing at her hair as he slapped her, hard, across the face. “Nuncle, it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t want to. . .”
    “Not your fault? Not your fault! Then whose fault is it, you little slut, you harlot, you goddamned fucking bitch.” He spat the words as he swung her around and flung her across the room. “I will never tell your father of this, do you understand? Never! I will tell him you were hit by a car, or killed by a robber, but never will he know how his only daughter has brought shame and dishonour upon such a noble name, such a well-regarded family.”
    “But what of me, nuncle?” She leaned against the wall where she had fallen, shocked, unbelieving, uncomprehending. “What is to become of me? What will I do?” Her voice grew hysterical and whimpering by turns. Already her face had begun to swell from the blow and she was dizzy as she tried to stand. “He forced me, nuncle, he made me, they all did, I. . .”
    “Shut up! No decent woman would allow this to happen! You are no longer a member of my family. You are a whore, a dirty stinking whore who deserves what she gets.” His anger almost choked him. His voice was hoarse as he screamed “Get out! Get out of my house, you dirty whore!”
    “Nuncle,” she whispered, “please, it was not my fault, I didn’t allow this to happen, I was forced, I was. . .”

    With a snarl he sprang at her and slapped her again. It was as if the blow enraged him even further. She was no longer a woman in his eyes, no longer his brother’s daughter, but a piece of garbage, a whore, a thing he need no longer be at pains to respect, or to treat with humanity or compassion. He rained blow after blow upon her as she cowered against the corner of the wall, arms raised futilely to ward off his fists. He beat her until his breath came in gasps. Then he threw her out the door.

************* ************ *************

    “So, you see, violence is all I have known in my new life. Violence and blood. The blood of my virginity, the blood of my beating, and the blood which burns in me with such hidden anger, such quiet rage, as you put it. My art is a working through of that day, a day I have never put behind me even as I moved forward.”
    He held her tighter despite her obvious calm. “I think I understand.”
    She smiled secretly against his cheek and shifted. The bulge was still there. ‘These men,’ she thought, ‘violence is all they are. Here I have just told him the story of the rape of a fifteen year old girl, and all the way through his erection only grows bigger. Violence and blood, that is all they are, and all we are to them.’ Completion was nearing. She could feel it through his pants.
    “You are so strong,” he whispered. “So very strong, to have overcome that to become such a brilliant artist. Surely now that you have money and a degree of fame you’ve contacted your parents. Surely you’ve told them everything?”
    She leaned back to stare at him, surprised. “Told them? Of course not. Why?”
    Puzzlement transformed his features. “What do you mean, why? They think you’re dead. They don’t know what happened. Don’t you miss them? Don’t you want their support, their understanding?”
    “I would not have it,” she shook her head sadly. “My uncle, you see, was only doing what my father would have done if he was there. I didn’t understand that then, but I do now.”
    “But. . .”
    “Shhh.” Sarana silenced him with a soft kiss. “Don’t you understand? I don’t need them, or anyone else. I have my art, and that is all the revenge, all the understanding, that I will ever need.” She moved her hips in slow circles above him and felt his excitement rekindle. She moved off him and lay on the coffee table next to the couch, keeping her sari up at her waist. His eyes followed the curves of her body from head to toe, then he got up and lay beside her. She wrapped her arms around him as he moved her underwear to one side and thrust into her, unconsciously, perhaps, mirroring the actions of the customs officer five years ago to the day. The ecstasy took her then.
    It was always more intense this way for Sarana, with her sari around her waist on a hard wooden table, panties pushed aside in the driving heat of the moment and the relentless violent pounding of a relentlessly violent man. She had seen that violence moving beneath the surface all through the night, just as she had seen it in the others. Completion was near. She watched him move above her through the curtain of her own pleasure, hips matching and over-matching his thrusting manhood until, together, as she had known it would be, they howled their final bliss, and Sari, as she had known she would, bled.
    While he slept Sari returned to her finished masterpiece and stood before it, brush in hand. It was always this way. Her art was always about beauty, at first. It was only after the violence of her lovers that it could find its true meaning, an expression of a more terrible beauty. This man, she knew, was the final one, the perfect one. He had kept his erection through her entire telling. He had penetrated her with that same erection. Violence and blood, that was what filled his erection. That is what filled all erections. To be aroused by a story of rape was a masculine thing, just as her act of creation was a female thing. The two were meant to be together. She had discovered this nine months after the day she arrived in Canada, and little Shanti had been the culmination of her first work of art.
    But this time it was for real. This time, neither would survive the becoming of art, the transcendence that this harsh place demanded. She lifted her brush and worked surely and steadily and quickly, adding the final details. The sun, she realized suddenly, was almost at its zenith. The mountains, finally, achieved the harshness she had prayed for. The broken male body splayed awkwardly across the highest peak was almost the finishing touch. This was her final work, this piece of magic which she now knew, beyond a doubt, must be named Completion. She set her brushes down and washed her hands carefully in preparation for the final touches.
    She walked slowly down the hall back to where he lay sleeping the deepest sleep of his life. His dreams, she knew, would be untroubled. The soporific in the cognac had made sure of that. She walked by Julian’s Flower Bed, Chi Ping’s River of Life, Robert’s Incredible Softness. She touched a finger here, an earlobe there, a nose, a pair of nipples. Only Completion did not require another name, for it would be perfect in itself. Completion was near. All it required now were three things. A heart for the man on the mountain, a penis for the river of death, and the hot boiling blood of the fifteen year old virgin that yet dwelt within her. She selected several knives from the walls as she approached his sleeping body. Completion was near.

Atlanta Marathon

Kevin Heaton

I stand directly below the huge Olympic
archway in downtown Atlanta freezing
on Thanksgiving Day; wearing jogger’s
tights and a black stocking cap. Execution
of a self-imposed sentence sending me
into a four hour preview of Hades, is set
to be carried out in mere moments. There
has been no last minute governor’s stay
granted, or pardon issued. Twenty thousand
errant, unrepentant souls will accompany
me on my free fall flee from grace.

The starter discharges his pistol and a long
serpentine throng slithers slowly down
the wide asphalt throat to perdition. For nine
miles, there is a mysterious absence of pain.
Along both sides of the paved road to good
intentions, imps exhort my progress. I am
warily suspicious, but sans the anticipated
pain; mock their elation, and am neither
deterred nor penitent.

Too late, I realize that the first two legs
of this journey have merely passed through
purgatory; a realm to which my fate
has not been assigned. This sullied soul
must first be broken, then purged
of carnal impurities. Before me yawns
the intended atonement for prior transgressions.

In my self-righteous taunting of the damned,
I have neglected taking on water. Dehydration
has now begun hammering piston cramps
into thirsty groin and calf muscles; wrenching
them much like fists twisting a wet dish rag.
Each nerve ending screams in anguish,
as if being compressed between collapsing
vice-grip jaws. I succumb, writhing in torment,
lapsing into pain induced incoherence.
In a vision: I see Lazarus standing at the far side
of a great chasm. I call upon him to dip his
finger in quenching waters of relief, and to place
one precious drop on the end of my parched tongue;
but he is in Paradise, and cannot hear me.

Sunny Pastels

Jon Mathewson

Concrete houses painted
With pastel colors brightened the block
With some nicely installed lawns,
Sprayers on timers,
nicely pruned citrus trees,
While others had no lawn,
just whatever grew,
Mostly sand gouged by children’s play.

A minister lived on the corner,
with his wife, daughters and swimming pool,
Retirees pedaled their three-wheelers
Around and some houses exploded,
Shrapnel from voices bouncing off the
Concrete, two blocks away the mangrove
Was cut for an apartment complex.
Some people cared, but most drove around
The sunny pastels looking for sex.

Satellites, Cigarettes, and Whiskey

Christopher Klim
From Klim’s story collection, TRUE SURREALISM (Hopewell Publications, August 2011)

    On a cold winter night after the decade of war and sex and the following decade of booze and drugs and the next decade of money and power, I came into my own as a writer. I’d grown up on authors like Hemingway and Dickens—travelers, adventurers, first class showmen who knew the value of their deeds if not the weight of their words. I was almost thirty years old, too young for the 60s summer of love, too poor for the 70s summer of drugs, and too unconnected for the 80s summer of greed. It was the 90s, a throwaway decade in American history, years filled with angst, confusion, and irrational pursuits of wealth and fame. Just as deluded as the next person, I believed that I could make it as a novelist, but I still felt removed from the crowd, as if no one else harbored unfulfilled dreams.
    Seated in an East Village nightclub, I waited for my next lukewarm mug of beer between sets from a popular New Jersey cover band. I’d quit cigarettes and whiskey, but as I inhaled the secondhand smoke that enveloped me like a comforting blanket, the jury was still out on my abstinence. I was caught in the in-betweens, having just exited a long-term relationship with an extended blonde headache who could blow my mind beneath the sheets while twisting it each second above them. Every time we touched the mattress, I felt as if I’d reached base safely, no danger unless I wandered too far away.
    I’d met Trish while working for NASA, designing satellites that flew to Mars in preparation for an eventual landing on the red planet. Trish worked in the clean room where they assembled the crafts prior to testing. She had maroon eyes and curves that the white jumper couldn’t hide. Studying her shape from the two-story overlook into the clean room, I watched her reading satellite design schematics while studying her grad school chemistry homework. The male technicians eyed her without shame, but whenever I visited the floor to spot-check the progress of my latest designs, I determined to play it cool. The room smelled like the inside of a brand new TV set just unwrapped from the bag—plastic, silicone, leaded solder points catalyzing the senses. I methodically toured the twenty-foot manmade constellations that hung from the ceiling in silver, gold, and platinum. As technicians peppered me with questions about circuitry placement and wiring, I told stories of launches gone awry and the day Challenger exploded over Kennedy Space Center like a star-crossed supernova. I avoided Trish. She was a mystical tome that you shouldn’t approach yet promised wonderment for the risk. My aloofness toward her, she confessed over bedroom hits of Jack Daniels and cigarettes, hardened her resolve to get my attention. In her eyes, I was the head geek of the clean room.
    And I was an aspiring novelist, scribbling ideas and sentences into journals, waiting for a break that might never come. As the band tuned for their final set, I rose from my barstool in Rick’s East Side Rock’o’Rama to find the men’s room. In Manhattan, you can locate the men’s room by the odor of evergreen scented urine, but inside Rick’s, I already knew the spot. As a way to coast the in-betweens of my life, as a sure method of avoiding the blank pages to fill, I wasted Saturday nights in this dump, helping the band set up and break down for the 11 pm showcase. I was moonlighting, paid with the promise of free beer and killing time. In many ways, it was the best and worst job I ever had. The band’s lead singer was a girl named Lisa who wore spandex and a big ponytail and mimicked the better singers on the circuit. She sounded fine, but the group was destined for no more than weddings and junior proms. During our rickety van ride into the city, the group talked of disbanding, as if separating and reforming elsewhere might improve their mediocre talents. I thought about quitting too, considering an end to my writing aspirations. I wasn’t practicing my craft regularly any longer, and as I stood at the urinal, my father’s recent words echoed in my mind: “You don’t have enough experience to be a novelist.”
    Returning to the bar at the back of the club, I caught a glimpse of a blonde working the foosball table with a Puerto Rican guy who wore enough gold medals to open his own devotional stand. The blonde reminded me of Trish. In our final days, I’d been avoiding her, working late, not returning her calls to my beeper. I was sick of her escalating moods, her orbits that denied all signals from Earth. On a rainy Monday evening, after she’d submitted her final chemistry thesis, I’d asked her to get out of my apartment. She’d expected a bottle of champagne and an all-nighter—a trivial argument exploding into broken glass, the smashing of dishes, and maybe the perforation of plaster with fists. Raised by an alcoholic mother and a father who managed crises like a blind fireman, every celebration was to be tempered with heartbreak. I popped a cork on a bottle of Moët and broke her heart for good. At that moment, I think she never loved me more, although lately I’d heard rumors that she was flirting with a biker gang during her first internship at a pharmaceutical corp. I guess she had more expansive dichotomies to explore.
    Right now, a cute brunette with a small nose and short hair that spiked at the fringes sat on the barstool in front of my writing journal and foaming beer. She chatted with a dark-haired woman with slender hips and a belt made of chrome-plated chain. They both wore the black uniform that the 50’s beatnik poets donned and Lou Reed made famous but likely stole from Andy Warhol. In the way women do, the pair leaned toward each other and spoke, fully focused on each other as if no one else in the joint existed. Men’s eyes constantly roam the horizon, even when they aren’t searching.
    Reaching into the narrow space behind them, I snatched my journal and beer from the bar. The brunette didn’t budge, but the dark-haired one shot me the oh-was-that-your-seat look with no intention of moving. Up close, the women were faux bohemian. Their clothes pretended to be purchased from the rag shop on Bonn Street but were uptown dress-down all the way to their designer boots. The brunette’s jeweled Rolex was likely more expensive than my car, although none of this offended me. I felt more comfortable with phonies these days and their unabashed ability to avoid reality.
    “Sorry,” the brunette finally said.
    Ignoring her apology, I bided my time, enduring the final set from the next backup players to the K.C. & The Sunshine Band reunion tour. Soon I’d be loading drums and guitars into the van for a depressing trip through the Lincoln Tunnel where the hookers waited for a turn and, if traffic backed up, just a few encouraging words. On stage, the band broke into someone else’s hit. I thought that Lisa’s spandex outfit with the pink stripe racing up the thigh wasn’t all that different than the hookers’ getup by the tunnel.
    Lamenting my denial of whiskey, I paced myself through a mug of beer. This was my version of being monastic—no smokes or hard liquor, no Trish, and no writing. If I eliminated every vice, I might tally the leftovers. Maybe my father was right. Maybe there would be nothing to find—no wheat, all chaff.
    The dark-haired woman asked for a light. By habit, I still carried a book of matches, but I also carried my writing journal, and I didn’t seem to use that either. Digging the matches from my pocket, I flipped them onto her lap.
    “Thanks.” Her voice trailed at the start and end of sentences, as if her words traveled from a far away place. It reminded me of the gravelly communications I’d receive from space. Waiting for the delay between transmissions afforded time to consider your words.
    “You don’t work on Wall Street, do you?” the dark-haired woman asked.
    The brunette was just as lively, studying the notebook beneath my arm and the pen tucked in my ear. “Are you some type of reviewer?”
    Funny, no one had ever confused me for a writer. I finished my beer and ordered a refill. “Actually I’m a rocket scientist.” I often hid this information, certainly never phrased it this way. Even though I was entrenched in the business of spinning gyros and solar array deployments, I considered myself in transition. But where was my gumption for becoming a writer? I used to arrive at work early each morning, pretending to be absorbed in paperwork and calculations, instead working on my latest novel, but I did not believe in myself as an author, no courage to make the incredible leap of faith that I would take six years later—abandoning a six figure income, placing it all on the line, and “putting a bullet through the head of a brilliant career” as my boss would say. For now, my existence was just an elaborate sham. I hadn’t yet realized that the fantasies and human insights, which would dominate my thinking over the next decade, stood just beyond the gossamer veil that kept people separated from their truths.
    But I wasn’t the only one hiding behind smokescreens. Marcie, the dark-haired one, and Sheila, the brunette, were successful stockbrokers, but they weren’t interested in stockbrokers, financial advisors, or anyone connected to their industry. We began rapping about the band and music in general. I’d made the mistake of expecting them to be ditsy rich girls, not successful women of their own mind. Expert tacticians, they avoided all the dumb questions and barroom feelers. Trish had taught me every one. Women ask if your girlfriend is waiting and if you just came from your job, assessing potential and income right from the start. Men size up breasts and hair. Men are stupid. Only by trudging through the landscape do men learn the terrain. Women already know the pitfalls and hairpin turns. Men live their lives with their eyes, but women somehow see better.
    The band’s set was loud and obnoxious. I felt loose and brave. With Trish in my rearview mirror for almost two months, I still expected to find her ranting at my apartment door with a shotgun or, even worse, a member of the Pagans biker gang who was pumped up on her fairy tales of abuse that he was ready to avenge with the sharp edge of a switchblade. At one time, I worried about escape velocity and stress points on spacecraft that can barely manage their own weight within Earth’s gravity, but Trish was a heavier load to bear, not to mention a schematic without a logical circuit. Even Einstein had no workable theories about crazy super blondes, and it wasn’t for a lack of hands-on experimentation.
    For forty-five minutes, the non-blonde pair at the bar tag-teamed me in conversation. Just when I caught the vibe from one, the other stepped into the banter and took the lead. Messages transmitted between them like coded signals—curious eye movements, hand gestures, and indecipherable phrases. I was either tired or distracted, imagining their interest.
    Marcie had painted her eyes Egyptian style, not overdone. To catch the effect, you needed to be as close as I was getting beneath the blare of the snare drum.
    “Do you play an instrument?” she asked.
    “Blues guitar, just for fun.” I threw a shoulder toward the stage. “Not this stuff.”
    “We have a synthesizer back at our apartment,” Sheila said.
    “That’s cool.” I reduced my vocabulary, moderating my beer consumption. I was minutes from packing the van for the return to Jersey. “What type of synth do you have?”
    Marcie stared at me over the edge of her gin and tonic. “We like to double team.”
    To this day, I swear they were talking about playing the keyboard at the same time. In my ignorance, I was the coolest customer on the planet. I doubt my eyes dilated in the slightest. “Great.”
    Marcie gave a slight head tilt, a private acknowledgement that I would never mistake in the future.
    I was all reception, like the huge satellite dishes at Goddard Center on the coast of Maryland—ready, waiting for alien contact.
    As the band hit their finale, Sheila leaned over to whisper in Marcie’s ear. This was my cue. They were doing one of two things: selecting who was going to give me their number or deciding how to get rid of me. In my narrow perception of the future, no other option existed. Feigning no notice of the deliberating jury, I leaned over the bar and asked for a glass of water. At this very moment, my better manuscripts circulated Manhattan. I will be judged by this town on all levels. I prepared for rejection, sort of.
    When the set broke, the houselights went up and x-rayed the haze of smoke and exhausted patrons. Marcie disappeared into the bathroom. Sheila threw her purse over her shoulder. “We have a place in Battery Park.”
    OK, it was Sheila. I felt an ancient cultural response. Sheila wins. She chooses. The American Indians operated like this. A man was much better off with a woman who selected him, not the other way around. History was littered with arranged couplings that were spurned by unreceptive women, spawning cataclysms from murder to all out warfare. I started thinking about Sheila in a less dangerous sense, how I’d write her up in my journal: a bold and balanced chin, quick wit, sarcastic laughter, guarded yet open-minded, slender and agile arms like the flawless titanium controllers of an AS3000. After all the insanity with Trish, it felt so damned right for the evening to go down this way. Sheila told me she’d read The World According to Garp and cried when Jenny Fields screwed a dying soldier in the hospital without ever speaking to him. I realized that I better find my words, needing a semblance of vocabulary to evoke her imagination.
    I told Lisa, because she was the only band member who wouldn’t be angry with me for not helping them break down their equipment, that I was quitting the job for a more hopeful position. Lisa eyed Sheila and Marcie lingering by the door. During many egghead moments in the past, she’d caught me reading Stephen Hawkins at the bar between sets or sketching designs on a cocktail napkin. Her image of me suddenly shattered, I waved my journal in a grand goodbye gesture.
    The taxi jittered downtown. Sitting between two slightly older but deliciously clean and attractive women in the back of a midnight cab ride through the city of blinding lights is enough inspiration for most men to write a book. A moment of perfect expectation arises that you hope will freeze in a holding pattern for hours like a flight into Kennedy International. Energy resonates between your shoulders and the person sitting beside you. Anything is possible. Hoping to cleanse my soul, I was jetting toward Sheila’s downtown apartment. I fully expected Marcie to clear the runway.
    Upon our arrival at the ladies’ one bedroom place, Martinis were in order. Gin is distilled from juniper berries and smells of the woods. Their apartment overlooked a forest of buildings, including a couple of towers that waited to collapse into oblivion on a day that changed everyone’s lives. No less irreversible, tonight’s transformations were singular and private.
    I threw my leather bomber jacket over the kitchen chair in the far corner and plopped into the middle of the couch near the door. Kicking off my shoes, I stretched and yawned like a lion amid the pride. Someone threw an R.E.M. CD in the player. Into fluted glasses with twisted fuchsia stems, Sheila poured the mother of all cocktails.
    Her sandaled feet parked beside my socked feet. She had elegant, painted toes like fingers. Her breath was sweetmeat—gin and anticipation. My throat went dry. I needed to steal a kiss.
    On the opposite side of me, Marcie took a seat. I counted three drinks on the coffee table. Three drinks? Shit. Somewhere I heard Trish laughing from inside a laboratory or around a campfire with the chrome of motorcycles reflecting in the flames. Several of my old writing journals and collector’s editions of Faulkner’s works had evacuated my apartment with Trish. One by one, she was ripping the pages from the stitched bindings and burning them in a campfire, or she sat locked inside a dim laboratory, feeding Faulkner to a Bunsen burner.
    I leaned back against the velvet cushions. A Tarkay diptych spanned the wall—women in Victorian getup taking tea on a European veranda, women in the private space of other women and their words unrestrained.
    “Tell me what it’s like in space,” Marcie began.
    “It’s a vacuum. It’s both hot and cold, depending on the position of the sun.” I thought about the ride home that I’d missed in the East Village and the lonely train ride that awaited me. The turning points in my life formed ugly constellations in my mind, and a pervasive sadness filled my heart. As crazy as it sounded, I’d wanted to work things out with Trish, but how could I be her savior when I couldn’t even plot my own trajectory? As long as I could remember, I knew I wanted to be a writer, but instead I chased satellites across the heavens and the odd freelance journalist assignment to nowhere.
    Picking up my martini and swirling it beneath my nose, I was getting drunk with a couple of classy women who felt I was as safe as I imagined them to be, and then I would scramble through the frigid Manhattan streets for a ride home beneath the pitiless New York sunrise.
    “I can’t imagine what it would be like to circle the Earth,” Sheila said.
    “I used to dream about going into space,” I said.
    “I don’t know anymore. It’s anticlimactic. You work on the spacecraft. You’re nervous at launch. You hope every critical piece initiates as designed and then sometimes they don’t.”
    “What happens?” Leaning into me, Marcie put her hand upon my shoulder, getting comfortable like old friends do. The clock showed 2 am. Somewhere along the line, Sheila called me “rocket man,” which was the dumbest of all clichés, but I forgave her.
    “Batteries run out of power,” I said. “Solar panels jam, programming goes haywire. All your plans go to hell. You’re left with the drawing board, apologies, and the long faces of the guys in the clean room who’d believed for months that you would pull off the impossible.”
    Steadily, the women interrogated me, rarely breaking from their line of questioning. They seemed to examine my word selection and tone, and hearing my voice in my ears, I became acutely aware of the structure of my sentences. Downing my drink, I shuffled to the bathroom by the front door to prepare my exit. One or both of the roommates were interested in me, maybe neither. It was too late to fumble for the answer and too early to wedge between friends. Gathering water into my open palms, I examined my face in the mirror. An unfamiliar reflection presented itself.
    The living room was quiet. I heard the sound of the clock humming in the kitchen before I noticed the women on the couch. The couch faced away from the door, and when I entered the room, only the occasional sight of a foot rose above either end of the arched back. The women’s shoes were discarded, their calves bare, and they were silent, until Marcie crackled a moan that weakened a young man’s knees.
    The rocket scientist in the room finally understood, sort of. The girls were friendly, very friendly—most friendly with each other. I heard Marcie again. I didn’t need a roadmap, just one to steer clear. Hey, had they thought I left already?
    Across the room lay my leather bomber jacket on the kitchen chair. I really liked that coat and it was freezing outside, otherwise I might have slipped out the door unnoticed and left the girls to their pleasure. Sauntering across the apartment to grab my jacket, I planned to toss it over my shoulder like James Dean cutting corners through a porno film lot. I’d planned to salute the pair, Paul Newman style, hardly a gesture, as if I’d seen this couch show a million times prior and was unfazed.
    The girls were stripped naked, down in the muff, their clothes tossed on the floor. Stutter-stepping, I caught a glimpse of what I might never come across again, not in any deep space exploration for certain, not within a million miles of the exotic territories that I explored for a living.
    Sheila raised her head. “Aren’t you joining us?”
    Three years later, this moment returned to me as I submitted my resignation and received a lecture from my boss, who was livid over my “irresponsible” decision to pursue my dreams. I recalled Marcie and Sheila who dropped the veil to share their own experience. Thoughtful and intelligent, they operated by a completely different set of precepts, and in the next forty-eight hours, they would learn more about me than Trish had in months or my boss had in years of living alongside me. I was governed by angst, fear, and a set of rules that no longer worked and likely never did. That night in Battery Park, I rewrote my operating instructions. I started looking up, down, and behind, less often straight ahead like most others did. People rarely understand what lurks behind their own veils, much less someone else’s. As a writer, it’s my job to unearth those details and report on them, to handle the mirror that lets us see who we are.
    Sheila laughed, knowing the steps toward liberation better than I did. Marcie, behaving more like Cleopatra by the minute, beckoned with a curled finger in case I lost my nerve. A man enters such late night engagements primarily out of curiosity and with the naiveté and stamina of youth, the way an aspiring novelist enters his first attempt, determined to distill thought and emotion into being. The second time involves affirmation, and the following times invoke the hard combinations, but again, I am a writer of limited experience, as my father so assuredly stated many years ago. I explore new landscapes for clues, up to my hips or my eyeballs, depending on the horizon in sight. Occasionally I come across a piece of slick technology that seems sexy, but there’s nothing as appealing as a blank page and a fresh idea.

3 Trees, art by Ira Joel Haber

3 Trees, art by Ira Joel Haber

About Ira Joel Haber

    Ira Joel Haber was born and lives in Brooklyn New York. He is a sculptor, painter, book dealer and teacher. His work has been seen in numerous group shows both in USA and Europe and he has had 9 one man shows including several retrospectives of his sculpture. His work is in the collections of The Whitney Museum Of American Art, New York University, The Guggenheim Museum, The Hirshhorn Museum & The Albright-Knox Art Gallery. His paintings, drawings and collages have been published in many on line and print magazines including Rock Heals, Otoliths, Winamop, Melancholia’s Tremulous Dreadlocks, Barfing Frog, The Raving Dove, DeComp, Foliate Oak, Siren, Prose Toad, Triplopia, Thieves Jargon, Opium, Dirt, The Centrifugal Eye, The DMQ Review, Broadsided, Hotmetalpress, Double Dare Press, Events Quarterly, Unlikely Stories, Coupremine, Cerebration,Chick, Flicks, Softblow, Eclectica Magazine, Backwards City Review, Right Hand Pointing, Ascent Aspirations Magazine, Brew City Magazine, Fiction Attic, Mastodon Dentist, Blue Print Review, Ellipsis,The Indelible Kitchen, Crickret, Entelechy, So To Speak, Taj Mahal Review, The Fifteen Project, The Externalist, Why Vandalism, Mungbeing Magazine, Lamination Colony, Paradigm, Lily, Literary Fever, Glassfire Magaine,The Houston Literary Review, Lilies and Cannonballs, Wheelhouse Magazine, Terra Incognita, Qarrtsiluni, The Tusculum Review, Multidementional, 34th Parallel, Wood Coin, Sacramento Poetry, Art & Music, Anti-Poetry, Divine Dirt Quarterly, The Mom Egg, Disenthralled, etcetera, & sea stories. Over the years he has received three National Endowments For The Arts Fellowship, two Pollock-Krasner grants and most recently in 2004 received The Adolph Gottlieb Foundation grant. Currently he teaches art at the United Federation of Teachers Retiree Program in Brooklyn.

A Dangerous Game

Boyd Lemon

    After two Bombay Sapphire Martinis, I called my ex-wife, Stephanie, “...just to chat,” I told her.
    “I’m glad to hear from you,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about you and wondering what you’re up to.” Age had added just enough huskiness to her voice to make it even sexier.
    “Same ol’, same ol’,” I said. “How about you? How’s your job?”
    “Great! I love my job,” she said. “It’s challenging, and my boss is really nice. Last year I was promoted to senior paralegal.”
    “That’s great,” I said. I remembered how she used to look naked.
    “It’s really nice to talk to you after all this time,” she said. “We’ve always been able to talk.” Yeah right, I thought. Well, here goes. What the hell.
    “It might be fun to go out to dinner next Saturday,” I blurted, noticing my shaky voice.
    “I’d love to,” she replied.
    Saturday afternoon I drove north on the 101. I wondered if Stephanie would sleep with me. Or would she reject me? During our marriage she used sex for control. I wouldn’t let that happen again—no way. Maybe it was trouble, but I needed to see her. Did I need to forgive her to fuck her? I wondered.
    I stood at her door for a moment, hesitating. My chest was tight, my underarms moist. I knocked. Two seconds later she opened the door. She wore a long multicolored dress with a scooping neckline that showed a lot of cleavage. Her hair was the same dark brown with streaks of blond, wavy and just above her shoulders. Undoubtedly, it was now gray underneath. She was as thin as ever. Though her forehead was wrinkled, crow’s feet spread from her eyes, and her jowls sagged slightly, I wanted her.
    “Hi, Doug,” she said with a coquettish smile. “Come in. Welcome.” We kissed and hugged perfunctorily, as if this were a casual meeting of friends. She bent over, and picked up her sweater from the couch. Her boobs, braless, nearly fell from her dress. I stared. She smiled again.
    As we waited in the reception area of Harbor Restaurant, she pressed her hand to my arm. I peered down her dress at her erect nipples until the hostess asked us to follow. We sat at a window table overlooking the Pacific, and I picked up the wine list. “Would you like a glass of wine? I asked.
    “Oh, no thanks,” she said. “I quit drinking years ago.”
    After we ordered, we shared remembrances of the past—good times only. I told her I was sorry to hear that her marriage broke up.
    “Yeah, I shouldn’t have married him,” she said. “I was lonely, I guess. It’s so nice to have someone.”
    Not always, I thought.
    After I asked for the check, she thanked me for dinner. “It’s been good to see you again, Doug. You’re welcome to stay at my place tonight if you don’t mind sleeping on the couch. It’s fairly comfortable. I know it’s a long drive home for you.”
    “Thanks. I’ll take you up on that,” I said. My groin stirred.
    I signed my credit card slip. “Let’s go out to the pier and enjoy the view,” I suggested. She offered her arm. We strolled to the railing and gazed at the ocean. The breeze smelled of salt. A harvest moon hung low on the horizon. “Look,” I said, pointing.
    “Beautiful,” she murmured. When her hand brushed mine, I held it. Sea gulls squawked overhead. Dark waves rolled to shore, their foam flashing phosphorescent lime green. I let go her hand and put my arm around her, pressing my hip against hers. I stroked her back just below her neck. She leaned her head against my shoulder and sighed, then turned and looked up at me, reflected light shimmering in her eyes. When we kissed, it felt like it always had—natural. I’ve felt awkward kissing some women, as if our mouths didn’t quite fit together, but with Stephanie it was different. I caressed her, pulling her against my hardness. I knew she felt it, and she didn’t pull away.
    “Let’s go home,” she whispered.
    “Let’s,” I said.
    As soon as we stumbled through the doorway, we kissed. I unzipped her dress and pulled it off. She helped me undress, and we fell onto the couch, our bodies pressed together, undulating. I was electrified, almost crazed. I entered her. As the tension mounted, our movements became fluid and synchronized, as natural as if we’d never been apart. We moaned together with each thrust. I kept moving inside her even after I came, until she screamed and went limp.
    Afterwards, she got up to go to the bathroom. Her breasts sagged a little, not as firm as they were, but her posture remained that of the dancer she’d been in her youth.
    I was asleep within minutes and awoke in the morning with her wet, soft tongue on my erection.
    After showering together, we dressed. “Let’s have breakfast. There’s a cafe down the street that has your favorite Italian sausage,” she said.
    I wanted to stay, but I didn’t want her to know.
    “I can’t,” I replied. “I have a brief due tomorrow and I need to work on it.”
    “So you’re here for 14 hours, get laid and leave.”
    “Well,” I said, “I’ll come again.”
    I won’t give her a date, I thought. I’ll leave her wondering.
    I drove up on a Friday afternoon three weeks later. She opened the door before I knocked. Her nipples showed through her flimsy white blouse. With the door still open, we kissed, slowly at first, then with darting tongues. I was so hard I ached. She moaned and slid her hand down to my erection. She kicked the door shut, knelt and pulled down my shorts. She took me in her mouth, kneeling, just like she had kneeled the time I caught her giving my friend a blow job in the bathroom.
    That evening we walked down to the beach and sat on a large, smooth rock. The long summer day had left it warm. At low tide, sea foam laced the black water that ebbed and flowed beyond us. I stood up. “Come here,” I said. She took my hand and I pulled her to her feet. I slipped her shirt over her arms. She did the same to me. I pulled down her shorts, then mine. We clasped each other, kissing and caressing, then lay down on the rock, side-by-side. The cool, damp breeze raised goose bumps on her skin, but they vanished as I pressed every inch of her against me, my hands all down her back. I entered her like that. We moved slowly at first, then with our bellies slapping together, faster and faster. She moaned with each breath until her body shuddered against me. She relaxed, and I exploded inside her. My belly sunk into hers, my arms around her. I stayed inside her until she shivered. As I held her, I remembered how she used to turn away from me in bed.
    We slept late on Saturday, took a long walk on the beach and ate dinner in. That night, after we made love, Stephanie, looked at me, her eyes wet. “I love you, Doug. I was a fool to leave you.”
    “Well, we can’t go back to the way we were, 20 years ago. I don’t want to,” I said. “I’m not interested in marriage any more, and I’m enjoying my freedom.” She looked away. “I understand,” she said. A tear moistened the corner of her eye. She turned toward the wall.
    Sunday morning, as I packed my bag, she asked, “When can you come up again?”
    “In about a month,” I said.
    “That’s too long,” she said. “What are you doing next weekend?”
    I bent over and picked up my belt from the floor. “I’ll be in San Francisco at a conference,” I said.
    “What about the weekend after that?” She asked.
    I told her I wanted to do some things by myself.
    “What are you going to do that you couldn’t do with me?”
    I went to the bathroom, to retrieve my dental floss from the counter. She followed. “Oh, I don’t know—go for a hike in the hills, read, nothing special,” I said.
    “Are you seeing someone else? You must be. Otherwise you’d want to spend time with me. I need to know.”
    “I just want to be alone,” I said. “Is there something wrong with that?”
    “Well, I guess not,” she said, frowning.
    During the next couple of weeks I fantasized about her constantly, and she phoned me nearly every night. Two weeks later, as I hiked in the San Gabriel Mountains, I pictured her naked, sucking me in a men’s room stall. I stopped on the trail. Pre-cum soaked my shorts, and I went behind a tree and jerked off.
    A month later we drove down to San Diego to visit our adult children, Sara and Austin. It was an Indian summer day. We took Sara’s German shepherd for a walk in the park. I pointed out the picnic tables and grills and suggested we barbeque hot dogs for an early dinner. “There’s a deli over there,” I said, pointing to the left.
    “Good idea,” said Stephanie. “Austin and I’ll go buy the stuff.”
    When Stephanie and Austin returned, she took out of the bags two packages of wieners, eight in each package, two dozen buns, a quart each of potato salad, macaroni salad and pasta salad, two large bags of potato chips, an entire cheese cake, an entire chocolate cake, a half gallon of ice cream, three bottles of wine— Austin doesn’t drink wine—a bag of charcoal, a bag of hickory chips, lighter fluid, matches, a silver wine bottle opener, four real wine glasses, a large jar of pickles, a jar of Kalamata olives, four different cheeses and three different kinds of crackers. She handed me the receipt and the credit card I had given her—almost 180 dollars.
    “180 dollars for hot dogs in the park?” was all I said, but I must have looked furious. During our marriage Stephanie charged so much that I took her credit cards away and gave her a budgeted amount of cash monthly. She always ran out of cash before the month was up, and I always gave her more. She accused me of treating her like a child. I told her I wouldn’t have to, if she didn’t act like one.
    Back at Sara’s, Stephanie poured a glass of wine from one of the bottles. A few minutes later it was gone, and she poured another. I wondered why she was drinking again.
    “I’m not feeling well,” she said when she finished the second glass. “I’m going to bed. Come with me Doug.”
    “I’m gonna stay up and talk with the kids awhile,” I said.
    She went to the bedroom. A few minutes later she called down the hall, “Doug would you come here a minute?”
    The door was open. She sat on the bed, her eyes full of tears. “I just don’t think you care about me, Doug. We haven’t been together in over a month, but you don’t want to go to bed with me. You’d rather sit around and chat with the kids. How do you think that makes me feel?”
    “I do care about you, Stephanie, but I also care about our kids. And why are you drinking again? You know you have a problem with alcohol.” She turned her head and sobbed. I left.
    Sara was alone in the living room. “I overheard part of that,” she said. “Mom’s drinking again. I don’t know what’s going on, maybe it’s none of my business, but you two are no good together. There’s a reason you got divorced.”
    “Yeah, I know,” I said.
    The next afternoon, before we left, I noticed the wine bottles, empty in the kitchen trash. Was it me? Something I was doing? Maybe she couldn’t handle me having the upper hand. Maybe that’s why she was drinking again. I didn’t care; I wasn’t going to give up control. I didn’t enjoy her company, except for the sex. About 24 hours, and I was sick of her. I knew I probably should stop seeing her.
    I stopped calling her. She phoned and invited me to come see her. I made up excuses not to, but still, I longed to fuck her. She said she missed me. She emailed me a description of all the things she wanted to do to my body, and I almost drove up to let her.
    A month later she called from a hospital. She’d been admitted with stomach pain. “Doug, please come up here. I need you. I’m scared.”
    “I can’t. I have to be in court tomorrow,” I lied.
    She called the next day. “They discharged me,” she said. “They couldn’t find anything wrong. The doctor prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication.”
    Three Sundays later she phoned. Through her sobs, I discerned she’d been fired. “Santa Barbara’s a small legal community. Everybody here probably knows what happened,” she said. “I’m sure I can get a job in L.A. Can I stay with you until I save enough to get my own place?”
    “Yeah. I guess so,” I said.
    “Thank you. I really appreciate your help.”
    “Okay,” I said, “but understand we can’t live together indefinitely. This is just temporary.”
    “I understand,” she said. “It’ll only be a couple weeks. I promise.”
    I could finally fuck her again, whenever I wanted. It would be fine, I reasoned, as long as I kept the upper hand.
    The next Friday she arrived. I went down to her car and helped carry up her belongings. We made two trips, carrying her skirts, blouses and shoes for work; one pair of jeans; a pair of shorts; two casual shirts; three panties and bras; a pair of sneakers; a stained nightgown; and a box of old photos of the kids. One of those large bottles of Smirnoff Vodka peeked out of a shopping bag.
    “I left everything else,” she said. It was just crap.”
    After peeing, she came back in the living room in only her bra and panties. Her ribs and hips looked sharp under her skin. She’d lost weight, but her belly sagged. I went over to her and pulled down my pants. “Suck me,” I said. She did, until I came.
    She got a job right away. That first week together we had sex every day. She never refused. Friday night she joined me on the terrace as I sipped a glass of wine. Walls shielded us on both sides. She removed my sandals, stroked my feet and legs and sucked my toes. She kissed my mouth, lovely wet, delicious kisses. Soon we were lying naked, devouring each other. The tension mounted. She screamed louder with each thrust. As we climaxed, she let out one last scream. “Are you all right over there?” somebody yelled.
    “I sure am,” she shouted and we laughed.
    I dressed while Stephanie peed. From the corner of my eye I saw her walk to the kitchen, still naked, carrying bottles of pills. I watched her pour vodka and wash down the pills. I wondered then, why am I into such a sick woman? I’m addicted to her. Neither of us had mentioned when she would move out.
    One night I met her as she pulled into her parking space. I told her to get in the back seat with me. I pulled down my pants, and she went down on me. “I’ll do anything you want, Doug. Just tell me.” She licked me everywhere I told her to. It seemed humiliating for her, but I liked it. She’d humiliated me when we were married. She once told our friends about her sexual escapades with other men. She deserved this.
    Two weeks into her job, she came home early, and said she’d been fired. “Personality clash,” she said. “But I’ve already called the employment agency, and I have two interviews Monday. It’ll be all right.” She pulled a bottle of vodka from her purse and poured a full glass.
    “Let’s go out for sushi,” I suggested.
    “I’m not hungry,” Stephanie replied. “I’ll make you some pasta. Please stay home with me. I need you, Doug.”
    She changed into her nightgown while the water heated. The bedroom door was open. She was drinking more vodka and taking pills. When she came back to the kitchen, I reached up her nightgown and fingered her. I made her lie down on the table, and I fucked her while the pasta cooked. She didn’t come.
    She got another job immediately and moved to Beverly Hills near her job. I worried that she was moving on, but she called or emailed nearly every day. She even sent me a key to her apartment, “ you can hang out anytime you want,” she said. I won’t hang out there, I thought, but I can go fuck her.
    I had a deposition 10 minutes from Stephanie’s, so afterward I called and told her I’d be right over. I let myself in. She stood in the kitchen wearing panties and her blouse from work. She clutched a glass, her Smirnoff bottle on the counter. “I was fired again,” she slurred. “It’s my birthday tomorrow.”
    “I’m sorry,” I said. I barely listened as she told her story. She stopped mid-sentence.
    “Well, let’s go do what you came for,” she said, and then stumbled toward the bedroom. She pulled off her clothes and collapsed on the bed spread-eagled. I piled mine on the floor and climbed on top of her. She smelled sour and faintly of shit, like she hadn’t wiped herself, but I managed to get enough of an erection to fuck her. When I pulled out, she turned toward the wall. “I’m going to sleep,” she said. She fell asleep right away and I left.
    I pulled out of the apartment garage and drove to the Cheesecake Factory. I sat at the bar and ordered a Scotch. This thing with Stephanie was so wrong. I didn’t want to be around her, but I was obsessed with her. The sex wasn’t even good anymore, but I still wanted to fuck her. I wanted to be able to fuck her. And she was sick, getting worse. Maybe I should organize an intervention, try to get her into Rehab. She’d probably resist, but I thought I should do something.
    I took her out the next evening for her birthday. She didn’t eat much, or talk. I asked, “Is something wrong?”
    “No, nothing,” she answered. “I’m just tired.” I suggested we go to the Polo Lounge for a special birthday dessert. “I don’t really feel like dessert,” she said. “I’d rather just go home.”
    In her apartment I pulled her to me and kissed her. Her mouth opened, but her tongue was flaccid. She pressed her hands against my shoulders and stepped back. “I’m really tired. I just want to go to sleep, if you don’t mind,” she said.
    “Okay,” I said. She had never refused me before, except when we were married. I followed her to the bedroom. She opened her dresser drawer and took out a black, see-through negligee. I gave her a peck on the cheek.
    “Good night,” she said flatly.
    My stomach was queasy as I locked the front door behind me.
    I found a bar and ordered a drink. I wondered what was going on with Stephanie. Why was she rejecting me? She hadn’t until now. She didn’t drink as much as usual tonight. That was good, but something felt wrong.
    I drove home. On the elevator up to my condo I checked my pockets. My cell phone was missing. Damn. I’d set it down on Stephanie’s night stand before I’d kissed her goodnight. I needed my phone. It wasn’t that late. I could just go pick it up, I figured. I probably wouldn’t wake her.
    I unlocked her front door and slipped in, stepping quietly through the hall to her room. The moonlight poured through the window over Stephanie’s face on her pillow. She lay on her side, her black negligee bunched up around her chest. The covers had slipped down to her belly; they gathered behind her in a dark mass. It took a moment to sink in—a man was lying next to her. I stepped back. Stephanie’s eyes sprung open, gaping wide. “Shit,” she said, closing her eyes again, then turning away.
    “You fucking whore,” I bellowed. I wanted to hit her. My hand was already clenched. I leaned back on my heels, holding my breath. Can this really be happening? I thought. I got the hell out of there, slamming the door behind me.
    I don’t remember driving home. Saturday I stayed in bed until nighttime when, still in Friday’s clothes, I walked out of my condo. I stopped at the first restaurant I saw, sat down at the bar and ordered a double Scotch. I spoke to no one, except to order more Scotch.
    Sunday morning an eerie calm hovered over my hangover. I fixed eggs and toast, my first food since Friday night. Meanwhile, the calm had evaporated—my chest was tight. I drank a Scotch but it didn’t help. I kept turning it over in my mind. How could she do that to me? I wondered if she’d been fucking other men all along. Goddamn! Wasn’t it good enough with me? Maybe she didn’t like it. Maybe she faked all those orgasms. But she always seemed to want it. Why wasn’t she faithful? Not in our marriage, not now. I was always faithful to her, but she betrayed me. How could I let her do this to me again? I must be the stupidest man on earth.
    My stomach was churning. Saliva sprang to my mouth. I ran to the toilet, banging my shoulder on the door jam. Fuck. I lost the eggs and toast, mostly on the floor. Reaching into the linen closet, I grabbed a towel and dry heaved while wiping up the mess. I went back to bed and buried my face in the pillow, letting the tears flow. Sunday passed in a haze. I don’t remember what I did.
    Monday, I awoke tense, like I’d had bad dreams, but I didn’t remember any. The morning was still dark. I called my office and left a voice message, saying I was ill. I opened the cupboard and grabbed the coffee. I pulled the filter out of the box and stuck it in the coffee maker. I poured coffee into the filter without measuring. It came out in a big clump and spilled on the counter. “Fuck,” I swore. I didn’t bother to clean it up. I just shook in more. I filled the pot with water, poured it in and pushed the on button. Then I paced. The coffee was taking forever. I pulled the pot out before it was done. As I poured a cup, my knuckles scraped the pot. It burned like hell. “Shit!” I yelled. I banged down the pot and ran cold water over my hand, then picked up my mug and swallowed. The black coffee burned my throat. I left it, went into the living room and grabbed the remote. I flipped through 200 channels— nothing on but ads and cartoons. I can’t stay here any longer, I thought. I’d better run. I tied my running shoes, then jogged down to the beach. Along the Venice Boardwalk I picked up speed, heaving with each stride. Past Muscle Beach, closed restaurants and street-vendors setting up their wares, I ran like a mad man. I turned toward the water, then the bike path, past Santa Monica Pier toward Malibu. I ran and ran, seeing nothing. My lungs burned. My legs ached and eventually buckled. Gasping, I fell to the sand. I lay there long after my breath returned. Finally, I got up. I felt cleansed. Walking home, I was too tired and I ached too much to be angry.
    At home, I poured another cup of coffee and heated it in the microwave. I added cream and a spoonful of sugar, sipping slowly while I got the Quaker oatmeal down from the cupboard. I poured in the liquid, half milk and half water and set it on the stove. I got down the raisins and brown sugar and sliced a banana. I heated the milk in the microwave, 15 seconds to take off the chill. Stirring the oatmeal, I watched the grayish grain swirl until it was thick and soft enough to eat. After scraping it into my porcelain bowl, I scooped in the brown sugar, sprinkled on some raisins and laid in the banana, one slice at a time. At the kitchen table, I slowly spooned the warm cereal into my mouth, rolling it on my tongue. When I finished, I rinsed the bowl and mug and put them in the dishwasher. I still felt hungry, so I made some toast, spread on butter and jam and munched on it back at the kitchen table.
    Afterwards, I walked to my bedroom and gazed out my window at the marina below. A young woman stepped from a blue and white sailboat onto the dock. Her burgundy dress fluttered around her legs. She probably spent the night with her boyfriend, I thought. A man on the next dock hosed down his boat. Mallards floated by. I looked at the spines of the books on the shelf by the window. It was like riding my bike down a hill without pedaling. I was at ease.
    I ambled over to my recliner and sank down. My thoughts returned to Stephanie. Why did she cheat on me? Was she just a whore? No, I didn’t really think so. She slept with that guy to get back at me—for revenge. She’d done it deliberately. She said she loved me, and I humiliated her. And why? To hurt her. I’d loved her once, and she had hurt me. I’d been mad ever since. I’d wanted revenge. So had she. I thought I had control, but she paid me back in kind. It was the same power struggle we’d enacted in our marriage.
    I extended the footrest, leaned back and fell asleep.
    Several days later Austin called. “Mom’s in intensive care at Cedars. Sara and I are going up to see her,” he said.
    “What happened?” I asked.
    “I don’t know the details. Apparently she overdosed on something, and washed it down with a lot of alcohol. They think she attempted suicide.”
    “Oh, my God,” I said. “Will she be all right?”
    “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll let you know.”
    “Is there anything I can do?” I asked.
    “Dad, you’ve done enough. I think you should leave her alone.”
    “Thank you Austin. Take care,” I said.
    “Bye dad,” he said. I hung up and sat down. I was part of this. I’d helped this happen. I tried to hurt her, and I might have killed her. I played a dangerous game.
    I got up and stared out at the water.
    Austin called later that evening. He said she had a 50-50 chance of survival. I thanked him for telling me and asked him to keep me informed. After I hung up the phone, I covered my face with my hands and sobbed.
    Two days later Sara phoned. “Austin and I just left Mom’s room. She’s better, and the doctor says she’ll be okay.”
    “Thank God,” I said.
    “Dad,” said Sara, “Mom asked me to tell you not to contact her.”
    “Okay,” I said. “I understand. I should have let her go a long time ago.”

Fork Lift

Doug Downie

    I pulled my Chevy Corvair into the main entrance and found a spot amongst the splatter of shiny chrome and metalflake spread across the forlorn expanse of asphalt. I got out of the car, hefting the handle of the bent door up so that it would close fully, and looked up at the place I had to enter. It was a monstrous block of brick about four stories tall. Right in the center like some gaping mouth was a wall of glass that rose shear to the top of the brick and then some. I didn’t understand how such a structure could remain standing in storms of wind and snow and ice. But I knew pretty well what that faÇade covered up.
    As in so many other places like this there was a little grey box with a little clock where you punched in, here it was situated in a hallway lined by a row of lockers on the left side and which led to the coffee room, through a pair of swinging doors. The toilets were on the right side, just before the doors to the coffee room. There was always somebody hanging around in there, no matter how late you were, fumbling at their lockers, or filling a cardboard cup of coffee from the machine at the end of the hall, or smoking a cigarette in the toilet, leaning against the white tiles with a stained foot on the porcelain. On this day it was my junky fellow fork lift driver, Billy.
    “You gonna get fired you keep showing up late.” His head went forty-five degrees to the left and I thought for a minute he might fall over but he kept an even keel.
    “Hell Billy, I’m only ten minutes late and what the hell are you doin’ here anyway? How come you’re not out there workin’?”
    “Fuck ‘em. I thought I’d come in here for a little mornin’ taste.”
    Ever so slowly and gently he leaned against the nearest locker.
    “You going to be alright Billy?”
    He was silent for a moment but came out of it like a pop.
    “Yeah man, let’s go on out there and get ‘em man! We got the best job in the place brother! We be in the driver’s seat! I love the smell of propane in the morning!”
    It was common knowledge that Billy was a junky. He seemed a little loopy from the start but I was still surprised when someone told me, I think it was Jocko the clean-up man. He passed by me one day with his cart of garbage cans and stopped to watch Billy gun off through the racks with a plume of propane trailing behind.
    “You watch that boy,” he said to me, “he ain’t nothing but trouble. Just a good for nothin’ junky.”
    “Is he, really?”
    “Best believe it my friend, best believe it.”
    He pushed his cart off to the next stop on his circuit.
    But Billy’s addiction was accepted like so many other things were accepted; so and so was a drunk, and so and so was a flasher, and so and so was a peeper, and so and so was cheating on his wife fucking the little line girl over in packing, and so and so beat his wife and kids. We all needed jobs. As long as we did them with a modicum of attention we were part of the family. We were all fucked, crushed beneath a calloused thumb that cared nothing for us, our youth spent and dried up like spilled blood on a sawdust floor. It engendered a certain kind of brotherhood.
    Billy and I walked out together and it seemed to take forever to get out to the loading dock, where our fork lifts were parked. We had to walk through a white room where women wove pleated fabrics into a stack of alternating plys. A thick metal door with a reinforced glass window with net of embedded wire led us to the production line, where we could no longer hear each other, if we had wanted to speak, the din so loud and the hopeless call for help and new stock so dim. Everyone had to shout to make themselves heard, whether they called for another spool of thread, asked to go to the john, cursed a comrade down the line, or simply wanted to say hi to a friend. Foremen lurked over different portions of the line, occasionally accosting some worker for a perceived slackening, or pinching some ass. We were in the world of metal and grey dust, brown boxes and silver rollers. It was a little taste of hell, right here on earth.
    “I sure am glad I don’t work here.” said Billy, bumping gently off a passing rack as we came to another reinforced door, complete with glass netting.
    “Me too Billy, me too.”
    Billy the junky and Dugan the flunky both thought they were lucky, for just a moment.
    After a long trudge through rows upon rows of metal racks reaching to the roof’s I-beam rafters, like so many other places like this, Loreal’s, Kohler’s Roofing Products, you name it, we finally reached the loading dock. It was almost a relief.
    We had to check in with Franco, the dock foreman, forty and all forehead, his hair slicked back across his balding scalp. He lined us out on what we had to do before coffee break.
    Then we climbed aboard our smoky steeds and gunned it down the rows; all those rows of pallets, piled high with boxes, headed out there to the porcelain houses of suburbia.
    It was rather fun to drive a fork lift. I’d loved driving, and the whole concept of driving, from the time I was just past the snot-nosed stage and was reading my first literature, hot rod stories. This was simply another manifestation. There was a certain exultation in making sharp ninety degree turns and penetrating those planked racks and long muffled rows.
    Billy and I would have races.
    “I’m gonna take aisle B, you take C. First one to the end buys a beer.”
    “Alright Billy!”
    I wheeled mine around and lined it up straight down the middle. We eyed each other, winked, and went.
    The wind whipped through my hair as I sailed down the concrete, columns of stock on both sides, but I could look over to my left and see Billy through the cracks between boxes and struts, kaleidoscopic, and see him gaining on me. I gunned it even harder. The sound of our forklifts flew over and around the racks and Franco down on the loading dock was sure to be hearing us, shaking his head and spitting cigar juice onto the floor. “Fucking punks! Don’t know what work is!”
    We came to the end of our respective aisles almost simultaneously, Billy just the tiniest bit ahead, and turned radically, me to the right, him to the left. The tail end of my forklift overshot and sideswiped a steel strut. I managed to right it and slowed, smoothly turning around to see a stack of boxes teetering on their pallets. I stopped and watched. The rocking stack looked about to fall but when I could see the arcs begin to tighten I gunned it and joined Billy over between aisle A and B.
    “Alright. You got me motherfucker. I owe you one. See you at MacGready’s after work.”
    “I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it.”
    “Why not?”
    “I got to go see someone.”
    “Maybe you ought to lay off that shit a little Billy.”
    “Sure, I know. But look at where we are, man.” He spread his bony hand to sweep across what view we had. “Is this where you want to be?”
    “No it isn’t Billy. Not at all.”
    “I always wanted to be an architect, from the time I was a kid. I wanted to build things, see things that I designed get built. I used to draw all these plans, for hours and hours I’d draw these tremendous buildings that were going to rise above the plastic crap that surrounds us.” His head fell onto his chest and a sigh left him like the deflation of a balloon.
    “Hey Billy, this isn’t such a bad job, we have some fun don’t we?”
    “Yeah we do man.” he said, lifting his head. “Franco must be pissed. Let’s get back to work.”

    “Where’s that fucking Billy!” shouted Franco. We had to get a truck loaded before the end of the day, and it was a big shipment. We’d spent most of the day collecting the pallets and stacking them on the dock, ready to be rammed into the semis, in the reverse order they would be offloaded.
    “I’ll go find him Franco.” I said. I had a notion of where he might be.
    Back in the far reaches, in the last rows of racks, along about aisle Z, Billy liked to get away from the world, park the forklift and hit up, take a break. I figured I’d find him back there, nodding in his chair.
    Sure enough, as I turned the corner I saw the yellow bumblebee shape of his fork lift, dead in its tracks. I gunned it on over and pulled up alongside.
    “Hey Billy, Franco’s getting’ real pissed off. We got a lot to do. It’s time to get back to work.”
    Billy was silent and motionless, and he stayed that way. A needle hung from his arm like a picador’s lance from the flank of a bull before he falls to the dust amid the shouts of Spanish and raised fists. A thin red trail of blood found its way down his arm.
    There were no shouts for Billy, and no one raised a finger.

Tommy Virga’s Love

Edward C. Burton

    When Tommy Virga was six years old he discovered a small hole in his back yard. The mound of muddy earth around its perimeter suggested it had been made by a mole. Tommy assumed it was home to a snake. He saw Doris Jones playing out in her yard, so he called out to her from across the ravine that separated her house from his. She was older than he was; she was in the third grade. But maybe she could help him.
    She came over and studied the hole for a moment before stepping on it causing the mounded dirt around to compress and seal the hole. “There, that’ll kill that stupid snake,” she said. The idea of death was still a new concept to Tommy. And the idea that Doris Jones had just sealed the doom of a living creature left him in awe. “C’mon, let’s play,” she said. As Tommy followed her he kept looking back at the brown spot of moist earth that had once been a hole. When the sun set and Doris heard her mother calling, Tommy went to the back yard again and sat with his arms cradling his knees, staring at the sealed hole. He thought of the snake beneath him and how it would soon be dead because of what the neighbor girl had done to it. Tommy felt a twinge of delicious goose pimples coat his body.
    When Tommy Virga was in junior high school he spent his lunch hours in the library poring over any book he could find on the subject of humans denying other humans the right to live. Nothing excited him more. He found a before and after picture in one history book of the conspirators of Lincoln’s assassination who were hanged. The band of criminals had dark hoods placed over their heads in the first picture as the nooses were being placed around their necks. Tommy closed his eyes and imagined himself there in attendance, amongst the children chasing around the crowd of spectators, and the spectators themselves each with eyes that hungered for justice under the hot afternoon sun. He could grasp the anticipation that weaved through the crowd like something palpable. He imagined catching the last glimpse of terror on the face of the last conspirator before his face was forever hid under its black mask.
    Then he looked at the second picture in which the trap door had been sprung. He could almost hear the wooden floor of the gallows give way. He could hear the dull thud as the bodies of the criminals plunged downward to stop abruptly, too abruptly. He could hear the ladies in their fine dresses gasp out loud. And oh, how he longed to be there. He closed the book and quickly wiped tears from his eyes.
    He found a copy of Blood Letters & Bad Men. He read about one man who was executed in the electric chair. Something happened with the chair’s circuitry and it shorted out at the first throw of the switch. It had to be thrown a second time. A man losing his life in the name of justice, and the power of the man to throw the switch electrocuting a life away. It all excited Tommy more than he could almost bear. The lunch bell rang. Tommy quickly shelved the book, and as he left for his next class he hoped nobody noticed his erection. Blood Letters & Bad Men became his favorite book.
    When Tommy turned twenty he walked into a convenience store and took the girl behind the register as a hostage. He wrestled his way behind the counter with her and wrapped an arm around her neck from behind and held a gun to her temple. He caressed the side of her head with the steel barrel of the gun and with stuttered nervousness mumbled into her ear that he really didn’t want to hurt her. Her trembling body and muffled sobs made him realize that now he had the power to extinguish a life. He thought of Doris Jones. This is not what he wanted. It was the receiving end he needed. The receiving end would be much better.
    Sirens shrilled through the night air, and the store front window became flooded with red and blue lights and hot piercing spotlights. Yes, this was more like it, he smiled. When the policemen exited their vehicles and crouched behind their car fenders Tommy released the girl and pushed her aside. He marched outside with the gun in hand. One policeman stood up, cupped his hands to his mouth, and bellowed for Tommy to drop his weapon. Tommy merely continued his smile and shook his head. He raised the empty pistol and yelled, “I love you guys!”
    The hail of bullets punched into him and knocked him back-wards. Before he lost consciousness and ventured into the great nothing, he thought he was going to climax.

The Old Monastery

Mel Waldman

    For years, I’ve heard rumors about the old monastery hidden in an antediluvian forest. The kids in my neighborhood know I’m a writer and collector of weird stories. Well, the tale about the old abandoned monastery is strange and creepy. It belongs in Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Trust me.
    Ensconced in a bleak, barren forest, the monastery is an invisible sanctuary, hidden from the outside world. Yet thrill seekers, especially teenagers, and other adventurers have found it throughout the past century.
    Above the sinister forest, a bell tower looms. And sometimes perspicacious eyes find vultures sitting on the fragile structure.

    Some pundits state the monastery exists in one of the five boroughs of New York City. Others argue it’s located outside New York and possibly, in another dimension.
    Poets describe the monastery as vast but minuscule. It soars to the heavens and vanishes within a dark magical forest. It stretches across an infinite whirling wilderness, but spirals into a finite physical universe. The first few stories contain 30-50 sprawling and tiny claustrophobic rooms. Beneath the decrepit floor of its crumbling basement, a narrow staircase descends 30-60 stories underground.
    At the turn of the 20th century, a group of monks lived in the monastery. They didn’t speak, for they had taken vows of silence. At night, they descended the creaking stairs that led to the bowels of the earth. They slept in small underground spaces.
    Then suddenly, one night, a monk went berserk and butchered all the other monks. After the massacre, he hauled the corpses to a lower underground level.
    Thrill seekers, who found and entered the old sanctuary and descended the dark stairs, have reported seeing ghosts in the underground stories beneath the monastery. I’ve often wondered if any of these tall tales are true.

    This morning, when I woke up from a deep sleep, I found an ancient map on the night table next to my bed. Now, as I study the map, my body shakes uncontrollably. You see, I’m clenching a map of the old monastery. It also reveals a direct route to the sanctuary starting at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn where I live.
    What shall I do? Who left this map? How did the person enter my home? Is the map genuine?
    I’m compelled to search for the old monastery. I must discover the truth.

    Clutching a machete in my left hand and a flashlight in my right, I enter the dark forest. In the distance, the bell tower looms. I trudge toward the monastery.
    Inside the ancient sanctuary, I descend the stairs and search for the remains of the dead monks.
    As I climb down the stairs, my hands tremble and I almost drop my machete. My face twitches and my body jerks. But I continue on.
    I descend five stories and stop. Trapped in an ominous labyrinth, I take a few deep breaths and descend farther into the darkness.
    I stagger down the stairs and almost plummet into the abyss. Miraculously, I regain my balance. I descend ten stories, twenty stories, and stop. I’m suffering from vertigo. Perhaps, I should turn back. But I can’t. An alien voice commands me to find the monks’ remains.
    I reel down the stairs, lurching violently into the monstrous Void. I descend thirty stories, forty stories. How much farther can I go?
    I’ve stopped counting. I’m in Hell. Don’t see their remains. Yet I feel their presence.
    My body shudders. I retch. I vomit.
    Can’t find their bones. I slip and plunge into the abyss.
    I’m still alive inside a tomblike room. And now, I see them-the monks’ ghosts surrounding me. It can’t be! These creatures look like me, especially the one in the far corner with a machete. He is me!
    He stands up and kills his brothers. I watch. I wait. Almost time to die.

Bumps in the Night

Roger Cowin

Walking around, your slippered feet
scuffing the polish from the floor
between bed and bathroom,
the only light from refrigerator door.
The thump and crash of glass
smashing on the floor.
Sepia toned photograph of someone
who long ago stepped out of
this tedious business of life

Maybe because it’s America,
we don’t think of ghosts or vampires,
but serial rapists and anarchist
street mimes with prurient intentions
on our black wardrobe.

And certainly there’s something,
some reason, perhaps latent necrophilia
that causes the years dead screen queens
on the late, late show to appear
so desirable.

You hold the photograph in one hand,
corned beef sandwich in the other,
chewing nervously.
Pictures, after all,
don’t just fall off the wall.
A catalyst is required,
street mimes or a cult
of angry dwarves
offing anybody over five feet tall.
Pictures don’t just fall off the wall.

what is veganism?

A vegan (VEE-gun) is someone who does not consume any animal products. While vegetarians avoid flesh foods, vegans don’t consume dairy or egg products, as well as animal products in clothing and other sources.

why veganism?

This cruelty-free lifestyle provides many benefits, to animals, the environment and to ourselves. The meat and dairy industry abuses billions of animals. Animal agriculture takes an enormous toll on the land. Consumtion of animal products has been linked to heart disease, colon and breast cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and a host of other conditions.

so what is vegan action?

We can succeed in shifting agriculture away from factory farming, saving millions, or even billions of chickens, cows, pigs, sheep turkeys and other animals from cruelty.

We can free up land to restore to wilderness, pollute less water and air, reduce topsoil reosion, and prevent desertification.

We can improve the health and happiness of millions by preventing numerous occurrences od breast and prostate cancer, osteoporosis, and heart attacks, among other major health problems.

A vegan, cruelty-free lifestyle may be the most important step a person can take towards creatin a more just and compassionate society. Contact us for membership information, t-shirt sales or donations.

vegan action

po box 4353, berkeley, ca 94707-0353


MIT Vegetarian Support Group (VSG)


* To show the MIT Food Service that there is a large community of vegetarians at MIT (and other health-conscious people) whom they are alienating with current menus, and to give positive suggestions for change.

* To exchange recipes and names of Boston area veg restaurants

* To provide a resource to people seeking communal vegetarian cooking

* To provide an option for vegetarian freshmen

We also have a discussion group for all issues related to vegetarianism, which currently has about 150 members, many of whom are outside the Boston area. The group is focusing more toward outreach and evolving from what it has been in years past. We welcome new members, as well as the opportunity to inform people about the benefits of vegetarianism, to our health, the environment, animal welfare, and a variety of other issues.

The Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology

The Solar Energy Research & Education Foundation (SEREF), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., established on Earth Day 1993 the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (CREST) as its central project. CREST’s three principal projects are to provide:

* on-site training and education workshops on the sustainable development interconnections of energy, economics and environment;

* on-line distance learning/training resources on CREST’s SOLSTICE computer, available from 144 countries through email and the Internet;

* on-disc training and educational resources through the use of interactive multimedia applications on CD-ROM computer discs - showcasing current achievements and future opportunities in sustainable energy development.

The CREST staff also does “on the road” presentations, demonstrations, and workshops showcasing its activities and available resources.

For More Information Please Contact: Deborah Anderson or (202) 289-0061

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