Inspired by the Boston Art Theft.
Selling the Art from the Boston Robbery
“Welcome gentlemen, I wasn’t expecting you so early.” In fact, that was a complete lie, the meet time was 3:45 and it was now 3:52. Both men, looking sharp in all black suits - matching ties - and dark tinted sunglasses.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, how are we? Can I get you a glass of wine? Robert fetch us some wine please.”
“Where is it?” the taller man asked.
“We have the money.” the other said.
“Now, now, gentlemen, she’s around the corner. You know I’d hate to part with it, but you see I do need the money. Poor whiskers is getting sick and she needs the best healthcare money can buy.”
“We’re talking about 75 million dollars and you’re going to spend it on a cat?”
“Not all of it...” I replied.
“How did you come in to possession of this piece, is it the real thing?” asked the shorter man.
“Well... you see, my father and an associate of his masterminded a robbery back in the 90’s. It was very clever, you see. Papa disguised himself as a police officer to get in and then his associate handcuffed them and led them to the basement of the Boston Museum. All-in-all Pops’ made off with the Rembrandts’ while his associate looted the Degas. Everything else was sold off over time, the only one left is the Storm of the Sea of Galilee, you came here for today.” I carefully explained.
“I see, and you can prove it’s real?” The short man asked.
“Using both, the old iodine test and the state of the art x-ray test. It’s authentic.”
“Show us.” Insisted the taller man.
“Right this way.” I rebutted as I turned the corner.
And there it was, the dark hulls of the galley smothered by the wrath of angry waves. The sails torqued by the wind and reaching for the heavens. The crew on every rope and oar keeping from capsizing. Even the frame which it was held was elegant in my showcase lighting. Every small aspect of it coming together. You could feel the sacrifice of the individual and hear the Gospels of Mark. It was all so serene.
“I find it such a shame that we can’t share her with the world these days. A true masterpiece should be on display. I am sure you will it give it the love and affection it deserves. I must insist that you allow Robert, my butler, to assist you. He is well versed in the delicacies of transporting such hardware.”
“I think we can handle it.” Said the smaller man to the taller.
The taller man nodded in confirmation and walked back around the corner to the living room and grabbed a suitcase he had left on the floor.
“It’s all here.” Said the tall man as the shorter gentleman carefully lowered the frame from its hooks.
“Show me.” I said.
The tall man dialed in the combination and slammed it down causing stacks of hundreds to fall down.
“The rest are in duffles in the van.”
“Well you’d better go and get them.” I snarled.
“Robert! Grab the bags from our van,” shouted the small man.
For the first time all night Robert replied, “Yes sir, right away,” knowing this time that his presence was needed.
Moments later Robert returned and dropped two empty bags on the floor. He then withdrew a revolver from his petticoat. “Hands up! This is a robbery!”
The small man held the Rembrandt as hostages while the tall man and I stood in awe.
“Hands up! I’ll shoot you all!” Robert cried.
Robert caustically paced over the Rembrandt, took ahold of it and bolted out the door and into the van. He was gone before the two men could turn and say “You set us up!” The tall man told the small man to stay behind and then he ran out the door and down the road tailing the van. The small man flicked open a butterfly knife and I backed myself into an adjacent bookshelf where I grabbed a 9mm pistols just under waist length on the shelf. I drew and then circled my way around the small man and out the door before running for the fence, leaping over the metal post and running out through a small thicket of woods to meet a white van on the other side.
“Just like your father.” Robert said.
Our last session together is the only time you
did not look at my eyes when you spoke—you
looked at the ground, a trick you learned from me.
My husband is being transferred to Seattle,
you said. I can recommend another therapist locally.
What I hear is Henny Penny crying,
The sky is falling! The sky is falling!
You walk me to the elevator.
I’m clutching my throat.
I think I’ve been exposed to a deadly airborne toxin.
All of my bodily orifices are sealing up.
By the time I reach the parking garage—
I will be a lifeless lump of orange jello.
The Hitman’s Shadow
I was watching from the street
his silhouette danced across the curtains
because I’d left the lamp on inside
when I’d left early for dinner
I could see him flipping through the drawers
tossing pillows across the room
as if he’d expected to find me
snug, hiding beneath the bed frame
I raised my collar against the wind
while the shadow pressed on
I saw him throw open the closet doors
and creep through the empty bathroom
looking for some sign
of where I’d gone
the name of a restaurant -
an address scribbled on a matchbox
in a woman’s seductive hand
the whole night felt like snow
that cold, dark emptiness of the winter
and so I’d gone for a walk
to pass the time before dinner
and watched the man glide past
the revolving door of the lobby
the gun in his waistband
his coat dark against the stars
and I thought about how funny it was to watch him
tossing chairs and decorative plants around the room
like a steaming cartoon character
who can’t find his animal rival
and end it, once and for all
TWO IN THE MORNING
I’m in the middle of the Mexican dream.
me and my amigos
sitting on the porch of the hacienda,
wide sombreros tipped down over our faces,
sipping tequila while white-whiskered cactus plants look on.
But I’m also in the bar,
an ex-pat with a two day growth,
my elbows on the table,
head about to join them
or out in the dusty square
swaying to a mariachi band
or at midnight under the street lamp
awaiting my tempestuous brown-skinned lover
or glancing in the kitchen
where a pretty chica bonita
buries her fingers in wheat flour.
Head on the pillow,
body buried in blankets,
on a cold January night
whatever warm there is
arrives via the inevitable clichés
that poke through my subconscious.
Even my nightmares aren’t safe.
Skeletal faces from the Day of the Dead
love nothing better than to
press their gum-less jaws against my trembling lips.
The real Mexico can’t get through to me.
Its one hundred million people
don’t stand a chance,
not with the usual band
of despertare Hollywood hombres
patrolling my borders.
And forget about their language.
Sorry but only broken English is spoken here.
At least, when I awaken,
I’m ready to make amends.
So I apologize to you, senorita
with that red rose in your teeth,
and you mustachioed bandito -
impressive Wanted poster by the way.
John Grey bio (20160219)
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, South Carolina Review, Gargoyle and the anthology, No Achilles with work upcoming in Big Muddy Review, Main Street Rag and Spoon River Poetry Review.
fishing at dusk:
the heron and i
Stephen Toft bio
Stephen Toft is a poet and homelessness worker who lives in Lancaster, UK with his girlfriend and their children. He grew up in Swansea. His poetry has appeared in a variety of journals such as acorn, frogpond, modern haiku and american tanka. In 2008 red moon press published his collection, the kissing bridge.
Romero drove the van on the city streets. All the streetlights were out, only his headlights created a dim glow on the wet pavement.
“Why do you think God would bring them back?” Ada asked him. She held a Kuda submachine gun and wore a red dress.
“I came to thinking that...that He must exist, for this to happen. Both Him and Dark One—positively. Have you ever read The First Epistle of John in The Bible? 4:8 says: There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. What do you think would bring The Creator to bring his children so much carnage? What does this passage tell you about the roots of our vice? What is it?”
“Fear,” Ada said.
“Yes,” he responded, “It is fear that brings us further from Him. From the Light to the Dark. From the Love to Despair—and Death.”
Romero pulled the van over in the dark. He sprang out the door and pulled his crossbow off of his back. A hoard of zombies approached them from an alley. He shot three successive arrows, all headshots. The dead fell. Ada stood next to him and took down a few with her Kuda.
“Do you really think this will work?” she asked.
“Does it really matter at this point?” He parried, “The Creator left us long ago.” More arrows were shot followed by falling rotten bodies.
“You think we’re alone?” she asked.
They entered the scouted building and ascended the staircase. When they reached the penthouse the mini nuke was cleanly wired on the kitchen table.
“Just as the New Devil Guard informed me. Its ready.”
“Let’s go to Hell, and take the scum with us,” Ada walked up to the bomb and pressed it’s red button.
When the boot hit his ribs Tab felt a crack. BJ, Aaron, Irving, Ken, and Clay stood around him in a circle in the rain. He lay next to a dumpster, whimpering.
“You used to think you were so special eh?” Aaron said. “Well, look where you are now? Lying down in the dirt behind a crappy mall like a baby.” Aaron pulled a pacifier out of his pocket and threw it at the man. Tab blew snot and blood out of his nose.
“What are you going to do now?” BJ said, “cry? Or fight?”
“I don’t like to fight,” Tab said. He squirmed in the wet.
“Why not?” Clay asked.
“I pray for storms to pass, because I know that He loves me.”
“Who?” Irving asked.
“The same One that is watching all of your hearts right now.”
The men became sharp-toothed clowns wearing multicolored gowns. Blood and bile dribbled from their mouths.
Tab got up and began to limp to the Tilt arcade.
“Where are you going?” One of them hissed. “You need your Big Boy pads.”
“I have to search the floor for quarters,” Tab said
Shadows and Dust
The trainer finished taping Tab’s hands in the locker room. Tony sat in the corner smoking a cigar. He wore a red Italian suit.
“You know how the Romans thought of their games?” Tony asked. He puffed a cloud of smoke into the air. “They thought that time on earth was only an illusion. That there was another plane, a more important aspect of reality—in which time and space did not exist. A life with God. In the Coliseum death didn’t matter, life was just as fleeting and intransient as sand in the wind. Shadows and dust they would say. Mortals are but shadows and dust.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better about all this?” Tab asked. He slid his hands into the red boxing gloves.
“When you fall in the fifth you’ll will be well paid, and my Vegas wagers will all slide into the millions in profits. No one will suspect that the great heavyweight from Brooklyn could lose to a no name from Ireland. Do it for your daughter’s sake.” Tony took a blue stuffed elephant out of his pocket and placed it on the locker room bench. “I’m sure you’ll do what’s right. This isn’t about your legacy anymore.”
Tab walked down the isle toward the Madison Square Garden boxing ring. Cameras flashed, fans whistled, floodlights blared, hooligans wailed. He rolled his hands and took a deep breath. Shadows and dust, he thought.
I pass them by on the sidewalk
In their uniforms of suits and ties
Their digital weapons at the ready
To be fired like a loaded gun
They stand at attention at bus stops
To be deployed to fields of war
Where victory means a promotion
And defeat a severance check
And I was supposed to be with them
In their army of profit and loss
But I could not pass the inspection
To allow me to serve in their ranks
So now I sit silent and watch them
Wondering how each of them feels
To always be following orders
In a battle with no end in sight
New Leaves for Old Trees
The innocent child
Raised by cold snakes
Now feels his teeth
And the boy that once danced
In the arms of the wind
Kneels at the feet
Of false idols
While the man in the box
Has run out of ways
To find anyone willing
As the beating heart
Of a changing world
Seems out of step
The Cadillac Clock
“We have to get your statement on camera, so once more, Miss Morgan. What happened tonight at the party?” I asked, sitting across the table from the teen. Her yellow graphic T-shirt was splattered with dried blood.
“I have a headache,” said Janet, rubbing her eyes, her right leg bopping up and down furiously under the table. “Everything is still a little fuzzy, but okay, I’ll try. Can I start from when I left the house?”
“Wherever you like,” I said. I cringed watching her pick the skin on her right thumb bloody with her index finger. She looked entranced, as if rewinding a tape of events in her mind.
“Lights are flashing and I hear a man’s slurred voice. And slow music,” she said mechanically. She closed her eyes. “Blue numbers on the dashboard clock,” she said, her voice trailing. “Three o’clock a-m.”
She paused and the silence gave me the creeps.
“Miss Morgan, are you okay? Would you like some water?” I asked. My voice startled her and she jumped.
“No. Well, yes, some water would be fine. Actually, is it possible to get a cup of tea? I’m really cold,” she whispered.
“Sure. No problem.” I turned to the other officer in the room. “Officer LaHaye, would you please get Miss Morgan a cup of hot water and a bag of Lipton?”
Janet stirred all six packs of sugar into the small Styrofoam cup with a flimsy white plastic spoon, while holding the string of the tea bag with her other pale hand. She pushed down on the bag with the spoon, releasing the tea into the water as the steam rose, warming her muted face.
“Anytime you’re ready, Miss Morgan? LaHaye, please press record.” Janet looked at the camera.
“Have fun. That’s what my mom yelled from upstairs before I shut the door. Have fun. We just moved here last year. This was my first party. When I got there, my best friend, Taralyn, was already there. She’s a senior too. We went to the bathroom to critique each other’s outfits. We always do that at school.” Janet chuckled softly and smiled.
I nodded and smiled.
“After about fifteen minutes, my other best friend, Carla, showed up. We were having fun, you know? Nothing crazy, just dancing and joking around.”
Janet curled her pink lips, cautiously sipping the hot tea, staring into the cup as if watching the moment. Then she looked at me, tears welling up in her eyes.
“I didn’t want him to. I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t my fault,” she said, choking back tears.
“Nobody is here to judge you, Janet,” I said softly, lightly touching her hand. “We just want to hear your side. Please. Continue.”
“I was standing next to Carla when Talen came into the dining room. Carla handed me a glass of spiked punch. I hate whiskey, but I drank it anyway. Talen looked so good, you know. We all liked him, but his eyes were on me.”
She looked at me and quickly looked away.
“He walked over and asked me to dance. My heart was beating out of my chest. I looked at Carla’s face,” said Janet, raising her eyebrows. “She was so jealous.”
“What happened after that?” I asked.
“We danced,” she replied. “You know that song from Fifty Shades of Gray?”
“Yeah, that’s it,” she said, staring into her cup.
She bit her lip, letting it slide slowly out of her mouth.
“He said I was cute,” she said in a childlike manner. “Why do men do things that hurt you? He asked me to sit in his car so we could talk someplace quiet. I really thought he liked me.”
Her breathing quickened.
“He had a old Cadillac... My father had one just like it... We were in his backseat kissing, then he put my hand on his—.” Her face grew dark, she spoke just above a whisper.
“On his penis?” I asked.
“He rubbed my breasts. I told him to stop. He told me to relax.” She lowered her voice like a man. “Let Daddy teach you how to please men. I pushed his hands away and tried to get out of the car.” She sobbed.
“Calm down Miss Morgan. Have another sip of tea.”
“I tried to scream, but he covered my mouth. I could smell the whiskey on his breath. I hate liquor. A car rode past and I saw the headlights shine into the car.”
“A car? The car wasn’t parked near the street.” She continued without looking at me.
“He tore my skirt and forced my panties down. I tried to kick him, but I kicked the clock and the glass cracked. He was raping me when I grabbed his fishing knife.”
“Skirt? You’re wearing jeans.”
Janet paused and looked at me. “The next thing I remember is Carla and Taralyn. I had blood all over my clothes. Then I was here.”
“Are you done? Is that your story?”
I stood up. “OK then, Miss Morgan, you’re under arrest for the murder of Talen Gaines. You waived your rights to counsel. LaHaye, please take this murdering bitch to a cell.
Janet looked at me, confused and bewildered. “Wait! Talen’s dead? Talen Gaines?”
“My brother!” I shouted.
“That’s not fair! You tricked me!”
“Get her out of here!”
LaHaye cuffed Janet and escorted her out of the room. She kept shouting, “Check the clock in the Cadillac. Three a-m! Three a-m!”
My captain walked over to my desk while I was writing my report.
“What’s up with this clock business, Gaines? This better not come back to bite us.”
“It won’t, Captain. She’s just drunk. My brother doesn’t even have a clock in his car. Talen was fully clothed; there was no rape. And the knife was engraved with her last name.”
nothing can be pure
when you destroy purity.
my choice is silence.
My Face Is Not My Own
My name is Seth. I stare into a face that is not mine, or if it is, it’s barely recognizable. But all around me, darkness has enfolded me like a shroud, suffocating me. My foot is on the threshold of my dreams, but darkness and doubt keep pulling me away from them. What if I fail, like so many times before? What happens if the darkness consumes me? Will there ever be hope again? My goals and dreams rise before me, casting the thinnest slice of light through the darkness. I must focus on that light, because I do not wish for the darkness to swallow me. My goal is to have a successful career as a lawyer, but because of past mistakes I’ve made, people around me won’t give me a chance. And paying for law school isn’t easy either. I’m working two jobs just to make ends meet. BUT, still and yet, I WILL NOT be defeated. They will NOT destroy my dreams. My own positive force of will can obliterate the darkness and negativity. I will do what I MUST to brighten the light of my goals and dreams. God willing, it’s MY turn to shine!
Priscilla Pilar Estrada
Jerry squinted as he stepped out of the county jail. He looked down at what the jail staff had given him, it was everything that he was admitted into the jail with: his wallet containing his ID, his debit card and $300. He turned his head to the right. There was a motel in the distance called Jail Bird Inn. He looked to the left and there was another motel called Sunshine Motel. He shifted his weight to the left and headed over to Sunshine.
“One king size room, please,” said Jerry.
“For how many nights?” asked the motel concierge.
“How much for one night?”
“Fifty-two dollars, mister.”
“I’ll take three nights.”
“Room 453. Enjoy your stay,” said the motel concierge handing him a key. Jerry found his room within five minutes. He set down his wallet on the nightstand next to the bed and tested out the bed’s comfort. He shut his eyes.
Knock, knock, knock. Jerry sat up. Knock, knock, knock. He walked to the door and peeped out of the hole. A woman stood there. She was perfect. She ran her hand through her hair, trying to give it the tousled look. She smacked her red, plump lips and readjusted the strap on her red high-heeled shoe.
Jerry opened the door.
“Hello, honey,” said the woman. Jerry stared at the glitter on the hem of her dress.
“Are you going to let me in?” asked the woman.
“W-why?” asked Jerry.
“I can give you what you need. I’m Misty,” said the woman.
“Okay, Misty,” said Jerry as he opened the door and let her inside.
Misty sauntered into the room and sat down on the king sized bed. She looked around the hotel room as if it had been her first experience in a motel room.
“What’s your...pleasure?” asked Misty. The corners on her red lips were raised.
“What do you offer?” asked Jerry. He hadn’t seen a woman outside of uniform in some time.
“Anything you like. Just use a condom when necessary, sugar,” said Misty.
Jerry stands in silence. “How much do you charge just to talk,” Jerry asked. He hadn’t been with a woman in quite some time either.
“To talk? Well, I can charge you 10 cents per minute,” she said. She chuckled at her own joke. “We can talk for the whole night for $100.”
Jerry’s hand dove into his pocket and fished out a hundred. He handed it to Misty. Jerry sat next to her.
“How was your day?” asked Jerry.
“It’s been a long day, not too many clients. How was your day?”
“I was just released from jail, after serving ten years.”
“What did you get locked up for?”
“Possession of too much cocaine. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?”
“That’s a question! Let’s see here. I wanted to be a ballerina, like every other girl.”
“Do you know how?”
“I took a few classes.”
“Show me,” said Jerry. He pointed to the largest area in the little room.
“Oh, I couldn’t. I don’t remember much,” said Misty. Her cheeks turned red.
“Please?” asked Jerry.
Misty studied the floor for a few seconds. Then, she got up and walked to her place. Her pointed right foot slid out to the right. She slid it right in front of her. Feet together. Her feet still together, she bent both knees, her hands out in front of her. As she danced, Jerry studied her and pretended that this woman was in love with him. She was dancing because she was showing him her deepest desires and at the same time, showing her biggest fears. Jerry felt sadness knowing that she wasn’t a ballet dancer.
Misty lifted her right foot to her left knee, she then prepped for a spin and her body spun. He hadn’t felt love in so long. Not since his mother died. He stood up and walked over to Misty. He placed his hands on her waist and kissed her red lips.
you can feel me now
rushing, swirling to your neck
opening your mouth
The Arizona heat engulfed Jason as he walked alongside the interstate, reflecting on his wife’s claim of rape and how someone in a dirty semi-truck ran him off the road, forcing him to leave his Sedan behind. He slicked back his dark hair and shielded his face with his hands before he surveyed the interstate with dark eyes. In the distance, a semi-truck crept up the interstate and Jason squinted his eyes for a better look.
This might be him, thought Jason. If it is, then he’s finished.
He pulled out his revolver from his suit pants’ waistband, opened up its barrel, and nodded.
“Still loaded. That’s great to know,” he said as he closed it up and tucked it back in its original spot. He squinted his eyes again. The semi truck gained more speed than before.
“This is it,” said Jason. He pulled out his revolver and placed it by his hip. The burgundy and blue semi-truck continued its journey toward him but it stopped as soon as he aimed the revolver at its dirty windshield. Then, he approached the driver’s side and aimed the gun at the window.
“Get out now!”
Jason climbed and swung open the door but a steel-toed boot met his chin, making him stumble back into the dirt. However, he rolled, landed on his feet, and fired a single bullet into the driver’s side window.
“The next two bullets will go right in your head so test me!” Jason said. He wiped the blood from his nose and his mouth with his free hand while the other steadily aimed the gun at the truck driver’s shattered window.
“Alright, Jesus, man!” replied the truck driver. “I’m coming out. Just don’t shoot me!”
The driver’s door slowly opened and a flustered faced yet solidly built man with ginger hair and emerald eyes, dressed in a navy button down shirt and charcoal suit pants, hopped out with his hands raised.
“I don’t know what this is about, man, but let’s just—“
Jason smashed his revolver into his nose and kicked him into the semi-truck. Then, he approached him and pressed the barrel against his temple.
“P-please, man! Don’t kill me!” said the truck driver as he held his nose with both of his hands. “Whatever I did, I didn’t mean to—“
“Shut up,” replied Jason as he pressed the barrel harder against the truck driver’s temple. “You’re going to tell me that you ‘didn’t mean to rape’ my wife and leave her for dead on the side of the road?”
“Please, man, I didn’t—“
Jason pistol whipped him across his jaw and replied, “Shut the hell up and listen, alright?”
The truck driver raised his hands and nodded.
“Good,” Jason said. “You’re going to suffer for what you did to both me and my wife. A shame, really, because you dress nice for a truck driver.” He pressed the gun’s barrel against the truck driver’s crotch and cocked the hammer.
“Wait, don’t shoot me, man,” the truck driver replied. “You can have your vengeance but don’t shoot me there, please.”
Jason surveyed the other end of the interstate. No cops in sight but a hospital blurred in the horizon. Then, his attention went back to the truck driver’s crotch.
“Sorry but you can explain to the cops how your rapist balls went missing.”
The truck driver kicked him away and got up. Then, he reached inside of the truck and revealed a sawed off shotgun. But Jason rolled and pulled the trigger twice. Two bullets tore through the truck driver’s kneecaps and he fell to the ground. He screamed and reached for the sawed off shotgun but Jason kicked it away from him.
“Well, that’s a shame,” said Jason as he pressed his gun’s barrel against the back of the truck driver’s skull. “A missed opportunity, I guess.”
However, Jason tucked the gun away, and unveiled a black combat knife from his pant leg. He turned the truck driver over onto his back and pressed the knife against his throat.
“Why make it easy for you, you know?”
Jason ignored his plea and stabbed him in his crotch. Then, he twisted the knife clockwise and ignored the deafening scream from the truck driver’s mouth. But once he fainted, Jason pulled out the knife, stabbed him in his crotch again, and pulled it out.
“You’ll never rape anyone else again,” said Jason. He stepped back from the truck driver and tossed the knife away. Tears welled up in his eyes and rolled down his blood-spattered cheeks. Then, he sat down in the dirt, next to the truck driver, and wept until he stopped.
“I didn’t know how any of this would play out,” Jason said. He wiped his eyes, cleared his throat, and said, “At one point, I wanted to die for what you did to her. But something broke in me and it told me to make you pay for what you did to her.”
The truck driver stirred awake and tears welled up in his eyes but Jason ignored them.
“You don’t get to beg for mercy,” replied Jason. “You don’t deserve it from me.”
“P-please, man. I’m sorry. I never wanted to hurt her...”
“Your sorry means nothing to me. You’ve destroyed my wife. Nothing you say will ever make it right.”
Jason stood up, approached the knife, and picked it up. His eyes met the truck driver’s as he approached him. Then, he mounted him and held the knife over his head.
“It’s finished. Don’t resist. Just accept.”
Jason stabbed the back of the truck driver’s neck. He pulled out the knife and, again, stabbed him in the same spot. He stabbed him a final time, got up, and stepped back until he fell on his knees and wept.
Then, he screamed until his voice left him.
Finally the day was coming to an end. The truck carried the pain and exhaustion of the battered body back to the station to face the hells due. Pain raced from his left foot and ankle all the way up to the base of his skull. He had given his all, again, and knew he had more and more hells to pay for doing so.
It had all caught up with him. The years of busting ass, doing what he had to do. Back in the day, he had slept on concrete and on buses (when he had the money), while working day labor, hell bent on building a life. He had succeeded, in that he found gainful employment, went back to college, and eventually finished, only to be shut out of grad school by the Republican wet dream of destroying Capitalist Democracy (AKA Liberalism).
He thought back of himself back then, and smiled. So young. So driven. Hopeful. Idealistic. Far from the jaded, battered, beaten man he now was. The him of old would never stand for the shit he now faced. He wondered how much more he had in him.
His was a historic period. The only Liberal nation on earth was converting to Feudalism, AKA Conservatism. Soon would be the cyclical shift between right feudalism, Corporatism, and left feudalism, Socialism. Landmark change. Forever. Social mobility was rapidly becoming a joke. The joke that was now on him.
He thought back on it all, questioning his original decision to leave his rural hometown. Back there men worked their guts out until becoming disabled and then depended on disability and welfare for the rest of their lives, while they had like four or five children with three different women, then sat around sipping shitty beers and making sure their kids followed in their footsteps.
He had faced Tracy Chapman’s famous line; “Leave tonight or live and die this way...”
He had left.
Now he was following that path anyway, but, thankfully, had no children to subject to his miseries. The one decision he never regretted was getting snipped. The best birth control possible. It had made him nearly an inch longer, and allowed him to last longer. If he ever decided to have kids, three grand could reverse it.
His chest tightened as the station neared. There would be hells to pay. He had hobbled on one good leg as fast as he possibly could, sweat rolling off him, and was to catch hells for it. His working career was nearing the end, and he knew it. He just couldn’t do it anymore.
To be fair, though, not many could. No matter how fast, it was impossible to meet the demanded numbers. Everyone faced hell daily, but especially him, as he was, let’s face it, disabled. They had chewed him up, and were hoping to spit him out.
The lot was mostly full. He was among the last to finish. He was fucked. The truck found it’s way to it’s spot, number thirty seven. The door slid open. Pain shot immediately through him as his feet hit the parking lot.
Same old Liam.
The back door slid open with a dramatic bang, as his beaten body grabbed the tub of outgoing mail, then hobbled inside, faster, faster FASTER!
The outgoing slid into the hamper. Clerks and other carriers looked at him with pity. They knew. They knew.
“Mercer!!! Why you so late?!!”
“Let me get the outgoing done first, ok.”
“NO! TELL ME. WHY SO LATE?!
“I went as fast as I could. I gotta move.”
“Clock to office time. You have five minutes.”
He hobbled to get the outgoing parcels. Priority. Faster, faster, FASTER!
After dumping them into the hamper, he clocked out. The rest of his work would be for free.
“Mercer! Why you so late?”
“I’m off the clock, working for free. You can yell at me tomorrow, when the stewards are here.”
“You getting smart with me? I’m writing you up! Come on.”
“Not without a steward.”
The supe walked away, cussing as he stormed off.
Liam slowly worked at his case. He was off the clock. No lunch was had. And extra half hour of work to do. An hour of free work, daily, and there were still hells.
His old Honda CRV needed to warm up before being driven home. It was as beaten up as he was. He thought of the case of cold beer that awaited him. It was his lone pleasure remaining. There was no chance for dating, etc. He was simply too exhausted and beaten. Who would have him anyway, when he was reduced to this?
He lucked out. There was someone leaving a great parking spot as he pulled up. He smiled for the first time all day. There wouldn’t be a long walk to his apartment after all. A little bit rested, he was able to hobble a bit faster.
There was a woman standing outside his building. She was a little large, tall, about his height. Hardly unusual. As he got closer, she looked more familiar. Could it be her?
She faced the building, so he could only see half of her face. She was glowing through her tears. It was her.
“Stephanie? You ok?”
She turned toward him. Her young face glowing as tears streamed.
“Liam... I know. I... This is weird, I know, but is there any way I can come inside and see the apartment one last time?”
He glanced around quickly, then relaxed.
“Thank you so much...” Her voice cracked.
He opened the doors, and let her lead the way. As soon as she entered the place, her face lit up even more. Sentimentalities tend to do that.“I don’t have any wine, but I do have beer. Would you like some?”
“Really? Can I? After all I did...”
“Of course. When someone is down... Always be quick to forgive. Be the person you want to be...all that stuff. Have a seat. Relax.”
She sat her slightly bigger frame down on the old couch, and began beaming as she eyed the classic apartment.
It was here that her journey of a million miles had begun, from rural Kentucky to Seattle. She had arrived in rags, twenty two, but nowhere near sweet and innocent. Borderline Personality Disorder, well earned. A tough life with too many strikes. Dangerous, but beautiful in her own ways...the struggle for better began there, in that old, classic apartment.
He handed her a beer, than sat down at his computer desk with his own.
“Liam, do you mind if we don’t talk for a while? Just sit there, pretending I’m not here. I want to remember...”
“Sure. I understand. I have to catch up on some things anyway.”
They sat in silence. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her glowing through her tears. It almost made him cry. He had meant something to her after all.
His hells were suddenly far away. If need be, he could call off the next day. He was union, after all. This seemed so important, somehow. There will always be money and (hopefully) employment, but there won’t always be life.
“Thank you so much for allowing me to be in here again. I was afraid you’d say no.”
“I think you knew I would. I did have to look around to make sure there weren’t guys ready to jump me again, though.”
He laughed. They had scurried off when they saw him back then. He was not one to fuck with.
“Yeah, Sorry for all that. You didn’t deserve any of it.”
“Water under bridges. So, what is going on? Last I heard from you was you were living all the way out in like some suburban hell, working as a waitress, and six months pregnant.”
“Yeah... My son’s name is Timothy. Drew left me. He’ll pay a little child support, but I can’t afford to stay here and raise a child. We’re moving back to Kentucky. My mom already took Tim back there. I’m just wrapping things up here.”
“Wow. Sorry to hear. I really thought you’d make it. It makes sense though. It’s much cheaper back there.”
She kept mixing her teary eyed glances around the apartment with looking straight down and allowing tears to drip down onto her large, drooping boobs. She was broken.
“How long do you have?”
“A few days. I leave Sunday.”
“Do you have a place to stay?”
“Yeah, kind of, but it’s all the way out in Marysville, and they don’t want me there. It’s just pity.”
“Then stay here. You started out here, so why not end here? We can catch up and laugh again. More memories.”
“Really? I mean, after all I did? You’d allow me?”
“Yeah. You’ve been through a lot. We’ll end this chapter as we started it.”
“Thank you so much...I just....I am so sorry for everything....”
“Just relax. Make yourself at home like the old days. Believe it or not, you’ve been missed.”
“I gotta go get my suitcase. It’s in the bushes outside.”
“Holy shit! I hope it’s still there! I’ll come with you.”
It was still there. They wheeled it inside, straight to the bedroom, then sat down with new beers. Every word she said was through tears.
“None of this would be happening if I had stayed with you. This is all my fault. You gave me all the opportunity, and I screwed you over. If I had it to do over again...Now it’s right back to Kentucky, forever.”
“Any of us can say the same. If I had to do it all over again.... Besides, you did build a life here, from scratch. It wasn’t all my giving to you. You worked your ass off, and succeeded. It was you that went to work every day and busted your ass, right? I mean, so many people wouldn’t have, but you did. You managed to impress me, and that isn’t easy.”
“But then, I screwed you over, and gave it all away, and ruined my life. What I could have had...”
“First, you’re being too hard on yourself. You got conned by some guy. Not the first. Won’t be the last. Second, you’re now stronger and wiser. You did it once. You can do it again. Third, I haven’t exactly done well myself. Workers comp sucked, and now I am disabled. I’m not sure where I end up. Really. My career and working days are about to end. I could be on the streets again.”
A sharp look. Speechlessness.
“But...look, we can wallow all we want, but...you know what? All we’re going to be left with is memories at the end anyway, so this is an opportunity, really. Let’s relive our great times, and, hell, make more great times, right? The chance is ours now.”
New beers cracked. It took a while, but she began laughing. Her pot helped. She was stocked well. Time flew. Laughs echoed. Soon it was midnight. He heard her crying herself to sleep while he drifted away on the couch.
The cruelty of the alarm hit at five am. He was grateful for the hangover. It would help him through the day of hells.
“Don’t say anything. Let us talk for you, ok?”
“Mercer! Office. NOW!”
Every question was met by “I have been advised by my steward to say nothing.”
Management was furious.
“We’re done with you!”
He hobbled quickly back to his case. Clerks and carriers sadly shook their heads, their eyes glazed over. Slowly, comraderies began again, laughters rising, as he worked feverishly.
“I don’t get it, Mercer. Really, you’re the fastest caser here. Your office times are the best. What is going on?”
“I hobble as fast as I can. I work so hard, and even for free. I do all I can.”
“Go on comp and stay there. We don’t want you here.”
The words hurt. They were true. He was done. Forty two. Clerks and other carriers looked on with welled eyes. It was a matter of time. Once one of the best, he was now among the weakest of the herd.
The day was done. Rather than reflect on miseries, he wondered what he was going home to. Would she be there? Did she clear him out? If so, hopefully she at least left his prized fedora and old coffee maker. It was a Bunn, after all, the fastest and the best.
Nothing was missing, except her. Did she leave early? Was this all too painful for her? He thought back. He was old enough to be her dad, and she, at times, seemed to think he was, saying he was similar, too similar, except that her dad had died from painkiller OD, and Liam hated pills of all kinds.
Her world back in KY had been of addictions and deaths and abuses. It’s what made her dangerous. He was dangerous in raising hells, and getting into absurdities. She was dangerous as in potential murder, fully capable of it.
He thought back to poetry readings. She was a better poet than he. One of the best he had heard. It was from pain, and, thus, she wasn’t interested back then. Her poems were beautifully threatening, frightening...hating being a female, hating and mistrusting males. Perhaps rightfully so, yet she made exception for him, to a point. He remembered being fearful of her, and wondering what he had gotten himself into back then. However, with all she had been through, and was facing, she at least deserved to have a good send off, and they did have great times together.
Soon, she came bounding in, her face bright and cute, her backpack full.
“I bought beer and wine and some food. Don’t lift a finger. It’s my time to repay you a little.”
“Liam, just shut up and enjoy, ok? For once?”
“Ok. Thank you.”
They took to talking and laughing, carrying on as they had years ago.
Then it began. She walked up to him as he sat on his chair. The look, that look, was on her face. She straddled around him, lowering her boobs to his face, her hands caressing his hair as he took her clothed nipples into his mouth.
“This is something I wanted to do for so long. If not for Drew’s shit...”
It didn’t take long before her bra and shirt were off. Pants and panties hit the floor with seductive silence.
The hell with dinner. It was in full swing. Caresses and moans led to screams. Round after round. Marathons. Breaks to sip were brief. The sound of colliding bodies broken only by high pitch screams, firework orgasms. Her grip was amazing. Everything was amazing. It had been building for years.
The alarm hit. Work was called off. The day was spent in repeated explosions. The right exhaustions in all the right ways. One for the ages. Memories.
They laid there, their sweat covered bodies cuddled and slowly cooling. The blanket then covered them tightly. Her soft snore was just enough to remind him how much he had missed this kind of thing. It had been so long. Work had taken over. It was nowhere near as good. Work was the wrong kind of fucking.
He looked at her. The poor dear. She had never had a chance, really. Why do things have to suck so bad? She had all the potential. Smart, hardworking, driven. Surely there were better ways. Surely there should be opportunities.
Opportunities for what, though? Suffering? Workaholisms? Poverty? Wealth? Where does anything get you, really?
It was then that it hit him. Opportunities to do exactly what he was doing, right then, at that moment. Holding someone close after just making love. Ultimately, that’s what everything is about, when boiled down.
He had been a fool. He had worked himself into nothingness for what a fucked up society and a rigged economy demands, and he had played right into it, becoming disabled in the process. Now he had nothing but hells to pay.
And so did she.
But for that moment, that glorious moment, as the sweat dried, all was right, somehow, as the shared heat, ultimately from dead animals, was held tightly by the thick blanket, as the food they had eaten brewed into the morning shit, as the suffering and death from around the world built and built...there they were...
There, enthralled in the last moments of a dying love, of themselves, between themselves, of life, of dreams, of dying dreams, of living and dying...
The morning meant a kiss, an awakening. She glowed as he held her. Their times were fading fast. Making love one last time was so bitter sweet, bringing both to tears. It was the last they could ever have.
He knew her well. As soon as she got out of bed, she would compartmentalize. She’d already be gone...forever.
“Another five minutes. Just that, ok?”
They held each other tightly. He kissed her shoulder.
“No, Liam. I’m just too sore. Sorry.”
Soon, nature called. She got up. It was as if someone flipped a switch. She was gone. He put the blankets over her spot in the bed, to preserve her body heat from moments ago.
She came back into the bedroom and began getting dressed. Her face was colder already. He got up and made coffee.
Not many words were said until she sat down to pack a bowl.
“I know you’re against drinking and driving, but would you consider having one last beer, so I can see you sit there with it? Like you always did?”
“Sure. We have time. But first...”
He went to his backpack, and pulled out two bottles of decent red.
“I’m sending one with you. Someday, let’s each drink our bottles together. We can plan it. Ok?”
“I’d like that.”
He sat there with his bottle of Miller. She sat there sipping box wine. Not a word was spoken. The TV played it’s mindlessness, as it tends to do.
She was packed and ready, and they went. Just like when she arrived, she stayed silent for the most part. He would begin conversation, she would engage, then trail off in midsentence. He exhaled.
The airport wasn’t busy. He pulled up.
“Just stay here. I got it.”
“No last hug, even?”
He got out, walked around the car, and put his arms around her. She didn’t hug back.
He walked around to the driver side, and watched as she walked into the building, disappearing into the crowd. He was alone again.
“Have a great life, Stephanie.”
A car behind him honked.
The ride home was brief. Parking was available, thankfully. He looked around the empty, dead apartment. Gone was the laughter, the love, the experiences. Had it actually happened?
He wondered about his life as he went to the fridge for another beer. After all this, what now? Was he to be outside again? After such a struggle, such a life? Had he at least meant something?
There were the hells awaiting him the next day, after all.
Reaching into fridge, there was paper wrapped around his beer.
“What the hell?”
An envelope was rubberbanded around his next beer. It was marked “Liam.”
He cracked open both the beer and envelope, and sipped heavily.
“Liam, I cannot find the words to ever thank you for all you did for me. Rightfully, I should have been on the streets or never left KY, but you took me in and built me up. I owe you so much, yet cannot repay you in a thousand lifespans. You and my dad were the only men who treated me well. I’ll never forget what you did for me, even when everyone else let me down. I’ll never forget you.
I know I said that if I had stayed with you instead of Drew, I could have had it so good, but, in truth, I can’t do what you did or do. Not everyone can do that. No one I have ever known can do what you have done. If only you had half the confidence in yourself as you had in me, you’d be unstoppable. Please never forget what you’ve accomplished, just as I can never forget what you did for me.
I stashed the bottle of wine you gave me in your closet. It was a sweet gestor, but I need to try to forget everything, and get back to being myself. I’m KY again. I never should have left. Your world is too damn demanding.
For what it’s worth, I did and do love you, but could not be with you. You pay too many dues. Too many hells. My life is here now.
Please stop doubting yourself. You’re tougher than anyone I’ve known. No one can do what you’ve done. You still have it. You always made me feel so good about myself, and that was hard to do. You always saw more in me than I did. But things are what they are, and I cannot live as you do.
Thanks for everything!
It all came flooding back to me. I had lived the remarkable. I had done this and that, and the other too. I felt great, for once. Thank you Stephanie!
I walked into work the next day as if I owned the place. I talked and laughed with other carriers, for once. Laughter filled the station.
Then I got fired, and went home.
The beer awaited. It was the only thing waiting for me, far from hells, but far away from a cute young, dangerous, tormented woman with so much potential.
And I knew that I, too, was done.
Could’ve, Would’ve, Should’ve
I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland, being stuck halfway between New York and Chicago, always had an identity crisis. It was always the city that “almost was.” Take sports; Cleveland considered itself a “sports town.” In the era that I gained my manhood, everyone was still talking about how the Cleveland Indians had been a champion baseball team before the “thirty year slump.” How they had won the series in forty-eight and the pennant in fifty-four, and they should’ve won the World Series, if it hadn’t been for Willie May’s incredibly lucky catch.
In football, the Cleveland Browns were always the team that could’ve or should’ve been the championship team if it hadn’t been for this or that particular misfortune or miscalculation. And, it was the same for basketball with the Cavilers, and the Barons in hockey.
Among my friends, we would say someone “pulled a Cleveland,” when, even with all the odds in his favor, he just missed getting the golden ring, because of some stupid, unexpected screw-up. Like the guy who had this great job all sewn up. The boss loved him, especially his jokes. He’s chatting it up; he’s on a roll. The boss can’t get enough of this guy as he cuts everyone around him into ribbons. That is, until, well... Let’s just say, he should have recognized that the lady was the boss’s new wife. The next day, the guy’s out looking for a new job. He just pulled a Cleveland.
My own experience with sports reflected my hometown’s. I remember once, when I played third string on our school basketball team, I had a shot at glory. Accidentally, I stole the ball from an opposing team member, and he fouled me. The clock was down to the last few seconds and we were down by one point. I was awarded a foul shot that would have kept us in the game. Now, even though I was third string, I was a good shot at the foul line. I barely missed in practice. That was in practice. Of course, I blew the shot, and we lost the game. No one even offered me a “Lifesaver.”
Now, I’m not a sportsman. I’m a musician. In music, Cleveland is also renown for its great spectator reputation. Rarely have any musicians from Cleveland made it big. I can’t think of one off-hand. But as with sports, Cleveland prides itself on its large fan base. Fans. They get to ride their team’s dream, or share the stage with their bands, after hours and on weekends. They get all the glory without any of the mess, achievement without exertion. Who could ask for more?
The truth is, Cleveland would be a great city, if it could ever get over the stigma of being Cleveland. This was my hometown. It became a model for my life.
I finished the set. I was playing a gig at The Boneyard, a local club on Cleveland’s East Side. It’s a decent living, and I draw a decent crowd. If Billy Joel was the Piano Man, then I like to think of myself as Cleveland’s “Guitar Man.” Of course, despite a bit of talent, and a one-time desire, I never made it big. Being from Cleveland didn’t help. Billy Joel might have been cheated by Motown, but he’s not feeling the pain any longer. I suppose, if I would’ve given them a chance to cheat me, my guitar would be gently weeping in the big time.
Oh well, no regrets. I propped my guitar on its stand and descended from the stage. My seat at the bar was waiting. The bartender had already poured me my drink. I offered him a mock salute, and he smiled in return. The smile was genuine. He was a friend of mine. A true Clevelander, there was no place he’d rather be. He points out the pretty girl at the other end of the bar, before he goes to attend to a paying customer. I had already noticed her watching me. She was cute, and very young. The bouncer must have counted the teeth of her pretty smile to determine her age. All twenty-two were showing.
I offered a nod and held up my glass, a very noncommittal acknowledgment of her stare. She blushed a shade of self-consciousness, and her smiled widened even further. Immediately, her attention dropped to the floor. Considering our transaction concluded, I spun towards the bar and placed the Scotch on my lips and drew it quickly into my mouth. I held it there for a moment before swallowing. The warmth of the alcohol felt good as it spread across my chest. Closing my eyes, I let my breath escape from my nostrils, and savored the shot. It would hold me till the next set.
I removed the still lit cigarette from the corner of my mouth and rubbed my eyes. The girl was now standing by my side. Magic. Fortunately, I don’t believe in magic.
I looked into her eyes and offered a closed-mouth grin. Sweet and innocent. This is a mistake. “Have a seat,” I offered.
She continued to show me her pass into the club. It grew even wider. She fumbled nervously. She had forgotten how to perform the act of sitting. Finally, when she allowed herself to commit to the act, she performed it like a pro.
“I really love your music,” she blurted, “especially your original stuff.”
“Thanks.” I looked at her a moment. A fan. Just what I needed. She was obviously expecting me to say something more. I disappointed her. It would be the first in a series.
So she filled in the silence. She’d been a fan ever since I was with Left of Center. She had all of my CDs. She really liked the loves songs. Then, I saw it in her eyes. She wanted to be in one of those love songs. Of course, she didn’t see all the ones that I had crumpled up and thrown away, tore apart or allowed to fade.
I should’ve just let her ramble away. I didn’t. I pulled another cigarette out of the pack. “Smoke?” I interrupted.
It caught her off-guard. “No. I’m trying to quit. I only smoke after...” She caught herself too late. She hadn’t meant to be suggestive. She was just allowing her mouth to spill out the contents of her brain.
So, being a gentleman, I should’ve let it slide. Anyway, she was way too young, too fresh and unspoiled for me. And, I knew that if I said something, there’d be no turning back. I would be much better off not going there.
So of course, I said something. “Then should I buy you a pack or two for later?”
She looked at me a moment, not comprehending, before she caught the implication. The smile got even bigger. Her gaze dropped to the floor again, and her mouth returned to fumbling. Through the fumbling she revealed that she “kind of” had a boyfriend. It was obviously a stupid, foolish boy that allowed his girlfriend to go alone to see a musician she had a crush on.
“Kind of? Depends on your mood, huh?”
She didn’t even realize I had insulted her. Women are like that. When they set their mind to something, especially in the area of love and relationships, it’s nearly impossible to get them to change it. It’s true, despite all the evidence to the contrary. No matter how much of a jerk, the guy turns out to be, they stand by their man till the very bitter end. They’re much more faithful than the male of our species. The only way to get a woman to abandon her quest is to completely shatter her dreams. I’m an expert at this.
I knew I should just walk away. Let it go. If this continued, I’d be taking this young thing home with me. And I’d regret it in the morning. Of course, I reasoned, if I didn’t take her home, I’d be regretting it at night, all night. But that kind of regret tends to fade after a few days. If she woke up in my bed, she’d continually be calling me, or showing up at my gigs for a couple of weeks, maybe even months, trying to form a relationship out of a fantasy. No, I decided. I should kill this immediately.
My decisions are never what you’d call rock solid. “So, what kind of fool let’s his girlfriend hang out in a smoky club with musicians.”
“Well, he was supposed to meet me here, but he called me on his cell and told me he was too tired.”
“Too tired, huh.” I allowed myself another grin. This one was almost genuine. It used to be that when a man stood a girl up, he had to live with the fact that he was a jerk. Now, cellular phones have removed even that level of responsibility. Thank God for progress. “So, he must trust you completely,” I said.
“Yeah, well, he told me you’d never talk to me anyway,” she said.
“So far he’s batting a thousand.” He must be a local Clevelander. This time the smile was genuine. “Why’s that?”
“I don’t know. I saw the ad for your show in the News Herald, and he promised to take me. I wanted to ask, I mean...”
Things were getting interesting. She wanted something. What, an autograph? I turned to face her. “Go on, I don’t bite.” It’s never wise to leave any evidence.
“Well, it’s silly, really.” She blushed for the hundredth time that night. “But, you know, you have to at least try, right? Otherwise you never know.”
I nodded. It hadn’t been my philosophy, but I encouraged her to continue just the same - not that she needed it.
She finally confessed. It came out in one explosive breath. It sounded like one long word. It took me a moment, but I was finally able to translate it into English. “Well, I know it’s silly, and probably everyone asks you all the time, but I’m a singer, well not a professional singer, I mean I’m good, I think, but I’ve never really performed and everyone says I’m just as good, and I really like your stuff and I was wondering if you’d let me sing a duet with you, once maybe, please.”
I could’ve laughed, but I held back. Of course, this would seal the deal. Singing a duet engenders a certain atmosphere of intimacy. It creates the fantasy of love. It was definitely a mistake. “Why not?” I said. There were a lot of women in the crowd that night, and duets go over big with them. I justified my decision.
“Really?” she practically jumped into my seat. Her hug was warm and tight. She smelled great. “Oh, you won’t regret this.” She blurted.
“I’m sure I won’t,” I lied. “What do you want to sing?”
This stopped her for a moment. It was like a car whose clutch fell into neutral. She hadn’t expected to get this far. Her mouth hung open as she tried to put her brain back into gear.
So I closed it for her. I was feeling magnanimous. “How about ‘We’ve Got Tonight?’ Do you know that?” I’m a big fan of Bob Seger, and I figured the lyrics might just provide the right, not so subliminal message. Besides, if she was really lousy, or if she froze on stage, I could cover the whole song as a serenade.
“Um,” she paused, “Yeah. You did it at your Blossom Concert last year, right?”
No mention of Seger, or even Kenny Rogers. She was a die-hard fan. It doesn’t get any easier than this. Well, I was going to have tonight. “You ready now?” I asked.
“What?” She was suddenly having trouble hearing. You could see the fear rising into her chest. She probably wouldn’t even be able to get a single note past that pretty smile of hers. No problem. I could comfort her later. I’m also an expert in crash and burn.
I climbed the stage, with this nervous little girl following close behind. When we got onstage she looked out into the crowd with awe and terror. I pulled her close and whispered those magic words, “What’s your name, sweetheart?”
She forgot for a moment. It happens to the best of us. Finally, it came to her. “Janey.”
I gave her a look. One of my songs is called “Janey and Tony.” She shrugged, reading my suspicion. “Really,” she confirmed.
“Okay, stick close to me, Janey. Just have fun.” I strapped on my guitar and turned to the room. “Ladies and gentlemen, with your permission, I’d like to introduce you to a soon-to-be long time friend of mine, Janey. She’s going to help me out with this next number.” The crowd gave her a nice welcoming round of applause. It was a good sign. They’d be generous.
I checked the second microphone, adjusted the stand for her, and squeezed her arm. Then something happened. I’ve seen it before, but only with veteran musician. Suddenly as we started the number, she transformed into a performer. She was good. Her voice had range and quality. She loved the microphone. She loved the crowd and it loved her. This girl could go places.
When we finished the number, she was flying high. I whispered into her ear. “What else do you know?” I considered her voice. She could have given Sheena Easton a run for her money. Janey was feeling good too. She came alive. She was excited and exciting. Unfortunately, I was starting to like her. It was the first sign that things were going to end badly.
“Do you know any of my stuff?” I asked.
She nodded enthusiastically. An image of her singing along to my music as she danced around her bedroom in a nightie popped into my head. It was a nice image. I was already on line for tonight’s show.
Of course, we did “Janey and Tony.” You could tell she wanted to be the character in the song, a lonely girl who realizes her dream of true love in a local hangout. She was a natural talent. We had a lot of fun together. We finished with a cover of “Crying,” by Roy Orbison.
After the set we went and sat down at the bar together. She could barely contain herself. The shy little girl that had approached me with hesitation was gone. In her place was a high-energy woman full of dreams and plans. Her enthusiasm was infectious. Fortunately, I was vaccinated. She couldn’t stop talking about the future. Twenty minutes on stage and Janey was all ready for the big time. She loved being on stage. She loved the crowd. She loved singing.
Of course, there’s no question she had talent. But I’ve learned that talent isn’t what gets you famous. A lot of talented guys are waiting tables or pumping gas, waiting for their shot. More often than not their still waiting as they collect there Social Security check. But, she wouldn’t hear any of that. Janey was planning her career in rapid fire double-time speech, and weaving me into her dreams.
Of course, my only plans were centered around the upcoming performance of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
She beat me to it. “So,” she began coyly. Her embarrassed smile returned, but now it was only hint of its former self. Nothing was going to stop this girl. This time she didn’t look at the floor. He eyes locked on mine. “Do you have a stock of those cigarettes at home, or,”
I plastered a mock expression of shock, and she turned even redder. “What about that “kinda boyfriend” of ours?”
“He’s not here.”
I shook my head slowly. I had been looking forward to giving her some career coaching that night, but I was not into replacement theory. Her plans were setting the both of us up for a chain of disappointments. “I think you’re getting in over your head, darling,” I said. “I’m not looking for a partnership.”
I probably shouldn’t have let her go. Like I said before, I knew I would be regretting it the entire night. And, I did. But, then again, as a fantasy, she wouldn’t complain that I finished too fast or that I snored too loud. Maybe, I should’ve hitched a ride on her dreams. She did eventually make it to the big time. You might have even heard of her.
Oh well, no regrets. I still got my gig here in Cleveland.
Mother and Dad are shouting at each other again on the patio outside the master bedroom. Every passerby stops and watches them through the fence. My heart is beating so fast and my breaths are short. I sit down on the furthest bed from the sliding doors that lead to the patio. The mattress springs creak.
Mom stands up and points her finger at Dad. My mother has so many rings on her fingers. Each ring glistens in the light, except the only one that matters. She snatches that one off and throws to the ground. Then Dad stands up. I have to cover my ears.
The ugly colors on the comforters covering these beds begin to blur. I get up and run to the kitchen. I open the knife drawer and pull out the biggest, sharpest one I can find. I set the blade against my arm. Then my mother screams. I run back to the room. She holds a hand to her face as she cowers away from Dad. He stalks towards her; his fists are clenched.
I run outside and stand in front of my mother. Dad’s eyes immediately go to the knife in my hand.
“Go back inside.” He says.
“No.” I say.
“Honey, listen to your father and go back inside.” My mother says. Her whole body is trembling.
Dad grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me. “Damn it, I said go back inside.”
My teeth rattle as my head rocks back and forth. I cut him on the arm, straight through the sleeve of his pristine, dark grey suit. He lets me go then and backs away, clutching his arm. I turn around to face my mother and she slaps me straight across the face. I stare at her as she snatches my arm into her hand and drags me back towards the bedroom. She pushes me inside.
“Stay here.” She says as she slides the door shut.
She then goes back to my dad and inspects his sleeve. Very soon, the tears blur my vision again. I turn away. The comforter on the bed closest to the sliding doors catches my eye. I walk to that bed. My breath is short again and my face is so hot.
I raise the knife. Then I plunge it into mattress and into the ugly comforter. I raise my arm and plunge over and over and over again. The comforter is finally in ribbons.
My lungs expand as widely as they can go. I look out on the patio once again as I wipe the sweat from atop my brow. My dad and mother are holding onto each other as if for dear life. When they kiss each other, I turn away. I leave them, the room, and the mess I made behind.
I enter the bathroom and shut the door, locking it. I sit at the edge of the tub. I raise my arm. The green and blue veins really stand out. I set the blade against them and press down. Now the green and blue are covered in red.
She’d been down there for so long that she’d lost track of the days, unsure of what season it was, what year it was, what time of day. With her knees pulled up to her chin, holding tightly to her legs as she shivered against the cold cement floor, she imagined what it would be like to escape. Would the sun be shining brightly, wrapping her pale, bruised body in a warm blanket of humidity and the sweet smell of summer? Or would she step out into a moonless night, with ice and snow falling from the sky, surrounding her in heaps of biting frigidity?
The sound of heavy footsteps pounding above her made her skin crawl and she squeezed her eyes closed. Creaking door hinges, followed by feet descending the stairs, quickened the beating of her heart. Her stomach turned with worry and fear, tears bubbling behind her eyes as she wondered if she would be able to get away this time, and what he might do if she didn’t. She reached up to touch the long scar across her cheek, her bent and broken fingers wrapped in stained gauze.
A faint streak of light appeared when he opened the door and she squinted against the brightness at that figure looming before her. In the unfamiliar light, she glanced at the filth around her: the rusty tools hanging from the walls, the mold crawling up from the corners, the grimy copper stains on the muddy floor. She’d gotten used to the rancid smell a long time ago, her nostrils constantly burning, eyes always watery and sore. The man, just a dark shadow against the harsh brightness, stood staring at her as he rested a hand on the gun she knew was tucked into the waist of his pants.
He grabbed her suddenly, pulling her to her feet. With the grace of a newborn baby deer, she stood with aching bones and throbbing joints, almost too weak to stay upright. The man dragged her out into the strange light and pushed her toward the stairs.
Though she was skeptical of her chances of surviving, she knew that it was her only shot at getting out. Given that she hadn’t tried to escape in months, the man was unsuspecting, letting his guard down for a split second. Her deep longing for freedom forced her hand as she they reached the top of the stairs and she threw her weight against him, sending his body crashing down the steps, and she ran.
The girl’s wobbly legs carried her clumsily toward the door and outside, where she was greeted by a torrential downpour of rain. For a moment, she reveled in the smell of it as the cold drops of water washed the dirt and grime from her face, the frantic wind whipping through her matted hair. A clap of thunder crackled through the sky and she ran as fast as those bony, malnourished legs would carry her, down the long, winding driveway into the street.
Down the road, she saw a small black pickup truck coming toward her and she began to cry. Salvation. Freedom. She ran into the street, waving her arms wildly in the air to signal for the truck to stop. When it began to slow down, she fell to her knees, crying out thank you.
An elderly man parked the truck and climbed out, coming toward her with an umbrella. He helped her into the passenger seat and offered her a thick fleece jacket to cover her shivering body before starting off down the street. She thanked him, leaned her head against the window, exhausted, and closed her eyes. She listened to the rain beating against the windows as the man drove. Gusts of strong wind caused the truck to sway and the rain to swirl wildly as it whistled. The trees were like rubber, springing back and forth, the branches whirling in circles.
Suddenly, the truck jerked and bounced, and the girl opened her eyes. The old man was trying to control the wheel, stomping on the brake pedal to no avail, as they barreled toward the sweeping, rain soaked curve ahead. Before either of them had the chance to scream, the truck turned sharply to the left and began to roll, over and over, until it barreled into the trunk of a thick oak tree.
All was silent, save for the rain pummeling against the destroyed body of the truck. Inside the vehicle, blood flowed from the old man’s cracked skull. The girl stared, blinking through a fog of rainwater that gushed through the shattered window and onto her face. She unclipped the seatbelt and slithered across shards of glass and twisted metal, digging her fingers into the mud to pull herself out of the wreckage.
She gazed up at the gray sky, raindrops falling hard against her face. Not today, she thought. I’m not going to die today.
Finally, some alone time for myself. Today was a long day, and a bubble bath to help me finish it off doesn’t sound that bad. I grabbed the phone and called William, I hadn’t seen him in a while. I just needed someone to get my mind off of things.
I spent the next fifteen minutes getting things ready for when William arrived. I heard knocking on the door and rushed over.
“Hey, beautiful,” said William as I opened the door.
“Hi,” I said blushing a little bit. He looked better than I remembered.
“It’s been a while. What do you have planned?”
“Well, I’ve had a long day. I was thinking you could help me relax with a nice bubble bath.”
“I like the way you think, darling.”
William carried me bridal style into the bathroom, once we got there we got undressed and got into the bathtub. We spent the next thirty minutes talking, making out and telling each other corny jokes. I hadn’t had a night this nice in too long.
“What the hell is going on?” ask Max from the bathroom doorway.
“Why are you here? I thought you were out of town on some business trip!” I said to Max. Dammit, he said we would be gone until Saturday.
“You have to be joking, Amanda. After all I’ve done for you? All that time and money down the drain just like that?”
“Seriously? How do you expect me to not find someone else to sleep with, when you give me no attention at all. If anything, this is your own fault.”
Max was furious, I could see it in his eyes. He caught me off guard and slapped me across the face.
“What’s wrong with you man?” said William, pulling me closer to him. “Just go before you make things worse.”
I was speechless. I couldn’t believe that Max had raised his hand at me. A few tears streamed down my face.
“Please, Max. Leave, we can talk about this later,” I said in a low voice.
Max stormed out of the room, and William and I just sat in the bathtub as he comforted me. The last thing I remember is Max coming back into the bathroom and pointing his gun at both me and William.
Kerem Granados bio
Kerem Granados is studying creative writing in Orlando, Florida. She worked with her high school’s journalism team and has self published some of her stories on Wattpad. She is afraid of snakes and sometimes isn’t sure whether or not she’s dreaming.
I need to write a cook book, a friend has told me. By this she does not mean recipes, she means secrets. The kind only cooks know.
We worked for the same catering company, this woman and I, and she wants me to tell our story, to tell the story of all cooks. She wants me to lay bare the work we did so that someone out there might acknowledge it.
I understand this. I spent sixteen years as a line cook and four years as a caterer, and when I finally left the cooking profession, scarred and exhausted, no one noticed. After two decades of hard labor, I wanted to see some mention of it: a note in the local paper, a plaque with my name newly etched. All those thousands of mouths I fed—didn’t they add up to anything? They did not. Like a plate of food, I was there and gone.
Line cooking is a sort of magic act. Before you are eight sauté pans, smoking and bubbling, and a grill loaded with meat and fish in various stages of readiness, and somehow, amid the firing of orders, you are delivering every one of these dishes in the right combination at the right time. You have no idea how you’re doing this; you’re moving too fast for thought. Suddenly a cowering server appears. He has dropped a plate and needs a re-fire. For a second you look at him without comprehension, and then a murderous rage floods your body. Your tickets have turned into a blizzard. You will not find your way back.
I still have cooking nightmares, endless dreams in which I can’t get my food from the stove to the warming lamps. There is a white scar across my knuckles, a wound from the blade of a food processor. My forearms are blemished with old burns, most of them from oven racks. I can point to each one and tell you which kitchen it came from.
And then there were the other accidents. Walk-ins gone warm. Hours lost replacing a ruined soup or looking for Band-Aids swallowed in bread dough. Never a lax moment in the cooking arena. I recall the day I pulled on one of those giant oven mitts and felt something fast and urgent streak down my arm. I screamed and flung the mitt across the kitchen, and the mouse it had harbored scurried under the sink. I couldn’t blame the little guy—it had been a cold night.
While restaurants are riddled with trouble, catering can be even more dicey: the terrain is unfamiliar and access can be difficult. Once inside these grand homes, you have to figure out how all the high-tech kitchen gadgets work; it’s no good asking the trophy wife—she’s never spent time in that room. The most dreaded disaster is food shortage: one of your ten fruit tarts gets crushed on the journey, or a waiter breaks a wine glass near your mashed potatoes and destroys the entire dish. I don’t think people appreciate the scope of catering: how you have prepare the food, then load it into a van, then unload and cook it and serve it, and then wash all the dishes, all the pots and pans, all the forks and plates, every water goblet, wine glass, coffee cup and brandy snifter. And god forbid you should break anything.
While I was still working in restaurants, I often escaped into the walk-in, the only place a cook can scream. Sometimes I went outside, sat on an overturned bucket and just let my body tremble. One evening a rat emerged from a dumpster a few feet away and paused on the edge to study me, his black eyes bright and questioning. Comrade, I thought, looking back at him with tenderness.
Oh, there were high times, too—I wouldn’t have lasted without them. Magnificent victories. Indulgence. Hilarity. Cooks play as hard as they work. This is the bargain, the immutable law.
In the end, it wasn’t the cuts and burns that made me hang up my apron. Nor was it the work—I figure my body could have lasted another ten years at least. It was the incidentals that finally undid me, the avocado under my fingernails, the veal stock that wafted from my clothes and hair. I was sick of the whole soggy mess: the bloody bar towels, the greasy stove vents, the mountains of innocent carcasses. That’s what began to bother me most, the doomed innocent.
Very early one morning I was in a kitchen fileting salmon when I heard the unmistakable cheeping of a mouse in distress. My heart sinking, I went on a search and found the poor thing under the stove, stuck to one of those horrible glue traps. I tried to pull him off, but it was no use. Drowning, I thought, would be the least violent way to go, so I filled a bucket with warm water—it seemed kinder than cold—and slid the creature in. I turned away, unable to watch, and when I looked back a few seconds later, he was freed of the trap and swimming circles at the surface—the warm water had dissolved the glue! I cupped him in my hands and carried him out to the garden. Not long after that, I freed myself.
I’m employed at a plant nursery now, a gentle job that leaves no blood on my hands. Having traded my chef’s knife for a pair of bypass pruners, I’m happy trimming shrubs instead of meat, deadheading flowers as opposed to fish. Even if I wanted to return to those trenches, I no longer have what it takes.
Before enlisting in a cooking career, one might first consider the lexicon. Cooks work at stations “on the line” and orders are “fired.” Microwaved foods are “nuked,” well-done dishes are “killed,” food picked up late is “dead.” “Buried” is probably the most evocative term. This is what happens when a cook loses track of her orders, when the long row of tickets in front of her face no longer makes any sense. This affliction can strike at any time and there is nothing a cook fears more. Response is swift. The stunned soldier is shoved off the line and someone more fit for duty takes over.
Last week I dined at a posh Napa valley restaurant with an exhibition kitchen. I eyed the cooks with sympathy, remembering when this trend began, how much we resented being on display. Watching my kin in their natural habitat, their heads down, their arms in constant motion, I felt a surge of solidarity. I wanted to make eye contact, to show my support, but I knew they couldn’t risk it.
Jean Ryan Bio
Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. Nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize, she has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her debut collection of short stories, SURVIVAL SKILLS, was published in April 2013 by Ashland Creek Press and was short-listed for a Lambda Literary Award.
Trabajo de Amor
Justicio Morales was glad it was time for a lunch break.
He carefully propped his mop in the bucket and wiped sweat from his brow. It was beyond him, why they kept the office building at a stifling 79 degrees. Something about productivity, he had overheard.
But at last he could go outside, where the breeze was cool, and eat the lunch his wife had packed. Three enchiladas de pollo lay nestled between a bottle of horchata and some homemade salsa.
He slipped his janitor’s uniform off and put on a light jacket instead; the TV in the break room had said that it was 50 degrees outside, and Justicio didn’t want to be too cold for an hour.
He was to meet two of his friends at the park down the street for lunch. All three of them worked in buildings similar to his, and met almost every day to eat lunch together and discuss their wives, kids, and the weird stuff that the gueros did in the offices.
Justicio was careful not to brush against anyone as he walked down the street, keeping his eyes averted.
“Hey,” someone called from behind him. “Hey, wetback.”
Justicio couldn’t believe his ears. Surely they weren’t talking to him.
“You.” A hand grabbed his shoulder, nails digging into the skin even through Justicio’s jacket and T-shirt. “What are you doing here? You don’t belong on this office block. Shouldn’t you be doing someone’s yard work?”
It was a group of young, well-groomed, suited-up professionals who were indeed addressing Justicio.
“Or cleaning someone’s pool? Like mine?” another sneered.
“Hey, isn’t your wife the cleaning lady for my old man’s house?” the tallest one taunted.
Justicio winced. His wife did actually work as a maid for a respected cleaning company.
“I bet she can clean out the old corners that haven’t been touched in a while, if you know what I mean,” the tall one continued.
Justicio clenched his fists, anger growing stale as soon as it flamed. There was nothing he could do if he wanted to keep his job. Everyone talked here.
“Why don’t you go back to where you came from? Do you even speak English? Hablo ingles?” another asked, raising an eyebrow, certain of his excellent Spanish. “You’re probably not even legal. Do you have your green card?”
“Why do you do this?” he asked quietly, tears starting in his eyes.
“He does speak English,” commented the one who had just spoken, the surprise in his voice mitigated by condescension.
“You’re stealing our jobs,” one spat, and then actually worked up a glob of spit in his throat and launched it at Justicio’s feet. “Go back to Mexico, spic.”
The ridiculousness of that statement left Justicio speechless. Here was this group of promising and wealthy young men, complaining about him doing a job they wouldn’t touch.
“But why me?” he asked, tears streaming down his face.
“Look, the wetback now has a wet face,” the first speaker said. The rest of the group laughed, turned on their expensive Italian leather heels, and walked off.
Justicio sat down on a nearby bench and wiped his face on his jacket sleeve. Disgusted by the snot and tear tracks on it, he unzipped it and shucked it off.
Underneath, he was wearing a red-and-blue T-shirt that said, “I love the USA!”
Teatro in Oaxaca, photography by Brian Hosey & Lauren Braden
Proud White Tree
I stood there at the front door. The one-floor apartment building stood in front of me, my heart pounding with what seemed like the force of a stampede. After four years, he still had power over me. A breeze kicked up, the beautiful white flowered tree stood in the front yard. Something about that tree made me feel calm. I turned back around and knocked on the door. The door opened and inside stood a burly man, a little shorter than me. His black hair had shades of gray on the sides, and his face was cleanly shaven. He stood there, staring back at me with his deep brown eyes. “Hey dad,” I said. “It’s been awhile. Figured I’d stop by and see if you were still here.”
He stood there, just staring at me. “Yeah, still here. Right where you left me.” He let out a deep breath and he motioned me to come inside. As I walked in, I caught the familiar scent of his cologne, which always carried throughout the place.
Nothing had changed. The pleather couch was still against the wall to the left, and the entertainment center was to the right, facing the couch. “I thought you were going to move once I left.” He laughed as he walked into the kitchen. He grabbed a beer out of the fridge, leaned against the counter and took a drink.
“Yeah, right. Where the hell am I supposed to go?” He shook his head
“I, umm, I just got back from college. I graduated.” I tried to keep my voice from shaking.
“Cool. How’d you manage that one?”
“It was tough to finance it, but I got a few scholarships and what not. I just had to cover a few hundred dollars on my own.”
“Wouldn’t have that problem if you would’ve joined the Navy.”
“I told you I didn’t want to go. Yea it was a little tough, but I wouldn’t have been able to continue with my dream as soon as I can now.”
“Oh, bullshit. What’s a few extra years? All you do is play those damn games. They would’ve made you into a real man.” His voice rose.
“Look, I’m not like you okay? I want to be a writer. I can’t do the car stuff you do, or join the Navy like you want, it’s not me. And it doesn’t make me any less of a man either.” He stood up from the counter.
“Yeah, right. You’re just like your mother. Nothing but lies and mistakes. How you managed to get through high school and even college, I don’t know. You probably cheated. People like you don’t get anywhere on their own, unless they’re someone’s bitch. Which I’m sure I’m not too far off am I?” I stared at him. My heart pounded. I thought he could hear it. My hands rubbed against each other, just like they always did when I was nervous.
“Why do you have to be like this? When will you understand that I just want to make you proud?” He laughed again.
“Proud? Don’t give me that shit. Christ why the hell did you even come here?” he asked. I stood there, trying to answer. But I couldn’t. Nothing had changed since I left. Every time he asked me a question, my mind went blank. I was back to being seven years old again. “Answer me.” His voice was deep and stern. He slammed his fist into the wall next to him, making me jump. I averted my eyes toward the window. The white tree outside stood against the wind. I took a deep breath.
“I came here to try and fix things, but now I realized it was stupid of me to think so. Despite everything I’ve been through, even the things you refuse to acknowledge, you take everything out on me. I’m sorry you’re alone. I’m sorry your father wasn’t there for you. And I’m sorry I can’t live up to your expectations. Everything I’ve done was to try and make you proud, but you just throw it in my face. I love you dad. But you will still die alone.” I turned around and walked out, slamming the door behind me.
Outside, I looked over at the white tree. It stood against the wind.
there’s a tree for each
species on earth. But humans?
I’m sure we killed ours
I’ve had it. Goddamn it. I’ve had it, I thought. They just won’t stop talking about “it” – local news, the neighbors, the damn politicians, all of them.
Just a few weeks ago Texas became the 45th State to adopt an open carry gun law, which means in short that all 826,000 people in the State with concealed license permits can now carry a pistol in plain sight. Goddamn it.
Since its passage there has been limited discussion about the potential negative aspects of the law; the arguments that have been advanced in the National media have been that open carry is not safe or sensible. However, in most parts of the State the vast majority has silenced this argument with the general belief in the expansion of second amendment rights, and a more specific theory that more guns in more hands prevents crime.
In my house my experience has actually been far worse. My family lives on a small farm in west Texas - a pig farm to be exact. My father runs the place. His father ran it before him. My father’s a handsome man, wears a mustache, but he’s mean as hell. In the Brady household he is judge, jury, and executioner. My mother is small and quiet. She has a subtle beauty. It’s a bit like looking at a Vermeer; when that perfect light hits his subject’s face it illuminates a world’s worth of details. Goddamn it. The old man decreed long ago, without debate, that we are a pro-gun household. Goddamn it. In our house, dinner is eaten in silence to avoid the sharing of conflicting ideas. Goddamn it. Goddamn it. Goddamn it.
With no one making a case to change the views of the pro-gun crowd, and with no forum to discuss my own ideas, I decided to go out one morning to advance a theory of my own. I borrowed my dad’s truck, and drove three short miles into town. I parked on the main strip, and stepped into a local diner. Inside, a long counter cut across the middle of the room, and booths lined the walls. I grabbed a seat at the counter, and ordered a strawberry milkshake. Goddamn it.
A few seats down, a pair of men were discussing “it.” One was fat and the other was tall and thin. They wore the usual attire for that part of the world: jeans and a flannel shirt. The skinny one wore a belt with a big brass buckle to hold up his pants.
I leaned in, and interrupted their conversation.
“I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation.”
The heavy-set man said, “Yes.”
“Well,” I responded, “I’ve heard all your points – the second amendment, the right to bare arms, etc. – and I must say that I disagree.”
The skinny guy said, “And how’s that?”
“Can I explain?”
He leaned in, “You’ve got thirty seconds.”
My line of argument took much less time to articulate than that which had been allotted.
I stood from my seat, pulled out a pistol I “borrowed” from my father earlier that morning, and shot the skinny man in the face.
“My God,” the fat man said, “Why did you do that for?”
“I didn’t agree with his point of view. In fact, I don’t agree with yours either. Do you have anything else you want to say?”
He frantically shook his head “no.”
The cops arrived 2 minutes later. By the time they reached the scene two other diners had pulled out their pistols to try to “calm” the situation. Unfortunately for the officers, they were unsure of whom to arrest due to all of the pistols on display.
After I had turned myself in, I was handcuffed, and put in the back of a squad car. I looked out the back window as the car pulled away; the locals were shaking their heads, wondering what had just happened.
After a few minutes of driving in silence, one of the officers asked, “What did you do that for?”
I said, “Do you really want to know?”
“The truth is I wanted to make a point.”
“And what point is that?”
“That the expansion of the second amendment will infringe on our first amendment rights. People aren’t so good with subtlety so I was forced to illustrate an extreme situation, but there are more subtle examples.”
“I sit down in the same diner. Person X articulates a specific point. They have a gun on their person. I do not. As a result, I choose not to share a competing point of view. Better yet, take that same example, but insert alcohol and a bar.”
“I guess I can see your point.” He then continued, referring to his partner, “We’re just lucky we don’t have to worry about that.”
“No, I guess you don’t.”
When we reached the station I was shown to a cell. I would describe myself in a similar way to that in the local newspaper, which published an article on the incident the following morning:
six feet tall, wavy brown hair, brown eyes, dark black glasses, a bit of an outsider, highly intelligent, and usually seen around town wearing the same pair of beat-up Converse shoes.
One particular detail was omitted from the article that had to do with the commission of the crime; it was reported that I had shot both men, but what was not mentioned was that they were each killed with a single round to the face. I should have known they would not publish that detail. There was also no comment from the arresting officers, just a prepared statement from the Station Chief.
Two days later, I was arraigned on first-degree murder charges. Even though I was 16 at the time I was tried as an adult due to the nature of the crime. I pled guilty and was sentenced to 25 years to life in a state penitentiary.
Palette of my Soul
Ken Allan Dronsfield
Carry me to where
I'll take my final rest.
I wish to lie in the throes
of a lovelorn devotion,
rather than the waiting
arms of a hungry soul
intent to devour my spirit
devoid of loving emotions.
The palette of my soul
remains a shadowed black;
and darting about the haze
are the lofty fluttering bats,
hidden about the chambers
of a shattered bygone fantasy.
For seething is my breath;
My dream, is your reality.
Ken Allan Dronsfield Bio
Ken Allan Dronsfield is a Published Poet and Author originally from New Hampshire, now residing in Oklahoma. He enjoys hiking, playing guitar and spending time with his cats Merlin and Willa. His published work can be found in Journals, Magazines and Blogs throughout the Web.
Arthur tasted his cold, minty breath. He flicked his sensing stick forward and back. He heard a tap-tap-tap sound. The door, he thought. He stepped closer. After a moment, he found its knob, and opened it. He immediately felt overwhelmed.
Arthur heard a variety of voices chattering and laughing at different volumes. He heard the sounds of silverware and glass. He smelled exquisite cuisine being cooked. The aroma of basil, garlic, pesto, and parmesan poured into the air. He took a deep satisfying breath. He almost forgot how nervous he was. But, a voice reminded him.
“Arthur,” said a high-pitched, cautious voice.
“Yes,” he answered, facing the voice. “Alice?”
“Yep. That’s, me. You’re, Erin’s friend?”
“I am, yes.”
“Follow, me please,” said a lower pitched female voice.
The host, thought Arthur. He heard Alice moving. He followed, tapping his sensing stick every couple feet, until the footsteps ahead of him ceased.
“Here, you are,” said the host. “Enjoy.”
Arthur heard her walk away. He tapped the chair with his sensing stick. Then, sat down. He heard, Alice sit.
“Wow,” she said. “This place is nice.”
“Is it too much,” he asked.
“No. It’s fine. Just fancier than Erin described.”
“Well, your voice is much prettier than Erin described. It’s like music.” Arthur heard a giggle that made him feel warm. “Did, you know?”
“Did, I know what?”
Arthur held up his sensing stick and acted like he was in a room with no lights. He heard a laugh that made him smile.
“Yes, Erin told me.”
“And, you still came?”
“Yeah, why not? You’re very handsome.”
“People don’t see a lot in a blind guy.”
“Most people are stupid. If anything were to stop me from coming on this date: It’d be the fact that I don’t know, you. But, if I lived life like that. How many people would I know? Right? So, here I am.”
“Here, you are.” Arthur smiled. I think I like her, he thought.
“How about some wine?”
Arthur nodded. I definitely like her, he thought.
As the night went on, Arthur liked her more each minute. They talked about everything including: their childhoods, most embarrassing memories, eventually, hopes, dreams, and even fears. Then, came desert-time. The Server’s accent and the wine convinced them to order the most expensive dish: ‘A Slice of Life’. The server left. They waited.
“When you lose one sense,” asked Alice. “Does another get increased instead?”
“Yeah,” answered Arthur.
“Wow, fascinating. Which sense is it for you?”
“Guess.” Arthur heard, Alice giggle again.
“I don’t know. Um, hearing?”
“I give up. What is it?”
“Yep. My hands can feel most things. Grooves, or whatever.”
“Like, the grooves on someone else’s hands?”
“Give me your hand. I’ll prove it to you.”
Arthur almost articulated how shocked he was when he suddenly felt one of Alice’s soft little hands resting gently in his. He slowly caressed her hand. He could feel her pulse quicken. He felt a rough bump in between her thumb and index finger.
“Is that a scar,” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
As Arthur rubbed his thumb across Alice’s first two knuckles, he disregarded the brisk footsteps approaching their table. Feeling euphoric, Arthur moved on to her third finger. He felt the knuckle. Then, he moved up slightly and felt it. The indent of a wedding band, thought Arthur.
“A Slice of Life,” said the server.
Alice pulled her hand away. She must have grabbed the dish because he heard her put it down between them.
“Oh my God, Arthur. It looks amazing. Have some.”
“Come on. Open, your mouth. Try some.”
“No, thanks...” Arthur tasted cake on his tongue and felt a fork slide across his teeth. He heard Alice chuckle.
“You, were saying?”
“That this tastes and feels too good to be true.”
“Your wedding ring. I felt the indent on your finger.”
“I’m not wearing any rings.”
“I know. You, took it off.”
“Is this going to change anything?”
“No. Just, everything.” Arthur got up, grabbed his sensing-stick and left. He heard Alice scoff. He didn’t blame her. He wasn’t going to run into someone like that again anytime soon. He tap-tap-tapped the door and opened it. One step out of the restaurant, and someone ran into him.
“Damn it,” he barked.
“I’m so sorry,” said a soft and sincere sounding woman’s voice. “I didn’t see you before. But, now I do.”
Sex in the Driveway Kind of Love
Twenty-seven dates later and still no man. What is wrong with me? Well, my sister insisted that I try something new but I am honestly ready to just give up. I have to date around my children’s schedule, my work schedule, my sister’s dramatic life and Mama’s doctor’s appointments. Therefore, naturally my dating life is a mess. I am going to try this one last time. If it doesn’t work, I am done! He better hurry up and not be late. If he is one minute late, I am leaving. The waiter keeps creeping past. If she asks me one more time if I need more water, I’m going to cuss. I might want to get up and go pee before he comes. No. I’ll just wait in case he’s ugly. If he is, I can dip off to the bathroom and right out the back door. I don’t have time for the same old mess with the same old ashy men. Oh, my phone is ringing. It’s probably him calling to tell me that he won’t be able to make it. Go figure.
“Hey girl, is he there yet?”
Oh, it’s just my sister Crystal calling and being nosey.
“Girl, I thought you were him calling me.”
“No, I was just calling to see if he made it.”
“Crystal, he is supposed to be here at eight. He still has thirteen minutes and if he’s not here, I’m...” I looked up to the door, “Ooh, Crystal, didn’t he say he was going to be wearing a navy blue blazer and grey slacks?”
“Yea, girl he did.”
“Ok, well I have to go. I think he just walked in the door. Damn! Do not call me back. Bye!”
Mr. Wells, Mr. Wells. Well, well, well. Sincere Wells was fine as all outdoors. Good Gawd! He was six feet and two inches of all God’s goodness with chocolate skin and a full head of hair. He walked in the restaurant like he owned the joint.
Lord, please don’t let me mess this up and forgive me for lusting!
This man was super fine. He sat down in the chair in front of mine and re-introduced himself.
“Hello, I’m Sincere.”
The inner me wanted to be difficult but the outer me was mesmerized. His smile was transparent, his shoes were clean and wing tipped and his hands, oh my, were they big. I laughed to myself because I think I might get into trouble later.
Ha, it was just what I needed if he was down for it.
This man’s shoulders were so round and broad that I would let him carry me over the threshold of a mud pit. Only if it meant he could hold onto me until the rooster crowed.
“I’m Evelyn, its nice to finally meet you after all that I’ve heard about you.”
“I hope that’s a good thing.”
“Oh, it is.”
I wanted to spill the beans but I would be lying. The only thing that I knew about him was his name and that he goes to the same gym as my sister. I will definitely be signing up at that gym tomorrow.
“What can I get you?” the waiter asked.
“I’ll have a Hen and Coke. What about you Evelyn?” he said with a smile on his face.
“You look like a Sex in the Driveway kind of woman.”
What did he just say to me, with those thick, juicy lips? Did he just say he wanted sex in the driveway? Wait a minute, no, oh that’s a drink...look at me.
I couldn’t help but to think erotically. I haven’t been out with a man this fine since, well, never! I ordered one drink and he ordered two. You know what they say about a man who has been drinking Hen and Coke. I better start my stop watch. This blind date was going good so far. We sat for a few hours talking and laughing and then he asked if I’d like to dance. I was impressed. No man had ever asked me to dance before. We sashayed our way past another hour. We dismissed ourselves ever so graciously and got into his car in the parking lot. I wasn’t sure how graceful I was going to be with him tonight. I felt like a raging cougar and my hormones were all over the place. Rightfully so, being as though I was almost ten years older than he was. I didn’t care, as long as I wasn’t old enough to be his mama. I wanted to see what sex in the driveway was really like.
waves are crashing, and
the moon’s phases are changing
to a rhythmic pant.
“Intention is everything, you know!”
He smiled at my feeble effort to secure the small cutting of pelargonium in the plastic plant pot.
How difficult can it be? I thought. Convey compost to pot. Plant pelargonium. Job done.
But the compost was dry and crumbly. And the pelargonium cutting was playing up. It insisted on keeling over like a fallen soldier, its originally attractive, zoned leaves sullied. Dirtied.
“I don’t think I’m going to be very good at this,” I said.
The other members of the gardening club looked up and smiled as if remembering where they’d started.
Well, at least they’re a friendly bunch, I thought. They’d given me my first cutting.
That’s why I’d joined. To make new friends.
“You need to engage with it. Speak to its spirit. Tell it your intention,” he went on, as if what he’d said was the most natural thing in the world.
Speak to its spirit! Was the guy advocating I consult with a cutting? Put in a word or two with a pelargonium? Gossip with a geranium?
Well, what do you expect? I told myself. This wasn’t just any old gardening club. This was a gardening club in a New Age Community. A New Age Community in Scotland.
And I was English.
It wouldn’t do to upset the natives. There was enough dissension among Scots. It wouldn’t do for the English to add to it.
Besides I was here to make friends.
A little conversation with a cutting couldn’t do any harm, could it?
“This is lovely compost,” I began hesitantly, one eye on the cutting, the other scanning the room for titters.
Every eye was serious.
I gathered courage.
“You’ll enjoy your new home,” I said stroking the furry leaf affectionately. “I wasn’t keen on moving either but now I’m settled in and I love it. And everyone here is so friendly,” I added.
There were beams of approval round the room.
“That’s the spirit!” said my instructor. “See! It’s working already!”
Sure enough. The pelargonium cutting seemed to be standing more erect. Like a soldier on guard. Though I felt sure that was due to the little extra pressure I’d unconsciously applied as I’d uttered the unsettling words.
But everyone seemed happy. So who was I to complain? And there seemed to be a new spirit of camaraderie that extended all the way down to the local village pub after.
“Ay, we’ve had a lot of English here,” said Jock, more loquacious than earlier after four pints of the local draught beer “over the years.”
“I haven’t heard any English voices,” I said, my ears somehow more eager than they had been down south for the sound.
“They move on,” he said.
“Where to?” I pursued, the pints having their effect on me too.
“Wherever the spirit takes them,” Jock answered.
“Well, the spirit here is pretty good!” I said raising my beer glass high in the air. So I think I’ll just stay!”
Everyone laughed. And it felt good. I felt part of the community already.
“And you’ll be back to Gardening Club next week?” said Jock.
“With a gardening instructor like you, I wouldn’t miss it!” I said.
And I didn’t. I went along every week. And took Peter with me. Peter, my pelargonium. I hadn’t intended giving him a name, any more than I’d intended moving to Scotland or intended joining a gardening club but Jock and the others had insisted I make clear my intention. And Peter had certainly responded. He had grown a good six inches since that first evening at class and six bold little buds had appeared. I knew what colour they were going to be. I could already see the rip of red appearing like a new cut threatening to burst out from its green casing.
“You’re in one of the new houses, aren’t you?” said Sandy, the third week. “The ones built near the battlefield.”
I wondered if that was going to be a problem. There’d been some strife over building the houses there. On a historic site. The site of a battle between the Scots and the English. However, the developer had got permission and built them anyway. Not that he’d made much profit from them. He’d gone bankrupt and committed suicide shortly after.
I knew I’d been lucky to get the house. The previous owner had only been in a year and then moved on. Where to, I wasn’t clear. I’d only dealt with the solicitors. As for neighbours, I didn’t really get to know anyone. There seemed to be a lot of movement. No one stayed long. But I guess it was like that on all new housing estates. That’s why I’d joined the only club in the locale. The Gardening Club.
“Yes,” I said warily, wondering what to expect.
“It must need a lot done to the garden,” said Scotty, running a ruddy hand through his sixty something, sandy hair. “The previous owner couldn’t have done much.”
“What Scotty’s getting at is we usually take turns going round each other’s gardens tidying them up,” said Jock. “Seeing where the spirit takes us, so to speak.”
I was wondering how long it would take them to get round to the subject of spirit.
“And you want to come round to mine?” I suggested.
“Ay, if that’s all right with you,” said Jock. The guys usually bring along a few plants and a beer or two and make it a right booze up afterwards.”
He grinned a cheeky grin. The boys were such fun. I was already looking forward to that night.
“There’s a lot of English here,” said Scotty, standing at the kitchen window after the hard evening slog in the garden and staring out over the battlefield. I wasn’t sure where he meant.
His hand waved towards the estate of virgin red-brick houses but his eyes didn’t divert. “They come north for the cheap housing and the country living.”
“A bit like me,” I said.
Scotty’s voice was slurred already.
“Ay,” he said, then went on surprisingly. “I hear your neighbour has moved away.”
How the hell did he know that? I thought. Then I realised everyone knew everything in a small village. Still, he knew more than me.
“I’ve not really seen them, I said, “since I moved in. I believe he was from London. Everyone seems to keep to themselves around here.”
“Ay, and they accuse us Scots of not being friendly!” joined in Jock.
Willie raised his half bald head from where it had already slumped on his chest and uttered, Here! Here!”
His head slumped down again.
“I hope you’re not including me in that!” I said, like a true Sassenach.
“It’s the spirit that’s doing the talking,” butted in Jock, raising his glass. “And Willie’s taken a bit much o’ it.”
“Have ye been to see it?” said Scotty, suddenly
I’d lost the thread of the conversation.
“It?” I repeated.
He waved his hand expansively across the view from my kitchen window. A vast expanse of wild, windswept wilderness wept before me.
“No,” I said. “Is it worth a visit?”
“Is it worth————————————?”
Jock almost spat out his mouthful of beer.
“Man, ye canna mean that!”
I wondered if I’d offended him but then he laughed and patted my shoulder.
“We’ll take you and show you,” he said. “Ye canna no see the battlefield.”
“I’ll look forward to that,” I said.
“Do ya feel it?” said Jock.
We were standing in the midst of the battlefield. I say standing though that was difficult enough to maintain amid the buffeting blows of the northerly wind. Standing in the midst of a moor. At our feet the hardy heather. Interspersed like some southerly intruder by small, granite headstones marking the smitten.
I certainly felt something. A spirit of desolation. Despair. Death.
“The spirit of our fallen fathers,” said Jock. “Scots and English.”
The other two were silent. And even I was at a loss as to what to say.
“There’s a lot o’ bodies here!” said Jock, breaking the silence that had descended on us.
“Ay, a lot,” echoed Willie.
Something seemed to be required so I said, “English or Scottish?”
“Who’s counting?” said Scotty.
I was counting. All through the winter. Counting the number of leaves Peter, my pelargonium, had grown. When he wasn’t with me at Gardening Club, he was in his favourite position. On the South facing windowsill of my new house soaking up any slight sun we got during that long sun-forsaken season. I often spoke to his spirit like Jock and the others had advised and I knew he was happy when his bold little buds burst into blood red bloom, radiating out over the battlefield like routing red-coats.
“Ay, it can happen at any time,” Jock said when I told him my surprise at its blossoming during winter. “The spirit canna wait for spring. Any more than we can.”
The only blot on the landscape was the garden. The plants didn’t seem to be doing so well. I mentioned it to Jock and the others one evening at the club.
“Maybe our intention was wrong at the time of planting,” said Jock. “Not enough spirit.”
“Or too much,” muttered Willie, raising the beer glass that was never out of his hand.
I wondered why he drank so much.
“You can always right that,” said Jock.
I knew he meant the garden. Not Willie’s drinking.
I was trying to do exactly what he’d advocated one evening when I saw it. I’d raised my head momentarily from conversing with a crocus. The mist was mingling with the damp winter air on the moor and the dark was descending. For a second I almost missed it. The fleeting shadow of a figure. A figure waving a sword.
“Ay, that can happen. When you start speaking to spirits,” said Jock, like it was an everyday occurrence.
“Are you saying I’m seeing spirits!” I said incredulously.
“Ay, spirits of the fallen,” chimed in Scotty.
“Do they do battle enactments on the moor?” I said, unwilling to accept their explanation.
Jock shook his head.
“Ye dinna believe me,” he said sullenly.
I shook my head.
Speaking to plants was one thing. Speaking to the dead was something else. I couldn’t go along with it.
The others looked sad. And no amount of the liquid spirit that followed altered the fact this was our first disagreement.
“Maybe ye need to engage with it. Speak to the spirit,” said Jock, head bowed, cap in hand, as he left that evening, with no mention of the next meeting.
“Speak to the spirit. I’ll bloody speak to the spirit!” I said out loud courageously four whiskies after they’d gone. “More likely some bloody prankster who thinks it’s fun to dress up like a Highlander, swing a sword and harass the householders on the estate. Was that someone’s intention? But why? Or was Jock right all along? The spirit world had overtaken me.
Either way I had to find out. If it was some prankster, I’d soon clip his ears. And if it was a spirit?
Then I’d stop speaking to spirits.
Stop talking to Peter.
A momentary moroseness descended like a heavy mist. I’d miss my conversations with Peter. He was like an old friend.
But sometimes ruthlessness was demanded.
I grabbed the jacket hanging on the back of the kitchen door, my eyes carefully avoiding Peter’s position on the kitchen windowsill, in case he’d picked up my intention, and headed out across the moor.
The sun was almost set and darkness had almost descended. The wild, troubled wind whipped my face and for a second I panicked. What if I couldn’t find my way back?
This was foreign territory. I was an intruder. And I’d had the comfort of Jock and the others last time on the moor.
Jock and the others. Good friends. I’d make up any disagreement with them as soon as I could, I vowed.
Good friends were few these days. In England. In Scotland. Anywhere.
The thought of that and the four whiskies gave me renewed courage and I battled on bravely.
Until I saw him.
He appeared as if out of nowhere. But even from some distance I could see him. A short, stocky phantom clad coarsely in plaid, a bonnet on his head. But all that really registered was the sword. Raised high in the sky like some torch of war. And the skirling shriek of his voice as he ran towards me. And then there were others. All around.
All thought of clipping ears or speaking to spirits fled.
I turned and ran as any routed redcoat would have, my feet sinking heavily into boggy ground.
Home. I had to get home. I’d be safe there. From prankster or phantom.
I was almost there. The shadow of the housing estate appeared like an oasis in the desert. My hand reached out but my foot failed to follow. For it hit hard granite and I fell face down in the dirt.
I pushed myself up. But a hand grabbed my shoulder and forced me over on my back. I saw the sword descend straight down and I felt a searing slice.
I was hallucinating. My friends were here. Jock, Scotty, Willie. Hovering above me. But why were their faces fouled? Their voices vicious. And what was Jock holding in his hand?
Peter. Peter, my pelargonium. No longer proud in his plastic pot. But drooping, dragged down by his now heavily laden blood red flower-heads. Despairing of escape from desperate hands.
And Scotty. What was Scotty holding? A sword? No, a spade. And Willie? A bottle of whisky.
“Don’t despair,” said Jock. “There’s plenty English here. Past.”
He waved his hand all over the battlefield.
He pointed at the distant estate then at the ground beneath me.
“They’re all buried here. We couldn’t let you all come here and do this,” he said. “Not in the past. And not now. Any of you.”
He began to pull off Peter’s petals painfully and drop them on top of me.
“Peter knew. He knew what you were going to do.”
I watched the red dye of the fallen petal on my hand transfuse itself to my skin. More petals began to fall over me, their red dye spreading like blood on a battlefield.
Scotty was already beginning to dig while Willie began to swig the contents of the whisky bottle.
“You see, you only need to engage with it. Speak to its spirit. Tell it your intentions.”
He raised his sword one last time and plunged it into me.
“Peter knew our intentions all along. Didn’t you, Peter?” he said. “And he knows now,” he added, slicing through Peter’s stem with the sword so that all that remained of Peter was the original cutting.
“Don’t be sad,” he said to me. This is lovely earth. You’ll enjoy your new home. You won’t be keen on moving but once you’re settled in you’ll love it!”
I lifted my arm a last time as if to reach out to him. But the gulf between us was already too wide.
“That’s the spirit!” he said. “See it’s working already. “And don’t worry about Peter,” he said.
He waved his hand at the housing estate.
“There’s plenty more English there. We’ll make sure some other Sassenach joins the Gardening Club and cultivates his cutting. And we know he’ll flourish, don’t we? Until he’s cut down. After all intention is everything, isn’t it?”
I didn’t know if he meant the man or the plant. But it didn’t seem to matter. His voice was already fading and my last view of Peter was from a high distance.
The spirit had already spoken to me.
“What have you learned?” it said.
“I’ve learned intention is everything,” I said.
“So you’ll want to stay south of the border next life,” it said.
“Oh, no,” I said vehemently. “I’ve got friends here.”
The spirit looked at me strangely.
“Oh, not them,” I said, waving a partying hand at my murderers. “Them!”
I pointed a final finger at the battlefield that was fast receding.
At Peter’s progeny. The cuttings I’d taken at the end of winter and nurtured carefully till they were able to stand up erect on their own. Then I’d planted them out. One by one. At each granite headstone on the moor. Their little red Scottish faces beamed up a final farewell. I wasn’t worried. I knew they’d survive. They’d have shelter and draw strength from the granite. And I’d already engaged with them. Spoken to their spirit.
Now I was speaking to mine.
“Then what is your intention?” he said.
I whispered in his ear.
“We can’t let them off with it, can we?” I said aloud.
The spirit smiled.
I’d engaged with it. Spoken to it. Told it my intention.
There was only one thing left to say.
“What’s yours?” I said.
The spirit smiled but said nothing.
I wasn’t worried.
I already knew.
Peter’s progeny knew too.
That’s why they’d lifted their blood red heads from their drooping position and stood stiffly erect like soldiers ready to do battle.
“You’ll see them again,” said the spirit.
And I knew I would.
After all intention is everything, isn’t it?
Meanwhile, I’ll just have to wait and see where the spirit takes me.
of his thirst
of my dead Scotsman,
they spoke of his drinking, but
never of his thirst.
They say that a person,
and a Banana share 97%
of the same genetic material.
It is that 3% difference that leads to bones,
Inbuilt bullshit detectors.
and the internet.
and that the closeness between a human
and a Chimpanzee is only 2%.
We share more with fruit
than we do with the snake
that tempted Eve,
and the DNA difference that leads to
and every other accident of birth
Because if it was any bigger,
we would be Bananas,
growing on trees,
piled high in super-markets,
knowing that our fates
would lead to the satiation of hunger
in primates, that are so similar to ourselves,
that at the atomic level, only scientists
know the real difference.
Did you see the moon tonight?
Did you see the moon tonight?
It hangs silently,
going through its cycles.
A rough draft,
A lump of clay, unfinished,
Drinking in the sunlight.
Did you see the moon tonight?
It lit your way,
through darkened streets,
bought the tides in to the shore,
erased the flotsam and jetsam
that washes in on every wave.
Did you see the moon tonight?
It hangs there, watching,
caring, its face as uneven and unknown
As any you can think of.
Did you see the moon tonight?
A creation myth,
Spinning in its orbit,
linked to ours, but unknown.
a rough draft, abandoned, unfinished.
Difficulty on a dreary day
Daniel squeezed into a front row parking space next to the shopping cart cradle. Lucky him. But, a wind gust nearly dislocated his shoulder when it slammed his door against the steel rail. Now a less than his deductible dent added to the shoulder pain. The piece of Vietnam shrapnel in his back broadcast the fast moving black clouds were going to make a deposit on his newly washed car. He hurried to the pharmacy section where an elderly pharmacy technician said his order would be delayed for fifteen minutes when he saw a woman in her mid-sixties, like himself, with an hour glass figure. Was the delay a blessing or what? She returned his smile. “Excuse me, but you look great.”
“Thank you, sir. I like your workout outfit, you just left or are you on the way?”
“On the way.” He lied. “I’m Daniel.” He shook her baby smooth hand.
“Hello, I’m Constance.” Her smile warmed his heart.
“Constance, put my number in your phone or vice-versa and we can talk later. I don’t want to hold you up.”
Her smile disappeared. “Daniel, I divorced after thirty years. I cannot do it, understand? Good bye.”
Whoa, did they turn up the A/C or what?
She faded into the crowded main aisle.
Daniel decided to cut his errand running short. He turned the key and the click told him; dead battery. Well, at least he was at the store. He leaned back, sighed and prepared to shop for a new battery.
Rain “QuietStormPoet” Cooper
Where I’m from corner stores have bullet proof windows and gated doors,
No need for potency here, you can catch a contact off of the gunpowder.
So ...You live by the gun you and die by the gun.
But I don’t think that they understand
their loyalty reciprocates in bullets.
They grasp weapons as easy to hold hands.
To my generation I ask Y? Why do we rather death by man?
I mean but then again who dies of natural causes these days?
Everyday a soilder is lost on corners.
Blocks breaking borders.
Ambitious ghetto dreams, teens scream
but it’s by any means as long as it’s about that cream.
So in their mind its “F*!#k a 9 to 5” dream and achieve this american scheme.
Know it ain’t easy and it’s cracked up to be exactly what it seems.
Reality is your perception.
Can you beat the steam from that heat?
Oh the american scheme.
I meant the american dream...
It’s so sad to see the ones that fell. The ones who dwell.
The ones who cant tell life’s bigger than buffalo.
I guess the snow makes us too cold. Forever juggin’ like them city hoes. our hearts are cast of stone. No... no one across the globe knows these souls
Occupying your mind. The truth you’ll never find.
Rain “QuietStormPoet” Cooper Bio
Rain was born in 1993 in Buffalo, NY. Rain Bethel-Cooper began writing in 1999. She done a lot of her early art work at Locust Street Neighborhood Art Classes. Her inspiration for writing came from watching the staff at Locust Street Art write grants. That’s when she realized “writing gave you the power of voice!” Her first poetry performance was at Em Tea Coffee Cup Café. Since then she has performed for Just Buffalo at Klienhans Music Hall, El Museo, Locust Street Art , The Colored Musicians Club, Roswell Park Performance Hall, McKinley High School “Spread The Love, Keep The Peace Memorial , Shea’s Smith Theater, Albright Knox Art Gallery, Pure Ink Poetry L.I.P.s show, Trinity Youth Poetry Jam, SOY (Spotlight On Youth) and the Science Museum. She has performed along side great poets such as Li Yung-Lee, Lucile Clifton, and N’tare Ali Gault. And is also a former Njozi Poet!
The ABD Association
Anita G. Gorman
They met at the College Club, not far from the university’s library, in a corner where the lights were dim. Dark paneling behind their table made the place even darker. Darkness worked for them. They were the ABD Association.
Cornelius had thought of forming an alliance with other ABDs while he was working on Chapter 1 of his dissertation. That was three years ago. He was now working on Chapter 2. It was so obviously a time to forge an alliance with other ABDs, those who had completed All But Dissertation. All but—yes, they had already completed a great deal. All the course work—and the course work took a while, especially if the graduate student happened to be a teaching assistant at the same time. Then there were the language exams. When his mother was thinking of working on her Ph.D. in English in the 1950s, three languages were required: French, German, and Latin, and no substitutions, please. Nowadays almost any language qualified, not just Spanish but also Japanese or Swahili or Tagalog. And few people these days did three languages; usually a student had to pass an exam in one language without a dictionary or in two languages with a dictionary. His mother, her nose in the air, still referred to French, German, and Latin as the premier scholarly languages. “In my day,” she would opine, “the language exams meant something!” Cornelius just shrugged. He passed the Spanish examination without a dictionary, so that box was checked off. His mother asked him what Spanish had to do with a doctorate in English and a specialization in 18th-century British literature. Cornelius searched for an answer. Didn’t Samuel Pepys sometimes use Spanish words in his diary—in the risqué parts? Yes, there was the connection. Cornelius’s conscience was eased; Spanish was certainly a legitimate scholarly language.
The course work having been completed and the languages checked off, the doctoral candidate now prepared for the preliminary or qualifying examinations. At Cornelius’ university there were three such tests, one in the major area of specialization, and two in related but minor areas of interest. The first test took three hours, but the questions were rather general, so he was able to spill out just about everything he knew about 18th-century British Literature. He even found a way to utilize some of those Spanish words in a paragraph about Samuel Pepys’ diary, while at the same time claiming that Pepys was giving early homage to multiculturalism, since he described his illicit encounters via not only Spanish but also Italian, Latin, and French bons mots.
Weeks later Cornelius took his second doctoral examination in Literary Theory; he reveled in being able to combine deconstruction, new historicism, and biographical criticism with feminist, marxist, and psychoanalytic theory in order to demonstrate that a writer did not mean what he said or thought he said or wanted to say. Or something.
His third exam, in Victorian Literature, nicely dovetailed with his other two areas, and when the questions enabled him to discuss Mr. Trollope, Mr. Dickens, and Mrs. Gaskell, he knew this ordeal was over. He made a point of using titles for his Victorian authors; in her day Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell was usually called Mrs. Gaskell; therefore, in the interest of fairness he decided to call Thackeray Mr. Thackeray and Trollope Mr. Trollope. And so on. His professors sometimes wondered about him—or laughed at him. Cornelius could go on and on about Charles Dickens, and so he did in this final test of his knowledge.
He experienced a great sense of accomplishment once course work, foreign tongues, and examinations were behind him. Fully 75% of the Ph.D. requirements were now done. He would soon be Dr. Cornelius Cannalon. That was three years ago.
Cornelius Cannalon, ABD was now part of the murky, dark, unsatisfying world of the ABD, whose numbers seemed legion. They were everywhere, teaching part-time at junior colleges, sometimes at three colleges at once just to make ends meet. Some stacked shelves in grocery stores or tended bar or worked as aides in nursing homes. Somehow Cornelius found himself in the middle of an ever-widening circle of ABD friends, men and women who struggled to find dissertation topics, struggled even more to do research, and agonized as they wrote and wrote, getting older and greyer with each passing year. Then the idea came to him.
He was sitting in the College Club one afternoon when Maisie walked up to him and handed him a menu. Dark though it was, he still recognized her from his Research Methods class, the class that convinced him that graduates of such a class could become either spies or librarians, adept as they were at finding out all sorts of minutiae.
“So, Maisie, what do you know?” he said, pleased with the allusion to Henry James.
“Not much, Cornelius; still working here and when I come home I’m too tired to work on my dissertation.”
He ordered a hamburger, fries, and a beer and pondered. Maisie wasn’t making much progress on her dissertation, and neither was he. Antonia—he loved alluding to Willa Cather when he talked to her—had had her proposal ripped to the proverbial shreds by her dissertation advisor and was beginning at the beginning for the second or maybe the third time. Jonathan was recovering from the unkindest cut of all: he had failed his dissertation defense, something that rarely happens to students who have completed some 300 pages of writing under the direction of a seasoned advisor. Then there was Annabelle, who came up with a different dissertation topic each week: the gypsy in British literature; Scotland’s eighteenth-century song culture; Regina Maria Roche’s “anti-influence” on Jane Austen; the dime novel and its effect on popular culture. Annabelle enjoyed dreaming up topics but could not make a decision. Too obscure, too general, too narrow, already done, old hat, too difficult to research, impossible to find a focus, clichéd, even silly. She thought of starting a website, doctoraldissertationtopics.com, and charging for entrance to her lists. But that also took time, and there probably wasn’t much of a market for that sort of thing.
Yes, each one of Cornelius’s ABD friends was stuck, and so was he. When Maisie returned with his food, he suddenly had an epiphany.
“Maisie, I think I’d like to start a support group for ABDs. We could meet here some evening when you’re not working. We could pool our resources and maybe our misery. We could help each other.”
And that’s how it began. Tonight they were all in the dark corner of the pub: Cornelius, Maisie, Antonia, Jonathan, Annabelle. Cornelius began their discussion.
“So, has anyone made any progress?”
“So, has anyone made any regress?”
Antonia spoke up. “This one isn’t about me, but it depressed me, so I regressed, I suppose. I heard about this guy in the history department who was doing his dissertation on the Soviet Union and the Cold War and how the Russians would eventually take over all of Europe. This was in the 1980s. The guy’s name was Dmitri, so I guess he had a Russian connection. He had written over 300 pages and was all set to defend his dissertation when the Soviet Union collapsed. He had a nervous breakdown. Do they still call it that, nervous breakdown, I mean? I wonder what happened to the guy. I guess he could have changed his topic to why the Soviet Union collapsed. But I doubt that he could have used much of the old dissertation. Didn’t he see this coming? Maybe he spent all his time in the library and never read the newspaper.”
Cornelius thought for a minute. “Now there’s an argument against using a topic that’s too contemporary. Imagine writing about someone who is alive one day and dead the next, or who writes her most important work after you’ve finished your dissertation, for crying out loud. I’m sticking with the eighteenth century; it’s safer.”
Jonathan spoke up. “At least that guy didn’t fail his defense. I’m still wounded and trying to pick up the pieces. I’m thinking of having a nervous breakdown. Or maybe I’ll just chuck the whole thing and start my own business. I could advise people about getting their doctorates.”
Cornelius rolled his eyes. “Right.”
Annabelle smirked. “Did it ever occur to any of you that some ABDs don’t really want to finish their dissertations? I mean, it’s kind of comfortable—as long as you don’t run out of money—to say you’re in the middle of it. People are so impressed. You can do a little a day or maybe less than that. You don’t have to look for a full-time job, since you’re still writing, and besides, universities won’t hire tenure-track people unless they have finished the degree. So you can put off coming to terms with the rest of your life. You can dream you will be hired by a great university or a charming college in New England with a long history, when in fact, if you’re hired at all years from now, it’ll probably be Lower Beaver State College in some grimy town in eastern Pennsylvania. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”
Antonia spoke up. “Don’t forget those dissertation advisors. Mine forgets our appointments. Apparently it took her seven years to write the dissertation, so she wants to make sure I take ten to get mine finished. And she doesn’t like any of my topics. When am I going to get a topic that I can start working on?”
“I have a topic,” said Maisie. “I like my advisor. The thing is, I hate this topic, but I’m too embarrassed to tell her and start over. I kind of like working here at the College Club, I make good tips, and when I go home I’m too tired to write about a subject I don’t care about. Maybe I could open up my own pub, with a doctoral theme: The Dissertation Den or something like that. For placemats I could use rough drafts of doctoral theses. The walls would be decorated with pictures of famous people who never finished their doctorates or never started them but who are the subjects of other people’s dissertation dreams. The menu could include stuff like advisor’s appetizers, editor’s entrees, deconstruction desserts. The possibilities are endless.”
“And most people wouldn’t get the jokes,” Cornelius said. “I have a proposal. Let’s have another round of drinks. It’s on me. Let’s not have an ABD support group. It’s too depressing, and how can we support each other when we’re not getting anything done?”
Jonathan nodded. “Yeah, but we need to stay motivated. How about we meet one year from today and report on our progress. And if we see each other before then, let’s talk about other stuff. Important stuff. Like baseball.
They ordered their drinks.
The facts as seen from underseas
I would like to introduce myself, but I have no name. I think humans would call me a smelt, if they ever had to get into a conversation with me, which is rather improbable, as we do not share the same language. It is obvious that I am not aware I am a smelt. I do not even know that I belong to the broader category of fish. Humans, though, have a tendency to categorization. They attribute their need to consciousness, a characteristic that distinguishes them from other species. In reality, they use this trait to develop theories that justify their actions. Thanks to consciousness, they consider humankind superior to all other species they share the planet with. The criteria to prove their superiority are solely subjective and essentially based on domination. If the criteria were somehow different, if - for example - they took into consideration the destruction each species causes to the planet, they would be forced to acknowledge their kind as inferior to any other creatures that inhabit it as well. They set the criteria themselves though, and no one ever doubted them. Other species do not care for such classifications anyway, since they lack consciousness, or as much as they may have, it certainly does not reach human levels.
I have learned over time to avoid boats, as they usually carry humans who fish. When humans fish, I am in danger. Unfortunately, if you take a look at the food chain, you will notice that I could possibly be a part of their diet, so it is much safer for me to stay as far as possible. Lately though, things have changed. The boats that carry ghost candidates are much more than those that come out in the open to catch us in their nets.
They are many and are stacked on a boat with barely any space to move, forced to wear life-jackets.
“There is no need to worry,” he has been reassured, but he feels that there is, despite all assurances about the safety of the journey. Besides, he has spent so much money on this trip that it seems impossible it could be unsafe. At this moment though, he does not care about the money. All of his dearest persons are in this boat, his whole family: his wife, three months pregnant, and their two kids who have curled on her lap. She leans on his shoulder in an effort to find some warmth.
This journey will not last long. The distance is not that big. He smiles at her, in order to give her some of his strength, although he is about to run out of it. She detects the fake smile and lowers her eyes to avoid it. She holds his hand to encourage him. In a while, their suffering is about to end. They will reach the shore and everything will be ok. No more chase, or gunfire, or fear. In a while, another continent will welcome them, where people sleep peacefully at nights, as they did long ago, before the war started.
These waters have always been the apple of discord between them, since humans always find a reason to start another fight. The waters, in which I swim, are considered rightfully theirs. We, on the other hand, that think of them as home, would claim they are ours, if we had an opinion, yet we do not, because we lack consciousness. This might be either good or bad, depending on the perspective. Humans acknowledge the right to property only to their own kind, occasionally only to the team they belong to, or even only to their own self. Only humans can be owners. At some point, only white people had the right to property, or christians, or only those that they came from a specific place. This kind of prejudice has been overcome and humans think they are progressing. In reality, they have created new ones to replace them.
Domination over other species was not enough. They then proceeded into trying to do the same over one another. They put imaginary lines on earth, which they called borders, which they changed every once in a while, either a little closer, or a little farther, depending on the power of the team that wished to extend its territory. They built fences to limit access to their nests, and doors to ensure their isolation, under the pretext of security and protection from all dangers the environment could bring, which is obviously considered hostile. The planet’s environment gets more and more hostile with time, because of their actions, not because it wants revenge. In order to deal with the hostility, they become more and more hostile towards each other.
The wind is wildly blowing while the boat sways back and forth, like a feather, although it should be more stable, crowded as it is. Complaints accumulate and the more they accumulate the more reassuring the voices of the escorts try to sound.
“We soon arrive,” they shout every once in a while, but “soon” lasts more than expected. As the waves get bigger and bigger and the sky darkens even more, when the clouds hide the dim moonlight, he gets frightened. He opens his arms to hold them all, his wife and his three kids, one of them still unborn, yet alive in her belly.
“This baby will be lucky enough to be born in a safe world,” he thinks to himself. Hearing his thoughts, she calms down.
“The worst is over,” she answers back but he cannot help but wonder if the worst is yet to come.
I may be a tiny smelt swimming in the cold waters, without even being aware that I am a smelt, without even caring either, but humans always had a need for identity; nation, religion, family, even in their teams, each one have their own name to stand out from the rest. Identity is what brings them together, yet drives them apart at the same time. They defend their identity, as if it is the most precious thing in the world. The bigger the team they defend, the more civilized they consider themselves, but rarely do they reach further than their nation, or even their family, or even their own self, when things get tough, forgetting all about civilization and consciousness, without the slightest guilt. Other theories have been developed, claiming the opposite, one single identity of the universe encompassing all creatures, but these theories have not prevailed in the so-called civilized world.
The boat is tilting. He is so scared that his breath is taken away. The blowing wind makes the situation worse. The boat is swaying and tilting once on the left, then on the right, back and forth and then all over again, faster and wildly, until it turns over. His breath is taken away once again, this time because he is in the water. He fights against the waves with all of his might, never letting go of her hand. As soon as he reaches the surface and catches his breath, he sees them coming closer from afar. He is swimming towards their direction, one handed, the other hand holding tight his wife’s arm. The kids are holding their mother and swim next to her. They are all still fine, yet he has no time to be happy about it. This is their only chance. Somebody is pulling her up. The kids are next.
“There are so many of them. We can’t save them all.”
“They will drown. We can’t just leave them behind.”
“Men can make it. Pull only women and children.”
The light gets farther and farther away before he has the time to board. He is certain that they will come back. He takes comfort in the thought that his family is safe. He tries to stay still, floating until another team comes back to his rescue. He waits until the dawn, when the waves subside and his body, lifeless, washes up on the shore.
It is very crowded now, due to the new souls, descending one by one in the cold waters. If we had an opinion, we would say that the sea belongs to its fish. It is obvious though that it belongs to its ghosts.
Humans have the tendency to underestimate what does not look like them. The further away from them an organism is, the less they care. Sometimes they tend to depersonalize even members of their own species. They use their so-called logic, which has led them into great achievements, but has not got them very far, as I see it. They have even invented proverbs using us, which they use as metaphors to describe their antics. Big fish eat little fish, they say, meaning that might makes right. They are ashamed to refer directly to themselves, I suppose. It might be true that big fish eat little fish after all, at least most of the times and usually when hungry, yet this happens because fish have not consciousness. Humans, on the other hand, who are so proud of this feature, when they do the same thing, they have no excuse at all.
Mileva Anastasiadou Bio
Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist living and working in Athens, Greece. She has published two books. Her work has appeared in Ofi press magazine, Foliate Oak, Infective Ink, the Molotov Cocktail and HFC journal.
that’s our love
So White plus Seven
Joseph E. Fleckenstein
Over the past years we noticed kids were losing their interest in our circus. They had their TVs, iPads, computer games. Then it happened. The big boss called the seven of us in. Somil White, the girl who rode the elephant, was there too.
“I’m sorry everyone,” the man said. “The Schultz Circus declared bankruptcy this morning. The equipment was bought by a Chinese firm. There’s no money to pay you. You can exit through the main door. You know, where we normally sold admission tickets. Security will show you the way.”
Bang! Just like that we were on the street with no money and no place to go. Outside the main door, Grumpy picked up a rock and threw it at the big sign with the words “Schultz Circus – Freaks and Wild Animals.” When the rock hit, he let out a loud, “You mother fuckers.” The rock fell on a garbage can lid, making the sound of cymbals clanging. Much as the final note of a Beethoven symphony. Nobody was paying attention.
Sleepy said he knew of a city park that was two blocks away.
“Why don’t we go there and talk.” Somil, who we call “So” for short, said she would like to come along if we all didn’t mind. She added, “After all, eight heads are better than one even if some of them are pretty small.”
Dopey looked at Sneezy.
“Who does the smartass pussy think she is?”
Sneezy spoke to no one in particular.
“Word has it she is the illegitimate daughter of an Indian maharani.”
It was true, So came from India. She said her family knew elephants. That’s how she got the job. But we all thought the maharani was made up bull, as in upmanship. She said her family name, “White,” came from some Englishman who had been fooling around with her grandmother. That was believable.
We started walking toward the park. Half way there, Sleepy pinched So’s behind. He had to jump up to do it since So is tall with long legs and her ass is up high. She swung at him but he juked.
At the park bench, Bashful was the first to speak.
“Hey guys, look at it on the bright side. We are now eligible for unemployment, public housing and food stamps. You know, no more being the freaks in side shows to make people laugh. Just lounging around, watching TV, and fishing by the river.”
Everyone had to agree. Bashful might be on to something. That night we slept in the park. The next morning we combed So’s hair and tried our best to make her look pretty. When we were about finished I stood back and had a look.
“So, these are desperate times. You need to unbutton the top six buttons and get rid of that bra. Let them flop around.”
So frowned, pouted and, in a huff, turned to go to the washroom at McDonald’s. When she returned we were ready for the Bureau of Public Housing.
So turned on the charm. She told the guy she had “seven little ones” and that she needed a place to stay. Their fathers were not around. Fortunately our whiskers hadn’t grown much in one day. But some government types are not all that “alert.” He figured small people equals children. Besides, he was not looking in our direction. He gave So a key to an apartment on the spot.
After we had an apartment at the Project we applied for unemployment. Having an address, we could tell them where to send the checks. We also got a pile of food stamps. Because we are tiny people, except for So, we don’t eat all that much. With the food stamps we could easily feed So plus 55 dwarves.
All went fairly well the first few weeks at the Project. The apartment had two big beds. So slept in one and everyone else in the other. Sleepy, we learned, was a snorer. Dwarves have small mouths so they don’t sound like a big person when they snore. Sleepy sounded more like a pig in heat. Little squeals came one after the other. Whee...whee...whee. When he started that noise, Bashful and Grumpy would drag him to the bathroom and push a couch up against the door. In the morning, they would let him out. If anyone had to pee during the night they had to go out the front door and wet the marigolds.
The second week, Happy made some local contacts and found a supplier. He kept swiping our food stamps and trading them for whatever he could obtain. In a way everyone was glad he was mostly stoned and out of the way. Otherwise he was grouchy and a genuine pain.
The TV got to be a problem. There were eight of us and only one TV. Bashful and Sneezy wanted to watch mysteries. Dopey, Grumpy and Sleepy sitcoms. So, Happy and I the news and the history channel. It was a never-ending contest. One night Bashful wanted to watch Batman. Grumpy said, “no way, Batman’s a creep.” They went outside. Grumpy came back with a shiner. We all watched Batman.
Bashful resumed his cross-dressing. He had gone to Target where he bought a few girl’s dresses, a wig, and lipstick. In the afternoons, he would wander the sidewalks of the Project. One day, after having walked for an hour, he returned and was watching Sesame Street. A beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. A gentle knock was heard on the front door. I went over and opened the door. Two little girls with dolls in their hands stood there.
“Can the little girl come out to play?”
“We live in Building C and we saw her come to this apartment.”
“Oh, yes. Well, she is having her nap right now. Besides, I don’t think you want to play with Bashy. She tends to bite people. Leaves ugly marks.”
The girls looked at one another and ran away, screaming.
One night, Sleepy looked at So as she and the others sat watching TV. So was in her PJ’s.
“So, we’ve been here a month now, and we haven’t seen you with a boyfriend. You need to get a life.”
“Who would want to go around with a chick that has a houseful of midgets? I’ve been looking for a job, but there is little demand for elephant riders. I’d like to get out of here.”
Grumpy took exception to So’s comments.
“Well, So, if you don’t like living with midgets there is nobody keeping you here. We can get along perfectly well without you. Riding around on your high elephant apparently gave you an attitude.”
Because I was fond of So I told Grumpy, “Ah, shut up. We love So and she can stay as long as she likes.”
She came over and, reaching down, mussed my hair.
“Doc you’re the best.”
If only, I thought, my arms were longer. I would have lifted So and threw her on that bed of hers. I would kiss her behind the ear, my hand would wander. So would breath in my ear. We would take our time.
We lived the good life for a time but the unemployment was coming to an end. There were no job prospects in sight. We were all becoming concerned when a Chinese guy came knocking on the door. Very polite but difficult to understand. He said that his employer bought the Schultz Circus and all of the equipment is being shipped to China. He wanted to hire us. And, he said, for 25% above what we were paid by Schultz. He had a contract prepared for each of us. The following week we boarded an Air China 747 destined for Beijing.
When the airplane had risen to 35,000 feet the captain announced that supper would be ready in two hours’ time. In the meantime, he said, fresh fruit and raw vegetables would be served. Something healthy, he added. In a few minutes a stewardess appeared. Strange looking, though. She had a big mole on her left cheek and a nose that was big for a Chinaman. For some reason she started at our row. I took a pear. So reached over and took the only red apple on the tray.
This piece was published in Gravel Magazine, a publication of the University of Arkansas, in February 2016.
Joseph E. Fleckenstein Bio
Joseph E. Fleckenstein, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has published over 31 items. The list includes nonfiction articles in outdoor magazines, technical papers, online courses for professional engineers, a patent and more recently literary short stories in Prick of the Spindle, Story Shack, Out of the Gutter and Potluck. His 400 page technical book Three Phase Electrical Power is available at CRC Press. Currently he lives in Pennsylvania where he is a self-employed engineer and freelance technical writer. Additional bio particulars may be viewed at his website www.WriterJEF.com.
“Wiggle your toes,” Judy said.
Her voice was calm and soft, but I knew in about five seconds it would go up ten decibels in volume and down an octave in tone. Her sweet, freckled, upturned-nose face would morph into a teeth-gnashing, jaw-tightened scowl of determination. Judy was the beloved one-hundred-twelve pound coxswain of our eight-man varsity boat crew. The toe-wiggle comment into the boat’s intercom was her signature pre-start comment intended to mitigate our jitters. There was also her traditional wink to me that no one else could see. I sat in the number eight seat facing her in the stern of the boat. I was the “stroke,” the leader. After the race started, I watched Judy’s face in front of me—the other seven guys watched the shoulders of the guy in front of them.
I wiggled my toes, took a deep breath and focused on the starter standing on a high platform with the flag raised above his head. I didn’t want to blink and miss the nanosecond it started to drop. It wasn’t the starting gun that began the two thousand meter race, it was the flag.
The Southwest Regional Regatta in San Diego Bay was the first step in our hopeful journey to the national finals six weeks later in Chattanooga. Beyond that we talked of training for the Olympics in two years.
We were the favored boat, but San Diego was the crew to beat. We had rowed against them twice that year, each winning once. We had won our first two heats for this regatta, so were in the middle pair of a group of six boats for the final race—the medal race. San Diego was on our port side, having also won their heats.
The flag dropped.
“Four...,” Judy shouted into the intercom for quarter strokes, forty per minute, “three...two...one.”
The boat lifted and fell with each short stroke, gaining speed.
“Five...four...three...two...one.” Half strokes, faster.
“Four...three...two...one.” Full strokes, full speed.
“Settle.” Her voice was less dramatic as we settled to thirty-five strokes per minute.
A good start.
In my peripheral vision, I could see the stroke seat in San Diego’s boat two oar-lengths off our port side. We were even. The other four boats were already fading. It was just the two of us.
We were in a groove. It felt good. All those freezing early-morning practices were forgotten.
“Fifteen hundred meters,” she said.
“One thousand,” a hundred seconds later.
Half done—the easy half—the strength half. The next half was the mental half. I pushed my burning legs beyond their limit and ignored my parched throat that passed more and more air to my demanding lungs. I stared at Judy’s forehead and put San Diego out of my mind, concentrating to make each stroke perfect.
“Give me ten!”
She wanted ten strokes at higher pressure. I sensed added tension in her command. I glanced right. San Diego wasn’t there. We were behind. What happened?
After the ten strokes, I saw the tip of San Diego’s stern. We had closed but were still behind by three seats.
I heard the coxswain in San Diego’s boat call for a power ten. They vanished from my peripheral vision.
“Four hundred,” Judy yelled. “Down four seats. You guys are losing it! There is no tomorrow. It’s time for some sacrifice.”
I watched Judy. I dug deeper. Where could I get more?
“It’s my turn,” she announced matter-of-factly. “It’s time for me to sacrifice. If you pull this off, I’ll show you my tits!” There was a grin on her face. She winked.
The next two strokes were normal, but the third one lifted the boat a little higher out of the water. And it continued.
“Three hundred meters—three seats. If you guys lose, you’ll miss the opportunity of a lifetime.”
The coxswain on the San Diego boat looked over at her. The amplified coxswain voices could be heard between boats and San Diego had just lost twenty-five percent of their lead. At two hundred meters, San Diego lost two more seats and their coxswain was calling for an all-in effort to finish the race. He glanced at Judy again.
Judy retaliated. “Two hundred meters,” she screamed into her headset. “A half seat. These are the most gorgeous tits in California!”
Fifteen seconds later. “One hundred meters. San Diego belongs to us if you want them bad enough,” she pleads. “These tits aren’t big, but they’re perfect.”
We won just short of a full meter. We coasted, oars hanging loose, bent over gasping for air. Oscar in seat four vomited over the side.
Judy took off her headset and laid it in the bottom of the boat. She lifted the front of her shirt, pulled it over her head and waved it at arm’s length. She wasn’t wearing a bra. Warren in the bow seat stood up—a dangerous move—his arms high above his head. Rory in the second seat stood up halfway to see over everyone’s head. The other five guys leaned over the railings to see. It’s a wonder we didn’t capsize. I, of course, had the unobstructed view right in front of me. Indeed, they were perfect.
The boat drifted. We breathed easier, gathered our senses, and began rowing back to the dock at a leisurely pace. Judy put her shirt on.
Rory started the chant on the way, “Judy...Judy...Judy,” but soon we all chimed in.
Judy had an immense grin. She replaced her headset. “You guys are great. You’re unbeatable. But don’t think this is going to happen again.”
We lifted the boat from the water and put it in its slings. We surrounded Judy, raised her above our heads, marched down to the dock, and threw her in the water. Those perfect tits gazed back at us through her wet shirt.
Someone had been in the right place for a photo. It showed Judy waving her shirt, her bare back to the camera. Warren stood in the bow, arms raised. A twelve-by-eighteen framed copy of the picture magically appeared on the boathouse wall the next morning. It was on San Diego’s TV news the following night. Rowing magazine had a half page picture a few months later. Judy was a hero and the envy of every coxswain who knew or heard of her.
That was thirty-eight years ago. We collected bronze at the nationals. None of our crew qualified for the Olympic team. These days, I still row a little. Mostly, I coach. Judy has since passed.
This morning, I’ve pulled the collar of my coat around my neck to ward off the chill. The sun is just rising over the eastern side of the river, poking through tall conifers, casting long shadows across the water’s glassy surface. I’m standing in the open boathouse cargo doors watching my freshman men’s crew carry their boat down to the dock on their shoulders, four on each side. As their coxswain leads them past the faded picture of Judy, still on the wall, she pats it. The four crew members nearest the wall also reach out and give it a pat as they pass by. When they bring the boat back after practice, the other four repeat the ritual. There’s a sign above the picture that says “SACRIFICE.” Sometimes when I pass the picture, I think she turns and winks at me.
Dick Yaeger Bio
Dick is a retired physicist, former Marine, and active rower, much of which percolates into his stories. If not writing, he’s likely at his forge pondering a new piece of iron artwork. He’s a self-taught student of Latin, a 49er and Sharks fan, and plays the bagpipes when neighbors consent.
The Four Seasons
Vibrant and blooming,
dew drops from last night’s showers
float on the petals.
soft, purse sand surrounds my feet,
paradise is here.
Leaves fall with the breeze
pleasing all of our senses,
bright oranges and reds crunch.
The great Christmas tree,
ornaments hold the stories
of past and present.
Innocent girl with
an attitude showing a
unique form of love
Careless young adult
who is angry and troubled
with an intense love
A strict man who spoils
his wife and kids with a love
his family sees
A strong willed women
whose love is universal
with undefined care
Each Day is Like a Dream
One day is something...then tomorrow is nothing.
Today I can be lucky...then tomorrow could be the opposite.
Things can change for the better...or for the worse,
amongst the surroundings of one’s turf or inner atmosphere.
Sometimes you just never know.
It can be luck or grace.
It trickles down unexpectedly like snowflakes.
The pressure is foggy from a distance...one can be running forever...
Sooner or later it’s a touch and go.
Reality is slowly presented, revealing its true nature
and behind all those closed doors...they open with a swish!
The cloudiness evaporates and one rising from the pits between
There it is...all reality.
She stood there
silhouetted by the rising sun,
hair like black fire in the wind,
and eyes that could pierce through the secrets of the universe itself.
But no matter how much I walked toward her
and reached out for her,
she only seemed to grow that much further away.
Wesley Furukido Biography
Wesley Furukido was born in Anaheim, California and is still a resident of the state as of today. Wesley has an acquired sweet tooth for foreign snacks and candy, sometimes to his great disappointment and disgust. He also has a keen interest in running, but quite often lacks the motivation to actually do so. Some examples of his work may be found at Eskimo Pie.
Just keep your eyes down and hope for the best. It’s the refrain I’ve been telling myself for the past year. Ever since NPR was taken over by the president, I haven’t been able to trust the news. Diane Rehm is gone. Terry Gross has been replaced. Even the New York Times isn’t what it used to be.
Two days after the president was elected, all of the newspapers reported the same story:
“Today The Golden President has promised a new life for those who demonstrate absolute patriotism. Today marks a new path for immigrants. A bridge to a new destiny for those who do not belong in the United States will be built in four years time.”
Just keep your eyes down and hope for the best. The jobs shortened six months ago. Mandatory ID checks were enforced at every grocery store, restaurant, bank, and local place of business all over the country. Being an undocumented immigrant, I knew the ID crackdown would lead to lower and lower paying jobs. No longer could I support my family through restaurant work. No longer could I sell things on Ebay. No longer could I go anywhere without a proper American ID.
Just keep your eyes down and hope for the best. My career came soon after the crackdown. It was the last of the paying jobs a man like me could get. I reasoned it wouldn’t be so bad. I reasoned the mandatory long hours were for the best. More money for my family. More responsibility for my whereabouts.
My job was to help build the bridge to the Middle East. I suspected that the bridge would be the inevitable transport for all the illegal ‘aliens’. I suspected eventually they would send us down the bridge, never to be seen again, deported to another land where we did not belong.
Just keep your eyes down and hope for the best. I work on the bridge day and night. When it is hot, I take my shirt off and bathe in the hot afternoon sun. When it is cold out, I work faster, harder, longer, in hopes of building up a comfortable sweat. We all must work long hours to get the bridge built before the end of The Golden Presidency. Without the bridge, his promise is a public failure.
Our president’s blond hair and squinty blue eyes belong to the face of a pure American. The term was coined, himself. The Golden President promises good fortune, more jobs, and a rich lifestyle to those who deserve it. He promises the aliens will be gone before he is done.
I look at my skin and expect to see green. I touch my head and I expect an antenna. Still, it is just me. Two eyes a nose and one closed mouth.
Just keep your eyes down and hope for the best. It has been seven months since I started working on the bridge. This is the first day I’ve heard sirens. The supervisors with their loudspeakers are yelling. We must congregate at the end of the bridge.
Crowded together we are a sea of color. There are the Mexicans. There are the Africans. There are the Arabs and the Russians and the Albanians. There are no green men.
I watch as the hired supervisors stand in a line next to the end of the bridge. The bridge stretches out far into the ocean until at last, it doesn’t. Its un-built edge is hard and jagged and juts straight out. Looking down I can see another color. The ice blue ocean beneath us.
“You have come to the end of the line,” one supervisor is yelling into his loudspeaker. “You must jump. All of you. One by one into the ocean.”
He pushes a boy no older than 18 off the bridge. The boy’s eyes, terrified and pleading, stare up into the sky, begging for refuge.
Just keep your eyes down and hope for the best. I promise myself I will never look up. I will never dare to hope for something out of reach.
Lil’ Kee, pulled up to the yellow framed house and slapped his Monte Carlo into park. He took a long drag on the grape Swisher and looked over at Peanut, a younger, thinner version of himself. Around them, the neighborhood was fading into shadow, the sun sinking below the pink tinted clouds on the horizon.
“This is the place,” Kee said, climbing out.
He gripped his down jacket tight against the wind, as he scanned the street. At twenty-four, Kee was already one of the top lieutenants in the Hoover Crips. Peanut, he had adopted as his right-hand man.
Peanut hopped out the other side, cupping his hands, he blew on them.
“Kee, I don’t understand why we doin’ this. Why don’t we just take’im an out an cap’em? This feels like some kinda Dr. Evil bullshit that’s gunna end up fuckin’ us over.”
Kee smiled and ground the Swisher beneath his heel.
“I got my reasons.”
Peanut shrugged and followed him to the porch. Kee pounded on the plain white door until it cracked open and a teenage boy poked out his head.
“What’ya want?” he asked, looking them up and down.
Kee shoved the door open, knocking the kid aside and strode into the room. The walls had once been a shade of white, but years of greasy cooking and cigarette smoke had tinted them a faded yellow. A worn blue couch dominated the back wall, its sunken cushions covered by a holey yellow blanket.
Between the couch and the fifty-two inch plasma, mounted on the opposite wall, a cigarette burned coffee table held up an array of beer cans and old Ebony magazines.
The teen followed them in and disappeared into the kitchen.
“I’ll get my mom,” he called over his shoulder.
A tall woman with smooth, chocolate skin, and full lips came walking out, drying her hands on a torn, green towel. She considered them through her fake lashes.
“Kee, I didn’t think you were coming tonight,” she said.
Kee’s eyes scanned the room before he dropped onto the couch.
“I come when I come. You got what I need?”
The woman eyed Peanut nervously before disappearing into the kitchen and returning with a glass baby jar full of a thick, red liquid.
She set the jar on the table. “Here it is.”
Kee leaned back, his lips bowing into a smile.
“Jasmine, that’s not the way this works. “
He picked up the jar and swirled the liquid before setting it down.
“If I don’t see it done, how’m I gunna know what I got?”
Jasmine’s gaze shifted from Kee to Peanut before she spoke.
“Ok, gimme a minute, “she said, and disappeared through the doorway.
“What is that?” Peanut whispered. “Is that blood?”
Kee looked up and nodded.
Jasmine returned, a small girl, maybe five years old, in front of her. The girl was dressed in worn pink footies and clutched a stuffed rabbit to her chest. Her dark eyes darted between Kee and Peanut.
Kee leaned forward, his smile large and bright as he drew a Barbie doll from his jacket.
“See what I’ve got for you?” he asked. “You just have to help your mommy.”
“Damn!” Peanut brushed a hand across his head and backed toward the door. “No way! I ain’t playin’ that kinda shit!”
Kee shot him a hard look, the smile evaporated from his face.
“Nigger, this ain’t whatever you thinkin’. Just sit your ass down.”
Kee’s eyes bored into Peanut until he joined him on the couch. Then he turned back to the girl, his smile as genuine and fresh as if it had never left.
“Hi...” Kee glanced at Jasmine, his brows arched.
“Jada,” she said
“Hi, Jada. I’m Kee. You’re mommy is gunna help me out and if you’re a good girl I’m gunna give you this doll. That doesn’t sound too bad does it?”
The girl’s hand went to her mouth, and she peeked over her shoulder at her mother. Jasmine gave her a squeeze.
“It’ll be fine baby, “Jasmine said, “it will only hurt for a second.”
“See?” Kee said. “It’ll all be fine.”
Jasmine pointed to the spot where Kee was sitting and gave him a nod of her chin.
“Oh, “Kee said, hopping off the couch. She sat down and pulled out a medical bag from beneath the table. She opened the bag and withdrew rubber tubing, a twist of thin, clear hose and a needle. She drew up the girl’s sleeve and wrapped the tubing around her arm. Then she dipped a swab in alcohol and rubbed it across the inside of the girl’s arm.
‘Be brave, Jada, it will just be a tiny prick,” she said.
Peanut’s squinted gaze drifted from the girl to Kee. Kee upheld a hand in silence.
Jasmine stuck in the needle and took a baby jar from the bag. Crimping the end of the clear hose, she attached it to the needle and stuck the other end into the jar.
The girl had buried her face into her mother’s chest and wept as blood pulsed into the vessel. When it was nearly full, Jasmine pulled out the needle. With practiced speed, she applied another swab over the drop of blood that trickled out and strapped it down with a Band-Aid.
“See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Kee said, holding out the doll.
Jada turned and stared at him; tears still clung to her chubby cheeks. Kee moved the doll closer, and Jada snatched it from his hand.
“OK, baby, you can go play now,” Jasmine said, shooing the child away.
She picked up the jar and screwed on the lid, but held it tight against her breast. Kee smiled, took out two hundred dollar bills and dropped them on the table. Jasmine scooped them up and handed Kee the jar.
He could still feel the warmth of the girl’s blood as his fingers wrapped the glass. With a wink at Peanut, it vanished into his coat.
“Thank you, Jasmine, it’s always a pleasure,” he said, walking for the door.
“Whad’ya do with that blood anyway?” Jasmine asked.
Kee turned, pinning her with his eyes. “That’s not part of our agreement, “he said, “but trust me, you don’t wanna know.”
Kee started up the car and pulled out. They rode in silence for a several blocks before Peanut slapped the dash and stared at him.
“What the fuck was that? Takin’ some kid’s blood? Holy shit.”
Kee glanced at him, locked the wheel with his thigh and pulled out another Swisher. He puffed a solid red glow onto the end, filling the car with grape scented haze before he answered.
“You gotta have the right blood to make it work,” he said. “That’s all I can tell ya right now. Be patient, an it’ll all be clear.”
Around them the residential neighborhoods faded away, and soon they were driving past open fields and thick woods. Kee slowed as they approached a mailbox that leaned towards the road and swung the car through the open gate.
Kee followed the twin dirt tracks illuminated by the head lights as the car bumped along the rutted track, tall, dry grass swishing noisily along the sides of the car.
They drove a quarter mile, before a pond appeared, the water flat and black. Thick woods grew along the banks, huge willow trunks overhung the water, their long, leafless branches dancing on the surface.
Kee slowed the car and killed the engine.
“So this is where we do it?” Peanut asked.
“We ain’t doing nothin’, “Kee answered, “we let somethin’ else handle this. That way our hands are clean.”
Kee walked to the trunk and popped it open, flipping back a grease stained blanket. Beneath, hands and feet bound by rope, lay a man. Duct tape covered his eyes and mouth. As the blanket was pulled back, he writhed against his constraints.
Kee reached beneath his arms, and Peanut grabbed his legs, and they carried him to the edge of the pond. Behind them, tall winter oaks stood shoulder to shoulder, like dark sentries.
Kee walked back to the car and returned with a can of gasoline and a Bowie knife.
“Damn Kee, gas?” Peanut said. “Why don’t we just shoot’em an get outta here. This place gives me the creeps.”
“It ain’t for him,” Kee said, upending the can over a pile of wood he had prepared earlier. With a flick of his lighter, the fire roared to life, the dry branches crackling and curling in the pyre.
In the glow of the blaze, the wall of trees seemed to recede, the reflection of the flames shimmering off the water. Kee strode over to the bound man and sat him up, ripping the tape from his eyes and mouth.
The man turned his head left and right, before he peered up at Kee, wide-eyed and urgent.
“Please Kee. Don’t kill me, not out here. I swear I won’t steal from you no more, I swear on my daughter’s life.”
Kee rocked back on his haunches and held his hands out to the flames. The man’s gaze drifted to Peanut and back to Kee.
“Please Kee, I promise. I learned my lesson. I ain’t never gunna do nothin’ against you long as I live. I swear!”
For long moments, Kee stared into the fire before he stood up and faced the man.
“I’m not gunna kill ya, Vibe.”
“No, I’m not. We’re just gunna leave ya out here and drive off.”
“We’re gunna do what?” Peanut exclaimed.
Vibe looked back and forth between them.
“Really? Oh thank god! Thank god! I swear you don’t never need to worry about me again! I learned my lesson Kee, I really did.”
Kee squatted down by the blaze, warming his hands.
“But before we go, I’m gunna tell you a little story. A story about somethin’ that happened to me when I was a kid.”
“Sure Kee, anything, anything you say.”
For several seconds there was just the crackle of the burning wood and slow hiss of wind through the high branches.
“You see that pond? “ Kee asked, bumping his chin towards the water. “That’s about the best fishin’ hole in a hundred miles. You wanna know why?”
Vibe’s brows knit in confusion, and he shrugged.
“It’s because no one ever comes out here. Everyone who lives round here thinks this place is cursed or haunted. Either way, no one’s around. Except my uncle Don and me. “
Peanut and Vibe both looked uncomfortably at the woods, the shadows among the trees suddenly felt ominous and watchful.
“First time I come here was on my eleventh birthday. Don brought me down here for a weekend fishin trip. There wasn’t no dirt road back then, just a path that we hiked down. Anyway, we fished all day and caught us a fat stringer of fish. Then we set down to cookin’ dinner.
“I was just a kid, but I wanted to help clean and gut the fish. I pick up the knife and Don loses it. Screams at me to not touch no blade and don’t cut myself, no matter what I do, don’t cut myself.”
Overhead the wind picked up, the tops of the bare trees swaying against the stars. Sparks from the fire leapt into the darkness like tiny sprites.
“After he took the knife away and cussed me out, he was real quiet. Then he apologizes and tells me that the reason he don’t want me to get cut and the reason no one comes out here is because of the Two Face Woman. Don’s full blood Sioux and he’s loaded with stories bout Indian spirits and shit like that. “
“I ask who’s Two Face, and he tells me she’s an Indian demon. He said the Sioux and Cheyenne was the first to see her, but that she been livin’ here an there since the people came to the land. He told me that Two Face has long elbows, like spikes, and claws, like knives, and she particularly likes the taste of child flesh. Whenever she smells the blood of children she can’t resist. She uses her elbows and claws ta torture her victim’s before she chop em’ to pieces and eat em’.”
Kee took a cigarette out of his pocket and lit it with a flaming brand. He stood up and examined Vibe.
“So I think my uncles pulling my leg, ya know. I’m almost grown and he’s tellin’ me this bullshit ta scare me. Campfire story an all that. So when he was busy fryin’ them fish, I go and start to clean one of them fish myself. But just like he warned, that knife slip and I cut a big ol’ slice outta my hand. I knew I was in trouble, and so I take off my shirt and wrap my hand up in it, cuz blood was goin’ everywhere.
“Well, I sit down by the campfire, and pretend nothin’s wrong, but Don look right at me. His eyes get wide, like he knows somethin’ up. He ran over and grab my hand, opened the shirt, and there’s blood everywhere.
“So he goes crazy, right? He grabbed all the wood we collected and dumped it on the fire. He buried the skillet, grill and fish, everything under that wood. Then he got some gas and dumped it all over, so the flames leapt up real high.
“Then a wind comes. Like a tornado, it blew right through the camp, almost knocked us over, sendin’ sparks flyin’ everywhere. Don rushes ta where the darkness and the light are mix’en and started shoutin’ something in Sioux that I didn’t understand.
“It was quiet then. Don come joggin’ back into the firelight, and starts throwin’ things into the pack but he keeps turnin’ and lookin’ to them trees. ‘We gotta get outta here Kee,’ he tells me. Then we hear the scream. It wasn’t like nothin’ I’d heard before. Like ... like a cat or woman, but like they in a whole lotta pain.
“So Don drops the pack and grabs me by the wrist and we start runnin. I say runnin’, but he was actually draggin’ me down that path cuz I couldn’t run as fast as he was goin.
“‘Don’t look at it boy, don’t you look in its eyes!’ he yells while we runnin’. Then, somethin’ grabs me. Rips me right outta Don’s grip. I lost my shoe, and go tumblin’ in the dirt. My leg feels like it’s on fire, and blood’s pourin’ into my sock.”
Kee pulled up his pant leg, and four long, pale scars trace their way from his calf to his ankle. Vibe and Peanut stare at the scar, then exchange wide eyed looks.
“Then I hear somethin’ in the grass, and this face pushes through and then a body. I was so scared I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. Her face was bony and tight, like she been starved for years and her tits was long and saggy and she was hung all over with loose, pale skin. She didn’t have no hair cept some dirty strands on top. An her arms. Her arms were longer than her legs and bent out to the sides with curved claws stickin’ out from her elbows.
“She raised up on her skinny legs and stared at me with yellow eyes, and licked her lips like she could already taste me. Her tongue was long and red and I could smell my own piss pourin’ hot down my leg.
“Then Don step up beside me. He got his hand coverin’ his eyes so he can’t see. I hear a —BANG—and my ears start to ring. I ain’t never seen him with a gun, but I guess he always had it. He stood there blazin’ away, not knowing where he was shootin’, but the dirt kicked up around that thing and she spun an disappeared into the field. But she never stop lookin’ at me even when she was runnin’ off cuz on the back of her head there was another face.
“When the gun was empty, Don picked me up, threw me over his shoulder and started sprintin’ to the car. I still couldn’t move a muscle, but I could see. I seen that thing jump back on the trail and come followin’. It galloped after us as fast as dog. And it was lookin’ right at me. I knew then what it wanted. It wanted to chop me into to bits. It wanted to watch me die.
“Next thing I know, my uncle’s throwing me in the car. He dived on top and gunned the engine and drove me straight to the emergency room . I got twenty-eight stitches in my hand and leg that night. When it was all over and we come back to the car we see four claw marks rippin’ through the metal across trunk.”
Kee paused and eyed Peanut and Vibe. They both stared at him, the fire light glinting in their wide eyes. Kee took the Bowie knife and stuck it in the ground at Vibe’s feet, then took out the jar and poured the contents over Vibe’s head. The thick, red liquid oozed down his cheeks and dribbled from his nose.
“What the fuck is this?” Vibe asked, wiping the blood from his eyes.
“It’s the blood of a child,” Kee said dropping the jar into the coals, “and a knife. I figure if you can kill that bitch then no loss, your debt to me is paid.”
Above, a powerful gust of wind bent the boughs and somewhere in the woods a shrill scream rent the silence. Vibe’s head twisted left and right as Kee motioned Peanut to the car.
“Wait, that was just a story,” Vibe cried out, “wasn’t it? It was just a story!”
As Kee turned the car, another scream echoed through the woods. Vibe was sitting on the ground, sawing at the ropes around his legs. Kee gunned the engine and bounded down the road. Beside him Peanut stared out of the windshield, his dark skin an ashen gray.
Kee walked into the kitchen and grabbed a beer out of the cooler before collapsing into the cushions of his leather couch. He picked up the remote and pulled up his recordings, clicking on the six o’clock news.
Fast forwarding through the talking heads chit chat and weather, he paused at a perky reporter standing with thick woods in the back ground. He took a sip of his beer and hit play.
“Yes Paul, this is the scene of the search by county deputies. This morning, authorities were notified by a group of hunters that a hand was found alongside the road just behind me. Initial reports from the sheriff’s department tell us that several additional body parts have been located nearby, but we still have no ID for the victim, the fourth found in the area this year.”
Kee smiled and clicked the TV over to a recorded football game and leaned back, another problem solved.
In Nothing There’s Something I Feel
Daniel M. Shapiro
He slept in the projection booth, awoke when the take-up reel spooled the ending in a rhythmic scold. The powers forbade the display of their image. He’d locked himself in to find evidence. Filmmakers would sneak single frames into blockbusters, one-sixteenth of a second of car chase stowaway. They knew the risk of identifying the real killer, knew the portal would open and close at the same time. All he had to do was stay up, squint through a magnifying glass. The static images chilled him, swept him to the side like a one-sheet. Once he got them moving, the long takes of old did him in. Raised by the quick cut, he understood the shot reverse shot of intimacy, life of a cameo. Unconditional giving mesmerized him, how one spool passes itself to another until it’s gone. Through the window, he read a blank screen’s lips. Enemies would remain without faces as he dwelled on the only light in the room, reached out to it, held on long after the burn had closed its eyes.
Title is a lyric from “Eyes of a Stranger” by Payola$ (#4 on Canada RPM 100 chart, 1982).
Your Sky All Hung with Jewels
Daniel M. Shapiro
The man sat alone with more dread than water to drink. He chose to run out the clock rather than help the plan, rather than follow the instructions for how to build a boat from fear: 1.) Fashion the threat of war into booms and masts. 2.) Cover the threats in opaque sheets that shimmer as they hide. 3.) Exclude the deck; plan to levitate passengers over water, to make them look down. 4.) Swing an overhead lamp from a wire; tell them it’s the moon chastising the sea. 5.) Hire a captain who won’t say a word, who will never show his face. 6.) Let your boat be propelled by the promise of rescue, of well-earned closure. He took pride in remaining on land, sharks surrounding him only when he closed his eyes. He thrived on the failure of sleep.
*Title is a lyric from “The Killing Moon” by Echo and the Bunnymen (#9 on UK Singles Chart, 1984).
“Everybody get down!” A man came in with his gun in hand and yelled to the crowd.
“I said get down!” he repeated the words once again impatiently.
Everyone suddenly came to realize what’s happening. They started to scream and started running. The cashiers began calling 911. Seconds later, gunshots were being fired.
“I am going to kill all of you if you don’t listen! Now go get me the money!”
People seemed to be frozen on their spot, then the guy finally runs out of patience. He grab a woman who’s close to him and pointed the gun at her head.
“She will die if you guys don’t start to pack my money right now.”
The cashier then started to pack money with his trembling hands.
“Please d-don’t hurt me.” the woman cried.
“Come here,” the man ordered. He grabbed her and locked her neck into his right arm. Holding up his gun to her cheek the man shouted, “Now all I need is a nice load of 650,000 dollars and the pretty lady doesn’t get hurt!”
With everyone else’s hands on their heads, the cashier quickly gathered up the money that the burglar needs.
“Faster or she is going to die!”
“Sir p-please let me go.”
“Sorry hun you’re my ticket out of here.”
The woman remembered that she had a pocket knife inside her back pocket. If she could take it out without the burglar noticing then perhaps she could stab the man in the back to catch him off guard, break loose of his grip, take control of his weapon, and then everyone would be safe.
“What’s your name lady?”
“Now Grace, tell your buddy over there that if he doesn’t hurry up then it will be his fault for not saving your life.”
“Ugh,” As Grace told her co-worker to speed things up she slowly moved her arm to her back to have her fingers just touch the tip of her back pockets.
“Now don’t get any funny ideas or your life will end sooner than ya know it,” the man said, pressing his gun harder to her cheek.
Grace flinched and jerked her hand back to its original position.
She attempted once more with trembling hands to reach for her pocket knife but stopped once two of her fingers are inside. A sweat broke out on her forehead.
“S-sir please let me go.”
“If I let you go you’ll end up dead on the floor.”
“I have a son that’s waiting for me to pick him up. He will question where I go.”
“I have a family too that I need to feed. Don’t even think that he will suffer as much as my kids do.” For a second, Grace saw the pain in the man’s eyes.
“How old are your children?
“Why do you care? Shut up.”
“Don’t you think they will be disappointed if you do this? Think about them. This is not right”
The man gave out a sad expression but then became cold again.
“Now you’re just talking too much, want me to cut your tongue?” He said as he moved his face closer to Grace.
“What’s taking so long?” He yelled to the cashier as he instructs one of his guys to check.
“I-I’m sorry, I’m trying my best.” The cashier’s body was trembling with fear.
Grace got a full grip on the pocket knife while the man’s focusing on the cashier.
“I can’t breathe. Please loosen your grip.”
As he puts his focus back on her, she stabbed his arm. He screamed in pain and dropped his gun and grip on her. People once again started screaming and gunshots are heard. Grace took a hold of the gun and pointed it at him.
“Ah! You little ?!” The man screamed to her and then took out another gun from his pocket, points it to the woman. But Grace shot his leg with her shaking hand.
“I am sorry, but I told you, my kids are still waiting for me,” She said with her quivering voice.
He moved slowly toward the pocket knife the woman threw on the floor and stabbed himself.
“Ah! Why did you do that?” The woman screams and asks as other people escape from the bank.
“I can’t go home with empty hands anymore.” Tears came out from the man, then he closed his eyes slowly and died as the police sirens are heard.
The Strength of a Family History
The meat cleaver that father used
to chop in measured strokes for cooking
is the same one he pinned brother to the floor with,
the one I brandished to defend my life,
and mother used to stab father.
I will toss it away, bury it in a grave,
or maybe I will not be able to help myself
and will save it, sharpen the silver blade
start the cycle anew a dark
and twisted family heirloom
Was only a fourth of the way
on my four mile walk,
my second walk of the day.
It was sixty degrees,
so i wore a tank top and long shorts
and I welcomed any breeze.
But just as I walked past
the high school at noon, a huge pick up truck
roared by, giving me a horn blast.
Okay, I know that sexism still lingers
but I thought, enough was enough
and I gave them the finger.
And I thought it was over,
but after I walked another ten feet
I saw the truck pull over.
I stopped walking
when they opened their door.
The driver got out,
closed his door,
leaned on his truck
what was that for?”
And I thought, you’re kidding me,
he was the one first in the wrong,
and he leaned on his pick-up truck
just waiting for me
to walk towards him...
So as I continued my pace
“I was reacting
to a stranger
objectifying a woman
in front of a high school,
Then I stopped walking.
He finally asked,
“Are you from the high school?”
And I replied,
“It’s not a smart idea
to be honking your horn
at a woman walking by
as you pass a high school
in the middle of the day.”
I started walking again,
and as I got closer
“You not a part of the school.
Your tit’s ‘re too big
to be a student there.”
Which made me almost trip
in my stride.
But at only
ten feet away
With every word
you’re making yourself
sound even worse.”
So I began to regain my pace
and he said,
“Why are you being so uptight?”
So I stopped,
three feet in front of him.
I turned my head only slightly,
and I read aloud.
“Q L G six four seven.”
“What?” he asked.
“Just wanted to remember
the license plate number
of the misogynist
who stopped me today.”
“The what?” he asked,
and before he could say anything else
I cut in.
“There’s no word in the English language
for women who hate men,
but you men have mastered degrading us
and expect us to do nothing in return.”
He didn’t have an answer
for me explaining big words to him.
“I think you should go,”
I finally said,
and was pleased
that he didn’t have any more worlds for me,
and I walked away.
I only had a three miles to go
before it was all over... temporarily,
See YouTube video 3/13/16 of Janet Kuypers (Cps) reading her poem QLG 647 (where she used be “QLG 6479” because Texas license plates are often 2 letters followed by 4 numbers) at the Austin open mic Kick Butt Poetry.
See YouTube video 3/13/16 of Janet Kuypers (Nikon) reading her poem QLG 647 (where she used be “QLG 6479” because Texas license plates are often 2 letters followed by 4 numbers) at the Austin open mic Kick Butt Poetry.
Visions were Justified
Recently heard a therapist process
the story of a man
who had just survived a trauma.
He explained to the therapist
that he kept seeing himself
back home and safe,
and he would bounce back and forth
between that vision
and his real life trauma,
where people restrained him.
And the therapist explained
to the man
that this was perfectly natural;
that during his recovery
he latched on to what he knew,
to recent events in his life,
and that is what kept him sane
when going through his ordeal.
Now, I only explained my story
to one person once,
about how I coped
with what I went though
after being detained
for weeks against my will.
You see, I had recently
visited a friend a few times
before my trauma began,
and while they had me restrained
and I had no one to talk to,
so I imagined the stranger
who was in the room with me,
I imagined this stranger was this friend,
this friend that I had just recently seen,
and I imagined talking with him
so I didn’t feel so alone.
I told this to one person.
And they thought I was crazy.
How irrational of me.
This is what I get
for telling people what I go through.
Because looking back
it know it was my way to stay sane.
It didn’t hurt anyone,
and it helped me heal.
I knew what was right
and what was wrong...
And it’s nice to hear
that what I did was natural.
It was what I needed to do.
Janet Kuypers has a Communications degree in News/Editorial Journalism (starting in computer science engineering studies) from the UIUC. She had the equivalent of a minor in photography and specialized in creative writing. A portrait photographer for years in the early 1990s, she was also an acquaintance rape workshop facilitator, and she started her publishing career as an editor of two literary magazines. Later she was an art director, webmaster and photographer for a few magazines for a publishing company in Chicago, and this Journalism major was even the final featured poetry performer of 15 poets with a 10 minute feature at the 2006 Society of Professional Journalism Expo’s Chicago Poetry Showcase. This certified minister was even the officiant of a wedding in 2006.
She sang with acoustic bands “Mom’s Favorite Vase”, “Weeds and Flowers” and “the Second Axing”, and does music sampling. Kuypers is published in books, magazines and on the internet around 9,300 times for writing, and over 17,800 times for art work in her professional career, and has been profiled in such magazines as Nation and Discover U, won the award for a Poetry Ambassador and was nominated as Poet of the Year for 2006 by the International Society of Poets. She has also been highlighted on radio stations, including WEFT (90.1FM), WLUW (88.7FM), WSUM (91.7FM), WZRD (88.3FM), WLS (8900AM), the internet radio stations ArtistFirst dot com, chicagopoetry.com’s Poetry World Radio and Scars Internet Radio (SIR), and was even shortly on Q101 FM radio. She has also appeared on television for poetry in Nashville (in 1997), Chicago (in 1997), and northern Illinois (in a few appearances on the show for the Lake County Poets Society in 2006). Kuypers was also interviewed on her art work on Urbana’s WCIA channel 3 10 o’clock news.
She turned her writing into performance art on her own and with musical groups like Pointless Orchestra, 5D/5D, The DMJ Art Connection, Order From Chaos, Peter Bartels, Jake and Haystack, the Bastard Trio, and the JoAnne Pow!ers Trio, and starting in 2005 Kuypers ran a monthly iPodCast of her work, as well mixed JK Radio — an Internet radio station — into Scars Internet Radio (both radio stations on the Internet air 2005-2009). She even managed the Chaotic Radio show (an hour long Internet radio show 1.5 years, 2006-2007) through BZoO.org and chaoticarts.org. She has performed spoken word and music across the country - in the spring of 1998 she embarked on her first national poetry tour, with featured performances, among other venues, at the Albuquerque Spoken Word Festival during the National Poetry Slam; her bands have had concerts in Chicago and in Alaska; in 2003 she hosted and performed at a weekly poetry and music open mike (called Sing Your Life), and from 2002 through 2005 was a featured performance artist, doing quarterly performance art shows with readings, music and images.
Since 2010 Kuypers also hosts the Chicago poetry open mic at the Café Gallery, while also broadcasting the Cafés weekly feature podcasts (and where she sometimes also performs impromptu mini-features of poetry or short stories or songs, in addition to other shows she performs live in the Chicago area).
In addition to being published with Bernadette Miller in the short story collection book Domestic Blisters, as well as in a book of poetry turned to prose with Eric Bonholtzer in the book Duality, Kuypers has had many books of her own published: Hope Chest in the Attic, The Window, Close Cover Before Striking, (woman.) (spiral bound), Autumn Reason (novel in letter form), the Average Guy’s Guide (to Feminism), Contents Under Pressure, etc., and eventually The Key To Believing (2002 650 page novel), Changing Gears (travel journals around the United States), The Other Side (European travel book), the three collection books from 2004: Oeuvre (poetry), Exaro Versus (prose) and L’arte (art), The Boss Lady’s Editorials, The Boss Lady’s Editorials (2005 Expanded Edition), Seeing Things Differently, Change/Rearrange, Death Comes in Threes, Moving Performances, Six Eleven, Live at Cafe Aloha, Dreams, Rough Mixes, The Entropy Project, The Other Side (2006 edition), Stop., Sing Your Life, the hardcover art book (with an editorial) in cc&d v165.25, the Kuypers edition of Writings to Honour & Cherish, The Kuypers Edition: Blister and Burn, S&M, cc&d v170.5, cc&d v171.5: Living in Chaos, Tick Tock, cc&d v1273.22: Silent Screams, Taking It All In, It All Comes Down, Rising to the Surface, Galapagos, Chapter 38 (v1 and volume 1), Chapter 38 (v2 and Volume 2), Chapter 38 v3, Finally: Literature for the Snotty and Elite (Volume 1, Volume 2 and part 1 of a 3 part set), A Wake-Up Call From Tradition (part 2 of a 3 part set), (recovery), Dark Matter: the mind of Janet Kuypers , Evolution, Adolph Hitler, O .J. Simpson and U.S. Politics, the one thing the government still has no control over, (tweet), Get Your Buzz On, Janet & Jean Together, poem, Taking Poetry to the Streets, the Cana-Dixie Chi-town Union, the Written Word, Dual, Prepare Her for This, uncorrect, Living in a Big World (color interior book with art and with “Seeing a Psychiatrist”), Pulled the Trigger (part 3 of a 3 part set), Venture to the Unknown (select writings with extensive color NASA/Huubble Space Telescope images), Janet Kuypers: Enriched, She’s an Open Book, “40”, Sexism and Other Stories, the Stories of Women, Prominent Pen (Kuypers edition), Elemental, the paperback book of the 2012 Datebook (which was also released as a spiral-bound cc&d ISSN# 2012 little spiral datebook, , Chaotic Elements, and Fusion, the (select) death poetry book Stabity Stabity Stab Stab Stab, the 2012 art book a Picture’s Worth 1,000 words (available with both b&w interior pages and full color interior pages, the shutterfly ISSN# cc& hardcover art book life, in color, Post-Apocalyptic, Burn Through Me, Under the Sea (photo book), the Periodic Table of Poetry, a year long Journey, Bon Voyage!, and the mini books Part of my Pain, Let me See you Stripped, Say Nothing, Give me the News, when you Dream tonight, Rape, Sexism, Life & Death (with some Slovak poetry translations), Twitterati, and 100 Haikus, that coincided with the June 2014 release of the two poetry collection books Partial Nudity and Revealed.
this page was downloaded to your computer