It’s twilight. I walk in the middle of the road, smothered in a transparent mist. There’s not a vehicle or soul in sight. I speed up to a more purposeful pace. I’m heading towards the Plaza Shopping Mall. The huge complex does not grow closer as I walk; it keeps receding into the distance until it disappears. I look around and realize the scenery has changed. I am lost.
Suddenly I’m at the top level of the Malls’ enclosed garage, skyrocketing down the ramp on my ten speed bike. My breaks are shot. About a dozen seniors are going about their business. A few are in wheelchairs, some use walkers and canes. I’m weaving furiously around them trying to avoid crashing into anyone.
As I make it to the next level the coast is clear. This level has a steeper incline. I’m soaring at lightning speed. The dock comes into view. Parts of the bicycle start breaking off and flying away. The handlebars are the first casualty. The pedals are next, followed by the rear and front wheels. The seat disappears. Only the frame remains. As I hit the pier, I go flying towards the water. I feel the force of the impact as I wake up in a panic. My heart is pounding like a piston, trying to escape my body.
I had just turned fifty-nine and was recovering from a serious injury.
The mall was built over a body of water connected to the bay. The grand opening of the mall forty four years ago was quite an event. Buildings like this may have already existed in the suburbs, but it was a first for me. I was a city kid closing in on fifteen. A one million square foot enclosed shopping center, housing a ten level parking garage.
I lived less than two miles from this colossus. Prior to its construction it was a gated area housing garbage barges. On the weekends my friends and I rode on our bikes to get there. A quick climb over the fence, and then we could play on the barges for hours at a time.
Roland and I were happily playing captain and crew on the top deck of a barge. Upon boarding this seaworthy vessel, we started shouting out various clichés we had heard hundreds of times on television and in movies.
We started hearing howls and screams coming from the lower deck. These sounds increased in volume quickly. I thought there was some kind of wounded animal trapped below us.
We were confronted by a bearded man in his fifties. The deranged raging bull raced toward us. He was swinging a huge meat cleaver determined to destroy any intruders.
Roland and I looked at each other for a second and then took flight. The avenging madman followed several steps behind us. Instead of running straight towards the entrance and hopping over the fence, we sped up a two-story high flight of stairs.
This led to a platform with a small booth at its center. The booth was padlocked from the outside. It controlled a conveyor belt over a mound of some mixture of pebbles and sand.
The maniac stopped at the foot of the stairs. He never once relented from waving the gigantic cleaver and slicing up the air. He still had not uttered any humanlike, intelligible sounds. I realized we made a fatal error. We were trapped in the sky.
The lunatic realized this as well and started charging up the stairs. I waited until he was about three quarters of the way up before jumping onto the conveyor belt. Roland followed on my heels. We had to grab on to the edges of the rubber belt, which was about six inches wide. We held on for dear life while franticly pushing ourselves downward. This was not a sliding pond and the stationary conveyor belt burned our britches.
This left the butcher at a loss of what action to take next. He stood atop his kingdom, watching us hop over the fence. We unlocked the bikes and disappeared down the avenue. After a few blocks of pedaling past the speed of sound we stopped to catch our breath. We acknowledged the fact that we were almost chopped to bits, and had a few laughs about it.
We cruised along at a leisurely pace. We still had the better part of a Saturday afternoon to kill.
The following weekend provided the next life threatening thrill. We paid our usual monthly visit to the used car lot. The lot was home to about two dozen automobiles. It was closed on weekends. From our block we ran through backyards and front yards. These were homes of people we did not know. We thought nothing of it. This short cut allowed us to the climb over the lot fence. We would then play tag, running atop the autos.
The thrilling danger was provided by two enormous wolf- like German Shepherds on patrol. These vicious attack guard dogs were out for our blood. We laughingly teased them as the animals chased us throughout the lot.
About fifteen minutes into our little fun and games frolic, my left foot slipped and wedged into the driver side mirror. My eyes met the eyes of the larger of the two canines. He sensed victory and lunged towards me. I somehow managed to pry my foot loose, about a nano-second before the monster could have snapped off my leg.
His snout and teeth seemed larger than a crocodiles. You could hear the snap of his jaws locking for miles. Without missing a beat, he again jumped up for another chance at my lean body parts.
I hopped onto another car to my immediate right. The auto was in the first lane of cars next to the fence.
The pack animals could not get next to these vehicles. My friends seemed to have been frozen in their tracks. l shouted out I was splitting, and hopped over the fence. I was quickly followed by my road crew.
It was nearing lunchtime as we headed home. This incident was forgotten a few hours later, when we met up again to choose sides for punch ball.
We returned to the lot the following weekend. The tops of the fences were now covered with barbed wired. We had enough sense not to tackle it.
At that age we knew we were born indestructible. We would live forever. Life was in front of us then. It was yours for the taking. Youth has no fear.
I had just turned fifty-nine, and was recovering from a serious injury.
John D Robinson
Probably for egotistical
out of curiosity I enrolled into
a series of evening ‘drama
the tutor was an ancient
working stage actress;
once young and
beautiful and ambitious
and now she was tired
and proud and elegant
and held a wonderful
presence before her
group of 20 students
ages from 18 – 80;
and there were some
students who seriously
took themselves as the
next James Dean or
Montgomery Clift or
Marilyn or Hepburn;
other students were there
because they couldn’t
think of anything else to
do and some of us were there
with no expectations at all;
one night the aged
“What is absolutely
essential to being considered
a quality actor?”
‘A good memory?’
and the tutor shook
‘A distinctive voice?’
‘A privileged upbringing?’
the tutor again shook her head.
‘Imagination?’ I offered
out of boredom;
‘Yes’ the ancient tutor
screamed into the hall,
I was the star pupil of
the night acting classes
and I had the
never to attend again
John D Robinson bio
John D Robinson was born in 63 in Hastings, East Sussex, UK; his work has appeared widely in the small press and online literary publications; including Rusty Truck; Rats Ass Review; Red Fez; Bareback Lit; Dead Snakes; The Kitchen Poet, Underground Books; Pulsar; Poet&Geek; The Commonline Journal; The Chicago Record; Mad Swirl; The Clockwise Cat; Poetic Diversity; Your One Phone Call: Ink Sweat & Tears; Horror Sleaze and Trash; Poetry Super Highway; Zombie Logic Review; Opal Publishing; Hastings Online Times; Bold Monkeys; Napalm and Novocain; The Legendary; Yellow Mama; Winamop.com; The Beatnik Cowboy; Outsider Poetry; Revolution John; BoySlut; The Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine; In Between Hangovers; Eunoia Review. Locust Magazine; Hobo Camp Review; Message In A Bottle; and poems appearing in; The Sentinel Literary Quarterly; Cavalcade of Stars; Degenerate Literature; Anti Heroin Chic; Haggard & Halloo.
He is a contributing poet to the 2016 48th Street Press Broadside Series;
His latest collection ‘When You Hear The Bell, There’s Nowhere To Hide’ (Holy&intoxicated Publications) carries an introduction by poet and novelist John Grochalski.
He is married with 1 daughter, 2 grandchildren, 3 cats, 1 dog and he likes to drink wine whilst listening to quietness.
Jeff woke up in a lawn chair. He was surrounded by empty beer cans and a smell not unlike piss. He sat up, squinting against the morning sun. Jeff spat and retrieved his handkerchief from the back pocket of his overalls. They were covered in yesterday’s dirt which had become today’s mud from the dew. He wiped his face with the square paisley cloth and stuffed it back in his pocket.
“Mornin’, Mr. Jeff,” said a small squeaky voice.
Jeff shaded his eyes, trying to identify the enemy of his peace. “Who’s’at?”
“It’s me, Billy, sir,” said Billy.
“Is it Thursday already?” Jeff released a fart when he leaned to the side to pull his ball cap from beneath him.
Billy giggled. “Yes, sir. It’s Thursday, which means recycle day. Do you want me to just grab all these here or do you have more inside?”
Jeff jammed the tattered John Deere cap onto his head and adjusted it. He peered up at the boy with the bicycle and faded military duffel bag slung over one shoulder. “Yea, whatever the fuck you want, kid.”
Billy put down his kickstand and set the duffel next to the bike. He pushed up the sleeves of his red T-shirt, spit into his palms, and rubbed them together. He wiped his hands on his blue jeans and commenced picking up beer cans, tossing them toward his bike and bag.
Jeff teetered to his feet, crushing a beer can under his dusty black work boots. A clothes line ran from the side of his trailer to a large oak ten feet away. Jeff stumbled to this very tree to relieve himself against its trunk, belching as he did so.
Billy continued picking up cans.
Jeff secured his fly and walked toward his trailer. He stepped onto the redneck red carpet turf rolled out from his doorstep and stopped, turning his head toward the street. The Smith girl was jogging by in a yellow tank top and blue short shorts. Jeff whistled. “Hey, girl!”
Jeff shrugged and proceeded into his trailer. He made a beeline for the fridge, scattering empties as he walked. He grabbed a beer from the fridge and kicked the door closed. Jeff cracked it and started chugging.
Billy was moving around the living room, gathering cans into a large black trash bag.
Jeff finished the beer, belched long and loud, and crushed the can against his forehead. He chucked it at Billy, hitting him in the back. Jeff grabbed another beer from the fridge, cracked it, and walked back outside. He stood on his doorstep and stretched, scratching his ass in the process.
Mrs. Patterson walked by pushing a stroller. She sped up when she spotted Jeff on his stoop, beer in hand.
“That baby weight ain’t comin’ off, Ms. P,” said Jeff, raising his beer like a salute.
Mrs. Patterson sped around the corner, almost flipping the stroller.
Jeff sipped his beer.
Billy walked out with the black trash bag slung over his shoulder like Santa.
Jeff stepped to the side and held his beer away, ensuring no alcohol abuse could be committed. “What the fuck do you do with the money from all that, kid?”
Billy tossed the bulging trash bag next to his stuffed duffel. “Well, I subtract your cut, set aside five percent for whatever, and everything else goes into my savings.”
“What the hell you saving for?” Jeff sipped his beer.
“College.” Billy fastened the bags to his bike with bungee cords. “I’m going to SUNY.”
Jeff grunted, chugged the remainder of his beer, and crushed the can against his forehead.
Billy turned back to see a smirk flashing across Jeff’s face. The can hit Billy in the forehead and clattered to the ground.
people are filthy —
in this uphill climb, I try
to make a difference
We Can Do This
So I’m not really sure what compelled me to sit down and write right now. All I know is that sometimes when I do, things come out of me that I had no idea where even in me. It is almost as if there’s something inside of me that wants to speak, but has no voice. It’s almost as if, when I put pen to paper, my soul is allowed to speak. I then write not having to think much of what to say, but more like I am just being used as an instrument of communication. The pen then becoming the voice of my deepest thoughts and feelings. When finished I go back and re-read what was written as if I am reading it for the first time. Generally in awe, or shock maybe is the word, of the things that my insides had to say. Sounds crazy I know, but what can I say, maybe I am!!I LOVE YOU!!
Hello you all, my name is Marc. I am truly a bottom of the barrel, gutter level, under the bridge sleeping dope fiend! I am one of those people that at your local recovery hall is called a constant retread. I have been trying to get clean & sober for 21 years now. For real, no bullshit! I went to my first treatment center in June of 1995 and have been in nine more since then. I have been in four outpatient treatment programs, including the one I am currently enrolled in. I have been in eight psychiatric units. Too many emergency rooms to even count, and tried taking my own life twice! I have even had the pleasure of being locked behind bars for multiple years at a time, all in what I thought was the pursuit of better living through pharmaceuticals.
You know, I almost wish I could say I grew up in a shitty home, and that my parents didn’t love me, and that they were both alcoholics and drug addicts, like I hear many other addicts share about. At least that way, I would have an excuse for maybe being the way that I am. I could then justify my problems as being my parents fault, and find some peace within my soul.
But that’s simply just not the case. I am completely messed up in the head for some reason and I cannot seem to logically figure out why! I don’t know about you, but for me, that sucks! You see, for me being a man, who like many, whether they’ll admit it or not, man has a tendency to be full of ego and pride that tells me I don’t need no help, that I’m smart enough to figure it out on my own, and that if I can’t figure it out, then maybe this is just the way it’s supposed to be.
It’s not easy being me, and if you’re an addict, I mean a real steal your grandmothers rent money and blame it on your sister addict, then it’s not easy being you either. So then let me rephrase and say for all intents and purposes. That it is not easy being us!! I don’t know you guys, but this is what I think. Or is it, this is how I feel? Shoot, I don’t know, I’m not an author, just another dope fiend at a computer, allowing his insides to vomit on paper. In hopes that maybe, it might help somebody along the way.
So back to what I think. I feel that if you are reading this and are like me then you’re not only a survivor, but a true soldier who has seen combat in one of the toughest theaters known to man, HELL!! We have survived multiple tours in some of the fiercest combat any man has ever seen. Not combat of bombs and bullets, but of lise and deceit, of self-hate and complete isolation, of looking in the mirror I hate the person I see pain, and we survived!! Why, well it is my belief that everything happens for a reason. So that leaves me to believe that when so many around us died, that we were spared for a reason. That reason which I am now finding some purpose in I think. Is to take the experience we have gained from going through our own personal nightmare and using it to hopefully stop someone else from having to see so much of their own!
I just want to say, that if you’re like me and trying to get clean again after who knows how many million relapses, that there is hope! That you like me can do this thing. WE, can’t do this alone, but if we, stand strong together. WE can be soldiers in a new army. An army that builds up not tears down, an army that shares laughter and stories of hope. An army with dreams no longer afraid to fulfill them. An army who stays clean, and makes America a great place to live again!! Stay strong you all, and remember, you’re not alone, WE can do this!
Marc McMahon bio
Marc is a 47 year old emerging new writer who resides in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. His hobbies include hiking, fishing, and mt.biking. He is also the proud father of one amazing young man.
I look at the clock.
It’s time. I always need to
take another pill.
A Sunday Walk
Morning didn’t just break; it pulverized. Trying to remember what my father used to say, I sat up on the edge of the broken down, puke-green sofa and tried to gain my bearings. “I feel sorry for people that don’t drink,” Dad would say, “because when they first wake up, that’s the best they’re gonna feel all day.” As I tried to think above the intense, staccato thrumming in my head, it occurred to me that if I didn’t soon feel better, I would be forced to once again revisit the suicide option that always lay just below the surface in those days, the dark uncertain days after Dad went to prison.
“Get up, buddy,” Dave said. “We gotta get rolling.” As he checked the fridge for an eye-opener, I was once again struck by his jauntiness; he never complained about being hung-over, though I’m sure every morning he suffered.
“We are once again fresh out of ice-cold Falstaff, my friend. It looks like we are rolling in dry,” Dave said as he shut the refrigerator door and sat down to pull on his combat boots, sans socks. I could never understand how he could tolerate heavy boots without socks, but he dug it. Freshly shod, he walked back to the kitchen and began making breakfast, which for him was a fried okra and stewed squash sandwich, liberally slathered with mustard. “You want one?” he asked, holding up the disgusting mess clenched in his dirty fist. My stomach did a slow barrel roll as I shook my head. “Your loss,” he said as he began heartily munching on his sandwich. I, unlike Dave, did not awaken to blithely greet a terrible hangover with good grace; I woke wanting to die, and to take others with me.
I quickly realized I was too sick to brush my hair, so I found a ball cap and pushed as much of my long, greasy hair as I could get under it, grabbed the beer I’d hidden earlier that morning, and walked outside. The smell of Dave’s breakfast was lending an unfair advantage in the war I was waging with my innards; I was teetering on the vomit fence. If I started puking, I would not be able to stop and would be officially sprung. If I could keep it together long enough to drink my beer, however, I could ride the crest for one more day, maybe more.
I stepped out into a gorgeous, late spring morning; I could almost hear the kudzu growing, slowly devouring the blackberry bushes and other vegetation in the front field. Wrecked vehicles dotted the landscape like tombstones, the engines long gone, and in their places, fountain grass and ragweed grew, stolid and abundant. Dandelions, proliferating or dying, spread like methamphetamine across the long field all the way to the highway, some two hundred yards away.
Even at nineteen, I was a seasoned veteran of the morning after, so after a carefully ingested eye-opener, I was ready for work. I tossed the empty can into the enormous pile in the front yard just as Dave walked out, stuffing the last of his squash and okra sandwich into his maw. “Look what I found,” he said, holding up a pint bottle of Gibley’s gin with about three fingers remaining. “You want a hit?” Dave asked.
“Does a fart in the wind matter?” I answered.
“I’m not sure that fits here, numbnuts. Here; polish this off.”
The alcohol was climbing into the driver’s seat of my brain, so my haughty response came effortlessly off the cuff, delivered as easily as shit from a baby. I noticed a good ounce of mustard clinging to Dave’s moustache and beard as he took a stout pull from the bottle, and my stomach lurched again, but by now I had gained full control of my gag reflex, and I easily swallowed my gore before accepting the poison on which I subsisted and pouring it gently down my throat.
I tossed the bottle on top of the aforementioned heap, noticing with some despair at the ever-increasing enormity of this monument to our debauchery. The sheer size of the mound spoke volumes about the way we had been living since I had moved in with Dave, some three weeks before. The pile was there before I moved in, but tiny in comparison to the mound that stared back at me now. The cough syrup bottles added a hint of lawlessness we certainly didn’t need out in the open, for all and sundry to see. “I gotta do something about that,” I thought as we walked stiffly toward the truck.
Dave’s brother’s truck stood waiting to usher us into our workday; Dave as a sewing machine mechanic and me as the janitor at the sewing plant where we worked. My buddy had been driving the old Ford since he wrecked his car the week before in a drunken bout of scallywaggery. Dave slid into the driver’s seat as I opened the passenger door, grateful that the inside of the car was still cool from the night before. The beer, coupled with the hefty slug of gin, lent an air of rebellion to my always unstable mean, and I tried to think of a reason we should lay out of work. I knew it was no use; Dave possessed a strong work ethic, albeit an inebriated one, so I ultimately decided not to waste my breath, and instead concentrated on enjoying the ride into town.
As we pulled onto the worn, two lane blacktop, I glanced at Dave. As usual at this time of day, he was sort of vibrating, shivering like a dog shitting razor blades, but his eyes were fixed straight ahead, and his countenance was one of determination. By God, he was going to get through this day and make it to The Hop, our after-work hangout, where the Budweiser flowed like water and the darkness seeped from our souls and soaked into the filthy concrete floor. I admired Dave, so his determination aided my waning wherewithal, and I metaphorically hitched up my pants, cinched my belt, and sat up a little straighter; I could also do this.
The kinship Dave and I shared was born of one thing: our absolute certainty that enough alcohol would mend whatever was broken. Our lives consisted of getting through the workday so we could drink as much beer and liquor as possible before passing out, only to awaken the next morning, greeted by a continuum of the same hangover.
We lived to drink. Other drugs were sometimes hard to attain and often proved to be less than promised; heroin turned out to be baby laxative or MDA exposed itself as BC brand headache powders. Alcohol kept its promise.
One of the benefits of heavy drinking late on a work night coupled with early morning imbibing is that the hangover doesn’t start to creep in until early afternoon, so I didn’t feel like killing myself until about three o’clock, and by then we only had two hours left to work. From about three until quitting time at five, I coasted on alcohol fumes which smelled of formaldehyde and lost hope.
Both Dave and I forgot that Lem, Dave’s brother, was picking up the truck, so we were both momentarily perplexed when we limped out to the parking lot at five to find the truck gone, but after the nauseating realization that we were going to be forced to walk to the Hop, we bowed our backs, sniffed back hot, rueful tears, and began our march.
The Hop was only about a quarter of a mile from work, so we were there, sweating bullets, in about fifteen minutes. Normal people could have arrived much quicker, but we were nearly dead before we started, so we were literally reeling by the time we saw the façade of the squat, concrete building. Dave cocked his head and listened as we neared the little block building, and I’m fairly certain he heard the same angels I did, singing a Hallelujah (or maybe devils humming a requiem) as we slowed and feasted our eyes on the oasis in the distance; the Hop seductively beckoned.
Stepping over the threshold, I was once again certain that a benevolent God ruled the universe, and I was one of his favorite humans. Moments before, I was just as sure that I was under the thumb of St. Lucifer and would forever writhe in torment- funny how cool air, dank surroundings, and the promise of an ice-cold Budweiser could change a drunk’s perspective.
“Well if it ain’t Cap’m Greene” and then, after a moment, “How ‘bout ya, Fishhook,” Skin, the proprietor of the joint, said. “We got y’all a cold Bud right here.” Skin was always glad to see Dave, but had only recently warmed up to me. Before then, I didn’t have a nickname, but after Skin learned that I was called “Fishhook” at work, he latched onto the moniker with a frightening fervor, sometimes shortening it to simply “Fish.” Having a nickname deemed me worthy to Skin; he was a man who needed a casual handle for his real friends, and though he had no idea how I had earned the title, “Fish” suited him just fine. Actually, I hadn’t “earned” the name at all; I was christened first as “Joe Fishhook’s boy” by a fellow employee who heard a story I was telling Dave about a problem my father was having with his rectum. “Yeah, the doctor says he has fissures or fistulas or something like that in his rectum. I can’t remember what they’re called, but he is having surgery next week.” James walked over and said, “Did you say your old man has fishhooks in his asshole?” I knew he was yanking my chain so I ignored him. About a week later, I walked into the bathroom to find James on the toilet. He sounded like he was giving birth. “James? You okay, buddy?” I asked.
“Turd cutter’s dull,” was his response. After a horrifying moment, he added, “Hey, ain’t you Joe Fishhook’s boy?”
Skin popped a couple of Buds and passed them to us, and we were once again alive and headed toward freedom. As we got comfortable on the bar stools, the door opened and two college boys walked in. “Do you have St. Pauli Girl?” one of them asked.
“This ain’t a goddamn lemonade stand, asshole. We sell Bud in the can; if you don’t like it you can kiss my ass,” Skin snarled; the academic crowd rubbed him the wrong way.
After the college boys beat a hasty retreat, we were the only patrons in the joint, but by the time we were halfway through our third beer, about five minutes later, we saw Danny lurching across the street, heading in our general direction, staggering a bit as he neared. I felt my shoulders sag a bit; Danny was an ignorant redneck who talked nonsense when he was drunk, which was about ninety-five percent of the time. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d ever seen him when he wasn’t at least mostly drunk. He was clad in his normal costume: dark blue work pants, matching shirt, hard black church shoes, and white dress socks. Danny’s hair was severely combed back from his face, with what looked like axle grease liberally combed in. As he entered, I noticed a dark red ring around the middle of his mouth, as if he’d been drinking Kool-Aid out of a small necked bottle. After he pulled a pint of sloe gin from his front pocket and took a huge slug, the mystery was solved.
“Want a drank?” Danny slurred as a greeting; we all demurred. Totally trashed, he fell into a chair beside one of the two tables in the bar and laid down his incredibly greasy head, slowly shaking it, depositing a shallow pool of lard on the table top.
“Ain’t he sexy?” Skin drawled.
Before either of us could answer, Danny lifted his head and looked wildly around. His hair had fallen into his eyes as he recognized his surroundings and said, “Sexy? I’ll tell you what’s sexy: fourteen pounds of pussy.” He slowly pulled the bottle out of his pocket and took a short pull before adding, “Each jaw’d weigh seven pounds.” He allowed his empty head to fall back onto the table, where he slept the remainder of the evening.
“He’s a romantic bastard too,” Dave added as we turned our attention back to the task at hand. We sat, saying little, drinking steadily. It was a quiet night; I couple of mill hill boys came in to shoot pool around eight and a couple of other regulars stopped by for a couple before heading home, but mostly Skin, Dave, and I held down the fort. Little conversation was needed; the ease of the alcohol buzz caused my mind to slow down and I began to think about what brought me to live with Dave in the first place.
After Dad had gone away, my two older sisters, my mother, and I moved out of the big house on the hill and into my grandmother’s little house on Musgrove Street, where we all began slowly falling apart, and we all relied heavily on drugs to facilitate our escape from reality. We each took our preferred poison. After getting home from work each day, Mom sat in her chair and slowly drank beer until bedtime. Cindy, the oldest of the children, had been in a tumultuous relationship with heroin for a couple of years already; she simply dove deeper when the shit hit the fan. Nan, the middle child, discovered Quaaludes and never even glanced back. Being the youngest, I was still trying to figure out what best suited me as the flood waters rose. I liked it all, but alcohol seemed to be the best fit. After all, alcohol was legal, inexpensive, and socially acceptable. Now, driving drunk and wrecking cars, starting fist fights, and other such behavior is not accepted behavior, so there were a few issues that needed to be addressed.
After a long decline, Cindy and her new boyfriend abruptly left town, heading to Tampa for a little rest and relaxation. Even in her dance with opiates, Cindy sort of kept things from totally falling apart, so when she left, things got exponentially worse. Mom started drinking about twice as much and Nan began throwing back the ‘ludes with renewed passion. The house fell into worse disrepair. The roaches proliferated. Granted, I could have taken the initiative and cleaned the place up, called the exterminator- tried to act like an adult- but I didn’t. A strange fugue enveloped the family; we all sought escape through drugs. Getting wasted was the same as being set free, at least for a while, so I just drank, staying away from the house as much as possible.
I was lying on the couch late one night, watching television and feeling sorry for myself, something that had become my favorite pastime, when I decided to get a snack. I walked into the kitchen, turning on the light as I entered. Roaches scampered everywhere, finding crevasses in which to hide. The stark realization of the way things had devolved shook me. I decided to at least try to combat the sorriness, so I found an aerosol can of roach killer and liberally sprayed along the baseboards and under the fridge and stove. Deciding against a snack, I returned to the small living room to vegetate. A few minutes later I noticed that the carpet appeared to be moving. Turning on the overhead light, I nearly screamed when I saw the profusion of roaches making their exodus from the spray in the kitchen. Something broke inside me, and I got dressed and walked out. Momentary guilt stayed me; I should warn Nan and Mom. I stood on the porch, slowly shaking my head, trying to grasp a coherent thought, but none came. I turned and walked into the night.
A scant sliver of silver moon accompanied me as I walked away from the house. Fighting the urge to turn around and return to familiar woe, I resolutely trudged toward the outskirts of town, no destination in mind. Porous clouds intermittently obscured the night sky and a soft wind was blowing, producing a low moaning through the trees. As the sky darkened, I looked for gratitude and found none. Somehow, the ominous night helped magnify the circumstances in which I found myself, and I knew I had to re-locate, find another place to hang my hat; the house on Musgrove was eating souls, treating the lost like a baby treats a diaper.
A plan began formulating in my head, almost against my will. Part of me wanted to live in the early morning darkness, walking aimlessly, forever. During that time, I often found wildly impractical solutions to real world problems. After recounting a visit from a friend a while back, I decided to head to Dave’s house. He was a friend of Cindy’s who later became a friend of the family. He’d come over to our house a few days before to ask if Cindy or Nan was interested in doing some housecleaning for him. His mother was in the hospital and Dave wasn’t much of a domestic engineer. Cindy was Tampa bound and Nan was bound to the Quaaludes, so my friend decided to look elsewhere. If he was still in the market, maybe he would let me stay with him and keep the place clean in lieu of rent, since I had no money or job. Dave agreed to the terms and we began our own desolation together, him hoping his mom would miraculously get better and me betting on a family-saving miracle.
“You want to get in on this, Fish?” Skin asked, drawing me from my retrospection.
Dave and Skin were pulling wads of crumpled ones and fives from their pockets, haranguing over odds.
“Skin says he can stand flat-footed and throw a raw egg over that building across the railroad tracks,” Dave said, and just like that, I was brought back to the present.
Skin could throw a raw egg over the building across the railroad tracks, though it seemed impossible. He had many obscure talents: he knew a bunch of cards tricks, could play pool better than anybody I’d ever seen, run incredibly fast, and he played poker like Doc Holliday; always chiding, a sore loser. Skin’s myriad abilities often proved vastly entertaining in the wee hours of the morning at the Hop.
Tonight was not as entertaining as many at our watering hole, however, so Skin closed down about ten thirty, giving Dave and me a lift to the beer store before driving us home. Dave bought a case, and we drank three at a time each, poured in large jars so we could drink more, faster. The shank of the evening was saved for furious drinking, intended mostly to knock us out so we wouldn’t have to consider ... things. As bedtime approached, we greeted it with drunken declarations of love for one another, brothers to the end. Often, arm wrestling or chest punching contests ensued, so the next morning we would awaken sore and hungover. These were strange times, only understood by the players, and we only understood the core concept; the nuances eluded even us.
Friday morning finally teetered around, finding us broke, broken and twisted, barely hanging on to the last vestiges of responsibility. We needed the weekend to recuperate from the work week, not that we facilitated the time off for that purpose; we just pushed the limits of endurance ever further. Today, though, we had a new plan for the weekend. Instead of buying mass quantities of beer, we were going to buy one big bottle of tequila and a couple dozen valium, a combination bound to satisfy. The untarnished fact that imbibing in both the liquor and the pills simultaneously could easily result in fist fights, car wrecks, or even death completely escaped us; we thought this was a good idea.
After work, we walked to the Hop to settle up with Skin; we needed to pay our tabs. My check was for $119.00 and I owed him $89. At the time, this was not disheartening at all; the road was now clear for uninterrupted drinking at the Hop for the coming week. As long as I paid my tab on Friday, my AAA rating endured. Ten of the remaining dollars were reserved for the valium, so I had a twenty-spot to do me for cigarettes and other essentials. Dave and I ate from the well-stocked freezer and pantry; Dave’s mom had tons of home-grown fruits and vegetables preserved from the previous summer.
Our old friend Ronnie Quint was to swing by the Hop and bring the valium. I was looking forward to seeing the old rogue; he always left me with wonderful bits of discourse to savor afterwards. Ronnie was famous in our little drug-riddled community for many of his legendary snippets of dialogue: addressing his dog upon calling him in for the night- “Come on in, Red; you can get that pussy tomorrow, Cain’t you, buddy!” patting him furiously on the head. “Yeah, cain’t you get that pussy, Red? Yes you can! That’s my boy! Get that pussy, Red!”- or when trying to seduce my sister, a thick coat of slimy sweat on his upper lip, “You black-eyed beauty!”- Ronnie was rife with unmitigated repartee.
After settling up with Skin, I took my fresh Budweiser and leaned against the doorway, happy to be alive. Friday afternoon traffic slowly moved along Main Street, the fierce sunshine twinkling on the windshields. I could hear a train coming in the distance, a certain harbinger of a traffic snarl. The honeysuckle growing madly on the fence alongside the Hop released its glorious aroma, mingling with the honkey tonk smell of the Hop and providing a stark juxtaposition. I lazily glanced down toward the mill hill and saw a lone silhouette in the distance, reeling slowly toward the bar. Ronnie was approaching, stage left. Internally shaking myself, I readied for his presence.
By the time he was about a block away, I could see he was about five fourths wasted, probably due to a deadly (but pleasant) combination of the valium and some type of alcohol, probably Ezra Brooks bourbon whiskey, his preferred poison. At first, I worried that he would stagger into traffic, but then I reminded myself that, like me, Ronnie’s current condition was one to which he was more than just accustomed; this was more or less his default state of being. Besides, if he got run down in traffic, I could safely pilfer all the pills from his pockets. Hobbling up the parking lot directly into my personal space, Ronnie greeted me with a sardonic, “Hey, man. You got snot in your eye!” As I removed the offensive matter, my buddy continued. “You know how good pills make your mouth dry? These blue boys is fresh, man! I cain’t even hardly swaller and it feels like my mouth is full of glue; check this out!” He then spit what looked like a dollop of meringue onto the parking lot, looking up at me afterwards and tipping me a wink, as if he’d solved the riddle of the Sphinx. Then he carefully sunk to his knees and laid his face against the scalding asphalt right beside the offensive mess. By now he had my interest piqued. “Watch,” he instructed as he blew a lungful of fetid air at the spittle. “Look, man; that shit don’t even move!”
He blew onto the mess several times to prove his point. At first, I hoped he realized he was preaching to the choir. I would have bought the damn pills even if they were the cheap, bootleg Valium, the kind made from PCP and goat tranquilizer, but I was impressed by his salesmanship, so I let the demonstration roll on. Alas, it was all but over.
Ronnie struggled back to his feet, leaning precipitously forward, then stumbling a couple of steps, all the while looking at me like he’d successfully explained Einstein’s theory of special relativity.
“Ooookay,” I said while I attempted to regain my composure. “You’ve convinced me, buddy. I want ten and Dave wants some too, I think,” I said, reaching for my wallet. “Dollar each, right?”
“SSSSHHHHHH!” Ronnie hissed, blowing a bunch more of that meringue spit all over me.
“we gotta do this on the down low; I don’t want nobody knowin’ I got these thangs and I ain’t ‘bout to get busted.” He affected a clandestine pose- shoulders hunched, head down- and continued, very loudly. “I ain’t plannin’ on spendin’ my fuckin’ weekend locked up!”
“Well, I don’t want that either, buddy,” I returned, trying to soothe him with my calm, reassuring voice, “So why don’t you quit screaming and hand me the pills.”
“Nah, man,” he whispered huskily, “We need to be careful. Go on in there and rack a game of nine ball and I’ll be in there in a minute.” As I started back inside, he screamed, “How many did you want, man?”
I turned around and held up ten fingers. Somehow, this confused him for a good half minute, but he eventually nodded and tipped me a wink. “Let’s shoot some pool,” he croaked, effectively setting up our covert operation. After racking the balls, I didn’t yet see Ronnie, so I broke. I dropped the six ball and lined up my next shot. I felt someone behind me just as ole Ronnie screamed in my ear, “You gonna have to cut that motherfucker sharp, slick! Here, cut it right here.” He was drawing the attention of everyone in the bar as he began showing me where the ball should be struck. Pushing his closed fist on the far side of the one ball, Ronnie looked up at me, winked, and loudly said, “Cut it right here, ace!” and, opening his hand, released the Valium onto the table. I still don’t know what his intention was (perhaps he thought the shadow of the ball would hide the pills), but the tablets rolled all over the table. By now, a bunch of people were watching, and those who weren’t were being poked in the side to be made aware of the unfolding lunacy over on the nearby pool table. The whole charade was utterly pointless; we both knew pretty much everybody in there. Hell, Ronnie sold pills to most of them and they’d either already gotten some of the Valium or weren’t interested. They were interested in this Keystone Kops version of a surreptitious drug deal, though.
Honestly, unless a couple of the people watching wanted to buy or steal Ronnie’s stash, nobody gave a shit what we were doing. The whole ordeal was like a poorly directed, unattended play, and I was more than happy to scoop the pills up off the pool table and put an end to the whole affair. Ronnie gave me a sly grin, tacitly informing me that I’d behaved admirably, our covert operation deemed a success. In full view of whoever cared to watch- nobody did- I chewed two of the little blue pills and washed them down with a massive gulp from my beer. It was time to party.
I vaguely remembered that Dave and I were poised for a weekend of tequila, not beer, but plans had a way of being snorted away, much like the cocaine we did later that night, so I just bowed my back to the metaphoric wind and trudged forward, into the abyss again.
Saturday morning found me somehow back at Dave’s house. I came to with the mid- morning sun shining in my face through a crack in the curtains. Squinting brought blinding pain to my head, so I rolled over only to find myself face to face with a woman of unknown origin. Deciding to tempt fate, I raised my head and looked around because I simply could not stare any longer into the puffy eyes of the strange woman looking at me with unabashed adoration. I noticed clothes thrown about the room, some on the foot of the bed but mostly spread about the floor. My mind did a spit take as I noticed enough clothes for at least three people, maybe more.
“Hey, baby,” a raspy voice croaked into my ear, scaring the shit out of me. I turned to see my company, who was actually very pretty if the gobs of smeared makeup had been removed. She started licking me behind the ear, and I nearly lost my shit right then and there. Garnering every shred of willpower I hadn’t already misplaced the night before, I refrained from shuddering, but I knew right away that she had to quickly vacate the premises, or I would be compelled to kill her.
“Hey, doll,” I said, sliding out of bed, looking for my jeans. “I had a ball last night, but I got some shit to do, so...” The silence hung like mildewed clothes, stinking up the bedroom.
“Goddamn, Joey! You ain’t gotta beat me over the head. I’ll leave right now, but you told me we was going to the river today. Don’t you remember stopping by my house so I could get my bikini? Anyway, Sherry is gonna be pissed! Don’t you remember all the fun we had last night?” she winked, lasciviously. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to know what happened last night. Sadly, I found only darkness where my short term memory usually resided.
Lurid noises coming from Dave’s room, guttural moaning and rhythmic banging told me that Dave was in his usual jaunty mood in the throes of what I surmised was a hangover similar to mine.
“Sounds like they’re having fun,” my girl, who I was beginning to think might be named Sheila, said. She pulled my arm as I was pulling on my jeans. “Come back to bed,” she said. After a second’s thought, I decided to give it a go. After all, I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate to do.
After a quick romp, I got up and went to the kitchen. Hoping against hope, I opened the refrigerator door to find a veritable treasure trove of alcohol. I was expecting maybe three or four beers at the most, but I was greeted by about a case of Bud long necks along with a bunch of Natural Lite and two bottles of liquor: a bottle of Evan Williams bourbon along with the tequila we planned on drinking in lieu of the massive drunk we’d obviously decided upon. Butterflies rustled in my stomach as I viewed the stockpile; things were quickly becoming interesting again.
.After returning to Sheila, the morning took on a sepia tone before I blacked out. The rest of the day was spent doing God knows what. Though later I pieced together a few snippets of terrible behavior in lurid places, most of my memory of that day is lost forever.
Like so many mornings before and after, I woke by degrees. As consciousness stirred, I was met with a pervasive sense of foreboding, like I’d done something terrible and the piper would soon come calling for payment. This abysmal gloom was accompanied by the worst physical pain I could remember; my body was screaming, inside and out. My left eye was swollen nearly shut and my ears buzzed. I couldn’t raise my head, and my stomach felt like it was full of something alive, but dying.
“Dave?” I croaked, wondering if he was alive, and if so, if he could enlighten me about the previous day’s events. After hearing only palpable, ominous silence, I slowly rose to my feet and carefully walked into Dave’s room, not worried that I would find another raunchy sex scene. The air itself was slick with despair; demons were abounding but love was conspicuously absent. I found Dave lying on the floor beside his bed, naked. “Damn,” I thought, “I gotta quit seeing this shit; it’s doing something bad to my psyche.”
I poked Dave with my foot. “Wake up, man,” I said. He snorted loudly and opened one eye but he didn’t seem to be seeing out of it. Had he gone blind? I grabbed his shoulder, shaking him. “Come on, buddy; wake up!”
“Okay,” he said quietly. He managed to prop himself on an elbow before swooning and falling back down. “I think I’m broke,” he whispered. He looked exactly how I felt; broke. Indeed.
“Come in the living room when you get dressed. I can’t remember a damn thing about last night ... I don’t remember any of yesterday much either. I need some help, buddy,” I said.
“Do I appear to be in any shape to help anybody?” Good point.
I hobbled into the living room, noting the frightening state of disrepair of the furnishings as I went. The room reeked of used booze and choking bewilderment; bottles and cans were strewn everywhere; broken furniture sat on sopping carpet. The front window was broken and a hot, harsh breeze blew through the curtains, which were parted slightly, one torn partially off the rod. Realizing with some chagrin that I was looking at a beautifully constructed representation of how I felt, I nearly swooned with crystallized irony. It was all I could do to keep from crying.
Since Dave had yet to make an appearance, I decided to check our store of alcohol. I mean, I desperately needed to get a little something down or face the very real possibility of shaking apart. I’d somehow crashed through the ceiling of being drunk from the night before into some unknown new realm, one that was too cruel to fathom; I was seeing too clearly, and the view was horrendous. I opened the refrigerator door slowly, hoping to be greeted by another pleasant surprise like yesterday, a treasure of cold beer to nurse my Sunday morning meltdown. Two cans of Falstaff greeted me, both already opened. I grabbed at one and had it nearly to my mouth before the lightness of the can registered; it was empty. I found about an ounce in the other. Now, quietly crying, I closed the refrigerator door.
Now was the time for crippling introspection, a wound-licking realization of blind alley awareness. I could not keep doing this. “It’s just too hard,” I whispered aloud. Before I could think further, Dave oozed into the room and collapsed on the couch, then looking up at me, imploring. “We got any beer?”
“Not a drop, buddy. I feel so bad, Dave. I’m gonna die, I think.”
“Yeah, but not today,” Dave said. “Isn’t today Sunday?’
“’Fraid so,” I said. “Who can we call? There must be somebody who’ll help us. This is bad.”
A loud humming filled the room, as if we were on the verge of crossing over into some other world. I vaguely hoped maybe this would be the case; any other world would suck less than the one in which we were currently mired. I’d been through many bad mornings, times of deep regret and shame, but this morning positively cloaked any sense of good or light or even a chance of escape, no matter how deplorable.
“Joey, everybody is sick of us. There’s nobody to call. The Fina station is at the crossroads, but you know how far away that is,” said Dave. A long, unbearable silence ensued. I sat, looking at Dave, my lower lip quivering, a runnel of snot slowly oozing down my lip. I could not seem to catch my breath. Finally, after ages of chest-bursting indecision, Dave said, “I’m walking, and so are you. We have to do this; it’s our quest. If it kills us, we need to be dead.”
I wiped my nose, trying to decide if I would rather die alongside the road leading to Utopia, boiling slowly in the unrelenting sun, or just go ahead and slit my own throat right now. I knew I couldn’t kill myself, and by the look on Dave’s beet red, glowering mug, I was just as certain that I couldn’t talk him into bringing something home for me.
“Well, goddammit; let me find a shirt ... and a good hat,” I said. “By God, I know I can’t make it; it’s seven miles out there. Hmm, and seven miles back.”
“Getting back won’t be a problem, Joey. Then, we’ll have the beer. We should probably get some Wild Irish Rose too.”
I hopped back on the fence, but this time I wasn’t weighing my options; I was nearly overcome with the clarity of the situation. Remembering the summer before, when Nan and I set out on a ten mile hike for Quaaludes. That situation was dire but some levity intermingled with the despair. I had no idea things had progressed so much in less than a year. I was shaking like a Chihuahua having a panic attack, my back and legs ached badly, and I kept drifting into a strange fugue, not sure of ... anything. The trance-state alone was very alarming; I couldn’t focus on the task at hand. Maybe it, like the idea of eating an elephant, was just too momentous.
I recalled my Boy Scout days, when a seven mile hike in the mountains with a forty pound pack sent shivers of anticipation up my youthful spine. Reeling with the recognition that those days were only four years past, I internally slammed the door on my reminiscing and tried to jump into the moment. Though successful, my quantum leap deposited me right back in the neck-deep shit that was today, the task still at hand.
“I’m not waiting any longer, buddy,” Dave said, walking toward the door. I grabbed a hat, strapped on my shoes, and followed my friend through the gates of hell.
What followed was a death march. Though I felt like I should be waiting on an ambulance, I was stumbling behind the ever intrepid Dave, who doggedly strode along, about ten feet in front of me. He was keeping a pretty slow pace, but as time oozed by, I began to realize that he was not in the mood for breaks; no, this was going to take more persistence than I possessed, at least on this day. I recognized a loop of thought, a mantra of doom. I saw the hollowness of our quest, but at the same time, I saw vast quantities of alcohol directly underneath a burnished halo, the answer to all of my questions. “I’m killing myself for nothing” flickered ceaselessly as we continued our desperate hike.
The sun wasn’t moving; it sat atop my shoulders and head, charring my flesh. Dave was sweating like a pig in front of me, but somehow I remained dry. I seemed to be boiling inside, my skin seared to lock the fetid juices inside, poisoning me. My eyes remained locked on Dave’s boot heels, and I somehow stumbled on.
Dave finally turned away from the road and collapsed on the shoulder. Though neither of us wore a watch, I thought the time to be around two. I slowly made my way to the ground beside my supine buddy. I wondered if I looked as bad as he did. His face was beet red and he seemed to be having trouble breathing.
“We’re over halfway there,” he wheezed. “How long do you think we’ve been walking?”“I have no idea, buddy. It seems like about a month. If we’ve gone halfway, there’s sure as shit no point in turning back,” I said.
“Oh no, Mr. Holland; that was never an option. We probably should have brought some water, though.”
We looked at each other for another moment, and without another word, rested. Though shade would have helped, the respite lent me a second wind. After a couple more minutes, we glanced at each other, rose, and began our trek again.
I lost hope a couple of times during the rest of the walk, but mostly I held on. The facts were simple: if I actually fainted, I wouldn’t have to walk and Dave could flag down a car or something and the cruel death march would be over. If I didn’t faint, I would continue to walk. The truth of the walk became a metaphor for my current aimlessness. I was walking, sick, in the blistering heat, seven miles, just for beer. The most disturbing component of the excursion was that it made perfect sense. Inebriation was the panacea of the time; forget opiates, amphetamines, barbiturates, (or at least put them on the back burner); I needed to be obliterated from the effects of King Alcohol. I was a loyal subject, and my liver, quickly approaching irreparable damage, was my medal, my sacrifice to my king. I would somehow make the last of the hike and things would be better, exponentially.
The service station remained around the next corner, seemingly forever. My mind wandered; and I thought of times when my aspirations were more pure. I saw myself on the tennis court where I spent endless hours just a couple of years before, back when I was still in school. My aim then was to obtain a tennis scholarship to Presbyterian College in Clinton. With hard work and dedication, I probably could have done it. Non-stop drug use and mass quantities of alcohol proved less productive, and as time passed, the hope of a future in tennis sluffed off, leaving me ... well, leaving me walking up the side of the road in the blistering heat in the hopes of corralling beer.
I reminisced about my time in the band, when I was sure my buddies and I were going to be famous. The same derailment, the desire to build a better head, squashed those dreams as well. Everywhere my thoughts landed, they pointed, finally, to this particular walk, and it saddened me. The road I walked was the only road, and the beer at the end of the trek, the only reward. On we trudged. Time bounded and stopped simultaneously; I began to suspect I’d died and gone to hell.
The slow meandering turn finally revealed the façade of the Fina station. Dave and I slowed and stopped as we gazed at our oasis. I don’t know how Dave felt, but my senses were so frayed that I just stood, mouth agape, staring dully at the small, dirty building. We both knew better than to sully the ephemeral moment with words, so we just stood there another few seconds before slowly crossing the road with which we’d become so intimate and walking across the parking lot and into the store.
In stark reality, I heard no trumpets or other hearkening of our arrival. We’d beat the odds, somehow traversing a two land blacktop for seven fucking miles in the boiling heat; we did it in the direst of circumstances; shriveled, weak, aching from a three-day drunk. Sure, we did it because we had to, but that made little difference in the face of the sheer determination the event evoked. Nevertheless, I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment, no realization that my savior was near at hand; I just felt ... numb.
Sunday beer sales were still illegal in South Carolina, so we had to perform the old nod and wink to procure our libation, but after about five minutes, we walked out with two twelve packs apiece. Walking around the back of the store, we found the perfect tree to sit under and hoist a few, to re-invigorate our souls. Without having to discuss it, we both knew we wouldn’t need to carry all that beer back to the house, and not because we planned on drinking a good portion of it before we left our tree. No, with the alcohol now pulsing through our bloodstreams, we knew a ride would appear; after all, God takes care of babies and drunks.
We sat drinking, our death march all but forgotten. Like the pebble in the shoe once found and discarded, almost instantly is totally lost to conscious thought, so was the dangerous trek we just experienced. Life took on new meaning; we weren’t faced with problems, but interesting puzzles to solve. The day would essentially take care of itself, and all of the second guessing about the worth of my life during our hike seemed silly; ludicrous, really. Now was the time. Now I had plenty of beer and a good friend with whom to share it. Our conversation soon turned to recounts of the weekend, the escapades of Ronnie and the other guys from the Hop, our dangerous trysts with the mystery women who suddenly appeared only to disappear in the same alcoholic fog that produced them. I felt the muscles in my face relax and my crooked smile returned; I was home. And though frail, I was also golden, at least for now.
The Lady on the Landing
She was an apparition of loveliness.
In her fifties, Aunt Mary stood on the broad landing at the top of the stairs, her left hand holding the railing, looking at the girl who was ascending the stairway. The woman’s dark hair was swept off her forehead and gathered in the back with a brown and white feathered barrette, just below the crown of her head. Round clusters of pearls at her ears framed her face and there was the slightest hint of rouge on her flawless skin. Her V-neck dress was made of gray silk and fine white lace decorated the V-shape. A simple, elegant strand of pearls complemented the neckline. Her shoes were black suede, with a small flirty peek-a-boo opening at the toe; the one-and-a-half inch heels were thick, 1940s style, fashionable when she married over thirteen years earlier.
“Aunt Mary,” the eight-year-old girl asked on this Sunday afternoon, “may Mommy borrow your big aluminum baking pan?”
“Come,” she said. The girl followed her to one of the wonderful storage areas beneath the broad eaves of the house and selected the pan she thought her mother wanted. Her Mom often borrowed kitchen items from Aunt Mary.
“I am going to make macaroni next week. Do you want to help?” Aunt Mary asked.
“Well, if you don’t want to help, just come up and watch.”
Aunt Mary was the older half-sister of the girl’s mother. Both women had the same mother, but different fathers. She and her husband, Uncle Alex, lived on the third floor of the big house in Brooklyn, New York. The girl’s parents had outfitted the third floor with an expansive live-in kitchen, a full bath, a bedroom and a small living room with a faux fireplace. Tucked snugly in the large attic of the 1920s house, it had wonderful built-in closets and storage spaces.
The couple paid monthly rent to the girl’s parents. There was no special, separate entrance to their apartment; it was a one-family house.
Every night when Aunt Mary and Uncle Alex returned from their jobs in New York’s garment district, they would visit with the girl and her family for a few minutes and then climb the stairs to their little place. The upward trek included one set of broad steps and a landing, another set of broad steps followed by another landing, then a third, final set of steps. This last set of stairs turned right, leading to the final landing, where the girl admired her Aunt’s gray silk dress the day she asked her for the big aluminum baking pan. Aunt Mary always wore her high heels, gloves and a hat when she ascended those stairs after work each weeknight.
She may have had a dead-end job in a garment factory, but she always dressed like a lady.
It was a stark contrast to the girl’s mother, who became a haus frau in 1946 and decided to dress down for the rest of her life, except for special occasions. Aunt Mary’s meticulous attention to her appearance contrasted with the girl’s mother’s decision to wear shapeless thin cotton muumuus, cheap open-toed slide-in slippers and white anklets practically all the time. Childless Aunt Mary may have had time to tend to her appearance but four children undoubtedly detracted from the mother’s capacity to spend time on herself.
Aunt Mary became an ideal. Spending time with her and Uncle Alex “upstairs” offered the opportunity to see a woman who could be emulated. Her shoes were lovely; her dresses elegant but simple, her perfume subtle and her patience endless.
Sometimes on Sunday afternoon some of Aunt Mary’s nieces and her nephew would climb the stairs to visit; usually Uncle Alex had his stationery and fountain pens in front of him, taking up a third of the kitchen table which could seat as many as eight comfortably and ten if it was necessary. His fountain pens were things of beauty. Some were white mother-of-pearl, others were wood, one was onyx and a few were rich, gray, glossy steel. Each Sunday he wrote long letters to one of his sisters, or to other relatives or friends in Italy, telling them of the events of the preceding weeks. It was the 1950s, and Italy, along with the rest of Europe, was still recovering from the effects of World War II. Aunt Mary and Uncle Alex sent packages of household goods and clothing several times a year. But it was the letter-writing the girl enjoyed most. Sometimes Uncle Alex would read the letters to the children and if there was an Italian word they didn’t understand, he would translate it into English for them.
While he was attending to his correspondences, Aunt Mary would usually be busy doing something in the kitchen; sometimes she sewed or mended a piece of clothing from her cushiony rocking chair near the picture window at the sitting area within the kitchen; other times she might cook. Making macaroni was a big event for her, and her nieces and nephew were always invited to participate. It wasn’t called “pasta” for the Italian family; it was simply macaroni.
Aunt Mary prepared the dough and rolled it out on the plastic-covered and floured kitchen table, making strands of linguini or hat-shaped macaroni, or shorter strands twisted into corkscrews. Wisps of flour would float on the air above the dough and Aunt Mary would often wipe her hands on a simple, bright white linen tea towel from Italy. She wore a white apron draped from her chest to the bottom of her dress, with a long set of ties she wrapped around her waist twice, before tying them in front in a neat bow. And she always wore earrings. The girl liked to watch the macaroni-making process, but her unsophisticated palate preferred Ronzoni. Only when she was older did she appreciate the authenticity of her Aunt’s glorious creations. Aunt Mary’s meat sauce, called “gravy” had a hearty, meaty flavor and was thick with small chunks of beef and pork. Seasoned with parsley, basil, oregano and a hint of garlic, it was a joy to taste and better than the sauce the girl’s mom made. Its heady aroma permeated the house.
The girl’s mother frequently reached a breaking point as she tended to children, a husband and a house and couldn’t invest much time in laborious recipes. The mother swiftly exhibited frustration and anger and in those moments Aunt Mary tried to calm her with a soft and soothing voice—a balm against strident shouts and easy slaps directed at the children. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. Aunt Mary was a pressure-relief valve whose presence allayed the anxiety the girl and her siblings experienced during their mom’s outbursts.
A few weeks after the young girl turned eighteen, she came home from her freshmen college classes one day and found her mother sitting in a chair at the kitchen table. Her red eyes and pile of used tissues told the teenager her mother had been crying for a while.
“What’s wrong, Mom?”
“It’s your aunt.”
Mom looked at her daughter and whispered, “She has cancer.”
The word “cancer” was not said aloud then. It was muttered quietly, as though to hide a hideous, dirty secret.
“What kind?” the girl asked.
“Uterine. It has spread already.”
The girl did not know what to say. Despite their differences, her mother and Aunt Mary loved each other deeply.
“Are they going to do any treatment?”
“A hysterectomy and radiation.”
“How long do they give her?”
“Maybe a year.”
She hugged her mom.
Fighting back tears, the mom asked, “Why don’t you go upstairs and see your aunt?”
“After I change my clothes.”
The girl climbed the stairs to her room and as she changed her clothes she felt, well, inconvenienced. She did not want to have to live in the house with the disease.
Her annoyance embarrassed her, but it was real.
Reluctantly, she ascended the stairs and made the right turn to her aunt and uncle’s quarters. Aunt Mary was sitting in her rocking chair, reading the Il Progresso, the Italian newspaper. She approached her aunt and kissed her on the cheek.
“Aunt Mary, mom told me about your illness.”
She nodded her head to acknowledge her niece’s comment, but Aunt Mary didn’t, or couldn’t say anything and continued to read the newspaper. Adorned with a pair of simple round gold earrings, she wore a thin, flowered house dress with dainty blue roses. The girl gave Uncle Alex a hug and he started to cry.
As close as their quarters were to the girl’s bedroom, the climb up the flight of stairs to their apartment was the girl’s most difficult journey during eighteen long, poignant cancer months. The house seemed veiled with a depressing and desperate pall she resented. She dreaded seeing her aunt deteriorate and hearing her uncle cry. Aunt Mary and Uncle Alex were two of the most in-love and devoted-to-each-other people she knew. They were always gentle and kind with each other.
Uncle Alex was becoming exhausted with his care-giving and Aunt Mary’s painful cries tortured the rooms of the house until her morphine achieved its full effect. Their friends visited, climbed the stairs and made the right-hand turn one last time to say goodbye.
On the night of December 21, 1968, the night the teenage girl met the boy who would be her future husband and only a week after her older sister’s wedding, the girl lay in bed at three in the morning and heard her Uncle call out “Suzy, Suzy” for her mother. Mother and dad headed upstairs to Aunt Mary’s apartment. Then, the sound of jagged, guttural breathing echoed through the halls and the teenager who was almost a woman suspected what was happening.
She had come out of her room. Her mother’s voice was calm.
“Honey, come up here. Your Aunt Mary just died.”
The girl climbed the right-curving stairs and entered her aunt’s bedroom. Aunt Mary, a shadow of the woman she loved all her childhood, lay at peace, wearing small gold button earrings. Uncle Alex was sobbing at the foot of the bed. The girl went to him and placed her arms around him. She didn’t need to say anything.
But he did.
“Why didn’t you come up to see her more often? She loved you so much,” he gasped between ragged, heart-broken breaths.
A teenager has no answer to that question.
A few months after Aunt Mary’s funeral, Uncle Alex returned to the country of his birth to live with one of his sisters in Caserta, Italy, northeast of Naples, on the Mediterranean flank of the country.
On the day of his departure from the United States, he wept into one of his big, white handkerchiefs while leaning forward over the rail on the ship’s deck, after everyone had hugged and kissed him goodbye. The girl’s boyfriend was with her and many years later he told her it was one of the saddest scenes he ever witnessed.
The following year, mother often asked for items from Aunt Mary’s kitchen, a space now devoid of daily life. Whenever the girl, who was a young woman by then, was asked to “go to Aunt Mary’s” she would do so with trepidation, always feeling uneasy in the apartment. Indelible memories and physical mementoes of Aunt Mary and Uncle Alex’s gentle, loving, refined lives were everywhere.
She sometimes sat in the upholstered rocking chair by the large window, imagining Aunt Mary reading the paper or sewing a button on a shirt. Often she would open the large wood buffet drawer where her uncle once kept all his pens, expecting him to tell her she should have asked for permission, first. He left quite a few of his pens behind when he moved. Inevitably she would picture him sitting at the head of the table, arranging his elegant stationery and positioning his blotter and inkwell as he prepared to write to a relative in Italy or to a World War I buddy he served with in the Italian Army. His back was to the large set of windows shaded by a leafy sycamore tree.
On an autumn Saturday afternoon, mom asked the girl to fetch a kitchen item from Aunt Mary’s collection of pots and pans. One of the three pantries in the attic extended deep into the eaves of the house and remained fully stocked with all manner of cooking gadgets. It looked just as Uncle Alex had left it the day he moved to Caserta.
The young woman, no longer a little girl, climbed the sets of stairs and half way up the third set, she made the right turn to the top landing.
A silent lady stood on the landing, her hand resting on the rail.
Still poised at the bend in the stairs, the young woman felt the hair on her neck and arms stand at attention as her scalp tingled so strongly it almost buzzed.
The lady on the landing had dark hair. It was brushed from her forehead and clasped in the back with a brown and white feathered barrette. Round clusters of pearls at her ears framed her face and there was the slightest hint of rouge on her flawless skin. Her V-neck dress was made of gray silk and fine white lace followed the V’s shape. A strand of pearls draped gracefully around her neck and extended just shy of her cleavage. Her shoes were black suede, with a small flirty peek-a-boo opening at the toe; the one-and-a-half inch heels were thick, 1940s style.
She was an apparition of loveliness and a gentle smile graced her face.
As though an external power forced her to speak aloud, the young woman knew exactly what the lady on the landing wanted to know.
“Uncle Alex is in Caserta.”
Hands that Hurt
I have been putting this talk off long enough I think. Yet I am nervous about seeking this person out and telling them exactly how I feel. We have been in a tumultuous relationship for some time now, thirty-four years to be exact. At first, like most relationships it was carefree and full of fun, but towards the last two-thirds of it, all that faded away. Looking back on it in hindsight, I guess it was only ever good for a very short period of time. Hindsight is always 20/20 right? I wish I would have known then, what I know now. It could have saved so many heartaches.
The abuse started at a fairly early age I must say. I think I was twenty-six when my friend turned on me for the worse. Or at least that is when I realized that the love I was giving was no-longer being returned. I remember that day like it was yesterday, because I remember thinking, I wonder if he really ever loved me at all? Could I possibly have been that naïve and blind to a situation like that for all these years? Could I have had so much love for him that it blinded me to the fact that he really never even cared about me at all? Ya, I remember that day all too well, unfortunately. I had never felt so broken, alone, discarded and completely used in all of my life. I felt pushed aside, much like an empty cereal box would be at the morning breakfast table. I had given this person all of me, withholding none, and I got nothing in return. Nothing good that is!
I ended this nightmare of a relationship about 4 months ago, thank-you Lord for giving me the strength to do that. I could not have done it on my own, no way! Since we parted ways I moved as far away from him as I could afford to do. Mainly out of fear that he would hunt me down like a wild game animal and force me back to him. Yes, he is like that, very controlling, manipulating, and powerful! The kind of guy that says “if I can’t have you, then no one will.„ and laughs after he says it! A frightening fellow for sure. So I ran as far away from him as I could get, and for the longest time I still didn’t feel safe!
I mean how could I, he has killed before. I didn’t know that then, but I do now, and come to find out, he’s done it more than once. It almost seems to be kind of a hobby for him, yet he never, not one time, has ever been in trouble for it! Ya, which makes me even fear him more. I have talked with a couple people who have been in relationships with him in the past and their story is the same as mine. The other person I wanted to talk to, I found out was his last victim before I started dating him, so we never did get to chat.
So now that I have had some time apart from him and been enrolled with a professional therapist to help me sort these thoughts out in my head, I am feeling much stronger. I feel a need to confront him in person and tell him how all those years of abuse made me feel. I want him to hear straight from my mouth about the nightmares I would have at night, and the terrors that I felt by day. I want him to know exactly what kind of a person I think he is, and that I know about all his dirty little secrets! I feel I have earned the right to confront my abuser in this way. Yet it makes me still fear for my life!!
I got brave the other day and drove back to our old neighborhood. I just wanted to drive by the house and see if his car was there. I wanted to test my new found courage and see if it was really as brave as it was telling me it was. The house is a rustic sort of beat up two bedroom rambler, with an old coat of weather worn and chipped grey paint. One of the bedroom windows in the front we had to keep boarded up, because the neighbor kids kept throwing rocks at it and breaking it. I guess it kind of looks like one of those haunted houses that you would see in one of those low budget horror movies they play on H.B.O. or something. It sits on the corner of You Got A Choice Street and I’ll Take Your Life Boulevard. Not a bad neighborhood, just working class folks, I guess you would say.
As I entered our old neighborhood from what would be the south, (the farthest point away from the house) I started to notice something peculiar. There where flyers posted on the telephone poles with a picture on them, and the word MISSING typed above it in red letters. I thought to myself, Oh no! Something has happened to one of the neighbor kids, so I stopped to take a look. As I approached the telephone pole to see what kid was in trouble I noticed it wasn’t a little kid’s picture on it at all, it was me!! With his phone number listed below it. He was looking for me, and I knew what that meant! I started shaking uncontrollably and could feel the urine begin to run down my leg as I ran back to the car. I was so terrified, it was all I could do to get back into the car and close the door. I fumbled for my keys, finally got them into the ignition, and punched the gas. As my car fishtailed left, then right, sideways and into the neighbor’s flowerbed, I regained control and sped home! Maybe in hindsight, it was a little too soon for this talk!
Marc McMahon bio
Marc is a 47 year old emerging new writer who resides in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. His hobbies include hiking, fishing, and mt.biking. He is also the proud father of one amazing young man.
Driving By His House
I know it’s pretty pathetic of me, I don’t know what I’m trying to prove. I don’t even want to see him again. I don’t want to have to think about him, I don’t want to think about his big eyebrows or the fact that he hunched over a little when he walked or that he hurt me so much.
I know it’s pretty pathetic of me, but sometimes when I’m driving I’ll take a little detour and drive by his house. I’ll just drive by, I won’t slow down, I won’t stop by, I won’t say hello, I won’t beat his head in, I won’t even cry. I’ll just drive by, see a few cars in the driveway, see no signs of life through the windows, and then I’ll just keep driving.
I don’t know why I do it. He never sees me, and I never see him, although I thought I didn’t want to see him anyway. When I first met him I wasn’t afraid of him. Now I’m so afraid that I have to drive by his house every once in a while, just to remind myself of the fear. We all like the taste of fear, you know, the thought that there’s something out there stronger than us. The thought that there’s something out there we can beat, even if we have to fight to the death.
But that can’t be it, no, it just can’t be, I don’t like this fear, I don’t like it. I don’t want to drive by, I want to be able to just go on with my life, to not think about it. I want to be strong again. I want to be strong.
So today I did it again, I haven’t done it for a while, drive by his house, but I did it again today. When I turned on to his street I put on my sunglasses so that in case he saw me he couldn’t tell that I was looking. And then I picked up my car phone and acted like I was talking to someone.
And I drove by, holding my car phone, talking to my imaginary friend, trying to unobviously glance at the house on my left. There’s a lamppost at the end of his driveway. I always noticed it, the lampshade was a huge glass ball, I always thought it was ugly. This time three cars were there. One of those could have been his. Through the front window, no people, no lights. I drive around a corner, take a turn and get back on the road I was supposed to be on.
One day, when I’m driving by and I get that feeling again, that feeling like death, well then, I just might do it again.
I see your lights going out, at the hour
of my need. I left you at the bar,
but watched you walk back to our
home. I sat in the car, feeling like a rob-
ber in my own neighborhood. O,
captain, my captain, your harbour
lights have kept me in my hour.
As a young man,
my father drank
a mug of coffee
at supper to pull him
through long hours
on warehouse night shift.
He wrapped his big fist
around the huge brown cup,
more like a mug and a half,
as my mother almost filled it,
an inch from the top,
with steaming coffee
from the glass carafe.
Dad stirred in milk
and three sugars,
before the press of night
forced him to leave us.
As a man too old for the warehouse,
In the physical rehab place
they made him switch to tea.
After he died,
my mother placed
the over-sized brown ceramic cup
far back on the top shelf
in the china cabinet.
Once I needed a caffeine jolt
and asked if I could use the mug.
I don’t think so, she said.
Packing up the house
before Mom went into assisted living,
I helped her unload the dishwasher
for the last time.
The mug lay on its side
in the top rack.
I’ve been using it,
But now, Tommy, I want you
to throw that mug into the trash,
hard enough to shatter,
because I want to hear
the broken weight of my life
and feel the end of things.
The President’s son felt the strap holding his silver PP7 pistol. Flanking him was a secret service agent with a Desert Eagle magnum and a SEAL with an Armalite assault rifle. In the underground chambers of the White House the entourage reached the door to the top secret interrogation room. “This will be harder than anything you did at Princeton,” the SEAL said, “all-American rower or no.”
The secret service agent used a red and blue key card to open the door and the three walked in. Bound with zip ties and laying in a pool of piss the North Korean General whimpered.
The President’s son walked up to him and shoved him with his foot. “You know what we want,” he said, “which palace is your great leader in? It’s only a matter of time before we find out. It can end now.”
“First just tell me how...how you did it. How am I here? I was doing drills on the beach, and then the blurriness, and the lightness, and dizziness...then I woke up here. I can’t tell you where he is or the pain will get much worse. He has specialists, you know.”
“I’ll tell you,” the President’s son said, “because you deserve to know before you die.
It started at Area 51. A physicist named Bob Lazar was doing research on our most promising saucer used by The Grays—The Aurora. He came to realize that there was a special element not found on this planet that allowed The Aurora it’s hover and light speed technology. When Lazar dug deeper he hit a goldmine. The element, which he named Ulconium, had the ability to manipulate the Zero Point Field to allow faster than light travel. Hence, a jaunt. One Ulconium injection and with the proper training Black Ops agents can travel to any point on a map, just by looking. And now I have that capacity, as do a number of other entities. My father initiated a mission to try to topple your leader’s regime through tactical “pulls.” Once Un has been neutralized your people will flow to the southern border like water.”
“It’s madness,” The General said, “you’ll never find him.”
“I thought we would reach a road block with you. There will be no more pain. Just Love.”
The mystic walked through the door. She glowed an intense blue, and was hooded and wrapped in a blue robe.
“It took us years to find her,” The President’s son said.
The psychic crouched down and touched The General’s forehead.
The three materialized in the palace throne room. Un sat on a gold chair inlaid with multicolored diamonds. The room was painted in gold paint and a lion paced in front of the dictator. 30 heavily muscled bodyguards holding a variety of guns paced around him.
“I knew you would come,” Kim said, “my hackers heard everything. Your pain will be exquisite. It will last months. And then I’ll send the video to your daddy in DC. I severed our private line, you know.”
“I know you heard me,” The President’s son said, “and I knew it would be impossible to pull you. But there is something you didn’t account for.”
“And that is?”
The President’s son took out the PP7, placed the barrel in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.
In the Situation Room, The President looked on the monitor. “My son, a martyr,” he said to The Cabinet. “40 million now free. By dropping his body he allowed his soul to do a pull of everyone in the room into The Gap. Now you can do a transfer into our friend’s account.” He nodded to the oracle in the corner of the room, who was now emanating an extra bright shade of blue.
Brock stepped out of the Fairfield Police car and neared the golden dome. Sonia was meditating on a nearby bench.
Maharishi is preparing to drop his body, Sonia thought.
Of course, he’s what 93 now or something? Even a guru must drop as some point, Brock thought. He took his Glock out of it’s holster and sat cross legged in front in front of the dome’s outside bench, placing the gun in front of him. He began to meditate. Pure awareness shot through him for the full 20 minutes. The two opened their eyes. Why did you draw me here? He thought, this isn’t the best time—2 a.m. and the dome’s locked anyways.
Why don’t you go over and check? Sonia thought.
Brock drew the gun to his hand and put it back in the holster. He walked to the dome’s entrance and tried the door. It was unlocked and he entered.
He noted Maharishi levitating in the center of the dome’s meditation space, cross legged. Next to him was a blue angel and his underlings John Begg, Tony Nader, and John Haglin were reading Vedic scripts.
We needed your protection from the crazies while he drops his body, Haglin thought.
A guru needs my help? Brock thought
You’re the protection of this town, Begg thought
And you’ll be well rewarded, why don’t you take out your gun and have a rest? Nader thought.
Brock sat cross legged again but this time held the Glock and watched Maharishi. A daemon grew out of the floor and approached the guru. The angel pointed it’s fingers and emanated a blue beam, deterring it.
Hellfire! Haglin thought. Meditate!
Brock closed his eyes and began his mantra. He found himself surrounded by black flames, and he walked through them. From a distance he saw The Milky Way, and he got closer. Soon he saw Jupiter and Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, and before he could gasp from wonder he was staring at Earth with the Sun warming his back. It looks a priceless jewel, buried in dark layers of soil and stone, Maharishi thought, it radiates it’s beauty through the caverns of space and time. Brock heard him and reached out. He plucked a dark feather from the blackness, and it dissipated.
When he awoke the men were still meditating, and the angel and daemon were gone. Maharishi was lying on his back, covered in flowers.
Old Man Pete
Pete Jurgensen had been our neighbor for as long as I could remember. He’d never been friendly, always threatening to “shoot” Max, our old dog, whenever he’d catch him in his yard, and yelling at us kids to “pipe down” when we played hopscotch on the front sidewalk, but I never thought he’d kill anybody. Boy was that a shocker, as Gran Aideen used to say. That was the last summer I stayed with Gran Aideen, who lived in our house a long time before we did. About a year after Pete shocked the neighborhood, Gran Aideen went in to the nursing home when she broke her hip. “That’s all she wrote,” she said when they put her in the ambulance. I visited her in the nursing home until I went to college and then on holidays until she died at 92. She’d been the biggest influence in my life, and my most trusted ally, especially that summer and especially the day Pete Jurgensen was arrested for murder. It’s my only boyhood memory that’s as clear today as the day it happened.
It was still early evenin’ when I seen Old Man Pete come out of his house yellin’ bout shootin’ some fella. I was playin’ cross the street with Ronny Callahan ‘til the street lights come on. Gran Aideen made me come in the house when Pete come out yellin’ and a hollerin’, even though the street lights wasn’t even on yet; wouldn’t even let me look out the front winda’ when all them sheriff’s cars came near to parkin’ in our front lawn. That was Gran. Never did let ya’ know what was happenin,’ and stopped any funnin’ as soon as it begun.
“The things most people want to know about are usually none of their business,” she’d say, “George Bernard Shaw.” Some ol’ boyfriend of hers I reckon. She was always sayin’ stuff like that to keep me from havin’ any fun.
Old Pete sure did kill that feller. That’s what the Daily Journal said. Shot him straight through the heart. I just knowed there was blood all over. Me and Ronny couldn’t wait to get over there and see all the blood ‘n guts. Once all the police and the spectators cleared out, me and Ronny was bound n’determined to see what we could. So right after Gran went to bed, I snuck out, climbin’ out the winda which was on the second floor and weren’t that easy to do. Ronny’s ma and pa were always drinkin’ and a fightin’ so he snuck out easy. We didn’t have no flashlight, but Ronny had some kitchen matches in his britches. We hid in the bushes next to Gran’s, crouchin’ down near the porch in case anybody come nosin’ around. Mrs. Penscott who lived next to Ronny generally sat on her front porch in the dark tryin’ to catch anybody who might be up to somethin’. She’d sit in her rocker and smoke up her pipe.
“If you rock with the grain of the wood, it don’t make no noise,” she’d tole us. “If you go agin the grain of the wood, you wake up the haints.” We sure nuff didn’t wanna wake up no haints, so me and Ronny kept away from rockin’ chairs. It was hard to see Mrs. Penscott unless she was smokin’ her pipe. Then the bowl glowed red whenever she sucked in a chug a smoke. After a while we decided she weren’t on the porch. Besides, Ronny was startin’ up moanin about his sore knee which he done got when I run into him when we was roller skatin.’ His skates were loose ‘cause he done lost his skate key, and I sure nuff weren’t givin’ him mine, so he says his injury is probably permanent and he might sue me. I don’t know iffin he means it, but I ain’t givin’ him my skate key no how.
We snuck around to Old Pete’s real quiet like makin sure there weren’t no one in there. Old Man Pete lived alone, but Ronny said he was sure nuff certain there’d be a deputy or two standing guard. Ronny knows a lot about these kinds of things cause his folks let him watch Dragnet which he tells me all about.
We snuck up to every winda and lit a match tryin to see inside. It didn’t work so much and we was near to burnin’ our fingers off by the time we ran outa matches. With nothin’ left to burn, we jus set on the back stoop tryin to think a what to do next. Ronny said maybe the door’s open, but I said that’s stupid ‘cause it wouldn’t be open no more after the deputies was in there.
“It’s open,” Ronny hollered from the back door.
“Hush,” I yelled at him, just as loud. We sure weren’t never gonna be no future burglars, the way we was carryin’ on.
“Go on in,” I urged Ronny who was just standing there holdin’ onto the handle.
“I am, I am,” he said. Just wait on a minute.
I pushed my way past ole Ronny and went into the kitchen. There wasn’t no lights and we’d already burned up our matches, so we just stood there waiting for our eyes to adjust. A little light shone in thru the front winda, but it didn’t near reach the kitchen.
“Where’d you think Old Man Pete shot that fella?” Ronny whispered.
“Darned if I know,” I whispered, “I cain’t see nuthin’.”
“Maybe we should just go on home,” Ronny said.
“Heck no,” I said. “Doncha want to see the blood n’ guts no more?” Ronny still hadn’t moved away from the kitchen door, and I suspected he weren’t as tough as he said he were, even if he had seen all them Dragnet shows. Old Man Pete’s house was just like Gran’s on the inside with the kitchen in back of the livin’ room. The hall were off the kitchen an the sleepin’ rooms was on each end with the lavatory in the middle.
I started across the kitchen when a loud crashing noise behind me stopped me dead.
“What’d you do?” I whispered to Ronny.
“I dunno. I knocked somethin’ off the counter. Should I turn on the lights?”
“No!” I whispered as loud as I could. “Just don’t make no more noise.”
“Sorry,” whispered Ronny back.
I continued cross the kitchen with Ronny followin’ close. The hall was so dark, we couldn’t even see as much as we had in the kitchen. Except for the livin’ room, all the curtains were drawn and there weren’t no light even flickerin’ in from the outside. I moved along the hall, huggin’ the walls, trying to feel for a door latch.
“Ronny,” I whispered as loud as I could.
“I ain’t goin’ no further,” Ronny said out loud like we was just talkin’ normal.
“Shh!” I said. “Ronny, you skeered?”
“No, I ain’t skeered; I jus’ ain’t goin’ no further, that’s all.”
“Well I aim to see where he shot that feller. Will you wait on me?” I asked, now talkin’ normal just like we was in the kitchen at Gran’s.
“I reckon,” Ronny said.
I continued down the hall, moving my fingers along until I felt the door jam. I waved my hand around and couldn’t feel nothin’ ‘cept air. Even with the door open, I couldn’t see nuthin’ but dark.
“The bedroom door’s open,” I said to Ronny, not botherin’ to whisper no more.
“Can you see any blood?” Ronny asked.
“Nope. Cain’t see nothin’.” I stepped into the darkness and immediately felt my foot come out from under me. I landed hard and let out a yelp as I came down on top of my other foot with my knee bent under me. The fall slapped me back, jerkin’ my head onto the hard wood floor. The back a my head felt stuck to the floor. I felt the back of my head; it was sticky.
“I think I’m bleedin’ to death,” I hollered.
“What shud I do?” Ronny called from the kitchen door, not comin’ in any closer to where I was lyin’ on the floor.
“Get help, Ronny,” I hollered. “Get help!”
As I lie there on the floor, feeling real dumb, I thought about the switch Gran would probably make me fetch so she could whup me. Maybe if I were near to dyin’, she’d be all maudlin-like and forgivin.’ Felt like I lied there forever before I heard somebody clompin’ up the stoop. The kitchen light come on and I heard Gran tell Ronny to git on home.
“James Anderson Garrett, you in here, boy? Speak up if you is,” Gran hollered.
“I’m here, Gran. I done fell and broke my own leg,” I said tryin’ to sound real pitiful. The hall light came on nearly blindin’ me as Gran come down the hall.
“Give me yur hand, boy,” she said, leaning over and helpin’ me get to my feet. My legs shaky, but solid.
“I’m bleedin’ bad, Gran,” I told her, putting my hand to the back of my head.
She turned me toward the light and messed my hair a bit.
“Ain’t yur blood.”
I glanced back at the spot where I’d fallen to see a thick layer of sticky, dark red blood congealing on the floor. The walls of the hall where peppered in dark red splotches. Pieces of what looked like fatback were stuck to the walls and the ceiling. I felt the warmth run down my leg. I was gonna be sick, and I began to cry.
Gran took my hand in hers and led me home, never saying another word. From that day until the day she left us, she never brought up that night in Old Pete’s place. It was a night I never forgot. The night I learned about the dark side of curiosity.
When I first met you
I realised that I had lived my life
like a fish out of water;
unable to breath
unable to live
The Stranger by the Sea
She was walking a few blocks away from home. But something was different; all the buildings seemed to be the same and she realised she was lost. She kept on walking for what seemed to be hours and realised she had been walking in circles all along. She felt uneasy, as if she was being watched although when she looked around her she could see no one. It was odd but she had not encountered anyone so far. Finally, she saw a familiar street and was just about to turn to go back home when she realised that the sea was close by where was and she could smell the salty air. The temptation to sit for a while quietly by the seaside was too strong, so instead she took the road leading towards the rocky beach. It was relaxing watching the waves hit the rocks and hearing nothing but their sound. She thought she saw a shadow and turned around quickly but once again she saw no one. The closer she went to the rocks the more she felt she was being watched. She glanced around uneasily but she was alone. It seemed to be growing dark fast; strange she thought. Yet the sun had still been high a while ago. There was a crack in the rocks and what seemed to be a passage. She had never seen it before. She felt an urge to go on, to explore but at the same time her mind told her to be wary. It was then when he appeared; tall, lean and dark. She had no time to see his face because he grabbed her hand and pulled her down the passage into the rocks. Her heart beat fast, partly with fear but also with excitement. God knows what this stranger was going to do to her! And yet a part of her seemed to trust him, and she kept following him, his hand holding her wrist. After leading her into what seemed a rocky maze, they came a small sandy beach enclosed by rocks facing a cave. She took off her sandals as it was difficult to walk with them on the sand. By now it was pitch dark except for the moonlight. She followed him inside the cave in which there was some sort of light. Suddenly her eyelids seemed heavy and she couldn’t keep her eyes open. The stranger turned just as her eyes closed and yet again she didn’t get to see his face.
She awoke to the beep of her alarm clock. Immediately, she remembered the strange dream she had just had. It had felt so real; she could still feel her heart beating fast and smell the salty air. Stifling a yawn, she got out of bed. As soon as her feet touched the ground she felt something on her feet and looked down to see what it was. She wiped her feet only to realise they were covered in sand.
When the Woman You Love
Brent C. Green
Goes Off to War
You will say nothing.
You will not mention your anti-war political views.
You will not show her
The ashes of burned draft cards
Hidden in your closet.
You will not explain to her
The false propaganda fiction
She has taken to heart.
You will not read again
The marriage pact
You signed with her
When you were twenty-one,
Wondering if it will ever
Now come true.
You will not tell her
How many times
This made you cry today.
You will not show her this poem.
All that you will do
Is say nothing at all.
Because this is her decision, not yours.
And you will hope if she returns alive
There is still a woman to love.
Watching Bravo Reunion Shows
John F. Buckley
The scene is like teeth scraping
corduroy. This has been the most grueling
friendship since my last divorce. My wife’s watching
the neighbors fight in the living room,
dunking their donuts in one another’s martinis.
She is in a place where she wants a happy homelife
instead of spiraling downward. The nursery-school
dissonance splashes the wall paneling,
leaves dripping silhouettes of marionettes
slackjawed and gabbling. Never never
never did she come to me and offer an apology.
I can feel my pulse in my molars.
Things are actually coming to a head
with the second house. I’m the one
afraid of Virginia Woolf tonight.
John F. Buckley Bio
John F. Buckley has been writing poetry since March 2009, when his attempt at composing a self-help book went somewhat awry. After twenty years in and around California, he now lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife. His publications include various poems, two chapbooks, the collection Sky Sandwiches, and with Martin Ott, Poets’ Guide to America and Yankee Broadcast Network. His website is http://johnfbuckley.net/.
Have it, they shall
It had been forever. There was always something. The sun hit his face as he exited the bus. It was going to be a hot one. Mid-August. A cold six pack of micro brew clanged in his backpack as he walked the trail through Carkeek Park. The chill of the shade refreshed his skin.
His hobble slowed him from his usual speed. There was the job he had worked so hard for. A mistake. The fucker. If he had it to do all over again...
USPS will chew you up and spit you out.
“Your job sucks.” His most recent ex would always say.
He grinned. He was one of the very few that “made it.” At what cost?
Memories flood returned. The Her. They were always there. It was their beach back then. He hadn’t been able to make it in years now. First it was earning the job, proving himself once again. The most exhausted he had ever been. Then it was a severe ankle injury. Time, but no money. The usual. Plus, a bad ankle. Then it was work, again. Money, but no time. The usual. Now it was workers’ comp., and his bad back again.
Now, however, he was determined. Years. How he loved the beach. A Thursday. His scheduled day off. It was time. Now or never, at least for another year.
Women walked past, usually either in pairs or couples. Their legs shined and caught his glance. If only. Once in a while a lone person came along the path. They were usually joggers that looked unhappy or older people walking dogs. He nicely nodded hellos.
Aside from pushing back memory’s flood from returning, he smelled the air, indulged in the cool breeze, and smiled at finally being back.
Reaching the beach, he stood in the cold waters of Puget Sound. The punishing sun beat down, but was, for once, welcome. He wasn’t surrounded by eighty pounds of mail, sprinting up sixty feet of concrete steps, with sweat pouring out of him, today, at least. Plus, the cold water up past his knees invigorated him.
“Ahhhhh.....yeahhhh......” The biggest exhale in history.
He picked a secluded spot. The tide was low. It was his day. The cold beer went down so nice. Perfect. He grinned.
Memories flooded once in a while, and he looked around sadly. A journeyman. The rollercoaster of his life haunted him to his very core. Notebook open, pen in hand, poetry began flowing. Romance, passions, loves lost, tragedies..... his handwriting could not keep up. Brainstorming always brought the highest of happinesses.
“Some of this might be publishable.” He found himself saying out loud. There, poetically, was no one around, aside from the slowly incoming tide.
A young woman came walking along. The expression on her face said she wanted to be left alone. He felt bad for glancing at her body, but couldn’t help himself. She was obviously much younger than he, perhaps early twenties. He was forty-two.
She laid out a towel near some rocks, around twenty feet from him, leaned against the rocks, and began reading a novel. Her legs were amazing. He resisted, and went back to his own world; the waves, the smell of the ocean, the rare enjoyment.
Once in a while, when he got too hot, he went out into the water. He stood there, watching the waves increase with the tides, inhaling deeply, cleansing, until his legs were painfully numb. Then it was back to the writing and reflecting.
All good things must come to an end. A group of four young guys came along to set up camp. They were drunk and noisy. Frisbees flew almost as high as the annoying, drunken laughter. One hit Liam on the side of his shoulder. Their laughter erupted.
“Sorry, old dude! You ok?”
Ha ha ha. Indeed.
“No. I’m mortally wounded from a Frisbee. Here. Go get it.”
The Frisbee went into the water. Liam Laughed.
Ha ha ha. Indeed.
The woman looked his way. Their eyes met very briefly. A slight smile pronounced on each of their faces. She seemed more comfortable, somehow.
“Go for her, man. Show us what you got, dude.”
Immediately, she tensed. It was all too obvious. She pretended to continue reading her book, obviously bracing for bullshit.
The Frisbee was thrown perfectly. A “heroic” catch. Laughter. A beginning of conquest. Feather in the cap. Young and stupid. Liam shook his head. This should be good writing material. Life is happening, just not his.
The jive began. Humor. Usual lines. Her obligations to not crush him.
Liam didn’t have such obligations. He didn’t care anymore. What he did have was laughter, and he used it. He was known as something of an asshole anyway, so what the fuck.
“Really?!” Liam’s laugh silenced everyone.
“What, old dude, what?!”
“That is what you chose to say to her? Really?”
Everyone suddenly looked worried. Was there going to be confrontation?
“Nobody asked you, old man, ok?”
“What, are you like eight? Really? That’s hilarious. Really. I used those lines when I was in junior high.”
Liam’s laugh was hearty. She cracked up, echoing the laughter.
“Come on, dude. There are hotter chicks out there. Ok.”
“No, no. He ruined a good thing, man. I wanna kick his ass. Come on.”
“A good thing?! You had no thing, other than making her uncomfortable.”
“What?! Old man, I can kick your ass.”
“Come on man, let’s leave, ok? It’s not worth it. There are hotter chicks, ok?”
A rock whizzed past Liam’s face, landing beside him. His smile lit the dimming sky.
It was him and her, and silence for minutes.
“I’m sorry that happened. I just couldn’t help but hear and laugh, and well....”
Her sly smile seemed to warm her. She set her book aside, took out a flask, and sipped. She let out a deep sigh, and began gathering her things. Liam found himself regretting that she was leaving.
Him and his big mouth.
Carrying what she had, she walked over beside him, unpacked, laid down on her beach towel, and handed him the flask.
“This will scare them off.” She laughed.
He sipped and laughed too, handing her back the flask.
“What are you reading?”
“Oh some novel. It’s the usual. So normal. So formula. It’s terrible in the usual ways, but it’s something to read.”
“Ouch. I can relate. That’s why I’d rather write than read. It’s much more enjoyable. No formula bullshit.”
Her face lit up like a Christmas Tree.
“I write too! Not as much as I would like, but I love it!”
Now both their faces were lit. The flask was passed with increasing frequencies. Brainstorming commenced. He showed her what he had written that day, eagerly pointing to lines that might be published. She noticeably shifted, nearly squirming in her seat, rereading her favorite parts. She then showed him her works on her blog. His eyes opened wide.
He showed her his published works on Scars Publications page, and even read some to her as she glowed ever brighter.
“So the old man gets to pop her cherry, huh?”
She looked down. Liam looked hardened. His arm went around her. She leaned in.
“Dude, dude....you had too much to drink, ok? We’re taking you home.”
“No! I can take him! Come on, old man, come on!”
The youngster’s moves made Liam stand up abruptly. His old “bad boy scowl” returned. Five foot eleven, two fifteen. Scars all over him, well earned.
“Oh shit! Let’s go, man! Now. You’re going!”
“No! I can take him!”
His punch was more a glance. He missed, mostly. A little blood came from Liam’s lip. Very little. The youngster stood up to see Liam standing there smiling at him.
“Yeah oops. Ya think?”
The three others grabbed the youngster and pulled him out of harm’s way. Liam stood there, smiling, knowing ropes. How far he had come.
She stood beside him, putting her left arm around his shoulders, her right hand on his bare, sunburnt chest.
“Please don’t be. It felt really good.”
They settled in on their towels as the tide rolled in, ever closer. Flasks and beers were passed. Poems, literature, and laughter echoed. Ideas flowed faster than the tides could move. She nestled against him. It felt so right.
The beach emptied slowly. The tides made them move, and move again.
“So, umm...this has been great, but I gotta pee.”
“Me too. First, though.....I know I am older, but this is too good. Can I have your number? Maybe we can talk?”
“Well, I do tend to like older guys....”
“Let’s go pee first. I gotta......”
“Bushes? I’m ready.”
“Yeah.” She laughed, before rushing off. He did too, and was now two o’ five.
“Let’s make sure we have the right numbers.”
Her text came through.
The way to the cars was even more fun; laughing and carrying on. It was a far cry from the earlier shells, stuck in their own world. The world was now theirs to be had, and have it they shall.
Colin Kelly sat at the kitchen table looking into Maggie’s tear-stained face. Kneeling in front of her, his wife Frances was busy applying alcohol and iodine to the nasty scrapes on their adult daughter’s knees. Colin’s half-eaten breakfast still rested on the table top, forgotten as soon as he’d received his Maggie’s phone call. That his wife had not cleared the table, or at least kept his food warm for him attested to the anxiety both felt.
Half an hour earlier, Colin had eased his nearly new ’50 Chevy to the curb in front of the downtown Brown Building and found his daughter sitting outside on the steps, her knees bloodied, weeping into her hands. She’d told him the story between sobs on the way home and was now describing the ordeal to her mother.
“It was just awful, Momma. The whole thing was just awful.”
“Everything will be all right, dear,” Frances said. “We’ll get you some new stockings and I can easily mend your dress.”
Maggie began crying again. “But I’ll never get that job now.”
“A problem for another day,” Colin said, reaching across and patting her hand. She’s already had enough problems to last a lifetime, Colin thought. Her husband killed in the Korean Conflict just over a year ago, trying to raise a daughter on her own, and then having to move back in with us.
His daughter had begun the day happily enough, rushing off to catch the downtown bus, eagerly anticipating her job interview with Southern Bell. The bus had been late, though, and when she stepped into the building, the elevator operator was nowhere to be seen. She was in a state of near panic when, five minutes later, the operator came strolling down the marbled hallway with a folded newspaper under his arm.
“Where on earth have you been?” she cried. “I’m going to be late for my interview!”
He had looked at her and sneere”ilet sometime.”
Maggie had been shocked and angered by the man’”ly, she had refused to enter the e” Colin said, reaching across and patting her hand. She’s already had enough problems to last a lifetime, Colin thought. Her husband killed in the Korean Conflict just over a year ago, trying to raise a daughter on her own, and then having to move back in with us.
His daughter had begun the day happily enough, rushing off to catch the downtown bus, eagerly anticipating her job interview with Southern Bell. The bus had been late, though, and when she stepped into the building, the elevator operator was nowhere to be seen. She was in a state of near panic when, five minutes later, the operator came strolling down the marbled hallway with a folded newspaper under his arm.
“Where on earth have you been?”rances. “I’m going out for a bit, won’t be too long,”I imagine.”
She followed him to the door where he removed his coat and hat from the hall tree. “Where are you going?”
“See a man about”
Maggie had been shocked and angered by the man’s language—as was Colin when she’d recounted it to him. Naturally, she had refused to enter the elevator with the odious man and had gone in search of the stairs. She was on her way up to the sixth floor when she’d tripped, tearing her stockings, scraping both knees, and ripping the seam in her dress. She had broken down crying, stumbled to the lobby, and called Colin from a nearby pay phone.
Colin got up from the table and said, “Why don’t you rest for a while, Maggie? Emily will be home from school before long. For being eight years old, she doesn’t miss much.”lin walked in. Probably due to the approaching holidays, he imagined. No one wanted to do any real work this close to Christmas. The elevator was standing open, the operator tilted back in a chair next to the doors reading a paperback western. ”e looked up as Colin came to a halt in front of him.
“No.” Colin buried his”hands deep in the pockets of his overcoat. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Then what do you want?””the man said. He was heavyset ”ith a gut that bulged out between the straps of his suspenders, and eyes that were at once wary and insolent.
“My daughter came in here this morning and you were rude to her, used language ”o man should use with a woman.”
The man smiled, showing a couple of gold teeth toward the back. “Oh, yeah ... I remember her, a cute little thing. Got all upset ’cause I’d taken a few minutes to drop a deuce down the hall. Sure, ”
He glanced back at the front door as he climbed into the Chevy. Frances was still there, arms folded across her chest, watching him from the open doorway.
The lobby was nearly empty when Colin walked in. Probably due to the approaching holidays, he imagined. No one wanted to do any real work this close to Christmas. The elevator was standing open, the operator tilted back in a chair next to the doors reading a paperback western. He looked up as Colin came to a halt in front of him.
“Going up?”use of you,”my daughter missed out on a job interview. She’s living with us for the time being, trying ”eal hard to find a job and sup”ort her eight-year-old daughter, my granddaughter.”
The man rocked forward on his chair and rose up to his full height, one sausage-like thumb marking his place in the paperback. “Because of me you say? Hell, Grandpa”—he narrowed hi” eyes and moved a step closer to Colin— “I didn’t do a damn thing.”
Colin stood his ground and looked into the man’s eyes. His pulse was slowing now, an idea forming in his mind. “So you’re not going to ap”
Colin felt the old familiar heat rising in his neck, his hands becoming fists in his pockets. He could easily hook one of the chair legs with his foot and send the elevator operator crashing to the marble floor. Probably get in a few good licks before he could regain his feet. But the man had a good fifty pounds on him, maybe twenty years, too. And how could he explain any cuts and bruises to Frances? Not after what she’d said, what he’d promised. He needed to calm himself.
“Because of you, my daughter missed out on a job interview. She’s living with us for the time being, trying real hard to find a job and support her eight-year-old daughter, my granddaughter.”217;s voice but not the one he was looking for.
“I’d like to speak to Thomas Connelly, please.”
“My name is Colin Kelly. I’m a” old ... colleague of Thomas’.”
A brief pause followed, then, “Of course, Mr. Kelly, my father”spoke of you often. Unfortunately, he recently passed away.”
“I’m sorry,” Colin replied. “I didn’t know.”
“No reason you should. As I ”nderstand it, you, shall we say, retired a few years before my father. At any rate, Mr. Kelly, perhaps I”can be of help to you.”
“Well, I ....” Colin hesitated, unsure how to begin, but then continued. ”#8220;I once”did a favor for your father. It was quite a long time ag”, but—”
“I’m well aware of that favor, sir, and while my father has passed, his concept of reciprocity is still honored here. Now, Mr. Kelly, tell me how can I help you.”
Colin sat at his kitchen table the following morning, reading the newspaper and finishing up a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. Maggie’s knees ”ere still stained with iodine, but her face was relaxed and happy as she and Emily discussed Christmas plans. Frances seemed relaxed as we”l and squeezed Colin’” shoulder as she poured him another cup of coffee. The night before, he had told”his wife and daughter of the conversation with the elevator operator, and how the man had seemed properly remorseful and offered ” sincere apology.
On pa”e five of the local section of the paper he”found a brief article reporting an attack on the elevator operator at the Brown Building. According to police accounts, two men brandishing baseball bats had entered the ”uilding just before c”osing and beaten the operator severely enough to require his hospitalization. As of yet, the police had no clues to the attackers’ ident”ties.
“I’ll take that section of the paper,” Frances said, “once you’re through with it.”
Colin raised his eyebrows. “I thought you and Maggie w”
Colin sat at his kitchen table the following morning, reading the newspaper and finishing up a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. Maggie’s knees were still stained with iodine, but her face was relaxed and happy as she and Emily discussed Christmas plans. Frances seemed relaxed as well and squeezed Colin’s shoulder as she poured him another cup of coffee. The night before, he had told his wife and daughter of the conversation with the elevator operator, and how the man had seemed properly remorseful and offered a sincere apology.
On page five of the local section of the paper he found a brief article reporting an attack on the elevator operator at the Brown Building. According to police accounts, two men brandishing baseball bats had entered the building just before closing and beaten the operator severely enough to require his hospitalization. As of yet, the police had no clues to the attackers’ identities.
“I’ll take that section of the paper,”he darted through the rows of trees. It was like followi”g an excited puppy, he thought. Finally, she stopped and put both hands to her mouth.
“Oh, Granddaddy, can we get that one? It’s so beautiful.”
Colin chuckl”d to himself and waved for the lot propriet”r. “Like I said, honey, it’s your choice.”
The tree stood in the corner of the living room when Col”n’s wife and dau”hter got home. He and Emily had arranged a felt skirt at the bottom to cover the wooden s”ats holding it upright, but it was”otherwise unadorned.
“Well, my good”ess,” Frances said as she dropped a number of shopping bags on the sofa. R”0;That’s very ... unusual.”
“I should say,” offered Maggie, exchanging a glance with her mother. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Christmas tree quite like it.”
Colin draped his arm over Emily’s shoulder. “It’s a very special tree for a very special girl””
Emily beamed. “I picked it out.”
Frances used a hand to cover her smile. “Yes, Emily, I’m sur” you did. And tomorrow we’ll all help decorate it.”
After Maggie and Emily had fallen asleep in the spare bedroom, Colin and Frances sat together on the sofa sipping glasses of spiced eggnog. Colin was thinking about the twelv”-inch Philco table-top television hidden in the Chevy’s voluminous trunk. He’d wait until Christmas”morning to bring it out unless Emily was unable to keep their secret until then.
He felt Frances’ hand on his.
“I want to thank you again for what you did—or, I guess I should say what you didn’t do yesterday morning. I could see you were fuming in”ide. It was a great favor to me and to our family.”
Colin laced his fingers through hers. “That par” of my life was a lon” time ago. I try not to take matters into my own hands now.”
“You did the right thing,” she said, looking deep into his eyes an” giving him a shy grin. “And I know it’s been quite a while since we’ve ... well, you know what I mean. But i” you feel like it, I think I’m r”ady to return that favor.”
“Reciprocity,” he said, his grin matching hers. “I’d like that.”
As they entered the ”
After Maggie and Emily had fallen asleep in the spare bedroom, Colin and Frances sat together on the sofa sipping glasses of spiced eggnog. Colin was thinking about the twelve-inch Philco table-top television hidden in the Chevy’s voluminous trunk. He’d wait until Christmas morning to bring it out unless Emily was unable to keep their secret until then.
He felt Frances’ hand on his.
“I want to thank you again for what you did—or, I guess I should say what you didn’t do yesterday morning. I could see you were fuming inside. It was a great favor to me and to our family.”
Colin laced his fingers through hers. “That part of my life was a long time ago. I try not to take matters into my own hands now.”
“You did the right thing,” she said, looking deep into his eyes and giving him a shy grin. “And I know it’s been quite a while since we’ve ... well, you know what I mean. But if you feel like it, I think I’m ready to return that favor.”
“Reciprocity,” he said, his grin matching hers. “I’d like that.”
As they entered the hall leading to their bedroom, Colin turned back and cast one last glance into the living room. “You know, Frances, life is much too short to have never owned a sprayed-pink Christmas tree.”
A Rabbit’s Cry
A fat, silver band of highway runs west from the train station seven miles before it sails south; all the while following a narrowing river overflowing with silt and clay. There are no bridges along this stretch of road, as it crosses no water, following the river like a shadow. The waterside cradles short, rocky bluffs, lined with cedars and white pines. Deer, squirrels, and birds browse the twigs, buds, and bark that hug the steel guardrail forming the fence line between primitive and refined. To the west of the road lay the polished objects of urbanity: pizza shops, dry cleaners, gas stations, convenience stores. Side streets like chubby fingers stretch from the main artery, harboring neat, angular tudor homes built upon neat, rectangular lots of leafy grass. These are the streets men and women, weary from work in the city, turn onto as dusk descends upon the country. And it is a few houses from the highway, off one of the squat driveways, that a short path of smooth gray brick shaded under an awning of dogwood, stretches to an arched front door cast in shadow.
Nicolas Labonte walked along this path, stirring a pot-bellied robin that whistled and took flight, fracturing the stillness a warm wind had blown into the spring twilight. Labonte was dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, and lemon tie. He was tall and quick, goateed, with darkened eyes, and sharpness along the shoulders. He was neither lanky nor brawny, but lean and wiry. His head was long (he was born with scaphocephaly, a congenital cranial disorder incurring damage to the nervous system, and characterized by a long, narrow head), the skin pockmarked around the cheeks, and he wore his black hair short, and parted to the left. He walked with the upright air of a sovereign, and this was his castle.
On this final evening of his life, Labonte hung his keys gently on the deer head shaped iron hook in the foyer, his black loafers clicking lightly along the wood flooring until entering a freshly carpeted bedroom. The entire home smelled of vanilla - his favorite.
“And what have we here?” Nicolas placed his large hands in his pockets, casually rocking back and forth.
He had grown up fast - literally growing fast. By the sixth grade he was five foot ten, and learning to use every inch to intimidate and induce his influence upon his peers and staff at school. He grew from the grit of his surroundings: a father who was a hard-hitting, union plumber; and a semi-comatose mother who served breakfast at a diner five mornings a week, then spent her afternoons smoking, drinking, and playing solitaire. Inside the Labonte home, taciturnity was the first order of affairs.
He was twenty-three when he met her at a party. Nicolas was a Fordham senior knowing what was in front of him: not graduating from a top twenty university, it would be difficult to crack the Wall Street grind. But he did, and completed an analyst program. After that, came the MBA. He returned as an associate with a top-flight firm. He had paid his dues, manifesting his worth each day, thriving in the merit-based industry of high finance. In an alpha business, he was strong, imposing, and able to flow amongst the highest-paid, most well connected executives, eventually settling in as a very lucrative prop trader. It was Nicolas’ monomaniacal drive that charmed his future wife’s dawdling soul. She latched on right away.
“There’s a rabbit in the yard. It’s eating a mouse.”
She said this distantly, without turning her head or taking her eyes off what was happening through the window. Outside was turning to gray, dusty light that comes right before darkness. The wind had picked up. Inside, a soft lemon glow shone from a lamp sitting on a white bureau. The woman, moaning softly, kneeled upright, and pressed flat her knee-length blue dress. Her eyes steadied on her husband’s.
“You said there’s a rabbit eating a mouse?” He took a long step closer to the window - closer to her - pants swishing through the silence. “That’s strange. Rabbits don’t eat meat. One shouldn’t get near an animal when it acts out of character.”
The woman’s path to this moment in time was less symmetrical. She attended a private, all girls’ high school on the Upper East Side, studying global literature - which she continued throughout college. Her parents were rich, very rich. “Well-bred,” is what Nicolas liked to say. Laid-back, bordering on apathy, she held a string of relatively low-level jobs - faxing, answering phones at her father’s firm; very part-time set designer for a small, very small theater; sporadic, random tutoring gigs - after graduation. Now she wasn’t working. The carpets often felt like quicksand; the wood floors yielding to the pressure of her footsteps – bowing inwards, drawing her down. More and more she found herself repeating a bizarre phrase, often in a whiny, childish voice:
“But I went to Cornell.”
When pricing grapes, or wondering whether it would be better to plant crocuses or some sort of colorful annual bordering the front path, or cooking steak tartare for Nicolas, even while negotiating his choler - she all choked-up with tears and nasally mucus, all slashed and discolored - she’d say it to herself, never aloud:
“But I went to Cornell.”
Huddling in the corner, her hands frozen, open wide in order to cover as much area as possible. She knew it sounded ridiculous (even within her own head), but it was there all the same. Kind of like a mantra - her inner tag line.
The woman turned back to the window. Her brown hair was tied back, and now her thin, milky hands were under her chin, her arms flat along the sill. Nicolas sensed that she’d emotionally checked out. He began to grind his teeth, looking at her, at the darkening sky.
She finally replied. “Yes, you’re right. It can kill them. Eating meat. I looked it up.”
“Just don’t go outside. It could be rabid.”
“You’re right. It would be foolish to be near something so dangerous.” If Nicolas didn’t know any better (but he did), he could have sworn...Absurdity.
Outside, a rabbit continued tearing into a dead mouse. Its fuzzy front paws had pinned down the rodent; its egg-shaped body, all brown and gray and white, lay splayed on the lawn. The rabbit was next to a tall wooden fence, and was digging in like a dog with a meaty bone.
“You look like you’re feeling better - physically,” Nicolas said. This was a question, and hung a moment, as Nicolas took off his suit jacket, and conscientiously hung it over the crib rail, then crossed his arms, one hand folded under, the left hand hugging his firm bicep.
The woman lifted her chin off her hands, turning her head to the man. “My side still hurts. I think it’s my kidney.” She said this blandly, and they held eye contact for a long while.
“It is your kidney,” said Nicholas. He dipped his head down, smiled, and said cheerfully, expectantly, “Now let’s eat some dinner.” Nicholas turned to leave the room, but his wife’s voice stopped him. She was once again looking out the window.
“They sleep with their eyes open too.”
“I guess it’s because they’re prey animals.” Perhaps she didn’t, or couldn’t hear him. “They’re constantly on the lookout for the next crisis. It’s just around the corner, you know.”
“You’ve spent so much time on this - you and your rabbit. I’m impressed.”
“And the mouse.”
“What?” Nicholas’ mouth fluttered, but he pulled it back, his grip on his right arm constricting.
“Don’t forget the mouse.” She turned again, and soberly looked him in the eyes.
“And the mouse.”
“I’m tired,” the woman said, and took a deep breath, and turned her focus back toward the window.
Imperceptibly, even to Nicolas, his other muscles began to tighten. He dropped his arms down to his sides, his large hands pressing into fists.
“Okay,” he said. “Enough of this fun. I’m starved.” He delivered this in an upbeat tone, and with the crack of a cannon, he clapped his hands, turned on his heels militaristically, and walked out the room. A moment later, he jabbed his head in the doorway, saying kindly, “A guilty conscience needs no accuser.” He smiled, displaying a perfect row of large, white upper teeth; creases deep around his eyes; and two dimples rounded like apples - and almost as big - appearing on those pockmarked cheeks.
On the other side of the window, darkness was being pulled over the sky like a hood. The woman got up, turned off the light and moved back toward the glass, her hands upon the sill, waiting for her eyes to adjust to darkness. The rabbit’s head was jerking up and down, six, seven times, until it had ripped the mouse in half. With a chunk of the mouse’s upper - or was it bottom half - in its mouth, the rabbit moved a few feet away toward an immaculate gray shed standing at the far left corner of the yard. The air was still now, and atop the other half of the mouse, the one left behind by the rabbit, flies were whirling, resting upon the carcass. A rapping of knuckles on the dining room table brought the woman’s thoughts back inside.
The word sent a shiver through her very being.
She felt something. It started from the bottom of her spine and shot its way up through her throat, exploding in her brain, and causing her to smile violently. Outside, the moon was showing herself, hovering like a balloon. The woman heard herself whisper, sort of laughing as she said it. Was it even her?
“Shhh. Quiet down, mouse.”
Land of Opportunity
Debbie L. Miller
Jose takes a seat in the back of the bus. It’s Thanksgiving and he’s working a 14-hour shift.
Last week, his boss promoted him from busboy to salad chef. Now, he preps salads and chops vegetables and doesn’t have to clear the tables. Maybe soon he’ll get promoted to cook and when his English gets better, he can work as a waiter and earn more plus tips. Then, someday when he’s old, like 25, he will own his own restaurant, like those two brothers from Puebla who came to Brooklyn when they were teenagers and now own a successful coffee shop.
For now, though, it doesn’t matter whether he works 10 or 14 hours a day because it’s the same pay whether he works 50 or 80 hours a week—a flat $325. He sends most of that to his parents in Mexico.
It’s going to be a long day, so he tries to catch some sleep on the way to work. He’s about to close his eyes, when an American woman boards the bus. She has blonde hair, all the way down to the roots. Jose figures she’s about 40 but very beautiful for an older woman. In fact, she’s the most beautiful white woman he’s ever seen. She sits next to him.
“Excuse me, do you know what time it is?”
“Yes, Ma’am. It’s 7:30.”
Jose wants to look at her, but he’s timid, especially with American women, although his friends don’t believe him. They say a good-looking man like him should have a lot of girlfriends and shouldn’t be afraid of the mujeres. But, he can’t deny the truth—he’s a shy man.
He wonders how far the woman will ride. He closes his eyes and inhales. She smells good. Not just good. Clean. She’s probably never worked in a restaurant, never come home smelling like grease, like he does after a 12-hour shift in an unventilated kitchen.
She probably doesn’t work. He wonders a lot of things about her: what kind of food she likes, if she likes to dance, if she has a boyfriend or husband. He practices questions in his head—“Where are you from?”, “How long have you lived in Brooklyn?”, “What’s your favorite food?” Questions he could ask if he wasn’t scared; if he would just open his eyes and talk to her.
Yesterday, his English teacher gave a homework assignment: talk with three Americans. But, what if he talks to somebody and they laugh at him? What if they don’t understand? But, he needs to improve his English. Better English, better job, better pay. Okay, I will do it. I will start a conversation with this woman.
Jose opens his eyes to speak, but the woman is gone.
Once the Wind Became Light, art by Bill Wolak
Bill Wolak brief bio
Bill Wolak is a poet, photographer, and collage artist. His collages have been published in The Annual, Peculiar Mormyrid, Danse Macabre, Dirty Chai, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, Lost Coast Review, Yellow Chair Review, Otis Nebula, and Horror Sleaze Trash. He has just published his twelfth book of poetry entitled Love Opens the Hands with Nirala Press. Recently, he was a featured poet at The Mihai Eminescu International Poetry Festival in Craiova, Romania. Mr. Wolak teaches Creative Writing at William Paterson University in New Jersey.
ayaz daryl nielsen
someone at this table
seeks a conversation
wants to be heard
it takes awhile
before I realize
about ayaz daryl nielsen
ayaz daryl nielsen, veteran, former hospice nurse, ex-roughneck (as on oil rigs) lives in Longmont, Colorado. Editor of bear creek haiku (26+ years/135+ issues) with poetry published worldwide, he also is online when you search for bear creek haiku - poetry, poems and info.
proposed and refused
ayaz daryl nielsen
he drew a
wedding band on
her ring hand
tipped a full glass
into his lap
shook her head
and paid the bill
about ayaz daryl nielsen
ayaz daryl nielsen, veteran, former hospice nurse, ex-roughneck (as on oil rigs) lives in Longmont, Colorado. Editor of bear creek haiku (26+ years/135+ issues) with poetry published worldwide, he also is online when you search for bear creek haiku - poetry, poems and info.
A Grown Man
Devaun Bufford dressed for school that morning with extra care. Out-of-uniform day was always his day to look fresh, but this was the day of prom. People expected him to put on, North Memphis style. In the mirror he observed his choice: denim vest, embossed with the popped collar, his black shorts hanging low as Principal Hawkins would let him get away with, and the Prada backpack. It was real, that bag. It was the nicest thing he owned, a Christmas present from his grandmama. Top it off with some shades. His friends would think he was already gettin’ crunk, getting the night started early.
The Prada bag was lighter than usual. He checked the inside and rolled his eyes.
“Mama!” He called out to the open bedroom door. “You hide my stash?”
“Yes I did.” She yelled back from the kitchen. “When are you gonna grow up, act like a man and quit messin’ around with that crew of yours?”
He laughed. She knew her words fell on closed ears. The Fame Mob Crew were his friends, plus he didn’t want to remind her his hustling kept the heat on that winter. Memphis Light, Gas, Electric had raised their monthly premium again. What the fuck was that about, anyway?
Ten minutes later, he’d recovered it from under the mattress she shared with his sister Mattie in the bigger bedroom with the window. There weren’t a lot of places to hide things in their apartment. It was small, just two little bedrooms in the Hickory Hill Complex. Devaun got his own room because his mama and sister liked to joke that he smelled bad. Well, smelling bad was what men did, he told them.
“I’ll see you later,” he called, passing by the kitchen on his way out.
“What you going to school for, ain’t nobody go the day of the senior prom anyhow.”
“Cause, ma, I’m failing math and French class, I told you.” He skipped too much this year, he knew it. Now he was going to have to repeat the year if he didn’t get some makeup work done. On dumb days like this, there wouldn’t be so many of his brothers around to get him in trouble.
“Mhm. Don’t forget to stop at the clinic. You know they close at three on Friday, so you best get there early.”
His little sister was watching TV on the armchair by the front door, her eyes glazed over.
“No school today?”
She shook her head.
“Your stomach again?”
“I ain’t going.”
“Suit yourself.” Devaun stuffed a notebook into his bag, taking his time with the zipper. “Man, they still haven’t come to fix that leak?” The air conditioning unit in the living room had been dripping for three weeks, making the ceiling all brown and moldy, the white plaster surface distorted.
Mattie shrugged, her eyes on the television. “Guess not.”
“Told them I wasn’t gonna pay no thirty five dollars a month if the damn thing keep floodin’ up the place.”
She shrugged again.
“Aight, I’m off.”
“Bring me back some chips, D.”
He patted her on the hair as he walked by. He felt her flinch.
Mattie had just started going with a powerful cat-daddy in the neighborhood. His granddaughter was in her grade and she did the introductions. Now Ray Bo brought a check around every weekend when he came to pick her up. Sometimes she was gone for days and she wouldn’t tell him where they went. He was so afraid those times, it made him sick, but he didn’t want to upset his mother by bringing it up. So he hustled hard as he could. Mattie didn’t want his money and his mother disapproved, cursed him out for being stupid while she took it in small pieces behind her daughter’s back. Her Mexican boyfriend treated her good, unlike all the others, but he always had some excuse not to help out with the rent.
At home, the power was perfectly balanced. They took care of each other. Some time, after graduation when he worked a few years, he’d save up to buy them a place. Something small with a little porch where his sister and mama could sit with their friends. As far away from Memphis as he could get them.
He walked to school listening to a classic Choco Khon track. Money money money, makes the clock tick, makes this kid rich quick. A rival crew in the hood named themselves after the song. The Fame Mob was planning on turning up the mayhem on them that night. It was recruiting season, and they had to mark their turf before those hood little Rich Kwik boys honed in on the freshmen. Or the girls.
Reggie fell into stride with him a few blocks from school. His little brother Calvin was behind him. They were his second cousins, but Reggie was an asshole.
“Hey man, I heard your sister going with that cat daddy Ray Bo,” said Reggie. “You think you can hook me up, cuz?”
“Naw man, quit tryin’ to shake me down all the time.”
“You talking bout that man who own that big liquor store on Manassas Street?” Calvin said. He must have been nine or ten years old, with a high pitched little voice. Devaun liked to teach him made-up swear words sometimes, just to hear him say them in that voice of his. “I heard he got like eight girls he takin’ care of already. That true, Reg?”
“Maddie kinda young to be going with Ray Bo,” Reggie piped up, trailing behind Devaun. “Ain’t she fifteen?”
“Naw, she fourteen,” said Calvin. “I remember cuz she got the same birthday as me, just five years older.”
“Mind your business and quit talkin’ to me like you a grown man, Cal,” Devaun said, putting his headphones back in. “You don’t know nothin.”
“Aight, you gone be like that,” Reggie said. “Shit, if it was you who was asking, I wouldn’t think twice about givin’.” The two of them walked off, Reggie shaking his head.
Devaun didn’t spare Reggie any thought. That part of the family was always grubbing for money.
He got a message from his date Tish, checking to see if his vest and corsage matched her dress. He typed out yes woman for the tenth time. He tried to kiss her the other week after he’d asked her to prom. But she pushed him away, said she deserved a grown man, said every time they kissed she heard his crazy hyena laugh in her head. Wild man, that was what everyone thought he was, his teachers, his crew, his family. Sometimes it was cool, sometimes it made people afraid of him.
He went to French class, where Ms. Coughlin was talking about asking for directions.
“How would you ask someone how to get to the river when you’re downtown by the FedEx Forum?”
“I wouldn’t, I already know how to get to the river,” Toya said.
“I know that. But if you were in a foreign city, in France or Tunisia, how would you say it?”
“Ms. C., there’s only five of us in here,” said Toya. She was applying lipstick at her desk. “Can’t we have a free day?”
Devaun called out, “Hey Ms. C, how you ask a nigga how to get you your money in another language?”
His classmates snickered. Ms. Coughlin looked annoyed. He noticed she only got mad when he acted a fool in the beginning of class. If he waited until the end when she passed out worksheets then he could mess with her or his friends as much as he wanted.
“Devaun, maybe when you meet a French speaker you’ll want to talk about something other than money.”
“Now, see the situation is, my mama’s got this boyfriend, he Mexican, and me and my sister wonderin’ when he gonna pitch in a little, you feel me Ms. C? Hey, you got a boyfriend? You wanna be my prom date?”
The class laughed.
“It’s not really appropriate to ask me, Devaun. Could you sit down? I don’t know any Spanish.”
She was always on him, one of those teachers who wouldn’t let him sleep in class or mouth his way to detention. Trying to be a role model or something. Once, after she reprimanded him, he told her, “I know you tryin’ to put me on the right path, Ms. C. I know all that.”
“I can point you to the path, Devaun. You’re the one who’s got to walk it.”
He got it, but she must have thought he was dumb because she repeated it every few days for the next weeks. “Walk that path, Devaun. I see you walking.”
He got serious then, and even took down some notes. There was a diploma somewhere with his name on it, and hell if he wasn’t going to walk across that stage with it next week. The window to the outside hallway was distracting him though. Ms. Matthews’ class shuffled to the gym, banging on lockers as they passed. They must’ve had a sub in there. His cousin Reggie was with them, and he hovered outside the door, trying to lock eyes with him.
Inside the classroom, Devaun rolled his eyes. “Oh, Jesus.”
Reggie knocked loudly and poked his head inside. “Hey Devaun, tell your teacher I gotta talk to you about something out here.”
“Go to your assigned class for this period, please,” Ms. Coughlin said, trying to close the door on him.
Devaun rose from his seat. “Quit messin’ with me man, we workin’ in here.” From the door he gestured behind him at the five other students in the room, who all laughed at this. Ms. Coughlin looked angry.
“Devaun, sit down. This is the last time I ask you.”
“Hey, cuz, gimme twenty for the prom, man.” Reggie begged. “I ain’t got my girl a flower or nothing.”
“Tell her there’s a field back there on Brook Street that’s got plenty, she can pick ‘em herself.”
“Bro, I ain’t messing around.”
“You big eared fool, you sound just like your little brother when you whine about money. All high pitched and desperate like.”
“Devaun, you and your cousin get out of here, it’s enough —”
“But the only reason I came to school today was to get your makeup work! Can’t a man try to graduate in one piece?” Reggie scrambled away to join his class. “Yeah, you little man, you run outta here like a ten year old when a teacher catch you!” Devaun hissed behind him.
“You’re just going to have to get it on Monday when you clear your suspension.” Ms. Coughlin said, snapping the door shut behind her.
“Aw, this junt ridiculous, I tell you.”
She lowered her voice. “Devaun, get out of here, please? We have to get ready for this final exam. I’m not going to write you up, just find somewhere quiet to go.”
“Yeah, yeah. Only cause I love you, Madam.”
“Your accent is great, but it’s Mademoiselle. I’m not married.”
“So you don’t have no boyfriend.”
He ditched out early and walked to the corner store where he bought soda and Fritos. He ate on the way to the clinic where he picked up mother’s medication. He passed block after graffitied block of boarded up windows, open fields littered with trash, houses that had burnt down and left nothing but piles of charred rubble behind. In the waiting room at the clinic, Scarface played on the television. Devaun took a seat and ended up watching the whole rest of the movie, his favorite. They should have set the movie in North Memphis. Tony Montana could teach a thing or two to these hood rats, always scheming for themselves.
When he got home, he found Ray Bo outside on the curb, leaning against his Chevrolet Monte Carlo with the gold rims. He was wearing a dark purple suit, three-piece with a blue tie.
“What’s up, D. I’m waitin’ on your sister. She always this slow?”
Devaun nodded curtly. He figured the less he said, the better.
“Mattie says it’s your senior prom tonight. You got a corsage for your date, little man?”
“Don’t call me little man.” Devaun bared his teeth. Why’d everyone always have to be on him about his height?
Ray Bo reached into the window of the driver’s seat. “This is for your mama, to help her out this month since I know she ain’t feeling so well.” He handed Devaun a white envelope. He could see the green lines of a bank check through the cheap paper.
“And I picked you up a little something from the store. For you and your friends tonight.”
He handed Devaun a paper bag. Bottles of nips clinked inside. Devaun felt his lip curl. He threw the bag hard on the street, heard the glass smash, watched amber liquid run down the curbside into the gutter.
“I don’t want your nasty hooch.”
“Who do you think you are talking to me like that, boy? You ain’t got no respect, that’s your problem.” Ray Bo squared himself up like he was about to take a punch at him, then seemed to reconsider. He relaxed against the Monte Carlo. “You know, you should come by the store some time. I could use another hand around the stockroom. Teach you a thing or two about business. You about to graduate, it’s time you stop hustling and think about making a future for yourself.”
“Man, I already know more about business than every traphouse fool in North Memphis combined.”
“Oh yeah, is that so?” Ray Bo eyed him up and down. He smirked, filling Devaun with a rage he hadn’t felt since last spring when the Rich Kwik gang shot up his grandmama’s house. He wished to God Ray Bo would make a move so he could hit him in that wrinkled old face of his. “Why don’t you tell your sister I’m waiting outside for her?”
He bit his tongue, held back a shout that he didn’t take orders from no one. But someone had to be the bigger man. It almost killed him to do it, but Devaun turned his back to the car and walked into the apartment. Mattie was kneeling by the door, tying her shoes. He almost tripped over her.
“Sorry.” He threw the envelope down on the coffee table, hard as he could.
“What’s the matter with you? Don’t wake Mama.”
“Ain’t nothing. You text me where you’re going.”
“Yeah.” She winced as she stood.
“Get out of my business, D.”
“Hey, hold up.” Devaun rummaged through his backpack. He pulled out a bag of spicy cheese puffs and pushed them into his sister’s hands.
She closed the door behind her. Through the small window he watched Ray Bo open the passenger’s door for her. Through the tinted window he saw his sister’s profile, pouring hot chips into her mouth. He probably thought she didn’t eat nothing at home. They drove off.
His friends borrowed a few cars for the crew and their girls that night at the prom. They passed around a bottle of rum, which Devaun drank even though he didn’t like the taste. Not thick and warm like the wine his sister brought home from Ray Bo’s last week. That was some fancy shit, Italian, but they’d gulped it down like some stray dogs in the street when it rained. Devaun sat in the backseat, his arm around Tish, who was wearing a shiny gold dress that sparkled when they drove under streetlamps. She didn’t push him off. The rum made her a lot friendlier.
The main event was at a swanky venue on the river with marble columns and a big carpeted staircase that reminded him of Tony Montana’s mansion. He could see from below that a few couples had already snuck out onto the balcony to curl up in the corners. Devaun sipped from a flask as he watched them.
At prom, the Fame Mob Crew was already marking their turf next to the dancefloor. Devaun was all for it. The Rich Kwik kids eyed them with hatred from the other side of the room. Fame Mob always rolled with the prettier girls. It was stupid to put all these hood kids in a room together, he thought. But there were chaperones everywhere.
They forgot about their rivals soon enough. Everywhere he looked, Devaun was blinded by the girls glittering in dresses that clung to their bodies. They all looked like jewels against the sparkling glass of the chandeliers above. All flashing smiles for the cameras like movie stars.
He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror behind the DJ booth. He looked pretty good himself. He’d never worn a tuxedo before, but he could get used to it. The black silk tie and the gold cumberbund to match Tish’s dress made him look like a young Choco Khon back in the nineties when he ran the Atlanta streets. Powerful and classy.
“Damn, seniors putting on tonight!” he said, but his friends were already moving toward the buffet or rushing into the background of someone’s photo.
He hit the floor with his friends. Devaun knew all the dances - the nae-nae, the hood hop, the zerk. He shook his long dreads in the air and popped his butt out like a girl. Everyone laughed around him. Tish let him spin her around for an R&B number.
“Look at this fool dancin’ all gay,” a voice said behind him.
It was his cousin, standing behind him just off the dancefloor. Reggie looked madder and drunker than he had all day.
“Man, we just havin’ a good time. Why don’t you go back to your crew over there and find yourself someone to dance with.”
“Aw man, enough with you, cuz. You ain’t nothin’.”
Devaun waved him away and Reggie backed off. Maybe his cousin wasn’t in a fighting mood that night either.
While he danced with Tish someone tapped him on the shoulder. “Hey DB, you packing tonight? Help me out, man.” It was Antoine Ware from English class, looking red eyed and sleepy.
Devaun glanced over at the chaperones. Principal Hawkins was busting loose on the dancefloor. In his orange lapel and black tux, Hawkins looked like a blurry basketball. Coach Clark and Ms. Matthews were dancing there beside him. They looked like they were having a better time than some of the kids. “Yeah man, I got you. I’ma be on that balcony soon as some of these teachers clear out.”
“Aight, man.” They slapped each other on the back.
Devaun chilled for a while. He tried to get Mrs. Hill to dance with him, which made his whole crew laugh. Then they took pictures. A lot of girls wanted him in their photos, goofing around, making duck faces, but they never wanted to hook up. What was the deal with that anyway?
At twelve, he went to meet Antoine and his girl on the balcony. She had her shoes off, her legs dangling over the edge. They were laughing, looking down at the party below.
“D man, you see Hawkins down there?” Antoine clapped his hand when he saw Devaun arrive.
“That fool so silly, man, what was he thinking coming here in that getup?” Antoine’s girl cried, wiping at tears in the corners of her eyes.
“Coach Clark dancing like he drunker than these students,” said Antoine.
“Don’t he keep a bottle of moonshine in his office in the locker room?” She asked, swigging dark liquid from a plastic bottle herself. She handed it to Antoine.
“Swear to God I saw him drinking it last week during practice when we was supposed to be running around the track,” Antoine answered.
Devaun slipped a baggie into Antoine’s jacket pocket hanging over the balcony railing.
“Appreciate you, man.” Antoine clasped his hand, passing him a twenty. “You want some of this?” Antoine handed him the bottle.
He took a long swig. As he drank, Devaun read the label. It was centimeters from his nose, big as can be. $7.99, it read, from Bo’s Liquor.
“Where you get this nasty shit, man?”
He confirmed what Devaun already knew. Damn, that man Ray Bo was everywhere. He’d crept into all the corners of Devaun’s life without warning. Even his senior prom. He thrust the bottle back at Antoine, who wasn’t looking, and it smashed on the ground by his feet.
Antoine’s girl looked freaked. Her eyes had that same look he saw often on his teachers when he lost his temper in class. “You crazy? Some of us are trying to graduate on time. What if a teacher heard?”
“Come, baby, let’s go get something to eat,” Antoine put his arm protectively around his girl’s shoulder and pulled her towards the staircase. Fresh laughter echoed up the stairs as the door shut behind them.
Devaun was alone on the balcony then, with just the stars and lights from the Arkansas Bridge illuminating the darkness. It was good sometimes, having everyone think you were crazy. It was the only way you got any peace and quiet in North Memphis. He stayed up there for a while, watching the party below to his right and the black Mississippi River on the left. He spotted Tish’s gold dress sparkling from the dance floor. Someone’s arms were wrapped around her lower back, a head bobbing stupidly on her shoulder. He’d recognize that skinny frame and those big ears anywhere. It was Reggie.
Enough was enough. Enough with everyone thinking they could take everything he got until he was sucked dry. His legs seem to carry him back downstairs to the dancefloor.
Devaun found Tish’s hand and pulled her away from his cousin. “Reg, man, you gotta step off and go back to your own corner. Go grope some girls over there.”
Reggie scowled. “She can dance with anybody she likes, cuz.”
“This here’s my date. See that corsage? That came outta my wallet.”
“Man, you didn’t pay for her time. She ain’t your escort.”
“Yeah D, chill,” Tish said, coaxing him back. “It’s just one dance.”
“I ain’t asking nicely again, Reggie. Step off. Man, you and your family been all over me, why don’t you chill already?”
“Why don’t you chill, cuz? Says a nigga who won’t help out his own kin. That’s cold.”
Devaun was getting angry. It wasn’t fair. Why’d it have to be like this all the time? “Man, what do you think I’m doing, grindin’ everyday? You don’t know me. ”
“I know you just a little hood rat who can’t keep his own women off the street.”
Devaun punched him. His cousin staggered back, then tackled him. He was heavier than he looked. They wrestled on the ground, legs jumped aside out of their way. Reggie scratched him across the face. Devaun only wanted to hit him hard, hard as he could.
Some teachers broke them up, he couldn’t see who. There was blood in his eyes. Devaun struggled against Coach Clark, took another swing at his cousin. It landed on Principal Hawkins’ shoulder instead.
Hawkins grabbed him around the throat by his gold chains. “You best settle down, boy. You know I played Division I back in the day. I’ll put your ass in a leglock if you make me.”
Devaun was trapped, his arms locked around Hawkins’ elbows behind him. He kicked his legs wildly out at Reggie. It was all worth it just to hurt him a little bit. He didn’t care.
Reggie struggled against Coach Clark on the ground a few feet away, just out of his reach.
“Get these kids out of here,” Clark said to Hawkins, nodding toward the exit. “I’ll clean this one up first. Guess they’re not interested in getting no diplomas from us.”
“Man, you lucky these teachers here.” Devaun shouted as Principal Hawkins dragged him away by the arm. His cousin was still on the ground, bleeding from the mouth. The other kids had stopped dancing to watch. “Why don’t you stand up, boy? Why don’t you face me like a man?”
“I am a man!” Reggie spat back, his voice muffled under Coach Clark’s frame. But Reggie’s screams faded as the principal dragged Devaun off and the DJ changed tracks.
There was a blond boy outside. He was riding, or trying to ride, a pink bike with training wheels. He couldn’t keep himself on the bike for some reason: he kept on losing his balance despite the training wheels. Tethered to the bike by a rope was a red wagon, the metal kind you don’t see around anymore, and in this wagon sat a patient blond dog. The dog seemed unperturbed by the not-so-smooth ride, as if he were used to it; blasé. Meredith watched from her window until the boy rode past her apartment building, and she pressed her face against the glass and watched until she could see him and his dog no longer. Ripe raindrops the size of cherries slowly began to fall, bursting heavily and juicily as they hit the window and pavement below. Meredith turned her attention back to the dead man on her couch.
Meredith had woken up from her Sunday-afternoon nap tired and with a headache, a mind totally unrested and nastily jumbled. She’d been dreaming about Anna Karenina, but not the one Tolstoy had written, this one had been written by her and she was actually Dostoevsky. She decided a cup or ten of coffee might make her feel a bit better, and was on her way to her kitchen when she stopped in her living room to watch her cat. The muffled chirping of a phone had captured Betty’s attention, and she was pawing at the sprawling body of Wally Wronken, trying to find some birds.
Betty began to climb up Wally’s chest and was about to put her black paw under his nose when Meredith intercepted her and placed her on the ground. Meredith didn’t need to put her finger under his nose or to feel for a pulse. She knew Wally was dead the moment she saw him reclined on her new pink IKEA couch, one hand in his lap holding a half-eaten blueberry muffin, and the other at his side, palm up. This hand had been holding a teacup that had been propitiously removed from its relaxed grip before it could roll to the ground, no doubt spilling its contents all over the IKEA couch that Meredith adored, before finally hitting the exposed hardwood between the couch and the rug. Meredith saw that there was something ominously off in the way Wally’s head had rolled to the side, resting completely on his left shoulder – such an uncomfortable angle would surely rouse a sleeper and force him to grumpily change his position. But it didn’t rouse Wally, so Wally was dead.
Betty agilely weaved her round body through Meredith’s legs, purring softly all the while, apparently having forgotten about the birds that had brought her to Wally. Meredith, seeing her notebook on the coffee table in front of Wally, reached for it, ignoring Betty’s show of affection, rare as it was sudden. But she yawned mid-reach and remembered coffee.
As she waited for her coffee to finish dripping Meredith felt guilty. Guilty because she felt she wasn’t as worried or as scared as one ought to be, regardless of, or perhaps notwithstanding, culpability, in such a situation – the situation being that of a girl’s having found her annoying and creepy neighbour uncharacteristically dead on her new IKEA couch. Meredith actually found herself feeling nothing but this second-order guilt, an emotion about emotion (or lack thereof). But she easily shrugged off this meta-guilt and stuffed a chocolate-chip cookie into her mouth.
As her tiny apartment filled with the comforting aroma of coffee, and as she tried to calm her dizzy mind by closing her eyes and focusing her energy on breathing in the scent, Meredith noticed that she couldn’t hear anything other than the dripping and hissing of the coffeemaker. It was too quiet about her, even for mid-afternoon. Usually she could hear through the walls the sound of someone’s vacuum – she found hearing this buzzing and whirring coming from somewhere around her to be strangely pleasurable. Someone below or above, to the left or the right, was cleaning up a mess. Usually, but not today. She also couldn’t hear that otherwise ubiquitous sonorous bass of someone’s television. She could hear nothing. She walked to her window and saw that the street below was completely empty, save for the boy struggling on his pink bike and his stoic dog.
She could tell that the air outside was close, charged with anticipation for the coming storm. The sky was overcast with low hanging thick, gloomy, and already thundering blue-grey clouds, ready to bawl down a cathartic storm. One more sip of wine and the sky would simply let surge the tears that had thus far been restrained, with great effort, mind you. She looked at Wally and hoped the boy with the bike and the wagon and the dog would get to wherever he was going before the downpour, as yet a scattered sputter, waxed violent. She then went back to her coffeemaker, which had finished its own downpour. She stuffed another cookie into her mouth and poured herself a hearty mugful, hoping it would be rejuvenating enough, then she went back into her living room and sat down with legs crossed in front of Wally Wronken’s dead body, her notebook in her lap.
She thought for a while about what she should do. She thought perhaps she should call the police right away, but her mind still felt muddled and sore. She decided finally to read the account that she had spent the morning preparing. She wanted, before taking any drastic step, to get a proper, steady grasp on the situation. It wouldn’t be meet to miss or confuse any detail, thought Meredith. Meredith didn’t like tidings sloppily gathered. She opened her notebook.
June 28, 2015, 5:48 a.m.
All happy pet owners are alike. Unhappy pet owners are each unhappy in their own distinct ways.
Coming home from the animal shelter with my new British Shorthair kitten, I certainly thought myself a happy pet owner, and therefore, I suppose, uninteresting. Granted, I was a little disappointed at first, as I had prepared myself for that magical feeling that people always mention when they describe meeting their pet for the first time. The knowing at first glance that the two of you are meant to be together, an epiphany of lifelong love. I had no such epiphany. I picked the kitten I picked because she looked quite peculiar, like she was wearing little black boots. She was – still is, I suppose – white all over with black paws and tail, and a black stripe running across each cheek. She didn’t bite me or hiss at me, and so I came home with her, both of us complacent, and I cheerful. I didn’t know if cats can become cheerful. Still don’t.
I named her Betty because the stripes on her cheeks reminded me of Lauren Bacall’s cheekbones. Lauren didn’t seem a nice name for a cat, so I chose the name Lauren Bacall had before she was Lauren Bacall. She cocked her round little head at me the first time I cooed Betty at her – this was the closest to magic I got.
Back at my apartment building, coming out of the elevator onto the twelfth floor, Betty and I ran quite literally into Wally Wronken. I had been struggling getting Betty’s traveling cage through the narrow elevator doorway, and Wally had his nose buried deep in the copy of The Fountainhead that he had asked to borrow from me last month. I apologized copiously and then he apologized copiously.
“Say, what have you got in there?” he asked me, sidling up real close to Betty’s cage.
“It’s my new kitten,” I said, moving away from him and in the general direction of my apartment.
“So you finally got one? It’s about time,” he chuckled, trying his hardest to casually slip into a charming teeth-baring grin, but ending up looking like an uncertain car salesperson.
“Yes,” I replied, moving farther away from him. “I should get her inside before she throws up or something in the cage. She’s not used to such a clumsy mode of transportation.” I shrugged at the clunky plastic cage.
“A girl? Wow, I bet she’s as pretty as you are,” he said, brushing away the blond hair that had fallen into his eyes. I didn’t know how to respond so I just smiled and turned away. “Hey, wait!” He half jogged up to me and lightly grabbed hold of my elbow. Betty hissed from somewhere within her cage. He smiled like a car salesperson who knew he’d lost the sale but was doing all he could to change the customer’s mind.
“Listen, I was wondering if you’d like to have dinner with me tonight.” He placed strange emphasis on tonight, uttered it almost with exasperation, but, not wanting to offend, I suppose, he quickly masked the slip with a smile and a laugh and continued on more cheerfully. Too cheerfully. “I’m almost done your book.” He held up the Rand. “It’s fascinating, I’d like it a lot if we could talk about it or something.” He peered into my eyes, trying to seem intense. I remembered the time I told him his eye colour, an icy blue, was fierce, and now regretted doing so with the whole of my being.
“I told you I hadn’t actually got round to reading it yet,” I said with a shake of my head, trying my best to sound regretful. I took a step away from him and looked down the hall – I was just one door away from my apartment. “Plus, I should get Betty settled down – she’s probably nervous or something, being in a new environment and all ....” I trailed off, hoping he would understand.
“Wow, Betty is a great name,” he said eagerly, smiling so wide it lifted his glasses off his nose.
“Yes.” I fished my keys out of my pocket and walked up to my door. “Well, I’ll see you around.” I opened my door as slightly as the cage would allow and slipped through.
“Well, maybe some other time!” He waved the book in the air above his head and seemed non-nonplussed, smiling that car salesperson smile, not really sad to see the customer go as he’d spied another just come into the dealership. Some other time. His words echoed in my head as I locked the door behind me and took Betty to the living room, settling down on the ground in front of my new IKEA couch. Cats were notorious shedders, I’d heard.
I opened her cage door. She stepped forward apprehensively and hesitated at the cage’s door for a while, sniffing at the air with a tentative paw above the threshold. I scratched her softly behind one of her stout little ears and she finally jumped out and into my lap, purring. She closed her eyes in bliss, leaning her head up into my hand. She obviously liked behind-the-ear scratches, so I kept on at it.
“You hungry, Betty?” I whispered, my voice cracking, not quite accustomed yet to talking to a non-person. I could talk to myself, but felt slightly foolish speaking to a cat.
“Absolutely starved,” Betty trilled. I pulled my hand away from her and jumped up, forcing her to leap out of my lap and onto the coffee table. I stared at her as she swaggered across the length of the table, her blue eyes on me. She smiled a big wide smile.
Cat got your tongue? would have been the perfect retort for her, I remember thinking. But she didn’t say anything. “You can speak?” I asked after a while, and felt imbecilic doing so.
She laughed exaggeratedly, throwing her head back and letting out full and pronounced Ha-Ha-Has in fast succession. “Say,” she said finally, “what’s the deal with this Wally?”
What a curious cat, I mused. “He lives right next door, why?” I sat back down, choosing to believe that this was not a hellish being. She stopped pacing and jumped down and sat across from me, poised as a hieroglyph.
“A tenacious fellow, isn’t he?” she said in a strange accent that reminded me of black-and-white movies.
“Yes, he is persistent. Can you believe he asks me out to dinner at least once a week?”
This made Betty huff with anger. “You mean that greasy boy persists in asking you out despite your having turned him down numerous times before?” I nodded. “Oh, this just will not do. This won’t do at all.” She began pacing again.
“What won’t do?”
“We must do something about that impudent boy, that Wally,” she said emphatically, looking up at me with her big round eyes, imploring me to do something right away. I didn’t know what she wanted me to do or say.
“Listen, Betty, let’s get you settled down and fed, and let’s sleep on all this. Tomorrow, when I’m more rested – not that I’m in such dire need of rest now, but what do I know? I’m talking to a cat. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is: let’s sleep on this day and see if tomorrow you’re still a talking cat.”
I went over to her bag of food – the brand the people at the shelter told me would be best – and tore the top off. This got Betty’s attention – she scurried to my feet and sat down poised, on her best behaviour. I stroked her back as she ate and became enamoured of the sound she made as she lapped up some water in between crunching. Then I set out her sleeping area, showed her where she could do her business, and then got myself into bed. What a day it had been.
The next day Wally showed up to my place of work and requested me especially. This was strange for two reasons, the first and most curious of which was that I didn’t recall ever telling Wally in the short meetings we had in the hallway outside of our apartments my place of work. The second reason, and perhaps not very strange at all, was that I worked at a nail salon, and Wally just never seemed the kind of person who cared enough to maintain manicured hands. His hands were always covered in cuts and bruises. But what do I know.
He sat down in front of me and asked for something simple. I looked down at his gnawed fingernails and asked him to pick a colour. He picked a clear polish and I set to work.
“I finished your book last night. Should I bring it by tonight?” I couldn’t look up at him on account of my work – I didn’t want to accidentally clip the tip of a finger off – but I could tell he was wearing a beaming grin.
“Sure, if you like.” I felt his icy stare on me and tried to suppress a shiver wanting to run down my spine.
“You know,” he said after a while, “I just got hold of this really great book. I could let you borrow it after I read it. I think you might like it.”
“If you haven’t read it yet how do you know it’s great?”
“Ow!” I had begun to file his nails down, trying to get them all to be a uniform shape. I hadn’t really hurt him at all but I found myself apologizing anyway. “Say, when’s your lunch break? You wanna have lunch with me?”
I looked up at him now, he was wearing his eager car salesperson grin and his blond hair had fallen across his eyes. He shook his head violently to the side every now and then to get his hair out of his eyes, but it would fall back after every shake. “Sorry, Wally, I’ve already had lunch today,” I lied.
“Oh, that’s okay. Maybe some other time.” He sat quiet for a while, but as I began to lay down the polish, he perked up again. “How do you like lilies? My mother, she grows the most amazing lilies. I could take you to see them sometime.”
I put down the polish and looked up at him, trying my best to not tremble, and forcing a steadiness into my voice when I spoke. “Listen, Wally, you’re a very nice guy, but I just really am not very interested.” He didn’t say anything and I picked up the varnish and got back to work. I stole glances as I worked to see if he was too devastated, but he looked very normal. He was looking at his hands from under the hair that fell like a gauzy veil across his sight; his lips had slipped into a languid, contemplative half-smile.
At the register, after he had paid, he looked at me with his icy blue eyes, which, in an act of rebellion against what they were by nature, had taken on a striking warmth that seemed neither uncomfortable nor insincere. “Listen, I didn’t mean to offend you. I just thought that you might like some company sometime. I hear you talking to yourself through the walls, sometimes. Maybe you’re on the phone, I don’t know. But I know you’ve been all alone in that apartment ever since,” he paused and looked at his feet bashfully, “ever since that car accident with your husband.”
I winced at his words, which, like ruthless conquerors parading their loot in front of the conquered, deftly grabbed memories I’d long ago banished to some dark secret place and hauled them into the bright light of the present, blazoning them across my vision.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t meant to – ”
I shook my head at him, not wanting him to speak anymore. He shoved his hands into his pockets, realizing too late what such a movement would do to the fresh polish. He yanked his hands out and looked at them. Lint, dust, and small denim fibres stuck to the tacky polish. I smiled at him reflexively, not really seeing him before me anymore, and he laughed nervously and shrugged.
“Anyway, I’ll come round tonight and drop the book off.”
I nodded, trying not to hear the sound of metal scraping and whining against asphalt that was tearing through my mind. He left. I spent my lunch break in the back room, hunched over on an upturned crate and crying into my pink smock.
Betty was not very pleased when she learned of Wally’s unprompted and unwelcome visit. I didn’t tell her about his apology because I didn’t want to tell her about Jack’s accident, because I didn’t want to think about Jack’s accident.
“That boy needs to be put in his place,” she clipped in her strange, morphed British accent. Slowly a smile bloomed across her round face, baring her tiny sharp teeth that glinted ominously. It wasn’t as sinister a smile as much as it was mischievous. She began pacing on the coffee table in her elegant way, her tail swimming through the air above her, sinuously as smoke. She’d had an idea, but a soft rapping at the door pulled us out of our confabulation before she could share it with me. I looked at Betty, and she nodded toward the door.
It was Wally with The Fountainhead and the other book he’d mentioned. I had given up expecting him to come, it was almost midnight.
“I thought I’d bring you the other book I’d talked about, in case you actually did want to read it,” he said, handing me the two books. “Sorry about the hour. I was late getting home.” He winked at me. I didn’t get his meaning. I muttered a thanks and took the two books from him.
He stood there smiling at me expectantly, and before I knew what I was doing I invited him in. I led him to the IKEA couch with Betty scurrying maniacally around us. It was amazing to behold, the speed with which she, who had thus far confined herself to reserved and elegant movements, moved about. She darted around Wally, between his feet, once almost making him trip and bang his head open on the edge of the coffee table.
“She seems to be adjusting nicely to her new home,” he said with an uneasy laugh.
Betty suddenly jumped onto the couch where Wally was about to plant himself down and started meowing and screeching feverishly. I hurriedly scooped her out of the way, muttering many apologies for her behaviour.
“It’s okay, really,” he said, sitting down and crossing one leg over the other.
I sat down on the ground before him. At first I stared at his smiling face and that dastardly, greasy fringe of hair that had fallen across his eyes, but I soon was distracted by his impatiently bouncing leg. Impatiently bouncing legs are like nails on a chalkboard for me, they make my skin crawl. They told me that the person to whom they belonged felt as though there was some place better he needed to be. Someplace better than my very comfortable IKEA couch. No, I didn’t want Wally in my apartment, but his bouncing leg was an unbearable, indecorous affront – he had basically pushed his way into my home and now he seemed impatient. Betty was pacing inelegantly on the coffee table, meowing irritably every time she passed by him, her brow furrowed.
“Would you like some coffee?” I asked, getting up. “Something to eat?” Anything to get me away from that bouncing leg.
He brushed his hair out of his sight. “Sure, I’ll have some coffee,” he said, uncrossing his legs and leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. “Betty sure seems like she’s a handful. A very adorable handful.” He reached an arm out to pet her, but she hissed and jumped away out of his reach. She decided to follow me into the kitchen, not wanting to be left alone with him.
I tried to chuckle nonchalantly. “Cats, am I right?” I could feel his icy stare on my back, following me about the kitchen as I prepared the coffee. It made me feel as though I was covered in cobwebs. Betty stayed close to me with her back arched and glared at Wally from between my feet. She was making it difficult for me to move about and I finally pushed her away gently with my toes.
Piqued, she rolled her eyes at me, “Oh, this is just marvelous,” she said, elongating her A’s and fattening out her O’s. She went back to the living room and perched herself on the coffee table, assuming her stately, stony pose. She threw her round head back and started meowing at Wally imperiously.
“Would you like a muffin? I have blueberry and chocolate chip,” I called out.
Wally had begun flipping absentmindedly through the fat volume of Raymond Chandler’s letters that I had abandoned on the couch earlier. I’d lost the strength and desire to read it when I had come to a passage Jack had underlined and scrawled some words next to in his pointed, nimble hand. “Blueberry would be swell,” said Wally, and I heard a smile on his voice. I forced myself to smile, trying not to be irritated by his touching the book.
A tinny crash tore through the apartment. I turned around to see that Betty was no longer on the coffee table.
“What was that?” Wally asked, getting up urgently. I motioned for him to sit back down and went to my bedroom.
I found Betty sitting on my nightstand wearing a wide, derisive grin. She had knocked my alarm clock off the stand and was about to force my bottle of sleeping pills to suffer a similar fate.
“Please, don’t – they’ll get dusty.” I moved slowly toward her with my hands up. “I can’t sleep without those,” I whispered.
She cocked her head to the side. “Pour half of this container into his coffee,” she said sternly, nudging the bottle forward with her paw that looked as though it was wearing a black glove.
“Because that boy needs to be taught a lesson. He needs to know that you don’t persist in bothering a girl when she’s turned you down numerous times before. He needs to learn that you don’t follow a girl to her work. He needs to know that you leave a girl alone when she does not want to speak.” She hissed her philippic at me through her sharp little teeth with such vitriolic feeling. I picked up the bottle with a much too quivering hand, the blood pumping behind my ears as loud as a stampede.
“Who are you talking to in here?” I jumped and turned around to see Wally’s head wedged in between the door and doorframe.
I held the bottle behind my back and tried to swallow my heart, which was threatening to burst through my neck. “Oh, to myself, of course.” I managed a dopey smile.
Wally grinned his teeth-baring grin. He was getting good at it; it was somewhat becoming this time, less optimistic car salesperson and more nervous glamour shot. Maybe he’d practiced in front of a mirror. Maybe it was just the dim light of my room.
“How about that coffee?”
I nodded. Betty jumped around me and walked out between Wally’s feet. He followed her back into the living room. I went to the kitchen and poured an absurd amount of pills into the comically oversized teacup that I had picked up when I bought my couch. I’d thought it was very Alice in Wonderland.
“How do you take your coffee?” I called back, pouring a scorching cupful over the pills.
“Just a teaspoon of sugar,” he called. I turned to see that Betty had let him pet her finally, though she didn’t look too pleased about it: she had her eyes shut and her head craned back, as though Wally was emitting a horrible smell. I stirred his cup for a while, letting everything incorporate, then placed a blueberry muffin on a saucer that matched the teacup and walked back to the living room.
“You won’t have any?” he asked, wide-eyed.
“No,” I smiled at him the most charming smile I could muster and he seemed to beam. “I’d never be able to sleep.”
He talked as he ate and drank, and I snuggled with Betty on the ground before him. He talked about his work. He worked as a librarian at the city library, he told me with great pride, and recounted with relish all the absurd things he’d seen people do when they thought no one was looking – people alone and in couples. I turned crimson at points listening to his more graphic stories, which he recounted zealously and with colourful detail. I wished he would just stop talking. Betty shook her round head, and if she could I am sure she would have tsk-tsk-tsked. An urge built up inside me to cover my ears with my hands, but I fought against it and smiled at him.
Soon Wally got drowsy. His eyes kept rolling to the back of his head and his head kept lolling to his side, but he would snap back to just when I thought he was gone. Betty was on edge. She would pound her small black paw against my leg in disappointment every time Wally opened his eyes, alert and ready to talk about his adventures at the library.
I listened to him talk with a smile on my face till three in the morning. I was, in some miniscule part of my mind, grateful that he did all the talking – he kept himself entertained. But then he seemed always to talk with an exaggerated patience, trying to make me understand his every word, even when what he was saying was most banal and uncomplicated. I guess he didn’t think his words were banal and uncomplicated.
Soon he stopped talking, but not because he wanted to: he physically could not go on any longer. His head rolled to the side and dropped onto his shoulder. Betty jumped up from my lap and waited with bated breath to see if he would come back to. He didn’t.
I sat staring at him for a while. He was breathing deeply, like a much satisfied man napping after a feast, before a warm fire. He looked peaceful. His fringe, because of the position of his head, was forced to remain out of his eyes, and I, for the first time, got a real good look at his face. It was a gaunt face. If his hair were dark he might resemble Clark Kent with those horn-rimmed glasses. He looked like he belonged in a library – an academic type. I suppose he had found his calling.
I stared at him until I got weary. Betty soon got bored and went to her little bed and slept. Around dawn I began to compose this account. It is now about 10:18 a.m. and I can’t think straight. Wally has not moved.
I am tired and my head aches. I’ll take a nap.
So ended Meredith’s account. It was almost 3 o’clock in the afternoon. She looked up at Wally, he hadn’t moved for a good twelve hours now. Betty had made her rounds of the apartment and was now dozing in Meredith’s lap with her nose nestled in the crook made by the bend of her knee. Meredith straightened her leg, forcing Betty awake, and stared into her round face, deep into her rich blue eyes.
“What do you think?” Meredith asked her in a cooing voice, the kind people talk to babies in. “What do you think of that tale? Do you think the police will like it?” Betty rubbed her head against Meredith’s thigh and purred, then she stretched and yawned mightily, digging her claws into Meredith’s jeans. “No? Too boring? Should I tell it straight, then?” She looked down at the notebook. “No, I like it this way. I think it makes me seem sufficiently silly.” Betty meowed.
The sky had cleared up while Meredith had been reading. A strong wind had come in and had banished the thick, grey, rain-heavy clouds until the sky was clear, and unfiltered sunlight shone down blindingly, snuffing out any and every shadow. Meredith laughed dryly to herself.
Betty shot Meredith a sidelong glare, almost rolled her eyes, too sleepy to deal with such heady matters so soon after a nap. She jumped out of Meredith’s lap and strutted to her little bed, which so enticingly was painted golden by the sun.
“Yes, I’ll stick to this account,” murmured Meredith, flipping through the pages of her notebook scrawled all over in pink ink by her wispy hand, luxuriating in the sweet fragrance of the ink rising from the pages. “You know,” she looked up at Betty, who was now fast asleep, then at Wally’s purple face, his glasses had, at some point while she read and while Betty had played around him, fallen off his face.
“You know,” said Meredith loudly, “I wasn’t lonely at all, why wouldn’t he just leave me alone?” Betty trilled softly in her sleep.
Drink the Ramen
It rains every day but there is no water.
In Chitose-Funabashi, the puddles are fine and the river runs wide,
But showers are on timers.
Take the wrappers off the bottles, keep the lettuce in the larder,
The neighbors eye our bin.
This summer, lightning strikes harder but the rains lose heart.
Locals don’t taste the noodles, the flavor’s in the broth.
It rains every day but there is no water.
A Girl Named Beryl
I read about a club where you could dance and didn’t have to pay to get in. It was in the Crenshaw District. I wanted to find friends, but I didn’t have much money.
So I drove over to the place and was very lucky. I met a girl. Her name was Beryl. I had met a girl in New York with the same name. I knew what it meant. This Beryl was dark and pretty, and very skinny. She loved to dance and we danced all night. The place had very little light. A strobe would come on and everybody would yell. It was like an approval. Of the flashes of light? It was very crowded, and it was fun. You couldn’t see white faces anywhere. There was an empty bandstand. All the music was coming from records or tapes. When I walked in, no one looked at me, so I had no need to get nervous. Nervous about my appearance. Was I hip enough, and how much in the center was I in the circle of fashion? That sort of thing. I didn’t want to, but I still worried about things like that.
Beryl was threading herself through the crowd at the moment I met her. And I was too, trying to get to the bar. And we bumped into each other. We hardly said a word all night. But she did say, with slurred words, I’ve never danced with a Mexican before. I didn’t tell her that I hadn’t either.
At the bar, they asked me for ID. I spoke in Spanish and the bartender nodded and gave me the drink. I had money for only one. Beryl was high on pills and didn’t notice I was broke. We were both exhausted at around three in the morning and I drove her home. She was too high to give me good directions, so we got lost and found her place hours later. She had fallen asleep in the car. Then I got lost on my way home and finally got there when my mother was making breakfast.
I borrowed a few bucks from my mother in the afternoon after I got up from bed. Beryl hadn’t been ideal. She wasn’t sexually turned on the whole night. I had grabbed everything I wanted. I shoved my hand down her crotch while we danced in the dark. We twirled tongues for an eternity. But nothing happened. She was into the high. I wanted a girl who I could talk into having sex with me. And conversation can be great with the right girl, too. Beryl didn’t seem to be the right one. Her eyes were barely opened.
But I was lonely, so I went and picked her up the next day at her place. And I drove and she directed me towards a cousin of hers who had drugs. Afterwards, we were going to dance at that same club where we had met. I don’t remember exactly where we went. It was a motel. A nice motel with a bright and cool-looking pool. And there we got high with her cousin. We smoked good skunky weed. And then we did many lines of coke. On the way there, she had asked me to stop for a bottle of cognac. The cousin liked cognac. We both chipped in and got the bottle. We drank the bottle with him in his nice clean room with kitchenette. We were on the second floor, sitting by a wide window with a view of the blue pool with the cool water shimmering. The cousins kept a conversation going that I didn’t understand at all. Before it was time for us to go, Beryl asked for Quaaludes. One for her and one for me. We took those with the last of the cognac. She wanted two more to go. The cousin gave her everything. I don’t remember him or her asking me to pay for anything. I don’t remember seeing money that late afternoon, now evening with the beginning darkness.
The time it took to get to the car and the distance we walked is completely missing as if it had been chopped off by the effect of the drugs. I remember I couldn’t find the key to the car. And then I found it. Then I couldn’t fit the key in the ignition. And then the car was driving. We were off to somewhere. I wondered where. Beryl had not said a word since her good-bye to the cousin. The cousin had turned out to be a great guy and very, very generous. I tried to tell this to Beryl but I couldn’t articulate the words well. Since the car seemed to be doing alright without my help, I extended my right arm and reached the silent Beryl and pulled her over to me. She was so very skinny that she weighed nothing. I squeezed her skinny hand lightly like I used to do to my mother when I was a little kid and needed attention or reassurance. The car was taking us somewhere. I was feeling guilty for not knowing where, for my inability to give it direction. I was powerless. And I tried to tell Beryl that nothing good would come of this undisciplined drug taking. That we for sure were abusing ourselves, and perhaps others if our vehicle doesn’t soon get the appropriate guidance. I squeezed Beryl’s hand lightly again. She seemed to be in a stupor.
There was total silence in the car. Memories of the motel room were coming to me. As if it all had happened long ago. I was recalling the past which presented itself now as nostalgia. I remembered Beryl knocking on the door and no one answering. I remembered telling Beryl how much I liked her name and how I thought it was so interesting. So interesting, I told her. Beryl is a mineral and a gem. She had skinny knuckles. Knock harder, I had said in front of the motel door. She knocked, and then I knocked. And finally the door opened. A big guy was standing there with a friendly smile.
What was the cousin doing now? I was sort of dreaming this nostalgia. And that’s when the car crashed. We had gone on the sidewalk. We knocked down a fence and crashed into a tree. It was a thick-trunked tree. Beryl hit the windshield with her head. She had to wake up from her stupor. What happened? she said. I’m not sure, I said. Are you alright? She said she was. The engine shut off. We were in front of a house. We were momentarily dazed. She couldn’t open her door. I couldn’t open mine. We sat there and waited. Any moment the owners of the fence were going to come out. We could see the driveway and a garage at the end of it. We waited patiently. No one came out of the house. No lights were turned on. No one called the police. I think we should go, Beryl whispered. No one on the street came out to look. It was as if nothing had happened. I turned the key and the car started. It didn’t have much energy. Eight or nine blocks later it died in the middle of a famous street. The door was stuck and would not open. I came out through the window and pushed the car near to the curb. There’s a phone booth, Beryl said. She was pointing. Over there, she said.
We were towed by a nice tow man. Beryl told him to take us to the club. He didn’t hesitate. I then remembered that had been our destination. The good tow man drove us to the club we had been on our way to. Beryl had a big chichón on her forehead. It wasn’t serious and she wanted to dance when we got there. Let’s dance, she said. I couldn’t. She went to look for a partner, and I went to the bar. And then I remembered I had spent the few dollars I had on the cognac. I walked out of the club and walked for hours and somehow found my way home. I never called Beryl again.
I had paid three hundred dollars for the car. The junkyard gave me fifty. It was an old Grand Prix. I had no insurance. Other than the bump on Beryl’s forehead, there had been no injuries. I was sorry for the people whose fence I knocked over. They were going to have to pay to fix it. The tree was going to be alright. I was sure of it. The fifty dollars was not a bad amount to have. The worst part was having to tell my mother. She had lent me the money. I made something up. She believed me. Somebody had crashed into my car.
The Job of a Lifetime
The job had been planned for months and the moment of truth was finally here. Johnny Santino sat outside the museum in his beat up Mustang shivering while anxiously rubbing his hands together. He took a long drag on his cigarette and blew smoke and cold breath into the atmosphere of the car.
“Yo, Tommy, we gonna do this or what?” Johnny asked.
His partner, Tommy Giovanni, was deep in contemplation as his eyes bore a hole into the entrance doors.
“What’d you say?” he replied.
“I said, we gonna hit this joint or what?” he said again.
Tommy shook his head, snapping himself out of his trance and said, “Yeah, yeah. Let’s get this over with.” Johnny took one last drag off his cigarette and they both gathered their supplies and headed to the entrance.
A few minutes later Johnny knocked on the front door to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The guard on duty was lost in excitement watching a boxing match. He banged on the door a little harder hoping to gain his attention this time. He flashed a fake Boston Police Department badge and put it to the surface of the glass door. Finally the guard snapped out of his trance and muted the television. He set down the remote and pressed a button not too far from him and a small buzzing noise could be heard. The doors unlocked and slightly came open allowing the thieves to enter.
“What can I do for you officers?” asked the guard.
“We’re responding to a call about a disturbance in the area. My partner and I were in the area and wanted to make sure the Museum had the proper protection,” Tommy said, showing the badge. Johnny remained silent and simply nodded to the guard.
“I didn’t hear nothing bout no disturbance but you can come on in,” he answered, returning to his boxing match and continued to ignore everything around him.
“Thanks again for your cooperation,” Tommy said, nodding his head.
Johnny walked behind the guard pretending to be interested in the fight. He put his hands on the guard’s shoulders and then threw him to the ground. The guard crashed to the floor in utter disbelief. Johnny kicked him in the stomach and dragged him to the elevator. Once there, he threw the security guard in the elevator and traveled to the basement. In darkness, Johnny managed to fully tie up and immobilize the guard. He finished up with the niceties and returned to the gallery.
“All right, Tommy, let’s get this done with.” Johnny said. Together they entered the bowels of the gallery and turned on their flashlights.
Tommy pointed with his flashlight to a painting on the left wall, a very famous painting by Rembrandt, “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee”.
“This one first, it always made me seasick looking at the damned thing everyday.”
Johnny took out his box cutter and carved the painting away from its frame. Afterwards he rolled it up and placed it in a tube. For the next hour and a half they would choose their victims at random, completely disregarding value or historical significance. All they cared about was getting the job done.
View an online tour of the stolen art from the museum.
Eleanor Leonne Bennett Bio (20150720)
Eleanor Leonne Bennett is an internationally award winning artist of almost fifty awards. She was the CIWEM Young Environmental Photographer of the Year in 2013. Eleanor’s photography has been published in British Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Her work has been displayed around the world consistently for six years since the age of thirteen. This year (2015) she has done the anthology cover for the incredibly popular Austin International Poetry Festival. She is also featured in Schiffer’s “Contemporary Wildlife Art” published this Spring. She is an art editor for multiple international publications.
A Night Gone Wrong
Marvin turns the key in the ignition to his dark blue Ford Galaxie. The muffler rumbled.
“So, where are we going tonight, Marvin?”
“I’m not sure yet. We can’t go too far tonight because I’m supposed to be home shortly. I’m thinking we’ll just go down the road. Is that okay?”
“That’s fine with me. As long as I get time with you.”
Marvin put the car in drive and coasted down the road. He turns right into a cul-de-sac. Helen turns and looks out the window checking her surroundings. Overgrown weeds had overtaken the sidewalk. A few rundown houses emerge from the shadows, but they are all boarded up. A pickup truck, propped up on cinder blocks, sits underneath a flickering streetlight. Marvin pulls to the side of the road and puts the car in park.
“Where exactly is here, Marvin?”
“Here is where we can be alone, Helen. That is what you asked for,” Marvin says, leaning in for a kiss.
A loud knock on the driver side window interrupts the kiss. Helen screams.
“Roll down the window and give me your wallet,” the stranger says.
Helen looks at Marvin. “What do we do, Marvin?”
Marvin rolls down his window just enough to be heard. “Go on. You’re not getting anything from us.”
The robber jabs his hand through the opened window and punches Marvin on the nose. Blood squirts from Marvin’s nose. He touches the blood with his palm so he can inspect it. Helen reaches for her keychain inside her purse. She aims a mini metallic canister that dangles from the chain at the robber and pushes down on its aerosol top. The cylinder shots a steady stream of pepper spray at the stranger’s eyes.
“What the hell, lady,” says the stranger, crying. He bolts down the road rubbing his eyes.
“Marvin, hurry up and get it together. We need to get out of here before he comes back.”
Marvin snaps back to reality, throws the car and drive and speeds off. Helen looks out the window to see if she can see the man but he has disappeared into the woods.
“I can’t believe you didn’t do anything, Marvin. We could have died and you did nothing. I’m just glad I had my pepper spray.”
“Shut up, Helen. I froze okay. What did you expect me to do?”
“The big, bad, football player froze? What a joke. You were supposed to protect me Marvin, and you froze, letting me fend for myself. I had to protect you. Please, just take me home.” Helen sits back in her seat and closes her eyes.
Marvin pulls the car up to the curb in front of Helen’s house. He leans in for a goodnight kiss.
Helen jumps back. “Are you serious?”
“Look, Helen, I’m sorry. I didn’t know what to do. I froze. I was scared.”
Helen gathered her belongings, and looked at Marvin. “You don’t think I was scared too, Marvin? I was terrified but I did what I had to do to protect us. If it weren’t for me we probably would have died. You clearly are not the man I thought you were.”
She gets out of the car and slams the door behind her.
Paradise Is Demanding
It must be thrilling to know everything.
Girls used to be so full of doubt but now they say,
Sure I’m sure.
I say 1970, she says Nixon bombed Cambodia.
Everything’s a Kellogg’s slogan.
The bodies, you cry. The dead bodies in the lobby.
Why can’t I reply, my mother’s violets in the window box
remind me of tiny flamethrowers.
The poor don’t need money. It’s the rich who are always short.
Everywhere I go, I’m an unknown quantity.
Why do you invade my territory?
They bring me hot dogs when I order origami.
In China they begged me to stay, but here, when will you leave?
Don’t ask, how are you? It’s an intimate question.
I think it’s privacy and so do you, but here it’s a matter of public policy.
Infants wear reading glasses to mommy and baby English classes.
You are in another country
Where students dance into class wearing chiffon tutus.
They hide their hair in green.
One student’s yellow toenails match his glasses;
Another’s braces are as clear as her crystal bracelet.
On trains, the girls don’t keep their legs together. One sees
bandaged knees and little hands spreading skin cream.
The Santa Barbara coffee shop in Roppongi brews no coffee;
it serves poached eggs on a bed of lettuce.
Paradise is demanding.
The bodies pile up in my Adam’s apple.
My daughter’s into cranes and pandas.
Are we punished for ignoring corpses?
I want my teddy bear.
Can’t I like pandas, too?
Thou shalt not kill.
Is that not enough?
The busker asks for what’s left over.
Must I share?
I have lots to spare but none for you.
Why can’t I say that?
Oh, She Was a Woman
written 9/25/97 as “She Was a Woman” (as a eulogy), edited and expanded 5/16/16 for a poetry show 6/4/16
She was a woman who thought too much.
She was a woman who accomplished everything she set out to.
She was a woman who wore a crown of thorns.
She was a woman who was punished for things she had not done.
|She was a woman
||who was strong,|
who was beautiful,
who was beaten down,
She was a woman who would walk into a coworker’s office,
stand on a desk and do the twist,
just to relieve corporate boredom.
she was a woman who’s brain was always on.
|She was a woman
||who worked eighteen-hour days|
She was a woman who fought for her rights.
she was a woman who should not have been born.
She was a woman who wrote poetry.
|She was a woman
||who believed in nothing but herself|
and trust me,
She was a woman who would jump on hotel beds
every time she travelled and booked a room.
Because it was hers. Because she could.
|She was a woman
||who belched out loud,|
she laughed too hard,
she swore too much.
And she grew up too fast.
She was a woman who worked on eight different projects
at once, and still managed to get them all done on time.
|She was a woman
||who never lost control.|
She planned everything,
she demanded perfection, and
she always had the answers.
She was a woman who raised the pitch of her voice
when she was asking for something.
She was a woman who never played drinking games,
|because she never
||needed an excuse to drink.|
Because she could drink most men under the table.
She loved dirty jokes, and
she seldom crossed her legs.
She was a woman who wanted to feel alive.
|She was a woman
||who could not eat something she could not kill.|
She wrote letters to the editor,
and when that wasn’t enough
she became an editor, because
she liked making waves.
Because she was a woman who knew all to well
that you only had one life to live.
Don’t do something because it’s expected of you,
do it because you are a woman who knows what’s right.
That golden ring is almost in your grasp.
You’ve got the brains,
and believe it or not,
you’ve got the brawn,
so don’t let anything stand in your way.
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers in her 6/4/16 show “Obey” at Expressions 2016: June is a Woman! in Austin (Sony), first reading her haiku poems
then reading her poems
Earth is a Topiary (her 1st of 2 poems where she used a voice modulator to reads parts of her poem in a male voice),
On Becoming a Woman (an editing and expansion of her 1999 poem Becoming a Woman),
Viewing the Woman in a 19th Century Photograph (an editing of her 1991 poem Photograph, Nineteenth Century and her 2nd of 2 poems where she used a voice modulator to reads parts of her poem in a male voice),
Content With Inferior Men, portions of her poem
In The Air with slightly altered wording, and
Oh, She Was a Woman (an editing of her 1997 poem She Was a Woman).
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers in her 6/4/16 show “Obey” at Expressions 2016: June is a Woman! in Austin (Cps), first reading her haiku poems
then reading her poems
Earth is a Topiary (her 1st of 2 poems where she used a voice modulator to reads parts of her poem in a male voice),
On Becoming a Woman (an editing and expansion of her 1999 poem Becoming a Woman),
Viewing the Woman in a 19th Century Photograph (an editing of her 1991 poem Photograph, Nineteenth Century and her 2nd of 2 poems where she used a voice modulator to reads parts of her poem in a male voice),
Content With Inferior Men, portions of her poem
In The Air with slightly altered wording, and
Oh, She Was a Woman (an editing of her 1997 poem She Was a Woman).
Download all of the show poems in the free chapbook
6/4/16 at Expressions 2016: June is a Woman! show in Austin
See YouTube video 7/3/16 of Janet Kuypers reading her 3 poems I’m not Sick, but I’m not Well, One oh Three Destruction Instructions: Run Faster and Oh, She Was a Woman at the Austin open mic Kick Butt Poetry (filmed from a Canon Power Shot camera).
See YouTube video 7/3/16 of Janet Kuypers reading her 3 poems I’m not Sick, but I’m not Well, One oh Three Destruction Instructions: Run Faster and Oh, She Was a Woman at the Austin open mic Kick Butt Poetry (this video was filmed from a Sony camera).
Questions and Tension
My stomach’s sort of in knots.
I mean, I feel this tension —
I know most people lose them as teens
but I always kept my wisdom teeth.
Apparently my mouth was big enough.
Now, after all this time
one tooth’s finally cracked,
so they schedule me in for an extraction.
An extraction. Even the name sounds messy
for removing a bone from my body.
So yeah, I’m feeling a bit nervous,
asking questions like mad to the staff.
Looking at x-rays, roots and nerves are straight,
so they say don’t worry, then bring a big needle
and tell me to open wide.
And after they inject me over and over,
I wait twice as long as they say.
The doctor comes in close, tells me not to move,
and I don’t know if it’s the drugs
they shot me with,
or if it’s that medic inches from my face
breathing my air, exhaling into me,
if that’s what’s making me feel
even more dizzy. So he says don’t move,
and he starts to tug. Pull. Even twist.
But not thirty seconds pass
and they say it’s over, as they give me
gauze to stop the bleeding.
It was over that quickly,
they didn’t even give me any pain medication.
And all I could think was that
taking a bone from my body
was far too easy. I mean, if you
drugged someone enough, could you
remove all of their teeth like that?
Thirty two bones, just a little tugging,
and to stop the blood use extra gauze.
While you recover you can’t use straws
‘cause sucking will split the sores.
I don’t know, maybe it was the drugs,
maybe it was that dentist sharing my air
and exhaling their waste down my throat
that made me wonder if it’s that easy
to pull out many little bones, all at once.
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.
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