welcome to volume 152 (the December 2017 issue)
of Down in the Dirt magazine


Down in the Dirt



Down in the Dirt

internet issn 1554-9666 (for the print issn 1554-9623)
http://scars.tv/dirt, or http://scars.tv & click Down in the Dirt
Janet K., Editor



Table of Contents

AUTHOR TITLE
Heikki Huotari Gorilla My Dreams
Stopping Time
John (“Jake”) Cosmos Aller Fallen Dreams Litter the Ground
Allan Onik Java
David Francis Sole Revelation
Robert Bettelheim The Sky Diver
Janet Kuypers falling
Denny E. Marshall Haiku (stars)
Haiku (galaxy)
Tom Ball E-Station
Amanda Pugh On A Rainy Day
Natalie Crick Midwinter
Jim Farren Déjà Vu All Over Again
Janet Kuypers xeric
Drew Marshall December 8, 1980 Revisited
Wes Heine Malaizzze art
Peter Gannon Wanting Out
Janet Kuypers instead
David Ames The Lighthouse
Fabrice Poussin Infinite Dune art
Mitchell Waldman They Don’t Call It Crazy Anymore
Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz Crazy Crayons art
Gwenellen Tarbet Heart’s Ease
Olivier Schopfer Sunset photography
Janet Kuypers Earth was Alive and Dying

 
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will appear in black and white in the print edition of Down in the Dirt magazine.





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Gorilla My Dreams

Heikki Huotari

Before you put your own gorilla mask on you might stop
to think about gorilla children, ask gorilla children
if their discontinued narratives could ever either vertically
or horizontally or socially align and if gorilla children were
to lean a ladder up against your house at midnight
would you deign to amble down the lighted aisle and sign?












Stopping Time

Heikki Huotari

The one who stays in love will stay in charge.
My charity is flush with cash
and when I’m needed I’ll be reinvented,
I will be as God would be,
so is it better to have loved and run
than never to have run at all,
and never having run at all,
how will I know what time it is?
If I don’t know what time it is,
how will I know where my imaginary children are?












Fallen Dreams Litter the Ground

John (“Jake”) Cosmos Aller

In the fall weather
As I walk amid the falling leaves
I see the signs everywhere

Of the fall of America
The once great and mighty Empire
Everywhere signs of the fall appear

The dark skies mirror
The darkness that settled over our land

Death, destruction and random acts of chaos
Are all around us
Surrounding us with visions of doom

Nothing can stop the bloodletting
No one seems to be in charge

As the leaves fall
And the darkness descends
The fall of America continues





John (“Jake”) Cosmos Aller bio

    John (“Jake”) Cosmos Aller is a novelist, poet and former Foreign Service officer having served 27 years with the U.S. State Department in ten countries - Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Korea, India, St Kitts, St Lucia, St Vincent, Spain and Thailand. and traveled to 45 countries during his career. Jake has been an aspiring novelist for several years and has completed two novels, (Giant Nazi Spiders, and the Great Divorce) and is pursuing publication. He has been writing poetry all his life and has published his poetry in electronic poetry forums, including All Poetry, Moon Café and Duane’s Poetree. (under the name Jake Lee). He is looking forward to transitioning to his third career – full-time novelist and poet after completing his second career as a Foreign Service officer, and his first career as an educator overseas for six years upon completion of his Peace Corps service in South Korea.












Java

Allan Onik

    King, Rowling, and Patterson drank coffee in Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning. At the table, King signed a copy of It, Rowling a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Patterson a copy of Kiss the Girls. They exchanged them, smiling.
    “We made it,” King said.
    “The money, the fame, it’s all ours,” Patterson said.
    “I can remember when I was homeless in my car, writing Harry Potter. I had a dream. Isn’t that what writing is all about? Not just the money or the fame, but the dream?”
    “Amen to that,” King said, “In college I’d steal from the grocery store just to fill my stomach.”
    Allan walked up them holding a Styrofoam Dunkin’ Doughnuts cup. “I have over 50 stories published with Down in the Dirt Magazine. Can I have an autograph?”
    King took a swig of some java. “Aren’t you supposed to be pulling weeds outside?”












Sole Revelation

David Francis

Some days you realize you are wounded
as crippled as the wheelchair man
you are as twisted as a wrought-iron spear
and have only the wind to straighten it
this is you, take it or leave it
overcast or sunny: one afternoon
you have this sole revelation





David Francis Biography

    David Francis has produced six albums of songs, one of poems, and “Always/Far,” a chapbook of lyrics and drawings. His film “Village Folksinger” has screened in the US and England. David’s poems and stories have appeared in a number of journals. http://davidfrancismusic.com












The Sky Diver

Robert Bettelheim

    The wind howled about the hangar and Harry turned and twisted on his bed trying to get back to sleep in the living quarters of the small shack attached to it. He sweated heavily. He had awakened from a recurring nightmare. He cursed silently, ‘Goddammit...that dream again.’ This was going to be another one of those sleepless nights. Years had passed since that terrible...incident. The dreams had not ceased. ‘Jenny, sweet adorable wild untamable Jenny’...in all his years as a sky diving pilot he had never met the likes of her. It had always been the same dream; he was free falling between sky and earth totally naked, no chute, no harness, feeling the fear and terror that Jenny must have felt before her death. This dream, always so acute and intense, that he would awake with a beating heart still full of the horror and panic of it, would never let go of him. He knew now that this would haunt him to the end of his days. Dear poor Jenny; she had been so very alive and vibrant, living every second of her life. ‘I’ve kept this to myself long enough.’ He thought, ‘it’s high time I told somebody about it’ but he did not believe that he ever would. Harry, past sixty, aware that there would be many more nights like this one, felt his age. Usually a few drinks would help him fall asleep, but the weekend was coming on and the sky-diving center would be full of weekend sky divers that traded gear from him, he could not afford to be blurred. Having seen those two rookie guys at the cafeteria by the drop zone last week had reminded him of the two that had tried to save Jenny in freefall. Only one had survived.
     Wayne, passed forty, senor at his office, had been advised by his family doctor to lead a more active life and had chosen sky-diving as a break-away from his family and as a daring and adventurous occupation for his weekends. It would not be as exertive as running or walking and would give him a halo of daredevil and glory to bask in and something to talk and boast about at the office and at parties. It was a sign of his status and the envy of the lower paid and less elevated.
    Fred, also past forty and Wayne, both from Manhattan N.Y. had met at an AFF course {Accelerated free fall} in Long island and become friendly. They had both had trained on the ground, done dirt dives as this is called and made a tandem dive with an instructor. They traded their experiences and impressions. Both had admitted to being scared and this admission had brought them closer. The adrenalin that the act of jumping out of a plane had created had been worth it and had been addictive. They wanted more. They were older than most of the sky jumpers around and found comfort in each other {though they would never have admitted it} and had jumped together, passed the customary ten dives with instructors and then a solo check dive and got their licenses. All in all, including renting the gear, this had cost them over a couple of grand. Now they were members of the USPA {United States Parachute Association.} and could skydive on their own. Gear costs, especially good gear and for now they had mostly rented stuff. In time they intended to buy their own.
    Wayne had paid a professional to take pictures of himself in the air and he had those enlarged and hung up on his office.
    There were two of them now, friends and buddies. They were both ‘young’ executives with well paid jobs and had wives and families. The weather allowing, every other weekend or so, those three would get themselves to the Center and do some skydiving. The two of them noted and shared all common expenses. They were amateurs and not professionals and did not have much ambition to sky dive in formations, which they had tried with some minor success a few times.
    Fred and Wayne had wives and kids, The first few times those had come along and were bored sitting around in the adjoining cafeteria, near the drop zone, waiting and doing nothing. Watching dad skydive, and being a hero is great, but it took too long, the rest of the time would be a drag and in time they had all begged off, wives kids and all.
    Between dives, the jumpers too, would pass the time in the cafeteria. There were always a few skydivers about waiting their turn, sometimes with their families or with kids waiting for their daddies to show up. This place also happened to be a meeting place for jumpers and many stories and information could be passed around.
    The friends would talk about their homes, families and office politics and naturally about their skydiving experiences. The exhilaration of free falling in the sky was challenged by the charm and elation of floating down in a parachute by Fred.
    “There is nothing like it, suddenly all is quiet and peaceful and on a clear day the view is spectecular and the sunsets can be really terrific.”
    “Freefall is the thing for me.” Wayne would say to that, “You fly in the sky, you can turn around, twist around, only it’s so short. I hardly finish stretching when the dytter warns me that I have to pull the handle. I tried some floating, but I guess that I’m just too heavy.” {A dytter is an audible altimeter, so that a diver can hear the decision altitude which is somewhere between 2500 and 1800 feet. After that there is not much use in opening a chute.}
    They had talked some more and had been overheard by an older grizzly guy sitting alone at the next table. “You guys are Boogies then, I got some gear for sale, not new, but good and tried stuff in excellent condition. You want to see? In my car outside.”
    “I always buy new stuff.” Fred said.
    “Who are you calling Boogies?” Wayne was up in arms.
    “I mean guys who do it for fun, not professionals. No insult intended.”
    “None taken.” Fred said quickly. The guy had obviously meant no harm. “I could do with some gear of my own, most of my gear is rented, what you got?”
    “Name’s Harry. Come and have a look. I can guarantee the quality. The best! You guys ever do over thirteen thousand?”
    “No, not yet.” Wayne answered.
    “I’m Fred, I’ll see what you got.”
    “Ok. I’ll just go and unpack, my car’s the pickup outside. Takes me some minutes. He said and went out.
    Fred and Wayne remained in their places.
    “I would never buy used gear.” Wayne said.
    “Me neither.” Fred remarked. Ignoring the fact that the gear they had rented was not new either.
    They sat there sipping their drinks.
    The weather had gone bad on them, and they were not sure if they could get in another jump, so they loafed out to Harry’s car to see for themselves what the guy had in there. There was a small trailer connected to it and he showed them. There were diving suits, helmets, goggles, altimeters of every kind, gloves, boots, there were chutes, complete rigs, some still sealed in their wrappings and a whole lot of paraphernalia of gear stuff for every possible occasion. It all looked in peak condition.
    “How do we know if that stuff’s any good?” Wayne asked.
    Fred kidded; “If a parachute doesn’t open then we get our dough back, right?”
    This made Wayne nervous. “This is one subject you don’t joke about” He snorted.
    “Ask around.” Harry said. “I’ve sold gear to many of the guys, there have been no complaints so far. Some of the gear is not new. I get it from guys that have stopped jumping for one reason or another. I check it and fix it up myself and sell it for less than the store does. I am a licensed Master Rigger. Gear costs and you can save yourselves a lot of cash that way. I do repairs too and I personally guarantee any stuff I sell. That rented stuff you got isn’t new either. I am here every Tuesdays and weekends.”
    “That’s a nice sales pitch.” Fred said. “Do you have an address and a phone number listed?”
    “Here!” Harry pulled out a card. “Keep it.” They studied it. All the information they had sought was there right on the card. “I got a Cessna 180 right here, you guys buy enough gear from me and you get a jump free, ...twelve thousand feet. No waiting in line.”
    One of the disadvantages in that drop zone is that the diving center had many jumpers and few planes and for economy’s sake, they were large ones that could take in whole groups of jumpers so that there is often a queue. First, one had to wait in line to get on. Second; different groups that had formed, jumping at different times and altitudes. You had to wait for your turn and were told when to jump. “Are you a licensed pilot?” Wayne asked carefully.
    “Sure am, used to jump too.”
    A strong wind had come up pushing the rain that had started before it. Harry closed up and they rushed back inside. When they had settled down with some coffee and light drinks, Wayne had asked Harry; “You don’t jump anymore? You’re not that old yet.” He observed.
    “I still jump sometimes, but not much, my heart isn’t in it anymore.”
    “What happened?” .
    “An....accident. I don’t much like to talk about it, maybe sometime later... Listen are you guys going to buy some of my gear or talk all day?”
    Fred had been busy writing on a piece of paper. “Actually I have made a list of gear that I want and I’d like you to choose the stuff yourself. I’ll trust you on this. You seem the professional, I’m just a rookie.” He shoved the list towards Harry. He had made a long one.
    Harry scrutinized the list. “You don’t need all that stuff, not at first anyway. He pointed to an article. “That won’t help you any, it just looks good, on the other hand you might need some weights and a hook knife with a strap on sheath.”
    He had impressed the friends with his know-how and they started warming up to him. Wayne asked him if he thought that he needed a different headset and Fred too wanted some advice. In the end the three had ordered a long list of gear from Harry. It was still raining outside.
    “There’s no hurry, Fred said, we won’t be jumping today it seems.
    “It might clear up in some hours.” Harry said.
    “I heard the weather-guy on the station, he said that there’s no letting up to day. We might as well drive home.”
    “Maybe” Harry said. “But I still say that there is a good chance of the weather getting better.”
    They sat around and discussed their gear. Harry was a gold mine of information and they began to realize that they all had, in their anxiety of the dangers of skydiving, needlessly overloaded themselves with much useless stuff. With all their gear on them, their jumps had been awkward and needlessly cumbersome.
    “So what do you think that we need, and what should we get rid off?” He was asked.
    “You guys don’t do formations yet?”
    “We tried a few times, but we don’t get it right, so we left off.” Fred said. “We’re just here for relaxation and fun.”
    “I have a suggestion; you let me handle your stuff. I’ll take the gear that you don’t need for now and outfit you with identical jumpsuits and rigs that I’ve got. You’re a.a.d’s are o.k. but I’ve got better ones, Cypress, you want the best with those. All three of you and we do a trial flight...on me, as soon as the weather clears.”
    How much will this cost us?” Wayne asked.
    “A lot, but less than it would to get it from the store and I take the gear that you don’t need off your hands. Do the math. You get a free flight and instructions. You want to talk this over among yourselves?”
    He did not wait for an answer, but got up. “I’ve got other business to attend to. Be back in a short while.” He left.
    “Should we trust this guy?” Wayne asked.
    “I think so.” Fred said. “He knows a lot, having a certificate does not make us real jumpers yet. We could do with his help.”
    “He claims to be a master rigger. Watne said. “I wonder whether I would buy a used car from him?”
    “We could ask to see his certificate.” Fred said thoughtfully.
    “We’ll do just that and we’ll settle on a trail run with his gear, then we’ll decide.” Wayne had said thoughtfully. They all agreed to that.
    When Harry came back, he had an attaché case with him. he pulled out an official looking document. It showed him as a Master Rigger, he could fix gear and repair chutes among a long list of other paraphernalia and accessories.
    “I’ll bet that you guys didn’t believe me” He chuckled. “I don’t blame you. So how about it?”
    Wayne said; “We do a trial run first, with your gear. Then we settle the deal. That o.k.?”
    “Some of our stuff is rented for the day.” Fred said.
    “Return it. We do the math after the jump.” Harry told him. “I’m doing you guys a favor.”
    “Why would you do that? You don’t know us.” Wayne said.
    “I had two guys, that remind me of you people awhile back. They stopped jumping and it’s some of their stuff that I have. The best!”
    “Why did they stop?” Fred asked.
    “They got spooked.” He said shortly. They could tell that he was not inclined to talk about it.
    The rain had not stopped, but the wind had abated. They got in their cars and followed Harry out of the D.Z. to a wooded area and drove for a few minutes to some kind of a hangar-shed that Harry used. There he helped them outfit themselves. The weather began to clear somewhat. Harry slid some doors back and there stood a Cessna. It looked just large enough to hold one or two passengers, but Harry assured them that it can hold three or four jumpers with all their gear. The two looked forward to this bonus that seemed to have fallen in their lap.
    Wayne looked around while Harry and the others were busy with the gear. They were in a typical working shed, garage like with tools hanging from the walls and cupboards for gear. Parts of dismantled gear and devices were lying around on some working tables. Wayne noticed an enlarged photo that had been crudely taped to the wall. It was of a naked girl. One could tell that she is not a professional model. She stood awkwardly, arms on narrow hips, small breasts, a sarcastic smile on her features and jutting her pelvis out. A tuft of pubic hair above her pussy showed. Provocative and offensive, it had the same impact as if she had given the finger to whoever took that shot of her, an audacious smile on her face. It seemed to project ‘fuck you’ to the whole world. Wayne stared.
    “Who’s that?” Wayne pointed to the photo.
    Harry looked up from whatever he had been doing, an impatient expression on his face. “No one, just a photo I got out of some magazine.” He said shortly.
    He had been abrupt and it was obviously a lie. Wayne wisely did not pursue the subject. When Gerald and Fred had finished the arrangements with their gear they had a look too. Fred whistled; “I sure wouldn’t mind doing that one.”
    “You’re a married man.” Wayne reminded him, needlessly.
    “Cut the crap.” Harry barked. “The weather’s cleared. Help me push the plane out and we can get a jump in before dark.”
    “You haven’t checked my stuff yet.” Wayne said.
    “You coming in on this deal? I got the notion that you weren’t interested.” Harry said.
    “I changed my mind. If we can get identical suits, we might do some minor formations after all.”
    “O.k. let’s see what you got.”
    He checked out Wayne’s stuff. He weighed all of them on a scale. Wayne was the heaviest and Harry gave them some weights to equalize their exit weight. “Now you guys are ready.”
    Harry let each of them know the sum that they would have to pay. He had subtracted the stuff he took from them. It turned out to be less than half, that they would have to pay in the store.
    When they had finished they pushed the Cessna out. A stretch of cleared road acted as a landing strip.
    “This is where we take off?” Fred asked surprised and dismayed.
    “This is where we take off and I land. I’ve done it a few thousand times. You’ve got nothing to worry about on that count. You do your jump and I do the landing. I’ll pick you up to your cars.” Harry instructed. “As this is the first time, I’ll take you to eleven thousand, o.k”
    “We use the center’s drop zone?” Wayne asked.
    “Yes, I have an arrangement with them.”
    They were a quiet and subdued three guys that boarded the plane. Harry started and warmed the engine and they took off as easy as a bird. Harry showed himself to be an expert professional and they felt it and gained confidence. He climbed to the height, turning the plane at the same time and talking to the center. He got the all clear and leveled out and signed to them to be ready. They jumped; Fred first, and Wayne last. Their identical suits and calculated exit weights made it easy for them to stay together in the air. They had fun and landed on target one after the other. It had been a successful jump.
    While they waited for Harry to pick them up they did a short happy post drive and wrote it down in their log books. Wayne had an idea; “Listen Fred, this is much better than waiting in line and jumping together after a lot of other guys.” He began.
    They always had been told when and where and how to jump and now they wanted to be more independent. Fred saw where Wayne is going with this. “You mean like chartering the guy and his plane? That might cost us a pretty penny.” Fred remarked.
    “This guy seems to have a soft spot for us, I don’t know why, but I got the feeling that he’ll let us have this at a discount. We can ask. What have we got to lose?”
    The idea grew on them as they discussed this. “We did save a lot of cash on the stuff we got from him.” Fred reminded them.
    Harry came to collect them. “Everything go well?”
    “Right as rain.” Fred said. Wayne agreed. Fred let Wayne do the talking. This used to be one thing that Wayne did well. He took a seat next to Harry as he drove them to their cars and hinted at how good it had been and maybe they could do this again.... When they got back, they all remained in the shed to work out the details of a deal between them. It would cost, but they would split it two ways and had decided that it would be worth it.
    Harry was a riddle to them. He proved himself very helpful and expertise on the many issues of skydiving. He had done it all and he knew it all, but he kept apart and held them at a distance, even when kidding around with the three. It seemed that he had sort of adopted them. He never let on if he chartered his plane to other guys, {not that this was any of their business, but they would have liked to know.} He seemed to make enough money to get by, fixing and selling gear and rigs and competing with the store at the diving center. The three had got used to his ways and had learned to trust him.
    They often discussed Harry and Fred who seemed the more sensitive of the two said; “Seems to me, that he acts sort of subdued like, I would almost say cowed...”
    “Why should that be?” Wayne asked, “The guy knows more about sky jumps than anyone that we have met at the center.”
    “We sure are lucky to have him.” Fred added to this. “No more waiting for jumps.”
    “Fred, you remember that pic of a naked girl in that workshop of his? It’s gone. He must have taken it down, maybe she had something to do with it.” Wayne suggested.
    “She didn’t look like something he had cut out of a magazine.” Fred said. “Maybe she was his girl and she left him.”
    “We don’t know that. Maybe they are still together.”
    “She could be dead for all we know.” Fred added.
    “You mean like an accident, a jump gone bad?”
    “Could be anything.”
    “He did mention an accident once and he had not wanted to talk about it.”
    Skydiving is fraught with accidents, small and not so little, some ending with broken bones and death and tales of this are spread around and talked about as sky jumpers lore. They are at the back of every jumper’s mind and the gear and safety precautions are all tuned to that. Harry himself would occasionally remark that a guy that is not scared will make a bad jumper.
    The two were amators and Harry rubbed their noses in it. He never let them forget that. He did this gently and kindly, but firmly. They had put themselves into Harry’s hands and nothing had happened to make them regret it. In fact, the opposite was true; they often thanked their lucky stars in coming across that guy. He repeatedly kept them from making mistakes. He always reminded them that it is the professionals that had confidence in themselves and thought that they knew it all, that had most of the accidents.
    With Harry’s help and guidance they managed to do some formation diving, just the three of them and it had been sort of fun. They found themselves so occupied with each other and keeping their balance in the short time that they had, that they had no time to feel the original thrill of sky diving, that for them included having a look around the horizon and the tiny looking buildings rushing up from below. Formation diving had just too much hard work and less fun. Most of the time they preferred their independence and jumped each for himself.
    Fred liked ‘Hop Pop.’ Meaning; to opening his chute as soon as he safely could and enjoying the floating around and using his toggles and steering lines a lot. Occasionally he would drift too far away and had to work hard to land on target, or even near the target.
    Wayne had wanted to try some high altitude-jumping to have a longer period of free fall. Wayne turned out to be the kind that enjoyed the freedom of being in the air in free-fall and would open his chute at the last moment that it was safe to do so. When he had asked Harry about the possibility of higher altitude flights, the latter had denied him bluntly. “You need oxygen and a different warmer jumpsuit. One little mistake can make you black out. You’re not ready yet. Not on my plane!”
    This had not been the first time that subject had come up. Wane backed off, he did not like it, but he knew as well as Fred that in sky-diving matters Harry was always right. They all knew that by being very careful Harry had most likely saved them at one time or another from many mishaps and hitches that plague so many rookie jumpers. Due to his guidance all had gone smoothly so far. “O.k. You boss man!” Wane said.
    Once they sat around Harry’s hangar waiting for the weather to clear. The forecast for the weekend had not been decisive and they had taken a chance. The weather had turned foul with a strong wind and heavy rain alternatively and it seemed that even Harry had given up any hope of them making a jump. There were always beer cans around, but Harry would never let them have any before a jump. Now he broke out a six-pack and handed it around. He seemed in a morose mood. The rain made a noise hammering on the roof and the wind moaned. They drank silently subdued by the violence outside. The second six-pack was well on the way of being demolished when Fred kidded; “I’m not driving home in that storm. You got a bed-fellow tonight Harry, whether you like it or not.”
    Harry grunted.
    “It sounds worse in here, than it is.” Wayne commented. “What a damn waste. We’ve been sitting on our asses all day.” Wayne felt impatient and frustrated.
    Harry lifted his head; I’m going to tell you guys a story.” His eyes were bleary from the beer. He opened another can and drank heavily from it. “I did have a strange bed-fellow once. A girl, maybe over thirty years younger than me, maybe even forty, somewhere between her twenties and thirties, I guess. Who can tell with women? She bummed around. Guys, she wasn’t a whore or anything like that, but she did take money from men. She did what she liked and did not give a shit about anything. She seemed to like sky-divers for some reason and hung around the diving center. I’m not a ladies man, so I ignored her, well at first anyway. I saw her around, wearing her jeans in the summer with a t-shirt and a pilot’s jacket and overalls when it got cold in the winter. I never saw her in a dress or made up like the ladies do. I knew her name...Jenny.
     Maybe she looked younger than her years, being small, petite, you know and skinny, I never found out her age or her past and I never found out where she kept herself either. She was one close mouthed little bitch. At that time I did many flights at different altitudes and was very busy. One group I had were three guys just like you, only they were not beginners...”
    “We’ve been at this for a year now.” Fred interupted.
    “Shut up.” Wayne said.
    “Don’t fool yourselves, you guys are rookies, what you don’t know about sky-diving could fill a book.” Harry said. “Those guys were good, I had tought them. They were not professionals, but they knew their stuff. By the way that gear that you got from me is theirs, the best there is. Well anyway this gal Jenny started ogling one of those guys, trying to make him take her up on a jump.
    I stop this kind of thing before it gets started. “No one gets on my plane that doesn’t jump off!” I told her that in no uncertain terms.
    “You really are an old bear!” She had said to me.
    “That so?”
    “I don’t mind trying a sky dive.”
    “That’s very nice of you. You don’t try a sky-dive! One trains for it. You train a lot! and then maybe you’re ready.”
    “The hell with that. You professionals always make a big deal about things.”
    “Believe me, it is a big deal. One can get killed from a small mistake.”
    “Fuck you!” She said as she left.
    ‘What the hell,’ I thought to myself. ‘Stupid bitch.’
    A week or two later she accosted me, using my name as if she had known me all her life; “Harry, they tell me that you are the best. I want you to teach me how to skydive.” The way it sounded was like she is asking me for a drink or a ride home. Skydiving is not something to be taken up lightly.
    “Can you pay?” I asked her bluntly. It felt mean because I knew that she couldn’t and I had wanted to rub it in. I had seen her with guys and it had become common knowledge that she took money. To me she looked the kind of girl that thought everything should be handed to her on a silver platter. Her pussy was her bank account.
    “I can pay.” She answered. “Maybe not in money.”
    “I’m not much of a guy for girls, I don’t want that.”
    “Every one does, don’t kid me, don’t kid yourself.”
    There was some truth in that and it made me mad. I turned my back on her and left her. Some days later I got home and saw that my garage and hanger had been cleaned. Everything looked tidy and spic. I always leave a mess and I am used to it. I know where everything is kept and that’s what counts, but the place did look kind of nice.”
    “Is she still around?” Fred asked. “The place does look tidy.”
    “I clean up now.” Harry said shortly. “What the hell you guys don’t want to listen to this.” He sunk into himself. Rain and hail battered on the roof making a deafening noise. No one said anything.
    When the noise subsided somewhat, Fred ventured. “Is she still around?”
    “I got pictures of her, but I can’t show you that.”
    “I think that we might have seen one.” Wayne said on a wild guess. He had remembered the photo of that naked girl that Harry had taken down from the wall.
    “You been snooping around, damn it.”
    “Sure,” Wayne said easily. “You had it tapped to the wall.”
    “Well it can’t do her any harm, that for sure.” Harry said.
    “What about her?” Fred encouraged him to get on with his tale.
    Well the long and short of it is that I took her in. She changed the whole idea of the female sex for me. She was wild free and easy and she never harmed anybody if she could help it. Being wild and free is not what helps one to be a skydiver, it is discipline, training and being careful. A part of me liked her wild free ways, but getting her into training turned out to be more like taming a wild horse. She got acquainted with my favorite team, the two guys that I told you about. You got most of their gear. They were all married, but they could not resist her. She always had slept around and now she did it with the three of us.”
    “You let her do that?”
    “No. I didn’t, but I could not control her. I could have thrown her out, and I guess I sort of fell for her. We all did. She really was a nice person. She didn’t have a mean bone in her body.”
    “Was there no jealousy? Fred asked.
    “Strange as it might sound, I remember very little of that. Jenny took care of it and I found out that I wasn’t at all resentful, but at first I was jealous and furious.”
    “Goddamit Jenny, you’re behaving like a whore.” I accused her. “Are we together or not. You can’t fuck around like that.”
    “Why the hell not? If I want to.”
    “You’re with me! That’s why not.”
    “You don’t own me. Nobody owns me.”
    “But we’re together.”
    “Harry you are one hell of a nice guy, beneath all the gruffness.” She said to me. “I like you a lot, but I have paid for my freedom. No one tells me what to do! Take it or leave it.”
    I took it. Life seemed brighter with her around and not only because of the sex. Actually we did not have that much of it, but having her around was like having some kind of an angel about. We had pulled two cots together, but there were nights that she spent away and I had learned not to ask her about her goings and comings. I counted the time blessed when she was here.
    The four of us often became five, as she would come for the ride. I would not let her jump yet, but she would get around me.”
    “No one does that!” Fred exclaimed. Wayne chuckled.
    “Well she did, through the other guys; they accused me of being too fussy and behaving like an old maid.”
    “Harry, no offense meant, but you are a careful guy.” Wayne said.
    “Careful?” He burst out. “Fuck you guys, you should have seen me before....” He stopped suddenly, then he continued. “What the hell do you know about it. I was a stunt man. I did free fall jumps from eighteen thousand feet, even higher sometimes. They all called me the daredevil of the sky. There was nothing I wouldn’t do!”
    They were quiet, not knowing how to answer that outburst. There had been a lot of emotion in it. The rain had slowed down, the noise on the roof had dimnished and the silence made itself felt all the more.
    Wayne said carefully. “You said before, before what?”
    Harry did not answer immediately, then he said, “I’ll show you, I’ve kept this to myself long enough.” He got up and put on a jacket. “Let’s go.”
    The three followed him to his car and they got in. “Where to?” Wayne asked. “You’ll see.” Harry said shortly. They drove off. Behind the hangar he turned into an unused looking pass at right angles to the small airstrip. It led into a wooded area and they did not see much except for trees. Harry did not drive for long. They came to an opening between the trees and the car stopped. They saw a lovely spot, part of it a grassy plain and some parts were dotted with small bushes, for some reason the trees had not grown there. It was the size of a football stadium and the kind of place that induced one to frisk and run around. A drizzle had started again lightly. They noticed a grave with a board nailed to a stake stuck in it. It did not look like a freshly dug grave and there was no headstone, just a mound of earth with some weeds on it and that board. Harry got out.
    “Its still raining.” Someone reminded him.
    “Yeah.” He grunted and went to the grave. They got out and followed him. A few words had been burnt into that board, they made three short lines; The first was ‘Jenny’ and under it, ‘a free spirit’. The third line had the date of her death, two years back. The rain had dwindled to a drizzle.
    They stood silently around the grave. Only Wayne dared to comment; “That her?”
    “Yeh.”
    “No other name? Nothing else?”
    “I never learned it. She did not talk about her past.”
    “No kin?”
    “She never talked about it.”
    “How did she die?”
    Harry did not answer.
    “Some kind of sky diving accident, I’ll bet.” Fred said.
    “It was no accident.” Harry let out.
    “What do you mean by that?”
    Fred had already jumped to conclusions. “Is that why she is hidden here?” He asked.
    “I wanted her nearby.” Harry said shortly. He walked back to the car. They climbed in with him. “Are you going to tell us about it?” Wayne asked him.
    “Maybe, let’s get back first. I need a good stiff drink.”
    The short trip back passed in silence. They all were wondering what might have happened to that girl?
    The rain had not been that strong but they were all moist from it and crowded around the heater. Harry brewed some strong coffee and found some whisky to go with it. They all had some. Fred realized that with this on top of all the beer that they had, that even if the bad weather cleared up, they would be in no condition to make a jump. “The day is all shot to hell, you might as well tell us about her.”
    “She was the best there is.” Harry went on pursuing a train of thought, continuing with it as if he had not paused. “She had her free ways that brought all of us to her feet. She was a skinny little bitch, half the size of me, but man! could she twist us around! She had us eating out of her hands.” He paused. She wasn’t beautiful but she had a vitality and a freshness and we fed on it. It nourished our souls.
    “I don’t get it.” Wayne said, “Was she a whore or not?”
    “Goddammit!” Harry burst out, “You sonofabitch, nothing is a simple as that....she fucked around, yeh, that for sure...and she got money off guys for things she wanted, or needed, that too, but in a natural sort of friendly, buddy like way. It was never a business transaction. You see what I mean?... a part of a...kind of natural give and take thing. Let me tell you sonny, we all got more out of it than she did. She projected what we all of us wanted to be; free, free of our lives, of our routines and schedules and obligations financial and otherwise. When she was around it felt like some kind of a drug. The goddam world seemed shinier and more open. Everything could be possible; her favorite say was; “Why the hell not?”
    He stopped. They had never heard him talk so much and so long. Much of it had been said in an indignant tone of voice.
    Wayne said. “Sorry Harry. I did not mean anything demeaning. I just wanted to get it cleared up. I apologize. I truly do.”
    “I know that you didn’t mean anything by it.” Harry said, “but others did, especially some of the spouses of the guys around.”
    “So what happened?” Someone asked.
    “She attached herself to us and we liked it. I got this private little airstrip here and there was no need to hang around the drop zone area, except for waiting to be picked up after the jump. She had got some heat around the place and was not too happy about it, so she stuck to us here. I guess that sky diving became a kind of symbol to her, she loved the free fall more than the other stuff...”
    “So do I.” Wayne interjected.
    Harry ignored that, his eyes were turned inwards. The wind began to howl outside and there was another burst of rain. It hammered against the windows and roof. They waited untill most of it had subsided They crowded around the heater, a strong one and Harry had turned it on to full.
    “We all tought her to skydive,” He said finally. “We all helped her with her stuff and gear that I found for her. She did not take too easily to advice either, but it usually was us three against her and mostly we talked her down. In her heart she knew that we were right and that we cared for her...” He stopped again in deep thought.
    “Well what is it?”
    “I do believe that she had been testing us....” He seemed to have a revelation. “To see how far she could go and how much we cared. She used to say; ‘Why the hell not’ to us, all over the place. It was her favorite say.”
    You already said that.”
    “So I did, so I did.” He mused. “She sure used that phrase a lot and it became a kind of symbol to us and we would tease her about it. All in fun of course. The four of us were together every weekend, but in between she would come and stay here, then again she might leave for some days and I had learned not to ask too many questions. Jenny could have a sharp tongue when she wanted. Sometimes she would ask me some hard questions, like;”
    “Why are you so over careful always?”
    “Why the hell not?” I would hit it back at her.
    “I’m serious. This is life! What the hell are we supposed to do? Be careful all our lives? Never stick our heads out?”
    “It’s a good scheme.” I would say, “For a long and healthy life.”
    “A dead one, a boring one. Like Zombies. You call that living?”
    “Listen kiddo, I was a stuntman in my time. I had long while back boasted of this to her and she knew all about it. She also knew that every stunt is prepared and tested with safety precautions and has been rehearsed before executing it. Still there had been risks, something could always go wrong. She knew that too. She said nothing but I could tell that she wasn’t convinced.
    Some people just do not have the right attitude to skydiving, she hadn’t and I should never have let her skydive, but I had a weak spot where she was concerned. Spot! A spot as big as an airfield! I liked her recklessness and her largeness in spending the precious gifts of life. I gave in to her, a part of me knew that this wasn’t so good or healthy, but I talked myself down. We trained her and got her ready for her maiden jump. We all would kid her that it is the only thing maiden about her. When she wasn’t with me here, I guessed that she might be in New York or somewhere near, with one of the other three guys of our little group, but I had learned not to ask her about it. She had done a tandem a few times and now her first solo would come. She showed no visible fear.
    “You guys will take good care of me, Right?”
    “No, we just toss you off the plane and that’s it.” Someone had kidded.
    “This had not just been the normal anxiousness before a solo. It had been a clue to her person, a hint of what would come. She had tested us before to see how much we really cared for her and in her mind we must have passed similar experiments and assessments many times, yet there was a part in her that is never satisfied and had to test us repeatedly. I know that now, but then I never gave this much attention. This is hindsight I guess. Life does not point-out the clues for us.”
    “That indicates some lack of security.” Fred had dared this observation.
    “I should have known better. Thinking back now, I can see where I went wrong. Jenny had to test every one and everything and just once is no good, she had to do this over and over. This explains her free and easy ways. She slept around not only for the dough, but to see just how far she could get. She tested me too, all the time, to see my reaction to her ways.”
    “So sky diving was a part of that? ”
    “Sure was.”
    Fred said, “That reminds me of my kids, always trying to see just how far they can get with us.”
    “She was a kid, if anything. She needed and searched for love and constant reassurance, it never let off.”
    “So what happened on that maiden flight?”
    The three of them dropped off and from the plane everything seemed alright. I landed the Cessna and picked them up fifteen minutes later. I had been in a hurry to know how it went.
    “How was it?” I asked Jenny, when they jumped onto my pickup.
    “Super!”
    I saw that the guys hadn’t been too happy for some reason. “Why the long faces?”
    “She waited until the last second to pull the handle, I thought she was never going to open her chute.” One of the guys admitted. I had already pulled mine when she went by me like a shot. At first I thought that something had gone wrong.”
    “What the hell,” Jenny said. “I know what I am doing.”
    “You cut it too fine!” Someone said.
    “You are a bunch of worrying ninnies.” She began to mimic; “This has to be so and that has to be exactly two and a half inches and that strap has to go over my titties...” She was so funny that she had us laughing, in spite of ourselves. We all loved that gal. In a way, we had, all of us, encouraged her in her ways, letting her do what we ourselves had never dared. We had formed and created her. Jenny had always been an obliging person and unconsciously adapted herself to our ...hell I don’t know what to call them,...you know; parents sometime make their children do things that they themselves had wanted and missed out on, like music, ballet or karate, all that shit and of course sports. We let her do what we might have wanted to do ourselves, but dared not, me included. I didn’t stop it! She learned fast and not always what I or the others intended for her to learn. She was efficient in her motions and always kept her head. She had potential and could get real good at this, but we all turned a blind eye to her...what I now know to have been some kind of an obsessive recklessness.”
    “So now we, well they actually, began a series of jumps. Some equilibrium seemed to have been reached and there had been no more than the usual fuss and incidents. The guys got a camera and took shots of themselves and her of course...”
    “You got more pictures of her?” Someone had asked him.
    He hesitated...”Yeah I got some.”
    “You got us all involved with this, you might as well let us see the pics.” Wayne said for them all.
    “I guess so.” He got up heavily and went to a cupboard, unlocked it and pulled out a drawer. He returned carrying two albums. “Here.”
    The three took them eagerly. There were photos of the three guys and Jenny, together and in couples. They all wore helmets and goggles. Some of them had been taken in Harry’s place, others on the drop zone after the jump and many had been taken in the air, some of them while still in free fall. They certainly had managed to do a lot of action in free fall. In one picture Jenny and a guy were holding hands, in another she was holding on to someone’s feet. There were pictures of them kissing in mid air. All of it innocent, but dangerous fun.
    “Yeh, they had fun, up there in the air. They all were younger than me and I was only the pilot. I never got to jump with them. I may have been a daredevil once, but she outdid me in audaciousness. She certainly was more imaginative than I ever had been in my time. She invented a new gimmick; she stopped opening her chute and would come down holding and hooked to one of the guys.”
    “That’s impossible,” Cried Wayne. The opening of another chute would tear her away from anyone that she would cling to.”
    “She was a skinny acrobatic little thing, even more so in the air and completely fearless. She had a belt with a hook fixed to her harness with which she would hook herself on to someone, mostly at the last possible second. She would regularly try to do this to the last guy that opened his chute and later they would fuck, while they were still high on adrenalin, often in some shed at the drop zone. When I got there to pick them up, sometimes the rest of us would have to sit around and wait for them, whoever had the luck of having her at the time.”
    “You’re telling us that there had been no rivalry or jealousy? Fred had mentioned this before, but he found that hard to believe.
    “I never heard of any. I guess that she took care of that. Those guys all had wives. Jenny was a bonus for them.”
    “None of those guys resisted her?”
    “I don’t believe that any guy could resist Jenny when she set herself out for someone.”
    “Wasn’t this getting out of hand a little?” Wayne asked.
    “Damn right it was!” Harry answered. “I did feel at times like I am losing control and I had that uneasy feeling that we were heading for a disaster one way or another.”
    “So this was how she got killed!” Fred exclaimed.
    “This is only the beginning. It gets worse.”
    “You didn’t try to stop it?” Wayne asked.
    “Hell, sure I tried. Nothing short of closing down the whole thing would have made any difference to those guys and I didn’t want to do that, also for Jenny’s sake. She had attached herself to us and had nobody else.”
    “You should have stopped this before it got out of hand.” Wayne insisted.
    “I should have. I know that now, but I didn’t.” Harry admitted. “I was selfish. I wanted Jenny to remain with me and she might not, if the guys stopped coming at week ends. There was also a lot of money at stake too. What happened is my fault as much as anybody’s. I have a lot of guilt to deal with.”
    “What happened?”
    “Listen guys; Jenny never talked about her past, not a word and whenever I tried to mention something about that, she evaded it. I had no idea where she had sprung from. Maybe she had grown up in an orphanage. Personally I think that she must have had an unloved childhood. Maybe she had been used and exploited sexually and otherwise. She was always looking for love, but not able to accept the responsibilities that loving might force on her. She was in a clash of emotions and urges that led to her downfall. She tested us repeatedly to see how far she could get us to love and trust her. Then once when no one paid attention she jumped without her chute.”
    “What!” The three called out.
    “Did I hear this right?” Wayne exclaimed.
    “Yeah, she had left her chute behind, the reserve one too! She had latched herself to one of the guys in free fall. The guys had found that out only later on the ground. This had been too much for them. As I came to get them they were sitting in a moody circle. They had been arguing.
    “What’s up?” I inquired.
    “That crazy bitch...”
    “Hey, hey wait a minute there.” I heard one of them interrupt. “This is Jenny we’re talking about.”
    “She jumped without a chute!” I was informed by someone almost hysterical with an incredulous tone in his voice.
    “And you guys let her?” I snarled.
    “We never found out until too late.”
    Jenny said her piece; “Hey, I’m here too, you are talking like I wasn’t around. I’m not the first to jump without a chute, it’s been done many times before and it is fun.”
    “By professionals that know what they are doing.” I added to this. {I had done this once or twice myself in my earlier days.}
    “Here we go again.” She complained. “You use this professional stuff on me and wave it around like a flag. You cover yourself in it. I knew that I could do this. It’s even easier than with a chute and a reserve strapped on you. I felt free and unchained.”
    “You could have been killed.” I pointed out the obvious to her.
    “It was me, and only me and the sky and the earth, nothing else.”
    “And the guy you had to hook on to.” I continued this for her. “One miss and you’re a goner.”
    “They would have dived for me, wouldn’t you?” She turned to the one next to her. He nodded saying nothing.
    Guys, Jenny being a lightweight, meant that she could spread out and flatten herself to maximum air resistance and slow her fall, while the other guy head dived to catch up on her, in a faster free fall. This is possible and has been done, but it is also dangerous, especially if there is not much distance left to the ground. Jenny had been around skydivers so much that she knew a thing or two and had picked up many stories and lore.
    “What right have you to put another guy at risk?” I asked her bluntly. This stopped her. Jenny is a sensitive person, never willingly hurting someone else if she can help it.
    “But I have done this before!” She repeated plaintively. “It’s the same as with a chute, even easier. There’s no risk! I knew that I could do this. It was a cinch.”
    Then one of the guys butted in. “Take it easy on the gal Harry, she’s sorry and won’t do it again. Right Jenny?”
    “Yeah right.” She said in a low unconvinced tone of voice.
    “See that you don’t” I said shortly. I hated giving her hell and in front of the guys too, but I knew that she would not hold it against me. That’s Jenny!
    Then Jenny’s hundredth dive came up and...”
    “Yeah, we can guess.” Wayne said.
    “Right,” Harry said. “She insisted on doing it in the nude, after all it is tradition in many places and well, we let her. When I came to collect them and to congratulate her, I couldn’t find anybody. Where had they all gone too? I had a shack in the trees on the further side of the drop zone, it’s gone now, fell apart. I waited some time until they appeared from the shack there. She was still naked and had her arms around two of my fellers. The third guy carried their gear. They were jubilant. She left them and ran to me and hugged me, kissing me, a skinny little chicken.
    “Why didn’t she put something on?” Wayne asked.
    “It was my fault, she stripped on the plane and I forgot to fetch her clothes.”
    She appeared excited, like high on something; “It was wonderful, awesome! I had the best dive ever.”
    “Goddamit Jenny, put something on.”
    “Harry this is the best thing I ever done. I felt the wind and air all over my body. It felt like I was baptized by the sky. I felt the wind go through my pussy, I nearly had an orgasm, I swear it.”
    The others had come up while she talked, they had a sheepish look on their features, but sort of satisfied like.
    “We had sex in there.” Jenny pointed to the shed. You don’t mind, do you Harry? I’ll make it up to you tonight.”
    “Together?”
    “Together and separate. Harry dear, tonight it will be just us.”
    I looked at the guys but they shifted their gaze away. Talk about a bunch of kids that stole a pie and ate it.”
    Jenny went on, still in my arms; “Harry, this was too dammed good, it got me all hot, it got all of us hot. You weren’t around and I could not put it off. It seemed the right thing to do and I went along with it.”
    “Like you always do.” I could not help but say.
    “Sure, why the hell not?”
    Guys, I could answer that one. I could find enough reasons to tell her ‘why the hell not’, but I didn’t. Somehow they all seemed pale to me, wishy-washy sort off. I kept silent.”
    Wayne had been silent for too long; “Don’t tell us that you haven’t got photos of them diving in the nude.”
    “Yeah I got some, but just of her and them with goggles. They asked me to destroy the rest.”
    “Aren’t you going to show us?” Wayne asked. “You’ve told us so much, you might as well spit out the rest of it.”
    He got up and brought a packet of photos. “Here. Feast your eyes.”
    The three looked at the pictures, they studied them. It knocked them over; The first one was of Jenny, on the ground, bending over, in her helmet and goggles and rig strapped to her, spreading her buttocks to the camera. They were shocked at the suddenness of the exposure. “She’s got a nice ass.” Fred ventured.
    There were shots of her nude exept for her gear and she must have done a strip tease with it, as the following pictures showed her without some of the straps and stuff, taking them off, one by one, untill she had nothing on. Bare exept for helmet and goggles, those came off last, she spread her arms and legs to the sky. Then there was the one they had seen a blow-up of; Jenny naked as the day she was born, jutting out her pelvis at the cam, at the world, saying with her body “I do my thing and like it and you can take it or leave it!” There were the photos shot of her in the sky, all nudes, some with open parachute lines seen above her head her head and others had been taken in free fall. She had posed in the air and made faces. The three scrutinized the photos; There saw one were the guy with the cam must have dived beneath her; it showed her spread out, her skinny frame somewhat flattened by the air pressure, her boobs pressed inwards and her short hair blown away from her face. You could see, in spite of her wind twisted features, that she was smiling, grinning.
    One could have called those pictures porn stuff if one wanted, but they were fun pics. They were having the time of their lives. They fooled around with the cam and with Jenny. Sky diving had become playing and games with them. They seemed to be cavorting, and doing acrobatics in the sky, free as birds.
    “It sure looks like they had fun.” Fred remarked.
    “Yeah sure,” Harry said sourly, “I was never up there with them, I had to fly the plane, so in a way I was out of it. Those four did a lot of stuff up there in the air that I did not know off, or approve. Jenny had muddled their common sense. They were sure of themselves and they began to ignore and overrule some of the safety precautions, without my knowing it. Jenny made it up to me, this fooled me and lulled me into a passive, and more relaxed frame of mind. Jenny was incapable of hurting anyone and seeing me anxious, would spend more time with me. I liked that, I liked it a lot, just having her around, sex or not, lit the place up and made it less gloomy.”
    The storm had slowly abated while they had talked and studied the pictures. There were still lone separate bursts of rain, but those were far apart and the wind had ceased. They could still make a jump that day, if they wanted, and as Harry had foreseen, but no one mentioned that. They all wanted to hear the end of the story as much as it seemed that Harry had to get it of his chest.
    He got up and brought them another batch of pictures. It looked like the fumes of alcohol had worn off a little. “Those I got after she was dead.” He said shortly and handed them around. They were similar in nature to the ones they had seen before; she was doing gymnastics in the sky, her subtle body posing in dance like stances. They noticed a particular one where she was free falling in a standing position but her arms and legs were spread to catch the wind.
    “Jeesus” Wayne exclaimed.
    “All that air up her pussy, I’ll be dammed.” Fred ejected.
    Harry kept quiet.
    In all aspects but one, Those were mostly like the ones they had seen before. Then Wayne pointed it out;
    “By God! She’s got no rig! Those must be fakes.”
    “No fakes, it’s the real stuff.” Harry grunted.
    This slowly sank into their concious. It was incredible, and incomprehensive.
    “This can’t be for real.” Wayne emitted.
    Fred was shocked out of his relative complacency. “This girl must have a death wish.”
    Exept for goggles and helmet, shoes and one harness Jenny was as naked as she had been born.
    Wayne looked at Harry, unbelieving. “This is for real?”
    Harry nodded grimly, not trusting himself to speak. He said hoarsely; “She used to say that she was fucking the wind.”
    They looked at the rest of the pictures. There was one of Jenny riding one of the guys like a horse in a kind of free fall rodeo. They saw another one were Jenny had attached herself front-to-front to one of the guys, {with their helmets and goggles it was hard to tell which was which.} her arms were around him and her legs twirled around his like they were copulating. In one snapshot Jenny sat on a guy’s shoulders with her pussy to his face her legs locked together over his back.
    “Lucky guy” Fred could not help but smirk.
    “Lucky dead guy.” Harry added shortly.
    “So how did it happen?” Wayne asked him.
    Fred said; “There are always people around the drop zone, mostly getting in the way, waiting sky divers...women and kids too. Don’t tell me that she landed there ...like that every time.”
    “Yeah, right.” Harry admitted. “I had my own drop place, registered as such. You’ve seen it. We did our jumps there”
    “You mean that’s wkere her grave is?”
    “Yeh, we buried her there later.”
    “So how did it happen exactly?” Wayne asked again.
    “As I said before, Jenny technically speaking had become a proficient sky diver, she was agile and never lost her head. She was also fearless, which is not so good. Some fear is always good. She felt at home in free fall as few jumpers do. She became very sure of herself and confident that she could handle any situation. She often told me so and made me believe her. No, I lulled myself into believing her. I should have known better. What Jenny lacked had been some common horse sense. It is not good sense to caper about in free fall as she did.
    This went on for a while and it seemed that everything, more or less, appeared to be under control. Then Jenny began to make her dives without the chutes again, you’ve seen the pictures now. At the time they kept this from me. I had to fly the Cessna and keep it steady and if I did look back for a moment they always managed to hide her from my sight with their bodies.”
    “So they were all in this together?”
    “Not at first, but she brought them around, like she did with me.”
    “But she would have to leave her gear somewhere in the plane. You didn’t notice that?” Wayne asked.
    “There’s always a lot of extra stuff stored in the plane, I never thought to look. All this I learned later. She got more daring and crazy. Once she pissed in free fall, lying on her back, the only way possible, and the guy above her nearly got it in his face. When I came to collect them I found them laughing and kidding about it.
    They never let her jump first, so that there would always someone below her to attach herself to. The end came fast and quick before I realized it. I was flying over that stretch of land where she lies now, then as I usual do I turn and take a position to drop them off when I felt some kind of a commotion behind me. As I flew over that stretch, Jenny had pushed the guy by the opening away and jumped out, naked as usual, with just one harness on her. The one guy that survived, told me that he had heard her laughing. The guys were not ready. She had taken them by surprise, but there was no time to be wasted. Two guys had their chutes on, but were doing some last minute adjustments on their straps. They left off and dived after her.” He paused.
    “This had been one time that I had looked back and saw what had happened. I put the Cessna into a dive and circled around. I was worried as hell, this had all the makings of a major disaster. Most of what happened, I learned later. I saw three bodies hurtling towards the ground, then I saw one chute opening and get fouled by some object, but it remained partly open. I called for emergency help on the radio phone and I landed the plane and drove as fast as I could to our drop zone.
    I found three bodies, two of them, Jenny and the guy that had dived for her, dead and broken. Another one alive, conscious, with a broken leg. The ambulance had not yet arived. They had missed the entrance to the path that led to our private drop zone and drove around searching for it. I stared at the dead guy and Jenny’s naked broken body. I was stupefied with the tragic catastrophe of it. The other guy with his leg broken had an amazing presence of mind. In the minutes or so that it had taken me to get there he had time to collect himself; “Harry! We can’t help him. You must hide Jenny before the ambulance arrives!”
    “What?...Why?”
    “We all have families, wives and kids. This is bad enough for them. They’ll never understand about Jenny. We’ve got to hide her! there’s no time, an ambulance may come any minute now.”
    “Do you know about any next of kin?” I asked him.
    He knew what I meant. “Not a thing, she never talked about it.”
    “There’ll be an inquiry, inquests maybe. The police will find out.” I argued.
    “Harry, no one knows about Jenny, no one knows that she was with us...”
    “O.k.” I said. “I’ll put her in the back of my pickup. Nobody will think of looking for her there.”
    I grabbed her arms and legs, her joints were loose and smashed, pulverized and she folded up on me. I managed to carry her to my car as I heard the sound of the ambulance approaching. There was no time to cover her up. I ran back to the guy as the ambulance arived and the medics did their thing. Our eyes met. He was scared and anxious about them finding Jenny. I nodded to him in reassurance.
    I found out later what had happened from the oneguy, no names; He had been the only one that had his rig strapped on properly and he had jumped last and seen what had happened. The other guy had dived for Jenny who had been eagle spread to slow down her fall. He didn’t make it to her because he must have tried to adjust his rig while in free fall. They were close to the ground when it had ripped off him and struck the second guy, above them that closed in on them just as he was opening his chute, fowling it. This guy must have put off pulling his rip cord and waited till the last second, ignoring all the warnings. He had waited too long and it had been too late. He had been lucky to come out of it with only a broken leg. The paramedics from the ambulance very naturally never gave a thought to checking my pickup where Jenny’s body was lying still uncovered.
    The official story was that something had gone wrong with the dead guy’s rig and the other guy had tried to reach him when it had ripped of and struck him. Jenny was not mentioned. We had a stroke of luck too; ‘some luck! When a body hits the ground in free fall, it leaves a mark, a dent, especially in soft ground like where they fell. The wounded guy had partially opened his chute when the rig of the other guy hit him, but he did not crash on the ground in full force and he landed on harder ground. No dent was visible, so we had two dents and two bodies to show the investigations. The insurance companies had to fork out a lot of dough, they don’t like that and checked everything out thoroughly, even the insides of the Cessna. I hid Jenny’s clothes. I still have them around.”
    Wayne asked him; “What about Jenny’s gear on the plane?”
    “I always keep spare gear around, one never knows when it might be needed. I could explain that.”
    Wayne said; “I remember that case. It was in the papers a few years back. They were all about one guy trying to save his buddy. There is no need not to mention their names. I can find that out easily from any files.”
    “Let sleeping dogs lie.” Harry said.
    “No one ever asked about Jenny?” Fred inquired incredulously.
    “No one! Not a soul! It was as if she never existed. After they left I covered Jenny up and drove home. I put her on ice in the tub. I put the ice machine to work day and night for this. I kept her for a week and a half untill we buried her. I went to the funeral and met with his family. I consoled them for their loss and told them how brave the guys had been. All the while I had Jenny on ice in the tub at home. Those guys had been much braver, than the press or their families suspected. They had jumped after Jenny without hesitating, both of them and one had lost his live because of it.”
    “Jeesus!” Wayne exclaimed, “and we got their gear!”
    “That gear was checked and rechecked by the official representative board of the USPA after the tragedy. No flaws were found in it.” Harry said. “It’s first rate stuff, the best of its kind anywhere.”
    “Why do you think she did it?” Fred asked softly.
    “I am sure of it now; She wanted to be loved, but more than that, she needed to test this constantly. She had to prove that to herself over and again and against all the evidence and support that she had of her being adored and loved. There was a part inside her that could not believe this. At first this made her do crazy stuff in the air to see if we cared. We, all of us, encouraged her in her ways, maybe not consciously, I know that now. It got worse; she had to see how far she could go with this and in the end it made her jump naked to see if the guys would follow and save her. Thinking back to the way she acted and behaved and the many talks we had, I am as sure of this, as that the sun will rise tomorrow.
    “Then this was inevitable. It had to happen one way or another” Fred commented.
    “I should have seen it coming.” Harry said. “But I didn’t want to.”
    “Shit, man! You are a sky diving guy, a pilot, not a shrink!” Wayne said. “I’ll bet there are a lot of loonies in this sport. One must be crazy to sky dive at all. Why the hell are we doing this?”
    “For the fun and glory and the exietment. I quote my friend” Fred proclaimed.
    “Jenny was no loony,” Harry said. “She was a kind sensitive person that wouldn’t hurt a fly, a mixed up kid in need of much love and she did not know how to go about it and we all helped to kill her.”
    “Those guy all cheated on their wives.” Wayne observed.
    “I wouldn’t be too judgmental if I were you.” Fred stated.
    “What would you know about it?” Wayne challenged him.
    “Same as you. You never cheated on your wife?”
    “Did you?”
    “Yes! A few times I am sorry to say.”
    “Why did you do that?”
    “Comeon Wayne don’t play that shit on me. The usual reasons. Most of the world’s population cheat, one way or another.”
    “I don’t!”
    “Yeah sure.”
    “Well, at least I don’t call it cheating.” Wayne amended.
    “That changes it a lot.” Fred mocked.
    “What are you guys yapping about? What does all this matter!” Harry joined in. “Jenny is gone, a guy is dead all because I didn’t see it coming. I have never loved anyone as I got to love Jenny. There’s a place I would go to, when I felt lonely. The girls are real friendly and nice there. You get what you pay for, but that’s the way of the world.”
    “You went to a whore house?” That was Fred.
    “Often enough, in my earlier days. Still did sometimes now, untill Jenny came along, but I get older and the girls stay the same age...mostly.”
    “I don’t pay for sex.” Wayne said somewhat haughtily.
    Harry chuckled. “I’ll bet that you do, only you don’t know it. Don’t you go talking down the working ladies. They are hard working gals, many have to raise children by themselves. We all work for a living, I for one don’t see no difference. Jenny also did it for dough and I never thought of her as a whore and I never gave myself any superior airs with her, or judged her. Neither did the others. That’s why she liked me, I’m an ugly sonofabitch, twice her age, and I know it.”
    “So you buried her all by yourself?” Fred asked.
    “No, I didn’t. The one guy that survived came over, broken leg and all and we buried her. “Harry.” He said; “Not a word about this to anyone.”
    “Right.” I said. “Don’t worry about it. I got as much to lose by this as you. Jenny never had a sky diver license and I let her jump. By burying her, we both commit a dozen of legal misdemeanors I guess...”
    “We buried her in my private drop zone, right by where she fell. I wasn’t going to use that place anymore anyway. Only us two to mourn her. We said a few words over her body, but the real stuff I tell myself at nights when I lie awake.”
    The other guy had said, “I don’t sleep so well at nights, Harry, I keep thinking about those last moments in her life when she must have realized that she wasn’t going to make it. I feel for her. I feel the sheer terror of it. Some times I think that I can’t take it anymore. I get up and drink myself to sleep.” He sighed.
    This was exactly what had been bothering me. What had been her last terrified thoughts? That poor misguided child, she had paid with her life and the lives of two of our friends for her obsession, if that is what it has been. I said so over her open grave. There we were; both grown mature males, each trying not to show too much emotion. I know that my eyes were wet.
    “Harry,” The other guy said, “I’m done with sky diving. I want to get rid of my gear and rig. I’ll sell it all to you cheap.”
    “O.k. I’ll pay you what it’s worth.”
    “It’s worth shit to me. I can’t even look at it. You get it from my car.”
    I already had got the other guy’s gear. We filled up the grave and I got his diving stuff over to my pickup. I paid him. As we got into our separate cars he told me; “I’m moving away with my family. We won’t see each other again. It has been good knowing you Harry.”
    We shook hands and left.”
    Harry had stopped talking and there was a pause. The storm had ceased and it was quiet. The late afternoon sun had come out shinning a golden light through the window.
    “Anyone feel like doing a jump?” Harry asked.
    No one answered him.
    “There was one thing that I could never get right; those guys were ready to give up their lives for Jenny, but could not tell their wives about her.”












falling

Janet Kuypers
haiku 3/1/14
video

falling from the sky
I can only hope I’ll be
landing on my feet





twitter 4 jk twitter 4 jk Visit the Kuypers Twitter page for short poems— join http://twitter.com/janetkuypers.
video videonot yet rated
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku falling in Chicago 3/17/14 (C) at the open mic Waiting 4 the Bus
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku poems, “falling”, “sort”, and “upturn” from the v252 issue of cc&d magazine, titled Beyond the Gates live 10/22/14 at Chicago’s open mic the Café Gallery (C)
video videonot yet rated
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku poems, “falling”, “sort”, and “upturn” from the v252 issue of cc&d mag, titled Beyond the Gates live 10/22/14 at Chicago’s open mic the Café Gallery (Canon Power Shot)
video 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 progress, extend, falling, civil, and greatest, 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).
video 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 progress, extend, falling, civil, and greatest, 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).
the “Obey” 6/4/16 chapbook
Download all of the show poems in the free chapbook
Obey
6/4/16 at Expressions 2016: June is a Woman! show in Austin


Click here from the Janet Kuypers bio.










Haiku (stars)

Denny E. Marshall

stars open like eyes
stare back at us for a while
further out at friends

(1st published Stinkwaves Spring 2016)












Haiku (galaxy)

Denny E. Marshall

galaxy a gift
universe wrapping paper
never thrown away

(1st published Midnight Circus Winter 2016)












E-Station

Tom Ball

    E-station was a space station orbiting Earth. The population was 1000 of the richest and most famous and 20 000 clever servants. And typically 1000 tourists.
    All sorts of celebrities: geo-architects, Virtual Reality (VR) actors/actresses, VR designers, various magnates, famous escorts and so on.
    Gravity through a gravitron/centrifuge. Powered by the sun and nuclear power. 33% of the space was used to grow food, 15% restaurants, 10% for child rearing’ 10% for nightclubs, 22% for homes, 10% for power
    4 km squared was the station.
    The leader was named, “Bastard.” Celebrity women were all bearing the title, “Dame.” And the men were “Sir.” Servants didn’t have a name just a number.
    Bastard dismantled the thinking computers here and blocked wi-fi waves from Earth.
    Bastard had many wives (marriage was illegal on Earth). If one of his wives cheated on him he had her deported. This seemed to happen often. For many being sent back to Earth was like a death sentence as Earth was so “boring.” Most of the greatest celebrities were here.

XXX

    My name was Levee: I came as a tourist... It was very expensive, but so many people raved about the place I had to check it out...
    Every new settler was given a thorough x-ray to make sure they didn’t bring any devices and most came naked. No luggage was allowed. First thing their skin was turned orange. I came naked, but didn’t have to have my skin turned orange as I was just a tourist.
    Actually I was an embezzler who hadn’t been caught, but I used a small fraction of the stolen money to come to e-station. Many CEOs were the same.
    What happens on Earth stays on Earth.
    I stepped into a nightclub party my first day here, at e-station.
    Dame Rancee said to Dame Abstract: “Your face makes you look like a slut. I suppose you spent a fortune on it.”
    Dame Abstract: “Fuck you I am more popular than you with the men and you are jealous.”
    I, Levee, said “I think you are both so beautiful. I think I am in love with you both.
    Dame Xaviera to Dame Yolanda: “I am filled with ennui with these endless parties.”
    Dame Xaveria to me: “Ho! Another tourist! What’s your story?”
    I said: “I can’t believe this place is as good as people say it is.”
    Dame Xaveria: “We can always use new blood. Just like any place it grows old after a while.”
    Dame Yolanda: “Yes I would rather do a crossword puzzle than party non-stop.”
    Sir Excelsius: Come now ladies. Everyone has a good time here. You are just spoiled.
    And I talked to many others; many agreed there was opportunity here. They felt the best succeeded and it was a fair system. But most people were servants and worked for relatively low wages but much more than those on Earth. On Earth they had no human servants; computers and androids did all the work. And most people collected welfare.
    But everyone seemed happy here. However some said the servants were slaves and it was a crime against humanity. But there were many stories of servants getting rich.
    Sex drive pills and antifat pills were free, so the celebrities ate, drank and had sex for much of the day. There were no sexual diseases. A lot of sex servants got rich.
    It was the year 2340 A.D. Many here had vast fortunes and used the money in part to invest in entertainment on Earth.
    Scientists on Earth had reached 365 X the speed of light, but they had no research scientists here on e-station. Bastard insisted.

XXX

    Tourists often came here for $10 million for a one week visit. I came as a tourist and was given the royal treatment. And I decided to stay. I took a job working for Bastard, the leader, as a secretary and the work was light and the pay was high: $4 million a year in salary. But I first had to pay $90 million more and turn my skin orange (It cost $100 million to come here permanently; of course the servants came for free).
    Today, like every day we were having a party.
    Dame Starling to Dame Tremors: I have been drunk now for a week. I still can’t forget my lover who left for space. I don’t know why he did it. He had everything here.
    Dame Tremors: Just like the Garden of Eden, people don’t know when they are in paradise.
    Dame Bonnie to her servant girl: “I’ll see you in my quarters at 8 pm for some intense love.”
    S.G.: “Yes my lady.”
    Dame Bonnie to Dame Carrie: “One can’t beat the service here.”
    I said to Dame Bonnie, “Where do I go for kinky sex?”
    She said: “Why don’t you ask your master, Bastard?”
    Sir Roger: now that we all have eternal life I have picked up the habit of smoking a pipe. It keeps me calm.
    Dame Carrie: “You are a dinosaur!”
    Dame Bonnie: “Whatever turns your crank...”
    Sir Roger: “And I procured a shipment of simulated extremely old whiskies. Let’s try them at my place at 6pm. You are welcome to come, Levee.
    Dame Bonnie: “Whatever you say big boy.”
    I said, “I’d never had a really old whisky.”
    So we got drunk and I said this really is a sex world isn’t it?
    Dame Carrie: “You can start with me.”
    It was really good sex.

XXX

    Bastard was having one of his fits: “All you, my wives, must kiss my ring and tell me how great I am.”
    Wife #4 (aside whispering to another wife): “One has to be careful what one says to him. And be creative at the same time.”
    Wife #3: “You must be the most creative lover the world has ever seen. I have watched porn and it pales in comparison to your love.”
    Wife #7: “You are the brightest light in a sea of light.”
    Wife #12: “You are the smartest man in the world.”
    Wife #13: “I am so fortunate to be your lover.”
    Wife #15 “I want to have many children with you, you are clever and bold.”
    And so on.

XXX

    Dame Bonnie: “Some people love Bastard, but I abhor him. He’s a pig. There were no listening devices so we can’t be overheard fortunately. You won’t tell him my thoughts will you Levee?”
    I said “No, but he is in power... You have to respect that.”

XXX

    Automatic missile defences were the only thinking computers here. And they defended against a possible attack from Earth by some rogue hackers and also the missiles took out space junk.
    Many said they were backwards here but they said they valued their privacy and didn’t want mind reading technology (MRT) or computer surveillance/bugs.
    Bastard had a new temple in which he let it be known he expected everyone to donate $2 million every year and worship him. And he would use the money along with a good portion of the $100 million entry fees to finance his campaign for US President. His platform was to roll back technology still farther so that no new science would be invented. “Stop Big Brother,” he announced.
    Some said Bastard had things to hide which was why he did not allow mind reading technology or computer surveillance.

XXX

    A lot of entertainment companies were based here.
    Mostly VR (virtual reality) movies in which you picked a role or were picked and had to play the part. You could feel sex, drugs and various feelings in the VR. And it was always a grand adventure.

XXX

    There were no animals here, just synthetic food and e-pets. Some e-pets were cleverer than the servants who repudiated them. But Bastard wanted to get rid of them. However many important people loved their e-pets.

XXX

    Some said e-station was just like the Wild West. Or the British Empire or the Silk Road or the New World. The same types of adventurers appeared.
    Translator machines were not necessary. Nearly all spoke English, some spoke a new, simplified English language.
    As I mentioned previously, rich and famous people paid $100 000 000 to come here and most didn’t want to leave saying it was paradise. Of course the servants came for free and were eager to come here. But they needed a sponsor here to enable them to come.
    And if you wanted a child you had to pay $50 million dollars and the education department would raise them according to your wishes. You were not allowed to see your children until they were 18, which often led to wild parties at 18.
    Tourists had to leave after one week. But I had a tourist lover and I hid her from the authorities and sent her to the doctor to get orange skin. And I falsified her name and so no one was the wiser. I was able to do it as secretary to Bastard.
    Many people who had something to say recorded it with music, usually the guitar and so the point was drilled home. But there were still plenty of people who gossiped without music.
    The rumors were buzzing on this day about a trip to a water planet in the Polaris system. Many were intrigued and wanted to go.
    Dame Xaveria: “What could be more boring than to be cooped up in a small room for months.”
    Dame Yolanda: “But life was lovely here on e-station and crime was very low. Many people here said love affairs were special. True love.”
    I, Levee, said: “On Earth no one believes in love anymore. And I am sure that deep down everyone is the same here.”

XXX

    “The leaders formed a plutocracy,” said Bastard, but he was just another dictator.

XXX

    Some were desperate to become rich and so played a game of Russian roulette. The winner took the prize (hundreds of millions were bet).

XXX

    Suddenly one day Bastard declared E-station to be a sovereign nation and no new scientists would be allowed to come here even in ships which docked with e-station and he had used the $100 million fees to buy the best defensive weapons.
    Some were broken-hearted about the news but most didn’t want to go back anyway.
    So we were cut off totally from new science, but still got all the latest VR movies from Earth. And we made our own fun. We produced virtual movie after virtual movie and sold them down on Earth, electronically. I was a virtual actor in many VR movies.
    And space going ships still docked here and shuttles still went to Earth.
    With psychedelic music. They were artists not scientists.
    They demanded that I join them, but I only liked VR and didn’t care for other art...
    Then I was on VR and dreaming of a twisted beauty. It was very kinky. She said: “Beauty is in the eye of the twisted. It is a twisted world,” she said, “In which people are all perverted.”
    I said, “Where will it end?”
    She replied, “People are so messed up on drugs they don’t know who they are anymore. It will all end in madness.”
    And I loved her and it was crazy!

XXX

    I, Levee thought androids never really happened. I wondered why? And thinking machines never seemed to go mad on Earth.

XXX

    I changed my sex back and forth and in between. I was getting bored on E-station and certainly didn’t want to go to space.
    UW police spies were everywhere. In fact I worked for the spies. No way to get away with crime. Anyway an alarm went off if you were attacked. This technology Bastard kept. You just needed to shout, “Help!”
    Tourists who had a criminal record were not allowed in. As I said they hadn’t caught me and a lot of the “CEOs” were embezzlers like I was.
    I told my lovers I was a spy of the New World order.
    One girl told me I was, “An unsavory character who was out of control.”
    I tried to make her promise to love me exclusively for a month. I said: “I could really impress her.” I told her, “Life is under no one’s control. It is free for the asking.” But she just laughed.
    And it was my prerogative to love her. Bastard told me, “That I had plenty of lovers and only wanted the ones I couldn’t get.”
    And there was anti-gravity sex and there was a gravitron centrifuge for “hard sex.” I took sex drive enhancers and made love to numerous women every day. There were always newbies who were eager for sex.
    I was put in charge (by Bastard), of the highest paid sex worker humans on E-station.
    My philosophy with women was to make them feel important and loved. But most women I got to love them due to my handsome face which had been designed by the best artists. The face cost me $150 million.
    But a lot of women here also had designer faces. I was attracted to them. Even slaves got some work done and it all lead to more sex.
    Of course the face copyright was enforced here, and on Earth.
    Giant kaleidoscope balls were stations where sex could be had with virtual reality. Or you could have sex in luxury suites, 10 sq. m.
    The total worth of assets held here at the station were 13 trillion. Many CEOs lived here. And also rich celebrities. And e-Bank was active on Earth as well as here.
    People wanted to change the name of e-station to “Orange station.”

XXX

    I reflected if e-station was destroyed, the gene pool would never recover.
    We had the top thinkers here. Even the servants were very high intelligence.
    People here bought and sold planets and moons. Many people wanted to go as a pioneer to new water planets. The e-station stock market was growing into the biggest stock market of all. So many space ventures...
    UW police tried to get at least one spy on every voyage to keep the peace.
    But it was very dangerous. Space pirates, a computer malfunction, people who suddenly snapped and did something crazy and so on.

XXX

    And regular physical sports were passe... It was all video sports. And many people invested in the UW stock market and in video team sports. Now it was all in your mind rather than physical.

XXX

    Dame Carrie: “Let’s swap faces.”
    Dame Notable: “Good idea and we can love one another’s lovers.”
    Dame Carrie: “Things just get better and better here, despite the fact that there are too many parties.”
    I, Levee, said: “Why don’t we switch bodies?” And we did so temporarily. It was all in the name of good fun.

XXX

    Bastard had spies everywhere and he knew everything about everything and everyone. And I was promoted to his #1 personal secretary...
    And Bastard said to me that he needed some new clothes as befitting his position as ruler so I went to Earth in Italy and found some “light” designers. The lights would cover ones nakedness and featured all sorts of moving pictures on them.
    Then he said to me he wanted, “10 more wives to come from Earth.” So I scoured the Earth for interesting women, only a few were really famous and several were virgins. He paid $100 million for each to come and an annual salary of $3 million. They all had to sign a contract by which they would be his wives for 5 years at least.
    And then Bastard said to me: “Find me some new chefs,” so I found some unusual cooks on Earth and brought them back to e-station with the same deal he offered his new women.
    And then Bastard put me in control of education of the youth. And I asked him, “What if every child was a clone or child of you?” “Variety is the spice of life,” he replied. “And try to make my own children as imaginative as possible,” he said.
    Judges threw out the numerous legal cases against him as unconstitutional. Many people wanted democracy. “But to give the servants the vote was ludicrous,” he said.
    It was the year A.D. 2431.
    Bastard in public was talking to one of his 24 wives, “Woman you need to love me more.”
    She said: “You are smothering me with the strength of your presence. I feel I am just your willing thrall.”
    Bastard to another woman: “You are just a slut who puts on airs as if you were royalty.” “I am royalty,” she said, “And you like sluts anyway provided they only love you.”
    And I knew what he was doing. He was exploiting women and slaves.
    But then I was falling in love with one of his wives and I told him about it and he surprised me and told me, “I was fired.” After all I had done for him.
    So then I linked up with Dame F, we were already lovers but now I was her personal assistant. Dame F wanted to be President of e-station. But Bastard refused to relinquish power. It was a power struggle.
    And Bastard regretted he had fired me and begged me to come back, but I said, “No way.”
    Dame F opined that: “Bastard was an evil tyrant who only cared about sex, gold and power.”
    I loved Dame F regularly, but I also liked Dame Annabella who had 70 inch breasts, She was my favorite sex outlet. She was so popular that many other women got tremendous breasts.
    Dame Annabella had servants groveling and kowtowing hoping for her love.
    She had the prettiest face in the station, most people agreed. She was the woman of every man’s dreams.

XXX

    Bastard had won the election of 2330 and thereafter refused to allow elections...
    And Bastard had an entertaining company which he milked for all it was worth. He was like a pig at the trough.
    I said, “We don’t want to be an international pariah. It is madness to ban science and be independent.”
    It was all madness here. People lost themselves and let themselves go.
    And on Earth they were creating super humans and sending them off to space. Some like me said it was the end of the world.
    And I dreamt e-station would be closed.
    And I dreamt I killed Bastard and all he stood for...
    And then one day I saw that Bastard had all 126 of his children together in a nightclub. And I didn’t know what possessed me, but I spiked the air with slow acting poison and thereby brought about the death of most of the 126 of Bastard’s children. A few blamed me and many others too were blamed (many hundreds of people didn’t like Bastard), and so I took the next flight to outer space. Anyway I was sick of e-station and if I had stayed any longer I would probably have killed myself. Dame F said: “Stay and face the charges,” but I told her, “No it was time.” No farewell party; I just simply left.
    I was 115 years old
    I dreamt I lived in the future and when I woke up two years had passed and I was on a new water planet. I just remembered being on a hot beach for what seemed like forever.
    But back on e-station, Dame F had cloned me and would one day love “me” again. We were still in contact with Earth and its environs. But I was elusive to Dame F. It would be kinky to have sex over all this distance and I told her she “had to find me.”

    NARRATIVE CONTINUED BY DAME F

    Dame F: I dreamt on virtual reality, I was on a frosty cold world looking for Levee. Then a figure came towards me, he didn’t look like Levee, he looked mean and tough. I said are you Levee? And he said “I can be anything and anyone you want. I reflected; it sounded like Levee, perhaps he was in my dreams living still.
    I asked him if, “He was a man of ideas?” and he told me the future is all preordained, nothing new under the sun.”
     I said “But the future has limitless possibilities, if the human race becomes cleverer.
    He said, “We will not be here to see it. Good thing too!”
    So he wasn’t Levee. But for the rest of my life I held out hope that we would meet again.

XXX

    Computers got in suns. It was all about power and energy.

XXXXXXX












On A Rainy Day

Amanda Pugh

It was late afternoon
A dark and cloudy day
Caught in a downpour
We took shelter
In the shadow of an archway
We laughed at the sight
Of my drenched hair
And your soaked jacket
Then we looked at each other
And the moment felt right
I could taste the rain on your lips
And suddenly
I began
To believe in love again.












Midwinter

Natalie Crick

Trees appear as brides,
Their snow dance wounding
The cosmos.
I am numb to you.
No one sees the snowdrops budding,
A bright field of knives.
If I turn away, they grow
In lines of white flame and,
As darkness falls,
A kingdom of black blossoms
Deep as a moaning mouth.





About Natalie Crick

    Natalie Crick, from Newcastle in the UK, has found delight in writing all of her life and first began writing when she was a very young girl. She graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature and plans to pursue an MA at Newcastle this year. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in a range of journals and magazines including Interpreters House, The Chiron Review, Rust and Moth, Ink in Thirds and The Penwood Review. Her work also features or is forthcoming in a number of anthologies, including Lehigh Valley Vanguard Collections 13. This year her poem, ‘Sunday School’ was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.












Déjà Vu All Over Again

Jim Farren

    What’s that line from Casablanca about, ‘Of all the gin joints in all the world...’?
    Having won a few bucks at the blackjack table, I was in the casino restaurant partaking of their All-You-Can-Eat-Prime-Rib buffet. I am a sucker for prime rib, it’s one of the many things you don’t get in prison. In prison you get stringy beef and bad bologna when you get meat at all. The waitress passed by, pausing long enough to refill my coffee. I watched her full hips twitch as she walked away, another of the many things you don’t get in prison. Sex in prison is . . . well, you’ve heard the stories, and they’re true.
    Anyway, I was enjoying my second pass at the buffet when a shadow fell across the table. I looked up and there stood Crockett. Ask me to name five people I expected to see when I got out of prison and I’d give you ten without Crockett making the list. Ask me for guys I never expected to see again and he’d be the first.
    He pulled out a chair and sat saying, “Hello, Hollis. Long time, no see.” There was a good-looking redhead with him and he pulled her onto his knee like a ventriloquist’s dummy. He said, “Angelique, say hello to Hollis.” Just this side of gorgeous, she was closer to my age than his, with all the requisite parts in sleek abundance. Her eyes were dark with no innocence in them. She looked at me the way I imagined a praying mantis looked at its mate. She said, “Hello, Hollis,” in a husky voice with a southern undertone, something else you don’t get in prison—a voice like that speaking your name under any circumstances.
    Crockett hadn’t changed much; a little more gray in his crewcut, a few more crow’s-feet at the corners of his eyes, but his gaze was still sharp, and his smile affable, his features tanned and trustworthy. He stroked Angelique’s back possessively, but kept his eyes on me.
    “How long you been out?”
    I swallowed the food in my mouth and placed the silverware on the edge of the plate. I took my time sipping coffee before saying, “Four months, three days.” I was still keeping prison time, ticking off each day.
    “They release you early?”
    “I was a good boy. Besides, it’s crowded in there and they had enough dishwashers.”
    “At least you didn’t do the full six years.”
    “Trust me, five was more than enough.”
    There must have been something in the tone of my voice because Crockett sighed and narrowed his eyes slightly.
    “Are we going to have a problem over what happened?”
    I pushed my chair back enough to cross my legs. I reached around and scratched the middle of my back. I used to keep a revolver there, but felons can’t own guns. I sipped some more coffee. Finally, I shook my head.
    “No, we are not. I’m a stand-up guy. I came to the job with my eyes open. You held up your end and gave me a fair cut. It’s not your fault I got careless with the money. They didn’t have enough evidence to tag me for the robbery. Everything with me was postscript—possession of stolen goods, accessory after the fact.”
    “They tried to get you to roll on the rest of us.”
    “I’m no rat, Crockett. Sure, they knew who did it, but didn’t have proof. I could have given you up and only served six months. But like I said, you treated me right. Besides, I didn’t want to live looking over my shoulder for one of you.”
    Crockett smiled and nudged Angelique. “Didn’t I tell you he was a smart guy?” Then to me, “You working now that you’re out?”
    I nodded. “Humping boxes and loading trucks at UPS. They’ve got a hiring program for non-violent offenders who kept their noses clean inside.”
    “You like it?”
    “Beats standing by the road with a will-work-for-food sign. I don’t need much in the way of stuff right now. Fresh air and decent food goes a long way after five years.”
    “I’m putting together another job. Gonna need a couple of guys. You interested?”
    I thought about that for a moment. “I dunno. I can’t afford to take another fall. What kind of job?”
    “It’s too soon to talk details. I’m working some angles. You have a way I can get in touch?”
    I thought about that, too, then gave him my cell phone number. He smiled again and stood up, taking the redhead with him.
    “Angelique, say goodbye to Hollis.”
    She gave me an appraising look, locking my eyes with hers before saying, “Goodbye, Hollis,” in that honeyed tone she had.
    Crockett said, “I’ll call you,” then guided her out of the restaurant.
    I sat there for a moment, thinking about Crockett, and about Angelique. The waitress broke my reverie by refilling my coffee. I cleared my head of thoughts and made a trip to the desert bar. Decent ice cream was something else you didn’t get in prison.

—— / —— / ——

    My efficiency unit was a medium-sized room with a private bath. It was sparsely furnished and neat as a pin. In prison you have little stuff and less room; avoiding clutter is a habit that follows you upon release. I locked the door and opened the window. I can’t seem to get enough free air these days. I sat on the neatly made bed and took off my shoes, lining them up with the other pair next to the chiffarobe then stripped down to tee-shirt and boxers. I looked around with a sense of accomplishment, perhaps even pride. The table-cum-desk held a small flat-screen TV, a second-hand laptop, and a Hav-A-Tampa Jewels cigar box where I kept my bills. Beside the bed, a reading light sat atop a two-shelf bookcase crowded with paperback mysteries and a few westerns by guys who knew how to write—Elmore Leonard, John Sandford, Robert B. Parker, and Elmer Kelton. On the counter, beside the toaster-oven, was my one luxury, a Keurig coffee maker I’d bought at a scratch-n-dent sale. Prison coffee is thin, bitter, and never hot enough. Being able to make one cup at a time, anytime I wanted, was somehow more important than it should be.
    I made a cup and stretched out on the bed. Tomorrow was Sunday and, if the weather was nice, maybe I’d ride the bus out to the dog park. Among other things, I missed having a dog. I hate riding the bus, but I’m a good blackjack player. The casino was helping me bit-by-bit save up money for a third-hand car. Once I had a set of wheels I would truly be free, even if I had nowhere to go.
    I thought about Crockett, wondering if our chance encounter had been chance at all. I was in the habit of drinking an occasional beer at Charlie’s Place where I knew the bartender from back in the old days. Crockett could have picked up my trail there. He hadn’t seemed surprised to see me at the casino, but then nothing ever seemed to surprise him. I wondered what kind of job he was setting up and whether I wanted to risk what I had for what I didn’t.
    Thinking of Crockett led to thoughts of Angelique. I wondered if she smelled as good as she looked, and what their relationship was. It had been a long time since I’d been that close to a woman that attractive. I felt a stirring in my groin and slipped a hand into my boxers. I closed my eyes and stroked slowly, wondering if she was any good in bed. My breathing quickened because I knew she would be. Later I fell into a fitful, dreamless sleep.

—— / —— / ——

    Crockett called on Wednesday. I was sitting at the table eating a grilled cheese sandwich and watching the local news.
    “You give any thought to another job?” he asked after I said hello.
    “I’d have to know more about it,” I said. “I don’t want to go back to the joint.”
    “This one’s a piece of cake. Kind of make up for the last one going south, even if it was your own fault.”
    “I’m older and wiser now,” I said. “Still...”
    “I hear you’re hanging out at Charlie’s. Why don’t you meet me there Friday after work and we’ll talk.”
    “I don’t get off until 6:00.”
    “Perfect. I’ll see you around 7:00. Run a tab and I’ll pay for it. It’s the least I can do.”

—— / —— / ——

    I was hoping he’d bring Angelique, but wasn’t surprised when he didn’t. We took beers to a small table in the corner farthest from the bar. One nice thing about Charlie’s, the pool tables and juke box are downstairs where the happy hour folks congregate. Upstairs is relatively quiet and caters to regulars who are older and less frenetic than the younger crowd, many of who are casino employees starting their weekend.
    Crockett waited until we were settled and I had lighted a cigarette. He leaned closer and kept his voice low.
    “A week from tomorrow an armored truck is going to pull off the Interstate at a certain rest area so the guards can stretch their legs and piss. One guard is supposed to be with the truck at all times, but they’ve been making the same run every two weeks for the last four months. They’ll be lazy and complacent, not paid enough to be ever vigilant. They’ll park with the 18-wheelers and we’ll be waiting; me, you, and another guy. You don’t know Drake, but he’s reliable. The key is, I have keys. We’ll be back on the Interstate in less than five minutes, us in the truck and Drake in his car. The next exit is a state route to the county seat. Two miles down it is a gravel road that dead ends at an abandoned hay barn where we transfer the goods from the truck to the car then drive twenty miles to a mom ‘n pop motel on the edge of town. Angelique will have already rented rooms. We’ll hole up overnight, divvy up the loot, and split—me, you, and her in her car, Drake on his own. We’ll be back here by noon on Sunday.”
    “What’s the haul?”
    “Cash, three-quarters of a mil minimum, maybe more.”
    “And the split?”
    “I take sixty percent off the top. Ten percent goes to the guy who got me the keys. You and Drake split the rest. Your end ought to be something over a hundred grand.”
    I thought about that—a hundred grand—about all it would buy. Then I thought about going back to prison and all I would lose. There was a sour feeling in my stomach, but visions of sugarplums in my head.
    “I need to think about it,” I said.
    “Fair enough. The reason I’m offering this to you is because you’re a stand-up guy. Look, this is going to be a piece of cake. The key is the keys. We’ll be gone before the guards zip up their pants. I need an answer by Monday. I’ll call you after work. All I want is a yes or no.”

—— / —— / ——

    I went to the dog park on Saturday, played with somebody’s collie and somebody else’s terrier. Sunday I stayed home, thinking. I thought of places I could go and things I could do if I told Crockett yes. I thought about women. Not Angelique specifically, but women like her. I thought about the kind of woman a hundred grand would attract, then about the kind attracted to a guy with a dead-end job at twelve bucks an hour. When my phone buzzed at 6:30 Monday evening, I picked it up and said, “Count me in.”

—— / —— / ——

    Saturday started out fine. Crockett picked me up outside my room and I climbed in back of the small SUV. He looked over the seat and said, “How you doing?” I told him fine and he introduced me to the driver. “Hollis, this is Drake. Drake, Hollis.” Our eyes met in the rearview mirror and Drake nodded curtly as he pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the Interstate. Crockett handed me a pair of leather gloves that I pulled on and a cheap Lone Ranger mask that I shoved in a pocket.
    Crockett went over the plan as we drove. There wasn’t much to it, which made it brilliant. Complicated timing and fancy maneuvers are what screw up a heist. The simpler it is, the better the chance of pulling it off.
    We reached the rest area fifteen minutes before the armored truck was due. Half a dozen big rigs were parked on the slant near a farmer’s cornfield. Drake stayed in the car, engine idling, while Crockett and I got out to stretch our legs. He handed me a cell phone saying, “I’ll be driving, you’ll be riding shotgun. Speed dial 8 for Drake, 9 for Angelique . . . Look, here it comes right on schedule.”
    A boxy armored truck pulled into the parking area and two uniformed guards got out. They worked the kinks from their backs and started up the sidewalk to the comfort station. As soon as they disappeared thru the door, Crockett slapped me on the arm and said, “Let’s go!”
    The two of us raced to the passenger’s side of the truck and Crockett unlocked it with one of several keys on a ring. I fumbled with the door as he ran to the other side and shoved another key in the driver’s door. Two things happened almost simultaneously—a County Sheriff’s cruiser pulled off the Interstate and one of the guards reappeared with a candy bar in hand. So much for having to piss.

—— / —— / ——

    Things went south in a hurry. FUBAR—military slang for fucked-up-beyond-all-recognition. The guard saw Crockett at the truck and pulled his weapon. “Hey, stop!” he yelled as Crockett worked the key. Shielded by the truck’s bulk, I had the passenger’s door open. The guard yelled again then let loose a shot that ricocheted off the armor plating near Crockett’s head. I ducked reflexively and saw a small Brinks bag on the floorboard. The guard fired another shot and Crockett cursed. At the sound of gunfire, the cop in the cruiser hit his light bar and siren. The lights and noise must have panicked Drake because he floored the accelerator of his car and jackrabbited forward, peeling rubber as he went.
    I peered over the boxy hood of the truck to see the cop’s door swing open. He had his weapon in one hand and a radio mic in the other. That’s when the other guard came charging out. By then Crockett had a gun in his hand and fired two shots at the guards. Guns blazing, they jumped behind a brick and plexiglass You-Are-Here sign. The sound of lead ricocheting off metal added to the din.
    “Fuck, I’m hit,” Crockett grunted. “Run for it, Hollis.” Being unarmed and out of sight, I didn’t need a second invitation. Reflexively, I grabbed the solitary Brinks bag, slammed the passenger door, and ran. I zigzagged between two 18-wheelers, raced across twenty feet of grass, then dived over the fence into the corn.
    More shots, more yelling. I hunkered down, willed myself to be invisible, wondered if I’d been spotted. The shooting stopped, more cops arrived. It was like a Chinese fire drill and everyone but me had a whistle. I waited in the corn, hidden from view; waited and wondered, waited and worried. An hour passed with no one coming my way. I started breathing again.

—— / —— / ——

    Angelique picked up on the second ring with a simple, “Yes?”
    I saw no reason to sugarcoat things. “This is Hollis. Crockett is dead.”
    Her voice was tight, her breathing controlled. “I know, it’s all over the news. Drake’s dead, too.”
    “Drake? How?”
    “He tried to run a roadblock and ended up in the ditch. He came out shooting and the troopers killed him. Where are you?”
    “Still at the rest area, in the middle of some farmer’s cornfield. I don’ think they saw me, but I can’t be sure.”
    “What do I do?” She sounded more pissed than panicked.
    “Stay there, stay by the phone. You’ll have to come get me, but not now. I’ll call again when things are in the clear here. If you don’t hear from me by morning, you’re on your own. Can they get to you thru Crockett?”
    “No, I don’t think so. You’re sure he’s dead?”
    “Positive. Hang in there.” I broke the connection and slipped the phone into my pocket.

—— / —— / ——

    Once it got dark I wormed my way back toward the fence until I could just make out the flashing lights in the rest area. Maybe I was lucky, maybe they hadn’t seen me. In a gunfight your vision telescopes until all you see—all you focus on—is whoever is shooting back at you. A circus troupe could be performing next door and you wouldn’t notice it. I kept waiting for them to come looking, but nobody did. I spent the next several hours watching a bevy of cops and assorted others working the crime scene.
    At 4am I phoned Angelique again. As soon as she picked up I said, “It’s Hollis. What are you driving?” She told me and I gave her instructions. “Come to the rest stop in an hour, park facing the comfort station and go inside. Leave the car unlocked. Do whatever it is women do in bathrooms. When you return, I’ll be on the floor in the backseat. Drive to the next exit and gas up. Turn around and head back to town. I’ll give you directions to my place on the way. Clear?” She said it was and I hung up. I shoved my gloves, Crockett’s phone, and the mask I’d never worn into the Brinks bag, then folded it in half and stuffed it under my shirt.
    Angelique was right on time.

—— / —— / ——

    She looked around my apartment and said, “Pretty spartan, Hollis. Just like prison.”
    “Some habits are hard to break.” I unbuttoned my shirt and dumped the Brinks bag onto the bed. I kicked off my shoes and unbuckled my belt. “I need a shower. Count that while I’m gone.”
    When I came back toweling my hair she was cross-legged on the bed with the cash in neat stacks in front of her.
    “How much?” I asked.
    “Thirty-one thou and change. Where did it come from?”
    I told her about the bag on the passenger floorboard. Sitting across from her, I divided the money into two piles, pushing the larger one toward her. “I’m keeping thirteen thousand, forty percent. You take the rest, it’s Crockett’s cut.”
    “Why not split it equal shares?”
    “Because he was in it for sixty percent, that’s why. Look, don’t argue. Consider it found money. You sure they can’t trace you thru him?”
    “I don’t think so. He always came to my place, never took me to his. He said he wanted to keep me off the radar, for my own good.”
    “Your place?”
    “I’m in a Residence Inn. It’s paid for thru the end of the month.”
    “Stay there for now. Until we’re sure.”

—— / —— / ——

    We laid low for two weeks. I made my shifts at UPS, hustling packages and loading trucks. Angelique came by most evenings. We ate fast food or ordered take-out Chinese. Sometimes we went out to dinner and hit the casino where she watched me play blackjack—squeezing my thigh when I won and pouting at the dealer when I lost. Other times we just sat in my room drinking beer from the bottle and talking to pass the time.
    She changed gradually, little by little. Less makeup, tousled hair down to frame her face instead of swept up to showcase her jawline and throat; skirts and blouses rather than dresses, flats instead of heels. She was like a butterfly in reverse, reverting to type. She shared an easy laugh and the southern lilt in her voice was more pronounced. I liked the new her which seemed to be the old her coming out.

—— / —— / ——

    “What’ll you do now?”
    “I’d like to go home and see my folks. It’s been too long since I was in Tennessee. This time of year it’ll be all green and summery. Mama will have a garden and Daddy will be rocking on the front porch with a big ol’ glass of iced tea. Neighbors call in the evening and kids catch lightning bugs in mason jars. Home’s a good place to go, as long as you don’t have to. What about you?”
    “Me? I’m not sure. My cut will buy a decent used car. After that, who knows? I’ve got no family, I’m not tied to anywhere special. I’ve always had a hankering to go out west—see the Rockies, climb Pike’s Peak, hike Yellowstone and watch Old Faithful blow. A guy who’s not particular can always find work. I’m a pretty good short-order cook. It doesn’t much matter where I go or what I do as long as I’m not in jail.”

—— / —— / ——

    “Do me a favor, Hollis?”
    “Sure, if I can.”
    “Crockett called me Angelique because he liked the sound of it. I got the feeling he called all his women Angelique so he wouldn’t have to remember who they really were. He found me barefoot on the front porch of a country store drinking an RC Cola. He swept me off my feet. In some ways he gave me the best three years of my life.”
    “And me the worst five of mine.”
    “There’s more than one kind of prison, Hollis.”
    “Yes, but only one kind of freedom. Now, what’s the favor?”
    “I’d like it if you’d call me Mary Louise. That’s my real name, Mary Louise Flanagan from Squirrel Run, Tennessee. I know it’s not as glamourous as Angelique, but it fits who I really am. Could you, would you?”
    I smiled at her earnestness, touched by her hesitancy. “Of course I will.”

—— / —— / ——

    “Did you get yourself a car?”
    “Uh huh, a three-year-old van. I’m practically broke again, but at least I have wheels.”
    “You know, the farthest west I’ve even been is Kansas City. As for dough, I’ve still got Crockett’s cut—and his case money.”
    “Case money?”
    “It’s another ten thousand he kept back, for expenses and stuff. He called it his getaway money, just in case.”
    “He always did think ahead.”
    “Were you serious about seeing the Rockies and stuff?”
    “Yes. Why?”
    “Well . . . ummm . . .we could go together, you and me.”
    “Together? Are you serious?”
    “Well . . . yes . . . but only if you want to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being pushy. I just thought maybe . . . well, you know.”
    “Look . . . uh . . . I’m just a regular guy. Life with me would be pretty dull, especially after your history with Crockett.”
    “I don’t like history, Hollis. I prefer the here and now to the then and there.”

—— / —— / ——

    I was on my back on the bed, hands laced behind my head. My hair was damp with sweat and my shirt was unbuttoned. The room was empty of everything I intended to keep. She was standing in the middle of the floor, hands on hips, looking around to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Satisfied that I’d done good, she said, “I’m excited, honey.”
    “Well, everything’s packed and ready to go. We’ll leave at first light and you’ll be home by suppertime.”
    “Can we eat breakfast at Waffle House? I love Waffle House.”
    “Sure we can, they fix great hash browns. I hope you’re not too excited to sleep tonight.”
    “Excited? Don’t worry about that, honey. I know how to deal with excitement.”
    She did a little bump and grind beside the bed, then flashed me that killer southern smile. Hiking her skirt, she hooked her thumbs in the waistband of her panties. As she peeled them off her hips she said, “Stay on your back, Hollis, I can’t abide being on the bottom.”
    I smiled and opened my arms to her. I called her by name. “Mary Louise Flanagan,” I said, liking the way it sounded. “Do you know what vuja de is?
    She cocked her head to one side and gave me a puzzled look. “Vuja de? Don’t you mean déjà vu?”
    The thing is, there’s more than one kind of prison—with more than one kind of bars. But there’s more than one kind of freedom, too. Sometimes you learn that the hard way.
    “Nope,” I explained, “vuja de. It’s the uncanny premonition that nothing like this has ever happened before.”





Jim Farren Bio

    Born and raised in the mountains of West Virginia, Jim has lived in ten states and three foreign countries. Currently retired somewhere in the Ozarks, he has a passion for his wife, blended (not sour mash) bourbon, Hawaiian shirts, anything fried in bacon grease in a cast-iron skillet, stray dogs, and whatever vegetables are in season with the exception of Brussel sprouts and eggplant.














xeric

Janet Kuypers
5/9/17
twitter

xeric box with bars
dehydrates my flesh, my soul
quench me      set me free



twitter 4 jk twitter 4 jk Visit the Kuypers Twitter page for short poems— join http://twitter.com/janetkuypers.
video videonot yet rated
See YouTube video 5/14/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku poems “xeric”, “quarrel” and “Poem About This” in the intro performance to “Kick Butt Poetry” in Austin (Sony).
video videonot yet rated
See YouTube video 5/14/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku poems “xeric”, “quarrel” and “Poem About This” in the intro performance to “Kick Butt Poetry” in Austin (Lumix).


Click here from the Janet Kuypers bio.










December 8, 1980 Revisited

Drew Marshall

    The nation was mourning the assassination of our President, John F Kennedy, when I first heard The Beatles on the radio. On Sunday night, February ninth, nineteen hundred and sixty four, the Fab Four appeared on the Ed Sullivan television variety show. A record seventy three million people tuned in that night and Beatlemaina was born in the colonies. The world would never be the same again. At nine years and three months, I had become a Beatlemaniac.
    It was time to put our grief behind us and move forward. We would start pioneering the new frontiers that Kennedy envisioned.

***

    Monday morning commuting, was never easy. I impatiently waited for the subway train. A short, stocky, man in his mid-thirties, about twenty five feet from me, caught my attention.
    He seemed to be in a daze. The man with a moustache and glasses would walk several steps and then stop. The guy needed to steady himself. I assumed he was drunk or stoned and tried to ignore the stranger as he came over to me.
    “Who would want to kill John Lennon? He brought so much joy into the world.”
    He stared blankly into space as he said this to me. No one else was in the immediate area.
    The weirdo then continued onward, towards the end of the platform.
    A nut, I said to myself. This was par for the course, when riding the New York City subway trains. I peered over the track to see the oncoming train.
    I grabbed an empty seat at the end of the car. I was about to close my eyes when I noticed a woman sitting across from me reading the morning paper. The bold headline was hard to miss.
    JOHN LENNON SLAIN. SHOT OUTSIDE HIS NEW YORK APARTMENT.
    I looked at the other passengers, most of whom had their heads buried behind the New York dailies. They all had similar headlines.
    BEATLE JOHN LENNON SHOT DEAD. SUSPECT NABBED.
    I suddenly felt very strange and disoriented. What is going on here? Then I realized I was dreaming. No, this was a nightmare. That was the only explanation.
    I punched myself in the thigh. WAKE UP! WAKE UP! I shouted.
    As the train pulled into the first stop, I realized this was no dream. I understood now, why that man had said what he did to me several minutes earlier.
    I became anxious as I sat waiting for the train to arrive at my station. This was the longest twenty minutes in my life. It seemed like I was stuck in a subterranean limbo, for eternity.
    I popped out of the subway car and ran up the stairs. I didn’t stop running until I hit the nearest newsstand. I grabbed several of the papers and briskly walked towards the office.
    I quickly settled into my desk and started pouring through the papers. I cut John’s photo out of the paper, and taped it on the wall by my desk.
    I worked as a telephone sales clerk, having just started at this company a few weeks earlier. They were one of the top importers of European fabrics in America. I hated it.
    I was expected to be at my desk by eight forty five. The calls from Europe would start the phones ringing promptly at nine. I was not getting paid for these extra fifteen minutes. The supervisor was in his late fifties. He wore thick horn rimmed glasses and had the worst set of dentures in history. The lower halves, of the top row of his teeth, were always showing. He seemed to have a permanent grimace on his face. One could not tell if he was smiling, angry or in pain.
    He was quite rigid in his demeanor. Mr. Minnetto was not one for the social amenities. The man seldom said anything that was not work related. He presented himself as quite pedestrian. Minnetto had an assistant. There were four other clerks, alongside me. We worked together in a large room.
    During my interview, he told me that he had been working there for thirty years.
    “It’s a great place. I’ll die here.”
    That was his highest recommendation for my career at Sapporo Silks Incorporated. You would want to die there. And die, I knew I would, if I stayed here for any length of time. Let me have a paycheck coming in while I looked for another job.
    He was distant and by my twenty-five year old standards, an ancient relic. I made it a point, not to arrive at my desk before eight forty five. I was always ready to work when the avalanche of overseas calls started flooding in. I would catch Minnetto glaring at me from time to time. Nothing was ever said to me about this.
    I put the newspapers in my desk drawer and was staring at Lennon’s photo. I hadn’t noticed Minnetto enter the office.
     “TAKE THAT PHOTO OFF OF THE WALL RIGHT NOW! I DON’T WANT CUTOMERS COMING IN HERE, AND THE FIRST THING THEY SEE IS A PICTURE OF THAT GUY!”
    This was the first time he had shown any emotion in my presence. He continued his rant.
    “I NEVER LIKED HIM. BUT YOU CAN’T GO AROUND SHOOTING EVERYONE YOU DON’T LIKE!
    All eyes were on me. It was a tense moment. I decided to take the photo off of the wall and put it into my drawer. The supervisor returned to his desk and started his business as usual routine.
    About an hour later he left the office. As soon as Minnetto was out of sight, I impulsive took Lennon’s photo out of my desk. I cleared a section of the upper left portion of my desk off and taped the photo to it.
    Upon his return, Minnetto noticed it immediately, as I knew he would. The man was fuming, but said nothing. At five on the dot, I flew out of there and couldn’t wait to get home to watch the news about this senseless tragedy.
    I sat in my apartment living room, and tried to take in the details of what had happened.
    I was alone and couldn’t keep myself from crying.
    Upon my arrival the next morning, Minnetto, the man who wanted die, here in this office, was nowhere in sight. His flunky assistant, a seemingly decent man in his thirties, came over to me. He appeared to be very nervous.
    I was told, they wouldn’t need me after all. It was the start of their slow season. I was being laid off. In fact, the start of the holidays was their busiest season. I was relieved. I quietly gathered my things and left. I was now unemployed.
    I had worked a temp clerical job for several months, prior to joining the Sapporo Silks team. My application for unemployment insurance was rejected. I was informed that the director had warned me several times about my arriving late for work.

***

    The Dakota apartments building, is located at Seventy Second Street and Central Park West, on the upper West Side of Manhattan. Fifteen years after the assassination, I found myself in the area and went to see the location where John Lennon lived with his wife and son.
    It was a brisk morning, one week before the Thanksgiving holiday. I then crossed the street to the area designated as Strawberry Fields. It had opened to the public ten years ago. The space spans a 2.5-acre landscaped section, dedicated to John’s memory.
    The focal point is a circular mosaic of inlaid stones. IMAGINE is spelled out, the title to one of his most famous songs. It was a gift from the city of Naples, Italy.
    Whoever was quoted as saying that John’s murder was the final nail in the coffin of the sixties, had hit the nail on the head.
    The controversial author, Norma Mailer said that “We have lost a genius of the spirit!”
    Geniuses of the spirit are few and far between. They seldom walk this precious planet Earth.
    I know that my generation had a voice through him. He got us through the turbulent times, when there was only the music to hold on to.












Malaizzze,art by Wes Heine

Malaizzze,art by Wes Heine
















Wanting Out

Peter Gannon

    When the train was between stations, Louis felt a jolt. The brakes screeched—the wail sounded like a pack of starved coyotes—and the train began to slow. Seconds later, Louis heard a thud—it was monstrous—and he felt the cabin rock as if it had been sideswiped by a wrecking ball. The train rattled and hissed like a venomous snake moving in for the kill and then came to an abrupt stop, causing Louis and the other passengers to lean forward as if they’d been violently shoved.
    What happened?
    Louis straightened himself; his floppy brown hair was in his eyes. He brushed it aside and looked around the cabin. “Wonder what that was,” someone said. People started shrugging their shoulders. “Beats me,” a woman with a withered face said. Finally, a man with hound-dog eyes smiled and said, “Turbulence?” Everybody laughed.
    Outside Louis’s window, the Hudson River was trembling. In the distance, a lone red buoy bobbed in the water. Behind it stood the eroded riverbank, high enough for cliff diving, Louis thought.
    He looked at his phone. More Syrian refugees had arrived in Sweden. One of the Manson family murderers was up for parole again.
    What was the deal with the train? Where the hell was the ticket collector?
    Then a staticky voice came on the loudspeaker. “Good morning, everyone. We’re sorry about the delay. We’re investigating a situation right now and , , , um, when we know a bit more, we’ll fill you in.”
    There was a collective groan. Louis joined in on it. A man in a wool cap flung his paperback in the air as if to say, I give up. How long would the delay be? Louis looked at his Seiko. Oh, no. He was going to be late. His boss Jason would be fuming. Would Jason fire him? Who knew? But at least, this time, Louis could legitimately blame his tardiness on the train.
    He waited, staring out the fingerprint-smeared window. A barge the size of a battleship was moving slowly down the river. Mounds of dirty snow the size of haystacks adorned the riverbank. Ten more minutes passed, and some of the commuters started complaining: “Can we move this thing along?” “I wish we knew what was going on?”
    Then a faint voice behind Louis said, “Hey, there’s an ambulance attendant and a police officer on the tracks.”
    Everyone turned toward the windows. A few commuters, who were seated near the aisle, stood and leaned over toward windows.
    “We hit someone!” a woman yelled.
    “I hope it’s just a deer,” said a shaggy-haired man who was double-fisting his coffee.
    “An ambulance attendant means a person,” another voice said.
    “Oh, how terrible.”
    “This is going to take forever.”
    Louis hoped they were wrong but there was indeed an ambulance attendant and a police officer on the tracks. He checked his phone. There was nothing on the local news about the delay. Then another staticky voice came on the loudspeaker. “We’re sorry for the inconvenience but we’re going to have to disembark and board another train. This will be a little tricky so it may take some time. When we figure out the logistics, we’ll let you know.”

    Three and a half hours later, just before 11:00 a.m., Louis arrived at work. To avoid running into his boss Jason, he entered through the office’s side door. When he got to his cubicle, he stuffed his worn overcoat in his locker-sized closet. His polyester dress shirt was untucked. He blamed it on his growing belly hang and resolved to start losing weight on Monday. This Monday. No “ifs” or “buts” about it. Monday. After doing a 360 to ensure that no one was looking—his colleagues were either on the phone or making goo-goo eyes at their computer screens—he unbuckled his belt and tucked in his shirt. He then collapsed in his chair as if someone had angrily pushed him in it. A few minutes later, while he was logging onto his computer, Jason appeared. “I was looking for you,” Jason said.
    “You didn’t get my text?”
    Jason, who had a boyish face and athletic physique, lifted his chin like a drill sergeant. “I can’t keep doing this, Louis.”
    “My train hit someone.”
    “I need you to start putting that motion together.”
    “I wouldn’t lie about something like that, Jason. You can see for yourself.” Louis held up his phone where he had downloaded the news story.
    “When is the deadline to serve the motion?”
    Louis began shuffling through his cluttered desk. “I wrote it down somewhere.”
    “It’s next Thursday. You should know that.”
    “I sent the exhibits out to be copied yesterday.”
    “Why aren’t you copying them yourself?”
    “The file is like twenty red wells.”
    “Did you hear what I said the other day about containing costs?”
    “With the deadline looming, I didn’t want to take any chances.”
    “I didn’t approve the expenditure.”
    “I’m sorry. I’ll call the printing company and cancel the job.”

    That night, on the train ride home, Louis looked at his phone and learned more about what had happened that morning. A high school boy, whose name was being withheld, had walked onto the railroad tracks. When the engineer saw the boy, he tried to stop the train but couldn’t in time.
    Who in their right mind would walk onto busy railroad tracks? It sounded like a suicide. What had driven the boy to do it?
    From time to time, Louis would see high school boys on the train. Most of them had bad haircuts and carried heavy backpacks. High school could be tough. For him, it had been a nightmare. Thirty years ago, if you were gay like Louis, you were mocked. Fag. Fairy. Queer. But Louis never thought of suicide. But he could see how someone might.

    That weekend, Louis drove out to Long Island to visit his 85-year-old father. His dad, a former insurance executive, was widowed and more or less confined to an assisted living facility. The TV was on in his dad’s living room and his dad was seated where he spent most of his time: in his recliner, his feet, the size of an NBA player’s, up on the footrest. “Glad you’re here, Louie. Could you close those window blinds? The dishwasher’s making a funny noise; you’ll need to check it out. Oh, could you pull off my socks?”
    Louis had a couple of grocery bags in his hands and he placed them on the floor. He took off his overcoat and closed the window blinds.
    “My socks,” his father said, pointing at his feet.
    “Patience, Dad.” Louis walked over to his father, who had more hairs coming out of his nostrils than his head, and pulled off one sock, then the other.
    “You keep gaining weight,” his dad said, twinkling his toes. “You’re bursting at the seams. If one of those buttons pops off your shirt, it may hit me in the eye.” He laughed heartily.
    “I have a lot going on, Dad.”
    “How’s the job?”
    “It’s okay but the new boss is young and aggressive. People are saying he wants to clean house.” Louis looked at his dad’s socks as if they were bloody body parts. He grimaced and tossed them over his shoulders. “He’s constantly on me. My commute’s long , , ,”
    “How long?”
    “I told you. Over an hour to Grand Central but the subway could be another twenty minutes.”
    “Not so bad.”
    “But, if I’m a minute late, Dad, I hear about it, and there are always delays. The other day some high school kid threw himself in front of the train.”
    “Well, you should be on time.”
    “I’ll stay at work for as long as he wants. I’ll work more than my eight hours but , , ,” Louis closed his eyes. He had tried everything to gain Jason’s respect but nothing he ever did seemed good enough. When it came to Louis’s intricately-woven tapestry of paralegal work—his impeccable drafting of pleadings, his eagle-eyed citation checks, his profoundly persuasive court correspondence—all Jason wanted to focus on were a few barely noticeable loose threads. “I wish he’d just get off my case already.”
    “If you had a family, Louie, you’d be motivated. What ever happened to that girl Jane?”
    “You’ve got to be kidding me. Janice?”
    “The one who always looked sick , , ,”
    “The girl I took to the prom?”
    “Weren’t you engaged to her?”
    “No. Never.”
    “You should have gone to law school. I once thought about going to law school, did you know that?”
    Did Louis know that? His father talked about it all the time. “Yeah, I think you may have mentioned that once.”
    “But I was already making great money, so what was the point?”
    “Let me put the groceries away, Dad.”
    “Did you get my baked beans? With the pork bits?”
    “I did.” Louis picked up the grocery bags as if they were heavy buckets of water.
    “How old are you now, Louie?”
    “I’ll be forty seven.”
    “It’s probably too late.”
    “For what?”
    “Law school.”
    “I’m not going to law school, Dad.”
    “All that money I spent on prep school and college , , , You’re unhappy.”
    “Dad, please.” Louis started making his way to the kitchen.
    “Hold on a second,” his father said.
    Louis stopped.
    “So, when are you getting me out of here?” his father asked.
    “What are you talking about?”
    “I hate this place. I miss my home. All my memories are there.”
    “We sold the house, Dad. You’re not leaving. We already discussed this.”
    “I don’t need these people babysitting me. They talk down to me.”
    The dishwasher was running in the kitchen and making an annoying grinding sound. Louis put down the grocery bags on the kitchen table and shut off the dishwasher. He didn’t want to talk about his job. Before Jason was hired, Louis had been fairly content with it. He had never been as ambitious as his father. Louis had too many outside interests. He liked painting with watercolors and would sometimes hike the trails near his home looking for scenic views that he could paint. He enjoyed traveling to remote places: the Cook Islands in the South Pacific, Easter Island off the Chilean Coast. A demanding job would never allow for two or three week vacations. Ever since learning about the Battle of the Alamo as a kid, he’d been fascinated by the topic and had read every book he could find on it. He had a friend who taught American history at the local high school and Louis once came to her classroom and gave a lecture on the Texas Revolution.
    Louis started putting away the groceries. When was the last time he’d painted? When was the last time he took a really nice trip?
    He wished he could talk to his father about Evan. Evan had been Louis’s partner, and they’d recently broken up. Evan had gotten fed up with Louis’s unhappiness. “Why don’t you just quit that dead-end job?” Evan had said to him one evening. They were in the living room. Evan was placing sticky traps for mice.
    “And do what, Evan? What?”
    “Do absolutely nothing. Rest. Look after yourself. Lose the weight.”
    “But if you’re looking for a job, isn’t it better to have one?”
    Louis handed Evan another trap and Evan placed it in a closet. “I’ll cover our expenses,” Evan said.
    “I don’t want to put that kind of strain on our relationship.”
    “Jeez, you won’t even let me help you.”
    Louis couldn’t blame Evan for getting fed up but Louis had never expected him to break up with him. Whenever Louis would get home from work, Evan would be running on their treadmill, the smell of that night’s dinner, often Italian food, livening up the house. “I’m warming the treadmill up for you, Lou,” Evan said to him one night. Evan’s dark curly hair was sweat drenched, his moustache overgrown.
    “Maybe after dinner,” Louis said, unbuttoning his shirt.
    “You’re procrastinating again, Lou.”
    “You don’t have the commute I have.”
    “But you want to lose weight more than anything.”
    “I’m famished, Evan.”
    Louis missed Evan’s texts, which Evan would send to him throughout the day. “Picture Jason with food in his teeth.” The texts would make him laugh and, for a while, he’d feel better about his job. Sometimes, Louis still heard Evan’s voice. “Everything will be all right, my Lou, Lou. And, if things aren’t, well then, so be it, nothing’s worth your peace of mind.”
    Louis’s mother had known that Louis was gay. If she were alive, he could talk to her about the breakup. Neither she nor he had ever told his dad about his sexuality. It was too late now. Why disappoint the old guy even further?
    “The remote ran out of batteries, Louie!” yelled his father from the living room. “I can’t change the station!”
    “Give me a minute, Dad,” Louis said.
    “I’ve been watching ESPN all day! Put on CNN for me, would you?”

    The following Wednesday, Louis was in his cubicle, sitting at his desk, when he realized that it was time to go home. He checked his Seiko. If he left now, he might be able to catch the 5:45 out of Grand Central.
    In the office’s lobby, Louis pressed the elevator’s call button. A few moments later, the light above the elevator bank came on and the elevator doors opened. Out stepped Jason. He was dressed in a trench coat and leather gloves. “You’re leaving?” he asked, his question more an accusation than inquiry.
    Louis, who’d thought Jason had already left for the day, said, “I figured I would , , ,”
    “I just stepped out for some sushi. Being from the private sector, I’m not used to these early hours. So how’s that motion? Someone told me it’s still not out.”
    “The printing company took forever to return those documents but I finally finished the copying. I’ll put the motion together tomorrow and have it served.”
    “I don’t like serving motions on the last day.”
    Outside Louis’s office building, night had already fallen. At Fulton Street and Broadway, Louis hurried down a set of underground stairs. At the turnstile, he swiped his MetroCard and ran onto the subway platform. If the subway didn’t come soon, Louis would miss the 5:45. As he waited for the train, the platform began filling up with commuters. Where was the train? Where was it? Then a horn blared. He stepped to the edge of the platform and saw a light. Thank God.
    Louis got off the subway at 42nd Street. If he were to have any hope of making the 5:45 train, he’d have to move his ass. He started his mad dash. Not a pretty sight, his 5’9”, 285 lb body, flabby and sleep-deprived, looking as if at any moment it might belly flop onto the floor. In the Grand Central Terminal’s Main Concourse, there was a restless sea of people. In Louis’s twenty years of commuting, he had never seen such a crowd, people standing elbow to elbow. What was going on? “Pardon me,” he said, as he pushed his way through the throng.
    The display board explained the situation: The Harlem line was experiencing delays of over an hour due to police activity in the vicinity of Ossining. What in God’s name?
    A woman with buckteeth was standing next to him. “Do you know what this is about?” he asked her.
    “Must be an accident,” she said.
    “Have they made an announcement?”
    “I just got here.”
    He looked at the clock atop the information booth. He could be stuck here for hours. His knees felt wobbly. His stomach grumbled. Might as well get a drink. He trudged up the stairs to the balcony level. Looking down at the crowd of upturned faces, he felt a little like a performer on stage.
    Cipriani Dolci, a bar on the balcony level, was packed with other stranded commuters. Louis maneuvered his way to the bar and ordered a glass of merlot.
    “Someone killed themselves,” he overheard a man behind him say.
    “Again?” a woman’s voice said.
    The handsome bow-tied bartender brought Louis his drink. Noticing a few feet of standing room on the other side of the bar, Louis squeezed between some people and made his way over to the space. Another suicide? How can that be? He began drinking his wine.
    Then a heavyset man in a pinstriped suit said to a woman, “I hope the motherfucker suffered.”
    The woman, who was staring at her phone, her long-nailed fingers tap dancing on the screen, said, “Well there are better ways to end your life, John.”
    “Drink yourself to death.”
    The woman poked the man’s paunch with her phone.
    “Well, if you’re going to kill yourself,” he said, “you shouldn’t inconvenience an entire city.”
    Louis took a sip of wine. God, it was another suicide. How awful. A few minutes later, he looked down at the display board. Delays of up to an hour still. He needed to get out of here. He needed more space. He went to drink from his glass but it was empty. That was fast.

    Outside the train terminal, it was cold. He tightened his scarf and allowed the night to take him in. With a slight buzz, he walked across 42nd Street. He didn’t know where he was headed. He just knew he wanted another drink and some food.
    He ended up at the Bryant Park Grill. The restaurant was warm and brightly lit. He sat at the bar, and the bartender, orange-headed and freckle-faced, threw a coaster on the bar like he was dealing a card from the bottom of the deck. “What will it be?”
    “A glass of the house merlot.” A TV was on, and Louis looked up at the screen. The Main Concourse’s restless sea of people. The bartender came over with Louis’s drink, and Louis nodded at the screen. “That’s where I was. I had to get out of there. I couldn’t stay.”
    “You’re in a much better place,” the bartender said.
    “Do you know what happened?”
    “Haven’t a clue.”
    “Someone said a suicide.”
    “Would you like a menu?”
    “Please.”
    The bartender brought Louis a menu. Louis studied it as carefully as he would a contract at work. “I’ll have the tuna tacos to start.”
    On the TV was a blond reporter with red lipstick. She was speaking into a microphone. The TV’s sound was down so Louis couldn’t hear what she was saying. When his tuna tacos arrived, he loosened his striped tie and dug in. The tuna was fresh. Smothered with avocado. Delicious. Yum. He ordered another glass of merlot.
    A replay of a college football game was on the TV now. Had the trains started running? Louis checked his phone. No. Still delays. But there was news about what had happened: a high school kid had jumped in front of a train at Ossining. What in God’s name was going on? Louis sipped his merlot. Then he read some more: the kid was from the same school as the other kid. They must have known each other.
    High school could be tough. In Louis’s sophomore year, because his dad had gotten promoted, his family moved from Connecticut to Long Island. Louis hated the new school. He didn’t know anyone. He tried out for the football team and had gotten cut. He failed an Advanced Placement Trigonometry class. In the spring, he came down with an awful case of cystic acne. His back and chest still had the scars.
    The high school boys that Louis had seen on the train would usually be paging through textbooks, punching numbers into calculators, chewing on pens.
    “Another glass of wine?” the bartender asked Louis.
    “You’re a mind reader.”
    The bartender refilled Louis’s glass. “So what do you do for a living?”
    “I’m a paralegal.”
    “For who?”
    “The State Liquidation Bureau.”
    “What’s that?”
    Louis gave the bartender his usual line: “When a financial services firm, like an insurance company, goes belly up, we become the insolvent entity’s caretaker.”
    The bartender looked as though he wanted to say something but didn’t. He then hurried away as if the chef had just called him into the kitchen. A few more minutes passed—Louis finished his tuna tacos—and the bartender returned. “Hey buddy, one of our waitresses just told me the trains are back up and running.”
    “No kidding.”
    “That’s what she says.”
    Louis checked his phone. The trains were, indeed, up and running, and Louis imagined hundreds of red-faced people pushing and shoving one another to get to their respective tracks. He was in no mood to play the role of a gladiator. His night was shot anyway.
    “Are you going to order more food, sir?” the bartender asked.
    “I am,” Louis said. “The rack of lamb sounded nice.”

    By the time Louis finished the lamb—and three more glasses of the house merlot—it was close to 11:00 p.m. He threw on his overcoat and picked up his briefcase. An 11:33 train out of Grand Central would get him home at 1:11 a.m.
    Outside, it had gotten even colder, and, as he walked across 42nd Street, he wished he had brought a hat. He was a little unsteady on his feet. With the amount of wine he’d drunk, not to mention the late hour, he’d have to call in sick the next day.
    Would Jason fire him? No. Though Jason would want to, Human Resources would never allow it. Not for calling in sick anyway, and, Louis imagined Jason putting the motion together all by himself. He smiled.
    When he stepped into Grand Central Terminal’s Main Concourse, it was empty except for a few people standing by the information booth. Now why couldn’t this place always be like this? So quiet, so beautiful. He looked up at the high ceiling and felt as if he were standing in a Gothic cathedral.
    He checked the display board. The 11:33 was coming in on track 34. He wandered over to the steps that led to the balcony level and sat on them.
    Then the two dead high school boys appeared, one on either side of him.
    “Why did you do it?” he asked the boy on his right.
    The boy, who had braces on his teeth, said, “There seemed no point to anything anymore, Louis.”
    Louis nodded and turned to the other boy. “And you, son?”
    The boy had bright blue eyes. It looked as if he’d been crying. “It was the only way I could think of to stop the pain, mister.”
    Louis clenched his fists. “I know how you feel, boys.”
    “You do?” the bright-eyed boy said.
    “Yes. I was in high school once.”
    “I tried telling my dad , , ,”
    “I wish I would have known,” Louis said, his lower lip trembling like the river. Then he went to put his arms around the boys but they disappeared.
    He looked around the terminal and then folded his arms. No one had seen him. He shook his head. What was he doing?
    He struggled to his feet. The terminal was swaying like the cargo boats he’d sometimes see on the Hudson. He checked Seiko. The train would be here in eight minutes.














instead

Janet Kuypers
haiku 2/8/14
video

we destroy value
instead of fighting for it.
It’s just amazing.



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The Lighthouse

David Ames

    The steeple shoots into the sky above the Midwestern town, another nameless, faceless place in the country between two major cities; not quite the suburbs but not quite the country. A tall, average man with an average, if haggard, face climbs the steps to the cathedral and through the beautifully carved, ancient oaken doors. Inside, the man looks around apprehensively for the booth.
    Confession.
    Absolution.
    Confusion.
    On closer inspection, the man looks tired. He couldn’t be a day over twenty-seven but his face looks as though he has seen far past his years. He slides open the door and, instead of kneeling appropriately, places his back against the far wall opposite the screen and slowly slides down until his head rests firmly between his knees. His hands slowly comb back through his hair and his eyes, if examined, would appear moist.
    A mirror adorned with a small crucifix sits beside the screen—a pale blue Virgin Mary augments the left side of the mirror with rosary beads extending from her praying hands.
    A kindly, older voice rasps through the screen, resonating into the room. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
    The man doesn’t answer. He stays seated, breathing heavily against the wall.
    “My son, are you here to make confession?”
    “I don’t know what to do, father,” the man responds, almost in a whisper. “I feel lost. I’m not sure what anything means anymore but I do know that I feel so very alone. I’m tortured by the same dream, over and over again.”
    There was a small silence and then, slightly louder from the other side of the room, “Why don’t you start at the beginning?”

I

    The beach spreads out before me like so many nights previous—shadowed in the dark of the craggy rocks which led to the only source of time and space on this ill-begotten island; the lighthouse. The light shimmers and circles, perfectly in time, covering the world in a fluorescent flash that is there and gone in less time than I can blink. The lighthouse, forever spinning in its unobtainable perch, circles me like so many vultures, passing the time until their prey departs.
    God knows how long I’ve been here. I can scarcely recall the moment I awoke but for some time now I have been trying to reach the lighthouse.
    I splay my legs apart, digging my bare feet into the damp, course sand, hoping to feel anything other than the never-ending beach. I’ve been awash in this landscape for so long that a break in the monotony would be a Godsend.
    I don’t think he’s listening anymore.
    Fiddler crabs scatter as my feet dig further in, disturbing their home. I feel akin to them. I can remember the days before all of this. My loving wife, my patient parents, my home at the edge of town. The place we lived was alive with good will and petulance seemed miles away. It was the place you’d see in a 1940’s sitcom about the perfect nuclear family; the close together houses, the waving neighbors, the dutiful congregation,
    The congregation...yes that’s right. I came here with them. We landed softly, exploring the territory when I fell hard into the surf. The salt burned my eyes and when I recovered myself, gauged my bearings and reclaimed my feet...they were gone and I was alone. Shoeless and wearing only dress pants which, once a fine grey, now hang shredded at my calves. I cut strips of the fabric into bandages to conceal the wounds on my hands which I had received on my first attempt to reach the rocky summit. Since then, I have devoted myself to other, less painful approaches; all with similar, failed endings.
    Still, I will press on. If the lighthouse was the high point, I would reach it eventually and recapture the attention I had lost from my flock.
    Night begins to set in again—another night trapped here, and I could swear that for the life of me, someone is out there.
    Silently watching.
    Staring—straight through me. I can feel their eyes pierce my skin; expose my soul for the world to see. Occasionally I will see a shadow move. Nothing too conspicuous...just enough that it breaks away from the dark and moves on its own. Those shadows have become more and more frequent as the days wear on.
    I move back towards the rocks, same as the night before, and the night before that. The rock shelf behind me offers my only shelter, my only protection from the wind and weather. Each night has been the same. The dark has come quickly, sweeping over the barren landscape. I huddle against the shelf for warmth, not from the outside air as it has taken a constant tropical feel, but from the emptiness and cold I feel inside. It is like someone has removed something so vital to my survival that I can scarcely maintain life without it.
    Once the moon has registered itself at peak point, what I gauge to be near midnight, the sounds from the lighthouse begin.
    The billowing horn blares its low, senseless rumble into the night and across the barren sea, calling to anyone to find us here. The ground reverberates with the sound, sending vibrations through my body, as if the lighthouse is speaking to me. That pillar of light has become a friend to me, a distant relative to which I will someday be united. The sound calls to me and sometimes I call back, screaming into the wind along with my pearly white friend. Hoping for someone to make an appearance and tell the both of us that we are not alone, that we are not crazy, that we are not lost.
    We.
    Are.
    Not.
    Lost.
    The sound drags on into the night and early morn, never ceasing until the first streaks of light are breaking the horizon. Once again, I pull myself up from the sand and prepare myself for the attempt on the summit of this rocky shore.

II

    Having brainstormed the day before while I bandaged my hands, I have decided to take a reverse approach to the lighthouse, circling around the rock shelf and tracing the beach to what must eventually lead to an opening or path. There must be some way to scale this small summit without injuring myself further.
    As I walk with the lighthouse at my back, I hear a noise; a skitter across the sand. Nothing too noticeable-might be a crab-but some aspect sounds off. I twist suddenly, not sure what I will find, but uncover nothing; a blank beach staring at me like so many days before. The sun is beating down but there is a breeze rolling in off the ocean, cooling me as I walk. The beach seems to stretch on for miles and after what feels like hours of walking, I stop to rest. As I plant myself into the sand, I turn to look back, to see if I can still view my lighthouse.
    It has not moved.
    It...it has not moved from where it was this morning. I look up at the sky; the sun is far overhead, signifying that at least three hours have passed. How is this possible? How is it that I moved on for so long to only be back where I started? My heart begins to race, my head foggy with thoughts. The sweat is beading off my forehead. This doesn’t make any sense. This doesn’t—this can’t be happening. I stand up and sprint the same direction I have been walking all day, making sure to keep the ocean to my right, to move along a straight path away from the lighthouse.
    I don’t know how long it has been before I collapse, frothing from the mouth, breathing too hard to focus my vision. I lie in the surf and let the water wash over me. When I finally calm myself, I look towards the lighthouse again.
    It is still there, still the same distance...
    What do you want from me! I scream at my pearly friend. What do you but I can’t finish because I am sobbing. The tears come to me and I fall back into the surf. Let the water baptize me in my anger and sorrow. The lighthouse remains ever vigilante.
    Iconic in its individuality.
    Stoic in its separation.
    I let the water drift me out into the tide and pull me under. The world goes blue and then white, the salt stings but not so much that it causes me to close my eyes. Finally, as the shade begins to close over me, I see the shadow of an object looking over, something small, and then the world goes dark.
    It is night when I awaken. The light from the lighthouse is circling in its tower, showing me the same beach I have seen for God knows how long.
    Strike that.
    God doesn’t know.
    OR he doesn’t care.
    Suddenly, I hear harsh and high pitched screeching from the darkness. I have seen no animals other than crabs and I have noticed no tracks in the sand. Someone is in pain. Something is hurting and I’m not sure what it could be. I flee for the rock shelf and slam myself, back first against its steadfastness. This is my only protection but from here, the moon’s gaze, barely visible, sheds an eerie lowlight on the area.
    Shapes moves in the dark, more conspicuous than before, dancing gracefully, just beyond the reach of the moon. I am not entirely sure that I can see anything, but I sense that some phantom is there, watching me. I press myself as tight against the shelf as possible and hold my breath, secretly hoping that whatever is beyond the moon won’t see me, knowing in my heart that it does.
    The sound of the lighthouse jars me back. The rocks and the sand around me vibrate as the sound spreads through the island. I jump away from the rock and into the moonlight, screaming my fear into the dark along with the lighthouse song. I see a flash of white, just a glimpse; a glimmer of something in the dark.
    Is it? Could it be?
    Teeth?

III

    My nights seem to drag themselves ever onward as the sound of the lighthouse drones on. It is less soothing to me as each day comes, grating on my nerves. Each night I hear the screams and cries of the shadow dancing in the dark, occasionally catching a glimpse of whatever shiny object flashes in the moonlight. It always seems to stay just out of eyesight and every time the siren sounds, the shadow vanishes into the darkness. I can never truly see anything but it feels as though one minute there is someone watching, and suddenly it is gone and I am again alone.
    Each day I have walked steadily or ran in the opposite direction of the lighthouse, but at each day’s end, I am not a step further from when I started.
    A few days ago, I walked backwards and as I did, the lighthouse began to vanish from my sight, slipping behind the rock shelf which has been my protection and, for all intents and purposes, my home for these many days. I cheered, I laughed, the tears slipped slowly from my eyes. I turned away to look at the beach that lay before me. It looked relatively the same as the way I had come.
    The screeching stopped me dead in my tracks.
    Never have I heard it during the day. I froze where I stood, eyes forward, and focused on the area from which the sound had emanated. Readying myself, I turned quickly to see...
    Nothing.
    Again, nothing.
    But there was something. The lighthouse had regained its normal position in the sky, the same distance as always. I fell to my knees, defeated, and collapsed into the sand. The tears had finally overtaken me and I wept like a child, uncontrolled, until there were no more left to cry.
    He had abandoned me.
    I had prayed for so long and with no answer, yet I continued. He should have listened...he should have answered.
    You should have answered I screamed into the sand, but the only answer I received was that of the ocean with its rolling waters and crashing waves; nature’s waltz, but to me it just sounded like loneliness.

IV

    I have, for the last few days, stayed right here near the shelf, abandoning all hope of ever reaching the summit; of ever being united with that once loved symbol of light. I let myself drift in and out of consciousness, blurring the lines of reality with those of the dream world. My hate for the lighthouse has grown so that now, when it sings, I scream in fury, chastising the pillar with every insult I can muster. If it wants to sound off, I shall as well.
    I push myself back against the shelf and slide down onto the coarse ground. My head comes to rest on my knees and I know that I am alone.
    Completely and utterly alone.
    I am startled awake by the feeling of pressure on my feet. A tight grip as though someone was holding onto me for dear life. I shake myself awake and immediately try to move but my feet won’t budge.
    My feet are buried in the sand, above my ankles, much like when I sleep, but it is different this time. Whatever has me is not letting go.
    A sudden jerk pulls me further into the sand, up to my shins. The pain is starting to break through my shock and I feel for the first time in days, an instinct other than sorrow. The unknown force pulls again and my knees disappear. I begin to shout for anything to help, but all I hear is the lighthouse, droning on and on, like a record that is set to repeat itself for all eternity.
    Panic has a tight hold on me and my heart feels as though it could burst at any minute. I claw at the sand around me, trying desperately for a handhold but nothing presents itself and the next jerk buries my thighs. I twist hard as the sand wrenches again, up to my waist. I see the alabaster Phantom in the close distance.
    Teeth.
    I scream and fight, thrashing as much as I can, but now all I hear is the screeching. An audible bellowing, mimicking the sound of nails on a chalkboard, echoes across the rocks and beach, but there is something different now. There is more than one voice, more than one shadow and I see them dancing in the dark as I am being pulled under.
    The sand hits my chin and I make one last lunge towards the rock, snapping a fingernail off on the hard surface as the sand passes my mouth. I can’t breathe; I can barely see; I can only smell sand, mixed with the blood of my hand. One final jerk takes me just below surface and through a thin layer of sand I see them—seven pairs of teeth glinting off the moon light—
    Smiling.
    I scream, jolting up from the rock wall. Quickly I check my feet, my ankles; in-tact. I steady myself but something is different about this night. I do not hear the lighthouse; I do not sense its song across the sea. I listen as hard as possible, closing my eyes and opening my ears, hoping that canceling one sense will heighten the other. All I hear is the sound of bees; a buzzing sound.
    My eyes fly open and look to see where the new noise is coming from. It is the sand, vibrating off of the rock. I place my hands against the shelf and feel the familiar vibration. I can hear nothing, but the vibration of the horn is still present.
    Why can I not hear the song?
    I glance angrily toward the lighthouse which is showering the rocks in its beautiful white light.
    So I say half to myself; You have abandoned me as well.
    I hear a click, a snap, and then I see them. The shadows. They are more visible than ever before and as the light from the pillar moves on, they materialize. I still cannot quite make them out but their shapes, roughly my size, some slightly bigger, some slightly smaller, stand in a semicircle just outside of the moon’s gaze. They make no sound, but suddenly I see a smile across what I can only guess is the center shadow’s face. It spreads broad, revealing the same grin I have seen so many times now.
    The other six follow suit until they are all smiling in my direction. No sound. No movement. Just staring.
    And that is how we stay until the dawn breaks.

V

    The next few nights are each a clone of the one before. I feel the vibration but hear no sound. The smiles, motionless in the night, surround me and wait for me to make a move. I do no such thing and every night is as tense as the previous. My nerves are shot and during the day I proceed to sleep. The sun bakes me and even the water does not have its cooling, calming effect anymore.
    I am broken.
    I stare into the sea, the waves crashing inland and rolling back out. They beckon to me, ask me to join them for a swim. To bathe in their waters. I turn to look at what was once my greatest and only friend in the world: the lighthouse. Still that beautiful pearly white. Pure in its simplicity—in its purpose. The light however, has led me in the wrong direction.
    I turn away from the lighthouse one last time, sensing that for once, it knows I am there. I feel nothing but emptiness now. The water runs up over my bloodied, bruised feet and washes over my hands as they stay stationary at my sides. I move them finally and let them skim the surface of the water, playing in the crests of the waves heading home to their beach.
    I take one more step and the water washes into my face. I don’t shake it off, I don’t spit it out. I stand motionless for some time like this, staring blankly into the sea. Then I hear it:
    A single screech, far off on the shore that I have left behind.
    I turn to see nothing as I have been accustomed to doing but there is a shape; a figure on the shore.
    I squint hard to determine what it is. I see grey strips hanging about its middle, brown hair billowing in the breeze. I focus my eyes as hard as possible, searching the creature for distinguishing features. I see that it has no shirt on but that it looks...human. As my eyes trace the body from feet to head, I stop.
    I see its face. It is a face I have seen before. In every mirror I have ever looked, that face has stared back at me, yet the grin it wears is nothing like I have ever produced.
    I turn my head back to the sea and take one more step. The water washes overhead and I hear, through the sea, a muffled cry of joy. It is my own and only the bubbles make their way to the surface to escape.

***

    The man sits quietly now, tears freely forming and his head is in his hands to muffle the sobs. There is no sound from the other side of the booth. The kindly voice had not said anything since this story began. There is a shuffle of fabric as the man rises to his full height. He raises his bloodshot eyes to the mirror—to the crucifix.
    Slowly, but deliberately, the man moves his hands to his neck and pulls the collar down. The robes slide off his shoulders and onto the pile the man drops the clerical collar. He turns to look one more time to the blessed virgin, moves his hand to touch her praying fingers, and walks out into the world.












Infinite Dune, art by Fabrice Poussin

Infinite Dune, art by Fabrice Poussin
















They Don’t Call It Crazy Anymore

Mitchell Waldman

The Mental Health Center

    In college I was a Psychology major. I told everyone it was because I was interested in people and wanted to help people, when the truth was that, like so many other Psych majors, I was really looking for a cure to my own unhappiness. In high school I was insecure, had few friends, always felt like a misfit, no matter where I went, and I didn’t know why. So, I took an interest in psychology. But the real reason behind my interest had to be kept secret; you had to pretend you were like that handful of super well-adjusted future psychologists not a closet loon — or, under the terms popular in the field at that time, a person with “problems in living.”

    As part of my education in Psychology, I volunteered to work at a mental health center in Decatur, which was about thirty miles east of the University. My “job” was merely to go with a group of other students and talk with the patients. Each of us was given a unit. The problem was that, when there, locked in a unit with a bunch of patients, I would start feeling very insecure, that I might just as well be a patient there as any of them. Even Gladys Baker, with her white curls and liver-spotted hands, who would flirt with me and talk on and on about her travels, slipping in weird stuff occasionally about how this space ship from Mars had landed in her back yard and how the Martians had taken her up with them and done all sorts of nasty things to her. She would describe the space trips in the same tone as everything else, like it was just another trip, and I would nod my head uh huh, uh huh, wondering how I might get away from her. One hour with Gladys would make my head spin. After that, I’d be ready to check myself in.
    Then there was “Dr. Morgan,” as everyone called him, who sat around with his psychology books and lectured everyone who would listen to him (outsiders like me — the other patients just ignored him) about exactly what type of paranoia he experienced and how his doctor was wrong, how he was out to get him.
    Mostly, though, the patients were content to watch TV and smoke cigarettes, so sedated after medication time that they looked much like more “normal” people across America (my parents, for instance) sitting in their vegetative positions every night of the year, filling their heads with that junk food for the mind. But there were some differences, such as the fact that they weren’t allowed to light their own cigarettes, so every few minutes someone would come up to me and ask me for a light. I didn’t smoke, but after the first time at the MHC I made sure to put a couple books of matches in my pocket before I came.
    I had terrifying thoughts sometimes, that I, looking just like everyone else there, would be confused for a patient and, on my way out, walking through those long yellow halls, would be grabbed by someone and forced into one of the locked units. But, of course, it never happened.

    We went to the MHC every Thursday evening. There were about eight of us. We had permission to use a University van, and each of us would take turns driving it. On my first turn it was an extremely icy day. Even the highway, normally kept in such good condition, was covered with a thin coating of ice which was treacherous considering how bald the van’s tires were. I was driving very slowly, anxious as I always was when headed for the Center, not really wanting to get there. There was a sort of carnival atmosphere in the van, the people in the seats behind me laughing and joking — probably something like it is going to war, I thought, everyone trying to keep their minds off what lay ahead. I was talking to this girl, Betty, in the seat beside me. She was cute, small with long brown hair, a wide bright smile. I was trying to get to know her better, telling her about Gladys, giving her a cleaned-up version of her space trip, trying to work up the courage to suggest that maybe she and I might go out for a quick beer after doing our volunteer bit. That was when the van started to swerve. I stepped on the brake, which just made the swerving worse. But, I didn’t panic — I kept telling Betty Gladys’ story, even as I spun the wheel around, trying to regain control of the van. It was no use. The van started to spin off the road and tumbled over into the valley in the center, between the lanes of traffic. The van was on its side and a couple of girls were screaming but I hadn’t stopped yet, I was still telling my story about Gladys, and Betty was looking at me and shouting, “What’s wrong with you anyway?”
    And I smiled, said “What do you mean?”
    She sighed with exasperation, as a guy in the back slid open the van door and jumped out.
    We stood for twenty minutes in the icy cold, our hands jammed in our pockets. Betty would not talk to me now. She wouldn’t even look at me. When a salt truck finally came by and the driver offered us his help, pulled the van upright and out of the valley with his big metal hook and chain, I decided right then and there that we would not go to the Center that night. No, I decided more than that. Back in the uprighted van, with Betty, who I would now never get a have a beer with, sitting beside me, arms crossed in front of her and staring straight ahead, and thinking of Gladys, of the Martian story I would miss, the cigarettes I would not have to light, and the unit doors that would not be locked behind me that evening, I decided that I was never going back there again. It just wouldn’t be safe.

* * * * *

Going Crazy

    Once at school I really thought I was going crazy. I was working as a delivery man for a pizza place, getting paid by the hour, but not much — I made most of my money on tips, so I would hustle with my orders and get back as fast as I could.
    The guys at the restaurant were always smoking. Occasionally they would offer me some, and occasionally I would take it, not really wanting to, because it slowed me down, but because I wanted to be “a guy.” The problem was, once I smoked some, I would be worthless in a car — I’d drive one way, knowing it was west, then make a turn and it would still seem like west. With this loss of my sense of direction, I would usually wind up making endless wide circles around the place I was trying to get to. Maps did help though.
    So, it came to this: 3:00 in the morning, tramping across lawns, looking for a goddamned address, none of them posted on the houses, at least not in the visible light. Tramping with this goddamned greasy pizza box, an hour already past since the order was placed, it seemed — who knows, who can tell when you’re stoned, and I was out of my head stoned — walking on these lawns, back and forth, periodically looking back at the car, at the flashing red lights, knowing something then in my head: those lights were a warning of some kind. Then it came to me clearly with one of the flashes: I would die in that car. Maybe tonight, maybe some other night. But that was the clear truth gained from my drug-induced intuition.
    I kept walking over lawns, tripping over sidewalks, with this new grim news tucked away inside me now, making my whole body shiver in reaction (or was it just cool out at three in the morning, and I had just now noticed?), the stillness of the night, the flashing red lights putting me in a panic (and thinking there must’ve been something besides grass in that grass), walking away from those red lights, still searching for the numbers on the houses and still unable to find any. Finally stopping, saying “Fuck this,” out loud, then repeating it again to myself to make my point — to make sure it was I who had said it — and then turning around with the pizza, thinking the people have probably given up on pizza by now, walking back to the car, to my Fate.
    I didn’t die in the car that night, didn’t even come close. I drove slowly, cautiously all the way home, watching out for cops. Then I went into the apartment I shared with Tom Zierdorff, taking the pizza and the restaurant’s money with me, feeling very uptight, electric. It felt like a pulse was going through me. I couldn’t control my thoughts. I truly thought I was going crazy. All that night I cried in bed, couldn’t sleep — the world was upside down, I was sure I was cracking up, crying at the shame of it to my family. I saw it all so clearly: the ambulance coming to take me away, the big black men in their white suits strapping me down in the back, my eyes rolling back in my head, as the hearse-like car pulled away, lights streaking, flashing red against the black, starless sky, siren screaming, piercing the night. I saw my parents coming to visit me in the hospital, acting like people do when they visit people in my condition — treating me like a little kid, rather than an adult with (ha) “problems in living.” I was sure I would wake up in the morning in that white room that I pictured in my imagination in a straight jacket on a white bed with a nurse, my roommate, and maybe my parents looking down at me — my parents somberly shaking their heads from side to side like they thought they were supposed to, like wooden puppets.
    My mind was like a wayward stream that night that had gone off course. I sat at the table in the kitchenette and ate half the pizza (it was nerves mostly; I was jittery), then lay in bed all night, my thoughts whirling, swirling out of control. I closed my eyes, aware that my body was shaking and told myself, don’t worry, don’t worry, in the morning everything would be all right again.
    But, in the morning, it wasn’t, not much anyway. I was still shaking, still felt like I was going crazy.
    My roommate, seeing me in this condition for the first time, was staring at me funny. “Are you okay?” he asked.
    I told him “No, there’s something seriously wrong with me. I think I’m cracking up.”
    He laughed for a moment, then swallowed it, realized that I wasn’t joking. I told him about what had happened the night before.
    We were standing in the kitchen. “You didn’t actually eat that stuff, did you?” he asked, pointing toward the small white table upon which the opened pizza box, which I had neglected to put away, sat. The pizza looked disgusting — it was green. But I hadn’t noticed it the night before.
    I realized that I still had the restaurant’s money I had collected the night before. Tom drove me back and I acted like it was nothing, a joke, that I’d gotten lost and hadn’t been able to make my way back, so just went home. The guys who ran the place just laughed. It was something they could understand — getting lost.
    When we got back to the apartment though I broke down. “Oh God, Oh God,” I said, and started crying, knowing, just knowing that I was going to wind up with some of those people I had visited in Decatur on Thursday evenings, thinking about how they would laugh, some of them, when they saw me and how others would look at me with eyes that would say they’d known I’d belonged there when they’d first seen me: Welcome home.
    I was frantic, hysterical. So hysterical that I actually called my parents, who made the three hour drive down that afternoon. But why had I called them, and what could they do?
    They stayed overnight, spent time with me. And by the next day I was feeling a little better, more like myself as we sat over eggs and dollar pancakes and coffee at the International House of Pancakes. I assured my parents that I would be all right, despite my mother’s worried eyes, and my secret belief that maybe I would never be completely all right. In any case, getting my parents mixed up in it was stupid. They left after paying the bill, giving me the required lectures about the evils of drugs (my dad) and the red-eyed farewell hugs (my mother) and firm hand on shoulder charge to keep on the straight and narrow.
    That morning, when Tom was at class, I heard Jim Morrison speaking to me. For some reason only the ghost of his voice was coming out from one speaker — there were no instruments in the background — and he was speaking to me, and me alone, the words of “People are Strange.”
    But, I was coming back to life. The day after that I felt only slightly hung over, more like I normally felt.
    A week later I quit the job at the pizza place, told them I was falling behind in my school work. They said they were sorry to see me go, that I was the fastest delivery guy they had, when I could find my way back to the restaurant, which, I guess, was true.

* * * * *

Fun with Ted

    One of my college acquaintances who truly had problems (in living) was a guy named Ted. Take, for instance, the time he tried to kill me.
    He had me down on the ground and was smashing me in the face. He would belt me two, three times, then stop, give me a chance to give up, apologize, but the alcohol in my head, the taste of blood in my mouth only made my tongue sharper — I called him every name I could think of, which only made him madder, slug me harder, until he got the idea to kill me. He put both hands around my neck and pressed hard, choking the breath out of me.

    I’d been ranting at Ted since he’d started acting like a jerk at this party Tom, Ted, and I had gone to. The girls hadn’t been paying attention to us, and little doubt why, with Ted trying to put on his Mr. Cool act, sliding his arm around some girl he’d never met, and saying “So how about it, babe?”, his white teeth flashing in contrast to his olive tanned skin. And the girl would look at her friends like “Who is this asshole?,” and then back at Ted, telling him to “Go away. We were having a conversation here, d’ya mind?” Ted would skulk back to where Tom and I were standing, and say in an overly loud voice, so everyone turned their heads toward us, “God, there sure are a lot of bitches here tonight!,” laughing in that mad, mocking way of his, and placing a nut between his teeth. The funny thing about it was, he never even drank. Tom and me were both bombed, as usual, but Ted would never touch the stuff, only act stupid, drunk (overcompensating, I guess). He told everyone he couldn’t drink, that it made his liver hurt. He even took these little green liver pills, said they helped, popped them like candy when he drank (usually not more than a half a beer). But acting dumb was what he did best. And it was why everyone was avoiding us.
     Finally, Tom’s friend Sherm, who’s party it was, came over and pulled Tom away to talk to him. He was making little hand gestures and looking worriedly at Ted, who kept probing the nut tray, and popping peanuts into his mouth.
     Tom came back and said Sherm thought we had better go. “Go?” Ted said loudly, and laughed. “What do you mean go? The party’s just starting. It’s just starting to get fun.” Tom grabbed his arm gently and said, “Come on.” But Ted tore away from him, said, “Fuck no! Who the fuck does he think he is?,” just like a raving drunk. By now everyone in the room had stopped talking and was nervously looking in our direction. Sherm came back over to try to smooth things over, talking to Ted, saying “I think you just had a little too much to drink,” to which Ted opened his mouth and in his mocking way, said “Oh, you do, do you, Sherm? Gee, I’m really sorry. Thanks a lot for bringing that to my attention, Sherm. Okay boys, let’s go,” like he was the sergeant of an infantry squad. Tom glanced at me and I shrugged, embarrassed, as I’m sure he was, afraid to look at the other guests. But what else could we do to get him out of there except play along with him, even if it meant every girl in that place would associate us with him for the rest of our lives?
    “Thanks a lot for coming, guys,” Sherm said in the doorway, just before closing the door behind us, and leaving us in the empty hallway, where the real trouble started.
     Ted ran down the stairs. We didn’t see him round the corner, where the big picture window overlooking the lawn below was, only heard his scream of “MOTHERFUCKER!!” and the crash of glass. Tom and I both froze for a moment. Then Tom said “shit” under his breath and ran down the stairs, where, when I got there, Ted was grinning before the gaping hole through which the five or six picnickers below could be seen frantically brushing themselves off, some of them screaming, some swearing, until one of them saw us standing there on the stairs, pointed, and shouted “There they are!” and headed for the door.
    “You better get lost,” Tom told Ted, who nodded, and ran back up the steps, headed for the other exit.
    “Great,” I said, “now they’re going to kill us.”
    “Did anyone ever tell you you worry too much?” Tom grinned and walked down the stairs ahead of me, meeting three angry guys, all of whom were bigger than both of us, football players probably. But Tom handled it calmly, said that we were on the way down the stairs when we heard the crash, but by the time we got there, whoever had done it was gone. They didn’t believe him at first, but he was so calm they finally bought it — something I never could have pulled off.
    After the football players settled down and went back to their picnic — miraculously no one was hurt — we saw Sherm hanging by the door. He approached us.
    “What happened?” he asked, looking right at me.
    Tom said, “Ted strikes again,” then walked away from him, down the walk.
    We caught up with Ted a block from the dorm. He jumped out “Boo!” from behind a big boulder — some sort of historical University rock — trying to scare us. Neither of us flinched. We were too loaded. Ted was laughing, thought it was the funniest goddamned thing anyone had ever done, kicking out that glass window. I didn’t know until then how loaded I really was. I started telling him how I really felt about him for the first time in three years. I called him every name I could think of. It wiped the grin off his ignorant face and, besides, it felt good getting it out.
    But I had to be very drunk to do it, because he was five inches taller than me and probably outweighed me by fifty pounds.
    Tom didn’t even know what was going on. I turned around and he wasn’t there. It was one of the reasons I’d lit into Ted, knowing that Tom was there. But now he was gone. That’s when Ted’s grin returned and he flew on me, his thick arms easily throwing me off balance. His knees were on my chest and he started pounding me in the face, then went for my neck. He was really serious about it. I thought I was a goner. But then, suddenly, Tom reappeared and, without a word, pulled Ted off of me and threw him on his back. Now both Ted and I were on our backs, panting, while Tom stood between us.
    “What the hell’d you do that for?” Tom said to Ted. “Are you out of your fucking mind?”
    “You didn’t hear,” Ted said, “you didn’t hear what he called me!”
    “I don’t give a shit what he called you. Don’t you have any self-control?”
    It was a good question, and one that went unanswered, as Ted and I slowly got back to our feet, and together, without a word, walked back, like two defeated fighters, to our adjacent apartments, with Tom pulling up the rear.

    And then there was the time Ted tried to kill Tom, me, and himself all at one time.
    It was 2 o’clock in the morning. Ted was at the wheel of my car, a Chevy Impala (really my dad’s, on loan), going one hundred miles an hour in the rain, through the hills of Tennessee, lunging headlong toward our ultimate destination. I was in the back seat, stretched out, trying to get some sleep, but afraid that if I fell asleep I would never wake up again. He was screeching like a wild man as he took each mountain turn and Tom, riding “shotgun,” wasn’t saying a word. Looking over the back of the front seat I saw why — he was out cold, oblivious to the dangers we had put ourselves into by letting Ted take control of the wheel. Ted was always trying to break some kind of wildness mark, do something crazier than his famous older brother. He had told us often enough about George’s wild adventures, and how George had gotten the best grades, was the best swimmer (took State two years in a row in the butterfly) and always, always, got the best pussy. The girls asked him out, Ted had said. When he was home on vacation, they actually called him so often at the house that his mom and dad had to take the phone off the hook. How many of us could say that? Not me, for sure. So George was this legendary guy, close to a god (although he looked just like a normal guy the one time he came to visit and Ted proudly showed him off to everyone). Ted was unwavering in his loyalty to his brother, and in his envy of him. He followed in his brother’s footsteps through high school, doing what George had done, constantly striving to live up to his brother’s achievements and antics, which he never could. Still, it didn’t stop him from trying. And, to tell the truth, even though I didn’t really know him, I would have preferred to have George driving my car that night.
    “Goddammit Ted! Why don’t ya’ slow down some!” I yelled over the seat after it had gotten to be too much for me to take.
    But George was also the king of Macho, of Danger. “Why?” Ted said, turning halfway around as we neared another curve, that crooked smile on his face, “Why, you afraid? You a wussy?”
    “Jesus, grow up!” I shouted. “I just want to live! Turn around, would you?”
    “Okay, okay,” he’d said, and turned around, let his foot off the gas some, so I’d felt better, lay down again on the seat and closed my eyes. But five minutes later he was right back where he’d been — I could tell by the whoosh of the wind, of the passing cars, as the thunder boomed around us, the rain drops pelted the cars like rocks from heaven. I popped up in my seat and looked out the window, said, “Oh God!” and popped back down, shut my eyes as hard as I could, afraid and, for the first time since I could remember, prayed, with my eyes shut uttering this simple plea: “Please God, let us make it there alive, let me survive this night. I want to live!”
    By morning the sky was clear, the sun was shining, like it had never happened. We drove down a street lined with palm trees and fell out of the car onto the hard sand of Daytona Beach. We had driven for 21 straight hours and had survived the nightmare of Ted’s mad drive.
    We ran into the Atlantic. The water was like ice but I stayed in it, looking out at the endless waves — this was as close to God as I had ever come. I put my face close to the water, and looking out to the horizon, muttered, “Thank you,” then turned and walked back to the car.

* * * * *

Tom Falls in Love

    We were sitting on the beach eating hot dogs, when Tom nudged me in the elbow and made me juggle, almost drop mine.
    “Take a look at that,” he said. He had stopped chewing.
    “Take a look at what?”
    “At that,” he said pointing with his half-chewed dog. “That...girl!” I was staring at his hot dog, at the mustard that was getting ready to drip off of it onto the hot white sand. “Over there!” he said, nudging me again, this time good enough to unlodge my dog from my hand and send it flying, bun and all, into the sand.
    “Thank you very much!” I said.
    But he didn’t hear me. He was staring, slack-jawed at the girl and, to my surprise, she was staring back at him, smiling.
    Her name was Sherry Long and, after that first encounter, after Tom stood up without a word and walked, like some entranced lemming to the call of his fate, to meet her, I barely saw Tom that whole week at Daytona. He was, probably for the first time, in love.
    And, after the week was over, she was all he would talk about. Sherry, with her long blonde hair, her Doublemint smile.
    There was only one problem, or maybe two. She lived in Montana and we went to school in Illinois. It was not the kind of distance that made it easy to carry on a relationship. And there was the other fact — she had a boyfriend back in Butte.
    Tom wrote to her constantly and started calling her every Friday night. Before he had been the picture of studiousness, sitting at his desk more often than not. Now he walked around in a fog, on edge, unhappy. I had afternoon classes; his were in the morning. Many times, as I was heading out, backpack slung on my shoulders, he’d rush in out of breath, asking, “Any mail?,” only to be disappointed to find out that, no, there was nothing from Sherry today. No pink, perfume-doused envelopes with little hearts drawn on the back.
    He took to moping around, wouldn’t go to the bars on weekends anymore. He’d gotten bit real bad. All his time was spent in silence, thinking, remembering her.
    He was crazy in love.
    He went to visit her that summer, spent two glorious weeks with her, he said. And, that fall, when classes started again, he continued his prior lovesick behavior, although he felt a little more confident now. Sherry had dumped her boyfriend. But over time things became strained between them.
    Tom had left a letter sitting around on his bed one day, after he’d gone to classes. I’d done the dishonorable thing, lifted the pink stationary to my nose for a surreptitious smell of what a romance might be like, then glanced at the words. She would always love him, she said, but the situation was getting to be impossible. They were just too far apart.
    For the next couple of months, Tom was gloomier than ever. He’d go out to the bars with me now, but wouldn’t say a word. Sometimes it would be at his insistence that we’d go. It got to be a habit. At nine o’clock sharp, off to the bars.
    But despite my questions, he wouldn’t say anything about Sherry, just that he didn’t want to talk about it. Until one night, after one beer too many, he broke down, told me all. He was desperate, she was going to end it between them, go back to her mechanic boyfriend. He had to do something. He had to go out there. He had to. It was the week before Thanksgiving, the coldest week before Thanksgiving in recent history. It had snowed ten inches the night before. And Montana was one of those snow places they showed on the news — running film of stranded cars on the highways, and motorists digging out buried cars.
    We shook hands the next morning. I wished him good luck. “This is crazy, you know,” I said.
    “I know,” he said. He was grinning when he said it, just like he used to, but it didn’t last long, no more than a second of two before the grim, determined look of more recent days set back in. Then he turned and walked off to his car with a backpack full of clothes.
    I wound up on a bus back to Chicago for Turkey Day — another holiday to tolerate with the family — trying to concentrate on Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying”, but distracted by the loud radio playing of a nearby passenger, and distracted by the snow. Lifting my head on occasion to look out over the snow-covered fields, wondering where Tom was right then.

    When he came back his face was drawn and white. He looked like a ghost. I didn’t even have to ask. “It’s over,” he said. “That’s all.”
    “Get your coat,” I said. He readily obliged.
    At the bar he told me about it, told me about the blizzard and the icy mountain road he’d slid on for about a hundred yards.
    “It was snowing so hard I couldn’t see a car’s length in front of me.” That was when the car had started to slide. He couldn’t see where he was going, if he was headed for the edge — that was the most terrifying thing about it, he said, not knowing.
    “When I got out of the car, after it finally stopped, one of the wheels was actually over the edge. It was still spinning. I looked over then and realized I was crazy, that it couldn’t go on between us. I mean I almost killed myself for her, Jack! It knocked some sense into me.”
    “So you turned around and came back home?”
    He looked at me with calm tolerance and carefully explained it to me, like I was a student who’d missed the main point of a lecture: “No. I’d gotten that far, so I had to see it through.”
    Then his eyes got hot and he slammed the bar with his fist. “Don’t you understand, Jack? Don’t you understand a goddamned thing?”

* * * * *

Calling up the Past

    Five years later I call Tom. I’ve been writing about Ted, trying to remember the details about all his crazy antics, before his big crack up after graduation. I work in sales now for my job (what more could someone with a bachelor’s in psychology go into, after all, except maybe the management track in retail or a fast food restaurant?). I work on my stories on the side (we all have dreams).
    I have a beer before I call Tom. It helps — I haven’t talked to him in almost two years, since the last time I saw him back in Chicago, on one of my infrequent visits back there.
    Neither of us has seen Ted since just after graduation, when we ran into him in a bar. The thing I can’t remember was why Ted threw his roommate Kurt’s bicycle off the balcony of their second floor apartment. My memory of it is that he wanted to see if it would bounce back up. Tom thinks it’s because he was mad at Kurt for something or other, but he can’t remember what. It was a brand new ten-speed and was smashed beyond repair.
    Then Tom says, “I just got back into town.”
    “Oh?” I say. “Where were you?” I assume he’s been on some business trip for his company, or went on one of his exotic vacations. But it wasn’t that. He tells me he was in a correctional facility up in Wisconsin for the last eighteen months. He’d been drunk, had an accident. Someone — a girl — had died, and he’d been convicted of vehicular homicide. I don’t say anything, I don’t know what to say.
    He says, “It’s good to be home.” And, sitting in my chair, in my safe little cubicle of an apartment hundreds of miles away, I stare at the white wall in front of me, feeling, for a moment, that I’ve melted in, become part of it. Thinking Where has the past gone and how did we get where we are now?
    And from the tunnel of the phone comes the distant voice: “Jack, Jack, are you still there?”












Crazy Crayons, art by Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz

Crazy Crayons, art by Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz
















Heart’s Ease

Gwenellen Tarbet

    Myrna knew no good was going to come out of this whole experience. She shivered on the bench in the police station in her nightgown and bathrobe and fully expected that her next stop would be the nut barn. She shifted her weight, and winced as her pink rubber boots squeaked on the grimy linoleum. A young girl wearing a red strapless prom dress was passed out on Myrna’s left shoulder. She reeked of booze and vomit. Myrna tried several times to push her away, but magnet-like, she invariably found Myrna’s shoulder again. To her right, an agitated young man moaned and shrieked in an ever increasing crescendo of pain. When his shrieking reached its apex, the uniformed policemen barked, “Settle down Murphy!” and the whole sequence would begin anew.
    Myrna’s movements were hampered by the handcuffs on her wrists and she was resigned to the presence of the drunk girl on her shoulder. Her eyes followed the swirling ghosts of vomit past on the ancient floor tile in a desperate meditation.
    “Breathe” she mumbled.
    “Lloydd!” The cop at the desk shouted.
    Myrna startled and timidly raised her hand.
    She raised her hands. “Right here.”
    He didn’t bother to hide his amusement as he took in the sight of her. Muddy fuzzy robe covered with purple and pink butterflies and big rubber boots. Her hair was a knotted mess. Somewhere in all the confusion of the arrest she’d lost her hair clip and now the grey curls resembled a seedy dandelion. The young cop stood up. His face was impossibly youthful. Myrna suppressed the urge to ask him if his mother knew where he was.
    “This way please.” He said.
    The weight of the Prom Queen on her shoulder made it difficult to stand up and her boot made a shrill RRRRREEEEEAAAAAAPPPP sound as she struggled to get her balance. The officer waited impatiently by a closed door and punched in a code as she approached.
    “Fingerprints.” He said.
    She watched the gun on his hip sway back and forth as she followed him down the wide hallway. She pictured herself deftly grabbing the gun and waving it around shouting, “You’ll never take me alive, Coppers!” She bit her lip against the hysterical giggling that threatened to engulf her. Her arms and legs felt like they didn’t belong to her anymore and she wondered if she was having a stroke. She wondered if it would be better than the complete mental breakdown that was now stalking her like a wolf.
    “Please, can you tell me again what the charges are? I still don’t quite understand the first one.”
    “Interfering with a dead body, assault, obstruction of justice, resisting arrest.” He said.
    “I don’t understand the interfering with a dead body one.” She said.
    The young officer smirked. “You do however understand the assault charge?”
    “Yes.”
    The sign on the door read “Booking.” Fingerprints were taken forms were filled out.
    “Name?”
    “Myrna Patricia Lloydd. Two “L’s” Two “D’s””
    She added 10 pounds to her weight and subtracted an inch from her height just to be ornery.
    “Marital Status?”
    “Divorced.”
    “Next of Kin?”
    “None.”
    He paused typing for a moment. “No emergency contact? No one you can call?”
    “No. You can put yourself down there if you like.”
    He shook his head and continued completing the paperwork. He put her in a windowless room with a table and two chairs and told her to wait. He removed the handcuffs and she accepted his offer of a cup of tea. She sat in the chair and stared at the table. The word ‘divorced’ circled her brain in big red letters, demanding attention.
    “Marital Status: Divorced.”
    Once, only a couple of years ago, she could have called Harold. She found lately though that she was reluctant to pay the price of asking for help. She worked hard at not thinking about Harold. She didn’t like remembering. Memory was a flat brown plain filled with unexploded mines. Or maybe more accurately, a hoard of zombies, that constantly attacked the defensive wall of Forgetting that Myrna built around her soul. Hungry memories that ate her sanity if aloud to run unchecked. The wall against them was a cobbled together thing; a gossamer web in some places. The act of will that it took to maintain that wall was exhausting and Myrna was at the end of her resources. A dead woman in her garden achieved what the living could not.

    Harold is packing his suitcase. She is sitting on the edge of the bed watching.
    “I just can’t live like this anymore Myrna.” He stacks his neatly folded his socks into the suitcase he used on their honeymoon. “Ever since your mother died, you’ve been emotionally distant.
    “I’ve been emotionally distant for twenty years.” Myrna thinks. “Inconvenience has sharpened your senses.”
    “We don’t talk, you act like I’m not here. Hell I can’t even touch you without you pulling back! It’s like you’ve turned to ice.”
    She feels nothing as she watches her husband pack his bag. She finds that she likes the thought of being icy cold. Cold as Ice. She’s the Ice Princess. No, she’s the snow Queen. Might as well be at the top of the heap.
    “I love you Myrna, but this is killing me.”
    “Don’t be dramatic Harold. She says. He hears the shards of ice in her voice.
    His dejected look reminds her of a hound dog. She hums the Elvis song softly and doesn’t try to hide the new spring in her step as she hurries to the kitchen to load the dishwasher. She’ll wait till he’s gone to wash the sheets.

    Myrna sipped her badly brewed tea. The events of the morning were nagging at the corners of her mind, memory demanding attention and muddling her mind. She had woken up, she made coffee, she had looked out the window and there was a dead body in her garden. Okay at first she hadn’t known it was a dead body. At first she was annoyed because she thought someone had dumped a pile of their trash on her flowers. As she stared out the window, a sick feeling grew in her stomach. She recognized the coat that topped the pile of garbage. Myrna almost turned away and pretended not to see. Instead, she put on her gardening boots and walked out to the flowerbed, her heart thumping in her ears. No, it wasn’t garbage lying there on top of her Heart’s Ease. She knew this woman tenuously. She knelt in the soft earth and felt for a pulse on her neck. Nothing. It confirmed what Myrna already knew; the woman’s open eyes were opaque in death.
    She called the police on the house phone, returned with a soft afghan and placed it gently over the woman. Despite the wet grass, she sat down and waited for the authorities to come. It seemed discourteous to leave her alone in the garden.
    Heart’s Ease made them sisters, or at least first cousins. Heart’s Ease were the little flowers that bloomed in her garden until the first frosts of winter sent them to sleep. One of the few memories Myrna allowed to shelter inside the defensive fortress of her mind was of the day her mother told her about the flowers.
    “They’re elf flowers! Myrna believes this with all her heart.
    Momma laughs. “Perhaps sweetheart but humans call them Heart’s Ease, wild pansies.”

    The blossoms colonized her garden, the lawn and between the cracks in the asphalt driveway with fearless yellow and purple abandon. Myrna loved their untamed spirit. She could understand why the woman would choose to lay down on this carpet of flowers and die. She couldn’t think of a more beautiful death. The final erasure of memory. Perfect past tense.
    “Momma why are they called “Heart’s Ease?” Myrna is four years old and they are out in the warm sun of spring. She has her head on Momma’s stomach as they lie on the front lawn amongst the tall grass and the dandelions and the Heart’s Ease. She is staring at the clouds as they billow and wander like waves in the bright blue ocean of the sky. She inhales the smell of the sunshine and the warm green breeze makes her skin tingle. Momma’s, tangy woman’s musk mingled with the yeasty smell of bread still means love and absolute safety.
    Momma is stroking Myrna’s long blonde hair. “Look at them Honey, don’t they look like they’re smiling at you?”
    Myrna rolls on to her stomach to study the Heart’s Ease up close. The yellow centres have violet marks.
    “They’re laughing.” Myrna giggles.
    They resemble a giddy mob.
    Momma grasps a flower and pulls it gently. “They ease your heart with their happiness. They grow in the loneliest most forsaken places and fill them with beauty, and that beauty makes your heart easier. They remind me of you honey.”
    Myrna’s heart swells with love for her mother. She can’t imagine any day that will be as wonderful as this one. The world is a joyful place and she knows with the certainty of a small child that it will be so forever.

    The woman who died in her garden, atop Myrna’s pansies always dressed in black. Black cloth coat, black long skirt and a black scarf. Mourning every morning. Myrna noticed her as she stopped to look at the flowers. She looked up and saw Myrna in her kitchen window, pointed at the flowers and smiled. Her lined face lit up and she looked happy and glowing. Then with her cane in her knotted hand, she continued her daily journey.

    Momma is in the nursing home. Myrna visits her every day.
    “Why can’t I go home?” Momma asks again.
    Myrna is used to the question.
    “You can go home tomorrow Momma.” She says in a soothing voice like one would use with a cranky child. This answer satisfies Momma for now.
    “I have a surprise for you Momma.” She goes out into the hallway and comes back with a long rectangular planter. It is full of violet and yellow pansies.
    “I got these from your garden. I’m going to put these by your window.”
    Momma’s eyes widen with delight. “Oh I love those flowers. My daughter Myrna and I used to lay with them in the grass all summer long.”
    Momma claps her hands. “I wouldn’t let Geoff cut the lawn all summer long because of those flowers. It used to make him so mad!” Momma laughs.
    “Heart’s Ease.” Myrna says.
    She makes room on the window sill for the flowers and gives them a little water from the jug on the table. She turns back to Momma in the bed. Harold is always complaining that she spends too much time here. He said so again this morning as she was gathering her things for the day.
    “You’re exhausted when you come home. You haven’t made a decent dinner in months. He points to the shirt he is wearing. I’ve been ironing my own clothes.”
    He flops on the bed, and looks at her with the big puppy dog eyes that once melted her heart. “I thought the nursing home was supposed to make things easier.”
    Myrna stares at him and wonders who this man in her bedroom thinks he is.
    It is a month later, and Momma is disappearing further into the shadows of her mind. Most days, Myrna sits by her in the chair by the bed, knitting mittens. Blue, orange, yellow and purple, she has spent an eternity in this chair. The room is lit by the grey light of winter and the florescent bulbs ping and buzz overhead.
    Her mother’s voice, unusually loud cracks the silence and Myrna jumps, startled.
    “Jessica, do you know what Myrna told me when she was nine?” Jessica was Myrna’s Aunt, her mother’s sister. Myrna looks like Jessica at forty-five.
    “Do you know what she said?” The voice is now whisper thin, old newspapers rubbing together and crumbling at a touch. Myrna’s heart stops. She knows that she doesn’t want to know, but she does nothing to stop her mother from speaking.
    “Myrna said Ralph comes into her room at night and does things to her.”
    Ralph was Momma’s brother. Happy, jocular, he used to come over and drink beer with Myrna’s father on Saturday nights. She remembers listening to their booming laughter through the door of her bedroom. Laughter at jokes Momma didn’t approve of.
    Myrna stops knitting. She is unable to move. She is made of glass and the slightest vibration threatens to shatter her.
    “I told her to never tell anyone. I told her it would never happen again, but she needed to forget about it or it would kill our family.”
    Myrna is pressing the knitting needle into the palm of her left hand. Pressing further and further into the flesh.
    “I know she kept the secret, but oh Jessica, she’s never been the same since. She used to be so happy and trusting, and now.” Momma frowns, “Now it’s like she doesn’t see us at all. She’s here but she’s gone. I know she’s unhappy and it’s all my fault. I didn’t protect her.”
    The remembered scent of the monster who came in the darkness stinking of beer and cigarettes and old spice invades her nostrils. The fear-filled memory of listening for Ralph’s footfall at the door, the slow turning of the knob, makes her mouth dry. She remembers concentrating on the warm yellow slit of light shining under the door where safety and love were only a few feet away but completely unreachable.
    “You be quiet Myrna, you don’t want to cause trouble do you? Your Uncle Ralph is just showing you how special you are. It’s our little secret.”
    Pleasure and shame served from the same cup.
    When she told Momma, Momma cried so hard. Myrna knew then that she should have kept silent. It was all her fault. She was a bad girl. so she never told anyone again. She kept the secret. She forgot about everything.
    Myrna wonders why her hand hasn’t started bleeding. Surely the needle has pierced her flesh.
    “I was wrong Jessica. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to make it better.”
    The needle has indeed pierced the flesh. Myrna drops it and uses the yellow mitten to staunch the flow of blood. Despite the vibration in her soul and her body; she does not shatter.
    Myrna takes a deep, deep breath. She becomes Jessica for her mother. “Put it out of your mind. Myrna’s fine. Look, she’s married. She’s alright. Forget about it.”
    She looks up at Momma’s face, but she is gone back into the shadows. Myrna goes into the bathroom to run her hand under cold water. She throws the mitten into the garbage and never knits anything again. Surprisingly the wound heals without a scar. No stigmata. Even her skin knows how to forget.
    The past is a Presence.

    Myrna waited in the silence. She wished they would hurry up. The cop she assaulted was cruel. She should have known better. Cruel people didn’t like their assumptions challenged. They didn’t like resistance. Punishment was always certain, swift and severe. There was no use in fighting. She should have just gone back into the house instead of having a one-sided conversation with a dead woman while the wet grass soaked her underwear through the fuzzy housecoat.
    “I wonder why you wore black.” She said to the corpse. What were you mourning? I wish I would have asked you.”
    She imagined herself coming across the lawn one morning with a cup of tea, because the woman in black looked like a tea drinking kind of woman. She imagined bringing her into the house and hearing her story. Maybe a much-loved husband taken too soon. Maybe the tragedy of a child gone before the parent. Maybe the death of an unforgiven parent. What were the threads of hurt and loss woven into that garment of grief?
    The dead woman offered no insight.
    Myrna tried to breathe while Memory continued its assault her carefully constructed defenses. Regret with its poisoned litany of ‘what ifs’ rode in its wake. She was drowning.
    “I’m wondering a lot of things.” She hesitated and took a deep breath. “Can you see from where you are I wonder? Do you know what I did to her?”
    The nursing home calls. I’m afraid your mother has passed.” The Administrator tells her with just the right note of sympathy in her smooth practiced voice. Myrna wonders if she has a card with the words on it. Does she prepare her voice before making the phone call? Myrna supposes she gets plenty of practice delivering this one line. She bites her tongue to suppress a giggle.
    She goes into the Home and signs papers and is told by the Administrator that Momma’s effects need to be gathered up. She enters the room, and is greeted by the familiar sounds of the lights buzzing. There are a few pictures, bottles of medication, a robe, and several nightgowns. She stands numbly fingering the old crochet throw. She waits for tears but nothing comes.
    The planter with the Heart’s Ease is still on the window sill. The flowers are dry and crumble between her fingers. The planter is the only thing she takes with her. Once home, she dumps the soil from the planter in the garden between the aloof rose bushes and throws the planter in the big grey garbage can. She sits up all that night waiting for tears that never come. Her heart is icy cold. Everyone in the remaining family is furious with her because there is no funeral, no memorial. She’s given her mother’s body to science. Signed the papers without even blinking. Wham bam, you’re a cadaver ma’am.

    Who, if not the woman in black, could she tell?
    “I wonder if I would have married Harold if Uncle Ralph hadn’t done what he did.” Her throat closed and she was choking. The malignant words hung in the air between her and the dead woman and she cowered against the wave upon wave of Memories that poured over her now defenseless mind. Compelled to finish what she had begun, she moved to her hands and knees beside the dead woman and clutched the cloth of her black skirt desperately in one hand.
    The killing words tore at her throat as she uttered them, “I wonder if I’ll ever be able to forgive my mother.”
    In the silence that followed, the bloated poisonous words began to lose their power and were carried away on the breeze. She could breathe again. Her hand loosened its desperate grip and after a moment she rubbed the silky cloth between her finger and her thumb.
    “I think black is a good idea. I might start wearing it myself. It’s more honest. Here I am world, sad as shit, so leave me alone.”
    She picked a handful of flowers and laid them on the woman’s chest. “Can you give these to Momma for me?” Myrna said.
    The police and the ambulance arrived. They confirmed the woman’s death, took pictures and disposed of the remains. The ambulance attendant was very kind. When the flowers on the woman’s chest fell off, he carefully picked them up and put them in her pocket. He gave Myrna a shy smile. The zipping of the body bag still echoed in Myrna’s ears when a detective began to interview her. She described how she found the body. No, she didn’t know the woman’s name, but she came by every morning to look at the flowers. The detective was a polite young man.
    His partner wasn’t. His partner was a big man with a beer belly and a wrinkled suit jacket 20 years out of fashion. The partner began to stomp over the Heart’s Ease grinding his heels into the small flowers and killing them. The flowers remembered the woman in black and the horrible man was destroying that memory with careless arrogance.
    Excuse me, Myrna called to him. “Do you really have to do that?”
    The horrible man took a sip from his travel mug. “Looking for evidence.”
    “I understand, but please can you be careful of the flowers?”
    He strode over to her, nudging the younger detective out of the way.
    “I’m Detective McCannon.” He said. The words flowed over her face in a waft of stale beer and garlic. Up close she could see the broken veins in his nose. His voice was jocular, easy going, a veneer covering bullish violence.
    “Now if you’ll just be quiet,” He said. I’ll be done in a minute.”
    She felt dizzy.
    The past becomes the present.
    Uncle Ralph in the darkness. The smell of beer mixes with the copper smell of blood. “Just lay still Myrna, he pants. “It’ll be over in a minute.”
    Momma says, “Honey, Dad works for Uncle Ralph and we can’t afford to make trouble. You need to forget about it and it will be like it never happened. You can do it sweetheart, you can forget. Please don’t tell anyone. I’ll make sure it never happens again.” The desperate plea in her voice scares Myrna most of all.
    Harold whining, “I don’t want you to work. A woman’s job is to take care of her man. Why would you want to do anything else?” The reproof in his voice still carries the power to wound.
    Minutes last forever.
    Memory is happening in the moment of remembering.
    McCannon turns away from her and walks deliberately on the flowers. She sees how he gives each step a little extra twist on the ball of his foot. The yellow and violet petals separate from their stems and are pushed into the moist dark earth, delicate roots exposed. The Heart’s Ease’ memory of the woman’s body is wiped out with each careful destructive step.
    “Stop!” Myrna shouts.
    She moves swiftly. She goes after McCannon at a run, shoulder low. Each running step dug into the soil for maximum leverage. Her father had shown her how on warm spring afternoons before being a good quiet girl became more important than having fun. Her legs remember their former swiftness and power and she glories in McCannon’s look of stunned surprise as she hits him mid-torso. Memory became/becomes a blur. She remembers satisfaction at his bellow of pain as her knee connects with his testicles. She is flat on the ground, her arms behind her being handcuffed. Her fuzzy butterfly robe is covered with dirt and there is shouting. A crowd has formed on the sidewalk, and she vaguely remembers applause.
    In the room alone with Memory, she picks the dry dirt off her robe and carefully piles it on the cold metal of the table. A woman with a huge briefcase comes into the room and introduces herself as duty council. She reads Myrna’s file. Myrna tries to control the trembling in her arms and legs and concentrates on her breathing.
    “There’s some pretty serious charges here.” The woman says. “Although, I think I can have the interfering with a dead body one dropped. “There’s really no evidence.”
    She looks at Myrna over her glasses.
    “I’m not sorry about assaulting McCannon.” Myrna says.
    The woman smirks. “Knowing him, you shouldn’t be. However ....” She pulls out a pen. “You’d better tell me what happened and for God’s sake tell me the truth, it makes it so much easier that way.”
    Myrna stares at the lawyer. She sits on her hands to hide the shaking and the woman frowns in concern.
    “Are you all right?” she asks.
    Myrna giggles. “No.” she says. “I’m not all right. I’m in mourning.”
    She begins to cry. She wets her finger with her tongue and picks up the fragments of dirt from the little pile and rubs them on her face so they can mix with her tears.












Sunset, photography by Olivier Schopfer

Sunset, photography by Olivier Schopfer
















Earth was Alive and Dying

Janet Kuypers
4/22/17 Earth Day edit of “Everything Was Alive and Dying”

I had a dream the other night
I walked out of the city
to a forest
and there were neatly paved bicycle paths
and trash cans every fifty feet
and trash every ten

And I walked deeper in to the forest
managed to get away from the
picnic tables and the outhouses
that lined the forest edges
the roaring cars gave way to the
rustling of tree branches
crackling of fallen leaves
under my step

when the wind tunneled through
the wind whistled and sang
as it flew past the bark

and leaves

I walked
listened to the crack of dead branches
under my feet
and I felt a branch against my shoulder
I looked up and I could hear
the trees speak to me,
and they said
thank you for letting the
endangered animals live here amongst us
we do think they’re so pretty
and it would be a shame to see them go
and thank you for recycling paper
because you’re saving us
for just a little while longer

we’ve been on this planet for so long
embedded in the earth
we do have souls, you know
you can hear it in our songs
we cling with our roots
we don’t want to let go

and I said, but I don’t do much,
I don’t do enough
and they said we know
but we’ll take what we can get

and I woke up in a sweat

Do you even know why
we should save the rain forest?
Oh preserve the delicate balance,
just tear the whole forest down,
what difference does it make?
Put in some orange groves
so our concentrate orange juice
can be a little cheaper

did you know that medical researchers
have a very, very hard time
trying to come up with synthetic
cures for diseases on their own?
It helps them out a little if they can first
find the substance in nature.
A tree that appears in the rain forest
may be the only one of its species.
Or one like it may be two miles away,
instead of right next to it. I wonder
how many cures we’ve destroyed
to plant more orange groves.
Serves us right.

everything is linked here
we destroy our animals
so we can be wasteful and violent
we destroy our plants
we destroy our earth
we’re even destroying our air
we wreak havoc on the soil, on the atmosphere
we dump our wastes into our lakes
we pump aerosol cans and exhaust pipes

and these animals and forests keep calling out to me
the oceans, the wind

in the wild
you have no power over anyone else

now that we’re civilized
we create our own wild

maybe when we have all this power
the only choice we have
is to destroy ourselves

and so we do



video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video from 4/22/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Earth was Alive and Dying” and “Haiku (poet)” at “Poetry Aloud” in Georgetown (from a Lumix camera).
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video from 4/22/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poem “Earth was Alive and Dying” and “Haiku (poet)” at “Poetry Aloud” in Georgetown (from a Sony camera).











Janet Kuypers Bio

    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. 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. Starting at this time Kuypers released a large number of CD releases currently available for sale at iTunes or amazon, including “Across the Pond”(a 3 CD set of poems by Oz Hardwick and Janet Kuypers with assorted vocals read to acoustic guitar of both Blues music and stylized Contemporary English Folk music), “Made Any Difference” (CD single of poem reading with multiple musicians), “Letting It All Out”, “What we Need in Life” (CD single by Janet Kuypers in Mom’s Favorite Vase of “What we Need in Life”, plus in guitarist Warren Peterson’s honor live recordings literally around the globe with guitarist John Yotko), “hmmm” (4 CD set), “Dobro Veče” (4 CD set), “the Stories of Women”, “Sexism and Other Stories”, “40”, “Live” (14 CD set), “an American Portrait” (Janet Kuypers/Kiki poetry to music from Jake & Haystack in Nashville), “Screeching to a Halt” (2008 CD EP of music from 5D/5D with Janet Kuypers poetry), “2 for the Price of 1” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from Peter Bartels), “the Evolution of Performance Art” (13 CD set), “Burn Through Me” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from The HA!Man of South Africa), “Seeing a Psychiatrist” (3 CD set), “The Things They Did To You” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “Hope Chest in the Attic” (audio CD set), “St. Paul’s” (3 CD set), “the 2009 Poetry Game Show” (3 CD set), “Fusion” (Janet Kuypers poetry in multi CD set with Madison, WI jazz music from the Bastard Trio, the JoAnne Pow!ers Trio, and Paul Baker), “Chaos In Motion” (tracks from Internet radio shows on Chaotic Radio), “Chaotic Elements” (audio CD set for the poetry collection book and supplemental chapbooks for The Elements), “etc.” audio CD set, “Manic Depressive or Something” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “Singular”, “Indian Flux” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “The Chaotic Collection #01-05”, “The DMJ Art Connection Disc 1” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “Oh.” audio CD, “Live At the Café” (3 CD set), “String Theory” (Janet Kuypers reading other people's poetry, with music from “the DMJ Art Connection), “Scars Presents WZRD radio” (2 CD set), “SIN - Scars Internet News”, “Questions in a World Without Answers”, “Conflict • Contact • Control”, “How Do I Get There?”, “Sing Your Life”, “Dreams”, “Changing Gears”, “The Other Side”, “Death Comes in Threes”, “the final”, “Moving Performances”, “Seeing Things Differently”, “Live At Cafe Aloha”, “the Demo Tapes” (Mom’s Favorite Vase), “Something Is Sweating” (the Second Axing), “Live In Alaska” EP (the Second Axing), “the Entropy Project”, “Tick Tock” (with 5D/5D), “Six Eleven” “Stop. Look. Listen.”, “Stop. Look. Listen to the Music” (a compilation CD from the three bands “Mom’s Favorite Vase”, “Weeds & Flowers” and “The Second Axing”), and “Change Rearrange” (the performance art poetry CD with sampled music).
    From 2010 through 2015 Kuypers also hosted the Chicago poetry open mic the Café Gallery, while also broadcasting weekly feature and open mic podcasts that were also released as YouTube videos.
    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, po•em, 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&d 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. 2017, after hr October 2015 move to Austin Texas, also witnessed the release of 2 Janet Kuypers book of poetry written in Austin, “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” and a book of poetry written for her poetry features and show, “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 show poems” (and both pheromemes books are available from two printers).








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