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The Writing Disorder is a quarterly literary journal. We publish exceptional new works of fiction, poetry, nonfiction and art. We also feature interviews with writers and artists, as well as reviews.

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The Art of Katarina Zuder

 

Synthesis 1

 

Synthesis 2

 

Synthesis 3

 

Tao

 

Craving Loss 1

 

Craving Loss 2

 

Craving Loss 3

 

Martyr of Your Pleasure

 

Lady Grinning Soul

 

Perfect Girl

 

Ghoul

 

Mindful

 

 

BIO

Katarina Zuder is an artist currently attending the Myers School of Art in Akron, Ohio. She is working towards a major in studio art and a minor in illustration. Her signature style consists of watercolor and ink; but has gotten into other mediums more recently. She finds her inspiration through her battle with anxiety, the societal standards set for women, music and religion. Her work has been a part of the 83rd Annual Juried Exhibition at the University of Akron and as the album art of local musicians. You can contact her through @katarina.zuder on Instagram.

 

 

 

Here are the links to her work:

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bx0aXIfBbR3/?igshid=197vkqw52nokn

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bw-XRGchZlY/?igshid=9ipos292vtvv

https://www.instagram.com/p/BwDGdWlBsi6/?igshid=1msrv344pbvjb

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bk5aSLfh1-O/?igshid=68xitdvbl1mf

https://www.instagram.com/p/BdvOBtTA4Pg/?igshid=1kccv7f9rxme6

https://www.instagram.com/p/BTsT5hADhow/?igshid=1dd6hv9zq8wvt

https://www.instagram.com/p/BSkZ4eIgmp6/?igshid=9ark8sud986r

https://www.instagram.com/p/BKd2rXfgeNf/?igshid=11z4744pdzuxi

https://www.instagram.com/p/BipVz_yhpiB/?igshid=92z55bruxvcw

 

 

 

INTERVIEW: Mallory O’Meara

Author of The Lady from the Black Lagoon

 

Photo by Allan Amato

 

BIOGRAPHY

Mallory O’Meara is an author and filmmaker. She has been a producer for the independent film company Dark Dunes Productions since 2013. Her latest film, the live-action puppet feature Yamasong: March of the Hollows, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Nathan Fillion and Abigail Breslin, was released in spring of 2019.

Her first book is bestselling nonfiction work The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick.

Whether it’s for the screen or the page, Mallory seeks creative projects filled with horror and monsters. A New England native, she now lives in Los Angeles with her two cats.

Every week, Mallory hosts the literary podcast Reading Glasses alongside filmmaker and writer Brea Grant. Reading Glasses is part of the Maximum Fun podcast network.

 

 

As a teenager, Mallory O’Meara was thrilled to discover that one of her favorite movies, Creature from the Black Lagoon, featured a monster designed by a woman, Milicent Patrick. But for someone who should have been hailed as a pioneer in the genre there was little information available. For, as O’Meara soon discovered, Patrick’s contribution had been claimed by a jealous male colleague, her career had been cut short and she soon after had disappeared from film history. No one even knew if she was still alive.

As a young woman working in the horror film industry, O’Meara set out to right the wrong, and in the process discovered the full, fascinating story of an ambitious, artistic woman ahead of her time. Patrick’s contribution to special effects proved to be just the latest chapter in a remarkable, unconventional life, from her youth growing up in the shadow of Hearst Castle, to her career as one of Disney’s first female animators. And at last, O’Meara discovered what really had happened to Patrick after The Creature’s success, and where she went.

A true-life detective story and a celebration of a forgotten feminist trailblazer, Mallory O’Meara’s The Lady from the Black Lagoon establishes Patrick in her rightful place in film history while calling out a Hollywood culture where little has changed since.

 

 

WD: Congratulations on your new book! It’s quite an amazing story. How long did it take you to write — from concept to completion?

This book took about three years, from first getting the idea to handing off the final draft.

 

WD: When writing a book or script, what is your typical routine for the day?

I don’t have a day routine at all! I’m a night writer. I can only work creatively when the sun is down. I spend the day doing administrative work with my film company and working on my podcast, Reading Glasses. Then, I write for 3-4 hours in the evening, as soon as the sun sets.

 

WD: Where do you usually write?

I write at my desk at home in my little office. If I have to write in public, I prefer going to a library.

 

WD: Describe your work space, and the tools you use?

All of my projects start out in notebooks. My work space is filled with notebooks, outlines, highlighters and index cards. All of these eventually coalesce into what gets typed into my laptop.

 

WD: Bela Lugosi lived in the Valley, lots of famous people did. I always find it interesting to see the homes celebrities lived in. Is Milicent Patrick’s home in Sherman Oaks still there?

It is, but it is no longer in the family.

 

WD: What was your best research find/person, besides her family?

There were so many great research finds on this project! One of the best was getting access to all the production materials for CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON in the University of Southern California’s Cinematic Arts Library.

 

WD: What was the most difficult part of writing your book?

Tracking down all the different parts of Milicent’s life was the most difficult part. The actual writing of the book was a breeze compared to the years of research and detective work.

 

WD: What are you working on now?

I am working on several new books, hopefully which I’ll be able to announce soon!

 

WD: What music do you listen to? Do you listen to music when you write?

I listen to a wide variety of music, but my favorites are metal, 50s doo wop and Tom Waits. I always listen to music when I write and I try to match the feel of what I’m writing to the music I’m listening to.

 

WD: Are there any other stories about unheralded/unsung/unknown women you would like to tell?

There are, but I unfortunately can’t talk about them yet!

 

WD: Name your favorite writers and filmmakers—past or present?

My favorite writer is Shirley Jackson, the queen of American Horror. I have many favorite filmmakers, but the two at the top of the list are David Lynch and Guillermo del Toro.

 

WD: Any advice for writers or filmmakers starting out today?

Don’t be afraid to make bad art! It’s much easier to fix a bad piece of writing than it is to fix a piece of writing that doesn’t exist yet.

 

WD: Thank you for participating. We appreciate your time.

 

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION: malloryomeara.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Time is a Whisper

by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal

 

Time is a
whisper
that grows
to a
scream
in the pregnant
belly of
evening
under stars
not fully
formed.

Time always
squeaks by
twisting
its mouse
tail
in dark boarded
up houses
searching
for a hole
to crawl
in.

 

 

At Sea

 

The last agony
I left at sea,
the moon as witness
from its sky home.
The last time I wept
was at sea, the
first time was in the
hospital and
it was day one
of life in the world.
Sea was where I went,
always the sea,
where I spent my days
with my love and
my heart’s real terror.

 

 

Grain of Rice

 

In a grain of rice
I hid my verses,
a tiny island
of dark messages
trained to remain hushed.

Difficult to see,
verses disappear;
they become lost in
the thin grain of rice.
The words become lies.

The verses appear
as the grain of rice
becomes two, three, four,
hundreds of grains of
rice, boiled, with garlic

and salt added; soy
sauce, butter, slices of
bananas, onions,
and tomato sauce.
The verses appear.

 

 

Reading In

 

I have been reading in
I take a lot of
small breaks. I have
been gleaming over words
that I wish I had written.
In the backyard birds
sing like I wish I could
too. The whole day
I do not go out
because I am reading in
My eyes become
weary. The car sits
idle in the driveway.
The sun peeks in from
outside. The garbage
is in here. I have not
written a thing.
I have been reading in
I have made no effort
to go out. I feel free.
I do what I want to do.

 

 

 

 

BIO

Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, born in Mexico, lives in Southern California, and works in the mental health field in Los Angeles. His first book of poems, Raw Materials, was published by Pygmy Forest Press. His other poetry books, broadsides, and chapbooks, have been published by Alternating Current Press, Deadbeat Press, Kendra Steiner Editions, New American Imagist, New Polish Beat, Poet’s Democracy, and Ten Pages Press (e-book).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historic(!) Rugby

by Time Miller

 

 

“Everybody loves a story.” —William Zinsser in “Writing To Learn”

 

Gather around friends and let me tell you a tale, the tale of historic Rugby, TN. It all starts with an Englishman named Thomas Hughes born in 1822 somewhere in England that ends in -shire. Thomas, known in this story hencewith as The Tomster, goes to this prominent, progressive school called the Rugby School, in Rugby—somewhere different in England that also ends in -shire.

Then in 1857 the Tomster writes this book about his experience called Tom Brown’s School Days which becomes something of a classic, ushers in an entire British school genre, becomes a big textbook in Japan, and even inspires the Harry Potter series, if you can believe it. The book, in a nutshell, “espouses the ideals of Christian socialism.” It’s all about what the Tomster feels is the ideal way to develop boys into men that will make for a good society for all— a real page-turner.

A big influence on the Tomster was his headmaster at Rugby, one Dr. Thomas Arnold. This guy, henceforth known as Dr. T-Bone, was a religious zealot that based his educational system on Classical languages. One interesting thing about Dr. T-Bone is that he pulled the plug on physical science and wrote, basically, that he would rather his son think that the sun goes round the Earth and that the stars are a bunch of spangles as long as he is straight on Christian moral and political philosophy. Dr. T-Bone had three primary objectives, in this presumably very rigid order: 1) cure of the soul 2) moral development and 3) intellectual development. It’s fair to say that 3) is probably something of a distant third.

So Dr. T-Bone had this big influence on education all over England, resulting in a bunch of schools adopting his structure and ideals. He may have had a lot to do with sport, like cricket, becoming a big part of schools, but this part is a tad ambiguous.

Anyway, the Tomster is clearly a big fan of Dr. T-Bone and really buys into his whole philosophy regarding Christian values and morals, and latches on to this idea of cooperative ownership of community businesses.

As the 1860’s get underway, the Tomster is a world famous author and English gentleman and has a bunch of author writer friends. One of which is this poet James Russell Lowell, henceforwithal known as Lowball. Lowball is a Harvard grad, a Romantic poet, and part of a group of New England Poets called the Fireside Poets. These bards earned this name, presumably, because you can read their poems to your family right at the—you guessed it—fireside. (This group managed to set itself apart from the other poetry and groups of poets of the era: the higher-quality and longer-lasting, but ultimately more costly poetry of the Beeswaxcandleside Poets; the cheaper, quicker, and unpleasant smelling Animalfatcandleside Poets—often read near mirrors to double their weak and loose meanings; the portable, racy, and erotic bedroom-reading specialists known as The Chamberstickside Poets; and the bourgeois, snooty, and ornate poems of the Candelabraside Poets.)

So Lowball is kind of a big deal. Beyond abolitionist poetry, he earns a law degree from Harvard, becomes a critic, an editor, and even a diplomat to Spain. Lowball writes a lot of satire of critics, including something called The Biglow Papers, which depicted the Yankee dialect and maybe was the first time that a writer actually wrote like people talked, which influenced Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken. So yeah, kind of a big deal.

The Tomster goes to Boston in 1870 to visit Lowball and they start talking. The Tomster tells Lowball about this system in England called primogeniture. Lowball says, “primo-what?” And the Tomster says “Exactly.” So they have a good laugh but then the Tomster gets going in earnest about primo-what, which he explains is this tradition of the oldest son inheriting everything, and the second, third and so on getting nada, zilch, squat, diddly or however you say nothing in 1870’s slang. These second and third sons, the Tomster goes on to explain, end up jobless and idle and sort of like a blight on society— the exact opposite of what Dr. T-Bone envisioned for young men. Their very souls are in trouble, the Tomster says.

So long before Joseph Heller came along, the Tomster likely struggled for the right words to explain the catch 22 situation: the second and third sons are too proud to do the low-paying but honest jobs that are available, and their simply aren’t enough of the bourgeois, high-paying jobs that aren’t beneath them, in their own estimation. And meanwhile the first son gets everything and lives high and mighty over it all, for a while anyway. The economy, the Tomster confides, isn’t helping either. In fact, it’s as much a source of the problem as is the primo-what. It’s just a mess, the Tomster says to Lowball over some chowda.

Well, Lowball asks the Tomster if he has heard of the Boston-based Board of Aid to Land Ownership, which helps unemployed urban craftsman relocate to rural areas. No, the Tomster confesses, he has not heard of this program, but immediately you can imagine his Dr. T-Bone inspired gears get a-grinding.

So the Tomster goes back to England and writes this in response to criticism that Tom Brown’s School Days is too preachy:

“Why, my whole object in writing at all was to get the chance of preaching! When a man comes to my time of life and has his bread to make, and very little time to spare, is it likely that he will spend almost the whole of his yearly vacation in writing a story just to amuse people? I think not. At any rate, I wouldn’t do so myself.”
— Thomas Hughes, Preface to the sixth edition

(It should be noted that the Tomster wrote a sequel, Tom Brown at Oxford, in 1861 that basically flopped.)

Then in 1878 the Board of Aid President Franklin Webster Smith, hencewithforthcoming known as Smitty, travels to the Cumberland Plateau with an agent from the Cincinnati Southern Railway Co., Cyrus Clarke, a.k.a Clarkels. They are impressed with its “virgin forests, clear air, and scenic gorges.”

So Smitty goes back to Boston, but the conditions there are better: a lot of the urban craftsman don’t need relocating. So Smitty calls Lowball who calls the Tomster and voila the Tomster buys the land the Board of Aid offers near the Cumberland Plateau and calls it Rugby, fittingly, after his sentimental and halcyon school days.

Here’s where it gets all rubber-meets-the-road social science experiment. The Tomster starts recruiting these primo-what drunk degenerate second and third sons to come to this pristine Tennessee forest. Smitty lays out the town, choosing an area that looks like a resort even though it’s seven miles from the nearest railroad stop.

The first wave of settlers come out to Rugby around the late 1870’s; they start erecting structures like the three-story Tabard Inn which is straight out of a Capote or F.Scott Fitzgerald novel: very aristocratic and ghostly with lawns for croquet and tennis— right in the middle of the Tennessee wilderness.

They have a grand opening of the town in October of 1880 and the Tomster himself comes all the way from England. (It’s interesting to speculate here exactly how long it took this wave of immigrants and the Tomster to travel, but I would estimate it was at least two weeks and maybe as long as a month. From what I can tell, it seems like with a steel ship and steam engine they were able to cross the Atlantic in something like seven days by the 1880’s. And the railways were getting faster, too, but it still maybe took a week to get all the way out to the wilderness in between Nashville and Knoxville, even if you traveled, as I assume the Tomster did, first class.)

So the Tomster arrives and lays out his plans for an anti-materialistic, utopian Rugby in what must have been, for lack of a better term, a doozy of a speech.

I like to imagine him getting up to speak on a fresh October morn, resplendent with the beauty of changing leaves, crisp air, mild, pleasant breezes, and the overall magic autumnal wonder that dazzles with golden warmth. When I close my eyes, I can picture it:

The Tomster steps up in the bright sunshine and impossibly bright blue sky and tells the settlers that everyone will have to pay $5, like a tax, to be part of the public commissary, “thus ensuring public ownership.” He then goes on (and on) about guaranteed personal liberty and some real savory Dr. T-Bonian moralistic and political nuggets. A real sort of rah-rah, pep-rally, together-we-stand, divided-we-fall, all-for-one kind of speech, loaded like a baked potato with lots of Christian and moral preachy stuff, which he had at least a month to revise and tinker with on the trip that he makes without his wife or any of his nine children. (His wife basically wanted NOTHING, like zip, to do with Rugby.) He tells the mostly secular, alcoholic immigrants about the Episcopal Church and stresses that the church they will be too hungover to attend can be used for any denomination.

I can picture the settlers, too. A crowd of second and third sons basically on something akin to a vacation in a resort-like pristine wilderness, nodding politely through it all. I see them smiling and winking right through the parts about self-betterment, the Christian servant and productive gentleman of society, the arts and sports and library, except at the end of the speech, which hits them like a frying pan, when the Tomster says, very clearly and in no way mincing words, “No. Booze.”

I reckon he lost them then and there. Superficially he probably lost them pretty early on with his preaching, but they were willing to grin and bear it for form’s sake because they could go back to sipping moonshine at the Gentleman’s Swimming Hole once this author guy finally shuts his trap, but at this last moralistic jab, he surely lost them FOR GOOD.

So this English Victorian village social experiment is now growing right in the heart of post Civil War wilderness Dixie. All these newspapers like the New York Times and magazines like Harper’s are following it, probably somewhat skeptically. In London, too, there is lots of interest and coverage from the media. After all the Tomster is not just a famous author but also a lawyer, a member of Parliament, and a judge.

And so how does it do? What happens? At first, thanks to the beauty and resort-like surroundings, pretty well.

“By 1884, the colony boasted over 400 residents (including the Tomster’s mom), 65 frame public buildings and houses, a tennis team, a social club, and a literary and dramatic society. In 1885, Rugby established a university, Arnold School, named for Rugby School headmaster Thomas Arnold.”

Another interesting thing about the Tomster is that he establishes this library that still stands today. They built it in 1882 and arranged for some Boston bookseller, maybe someone Lowball knew or something, to provide the books— some 7,000. (When you visit the library, you are not allowed to touch the books, some of them dating back to the 17th century, so it has this sad, frozen-in-time quality, interesting and worth preserving but also tragic in the sense that the words and knowledge are forever trapped inside and doomed to the darkness of their own closed covers. Not a place that any living author would aspire to be. Sort of like in the movie Good Will Hunting, when Will tells Sean about his friends Shakespeare and Nietche, Sean responds, “Well that’s great. They’re all dead.” I imagine him saying the same thing visiting this stuffy old dusty one room library where they don’t even open the windows. “That’s great, Rugby. But these books are all dead.”)

Early on, the Tomster’s experiment is going well. The degenerate English guys have escaped a Dickensian industrial 1880’s urban jobless catch 22 misery for these rugged woods and serene streams and beautiful mountains. They’re stoked.

And then life happens. First, an “epidemic” of typhoid hits the town, claiming seven people including the editor of Rugby’s newspaper, the Rugbeian. Though only seven people die, the press and the media are the real killer as the whole reason to visit Rugby was it’s resort-like qualities and who exactly wants to visit a place with typhoid in the headlines?

The Tabard Inn has to close and there’s no one but ghosts of upper class tourists playing croquet on the overgrown grasses. So tourism takes a hit, but also the Tomster over across the pond isn’t exactly scrutinizing the details of his experiment.

Mainly, the Appalachian natives didn’t trust this Ohio railway agent Clarkels, not a surprise there, with all his options on land. So a bunch of these Appalachian folks, probably safe to say not big readers (despite the library), refuse to sell or file lawsuits and it all drags on and basically becomes one big headache for the regular old Winston Berkshire the Third, just trying to buy a little land and maybe have a cabin of his own to pass out in.

Besides the whole Clarkels land ownership debacle, there’s also a very real and T-Bone scorned physical science fact of the poor soil that Smitty chose to build Rugby on, because of it’s resort-like nature that no one will visit because of the typhoid headlines and the Rugbeian can’t even defend their own tourism because the editor himself succumbed.

But the real downfall, the nail in the coffin if you will, is that these English gent/colonists are not what you would call workers. They are in fact the opposite: lazy drinkers. And the Tomster, visiting once for about a month, probably in summer and staying in the Kingstone Lisle or the Newbury House, nice digs indeed, isn’t exactly motivating them with his speeches that included strict adherence to Christian morals and basically sober living.

So people starve and the town struggles and basically declines. In 1884 the Tabard Inn, veering into Faulkner short story territory, burns to the ground. In 1887 the Tomster’s mom dies and is buried in Rugby. The Rugbeian ceases publication. After his mom passes, the Tomster never returns to Rugby. (One can probably infer here that Tomster’s mom and his wife were not very close. In fact, it’s interesting to speculate why the Tomster’s mom chose to move to Rugby at the age of 83, away from all of her grandchildren?) By the end of 1887, all of the original colonists were gone.

Five years later one of the Tomster’s lawyers and partners named Sir Henry, hencewith known as Sir Hank comes and reorganizes the Board of Aid and tries to harvest the areas natural resources, essentially the antithesis of the anti-materialistic vision of the Tomster, but Sir Hank doesn’t fare much better with the lack of a workforce with any sort of appetite for actual work.

The entire story of Rugby would be lost along with the ashes of the Tabard Inn if it wasn’t for the son of Robert Walton, forthhencewith known as Little Bobby. His dad, Robert Walton (aka Big Bob) was the Cincinnati engineer that the Tomster and his Brit lawyer buddies put in charge of the colony in 1882, right when it started going a little south after the media-labeled epidemic of seven typhoid deaths. Big Bob does his darndest, like trying to open a tomato cannery operation, which fails once again because of the poor soil/work ethic of the colonists.

So Little Bobby basically is a child of the dying town. Once he grows up he makes it his life mission to preserve its history. He protects and maintains some of the buildings, like the library and the church and the Newbury house until the 1940’s, when the timber companies start to really devour the virgin forests in earnest and the federal government steps in to help preserve a slice of history.

In the 1960’s they form the non-profit group Historic Rugby so that, just as my dad, sister, uncle and I did one Sunday, you too can take a drive out to the country and, as the website claims, find “both exciting AND relaxing things to do!”

The Video. Begin your visit with the short twenty-two minute national award winning historical video The Power of A Dream (free of charge!) in the “comfortable” Johnson Theatre. (The name of the award is not clear.)

The Tour. For $7 ($6 for seniors over sixty, students k-12 $4, and preschoolers free) each, you can take the very same tour we did that leads through the Thomas Hughes Free Public Library (over 7,000 untouchable volumes), the 1884 Kingston Lisle Founder’s Home (including an old stove, furniture, and a piano that you can sit down and play), the one room schoolhouse (built in 1906 after a fire destroyed the original building), and the 1887 Christ Church Episcopal (with its original furnishings, light fixtures, and rosewood organ), which still has services on Sundays.

Free to Roam. After the church, if you spent any time at all sitting in the pews, you’ll want to stretch your legs and ease that pain in your lower back by heading down to the Rugby Printing Press. With it’s original equipment and machinery, a volunteer will print your name on a bookmark that readers and possessive children under eleven will really relish. Then, like us, why not head over and grab some Shepard’s Pie at the Harrow Road Café (built in 1980)? It’s a bit heavy, so after you’ll want to walk down to the Gentleman’s Swimming Hole, where so many emigrants avoided back-breaking manual labor. You’ll walk right past a cluster of trees and bushes where the Tabard Inn once stood. After wading in the cool waters of the Gentlemen’s Swimming Pool (be sure to check for ticks, my dad found two after visiting), you can head to the old cemetery and, unlike her inconsiderate, ungrateful daughter-in-law, you can pay your respects to the Tomster’s mom, who was buried in 1887.

Much of the area surrounding Rugby, which originally attracted Clarkels and Smitty and the Tomster himself, is now State Forest, National Park, and Recreation Areas. If you still have the energy, you can take a hike and contemplate the buildings and croquet ghosts and scattered hardy residents that have preserved a life that lives, on and on, through the years, like the books, untouched by time or tourist. If you can whistle, I recommend Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da.

Because life goes on, except in Rugby.

 

 

 

BIO

Tim Miller would like to be considered an emerging writer, but alas, he is afraid of swamps. His writing has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Aethlon: Journal of Sports Literature, and You & Me Medical Magazine. He lives in San Marcos, CA with his wife and three daughters. To the dismay of plumbers everywhere, he shares his leaky thoughts at https://thefaucetblog.com/

 

 

 

 

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The Two Potters

by Norbert Kovacs

 

 

The man and the woman made pottery in the large studio attached to their home. The man owned the studio and the home and decided the pottery they made. They painted this most times an off white with very simple designs, a favorite being small flowers. They gave their flowers small dot centers and narrow, thin petals crowded close together. The two made their clay cups and plates as if it were a duty. After breakfast each morning, the man went ready for the potter’s wheel in the studio. He made the pottery for its own sake and no other reason. He lumped the wet, soft clay onto his wheel to start and spun it. He shaped with his hands, hollowing out the hole for a vessel, flattening and pressing flat for a plate. He fixed his eyes on the clay as it spun and spun. As he worked, he talked to the woman who made items at her own wheel across the room. The two talked about their pottery, about whether they would make more or less than the previous day, whether one found it difficult to shape that day’s clay, who should fire in the kiln next, and so on. When he had shaped and fired his pottery, the man painted it the standard white that he liked above every other color. He took his old, well-used brush and painted the rims of  his work gray in thin, double-banded lines. He loved painting these neatly and in parallel. The two showed and sometimes gave their finished items to friends and family who were interested. The couple spent most of their day in the studio, but even outside it, the man thought about making the pottery.

The woman told the man as they were working in the studio one day that she felt tired and would stop early. She removed her black, soiled potter’s apron and hung it on a hook by the kiln. She was a quiet, reserved woman. She had a plain, lean body and bound her thick, blonde hair in a ponytail at her neck. Her dark eyes, dense and small, moved tensely behind her black-rimmed glasses; she had a face smooth and colored like a peach.

“After I take a nap, I’ll wipe in the clay bin,” she said. She meant the large wooden box where they stored wet clay. They cleaned it occasionally when it ran empty to keep the wood from rotting. The woman went into the house to lie down as the man continued at his labor.

An hour later, the woman returned, her hair slightly astrew from her nap. The man heard her moving and wiping at the clay box across the room as he shaped at his wheel.

“You won’t need  any extra clay?” she called to him after she had cleaned. “I found some stuck in the bin bottom.”

“No, I have enough to last today.” The man replied without lifting his head from the spinning wheel before him. After he was done forming and shaping a few last cups, the man had done. He set his newest pieces aside to continue the next morning and went to stow his apron. He discovered the woman standing over and admiring a clay hoop at her worktable.

“What is that supposed to be?” the man asked coming to her side. He was a large, tall man with strong arms and hands. Thick bands of brown hair hung over his forehead. He was much bigger than the woman.

“A wrist hoop. See.” She took the hoop from the table, slid it over her right hand, and let it dangle from her wrist.

“Sort of strange, how rough on the edges it is.” The man’s dark, narrow eyes moved over the hoop’s outline.

“I just started it. I have more to do to get it nice.”

“Certainly. Well, a diversion once in a while never hurt anyone.” The man slid the hoop off the woman’s arm and set it on a shelf beside where her apron hung. He hung his own apron on a hook beside hers and moved toward the hall for the house. When he did not hear her follow after him, the man turned and discovered she had taken the clay hoop from the shelf and was turning it over in her hand.

The next day, the man kept busy at his wheel into the afternoon. When he finally slowed at the work, he looked across the studio toward the woman; he had not taken note of her since early that morning. He discovered she had left her wheel and was molding a large cup on her work table. The cup was the size and dimensions of their usual except for the bottom and brim; she made these bulge outward in thick, heavy bands, each like the hoop she had made the previous day. The woman pressed her thumb into the band that formed the top brim to widen it, at each push forcing the clay out, round and thick. She added more clay to the brim as she worked.

“Why are you giving the cup those heavy bands on the top and bottom?” he asked. “We never do.”

The woman took her hands from the cup. “I thought someone might like drinking from a bigger cup than the ones we make. Besides, I think this type of brim and bottom look nice.”

The man made a face. “It would be awkward for us to do any new kind of pottery. We should do our usual stuff instead. We are used to it. We do it well.”

“But what if this new cup is good?”

“The cup isn’t. I mean, look at it. People checking out our stuff will say it’s strange that it has this wide brim. Our cups don’t.  Rather than have everyone feel bad over it, I’d do the pottery you have been.”

The woman set aside the new cup as the man urged, fetched some fresh clay, and started on a cup he could recognize. However, she did it all holding back a frown, and her dark eyes lowered.

The man entered the studio a few days later and discovered the wet clay bin was empty. The woman and he had gotten new clay for the bin only the past week and the man knew they could not have used it all since. “Would you know what might have happened with the clay in the bin?” he asked the woman.

She said, “I threw it into the woods behind the house. It was full of grit and sand and wasn’t any good to use. I was going to tell you.”

The man stared at her. “You might have let me check it first. I hadn’t seen anything to make me think it so bad. Now we’ll have to get new clay for today’s stuff.”

The two drove to the old man down the hill who provided them clay to get a new supply. They filled the bin from the back of their van and returned with it to the studio. When the two had set the bin again in its corner and made to get their aprons, the man noticed a black cloth hanging in the corner beyond the woman’s pottery wheel. He had not remembered the shelf there being covered. He crossed the room and pulled off the cover to check beneath it. He found the shelf full of newly made clay hoops and rings. He realized the items were all like the wrist hoop the woman had made earlier.

“So this is what became of the clay you said you threw out,” he said to the woman. “You’ve been making these when I’ve gone back into the house, haven’t you?”

She lowered her head. “I have.”

“You understand that there is no excuse for this stuff. I pay for all this clay; I expected you to make it into the pottery we always do.”

The man seized several rings from the shelf and dashed them on the floor. The rings burst and sent debris around his feet. The man reached for more rings from the shelf when the woman cried, “Please don’t. I won’t have those rings broken after the work I did making them.”

“Work?”

“For those rings. Please, I like the rings and hoops and to have them. Let me.”

“Are you being serious?” The man did not imagine it possible.

“Yes.”

“You would choose to go on making them?”

“Yes.”

The man scowled but sensed she was telling the truth. He did not feel he could dissuade her either, at least not easily. “Alright. Since you really want to, I’ll let you,” he said. “But it will be only after you’ve done the pieces I have expected made here each day. I own the studio and have decided what we make. I will make pottery our usual way even if you will not. But now you can get your own clay from the man down the hill to make the things you will. I fetch clay for the pottery I want done here. And if you’re to fire your things in my kiln, you must help me at my tasks too, like glazing the cups.”

The woman agreed. The man and the woman made pottery in the studio again at their two wheels. The man continued to shape his items per his custom. The woman made items for him as they agreed; many days, she finished these early and started on her own. However, the man resented the small freedom he had let the woman to create though it did not distract him. He made to discourage her for it. He moved around the studio, after tools and supplies that he did not need, just to get in her way. She withdrew from the spaces that the man invaded and did not complain about his taking them. She made her rings and hoops in the corner of her worktable, her back to him. She made them without slowing. She glazed the items and they shone in the cool electric light of the studio.

The man had let the woman use glaze as a one allowance but he thought poorly of her enthusiasm for it.

“You are adding too much glaze to those hoops,” he cautioned. “I had got it for the cups, you know.”

The woman used less and glazed fewer rings and hoops after the warning. However, the man saw she glazed these fewer pieces more. She glazed some rings in thin layers two or three times and admired them, once fired, under the light by her worktable.

Soon, the man discovered the woman cut corners in making their regular cups and plates. She left cups outside at night and did not fire them in the kiln as he said she should. She did not glaze all the plates as he had asked. At the same time, she made more of her rings and hoops once she had made their standard. The shelves behind her table filled with the things and it seemed she produced a greater number in each batch. The man realized the woman hoped to do more of her own pieces and less of his.

The woman wore some of the new rings she made as earrings. She said they were beautiful and that she felt beautiful wearing them. The man said the rings were not any good as earrings, for they were clay, not a shined or precious metal as he had seen women wear. “Clay is to make plates and cups,” he said. The woman wore the earrings in the studio and in their home anyway. She touched the hard, small rings with her fingers and studied them hanging at her ears in the mirror. She wore clay hoop bracelets on her arms when she had on the earrings too, saying they complemented one another. She wore the earrings and the hoops even when she was together with the man in bed and he asked she remove them.

“How can I enjoy it when you have those on?” he asked.

“The earrings make me beautiful,” she said and reclined before him.

The man grumbled. He did not argue the point however as he drew near her.

Soon, the man did not object to the woman wearing her ornaments in the studio or the house. The woman was beautiful after all just for herself, he thought.

The woman refined the new items she made, giving them special marks and features. She created rings of compact, neat O’s that she notched with squares and circles. She painted her creations and tried, as the man thought, to have them seem more beautiful than any cup or plate in the studio. She thought well enough of her skill that she wore her glazed and painted earrings in town.  She told the man that people had noticed and talked with her over the pieces.

“I made friends with a few of the folks,” she said. “Three of them are coming to observe me in the studio.”

The man was in disbelief. “I wish you hadn’t let them. Do I need to hear you and them chatter over your pottery while you make it?”

“I think the right word is discuss, not chatter.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I’ve invited the people and they are coming the day after tomorrow.”

When her friends made their visit, the woman showed them her creations on the shelves. She took out the rings and spread many of them in her palm. The man heard the friends ask for and be given several of the creations to keep. Then the friends went to her work corner and watched as she made some rings and hoops. After she had designed a few, one friend, a young man, said, “I love these rings you make. I am going to make my own.”

A young woman in the group raised her head. “I plan to do the same in the studio I will open. We can make them there together if you like.”

The man listening across the studio thought the two young people were ridiculous to talk about fashioning clay into rings. I will laugh at them as I do with the woman, he imagined. He worked at his wheel and felt that his pottery had the right pattern and form as ever. In the meanwhile, the friends encouraged the woman as she talked of making her work. The man saw the woman shape a new mound of clay and form it unlike he ever had known. The form had a large, very rounded hoop, just bigger than an armband. She propped this on a short stem atop a square base. Her friends fell silent before it.

“This is different than the hoops and the rings you have been making,” the young man beside the woman announced. “It’s more beautiful. It’s a piece of fine art.” The other friends agreed.

“I’ve never had this appreciation,” the woman said, breaking into a smile.

“I will create art in my new studio as you have done here,” her friend, the young woman, told her.

The man across the studio heard it all. The hoop on the stem did not seem art to him. The piece appeared too simple. It was not the great, highly shaped sculptures that he had encountered in art books. However, the woman’s friends treated it as something worth reflection.

After the friends left, the man complained to the woman about the hoop art. “I won’t let you make any more of it. I bent enough allowing you to do those rings. But these mounted hoops are too much.”

The woman turned from him. “I’ll work at my friend’s new studio then. She was alright with having that young man join her and she’ll be alright with me.” She added, “I could produce my pottery there and not bother with making anything more for this studio if you are that upset with me.”

The woman spoke seriously and the man realized she might go and do as she said if he pushed her. The woman long had been his partner and he did not wish to lose her. He decided to recant. “Don’t go,” he said. “I’ll let you create your artwork in our studio. Use the kiln to fire it—you’ve fired that many of my things that you should. I’ll make my things as I have in my half of the room and let you to yours. All I ask is if you would help me make a few of the studio-style items sometimes. Consider that I let you make your rings and hoops once you told me how important you felt about them. I didn’t stop you.”

“You’re right, you didn’t,” the woman said quietly. “You might be more considerate than I believed. I’ll stay.”

The woman made many artworks with the new freedom the man allowed. She created pots, vases, and boxes studded with small rings and large hoops. She made figurines and bas reliefs. She took liberties in creating each of her new pieces. Then the woman re-created the man’s usual pottery items, the cups and plates, in her new style. She made cups of hoops stacked upward and plates of hoops set one within another. The man, surprised by the designs, studied the woman producing this new pottery. He watched carefully as she formed a large, decorative plate.

“How can you round your hand on the clay’s edge like that?” he asked while she worked the item. “What happened to the ways I’d shown you to mold clay?”

The woman saddened, fingering the side of the plate. “I know those ways well. I’ve only adapted them.”

“But you do it so strangely.”

“I have my own style now. Even when it comes to cups and plates.”

The man felt upset to hear it. From the shelf near her, he picked up a plate that she had glazed and fired. The plate was a concentric nest of rings, some fat, some thin, arranged closely and fused into a whole. The plate had a smooth face despite its many-parted design and he imagined it could have been set on the wall for decoration. However, the form and the style were not his. He set the plate aside and returned to his potter’s wheel to create as he was used to doing.

The woman labored carefully over her work, the man discovered. He watched once as she made a new pot. She bowed her head over a mound of clay that was to become the object and shaped it with her hands.  Her hands lifted and goaded the clay into the form. She tucked and rounded where the pot was to bulge and flattened and pressed where it was to be straight. She smoothed and stroked the pot once shaped, and it seemed she touched a fine, fragile thing. Her hands made the clay clean and bright under the studio light. She had cared in making the old cups and plates well, the man remembered, but he realized she did much more in making her new pottery. The woman colored her works with glazes she got from her town friends rather than use the man’s any longer. She used ocean blue, sun yellow, and fire red pigments, bolder colors than the studio hues. The man never did figure how to color pieces as attractively.

One day, the woman took liberties firing in the studio kiln. She did not ask the man if she might use it per their habit. Sometimes she did it when the man had planned to fire and it irked him.

“I was about to fire a plate,” he told her. “I think you might have asked whether you could. It holds up my work.”

“You do not create as much as you had,” the woman said, “I’ve been doing a lot lately so I thought it okay to use the kiln when I needed. I didn’t think of being in your way.”

“And then,” she continued, “I’m trying all these new things with the pottery. You aren’t. Couldn’t my stuff be given some priority because of it?”

The man never had heard the woman argue for preference. But he quickly admitted to himself the woman was producing more than he. He had scaled down his production while hers had expanded. “However you like–” he said before walking to his wheel.

The woman placed her artwork on the same window shelf where the man had his finished work. Her tall, slender vases stood beside his fat cups, her hoop-eared pots beside his flat plates. She put cubes studded with rings next to his mundane, glazed dishes. The man realized the woman’s work was much different than his. She was developing forms and a style that he never would have.

As she continued her new endeavors, the woman brought her young friend, who owned a studio, to help in making an art piece. The man watched the two huddle in the woman’s half of the studio crowding close around her table. He called to them from his wheel, “Don’t you feel the two of you will get in each other’s way, bottled in that corner?”

“My friend and I have made things in smaller spaces,” his partner answered.

“Well, won’t you be questioning each other how to make whatever it is you’re making?” The man started all his items alone and imagined having a collaborator from the get-go would prove distracting. He had produced his best when he had forgotten the woman , the studio, and the world.

“We will I’m sure, but I don’t believe it will be a bad thing. Wait and see what we make before you decide.”

The man turned to his clay and spun it. “Alright, I’ll wait,” he said shortly.

The two women pieced the material before them. The man made a plate at his wheel, inspected, and liked it. He set the piece aside. He observed the women forming clay into rings. To do each, they rolled a bit of clay into a line and curled the ends. They then fused the ends of each ring within the circle of the prior, extending a chain across the  work table. They fired the clay form and fetched it from the kiln when done. The man faced his wheel and worked. He shaped clay into a few plates. He inspected the unfired plates and thought them clean and neat. However, he found it dull to study them long. He brought them across the room to fire. As he loaded the plates into the kiln, the man watched the women glaze their chain in blue and apple green. Their wide-headed brushes passed along and between the chain’s links and the glaze shone as the sun does on water. The man went to his seat and started a new cup. When the man’s plates had done firing, he fetched them and the women put their chain again in the kiln. The man returned to his work. He smoothed the side of the cup and held his hand there as the wheel ran. He turned it many times before he realized the cup’s side was not becoming any smoother or finer. He stopped turning and looked toward the women. They were retrieving the chain from the belly of the kiln. The two set the fired item on a tray and brought it to their table. The hard-glazed chain shone brightly. Its blue and green had become pure with firing. They lifted the chain and let an end dangle over their palms. The links slid and clacked against one another, their color shifting between deep blue and a fine, bright green. The man never imagined the women could have produced the thing. The chain was more brilliant and intricate than any item he ever had made. It was all hard clay but shifted like water in a stream. His partner played the chain in her hand and he quietly studied its changes of color and light.

When her friend left, the woman set the chain on a tray and went into the house for she was done creating that day. The man stayed in the studio, however. He made several clay rings at his table. He was going to link them into a chain that he hoped would be like the women’s. He made the rings for the links, long and stretched with heavy, bulked ends. The rings resembled two handles from his cups welded together. He fired the chain and retrieved it from the kiln. He glazed the work heavily in an brilliant white for he meant the piece to shine when done. He fired the piece a second time and brought the chain to his work table. He jostled the chain but found the thick-ended links failed to move freely. They clacked very hard in short motions. He realized his product was an ungainly creation next to the women’s.

The man was depressed when he resumed work in the studio. The woman now visited her friends at the alternate studio more often than she produced at home. He did not encounter her some days. He feared she might move in with her young artist friends and abandon his studio altogether. Lately he had become used to her producing art and liked to think of her work as a foil to his. He admired how when he held the line, she crossed it; where she endeavored freely, he maintained a cool control and order. He had come to know who he was as a potter by contrasting with her. He felt learning that difference had made them more of a pair. They could accept they were not a perfect union and, knowing it, still work side by side. If she left, he worried he would not be with the woman again. He tried new work in the studio instead of his old style in hopes of convincing the woman to stay. While he created with perhaps too strong a line and restraint, the man thought the woman might view him as an artist like those she had befriended in town. He hoped deep inside that this would keep them a close and loving couple.

 

 

 

BIO

Norbert Kovacs lives and writes in Hartford, Connecticut. His stories have appeared in WestviewGravelSTORGYCorvus Review, and The Write Launch. Norbert’s website is www.norbertkovacs.net.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

Offing Buck

by Victoria Forester

 

 

I can handle losing my husband to the television for every Monday night of football season, but I’m not giving up my place in his life to a five-hundred-dollar-man-stealer with shit for breath and a habit of rolling in the neighbor’s compost. “Larry,” I say, “I just don’t know if things are working out with Buck.” He gives me this can’t-you-see-it’s-Alex-Trebec-on-the-tube kind of look, but I go on anyways. “I thought it would be good for us, but now he’s driving me nuts. It’s been well over a year and he’s still no good with the neighborhood kids and, well, do I have to bring up the Labrada’s cat again? He doesn’t respect me at all and, frankly, sometimes I get the impression that he’s more important to you than I am.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Kristi, he loves children.”

Can you believe the listening skills at play here? “Buck’s gotta go!” I scream. That’s when Larry gets all teary and defiant and picks up the 95-pounder—right off the floor and into his arms like a new bride—and carries him out the front door, yelling, “I’ll take Buck for five-hundred, Alec! The answer is what the hell is eating her?

I’m so angry all I can do is vacuum even though I’ve already filled three micro-filter bags with Buck hair this week and that was out of the den alone. I clean the house until dark muttering to myself. Around ten, I pull back the sheets and I have to pluck two fistfuls of Buck hairs off my side of the bed before I can lie down to call Gina.

“It’s me,” I say. “He’s not home yet.”

“He’s in the car, Kris.”

“In the driveway?”

“Yeah, I can see them from my living room. They’re in the back together.”

“You think he’s going to stay there all night?”

“Who knows. Let him. It’ll give him time to think.”

“What am I going to do?” I groan.

“Apologize. Say you were wrong. Lay low for a couple of weeks. Then, drive Buck to New Jersey. Let him out at a playfield. Get back in your car and come home. Tell Larry he ran off on you in Little Neck.”

So, for ten golden days it’s like a honeymoon. I can take a long walk without looking like an epileptic being jerked around by a dog who’s got to pee every two feet like an incontinent. Larry and I do everything together. We make lost dog flyers and take romantic walks around the neighborhood every evening asking if anyone has seen Buck, making new empathetic friends. We go to the movies to get our minds off him and, best of all, Larry really needs my sweet loving these days.

Then one night, we’re all cuddled up watching stupid pet tricks on Letterman and Larry gets a little teary. “When we get Buck back,” he says, “I’m gonna teach him how to do that.”

“Sure, hon,” I say. “That’d be fun.” I stroke his cheek and he scrunches my hair up in his fingers, working it back and forth over my ear. We’re about to kiss when there’s a scratching at the front door.

For the next two weeks it’s Buck the Wonderdog Walks Home. First night, he’s all matted and skinny and reeks of rotten meat and Larry stays up until four in the morning shampooing and conditioning his hair with cupfuls of my expensive Barbour products. It’s like a scene from Out of Africa with my husband pouring the warm water all over Buck’s hair from the white and gold-trimmed Lenox pitcher my mother gave us on our first anniversary. Larry uses his own toothbrush in the dog’s mouth and then uses it again on himself in the morning before he gives me a quick peck on the lips. He’s up early, with only three hours of sleep, singing and cooking eggs and extra bacon for the three of us. Reporters call us all day long and Larry decides to take a week off from work to teach Come Back Buck how to use and flush toilets just like that mutt on Letterman before they’re scheduled to appear on the local cable channel. Then, after an intense period of training, Buck takes a shit in my Louboutins and Larry calls it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, insisting that he sleep between us in the bed each night. I have to put a pillow over my head because Buck moans when Larry scratches him behind the ears.

“How was I suppose to know he’d come back!” Gina cries into the phone before I hang up. Later, she slips a card in my mail slot for forgiveness and there’s an article clipping inside. Antifreeze Deadly Attraction for Dogs. That Gina, I think, she’s a pretty good friend.

One Sunday, when Larry and I are working in the yard, he starts wrestling with Buck in the leaves. He shrieks like a kid being tickled when the dog licks his face. “Whoa Buck, whoa big fella!” He laughs, then, “Har, har, honey, he just slipped me the tongue!” That afternoon, I go to the corner store and stock up on antifreeze.

When Larry’s in the shower, I show Buck the large blue puddle spreading out from under the car. He sniffs at the sweet liquid and then goes after two kids whipping by on their bikes in the street. I hear them scream until they reach Northern Boulevard and Buck comes trotting back. Larry leans out the front door with a towel wrapped around his hips. “What was that all about?” He asks.

“There are more important things for a dog to know than using a toilet,” I say and push past him. That night, while Larry cuddles with Buck and watches a re-run of Lassie on Nick at Nite, I watch for the involuntary flinching of Buck’s muscles, hoping for a trail of electric blue mucus snaking from his nose. In the morning after Larry leaves for work, I make coffee and look out the window. There are six dead squirrels in the driveway where the car used to be. They lie on their backs with their legs straight up in the air. I put on yellow rubber gloves that come to my elbows and pick them up one by one. I carry them in a triple lined trash bag to the dumpster on Hollis Street and come home to hose down the driveway. Buck growls at me when I come in the kitchen door.

“Blah!” I yell at him and wave my arms. “Go hitch the chuck wagon you shit-for-brains-leg-humping-home-wrecker!” He schleps to the bedroom and I spend a good half an hour at the kitchen sink scrubbing to the elbows with an antibacterial soap.

I call Gina ten minutes before Larry comes home. “I’ve got to make it look like an accident or Larry will start to suspect something. Buck’s already giving him clues.”

“Kristi, you are my vbf, right? That’s why I gotta tell you you’re starting to scare me. You think this dog’s ratting on you?”

“Look, Buck gets all tense around me. When he growls, Larry holds his nose up to his own and says in this weird baby voice, ‘It’s okay, tiger, it’s just mommy.’ It makes me sick.”

“You just have to get rid of this one and do it quick.”

“P.S. I know. I’m gonna put rat poison in his food tonight.”

Buck eats every last drop of his chopped liver and Raidux. I am practically dancing around the kitchen, but then I have to remember to act natural when Larry comes home, so I click on Oprah and cover up with my new cashmere pashmina.

“Hey, hon,” Larry says and kisses me on the top of the head on his way to the kitchen to feed Buck and get himself a beer. I yawn loudly and get up to follow him.

“So, how was your day?” I ask as usual, and Buck scarfs his second dinner like a starving hog. Then he starts regurgitating his food all maniacal demon like. Larry gets down on his knees near him and we are both screaming Oh my God! There’s blood in Buck’s foam and he can’t stop wheezing and heaving just like that Linda Blair from the Exorcist. I see the terror in Larry’s eyes and he holds onto the arm of my shirt like a child, crying, “What should I do, Kris? What should I do?” This is the very moment of my first regret. I swear to you, I feel like I’m falling through the earth, but I am right there on the floor with them. I think, O’Jesus, O’Mary, please stop this. Please don’t let Buck die. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I’ve done. Oh, our Lady of Perpetual Hope, forgive me for this sin!

Then, I’m like a woman possessed. “The emergency clinic!” I scream and, in two shakes, Larry, Buck and I are peeling out of the driveway going sixty-five through the streets of Bayside bringing our Bucky to get his stomach pumped for twelve hundred dollars.

Buck shits liquid charcoal for the next three days and I have to be at the ready to usher him out the kitchen door or I find myself cleaning the black soup off the linoleum every couple of hours. Larry spends half a paycheck on a steel and plastic organizing system of boxes and cabinets, shelves and utility pails for the garage. Every potentially hazardous substance is sealed tight. “Our house is baby-proof now,” Larry winks and kisses me through the air, but before I can say ho there, pardner, he’s sprawled out on the floor cradling Buck in his arms.

When Buck’s all better, Larry takes him to the mall to have their portrait done. He fixes a bow tie around Buck’s neck and they sit in front of a faux lake backdrop. Larry gives me the wallet-sized copies for my birthday and reminds me that money’s been a little tight ever since Buck had to have his stomach pumped.

Gina informs me, “If Buck can survive Raidux, he’s got at least ten or twelve more years on him. Maybe fourteen. Fifteen tops. You’d better get used to it, babe. Either that, or hire a professional.”

“What like a hitman?”

“That’s what I’m saying. It’s obvious you’re no Amy Fisher,” she says.

“I wouldn’t even know the first thing about how to find one.”

“You can find anything on the Internet.”

 

I arrange a three o’clock meeting with Oren Welch at the Blue Moon Motel across town. “I’m losing my husband,” I cry. “I married a different man!”

Welch rolls onto his side on the bed and runs his hand down his enormous belly as I talk.

“Look, I’ve got Buck hair imbedded in all my clothing,” I say and pull my shirt closer to him for inspection. The man takes an eyeful. Welch looks like a guy who would plow his Buick through a whole pack of children at a school crossing. He nods his big mooncrater face and slides his hand into his shirt pocket for a pack of Lucky’s.

“So, what you want?” He asks and lights up.

“What do I want? I want him dead,” I say.

Welch thumbs the wallet-sized portrait I hand him. “This is a fine-looking dog,” he says. “I got a couple of kids who’d love to have a dog like this.”

“Do you want this job or not?”

“Well, how ‘bout I just nap the dog. Christmas is coming.”

“Oren, can I call you Oren? Do you live within a hundred miles of here?”

“Well, uh—”

“This is the dog that walked home from Bayonne.”

“This is Come Back Buck? Oh, I don’t know …”

“I’ll get somebody else.”

“Nah. I’ll do it. It’s just I’m not used to whacking dogs. You know what they say: A dog’s a man’s best friend and all. And this—this Buck—well, he’s the best of the best.”

I start to put my wallet away.

“All right,” Welch says, “you want an accident?”

“Yes, an accident. When both my husband and I are home, so he never suspects me.”

“Fine. You got it.”

“What exactly am I getting?” I ask.

“Dogs get hit by cars all the time. You got yourself a $3000 hit-and-run. $1000 up front for my retainer.”

I sigh and hand him ten crisp one hundreds.

“Lady,” he says. “You should know you’re getting a screaming deal for offing Buck.”

 

I tell you, I’ve lived all my life by the book. I have never been involved in crime. I never even went through that shoplifting phase all my teenage friends seemed to live for. I am not the criminal type, but that dog has pushed me to limits I never even knew I had and I cannot go on like this for a moment longer. I am to let Buck out the front door at exactly 2:00 p.m. on Sunday just moments after Welch will plant the wounded cat across the street, drive off to loop around the cul-de-sac, and floor it when he sees Buck coming. Welch’s contract guarantees satisfaction.

It’s 1:58 p.m. on Sunday. “Bucky wanna go out?” I ask as I walk to the front door. Larry has been organizing the plastic buckets in the garage, sponging down their surfaces with a biodegradable cleanser. When I open the door, I see Larry heading down the driveway. “Where’re you going?” I call.

“There’s a hurt cat across the road. I think its leg’s broke.” He starts to run.

“No, wait!” I cry, and then Buck tears out the door after Larry. I hear tires screeching down the road. Across the street, the cat pulls its lower body along the ground with its forelegs. I let go of the screen door and, like in slow motion, it careens back and slaps the house. I run to the end of the yard. Then Welch plows his Buick through my husband and the dog.

Anyways, it’s been real busy at the house these days with the papers wanting to do follow up stories to “You’re a Million, Buck” and “A Dog, a Man, and the Woman Behind Them.” Larry even got his picture taken for People with Dana Reeves who told him never to give up hope. So now Larry takes Buck to rehab with him and Bucky’s learning to be a Service Dog. Just between me and you, it’s not what I expected out of life. I’m making interview appointments left and right. Redbook called me to do an exclusive on wives who stand by their men. The National Assistance Dog Service wants me to be the new poster girl for their ad campaigns because, it’s true, I’m what’s known as a looker. We sold the rights to our story to CBS and they’re airing the TV movie, Man’s Best Friend, next Sunday afternoon. We’re having a big party with all our new friends from further out on the Island, but believe you me it’s not all fun and games. Sometimes I have to run out of the house and chase the neighborhood kids away from the yard when I hear them yelling Tripod! Tripod! and rocks come flying over the fence. And then I go back in and Kitty wants me because, even though she’s got this high-tech motion-responsive wheeled cart, she still needs help with the big jobs.

And once in a while, Larry still cries, “Hon, I can’t stop thinking about the scared look on Bucky’s face. He looked even more scared than I was.”

I pull his head to my chest and say, “Shhh, baby, don’t worry yourself. We still got each other and one thing we know for sure: No matter what happens, Buck’ll always be here.”

 

 

BIO

Victoria Forester’s writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from various literary journals, including Washington Square Review, Spectrum Literary Journal, Funicular Magazine, and Moonchild Magazine. She recently became a doctor, but can only prescribe one insanely powerful sleeping pill in the form of a 300-page dissertation. Follow her on Twitter @DoveVictoria and Instagram @victoria.forester.

 

 

 

 

0

Recovery

by Paul C. Rosenblatt

 

 

After my wife Mim died I was lost.  Day after day of painful emptiness.  I ached.  Nothing was interesting.  I was just hanging on by my fingertips. Then one day, 14 months after she died, I decided I owed it to her to get back on my feet.  But I couldn’t just do it.  At 84 there wasn’t much of a “me” left now that Mim was gone.  I first had to figure out who I was.

How does a person figure that kind of thing out?  I don’t know, but it seemed that I had to have a self that was built on who I had been.  Who was I in my life with Mim?  And what of who I was then might still make sense as part of the self I would have moving forward?  I made a bit of progress thinking that through, but I was stuck because there was another very, very big part of my past life that I couldn’t come to grips with.  The person I was before Mim was someone I didn’t know or understand or maybe didn’t want to know or understand.  So I couldn’t deal with it.  But then I felt trapped and not able to move forward.  Instead of being back on my feet I was stuck on my butt, thinking in circles.

One morning I was sitting in the living room Mim and I had shared for years.  I hadn’t changed it after she died.  Still the same cream colored walls.  Still the walnut colored bookcase, filled with books one or both of us cherished.  Still the two easy chairs and couch with their faded flowery upholstery.  Still the same print on the wall of a forest.  I was sitting in one of the easy chairs thinking in circles about needing to get back on my feet but not being able to do it.  And then the phone rang.  It was a very strange call.

“Mr. Cohen?”

I didn’t reply, thinking it was a spam call.  But my pause didn’t deter the person on the other end of the line.

“Agent Jack Smith of the U.S. Justice Department.  I’d like to come by to talk about help you can give us with an investigation.”

I assumed it was a spam call, though I never had one like it.  Just in case it wasn’t spam, I thought I’d act like he was who he said he was.  “Mr. Smith, I’m sure you have the wrong number.”

“No, Mr. Cohen.  This is no mistake.  We in the Justice Department think you can help us.  Would 1:00 this afternoon be a good time to come by?”

“What’s this about?”

“I would rather tell you in person.”

I was curious, and thought I could use a break from thinking in circles. “Okay,” I said, “Give me your supervisor’s phone number.  If the person you say is your supervisor persuades me that you are who you say you are, I’ll see you at 1:00.”

After I hung up, I called the number he gave me.  The person who answered said she was the secretary to the Deputy Chief, Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois.  She told me that I couldn’t speak with agent Smith’s supervisor, but she sounded authentic and vouched for Smith.  And as she talked, the background sounds of a busy office increased my confidence that Smith was who he said he was.  So I decided I’d meet with him.

*  *  *  *  *

Promptly at 1:00 the doorbell rang.  I buzzed Agent Smith past the downstairs security door.  When he reached my apartment door, I opened it a few inches with the door chain secured so that it couldn’t be opened further.  He held up an identification card and badge.  They looked authentic.  The picture on the card matched the face on the man at my door, a distinguished looking African-American man.  He had on a dark suit, even though it was a hot summer day.  He was in his 40’s, balding, muscular, about 6 feet tall, and maybe 30 pounds overweight.  He looked safe enough, though like a man who had spent his entire life being serious.

I let him in.  Smith had a voice that commanded attention, a military posture, and no patience with small talk.  His first words after we sat down were about what brought him to my apartment. “Mr. Cohen, I am with the organized crime unit of the U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois.  We have discovered a new source of information, but we cannot tap into it without unusual help.  We think you are uniquely qualified to provide that help.”

I snorted in amusement.  “I’m an old man, not qualified to do anything.”

He nodded but clearly didn’t agree with me, because he kept on with his recruiting pitch.  “We think your unique qualifications include your age and your past.  We know you were once associated with organized crime and served a prison sentence.”

It was a shock to me that he had brought up that part of my life, because that was at the heart of what I had been stuck about.  I didn’t understand who I was back then, didn’t like what I remembered about myself, and wasn’t sure how to deal with it or that I wanted to deal with it.  But I knew that dealing with it was key to getting back on my feet.  Quite a coincidence that a stranger would invite himself over to talk to me about what I had been struggling with.  I sat in silence, trying to figure out what forces in the universe brought him to me, what it meant that a federal agent knew I had done bad things and thought that was good, and whether his coming here now would help me.  My mind was racing, but I didn’t say anything.

Smith took my silence as an invitation to say more.  “In your 20’s you were associated with the Pinky Goldfarb gang and were convicted of assault and numbers running.  You served 37 months in prison and have been out of contact with organized crime ever since.”

I sighed.  Agent Smith was definitely putting it to me to think about my old self, but I didn’t know if I wanted to think about it now or talk with him about it.  I was feeling anxious and replied with words that were comfortable enough to say and moved the conversation away from my criminal past and time in jail. “While I was in prison, the Goldfarb gang was wiped out, every one murdered.  So I couldn’t go back to them even if I wanted to.  After I was released from prison I got a job as a conductor on the el trains and enrolled in night school.  I met Mim, the woman I married, my first week in night school.  I earned a teaching degree, we married, and I taught high school science for 37 years.  Mim was a wonderful partner, and teaching was a good life.”

Smith smiled the smile people give who want to seem like they appreciate what one has just said but are impatient to get on with their agenda.  “Mr. Cohen, because of your experience in organized crime and your age, you can help us in a way nobody else can.  Just two miles from here is an eldercare facility, Quiet Shelter.  It only admits residents who have been involved with organized crime and guarantees confidentiality for anything that is said there.  Elderly residents who know a lot about organized crime can say whatever comes to mind without risk of the information getting to the authorities.”

I laughed.  “Makes sense.  Lots of old farts babble whatever comes to mind.  Organized crime would need a place where their elders could blab without risk to anyone.  Do they call it Quiet Shelter because everyone’s quiet about what they hear there?”

He frowned.  “I don’t know why the name is Quiet Shelter.  But it is a shelter from gang warfare.  People from all gangs are safe there, even from gangs that have been at war with theirs.  It is also a shelter in that everyone who works there has personal or family connections to organized crime and can be trusted to keep secrets.”  Smith cleared his throat. “Now here’s where you come in.  We want you to become a resident of the facility for a month and then report to us what you learn about criminal activities.”

Shit!  Smith wanted me to walk into a nest of people my age who had done criminal things.  Would it be good or poisonous for me to be around those people?  Would I discover and come to understand pieces of myself from my criminal and prison days by getting to know them and by becoming a person who fit in with the social life at Quiet Shelter?  And did I want to discover those pieces of myself?  He was trying to push me into a place where I could possibly learn enough to deal with the part of my past that I’d been stuck dealing with.  Did I want that?  I felt a rush of anxiety.

And there was also the fact that mobsters beat, mutilated, or killed people who annoyed them.  I was often scared in my days in the criminal world and jail.  If I was in Quiet Haven as a snoop I’d be scared all the time.  I knew what they would do to a snoop if they caught one.  Lots of confusing thoughts, lots of anxiety.  But I’m a good poker player.  So I just looked at him as though I was calmly paying attention as he continued his recruiting pitch.

“My unit is particularly interested in money laundering, but we would use or pass on to other authorities anything you told us about drug dealing, illegal gambling, bribing government officials, hijacking, and other crimes.”  He leaned back and watched me, like the devil trying to con me into destroying myself.

I was thinking of saying, “Go to hell!  Get out!”  But I decided I needed to hear more.  Our conversation was pushing me to think in new ways about the old self I needed to deal with.  And I was puzzled by why Smith and his people had targeted me.  So I asked him:  “Why me?”

Smith replied with the assurance of a man who could speak for a powerful police agency. “You have an organized crime past, so you are eligible to live in the facility.  The Quiet Shelter staff would assume you know things that some people in organized crime would not want revealed.  We think we can trust you because you have not been a law breaker for 60 years, not even a driving violation.  You live near Quiet Shelter, so it makes sense that you would choose it.  We identified more than 50 people in this part of the Chicago area who could potentially help us.  But after checking out everyone you clearly are the best person for the job.”

I wondered what he meant by “checking out.”  “Did you people spy on me?”

“We did not follow you or tap your telephone, but we looked through court documents and reviewed your medical records.  And one of our agents sat next to you at a teachers’ union meeting last month and did a basic assessment.”

Ha!  HIPAA didn’t protect my medical records from the feds, even though they were not investigating me as a possible perpetrator of a crime they were trying to solve.  And I remembered the guy at the union meeting.  He seemed too interested in me.  I thought maybe he wanted to con money out of me, but he was conning information out of me.

Smith continued.  “Our man said you were smart and hard to read.  I agree with his assessment.  I think you would be good for the job.  For example, if you were shocked by my invitation to be an undercover informant, I could not tell.  And for an 84 year old man, you seem in good shape.”

“Looks are deceiving.  Sometimes I almost can’t get up from the toilet or out of bed.  Often I black out for a few seconds when I stand up.  I have back and hip pain every day.  In fact, I’m having trouble right now.”  I stood up carefully so as not to black out, but I couldn’t straighten up.  My left hip was, as usual when I first stand up, hurting intensely and feeling very unreliable.  I didn’t say anything to Smith.  I was focused on dealing with my body.  I pushed my left hand against the part of my left hip that was aching and walked slowly around the living room.  At the end of the third lap my back was hurting less and was less bent over, and my hip didn’t hurt and was working well enough.  So I returned to my chair.

Smith had quietly watched me stand up and walk around.  Once I sat down he said, “We know from your medical records that you have health problems, and those problems make it believable that you would need an eldercare facility.”

“Ha!  Being in bad shape makes me eligible for federal employment.  Agent Smith, this is entertaining, far better than daytime television.  But I never wanted to be a rat, and I know what people in organized crime do to informers.”  I picked up an AARP Bulletin near my feet and tossed it to the side.  “It doesn’t sound like anything a sane person would want to do.  What would be in it for me?”

He looked at me with a totally unreadable facial expression. He was a good poker player, too.  “It is a chance to help your country, and we would pay all your eldercare expenses plus the rent for this apartment while you were in the eldercare home.  We would also pay you $1000 a week.”

“Combat pay.  But I want to be safe.  How could I be safe being a rat?”

“Nobody in our agency will leak information that might compromise your safety.  And we would protect you by never using you as a grand jury or trial witness and by making all records of your role in our investigations top secret.”

“So I’d be on my own at Quiet Shelter?  If I screw up I’m dead.”

“We would protect you by having nothing to do with you.  Anything we did to try to protect you could tip off the Quiet Shelter staff that you are an informant.  The plan is that you would be there for a month and out of contact with us.  We would debrief you only after your month was up and you left Quiet Shelter.”

“Tough work for an 84 year old with no acting ability.  So how would I get in and out?”

“You would apply for admission on your own, and if you apply for one month, Quiet Shelter would automatically discharge you when the month was up and the money you paid ran out.  We will not contact your son, but you could encourage him to take you out periodically for walks, meals, and the like.”

My son Zach.  I still thought of him as a kid, but he was in his 50’s, had a nice job, and was planning for retirement.  I wouldn’t want to endanger him.  He would be worried if I went into an eldercare facility, and he would certainly visit and take me for outings.  Thinking about Zach made me want to get Smith out of my apartment and give myself room to think things through.  I stared at Smith, who was watching me like a cat eyeing a mouse.  “Okay, Smith, give me your calling card and a day or two to think about this.  I’ll get back to you with more questions or my decision.”

He handed me a calling card and we said our goodbyes.

*  *  *  *  *

After he left I went to my computer and looked up the Illinois Department of Health report of eldercare facility inspections.  It said that Quiet Shelter had no violations over the past three years.  Wow!  It’s a rare eldercare place that gets a clean “pass” on any inspection, let alone three years’ worth.  Then I did a web search for ratings of eldercare facilities by residents, family members, and friends.  There were seven ratings of Quiet Shelter. All were positive, 4 or 5 stars.

I went downstairs, squeezed into my old Honda Civic, and drove the two miles to Quiet Shelter.  It was a sunny day, and I don’t see well on sunny days, even with sun glasses.  Also, my reaction time is slow, and I get confused in complicated driving situations.  But I’m safe enough on streets I know, and the route to Quiet Shelter was along streets I knew.  I’d driven by the place hundreds of times, but it had never registered on me.  This time I drove slowly by the front, then turned to drive by the side and the back.  It was an imposing, four story, red brick building.  The grounds were well kept, lots of greenery and flowers.  Fences and shrubs made it impossible to see into the lower floor windows or to get close to the building anywhere other than at the entry to the building from the parking lot.  I thought about parking in the lot and going in to check out the lobby and get whatever brochures they had.  But just imagining doing it filled me with anxiety.  It felt so risky.  How could I help Smith when what he wanted me to do filled me with anxiety?  I turned around and drove home to think things over.

When I got home I made myself a cup of tea and sat down to write my reasons for going along with Smith and for not going along with him.  After a few minutes it was clear that my major reasons for not entering Quiet Shelter were the risk to my son and the risk to me.  I decided my son would be safe if he didn’t know about my working for the FBI.  The risk to me, I could live with.  It’s not like I wasn’t taking risks by driving, living alone, or even standing up.

As for reasons to do it, I was way too cynical about the criminal justice system and organized crime to think I could make a dent in the world of crime.  I didn’t need the money, and I felt no obligation to Agent Smith.  But as I thought about spending a month in Quiet Haven I had a horrible flashback, to a time I had avoided thinking about for decades.

As one of the bullies for the Pinky Goldfarb gang, I had been sent to collect protection money from a Jewish newsstand operator named Morris.  I had done dozens of “collections” and knew the routine.  I got off the streetcar and strode up to Morris, who was standing in front of his newsstand.  It was a cold, windy, dark afternoon in November, and it was drizzling.  Morris was a short thin man, with a thin beard, and thin clothing.  There was a little boy standing next to him who was also thin and wearing thin clothing.  I said with the confidence of an experienced bully who had a violent organization behind him, “Morris, I’m here to collect money that you owe Pinky Goldfarb.”  All the previous times when I collected money from a guy running a small business, the guy grumbled about it but always paid his $3.00 or whatever it was.  But Morris started screaming at me, “You fucking thief!  I hardly earn enough to eat and feed my family. We live in a tiny, dark basement flat with mice and cockroaches.  $3.00 is a lot of money to me.  Giving you $3 means we will eat almost nothing for days.  Look at my little boy Abie.  He’s the size of a six year old, but he’s 10.  We’re starving.  Leave me the hell alone.”  He turned and walked into his little newsstand.  I said, “Morris.  You know bad things will happen if you don’t pay.  You will lose your business and who knows what else might happen.”  He stumbled out of the newsstand and swung wildly at me with his right hand.  I dodged the swing and shoved him away from me.  He lost his balance and fell into the street.  His head hit the pavement, and instantly a big truck with brakes screaming ran over his chest and head.  He was dead.  His little boy Abie screamed and screamed.

As people gathered around Morris’s lifeless body, I turned and ran.  Three blocks away I staggered into an alley behind a row of stores, bent over and vomited.  Vomiting didn’t clean out what was in me.  It’s still in me.  I earned my living by extorting money from people earning barely enough to survive.  Doing that was evil. And then this guy Morris died.  I could have saved him.  I could have just walked away from him.  I could have let him hit me; it wouldn’t have hurt.  I didn’t have to push him away from me.  So many people going hungry because of what I did.  Morris dead.  And little Abie an orphan.  I hadn’t thought about that stuff for a long time, but I knew it was always in me, always eating at me.

Thinking about that gave me compelling reasons for spending time at Quiet Shelter.  My criminal past was at the crux of my being stuck trying to work out who I was.  It was who I was in those years in the Goldfarb gang and in jail that I couldn’t deal with or even remember well enough in trying to make sense of my past self.  Who was I back then?  What was there about me that I could do such harm to people?  How did all the other gangsters from those days live with themselves now?

Quiet Shelter would give me a chance to dig into my past.  I would get to know people like who I was and hear stories about people doing things like I did.  A month in Quiet Shelter might open up closed doors in my memory and tell me very unpleasant things about my old self, but I needed to understand that old self to figure out who I was now and what was reasonable to do next.  Maybe I’d learn from others how to live with an evil past.  A month in Quiet Shelter could be a godsend.

I didn’t need to ask Smith more questions.  I called his office phone and told his voice mail, “This is Cohen.  I’ll do it.”

 

 

 

BIO

Paul Rosenblatt is a retired professor who grew up in Chicago and lives in Minnesota.  As an academic he has published 14 books and more than 200 journal articles and chapters in edited books.  As a beginning writer of literary works he has pieces coming out in Streetlight Magazine, Avatar Review, and an edited book of writings.

 

 

 

0

The heart tats

by Nanette Rayman

 

 

If my body seems both supple and potential
now and again, getting nothing you’d dreamed of does this—
I smoke, bedroom-faced, my heart an air raid,
all battings and panic, the fatal flaw that keeps you all away,
sadly away on the 6 train and the bookshop,
while the sun’s lunge does nothing to skew the deck
of fate, the stroke of July, the sky spread limb-to-limb by gutting clouds
over city streets where I still search for a job. My busy body’s lithe
as a ballerina, half on the sidewalk, half in the crook of a mugger’s arm,
one bolt away from eating the scrim to the next world, as I did
once at nineteen. So much beauty, he’d leered, behind his Buick wheel, how
a starched nurse had to hold my hand for the pelvic, the stitches.
How many times I’ve told you it was a friend, a woman who told me
to get in his car—he’s cool. Inside old grief, memory grouses, it expands galaxies.
Inside my sweet white white sundress, my heart tats and now and again is free.
So, darlings who look and then look away—subconsciously aware—of my play,
do not press me or collar me, enter through the porch door
with itinerary in-hand, how you plan to scale the highest lights,
seduce me now with cowboy feet, purple roses spotted with dew
while I slip quietly out of my dress, ligature dog-gone.

 

 

Lost to Casper, Sleet, Snowballs, Tension, Top Gun

 

The vast orange fire blossoming in your flesh
proxy-sleets in my gut. Around you is the tension
wizard where the space between is intricate igneous swirls—
strobe lights, stage lights in the slough around a fort
adorned and adored by top gun carcasses—the color of
Collared Treepees. The chatter-alarm sounds unnoticed
in this borderless refurbished land, deriding
you at the bend of Southern Boulevard, hiding in the sealed
Laundromat as a front, wayfaring at the speed of snowballs
through Kibbles ‘n Bits rooms, your breath Hubba Bubba—
That is your soul now, Casper—your soul always
Arrière on my fingers, crumpled snowball and lost—you
were so blistered, broken, bellicose, honing your top gun bad
man vagabundo body into baggy. You walk so slow, so slow, down
Kelly Street, yet you disappear like Houdini in the scraps
of Hood. No headlights can find you and the plangent
sounds of death gurgling from your pus-erupting lips—and you
—a bullet I would love to talk to again one day.

 

 

Slowly, Slowly, Alive—South Bronx

 

This is not the neighborhood for you, my ex-friend said. Played with a French fry,
eyed through the coffee shop’s sun-collared window a murder of crowing guys
storm-trooping down the street as I lit a smoke forgetting I was in AmeriKa.
Ex has no idea she’s a dog. Turning me away did not become her. She had set out
flowered tea cups for coffee the day I wanted to leave my husband. She folded
rosy napkins and clicked her teeth. He’s a rat, better without him. The heart
of a rat—how she hovers over the menu as the living ghost of a beauty
queen, once, lost mother-never-had with forests of Buttonball trees
Port de Bras living and living and living in my heart.

Remember the rent spent on that drug? I remember locks
changed and my husband mud-caked and kaleidoscoped in his own
sky with tears, meadows of dandelions and violets dying in his ribs. Planted
urchin on the street begging to come home. I remember looking for work
being laughed at for saying I have what it takes, I remember relenting as a fool
and bringing my blistered man home and I remember hands around
my throat as Bazooka-blown gratitude. I remember her turning me down
when I asked to stay one night.

On our way out Ex caught my hand with her hand. Placed cash. Sneered
away from the crows coming in. Let’s get outta here! I flinched. Not Nephilim,
she uttered grabbing for her own smoke—Merit 100. Take care of yourself
she said through swirly rings, the chain-link fences, the oily land of tire
shops. Stinks of middle earth, she said. I’m going to live, like this.

 

 

BIO

Nanette Rayman, poetry books:  Shana Linda Pretty Pretty, Project: Butterflies, two-time Pushcart nominee, Best of Net, DZANC Best of Web, winner Glass Woman Prize. Publications:  The Worcester Review, Sugar House Review (newpages.com), Stirring’s Steamiest Six, gargoyle, Little Rose Magazine, isthmus, Scarlet Leaf Review, Red Wolf Journal, Seventh Wave, The Scarlet Leaf Review.

 

 

 

 

 

0

Thick Skin, Locked Jaw, Yes Ma’am

by Rina Sclove

 

 

Liana isn’t quite sure what to do with herself when the commander holds the gun out in front of her. She knows what she’s supposed to do — take it, lie on the mat, do the practice drill like they’d gone over. Hand on the barrel, finger away from the trigger, elbows tucked.

She knows what to do with her body. But what to do with herself — of that she isn’t so sure.

Body over mind, she tells herself. It is only her second day of basic training but she is a soldier nonetheless, all thick skin, locked jaw and “yes ma’am.”

The commander holds out a gun and Liana takes it, the metal sharp and cold in her palm. Like ice, but heavier, the kind of weight that she knows she isn’t meant to hold. Her hands carry it nonetheless — she is a soldier, after all — and somehow she makes it to the mat, lies down with legs spread apart, propped up on her elbows. When the time comes she lifts the gun, waiting for commands.

She had expected it to be different, somehow, as if accepting orders would feel more grave if she had a killing machine in her hands. She’d had nightmares about if for the full week after she was given the draft notice, envisioned her hands bloody with a stain she couldn’t remove, metal dragging her deep down into the earth, straight through the crust and into its burning core.

It is her body that she was chosen for, sturdy and strong, everything a soldier’s is meant to be. Her mind had also played a part — she’d gotten good grades in school and had always followed instructions perfectly. Nobody, though, had asked about her heart. She thinks of how she cried into her pillow for that bitter week and knows that it was a mistake, that they would have found something too soft to not be crushed within the grasp of army-greens.

She is just as much blood as she is bone and muscle, kindness in the way that is iron. This is something she knows, seeped from her heart to her mind, all the way to her palms, steady as they hold the cold steel of the gun. It comes as a surprise, then, that when the commander barks at her to load she feels nothing.

It’s because it’s an empty cartridge, she tells herself, pushes it in and ignores the way she knows it isn’t true.

The commander keeps shouting orders and Liana keeps following them to the letter. It is because she is a soldier, she tells herself. It is because the gun is empty.

Only it isn’t. Her arms have started to ache with the weight of it, unyielding metal turning her limbs into lead. How could it be empty if she felt it so sharply, if her arms were not screaming for all of the ways in which it is full?

The commander gives the order to shoot, and Liana is sure that this is the one that will make her feel something. She will cry, shake, scream, gasp for air, anything to let the world know that her skin might be iron but kindness is blood, all heat, bubbling as it melts the steel facade. That there are things that are stronger than her hands, and this, this will be the proof of it.

Only it doesn’t, not yet, and oh god what if I never –

No. She is a soldier, but she is kind, and she can be both. She has to be.

The target is shaped like a person. She isn’t meant to be aiming for anything, only getting a feel for how to shoot, but she can’t take her eyes off of it. It looks small, Liana thinks, though maybe it’s just the distance. At any rate, it should make her sick to shoot at it, should make her feel something, anything.

In the end, it doesn’t even make her hesitate.

She pulls the trigger, shoots the gun, feels the kickback make her entire body tremble. The gun is empty, the person metal, but this is still real, and she doesn’t know what to make of that.

Afterwards, the commander gives her notes on her form and she listens with a soldier’s ears, attentive and unyielding. So it is only when she is dismissed to sit with the others that she realizes that the kickback was the only thing she’d felt, that when her body shook it was only at one kind of impact.

Bea is crying, Veronica is staring wide-eyed at her palms, and Mich and Jo are whispering frantically over the guns lying in their laps. They are soldiers, all of them, and good people. Shooting at something doesn’t make you less of one. There is a war, after all, and a country full of other good people to defend.

Still, though. She’s supposed to feel something when she does it, and Liana can’t help but wonder what is so wrong with her that she can’t.

She has a soldier’s body, she’s always known that. But it is only when she looks to her arms and realizes that they are no longer struggling with the weight of the gun that she wonders if she has a soldier’s heart, too.

Had they looked at it after all? Did they examine it during her physical, peek into its caverns and crevices, feel it beat and decide that it was just as metal as the rest of her? Or was it the opposite? Had she forgotten in all of the chaos that soft things cannot be crushed, only molded, that they will fit any uniform so long as they’re put in it?

Kindness, steel, a gun in her palms — which will be stronger, when it matters? Will she?

Liana thinks of a target-shaped person, of an icy burden she can no longer feel beating in her chest and loosens her grip on the gun, finally registering the way the metal had bitten into her skin.

She doesn’t know if she has a soldier’s heart. Doesn’t even know what it would mean if she did. Still, she shudders as she casts her eyes towards the open sky, lips moving somewhere between a prayer and a promise as she begs for a good one.

 

 

 

BIO

Rina Sclove is currently a junior in high school at Princeton Day School. She lives in Princeton, NJ with her parents, two sisters, and beloved fish, Algae-Won Kenobi. She has previously had work published in Canvas Literary Journal and Adelaide Literary Magazine and hopes to become an author someday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

Everyone Smile:
It’s Epy’s Doo-dooseum and Glucy’s Pooscapes

by Douglas J. Ogurek

 

 

I can read cartoon characters’ lips. Well, a cartoon character—Professor Vye Carioso. I know everyone in Deichild loves Glucy’s Pooscapes. I know because Vye Carioso told me.

Glucy is a little genius. Glucy is my child. She is so talented. I know. Before she was born, I knew. I held headphones over my belly. I played Pasteven Sirpast’s Pee Opera. And Glucy didn’t respond. Not a single push. She was unimpressed. I knew that she would outdo Pasteven as a child prodigy.

I knew about Glucy’s talent on the night she was conceived. While Unin was grunting and thrusting away, I was doing some charity work: planning to sell my older daughter Expoxyna’s drawings to neighbors. At a crazy discounted price. Epy’s a genius too. When Unin was done, he gave me a new pair of heels. They had twenty-two curls, and super bright prodigy projections. They made me two feet taller. It makes sense, since I excelled in my heelogy courses. My next child would do great things too. I just knew it.

I remember the first time I read Vye Carioso’s lips. I was pregnant with Glucy, and in the fuzzyglow room. I ripped out a mypeel’s eyes for Epy. I hate it when mypeels scream, but Epy really likes the lipstick you get when you rip off their fur and pluck out their eyes, then stuff chewyglows in the sockets and keep them alive for a couple days. That lipstick is so pretty. And I cut off the mypeel’s tail so Epy could play with it.

Then it was naptime for Epy. So I cut out the mypeel’s tongue and used my nipple dials to turn down the television volume. Did you know my breast screens are among the largest in Deichild?

Epy’s favorite cartoon, You’re the Smartest Kid in the Universe, was on. Vye Carioso, the main character, was looking at me. I’ve always thought that Vye’s doll Migol looks a lot like my girls. Especially the lower part of the forehead and the eyelashes. The sound was off, but, amazingly, I could read Vye’s lips. “Syrupity! Well color me pookle tink, Heli Wonup. You’re almost there, gonk-gloop.” Then he flicked his brain rain at the screen.

Dink Nose came into the fuzzyglow room and interrupted us. She still had pink frosting all over her face from the cupcake that Epy rubbed on her. I read Vye Carioso’s lips again. “There is the selfish one.”

Dink Nose comforted the mypeel and looked at me like I did something wrong.

I said, “Playing with mypeel tails is good for Epy’s dexterity.” As tertiary sub-candidate for secondary associate assistant to the associate vice president of the fourth toenail decorating committee of Mothers of Prodigees, I should know. The MOP Guide to Brilliant Children has a whole chapter on mypeels. And that lipstick? Perfect for prodigies (like my girls) with super high ICutes.

Migol slammed his heavy head into Vye’s hand. When Vye stopped jumping around and crying, I read his lips. “Have the selfish one leave. I have to tell you something of the highest sluppleglup.”

Dink Nose said, “What’s with glasses?”

My six-inch-wide lenses let Epy see what I see. I let the mypeel go outside. Dink Nose said that I was so compassionate. Yes. She said that maybe the mypeel that I had blinded would learn to play the piano and become a virtuoso.

I said, “Not better than Epy will be. I need you to get my smileypop.”

When Dink Nose left, I read Vye’s lips again. “Heli Wonup, your baby will be brilliant. Just gonk flump. Yeah-hah, woo!”

“I know. Just like Epoxyna.”

“There are no slups, cloops, or glomps about it.” He flicked brain rain.

Dink Nose returned before I could respond. She looked out the window and pointed out a skyumph. “Isn’t she in Epy’s class?”

The skyumph showed Nogol Bragara’s girl Sapina accepting her award for prettiest left eyelash in Deichild.

I uploaded onto my butt screens images of Epy’s awards for best early afternoon somersault ending in a one-footed hop and cutest blink for girls between three and three-and-one-third years old who live in chartreuse and fuchsia houses on Macarooli Street. Then Vye could see her talent. I said, “Sapina’s mother’s smileypop is half the size of mine.”

“That explains a lot.” Dink Nose looked at my framed image of Epy’s spit-up. It was ranked in the top two hundred spit-ups among infants in Poopyhead County. She said, “Maybe you should have some planet named after Epy.”

How could I take advice from a dink like Dink Nose, when her one pair of heels was only one inch high? They didn’t have prodigy projections. And the heels didn’t even curl. Besides, if I did have a planet named after Epy, it would be this one.

I went back to Vye Carioso, but Epy woke up and said, “Look, Mommy. I’m funny.” She sprayed DinkStink in Dink Nose’s face.

I laughed. “Yes, you are very funny.”

Dink Nose laughed a fake laugh. It sounded like a witch’s laugh.

I said, “That’s not a real laugh.”

Dink Nose said, “Was your laugh real?”

Epy turned on her MommyMute and screamed, “I want to go to the playandplayandplayground and I want to go now.”

When my ears stopped hurting, I told Dink Nose to take her. What else was Dink Nose going to do? She doesn’t have kids.

Dink Nose sang, “When you ask, I will work on your behalf/And when you fall, I will surely—” She stopped and said, “Sorry.” She does that a lot. Sings, then stops.

When they left, I talked more with Vye. He said, “So so talented. Your daughter Epoxyna is the flonk of the slup.” True. Talented. That’s what Dr. Slappy Proppybap said after Epy used her pencil to stab a classmate in the eye. He said that shows her artistic need to go beyond the surface.

I asked what I needed to do to make sure my next baby was a genius too. Vye told me to save my afterbirth, then watch YTSKITU episode thirty-nine: “Others Should Do What You Say.”

He also asked me to do some prodigy prepping, like rubbing ickyme blood on my stomach. I had to keep one of the creatures in a box in my old purse—my new purse is an Achievery, and it has four prodigy advancement screens, and Dink Nose waited in line seven hours for it—and poke it with needles to keep the blood coming. That’s a big sacrifice for me. Those ickymes last three days.

***

Nachovember 4, 20peepee

Dear Epy and Glucy addicts:

The Doo-dooseum is built! Epoxyna Wonup, my 5-year-old prodigy, designed it.

In my last MOP-mail, I gave you a chance to make donations toward the Doo-dooseum. Geeyick! That was my reaction when none of you responded. By the way, geeyick means, “I don’t understand.” Glucy, my 15-month-old, another prodigy, invented it. It’s now being considered for the MOP Guide to Infant Prodigyisms. More on Glucy later.

So I was disappointed in all of you for not donating. Then it hit me—you were overwhelmed by the beauty of Epy’s sketches for the Doo-dooseum. That’s why you didn’t donate. You couldn’t even think straight. As the mother of 2 prodigies, I understand.

Don’t worry. I’m giving you another chance to show your appreciation. The first 850 Deichildans to donate more than 100 stickers will get a free gift: a coupon good for 2% off any item in Epy’s Boogjestic jewelry line. Every piece in the line is made with a genuine treasure from Epy’s nose. Maybe you’ve seen the ads on the TalentRail or my breast screens, which are some of the largest in Deichild. I need you to be sure that the stickers you donate are glih green or yeeff purple only. Glucy invented these colors, which were added to the MOP Directory of Prodigy-named Colors. Use the attached color chart to be sure that you’re using the right colors.

But wait, this will make your week: Glucy Wonup’s Pooscapes is coming to the Doo-dooseum as the opening exhibit. It is poo! It is shiny! It is colorful! And it is genius! I know.

Prodigy art expert Meuppia Caliber (a fellow tertiary sub-candidate for secondary associate assistant MOP membership) called Pooscapes “the most beautiful infant-created portfolio since my own Soldera’s Snotscapades.”

Just so you know, Epy’s spit-up is ranked among the top 200 ever in Poopyhead County, but Soldera’s is not. And I’ve seen Meuppia’s smileypop. It shows that Soldera only has 17 teeth colors. If you look at my smileypop, you’ll see that Epy has 23.

I’m sure you’ll want to bring gifts to Glucy while we prepare her masterpiece. She’s registered at One in a Million Zillion, Talented Offspring in the Air, and My Child Phenom. To make sure that we’re not flooded with all the offerings that are sure to come, I have attached a list of time slots. These will fill up quickly, so I need you to choose your delivery slot and send it back now.

We do ask that you only wear glih and yeeff clothing when you drop off your gifts.

Who wants to bring books for Glucy? They must be at the college reading level. Glucy already reached toward my breast screens (size “bowog”—Epy invented that masterpiece—big) when I was showing a Boogjestic ad, so we assume she’ll be at a college reading level soon.

Also, we Wonups have always stressed the importance of fairness. So you will probably want to bring something for Epy. Besides, she designed the Doo-dooseum! You may bring brownies and cupcakes. Epy has no specific color requirements—she’s not fussy. We only ask that the cupcakes and brownies are dodecagon-shaped.

I’m sure that some of you will be tempted to bring me gifts. But this is not about me, so please refrain from doing so. Invest your money. For instance, you could make a down payment on my next prodigy’s masterpiece.

Dinks can get child service hours for helping to set up Pooscapes. I need dinks to only wear white clothing, so that Epy and Glucy can stain them as desired.

I’m sure you’re wondering about the grand opening of the Doo-dooseum and Pooscapes. You can enter the raffle to get your name on the list for those who can line up first to get tickets. We do not want to start a riot because of people fighting to get tickets.

When the Doo-dooseum opens, you might be able to purchase a copy of the original sketch autographed by Glucy. This cost is only 352 stickers. And 100% yeeff or glif only please.

Attached is a free gift: an image of my first menstrual pad after I had Glucy. You’ll see where she gets her talent. Ha ha.

You will get your next Glucy and Epy fix soon. In the meantime, try to tide yourself over with the free gift, which you might consider framing and hanging as an example for your own children. If you are interested in displaying it on your breast or butt screens, I need you to contact me regarding the specific guidelines and advertising rates.

Ehehkahily,

Heli Wonup, TSC SAA AVP FTDC MOP

P.S. Ehehkah is another Glucy word. It means, “excellent.”

***

Glucy is brilliant. She’s my two-year-old. I know she’ll be just as brilliant as Epy, my six-year-old.

The day that she was born, Glucy grabbed Dr. Purple Murplebupple’s finger. It’s like she was saying, “Someday, I’ll be just as good as you.” With the way things are going, maybe Glucy will be his boss someday! “Syrupity.” That’s what Vye Carioso would say.

The first time I brought her outside, Glucy reached toward the sky. Maybe when she gets bored with brain surgery, she’ll be an astronaut. My daughter, an astronaut. Ehehkah! That’s another word that she made up. I’ve submitted it to the MOP Guide to Infant Prodigyisms.

Glucy was three weeks old when YTSKITU episode 39 came on. I remember it was three weeks because Unin and I were shocked that she wasn’t walking or reading. It probably had to do with all those dinks coming to Deichild. Still, Dr. Murplebupple was amazed at Glucy’s physical aptitude, and Dr. Slappy Proppybap couldn’t get over her mental acuity.

Before the episode started, Dink Nose came into the stretchysweet room. She had my new Achievery purse. It had four display screens. The tag said that she only waited in line for three hours. I said, “No good.”

Epy corrected me. “Mommy, it’s gwood. I want you to say gwood.” Epy—she’s the only child I’ve ever seen who was just as brilliant as Glucy at three weeks—coughed two times that day, so I kept her home from school. That’s the Trumpetal School for Children Who Get Bad Grades in Normal Schools Because They’re Not Challenged by the Material and They’re so Much Smarter Than the Other Kids.

“Okay,” I said. “It was no gwood.”

Dink Nose said, “How do you say it? No glood?”

Epy stomped. “Gwood,  gwood.”

“Oh, no grood?”

Epy started screaming.

Dink colleges don’t make those dinks very smart. I know that her college didn’t have a single course in economics of sex (my major) or male reactions to movements (my minor).

“Mommy make her stop.” Epy was about to turn on ShockMa to convince me to get Dink Nose to stop, so I changed the subject and told Dink Nose her waiting time left something to be desired—Toutranda Heirlift’s dink assistant waited in line six hours for Toutranda’s Achievery purse.

Dink Nose sang, “Lady, you’re the reason, the reason for all of it./You are the reason my life is full of—” Then she said, “Sorry.”

“You can finish it, you know?” I said. “You’re the reason my life is full of excellence.”

Having Epy home meant more prodigy/mommy time! And a chance to add color to her teeth. So I nailed an iew to the smiley board. Dink Nose started crying and getting all mad.

There’s something wrong with people who don’t have kids. Everything was normal: the iew was screaming and squirming and bleeding like usual. But Dink Nose screamed, “You’re the kindest person I’ve ever known.”

Probably true, but she didn’t have to scream it.

Epy kept saying, “Ehgick.” Another Glucy word. It means, “I’m hungry.”

I was getting ready for YTSKITU when Epy turned on her MommyMute. She screamed so loud that my ears got stuffed for a few minutes. Her voice is so powerful. So I’m giving her singing lessons so she can improve her gift. A singing surgeon astronaut!

I deserved the MommyMute: Epy asked for dodecagon-shaped meatballs, and I made decagon shapes. But the deafness—it was only temporary—turned out to be a good thing: I didn’t have to turn down the volume on the TV. My girls. They’re always looking out for me.

Vye Carioso tossed up his Migol doll. The doll came down and its head smashed Vye in the face. I read Vye’s lips. “Syrupity! Look at that glup in your hair. Just gloopy-flup.”

I told him it was the gum that Epy put in the wig that she picked for me that day. It was a white wig, but she made it look so much prettier with the gum. And she spit some juice in it to add even more color.

“So, so gifted.” Vye slammed the doll into his head and his elbow patches sparkled. “First Epy shall design something fleep-flump amazing.”

“But she’s already achieved fame with her talents. She’s already designed one of the top two hundred spit-ups in Poopyhead County.”

He got onto his knees. “And such an inspirational spit-up it was. But that’s just the gonk on the flump.”

A commercial came on, so I sawed off the iew’s horns, ground them down, and then started mixing the powder with brightbright to make some tooth dye for Epy.

Dink Nose started unnailing the iew. “Thanks to your compassion, this creature’s going to have such an easy time out there.”

“Don’t get its blood on the carpet.”

“Maybe it can use some of Epy’s meatballs instead of its horns.”

“That’s silly,” I said. “When you see how it’s added to Epy’s teeth colors, you’ll understand the sacrifice it has made.”

“That explains it.”

Vye came back on. Migol’s head slammed into his mouth. Vye spit out some teeth, then I read his bloody lips. “Oh, you’re so close, Heli. But first make that dink go away.” So I sent out Dink Nose, and told her not to come back until she waited seven hours for a new Achievery purse for me.

She let out the iew, then sang, “You are a woman like no other, something rich./You, woman, are a mother f . . . sorry.”

Epy slapped Dink Nose across the face. It was a good slap. She might be a professional volleyball player someday, when she’s not saving lives or making discoveries in space or bringing people to tears with her voice.

But I did want to hear Dink Nose finish that part of the song. “You, woman, are a mother of geniuses.”

Dink Nose tried to get out of going for the purse, but I said, “Eeeyah.” Guess what. Another Glucy word. It means, “Stop talking, idiot.” Dink Nose is too fond of herself. Like she thinks she’s above wearing heels. I wore heels with seventeen curls that day.

Vye flicked his brain rain, and I read his lips. “Stick a glopown’s tail in a wigglybop. Glomp glup. It will expel green and pink liquid, liquid that Epy will use to paint a building that’s just fleep-flump.”

I went to the window and used my large nipple dial—it’s large because my breast screens are so much larger than most—to activate my skyumph. It showed a video of Epy turning on and off a light. Award-winning cute. I told Vye that I would display Epy’s Doo-dooseum painting on that.

“Well color me pookle tink, you’ll do more than that—you’ll have your husband build it. It will be the Doo-dooseum. Syrupity!” Migol ripped off part of Vye’s lip, then stuck a rattle in Vye’s eye.

I knew right away I’d do it. I do anything I can to give my daughters a better life than I had. When I was their age, I didn’t have wall chutes. I didn’t even have anal glides. Imagine having to spend all that time wiping! And in a bathroom! And there was no such thing as Mothers of Prodigees to look after gifted children like me back then. Living under such terrible conditions takes its toll, but I made it. When I was a child, I even designed the Snazzyboog home décor line that featured my boogers.

I said, “What about Glucy?”

Vye wiped the blood coming from his eye, and blood spattered when he talked. “So so talented, slup-plup. All the Wonups are just the flonk of the slup.” Migol’s hair is the exact same color of Glucy’s, when the sun is setting in fall and we tint the windows glih. Glucy made up glih. It’s a beautiful shade of green. When I asked about her favorite color, she picked something green out of her nose and said, “Glih.” She understood me. So that’s where glih was created.

I read Vye’s bloody lips. “Wait, please, until episode sixty-six: ‘Way Above the Others,’ and then I will tell you how Glucy will create something slup glup gloppity gloop.” He skipped and shouted, “Yeah-hah, woo!” and blood came out of his mouth.

I applied the iew horn/brightbright mixture to Epy’s teeth. I used yeeff, another Glucy color. When I asked her what color she likes, she said, “Yeeff” and threw her juice on the stickysquirm room floor. It made a beautiful purple splotch. I’m sure that yeeff and glif will be on the cover of the revised version of the MOP Directory of Prodigy-named Colors.

I took a new image of Epy’s teeth with my smileypop. So my smileypop showed six more teeth colors than Toutranda Heirlift’s had. And mine was so much brighter.

Then I got Glucy’s wigglybop, and made plans to get a glopown creature. I said, “You’re going to be a star, Epy.” She hit me and stuck pink frosting in my wig. It was so pretty. Epy was going to design a syrupity building. I knew it.

***

Janpoohairy 13, 21peepee

Dear Epy and Glucy addicts:

This is the announcement that most Deichildans have been losing sleep over because you’re so excited. As an official tertiary sub-candidate for secondary associate assistant to the associate vice president of the fourth toenail decorating committee of Mothers of Prodigees, I’m pleased to announce the Doo-dooseum, designed by Epy Wonup and featuring Glucy Wonup’s gloopy-flup Pooscapes exhibit, is set to officially open on Marchmallow 15. Glucy picked that date by sticking a booger on the calendar. She has the cutest little boogers.

I remember my boogers when I was Glucy’s age. They were just as engrossing, and beautiful enough to start the Snazzyboog home décor line.

The number of you who signed up for the Doo-dooseum and Pooscapes ticket raffle leaves something to be desired. At first, I was like “Geeyick. This isn’t gwood.” (Geeyick and gwood are words that my daughters, both prodigies, invented). I thought, if other Deichildans haven’t seen the projections about the raffle on the squigglybounce, TalentRail, or my skyumph, then where have they been? Then it dawned on me: you thought that the idea of getting a chance to line up to buy tickets was too good to be true.

Don’t panic. There is still a chance for you to see what Bow2Child architecture critic Sy Cophany Kidyoked called, “one of the most ambitious works ever to be created by one sister and exhibited in a museum designed by another and to be located at 12 Tumblumshum Road.”

Back to opening day. To ensure that there are no riots on that world-changing day, I have created a schedule for seeing the exhibit. Children with 17 to 22 teeth colors accompanied by mothers with 12 to 21 curls in their heels will have first viewing time. Children with fewer than 5 teeth colors and mothers with fewer than 5 curls get in last. I based the schedule on Epy’s teeth colors (23) and the number of curls (22) in my heels. In each case, I assume that these are the most in Deichild.

I need anyone who’d like to receive Glucy and Epy’s autographs to do so on opening day between 2:12 p.m. and 2:41 p.m. Better line up a little early (48 hours in advance): we expect long lines. Autographs will be available for 399 stickers each for Glucy. Only bring stickers that are 100% glih or yeeff, which are Glucy’s favorite colors. She invented them. Also, I need you to wear glih or yeeff lipstick. Use the attached form to order. If you need advice, I can help: I took advanced lipstick shades at Momgrab U. Your clothing should also have those colors. You need to wear a gwood wig and face paint—Glucy is afraid of adults who don’t. Please bring a thick marker (glih or yeeff only, preferably cupcake-scented) so that Glucy can sign your stuff. Glucy will also be allowed to keep the marker and decorate your face, wig, and clothing as she wishes.

Epy’s autograph requirements are a lot less stringent. Just wear a dodecagon-shaped hat, and bring some things for her to put on your face and she’ll sign away. Special: all those who wear something from Epy’s Boogjestic jewelry line get one sticker off the 399-sticker price!

For those of you unable to wait in line, you may purchase a copy of their signatures in a frame touched by Epy and Glucy.

Kiddyups who are overwhelmed by the beauty of Epy’s architecture or Glucy’s exhibit will have access to recovery rooms. There, you can relax while watching videos of Epy saying “No” and “Mine”—it’s adorable, and it may help boost your child’s ICute—and Glucy doing inspiring things like blinking and touching things.

Those who wish to smell Glucy’s fresh sparkling feces may do so in a special group tour available for 199 stickers. It gets better. Those who take the tour will get a coupon gwood for 2% off Doo-dooseum and Pooscapes squigglybounce-, airplane-, TalentRail-, and home-size posters.

If you’re a dink, not to worry. We have many openings for dinks who need child service hours. These include museum games like DinkDunk, Pink-a-Dink, and Spin-a-Dink-Till-He-Pukes. All dinks who volunteer for Decorate-a-Dink Café will get a special treat: the café will loop the Glucy video that played at the last Least Valueless Dink Awards. It’s the one that shows her sleeping and breathing, and all kinds of cute stuff like that.

Separate viewing times are available for dinks, who must pay a seven-sticker non-parent surcharge. Dinks who have decided not to have children (as opposed to those who cannot) will be assessed an additional 3-sticker selfishness fee.

Before entering, all dinks must wait for a half hour behind a school bus in the parking lot, then help teachers create picket signs for their annual raise ten times higher than those of dinks. And I need any dink woman to go before my subcommittee to determine which displays you can see and for how long.

Well, ehEHehEHehEH. That’s Glucy’s word for “I’m tired.”

Glihly and yeeffly,

Heli Wonup, TSC SAA AVP FTDC MOP

P.S. Attached is a virtual bottle of Glucy’s spit-up. Drag it across your screen to be inspired!

***

Epy used her ShockMa on me just before YTSKITU episode sixty-six came on. I deserved it: I didn’t program the leaves on our trees to change to dodecagon shapes. Worse, I didn’t change the waterfall in our yard to cotton candy colors. How dare I stifle her creativity! I know, though, it’s because of the way that I was raised. It’s my mother’s fault.

Epy screamed and stomped and drew on the walls and the furniture. Her drawings were beautiful. She’ll be a great artist someday. I know it. Like the time she took our kitty Smackpull from the litter box, then threw him against the wall? Dr. Proppybap said that shows her need to use her creativity. She was “thinking out of the litter box.” Ha ha.

I used my nipple dials to change the trees and water. But Epy was still upset. Prodigies! She used her green permanent marker on the curtains. Genius. I could see the same talent that created the Doo-dooseum. It was under construction then. My husband Unin—he owns Bow2Child—decided to have it built to celebrate Epy’s 3/17th birthday. Looks like all those late nights studying seduction methodologies at Momgrab U paid off!

The dinks complained. They said that we wiped out many dusteenies’ nests to build it. But so what? You can’t use dusteenies for any cosmetic purposes. And they aren’t even pretty birds.

Glucy started to cry too. I gave her a marker. She threw it at my face. Then—this is ehehkah—she held her hands like you sometimes see Pretzelbent Bleeblah hold her tiny hands. I wouldn’t be surprised if Glucy (or Epy) became Pretzelbent someday. Who wants to guess who made up the word Pretzelbent? That’s right, gwood. It was Epy! Then I looked in the mirror, and a streak from Glucy’s marker took my breath away with its beauty. So beautiful that I later had pictures of it dropped all over Deichild.

Dink Nose came in. “What’s with face?”

“Proof of prodigy.”

“Poof of prodigy,” said Dink Nose. “I just saw Nogol Bragara’s daughter’s toe on a truck wrap.”

“So?” I said, “Epy’s toe was on an airplane wrap.”

“But wasn’t that a fourth toe? This was Sapina’s third toe, and it was so . . .” She wiped a tear. “. . . beautiful.” Then she did that witch cackle again.

Sometimes I think that dinks like Dink Nose have way too much time on their hands. To notice something so small. Besides, she doesn’t know anything about toenail decoration. She doesn’t even wear toenail polish, and that day, I had the Deichild skyline painted on my pinkie toe. And I had to deal with an ickyme screaming in my purse for three days to get the buildings to glow like that.

Dink Nose tied her heelless shoes—her fingernails weren’t even painted! She said, “I heard that sometimes Nogol Bragara eats Sapina’s boogers.”

“Nogol was in my testosterone tweakage course at Momgrab University.”

“That explains her dark glasses.”

“I got an AW (anesthesiologist’s wife) in my lip glistening final. She only got a CW (chief executive’s wife).”

“But she says that eating boogers makes a better daughter/mommy bond.”

Dink Nose wasn’t wearing the Doo-dooseum logo. Glucy drew that too. It only took her six seconds. Brilliant. I said, “Where’s your logo?”

“Now what did I do with that?” She picked a clump from Smackpull’s litter. “Oh, here it is.”

Obviously, she was trying to show me that Epy’s logo was so powerful that it made her feel whole. It clumped her together. I gave her another logo.

She started singing. “I’ve watched your children growing up./Your mothering makes me feel like throw—” Epy sprayed DinkStink in Dink Nose’s mouth. Dink Nose turned green and coughed and we laughed.

I took Dink Nose’s hand and crushed the litter over her head. We laughed more. “My mothering might make you feel like throwing up your hands and dancing, but you need heels for that.”

YTSKITU episode sixty-six came on, so I muted it. Migol ripped off one of Vye’s earlobes. I read Vye’s lips. “Syrupity, Heli Wonup. Look at Glucy’s diaper screens. Will slups never cease to gloop?”

I had a three-screen display on Glucy’s diapers. I told Vye about what they showed: Glucy’s ICute, a video of her brilliant performance as a mud puddle, and a super cute video of her yanking Smackpull’s tail.

“So close, Heli Wonup, so close. Yeah-ha, woo!”

Epy started hitting my leg. I got down so she could hit my face too. I am a good mother. I know it. She put a booger in my wig. It was like a jewel.

Migol stuck the earlobe in Vye’s nose. Vye said, “You must have that dink leave the room.”

I told Dink Nose to take Epy outside and let her play with the DinkDunk. But first I ate Epy’s jewel. I know I’m a better mother than Nogol Bragara, and Dink Nose needs to understand that.

Migol used a spoon to eviscerate Vye. Then I read Vye’s lips. “Heli, Glucy is so, so gifted.”

“I’ll have her first steps on video,” I said. “Her first one hundred thousand steps.”

“No matter which way you sloop the flump, Glucy has talent. And she has something syrupity to add to the Doo-dooseum.”

“Well let’s be fair. Epy’s talented too. She’s a prodigy in architecture, logos, and fonts.”

Vye flicked brain rain. “How gloopy-flup you are.”

“She’s designed thirteen variations of the scribbly font.”

Migol played with Vye’s intestines and Vye continued. “And Glucy will match, but never exceed, Epy’s skills.”

“More than skills.”

“Glucy will create the first exhibit in Epy’s Doo-dooseum. It shall be called called Pooscapes. It’s in the cloop-clups.”

I took out my smileypop. “That will make it the most popular opening exhibit of all time.”

“First rip the marblettes off a rindego’s wings. Glup gloop. Then put a female adolescent huskido in a brainshaker. When the creature expires, mix the stuff that comes out of its ears with the marblettes, then put it in Glucy’s cereal.”

“She eats Cocoa Virtuosos.”

Migol took off his diaper and Vye spun his own intestines like a lasso. “Yeah-ha, woo! Tune into episode 103, ‘Make Mommy Listen,’ and I’ll give you some tips on conceiving your next champion.”

“Prodigy. My next prodigy.”

Migol shoved his poopy diaper in Vye’s face. And I went to get a rindego and a female adolescent huskido.

***

Apepillow 3, 21peepee

Dear Epy and Glucy addicts:

Your turnout at the Doo-dooseum grand opening leaves something to be desired. Duffy Puffy Today Prodigentertainment editor (and my sister) Famby Proxy called the Doo-dooseum and Pooscapes “Deichild’s brilliant but by no means superior response to the Holyouth Poo Zoo, and evidence that genius runs in the family.” Although Famby’s dink assistant only waited in line 2 hours for her purse—it has 3 screens versus my 4—and my dink assistant waited 7 for mine, Famby has a point. So I must conclude that the reason nobody came to the grand opening was this: you were afraid that I would judge you because your children have not achieved the same success as mine. Please don’t be embarrassed. Remember, if every child were on top, then we wouldn’t have any super prodigies.

To show our willingness to forgive your completely understandable oversight, we’re offering you an opportunity to have your photo taken with Epy and Glucy. All I need you to do is show up. And bring your MOP guides and directories. I’d be happy to sign them for free, if you donate 200 stickers to the Wonup Genius Fund.

Please don’t beat yourself up for failing to come to the grand opening. You have another chance to redeem yourself: to make up for the unexpected loss in revenue, we are accepting donations of essential items. Examples include heels (over 20 curls and purchased after a 6-hour wait only please) and cosmetic creatures. Sticker donations are always welcome. I need you to drop off donations between 2:10 p.m. and 2:27 p.m. Also, we’ve let up on the sticker requirements. Before, we required that stickers be 100% yeeff or glih. Now you can give whatever color you want, for 3% of the sticker’s surface. Imagine it: your colors right beside those created by Glucy Wonup! All deviations will be returned and the donator will be charged a non-super prodigy color usage fee.

Sticker donations will be used for the purchase of more toys to reward Epy and Glucy for their creative efforts. We will also use stickers to buy a new security system; we discovered a dink prowling the premises and trying to help a baby dusteeny. She said its nest was destroyed and its family was killed when the Doo-dooseum was built. But we all have to adapt, don’t we?

When I was in the Super High School for Children Who Get into Power Struggles with Their Parents Because the Children Are So Much Smarter, a short circuit shut down my breast screens for over 2 hours. But I persevered. And today, not only is my resolution top-notch, but my breast screens are among the largest in Poopyhead County.

I have to confess: I’ll also be using your much-deserved contributions to upgrade my girls’ teeth and my smileypop. As an official tertiary (as opposed to Famby’s quaternary) sub-candidate for secondary (as opposed to Famby’s tertiary) associate assistant to the associate vice president of the MOP fourth toenail decorating committee, and with my recent nomination for quaternary associate sub-candidate for partial membership in the tertiary committee for finger painting in the fluff sparkle branch of the western northeast region of MOP, I was surprised and disappointed to discover another kiddyup mother (who never took a course in male systems, and whose children are nowhere near as successful or talented as mine) had a smileypop that showed her child had 15 teeth colors. That’s only 10 fewer than mine. The citizens of 323215335/llkkhesxcgghghjjkk14414;m n ht

Oh, Glucy just took over the keyboard. Who wants to analyze what she typed? It won’t be difficult to see her brilliance.

As I was saying, the citizens of Deichild owe it to each other to reward those with the most talented children.

Your mistake in not coming to the grand opening is a blessing in disguise: our shipment of accessories inspired by Glucy’s masterpiece has arrived. So bring your stickers—remember, 97% yeeff or glih—because you may now purchase breast and butt screen animations of Glucy stretching her fingers as she creates her art, and purse and heel projections of Epy throwing our cat Smackpull into pink water. It will give your children something to aspire to.

A special offer to my fellow Momgrab U alumni: advertise Glucy and Epy’s ICute on your skyumph, breast screens, or butt screens and you can purchase heel projections that feature the Doo-dooseum logo for a huge discount. Not only will you have 2% off the suggested MOP price, but you’ll also get a true classic: my childhood photos advertising the Snazzyboog jewelry line. It pays to be a Momgrab U Glowing Ovary!

Film directors looking to make a documentary: due to the long lines that we anticipate, I need you to line up at the rear of the Doo-dooseum 2 days from now. We’ll start interviewing directors 5 days from now. Both Glucy and Epy are natural actresses. At the Trumpetal School for Children Who Get Bad Grades in Normal Schools Because They’re Not Challenged by the Material and They’re so Much Smarter Than the Other Kids’ tri-annual “Little Luminaries” performance, Epy got a Phenomenal Characterization of an Inanimate Subsurface Object Award for her spot-on portrayal of dirt. And I expect that Glucy will follow in her sister’s footsteps: to date, Glucy is the only starlet in Deichild to rub feces on her face in an attempt to mimic a mud puddle.

Calling all dinks: get service hours by allowing soon-to-be moms to operate remote-controlled Glucy and Epy robots at your house. The robots can play in your yard and tear apart your flowers or smash your fruits and vegetables. Or inside, they can destroy the things you’ve done while you should have been raising children or buying things to maximize your beauty for your husband or show your advanced socio-economic status. Note: all dinks seeking admission will have to pay an additional 3-sticker greed fee, and wait for an additional 45 minutes while a crossing guard pulls cardboard cutouts of children back and forth in front of you.

And to all the other mothers of prodigies out there, here’s something that you don’t hear enough: You’re welcome! You’re welcome for the Doo-dooseum and for Pooscapes. You’re welcome for setting an example for your children. You’re welcome for making possible the best art that Deichild has ever seen.

And to all those Epy and Glucy addicts who’ve lost so much sleep in anticipation of the next Doo-dooseum exhibit, I can’t give you anything specific, but I can say that Epy and Glucy have combined their artistic genius, and that “urin” for a real treat. Ha ha.

323215335/llkkhesxcgghghjjkk14414;m n htly,

Heli Wonup, TSC, SAA AVP FTDC MOP & QASC, PM TC FP FSB WNER MOP

P.S. I have attached an image as a free gift. The actual smile is made of Glucy’s umbilical cord, and the eyes are pieces of afterbirth. Now you know where my children get their creativity. Ha ha.

 

 

 

BIO

Douglas J. Ogurek is the pseudonym for a writer living somewhere on Earth. Though banned on Mars, his fiction appears in over fifty Earth publications. Ogurek founded the controversial literary subgenre known as unsplatterpunk, which uses splatterpunk conventions (e.g., extreme violence, gore, taboo subject matter) to deliver a positive message. He guest-edited Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction’s UNSPLATTERPUNK! and UNSPLATTERPUNK! 2 anthologies. Ogurek reviews films at that same magazine. Recent longer works include the young adult novel Branch Turner vs the Currants (World Castle Publishing) and the horror/suspense novella Encounter at an Abandoned Church (Scarlet Leaf Publishing). More at www.douglasjogurek.weebly.com. Twitter: @unsplatter

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

investment

by Laurinda Lind

 

while still young
and strong you

stumbled across
yourself and though

it burned, burned,
you had the sense

to let it have you
so that now you

explode without
effort, one great

flash to guide your
feet because once

you wanted to walk
over coals.

 

*Originally published in Lucid Moon

 

 

New Cycle

 

These are times
I lack you, rays
the same length,

the sun, the simple
warmth, each

time meteors
miss one other

in transit as I keep
sliding off from

every known space.
Out where we spin
in separate skies.

 

*Originally published in The Aguilar Expression

 

 

Backdive

 

You said, I dreamed
we met all over again.
You brought me a canoe
crammed with questions.
We stood at the edge
worried since the water
was filthy with scissors:
I braved a backdive. You

barely sank. Last,
you said, At least
we have ten years till
the end of the end. Now
we’re at nine and reason
says we’ve arrived,
survived whatever
submerged in secret.

Yet, with less than a year
left to go I wish I were sure
we got to the shore, or
whether we still have
to be heroes who walk all
the way through the underwater
hazards, for as long as it
takes till we climb clear.

 

*Originally published in Newsletter Inago


 

Hoopsteeled

 

Maybe heaven hurts
this way, regretting
its riot of free will. If

our two selves weren’t
sewn so horribly together,
both of them might bend

backward through ring
on ring in time to take it all
back, and either could

wheel away, hare off,
shed sparks like crazy.
Like the circular heart.

 

*Originally published in Ellipsis

 

 

  

BIO

Laurinda Lind lives in New York’s North Country. Some poems are in Blue Earth, Dryland, Indefinite Space, New American Writing, and NonBinary Review; also anthologies Visiting Bob [Dylan] (New Rivers) and AFTERMATH (Radix). In 2018, she won the Keats-Shelley adult-poetry prize and the New York State Fair poetry competition.

 

 

 

 

 

0

A Clean Break

by Vincent Barry

 

 

“Tengo curiosidad,” she goes, curious about, she means, what I just said in there— “in there” being Tough Love, a no cost West Side addiction rehab that we both attend weekly,— well, given our whereabouts, perhaps weakly; “said,” being my lover’s quarrel with Fitzgerald, whose belief in “clean breaks” I was challenging—anger/authority issues, y’see,— mere moments before—I mean his what you can’t come back from—“clean breaks” Fitzgerald called ’em. . . .  It also happens to be what tonight’s meeting is called—“Clean Breaks”—, which I guess started the whole rumpus of sounds to begin with. . . . All right, all right, displacement too, I know. . . . “ADA”—anger, displacement, authority, that sums me up, I’ve been told— even if it doesn’t add up, to me. . . . Make that DADA— I forgot “denial.”

Anyway, “I was just saying,” I essay to her in a soft note ’cause, I admit, I’m at the—er— stage—if you favor theatre— or phase—if you relish lunar likeness—, wherever, I admit that my swooning soul is estimating the strength of its warmth of feeling for her,— “I was just saying there are no clean breaks.” Then, with more tremor, “Ask Gatsby,” and wonder, my nerves on a hair-trigger, “What’s keeping our drinks?” hers Black, mine White, Russians both; and, too, whether “Gatsby” is lost on her, my wide-eyed West Side Luisa.

We’re on a break, y’see, she and I, which we are boldly taking where no one I’m sure on a TL break has ever gone before, the Inner Sanctum, a dive devilishly set at the end of a murky, mauve-streaked alley, though near enough to the dirty yellow light of Tough Love that we can run up to IS like a couple of kids playin’ hooky and holler fish and be back in time, after having had, as the poets say, mysteries heaped upon us, about the mischief that is past and gone, while inviting new mischief in and, of course, imbibing Etta James’ “At Last.”. . .

I know, I know, hardly an ardent commitment, but here’s the thing—the thing is—what? well, we speak the same language, so to speak, albeit different, she and I, our languages. . . . And besides, late word from home has left me this night dejected, bored and blue. “How,”— who was it said?— “how can a man be more at home than that?”

“Gatsby?” she goes with snappish humor. Then, “¿No está flotando—?” and stops, self-collecting, to take a few quick puffs of a smoldering Pall Mall, which she then removes from her stenciled red mouth and holds meditatively between arching fingers.

An easy silence ensues. Her lips gradually tighten on a mirthless grin. More pause. Then she slowly begins to jab the air with the unfiltered PM as though keeping the time or setting the back-beat for what she’s about to say. Which is, in perfectly cadenced English, “Isn’t he the one floating on a raft in a West Egg pool with a bullet in his back?”

“He’s the one,” I agree, and add with a slowly drawn breath,“¡Maravilloso!” meaning literacy.

Y’see, wherever, whenever, I come upon it, literacy, it’s marvelous, isn’t it?—I mean like a rare gemstone of the Borate Class? But she—

“You mean,” she cuts me like a whip,“in a woman— !” Then, continuing with cold brusquerie, blood mounting to face and neck, large, fuliginous eyes quivering, she lets fly at me like a stretched rubber band, “¡Si fuera como hombre—!” by which I gather from my broken Spanish she means, “If she were a man I wouldn’t say that.”

“I never meant that!” I protest.

My tone sounds defensive, just as when my eyes first clapped upon her at an earlier meeting—“Fresh Starts,” I think it was— when she was saying, “One must recover everything from memory—,” and, as she paused, perhaps to recover her English, I blurted from,— who knows from where?— but with anger fueled, “Spoken like—!” and she stopped me, as now, albeit now after a marked pause, though clearly still riding the earlier wave of poetic inspiration with an identical rasping, “Your mansplaining is in plain view!”. . .

Lying then, “I never meant that,” but now, twice shy for once burned, but still wondering how the hell she knows a sockdolager word like mansplaining, I try, this time truthfully, with the quickness of a bell hop at a ritzy hotel, “Plain as a Pikestaff?” and, happily, she jerks out, “Subtle as a needlepoint.” Imagine that! And I know we’re okay, okay for sure when she reassures softly, “Somos buenos.”

Then the Russians arrive, which, as if a posthypnotic cue, sets off a spluttering, strangling version of “Carthago delenda est.”

“¡Trump debe ser destruido!” she flings out, of our Dear Leader, her disorder of thick, dark hair tossing from side to side. Then, flushing fulgurously, “¡Huracán Maria!…¡tres mil muertos!….¡ninguna electricidad! . . . ¡treinta mil—!” “I know,” I try catching up her unavailing wrath with a kindling eye, “I know, I know,” I say again, “thirty-thousand still without roofs,” and she cries dolefully, of Puerto Ricans, “¡Americanos! ”—“I know, I know,” clasping her thin, deep-veined hand, the one with polished nails of different colors drumming on the table top.Then, still trembling and hot-eyed, she says scornfully, of President Plunderbund, “And he calls himself the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico! Pah!”. . .

And I imagine, for her lightning flashing eyes and her smoke-drawn tight mouth, the ventripotent Punchinello-in-Chief hanging by a red silk tie upside down, Mussoliniesque, from a makeshift girder in front of 666 Fifth Avenue, . . . and she asks, “Why are you grinning like an idiot?” and I, smiling idiotically I’m sure, I hear only, through the whorls of bluish-white skail, a sensual post coital,“What are you thinking?”

 

“Look,” shunting back to the main line of my thought, “I just mean—meant—” “Yes?” “George Wilson didn’t kill Gatsby.”  “Oh, really? Who then? Daisy?” “In a way, yes, in a real way, yes, actually,… his past is what—”

“¿Su pasado?” she goes, before, with aspirating English, “Next you’ll be quoting Faulkner’s,’’ then back to Spanish, “El pasado nunca está muerto. Ni siquiera ha pasado.” A pause punctuates a fierce squash of a half-sucked cig into a skull-shaped ash tray inscribed “Dig It” around the word “Life” in an open grave centerpiece. Then a tap out of another from a white on red soft pack that tells us we are, of all the gin joints, so to say, we are “WHEREVER PARTICULAR PEOPLE CONGREGATE,” beneath an armorial crest that promises in Latin, “In Hoc Signo Vinces,” and I wonder if we will—conquer.

“Es cierto,” I agree, “the past,” I continue, mumbling above my white drink, that Max, a preternaturally grave man with a close-cropped head and hard jaw, who reminds me of Norma Desmond’s Max, except, of course, for his chrome-hook of a hand lost looking for love in Afghanistan, has just delivered,“the past is never dead.” Of it, the past, that being the undead dead, Max’s quick ironic look inquires, before my head wags him away, and with a sheepish obeisance he slues off, Norma’s Max does, into the Sanctum’s dark den. . . . A waiter could do worse.

“Ni siquiera ha pasado,” rolls more Faulkner from her with the musical ups and downs of the Caribbean, and I nod, “It’s not even—” “Pasado,” she breaks in.  And I think, “Literacy! I love—” but, of course, naturally dare not say, favoring instead, “Faulkner was right,” adding “You can’t come back because there are no clean breaks to come back from.”

“‘Oh, por favor,” she goes, the swimming wonder of her eyes again snapping, her fugitive flush now paling, “How long since—?” “Donkey’s years,” I break in sullenly, which she chases with a laughing, “¿Años de burro?” and I know where she’s going, ’cause I know, y’see, she’s perceptive,—I mean she knows, sees, can imagine, ’cause stuff comes out in recovery that she’s, as she might say, “rápido para recoger el ritmo.” “Ah!—” I bluff, then from her,“ “Ah Wilderness?”

Ah Wilderness!…Unbelievable!”

“¿Increíble—por qué? . . . From a Puerto Rican, you mean?”

“No, no!” I protest, as to her earlier “from a woman.” “I never meant— ” then meekly, “More like,” with a bluffing laugh, “Ah the Far Off Odor of Home.”

“¿Casa?. . . Did I ever mention—?” and she breaks off indignantly, but of course I know she meant it, home, and I say, “You implied as much,” and from her, “Then, por favor. . . .”

“The last time actually,” I answer, “as it so happens,—”

“By chance.”

“—exactly—!”

“Nada es casuaidad,” she says, and I agree, “Nothing’s by chance,” and add, “Unless you mean, by chance, el mar—”

“Ah, the sea!” she goes with a nod. Then, “Si, el mar que trae todas las oportunidades.”

“‘—that brings all chances,’” I go on, recognizing Tristan, then, “‘I would like to try the sea that —’”

“—trae todas las opportunidades —,” she goes, and I, mesmerized, “‘but to what land?’” “Of all oportunidades?” “Of course,” then realize, “no matter—.” “Claro,” she smiles. Of course, I allow,  “So long as it heals my wound.” “Sana la herida,” she whispers like an amen.

That’s when—well, I dare to wonder, “Could it be that we’re not, as the poet says, she and I, ‘two souls tinged with the same hue’?” Then I pick up, “As it so happens—,” continuing, “—from my brother this morning of my sister:

“‘Richard,

‘Sorry to pass on bad news.  Kit passed away this morning. She had been ill with stomach cancer and the last few weeks things turned for the worst.

‘The particulars of funeral . . . .’”

“¿Es todo?” she asks. It is, all. “Your brother,” she says dryly, “is excellent at—” then fills it out— “notificación de muerte.”

“Other than of death,” I get out, “I never hear from him.”

“And him?” “Him?” “From you? “I have no deaths to report.” “Or have you no way to report them?” I don’t reply. “Oh bien,” she goes, unfastening her eyes from mine, “a man doesn’t have to say what he feels to feel what he doesn’t say,” and I feel . . .  sad, neglected, abandoned. . .  . Then a wide, uncomfortable pause.

“So,” at last from her, “will you go back for the—?” “Hmm, interesting construction,” I break in, “‘back’ ‘will.’”  “Pasado futuro.” “Exactamente. . . .¿no lo ves? …There is no back back there.” “Because you’ve made a clean break?” “No, because there’s no clean break to make—ever.” “With the past?” “Si, con el pasado.”

A meditative interval passes, then she sighs, “Bien entonces,” and continues in English, “Well then, ‘the best you can do is manage and protect it as one does an afflicted member of one’s family.’”

Imagine!

“Who—?” I falter on it. Then, a bit manically, “I demand to know! Who said that?”

“You demand,” she laughs with sidelong glances. “Why, you sound positively— Major Strasserish!”

“So?” I go, Casablanca not lost on me, “So what? Does that mean you’re gonna plug me?”

“And if I did?”

“Well, if you did,” I ponder bemused, before, “there would be nothing else to do but—” making space for her to complete my thought, “Round up the usual suspects?” she laughs across at me.

We sit quietly for a while with Etta:
You smile

And then the spell was cast

And here we are in heaven

For you are mine—

At last, from one or the other of us, “We better be getting back.” Her half-smoke squashes in the overloaded ash tray that rests on a Jackson I slip under it. We get up to leave with a “Volviendo,” from one or the other of us.

“’Something wrong with—?” flings the gelid, muddled Max, staring with a cold grey fish eye at our untouched Russians.

Looking at each other in an interpretive way, “No,” we assure him in tandem, our words entwined with laughter low and the mystic chemistry of our being, adding, “solo con nosotros.”

Once outside we quickly escape the puddle of purple cast by a naked light bulb, and

then, side by side, with guileless confidence, stride for stride, with cloudless smiles, we make our way with fresh decision through the gathering mist toward the xanthic light at the mouth of the alley, and, from one or the other,—no, no! it’s from me, allowed along the way, definitely from me, like a tipsy reveler trying his damnedest to mask a disenchanted sadness, “Luisa, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

 

 

 

BIO

Vincent Barry’s affection for creative writing is rooted in the theatre. After a stint with the Peace Corps more years ago than he prefers to remember, Barry’s one-act plays caught the attention of the late Arthur Ballet at the University of Minnesota’s Office for Advanced Drama Research and Wynn Handman at New York’s The American Place Theatre. Some productions followed, as well as a residency at The Edward Albee Foundation on Long Island. Meanwhile, Barry was teaching philosophy at Bakersfield College and authoring textbooks. Now retired from teaching, Barry has returned to his first love, fiction. His stories have appeared in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad. Barry lives with his wife and daughter in Santa Barbara.

 

 

 

 

 

0

Sex with Her

by John Califano

 

 

sex with her was
caring
sex with her was
nurturing
sex with her was
magical
sex with her was
transforming
sex with her was
at times
            so
            fucking
            good
even the neighbors
needed
a cigarette


 

Untitled I

 

like Heathcliff roaming the moors
believe in you me, I know
not just your nicotine scent, but your DNA
no more to kiss
no more to hold
alone I am left
with still love in my heart
        c r u s h e d
by the vision of seismic possibilities
lost – yet not forgotten
I can now count them one by one
as I reside
painted and varnished
on the head of a pin


 

Untitled II

 

alone
in my mother’s womb
piglet with no siblings
I still
in the dark of my room
can toss
and turn
and hear
her moan

 

 

Homeopathic Food for Thought

 

on my corner
I watch, half naked
a homeless man
rummaging through garbage
my specialty of the day
clearly recognizable from the window
of the health food store
where
I
down
my daily dose
of popular antitoxins
and quietly pray

someone

somewhere

save me

 

 

 

BIO

John Califano grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and lives in Manhattan where he works helping at-risk parolees transition back into the workforce. He’s worked as a writer, actor, visual artist, and musician, and has performed in clubs, art galleries, feature films, and Off-Broadway productions. He recently completed NOTES FROM DOWN UNDER, a collection of poems, and JOHNNY BOY, an autobiographical coming-of-age novel. His work was recently featured in The Broadkill Review and The Willesden Herald’s New Short Stories Series (UK), as well as in Embark, an international literary journal for novelists.

For more information please visit: www.johncalifano.com

 

Cochina de Mierda

by Jennifer Jordán Schaller

 

 

British Red Coat was my mother’s favorite—Loreal’s version of fire hydrant red.  I used to watch her slide lacquer over her bright red claws, razor-sharp spoons. Growing, filing and painting her nails were my mother’s only feminine rituals.  My mother, Ezra, didn’t wear make-up and rarely ever wore dresses; she had a mop of wavy hair she blow-dried straight.

My mother used to say she could tell a woman’s secrets by the state of her nails.

                        Only old women wear brown.

                        Pink is for little girls.

                        Short, dark nails means she wants things she can’t have. 

                        French manicures are classy, like Jackie O.

I remember her thumbing through a Vogue magazine when I was about seven.  A model stood in a photo wearing jeans and a white button up shirt.  My mother seemed to be admiring the picture until I heard her smack her teeth in disgust and say Cochina de Mierda!

Literally translated, this term means pig of shit. I asked my mother what was wrong, and she pointed at the woman’s white nail bed creep out from underneath red nail polish.

That is so tacky.

Walking around with raggedy nails was an indication of other grotesque habits.  My mother could assume so many things about the type of woman with chipped nail polish—she doesn’t like to cook and most likely doesn’t floss, the only time she cleans her house is when her mother-in-law comes over; in fact, the only time she cleans her coffeemaker is when a layer of green scum forms over old, bitter coffee.  The bit about the scum, that is all me.

My mother’s rule was nails had to be a certain length before paint was applied.  A woman with short, dark polish wants things she cannot have.  But I couldn’t grow mine out.  As soon as my nails were long enough to paint, I tore into them with my teeth.  The perfect chomping length—not so long that I resembled a dog gnawing a rib bone, not so short that biting them left my fingers a bloody cuticle salad.  I left my nail beds in shreds.  When my mother caught me plucking meaty bits of finger between my front teeth, she’d say, Oye, no friegues, Cochina de Mierda!

Now I have a daughter of my own.  When she was a baby, I would clip her soft, ten-month-old fingernails to the quick.  She’d scratched herself before—under her eye, on her nose, down her cheek.  I waited until she slept to snip because she moved constantly.  I held her soft baby hands in mine and snipped away. As little white slips of moon scattered in her crib, I brushed them away, trying not to wake her.

I’m the kind of person who brushes most scraps to the floor, leaving specks on my tile and carpet.  I never notice the dirt my house until I notice people noticing my floor.

One afternoon, when Ella was a baby, I saw my mother tense up as Ella traversed toys, pebbles and cat fur.  She scurried under her bouncer and spotted a goodie—a floor-Cheerio.  Floor-Cheerios are better than high-chair Cheerios because Ella could eat them while crawling.  My mother reached for Ella’s hand as she raised the Cheerio to her lips.  I took my mother’s hand in mine and let Ella bite down on her discovery.  She gnawed that O between her four front teeth, obliterating it.  She opened her mouth once to laugh wildly, revealing half an O, a crescent of oats.

 

 

BIO

Jennifer Jordán Schaller is a writer and teacher from Albuquerque. She is currently working on a creative nonfiction manuscript, and she blogs about her writing and publishing process at jenniferjordanschaller.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @jenniferschall2.

 

 

 

 

 

0

Sore Throat

By Carolyn Geduld

 

 

The Single Women By Choice Society had been invited to march in the July 4th parade. Patsy was rummaging through her exotic clothing chest for an outfit. Everyone was supposed to wear red and white. Some of the single women by choice were also celibate by choice. There had been a skirmish between those who wanted to wear white to celebrate their celibacy and those who wanted to wear red to celebrate their sexuality. In the end, it was decided that they should wear both.

Patsy was one of the celibate by choice members. At forty-five, she was still attractive, with cropped blond hair and regular features. She could have had any number of relationships. Starting in high school, she had refused to date or have sex. It was not for her. But she was very sociable. Besides the Single Women By Choice Society, she belonged to the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, two book clubs, a rotating gourmet group that cooked meals at each others’ houses, and she was active in the Democratic Party. Also, she worked full-time at the reception desk at the hospital. She figured that she must have greeted half the town during the twenty years she had the job. She refused promotions rather than give up interacting with the public.

At the bottom of the chest, Patsy found the red boa she had purchased during one of the cruises she had taken with friends. Travel was her passion. She lived simply in order to save for trips. That was how she acquired her exotic clothing. A dress from India decorated with tiny mirrors and beads. An embroidered peasant blouse from Poland. A hand-knit fisherman’s sweater from Ireland. The boa was from somewhere in the Caribbean. And—aha!—there was the white linen skirt from Belgium. Perfect.

She decided that she would wear all white, to signal her celibacy, with just the red boa to comply with the Society’s requirement. As far back as she could remember, Patsy hated being touched. She endured hand-shakes and hugs, but when someone laid a hand on her otherwise, she startled as if she had been burned. It felt like a burn. Being touched was painful. She always stifled a scream. Her mother called her unnatural. She especially did not want to be touched by her mother.

After many years of secret shame, Patsy now wore her celibacy like a badge. She proudly spoke of her identity, even in lectures given to the Single Women By Choice Society and to other groups.

“Choosing to be celibate is a rational decision. It does not have to be due to a traumatic sexual history or even a dislike of sex. It can be philosophical or spiritual. It is as deliberate a decision as the decision to become a vegetarian, a pet owner, or an avoider of social media.  It is a personal choice and nothing to be embarrassed about,” she would say.

July 4th was sweltering that year, but the Single Women By Choice Society members gamely marched, carrying their banner and wearing red and white. They were between the South High School Baton Twirlers, in colorful cheer-leader outfits, and a semi-cab pulling a cumbersome comic hero float. The pavement was so hot that the bottoms of Patsy’s sandals stuck with every step. Perspiration streamed uncomfortably down her shirt. Many of the onlookers stood under umbrellas or grouped under shade trees.

They were nearing a local brewery when three young men banged out the door and began to catcall the twirlers. Clearly, they were drunk. As the twirlers moved ahead, the men noticed the women in the Society. For a moment, they quieted, as if puzzled by these older woman with the unintelligible banner. Single By Choice? Were they a bunch of man-haters? Lesbos?

“Hey, Cunts. Wanna fuck?” one yelled out.

All three were guffawing loudly and staggering.

As Patsy moved a few steps nearer to them, the one who had yelled reached out and grabbed the boa by each end, yanking her closer to him.

“I’m gonna fuck you, bitch” he slurred into her ear.

The women stopped marching. They shouted at him to release Patsy. As she struggled, he pulled the boa tighter. She began to choke. Then, in a fast swirl, both the club members and the two friends of the assailant rushed to rescue her. The driver of the semi was running in her direction. Further back, costumed comic heroes were climbing off the float. The onlookers were dragging their astonished children away from the scene. Finally, a motorcycled policeman arrived and ordered the assailant to let Patsy go. The assailant did as he was told. The policeman told him to lay face down on the ground.

Patsy fell down next to him. She was having trouble breathing. Possibly, she passed out because the next thing she was aware of was an EMT taking her blood pressure in an ambulance. There was an oxygen tube in each nostril.

“Just try to relax. I’m making sure you are breathing properly,” he said. “Don’t try to talk.”

During the next several hours under observation in the emergency room, the policemen came to take a report, which she wrote out so as to leave her bruised larynx undisturbed. Her elderly mother showed up. Society members came and went, observing the two visitor rule. Over time, Patsy’s breathing and blood pressure stabilized. Someone brought a pair of yoga pants to replace the ruined linen skirt.

But the emergency room was harder to endure than the memory of the attack during the parade, which seemed faded and unreal. Patsy could only recall sketchy moments. The heat. The tightness around her throat. The man’s voice saying “I’m going to fuck you, bitch.” The inability to take a deep breathe. The crumpled skirt. She did not remember fearing for her life or any particular emotion.

In the hospital, she was examined by the medical professionals, who held her arm while taking blood, prodded her neck, placed the head of the stethoscope on her chest and back. Her friends patted her arm and kissed her. Only her mother knew to spare her the agony of touch.

For Patsy, the assault continued for hours after the choking. She trembled whenever anyone approached her.

When she was discharged with instructions to not spend the night alone, she went to her mother’s house and curled up in her old bed. She pulled on a quilt even though it was summer and later kicked it off. She was alternating between icy chills and feverish heat flashes. Far into the night, she stared at the ceiling while shivering, then sweating. Her throat hurt, reminding her of the sore throats and other illnesses of childhood, suffered in the same room. Her mother would try to put her hand on Patsy’s forehead, but Patsy would bat it away. Then her mother would turn and walk out. Now that Patsy was an adult, her mother did not even try.

When she finally fell asleep, she had a nightmare that startled her awake again. She could not remember what it was. It was still very dark. Lying in bed in the dark, waiting with a sense of foreboding, not being able to make a sound—this seemed familiar to Patsy, although she did not know why.

The next day, Patsy returned to her apartment. She had arranged to take several days off from work until her larynx healed. She spent the days as she had in her old bedroom, lying in bed, tossing the blankets on and off. The tv was on a news channel, with the volume turned low.  Patsy was unable to concentrate on anything but her own scattered thoughts. She wondered what had happened to the boa. Was this what made her a target for the assailant? The blaring red material on her white outfit? The assailant had been inebriated. She knew that meant he was not in his right mind. Maybe the red color was enraging the way it was for a bull. What a bull who saw red tried to do was gore the one who enraged him. Sex is a kind of goring, isn’t it?

Patsy shuddered. Her deepest objection to sex was the pain. She knew she could not tolerate it. Possibly, she could not survive such pain. When she pictured a man entering her, she imagined a bull’s hot breathe from its enormous flared nostrils, rough hooves scraping at her fragile skin, and an oversized, insistent penis pounding its way into an opening that was too small to accommodate it. She knew she would be split, torn, and left bleeding, dying on the ground as she could have been when the ambulance arrived on the day of the parade. As this terrible vision subsided, she became aware of the twisted sheets beneath her. The pillows had been tossed onto the floor. The blankets lay in a crumbled wad beside her.

She dragged herself out of bed and to the shower. The bedding and her pajamas would have to be laundered. She did not recall whether she had drank any water that day. No doubt dehydration was partly responsible for her condition. And lack of food. She had forgotten to eat.

Forcing herself, she put on a clean sweat shirt and sweat pants, made tea, stripped the bed, and managed to eat a banana. Looking at her phone, she saw many texts, emails, and voice mails from friends. Peeking out her front door, she saw casseroles, flowers, and cards in a pile. She left them there.

Patsy would soon force herself to respond to her friends and then return to work. She would put on what she now knew had always been a mask. To those who knew her, she would return to the cheerful, sociable persona who had made a rational choice to abstain from relationships and sex. She had always believed this was true. Now she understood that she had been faking for most of her life. Beneath the cheerful exterior was stark terror. She was sociable to appear more normal than she felt. And her rational choice was based on irrational fear.

The image of the bull popped back again. She shuddered. Then, as if it had been there all along waiting for her to remember, Mr. Bull came into her mind. Mr. Bull. One of her mother’s boyfriends when she was a child. A big man, larger than any of her mother’s other boyfriends. Sometimes he grabbed Patsy, leaving bruises on her arm.

“He doesn’t know his own strength,” her mother would say.

Even more than the memory of the parade, the memory of Mr. Bull was shadowy and scattered. Mr. Bull gripping her arm with his enormous hand. Mr. Bull pushing her away from her mother with force. Mr. Bull red-faced with anger. Mr. Bull bellowing at her.

How terrified she had been of Mr. Bull.

Then he was gone. She never saw him again. She stopped thinking about him. Instead, she thought of other kids and clubs and activities and school work. She built a solid fence of friendships around herself.  She did not allow anyone to touch her.

Her assailant at the parade was in jail awaiting sentencing. One day he would be back in the community again when he was released. That did not bother Patsy. Instead, she had another worry. Where was Mr. Bull? Was he still in the area?  She dropped the mug of tea she had been holding when this occurred to her. Shards flew over the kitchen floor. She left them to look out the window. She needed to see if Mr. Bull was lurking outside of her apartment.

Patsy knew she was becoming crazy. It was highly unlikely that a man who must now be in his seventies would have any interest in her. She had simply been the young daughter of his old girlfriend, who sometimes got in the way. He could be a thousand miles away or dead. Surely she would have noticed such a strikingly tall man if he had been stalking her all these years.

Although Patsy, who had prided herself on her capacity for reason, knew this, she could not stop herself from looking for Mr. Bull wherever she went. At work again, she waited for him to come limping to the reception desk. In public, she scanned the area to see if a towering figure was approaching. She startled at any loud angry voice, remembering his roar.

Slowly, the memory of the assailant who had choked her was replaced by Mr. Bull. It was Mr. Bull who choked her. She was wearing her pretty white dress when he put one of his massive hands around her neck and squeezed. Someone in the background screamed at him to let go.

Patsy’s larynx healed and in a few days, her voice returned to normal. Anyone who did not know about the parade would just have thought she had recovered from laryngitis.

But although no medical reason could be found, Patsy’s throat never stopped hurting again.

 

 

BIO

Carolyn Geduld is a mental health professional in Bloomington, Indiana. Her fiction has appeared in Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Not Your Mother’s Breastmilk, Dime Store Review, Dual Coast, Otherwise Engaged, and others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

THIS TRACE OF SERENITY

by R.T. Castleberry

 

I’ve spent the hours
watching overflights of airliners,
choppers bank low, in line
with hospital spires.
Blue jay and robin dart
from oaks to feeding field.
A grey calico cat makes
his run across cracked tarmac,
tail flicking through a broken fence.
A spoiling cloud builds to the west.
The day seems a haiku
of mechanics and the wild.

 

 

AT THE INTERVAL, A DRINK

 

The Sunday wind rising,
a widow, weary at her stories,
drapes stone stairs with
garlands of ivy, white tulips,
a liturgy script.
Lizards crawl the layered length.
Service dogs seethe at their leashes,
pyres seize the air.
Neighborhoods overlap cratered sidewalks,
collapse into colonias raging color,
into gated beige or brown.
Rain in callous intervals
washes out the gardening earth.
Take this as best lesson:
winter on the cusp,
the widow will have her Manhattan very cold,
will endure the chasing flurry of
starling, sparrow, blue jay.

 

 

ROLES OF PROVOCATION

 

Winded,
I can barely raise my head.
Grieving strains like gravity.
I lean on my desk,
keys twirling on one finger,
slapping into my palm.
The outer window previews
carnival propulsion,
the integrity of the Ferris Wheel
distinct through a desert sky.
Samaritans at a safe distance
place 911 calls and side bets.
A sniper engaged in his mystery
fires the higher floors,
dictates release terms,
roles of provocation.
I’ll explain three times, he says.
The fourth is a last clue.
A sanctioned celebration rackets seamless—
fireworks and lasers,
Otis Redding and Roadhouse Blues.
Floodlights shill hotel flags.
Drinkers flood the inside bars,
dance patios left to triage.
I’ll take away
the ash of this evening
through checkout, through a taxi ride,
through an airline chat:
I missed it at dinner across town.
Yes, it was close. I was lucky.

 

 

THE NARRATIVE COMES APART

 

I take this story,
weave it as Elijah’s task, a magi’s trial,
Thursday through Sunday, weeks at a time.
Cryptic as a Hummingbird,
someone typed the comment:
shift the pitch from
red to silver, timbre to tremolo.
We’ll watch it take
a Southern wing, a Western swing.
The dream in reverse, inverts,
shimmies dishonest as a minor key.
The running sea a lyre tossed upon the rocks,
I’m awake in Mendocino.

 

 

 

BIO

R.T. Castleberry’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, Pedestal Magazine, Comstock Review, Green Mountains Review, Silk Road and Argestes. Internationally, it has been published in Canada, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand and Antarctica. He has poetry in the anthologies: Travois-An Anthology of Texas Poetry, TimeSlice, The Weight of Addition, Anthem: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen, Kind Of A Hurricane: Without Words and Blue Milk’s anthology, Dawn. My chapbook, Arriving At The Riverside, was published by Finishing Line Press in January, 2010. An e-book, Dialogue and Appetite, was published by Right Hand Pointing in May 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

0

Georgey-Dear

by Tetman Callis

 

 

The new girl at school, one Isabel, arriving mid-semester at Green Meadow High in a Bailey High letter jacket, aviator glasses, baggy pants and baggy shirts, her voice creamy, warm and smooth. No earrings gold-hooped or pearl-dropped, no bracelets bangling; rather, a wristwatch on a stretch-link band and a thin silver necklace with small crucifix the accouterments of this dark-haired girl who wears no makeup, no sticked-on glisten to full red lips; in her face the self-containment of an Etruscan goddess inscrutable, face framed by straight hair parting in the middle to reach the shoulders of this teenager gaining unfashionable weight.

Dark-eyed Isabel eyed by George, lately of Penny and George, now solely of George, George of blue eyes and Chemistry class and Choir; tall pale boy, fifteen-thin with round, open face and gold wire-frames, slight overbite, khaki windbreaker jacket. Blonde hair short in military style, sneakered feet scuffing along in adolescent fashion, pack of illicit cigarettes hidden upon his person; sophomore George, wise fool toeing a line between too cool and childhood, faced with a mouth too smart and flowing over with unpracticed wit, talking too much but ever-ready to be silenced by a kiss.

Not often so silenced.

Silenced so and recently so by Penny, lately of George and Penny, now of the free and easy again, said to be making time with a soldier-boy; Penny, frosh but senior-tall, red-headed fresh girl several levels sexually more explicit than the George she had attempted to lay before tiring of trying to teach him how to kiss, not to mention the hints she dropped along the way regarding the brushing he might have done to the flavor of spaghetti from off his overbite before dropping by her house to be silent in fits and starts, with time between bussing lessons occupied by gossipy talking of all the doings at Green Meadow High; the goings-on in classrooms and hallways, bathrooms, ball-fields and -courts, and the choir wherein Penny and George and twenty-seven others sing—the Green Meadow Larks.

#

Chemistry class in the afternoon, fidgety kids ready for special events, today’s a basketball game breaking the routine of a routine day, Mr. Rubicon, teacher extraordinaire, saying, “Okay, all you with your tickets, go straight to the gym next period for the faculty/exes game, and all you—”

“What if you don’t got a ticket,” a boy holding a tumbler says.

“All of you who don’t have tickets—” Mr. Rubicon says.

“Are you playing, Mr. Rubicon?” says a girl at the retort rack.

“—I have tickets here, they’re fifty cents each, and yes,” Mr. Rubicon says, “I am playing.”

“Isabel,” says George to the new girl in the Bailey High letter jacket, “Are you going to the game?”

“Mr. Rubicon,” says a boy running water at the stainless-steel sink, “I didn’t know you could play basketball.”

“I’d like to go,” says Isabel to George, “But I don’t have the money.”

“Of course he can play,” says the retort girl, “He played for Green Meadow when he went to school here.”

“I’ll loan you the money,” George says.

The tumbler boy says, “Mr. Rubicon, you were a student here?”

“Have you been asleep all year?” says the retort girl, “Everyone knows Mr. Rubicon went to school here.”

Isabel says, “That would mean paying it back.”

“He’s not everyone!” comes a boy’s voice from across the room.

“I’m not everyone,” says the boy with the tumbler, putting his tumbler down on the counter next to the stainless-steel sink.

“You’re not anyone,” says the boy at the sink.

“Then I’ll just give it to you,” George says, “As a favor.”

“Screw you!” says the de-tumblered boy.

“Language!” says Mr. Rubicon, saying, “Everyone, get all your equipment rinsed, dried, and put away.”

“No,” Isabel says, “No favors of money.”

“Take your seat, Michael,” Mr. Rubicon says.

“Mr. Rubicon, sell me another ticket,” George says, “I got a friend.”

“He’s got a friend,” says the girl at the retort rack.

You’ve got a friend . . . ,” sings the boy at the stainless-steel sink, “Here, give me your tumbler,” he says to the girl at the retort rack.

“Isabel, here,” George holds out a ticket.

You got to roll me . . . ,” sings the girl at the retort rack, “Get Isabel’s, too,” she says.

“No,” says Isabel to George. She shakes her head and won’t take the ticket, turns to take her tumbler to the sink.

“Tumblers, please, everyone, thank you,” says the boy at the sink.

“You going to the game?” says someone in the back of the room.

George watches Isabel walking away from the held-out ticket. He waits a moment, crosses the room to her desk, sets the pink ticket down on her stack of schoolbooks. He turns and does his own walk-away.

“You better show up so I’ll have someone to talk to,” Isabel says to his back.

#

Up he shows and sees her sitting on gymnasium floor, in sideline corner at the exes’ goal-end (first half), away from the bleachers crowded with students. She sits cross-legged, sketchpad in lap. George sits beside her, cross-legging down.

“Hi!” he says.

“Hi,” she says. She smiles, her smile rare and always the same, tempered, turning inward, as though she knows a secret.

“You showed up,” she says.

“Of course,” he says, smiling his always bright-open smile, his face-scruncher top-heavy with maxillary teeth, a sight of no pleasure to George. He’s seen it in snapshots, sideways in a mirror once or twice, underlining a nose that to George looks as though God got halfway done with his Art project when the bell rang, so he finished up real quick by sticking a knob on the end before hurrying down the hall to Biology class.

George cranes his neck to see the sketchpad. “What are you drawing?” he says.

“Just . . . ,” Isabel pauses, nods to the bleachers, “Them.”

“Cool!” George says, “I didn’t know you draw. Let’s see.”

She shows him. He looks at her page, at the students in the bleachers.

“Oh,” he says, “See the red-head? That’s Penny, she was my girl.”

“Was?” says Isabel.

“Yeah,” George says, nods, “She dumped me for some G.I. just last week.”

“That’s too bad,” says Isabel, not like she means it and not like she doesn’t.

“Yeah,” George says, “Oh well.”

“Do you still like her?” says Isabel, working at the sketch on her pad.

“Not much,” George says, “What do you think?”

Isabel shrugs, “I’ll take her out of the picture.”

“No,” George says, “Don’t do that, then it wouldn’t be true.”

“It’s as true as I make it,” Isabel says, and looking at George she says in a matter-of-fact, “It’s not what’s in it that matters, it’s how does it all fit together.”

The game takes the remainder of the school day, George and Isabel staying to the end, him talking, her sketching. After, he ditches Choir practice to walk her to her home.

“I’m going to my grandmother’s house today,” she says.

“Oh,” George says, “Little Red Riding Hood.”

“Don’t say that,” Isabel says, “It’s not funny.”

“Sorry,” George says, “How about,” heartbeat pause, “Small Communist Motorcycle Thug.”

“Very clever,” Isabel says.

Isabel’s grandmother’s house turns out to be the house next door to the house where George’s pre-Penny girlfriend, Virginia, a dark-haired beauty brooding in hip-huggers always threatening abdication, had lived until she came down with a pregnancy unassisted by George, and she and family moved away. George tells Isabel the story as they sit a spell in Grandma’s front yard.

“Did she have the baby?” Isabel says.

George shrugs a shrug and says, “I don’t know, they moved away.”

“Of course,” says Isabel looking at the yellow grass of Grandma’s yard, small green shoots just beginning their upshooting thrust through last year’s chaff.

“Look,” she says.

“Spring soon,” George says.

“Will you get in trouble for missing Choir?” says Isabel, opening her sketchbook, digging around in her purse for a pencil.

George says, “I don’t care, I’d rather be with you.”

“That’s sweet,” Isabel says, “I’m going to draw you, you don’t mind?”

#

George stops going to Choir, Penny-tainted training to sing on command now superseded by the fresh new passion of green-shooting spring days and Isabel to walk home, Isabel to talk with, Isabel to think about.

The second day he walks her home they sit a while inside her house, down narrow stairs into a dark-paneled den, sounds of family about: mother, stepfather, brother and an uncle and maybe a baby, too. There is a crib in the den but never the sight of the tot.

Third day they stand in the street outside her house, talking three hours while leaning on a car, George smoking cigarettes.

“You’re one of the few people,” Isabel says, “I can open up to. We might get a good, deep friendship.”

“Cool!” he says, this cheerful lad, talkative much regarding school. Political too, a Texas Democrat by inculcation, talking of the world and of the end thereof, Apocalyptically Protestant George by reverend immersion baptized, chatting of the end of time with deeply Catholic Isabel, who boycotts grapes. George likes grapes. Isabel sketches George as he smokes a long, filtered cigarette.

“Don’t let my mom see that,” he says.

“I haven’t met your mom,” says Isabel.

She confesses deep hatred of her father.

“He left a long time ago,” she says, “I don’t know where he is but I hate him.”

George says, “That’s too bad.”

“It’s caused me to adopt,” Isabel says, “Other male relatives as father-figures.”

George smokes on his long filtered cigarette.

“I’ve tried to kill myself twice,” she says, “Because of my stepfather.” George says, “You have?”

“Yes,” Isabel says, her honey voice smoky, “Let me show you,” Isabel pulling up the sleeves of her Bailey letter-jacket.

“This one I did with a screwdriver,” she says of the short ragged scar across a wrist, indicated by fingertip, “When I was six.”

She lets that sleeve down and mirrors the pointing gesture, her other wrist showing a thin pale line.

“And this one I did with a razor,” she says, “When I was twelve.”

George says nothing, knowing naught to say.

“And it gets worse,” says Isabel, pulling her sleeve down, “I’ve been a friend of the Devil’s for nine years now.”

George lights another cigarette.

“I don’t understand,” he says.

“You know—the Devil,” Isabel says, “I feel like he’s with me right here, right now.”

“I’m with you now,” says George, “Do you mean me—you don’t mean me.”

“No, I don’t,” Isabel says,

“No, I don’t mean you.”

“Well, I don’t—” says George to Isabel’s saying, “It’s probably not true.”

#

George stops by Ernie’s on his way home from Isabel’s, Ernie the last duck-tailed greaser in America, with headful of shiny black slick-back do. Ernie quit school that winter, halfway through his third sophomore year dropping out to shack up with the love of his life: the repair of motorcycles. This pleasant evening Ernie has turned the gently sloping concrete drive of his parents’ house into an ad hoc repair shop, Ernie sitting enraptured among the parts.

George approaches.

“Hey, Ernie,” he says.

Ernie looks up, saying, “Hey, Squidge,” and sharing the carbonized grease on his hands with a mechanic’s quondam red rag, stands up.

“What’s up?” Ernie says.

“Coming home from a girl’s house,” George says.

“A girl,” Ernie says, “Hey, dude! Bum a butt?”

“Sure,” George says, pulling out his paper pack of cigarettes, shaking two out to give one to his friend, smoke one himself, lighting them both.

Ernie smokes and he gestures at parts at his feet.

“Check out this bike man—Kawasaki,” he smokes, “Gotta grind the valves.”

“Cool,” says George, “Say Ernie, man, you been around.”

“I been around, Squidge,” Ernie says.

“Let me tell you about this girl,” George says, “See what you might think.”

George tells. It takes another cigarette apiece.

“Sounds like you got her hooked,” Ernie says.

“How can you tell?” says George.

“Look, it’s like this,” Ernie says, “She told you about that Friend of the Devil stuff, not somethin somebody tells just anybody, and the stuff about her tryin suicide. It’s because she trusts you and if she trusts you, she likes you. You like her?”

“Think about her all the time,” says George.

“Hey, Squidge,” Ernie grins, “You Romeo, man.”

“It’s kind of scary,” George says.

“Aw, man,” Ernie says, “Don’t be scared,” and he sits, tinkering again with the vivisected motorcycle, saying, “She’s just a girl.”

“She’s not,” George says, “No ordinary girl.”

“You said it, man,” Ernie says, frowning upon an unrecognized part, “Friend of the Devil—not every day you meet one of those.”

#

Saturday: George rolling out of bed and padding pajama-clad into homey kitchen to find himself in his mother’s cross-hairs with sleep still in his eyes.

“Penny called,” his mother says from her post by the sink, “She says Mrs. Busoni wants to know why you quit the school choir. And so do I.”

George opens his mouth but he doesn’t stand a chance.

“Oh,” his mother says, “It doesn’t matter,” she dries her hands on a limp gray towel, “I don’t know why I ever bothered even having you.”

George says nothing and looks at the floor.

“Do you hear me?” says his mother.

“Yes ma’am,” he says.

“Now eat your breakfast,” she says, “And don’t even think about turning the TV on.”

George mumbles, “Yes ma’am.”

“Quit mumbling!” she says and says, “There’s a Choir practice this afternoon, right?”

“Yes ma’am,” George says.

“That’s what I thought,” says his mother, saying, “You best better plan on your being there.”

George says, “Yes ma’am.”

“Now go get dressed,” she says, “And don’t take forever to do it.”

“But what about my breakfast?” George says in a voice at least two sizes smaller than his actual size.

“Don’t. Talk. Back. To me,” says his mother, saying, “What did I just tell you to do?”

“Yes ma’am,” George says, returning to his room with its window and bed and chest of drawers, straight-backed chair and closeted clothes, bookcase, games, table lamp, nightstand and detritus of childhood, George shutting the door behind him, looking out his window. He takes his Scout pocketknife off his nightstand, unfolds the blade and makes to slit his wrists. The blade is dull. George breaks the skin of one wrist, then stops. Later the wrist throbs and itches, red-scabbed and swollen. George wears long-sleeved shirts several days.

#

Choir practice this Saturday afternoon is none too fun at start, what with the morning at home and being forced to go and his voice changing but Mrs. Busoni, skilled teacher of high school choir, can make a grouply muchness from much individual meagerness, George’s not the only occasionally flat-footed voice in the mix.

George and Penny don’t speak, though she gives him a knowing look, a haughty look, a look to protect herself. He returns what he thinks is a look of anger; in truth much closer to a look of sullen hurt.

Soon they are singing, Penny and George and the twenty-seven others, and Everything is beautiful, in its own way . . . .

#

George sits at his window Saturday night, looking out at suburban streets where not much is happening, ticky-tack houses and only so many persons per square. He thinks of Isabel and when he is through, he thinks of Isabel. He has stopped by her house twice this day, once on the way to and once on the way from. Neither time is she home, Isabel’s brother says, telling George at the door where said brother stands wearing what looks to be eye makeup. George has called Isabel twice this evening but neither time has she been home, her uncle tells George over the phone. Uncle could have been naked for all George knew.

George plans to ask Isabel to go steady, first chance he gets.

He comes within one minute of getting that first chance, afternoon of the very next. Already he has called her once this sunny Sunday afternoon and they have telechatted a bit before he has to finish his chores. Once done, he’s going to call her again, but he’d really rather see her.

“Mom?” he says to his mom in the living room of her house.

“Yes, dear,” she says from her upholstered plush rocking chair, “What is it.”

“Can I go over to a friend’s house?” he says.

“Can?” she says, coffee cup in hand, “Can?” she says, looking him up and down, up down and through where he stands before her, “Your legs aren’t broken, are they?”

“No ma’am,” says George, growing smaller.

“Well?” says his mom as she rocks.

“May I?” George says.

“What friend,” says his mom.

“Isabel,” says George, “She’s a girl I know from Chemistry class.”

“Are your chores all done?” says his mom.

“Yes ma’am,” he says.

“They better be,” she says.

“They are,” he says.

“You better not be lying to me,” says his mom.

“I’m not,” he says.

“Don’t you sass me!” says his mom, stopping her rocking, clutching her cup.

“Yes ma’am,” says George, smaller still, “I mean, no ma’am.”

“Oh shut up,” says his mom, rocking on, “Okay, you can go.”

“Thank you,” says the teensy George.

“Don’t you be late for supper,” says his mom.

“Yes ma’am,” George says, “I mean, no ma’am, I won’t.”

George walks the few blocks to Isabel’s house as quickly as he can. She is home, and the two young likers stand outside, leaning against the car of Isabel’s uncle while they talk, George smoking while Isabel shows him her latest, Isabel sketching while George tries to tell her how it feels to hit the high notes of the “Unchained Melody,” but words fail him. Set to ask her to go steady, time fails him or he it as the words are about to tumble down his tongue when Isabel’s mother appears at the door to call, “Isabel, time to come in for supper!”

“Okay!” Isabel calls in response, then to George, “Gotta go,” and she’s gone.

George returns home, where not even television can keep him from thinking about Isabel all evening long.

#

Monday in Chemistry class, amid the Bunsen burners and reductive reagents, while reactions take place in sparkling tubes, George tells Isabel, “Isabel, I think I’m going to drop this class.”

“Why?” says Isabel.

“I’m just not doing very well,” George says, “I don’t think I’ll even get a C this six weeks.”

“Oh, don’t quit,” says Isabel.

“Why not?” says George with a careless air of savoir-faire, “After all, all the time my mom is telling me what a quitter I am.”

“George,” says Isabel, “You’re only a quitter if you quit.”

George thinks about this for the rest of the day. In fact, for the rest of his life, but that’s jumping ahead. He walks with Isabel to her house after school. They lean on the usual as usual.

“What do you think about going steady?” he says.

“Do you mean in the abstract?” she says.

“No,” he says, his voice curving in surprise around the “o” part of “no.” “I mean, with me.”

“Why,” says Isabel evenly.

“Why?” George says, tone rising like a pop fly.

“Yes,” Isabel says, “Why—simple question—why do you want to go steady with me.”

“Um,” says George, fishing in a pocket for his cigarette pack, “Well,” he says, finding the pack and pulling it out, “I guess just as,” he says as he taps from the pack a cigarette, “I want to be more secure with you,” says he and he sighs. He lights the hard-earned smoke, takes a puff, and says, “All I need is another girl running off on me.”

For an hour they discuss this steady business, this George’s insecurity, his serious and sensitive side, touching lightly, sparingly, as though for spice, on the hatred and bitterness locked inside the mystery of this girl Isabel come over from Bailey in the middle of the semester.

“I don’t want to push something on you you don’t want,” George says, “But I do want to go with you I guess as a symbol of our relationship I mean you can read me pretty well and you got a better understanding of me than just about anyone else but I’m very torn apart inside because I want you to go with me but on your own free will.”

“I’m going to leave the decision up to you,” Isabel says as she puts the final touches on her latest sketch, “But I do think you’re rushing things.”

#

George sits at his window that night, looking out, ruminating, chin on fist. He wants to know if he loves Isabel. He wants to know what love is. He wants to know if he’d know it if it screamed in his face. He wants to get a good grade in Chemistry class, feel excited about Choir again. He looks at his closed bedroom door, looks out his window, sings quietly, Oh, my love, my darling . . . .

Next morning, George stops by Ernie’s on the way to school. Ernie is on the drive tinkering as he listens to George tell his story.

“Squidge, my man,” Ernie says, “She might be playin hard-to-get.”

“You think so?” says George.

“I dunno, man,” Ernie says, “Fleamales, who can figure, I dunno.” He picks up and peers at a part to a disassembled two-stroke engine, “I do know I don’t know what the fuck this is or where it goes.”

#

George speaks with Isabel after school regarding the pressing matter of steadyship.

“No,” she says, looking away from him, “I still don’t think we should.”

George feels there’s something she’s holding back, just a gut feeling of his, this groping at the amorphous obvious which functions as male human intuition. He gives the problem more thought. He has never put half so much contemplative energy into any one problem in Chemistry class, which class he has decided not to drop. He also decides that before Isabel goes steady with him, which he doesn’t seem to doubt will eventually happen, he better ought to tell her of the (four) girls he’s said he loved since he hit Green Meadow High, the most recent being the brazen Penny.

After supper he telephones to tell her but speaks instead to her brother, the eyeliner lad, who tells George that Isabel has just left. Much later that evening, while George’s dad is off in some barroom getting addled on draft and George’s mom is down the hall at home driving nails into a two-by-four and George is in the living room watching television, the doorbell rings. George answers.

“Isabel, hi!”

“Hi, George,” says Isabel, “My brother told me you called and came by. I’m sorry I hadn’t left a message for you but I had to go with my mom to pick up my uncle at the bus station.”

“That’s okay,” says George, standing shirtless at the door.

“I’ve thought about us going together,” Isabel says, “And decided to give it a try.”

“Oh wow!” says George, trying to control the span of his smile, “But there’s something you should know.”

He tells her of the (four) girls. It doesn’t take so very long.

“And then Penny was the last,” he says.

“It doesn’t matter,” says Isabel, “That’s all behind you now, right?”

“Of course!” he says.

“Just one thing,” Isabel says, “I don’t want a ‘kiss-on-every-corner’ relationship,” she smiles.

“Fine with me!” says George, “But wait,” he holds up a hand, “I want to give you something.”

He leaves her on the porch where she stands in the cast of the yellow bug-light. He returns a minute later, says, “Here,” and holds out to her a small silver ring.

“As a token of our,” he says, “Going steadyship.”

Isabel smiles again, takes the ring, says, “Thank you, Georgey-dear.”

“You’re very welcome, Isabel,” he says.

“Well,” she says, “I guess I should go.”

“Oh,” says George, “Okay. Will you be okay? I mean, I’d walk you home but I can’t,” George glancing over his shoulder, “I’m not allowed out after nine on school nights.”

“That’s all right,” says Isabel, “I’m sure I’ll be okay.”

Isabel goes and George returns to television watching but not with paying attention to the flickering images on the tubeface. He calculates how much time he figures it will take Isabel to walk home, adds ten minutes, then calls her house. She is there, arriven safe and sound. After George hangs up, it occurs to him he would not have known what to do had she not so arrived.

#

Next day, after school, and Isabel’s fingers unringed.

“It’s a bit too small,” she says, leaning on her uncle’s car, chatting with George.

“Well, why don’t you,” George says, “Wear it on the chain around your neck?”

“Next to The Cross?” says Isabel, eyes wide.

“Sure,” says the perky George, “Why not?”

Isabel has no answer other than looking down the street away from George. She finds an answer down there, saying without looking back, “I’ll try to make the ring bigger.”

George, not knowing much about rings or other feminine mysteries, does not disbelieve this is possible.

“Are you ashamed of me?” he says, “Because you hardly ever talk to me at school and you’re not wearing my ring.”

Isabel, who hardly ever talks to anyone at school and has never worn a ring, looks at George and says like she’s saying the sky is blue, “If I were ashamed of you, I wouldn’t be going steady with you.”

Later, after discussion of the migrant workers’ crisis, Isabel in passing refers to going steady as “a game.”

“Game?” says George, “A game?”

“A trial,” she says, “I mean a trial.”

“Makes me wonder why you’re going steady with me,” George says.

The sky is still blue and Isabel says, “Because you want me to, Georgey-dear.”

#

George drops by Ernie’s after Isabel’s, a new motorcycle disemboweled in the drive, Ernie divining entrails.

“Ernie,” George says. Ernie looks up from his work.

“Squidge, hey,” he says.

They smoke, Ernie talking bikes.

“Yamaha,” Ernie says, “Shit. Those people make fuckin pianos. You don’t see Harley-Davidson makin’ no fuckin’ pianos.”

“But are they any good?” George says, “Yamahas?”

“Yeah,” Ernie says, “That’s the shit—they are any good. Shit, you’re standin’ in one.”

George looks around him at the parts arrayed on the drive.

“Scattered all to jumbly little pieces,” he says. He looks at Ernie, “Do you know how to put them all back together?”

“Dunno,” Ernie says, “Haven’t done it yet.”

“Sort of reminds me of Isabel,” George says and seeing Ernie’s look, says, “I mean, she seems like she cares and she seems like she doesn’t. She hates her stepfather and she doesn’t, she wants to go with me but she doesn’t talk to me in school not even in Chemistry class. She’s real practical but she’s so religious it’s spooky. And I think she’s a Communist.”

“A Communist?” Ernie says.

“Yeah,” says George, “It’s like she’s a bunch of pieces that aren’t put together right.”

“A Communist?” says Ernie.

“Mm-hm,” says George with his mouth closed.

“Maybe,” Ernie says, “She’s schizo.”

“You think so?” says George.

“Maybe,” Ernie says, “Friend of the Devil, you know.” Ernie flicks his cigarette butt into the street in a high smoking arc.

“Wow,” says George, “I wonder. Schizo. Maybe. We talk about a lot of stuff but there’s something she’s holding back, I just know it.” George makes to flick his cigarette butt but it drops from his fingers and lands at his feet where he grinds it into the pavement, George saying, “Oh, the heck with it, maybe she’s just a normal fifteen year-old girl who has problems at home, who fell in love once and is afraid to risk it again, and who’s looking for new ways to see the world.”

“Maybe,” Ernie says, “Kiss her yet?”

“No,” George shakes his head, “We don’t even hold hands.”

Ernie says, “And you’re goin’ steady, man?”

“I think so,” says George, “But she’s not wearing my ring yet, she says it has to sit next to her Holy Water on the altar in her bedroom until Wednesday night then she can wear it on her chain next to her cross.”

“She has an altar in her bedroom?” Ernie says, “I thought she was a Friend of the Devil.”

“It’s how she keeps him away,” says George.

Ernie says, “Gimme a cigarette, man.”

George fishes his pack from his top pocket, offers it to Ernie.

“But Ernie, listen man,” says George, “Things do seem to be picking up a little—she touches me more, in little barely noticeable ways but I notice, of course, every change she has towards me.”

“Gimme a light,” says Ernie.

George hands Ernie his pack of matches, Ernie lighting while George is saying, “Man, I want to touch her hold her kiss her, love her, and tell her how I feel.”

“So do it,” says Ernie through a fresh cloud of cigarette smoke.

“No, man,” says George, looking at his feet, “I can’t, not yet.”

“Aw, Squidge,” Ernie says, shaking his head.

#

The gorgeous evenings of spring at the end of longer warming days—George the singer tripping lightly down the walks of the hood from a Choir practice where he catches Penny looking at him and she catches George looking at her but still to one another they do not speak—George stopping by Isabel’s to spend time with her on the way home. This evening they’re talking of the international situation and it doesn’t seem to fit into the conversation but Isabel says, “I love you, George,” not three minutes’ distance from their discussion of the imminence of nuclear holocaust.

“Wow,” George says not knowing what to say, so he says, “I don’t believe it.”

“Believe it,” she says, “It’s true.”

“Not like with Penny,” he says in a muttery way.

“She told you she loved you?” says Isabel.

“Two months ago today,” George says, “And I told her—and I want to tell you, really—but I can’t, my emotions have fooled me so many times before. When did this happen?” George says, “That you love me.”

“I’ve known since Monday,” Isabel says, “But you really freaked me out when I came to your house and you answered the door with no shirt on. I’ve never seen a guy with no shirt on that close up.”

“No?” says George, “But what about your brother, or your uncle or your stepdad?”

“Never,” says Isabel, looking down the street. She looks back George’s way, “There’s some stuff I want to show you,” she says, “I’ll be right back.”

She goes inside. George smokes a cigarette while he waits thinking of Penny, of Choir, of singing “The Hallelujah Chorus” and Isabel is back, notebooks carried in her arms.

“These are some journals I kept while I was at Bailey,” she says, “Some drawings and some stuff I wrote.” She hands them to George and says, “I want you to see them.”

George takes them.

“Take them home and read them,” she says, “Maybe they’ll help you understand me better, help us be closer.”

“I’d like to be closer,” says George.

“Close enough for marriage?” says Isabel.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” he says, “Do you want to get married?”

“Are you proposing?” she says with honey through a teasing smile.

“No,” he shakes his head, “I was just asking.”

“Well,” says Isabel, “I might, if I was with a guy and he really wanted to, I mean, if you really want to…….. ”

“Frankly,” says George, “I think it’s a little soon to be worrying about it,” but that night after he goes home, worry the question he does as he sits by his window, humming quietly to himself while reading swatches of Isabel’s Bailey journals, tough going, hard to read too much of at once. She seems to have hated everything while she was at Bailey, herself not the least. And the drawings are raw with sex, dismemberment and the ever-proximate darker side of Christianity. Crucifixions abound, images of the Devil running a close second.

#

Another Sunday comes and George cannot get out of his house. He has done all his chores, he has been good, he hasn’t missed a Choir practice since Penny ratted on him, but his mother won’t let him go.

“I want you to stay for dinner!” she says, “You know I always make a big Sunday dinner for us all to enjoy together!”

“Yes ma’am,” he says.

Hours pass. George becomes a smidgen smaller.

“Mom,” he says, “When will we be eating?”

“We’ll eat when I’m good and ready!” she says, “Now quit your whining and get out of my kitchen!”

“Yes ma’am,” says George.

“And get that look off your face!” she says.

“Yes ma’am,” he says and goes to the bathroom to look in the medicine cabinet mirror and see about the look on his face.

That evening after Sunday dinner enjoyed as a family, George’s mom simmering in her caffeinated rage and George’s dad stewing in the dregs of a six-pack, George is permitted to go to Isabel’s, taking her journals with him to where he finds her sitting on the hood of her uncle’s car, sketching.

“I read as much of these as I could,” George says handing Isabel the notebooks, “It was hard, there’s so much bitterness.”

Isabel takes the notebooks.

“I love you,” George says.

“Don’t say that,” says Isabel.

George sits beside her on the car.

“But I do,” he says. He starts tickling her under her arms, setting her to laughing and squirming and reaching to tickle him back, crushing his pack of cigarettes.

“Whoa!” he says pulling the crushed pack out of his pocket, “Look what you did.”

“Good,” she says, “Don’t tickle me.”

George pulls broken cigarettes out of the pack.

“Six,” he says, “You got six.”

“Too bad I didn’t get them all,” says Isabel, “You shouldn’t smoke.”

“I know,” says George, finding the seventh cigarette intact, putting it to his lips and lighting it.

“You just blew your chance,” says Isabel.

“What do you mean?” says George.

“I don’t like the taste of cigarettes,” Isabel says.

“Oh,” says George, then tells her of Choir Camp.

“What’s Choir Camp?” says Isabel.

“This summer,” he says, “I’m going to be gone about two weeks for Choir Camp, up in the mountains.”

Isabel stops her sketching, says, “You’re going to be gone for two weeks?” puts down her pencil, says, “I won’t see you?”

“It’s okay,” he says, “I’ll be back, it’s not forever.”

“No, it’s two weeks,” says Isabel, “I won’t see you.”

“I’ll be back,” he says.

Isabel returns to her sketching, says, “Georgey-dear, what are your hopes?”

George is silent. A sedan goes by on the cross-street at the end of the block.

“You can open up to me,” Isabel says, “What are your fears, your ambitions, your desires?”

George is silent, his ambitious desire being a more physical intimacy with Isabel, his fear one with suspecting if he tells her this, he’ll assure it will never happen. He sighs.

“I,” he says, “It’s like a wall goes up when you ask me that, I don’t know what to say or how to say it.”

“I’d like to know more about your emotions,” Isabel says, stopping her sketching in the growing gloaming.

“I’d like to let you know,” says George, “But I can’t break through that wall, it just goes up.”

“Are you ashamed of your emotions?” says Isabel, “Because it’s okay to have emotions, just so long as you keep your reason ruling over them.”

“To hell with reason,” says George, “I love you.”

“Don’t talk like that,” says Isabel.

“You could shut me up,” says George with a lilt.

“How?” says Isabel.

“Well,” says George, “It’s been a while since I smoked that cigarette.”

“Georgey-dear,” says Isabel, “I’m sorry, but the truth is I would feel personally degraded if I kissed you.”

“You what?” says George, voice rising in a curve.

“It’s just,” Isabel says, “I’ve been brought up to believe that a girl or a woman who kisses before marriage is a whore. And some of my relatives have called me that.”

George, who has been brought up to believe in the constant harsh scrutiny of a wrathful God, says, “That’s crazy, you’re not a whore just because you kiss a guy!”

Isabel says nothing.

George says, “It’s just hard to believe it isn’t because of me, I mean, after being put down all these years, it’s just hard to believe.”

“Who put you down, George?” says Isabel.

George waits, then says with a blurt and a trace of a whine, “I’d like very much to be able to touch you more, I mean, you claim to love me but you won’t show it and you won’t take any from me.”

“Well, if you like,” says Isabel, “You can hold my hand, if it would make you feel better.”

“You sound so enthused,” George says, “If you’d just show your love every once in a while, I’d feel a lot more secure.”

“What are you insecure about?” says Isabel in her even, sweet tone.

“Us!” says the flabbergastive George, “It’s impossible to feel at ease when you’re going steady with someone who won’t let you touch her and it’s happened so many times before, girls just turn off at me, I feel like giving up, dying and the hell with the rest of the world.”

“Oh, George,” says Isabel. It’s almost dark. She reaches out and touches him tentatively, on the shoulder. He waits before responding.

“I’m sorry,” he says, “I have no right to push myself on you, I’m rushing things.”

“It’s okay,” Isabel says. She looks away from him, down the street.

#

Ernie greasy with motorcycle grease sits in his driveway, surrounded by motorcycle parts: pistons, rings, nuts bolts and struts, his stuff scattered around him, Ernie somewhat engrossed.

“Ernie!” George calls as he walks up.

“Squidge man,” says Ernie wiping hands on grass by the drive, “How you been?” Ernie spreads his arms wide over the disassemblage he sits among, “Harley-Davidson, man!”

“All right!” says George catching the infection of Ernie’s enthusiasm.

“Say, you still goin with that Isabel chick?” Ernie says, “You better be, cuz I saw your ex-girlfriend at the gas station yesterday and she asked how you were.”

“Penny?” says George.

“For my thoughts,” Ernie grins, “Yeah, major babe, dude, too bad she got away cuz anyway, she was askin about you and I told her you were goin steady and all she said was, ‘What stupid girl would go with him?’ ”

“She said that?” George says, “I can’t believe she would say that!”

“Believe it,” says Ernie.

“She’s the stupid girl who would go with me just two months ago!” says George.

“Yeah, but listen,” Ernie says, standing up, “Here, gimme a cigarette. Thanks.”

George lights Ernie’s cigarette.

“Listen, Squidge,” says Ernie, “It was the way she said it, over and over, and then she tells me the guy she was seein dumped her.”

“The G.I.?” says George.

“Fuck, I dunno, whoever,” Ernie says with dismissive wave of cigaretted hand, “But she says she’s been dumped, and she says you Choir people are havin rehearsals every day for a show that’s comin up, and, she says she’s goin to Choir Camp this summer and so are you.”

“Yeah, I am,” says George, “She sure was talkative.”

“Yeah,” Ernie says, “Choir Camp, man,” he shakes his head, “Too much. So you talk to Penny much at rehearsals?”

“No,” says George with a downward loop of tone like something tastes bad, “But she did say hi to me today.”

“Hey,” says Ernie, “So anyway, how are things goin with you and Isabel?”

“Oh, fuck, I dunno,” says George as he looks down, scuff-kicking one toe on the drive, “She’s just . . . fuck, I dunno, we haven’t had much time to talk lately, she’s busy helping some ex-con brush up on his math so he can get a better job and I’m in rehearsals all the time. Her and me are going steady, right?”

“That’s the report,” says Ernie.

“She still won’t let me kiss her,” George says, “And all the time she tells me she wants me to open up to her, but I don’t know what to say.”

“Maybe you’re empty inside,” Ernie says.

“Very funny,” George says, “I want to tell her how I feel, how I really feel, but she’s so strange about our relationship, I just can’t. She had me look at some journals she kept when she was at Bailey and ever since I did, all she talks about are other guys in her past. Most are relatives, but I still get jealous.”

“She sounds like a day full of chores,” Ernie says, “I never heard of two people goin steady who never kiss.”

“We’ve talked about it,” George says.

“I bet you have,” says Ernie.

“She said it would be ‘personally degrading,’ as it is against her ‘tradition’ and she still won’t wear my ring,” George says, “I hope I don’t lose my temper at her if she doesn’t wear it tomorrow, cuz she said she was going to.”

“Well, don’t lose your temper, Squidge, that won’t get you anything,” says Ernie, “And sides man, it’s not like she’s the only lamb in the flock.” Ernie flicks his cigarette butt into the street, “I swear that Penny’s still interested in you. Major babe, dude.”

George says nothing.

“Here,” Ernie says, “Gimme a hand with these pistons.”

“All right,” says downcast George.

“Man,” says Ernie, “Give me motorcycles any day of the week. As long as you get the Jesus nuts on, you’re all right.”

“The Jesus Nuts?” says George.

“Yeah, the Jesus nuts,” Ernie says, “They’re the nuts like for the handlebars and the wheels and stuff, that if any of them fall off while you’re ridin, only Jesus can help you.”

#

“You’re not wearing my ring,” says George, standing near sketchpad-lapped Isabel where she sits on her uncle’s car.

“Someone spilled the Holy Water and it has to be reblessed,” she says.

“Oh,” says George.

“George, there’s something I want to tell you,” Isabel begins, “Actually, tradition has very little to do with kissing you.”

“What is it, then,” George says.

“I almost got raped last year,” Isabel says, George turning to look at her when he hears this, Isabel continuing, “The guys chickened out, it was five guys, they had me backed against a wall and when they were about a yard away I started screaming and they took off and I knew them all, they were all friends. I’m afraid if you get started with a kiss you won’t stop and besides my family is pretty protective of me. My brother got mad when he saw you tickling me. So I won’t kiss in public.”

“Wow,” says George, “Well I’m glad you’re all right.”

“I’m glad too,” Isabel says, looking down the street, “Georgey-dear, I want to hear about the girls in your past, tell me about them.”

“Well there were the four,” he says, “That I told you about that I told them I loved them . . .”

“Yes, you told me about them,” Isabel says, “Were there any others, any other girls in your past?”

“Yes, I guess,” George says, “I guess there have been a few.”

“Tell me about them,” Isabel says, still looking down the street.

George says “Okey-doke” and he does, starting at kindergarten and working his way up. He’s telling her about Denise, the nine-year-old who was his girlfriend when he was ten, and about the kissing of said Denise, when Isabel says, “Was it exciting to kiss her?”

“Why would you care?” George says, “We never will.”

“Oh,” Isabel says, “I wouldn’t say that.”

George’s story goes on. He’s telling of last-year’s Lisa, auburn beauty who sat on her porch swing as close to George as she could get and asked George, “Do you mind,” to which George replied, “Come closer,” at the hearing of which tale Isabel says, “Well if touching you makes you excited I’d better stop.”

“I don’t know what you’re getting at,” says George, “You never touch me anymore anyway.”

There is silence.

“Would you believe me if I told you I loved you?” says George.

“No,” says Isabel.

“Why not?” says George.

“No comment,” Isabel says, looking away from him again, then commenting, “After all those other girls I find it hard to believe you would truly love me.”

George lights a cigarette.

#

Next day’s afternoon and it’s after after-school Choir practice with choristers leaving the Choir room when Penny approaches George and says, “Hey George, how you doing?”

And George looks at her and says, “I’m doing all right.”

“Think we’ll be ready for the show?” Penny says.

“I suppose we will,” says George.

“Say,” Penny says, “I didn’t mean to be mean to you, I still like you.” She scrunches up her shoulders just a little, “Can we still be friends?”

“Yeah,” George says, almost smiling, “I suppose we can.”

“Oh good,” Penny says, lowering shoulders, “I hear you got a girlfriend, you still going with her?”

“Yes, I am,” says George.

“What’s her name?” Penny says.

#

George stops by Isabel’s on his way home from Choir practice. He has been thinking. His steady and steadily unkissable girl is sketching in her frequent place, sitting on her uncle’s car, which doesn’t appear to George to have moved since he met Isabel some weeks before.

“Isabel,” he says, “Can we talk?”

“Sure, Georgey-dear,” she says, “We always talk.”

“I’m mad at myself for playing the fool,” says George, not looking at her, “For being a fool to think you’d fall in love with me.”

“But I do love you,” says Isabel, “As a special friend.” She puts down her pencil, closes her sketchbook, says, “There’s a thin line between friends and lovers, and if I get to know you better we can cross it.”

“It’ll be better for us if we break up,” says George, “I can get myself together then and maybe later we can work something out.”

Isabel waits a moment and says, “Can I ask you a favor?”

“Sure,” George says without enthusiasm.

“Can I keep the ring?” says Isabel, “I was going to start wearing it yesterday but I’ll probably wear it tomorrow.”

“Go ahead,” says George.

“If anyone ever asks me where I got it,” she says, “I’ll say you gave it to me.”

George is beginning to have his doubts and when he finally looks at Isabel and sees the terribly sorrowful look in her dark eyes, his heart melts and his voice cracks as he says, “Do you think we ought to break up?”

“No,” she says.

“All right then,” he says, “We won’t.”

Isabel smiles.

#

It’s just a week until the big spring Choir show and Mrs. Busoni has her Larks a-twittering at rehearsals every day. Penny often talks to George before, during and after these rehearsals and Georgey-dear, chatterbug that he is, doesn’t stop to think of how he is far more open with the far more open Penny than ever he is with Isabel, as he tells Penny of the disquieting steadyship with the mysterious sketching girl.

“I can’t remember any time in my life when I was as happy as I am now,” says George, “I’m very happy to know she’s mine.”

Penny does not address directly the issue of the contradictions apparent in George’s story, preferring to listen while she considers the matter of possession and its varieties of display.

#

George wants to go to Isabel’s house, it’s been a few days though he sees her at school. His father is gone off someplace and his mother is in the back yard, pruning trees to within an inch of bushdom. He goes to her to get permission.

“Isabel’s again?” she says, sweat running down her face while she rests her long rusty shears on the trunk of an amputated mulberry, “Don’t you think you’re going over there too much?”

George doesn’t think this and he doesn’t think telling his mother so would be giving her the answer she expects, and she is holding heavy shears with long rusty blades, so he says, “Um, I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” she says, “You don’t know? Well you don’t know much, do you?”

George says nothing. He looks at the ground. The grass is all up and green now, the last trace of winter gone.

“Well, I know,” his mother says as she lops another branch from the mutilated mulberry, “And you’ve been going over there too much, probably bothering her and her family but they’re too nice to tell you. Don’t you have any other friends whose houses you can scurry off to if you need to go somewhere so bad?”

“There’s Ernie,” George quietly says.

“Ernie,” his mother says, “Oh there’s a great friend, your motorcycle bum dropout friend, well, if you just have to go see him go see him, but don’t be picking up any bad habits from him.”

“No ma’am,” George says, “I mean, yes ma’am.”

“And be back here in two hours,” she says, “I want you home in plenty of time for your dress rehearsal tonight because I am going to come see your show tomorrow and I want you to be ready.”

“Yes ma’am,” George says.

#

“So lemme bum a cigarette and you can give me the Isabel news,” Ernie says, putting down the wrench he has been wielding to finish the reassemblage of the Harley-Davidson still in surgery on his parents’ drive. George gives him a cigarette, lights it, and sits down near him to smoke one himself, give the news.

“I haven’t seen her so much lately,” says George, “I been real busy with Choir practice.”

“Oh yeah,” Ernie says, “Your show’s comin up. Say, I’m gonna come see that.”

“You are?” says George.

“Sure,” says Ernie, “Squidge my man, I’ll have this here bike rebuilt and will ride it in style to your concert.”

“Concert’s tomorrow,” George says.

“No problem,” Ernie says, “Now talk to me about Isabel, I know you want to.”

“Well,” George says exhaling cigarette smoke, “She finally let me hold her hand, said she guessed she didn’t mind sweaty palms all that much and she’d hold my hand if I promised I’d stop tickling her.”

“And did you?” says Ernie.

“Oh yeah,” says George, “I suppose when she gets to know me better and she’s sure I won’t try to rape her, she’ll give in to kissing.”

“Could happen,” says Ernie.

“She said something though before she held my hand,” says George, “That kind of bothered me.”

“She does that,” Ernie says.

“It kind of got me mad,” George says, “and I told her just how I felt about it, when she told me she’d ‘seen enough pregnant fifteen-year-olds.’ I guess as she gets to know me better she’ll trust me more.”

“Could be,” Ernie says, “She doesn’t trust herself.”

“Maybe,” says George shrugging, “She told me also that her major hang-up is me and she says it’s one she doesn’t want to get over.”

“She your major hang-up?” Ernie says.

“Ernie!” calls Ernie’s mom from behind the front screen door, “George’s mom is on the phone, wants to know if George is here!”

Ernie looks over his shoulder at the door, calls, “He’s right here, mom!”

Ernie’s mom calls, “She wants to know if he’s getting in trouble!”

“Not yet, mom!” Ernie replies.

#

George calls Isabel on the phone before he goes to rehearsal.

“You know that mind-contact stuff you were telling me about?” he says, “Well, Saturday night just as I was getting into bed, it suddenly hit me you were trying mind-contact with me so I concentrated on you and I seemed to hear you ask, ‘Do I know you?’ and I answered ‘Yes! Yes, you know me!’ Then I lost the connection.”

“Hmm,” says Isabel, “I was trying open-ended mind-contact off and on all night, but I don’t remember contacting you.”

“Oh,” says George, “Oh well,” and opening up he says, “I had a weird dream later, you were in it, you want to hear it?”

“Sure,” says Isabel, “Maybe I can analyze it for you, I’ve been studying dream analysis.”

“Okay,” says George, “Here goes: I dreamed I was in Chemistry class on a cloudy day, and Penny was there, sitting in the desk in front of mine. You were there too, one row over and two seats up. I was tickling, poking and generally bothering Penny, then I kissed her on the neck. She didn’t mind but Mr. Rubicon did and made me move back one desk.”

“Is that it?” says Isabel.

“No, there’s more,” George says, “I decided to tell you after school I had to stay for Choir practice even though there wasn’t any Choir practice, so I could walk Penny home, but I didn’t see you after school so I walked Penny home anyway then went back to school to get my books. I saw you at your locker with your uncle and talked with you but I don’t remember what we said. Then the dream ended. But never once in the whole dream, even when I talked with you at your locker, never once did I see your face.”

“Is that it?” says Isabel.

“Yeah,” George says, “That’s it.”

“It’s real simple, George,” says Isabel, “The dream means you prefer Penny because you think you can get more out of her and because my family is standing guard over me.”

“Really?” says George.

“It’s real simple,” Isabel says.

“Well,” says George, “Despite what my dreams say, I prefer you.”

“Georgey-dear,” says Isabel, “A dream is a wish your heart makes.”

A dream is a wish your heart makes . . . ,” sings George.

“Oh George, stop it,” Isabel says.

“Isabel,” says George, “How much, I mean, the, that attempted rape, how much did it affect you?”

After a moment Isabel says, “Since three of the guys were fairly good friends, I must have done or said something to provoke them sexually and I don’t want to provoke you.”

“Isabel,” George says, “Just being around is enough to provoke some guys.”

“No, no,” says Isabel, “I must have done something because they were friends and why would they have done such a thing if I hadn’t done something to provoke them? But since then, as I’ve told you, I’ve learned how to defend myself.”

“Yes, you’ve told me,” George says.

“Well,” Isabel says in her smooth even tone, her sweet honey of a voice, “I want you to be real clear on that, that you better not try anything because I know how to defend myself and I know precisely where to hit you to make you fall down and throw up.”

George says nothing. Isabel waits a moment and says, “Georgey-dear, are you mad?”

“Yes,” George says with a discernable strain of petulance in his voice, “It’s not like I’m going to try to rape you! I don’t know whether you know it or not,” he says, anger curling the edges of his words, “But I respect you a lot more than those five guys and anybody else you’ve messed around with since then did!”

Right away George knows he has said The Wrong Thing. There is a long pause.

“Isabel?” he says, his voice smaller now.

“Yes?” Isabel says.

There is another pause, not so long this time.

“I’m sorry,” he says, “I shouldn’t have said all that.”

“That’s okay,” says Isabel, her voice smaller too, “I shouldn’t talk so much about that, I’m sorry too.”

“Well, I guess I should go,” he says, “I gotta go to rehearsal.”

“Okay,” she says.

“See you at school tomorrow,” he says.

“See you at school,” says Isabel.

#

That night at the final dress rehearsal for the Green Meadow Larks before their big spring show, Penny waylays George before rehearsal begins, backstage near one of the storage rooms where when no one else is about she takes him by the arm and says, “Did you brush your teeth tonight?”

“Well of course,” he says, the very idea.

“Then come with me,” she says, the fair young “maiden” with pleasure in her e’e, taking George by his belt buckle to pull him into the storage room, “I have something I want to show you,” she says and closes the door behind them.

She shows him what she has to show him for a few minutes until they hear through the door the muffled sound of Mrs. Busoni saying, “Is everyone here? Where are George and Penny?”

When they appear from the wings a few moments later it seems to Mrs. Busoni that George has just tucked his shirt-tail in.

#

The day of the night of the big show and George has reached a decision. He waits for Isabel outside Chemistry class. She arrives almost late.

“Isabel,” he says, “I have to talk with you.”

“What is—” she says but the tardy bell rings.

In class a few minutes later she sends him a note, passed from her desk by allied or at least neutral hand to hand across the room to where he sits.

What do you want? she writes.

He writes back, I want to break up. I won’t give you all that shit about not wanting to hurt you. We’re too different for each other.

The note is relayed back to Isabel with the teacher-evading subterfuge mastered by almost all children before they hit puberty. Back and forth the notes go.

I agree with you, Isabel responds, I don’t care if you believe me or not, but I love you. Can we still be friends?

To which George replies, I think we can still be friends.

To which Isabel replies with unerring aim for the chink of guilty conscience in George’s armor, Can I keep the ring?

Yes, George writes back, You already asked and I already told you.

#

Ernie gets the Harley together at last, just in time to take it for its test spin on the way to the Green Meadow Larks Spring Choir Concert that evening in the Green Meadow High Gymnatorium. He starts her up, straddles her saddle, revs her with a twist of his throttle wrist. She sounds good. He takes her down the drive of his parents’ house and into the street, sprinting up to speed and beyond, fudging a bit on the limit. The sun is still up and he rides along through the hood, showing off himself and the Harley-Davidson, a good bike when it’s put together right.

He hits a bump in the road, hears the metallic rattling sproing of small dense object against fender and spokes, sees in an instant the flash of setting sunlight reflected from a Jesus nut falling off what he thinks is probably but he doesn’t have but an instant to wonder before he knows he won’t be laying this hog down on its side and “Fuck!” he says as he loses steering and pitches over the handlebars at a speed of somewhere between fifty and sixty feet per second.

#

George’s dad can’t make it to the show tonight, he’s not real clear on why, but George’s mom is certainly going to be there, she’s got George all buffed and scrubbed and shined and pressed and is driving him there herself, she doesn’t mind being a little early, she can chat with the other mothers. As they drive through the hood on the way to the school, they pass a cross-street where there’s been some kind of accident. They pass too fast for George to see much of what’s going on but he does see Isabel sitting on a curb near the ambulance, making a sketch on the pad in her lap. He’s sure it’s her and he’s sure he sees what looks like a silver ring on her marriage finger, reflecting for a glinting moment the setting sun’s light.

All is abuzz with typical pre-show excitement at the Green Meadow Gymnatorium. Backstage in the makeshift green room, smiling Penny closes in on George and to him quietly says, “Did you brush your teeth?”

“Of course!” he says and smiles.

“Well, good,” purrs Penny, putting an arm around George’s shoulder, pulling him closer to her, hip to hip.

He gives her a kiss.

“Places, everyone,” Mrs. Busoni says.

 

 

 

 

BIO

Tetman Callis is a writer living in Chicago. His short fictions have been published in various magazines, including NOON, New York Tyrant, Wigleaf, Atticus Review, The Gravity of the Thing, Queen Mob’s Tea House, and Neon Literary Magazine. His short fiction, “Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Pickles and Fries,” appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of The Writing Disorder. He is the author of the memoir, High Street: Lawyers, Guns & Money in a Stoner’s New Mexico (Outpost 19, 2012), and the children’s book, Franny & Toby (Silky Oak Press, 2015). His website is www.tetmancallis.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

WITHIN REACH

by Roger Singer

 

A gift of words
is the magic
the key opening
clouds

healing holds the
temperature of the room
diamonds rise
as leaves fall

a newness provides
the power like rivers

broken stars mend

what was lost
resurfaces

the moon glazes
onto meadows with
smoothness

 

 

WAITING

 

Walking the dream
on legs without stars

a release drives within
like seasons changing
from equatorial spinning

pushing us against
celestial misgivings
of unanswered prayers

where
whispers and voices
strain through burlap
separating the living
from storytellers

as miracles wait
to be called out
from hiding.

 

 

 

BIO

Roger Singer has been in private practice for 38 years in upstate New York.  He has four children, Abigail, Caleb, Andrew and Philip and seven grandchildren.  Dr. Singer has served on multiple committees for the American Chiropractic Association, lecturing at colleges in the United States, Canada and Australia, and has authored over fifty articles for his profession and served as a medical technician during the Vietnam era.

Dr. Singer has over 1,000 poems published on the internet, magazines and in books and is a Pushcart Award Nominee.  Some of the magazines that have accepted his poems for publication are:  Westward Quarterly, Jerry Jazz, SP Quill, Avocet, Underground Voices, Outlaw Poetry, Literary Fever, Dance of my Hands, Language & Culture, The Stray Branch, Toasted Cheese, Tipton Poetry Journal and Indigo Rising, Down in the Dirt, Fullosia Press, Orbis, Penwood Review, Subtle Tea, Ambassador Poetry Award Massachusetts State Poetry Society, Louisiana State Poetry Society Award, Mad Swirl Anthology 2018.

 

 

 

 

STAY IN TOUCH