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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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Ashley Urban

An Homage to Historic Downtown

 

Cal Edison Building

 

Cal Edison Building

 

Cal Edison Building

 

Hotel Hayward

 

Warner Bros Theatre Dome

 

Biltmore Hotel

 

Biltmore Hotel

 

Pac Mutual Building

 

Secret Ceiling

 

Los Angeles Theatre

 

 

ABOUT

Ashley Urban is a fine artist and illustrator, fashion designer, and visual story teller. Originally from the seclusions of a national forest in Colorado, she has found a strong juxtaposition of culture, sights, sounds and experiences after moving to Los Angeles in 2013. Ashley lives and designs a multitude of creative projects from her downtown Los Angeles studio. One of her favorite pastimes is taking walks through the downtown streets, photographing and studying historic architecture. She has an allegiance for sharing the sights of what she finds well designed, beautiful, strange, mesmerizing or overlooked. With an affinity for bygone eras, she finds considerable excitement and curiosity in the hidden stories that the spectacular historic buildings of Los Angeles could tell. You can find her art, photography, fashion and all manner of the ‘The Art of Style’ on her website, TheAshleyUrban.com

 

 

Social media: 
Architecture photography: @Urban.Decadence
Art/Fashion/Design: @TheAshleyUrban

TheAshleyUrban.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Guard

by Anastasia Jill

 

He graduated with a bachelor’s
in aquatic education.
They took his shirt,
hairy toes,
tan synonyms.

Rainbow strips give his lap a dance,
of tourmaline wands
and star topped
spotlights.

He is adult swim,
whistle reality.

Everyone,
out of the
pool.

 

 

Aside

 

Come titanium quartz,
turn into libertine water;
charm the bubbles
off the hips
of a holly blue tide.

There are light bulbs
behind her thighs,
lifting her skirt,
collecting arms.

She likes mushrooms,
she likes ants,
she is carved
from your rib of Adam.

Fight for her well.

 

 

Reactant

 

I have always wanted to swim at night with the moon’s kept eyes on my shoulders. She watches
us both you know. Addresses us as a we. She’s twitching, snags. Gets stuck
at the bottom of our show.

It’s pretty; it’s fuchsite clouds and leaf smocks. It’s pink, and since when is a sunset pink?
The moon is a grin in the sky, holding my hair off my neck. I am soft and warm.
I don’t care that he’s abeam.
I kiss him.

 

 

LOC

 

No diving, he says,
shoving his spit into my mouth,
using my eyes to illuminate the
chlorinated tops of trees.

My bubbles wax neon blue
and gasps when he jumps
behind.

Small price to pay
for purple hands
and an ocean made
lazuli.

 

 

Dypnesia

 

I don’t have to share him.
I don’t have to share him
with anyone except my mouth,
linked to him by air hunger.
His words grit against my teeth –
he’s mine, I’m not his –
because I want to talk the way
a 90s bathing suit fits:

pink and blue heat lightning
on a white, nylon backdrop
giving me ample room to stretch
my apple red belly button.

He is mine and I keep him
under eight feet of rope.
These are owlish waters
holding his yellow message:

staff access only
after hours.

 

 

Fluorite

 

I have pilgrim green hair
and renegade tits,
that can hold their breath
for a minute.

I dig my knees into bath lights,
hold tight,
to chlorinated nights.

He can’t make me get out of the pool.
I’m too pretty to leave.

 

 

 

BIO

Anastasia Jill (Anna Keeler) is a queer poet and fiction writer living in the southern United States. She is a current editor for the Smaeralit Anthology. Her work has been published or is upcoming with Poets.org, Lunch Ticket, FIVE:2:ONE, Ambit Magazine, apt, Into the Void Magazine, 2River, and more.

 

 

 

 

 

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Deus Ex Marina

by Megan Mooney

 

 

The fearsome Captain Longbeard stared dramatically into the roiling waves flowing around the back end of his ship’s keel. One does not generally think of graceful when imagining a sea-roughened pirate, yet the term easily applied to him. Longbeard held his figure in such a way that denoted his quiet agility; one that had either manifested from training in the deadly arts of the sword or perhaps it was that his mother enrolled him in ballet starting at the age of seven: an action that definitely didn’t lead to bullying and self-esteem issues. But the latter is obviously too specific to be true. Longbeard doesn’t even like ballet… that much.

That’s a bit of a tangent though, where was I? Right, got it. Draaama.

Captain Longbeard’s long silvery beard shone in the moonlight that peeked intermittently through the sheet of grey clouds above. It waved in the wind much like the pearly seafoam below that crests upon the waves and–

“Aaagh,” cried Captain Longbeard.

The first mate, Kyle (poor thing, really, awful name; got him beat up many times as a kid), ran up to him from the deck after hearing his cries, “What is it, Captain?”

“Pfft, pfft! Me damn beard got stuck in me mouth again when it was waving in the wind, much like the pearly seafoam below that crests upon the waves and– pfft!” The wind blew his beard into his mouth again. “I swear ye darn thing, I’ll cut ye off the next time this happens!”

“But Captain…”

“Whaaat!?”

“Ye name is Longbeard…” Kyle began.

“Ye point?”

“Well, ye might look rather silly without a beard.” At that, the Captain began stroking his beard with his wooden hook.

“I suppose thar is some truth in that.” He thought for a moment and continued stroking his beard then held the hook up to the moonlight and gazed at it. And it is in that moment,  in which Longbeard was staring at his hook of mahogany and Kyle just standing there awkwardly while his captain has a moment with an inanimate piece of wood, that it’s time to cue the tragic backstory.

* Ahem *

On a moonlit night, much like this one, Captain Goldenhook (as Longbeard was once known) stood at the stern of the ship, one leg up on the railing and his one good hand propped regally on his knee. His chest was puffed out and his hat was jauntily askew in the manner he had heard made you look was in fashion, but it’s not like he cared about that kind of thing because he had a big ship and treasure on four islands and certainly doesn’t care that his dad left him when he was young and basically has no insecurities to speak of at all. It’s possible the Captain revealed a bit too much of his past when the crew stole a few casks of whiskey.

There he stood, the picture of incredible Captainness (it’s a thing trust me), his velvet coat hung off his slender yet capable shoulders and several rings glimmered from his hand. The expression on his stubbled, but not as of yet, bearded, face turned into one of amused delight as he pondered his recent victories over several militaries and a few smaller pirate gangs. Treasure had flooded his hull so that his ship was slower than normal, but they should be safe, only a night’s travel from their island harbor. In the morning they would dock and unload their newest plunder and then depart to new adventures across the Seven Seas––        

Screeeeechh! Something scraped along the underside of the hull. The vessel leaned dangerously to port. Buckets, ropes, and other equipment could be heard sliding across the deck, and a few sounds of splashing could be heard soon after, one sounded suspiciously too large to just be equipment.

The Captain fell off balance and rammed into the railing, his hat tumbling off his head. At the last second, his hook, golden and really, really shiny, caught it by the brim. He placed it back atop his head. Tilted it to just the right angle, then went about yelling and stuff.

“Aye, crew!” What in the depths is going on down thar?!” Goldenhook lumbered  down the steps to the lower deck where his men were scrambling, some running around with ropes trying to secure anything left untethered, while others just kind of ran around screaming. “Blimey! Control ye’selves! I asked ye all a question, now what in Davy Jones is happening!”

Kyle ran up to the Captain and saluted him before addressing him very seriously, “I have no idea!” He paused and Goldenhook raised an eyebrow at him. “Captain!”

Screeeech! This time the sound had come from the bow side and it lingered longer. There could be no mistaking it this time. It was the Shirley.

[Sidenote: The Shirley is the most fearsome creature of the deep. It has never been seen before. Some have called it a kraken or a shark of enormous size. Others call it the physical embodiment of a nightmare. Therefore, the name–Shirley. We all know one.]

Captain Goldenhook rushed to the deck with the rest of his crew and watched as the enormous body of an enormous creature rose out of the boiling water and blotted out the moon. The men caught in its shadow were stunned into silence.

Then they screamed.

The silhouette of the creature lengthened towards the heavens and part of the silhouette split off from the rest and the shadowy stripe zipped across the sky and came smashing through the ship, cleaving it in two. The enormous mass reared back up revealing itself to be one of the Shirley’s enormous tentacles before cracking the main mast with a single swing. The scout at the top of the mast clung to it until it fell over into the cabins where the scout jumped off breaking their left leg.

The men scrambled for safety as the two sides of the ship were gradually swallowed by the waves and dark depths beneath. Other tentacles flashed up and grabbed onto a few of the men as they tried to escape. Their screams were muted by the sound of the crashing waves and the timber tearing apart.

Captain Goldenhook clung to the railing as he watched in despair at the state of his precious ship. The horror! He was considering the sizeable portion of the treasure it would take to make the repairs and replace the crew when he felt a tug on his coat. A tentacle had slithered over the deck and wrapped itself around him. He felt himself lifted into the air. He felt majestic and weightless like a bird. He didn’t scream. He accepted his fate. At least, that’s what he said afterwards.

He found himself dangling in front a gaping black maw. The tentacle’s grip tightened on Goldenhook and then thrust him towards the terrible, sharp beak of the Shirley.

The next day he awoke to the most terrifying sight of all. Not only was the majority of his crew missing, his treasure sunk, and ship drowned– but his golden hook, his namesake, was gone.

The Captain sustained no actual injuries, just the hook and its attachment were lost. He quickly got over the loss of his crew, treasure, and even his ship.

But damn it, if he didn’t really, really like that hook.

So he grew a beard and changed his name. He sought out new crewmembers and a new vessel. Luckily, Kyle had survived so he wouldn’t have to find a first mate that suited him. He also got a new hook, but this one was simple, plain mahogany, its nondescript nature a constant reminder of his great loss and a motivator to plunder more and more. With the treasure he bought more men and a ship more magnificent and powerful than any before, until he was absolutely certain he could never be overtaken again.

And that is what brought the Captain back to the scene of that fateful night, where he stood in front of a confused Kyle and stared at the ugliest piece of wood formed into a hook he could imagine. It mocked him. He squinted at it. Kyle squinted at it, too, not certain if that was what he was supposed to do or not.

“Captain!” a voice sounded from far off on the ship. Captain Longbeard realized it came from the scout on the main mast. The very same that had survived the destruction of the first ship. “The Shirley! It has been spotted!”

“Then make way for it! The monster is mine!” cried the Captain.

Captain Longbeard felt his long wait come to an end as this moment came to a head. His vengeance would come. He had stored the newest and most powerful cannons below decks, explosives and all other manners of warfare were strapped down on the main deck, the men working furiously to ready them for the inevitable battle. The Captain hobbled to the bow as the waves became more choppy. They followed a melodic rhythm not unlike that of a huge beast swimming in the depths and changing the tide. He smiled.

That is when he felt the ship lift up beneath him, he whipped his sword out of its sheath and prepared for the tentacles to start wrapping around the sides of the ship.

But they didn’t come.

Captain Longbeard walked with trepidation to the railing where he could see that the ship had not only been lifted off the sea, but now floated a good distance above it. SO far above the sea were they that the Captain could see the full massive silhouette of the Shirley below them, its tentacles thrashing at the place that the ship had just occupied. He then looked closer at the ship itself, to the hull where seawater streamed off and revealed barnacles that had been clinging to the ship below the water’s surface. Yet he spied something less expected, they looked like pale tentacles perhaps, yet they had nails on the tips of them? He could see four of these long appendages on the side he was on and then turned around to see that they were in fact attached to a … forearm?

“Look!” Kyle shouted, “It’s the Hand of God!”

He wasn’t wrong.

Captain Longbeard looked to the heavens and saw that the clouds swirled around a massive, tastefully hairy forearm. The hand it was attached to held the boat in its massive grip. It illuminated the night, like the moon come to rest on the terrestrial plane. They had been saved!

This really annoyed the Captain.

“Blimey! Stop that now, would ye?!” the Captain’s veins bulged as he shook his fist at the much larger one.

“Behold, I, your God have come to– wait, what?” the voice of God shook the deck as mightily as during any great thunderstorm.

“Ye are ruining my vengeance!” the Captain shouted back angrily shaking his wooden hook toward the sky.

“You do realize, you were going to die, right?”

“SOOOOOOOOOO??” the Captain really wasn’t a fan of backtalk, “I’m about to miss my chance to fight the Shirley.”

“I know. I know all. But you were definitely going to die, though.”

“No! What was going to happen was–”

“Umm, excuse me, Captain.” Kyle interrupted as the rest of the crew gathered nervously around the Captain. They were slightly perturbed by the disembodied voice that caused the deck to vibrate every time it sounded, but truly afraid at seeing the curvature of the Earth. They had always presumed it was flat. Then Kyle turned to the clouds above that were separated by the massive arm. “Are we definitely going to die, or are we only going to die a little bit?”

“How–How is that even possible? I mean really, how do you die just a little bit?” God, apparently, was a little sassy.

“You know, like when you wake up with a really bad headache.”

God was silent for a moment. There was a slight shift in the breeze that could have been caused by massive fingers pinching the bridge of an equally massive nose annoyedly, but one can never be certain about these things.

“That’s–that’s not anywhere close to dying. You know that, right? Maybe try drinking some water and not just rum all the time, Kyle.”

“Oh my God! God knows my name!” Kyle shouted and thrust his fists into the air then turned to get high fives from the excited crewmen around him.

“But yeah, you definitely would have died.” The crew stopped cheering. “You were all going to rush the Shirley and it was going to eat you. Like, all of you.”

“So, like, eat us a little bit or…”

“Completely! It was going to eat you completely!”

The crew were silent for a moment, considering this new information.

“Well, that’s not ideal,” said one of the crew in the back.

“No, which is why I came here to save you! You may not know it, but some of you could be the ancestors to some of the most important people in history! For example, you, Killian.  Your great-great granddaughter will discover the cure for cancer and save millions of lives!”

“Grand-daughter?” muttered a confused Killian, “ But women can’t do anything important.” He paused. “And what’s cancer?”

“Goodness, nevermind. Just know that despite your current station in life, all of you could hold great importance for the future of this world. Well … except for Jerry. That’s my bad, I guess. But because of the whole “free will” thing, I need you all to agree to be saved. If you all so choose, I can whisk you all away to a safe beautiful island full of food and drink–”          

“And women!?” shouted a member of the crew.

“Well, no, not really. It’s a deserted island, but–”

“Aaaah,” everyone in the crew except for the scout, who had one magnificent eyeroll, groaned, although Kyle did so halfheartedly.

“Well, well, can’t just force us into your little scheme, huh, God? If that is your real name!” cried the Captain.

“Well, it’s not my name, more of a title, really. My name is actually–”

“Don’t care! Me vengeance won’t be deterred by some silly cloud liver like you! Now men, let’s put it to a vote, who wants to be a man and fight the Shirley with ye Cap’n?! And who wants to be remembered as a cowardly, black-spotted, nattering wretch?!”

The scout’s hand raised. “Cap’n I think we should go with God’s plan, seeing as he is all-knowing and such, and knows that we shan’t live.”

“I should’ve known the woman would be the one to cower from glory! Any other cowards among us?!” the Captain shouted vehemently. Some of the crew members grumbled, but then the Captain continued. “I asked ye, are thar any more cowards among ye?”

“NO, CAPTAIN!” all of the crew except for the scout shouted. They quickly set their faces to their meanest expressions, saved for ransacking villages and or invading ships. All except for Kyle, poor thing, he really couldn’t tell his mean face from his constipated one.

“Good!” the Captain swaggered over to the railing and polished his hook victoriously against his velvet coat, then placed it against the railing near God’s glowing forearm. “Well, then, I suppose we’ll be having our fight after all. Set us down, God!”

“You’re an idiot.”

“Well, that’s me own choice isn’t it!” the Captain yelled back, shaking his fist to the sky.

“Unfortunately.”

The Hand of God gradually lowered the ship back down to the sea, the curvature of the earth gradually receding into its apparent flatness. The ship plopped the last few feet into their beloved watery depths and the crew cheered in a very pirate manner. The crew hurried back to their posts and readied the cannons, all except for one. No one noticed but the scout had meandered over to the railing closest to the Arm of God and she jumped to its safety.

“Well, have fun, I guess,” muttered the Voice of God as his arm slowly receded into the cloudbank and took her along with it.

“We will! And another thing…” the Captain continued shouting arrogantly into the night even as it returned to its regular moonlit-ness and not its previous holy lit-ness, until he had sufficiently gotten what he considered the last word. He then lowered his voice somewhat to address just the crew and not so many immortal beings. “Haha, he thinks we’re the idiots, well, we’ll show him won’t we, men!”

The Captain turned around and saw the deck was strangely empty.

“Men?”

The Captain did not see the tentacle slither over the deck railing behind him, but he did feel as it gripped onto him in a way he wished he had forgotten.

“Perhaps, the scout was ri–” his words were cut off by his being dragged under the surface of the waves.

It may go without saying, but Captain Longbeard and his crew did not get their glory or their revenge or anything else for that matter. Perhaps, they would have if they had listened to me. The Hand of God carried me off to a safe land, but I am still stuck with the same lame leg as I’ve had since the first Shirley attack. It reminds everyday to pass on this story to other women I encounter. Perhaps, one day they’ll believe me when I say they needn’t live to benefit another, when they have the power to change their lives all on their own.

 

 

 

BIO

Megan Mooney is a recent alumni of Miami University where she studied Creative Writing. As an aspiring humorist, Megan likes to inject her comic wit into stories that seek to subvert clichéd storylines. Like many people her age, she enjoys traveling and seeking outdoor adventures. Exactly where she will end up in her career still remains a mystery to her. She currently resides in Lafayette, Indiana, with her family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Art of HELLGA PROTIV

 

Death Rock Babe

 

Air

 

Type 13

 

Type 5

 

Kawaii Goth

 

Air

 

Zebra

 

Type 2

 

Trad

 

 

 

ABOUT

HELLGA’s real name is Olga, and she lives in St. Petersburg. She has drawn since childhood, has no special art education, and is mostly self-taught. As a teenager, she became fascinated with the goth subculture and dark aesthetics. Since then, she’s been drawing portraits of people, fashion illustrations, stickers and prints in her favorite style. She also sews costumes for photo shoots, and makes headpieces and jewelry.

 

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/hellga_protiv

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/hellgaprotivart

Deviantart​ https://hellgaprotiv.deviantart.com

 

 

 

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The Exorcism of Ecphora

by Annie Blake

 

 

I wasn’t sure who kept switching on the lights. The house was supposed to be empty. I waited for him to come home because I needed some reassurance I wasn’t losing my sanity. He came home.

***

But I’m sure I switched off all the lights after everyone left that morning.

***

When I was alone the next day, I could hear footsteps outside my room.

***

The more my ears open, the more my voice shuts down. It’s automatic. Sometimes I become a mute. The steps outside are full of water. Insidious seas. The opening of the door is an apertural view of a shell. But I am like a camera with an aperture stop. My room is heavy with empty.

***

I didn’t want to look at the door.  The knob was a potential bomb. But my hands turned and wrung me out anyway. I was under water. Fog can weigh you down under water. Sink you like a rock.

***

I could hear a ship sounding her bells in a storm. The kelp was the only thing alive in the sea. Even the fish were dead—upside down and gummy; sliced palms of haddocks. My hair and the kelp—how land and water marry.

***

I swam through one eye and then walked through the other.

***

Someone has left the light on in the dining room. For fuck’s sake. How many times have I told them to save electricity? I saw Keren approaching the stairs. I forgot he lived here. He looked a little like my son. Sometimes he looked like a native and other times he looked Russian. He didn’t look at me much. He was an introvert. It must have been him. He’s the one opening all the doors. I’ve told him before. He says he’s cold. All he wants is heat.

***

But I was his mother. Too young to know anything about estrus. The mind has a way of adjusting its aperture stop. A room surrounded by curtains susurrating with the floor—a scrambled view like egg battered in a jar. The wind bubbling at their hems—they are stage curtains all around. I’m in the middle—wind around my ankles and my heels—buzzing around like bees.

***

I obsessively worry about four things. I alternate them like the blades of a fan—the gentle suppleness of knives. How they spin through fingers and umbilical cords. How they promise the ooze of overripe summer.

***

When I stop at a red light I notice a line of cars in the rain. The dissonance of their wipers. The sagging rhythm everyone tries to keep in time with. Ridding the windshields of rain.

***

When you lose your ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality, you have nothing else to lose.

***

I told Keren I was an empty offering. The two bells on my body; feeling the firm curvature of fruit; milk of its figs. Here are the divides of our tongues—the longing of their sweet juices. His hands were more bone than fat, for he always ate grainy bread. His hair was as alive as kelp. A regenerative sauna. The body I was in—white and damp on the snow. Feeling the pleats of our moist skins like slithers of consciousness. Like the flash when a photo is taken. When I feel like I’m in a wound that tightens like the waist under a woman’s corset, I know I have to climb up its ribs again. When I feel like I’m in a widening wound like the hips of a rainforest, I know I’m heading the right way.

***

The laces of my dress are ribs. I held him. His breath bathed in the fermentation of fatigue. His fingers were long and could play the piano. His purpose was to evolve beyond onanism. My mother and father taught me to look for bean clams in the sea. Just under the sand. We dig with our fingers. The arperture of his nails—eggy salty pus. Clitorides. Eating raw; the wounds of our eyes.

***

The hair on his hands. The growing fibers of his arms. Fingers looking in the mud. For the twist of the umbilicus—the dark purse of her lips. A borehole. The four costae of the Ecphora. The easy snapping of ribs—the relief of his fingers like the tearing of threadbare fabric. Handfuls of eternal ash. The opening of the dry earth for mouths—the lifting of the gullet. The thawing of white on the field. He cleans the interior of the white buffalo. I learn from the divine licks of his teeth.

***

The bells were ringing to call the child who died. My body was turning over like red meat in the mist. Town criers are ringing their bells to summon me. It is the end of the war and there will be a holy wedding.

***

When children climb into a dry carcass of a buffalo, they must first eat what fills it. Then there will be the adjustment of their bodies inside by the unwinding of their joints. All children need shelter from storms. He scoops out the dust of burnt bodies; the cracked shells of the vase.

***

When children are spoilt with bruised fruit, they will break everything you have.

***

I am still an animal. He still wants me so he crawls inside my craw. He holds onto my entrails for he doesn’t want to feel disconnected. He is heavy. I unlatch my body. His arms outstretch—as well as his legs. Branches instead of switches, to keep me erect like a memento mori photograph. Like a hallway coat stand laden with coats. We can open more doors this way. Keren’s round parts are bulbs. He is growing. I can feel him. He builds a fire in my body for the extrusion of his bones to take place. We rise like the unmistakable mast of a ship. Even in the storm, camisoles are billowing. Lucent—a scintillating lighthouse.

***

I am standing in our body. I am russet. The color of potato when it is pulled from the earth or an Ecphora—my hand that spiders out of the sand. For I come from the earth; from the water first.

***

For posterity’s sake.

***

The ox is ploughing the earth, making furrows in my body with his plow. He made goblets out of his horns.

***

Menstruation is circular. I mistake it for the putrefaction of fish. Sometimes I smell the exploitation of fish at the marketplace. Their high protein content makes my body able. I drink from his horns. He explains they are aphrodisiacs. I eat croissants for breakfast because they look like horns and the croitre of moons. Made of glass. Air. Viennoiseries with laminated dough.

***

I’m sick of sitting in the dough of the unknowables—their knuckles knocking, kick-starting me like the manufactured steel of automobile parts. In grade school, I cried because I didn’t want my mother to leave me. When she left, the teacher took me outside. She told another teacher she was looking for lice.

***

She wasn’t looking for lice. She was pulling my hair.

***

 I stopped squalling. Fear and silence hold hands instantaneously. Sometimes the only way to make someone love you is by tip-toeing in their shadow.

***

Walking in front of them is harder than letting yourself hang.

***

Keren swims inside. He pulls the nails out of my hands. I unknit my web because when I was young I wore lace veils to church; a lace dress up to my chin. My finger nail catches on to the lace.

***

She shakes like her gallows. Her legs are her last.

***

 It is walking into the fall—the unmasking of our leaves. And feeling this time, I will live to bud. The gentle creak of the doors in the hallway. The lights divulging all my rooms.

***

The pigeon is fixing a nest on my balcony. It was winter— its winds untying its cries like the primitive crimes of animals. It is a large bed I sleep in for he could not bear the crying of newborns.

***

Maybe he carries the cries of his mother. Of himself.

***

I remember my mother’s silver coins splashing like paint against the wall. The cooked spittle of her belly. Simmering; how it curdles into maggots in the sink. I watch while she strains the tubes in her throat.

***

His father’s exquisite concentration of his fingers while loading his gun. Her tuft of red hair—whatever is left under his fingernails. The hot blood-speckled skin of a pecked buffalo. The fur is taken off when the circumference of skin tries to hold the weight of a metal bullet. Blades for a tongue. The licking of blades. Shining silver swords.

***

His hands are sewing me. My father’s noose. His dollar bills and his will—he lets loose from his wrists. His fingers, though work-stained are lissom when tying rope. I am tightening up my daughter’s ballet bun so her wisps of hair are bent back. The elegant twist and overlap of a hair net. A stiff coat of hairspray. She is taught there must be no deviation from the steps she is taught. The rope’s final rip through the well floor. The bucket tapping against the floor—breaking dark red coral.

***

The blood-run snow—welling in the deep wrinkles of her skin.

***

My son tells me I’m so nice now. He asks, Were you angry because when I was small I was bad? We hold each other like red ribbons around a gift. No, I say. It was all about me.

***

I can now throw my voice like a dart.

***

When she awoke her skin was unrippled like she had been sleeping in a glass box. The scales of my shells are opening. I have learnt to break open the clam by unjamming its hinge ligament.

***

Rain is sweetest under the dry fan of eyelashes. On top of the cracked egg of snow. The mouth is a clam. Teeth—a wreath of diamonds. The tongue a live mollusk. My hair—a curtain of herb in the spring air.

***

My body green and sown in the field.

 

 

 

BIO

Annie Blake is an Australian writer, thinker and researcher. She is a wife and mother of five children. Her main interests include psychoanalysis and metaphysics. She is currently interested in arthouse writing which explores the surreal nature and symbolic meanings of unconscious material through nocturnal and diurnal dreams and fantasies. Her writing is a dialogue between unconscious material and conscious thoughts and synchronicity. You can visit her on annieblakethegatherer.blogspot.com.au and https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009445206990.

 

 

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Fire Ball
Tragedy at the Fair

(with all respect and sadness for Tyler Jarrell)

by Nick Paul

 

hurry! hurry!
step this way
the drunken lips
of a carnie say

step aboard
and ride the ride
without you knowing
its suicide

strap on in
and hold real tight
pumping music
swirling light

it goes real high
it goes real fast
on one young life
a shadows’ cast

somethings’ wrong
you hear a snap
your seat is broke
you have no strap

your suddenly thrown
into the air
this isn’t right
this isn’t fair

you crash to earth
upon your head
your only eighteen
and now your dead

such a waste
such a crime
to be the topic
of this rhyme

a young boy’s future
put to waste
reopen tommorrow
don’t hesitate

he’s more than a statistic
he was a human being
a horrible diaster
this horrible feeling

 

 

 

 

Skid Row Queens and Halloweens

 

I am a haunted poet
who likes to write in rhyme
menacing creatures lick their lips
between my evry’ line

The pagan day is coming
its only moons away
painted faces powdered wigs
better get out of my way

Is my cloth a costume?
These rags that I have found
black feathered horses
pull my coach around

A hag is talking to herself
I think she’s schizophrenic
she squats and pees upon the floor
she is a bit eccentric

Court ordered I start therapy
and talked about my past
he opened the bottle of my soul
and poured me into a glass

as my life was pouring
he held me to the light
he smelled my lifes bouquet
and asked me how I felt tonight

in the cafe I fell asleep
and when I tried to stand
I tumbled to the floor
like a wiggly rubber band

I told him all about myself
to explain the way I dress
I tried to salvage decency
from this indecent mess

So very much to talk about
in such a little span of time
what truths should I discuss
what lies will I leave behind?

Which memories are fabricated
and are nothing more than lies
I’ll make him feel compassionate
I’ll bring tears into my eyes

and I can be such a liar
just to have you on my side
feathered horses galloping
this will be a bumpy ride

did my ghosts get exorcised?
Are they still gagged and  bound?
Moon light cast long shadows
Skid Row queens dance around

GreyHounds bare their teeth
chewing morsels from the floor
I lift my lamp into the dark
another memory to explore

life can be a haunted holiday
a friendly gesture turns obscene
the dead request another dance
and  I waltz within a dream

 

 

BIO

Nick Paul lives in downtown Los Angeles. He loves the people he meets, and is fascinated by other artists and their work. Nick is currently looking for galleries to exhibit his work. Feel free to get in touch with him.

Contact info: nickpaulartist@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

We changed our name: we are now Studio 526 (formerly Lamp Arts Program)!

The People Concern’s Studio 526 arts program is a creative studio platform for all residents of Skid Row neighborhood, rooted in the conviction that equitable access to arts and cultural spaces is a fundamental human right, essential for all people and communities.

 

https://www.thepeopleconcern.org/

 

 

 

0

Baby Fever

by Pascale Potvin

 

“We need an ambulance! My friend’s been stabbed and she’s pregnant! Uh … uh … four months!” someone’s cry pierced through my dizzy fog. That’s when I noticed everyone in the kitchen and that they were staring at me. Overwhelmed, I looked down, still clutching my burning belly. My hands were red. Oh.

#

TWO MONTHS EARLIER

“How far along are you?” asked Trish, looking up again from across the table. Her gaze pushed into me like a bulldozer. I leaned back into my chair, insecure about my answer.

“Eight weeks,” I said.

The three women attacked their notepads with their pencils.

Their names were Olive, and Kate (I think), and, in the middle, leading the interview, sat Trish Barton. That woman was all I’d heard her to be. She was blonde, with great skin, and so petite; you could have never guessed that she’d had two children. Nor that they’d been home births. Her kids (a boy and a girl) would probably grow up to be as small as her, too, since she was raising them vegetarian. Basically, she was everything that every Elk Creek mother wanted to be. Already she intimidated me, and she was five years my junior.

“And you’re married?” she asked, with a smile as perfectly tight as the rest of her face.
I’d been expecting to be asked a lot about my living situation.

“Yes,” I answered. “As of recently, uh, his name is James.”

“Oh, congrats. How did you meet?”

“Four years ago,” I said. “He… was at a bar where we were having a company party. I didn’t- uh, I don’t usually go out, and he could tell. He stole me away”. I thought of it, of that image of James in his striped button-up. He’d pulled his sleeves up as he’d approached me, as if telling me he was determined to seduce me–though he’d probably just wanted to show off his arms. I still couldn’t believe I’d fallen for that overgrown frat boy. I chuckled to myself, thinking about it. When I looked back at Trish, though, her face hadn’t moved.

“What do you do?” she asked.

“Uh, I was an accountant for a car company,” I said. “I’m looking for a replacement.”

“And your husband?”

“Yes. He got a job at a hospital in the city, um-”

“Oh. Nice.”

“He’s a doctor.”

Her mouth opened the tiniest bit before she went back to her notepad. I tried to peek.

“And where are you living now?” she smiled up at me.

“It’s a house on Collingwood Street,” I said.

“Oh, so you’re the new owner,” Her high-pitched voice flapped its wings excitedly. Her face had opened up now. A little weird. “Well, lovely, lovely. Will you have transportation?”

“Yes, we have a car.”

“Okay. And how are you liking Elk Creek?”

“We love it,” I said. “We wanted to go somewhere family-oriented. And this was worth leaving, like, everything behind in Michigan.”

“So you understand the purpose of Elk Creek Mothers’ Association?”

I nodded. “Keep the community safe and organize events for moms and kids,” I said.

“And what will you contribute, if you’re chosen?”

I paused, massaging my hands together. Secretly, I hated questions like this; the job hunt was going to be a pain.

“Well, I love children more than-” I started. I was about to say anyone, then I realized that that might not be the best idea, considering who was interviewing me, “-anything. More than anything, I’ve always known I’ve wanted to be a mom, and…” I realized that I probably shouldn’t focus on myself, but on the benefits for the kids.

Trish and her vice-presidents wrote as I spoke. I couldn’t, despite trying, read their notes or their faces.

I told James all about it over dinner. We sat across the width of the dining room table, as the other way might have required us to cup our mouths and yell. I didn’t know why he’d gotten us such a big table, but I supposed that the room allowed for it.

“I’m not gonna get it,” I said, twirling my spaghetti on my fork, then sticking a load into my mouth.

“Of course you are,” he said. “It’s a volunteer position.” He stabbed into a meatball.

“One that everyone wants,” I mumbled, covering my chewing with my hand. “Why do you think I had to do an interview?”

“Is it really this elite thing?” he asked, chuckling and looking up at me. James had blue/green eyes; their color shifted like the tides. In this light, now, they looked a pale, consuming green. He was still so handsome to me with his short, curly brown hair; his thick eyelashes; the quirky asymmetrical-ness of his rectangle face. “But it’s called Ec-ma. Ec-ma,” he continued. “They couldn’t have a prettier name? Makes me think of eczema.”

I laughed until my phone started vibrating on the kitchen counter. I jumped upward, gulped down my noodles and jogged to it.

“Pregnant,” James reminded me.

I ignored him. “Hello?” I answered, in a semi-strangled voice.

“Hi. Lillian? This is Trish, from ECMA,” she said. “I’m calling to offer you membership to our group.”

“No way! Oh, my gosh. Thank you so much!” I exclaimed, looking back at James. He did a double thumbs-up.

“You’re welcome,” she said. “Do you accept?”

“Yes, for sure.”

“Great. Are you available this Thursday at 7:30 PM for our monthly public safety meeting?”

James would be back from work by then. I’d have the car in time.

“Yes, that’s fine,” I told her.

“It’s at the police station. Do you know where that is?”

“Yes,” I lied. I’d figure it out.

“Perfect. See you then,” she said. “Bring a notebook.” And she hung up.

“Told you you’d get it,” James said as I put the phone down. “They loved you.”

I strode back toward him, grinning.

“I admit, I got you something to celebrate,” he said, opening the glass door to the liquor cabinet. I squinted at him as he took out a bottle. “Non-alcoholic cider.” He pointed at the label.

I came closer and kissed him. He kissed me back, grabbing at my arm. He tasted like tomato sauce, and his stubble scratched at my face, but the moment was still nice.

We each had a glass and then we had sex.

When I got up the next morning for the bathroom, I found some blood in my underwear, which James had said was normal for pregnant women after sex. I filled the sink to soak them and then also drew myself a bath. I was nervous for my meeting that evening and I wanted to relax (also, the big tub, with jets, was one of my favourite features of the new house). I sat for a while in the hot, bubbling water and thought of baby name ideas. I’d been thinking of suggesting Madeline if it was a girl, which I was sort of hoping would be the case. Madeline sounded like a girl who’d laugh fervently, who’d love hugs and who would have her father’s eyes.

The meeting went fine, though I was exhausted by the time it ended. I wasn’t surprised; wanting to impress the group was probably piling onto my recent moving stress and crushing me. I went to bed before James that night, but still woke up late the next morning. When I went to the bathroom, I found more blood. Bleeding was normal at this stage, I assured myself. So was the pain in my abdomen. It had happened before.

Unfortunately, both symptoms continued sporadically for the next week, and pretty much non-stop the week after that. The exhaustion was the same.

“Would you be able to get me an ultrasound? For, like, as soon as possible?” I called James on his break the day I decided this was a problem. We hadn’t yet managed to procure a new family doctor, so he would have to play that role for now. I was grateful to have him.

“Of course. How you feeling today?” he asked. I could hear him close a door.

“The same,” I said. I hadn’t left the bed. “I officially think I’m gonna miscarry.” I was going to cry. Neither of us had yet said that word.

“Please don’t worry yet,” he told me in his most caressing voice. “It’s probably stress.”

“It hasn’t been that bad,” I argued, turning onto my side and sliding further under the covers.

“Yeah, but this started as soon as you joined the group,” he said. “That can’t be a coincidence. And…”

“…Yes?”

“I don’t know. Something about that group just kinda weirds me out,” he admitted.

“What do you mean?”

“Like… come on. Everyone here just worships those women. Plus, they’re making you do their bidding, for free, just for the honour of it?” I tried to intervene, but he continued, “You sure you haven’t accidentally joined some sort of cult?”

“In small-town Wisconsin?” I scoffed. Fuck, it hurt to do that. I rolled onto my back, holding myself. “Everything’s normal. Come on. It’s for the community.”

“The way you describe them, they just sound creepy. Are they not?”

“It’s not that bad,” I repeated.

“Really? You sure you’re not hurting and bleeding ‘cause they turned our baby into a demon baby or something? Rosemary’s Babied you up-”

“Stop,” I held back my laugher by the belly. Laughing wasn’t a good idea, either.

“Okay, but admit it. You’re taken by the elitism,” he said, his voice now dipping a little, like a frown. “And that’s what’s weird to me, ‘cause you’ve never seemed to care about that kind of thing.”

“I’m just trying to make new friends here, James. Mom friends. I’m bored and I’m lonely.”

“I get it. But you can do that without this Trish woman, can’t you? How old is she, again?”

“Twenty-eight.”

“Right,” he said. I realized that she was a full decade under him.

“I guess I want my kid to have a good social standing,” I finally admitted. “You know I was bullied.”

James took in a harsh breath. “I understand,” he said. “And I think that’s great that you’re trying to give that to our children, but I think maybe you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. On top of looking for a job-”

My insides fell. “Are you asking me to quit the group?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t do that,” he said, quickly. “Actually… eh, I was wondering…”

They hit the ground. “If I shouldn’t get a job?”

“You’ll be on mat leave soon enough, anyway,” he finally said. “And you know I can support us both.”

I didn’t answer. I only swivelled my jaw.

“Then, maybe later, we can reconsider if you wanna work or not,” he said. “I don’t know. Think about it?”

“Fine,” I said. “But, please, get me that ultrasound.”

James was able to schedule me one for five days later–a Saturday. Unfortunately, I felt exponentially worse by the day. By Friday morning, it was like I had a hole tearing through me. The demon baby theory didn’t seem so implausible anymore.

I wept on the bed, leaving phone messages for James. I took my usual (maximum) dose of Tylenol, and then upped it a bit, but still, not much changed. When I finally struggled my way out of bed, I noticed that I’d left a bloodstain. I went to the bathroom and took off my clothes. I felt so weak and vulnerable, even nauseous, so it took a while. I ripped the pad off of my underwear–which, along with my pajama pants, had been stained, nonetheless–and threw it out. At least none of the blood seemed clotted.

I managed to make myself a hot bath, with jets. Once I got in, it helped the pain, a bit, but it worsened the nausea and the exhaustion. When I got out and checked my phone, it was still only nine o’clock. I had no idea if James would get my messages before his break.

I went back to the bed, in my bathrobe, to sit and try to think of what to do. If we’d been back home, I would have called a cab to the hospital, but there were none in this puny town. I could call an ambulance, as it’d come faster than a cab would from the city, but that seemed excessive. I would just have to make it a few hours. There was no way I was contacting ECMA, either; they couldn’t know that this was happening. I had just been accepted. I’d already forced a smile and gone to the last two meetings.

I changed into new underwear with a new pad, and new pajamas, then lay back down. Just a few hours.

It was easier thought than done, though. I held myself on the bed and cried for about thirty minutes until I gave in and lugged myself to the dining room.

“Forgive me,” I rasped, pulling out a bottle of scotch and a glass from the liquor cabinet. But she was probably already dead. I poured myself a glass then the contents down my throat. The burning it caused distracted from the burning in my abdomen. I poured another.

I was disoriented when I heard James yell, “What the fuck is this?!”

I lugged my head up from my arms, wiping my mouth. I looked at my hand. My saliva was brown. I looked to my right. James was standing next to me. I was still sitting at the dining table. I’d fallen asleep. I’d never fallen asleep at a table like this.

“Is this why this is happening? Is this what you’ve been doing during the day?!” he continued. I looked up at him. He was sneering, his eyes burning hell into me. I’d thought that I’d already seen him at his angriest, but apparently I hadn’t even seen him close. “What kind of mother are you?!”

“No,” I groaned. “Have… you found me like this before?”

“Well, I don’t know,” he said, leaning down further into me. “You’ve been really emotional-”

“Because I’m in fucking pain and I’m fucking losing my baby,” I said. I strained myself up straighter, but my head was spinning. “I need the hospital.”

He stared into me for a few seconds. His eyes had gone paler, colder. “No,” he said.

My heart jump-started. “What the f-” I tried.

“You’re not going anywhere. They can’t see you like this. Even if you’re not a drunk, they’ll think you are.”

“It’s… not… optional.”

“Sure it is,” he said. “Didn’t you want a home birth so bad? Like what’s-her-face? Have a home miscarriage.”

Then, he passed me for the kitchen. I put my head back on the table and cried again.

The pain woke me up before James the next morning. I heaved myself over to the bathroom–a ritual now–and the usual blood was there. I started to undress when I was taken by nausea.

I sensed James walk in behind me puking.

“Hungover?” he snarked.

“Please,” I whimpered.

I got changed, and he drove me, in silence, to the hospital. It was in the car seat that I started to really feel the bleeding. Feel it get thicker.

After the painfully long drive, I was given away to a Dr. Schuster, a middle-aged black woman with black ponytailed braids. She helped me put on a hospital gown, and she set me down on the plastic bed. I was shivering. I covered my eyes as she checked me. I felt her clean me. It was cold. But there was no colder feeling than the one in my belly–and, though I knew that it was just fear, it also felt an awful lot like a dead baby.

“I’m so sorry. You did have a miscarriage,” she said, standing over me, dropping each word down gentler than the last.

But it doesn’t matter how gently you drop a child’s corpse onto her mother’s face.

She might as well have dropped a boulder on me, I thought. And, in that moment, I wondered what my daughter looked like. She’d probably resembled red, thick lava when she’d been ejected from the center of my core–but now I was a volcano with no purpose left, and now both of us were cold.

“I’m gonna give you an ultrasound to make sure there are no further complications and that you’re safe,” Dr. Schuster said, and I grimaced. I was grateful, at least, to have her instead of James.

“It still hurts,” I grumbled, lips dry.

She had me open the front of my gown. She put the ultrasound gel on my belly then felt across it with the stick.

“Is it all out?” I muttered.

“Actually…” she said, her voice shaking now, “I’m going to have to put you into surgery.”

“Why?” I rasped, sitting up quickly and wincing.

“You’ve had an ectopic pregnancy.”

I hadn’t heard of that before, which wasn’t a good sign.

“Your egg failed to travel through your fallopian tube,” she explained. “Your foetus has been growing in there, and now it’s burst it. You’re bleeding internally and… your other tube might have been damaged, too. I’m going to have to go in to try to save it.”

Everything, then, felt like it was spinning and shifting. Probably because everything was. I erupted, again, this time with tears.

When I woke up in a hospital bed, I tried to shoot up straight. My abdomen cried out in pain, and so did I. I remembered that I’d had surgery. A nurse called for Dr. Schuster, who entered shortly after.

“Can I have kids?” I mumbled.

“I’m so sorry, Lillian,” she said, her face struggling to stay adrift. “It’s not likely you’ll be able to conceive. Your tube was badly ruptured, and your other one was…”

I tuned her out, then. I retreated all the way under the covers and closed my eyes.

When I was more awake, she gave me and James the instructions for my care.

“No working for eight weeks,” she said. “And absolutely no sex.” Her expression had finally given up and died now. So had mine. It had gone down with my baby.

My baby had died and taken the rest of my insides with her.

James took my hand in his. It was stiff. I looked up at him. He was pale and frozen over. Definitely also dead.

“Again, I’m so sorry for your loss,” Dr. Schuster said to us. “Take your time to grieve, but remember that-”

“Thank you,” James snapped, which made me cringe a little.

And the drive home felt like the one there.

“I called Trish,” he said, breaking the silence, keeping his eyes on the dark road ahead. “Begged her to keep you in the group.”

“Of course she’s not gonna keep me in the group,” I grimaced, picking at a cuticle. “It’s a mothers’ association, and I’m no longer a mother.”

“Well, she said they’d discuss it.”

“I could have done it myself,” I argued, pausing to clamp my teeth together. “It could’ve waited.”

“I thought you might be embarrassed.”

Something about that rubbed me the wrong way. It even struck me.

“Why would I be embarrassed?” I asked, then, in a weakened voice. “…Because it’s my fault?”

He didn’t answer.

“For drinking?” I pushed. “Or for putting too much stress on myself? Daring to look for a job?”

James let out a dense exhale. “I didn’t say that, Lil,” he muttered.

It wasn’t a denial that he believed it, though.

“I can’t believe you think that.” My voice was shaking. “You did this to me, not me.”

At that, he pulled the car over and turned to look into my eyes. But he kept his grip on the wheel. “Excuse me?” he growled.

“You’re a doctor. You know what an ectopic pregnancy is, James. You know it was failed from the beginning. When your sperm entered me and ripped me up slowly from the inside.”

I watched the anger bubble up inside him, then. “You don’t mean that,” it finally escaped as a chuckle. “You still have those hormones going.”

“Hormones?! I just lost my purpose in life.”

“So did I!”

“But you’re not the one who had to just go through that,” I screamed, the hairs on my arms rising with my voice. “Have some humanity! I just want my husband to comfort me right now, not fucking attack me!”

But all he did was turn back toward the wheel. He stared again at the black nothingness ahead, and it reflected in his eyes. We sat there, listening to our own hard breaths, until he finally spoke again.

“Humanity is defined by the ability to reproduce, isn’t it?” he said, and he turned the car back into the road.

I was too stunned to even respond. Had he just implied what I thought? Had my husband just diagnosed me with not being human anymore?

I was taken by rage. He had done this to me.

The continuing, torturous silence was shaken, thankfully, when my phone vibrated at my feet. I struggled, aching in every sense of the word, to pick up my purse and retrieve it.

“Hello?” I groaned.

“Lillian? This is Trish,” came Trish’s glossy voice from the other side. But she also sounded a bit more genuine, more normal now. “I wanted to say that I’m so, so sorry to hear about what happened. I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”

I know you can’t, I thought.

“Thank you, Trish,” I said. “I appreciate it.”

“Do you need some time to yourself or do you have it in you-”

“Just lay it on me.”

“Okay. Well… we talked about it for a long time. It was difficult. Because we could really feel how passionate you are about the association, and we’ve appreciated having you so far. So… we actually came up with a possible compromise, if you’ll accept it.”

I felt the littlest fragment of life return to me.

“What kind?” I asked, leaning against the window.

“So, we have an official Facebook page, you might know. I like to keep it active, to attract attention. Like, post some content a couple times a day. But I wouldn’t mind that job being taken off me, if you want it,” she said. “It seems perfect for your… situation. You’re homebound, correct?”

“Right.”

“Well, since it’s online,” she said, “You won’t have to leave home to do it. And… since you’ll be behind a computer, and no one can tell who’s posting, anyway, no one will tell that you’re…”

“Not pregnant,” I said. It was such a pity offer, but I still appreciated it. I couldn’t believe that Head Mom Trish Barton was being more forgiving than my husband. “So… I just have to post as if I were pregnant? Or a mom?”

“Uh, exactly.”

“Well, okay,” I said, and then took in a cold breath. “Thank you… so much.”

“No problem. I’ll e-mail you more details in the morning, and you can let me know when you’re ready to start. For now, get some rest and feel better.”

“Thanks.”

The next morning, I went to the office computer and indeed found an email from her.

Hi Lillian, it said,

If you go to Facebook you’ll see I made you an admin for our page. That means you’ll be able to post to it under our name. Take a look at the past content, if you haven’t already, to get an idea of what kind of stuff is good. Articles about parenting are great, as long as it’s not ‘disciplining’ tips or anything too aggressive like that. Also please look for funny ‘memes’ about motherhood. Basically just fun, light-hearted stuff. Oh, and add appropriate captions, please.

Posts should go up once every morning and once every afternoon. You can start whenever you feel ready. Just let me know when that is and I’ll leave it to you 🙂

Take care,

TB

I can start today, I wrote her, or I may die of boredom.

I went on Google and looked up ‘parenting article’. I clicked on a page titled What to Expect When Your Child Starts Kindergarten.

It opened with an image of a mother and daughter smiling together.

Oh … god.

  1. You’ll want to keep track of all of the school activities and meetings and help out when you can, it said.
  2. Making friends with other parents will be a huge stress-saver.
  3. Your child may cry because they’re scared or because they miss you, but that doesn’t always mean that they don’t want to be at school.
  4. Your child will be a lot more tired than before. They may start to fall asleep in weird places. It will be cute.

As I read, the pain where my baby used to be flared up like a phantom limb. I couldn’t do this. I hadn’t realized how difficult this would be.

ECMA definitely didn’t realize it, either, though. They had been so kind to find this job for me. If I didn’t do it, I had nothing left.

I decided to just try a different route. I exited the article and Googled, ‘Mom memes’.

The first image was a simple illustration of a woman, accompanied by the text, That moment when you’re checking on your sleeping baby and their eyes open so you run before you make direct eye contact.

My eyes swelled and my hands contorted. Just hurry up and post it, I told myself, then you can go wallow under your covers again. I saved the image and put it up on the Facebook with the caption, Haha, I hate when this happens!

Pressing every key was like stabbing myself over and over.

I was still under the covers that afternoon when I heard James unlock the door. Thankfully, he fussed around cooking in the kitchen for a while before approaching the room.

“Lil?” he mumbled. “I made dinner.”

My brain foggy, I forced myself to get up and follow him to the dining room. He helped me sit down at the table. He’d set out steak and potatoes for us. Plus, a bottle of wine, with wine glasses. He offered me one.

“Thank you, the food looks amazing,” I said, “But not right now.”

“Why not?” he asked, uncorking the bottle. “You can drink it now.”

I stared into my lap and ran my tongue between my teeth. “What is this?” I finally asked, my voice sharp.

He sighed. “I wanted to make it up to you, after last night,” he admitted. “You were right. I shouldn’t have been fighting with you.”

I sighed, too, nodding. I was still hurt by what he’d said, but I didn’t want to bring it up. Clearly, he didn’t either. So we made dull conversation about his day as we ate. I avoided talking about mine.

When we finished, he took away the dishes and I went to the living room couch.

“What are you up to tonight?” he asked, entering from the kitchen behind me. “Want to see what’s on TV?”

“Could you get me my book?” I countered. “In the bedroom?”

“Sure,” he said. Then, “Why don’t you read in there? You’ll be warmer.”

“I guess, but I’ve been lying there all day.”

“I could help entertain you,” he said. He came up behind me and rubbed my shoulder.

I turned, looking up at him with a grimace. “You know I can’t have sex, James.”

He chuckled. “I mean, it’s actually not that big of a deal-”

“Except I’m really not up for it. In any capacity.”

He paused. “Okay, okay, just trying to be close with you,” he grumbled, before walking away.

Of course, I was going by what Dr. Schuster had told me–and James, as her peer, should have known better–but, in truth, I was most resistant for my own reasons. I just could not get that image of James’s invasive, destructive sperm out of my mind. I did not want his semen anywhere near me anymore, after what it had done to me. I was disgusted by it, by the very idea of sex with him.

Unfortunately, throughout the next few weeks, James continued to try to initiate it with me. And, as I continued to say no, he continued to get grumpier. Funnily enough, I couldn’t remember him ever being this horny before. It was interesting that he wanted to fuck me the most now that he didn’t consider me human.

Eventually, he got the message and he stopped pushing. In one sense of the word, that is. Instead, he began to push himself, sometimes, onto my healing abdomen while we were cuddling… to even, some nights, knee it in his sleep. But I suspected that he wasn’t asleep.

When I would go to the computer to post for ECMA, in the morning, I also started to find paused porn videos left open on the computer. I understood that James needed to get his urges out, somehow, but, like the kneeing, it happened just a little too often to seem truly accidental. This was another expression of frustration at me, then. James was rubbing in my face that I wasn’t satisfying him. He was showing me exactly who all of the younger, hotter women were that were getting him off.

I only really started to become afraid when the porn started to get violent. I would go to the computer to find images of women–though that wasn’t what they were being called, in these video titles–being stepped on, hit with things, choked. Their faces always showed distress or discomfort, and when they didn’t, it was because they were being shoved into a bag, trashcan, or toilet. At that point, I shouldn’t have been surprised that this was the kind of thing that James was into. But I felt that this porn might have become more than just a taunting… had it also become a threat?

I cried a lot during those weeks. Fearing for myself, what he might do to me in my sleep, I locked myself in the bathroom at night and slept in the tub. Weirdly, he never challenged me for it. He acted like everything was normal. He’d ask me how I was feeling. I would tell him everything was great, and he’d smile.

When I went in for my first check-up with Dr. Schuster (Aileen, she said to call her), she told me that I was behind in my healing. It was most definitely the kneeing, I knew. But I realized what I had to say.

“We had sex,” I told her. “I’m sorry.”

She shook her head. I felt a heavy shame for disappointing her, even though it had been a lie.

“I understand you want to try again,” she said, sitting down at her chair across from me. “It’s common for couples in this situation to have trouble dealing with it, at first.”

I wrung my fingers.

“I hope this isn’t intrusive for me to say, but… your husband has seemed depressed lately,” she continued, her wide face dipping a little. “He’d mentioned how many kids you two wanted… so I wanted to ask you how you’re doing, mentally.”

I looked back into her eyes. James and I had never actually talked numbers. Both of us adored kids, of course, but it had made sense to me to just take it one at a time.

I almost said nothing. “How many kids did we want?” I decided to ask. It came out grumbly.

“Pardon me?” asked Aileen.

“How many did he say we wanted?”

“Well… he’d said at least eight.”

I felt so heavily confused and disturbed, in that moment, like I could fall over–like she’d reached out and slapped me. Eight kids? Eight? Where the heck had he gotten that idea? My personal limit would probably have been half that number; why did he go around saying something so outrageous, when we’d never even discussed it?

I had an itch of a thought, and so when I got home, I did my own personal Googling. One of the results included a page in a women’s health blog, What is Reproductive Coercion?. I dismissed it at first, but the title kept chipping at me until I went back and clicked on it.

Have you ever heard of men obsessed with getting and keeping their partners pregnant?, the author wrote. Chances are that you haven’t. However, new studies have found that this form of domestic abuse is almost as common as are bruises and broken bones. Whether subtle or forceful, it is just another form of power and control that a man can exert over a woman’s body and life. He may be performing reproductive coercion if he:

  1. Sabotages your birth control. Maybe he’s lied about having had a vasectomy, or he ‘accidentally’ keeps ripping the condom, or he tells you that your birth control is making you fat. He might even escalate to doing something like rip out your contraceptive ring.
  2. Isolates you–limits your access to money and transportation. It may also be a strategy to prevent you from acquiring birth control. Or maybe he wants you to quit your job so that you can focus on being a mother (and be totally dependant on him). Isolating you can also prevent you from getting refuge from your family or friends.
  3. Verbally, psychologically and/or emotionally pressures you into having sex and/or getting pregnant.
  4. Uses violence or threats of violence to pressure into having sex and/or getting pregnant.
  5. Wants you continuously pregnant. He may attempt to make another baby either directly after you give birth (or miscarry), or as soon as your previous child begins kindergarten (and your schedule opens up).

A stinging, tingly feeling surfaced in my limbs as I read. It gradually got stronger, then moved to my core.

I sat, paralyzed, thinking back to the beginnings of my relationship with James. He’d been upfront about his traditional leanings, his need to get married and to have kids. I’d found it endearing, romantic—as I had his eventual suggestion that we run away together. Men with a passion for children are attractive to many women, including myself. And, because I’d shared his passion, I suppose that I had never had to face his wrath. Until now.

As Aileen had suggested, he was probably refusing to accept that I was now infertile. His obsession with sex was probably a desperate, delusional attempt to get me pregnant again. Either that, or he was panicking and trying to control me in other ways.

I almost scoffed at the predictability when I came to the computer, one morning, and found ‘pregnant woman porn’. Of course James had this fetish. And of course he was going to go down this road; this was the ultimate taunt, the ultimate display of what I could never be for him.

I should have grimaced and closed the tab as quickly as possible, of course. That was what I usually did. This time, though, something different happened. I stared at the image. Really stared at it.

The woman was leaning on all fours, her eyes jammed shut and her mouth agape, her inflated belly dangling pathetically. Her hair, a mess, fell partially in her face and was pulled partially back by the man fucking her from behind. I hit play on the video. The words suffer, you pregnant bitch clotted together in my mind.

When I finally did close the tab to get to my Facebook responsibilities, my bitterness lived on. It always did, when I did this work. This time, though, it was even more intense. It filled the room, now. Plus, now that it knew what revenge felt like, it wanted more of it.

I had a few notifications from comments on my latest pregnancy meme–one that had especially made me feel like killing myself. They were idiotic, tart messages like ‘sooo truuueee’ and laughing faces; god, I pitied these women’s children. Rage spiralled in my stomach, flashed underneath my skin as I stared down their profile photos in the same way I had the woman in the video. Their big bellies and smiling husbands made me wish upon them the same fate. I wanted, so horribly, for them to feel that humiliation for being pregnant. That trauma.

I realized that maybe I could get them close.

I logged out of Facebook and created a new account under the pseudonym Joe Coen. I then went back to the ECMA page and to the profiles of frequent commenters. I composed a message, which I sent to all of them:

Here’s where I’d like to see you soon 🙂

And I attached the porn link.

A few hours later, I received a call from Trish. When she said we needed to talk, my inner sanctum–the satisfaction I’d made for myself–imploded on itself. She knew that it had been me. Somehow. How? It made no sense how she would. Yes, I controlled the Facebook page, but it was also accessible to everyone. And the world was not short of misogynistic men who sent messages like that.

It was probably a coincidence, then. This was about something else. Still, the worry would keep me up all night if I didn’t talk to her today. I asked her to come over, preferably before my husband came home.

The low look on her face, when I opened the door, made my worry flare up worse. I invited her over to the kitchen. Her steps were careful. I was definitely in trouble. My mind ran in zig-zags, debating what to do.

I offered her a seat at the counter, and, when she denied a drink, sat across from her. I forced a smile. I decided that unless I was offered undeniable proof that she’d tracked me down, I would do just that–deny.

“So,” she said. She was still avoiding eye contact. She rested her French-tipped hand on the counter and cleared her throat. “I don’t know if you heard, but a lot of women from our Facebook received a really nasty message this morning.”

I widened my eyes and gasped. “Oh no,” I said. “Did you want me to do something?”

“That’s not why I came, no,” she said, and she finally looked back at me. “I’m here to ask you to tell me, completely honestly, if it was you.”

Her eyes pressed into me like a drill, making me shake.

“W-why would you think it was me?” I responded. Acting had never been a thing of mine.

“Because I had a miscarriage once,” she said.

My shock, then, was real.

“Surprise,” she chuckled, baring teeth. “Yes. I was pregnant once before Noah, and no one knows except my husband.”

“I’m sorry-”

“Don’t. I’m just trying to make a point,” she said, resting both arms on the counter now. She was shaking, too. “I had become such a mess, y’know. I hid it well, but I was super depressed for about six months, and… angry. Like, I hated pregnant women… moms in general. I had thoughts that… and, my therapist–yup, I have one of those, too–told me that that can happen when you miscarry.”

I swallowed, gripping my shirt.

“And so I can’t imagine how much worse it might be, for you, because…” she continued, pursing her lips and speeding up her blinking. “I thought about it today, and maybe having you do the Facebook may not have been the best idea. Right?”

I put my head down and nodded.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked. “If it was too much-”

“Because… I need… “ I struggled, putting my face into my hands.

“Do you have a support system?” she asked, quieter now. “Your husb-”

“Is that a line from your therapist?” I retorted.

“Maybe,” she said. Do you want his number?”

I looked back up at her. Chuckled. “Maybe,” I said, crossing my arms. “Now that I’m out of the mommy group. Now that everyone’s gonna hate me.”

She shifted in her seat.

“How about this?” she said. “I’ll keep your secret if you keep mine.”

I found myself leaning back toward her. The heavy look in her blue eyes was filling me with some hope.

“And… I understand that you need friends right now. So, even though I’m gonna have to kick you out of the group…” she continued, “You can still come to our social events.”

“…Do I have to pretend to still be pregnant?”

She paused. “No,” she said. “That would be cruel. And… weird. And people would figure it out. Besides, they’ll understand. I’ll just warn them about your situation, if that’s okay, so that they don’t say anything… uncomfortable. But we’re capable of socializing with people other than mothers. We could even use it.”

I thought about it. “I don’t know if I’d be able to handle it, honestly,” I said.

“Well, you can leave if you really need to. But I really think that if you get to know them, you’ll hate them less.”

“Is that what worked for you?”

She nodded. “We’re having bake sale Sunday afternoon,” she said, then. “I could use some extra hands. Would you be able to help, or are you still out of commission?”

“I should be, but I really need to get out of the house.”

“Great.” She actually smiled. “Most of the women you sent those messages to will be there. I hope that you can make friends.”

That hot, sunny Sunday afternoon, I drove up to Trish’s place early. It was tall, multi-sectioned, with lots of big windows and a fancy BMW parked out front. As soon as I saw it, I sped up and drove down a couple of blocks to park. Then I remembered that I was also driving a BMW. I took several deep breaths.

Once parked (closer, now), I reached, with some pain, for the pan of date tarts in the passenger seat. I strained my way with it to her door. I had been expecting to see a table or two on her lawn for the bake sale, but there were already several rows of tables propped up, ready to be used. This might as well have been a baked goods convention.

The door was partially open, but I knocked anyway, and soon heard the approaching clacking of what sounded like wedges.

“Lillian! You came,” she exclaimed, with her IKEA-white smile. She was wearing a purply sundress and had done herself up all nicely. “You’re the first one here. Come in!”

I handed her the pan and she thanked me and led me to her kitchen. “I’m about to start putting things out,” she told me. I walked behind her through her large, wood-and-stone living room; her little boy and girl were playing quietly in front of the fireplace. Seeing them gave me a flash of cold.

The kitchen was more modest and cozy. The floor was yellow tile. To my left was a wooden table cluttered with baking supplies. Trish went around it to the counter against the wall. A multi-colored curtain hung on the window next to her.

“Oh, good, Rick put in the muffins,” she said, peering into the oven. My body tensed.

I got worse as more mothers arrived. Trish figured that I should be sitting down, because of my healing, so she set me up at one of the tables to sell things. That meant that I was approached by all of the moms wanting to offer something and those wanting to buy.

I tried to make conversation, and get to know them, like Trish had suggested–I really did. Unfortunately, my anger rattled so loud in my brain that I could barely hear anything that they said. When I tried to talk about myself, my jaw remained so tense that it barely even worked. It was pathetic, trying to speak. The woman across from me would always end up walking away in silence. That made me more irritated, though. Trish had told them what I was going through.

So, like the nauseating smell of the melting icing, every new addition to the party further constricted my throat. Every new belly, every new child on that lawn took more air out of me. The sights became too much. The conversations–about the school, about bedtime routines, breastfeeding–circled around me like hyenas. The laughter–fuck, especially when it came from a child–sounded like the ugliest cackling.

I found myself wishing agony on the pregnant women, especially. Stretch marks, saggy breasts, vaginal stretching–things that could lead their husbands to cheat on them. That cheating would mess up their children so bad that they’d become drug addicts and criminals. Yes. That would make me feel better.

The baby in my belly had, at this point, been officially replaced by a solid mass of pure fury. And, unlike my baby, this fury had a heartbeat, which I felt pulsing hard through my body. Unlike my baby, it was twisting, crying, and kicking.

“Are you doing okay?” Trish’s voice came floating above me. Suddenly I was back in the world. Self-conscious again.

“Yeah,” I managed, looking up at her.

“You don’t look it. No offense.”

That’s when I realized how sweaty I was. And also that I was shivering. Like a sick woman.

“This may have been too much too fast. I’m sorry,” she said. She waved me up and then led me back into the house. “Eliza, can you take over for Lillian?” she yelled. Once we were out of the sunlight, and away from all of the bodies and voices, I found myself gasping for breath.

“Do you need to lie down?” she asked me.

“No. Let me do something else,” I pleaded, heaving. I was still holding onto a stupid slice of hope that I could make it back into the group, one day. I needed to prove that I was still mother material–not just another child to be taken care of.

“Okay… well. I just made another cake. Maybe you can help me decorate it.”

I nodded, but cringed a little when we found Kate in the kitchen. I knew her from the group and from Facebook. She was young, Italian looking. Thick eyebrows, small belly.

“Hey! Glad you could make it,” Trish said to her.

Kate nodded. “I was just looking for you,” she said. “Sorry I’m late.”

“Right. How dare you have an ultrasound?” Trish giggled. Her smile then left and she got quiet.

Keep cool, Lillian, I thought. Please.

Kate looked at me. “Is everything okay?” she asked. “You two kinda rushed in here.”

“Uh-huh,” said Trish. “Lillian was just overheating.” In a sense, not a lie.

Kate and I smiled at one another, but as her eyes dug into me, my embarrassment deepened. She was definitely wondering if this had something to do with my miscarriage. There was nothing I could do to stop her from wondering it. I looked away and focused hard on the wall above the stove.

Trish walked to the oven, then, to take out the cake. She moved it from its pan onto an embroidered plate and then placed it on the table.

“It’s strawberry shortcake,” she said. “Just needs some whipped cream and strawberries.”

“Do you need any more help with anything?” asked Kate.

“Don’t worry,” said Trish. “Unless you want to help me clean up.”

Kate did. The women cleaned, chatting, as I sat silently decorating and trying to recover. Now that I felt like I had some breath back in me, my inner fire had, thankfully, blown out. The foundation to it was still there–a gaslight that could easily ignite another flame–but, for now, I was sane enough to question all of those horrible thoughts I’d been having. I held back tears.

“Lillian?” Trish ended up saying. Fuck, she’d noticed. “Are you alright?”

“Yes,” I tried to say.

“Do you want to call your husband?”

“No,” I demanded. Too quickly. A tear finally escaped. Child. I was a child. “He’s busy,” I said, in a diluted voice.

“Is that why you didn’t invite him today?” she asked, taking the seat next to me.

“Yes,” I managed, standing up. The cake looked good enough now, but I needed something else to give me an excuse not to look her in the face. I grabbed a knife from the other side of the table and started to cut it up.

“Lillian,” Trish protested, placing a hand on my arm. “If something was going on at home, you could tell me. That’s something we do for women here. We help. You know that.”

I stopped moving but the knife shook hard in my hand. Hers felt like soft tissue. I found myself turning towards her.

“Is it okay if Kate stays?” she asked me, slowly.

I nodded, swallowing some tears and snot. I had to accept it. I was still that sad little girl who just needed some friends.

Kate approached me with softened eyes.

“Sit back down, love,” she told me, placing a hand on my shoulder. “Tell us what’s wrong.”

I nodded again. Sniffing, shaking, I started to sit, and I reached to put down the knife.

“Have a piece of cake,” Trish told me.

“Yeah!” said Kate. “Or- I brought madeleines.”

 

 

 

 

BIO

Pascale Potvin is from Toronto, Canada, and has been writing since childhood. She is currently working on a budding book trilogy. She has also just received her BAH in Stage & Screen Studies from Queen’s University, where she has written a few award-winning short films. Some of her blog pieces can be found at onelitplace.com, where she works as an assistant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perspectives

by Deanna Mobley

 

 

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul.  I wonder how much truth is in that statement.  When I look at my six year-old daughter, her goodness and innocence reflect in her eyes and in her smile.  But when I look at my reflection, at my eyes, all I see is the tired, middle-aged woman I have become.  Time has slipped by, dragging me in its wake.  I feel as if I have accomplished little with my life other than raising my children.  I try too hard to be what everyone else wants, to meet their expectations, and I let my dreams and desires flit away.

Oddly, this is readily apparent each time I ride in the car.  I often drive in silence or listen to an audiobook with my younger daughter.  When my older daughter jumps in after school, she immediately claims the aux cable connected to the stereo.  She fiddles with her phone for a minute and music fills the car.  If my husband drives, he immediately turns on whatever music strikes his fancy.  My older sons were always quick to tune in their music.  I don’t mind most of my family’s music.  Over the years, I have even grown to like some of it.  Yet, sometimes it would be nice if they asked me what I wanted.  The only problem is, I don’t know what I like anymore.

Rediscovering oneself is a difficult task.  I am no longer the shy, awkward teenage girl that I was twenty-five years ago, tormented and teased for my hand-me-down clothing, too scared to stand up for myself.  Nor am I the young mother of twenty years ago, trying to balance an infant and a new pregnancy while working full time.  I have moved past those stages of life, but sometimes I feel as if my identity is still based on my younger selves.  It is time that I start understanding not only who I am now, but also who I want to be.

I like to run.  I started about four years ago as a way to build endurance before my black belt test.  In the winter, I usually run indoors on a treadmill.  I watch a show on my tablet or, more recently, read class assignments.  I prefer to run outside early in the morning.  Few people are out that time of day, and I enjoy the quiet time to reflect on my life.

The path I follow marks the outer edge of a park in the center of my neighborhood.  Early in the morning, the streetlamps cast circles of light on the ground.  Just as I reach the end of one circle, the next one is always there waiting for me, unless of course it’s burned out.  Then I must brave the darkened path, hoping the path is clear of debris waiting to trip me up.

As I reflect on my life and my identity, I feel as if I am running in the dark on a gravel path.  I grope along, relying on the small amount of ambient light to show the way, scurrying from one circle of light to the next.  I am not one to engage in much introspection, especially not for others’ perusal.  I prefer to keep my self-doubts private and unacknowledged while I pretend that all is well.  Yet, writing inspires me to meditate on my failings and on my achievements.

 

A few weeks ago, I took the opportunity to visit our local art museum with my six year old daughter Khrystalle.  She wanted to play in the hands-on gallery of the art museum, the Experiencenter.  I sought inspiration.   I admire artists’ ability to express their thoughts and feelings through a visual medium, and I hoped that their example would help me to find the words I needed to express my thoughts.

The theme of the Experiencenter was performing arts.  A low wood platform formed a stage against the back wall, and a wooden wall painted to resemble theater curtains was attached to it.  Wooden doors in the center opened or closed to change the stage’s scenery.  Khrystalle rifled through the costumes hanging on hooks near the stage and tried on a burgundy velvet dress with gold trim and laces in the front.  The dress flowed to the floor, and the sleeves were fitted to the elbow and then flared as they reached her hands.  With her hair in a bun, she appeared very elegant.  I told her she looked like Celie from the Castle Glower Series by Jessica Day George.  Khrystalle informed me that she was a queen and handed me a kimono and a scarf to wear.  Then she walked around the stage, lost in an imaginary world, while speaking a quiet monologue.

How easily and confidently she slipped into her chosen role, with little thought for all that was happening around her.  I, on the other hand, felt embarrassed to wear a child’s costume and slipped out of the kimono and scarf as soon as more people entered the area.  As I watched my daughter, I was reminded of Shakespeare’s statement from As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players.”  I play various roles in my life, depending on the circumstances and the need.  I question whether I am simply a product of my roles or if there is more to me.

 

The lower level of the art museum contains some exhibits depicting African art, as well as Native American and Oceanic art.  Among the displays are a variety of masks.  The masks vary from simple wood masks to the elaborately beaded elephant mask and costume of the Bamileke people.  Many of the masks played vital roles in the cultures’ religious ceremonies.  As I examined the masks, I considered the masks found in our society.  Masks not used for religious purposes but to hide who we truly are.  Maybe we hide behind our makeup or our clothes, or behind our economic status.  I think even the roles we fill can become our masks.  But what are my masks?

I rarely wear makeup, except maybe for a special occasion.  I dress comfortably, usually in jeans and a t-shirt, or a sweater for winter.  I am not hiding behind my clothes or my makeup.  But what about my roles?  Are they my masks?  I submerged myself into my role as a mother for many years.  I was trapped in a box.  I could stretch and feel the sides hemming me in.  Every once in a while I poked my head out, just to see if the world still existed.  For a few short months, I took an art class at a local community college, and I was free.  Then, I didn’t have enough money to continue, and I felt myself slowly sinking back into my box, this time a much smaller box.  I finally broke out of my box by taking martial arts classes and earning a black belt.

Occasionally, I retreat into my role as a karate instructor.  I did this just last week, when my nieces and nephews were visiting at my house.  One of my nephews came into the family room carrying my sheathed sword, saying that it was fake.  I immediately grabbed it and showed him that it was real, not sharpened, but still real enough to injure someone.  Then I talked to him quietly but sternly, just as I do my students that are getting into trouble.  “This is my house,” I told him.  “You may play with the toys, but do not touch the weapons or the computers without permission.  Do you understand?”  He replied, maybe a bit defiantly, “Yes.”  I looked him in the eyes and said, “Yes,ma’am?”  After a moment’s thought, he finally gave me a “Yes, ma’am.”

I wonder who I would be without my masks.  I like to imagine that I am a strong, confident woman, though maybe a little too outspoken at times.  But is that who I really am, or is it just a façade?  Maybe I am really a shy little girl that is too ashamed to admit it.  Some of the words to Delain’s song “My Masquerade” run through my mind:

Take off your mask

The world will see

The freak in you

The freak in me

I am not sure if I want the world to see my true self.  I’m not sure if I want to see my true self.  What if I am not who I think I am?

 

I am looking at things the wrong way.  My perspective is off.  A couple of years ago, I grew frustrated that the toilet in our downstairs bathroom rocked.  I knew if it continued, it would leak and rot the floor.  I called the plumber and arranged an appointment, then I called my husband.  “It doesn’t rock,” he said, “I just used it this morning.”  “Yes, it does,” I insisted.  We argued back and forth, each of us insisting we were right.  When my husband arrived home from worked, he called me into the bathroom and grabbed the sides of the toilet.  “It doesn’t rock,” he repeated.  I grabbed the back and front of the toilet and rocked it.  “Yes, it does,” I said.  We were both right.  The toilet did not rock from side to side, but it did rock front to back.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven R. Covey shares an experience from a business class in college.  The professor passed out to half the class a line drawing of an old woman.  To the other half, he passed out a line drawing of a young woman.  After they looked at the drawings for a while, he showed the class a picture that combined both line drawings.  The half of the class that were given the drawing of the old woman could only see the old woman in the picture, and likewise for those that had the drawing of the young woman.  They argued about what they saw, even going so far as to insinuate the other portion of the class was stupid.  Then someone got up and traced out the woman they saw.  Eventually, each half of the class began to see the picture from the other group’s perspective, but it took work to adjust their viewpoint.  It reminds me of Obi-Wan’s statement to Luke, “So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view.”

At the beginning of this essay, I stated that I felt as if I have accomplished very little other than raising my kids.  That is not entirely true; I looked at my life from only one perspective.  I only saw the toilet that rocked one way or the drawing of the old woman.    When I am honest with myself, I acknowledge that I have accomplished a great deal.  Just helping five kids grow into confident, successful beings is a great accomplishment. However, it is difficult to appreciate the full picture while bogged down in the day-to-day minutiae of living.

At the art museum, Khrystalle and I visited an exhibit on origami.  The last room of the exhibit contained a single large sculpture that initially reminded me of a distorted version of the domed jungle gyms that used to be found on playgrounds.  The sculpture was created from panels of stiff paper, maybe cardboard, riveted together.  From the end, the piece seemed almost like a snake, with undulating curves undulating reaching over my head.  At home, I looked back at a picture of my daughter and me standing in front of the piece. Instead of misshapen playground equipment, I saw wings spreading out to either side of us, as if we turned into a bird soaring through the sky.  Because I initially focused only on the details of the sculpture, I failed to recognize the beauty of the piece, just as I am unable to appreciate my life when I focus only on the parts.  I write about looking behind my roles and stripping off my masks, but now I realize that they are a part of me, a part of my identity.

 

In the middle of the glass exhibit, a curved metal framework sits on a pedestal.  An obtuse glass triangle, about six inches thick, hangs point down from the framework.    The smooth, clear outer layer of glass provides a window to see the inner beauty, bits of color embedded within.  I still see a tired, middle-aged woman peering out at me from the mirror.  But behind the exhaustion, behind the age, lurks a lifetime of experiences, bits of colored glass that help define who I am.  My experiences, my beliefs and faith, my choices, and my roles and masks work together to form my identity.  When I step back and view the whole picture, I realize that I do know who I am.

 

 

 

BIO

Deanna Mobley is the mother of five children.  She has worked as a karate instructor for five years and is also an independent study student at Brigham Young University.  She plans to eventually write stories and novels for children and young adults.  Aside from writing, Deanna also enjoys reading, knitting, and playing with her family.  This is her first publication.

 

0

Elegy at the Nursing Home for the Demented

for my grandmother

by Domenic Scopa

 

Let the condensation blind the window.
Let the bulb burn out.

Let the darkness believe
whatever it wants.

There is nothing, says the darkness,
I can do about it:

Where we go
is where we came from.

So let me spoon you, please.
Kiss the back of your shoulder.

Let come together
our brief shadows.

Let the starlings sing, like life,
until they tire.

Let me lie beside you—
holding—forever.

 

 

Campfire

“Fire is the thunderbolt that stirs all things”—Heraclitus

 

Out of habit you begin to sense the whisper
of fall leaves scraping streets: Burn the past,

and mysteries of loneliness will not concern you,
even as the family congregates for warmth,

and you might dream about the dryness
of the daughter’s down coat and wool socks.

Weigh the worth of bloody deeds impressed on newsprint
resurrecting into ash, their taste and smell,

the lives of lives you wipe out through the night.
I can’t count all the universes that disintegrate

when you lick the air—tongue-strikes quick as lightning—
but eventually your perseverance will be tested by the wind,

the wind that knows sometime you’ll come undone.

 

 

Salutation

 

Snowflakes punctuate the darkness, punctuate
the run-on sentence of an early morning,

when sunrise insinuates itself on the horizon
like a Polaroid developing.

Somewhere, a driver slams the brakes,
skidding, who knows how far,

and workers, one with salt and sand,
the wind discovering their upturned faces,

continue shoveling the storefronts,
the moment snuffed like a match.

There’s so much noise—the neighbor’s beagle
has already started barking.

And we still wake up to each other,
sleepy, thankful,

perhaps a little button-pushy,
but with age, we get more playful.

Roll over, queen, and tell me
if you think this is a heart murmur.

 

 

 

BIO

Domenic Scopa is a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the 2014 recipient of the Robert K. Johnson Poetry Prize and Garvin Tate Merit Scholarship. He holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. His poetry and translations have been featured in The Adirondack Review, Reed Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Belleville Park Pages, and many others. He is currently a Lecturer at Plymouth State University and a Writing Center Specialist at New Hampshire Technical Institute. His first collection, The Apathy of Clouds (FutureCycle Press), is forthcoming in 2018. He currently reads manuscripts for Hunger Mountain and is an Associate Editor at Ink Brush Publications.

 

 

 

0

Countercurrent Me

by Mike Yunxuan Li

 

 

Movement I: Pre-Industrialization

 

1

After coming to Higher’s Private High School for just a few days, I noticed people here were essentially the same. Although they looked different, dressed different, came from different backgrounds, they all became indistinguishable from one another under the directional selection of job security. They were all “chill” and “easygoing”, they all laughed at the same memes, they all pretended to care about stuff, they all had this self-centered image of themselves, and most importantly, they all desired similar futures. Sadly, the things I thought were important for individuality, especially in this country: ability, self-actualization, and the courage to execute risks, were simply not visible in them. And yes, personality was not on my list. To me, personality was like DNA. Every cell in the body has the same DNA, but not all cells necessarily express all of their genetic information.

Then there is Epigenetics.

However, I couldn’t really judge these young adults too harshly because I was just like them, in a fundamental manner—well at least, until one day, something reminded me of that morning in the Pacific.

Kien was perhaps never as developed, and probably would never be as developed, but there was an inherent herby essence to it, a taste unique to Kien and me. The night was always filled with the brightest and loneliest stars, and from the top of our Kraser hills, we could see them twinkling above our heads, as if telling us they would always be there and our time together would forever lag. The walk from school to the mall and from mall to the subway station always felt sweaty in the breezy summers when lightning was imminent amidst the humid air molecules. The streets in the village were always lit with something. The areas that were dark felt just as creative because someone was with me, and together, the night transformed into a stage that simply served to highlight lights. Someone was always with me, and together we would look up to the blue ceiling, peek through street lights, explain road directions to foreigners, converse about anything, and through moments like these, memories were created, and now it hurt. It didn’t hurt because they were memorable. It hurt because they were only memorable.

That morning, 5 rows of Pexler tanks vacuumed our plantation. Pexler was like Ford. You knew where it came from just by looking at it. Our neighboring island, Kurston, wasn’t simply declaring a war on the state of Kien. They were sending a message—a message of completed industrialization and initiated New Yorkrization (westernization on steroids). I knew it would happen one day. The strong would be foolish to not swallow the weak.

Before the sun fully resuscitated from the seals of morning frosts, father jetted into my room. He had to be worried. Father rarely ran. He took my hand, and together, we scuttled out the back door into a nearby Kan forest. When we looked back, our mansion was gone. Bricks of black and white subordinated under the wheels of Pexlers. 20 acres of cash crops microwaved on the spinning plate of Kurston advances.

He put his hands on my shoulders and confronted my pupils with that once in a lifetime father to son seriousness, “We didn’t lose everything. Half of my wealth is in your mother’s house. Remember I’m the wealthiest farm owner in Kien? They only want me.”

The scent of his vinegary sweat, our kind of medicine boiling on stove, titrated by dirt in the smoke, was for a second the only vision of home and for a while, the only thing I could remember.

Bullets started raining down the forest. Long-tailed widowbirds woke up from their bowled nests and flopped into the air. Some got shot and fell to the forest floor. Others got injured and screamed like cats. Most escaped the forest only to be vaporized by the blue sears of Kurston flamethrowers, so horrifying yet hypnagogic, almost like a nightmare in a VR video game. Seconds later, the remaining strands of black tails realized their disconnections from bodies that no longer existed, and drizzled down one by one like kites whose strings had been cut—things that one would only see falling from the clouds in the obsolete tales of 2012 and the like. The volume was a long blackness that slowly encased Kan. Lines of professional K soldiers marched towards our direction.

He pushed me west.

My legs moved.

They paused behind a coconut tree.

He stepped out from the pile of banana leaves. The leader, dressed in grey cotton cloth, holding a fencing sword on his left hand, holstered his revolver and took out this photo from his front pocket. He placed it next to father’s face and smooshed his face with a magnifying glass over to the photo.

The first ordinary person that actually had an interesting story to tell was unfortunately not part of my first week at Higher’s. And that was a major problem. The seat across from me in chemistry class had been empty for days—the consequences of which was our group only had three members, a big reason for our snail-like progress on the project.

Just as I thought the seat would be empty forever, the unexpected happened. Ten minutes into class on Monday, the chemistry teacher spoke up for the first time since the initiation of our projects. “Guys, I want you to stop whatever you’re doing for a second.” His voice was extra smooth, like a mellow drumstick on timpani, which surprisingly produced pitch, which made me expect something. The classroom returned to its orthodox organization. I placed the periodic table in front of me in its default setting. I took off my steaming goggles and pushed the beaker aside with extra caution.

Inside the beaker was the essence of our project, the subject worthy of a Nobel Prize, the 7 inch Aplysia, a ditto looking sea slug, which I named Innocencie. Nobody really cared what it was called. It could be dabplysia and no one would give two dimes. Apparently, a professor from Columbia named Eric Kandel had done some extensive research on Aplysias half a century ago and used this little creature to show how memory and learning worked. In the past few days we’d been squirting water relentlessly on its siphon and repeatedly shocking its tail with voltages that were oftentimes uncomfortable even for us in order to examine the degree to which collateral axons had retracted or reframed. Long story short, the whole project was basically about torturing Innocencie on a daily basis to gauge out some numbers on a grid that had already been figured out by the Eric Kandel guy 50 years prior. I poured in a cup of sea water to keep Innocencie strong.

“I almost forgot, today is Remembrance Day. Let’s all close our eyes for a brief moment and remember all the loved ones in our lives,” he announced.

Someone raised a hand in the back. “When is the next legit holiday, like a day when we actually don’t have school?”

“The next staff development day, Justin,” he responded, which was basically a nicer way of rephrasing the legendary “furlough day.”

Tony shot me a glance from across the table.

Anna covered her face with her slender fingers.

Innocencie crawled a few inches upward like a slimy Virginia Creeper, his head breaking open the water surface, as if he wanted to participate in the remembering of someone too. Another cup of seawater went in and he retrieved to the bottom. Sensitization got him.

I closed my eyes. The taste of the ocean was at the tip of my tongue once again as Innocencie continued to exhale. Bubbles jazzed inside the beaker.

It was dusk when I reached mother’s place on the southern end of Kien. News of Kurston’s temporary occupation of the north had already spread like wildfire across the waterways of the commercial south.  The government was actively setting layers of defense lines near the Kranel Strait that divided Kien into palpable halves with the capital, Kannonbalver, situated conveniently on the southernmost tip. As our boat lumbered through the floating bellies of random carps, scratching foams against mountains of dying Warty Venus clams—a perpetual noise that could be felt through the vacillation in my shoelaces, I remembered seeing bridges incinerating in rainbow, from lipstick red to pumpkin orange, aloe green to death charcoal, the smoke overlapping all natural scents of sea urchins and abalones in the thin ocean breeze, boiling a family of seafood raw like a damn steam pot. The water was completely drenched in oil as if it was never an ocean to begin with.

The officers escorted us, the northern refugees to their main camp in Krunen, where we would sign a few papers and stay until jeeps could be arranged for our departure. While waiting for our rides, they greeted each of us individually, assuring that Kien would fight until its last soldier to preserve the holy capital from Kurston contamination. The president even burned all of Kien’s 132 steamships to manifest his determination in defending his citizens, whom he called sons from a different mother. I felt secured. In fact, most of us did. The Kranel Strait had been an insuperable natural barrier that coated the heart of Kien for the past however many years that Kien had remained an independent state. There was every reason on earth to believe we still had a decent shot. I mean who would not be optimistic when lines of blue-coated soldiers aligned the strait, converging Russian machine guns on that one port the Kurstons could possibly board from, when imported cannons dotted the shore, determined to dissect the bastards that took father into their atomic components, when the waters had been trapped, stockpiling potential energy to repeat the glory of the Battle of Red Cliffs, when the president was dedicated, ready to sacrifice his own life for ours?

I could still recall that moment of astonishment when I opened the door to her apartment. A man in grey uniform shoved a booklet up my face. “Passport United States of America,” it read. Before I could grasp it, something thunderous went off in the distance.

It came.

I dived forward, landed flat on the cold concrete when a zoom of light skidded down the lane, blowing a neighboring bungalow into ashes of rusts. I braced myself as a second rocket zipped along the adjacent driveway, liquidating the already rotted ashes into protonic particles of invisibility, as if killing a house once was not enough. The cochlea were unwiring their snaily shells, pupils in my eyes bleeding from the lights, and every major lobe in my brain hallucinating, and yet I remembered the lady in that house, who was no more innocuous than a single mother working 4 shifts for the sakes of 4 children, half of whom probably would have graduated from middle school next year. A wind blew, dusts whirled, rearranging shape of the bungalow, and a moderate photo of purple and yellow managed to escape into the open air of brown snow. It must’ve been her graduation photo—her smile, wide and innocent, as if she’d already found the media naranja of her life.

And then, it deteriorated in the already microwaved air, the air doing nothing.

The sky had its belly cut open by then. Blood falling, in sheets, clotted the only layer of ozone visible from here. Missiles and meteors and objects beyond recognition showered down the village, a tad syncopated, captured through the retinas like lenses of a slow motion camera, as if meant for Kien to witness the bullet down its own throat, through the esophagus, across some tubes, into the capital, and death. It was tragically beautiful like those constellational portrayals of heavens in animes and tear-inducing like those technological depictions of air-strikes in Hollywood films with melancholic orchestral backgrounds, except minus the melancholic orchestra in Kien. In the horizons, rows of familiar dots treaded over the sun-set plastered cornstalk shadows. They were headed for the capital.

I felt a tuck on my shoulders. Tony gave me a quick wink and closed his eyes and the guy in uniforms was still standing there with the Passport United States in his hands with his hands still on my shoulders. A scent of feminine pheromone brushed my cilia as the footsteps of milk dabbled inside the dark hallway. Go, she said. I looked up.

Precisely a week ago we were having coffee by the Kinanel Beach with me complaining just about everything in life, and a week later she still appeared calm and contained when our nation was literally on the countdown to death, when father was literally—

I hopped forward and clenched her legs. Father, I breathed. She stopped me. She told me she knew. The president was still here, the capital was still free, the thousands of blue coated warriors were still willing to die for us, and the Kraner Strait was still intact. Yes, the president had boarded Helicopter Plasma 1 for Keren, yes the capital was captured, yes Kien soldiers could not fight for us, because yes the Kraner Strait no longer mattered. The Kurstons had boarded from the south sea.

The smell of Innocencie’s jizz returned. The past, not in complete scenes, flashed through cortex like car lights through freeways captured from space.

“Mansen?”

“Sorry guys I forgot my makeup this morning. I look like complete shit right now,” she said. A sweet scent of perfume blew in our faces. The smell of the sea faded.

Every syllable in her voice was the Earth—distinctively feminine at the core and gradually more Justin Bieber masculine as it echoed to the crust. Lights and periodic table stood nice and firm in front of my fovea. Something, either the direction of the voice or the unforeseeable activities beneath the table, told me that the seat next to me had been filled. Our fourth member was here.

My eyes focused on the periodic table, zoomed in on H and He like they were her eyes. They frowned with such sorrow, pronouncing curls of eyelid doubles, as if I’d just heard the most Hollywood memory-loss tragedy. “Well, if you look like shit without makeup, then maybe that means you DO look like sh—” words found their ways out of the memory.

There was a second of silence. Actually no. There was a sharp inhale (indicative of speech), but she didn’t let it out. I understood. It wasn’t that she wasn’t mad, for she had to be mad. It was just not considered “chill” to be argumentative in a place where 30 self-conscious young men and women aligned themselves for judgments.

Tony nudged me from the side, “Bro, I think you went a little too far. I don’t think that’s…”

Seriously, she’d let us down for two whole days, and yet the first words she blabbered out had no “sorry” in it? Nobody cared about your little looks; we just needed your beautiful mind to contribute its beautiful worth. Plus, I didn’t even say shit! And also, people here are more sensitive than rabbits. Any comment slightly out of the ordinary will raise eyebrows, implying the typical “Huh? That doesn’t make any sense” in such a sassy and judgmental manner, as if they’re the ones that founded the magical wonderland of common sense itself.

Then there are only 3 forms of young people English: American’s sassy tone, English’s classed sound, and just the bleak inferiority of everything else.

Tony wasn’t a bad person, so I let go of the periodic table and said, “OK.” This little feud wasn’t really between us anyway. However, I was wrong about one thing when I turned to face this girl for the first time.

 

NOTE: This self-contained excerpt is from his novel, Countercurrent Me.

 

BIO

Mike Yunxuan Li is a rising junior at Cornell University majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Creative Writing and Spanish. he wrote his first YA novel, which is still in progress, right after graduating from high school. His poem, “Borrow,” recently appeared in Autumn Sky Poetry Daily and Better Than Starbucks. Through writing, Mike hopes to break down what we think of as “human nature” and “common sense” under the microscope to explore what’s actually logical from the habits we inadvertently exhibit as humans. Outside of writing, he loves playing Go, an ancient strategic board game, and classical music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

Unconscious Authorship Inc.

by Cal Urycki

 

 

The rattle of fingertips on keyboards echoed in his head, like the pitter of fat raindrops against a window pane. He could tell by the tempo of the quiet clicks what sort of sentences were being typed: a long one filled with clauses, with short miniscule pauses whenever someone hit the comma button, followed by rapid rat-a-tat’s as the rest of the sentence materialized on the imaginary page in his head, one letter following another in quick succession. He could hear the lack of surety behind others, with long, languid pauses followed by even faster key strokes, trying desperately to make back up the time lost contemplating the next few words. His own sequence was a well-oiled machine. He had long ago eliminated the small pauses after periods, instead pushing onwards as if the sentence. had never actually stopped but was all one continuous thought one line of consciousness that could not be halted. by any amount of punctuation.

His only pause was a brief breath in and out after an indented line, a quick moment to refresh and then continue. He sat in a cluster of workspaces, each one only 5ft by 5ft, just enough room for a chair and desk with a keyboard, surrounded by high walls that prevented him from seeing anything beyond his square area. He had no screen to see the words he typed, he was only to continue and not stop until he was told otherwise, and he was good at it. He had found that special trance state in which his fingers moved without any thought. The movements had become completely involuntary and unconscious; his eyes would dart across an imaginary screen before him, looking far beyond the gray wall of his workspace.

Sometimes he imagined what sort of art he would create, was creating. He would, of course, never know if it was him or someone else that wrote the words that were eventually assembled, but he held on to the belief that he was responsible for some of the words, some of the bits that were called especially extraordinary by critics. It was April 27th, and a new text was due out in three days. He resolved to pick up his already blistering pace in hopes that some of his words might make the final cut and find their way into the text. He pushed his dexterity even further, eliminating punctuation altogether at times in hopes that maybe by producing a large volume of words he might increase his chances that one of his would be selected and eventually he heard a steady tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap and he knew he was repeating words which happened sometimes but he was never supposed to do on purpose in fact he was never supposed to type on purpose at all just move his fingers however they felt like moving and leave his brain out of the equation completely but he thought maybe now if there was a tap in the April text it might be his and he might finally have some proof that he was contributing more than the monkeys around him that just typed aimlessly without regard for pace or structure or beauty. He finally caught himself and stopped for a brief moment and shook those thoughts from his mind. He was supposed to leave the thinking to the Assemblers.

The texts each month were said to be amalgamations of all the sequences being created in the warehouse, but he had no way to really verify that, as neither he nor his coworkers knew what they typed, unless they tried to remember. Trying to remember often made one type with a purpose, which was one of the first rules of the job: don’t think. The Assemblers cut up long transcripts of endless walls of text that he and his coworkers created and stitched them into the most beautiful, definitive texts that he had ever seen. He read most of them, that is, he skimmed them enough to see that none of his passages had made the final cut and then put it up on shelf, never to be opened again. If he were being honest he hardly understood anything that came out in the publications. The punctuation was sometimes in odd places, thoughts seemed to run on forever, and there was never a concrete grounding, nowhere that he might find some footing as a reader. As has already been mentioned, even remembering what one typed was a dangerous proposition, given the chance that the text might become too self-aware. Each day a section of text was selected randomly by the Checkers, and should your text be found in violation of company rules, your job was the least of your worries.

He had seen employees removed from the typing floor by Checkers, and the looks of dread he saw on their faces were all that he needed to understand the dangerous risk he took by remembering his words. He thought they could never prove that his text was aware if he never admitted to it. What could they possibly point to in any of his texts and prove guilt? He was typing unconsciously for all they knew, and even unconscious words can become aware on their own, it didn’t mean that he did it on purpose or that he even knew that it happened.

Maybe the point was moot. Even if one day the compendium contained his words and his words alone, he could never take credit for his creation. He could never admit that he knew that they were his words, or how he knew them to be his. He wouldn’t even receive a pay raise. Many of his coworkers speculated that the monthly texts, given their continuity, were taken from the same handful of Typists each month, but giving out a pay raise would alert them to the fact that their words were being selected, and the knowledge that their words were being selected would spoil the magic of unconscious typing, a magic that the company was founded upon, a magic that had eliminated nearly every other mainstream publisher. The monthly compendiums contained more truth, more insight, more experience than any one author or group of authors could hope to muster on their own, even when working with a purpose. The numbers alone were too great to overcome. He slowed his pace back to its normal humming drone and continued, working hard to switch his brain back off and just type mindlessly, to ignore the record of text he knew he had just created and the danger it posed to his job and his well-being.

As the rattle of keys lulled him back into his comfortable trance, he heard a small discordant change in the sea of keystroke sounds. It started with a sudden stop in someone’s sequence, followed by rapid typing, panicked typing, typing that didn’t even care if it formed words anymore. That change sent waves across the sea of noise and others began moving more frantically, their pace desperate, pleading for something to rescue them from- he heard a noise that was not the deep methodic breathing of his coworkers or the chatter of keyboards. He heard the soft footfalls of rubber-soled shoes on the cold concrete floor of the warehouse. The same panic found his fingers as well. They moved as frantically as the others around him, trying to blend in with the others, give those shoes no reason to enter his square. As the footsteps grew nearer, their pace slowed, and he knew they had come for him. He had gone too far, and his remembering had finally caught up with him. The footsteps finally stopped, and he knew they were standing at the opening to his square, but he did not dare look behind him. He squeezed his eyes shut and continued to type, praying, wishing that they would just move on and go away, that they would see how quickly he typed and how many words he produced even if they were never that good and decide that he wasn’t worth the trouble.

He felt a cold hand on his shoulder and froze.

“I’m with the Checkers, you need to come with me.”

It wasn’t a question or a request. It was a precise command to be followed. He stood from his chair and turned to see a tall man in a dark suit standing behind him, stone-faced, eyes obscured by thick black glasses. He felt a lump in his throat and nodded. The Checker turned and walked back the way he had come, errant Typist in tow. The Typist peeked into the long rows of squares they passed while they walked. Everyone sat perfectly still, typing less frantically now. To those attuned to the tempo of keystroke clicks, an allegorical sigh of relief could be heard in the light taps as their fingers flitted from key to key without a care in the world. The Checker had found his mark, and it wasn’t any of them.

The Checker led him to the western wall of the warehouse, to a small inner building sectioned off from the rest of the warehouse floor: The Checkers’ room. Inside it was painted the same gray as the rest of the warehouse, but the desks didn’t have the same tall walls surrounding them. Men dressed similarly to the one that had retrieved him sat at the desks and pored over wide sheets of paper covered in miniscule letters. The men at the desks read the letters with apparent ease. He guessed that the thick black glasses they wore magnified the words somehow; no ordinary person could read words that small without straining their eyes.

“Go to Room C, I’ll be there in a moment,” the Checker said, pointing to a large ‘C’ painted over a doorway at the far end of the room. The Typist walked past three rows of desks towards Room C. It occurred to him how few Checkers there were. He thought there must be at least half as many Checkers as Typists, how else would they check all the words that were typed? Especially if his coworkers typed anywhere near as quickly as he did.

The door to Room C was open, and he walked inside, where he saw a metal table and a chair on either side. He took a seat at the far end of the room. It looked like the interrogation rooms he saw in crime dramas. Two Checkers would come in and do the good cop bad cop routine but as long as he played dumb he would be okay. He might still lose his job, but maybe that would be the worst of it if he didn’t reveal anything incriminating.

The Checker that removed him from the warehouse floor entered and pulled the door shut behind him. He had a manila folder bulging with papers in his hand. He dropped it on the table with a loud thud and sat in the chair across the table.

“You’re pretty quick, aren’t you?” the Checker asked, staring at the Typist with those impossibly dark glasses. Those glasses made the Typist squirm. In obscuring his eyes, the Checker appeared to the Typist something inhuman, separate from him, indifferent to his troubles. The rest of the Checker’s face betrayed no emotion, the Typist felt as though he was speaking to a machine, a vessel that was there to do a job, that never wondered or dreamed of creating art, of doing anything other than checking long pages of text.

“I don’t know how fast I type. I don’t really think about it,” the Typist replied. He gave himself a mental pat on the back for his response. He had to be extremely careful- revealing that he had any inkling of what he produced could be the end. The Checker stared at him for another long minute with a perfect poker face. He reached into the folder and removed the tall stack of papers. He glanced over the first one, following the lines with his finger.

“Sometimes he imagined what sort of art he would create,” the Checker read aloud. The Typist held his breath, trying to conceal any expression that might betray his recognition.

“Who do you think wrote that?” the Checker asked.

The Typist thought for a moment and then shrugged. “I guess it could have been anyone. That’s the point of unconscious writing, right?”

“So it could be you?”

“There are hundreds of us in that warehouse. It could be anyone.”

The Checker offered him a half grin and put the paper down. “I’m gonna level with you, if that’s alright.”

His breath smelled like a freshly burned cigarette, it reminded the Typist of smoldering ashes. He nodded.

“This sort of thing happens. It’s natural. We understand that. Our job here isn’t to hurt anyone or get people fired.” He rose from his seat and slowly paced from side to side as he continued. “I have a pile of proof in that folder there, and it doesn’t look good for you, buddy.”

The Typist squirmed in his seat.

“There’s two ways we can do this. You can refuse, and the company will sue. You’ll never work here, or anywhere else again.” He turned and leaned over, his hands on the table, his smoky breath less than a foot away from the Typist’s face. “Or you sign a confession for me now, and we make this problem go away. You go back and do your job, and don’t cause any more trouble.” He finally pulled away and sat back down in the chair. “It’s your call, bud.”

He removed another paper from the folder: a long, small-font legal document with a red ‘X’ beside a line that the Typist knew his signature was expected to appear beside. The document text was around the size of the pages he saw Checker’s poring over in the front room. He couldn’t have read the words even if he tried. The Checker handed him a red pencil, something that he had never seen in person. He took the pencil and clutched it clumsily, staring down at the document. He would be forfeiting his innocence, but in a way the document asserted his ownership of his words. They legally belonged to the company, of course, but he would have some sort of final proof that they were his words. Maybe they’d even appear in the Compendium. He wanted to ask if the confession excluded his work from publication, but decided against it. He pressed the pencil into the paper and scrawled an ugly squiggle of a signature, or what was meant to be a signature.

The Checker took both the pencil and the document from him and packaged it all back up in the folder.

“Is that all you needed?” the Typist asked.

The Checker reached into his jacket pocket and removed a thick set of black glasses and set them down on the table. “Put these on for me. I’ll be in to check on you in a few minutes.” The Checker turned and left Room C, shutting the door on the way out.

The Typist gingerly picked up the glasses and stared at them. They were impossibly black, and heavier than he expected. They weren’t made of plastic like other glasses, and he could hear a slight whirring of mechanical movement coming from inside them.

He took a deep breath and put them on. The material grew colder when it touched his skin, and all he saw was blackness. Eventually a small light grew in the corner of his vision and images flashed rapidly before him. He saw dozens of warehouses like the one in which he worked, all slightly different than the one before. He saw endless rows of square writing spaces, and then he rushed past them all, soaring just above the ground. He looked into each square and saw himself staring back, sometimes waving, sometimes smiling, sometimes crying. He felt his head throb as the images continued to flash across his eyes. He cried out and tried to pull the glasses off his face, but to no avail. They had fastened themselves the moment he put them on, and they didn’t so much as budge as he tore at them. He saw torrents of words, line after line of words that made sense, words that meant nothing, words that belonged together and words that he didn’t even recognize. They flew past him before he could read them, always averting his gaze just enough that he couldn’t see what they said, what they were trying to tell him. His head throbbed, and even when he tried to shut his eyes the images persisted, refusing to leave his senses alone. The pages eventually returned to black, to the nothing he saw when he put the glasses on. He sat, slumped in the chair, unconscious. The glasses slowly slipped from his temples and fell to the metal table below with a loud clatter.

***

            His heart raced as he typed faster than he ever had before. The words just came so naturally to him that it was as if he was transcribing something that he had heard a million times before. Each word knew which word was to follow, and so did he. He sped along, filling up imaginary page after imaginary page. He was sure he was finally creating something worthy of the Compendium, something he would be able to say was his own creation, even if only to himself.

He broke off the thought and during the pause he heard something he had never once heard in the warehouse: silence.

He paused again to confirm and indeed, it was completely quiet in the warehouse when he stopped typing. He thought to stand up from his chair and look around, but knew how obvious it would be that he was violating the rules if someone saw his head poking above the barriers. He glanced around his square and saw nothing out of the ordinary, but felt a paranoia creeping in. I appeared, for the first time since he had started the job, that he was actually alone. The calming drone of keystrokes was gone, like a white noise that had suddenly stopped. He heard soft footfalls on the warehouse floor. The footsteps finally stopped and he knew they were standing at the opening to his square, but he did not dare look behind him. He squeezed his eyes shut and continued to type, praying, wishing that they would just move on and go away, that they would see how quickly he typed and how many words he produced even if they were never that good and decide that he wasn’t worth the trouble.

He felt a cold hand on his shoulder and froze.

“I’m with the Checkers, you need to come with me.”

 

 

 

BIO

Cal Urycki is a young author from Central Illinois. He is currently attending Southeast Missouri State University where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. He enjoys reading and writing fiction, as well as competing and training on the SEMO Track and Field Team. After graduation in 2019, he plans to attend an MFA program and continue writing.

 

 

 

 

0

Truce Poem

by Anthony Isaac Bradley

 

doggone goddamn
this sundown is yours

right now I want to study my shoestrings
all the way back
to the campfire we pushed together

with YouTube instructions while on
pills and Coca-Cola

dirty from the ingredients
you said we couldn’t agree on anything
but look at us

in a behaved moment
we built something
who cares if it’s temporary

 

 

Blueprint

 

Crush is what to do with girls and other boys. Crush before
taking someone home for a few tragedies, press down
until their bones make room.

Crush is what to trust.
Is the name of a book, the name
of a poem. Realistically, Crush is the name of two, possibly more.

This poem is named Blueprint. Crush,
follow the steps and make diamonds, make like hell-bent teenagers
and Crush close enough to listen,

close enough to hear every muscle pop and Crush
for glitter from a high-rise, confetti
on the ground. Crush on Jessica Glover,
on D. Gilson, on Natalie Byers for days.

Crush talk into rhythm. Crush open mouth into armpit.
Crush but stay on point, now relieve

the pressure. After the excitement comes strawberry jam—lift
for sunlight. Begin Crush where you stand. On the drive
home from St. Louis, Minnesota,

San Francisco. Sketch a life
like one could prepare. Crush a house
on Weller Street, Crush a family pet with a back yard.

A fountain in the driveway. Crush bliss
with impatience but keep safe, because Crush
is the word to drop when there is a need to fall in love but no chance

for a boy with smarts, or a girl with a mean streak. Crush this temporary body
and leave no instructions for the left-behind, the coming lonely.

 

 

Really

 

I never wore my mother’s lingerie
I stole from the neighbor’s wife instead
Plucked a red velvet brazier
I was a boy
Soft from long baths
Pretending the hands weren’t mine
What could happen in another man’s grip
I heard what happened
How a fag was beat to death
Near our busiest highway
Heard he deserved it
I hid my red velvet under the sink
Under the rubber plunger
I kept living
Took a lover
I said no kissing but yes
To the rest
I asked if he liked dress-up
And he said No fems
I fucked him
Pretended his hands were mine
I was delicious
I said I
Said I love you
I wrote for him and about
Made his bed
I was his red velvet
Ruby stockings rolled up and rolled down
Flung myself over him
I hid from all of you
Bred then bored him
I don’t blame him
I knew who I was

 

 

Three Extra Dry Martinis in Boston

—with Sexton & Plath

 

I will say this: I’ve worked to outgrow the kind of boy
who knows every gory detail,
even if their nonsense makes me
feel young. Boys who will lead anyone interested

to the body. On empty farmland, or rolled somewhere
in a ditch—a favorite hangout

for your boy, Death. Anne, would you believe
avoiding this romanticism
gets easier with every man-made wonder?

Hot take: your boy, like the rest of us, same
as an afternoon table for two on the coast,

was a bore. Guilty of legend-building
and conspiring with gods. Butting into every narrative
with a tired agenda and need

for attention. Perhaps you knew, felt sorry
for him and offered a cuddle, like Sylvia did. Does she
know I can take Google for a drive,

find the child’s body
of work? There are no secrets left
since your boy’s CV is public access: Automobile,
alcohol, gravity. Yes, love. Overexposed

on Subreddits, Dark Web. Nothing new
and all the blood looks staged. Your boy is no good
at realism, and I’m hard to convince.

I mean I want to outgrow a boy who lies about dignity

when there’s no evidence. Yet, like you two,
I’m desperately in the entourage.

Memorizing keywords
for every mood that falls, just to remind myself
how going all the way on a livestream

might not garner enough upvotes to make it
worth the trouble. Search Doorknob

plus Tie, Plastic Bag plus
Garden Hose plus the voyeurism
of your goddamn boy.

Choices that either age with me
or against. I don’t look good in purple. I don’t
want to be filling skinny jeans at forty, holding
my ticket for youth’s great closer.

Look, it’s late, and I’m pretend drunk.
Your boy is—again, predictable—out all night,
past my bedtime. Maybe I’m just jealous.
If I could afford a martini in Boston
I would surely order three, throw

my head back for a good pipe cleanse. Honestly,

I’m over it. I went to meet our boy
once, but grew tired on the long walk there.

 

 

 

BIO

Anthony Isaac Bradley is an MFA candidate at Texas State University. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Gargoyle, Cimarron Review, and other journals. He lives with his cat and the ghost of another.

 

 

 

How Author Eddy L. Harris Changed My Life

by Patrick Dobson

 

My favorite travel writer and friend, Eddy L. Harris, wrote books that changed my life. Maybe I read them at the right time or his messages hit me in the heart for who I am. Perhaps parts of his stories resembled my own life’s narrative. I think, at bottom, his writing affected me in these ways and many more.

I first ran into Harris’ second book, Native Stranger: A Black American’s Journey into the Heart of Africa, while poking around in the travel narrative section of a book store in Laramie, Wyoming. At the time I attended the University of Wyoming. I took grad school so seriously I contemplated suicide and nearly put myself into the mental hospital. I was only sober a year after having alcohol in my blood constantly for the previous sixteen years. My girlfriend had a baby, my daughter, just three months before I took off for Laramie. And there I was, a single father, baby in Kansas City, son of working-class people who prized a regular job over education, convinced I was a failure before I even started. I was frightened all the time. But I had to prove myself. I sought redemption like starved animals fight for food.

So, I overcompensated. I read hundreds of books for my studies—326, actually. “A” grades weren’t good enough. I needed to shine and I pressed myself. I was not a decent student. Focus escaped me. I gobbled text after text, absorbing vast amounts of information. But I lacked and missed the importance of the contemplative moment, that time when a scholar sits back and thinks about what he or she has read and organize it into a digestible narrative. I was like a library without a filing system.

Along with all the books I read for my studies, I read travel narratives and travel memoirs. I took stacks of them out of the university library. I swallowed them whole, one after the other. I dreamed of far-away places. Bruce Chatwin took me to the Tierra del Fuego and Australia. I learned the beauties of Afghanistan from Robert Byron. Brian Newby ushered me through Waziristan and down the Ganges. I rode the Blue Highways, traveled with Charley, and floated the Missouri River with Apikuni. Paul Theroux, that snotty and dismissive bastard, impressed the hell out of me—and I read all his books.

Then, Eddy Harris took me to Africa. It was a pivotal moment for me. Fear soaked my being. The weight of my dissolute past smothered me. Learning what adults are and what they do proved harder work than anything I’d done before. In Native Stranger, I accompanied Harris as he went from the north coast of the continent to the southern tip. Between these points, he encountered all the heartbreak and love of a place that is not one but many—lands, peoples, and, unfortunately, oppressive regimes. More importantly for me, he showed himself becoming a different, more mature, and loving person.

I burrowed into the library shelves and surfaced with Harris’ first book, Mississippi Solo: A River Quest.  The river intrigued Harris, a St. Louis native, not merely because it was the river of his youth but because it was also the river of his history. He began his trip as the Mississippi does, in the small waters in the north. The river took him into the heart of the South, where black men don’t travel the river, where white men carry guns and grudges deadly to black men. The river, he writes, carries “sins and salvation, dreams and adventure and destiny.” If Harris’ story isn’t about facing fear, doing penance, and seeking oneself, I don’t know what is. And that’s what I thought when I read the first page of Mississippi Solo. This was a book about me

Yes, I understand Eddy is black and I am white. Our upbringings could not have been more distant from one another. Our family pasts were almost opposites. I grew up in the suburbs, Eddy in inner-city St. Louis.  I possessed some advantages that Eddy did not. Eddy grew up in a gentle, loving house. Despite the violence of my childhood and the depth of my despair, I still had the privilege of degrading myself. Eddy’s relationship with his father carried him through difficult and dark moment. I don’t speak to my father. No one ever saw me at night and crossed the street.

I read as much of Harris’ work as I could get my hands on. His books South of Haunted Dreams: A Ride Through Slavery’s Old Back Yard and Still Life in Harlem, speak to me as Native Stranger and Mississippi Solo do. Here is man afraid but courageous, who knows that salvation comes only to those who seek it. They only discover they been saved by hindsight: They were delivered in the moment they stopped seeking and started living.

I’ve been lucky to meet Eddy, and I now associate the writer and his written messages with his personality. He is a good man, a kind soul, and gentle person who knows how to stand up for himself, be assertive, and command attention. He breaks through stereotypes, confounds his critics, and works all the time to remain true to himself. If he is scared, he is also courageous. He’s no one’s patsy. These things, all of them, that attract me to him. I have faith in Eddy Harris and know that his quest is a good one; not just for him, but for me and the rest of us, as well. I can call him a friend.

I am just as guilty as any white person about asking the only black guy in the room about his experience being black. To my knowledge, few Black Americans have asked white people for an all-encompassing assessment of their racial experience. In our first long conversation, I apologized to Eddy about asking the him black-guy questions. I wanted to know about him and how people treated him as a black man. Through the trials and errors of being a well-meaning and basically decent-hearted soul, I learned long ago, back in my drinking days, that a person—white, Black, Indian, Hispanic, Asian—can only tell me their experience and not that of the race. Eddy’s very conscious of being Black. He also doesn’t pretend to speak for Black people. He understands that he shares common racial experience with other Blacks, but he knows and is confident of himself as an individual struggling, working, and trying to make it on his own.

He was very understanding of me when we spoke about his Blackness. He knew that I could never know what it meant to be an outsider, the invisible man. But he entertained my questions and treated me like an equal, another writer seeking experience that would one day affect his writing. He taught me that messages of redemption, fear, sadness, melancholy, and joy, while coded differently along American racial fault lines, are universal. Being Black plays an important role in his writing. His books entail a Black man’s experience. But Eddy’s mastered the storyteller’s art. He relates tales of human emotion. His tales are American stories. That’s why his books say so much to me.

Long before I met Eddy, his writing played an important role in my life. It’s in part due to Eddy that I took off twenty years ago to walk to Helena, Montana, and canoe the Missouri River back to Kansas City. I’ve traveled extensively with my kids with the knowledge that whatever happened to us would bring us a little closer to our own redemptions. Due to his example, I wrote and published two books about my long trip and many shorter pieces about the journeys my kids and I have made. Due to his writing, too, I had the pluck to enter Ph.D. studies when I was 41, and due to his encouragement and goading, I earned that Ph.D. after long years working in other fields and doing dissertation at night when I was 52. I teach now, and often think of Eddy when standing in front of a classroom. Eddy’ example of not letting things bother him before their time has motivated me when I have had the duty and opportunity to speak in front of large crowds. Eddy doesn’t worry. He just gets up and does it. I can’t tell you how often I’ve “Eddy Harrissed” a presentation, interview, talk, or workshop I’ve led. When nervous or upset, I remember Eddy, his steady demeanor, his confidence. I take that on for myself and don’t worry about what the crowds think. I give it my best. That’s all I can do.

Eddy went back to the Mississippi twenty-five years after the journey he wrote about in Mississippi Solo. He rightly believed that his voyage would tell us more about our country, our rivers, and about being Americans. He took a talented people with him on his journey this time, including Emmy-winning cinematographer Neil Rettig, whose work has featured prominently on National Geographic, Discovery, PBS, and BBC. Joining Rettig is Emmy-winning documentary maker Mary Oliver Smith and National Geographic WILD editor, John Freeman. With their help, he produced a full-length feature about how an American man changes with time, how his perspective shifts, and how the people and the country around him transform but remain the same.

I have not seen the documentary but in snippets. Eddy’s attempting to sell the feature to a distribution company or television channel. His efforts on the film have run him to the edge of financial ruin. But he put his money to good use. The excerpts I’ve seen are professional and personal. The experts he employed on the film did their work the best they knew how. Every day, I think, this is the Eddy will sell the film and it will be available to the general public. Perhaps, some of the viewers will learn what I have from Eddy Harris. They will be better people. They will know more after the watch the film who they are, who we are as Americans.

Eddy lives in France these days. He has been able to publish in Europe, in the French language. Years ago, he found that his outlook doesn’t fit the typical Black American narrative American readers have come to expect. His success in France parallels those who have gone before him: Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin. Like these Black Americans, he finds France a place where he can live outside the American racial experience. He seeks to be read as a writer and not as a Black American or merely as a Black writer.

Not only that, the French celebrate writers. He’s considered somebody because he writes. That’s all any of us can hope for. I keep thinking, well, maybe I should move to France, find myself a small village, and enjoy my status as someone who’s respected because he writes.

Eddy makes frequent trips to the United States. He still has close friends and family in his native St. Louis. He’s done residencies at prestigious universities, most recently William and Mary. He’s made speaking appearances in Kansas City and I’m arranging a workshop for him at the Writers Place, a Kansas City literary arts center. Whenever he’s in the states, he comes to Kansas City to visit me. It’s always a pleasure to have Eddy in my home with my family, for whom he has a great deal of affection. Due to our long acquaintance, he has lost his celebrity sheen with me and become a man, something I think he seeks to be with everyone.

When I think of Eddy, I can’t help but think just how he has changed my life. He encourages my literary efforts more than family, other writers, and my friends. I have the courage now to plant my ass in a chair, remain stoic, and fill the page from top to bottom. I am bold enough now to take the risk and put my writing out there for public consumption and criticism. I am braver and more spirited, not just in my writing life, but in my everyday activities. I am a better person for having Eddy Harris in my life.

 

 

 

BIO

Dr. Patrick Dobson has worked as a journalist, book editor, and union ironworker in Kansas City, MO. The University of Nebraska Press published his two travel memoirs, Seldom Seen: A Journey into the Great Plains (2009) and Canoeing the Great Plains: A Missouri River Summer (2015). He teaches American History, Latin American History, and Western Civilization at Johnson County Community College in nearby Overland Park, KS. His essays and poems have appeared in New Letters, daCunha, Kansas City Star, Indiana Voice Journal, Garo, JONAHmagazine, and other newspapers and literary magazines. His essays and travel pieces can be viewed at http://patrickdobson.com.

 

 

 

 

0

Invasions

by Robert Douglas Friedman

 

 

I started my first real job the same year that Argentina invaded the British Falkland Islands.

My own invasion of New York City had thus far been a spectacular disaster. Base camp was the crusty kitchen table of a sublet apartment in Hoboken, where I sat circling want ads with increasing desperation. Every morning I would rise and prepare for a fresh assault across the river, my target visible beyond the sagging rooftops and rippling clotheslines of that scenic slum.

The defeats were piling up and a full retreat was imminent. Then I had one of my rare moments of luck. Which my new boss, Jonathan the news director, enjoyed pointing out.

“Know why I hired you?” he asked

We were in Jonathan’s office. It had glass walls that looked out over the perpetually frantic newsroom. A leather bullwhip hung on the wall behind Jonathan. He sometimes swung it above the heads of staff writers and editors.  More often, he cracked it against the door that led to the business department.  Jonathan didn’t like the business department.

He straightened his tie in the mirror behind his office door. “Because when I threw all three hundred resumes in the air, yours fell on this side of my desk.  Hand me that tie clip, will you?”

I tossed it to him.  It was a Mickey Mouse tie clip.

“What do you think?” he said as he fastened the clip. “Does it make a statement?”

“A clear one, yes.  It’s crooked, though. So you were swayed by my impressive qualifications?”

He straightened the clip and settled back down into the big leather chair behind his desk.  “Good.  Then I’m ready for my meeting with the advertising department.  Your qualifications?  Absolutely. I studied them day and night. What’s your name again? Ed?  Ted?  Fred? Doesn’t matter. You lost Dickensian waifs are a dime a dozen. We pay you with loose change from the vending machines.’

“Speaking of which, can I have a raise?”

“Yes – on the day after the day hell freezes over.”

“Sounds reasonable. Thank you for your continuing cooperation.”

Jonathan was the best part of the job.  He seemed more fictional to me than real, a New Yorker character brought to sudden life.  Jonathan ate at the Algonquin Hotel and the Russian Tea Room, was married to a beautiful French woman, commuted daily to his Connecticut home. He spoke fluent Russian and French, the result of his years spent as a foreign correspondent in Moscow and Paris.

Most amazingly, he liked me.

“Stay on top of this Falkland Islands thing for me,” he said, suddenly serious, his sharp gray eyes fixed on mine. “Monitor the newswires, keep an eye on all the telexes, read every newspaper and magazine. You’re my point man on this thing.”

A glorified copy boy was more like it. But it didn’t feel that way.

“This is a hot story. Pay close attention and learn, Douglas. It’s a great opportunity.”

 

Opportunity: that was the word I kept hearing. Mindy Lowenthal used it as she showed me around the newsroom. Mindy, an office temp, was in her late 20’s. She had long black tangled hair, a warm smile, and wore subtle perfume that lingered.

“Okay, listen closely,” she said. “This is your opportunity for a grand tour before everyone else starts showing up late as usual.  Over to your left are the clocks.  It’s part of your executive position to make sure they’re all on time.  You know, like when daylight savings comes.  Assuming you last that long.”

I looked at her. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

She shrugged. “You wouldn’t be the first person bounced out of here.  Or the last.” She pointed at the wall. “As you can see, we’ve got clocks for everywhere there’s a Global News bureau or correspondent. London, Tokyo, Moscow, Sao Paulo, that’s in Brazil in case you don’t know, Mexico City, Paris, and Geneva. I was in Geneva during my junior year abroad. Did I mention that I went to Vassar?  I’m beautiful and bright.”

“You forgot self-effacing.  What’s that window under the clocks?”

“You’re quick. I like that.” She leaned over and slid the little window open. “That leads to the telex room. The telex guys pass messages and news from the Associated Press through it all day long to Marcia and Tim, the domestic and foreign editors, who edit and rewrite the copy. You met them on your interview.” Mindy looked around and dropped her voice.  “Marcia’s a sour mean old witch and Tim’s a prissy little wuss.”

“Is that in their personnel files?”

She laughed. “It should be. You see that weird looking door in the wall behind your desk?  Under the big map with all the pins?  By the way, the map shows where all two hundred of our correspondents are located.  It’s been there forever. Some of those guys probably died during the War of 1812. That door is for the pneumatic tube system. Part of your job is to take the copy that Marcia and Tim churn out, stuff it into tubes, and send them through the system to all the different magazines in the building. You know – Business Day, Chemical Monthly, Aviation News, etc. And, of course, since your title is research assistant, your job involves a fair amount of research. The company library is downstairs on the 7th floor. You’ll get very familiar with it.”

I sat down at my desk. “How come you know all this stuff if you’re a temp?”

She fluffed her hair and noticed me noticing. “Oh, I used to work here.  I was Jonathan’s assistant. I quit to work on my Master’s at Columbia. I told you I’m bright. I come in whenever they need me. Like this week, they wanted me here because you’re starting.  Jonathan’s secretary, Debra, doesn’t have the time to train anyone, but really she doesn’t have the personality. You’ll see.

“Who else do you need to know about in this place?  Lisa is sweet but very conservative. She turns bright pink if you swear around her or talk about sex, so I do both. Victoria, she’s friendly but ambitious, though I think her main ambition is to snag herself a lawyer from the legal department on the 15th floor. She gets off on that floor by accident at least three times a day. Barbara, their boss, is a little ogre. She runs the business department like a feudal lord. Jonathan hates her. And Judy is her right-hand henchman.  Befriend them at your own peril, young knight. Did I mention that I’m in a Renaissance group?  I’m Lady Jane. No need to bow but please remember that I’m royalty.”

“I’ll keep it in mind.”

“Barry the photo editor is out today but you’ll meet him tomorrow. That will be an experience.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll see.”

“That sounds ominous.”

“Barry is unique. That’s probably all you need to know for now, except that if you ask me out for a cup of coffee after work, I’ll say yes.”

“I see. Well, thanks for the tour. I really appreciate it. And I look forward to that cup of coffee.”

She smiled. “Me, too. Glad to be of service. It’s always interesting to see how long the next one is going to last.  I give you maybe six months.  Possibly eight. Welcome to Global News.”

I had a new job and a potential date. Maybe my luck really was improving.

 

Debra also used the word opportunity during lunch.

“You’ve got a real opportunity to prepare for your retirement here,” she told me.

“But I just turned 22.”

“You’re right.  Maybe it is a little late. But you still have some time left.”

We were sitting across from each other in the break room eating Japanese food. Debra, who was dressed in black, had a Yukio Mishima novel in one hand and a pair of chopsticks in the other. She had barely finished the tiny portion of noodles in front of her. But then Debra looked like she rarely ate very much.

“I only read Japanese literature,” she said, “because their stoic sense of fatalism appeals to me.” She absently straightened her short brown hair.  “And my own highly developed sense of fatalism tells me that one day you’ll be old and sick and unable to work, so you should begin preparing for it now.”

I took a bite of my chicken teriyaki. “Can I finish lunch first?”

“Sure.  Don’t let me bring you down.  I always see the cloud inside any silver lining. And don’t bother to joke with me. I don’t have much of a sense of humor. Jonathan always tries to make me laugh but it never works. By the way, sooner or later, Jonathan gives everyone nicknames.  Want to hear mine?”

“Sure.”
“Charon. You know, from Greek myths.  The one who ferries the dead across the river Styx. Speaking of Jonathan, he wants to see you right after lunch. Remember to start your pension plan as soon as possible.  You’ll thank yourself later.”

 

Jonathan was hanging a basketball hoop on the wall as I entered his office.  It was a genuine hoop. A regulation-sized basketball sat on his desk.

“There he is.  Thank God I brought you on board. Your assistance in our organization is critical.  How are you at drilling?”

“I’m quite expert, sir.  My father is a dentist.”

“Excellent, Jeeves, excellent.  Drill me a fresh set of holes, will you?  I’ve never been good at these menial proletarian tasks.  I think I hit some wiring earlier.  Be careful, though.  I felt a distinct shock. I’d hate for you to become collateral damage on your first day. It could take hours to replace you.”

I drilled. We hung the hoop.

Jonathan stepped back and ran a hand over his balding head. “Looks good.  Looks straight. You may turn out to be invaluable. Now talk to me about the Falkland Islands.”

I sat down in the chair across from his desk and gathered the notes I took earlier in the library. The basketball flew past my head.  It made a satisfying swish and fell into the open file drawer beneath the hoop.

“First sighted by Spanish and Portuguese seamen in the 16th century,” I began, “the Falkland Islands were visited by a British expedition close to 100 years later and claimed for the crown.”

Jonathan closed his eyes, lowered his head, and pretended to snore. “Fascinating.  Wake me when you reach this century. Always remember that nobody wants old news, Douglas. Hence the first three letters of the word ‘news.’ Pass me that ball.”

He caught the ball one-handed, spun his revolving leather desk chair around, and tried a backward shot over his head. It bounced a few times on the rim and then went through the hoop.

“Nice shot.”

“Of course. Continue.”

“On April 2 in  this year of our Lord, 1982, the Argentine navy landed on the Falkland Islands with thousands of troops and seized control.  The underlying goal may have been to distract everyone in the country from their economic troubles. Inflation is over 600%.  Manufacturing is down.  Jobs are impossible to find. There’s growing civil unrest, mass union demonstrations, etc. For obvious reasons, the military junta is not very popular, and their political opponents seem to disappear on a regular basis.”

“Not the site for my next vacation, in other words.”

“Seems like it might be an acquired taste.  On April 3, the Argentineans seized two associated groups of islands, South Georgia and the Sandwich group. Also on April 3, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 502, which calls for the withdrawal of Argentine troops from the islands and an immediate end to hostilities.”

“Which ain’t happening.”

“No, sir, it is not.”

“And that’s where we stand today?”

“It is.”

“Your assessment?”

“Imminent war.”

“I agree.  You’ve done your homework, Douglas, and quickly.   Good job.  I’m quite serious. I’m impressed. I’ve already dispatched one of our most experienced correspondents, Dan Burke, to cover events down there. Your research confirms that I made the right decision.”

I felt like cheering, or at least grinning from ear to ear.   I did neither.  It would lack coolness. Instead, I  picked up the basketball and took a shot from the corner of the room.

I missed, of course. I was not Jonathan.

He shook his head and frowned. “Better practice that jumper, Corporal, or we’ll never have a chance against Navy next week.”

“Will do, sir.”

 

Marcia, the foreign desk editor, was not pleased about Jonathan’s new pastime.  She and Jonathan shared an office wall.

“What the hell is he up to now?” she asked.  Her voice held the raspy memory of many cigarettes.

The wall shook as Jonathan took another shot.  “Jesus Christ,” she muttered.  “The shit I have to put up with here.”

She turned to me and forced a yellow smile. Marcia was probably in her 40’s but looked 60. She had bad skin and a worse dye job.

Spread out on her desk were dozens of index cards with contact information for foreign correspondents. Marcia had indecipherable handwriting so she was the only one who could read whatever she wrote. I believe she viewed this as a form of job security.

“Well, Douglas, how are things coming along?”

“Fine,” I replied.

“Are you enjoying your first day here?”

“I’m glad for the opportunity.”

My answer seemed to please her. “Keep in mind that you can learn a lot. And not from Jonathan. It’s people like me in editorial who can teach you what you need to learn.”

“Sounds great,” I told her.

“Here’s the first thing you should learn.” She looked around to see who might be listening and gestured me nearer. “I don’t like Tim,” she whispered, “and he doesn’t like me. So even though we sit next to each other, I’ll need you to deliver the notes I write him. Just take them from my outbox and put them in his inbox. That way he and I never have to talk.”

Amazing. “Okay. No problem.”

She looked pleased. “You’re adaptable. I like that. I think we’ll get along just fine.”

 

Barry, the photo editor, did not feel the same way. He looked me over from head to toe the next morning as I entered the office and hung up my raincoat, an expression of angry contempt on his bearded face.

Barry was about a foot shorter than me and at least fifteen years older.  He looked like an outraged leprechaun.

He continued staring as I sat down at my desk with my morning coffee and bagel.  You could buy both from a café called Fritzl’s on the first floor.

“How old are you?” Barry demanded.

I unwrapped the aluminum foil around my toasted bagel. The cream cheese was nice and creamy.  “Twenty-two.”

“Nobody’s twenty-two.”

“Okay, fine, I’m not twenty-two.”

“Glad to see you have the courage of your convictions.”

I took a bite of the warm bagel. “Hey, I’m just being agreeable.  I don’t like to upset my feeble elders.”

He glowered at me and then grinned, running a pale hand through his ginger beard.  “Heard you were a smartass.  Okay, I like smartasses.  Even if I do have socks older than they are.”

I washed the bagel down with some coffee. “You might consider shopping.”

He snorted. “And you might consider where I was when I was your age.  I don’t like you for it.  I resent you.  I truly do.  You’re a smartass, I like smartasses, but I resent you. You might as well know it.”

I wiped some cream cheese from my face. “Thanks for the update. Where were you at my age?”

“I was hauling my skinny ass through the jungle while the Viet Cong tried to kill me in fifty different ways.  Bombs, bullets, bungee stakes, you name it. I was infantry. No college deferment for this poor boy from the Bronx. Nossir. Just basic training and then a swift trip to the heart of darkness.”

“Conrad.”

“Yeah, you’re right, Joseph Conrad. A reader, yet.  Probably have a friggin’ English degree. I used to read a lot, too. Sometimes I’d even take a day to read when I was on R&R.  After all the drinking and whoring I’d sit down and make my way through Tolstoy, Hemingway, Crane. I read about war.  Then I lived it.”

I finished the first half of my toasted bagel and started the second. They’re best when still warm.

“One time,” he continued, staring into the distance, “I went back to base camp, and I was all clean and shiny the way you are now, fresh from my time off, relaxed, you know, I’d had my ashes hauled and had this calm demeanor, and I saw this guy, a buddy, Earl was his name, we were in basic together. Earl. Earl from Alabama.  Fucking Earl. He was sitting there drinking his coffee, just like you are right now, and eating something, just like you’re munching on that bagel, and we were talking, and the next thing I knew old Earl’s head had blown up and his brains and skull and blood were all over my clean uniform, it was some sniper out there in the shadows and no more Earl.  So long Earl. Dirt nap for the Earlster.”

I put down the bagel. My appetite was gone.

Barry grinned at me as the rest of the department started arriving.

“Remember, I don’t like you,” he told me.

“Got it,” I replied.

 

What did I think of these people?  Like Jonathan, they all reminded me of characters I had met before in a novel or a movie. So did the other residents of our 50-story midtown building. Global News was just one department in a huge multimedia conglomerate that was more like a Wall Street firm than a publishing house. I was surrounded by carefully groomed executives wearing custom-made Italian suits, elegant women of independent means who worked just for the fun of it, scruffy foreign correspondents with their ties undone and rumpled Burberry raincoats casually tossed across their shoulders.

The correspondents would visit from Nepal, Burma, Egypt, Peru and other exotic locales and sit in Jonathan’s office sharing news and gossip in equal measure. I would watch as he smiled, shook their hands, and sent them off to cover breaking stories in Rome, Jerusalem, or Helsinki.

I was nothing like any of these people. I was from a small town and had attended a small state college. If they thought of me at all, it was as a  recent graduate with a typical corporate future. But I knew that I was different, and young, and that my future would be my own. Meanwhile, I studied them like an anthropologist doing field work in the wilds of Borneo.

 

Mindy was right about Tim, a slight, fastidious man who seemed frightened of Marcia despite his earlier experiences as a foreign correspondent in war zones. I didn’t blame him. Marcia scared everyone but Jonathan, who delighted in annoying her.

Mindy was also correct about Barbara, who ran the business department with an iron fist and was prone to sudden bursts of rage. “A thousand dollar expense I can hide!” she shouted at her assistant Judy one day. “But not five thousand dollars! What the hell was Jonathan thinking?”

I knew what Jonathan was thinking because he told me. We were in his office during this outburst and overheard every word.

He shrugged. “What can I say?  It costs money to cover a war. The bribes alone are a fortune. Burke is doing a great job and we can’t leave him high and dry.” He took a deep breath.  “Okay, bring me up to date on this nasty little confrontation, Steinbeck.”

Jonathan had learned that I enjoyed the novels of John Steinbeck. My official nickname was now Steinbeck. I admit that I kind of liked it.

Every day, I reviewed the Associated Press newswire stories as they printed out from the teletype machine – literally hot off the presses – along with dozens of newspaper articles and magazine stories in the library downstairs.

I also read Dan Burke’s informative dispatches from Argentina. I was really starting to like Dan, who wrote with clarity and compassion about both sides of the worsening conflict. Dan had a feel for everyday people and how traumatic events affected them. He was only five or six years older than me and taking risks that I wasn’t sure I would ever be brave enough to take.

I cleared my throat. “On April 25th, British forces retook South Georgia Island and captured an Argentine submarine. They also sank an old Argentine battle cruiser, General Belgrano, with a nuclear submarine. Fierce battles broke out between the British navy and the Argentine air force. On May 4, yesterday, the Argentine forces sank a British destroyer, the HMS Sheffield, but Dan estimates that Argentina has lost 20-30 percent of their air force. The main British forces are on their way across the Atlantic.”

“In other words – escalation,” said Jonathan. “Prediction?”

“Argentina is about to get its ass kicked.”

“Agreed. And so are you if you don’t get out of my office. I need some alone time for my afternoon nap.”

“I’ll try and keep it quiet out there.”

 

Hoboken’s future looked a lot brighter than Argentina’s. Gentrification was in the air. Old brownstone buildings that you could buy a few years earlier for $20,000 were  getting snatched up for six-figure sums. The fruit trucks selling fresh produce on side streets and the old Italian delis and the barbershops and the shoe repair stores and the pizzerias were disappearing as law offices and condo developments sprang up. On Washington Street, which ran through the heart of town, sleek late-model Saabs and Honda Preludes were replacing the clunky American junkers that once filled every parking space. Maxwell’s – a hot new club where you could eat a bad meal while listening to indie-rock bands like the B52s, REM, and the Feelies – was turning away eager customers.

Even the drug dealers who did business around the Steven’s Institute campus every night could feel the change as a flood of new customers increased demand and diminished supplies. My downstairs neighbor, a drug dealer named Raymond, was not happy with the situation.

“Those yuppies are a pain in the ass, man,” he told me, scratching his neck. “They want designer goods and the profit margin on that product line is minimal. I’m starting to wonder if I took the wrong career path.”

“It’s a possibility,” I told him.

In the mornings, I would walk the cramped Hoboken streets from my apartment to the bus stop as the intoxicating smell of chocolate hung over the city. Sometimes I followed my nose to the source, Lepore’s Home Made Chocolates, where they crafted delicious candy fresh every day and you could get a warm breakfast croissant with dark chocolate melted inside.

My regular bus driver was an aspiring stand-up comedian who tried out jokes on his passengers every morning. We would boo or cheer each joke as he took notes on our responses.

“Thanks for your help, everyone,” he would announce over the sound system as we arrived at Port Authority Bus Terminal. “Come by and see me this Saturday night at the Improv.” But we already knew his whole act, so why bother?

 

Hoboken was changing and so was I. Within a month, I fell into a work routine that felt like I had followed it for years. I would hop off the bus and walk across town past the porn shops and bait-and-switch electronics stores to our building at Sixth Avenue and 48th street, weaving my way through the sidewalks crowded with other morning commuters. The women all wore sneakers and carried their dress shoes in shoulder bags, and the men all had newspapers folded under their arms. Homeless people rummaged through garbage cans, waved their arms, muttered, shouted, and begged for cash. Cabs accelerated into turns and pedestrians scattered like schools of frightened fish.

I would pass the High School of Performing Arts, where students often danced and sang for passers-by just like their fictional counterparts did in the movie “Fame.” Then I would march north through the perpetual wind tunnel of Shubert Alley where bright playbills left behind after last night’s shows fluttered and circled in the breeze like lost tropical birds.

My work day began at 8:30 am and ended at 4:30 pm, and every day was pretty much the same in our dysfunctional office. I now understood why nobody lasted in this job. It wasn’t the work. It was the vicious bickering. On Fridays, the staff would adjourn to a local Irish pub called Molly Bloom’s for drinks and more drinks, but I always politely declined the invitation. Eight hours a day with this crew was more than enough.

The stressful daily grind that had become my life was disrupted one Wednesday afternoon when my parents dropped in from New Jersey for a visit. They were the last two people I expected to see strolling into the lobby. I was on my way back from delivering a package to the basement mailroom when I spotted them, my father towering over everybody else and my mother smiling beside him. My mom wore a new black dress and my dad a blue blazer with gold buttons. They were holding hands.

“Hello there, young man,” my father said. “Surprised to see us?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Shocked, actually.”

I was also shocked by how glad I was to see them. “What are you guys doing here?”

My mother’s smile grew bigger. “You look so professional in your business clothes. So grown up. We’re going to see a matinee of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” Your father thought it would be nice to see where you work.”

“How about it?” my father asked. “Embarrassed to be seen with your old parents?”

“Speak for yourself,” said my mother. “I’m not old.”

“It’s a figure of speech,” my father said.

“Well, you figured wrong,” my mother said.

I laughed. Surprisingly, I was not embarrassed by them at all. Maybe I really was grown up.

“Come on,” I said.

We rode the elevator to the 37th floor while my father rattled off statistics about my employer. He was a business teacher and always did his research. My mother the nurse was fascinated to hear there was a fully staffed company medical office on the 12th floor.

Everyone was very gracious in the newsroom and my parents were duly impressed by the clocks on the wall, the big map, the constant clattering of typewriter keys. Jonathan, who was taking a phone call in his office, waved through the glass and then finally emerged to shake my father’s big hand.

“We’re very lucky to have Douglas here,” he said. “I just wish he’d stop stealing from the pension fund.”

My father laughed. “I think I like this guy.”

My mother turned to me. “I’m very disappointed in you. Didn’t I raise you not to get caught when you steal?”

This time Jonathan laughed. “I see where Douglas gets his sense of humor.” He gently shook my mother’s hand.  “Your son learns fast, gets along with everyone, and will go far.”

My parents were thrilled with this glowing report and went off to their matinee in high spirits. I sat down at my desk feeling better than I had in a long time.

Barry looked up from the photographs he was reviewing and grinned. “Your folks seem like nice people,” he said. “I’m adopted and never knew mine.  And I still hate your guts.”

“Understood,” I replied.

 

I didn’t feel good for very long. Dan Burke was missing.

“Needless to say, I’m deeply concerned,” said Jonathan at our weekly staff meeting.

British forces had landed on May 21, which was also the last day we received a dispatch from Dan. It was now May 23 and the ground fighting had grown intense.

“There goes five thousand bucks down the drain,” muttered Barbara.

Jonathan turned to her. “Excuse me, Barbara? Did I just hear you correctly?”

She hesitated. “I certainly hope Mr. Burke is alright. But the cost remains an issue.”

I’d never seen Jonathan angry before. “I sent him down there and I hope like all hell that he’s okay. So please spare me the callousness and sarcasm. This is a man’s life we’re talking about here.”

“And spare me the condescension,” said Barbara. “I’m trying to do my job and keep this department financially solvent despite constant undermining. I’ll be in my office if anyone needs me.” Nobody else said a word as she slammed the door behind her.

Jonathan stared at her closed office door for a long moment and then shook his head. “Marcia, please reach out to our contacts in Argentina and see if we can get any word about Dan. Ask them to check all the local hospitals. Meanwhile, we have a coverage vacuum. Any suggestions?”

Marcia frowned thoughtfully, although it was hard to tell since frowning was her usual expression. “I’ll look into it and see if anyone is available.”

“Please do. Thank you. That’s it for today’s meeting, everyone. I’ll keep you all informed as we learn more.”

 

Dan Burke wasn’t the only person missing. Also off the grid was the woman who sublet me her Hoboken apartment, a former NYU business major and apparent criminal who was nowhere to be found.  Unfortunately, she had not forwarded my rent payments to the landlords, Ernest and Catherine, who lived on the first floor and until now had been very friendly. They were so friendly that I always snuck past their doorway to avoid getting dragged into a conversation with this pair, who addressed me endlessly about different exciting topics like the weather while ignoring each other.

Ernest and Catherine were no longer friendly. In fact, they were now threatening to evict and sue me.

“That’s rough, man,” said Raymond the drug dealer when I ran into him one morning. I was on the way to my job and he was on the way home from his job. “But I’ve always liked your apartment more than mine, so it could be good news for me.”

“Thanks a lot,” I replied.

He smiled and yawned. “Hey, I’m just busting your balls, dude. The rumor is they want to sell the place fast and cash in on the big real estate boom. That’s pretty funny since they had seventeen fire violations the last time the building was inspected.  It’s even funnier since Ernest used to be the fire captain. The point is, they’re eager to get rid of us both. If I were you, I’d use this information to arrive at a mutually satisfactory resolution to your dispute. I plan to do the same.”

“I appreciate it. I will.”

Mindy was missing, too. We never got together for coffee because she met someone in her Renaissance group who quickly became her new beau. He was an earl or maybe a duke. Whatever his title, he swept Lady Jane off her feet and they were now probably living somewhere in a drafty castle on the Scottish moors, or maybe in a one-bedroom coop in Flushing. Who knew?  Who cared?  I was worried about Dan Burke.

The Falkland Islands war was no longer a distant geopolitical event with a wide range of contributing factors for me to research and discuss with Jonathan. It was real. Dan could be horribly wounded or dead along with thousands of others. I hadn’t given mortality a whole lot of thought before but I was starting to understand the brutal fact of it. Dan’s parent’s phoned every day and Jonathan took those calls. He looked somber and drained every time he got off the phone with them.

Mortality didn’t seem like much of an issue to Tim the domestic desk editor, though, who had volunteered to replace Dan in Argentina and was now winging his way south. Tim was an experienced correspondent, spoke fluent Spanish, and was willing to report from a war zone rather than continue working with Marcia and the rest of us here in the main office. I didn’t blame him.

Jonathan asked me to help cover the domestic desk until he could find a replacement for Tim. This new role involved greater interaction with Marcia. Her limited tolerance ran out almost immediately and it wasn’t long before she was sending me notes via her outbox rather than talking to me. This was not a great loss.

Finally, after some very long weeks, word came about the fate of Dan.

 

“I have some great news to share,” announced Jonathan as he emerged from his office with a big smile. “Dan Burke is alive and well.”

The office erupted in cheers. Even Marcia looked happy. I was surprised to feel tears in my eyes and roughly brushed them away before anyone else noticed.

“He’s currently being held in a British detention area,” Jonathan continued. “Apparently, he lost his press credentials in the middle of the fighting and was captured along with thousands of Argentinian soldiers. He suffered minor injuries but is otherwise no worse for wear. The U.S. State department has contacted his family and is arranging for his release.”

Jonathan paused. “While I have everyone’s attention, I’d like to make another announcement. As some of you know, I was recently offered the opportunity to take over as the editor-in-chief for one of our magazines, Business Management News, which is headquartered in London. I’ve accepted the offer and will be leaving at the end of next week. It’s been an adventure working with you all. Thanks so much for your support and hard work, especially during this difficult time. Douglas, do you have a moment?”

I followed Jonathan into his office and closed the door behind us.

“I know my imminent departure comes as a bit of a surprise,” he said.

“Yes,” I said, “it sure does.”

My tone of voice gave me away and Jonathan looked at me. “I was sworn to secrecy, Steinbeck. Only a few people in the business department were informed.”

“Okay. I understand.” But I didn’t really. He had hired me while knowing that he was about to leave. That wasn’t exactly a crime but he could have told me the truth. I was trustworthy. Besides, I thought we had a mutual respect thing going on.

“Good. The reason I asked you in here,” he continued, “is that I’d like to make you an offer. You’ve done an excellent job filling in after Tim’s departure. So how would you feel about taking over the position of domestic desk editor?”

“You mean keep working with Marcia? How much of a raise are we talking about here?”

He didn’t smile. “Unfortunately, our budget doesn’t support a raise. But, of course, a promotion like this would put you on a great career path.”

“And what if I chose to remain in my current position?”

“It’s no longer an option. We’re combining the two roles.”

“I see.  Twice the workload, no extra money, and I’d have to work closely with Marcia? That’s quite a path.”

“It’s still a great opportunity, Steinbeck.  And, yes, you would work closely with Marcia. I know she can be difficult but Marcia is really rather knowledgeable. You could learn a great deal from her.”

I couldn’t believe he was saying this stuff to me, or that he was handling me in the same smooth way I’d seen him handle other people. But then Jonathan was a company man and leaving behind a fully staffed department would make him look a whole lot better to upper management.  So would the cost savings of using me at the domestic desk instead of someone more experienced and expensive.

“Yes,” I said, “her people skills and patience are legendary. Maybe I should have gone to the Falkland Islands with Tim. A war sounds like more fun.”

Jonathan frowned. “Think seriously about this offer, Douglas. You have a few days to decide. Bear in mind that it’s career suicide at this company to turn down a promotion.”

“Understood,” I said. “I’ll give your offer all the consideration it deserves. Thanks very much for thinking of me. I really appreciate this potential opportunity. And congratulations on the new job.”

Jonathan wasn’t the only one around here who could handle people.

He grinned. “Thanks. This has been in the works for a long time and it’s a challenge I look forward to taking on. Plus, on a personal note, my wife’s family is in Paris so we’ll be just a hop, skip, and a jump away from them. Happy wife, happy life, Steinbeck.”

“Good to know.”

What could I say?  Don’t go because it’s been great fun working with you despite the fact that you were playing me the whole time?  Stay here because Marcia is the midnight spawn of Satan and working with her will destroy my mortal soul?  Life was too damned short to worry about any of it.

I picked up the basketball and took a final shot at Jonathan’s hoop. The ball swished through the net. It felt good to be on target for once.

“I’ll get back to you soon,” I told him but I already knew my answer was no.  I had been invaded. It was time to beat a hasty retreat before I got captured.

 

 

 

BIO

Robert Douglas Friedman’s short stories and humor pieces have appeared in Story Quarterly, Narrative, The Satirist, Boomer Lit Mag, Jokes Review, Penny Shorts, Literally Stories, and many other publications. He is the founder and president of Raising the Bar Media. Robert lives and works in New Jersey.

 

 

 

0

Life Rising

by Colleen M. Farrelly

 

Half-dead plants grasping
through a broken,
wood-checked screen
to the basic-build
church chair strangled
by fingers
and leaves,
fallen cold and dead,
to the dirt caked
over knotted roots
of the lumbering tree like
the clackity-clack of the track
and catching bridge joints
beyond the sleepless hollow.

Dawn drowns
the split snow.
A lone lily
pokes through
the thistles.

 

 

Wildlife Haiku

 

iguana lazing
in summer sun—a shadow
and a sudden splash

a green flock squawking
soaring chasing and settling
swiftly on phone wires

speckled lizard
scurrying across afternoon
parking lot rivers

ibis creeping low
in spring’s oasis
before jaws snap shut

 

 

Art Walk Past

 

Smaller
than I had expected,
no pool
reflecting rolling moonlight
as we sit atop the roof
after the resounding
bass readied itself for bed,
the last revelers
drinking in Warhol-esque sketches
and scrambled Mondrian cityscapes—
or the urban Kandi Kids’
handprints
lining the siding—
like a childhood chalkscape’s
older cousin—
and slinking into the shadows.

Darkness veils
the pinks and purples,
creeping
towards the fence,
a fog furled
over a lone two figures
staring at the sliver of silver
beyond the horizon.

 

 

Grandma’s Porch

 

Bare feet
pitter-patter
across grandma’s front porch
with an urgency unique to
childhood,
abandoning toys and cool-aid
to catch this new play-thing—
green, croaking—on
her porch.

 

 

 

BIO

Colleen M. Farrelly is a freelance writer from Miami, FL, whose works have recently appeared in Spank the Carp, The Recusant, and KDNuggets, among others. She is the author of the chapbook, Places and Faces. When she isn’t writing, she is a mathematics researcher and avid swimmer.

 

 

 

0

Lightning

by Cleo Egnal

 

7 September, 1940

She drummed her fingers softly on the worn oak of his writing desk. It belonged to his father, he had mentioned that once, but the details and context of the conversation were lost to her. She tapped rhythmically, playing out a tune that got itself stuck in the recesses of her mind. A sharp pinch of memory reminded her that he hated when she did “that blasted thing” with her fingers when she was nervous. Out of belated courtesy she folded her hands together and rested the shape in her lap, trying to keep her buzzing body steady. He wasn’t there, of course, to reprimand her absentminded habit, but she thought it polite, regardless, to cease her nervous tapping. Maybe she was worried he could hear it, wherever he was. Maybe they were that connected.

The tune, faded and distant and blurry, somehow, continued to dance around in her head; she tapped (her foot, this time) in time with the nonexistent music as she blocked the sounds of sirens and checked the clock again. He was late. And bombs were falling.

They had spoken earlier that afternoon about what to have for supper, but never decided. The thought, when it occurred to her, prompted her to move from where she had been sitting, sorting through mail like she always did right before he came home to her, and make her way to the kitchen. The sirens grew louder (or had she just started really paying attention?) as she made her way without thinking through the flat.

As she stared at the empty plates set out on the small square table in the corner of the kitchen, trying to orient herself and remember what exactly it was she came into the room to find in the first place, she thought about whether or not he was hungry. They usually ate together at six-thirty; they were both punctual about things that way. Well, she only was when it came to food. He could have been made of gears and ticking clocks, though, the way he navigated time effortlessly and always managed to arrive exactly when needed, or intended. She constantly found herself wanting to be somewhere and only arriving when the odd workings of the universe finally allowed her to find her left shoe. He wasn’t like her in that regard. So it was odd, terribly odd, that at eight-fifteen the plates were empty and the kettle was screaming and her reliable clock was broken.

She snapped her fingers as she recalled her purpose for venturing into the kitchen; she meant to turn the kettle off before heading down to the shelter. It was shrieking, the kettle, that was what reminded her; it was a miracle its voice didn’t get lost in the droning sirens. She wondered why the sirens had to blare on so incessantly. Surely one or two warnings would be enough. But no, it had been going on too long and her ears were ringing and as she turned the knob on the stove all the way to the right, and as the kettle began to quiet and all that was left was the slight sizzle of boiling water, she wondered what would happen if she just stayed. He would be confused, after all, if he wandered in and she was nowhere to be found. She couldn’t very well duck into the shelter without him, he wouldn’t know where she’d gone. He’d be standing in the foyer, absolutely muddled.

Of course, this was all fanciful thinking. He could hear the sirens just as clearly as she could (although she wished sometimes she couldn’t, they were completely bothersome at times) and would know immediately where to find her. But something about him coming home to an empty flat made her incredibly sad, she didn’t know why, and so she contemplated staying. She could make them both some tea — after all, the kettle had been prepared — and reheat dinner and he would come home to a warm meal instead of wondering if she was still in one piece. She supposed that was what she was wondering, at the moment. If he was in pieces somewhere, bits of him scattered throughout the city. She imagined a corner of his ear carried by the wind through Trafalgar Square, right by his office, while his ring finger headed south along the dusty streets toward Whitehall. She imagined his pinky toe sauntering off to Charing Cross to catch the train home, unaware that it had lost the rest of him. She imagined this all somehow detached from the idea that it was entirely possible he wasn’t, at the moment, whole.

Her instincts for self-preservation proved stronger than her worry at him coming back to an empty flat. After a few more moments of wandering around, waiting for him, she grabbed the basket filled with snacks and knitting and old magazines she had begun keeping by the door, threw the first thing she saw on the coat rack over her shoulders, and headed out toward the building’s air raid bunker. She brushed aside the creeping heat of fear that was making its way up the base of her spine and turned her thoughts instead to whether or not she would be able to carve out a comfortable spot for herself among the thirty or so others she predicted were already there.

The sirens continued and the night wore on, seemingly endless, occasional shudders racking the brick wall against her back. A single bulb rattled overhead, swinging ever so slightly, a present reminder that the earth above them was turning to rubble. She passed her time knitting the beginnings of a scarf and tapping out music on the concrete floors. No one asked her to please stop doing “that blasted thing,” and somehow the lack of reprimand struck her harder than if the action had been met by communal disdain. The quiet of the bunker, louder almost than the sirens, hummed like electric lights, the very outsides of it electrified by such intense fear she wondered if they would all simply perish from that. The inside of the silence was vast, dark, terrifying. It was so loud, all that quiet, she pressed her hands against her ears to try to block it out but all she heard was muffled sirens screaming from all corners of London and some occasional sobbing. She couldn’t tell from whom it was coming; it might have been her.

For seventy six more days, each time she made her way to the bunker, she couldn’t shake the feeling that he would suddenly walk through the door, expecting his tea and supper, and she would have to explain that she was terribly sorry, but preparing a meal had slipped her mind in all the chaos, and would he be opposed to eating out just this once? He would wrap his arms around her and say no, he didn’t mind at all, and he would take her by the hand and they would walk together through an unbroken city, without worrying about anything but rain falling from the sky.

 

BIO

Cleo Egnal is a fiction writer with a B.A. in Written Arts from Bard College. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California, where she spends her days dreaming of the English countryside and working on her novel. She has been published on The Other Stories and Ranker. Besides writing fiction, she is also passionate about Victorian history, fashion history, and music.

 

 

 

 

 

BookStop

by Susan Lloy

 

BookStop is a small independent bookstore on the main drag of an Atlantic city. The citizens are proud of it and boost that it is their only haven separate from the other conglomerates. So, when I came to sign copies of my recently published collection, I was looking forward to it. The region is noted not only for its beauty, but also for the warmness of its citizens. Still, little did I know what menace lurked within the confines of the BookStop’s compact rectangular walls?

The day was drizzly and I had consumed many cups of tea prior to my expedition. When I arrived a somewhat friendly attendant greeted me and to our surprise she had recently vacated the city which I inhabit. We discussed the power of the sea and like the tide it pulls you back. She mentioned she was happy to be back in the bosom of her kind.

I was informed they were in possession of three copies. However, the male assistant was only able to locate two. Making light of it, I made a joke and suggested someone must have pinched one. Neither of the two salespersons cracked a smile.

The two copies of my book were finally signed and the female clerk stuck author-signed labels on the front covers. I then did an about face enthusiastically awaiting the eager book browsers. I sold one copy almost immediately, yet, unfortunately the second copy was a harder go. All the while the buckets of morning tea were weighing heavy on my bladder. So as the hour ticked onward I attempted to converse with the staff,

“Gee … this second copy is a lot harder going.”

Not a word was returned and when I asked if I could use the staff bathroom as I was ready to burst, the answer was,

“It’s not for the public!”

 

I had brought along several colored copies of my book review. The review hosted a photograph of myself and generous ins and outs of this christened – successful collection. When a snooty South End lady sauntered in, I inquired if she had an interest in short fiction?

“Why yes.”

Half way down the first paragraph she tossed my review back with disgust.

“The inner lives of the lost, the lonely, and the mentally ill. I don’t think so!”

Another staff member rushed through the door of this tiny shop with a scowl that could strip paint off the wall.

 

She came barging up to the counter and growled that I never OK’d this with the manager. I replied that he had invited me to casually drop in to sign copies.

“YES SIGN NOT PROMOTE.”

“Well, isn’t that what you expect from me? To sell my books for you?”

“NO. We sell the books! If you want to promote you have to rent a room.”

“Yeah, but, there’s only one book here.”

I left with my full bladder thinking that BookStop is aptly named. These handlers of words and slayers of hearts don’t respect authors and will stop a book dead in its tracks.

“Oh hear ye fellow authors. Beware!”

 

 

BIO

Susan E Lloy has published extensively in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and the United Kingdom. A writer of short fiction her short story collection, But When We Look Closer, was recently published by Now Or Never Publishing. Her forthcoming collection, Vita, will be released April 2019. Susan lives in Montreal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

A million years

by Fabrice Poussin

 

I loved you a million years ago or more
my girl, my child, beautiful daughter of the universe
I loved you when I first set eyes on her
blue-eyed in her spring dress of fragrant tomorrows.

I loved you eighteen years ago
my child, my girl, daughter of a wondrous dream
as I adore you today while you walk away
with your own set of everything you are.

I have loved you both since the dawn of days
my child, my girl, woman of an electric life
I will cherish you until all energies perish
and then patiently I will wait for your return.

 

 

Half past life

 

It is late at life
days have gone to bed
under the shroud of light
left behind by a careless father.

A quarter of a time ago
blood flowed warm, thick
carrying a taste of iron and berries
now frozen in cracks in minimalistic crystals.

Too early into another month
the body refuses to chase a soul
emptier like the blinding hour glass
marbles drop in thunderous crashes.

Middle of nevermore thrice again
senses have parted ways onto the dial
making so many hands on the palm of eon
seconds, minutes, hours, and new dimensions.

Darkness is no longer
all stand still in agony
she exhales her very last hopes
it is a moment past death.

 

 

Innocent

 

They always talked about it with a chuckle;
a victory small and simple, great pride to them.

Occupied, they heard the thunder and whistle of
metal loaded with an explosive chemistry.

Yet, they worked, walked, sowed, and harvested
even when they came, in uniform, wearing double s’s.

Far from the city, free in war, powerful in meekness,
the innocents with rattling machines at a loss.

Families of four, ten and twenty, surrounded by farms,
feeding on idle courage, irony untranslatable.

When they came in pairs, hungry, begging for food,
their copperheads were as noodles in a straw.

Ragged stray puppies, pitiful in a stench of wet fur,
beaten, by a mere refusal in the face of abundance,

they went home to the camp, carrying empty guts,
pained by a hatred not understandable to them,

innocent, working for pennies, on a life borrowed,
stolen by evil, far from love, care, comfort and warmth.

Their years high-jacked in the flower of age, men,
looked with sadness, at these families, temporarily

their prisoners, busy with a meal not to be shared,
conquerors, their only right, not to die just yet,

but for the potato, the leg of lamb, or the apple,
no treasure could be traded, and famished they remained.

 

 

In Black and White

 

The image, odd reflection on faded paper
of a somber gaze, on a day so young yet;
November again, reminder of a birth,
just a toddler, still in monochrome habit.

The market place, desolate, near the sounds
of the same old merry-go-round, sad again;
what are they thinking these deep browns?
Perhaps of the next snapshot a year too soon!

Seven against a gray wall, laughing at the world,
mirror of surroundings so long forgotten,
no color in this domain, no joy in the smile!
Who were they seeing those eyes near tears?

Just black in a suit, and white in the heavens,
he seems to long for the days of freedom,
a happiness in scenes of tones and scents,
where at last, he may dance into the dark.

 

 

BIO

Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, and dozens of other magazines. His photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, the San Pedro River Review as well as other publications.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

Defenestration

by Martin Kleinman

 

Sarah and her friends come from affluence, which is why she said “defenestration,” while I simply said that Glenn jumped out the fucking window.

To me, at that stage of my life, there was no excuse for that.  It wasn’t like the souls who had flung themselves out of the North Tower and into a clear blue Tuesday.  You do remember that day, when school kids scurried, hair dusted with destruction, and squinted into morning’s glint.

And it wasn’t like that time in ’41 when Abe Reles, aka “Kid Twist”, flew headlong out of Room 623 of Coney Island’s Half Moon Hotel while under police protection.  Murder Incorporated’s master of death-by-ice pick landed on a restaurant roof the night before he was to testify against Albert Anastasia, and thus transformed from short psychopath to spin-art corpse.

No. To my way of thinking, there was no excuse for what Glenn did.  None.  Sarah and Glenn grew up on the Upper West Side of New York, well after the “Panic in Needle Park” days, and before today’s calamity of condos.  A guy like that? He should have jumped for joy, not out of a building.

I would later learn that Sarah and Glenn had been inseparable theater conservatory stalwarts at SUNY Purchase back in the day.  After a few years of audition rounds and regular rejections, Sarah shed her ScarJo dream, and drifted back to her fallback career, graphic design.

Glenn’s theater career lurched like Chutes and Ladders.  He earned just enough positive reinforcement to keep him good and hooked on the acting profession.  After winning a couple of lucrative TV ads, he moved to Chelsea.  The checks rolled in.

At that point, I came into the picture.  I met Glenn’s sister-from-another-mister at a concert in Prospect Park and, in short order, Sarah moved in with me, to the upper upper upper upper West Side of Manhattan, 214th Street and Broadway.  “Soooo convenient,” she’d tell her friends, throwing serious shade at my down-at-the-heels Inwood pre-war apartment, two floors above Liffy II and the Dominican cigar makers.

 

I asked Sarah about that angry four-inch scar on the underside of her left forearm, early on in our relationship.  I couldn’t help but notice that this wasn’t a half-hearted pass, an across the wrist swipe.  This was a vertical slash, a deliberate ditch.   “It’s an old cat scratch,” she said, the first time I mentioned it.  We were in bed, aglow.  I ran my forefinger down her arm, gently touching the injury’s ridge.  Her arm recoiled.  Her face tightened.

“It’s an old gardening accident,” she told me another time.  I leaned in to kiss it.  She turned her back to me, then sat up in bed, then left the room.

 

Just months after he moved to Chelsea, Glenn’s parents divorced. His dad was a Hollywood movie producer and the mom – have you heard of her? Belle Taylor? – was a cabaret singer of local renown, with a residency at the Carlyle.

The divorce was contentious and Glenn needed Sarah’s sympathetic ear and that meant daily, late night phone calls and emergency visitations.  “Gotta go – gonna talk him down off the ledge again,” she’d say, no matter the hour, or day of the week.  Her tight smile that told me my permission was not expected, needed, or wanted.

And, time and time again, I’d amble down to Liffy II for a pint or seven while watching the Yankees.  And I’m not ashamed to say that I’d stew about being a third wheel, left out of this tightly knit childhood army-of-two.

Six months after Sarah moved in with me, Glenn called to ask if Sarah and I cared to join him at the Carlyle to see his mother, Belle, perform.  Comped.

What I remember: our Stoli martinis were very dry. Very large. Very potent.

What I remember: warm waves of applause lapped the bandstand. The crystal clink of highball glasses.  Stunning young women in red-soled Louboutins, squired by greying guys who flashed gold cufflinks.  Snappy bow-tied waiters, hair slick with pomade.  Gold-rimmed plates of Dover sole.

What I remember: Belle’s wisp of a smile. Red fingernails that caressed an onyx Neumann microphone.  A sultry slit skirt. Tired kohl-lined eyes turned heavenward to receive her spotlight sacrament.

What I most remember: Belle’s encore, Jobim’s “Waters of March,” its playful melody a bikini bursting from lyrics ripe with life.

And so she sang: “A stick, a stone, it’s the end of the road; it’s feeling alone, it’s the weight of your load…”

Backstage.  Belle’s dressing room.  Her generous fuss over our bodega bouquet of red roses. A barren jar of Noxzema, the centerpiece in a coronation of crumpled tissues.  Vise-tight hugs for Glenn and Sarah.

What I did not know: Belle was drowning in a confluence of indignities.  Her divorce had become final.  She had been dropped by her third record label in six years.  Days after we saw her perform, Carlyle management called her agent.  They were going in a “different direction.”

Upon hearing the Carlyle’s news, she opened a Provençal rosé and began to drink.  She slipped Billie Holliday’s version of Arlen’s “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” onto her turntable and, after the Barney Kessel guitar solo, opened her tenth floor living room window, inhaled sooty summer as it swept past her sheers, and leapt onto 86th Street in the pink silk kimono she bought in a Le Marais shop during her last Paris engagement.

 

The late night calls between Sarah and Glenn continued, fervent, now that Belle died.  Summer passed its sunlit torch to autumn.  The leaves fell.  The temperatures plummeted.  Without the promise of holidays past, joy went absent.  New York was encased in January.

One Saturday, a snowstorm blew in from Canada.  Twenty-six hours later, more than two feet of snow blanketed Broadway.

It was then that Glenn’s calls stopped.

 

“He’s in trouble,” Sarah said.  “I just know it.”

What I remember saying: he’s a big boy.

What I remember thinking: baseball’s spring training is only four weeks away.

What I remember feeling: hope, which came from my childish, vestigial, sense of renewal each new season of baseball brings.

 

I am old enough to remember the old Meatpacking District.  Pools of blood from primal cuts once coagulated on cobblestone streets.  Trucks spewed hydrocarbons into what that passed for air in those dirty days.

Today, the area is overrun by establishments that attract the rich and mindless, including predatory bros from Jersey, who careen about in Cayennes.

Glenn’s broken body was eventually found by city snow plow operators on Ninth Avenue.  As the thin sun of winter rose, a viscous river of red seeped from his mouth onto winter’s white, icy street.  His face, still now for all time, looked startled, confused.  His unseeing eyes fixed heavenward, as if to receive his final sacrament.

 

A detective in a belted, full-length black leather trench coat filled us in.  Sarah collapsed in my arms.  My knees buckled and I felt my eyes float.  The detective noticed, and snapped at me.

“Stay strong for your wife,” he admonished. I held her close now, gently rubbing the underside of her left forearm.  She stayed by my side this time, and sobbed.

This is what we later learned: A Jersey bro, drunk, lurched past our fallen friend.  His entourage-of-the-entitled laughed as their drunk friend nudged Glenn with his foot.

The drunk lunged for a mailbox, to steady himself.  He pulled himself upright, staggered towards his friends and, for no apparent reason, punched one of them in the cheek.

“Fuck you,” the guy spat, stunned.  He rubbed his reddened face with his left hand and clenched his right.  A woman tried to stay his arm, but the drunk’s jutted chin was too tempting a target.  The force of the blow spun him into a parked Uber and onto the snowy sidewalk, beside Glenn.

At that point, he noticed the white ear buds Glenn wore.  Oblivious to Glenn’s condition, he pulled out one of the buds and music blared into that frigid Sunday morning.  The men and women in the group laughed and helped their friend to his feet.

“Shhhhhh!  He’s sleeping,” one of the women slurred as they ambled down the block, laughing with the abandon afforded the careless, as pigeons parted for a skidding Escalade, as a  furious wind whipped off the river, unable to silence that playful Jobim tune:

“A stick, a stone, it’s the end of the road; it’s feeling alone, it’s the weight of your load…”

 

 

  

 

BIO

Martin Kleinman is New York City story teller.  He has told his tales of real New Yorkers in his short fiction collection, “Home Front,” (Sock Monkey Press 2013), in fiction anthologies and literary publications, in www.thisisthebronX.info, and on his blog www.therealnewyorkers.com, as well as in the Huffington Post, and in venues all around New York City – from KGB Bar to Union Hall.

A native New Yorker, Marty has written two books on workplace innovation trends, and is finalizing a second collection of short fiction.  “Defenestration” is from that new short fiction collection.

 

 

 

 

 

0

by Simon Perchik

 

These gravestones left stranded
warped from sunrises and drift
–they need paint, tides, a hull

that goes mouth to mouth
the way seagulls come by
just to nest and preen

though death is not like that
it likes to stand and lean
scattering its brilliant feathers

–look up when you open the can
let it wobble, flow into you
till wave after powerful wave

circles as face to face
and your own loses itself
already beginning to harden.

 

 

 

 

You need more, two sinks
stretching out as constant handfuls
though each arm is lowered

by the darkness you keep at the bottom
–a single cup suddenly harmless
not moving –this rattle you hear

is every child’s first toy
already filled with side to side
that’s not the sound a small stone makes

trying to let go the other, stake out
a cry all its own, fill it
on your forehead without her.

 

 

 

 

And though this stone is small
it has more than the usual interest
in the dead, waits among tall grasses

and water holes, smells the way dirt
still warms the afternoons
that no longer have a place to stay

–you leave a nothing in the open
letting it darken to remember
where you buried the Earth

as if the sun could not be trusted
to take back in its light
and by yourself turn away.

 

 

 

 

You read out loud the way this bed
listens for the makeshift seam
loosening each night down the middle

and though there is no sun
you peel off page after page
as if underneath what you hear

are her eyes closing –word by word,
louder and louder –you think it’s air
that’s falling –everything in your hands

is too heavy, becomes a shadow, covers her
with a single finger pointed at the ceiling light
what’s nowhere on the pillow or closer.

 

 

BIO

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Osiris Poems, published by box of chalk, 2017. For more information, including free e-books and his essay titled “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities,” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.

 

 

 

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