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

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The Fantastic Art of Natalie Shau

 

 

Blue Flamingoes

 

Alice Down the Rabbit Hole

 

Mcgee Alice

 

Alice

 

Alice Cat

Alice Cat

 

Open Up

 

Rabbit Mask

 

Magic Tea

 

How they met themselves

 

Alice and White Rabbit

 

 

 

 

About the Artist

 

BIO:

Natalie Shau is mixed media artist and photographer based in Lithuania (Vilnius). She found interest in fashion and portrait photography as well as digital illustration and photo art. Despite her personal work, Natalie also creates artwork and photography for musicians, theater, fashion magazines, writers and advertisement. She also worked as an art director for a short 3D movie of Kamel Ouali musical “Dracula.”

 

Clients:

Lydia Courteille jewelry
Kamel Ouali
Kara expo
Island Def Jam
Ogilvy & Mather
Sony BMG
Century Media
Nuclear Blast
Trisol
Metropolis records
Peaceville Records (Cradle of Filth)
Michel LAFON
Actes Sud
Simon & Schuster Books
Bloomsbury Publishing
Cadbury
Le Livre de Poche

 

Galleries:

Opera Gallery (USA)
Kat von D’s Wonderland gallery (USA)
Corey Helford Gallery (USA)
Vanilla Gallery (Japan)
Dorothy Circus Gallery (Italy)
Cabinet des Curieux (France)
Last Rites Gallery (USA)
STRYCHNIN Galleries (Germany)
Phillips de Pury & Company gallery (USA)

 

Books:

Tangled Tales (self published)
Art that Creeps (Korero Books)

 

Press:

LAMINATE most wanted
Zillo (Germany)
“WeAr” magazine (Germany)
“PHOTO+” magazine (South Korea)
“The Big Issue” magazine (AU)
“New York Arts” magazine (USA)
“Hi Fructose” magazine (USA)
“Juxtapoz” magazine (USA)
“Fantasy” magazine (USA)
“Refused” magazine (USA)
” EXOTIQUE 3″ magazine (USA)
“Computer Arts” magazine (UK)
“XFUNS” magazine (South Korea)
“Public Art” magazine (South Korea)
“Elegy” magazine (France)
“Vogue” magazine (France)
“Palace Costes” magazine (France)
“Muze” magazine (France)
“Computer Arts” magazine (France)
“Photo” magazine (France)
“Cimaise” magazine (France)
“Gazette de l’Hotel Drouor” newspaper (France)
“HDL” magazine (Israel)
“One Small Seed” magazine (South Africa)
“FEFE” magazine (Italy)
“INSIDEART” magazine (Italy)
“PLAYBOY” magazine (Lithuania)
“Stilius” magazine (Lithuania)
“IEVA” magazine (Lithuania)
“Pravda” magazine (Lithuania)
“Panelė” magazine (Lithuania)
“InFashion” magazine (Lithuania)
“UrbaNation” (Lithuania)
“Adoba” magazine (Czech Republic)
“PhotoArt” magazine (Czech Republic)

 

Awards:

2013

II place in Pioneers of Now A Talent Audition by Wacom Europe

2009

Best fashion photographer Ieva Magazine’s (Lithuania) photo competition

2009

best print advertisiment The Creative Circle Award

Cadbury/Bournville “Deliciously Dark Thoughts” – Ogilvy Jhb

 

 

FB:

https://www.facebook.com/natalieshauofficial/

 

Web:

https://natalieshau.carbonmade.com/

 

Instagram:

#natalieshau

 

Prints:

If you are interested in fine art giclee prints – you can email me directly and i will provide you full information about price, edition and size of work you are interested in. Please note that copies are very limited and I have only few or even one copy of work sometimes as I do only very limited edition prints. They are all signed and numbered by hand.

 

Custom Portraits:

I can create a custom art portrait based on your photograph. Please contact me for details.

 

Books:

Books here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/240626494/tangled-tales-art-book-by-natalie-shau

and here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/240529309/lost-in-wonderland-art-album-by-natalie

 

 

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April

by Holly Day

 

You wake me up to tell me
that the snow has come back
that the garden outside is completely
obscured in white. You say it much too loud
for this sort of news
for this early in the morning, almost joyful.

Half-asleep, the resentful part of me believes
perhaps you are responsible for the snow.

I drag myself out of bed and call the dog
who comes, joyful at the prospect of a morning walk.
I put on her leash and we step outside
into a world buried in white snow
the tips of new tulips, the green sprays of crocus
already shriveling and darkening in the cold.

 

 

If I Knew Braille

 

If I knew Braille, perhaps I could read
the graffiti of purple-mouthed limpets clinging
to old, sea-washed boulders
the secret Bibles of zebra mussels clinging to dry-docked boats
the last, profound gasps of snails and slugs dried out in clumps
on the sun-baked pavement in front of my house.
There may be language in the teetering piles of droppings

the rabbits have scattered throughout my yard
written in squirrel on the skin of half-nibbled tulip bulbs
lifted from the ground and carried into the trees
in the fresh pattern of teeth marks gnawed into the table leg
by the dog. I am missing too many important things
because I don’t know how to read.

 

 

Housewarming

 

We fill our home with mismatched groves of pine and oak and
molded plastic chairs, put monogrammed napkins
at every place setting. The scientists come right on time
to study our relationship, offer kind, unwelcome comments
as we pass plates laden with meat and cheese
refill their glasses with wine.
This one is my father, that one is your mother,
there are others, too.

They exchange notes, compare findings,
shake their heads and sigh
at something incurable, intangible, inconsolable.
We make excuses for the new furniture
for the condition of the house
for the awkward weather
for each other.

Later, in the dark, I feel the splatter-marks
of acne scars on your skin
try to read the dents of Braille graffiti on flesh
the broken ribs that spell out “joy”
the tiny scars that spell out the longings
that will never be met. This place
will never smell like home, just as you
will never be completely naked around me. In the end
you will leave me
howling, all alone, at the moon.

 

 

 

BIO

Holly Day’s poetry has recently appeared in The Cape Rock, New Ohio Review, and Gargoyle. Her newest poetry collections are A Perfect Day for Semaphore (Finishing Line Press); In This Place, She Is Her Own (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press); A Wall to Protect Your Eyes (Pski’s Porch Publishing); I’m in a Place Where Reason Went Missing (Main Street Rag Publishing Co.); and The Yellow Dot of a Daisy (Alien Buddha Press).

 

 

 

 

 

Who Is Jackie Brown?

by Rachel Scott

 

 

It was Christmastime, four years ago, and we were going through some of grandma’s things. She had been gone for over a decade so my sister and I were delighted that our father let us rustle through her papers for the first time. Round robin of a few pictures of her young and beautiful and then I lifted the cover of a manuscript box.

Tishomingo Blues
By: Elmore Leonard

“What’s this?”

“Elmore Leonard sent your gram that. They were pen pals.”

I fingered the corners of the box, delicately, almost reverentially. Did I deserve to lift the first page?

“How?”

I obviously had not seen the Tarantino film that shared my grandma’s name, Jackie Brown, nor read Rum Punch, the novel by Leonard that Tarantino adapted for the film. I’ve since read that he didn’t even have to change the dialogue, it was that good. My dad told me this, but beyond correlation, I was still unsure of how a letter from a very famous suspense writer ended up in the mailbox of my grandma in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The moment when you realize that the adults around you have a life that exists beyond loving and tending to you, regardless of when that moment takes place, never fails to throw you off-balance. I had always thought of my grandma as the person who nurtured my literary sensibilities; she taught me to write shorthand then engaged me in abundant correspondence, ordered me a subscription to Stone Soup, a literary magazine written and illustrated by children, and awed me with the astonishing pace in which she would tear through a book, one a day at least, one cigarette butt after another crushed into a nearby ashtray. She was the one adult who, I felt, thought of me as an individual, a person with my own tastes and desires and treated me as such. I had always sensed she was brilliant and possessed a depth unlike other ‘old people’ I knew and witnessed a slew of neuroses only now, as an adult, I can begin to understand. But as a child, I couldn’t think much beyond finding it peculiar that she refused to go in the upstairs of our home or would lock herself in our powder room for half a day.

So even at 24, to imagine that my grandma was close to people beyond our family, albeit famous ones, was incredible to me, if not a little disorienting. Like many details of her life, this fascinating tidbit stayed shrouded in mystery until I decided to take a deep dive into the life of a woman who left me when I was 12. I would attempt to peel back the layers to the answer of the question, “Who is Jackie Brown?”

 

 

White Man on Indian Land

My grandma and her family were one of the few families in the United States who didn’t feel the effects of the Great Depression. For the first 13 years of her life, Jackie and her three sisters were some of the only white faces in their hometown of Moenkopi, a Hopi village community surrounded by Navajo land in Tuba City, Arizona. After her sister Shirley and before Lila Pat, Gloria Jacqueline Barnes was born on July 15, 1925 in St. George, Utah while John and Olive Barnes were stationed as Schivwetts as educators for the Indian Service of the Department of the Interior. They were the sole white people on the Piute reservation.

Both Olive and John were born to families of homesteaders in Nebraska. John was one of 24 children, the youngest being Tad Lucas. She was the only one to have any interest in riding and became pretty good at it: she is the most famous female rodeo queen of all time, having ridden a bull in New York’s Madison Square Garden and the only person honored by all three Rodeo Halls of Fame (Lonn 87). You can buy a couple of different children’s books inspired by her life on Amazon.

John, however, chose a different path, taking his young bride Olive with him on service to Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, and Oklahoma before settling in Tuba City as the key educator for the region. Life on the reservation was as unique as the land that it clung to. “Harsh to the untrained eye,” and “isolated from city and suburb and noteworthy for its erratic precipitation and ubiquitous wind,” the Hopi land was as stark and dramatic as the struggles the community faced (Iverson 67). Entirely surrounded by Navajo land, the two groups were in a near constant antagonistic dispute over government allocation of land and its imposing educational system. In addition to his duties as principal of the Navajo Boarding School, John maintained the balance between pushing the government’s policies and fulfilling the needs of the Hopi community, despite their resistance to forceful changes. Jackie and her sisters attended the school where John and Olive taught adults and children, amidst classmates “clothed in little more than rags. Some were nude” (Jacobs 43).

Jackie and her sisters spent a lot of time alone. Several tiny pots that a young Jackie had dug out of the hard earth sit in our home today, relics of her time trying to connect to a land in which she was not necessarily welcome. The family was close and while relatives offered me many details of a warm and loving Olive, not much is said about John. Though he was alcoholic later in life that died before my dad was born, it’s unclear if those problems began on the reservation. It becomes the first fact of the family that I may never unearth.

Daily life on the Hopi reservation was extraordinarily simple for bright, young Jackie while the rest of the country reeled through the Great Depression. The Barnes family remained insulated from the struggles of the era thanks to a steady government check that never left them wanting for food or shelter. A sturdy brick home may have left them better off than their Hopi neighbors, but the three sisters had trouble understanding people’s attitudes about the Depression. The inability to connect to the world outside of the harshness of the barren reservation had taken root in each of their psyches and would have profound effects on the rest of their lives.

 

Role Playing

In 1938 the Barnes family traded one bleak landscape for another and relocated to Rolla, North Dakota where the Barnes girls attended high school as most Americans knew it then. A slight beauty with dark hair and a dazzling smile, Jackie made an excellent cheerleader, an idyllic all-American girl, when she wasn’t absorbed in books. It’s also there in Rolla that she began her lifelong habit of chain-smoking, another ubiquitous feature of American living in vogue.

After graduating, Jackie left Rolla and headed to California to attend the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse. “She always loved acting and being on her own, experimenting,” my dad, Paul Sult III, tells me over several phone conversations that served as part of my research for this piece. Pasadena, however, proves problematic. My dad, his cousin Ron, even the archives of the Playhouse struggle to find a Jackie Barnes in their records. We all know she got married for the first time while attending acting courses at the alma mater of Dustin Hoffman, Gene Kelly, and Diane Keaton, to name a few, but to whom is the answer to a question still that remains out there in the ether, a faceless and nameless fellow that did little more than to drive her out of Cali and to Forth Worth, Texas. To mark such an intriguing time in her life, I begrudgingly scribble Jackie Somebody into my notes.

It’s the 1940’s and my grandma was assembling guns and bombs. The real world moved in fast around Jackie and her sister Shirley, where days were spent at the civil defense plant in Fort Worth and nights in the home of their famous Aunt Tad. It wasn’t long until Shirley met a handsome military man called Elmer Flickinger from Bern, Indiana. For a family constantly scattered, Flickinger quickly proved to be a most stable force. Like moths to a flame, all of the sisters and their mother gravitated to Indiana where they all settled in Forth Wayne and looked to Flickinger for light.

 

A light is red for 60 seconds at an intersection in Fort Wayne; another city under boundless sky, flat like the Hopi mesa tops. While most people sit and stare, maybe curse, Jackie scribbled lines of poetry. Despite her talents as a writer, voracious reader and skilled artist, the culture of the times did its best to discount her gifts. “She was the most brilliant person I knew. If she had been born in the 90s or even the 70s, she would have been something,” my cousin Ron Flickinger notes. Relegated to a menial job like the majority of mid-century women who were permitted to work, Jackie was simply a secretary yet a proficient typist for an interior design firm (National Organization for Women 108). She was soon to be demoted to that of a housewife in 1953 upon marrying Paul Sult II.

Paul was Jackie’s opposite in every way, a charismatic and successful insurance man prone to martini lunches, heavy drinking, and womanizing. He never picked up a book. Once my father was born in 1954, the family lived in Indianapolis and Pennsylvania before settling into a beautiful Chicago apartment. As a boy, cousin Ron would visit, enthralled by the lifestyle that was so different from the funeral home in which he lived. “They were so sophisticated, their apartment always contemporary. Paul had this zest for life and Jackie often seemed irritated by it.” Whether she was hosting one of Paul’s many parties or merely attending, after a drink and a hello she could always be found alone in some bedroom with her feet curled beneath her and a book in her lap.

Life proved challenging for Jackie Sult. My dad remembers a woman prone to depression, especially when her husband was gone on one of his many business trips. Lifelong bouts of vertigo soon coupled with intense anxiety- fears of heights, thunderstorms, and food- to control the life of a woman who couldn’t understand why happiness was so elusive and anger and sadness so prevailing. Christmastime was especially hard. Often my dad was alone, holding a baseball glove or some present in the living room, having learned by now to mute his excitement, while Jackie sobbed in a bedroom or under the kitchen table, dismayed by her own tears and hating it all.

 

Despite her obvious suffering, the era’s ignorance and stigmatization of mental health inhibited any chance that Jackie could learn to cope with a life she had trouble living.  In the 1950’s “consulting psychiatrists enjoyed little public endorsement with few people knowing anyone who had consulted a psychiatrist” (Phelan, Link, Stueve, Pescosolido 189). Her sisters suffered too in abject silence: Shirley from what we now know as post-partum depression and both she and Lila Pat from emotional issues that none of my sources could elucidate. Jackie did receive counseling during the eventual break-down of her 16 year marriage, but neither her anxiety, depression, nor eating disorder were discussed in counseling or at home. Instead, Jackie “used reading to escape. Your grandpa never understood it, though he tried to,” my dad told me. “I’m sorry I don’t know more.” I add the pathology of her suffering underneath her first marriage on the list of things I’ll never get to understand.

 

A Literary Life

Between Jackie’s divorce from Paul in 1969 and her marriage to Don Brown in 1972 stands young Pauls’ favorite stretch of time. They lived in a peaceful home along the bank of the St. Mary’s river, surrounded by animals and nature. The house, built in a flood zone, no longer stands but my dad’s memories of its walls and that time remain sharp. Eventually, Don Brown moved in- a brilliant biologist that Jackie often called the love of her life. Finally, Jackie found her bookish and eccentric match and together they poured over their own studies, Don choosing Shakespeare for downtime while Jackie loved the classics, suspense, and the New Yorker. I often pluck the newest issue out of my mailbox and wonder what she would make of its contents as a lifelong liberal.

Don, also a heavy smoker, never saw the decade close. Having refused to enroll in a life insurance policy because he couldn’t be bothered, Don died from lung cancer and left Jackie with nothing, save a few books. She was never to remarry. Jackie resumed work as a secretary once my dad was grown. Her employer was a lawyer and though she could type up his work incredibly fast, she was a skilled paralegal and my father, Ron, and my mother acknowledge that she advised him on many of his cases.

 

Cigarettes and endless cups of black coffee punctuated by a half-eaten dish off the kid’s menu, a raspy laugh, eyes wide in animated expression- this is how I remember my grandma as a small child in the 90’s. When she doesn’t come to see us, she sends us things, mostly books to read and letters. From July 1999, alongside a copy of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King she wrote to me: “Gram has never cared for horror stories, and usually doesn’t care about the life of a writer unless she cares very much about what he or she has written. Then, the writer becomes very important because he (or she) will now always be a special friend.”

Retired, Jackie was free for creativity. She was still gobbling down books, creating beautiful chalk portraits, and making silly yet smart collages. My favorites are the ones of my dad in a marathon: a real photograph of his head atop a sketched runners body. Somehow she managed to come visit us in North Carolina despite an extreme fear of flying. She spent time with her sisters, her mother passing in the 1980s, though time spent with Lila Pat was over the phone. Lila Pat lived across town but refused to leave her own house. Jackie hadn’t seen her in 25 years.

My favorite way to connect to my grandma is through her letters, a medium in which her voice comes through naturally. I read a few and the condolence I’d been holding in my chest folds underneath her dry wit, excellent turn of phrase and acute understanding of character. From Elmore Leonard in December 15, 1999 to my grandma: What do you mean you’re not a writer? I can hear your voice in your writing; you use irony like a pro.”

It isn’t merely irony that connected my Jackie Brown to Leonard. She also didn’t have much in common with the money-smuggling Jackie Burke from Rum Punch, besides a slew of husbands and a suppressed status as women: Burke a flight attendant, Brown a secretary, for example. It was, in fact, a movie review of Jackie Brown, written by Jackie Brown in January, 1998 in the Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne, Indiana that makes the connection, where she noted that “Hollywood seldom does justice to Leonard’s spare, terse style,” but “Tarantino comes closer than most.” How Leonard found the review remains to be seen, but it’s fact that a letter from Leonard turned up in Jackie’s mail.

 

Witnessing the details of your grandmother’s cancer through correspondence with a stranger is surreal. I knew she had breast cancer and then bladder cancer, a surprising yet common correlation to a smoking habit. In 1999 she tells Leonard about her mastectomy which was “easily corrected by the artful placement of a wadded Kleenex” against her “85 pounds of skin and bones.” She also details the squamous mass found in her bladder, “surely the ugliest word in the English language … appropriately used to describe the ugliest kind of invasion,” that eventually leads to its removal and use of a colostomy bag for urine that she rightfully despised. My shock gives way to jealousy when Leonard calls her a “bag lady” in a subsequent letter. But of course she wouldn’t talk that way to me, I was only 10 in 2000.

My grandma’s last few years are spent in a nursing home. My dad makes many frequent trips up North. Shirley is there at the same time and she remembers my dad despite her dementia, which is nice, even though my dad notes that she doesn’t seem to remember Jackie. Her death, three months after Shirley’s at the end of 2002, was bittersweet for my dad. “She had everything she needed but it was all too arduous, emotionally. She wasn’t happy in this world.”

She didn’t want a funeral. Instead my dad took her ashes to that river St. Mary’s where their happy times once stood. He spread them out slowly and alone.

 

 

 

BIO

Rachel Scott is a writer, model, and student in New York City where she has lived for the past decade. She loves to read and travel the world, especially to favorite places like London and Tokyo. This is her first published piece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

Iverson, Peter. “Knowing the Land, Leaving the Land: Navajos, Hopis, and Relocation in

the American West.” Montana: The Magazine of Western History, vol. 38, no. 1,

1988, pp. 67-70.

 

Jacobs, M.D. “A Battle for the Children: American Indian Child Removal in Arizona in

the Era of Assimilation.” The Journal of Arizona History, vol. 45, no. 1, 2004, pp.

 31-62.

 

National Organization for Women. “Statement of Purpose.” The Movements of the New

 Left 1950-1975,  edited by Van Gosse, Bedford/St. Martin’s, pp. 107-109.

 

Phelan, J.C., Link, B.G., Stueve, A, & Pescosolido, B.A. “Public Conception of Mental

Illness in 1950 and 1996: What is Mental Illness and is it to be Feared?” Journal

            of Health and Social Behavior, vol. 41, no. 2, 2000, pp. 188-207.

 

Taylor, Lonn. “The Cowgirl Way.” Texas Monthly, vol. 43, no. 9, pp. 86-88.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Not a Seamless Lunch

by Anna Linetskaya

 

Edgar was looking at the screen, but none of it made sense. What he had worked for, what he returned to day after day, was no longer there. The sense of deep unease took over him as the realization settled in: somewhere, someone had changed the meal preferences on his Seamless page.

He looked around the office to see whether any of his colleagues were facing the same problem. Unfortunately, the cubicle divider in front of his desk obscured most of his workmates. Meggie, the only person he could see without lifting from his ergonomic chair, was standing by the receptionist’s desk, her face as serene as that of a seasoned yogi. No wonder. Not only did she make it to Hot Vinyasa class every morning before showing up at the office at precisely 7:15AM, she also found time to make and actually bring her own lunches to work. That Meggie, she did not have anything to worry about. She did not depend on Seamless. Although usually it meant chewing on a wilted spinach leaf from used Tupperware, today, her independence finally paid off.

Meggie was no good; Edgar needed a more reliable source to estimate the seriousness of the  lunch predicament. He could Bloomberg-chat Kenny, his work buddy from Compliance. It would not be the first time they used the terminal for personal communication. Strictly speaking, such communication was against corporate policy, and it was Kenny’s job to preclude it. Yet, it was not the ethical implications of technology misuse, but rather Kenny’s complete uselessness when it came to food choices that stopped Edgar from going down that route.

Kenny, who called himself an omnivore, was, in Edgar’s opinion, simply a person deprived of taste buds, let alone a palette. Kenny would eat everything and anything, so long as there was enough of it. Rice and beans? Yes, please. Cheese nachos? Pack two. You say, “Kosher pizza?” Kenny says, “How high can I pile it on the plate?” In other words, Kenny was happy as long as there was Seamless, regardless of what it actually offered.

No, Kenny was no good either. Edgar needed to find someone of his own caliber, someone who could relate to his quandary. A person who, although aware of the calorie count and the circumference of their waist, was passionate about food. A person who saw lunch as a personal getaway from the humdrum of the office life. Someone who appreciated the fact that you get only one try when it comes to placing your Seamless order. There was no Redo button on that page, after all.

If there was indeed a firm-wide Seamless crisis (and not just a glitch on Edgar’s page), Sander the Foodie and Tim the Golf Guy would be the ones to show visible signs. Edgar made a decision: he would stand up and personally survey the field. But he would have to do so discreetly, so not to alter the natural state of his colleagues’ distress. For that he needed a believable disguise. Water cooler trips were painfully passé; the way to the men’s restroom lay through the corridor and did not allow for much observation. One last option remained: he would make his way to the Health Station.

The Heath Station was a rather new development, a by-product of the HR’s preoccupation with employees’ health and wellbeing. In a rare burst of creativity, the HR team had decided that the obvious solution to the problem of obesity—fewer calories in and more calories out—was utterly obsolete. What the office workers needed was more food but, this time, of the nonperishable and prepackaged kind. Granola bars, protein bars and shakes, fiber cookies, and fat-free crackers: anything that had the word healthy on its shiny packaging had already made or was quickly making its way to that magic cabinet, strategically positioned in the middle of the office floor.

The trip to the Health Station was ideal. It provided both a long, winding path and a perfect lookout spot. It also provided a much-needed pick-me-up snack. Edgar almost reached the coveted cupboard when a sudden “Later, all!” distracted him from the task at hand. To his surprise, the number of people from whom he was to choose his confidant was diminishing right before his eyes. Tim the Golf Guy (responsible for the awakening “Later, all!”) and five other colleagues from his group were exiting the office one by one. Only Meggie and Laura, a timid, middle-aged woman whom Edgar did not know well and had no interest in knowing better, remained.

The field trip. Of course. Of all days, today had to be Tuesday the 15th. The day that six out of nine people on Edgar’s team were scheduled to work at their new client’s office. Edgar recalled how happy he had been when they elected him to stay behind in the office with Meggie and Laura. With most people from his team gone, it felt almost like a vacation. He had his food, he had his Internet, and he had very few people around to bother him.

Little did he know that Tuesday the 15th would also be the day his trusted food deliveries, with their luscious but calorie-conscious offerings, disappeared from his Seamless account. Who in the world had decided to change the list? Who needed to fix what was not broken? But most importantly, why did it have to happen on the day Edgar got to get not one but two lunches delivered?

One of the reasons Edgar was so excited to stay behind on the field trip day was that he got to use the absent colleagues’ lunch allowance as he pleased. Of course, they would have to play fair and share the six extra lunch funds between the remaining people from the team. But out of the three remaining people, Edgar was one; Meggie did not use the lunch allowance lest she lost her “Homemade Lunch Queen” title; and Laura, who knew? With a little bit of nudging and a comment or two about the upcoming bikini season, she would surely give her extra lunch money to Edgar. And he would know how to use it wisely. He had his Favorite Seamless tags sorted exactly for such an occasion.

Edgar’s perfect plan was now ruined by events outside of his control. He had all the lunch credit in the world, but his trusted purveyors of sustenance were no longer there to supply him with their goods. Edgar found himself in a predicament right out of a children’s fable: he had everything he needed, but he didn’t know what to do with it. That was the only thing he could focus on as he sat back down on his ergonomic chair and stared at his Seamless page, still in total disarray.

For the second time in the last five minutes, an unexpected sound interrupted Edgar’s musings. The annoying bing was trying to attract Edgar’s attention to a new incoming email. In it, a faceless but very caring HR person was encouraging Edgar to please finalize his lunch choice so it could be placed promptly and delivered to his desk on time.

It was not that Edgar was afraid of choice. To the contrary, he appreciated the power that came with conscious decision-making. He grew up in a family of Jewish academics who evaluated every life occurrence in terms of a cause and effect (or, if not that, then at least a correlation). From an early age, Edgar’s parents had instilled in him the desire to choose correctly and the belief that such a choice was actually possible. You only needed to collect all the relevant information to make it.

So this is what he had to do now. Since he had been deprived of his preferred lunch options, he needed to collect all the information necessary to make a well-informed and, more importantly, correct choice of his upcoming unfamiliar meal. The first call of duty was the culprit itself: his Seamless account. Here, Edgar had to be careful not to misplace his anger; it was not actually Seamless the Company who had mixed up his options, but rather the omnipresent, conniving HR.

It was the HR, who, in the best tradition of Big Brother, oversaw from which six restaurants Edgar was to eat his lunch on any given day. Of course, such power could not have been delegated to a single department without the proper checks and bounds set in place. Although on paper it looked like the HR made the calls, in reality it was the result of the monthly employee survey which determined the lucky six. Edgar, ever an active corporate citizen, made sure to advocate for his favorites, which almost always made it on the list. Apparently, on Tuesday the 15th, the HR blatantly overstepped its power by changing delivery options sans referendum.

Now, Edgar needed to get to know the new players. He carefully studied the six unfamiliar names that appeared on his Seamless account. None of the descriptions that accompanied the names spoke to him; none of the wording enticed Edgar to sample the goods. How on earth, after being spoiled with his favorite restaurants’ follow-up surveys and having his ego massaged by their social media’s targeted campaigns, was he to choose from this unappealing mound of impersonal information?

The actual websites of the six contenders did not prove to be any better. Yelp pages did provide some nice visuals, but Edgar, a seasoned customer, knew that all the niceties of the presentation would be gone the moment the food was placed in the delivery box. Edgar saw the delivery box as the ultimate equalizing device: it stripped the food of all visual appeal, allowing the essence of the dish—its ingredients—to take center stage.

The ingredients. Here is where Edgar faced a real challenge. Only four out of six restaurants listed the ingredients of each dish on their respective menus, and not a single one provided the actual ingredient amounts used. It was simply impossible to say whether a chicken salad was a true chicken salad or a bunch of greens sprinkled with morsels of canned chicken meat. And what about all the sausages? Were they 100% beef or were there remnants of fatty pork added to the mixture for taste and texture? Although not observant, Edgar’s Jewish heritage rebelled at this purposeful omission.

Edgar decided to act. Instead of wasting his time on soulless descriptions, he would call up the restaurants to get all the information he thought was material for his decision. He hoped that the restaurant owners were at least savvy enough to provide a phone number and a sufficiently competent person to answer Edgar’s pressing questions.

Edgar picked up the phone and dialed the first number on the list. The handset was heavy and felt alien in his hand. It had been a while since he had actually used it. To Edgar, the concept of a phone conversation was a thing of the past, a feature of a society where people had not yet discovered the beauty of instant messaging. With it, you could take time to deliberate, to think the answer through, and to embellish it with visual content if needed. With a phone conversation, you had no such opportunity. By picking up the phone, you were entering the terrain of real-time debate and were foolishly subjecting yourself to the possibility of a verbal attack.

Edgar took a deep breath and suppressed his desire to hang up after the second ring. Luckily, an abrupt “Yes?” put an end to Edgar’s suspense. Although it was a rather unfriendly way to initiate a conversation with a potential customer, Edgar made a conscious effort to evoke the sense of appreciation and gratitude that he was trying to foster towards others, rude service people included. He had read somewhere that those who deliberately practice gratitude experience lower levels of stress and are on average happier and more resilient than their ungrateful compatriots. Despite his growing irritation, Edgar reminded himself that he should not take it personally and should not make assumptions about the person at the other end of the line. According to the little cheat-sheet of happy life principles Edgar had pinned above his desk, he also was supposed to “remain impeccable with your word,” even more so during the upcoming conversation.

The first order of business was to make sure that the person on the other end was qualified to provide the information Edgar needed. After confirming that it was indeed the correct restaurant and that they did deliver lunches on a regular basis, Edgar inquired about the person’s first name and dietary preferences. It was important to establish rapport so Edgar’s new phone acquaintance, Thang, could feel comfortable enough to share his honest opinion. It was equally important to establish whether or not Thang was affected  by any of the restrictive food fads, such as veganism, and to adjust the weight of his honest opinion accordingly.

Thang proved to be solid. Not only did he eat fish, meat, and poultry, he also happened to receive part of his reimbursement as lunch credit to be spent in the restaurant, so he had vast firsthand experience with the menu. Thang’s brief lament about being “short on cash to buy food for the family” did not dissuade Edgar; it was obviously meant as an ice-breaker and not as a real complaint. Surely, Thang could get a doggy bag ‘to-go’ to take lunch leftovers back home.

Edgar felt like he was onto something. Maybe the damages caused by the Seamless disaster  could be reduced to a minimum, after all. Although Thang could not name the exact amount of beef used in the Wild Meatloaf Wrap, he assured Edgar that, where Thang came from, “It would be enough to feed a family of four.” There was just one thing left to clarify, and it was not Thang’s country of origin. It was gluten.

What followed caused Edgar to temporarily loose his state of equanimity. He was prepared to face Thang’s potential ignorance on the topic and had his brief three-minute lecture on the dangers of gluten ready. He was prepared to discuss which modifications could be made to the wrap to make it gluten-free, and was ready to sacrifice some of the nutrients. He was even prepared to face the “Yes, it contains gluten” defeat. That he could handle.

What he could not handle was the blatant “So, you are Jewish and celiac?” remark. Who was Thang to box Edgar in like that? To put this label on him? No, Edgar did not have celiac disease or wheat sensitivity. But Edgar did have a right not to be labeled “celiac” every time he wished to avoid gluten. He was much more than his dietary preferences, and he felt it was his civic duty to nip any such attempt at objectification in the bud. Feeling that he no longer could remain impeccable with his word, Edgar hung up.

He stared at his phone, trying to process what was happening to him. Thang’s words touched a rough spot deep inside Edgar. It always came down to that with food, to the need to explain that it was not a matter of religion of allergies. Edgar simply liked to know what exactly he put into his body. The careful process of selection was time consuming and, on occasion, stressful, yet he accepted those small discomfort as the price he had to pay to stay in control. To stay in control in a world where the produce was manufactured, not grown; where a carton of milk could be spiked with arsenic; where a calf may not see the light of day before becoming a steak. How was that his prudence and responsible attitude towards food always managed to turn into a cause of conflict and mockery?

Edgar looked at his computer screen. The onerous message from the HR was still there, staring back at him. He needed to make a choice, and he needed to make it quick: it was by now 11:05AM, which meant he had less than five minutes before the 11:10AM order submission cutoff.

Overcome with emotion, Edgar took a deep breath and resolved to switch to cold logic. He thought he needed to make a choice, but did he really? Granted, the whole system was set up to foster this belief: the Seamless account was his; the HR prompted Edgar to finalize his choice. But there was a loophole in the system, and Edgar had seen it being used before. For some reason, his brain chose to suppress this knowledge, but now that Edgar had a complete recollection of it, his mind was set. He looked at the email, clicked Reply button and typed in the words that were sure to put an end to this lunch debacle: “In the meeting. Please, spend today’s lunch credit (mine, Tim’s, Sander’s) as you see fit. Best, Edgar.”

Edgar took another deep breath, clicked Send, and sat back in his chair. His gaze rested on the mood-enhancing lamp, which the HR strongly encouraged to position against the cubicle divider wall behind the computer screen. The deep indigo colors of the cubicle wall were supposed to bring a sense of calm, while the pale yellow and bright orange of the lamp encouraged one to rise to one’s potential like a rising sun. Edgar realized he hated those colors.

Edgar stood up. Suddenly, he realized he hated not only the colors but the very idea of the mood-enhancing lamp. He hated the cubicle wall. He hated Meggie, who was standing right behind it with her bright, toothy smile and her stinky collection of Tupperware containers. He hated Laura, who was munching on another carb-free, sugar-free, fat-free, fiber-rich protein bar she had just gotten from the Heath Station. Most of all, he hated the fact that he had just given away his right to choose to the very people who made all of this happen.

Did they really care about Edgar when they made those choices? Did they ever stop to consider his well-being or the fact that his bad cholesterol had gone through the roof since he had joined this workplace? Did they know that what he really needed was someone who could care for him without any hidden agenda?

Edgar stormed out of the office. He needed to clear his mind, and this time deep breathing exercises were not up to the task. Edgar needed a good old walk in the park, needed to feel the sun on his face and the wind against his skin. A walk like the ones he used to take as a child with his Grandpa. Back when he still could run and play and laugh, all under the watchful eye of his guardian, who pretended to read his Sunday newspaper in the shade of a poplar tree.

* * *

Edgar walked through the park entrance across from his office building. Most of the benches along the main path were occupied by people who looked very much like him. Those people, dressed in different shades of gray with occasional splotches of white and light pink, were the happy few who were actually allowed to step away from their desks during the day. Many of them were holding Styrofoam containers and paper bags covered with grease stains of different shapes and sizes. The aroma emanating from those receptacles overpowered all other smells in the park: the lunch hour had finally arrived.

Edgar’s stomach responded to the smell with a predictable rumble of hunger, but his mind refused to budge. He wanted none of this. He did not want to stuff his face with a dripping sandwich while checking his email on his phone. He did not want to gulp liters of flavorless coffee from a Venti cup to get thought the afternoon low. He did not want to eat from a doggy bag, even if it came from the most coveted food truck in the area.

What he wanted was to eat with abandon, just like he used to as a child. To eat without thinking that he should be eating something else, to eat without thinking that he should be doing something else. To eat food that had been prepared with love.

Edgar found an empty bench in a remote corner of the park and sat down in the shade. He closed his eyes. Like when they were all still living together and when the smell of his mother’s kotletu would force everyone to drop whatever they were doing and gather around the table. Like on a cold winter night, when his grandmother would heat up the oven, and while the rugelach were baking, they would all play cards and steal spoonfuls of warm custard from the jar. His mind was overcome with those pleasant memories; the stress of the lunch debacle slowly started to subside.

“Do you mind if I sit here, sir?” said a voice out of nowhere. Edgar opened his eyes and saw a little boy about ten yeas old standing next to him. The boy was holding a carefully wrapped foil parcel in his hands. Edgar shifted and gestured the boy to sit down next to him.

“My mom is over there, at the kiddies’ playground with my little sister. It is not often that I get to take my lunch to the park with them. I’m usually at school, you know. But when I do get to come here, I really like it.” The boy smiled at Edgar and started to unwrap his parcel.

“I hope it’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My mom makes them the best! She knows that I like them, and she puts these little heart-shaped jelly beans on top. I’m all grown up now, but I still like it very, very much.”

As the boy unwrapped the foil, Edgar could see a huge smile lighting up on his face. Inside, the boy found what he was hoping for. His joy was pure, his satisfaction almost complete. Almost. Edgar could sense that something was amiss; something was stopping the boy from taking that coveted first bite.

The boy lifted up his head and stared Edgar straight in the eye. Then, without saying a word, the boy broke the sandwich in half, tore off a piece of foil, carefully wrapped one half, and extended it to Edgar.

Humbled, Edgar accepted the offering. He took a bite, chewed, swallowed, and looked back at the boy.

Seamlessly, all of it made sense.

 

 

BIO

Anna Linetskaya is an emerging writer who, after years of academic work and legal practice, finally finds herself writing pieces she truly enjoys. She is currently working on her first novel while completing her MFA in Creative Writing at the City College of New York. When not working on her book, Anna is sure to be found reading books of others. She is unapologetic about her reading locations and is particularly proud of her reading-while-walking skill. Her most recent publication, “myLife: a Story,” appeared as a series of installments in Visitant.

https://www.linetskaya.com/

 

 

 

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Day Hike

by Priscilla Mainardi

 

 

“What did you think of her?” I said to my brother. We had just started up the trail, wide enough here at the beginning so we could walk side by side.

“Nice,” Jake pronounced. “A little nervous, but who wouldn’t be?” He stopped and turned to me. “You should have seen the look on your face.”

“I hope I didn’t laugh. I thought Mom was kidding at first. I thought she meant Becca was like a daughter to her, not an actual daughter.” I stepped around a rock that stuck up in the middle of the trail. “Amazing that we never knew, or even suspected.”

“Mom didn’t even know anything about her.  Until recently, that is,” Jake said.

Becca had gotten in touch with our mother in late February, and they met for the first time a few days later at a halfway point in New Hampshire. My mother didn’t tell me any of this when she called me last week to confirm Sunday brunch with Jake, something we had done every few weeks since I moved back from California.   She just said, “I have something important to tell you and your brother.”

Becca, our new-found sister, was the important thing she had to tell us.

 

Jake and I began to ascend a steeper part of the trail. Afternoon sunlight slanted through the trees. I unzipped my jacket, loosened my scarf. Becca had complimented the scarf when I arrived at brunch this morning. My college friend Elvira always compliments people when she first meets them, to get them to like her. Was that what Becca was doing? I wished I’d thought of it myself.

“What happens now?” I asked Jake. “Is she going to be, like, part of the family?”

“If she wants to be. And if Mom wants her to be. I don’t think it’s so much about us.”

But it is about us, I wanted to say. Jake’s calm made my natural reaction — surprise, confusion, resentment at just learning about Becca now — seem somehow irrational. “I wonder if Dad knows about her,” I said. Our father left when I was in third grade. “And what do we know about her father?”

Jake held up a hand. “Wait, Lydia.  Are you forgetting we have a nephew now too?”

I laughed. “Right,” I said. “Andrew. How could we have made it this far without knowing anything about them?”

“Think how it must be for Becca to find out about us, after all these years,” Jake said. “Or how it was for Mom, having the baby taken away from her. Imagine how she feels.”

“Okay, Mr. Empathy.” Sometimes Jake was a little too nice. He lumped everyone together and acted like they were all the same, when they clearly weren’t.

We hiked in single file until we came to a fork. I described the route I’d taken once before, to the top of the ridge, then down along the stream that ran through the gorge. We’d end up a quarter mile down the road from the parking lot.

“Sure we won’t need crampons?” Jake said.

More snow appeared in the woods as we climbed but the trail was dry. “I doubt it,” I said.

Jake checked the time on his phone. “Just think,” he said, “two hours ago, we were sitting down meeting Becca.”

“Three hours ago, I didn’t even know I had a sister.”

 

“How did you find us?” I asked Becca. “I mean, find out my mother was . . . find out who your mother was?” I stopped, took a breath. I was trying to play it cool, a cool I didn’t really feel. Mangling my sentences wasn’t helping.

Becca gave a wide smile. She had her answer ready. But then she’d known about us, whereas we’d just learned about her. Maybe this explained her calm. Or maybe she came by it naturally. “Andrew fainted on the basketball court,” she said, “and when I took him to the doctor, they were worried that he might have a heart condition, and wanted me to check with his closest relatives.” We must have look alarmed at this, because she held up a hand, smooth and pale, with pink nails. “I asked my parents, and they gave me the name of the adoption agency. My lawyer wrote to the agency and told them the situation, and they gave me your mother’s name.”

“But Andrew — is he okay?” I said.

“Oh, yes, he’s fine. They decided he was probably just dehydrated.”

“Well,” said my mother, at her cheeriest, “we’re glad he’s okay, and so glad you found us.”

We were in her dining room, eating quiche and sausages and out of season strawberries. Sunlight poured in through the tall windows. My mother seemed a little too happy, her cheeks flushed an unusual pink color, her eyes bright. She kept jumping up for things she’d forgotten in the kitchen, a pitcher of orange juice, bread and butter. We usually ate bagels and cream cheese or French toast at the kitchen table, watching the birds come and go from the bird feeder outside the window. Brunch wasn’t usually this varied and complex.

Becca told us she’d grown up in Portsmouth, where she still lived and worked as a florist. She was forty-four and divorced, and Andrew was in eighth grade. She was tall and blond with little resemblance to either Jake, who was stocky and strong and dark, or me, of average height with medium-brown hair. She looked like she’d never done the things I’d done: put white powder up my nose, slept in a park wrapped in all my clothes, snuck out of a restaurant without paying, taken off my clothes in front of a camera.

I took a bite of quiche and gazed out the window. Most of the snow had melted from the grass, though there was still a little patch on the north side of every tree. Jake was describing his programming job, his girlfriend who worked as a physical therapist, the apartment they’d moved into together in Burlington. I had met his girlfriend, but hadn’t seen their new apartment yet. When did people stop seeing the places where their siblings lived? Twenty-six seemed too young. You think you’ll always be as close as when your rooms are next door to each other, and you kick each other every night for space on the family room couch.

We hadn’t even talked since the last brunch.  And Jake hadn’t seen my place either. I told Becca about the tiny cabin I lived in, that I chopped my own wood and worked at the general store. This sounded homey, like the store carried maple syrup and maybe bolts of calico, but I mostly sold hotdogs and lottery tickets. Becca didn’t need to know every little thing about me, and I broad-stroked it, hoping “I spent a few years on the West Coast” sounded intriguing rather than secretive. And who knew what Becca wasn’t telling us? It was our first meeting after all.

 

“Slow down,” Jake said. “I can hardly keep up with you.”

I slowed my pace and glanced down the valley where the sun lit up the tops of the bare trees. “You know, Mom used to say that to me all the time. Talk smaller steps. She was always criticizing me for something. Remember how she used to move my hair out from behind my ears all the time?” Becca’s hair was a perfect blond coif that curled in to cover her ears. “After awhile I started to think I might as well go ahead and actually do something wrong.”

Jake laughed. “Maybe she wasn’t criticizing, maybe she just couldn’t keep up with you. And maybe your hair did look better covering your ears.”

“You sound just like her.”

I meant it as a mild putdown but Jake just laughed again.

“What about my job?” I said. “She’s always after me to get a better job.”

“We all know you could be doing more with yourself than selling scratch-offs.”

“Can’t she just be happy I moved home?”

“She’s glad you’re rid of what’s-his-name,” he said.

He means Jimmy, my old boyfriend, who I followed to California so he could make movies.

“Still, maybe this explains a few things,” I said. “Maybe Mom was always measuring me up against some invisible ideal daughter.”

“I think you’ll have to let that one go, Lydia. Becca’s just another flawed human being like the rest of us.”

Later we would go to one of Andrew’s basketball games and I would see that this was true. She wore jeans and a sweatshirt, went without makeup, chewed her nails in the stands, joined in when the other parents booed the referee to protest a foul call.

“Was Mom upset about it all her life, do you think,” I said, “or did she just forget about the baby and move on?”

“I’m sure she never forgot,” Jake said.

“So she got pregnant and gave the baby away. Couldn’t she have had an abortion?”

“Not back then.”

“But still,” I persisted, “she kept it a secret all these years. Even though she knew this day might come.”

“Give her a break, will ya? This has been hard on her too. Hardest.”

He sounded like Elvira, who used to say to always err on the side of kindness and generosity. Or was it forgiveness and generosity? I could never remember. “Okay, sure, a break,” I said.

We’d been climbing steadily and stopped to catch our breath and take a drink of water. Jake seemed pretty calm about the whole thing. Maybe this was because he hadn’t spent the whole brunch comparing himself to Becca in every little detail — hairstyle, make-up, clothes, the way she spoke, held herself, had a worthwhile career.

But now that I thought about it, Jake hadn’t even looked all that surprised when Mom told us who Becca was. Maybe there was another reason he was so calm. I turned to him. “How long have you known?”

Jake held up a hand. “Hear that, Lydia?” he said. “That sort of rushing sound?”

I stood still and listened. All I heard was the rustle and creak of tree branches. “The wind?”

“More like water. Is there a stream?”

“I think we cross a creek soon,” I said.

We resumed walking.  Soon we came to the source of the sound. The creek had widened and gouged out a new course down the side of the mountain, carrying away rocks, uprooting trees.

“Last time I was here this was a trickle,” I said.

“Think we can get across?”

We were almost to the top of the ridge, so it didn’t make sense to turn around and go back the way we had come. I climbed up on a rock and looked for a place to cross. “How about there?” I said, pointing downstream where some fallen trees formed a makeshift bridge.

We moved down the rocky creek bank. There was more snow here, a thin coating with deeper patches here and there. The rocks on the hillside were unstable, and shifted uneasily when I stepped on them. I told myself that it didn’t matter who had learned about Becca first, now that we had both met her. Or that it shouldn’t matter. But still I was curious. “So how long?” I said.

“Only a little while,” Jake said. “I heard Mom on the phone one day when I was over there. It was soon after Becca had gotten in touch with her. She seemed upset when she hung up. I asked her what was wrong and she told me the whole thing.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It wasn’t mine to tell. But I know Mom wanted to. She just wanted to find the right time. Not have you learn accidentally, like I did.”

“Why didn’t she just tell me sometime when we were alone, like she did with you? Why spring Becca on me at a brunch?  She hardly ever even calls me.”

“She’s just trying to give you some space.”

We skirted a massive fallen tree, then angled upward to get back to the log bridge and the trail. Here the terrain was so steep there was no underbrush, no thorny bushes to impede us, and we climbed steadily. Finally we got back to the creek, and crossed it on the fallen logs.

We stopped to take another drink, then we were climbing again. Clouds moved past the sun. A chilly breeze blew and the tree branches scraped and rubbed against each other. We plunged into a pine forest. Tall trees darkened the trail, filling me a feeling of gloom.

Jake stopped. “Whoa,” he said. “What happened here?”

A section of the hillside had collapsed, leaving a steep cone of dirt and pebbles with old tree roots sticking up from it. A foot wide path was all that was left of the trail.

“Now I wish I did have my crampons,” Jake said, sizing up the narrow path. Then he shrugged and started across. I hesitated for a moment, looking for a safe place to step.

“You coming?” Jake said, and when he turned to look at me, his foot slipped off the edge. He reached for a handhold, but there was nothing to grasp on the rock wall, and he started sliding down the steep hillside. He grabbed one of the roots to stop his fall but it snapped.  He bent his knees and went down, sliding on his back to the bottom.

He landed in a tangle of rocks and fallen branches.  “Jake,” I called. “Jacob.”

His voice rose up to me. “Damn. Fuck. Son of a. . . ”

“Anything broken?” I shouted. “Are you bleeding?”

“No blood. But I wrenched my ankle. I don’t think I can climb back up.”

“Don’t move. I’m on my way.”

I went down the trail a few yards and looked for a way to climb down to him. “Don’t,” Jake called. “It’s too dangerous.”

I had only gone a few feet when I dislodged a good-sized rock, which clattered down the hillside.

There was a deathly silence after it fell. Heart racing, I called out, “Still there?”

“Yo,” came Jake’s reply. “You should probably go get some help.”

I climbed back up to stabler ground. “Can you call someone?”

“No service,” he called back up after a moment.

“I’ll be back,” I said. “Don’t get hypothermia while I’m gone.”

I went back along the trail a few yards, then climbed the steep hill and picked my way through the underbrush until I reached the top of the ridge. Here the trail descended through the gorge. It was the shortest way back.

The woods were clasped in dim light, and the temperature was dropping. I half-walked, half-ran down the trail, wishing I hadn’t left my phone in the car. But who would I call, even if I did have service? Mom? But I wouldn’t want to worry her. Becca had given me her number, but I didn’t think a forest rescue was what she had in mind.

The trail leveled off and narrowed to a thin ledge. To the left was the rocky drop-off into the stream, to the right the steep side of the mountain. A little creek splashed down the mountain, and the water had dripped onto the ledge and coated it with a thick layer of ice. Crossing it looked very risky. I could end up dashed on the rocks below. Instead I could go back up to the top of the ridge, and hike down the way we had come. But then I thought of the fallen tree I would have to get around, the make-shift log bridge to cross in the dark. Even if I could find the trail, it would be hours before I returned to Jake.

I had only taken two small steps across the ice when my feet started to slide. I held my breath, fighting for balance. Everything will be okay, I told myself, retreating. I just have to find a way to get across. Everything will be okay.  It was the same thing Jimmy told me when we were running out of money in Oakland, the same thing my mother told me when she came to visit me in the hospital when I got back to New York. I left Jimmy after we made the porno, with just enough money for the bus ride east. I felt nauseous and dizzy on the bus and blamed it on the diesel fumes and the stress of moving back home broke. But my period was late too and I thought I might be pregnant. I planned to borrow money from Elvira for an abortion.

The bleeding started in the middle of Pennsylvania. Elvira met me at Port Authority and instead of taking me to her place on Rivington Street, we took a cab to Bellevue.

It was an ectopic pregnancy, and I had to have surgery and stay in the hospital for three days. I wasn’t on the maternity ward, but on a wing with other would-be moms who had had some kind of trouble. My mother came, Jake came, Elvira. I was out of it for a day or two right after the surgery and when I came back to myself, I could hear a girl down the hall crying for her daughter. She called her name, Rosie, Rosie, Rosie, over and over all day long.

Was it like that for my mother? Did she feel that desperate and bereft when they took Becca away from her? At the time, while I was recovering, I just wanted the girl to shut up.

Kindness and generosity. And forgiveness too. I repeated the words like a mantra, the way I did when I thought about my father, who’d left us so long ago. I thought of him dropping to the ground to crawl on his belly to retrieve Jake’s baseball when it rolled under the back fence. I must have been six or seven. The army crawl, he called it, for tight places.  It was from his Vietnam days.

I lay down on my stomach and inched across the ice. When I no longer felt ice under my hands, I crawled a few more feet, then stood and walked. The trail blended in with the forest floor, disappearing and reappearing in the fading light. I forced myself to keep going.

The darkness was nearly complete now. I never even saw the second icy ledge.

 

I landed in a snowbank. I stood up carefully, and moved my arms and legs.  Nothing hurt. I brushed snow and ice and old leaves from my clothes and looked around to see where I was. I called Jake’s name, waited, called again. All I heard was the rushing of the stream. I made my way to the bank. Here there was less underbrush, and what little light was left in the sky came through the break in the trees above the stream bed.

It was too much to hope that Jake and I were at the bottom of the same ravine. I tried to picture the geography, but though I knew the trails, the map in my head was pretty fuzzy. I headed downstream for a few minutes, through a level wooded area, then back to the stream. I wandered toward the whitish glow of another snowbank. But when I came to it, I saw that it was the same one, the shape of my body still imprinted on it.

I sat down on a rock. The woods were eerily silent and black and I tried not to think about what other living things might be lurking out there in the trees.  I was starting to feel hungry, and went through my jacket pockets. Old ticket stubs, matches from a Brattleboro restaurant, tissues. I thought of brunch, of eggs beaten and baked into a crust, of warm sausages and bread and butter and strawberries.

This morning I had followed into the kitchen my mother when she returned for the bread she had forgotten. “Any other siblings out there I should know about?” I said, only half kidding. I unwrapped the stick of butter she’d set out on the counter.

She turned, holding out the bread knife. “I’m sure there are things in your life you’d like to forget. That you’re happy we’re not bringing up today.”

But you’ve always known,” I said, “and never said anything. That’s what I don’t get.”

My mother took her time arranging the slices of bread on a plate. I could tell I had wounded her though I hadn’t meant too. Finally she held the plate out to me.  It was the plate with the pinecone design that she used to serve cookies on when I was little. “Look, I’m sorry,” she said. “Can we just take it from here?”

I looked at her hand holding the plate, the familiar long fingers, the trim nails. Even the veins in her hand were familiar to me. My mother had a life before me, before Jake, before our father came and went. My mother had a Jimmy.

 

It was too cold to sit still. I had find Jake, get us out of here, call my mother, tell her I was going to look for a new job. Then I would drive up and see Jake’s new place, and together we’d go visit Becca.  And Andrew, too. Meet our new nephew.

It couldn’t have been much past six o’clock, and I could only hope that we were close to the road or the main trail that led up the gorge and that somebody, anybody, would happen by, close enough to hear us, or see us even, if we could manage to light a fire. I walked back to the stream. The moon appeared over the edge of the ravine, round and bright and so low in the sky it appeared extra large.

“Jake,” I called.

I heard a sound, a faint reply from far away that carried above the sound of the water, that might have been a squirrel or the wind moving through the trees. I went a little further along the stream and called again, then a little further.

“Lydia?” I heard my name again a few minutes later, more distinctly this time but still far away.  Jake was on the other side of the stream. I found a narrow place and tried to jump across but landed with both feet in the shallow water. I moved along the bank, water squelching from my boots, calling his name and hearing my own in reply, over and over again, until I found him.

 

 

 

 

BIO

Priscilla Mainardi attended the University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers University, where she earned an MFA in creative writing. Her work appears in numerous journals, including Pulse – Voices from the Heart of Medicine, the Examined Life Journal, and BioStories. She teaches writing at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey and serves on the editorial board of the online journal, The Intima.

 

 

 

 

0

Little Nell Answers the Bell

by James R. Kincaid

 

 

“It is not the death of Little Nell, but the life of Little Nell, that I object to.”
—K. Chesteron

 

 

“You realize, Nell, this Ohio Valley League we’re in is about as tough as they come.  You realize that?”

“I do, Coach.”

“’Ohio Valley’ sounds cozy, I know, like a mother’s arms, but it’s more like a brass-knuckles free-for-all when it’s football we’re talking about.”

“Uh-huh.”

“You realize that?”

“I do, Coach.”

“This isn’t the military, Nell; you can loosen up.  I want to get to know you a little, understand what’s driving you.”

“You mean what bats are flying in my belfry.  Why would a sane female want to play football?”

“I don’t mean to say you’re crazy.”

“What is it you want to know?”

“Why do you want to join the team?”

“Because it’s there.”

“Not bad.  OK, then, next question:  why do they call you ‘Little Nell’ at home?  I assume they do since I heard your brother yell that at you a couple of times in class.”

“That important to my football career?”

“Absolutely central.”

“I was named for my grandmother seven generations back, part of a string of Nell’s, all connected to Dickens’ famous—or was then—Little Nell.”

“I see.”

“Really?  You know about that?”

“Oh yeah, most famous child death in the century—fictional child death, I mean.  People crowded the New York docks as the packet ships came over carrying the latest serial part of The Old Curiosity Shop, calling out ‘Is Nell dead?’  Almost as if readers couldn’t wait for her to croak.  1840, around in there?”

“I’ll be damned.”

“Language, Nell!”

“Sorry.”

“That’s OK.  Didn’t think I’d know that, did you.  Took a lot of English classes in college, but I also Googled some stuff last night.  It sounded familiar, Little Nell, and there it was, all official and scholarly on Wikipedia.  Nell Trent, your name and hers.”

“And it’s been the name of all my Trent grandmas, Nell has.  Pretty goddamned corny.”

“Well, anyhow, foul mouth, tell me about football, which I don’t remember reading about in Dickens.”

“I’m fast on my feet, quick to learn, tough.  I can be the best running back you ever had.”

“Running back, huh?”

“You were expecting place-kicker, water-girl?”

“Maybe.  God, Nell, running back!  It’s not just open-field, you know, little of it is.  You go through the line, you block, you get the shit kicked out of you.  Not like you’re hefty, not at all.”

“Put me in coach!”

“Yeah, that John Fogarty song.  But it’s about baseball, where you’d not end up in seventeen different hospitals.  Look, Nell, I’m entirely open to you trying out, joining the squad.  But let’s be reasonable.”

“Just give me a chance, coach.  Don’t decide yet.”

What could he do but agree?

The physical arrangements—dressing area, showers, uniform, attitudes of the other players—were simple, simple, at least, compared to letting this little girl (and little she was) be a running back, participate in even one play at that position.  But how could he let her on the squad as a running back and not let her run a play from the backfield?  He could tell the boys on defense not to hit her hard, not to hit her at all, but word might get back to Nell, or the Title 9 people, or his own conscience.

So———————–

“You all know Nell Trent, I expect.  Here she is, anyhow, and we’re going to go through the playbook, Section 4-A and -B, with Nell at tailback.  She knows the plays, I think, and the rest of you idiots sure as hell should.  You’d better, as we have our first game in eight days.  OK, go get ‘em.  Defense, get ready.”

Section 4-A was safe enough, he figured:  passing plays where the tailback had sideline routes and some option runs, two to her, but even these allowing her to scoot wide and get her little tail out of bounds.

4-B was another matter:  off-tackle plays, a pitch-out that turned inside, some brutal blocking assignments.  Holy Hell!

But then it happened.  This kid, this Charles Dickens freak, not only could run routes faster than hell, she could somehow snake through the line and even block like nobody’s business, throwing herself at the ankles of boys double her size, getting herself upright in time to throw a second block.

No sign she was getting tired or, more important, mutilated.  More likely she’d cause serious injuries than sustain one.

Nell was the only one on the field not surprised by the way things were working out.  If anything, she was pissed at herself, disappointed in not shining more brightly, kicking ass more resoundingly.

* * *

The first game went well enough.  Nell played maybe a third of the plays on offense, Coach not entirely trusting what he’d seen in the practices, practices where Nell offered nothing but consistent evidence of being the best tailback in the conference – in any conference.

Still, he wanted to be cautious and limit the damage, if damage there were to be.  What damage there was, however, was all to the other team.  Nell not only scored a touchdown on a long run but managed to clear the way for a teammate to score another, caught two passes and completed another on an option.  Nobody on the field was playing at her level.

What choice did he have?

Nell, meanwhile, wasn’t exactly patient, willing to bide her time.  She understood well enough what the coach was doing and thinking, but it made her furious that he’d be such a candy-ass.  Smart enough, though, not to claw at him directly, she let loose on the kid she was getting used to bumping against in the huddle, the big and ungifted fullback. She knew him mostly by way of his ass, which she followed into the line on straight-ahead plays.  He wasn’t fast enough to block defenders on outside plays; the problem was keeping him from getting in the way of the ball carrier, her own self.

“That shit, that miserable shit!” she explained to DeCastro, the fullback in question.

He didn’t pretend to misunderstand:  “Yep.  Coach sucks.”

“He does that again next game, I’ll. . . .”

“Want me to talk to him?”

She was so stunned so forgot to abuse him:  “Would you do that?”

“Sure.  Why not?”

“Damn, that’s so nice of you – but no.  It’d seem like I didn’t have the balls to confront him myself.”

“OK.”

“You like football, De Castro?”  She had no idea why she was getting personal, as this blub was the last person she’d want to do that with, assuming she wanted to do it with anybody.

“No.”

“Why you here?”

“My dad.  Real boys play football, you know, like they also spit and cuss and fondle their balls.”

“You do all those things?”

“No.”

“Damn.”

“I’m lost out here, Nell.”

“On the field?”

“Yeah, on the field.  At school.  Everywhere.”

“Can I help?”

“Sure.  You’re the one who can.”

 

 

 

 

BIO

James R. Kincaid has published about forty stories and some novels: A History of the African-American People by Strom Thurmond (co-authored with Percival Everett), Lost, You Must Remember This, Wendell and Tyler (a new adult trilogy), Just Wally and Me, and Chasing Nightmares, along with a collection of short stories and a play, “The Court-Martial of Lt. Calley.” He has taught at Ohio State, Colorado, Berkeley, Southern Cal, and is now at Pitt.

 

 

 

0

Spirit Named Forest

by Marvin Rosel

 

A long time ago when father God created the spirits before He created man He saw the earth dusty and rocky. He liked what he saw but his heart wasn’t satisfied, so He created a spirit named Forest. He told Forest to cover the whole planet at the beginning of time, to turn it green and colorful and to make himself be present everywhere as a sacrifice of beauty to God who had created him. Forest did as God requested and other spirits were following Forest’s path—animals, flowers, and humans. But God told Forest there will be a time that those you give shelter, food, and resources will try to cut you down. They will put stone over you and you won’t be able to breathe anymore. They will set you on fire and water will cover you God told Forest. But yet from deep inside, Mother Earth won’t forget about you and I will tell her to turn on her fire and she will make volcanoes erupt until everything that has tried to destroy you repents. Then as a signal I will tell the  spirit of water to cover earth completely. Your beautiful spirit will rejoice that day because nothing will harm you again and it will be a new day, a new start for you Spirit named Forest because thanks to you I see life in this planet I created. Then I will be pleased said God.

 

 

 

Got You

 

It is another beautiful day in Southern California, sunny and warm, perfect weather for the people living in Los Angeles. In one of the neighborhoods of the City of Angels dreams are born like bread coming out of an oven. Raven opens her eyes and with the right purpose, she wanted the right pet so she went looking for a fish. She didn’t like the fish at the pet shops, then she went to the Los Angeles River but didn’t like how the river was. She moved on and went to the beach. She got in the water and came across a big surprise, a colorful, beautiful fish that had a sign attached to it that said “I Got You.”

 

 

 

Dancing Can

 

The sardine is trapped in the can. It moves. It shakes. It is in there. The sardine is alive. “Can you pass me the sardine can?” I asked my beautiful daughter. She screamed, “Papito, Papito, the can is alive.” I told her, “It’s okay. Just grab it and don’t be afraid.” She ran outside and told me, “No Dad, you grab the can.” I got up to look at the dancing sardine can. I grab it and open it, and the sardine jumped out. I hear the sardine singing “I’m free at last.”

 

 

 

The Language

 

There is a universal language. Can you feel it? Annie had a vision the other day and her heart felt the connection, good intentions, and a lot of love. She ought to make the vision become a reality. The Universe listens to her heart, dances with her love, adores her intention. Time passes and the Universe delivers Annie what she visualizes. She first received a lot of money, then she was put in the right places as Annie and the Universe spoke to each other. The day came when Annie finished her new musical. Annie visualized God through the Universe’s response to her. It’s good to be in LA.

 

 

 

 

 

BIO

Marvin Rosel was born in Sonsonate, El Salvador, where he lived until he was 14. His father brought him, along with his brother and sister, to South Gate, CA. He spent several years living in Miami, FL. Marvin arrived to the Skid Row community in November 2017, where he continues to write and live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

Black Velvet Elvis

by Guinotte Wise

 

The creek runs black, unfrozen, between white
snow banks, cutting a jagged tear of chiaroscuro
the dogs stop to drink and ripple the dark water
and my mind flashes back to Tulsa and falling
through thin ice in winter creek to my waist as
a boy, maybe ten, thinking I will never be this cold
again, but I was, in Aspen, skiing in a snowstorm.
I warmed in a tub in Tulsa, in a bar in Aspen near
a firepit where a black velvet painting of a Maori
tribesman caught my eye. I’d never seen that way
of painting before, then I saw Elvis everywhere.

 

 

Clouds Through Blue Plastic

 

A girl and a boy, she streaked with dirt,
he has managed to stay a bit cleaner,

and he holds the raft as if it would float
away as she pumps it up laboriously

it assumes its shape if not its calm pool
use, blue in color. She pulls the bicycle

pump needle, and caps the whooshing
airhole. It’s losing all its air he says and

frowns. She ignores him, her brother,
wonders why she thought it necessary

to include him in this project. She may
push him overboard when they reach

the pond, not on their property. They
carry the raft down the gravel road and

she can see blurred clouds through its
translucent skin. She will send him back

to get her bamboo pole and bait, shove
off without him, no doubt redfaced and

screaming, but first the pond. They lay
it over the barbed wire fence but snag

the thin balloonlike plastic and it makes
a raspberry sound at them. They walk

away, dismayed but only momentarily
defeated, leaving the limp blue flag to

catch the eyes of farmers driving by as
though it was a blue coyote skin. The

boy said, it farted. And they both laugh
so hard they hiccup and become dizzy.

 

 

Organization Man

 

Round bales lying touching side by side
wrapped in plastic look like rockets or
giant cigar tubes. The farmer who chose
this pool table flat area and made sure

they were so meticulously laid gives me
to wonder if he laughs or plays or throws
a ball for pet or son, and does he stack
the dishes neatly after eating, does he

have a pegboard with sharpy outlines in
his workshop, where tools must stay to
wait their use. Nothing wrong with being
ordered, things in their place and a place

for things, but when he’s gone and laid
to rest, will his spirit be contained or will
it bemoan the flaking barn paint and the
slightly canted shutter with a louvre out

of place? The Jimson weed that grows
undaunted, the leaning fence, the carved
arroyo deeper after every rain, gutters
full of seedlings growing vines and trees

that will reclaim the farmhouse, conceal
it from the passing view. His hands are
clasped already but are they wringing in
impatience to get things put right again?

 

 

BIO

Guinotte Wise writes and welds steel sculpture on a farm in Resume Speed, Kansas. His short story collection (Night Train, Cold Beer) won publication by a university press and enough money to fix the soffits. Four more books since. A 4-time Pushcart nominee, his fiction and poetry have been published in numerous literary journals including Atticus, The MacGuffin, Santa Fe Writers Project, Rattle and The American Journal of Poetry. His wife has an honest job in the city and drives 100 miles a day to keep it. Some work is at http://www.wisesculpture.com

 

 

 

 

0

The River Kent

by Annie Blake

 

for mein kleiner geist

 

paper is white like snow / my pen skates / scores the shine / i moved a mountain this morning / like it was running on wheels / because my five year old daughter said / look / i can now crack my own egg /

 

there was someone inside me who kept moving / i smoked a cigarette by the lake / the sun

the color of the inside of a blood orange peel / and the light of the fall / she wanted to keep trying to save kent / i held my breath / i knew dying had to do with patience / letting go of my greed

for money / when i planted my impatiens and it drowned sideways into the soil / i turned myself upright / my children were so happy / they clapped and sang like they were in a concert / saving the children of the world /

 

 

i still need to focus like the point of a spin / dive in without a splash / to retrace his old tracks / but i couldn’t suck in enough breath / showers of the holocaust / the tunnel i’m in / growl

of the sea / massa confusa / nine circles of hell / hot and spiritual / it doesn’t feel like a holy blessing /

 

i don’t want to leave men on sinking ships / children need their mothers / but if he was my son and he was all grown up /

 

i’m a gemini / twin pillars / gates of jerusalem / the east gate / jachin and boaz / promontories / there is a space on the shore where you can lie down and sunbake under its blue lights /

mountains have nipples like eyes / moist and primitive / they are still looking for something /

 

reductionists give me headaches / her voice / hollow tree / dead wood / my mouth an oval mirror  wide enough to swallow newborns / shape-shifting / inlet of her waist / the more fixed her core the more water can purpose her body / her face red / and her eyes hot and body wet in childbirth /

 

my husband shows me how to let hot water run through / till the pipes sound hollow / dirty water rises like reflux /

 

when my eyes open before dawn / i see a girl who is looking through my tallboy / i fold back

my blankets / i walk towards him / he is as tall as a man even though he is just a boy /

she said he was a hautbois / i said to her / who do you think you are / where did you come from / she continued kneeling and rummaging through my drawers like she owned them herself /

 

i told her to at least wait till i took out what i wanted / since everything belonged to me / she moved to one side / but when i searched / there was nothing there that was worth keeping / she took out all the clothes and washed them in the fireplace / bleached them till they were almost white / but i was still angry / so she put them back in my drawer / she told me to make an oboe out of all the wood / her voice was in her eyes / it came out in tufts of hair / they hurt me

like splinters of wood / she said hautbois was pitched wood or woodwind / syrinx /

 

i keep skating around on ice like my pen on paper / i have to stay in a circle

because that was one of the rules / two of my children deviated / skated through a wall

and into another room /

 

there was an underground kitchen my whole family was building / it was difficult to get into

this complex because there were skirting boards surrounding the entrance / we went down

an elevator / the kitchen could only be viewed like we were looking at it like a doll house /

it was opulent / and very expensive / we were all in a cherry picker because it was so high /

our heads were swinging and swimming like the clouds do before they break through with rain / cotton balls dipped in mud instead of chocolate / it wasn’t finished yet /

 

because idealism can never be realized /

 

i wake at five in the morning / pouring cereal like marbles into my cup / my doubts succulent

at sunset / they quaff water after a run /

 

living here is living without connective tissue / my surrogate father / hubristic like a fat balloon /  we wash our hands with spirits under the same tap / a ghost swung open the hallway doors

like the saloon doors of a country and western tavern / they told me she was curled up in a box

in the attic / or some other obscure place /

 

i broke my neck trying to wind through reeds / when i was young i thought they were weeds / i can hear a song within the ogham / crafted a flute and a whistle like the wind weaves them

for the thatching of my roof / that poke heaven / teeth through gum / she protected me

even as i dragged her around the house like a broken doll / she whines like a two year old / i have decided not to buy any more masks for my children to play with / i realized

that it was wrong of me to construct them from my own wood / i found her in a box in the attic / she was sitting in there / her legs crossed /

 

my children ask me to remember to smile when dropping them off at school / one says i look like a cross between an old man and a ghost / my other child says i’m a plum / sweet on the inside but my skin is so sour / they laugh / i frown / i say / i always smile to the children / for the grown-ups / it’s too much effort hiding what i’m really feeling /

 

a cross is hard to bear / loss pinned down with a nail on his feet / narcissistic triangulation

of families / the triangle and the trinity / hypostatic / a man with a black fencing mask is sitting fat like buddha and wrapped like an egyptian / he waits cross-legged for me /

 

i want to know the secret of nakedness and the stone soup / the girl rose and stepped up

the drawers like they were stairs / her body was blue / wings of flames / chimneys

are like cigarettes / they eventually burn out / she flew up the chimney / music of the oboe /

a channel or a river / songbird and church smoke / prima materia and flight /

au-dessus de la mêlée /

 

doors and windows can look simple / one or a hundred / zap me like static electricity / a man approached me / he said he just needed paper and spirits / i found some of my father’s whiskey and rolled up some paper / sunk it inside / message in a bottle / he gave it to me / i carried him up the drawers like i was climbing a scrubbing board / he was so heavy / his head dangled

like a newborn’s / the pain in his body made up his bones / i left him lying in the fireplace /

 

my sheer bed canopy / that reminds me how beautiful cages are not meant for birds

with wings /

 

the tiniest birds / the roundest bellies made of velvet or felt / like i dress my children’s chest /

as sticky as velcro / familiar names / i have tried so hard to forget / scare me like the groans

of planes skidding the sky when i’m supposed to feel safe in my bed / the robinia tree / the blood in rubinia and rubedo / is the most beautiful tree in my yard / but long enough to crash

into my children’s room if it falls a certain angle / my rapture in listening to what the wind

has to say is not full-bodied or pure / beauty is safety / i can never grip it for very long /

 

white journal paper / lines and snow / horizontal / snow white lies dead / horizontal like lines / schooner on a green lake when there is no smoke / she needs unity to rise to sit up like a chair /

for introspection / life and air in a glass box / holy water and fish / like saint rita in her coffin / her god gown is mystical but / i would rather sleep without it because when i sweat / my dreams are too morbid /

 

my child cries before bedtime / she said her dreams are scary because she can’t move or speak

in them / she might try to walk down the stairs and fall / i tell her i’ll come and settle her

if she cries / but she says / how will you know if you don’t hear me cry / mothers are like tooth fairies / they know how much it hurts to lose old teeth / to have a finger and money and blood

in your mouth /

 

 

i have to trust my mother / the one that’s grown with blue wings / trust she can take flight /

like airplanes flying for hours over the ocean / some birds look like fairytale animations /

i like them but i get confused / i don’t know whether these birds are made or real / they have tails / blue and precise like airplane wings / and a spoonful of sugar / marys

are always dressed in blue / she stares at me and never gives answers / i have to find the answers myself /

 

clouds pinned to wooden ceilings like cotton wood / like the overly thick eyebrows

of the president / his carrot and the stick / i’m sick of being mutually exclusive / of being patient with my legs / our feet are not a tail or wings / they tangle before i fling them into the sea /

my hand over my mouth / not to stop gulping water or to stifle a laugh / i have words that i can’t let spill /

 

i make letters from alphabet soup / anything linear and sensory that mutually exclusive people understand / they enjoy reading everything about me as long as i taste like honey /

i have a craving for sweetness / but i will never eat anything with more than eight percent sugar / i trained myself on blandness / so that i can taste hypervigilance / when everything is sweet

there’s no longer any inherent value / like sex without foreplay /

 

i walk into the bathroom and wring out the mat / i didn’t notice there was a flood / i see my shadow in the bathtub / i start panting like a hot animal / it looks like an egyptian pyramid

with long wooden legs / it’s my son / he’s sitting in a tomb or in linen / i pull up the body / i vomit skeins of threads / green and gold and a wine cork / his head is a jar / circumference

and the portal of pi / piping of the steam and the whistle of his beaks /

 

four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie /

 

 

 

 

BIO

Annie Blake is an Australian writer and divergent thinker. She is a wife and mother of five children. She started school as an EAL student and was raised and, continues to live in a multicultural and industrial location in the West of Melbourne. Her research aims to exfoliate branches of psychoanalysis and metaphysics. She is currently focusing on in medias res and arthouse writing. She enjoys semiotics and exploring the surreal and phantasmagorical nature of unconscious material. Her works are best understood when interpreting them like dreams. She is a member of the C G Jung Society of Melbourne. You can visit her on annieblakethegatherer.blogspot.com.au and https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009445206990.

 

 

 

 

0

Role Play

by Chris Fox

 

Tonight, I’m the world’s foremost lepidopterist.

You enter through the window and force me, at gunpoint,

to swallow the eggs of the dreaded Novalis Blue:

once warmed, you remind me, they’ll hatch,

larva devouring the host

from the inside-out,

replacing flesh with moonlight.

Already I feel caterpillars ripple along my bones,

diligent fingertips

translating me into Maeterlink stanzas.

Vertebrae, mushroom-pale, unbutton one by one,

my final breaths turn azure.

I am a poem in French now, metamorphosis complete.

You’ve changed into your Composer’s costume,

white wig luminous with moths.

You sit down and set my words to music,

set what’s left of me to you.

 

 

Fifty Shades of Text Me the Fuck Back

 

I’m John Cusack standing outside

the bedroom window of your cemetery,

holding up a Ouija board like it’s a boombox.

 

I haven’t heard from you in a while.

 

My bedroom is a desert island.

For companionship, I’ve drawn a face

on the coconut of my own skull.

I think you must be drinking the messages

out of all the bottles I set adrift.

 

The last four decisions I’ve made

spell out HELP when seen (and ignored)

by rescue plane buzzing overhead.

That faint rumbling beneath your feet

is the reverse-skywriter I hired,

tunneling out in cursive eight feet below the ground:

I miss you, if you’re into it.

 

 

The Furniture

 

The furniture remembers that day

Your friends hid behind it to surprise you.

That was a few years ago.

Hasn’t happened since, or at least

Not since that other person

Who often shared the couch

And the chairs

And the bed with you

Stopped coming over.

 

Another birthday.

Between the cushions of the couch you find

An impossible sixty-eight-cent coin.

A game token lost years before?

No—spare change from various places around the apartment

Congealed into a single gift.

All the furniture chipped in.

Surprise.

 

 

 

BIO

Chris Fox is a poet and librarian based out of Greensboro, NC. His work has appeared in numerous journals, including Rosebud, Treehouse Magazine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Oddball Magazine and others. His poem “You” was a runner-up for the William Stafford award, and his poem “Scorpions” was nominated for the Rhysling Award. He is currently at work putting the finishing touches on his first chapbook, “Time Travel Love Poems”.

 

 

 

 

 

0

As I Lay Scratching

by AN Block

 

 

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” I tell my probably soon-to-be-ex-wife, Mad Lee, offering her a half-empty bottle of calamine lotion and some cotton balls.

Once we communicated just through our eyes. Today, I never know which Lee I’m going to get: Silent, Dangerous, or once in a rare while now, Romantic.

She shakes her head, as though flabbergasted I’m still hanging around, snatches the peace offering, tightens her lips, and says, “Keep your distance! Asshole!”

 

Our first so-called date, wandering around campus, amounted to a procession of awkward sound bites. Hot Lee was out of my range, but she looked so eclectic to me, even with the crazy eyes and corny holiday sweater, I got goose bumps. All I knew, this girl inhabited Planet Chameleon.

The Saturday night following I bumped into Mysterious Lee prowling the shadowy lit quad in sunglasses, wielding a flash light. “My roommate’s visiting some Yalie,” she blurted out, when I waved hello. “All weekend. Shacking up.”

“Yeah? And, I just scored some killer weed,” I told her.

“I like your style,” she said.

Shortly thereafter we landed in bed, don’t even ask how, but the fact that I’d had minimal prior amatory practice, without being dead drunk, that is, came to life quickly.

“Cool it,” she told me. “I got this.”

“Go for it,” I said, keyed up to the max. “Be my guest.”

So, Inscrutable Lee placed an ancient Paul Anka 45, Tonight My Love Tonight, on the turntable, set it to automatic replay, lit a ginger-scented candle, and we just slammed away for what seemed like an hour, before crossing the finish line in tandem.

“This,” she said, “is an omen. A new all-time record.”

We high-fived.

She brought me home to meet her mother Bella, who rolled her eyes and said, “True love? I’ll believe it when I see it. You two better shit, or get off the pot.”

We eloped four months later and spent our wedding night vowing we would never-ever-ever fall into the same traps our parents did, or settle for what they settled for in life. We would escape the cycle, liberate our consciences, stay relevant and transpire through every obstacle. Pure Lee made me swear we’d add only raw unirradiated milk and brown sugar to our coffee. We’d squeeze our own OJ.

Right after which she freaked out.

“We’re twenty-one,” she said, as we whizzed through the White Mountains on our two day honeymoon. “This is insane.”

“You’ll be twenty-two in a few months,” I said.

“But I don’t know who I am yet,” Hysterical Lee told me. “What my identity is.”

Right then, glancing up at the craggy-faced stiff lipped Old Man of the Mountain, I thought, Holy fuck, Smart Lee’s right!

“Come over here,” I said though, “and let’s play house. Worse comes to worse, we get a divorce. What’s the problem?”

“I like it,” Soft Lee said. “Hey, pull over, you.”

I got paranoid someone might de-materialize, but felt so invigorized from my Perfect Lee, I thought I’d bust. Was this really happening, could something this beautiful last?

Trouble surfaced one month in. “Ooh, Lee, thank you Lee for cooking such a delicious healthy dinner,” she’d said. “Why, Russell, so considerate of you to show your appreciation,” she continued.

One might conclude that our initial utopia had worn off.

 

Now, she stands in front of me, her eyes oblique slashes. She stops tearing at the scaly skin on her arms long enough to slather on gobs of lotion.

At times like this I go for a nice easy 7 miler, and let whatever sweat I work up drip where it may, but I’m nursing an Achilles now and there’s ice on the streets, so I stand there cringing, licking my lips.

“I’m an asshole,” I start singing, basso profundo, “I’m an asshole, I’m an asshole till I die, but I’d rather be an asshole, than a drunken Theta Chi.”

“Rules have been violated,” Righteous Lee says, and she goes on in her usual inherent manner.

“Okay, stop. Sweetheart, what are we gobbling about?” I ask her. “Did I commit the unpardonable digression of mixing whites up with reds and blues again?”

“I’ve told you, don’t throw your gross scummy nauseating clothes in with mine, ever. Do yours separately, dumb-ass.”

“No disrespect,” I say, “but isn’t there something still not quite right with you, upstairs? Shouldn’t you be still seeing that counselor-in-training?”

She goes bulimic on me. “Who ran out of gas on the highway? Who drops his oily junk oozing germs everywhere, leaving a bloody mess in his wake? Who married me under false pretenses?”

“Pretenses? Did I claim I had a neat fetish? Did I promise to fit you out in jasmine?”

“You led me to believe that you’d have a real job by now. Not tending bar. The situation is not under control, okay?”

“Hey, peace, baby.”

“Ooh, Russell Stone, high scorer on the basketball team!”

“I was.”

“Woo-hoo! At some Montessori School where your teammates just circled around the court and wouldn’t shoot the ball.”

Fill in the blanks: today it’s posing I’m an athlete, yesterday it’s how bartenders are drug pushing retro-bates who’ll lie in your face. “Weasels!” she’d said. The day before, I’m a loud “party hearty” fraternity brother polluting her air space with Old Spice.

The worst is this full-blown allergic reaction Awful Lee’s developed. She’s so fair-skinned, all I have to do is brush against her and she breaks out in rashes and welts. She starts to itch. Forget an occasional kiss, if I even dare step forward she shrinks back, scratching like crazy.

I get it: she’s trying to rewire my brain to her specifications.

What I don’t know though, being stuck in this whole allergic quagmire, is it really me, or is this more just Insane Lee?

 

 

 

BIO

AN Block teaches at Boston University, is Contributing Editor at the Improper Bostonian and a Master of Wine. Recent stories have appeared in Buffalo Almanack (recipient of its Inkslinger Award for Creative Excellence), Umbrella Factory Magazine (a Pushcart Prize nominee), Lowestoft Chronicle (a Pushcart Prize nominee), Solstice, The Maine Review, The Junto, Constellations, Contrary, and several others.

 

 

 

 

0

a dream i

by Mary Kasimor

 

wind whistles
ion strands
on an existential beach

meditating in a hole
a procession of little girls
red lips with little bodies
born in wooden houses

an exit of asylum
a bee’s escape

 

 

broken light

 

morning exploded with light
over and over again
it bored me

                       the dirt sighing
intrusion encircling
and then dead
without skylight

an erased comma
                       the broken sentence

a swarm of gnats

it is beautiful circulating
apples
there is still night in my eyes

 

 

a short history of water

 

in hollow water
light is the exception

and falls from the wall
holes in a bottle

the dark wood
door shut

in the white boned afternoon
oh to be so clean and calm

with no expectations
bleaching the air

 

 

in strip malls

 

there are no poets in hell
but poetry in strip malls exist
in solid matter
there is plenty to go around
and now you are folding into words
i am almost missing you
along with my assorted lost socks
i can’t lose myself by simply
taking off my clothes
lost in the curves
hips settle into greed
the world is stoned by shadows
and they fall like plums
metal tenderness fixes everything
but she said “give me another daughter”
the crows picked out her eyes
hanging out to dry heavier than voices
in straight lines there is no limit to madness
cover your ears as you drown
cover the storm with your tracks
exiting through your mouths
in broken fields

 

 

BIO

Mary Kasimor has been writing poetry for many years. Her recent poetry collections are The Landfill Dancers (BlazeVox Books 2014), Saint Pink (Moria Books 2015), The Prometheus Collage (Locofo Press 2017), and Nature Store (Dancing Girl Press 2017).

 

 

 

0

Herman Loves Brooke

By Anthony J. Mohr

 

 

Tonight, Herman likes what he wrote. His head rests in his hands; his fingers reach up to what’s left of his hairline before they massage their way to his temple, then down the pale cheeks to the stubble on his neck. Even though the window of Herman’s apartment is open to the marine layer that makes summer nights in L.A. so blessedly cool, he sweats, for he is gazing at Brooke’s yearbook picture.

Herman feasts on her dimples, her eyes, the bangs across her forehead. He turns to her signature, Brooke Day Lord, sloping upward in the brisk penmanship of a seventeen year-old who revels in the adoration of her peers and the love of both parents. Nothing more than her signature appears in Herman’s yearbook, not even “Good luck.”

To other classmates Brooke wrote much more. Herman has a list, taped to the wall, of her send-offs. “Loved your parties.” “Remember the dancing Sunflowers.” “I’ll never forget that concert.” And she signed every one, “Love, Brooke.”

Then there’s what Brooke wrote to Matt Harper, about the grunions. They really exist, those little fish who ride in on the waves at night to spawn on the beach. Ask anyone who lives in Southern California. Grunion hunts make Herman recall how, when they were seniors, Matt Harper snatched away Herman’s chance with Brooke, snatched her thanks to call waiting, eight minutes into Herman’s only phone conversation with her. She had asked Herman to call back. He’d tried for two hours, but this time she had ignored the call waiting signal. That Friday night Matt had taken Brooke to the football game, and eight months later, to the senior prom. Herman had watched them dance, had gaped at them until his date got angry and went home. Matt Harper is now married to a ditz named Amber, but she is a friendly ditz, and when they happened to meet four years ago, Amber  had actually invited Herman to dinner. Herman accepted so he could employ the tactic he’d used with so many other classmates: ease the conversation into their high school days and keep evoking memories until Matt had suggested they browse through his yearbook. When they reached Brooke’s photo, Herman memorized as much of her message to Matt as he could. Moments after Matt turned the page, Herman had excused himself and gone to the bathroom, where, fighting back tears, he wrote down every word he recalled.

Herman knows he is not a stalker. Others may think him dim, but Herman is smart. Indeed, Herman can be brilliant when the topic interests him, and Brooke has enthralled Herman since they’d met in English class. A normal person would have banished her to the edge of memory. But Herman is not normal. No, that is not true. It is Brooke who’s not normal. She is charming, gorgeous, always talking with someone or laughing at something. How could anyone find comfort with another girl after meeting Brooke? Despite the years that have passed since graduation, as he did in school, Herman loves Brooke.

Herman’s plan is to make Brooke come to him. Yes, he will write to her, and his missive will be long, so long that everyone, including Brooke, will call it a novel, but every word in Herman’s novel will call to Brooke Day Lord. Brooke won’t realize what Herman has done. She will hear that an old classmate wrote a book, and—Herman prays —she’ll read it. Once she starts turning his pages, Brooke will realize that everything Herman says resonates with her. Herman will offer her prose carefully culled, at times from Brooke’s own words, so that Brooke will conclude that Herman understands her so completely she will want to know him once more, this time forever. Brooke will never learn Herman’s plan, for he has not approached her since high school. Of course Herman has dated since then. One girl snorted instead of laughed. Another swore too much and prefaced her sentences with “you know.” A third couldn’t stop saying “awesome.”  Worse, none of these women liked to read. Can you blame Herman for remaining faithful to Brooke? In her senior sketch, Brooke had confessed a passion for fiction, and mutual acquaintances tell him that Brooke still devours novels. If Herman can write a novel that sells, it will get into Brooke’s lovely hands.

 

Herman reflects on the progress of his plan. First he learned to write, a feat that should stun his teachers, should they read his novel. Ms. Skovern gave him a B in English but called his work insipid. Brooke got an A in that class and went on to an elite New England college where her degree in English came with a Phi Beta Kappa key. Herman matriculated to the local community campus, where they taught him to write business memos. Since then Herman has spent many dollars to develop a voice that calls to the world, not just to the insurance company where he works as an adjuster. First came the extension classes; next, the workshops:  Aspen, Breadloaf, Sewanee. Tin House, Kenyon, Squaw Valley. Within two years Herman had become such a fixture at these gatherings that many attendees were greeting him by name.

Herman has absorbed Steinbeck and Styron, Cheever and Roth. He writes constantly, to the point that more than one instructor gently suggested that “there is nothing more I can teach you.” That was the signal to enter Phase Two, during which Herman generated words about Brooke, at sunrise and at two in the morning, words about her body and her hobbies, her pet sayings and favorite movies, palaver at first, but turning sharper not only with practice, but data mined from Google and Lexis/Nexis. Some of his information came from beefy investigators working out of dumpy offices, happy to pocket a C-note for a couple of hours’ effort. And when Herman stumbled upon former classmates, he asked them about Brooke, always making sure to focus his inquiries on someone else—have you seen Amanda Bramalea? What’s new with her?—and then, as an aside, toss in a question about Brooke. Eventually Amanda Bramalea sent Herman a polite e-mail asking him to stop spying on her. He told the bitch he would—why risk trouble?—and switched the focus of his inquires to another girl until, seven months later, she too had called to protest. Herman never cared. He and Brooke hardly talked in high school, but now, trait by trait he was discovering what to write to convince Brooke Day Lord to link her life with Herman Blix.

He knows so much about Brooke now. When a dollop of information arrives, it goes into a file consisting of notes, some typed, some scrawled, but each a window onto the girl. Many of Herman’s finds are thumb-tacked across the wall above his computer. Almost three hundred identifiers—Herman’s word for them—are ready to make their way into his text. In high school Brooke liked Mustangs; now she drives a BMW. She once invited her friends to a lunar eclipse party that started at midnight. Her parents took her to Café Swiss for her fifteenth birthday. Taped to the opposite wall are articles—chiefly from their high school newspaper and a few from her college—that mention Brooke. Naturally her senior profile is there. Beside it is a photo of the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor in Honolulu, taken from a room on the twentieth floor at the Ilikai Hotel, the exact suite where Brooke and her parents once stayed. Below it is Brooke’s wish list from Amazon.com, featuring Above Hawaii and collections of works by Picasso and Miro.  She also wants Ann Patchett’s next novel, anything by Mark Twain, and several CDs.  (Among them, three Billie Holiday albums and Fetes from Nocturnes by Debussy.)  Thanks to his investigator, Herman possesses her handwritten voter registration form and a car loan application. Next to them is the report from a handwriting analyst: The tail on her y swings back, making her “clannish.” Her self-esteem is strong because she crosses her t’s at the top of the stems. Brooke has high ideals and aspirations; look at the height of her f’s. Farther to the right hangs one of Herman’s prize catches: a copy of a paper Brooke wrote for a college English class. Some Internet bulletin board had contained a statement that her professor returned student essays by leaving them in alphabetized slots outside his office. A hundred dollar payment to a friend’s cousin back east had convinced a townie to go there early in the morning, filch the paper, make a copy, and replace it before Brooke showed up. That essay contains golden nuggets that Herman can sprinkle throughout his book.

And the two have so much in common. They like orange juice. They don’t like scallops. They don’t like Snapchat. They use initials in their email addresses. They share the same birthday month. Their mothers play bridge.

Herman relishes weaving these snippets into his plot, every word of which arrows toward Brooke. Once, during Christmas vacation, Brooke sat on her date’s glasses. The first time Brooke kissed a boy, KOST-FM was playing Al Stewart’s Time Passages.  That one hurts, but to succeed, Herman must employ such details for his project.

 

Herman’s iPod plays a suite of hits from his senior year, the last time he was near Brooke, even though they walked the halls in opposite directions. The music drives him forward, typing ever faster until his fingers produce a mash of letters on the screen. Sheryl Crow sings, “All I Wanna Do,” and Herman’s head sways. “At least you had fun, and that’s what counts,” Brooke told Herman when he awkwardly described a party to her. Herman inserts the quote at a strategic plot point. Cruisin’ by Booker T & the MG’s blasts into his ears, and he patterns a paragraph’s cadence after that instrumental.

He stops drinking his Pepsi when the iTunes queue plays Sting’s If I Ever Lose My Faith in You. Herman types to the tune. He must retain some faith in Brooke for him to pursue this project, mustn’t he? Four songs later, at two A.M., Whitney Houston belts, “I Will Always Love You.” “I will always love you, Brooke,” Herman whispers after he backs up his chapter.

 

Work is sludge-slow the following morning. Telling his supervisor he must visit a hospital to interview a man who was hurt in a fall, Herman leaves his cubicle and drives his Toyota Camry to 2517 La Presa Drive, the house where Brooke lived as a teenager. The new owner is demolishing it next week, and Herman wants a final look. Herman breaks the lock with a hammer brought along for that purpose. As he suspected, the bolt is old and weak. No one will care; they’re tearing the place down. The interior offers bare walls in bad need of paint. No matter. Herman photographs it all, fills a memory chip with pictures of the house—even the closets. Herman is proud of his imagination. He has already guessed the layout, admittedly with the help of Google Earth and drive-bys. He happily realizes that only minor revisions will be needed to the scenes that take place in her high school home. But now he can add more details that Brooke will recognize: the step down into the living room, the view from what must have been Brooke’s bedroom into a back yard full of flowers, citrus trees, and the swimming pool.

Herman resumes writing the moment he returns home. Dinner consists of a bologna sandwich, consumed between key strokes. Tonight Herman focuses on Brooke’s early years. Obviously, he has copies of her birth certificate as well as her parents’ birth certificates and marriage licenses. He has found a blog about parental traits that produce model offspring, and he creates characters based on that information. The mother has no job, although before getting married she worked in New York for a fashion magazine.  Her father is a judge, which immunizes him from the pressures of business and frees him to spend time with his child. Mom and Dad are fair, affectionate. Neither parent ever spanked Brooke. Her parents are inseparable, for only a storybook marriage can produce such a happy girl.

Herman knows less about the grandparents. He re-reads their birth certificates and marriage licenses and goes on-line to verify that they are still—my God! Coleman Day died last week at the age of ninety-three. Natural causes, it says. The brief obituary serves up four identifiers: Brooke’s grandfather graduated from Syracuse, owned a chain of hardware stores, enjoyed playing the trombone, and saw action on Okinawa. “He is survived by his wife Martha, his daughter Marian, son Leon, and his granddaughter Brooke Day Lord. Services will be private.”

Herman kills off one of Brooke’s grandfathers. Beat up your characters, they told him in his writing classes, and be merciless about it. It pains him to expose Brooke to tragedy, even in fantasy, but Herman must touch her, and what better way than by taking her alter ego through a loss that, when Brooke reads the book, will be relatively recent? Herman debates between a heart attack and a lingering death. Which hurts more? Sudden death. He won’t let Brooke say good-bye. And then comes one of those moments when Herman just knows that he’s connecting with her. He writes furiously about how Coleman used to tickle Brooke. “She laughed so easily.” Herman knows Brooke seldom played with dolls, and he has Grandpa Coleman ask her why. “‘They’re for lonely people,’ Brooke said.”  Herman pauses to consult an identifier before moving on. “That night,” he writes, “Coleman told Brooke a story about a Princess and her invisible monkey who lived in the castle. One day the monkey ran away.” Herman describes how everyone in the kingdom searched for the creature. “Brooke clapped her hands when they found it, because even though no one ever saw it, the subjects knew that the invisible monkey made them happy.” Herman checks another identifier to confirm that she called Coleman “Papa,” and then Herman takes off again, fingers flying over the keys. “’Papa,’ Brooke said in a serious voice. ‘There’s no such thing as an invisible monkey. You made that up.’” When Coleman admits he did, Brooke hugs him and says, “’Now I know how to tell a story.’”  Finally—he can do it because he is writing a novel—Herman shifts into the grandfather’s point of view for the departure scene:

“After dinner you asked how you could become a princess. Something I ate did not agree with me and I asked if you could wait until tomorrow night for the answer. Sure, you said so lovingly. Brooke, I died that night, quietly, without kissing you goodbye. I heard you at my funeral saying that now you will never know how to become a princess, but you know that stories can make you happy. Brooke, that is the only time I remember you not smiling.”

 

Two nights later Herman invents a high school boyfriend and names him Harold. (Herman refuses to give the character one of those alpha male names like Rod or Brett.) Harold resembles Herman. This part is tricky, but Herman blends a few of Matt Harper’s qualities into Harold’s psyche, not many, just enough to increase the chance that Brooke will be drawn to the character. Herman has thought clearly about this and realizes that Matt Harper has more, well, life skills than Herman. But Herman can learn. By the time the book appears and Brooke reads it, Herman hopes to possess many of the qualities he gives Harold. Harold is the man to whom she will become engaged in the final chapter.  But first he must keep them apart through college, dialing down their relationship to occasional dates when they come home for the holidays. Harold must suffer through their Diaspora: “Harold broke free from his fraternity brothers just before one vomited on the slobbering babe who was next to him, grinding hard. Reeling up the stairs to his room, Harold staggered to his desk where he opened the yearbook and read, once more, what Brooke had written on graduation day:  

Herman reaches for his identifiers. He spends an hour blending her farewell messages, and every word that emerges belongs to Brooke:

Dearest Harold,

Remember me in your lifeRemember the good times, the parties, talks, midnight swims, papers, parents, teachers, tests, grunion runs, fun, dancing, birthdays, concerts, roses, roses, roses, roses, and sunflowers! Remember them all, and remember me.

Love and love,

Brooke”

 

A hard Santa Ana wind blows the following night, but the whoosh against his window doesn’t faze Herman, for somewhere in France’s Languedoc region, Brooke skips through a field, holding hands with her European boyfriend—an Olympic ski hopeful with a diplomat for a father. He presents her with a rose and a kiss. Is Brooke vacationing or studying in Europe? Both. She’s spending a year in Florence. Where is Harold? At home that summer, missing Brooke. Beat up your characters. Harold works at a wastewater treatment plant where only the thought of Brooke allows him to survive “the acrid, putrid stench that pierced the deepest recesses of his being.”

The wind abates moments before Herman finishes the chapter and withdraws a piece of apple pie from the refrigerator. Another hour and the street sweeper will appear in a snub-nosed truck that hisses as it moves. Herman’s iPod is not playing tonight because he preferred an easy listening station, thinking it would help him write the sunflower scene. It did, but now the music makes Herman reach for the phone and dial the first four digits of Brooke’s phone number before replacing the receiver.

“It’s 63 KBDeegrees in the Southland,” the disc jockey says. “You heard Ten Sleep perform a cut off their Woodwind album. Just got a call from Daryl in Santa Monica. Says he wants to thank us for playing Ten Sleep because it gave him the nerve to propose to Carla. And Carla said yes. Congratulations, Daryl and Carla. Now if any of you want to call in and dedicate your favorite love song to someone special, the request line is open. Call 323-KBD-HITS. That’s 523-HITS. Our music may change your life as well.”

Herman telephones the station and somehow gets through. He knows that Brooke does not have a favorite love song, so he asks the request line operator to pick something heartfelt to dedicate to her. He gives his name as Harold, for his plan could be in jeopardy if Brooke learns of his love too soon.

“You sound like you really care about her,” the receptionist says in a sympathetic voice.
“Yes,” comes Herman’s instant reply, and he adds, “I love Brooke.” Herman has whispered that sentence so often in the dark, but until this moment, no one has heard it.  His eyes turn moist. To Herman, Brooke is there, her perfect head resting on his shoulder.
“We’ll get it right on for you. I have a good feeling about you and Brooke.”
Whoever answered that phone keeps her word. “We just got a call from Harold, in Tarzana. He wants to dedicate a special song to Brooke. Are you listening, Brooke?  Because I think Harold loves you. Here it is, for you, Brooke. Harold’s a good man.  Don’t let him get away.”

The DJ plays the Luther VanDross version of Superstar. Herman stares vacantly across the room at the window through which only inky black is visible. He wonders if Brooke is listening. Is she with anybody tonight? She must be, even though last week Herman confirmed that Brooke is still single. Tears drop from Herman’s eyes, and he doesn’t bother to wipe them away. The music transports him to a beach on a night when  every inbound wave shimmers with grunions en route to the sand where they will lay their eggs and try their best to escape Herman and Brooke’s laughing attempts to catch them. She was supposed to be his girlfriend. If Matt Harper had waited one more minute before poaching on their phone call, Brooke would have hunted grunions with Herman, not Matt. She actually had asked him to take her come the summer. Since their phone call had occurred on October 10 (Herman still has that year’s calendar with October 10 circled), Brooke was asking for a date eight months hence, a date to spend hours with Herman in the dark, waiting for the grunions to arrive. In what would have been one of the few suave remarks Herman ever made in high school, he was about to reply, “You’re on, Brooke. How’s June 29? But I hope I get to see you before then.” But he never uttered those words, because Brooke had suddenly said she had another call, the call from Matt Harper.

Finally, Herman is ready to write about the grunion hunt that should have been theirs. Once he does, his first draft will be complete, ready for editing. Before starting that chapter, however, Herman must make certain preparations. He’ll begin tomorrow. He has saved enough money.

 

He calls in sick. Then, armed with a copy of the Times’ real estate section, Herman drives to Sunnyvale, the neighborhood where Brooke lives. His chest tightens as he turns onto Starlight Drive, Brooke’s street, a lane graced by eucalyptus trees. Herman avoids the urge to pass by her off-white cottage with its red shutters and roses in the yard. He has enough pictures of it. Instead he turns onto Jupiter Way, where he spots the house for rent. It is the closest available dwelling to Brooke’s, but its address is 12874, and Brooke once swore she would never live at an address with five numbers, so neither will Herman. Slightly farther away is a stucco duplex at 1103 Neptune Drive. From the roof, he can see Brooke’s chimney. He puts down a month’s rent. Being this close, Herman ardently hopes, will provide added inspiration as he writes the grunion scene and polishes his manuscript.

 

Nightfall. Tired after transporting his computer and reassembling his identifiers on the walls, Herman faces the empty screen. No words come. He climbs to the roof, where he sees Brooke’s chimney etched against golden moonlight. Still no words. Herman walks the neighborhood, as near to her house as he dares, and he lingers there until words emerge from wherever in his brain they slumber. Repeating the nascent phrases under his breath, he races back to his keyboard. Tonight, yards from where Brooke sleeps, Herman finishes that phone conversation, and his alter-ego Harold drives to the beach with Brooke.

Herman writes furiously without making a sound except for one “oh shit” when he accidentally deletes a phrase. Harold’s meeting Brooke’s parents in the foyer, the small talk Brooke and Harold share en route to the beach, the taste of the roast beef sandwiches Brooke made for their picnic—Herman piles on the identifiers. As they eat the carrots and celery she packed, Brooke and Harold talk of English class and Student Council, of ball games and algebra. After finishing Brooke’s chocolate chip cookies, they saunter along the beach, holding hands until the waves turn silver with grunion and Brooke runs toward the water. Herman peppers his prose with her trademark shrieks: “Neat,” as she sees the fish riding in on the waves, “Ick,” when she tries to pick one off the sand. Even when his iPod runs out of tunes, Herman does not stop typing. He hears no sound now except the tap-tap of fingers on keys. When the street sweeper whines past at three-thirty A.M., Herman doesn’t pause to look. Although the grunion run is over, the couple is not ready to drive home. They sit quietly in Harold’s Mustang, conversing through the night, listening to the surf, until Brooke announces that recently, a friend taught her to play the harmonica. The moment Harold says he would like to hear a song, she withdraws the  instrument from her purse and launches into Row Row Row Your Boat. Then Harold accepts her invitation to play, but he never makes it to the first merrily. After he blows  futile air, Brooke musses his hair and says he’s “cute.” He gives her back the harmonica, their hands touch, and then their fingers interlock. Neither speaks. Brooke and Harold are about to experience a sunrise, and so is Herman, who drips with sweat. His stubby fingers start missing keys at the same time that Harold’s fingers caress Brooke’s cheek. Herman has injected every joule of energy he possesses into this fictive moment. The lingering kiss at dawn, written the moment the sun illuminates Brooke’s chimney, makes Herman shiver, as does Harold when Brooke purrs, “That’s so good.”

 

On the day his lease at Neptune Drive ends, Herman finishes the book. Writing with Brooke nearby has yielded spectacular results, impelling Herman to hone his prose beyond what he believed his abilities allowed. Now, his last night near Brooke, one task remains before he performs the final spell-check and the final back-up. He needs to change Brooke’s name. To have done so earlier would have eliminated the impact that typing her name has had on him. Slowly, fighting his fingers which drag on the mouse pad, he slides the cursor up and left to the Edit prompt and clicks. The word “Find” appears. Another click. “Find what:” “Brooke,” Herman types. He feels unfaithful to her, but he must continue. Click number three: “Replace.” Up comes “Replace with:” Herman pauses. He is certain he’d feel just as nauseous if he were about to knife Brooke. “Do it,” he calls out and forces his fingers to type—he’s struggled for months to pick a name—“Jennifer.” Herman exhales before forcing his cursor to the “Replace All” tab. He grips his mouse harder. Press, and Brooke disappears from his book. “Darling, I didn’t want to hurt you,” Herman says aloud after he absorbs the message on his monitor: “Word has completed its search of the document and has made 1,104 replacements.” One more global search and replace, and Brooke Day Lord becomes Jennifer duPaige.

Tomorrow he will begin the hunt for a publisher. He knows it will take time, and he expects rejections. Charlotte Bronte, Agatha Christie, James Joyce. They all were turned down. Herman will be patient and persistent, and if he fails to place his novel, he will  publish it himself and seed every bookstore in Sunnyvale with copies. If he must, he’ll pay the merchants to display them. To place a copy before Brooke’s green eyes—Herman asks for nothing more.

 

The creamy white envelope jiggles between Herman’s fingers until he mangles it open and withdraws the check, a small advance but high for this little publishing house that Herman found on the Internet. But after months of queries and form letters saying no, Herman feels too shocked to scream, and he feels too good to cry. Wanting to do something besides stare at the draft, Herman bolts from his apartment and drives out to Brooke’s neighborhood, where he navigates his Camry along a route that resembles a comet’s elliptical orbit, streaming in from afar to approach but not touch Brooke’s Starlight Drive home before retreating into the cosmos via Moonridge Way and out to Morningstar Avenue until it intersects with Aurora, and Herman can retrace his orbit once more. As he drives, Herman ponders the effect his novel will have on Brooke. Will she reach for the phone or e-mail him? Will she suggest a grunion hunt or coffee? His book should appear in April, cool for the California beaches but a month into grunion season. They’ll meet at Starbucks, the one off the Coast Highway, a mile from her house, where they will giggle together as they plan their belated grunion hunt. Brooke will pack a picnic dinner, and Herman will find the best place to encounter those delightful little fish.

 

Herman remains disappointed that Brooke did not attend the launch party, held, at his insistence, in a book store near her home, even though within days his work is galloping up Amazon.com’s list. Reviewers warmly welcome him as a “new voice, mature beyond his twenty-nine years.” The publisher’s Monday morning flash reports stagger Herman. Several weeks later, his editor calls with the formal announcement: Herman has written a best-seller. The author manages to whisper thank you before stumbling to his couch where he lies torpid for the rest of the day, watching Brooke against his closed eyelids as she reads his pages and emits dainty gasps. Images of Brooke’s “aha” response remain with Herman for weeks, through speaking engagements in bookstores stocked with comely women who stroke their hair and try to flirt with Herman while he autographs their volumes. They want you, the Denver store manager says with a trace of envy. They think Harold is you. Harold is so caring, so devoted to Jennifer. Harold is a SNAG—sensitive new age guy. That’s you, Herman. But Herman remains expressionless as he signs his name, politely accepts the business cards women hand him, and sleeps with none of them, doesn’t even fantasize about them. Instead Herman repairs to his room in whatever hotel his publisher has ensconced him in whatever city he is visiting, and wonders if Brooke will contact him tomorrow. It’s been weeks since the publication date. Surely tomorrow an e-mail from Brooke will appear on his screen. Surely tomorrow.

But tomorrow does not bring Brooke Day Lord. Instead a studio executive calls, and a week later, when Herman enters the patio at The Ivy, the executive actually turns off his iPhone and exclaims that Lamm Brown has agreed to play the part of Harold. Dude, that’s huge. He’s got two Oscars. And we’re casting Alexandra Fields as Jennifer. She loved your book. Dude, she’s single. You hear what I’m saying? Now have your people call so we can make a deal. Herman hears but does not taste as he swallows his young greens. En route to the bathroom, he surveys the patio, for he knows that Brooke frequents this restaurant.

 

Herman misses it when he checks his e-mails the next morning. The suite of fan messages is especially long and he does not notice the initials “bdl.” Only later when he scans the list again does Herman see, in the “subject” column, “Congratulations from Brooke Day Lord.” Herman’s trembling hand cannot control his mouse. The cursor resembles a seismograph as it whips down the screen. If this is what he thinks it is, he is poised to embark on a new life. They will have so much to talk about, so much to do. And they’re still young, their lives ahead. Herman allows himself a two-second smile before his mood plunges and he wonders if he can hold Brooke’s interest through even one date. It took over a decade to craft the precise phrases that, he finally knows, have touched her. He won’t have time to do that during their first dinner, let alone across the rest of his life. Herman tries to reassure himself. Brooke has written. He has won her. With that thought, Herman double-clicks Brooke’s e-mail. Her words burst onto the screen, and Herman immediately hits the print key, fearful that a computer malfunction will make her precious electrons scatter. Only when he holds the hard copy in his hand does Herman stop shaking enough to be able to read:

“Congratulations on your book. It’s good to see a classmate doing well. Sincerely, Brooke”

Herman dives for the landline. He will not risk a dropped call by using his cell phone.

 

As his fingers race across the keyboard, Herman occasionally pauses to fork a dollop of apple pie into his mouth, eating it slowly, getting all the juices. He finishes his treat moments before the street sweeper arrives. It comes earlier here on Jupiter Court. The advance for his second book has enabled Herman to buy a house on this Sunnyvale street, less than a quarter mile from where Brooke lives. He sits there now, in his capacious writing space above the three car garage that contains Herman’s new BMW, the same model as Brooke’s. Taped to the left of Herman’s monitor is Brooke’s e-mail. He needs her inspiration. The sequel is harder to write, because his first cry to Brooke consumed Herman’s choicest identifiers, forcing him to rely on anecdotes he initially rejected. Oh, he can re-use some of her key speech patterns, but now Herman has to mine deeper for prose that will summon Brooke into his arms. Fortunately, the royalties permit him to hire a better investigator.

Whenever Herman becomes too tired to write, he estimates the weeks it will take to finish his book, the months before it’s published, and the date Herman might hear again from Brooke. At least a year and a half, more likely two years. Herman and Brooke will have entered their thirties, still time to start a family, still young enough to have fun. Herman remains optimistic. Brooke is still single. And did she not contact him? Yes, but when he phoned and left a message on her voicemail (“Hi, Brooke, this is Herman Blix. I really appreciated your e-mail and would love to talk to you.”), she didn’t call back. She also  ignored his second call. Is his Brooke that shy? He knows he can get her to come, this time to stay. And they’ll go grunion hunting. They will pick a silky night and pack a picnic and….

Stop daydreaming, Herman commands himself. Finish the book. Herman’s fingers take off again, tapping tapping tapping on the keys, reaching for the words that will make Brooke seek him once more.

 

He notices the e-mail three nights later only because he recognizes the name: Amanda.Bramalea@carefree.net. Even then Herman delays reading the message until his creative energy wanes, which tonight does not occur until three A.M.

“Oh my dearest Herman,

I am stunned at the way your book touched me. You kept me up all night, which is amazing because, as your character Jennifer says, sleeping is one of my favorite pastimes. When I finished, there were tears in my eyes and a smile on my lips. 

Herman, I am so sorry I suspected your motives last year. If only I had realized how you felt about me. I sensed you next to me turning the pages, saying all the right words. You know me so well, but how can that be?  We hardly talked to each other in school. I had no idea you were so perceptive. How did you learn about me and roses and sunflowers? I love them and love them. And calling Jennifer The Cat. I always wanted that nickname in school, but that flit Brooke Day Lord got it because she had green eyes. And she was allergic to cats. Fred, my little kitty, has blue eyes, just like mine.  Had I known what you were really like back thenoh well, that opportunity has passed. But has it really? We’re still young, aren’t we? If sixty is the new forty, our twenty-nine has to be the new fourteen. Okay, seventeen. That means we’re still kids. Herman, let’s be kids together. It’s fun to be a kid, isn’t it? Oh listen to me, so forward. What I mean is, let’s spend time together, while we’re twenty-nine and carefree. Let’s pick a night when the grunion are running. Do you have any idea how few people have ever seen a grunion run? You and I know that those fish are not mythical creatures. We’ve actually seen them, and it would be magical to be by your side the next time I watch a grunion ride in on a wave. If you will indulge me, I have to tell you about my last grunion hunt. It was in June after we graduated, and I was with Justin. I had packed a picnic dinner, and we drove down to the beach….”

To read the rest of Amanda’s e-mail, Herman must scroll down. He does not. He deletes it after scribbling the new identifier and taping it to his wall. Brooke is allergic to cats.  Herman did not know that until now.

 

BIO

Anthony J. Mohr’s work has appeared or is upcoming in, among other places, DIAGRAM, Eclectica, Evening Street Review, Hippocampus Magazine, North Dakota Quarterly, Saint Ann’s Review, War, Literature & The Arts, and ZYZZYVA. He has been anthologized in California Prose Directory (2013), Golden State 2017, and elsewhere. His work has received five Pushcart Prize nominations. He is an associate editor of Fifth Wednesday Journal. Once upon a time, he was a member of the LA Connection, an improv theater group.

 

 

 

 

“Herman Loves Brooke” originally appeared in the May 2008 issue of Word Riot.

 

 

 

 

0

Listening to the Voice

by Eve Dobbins

 

I can draw her portrait without looking at her picture: slight of build, ethereal with a wide smile and enormous dreamy eyes.  She was the type of friend you wanted when you read Nancy Drew mysteries.  An idealist with everything to look forward to and of the same fiber you recognized that you possessed but somehow you managed to escape whole entering adulthood and she didn’t.  Right now, she should be in University studying medical science or forensics.  That is how you see her but that is not how her future played out.

How both of you grew up is different:  she was surrounded by an urban environment living on the outskirts in suburbia which is supposed to be “safe” protecting her from what happened.  You grew up in an agrarian area where your nearest neighbor was 2 miles away located up the big hill on your way to Youngsville.  Gladys Connelly, who used to spy on you and your unusual family, relocating from New York City to the Catskills, Your small “ville” was once part of a makeover on a reality TV show because of its quaintness and a step back in time.  Her suburb, Brandon, just outside of the enormous metropolitan area connected to Tampa is often referred to on America’s Most Wanted and other odd incidents that happen.  Many tourists and snowbirds visit this area.  Gladys Connelly and the others who made up your small community may have kept you safe with their gossip held carefully and listened to as the telephone game was played in your small community, “Have you heard….” or “Did you notice…” Maybe it was your sixth sense as you grew older which kept you safe as your Irish mom believed.

Remember that time with the French Club on tour in Montreal and you were alone when a strange man approached and tried to befriend you.  You were 19 but your sense of something not right took over and you moved away eager to join up with the other French club members.  She was 17 years old and attacked outside of the Bloomingdale Library in quiet suburbia.  It was dusk and I often imagine the conversation she might have been having with herself when she may have noticed him.  A strange young man in his late teens sitting outside on the library bench watching her.  So, she calls her friend with her cell phone and proceeds to chat easily while dropping her library books in the book drop.  The library is set off from the road in a wooded area and it is a Sunday, but she can see the road from a distance and she hears traffic.  She feels very safe and I imagine, she wants to complete #2 o her list:  return her library books.  Those library books, fiction or non-fiction, did she imagine that one day her story would be included in the news.  So, she leaves her car running and the door open with the keys in the ignition.  It is the end of her junior year and summer vacation has arrived.  She is thinking of next year:  college applications and the road to her future.  I imagine she feels very safe and invincible but he is watching and her intuition has no voice.  Or maybe it does, but she disregards it.

The drop box is right there but as she reaches it, he rushes toward her and proceeds to hit her violently beating her until she is worn down.  Her friend on the phone hears the screams and the phone drops.  She repeats her friend’s name and there is no answer.  Desperately, she calls out her name again and then rushes toward the door with her car keys only to remember she has no idea where her friend is calling from.  Eventually, they will find her battered body badly damaged.  She will require surgery and will never be the same.  Senior year, college, career will be put on hold but the young man who attacked her is caught.  Both lived in same neighborhood and most likely attended the same schools but the schools and classes are very big in this suburb, so it is likely that they did not meet one another.  The lawyer’s defense is that his client is mentally handicapped and has no idea of what he did while she lays in a coma in a hospital bed, her pretty face marred and the doctors uncertain whether she is brain damaged.  His attorney states his client never had a chance and reminds the jury that the glass was always “half-full” for him growing up with a single mom and an abusive father.  But the jury sees the same truth portrayed by the TV stations, media, etc.  They convict him and he is sentenced to prison for many years while her friends and family rally around her encouraging her.  Progress is very slow as her body and mind are damaged. The attack left her unable to walk, talk, see or eat on her own. She had limited movement. It was a very brutal crime. Maybe he should stay in jail until she walks again.  He was scheduled for 65 years in prison for two attacks.

There are very bad things out there.  What can we tell our children to help them emerge from childhood to adulthood? We can share with them that sometimes the power of fear and the intuition is a tool.  We can tell them to listen to their intuition … that sometimes the glass is not full for others … sometimes it takes years of living, time and experience to know when to heed your intuition or listen to your instincts.  We can’t put away all the bad things out there but we can make them realize that we want our children to reach adulthood and no, we are not overreacting.  Walk away if something makes you feel bad.  Ignore that to do list. Listen to your gut.

 

 

BIO

Eve Dobbins was born in New York City and raised in a small town located in the Catskill Mountains where everyone knew your name. After graduating from Stony Brook University with an English degree, she spent several years working in Manhattan in the garment industry; as a real estate property appraiser with the city of New York and a girl Friday for local radio talk show host, Barry Farber, as well as a stint in the United States Navy. Her favorite authors are Lee Child, Lisa Unger, and Ann Rule.  Her favorite quote for inspiration is “Everyone has two eyes but no one has the same view” (Wael Harakeh). Her husband is her co-conspirator in writing and baking which paved the way for Cupcake Cache, a gourmet cupcakerie which closed in 2015. Mrs. Dobbins has a MA in TESOL and has lived and worked in Asia and the Middle East. Presently, she makes a living as an English teacher. She was named in August 2017 “Poet of the Month” by “The Horror Zine.”

 

 

 

0

the parts v the hole

by Zach Trebino

 

i
rain
from
haunted
shelves,

wood
fingering
my
selves,

disciples
line up
to
gather
me
in
buckets,

my
damp
head
cradled
between
books
growing
out
their
fur
to
make
themselves
more appealing,

the disciples
make
sandwiches
and tea,
brush my teeth,
and train to see the
entirety
when all they’re looking at
are little bits of me.

 

 

stock market trends don’t necessarily predict
the rates of births and deaths

 

because of your disordered senses,
i’ve had to hide securities in luggage
for my own defenses, take your car
keys, and lock my knees for impact
all just so we can go play blackjack
at a dimly lit roadside motel against
marsupials wearing stethoscopes who
pick their teeth with the scraps of
snail shells while shooting up insulin
cause their mom used to call them
sugar babies but really it’s the same
old babies spewing absurdities from
their fontanels meanwhile the mother
says “hit me” and all hell’s bells are
wrung by arthritic alcoholic hands
begging for a euthanist, damned to
a trance, dancing through case
histories of infant incest like a stock
market analyst.

 

 

prophecy

 

i was thinking of
all the wombs i’ll never know
when i unfastened my
seatbelt, grabbed onto my
genitals, and drove right into
my future so hard i flew through
the windshield and found it on the pavement.

 

 

BIO

Zach Trebino populates the world with absurdly grotesque performances, videos, and texts. His performances have been seen in cities and truck stops throughout the US (and a few times in Bulgaria and Argentina). His friend Zack Bwaff (www.itsmezackbwaff.com) is a celebrity chef. His texts have appeared on stages in some places, on pages in some others, and a few times on both at the same time.

 

 

 

 

 

0

Gail

by Lily Tierney

 

Gail just started her new job at a bank, and she could not help but notice the furtive looks the other employees were given each other.    Gail didn’t know it then, but they were betting how long she would last.   It seems that they have a constant turnover with this particular job.  The job is stat typing long charts that seem to go on forever.  Gail knew what she was getting herself into, but her unemployment was just about to run out when this company hired her.    It sounded like a lot of work with little pay, but she thought it was better than nothing.

So today she is sitting up straight typing a bunch of numbers bored as hell.  Gail knew everyone was watching her especially the supervisor.  Her name was Gertrude, but they called her Trudy.  Her hair was completely gray, and she bragged about having all of her own teeth.   Her skin was surprisingly smooth without many wrinkles, and she wore high heels to make up for her diminutive height.    She was well past retirement putting her age at about seventy two or seventy three.  She was an old battle axe that kept her eyes on Gail all the time.   One time she rushed back from lunch to make sure Gail had enough work to do.   The other employees pretty much stayed away from Gail because they were afraid of Trudy.  On the other hand, Trudy stayed on their good side by not demanding too much from them.  If she tried any nonsense with them, they would bully her out of her job.  They all knew she didn’t really have any job, but came in each day to keep an eye on the stat typist.  Gail was given one break in the morning, and had exactly one hour for lunch.  One day, she tested Trudy by coming back a few minutes late.

“Gail, I expect you to be back on time.  I don’t tolerate any lateness.  You’re getting paid to be here to do your work,” Trudy scolded Gail in front of her co-workers.

It was the same with coming in the morning and going home at night.  If Gail was a minute or two late, the old battle axe was mouthing off about it.  The other employees would come and go as they pleased taking their time coming back from lunch.  Trudy would not say a word pretending not to notice.

Gail kept to the everyday grind wondering how long the previous typists lasted.  When she got her first paycheck, she felt a little better but not much.  She knew she had to get the hell out of this job.  It was the worst she ever had.  The bank rented five floors in the building.  Gail was on the elevator going to lunch when it stopped on the floor below.  A very professional looking man walked into the elevator and smiled at Gail.  She thought to herself that he must not know the rules about speaking to the stat typist.

“Hi, I have seen you around.  My name is Hank,” he said.

“Hello, I’m Gail the new stat typist on the floor above yours,” Gail said, taking a closer look at Hank.

“Are you going to lunch?  Well, how about if we go together?” he asked.

“Yes,” Gail blurted surprised by her forwardness.

Gail was a cute blonde in her thirties with an alluring smile.  She had beautiful green eyes that most men could not look away from.  Hank was under her spell.

“I don’t know much about the bank.  I am an outside auditor, and have been here for about a month,” he said.

“I’ve been here for only a week myself,” Gail said.

“How is your job?”  Hank asked.

All she could do was look silently at him with a little smirk on her face.

“I get it,” he said laughing.

She explained the job to him, and then told him about Trudy.  He listened shaking his head from side to side.  Gail admitted she would be going out on interviews soon.  She did not intend to stay there any longer than she had to.  Hank laughed and agreed with her.

“If you want, I could check with my company to see if they are hiring,” he said.

“That would be great,” Gail exclaimed happily.

Gail looked at her watch and realized she would be late coming back from lunch.  She finished her food, and explained to Hank she had to get back.

“Please, sit back down,” he said, grabbing Gail’s arm.

“But, I really have to go,” she exclaimed.

He picked up both checks and paid, and walked with her back to the office.

“Thank you for lunch.  I really enjoyed myself for a change,” she said, looking at Hank.

“How about you give me your number, and we can get together some time?” he asked.

“I would really like that,” she said, looking for a piece of paper and a pen.

She quickly wrote her number down and handed it to Hank.   They rode the elevator up together, and Gail watched Hank get off on the floor below hers.  The elevator doors closed and all she could think of was Trudy’s mean twisted face.  She arrived on her floor walking quickly back to her desk.   To her surprise, Trudy was nowhere in sight.  Gail sat down and started typing her numbers.  Then she heard Trudy’s loud mouth.  Apparently, she was having lunch with her granddaughter.  Well, wouldn’t you know Trudy was late coming back herself.  Gail was seething sitting there typing.  She felt like she was in a sweatshop or worse. Once, when she was in the bathroom getting ready to go home, she overheard two women talking.  They were guessing when Gail would quit.  One asked whether or not she would walk out like the last one did, or actually give notice.

Sitting at her desk, Gail felt like picking herself up and walking out.  She hated the job, but she knew she needed it.  She sat and continued to type the stupid numbers.  Trudy was talking and laughing with her granddaughter, on company time, and watching to make sure Gail was typing her fingers to the bone.  Trudy knew Gail hated her and the job equally.  It was some kind of game they all played with the stat typist to help the days go by.  If they were having a bad day, or something personal was bothering them, all they had to do was look over at the stat typist and think how lucky not to be her.

The day finally came to an end, and she hauled ass out of there.  It was 5:01 p.m. when she walked toward the elevator.  It was empty when she got on and it stopped on the floor below.  Hank walks in and was surprised to see Gail.

“Are you heading straight home?” he asked.

“No,” she replied.

“Well why don’t we go to dinner?” he asked.

“I would love to,” Gail replied.

At dinner, Gail tried to unwind from a hectic and stressful day.  Hank realized how much the job was affecting her.  Hank was divorced with no children in his forties.  He was a pleasant looking man who looked distinguished with his glasses.

“Do you know anything about the numbers you are typing?” He asked Gail.

“I don’t know or care, but there is definitely something going on.  There is something weird about Trudy hiring me, because she knew I had no intention of staying,” Gail stated flatly.

“Anything else strange that you have noticed?” he asked.

“Everything,” remarked Gail half-joking.

“Do you think you could make copies of the stats you are typing?” he asked.

Gail looked shocked and surprised.  All she could think was something was fishy.  She thought of Trudy and a disgusted feeling washed over her.

“Yes, I can make you copies,” she said.

Hank smiled and looked very pleased.

The next day at work all Gail could think of was how to make copies of the charts she had already typed.  She needed a miracle and got one.  That afternoon one of the employees on the floor below them was having a birthday celebration.  Everyone including Trudy went to the party leaving Gail alone on the entire floor.  Gail took the charts and hurried to the Xerox Room to make copies.  She kept listening for anyone that might be coming back.  She heard no one.   She quickly came back to her desk putting the copies in her pocketbook.  She put the originals in the bin that Trudy would take at the end of the day.   She heard someone approaching, and saw Trudy coming back.  Gail sat back down and immediately started typing ignoring Trudy.  Trudy ran over to the bin removing the typed charts placing them in her desk drawer, then went to the ladies room.  Gail dialed Hank’s extension, and let it ring three times then hung up.  Gail thought to herself she could not wait to give Hank the copies.

At five o’clock Gail picked herself up without saying goodnight to Trudy and headed toward the elevators.  Hank was waiting across the street in the coffee shop.  She walked in and handed Hank the copies of the charts she had made.

“Gail, I am so proud of you.  You don’t know how much this means,” he told Gail in a very sincere tone.

“I am glad to help,” Gail said, looking triumphantly at Hank.

Hank suspected there was enough evidence in the charts to charge Trudy and her accomplice with bank fraud.  Her accomplice worked on the same floor as Hank, and was a co-worker she knew for years on the job.  His name was Steve, and he was married with five children.  Surprisingly, no one knew they knew each other.  The two were fraudulently obtaining loans with fake documents.  Steve would approve the loans then deposit the money into his account.  He would then transfer the money immediately into a foreign bank account by international wire transfer.

The next day at exactly nine o’clock in the morning, FBI agents were waiting for Trudy and her son.  Gail watched as the FBI handcuffed Trudy leading her out toward the elevators.  Steve on the floor below got the same treatment.  The employees were all in shock, and some started to walk over toward Gail to see if she knew anything about it.  Gail ignored them, picking herself up and headed toward the elevators for the last time.  She was starting a new job the following week with Hank as his assistant.  She could hardly wait!

 

 

BIO

Lily Tierney’s work has appeared in Harbinger Asylum, Veil: Journal of Darker Musings, The Stray Branch,  Illumen Magazine, Polu Texni, and many others.  She enjoys reading and writing poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

Setting Sail

by Jared Pearce

 

She said, Honey, let’s drop it all, take
The money from our home and put it
In this fifth wheel, tour the nation,
Live on the brushing powder I’ll sell,

On the leadership lectures I’ll hawk
To cruise-line passengers. What do we need,
Besides the roof, the road, the broad
Sea releasing us from dock to dock.

He agreed and spoke positively, giving up
His bus-driving, just as he’d sundered computer
Work, forsook the walls he’d refurbished,
The wood he’d planed and paneled for her.

It may be unfair to say his eye was like
A castaway’s, a man with only one anchor.

 

 

There’s no time to lose.

 

We’ve got to hurry, she
Said, the darkest space
Hurtling past us,
If we’re to find that wayward planet.

We sheared ourselves blind,
Our antennae going berserk
For some lush haven,
A tighter gravity, a syzygy of meaning.

When her capsule docked
There was a moment she feared to remove
Her gloves and helmet, having
Traveled so far so sightless

To where time began again, clicking
Its course and dragging us with it.

 

 

Not all plants need the sun to grow.

 

She said she wanted to love me,
And then the day ripped her like a tide,
Then the night blasted her like a diabetic
Dream, then sleep held her and she loved

Darkness. She broiled herself on
The bedclothes and folded her head
Like a door that trapped me in the closet
Of the morning. She rolled this way

And that way, away and always away.
Shooting forth a root, I didn’t catch her,
And so fed only on the night, nibbling
The hush hush of her breath, hoping her
Subconscious taxi would drop me at her place
With my bouquet she’d set in a wet-brimmed vase.

 

 

BIO

Jared Pearce’s collection, The Annotated Murder of One, was released from Aubade last year (www.aubadepublishing.com/annotated-murder-of-one).  Some of his poems have recently been or will soon be shared in Adelaide, Xavier Review, Aji, Wilderness House, and Switchback.

0

Kathryn Harrison Interview

 

While reading a Los Angeles Times review of Kathryn Harrison’s new book, On Sunset, I was immediately fascinated by the story of someone growing up in a large whimsical Robert Byrd house on Sunset Blvd., yet never experiencing the life around her. She was not so much trapped as she was protected from a Los Angeles of the 1960s by her over-protective — somewhat eccentric — well-mannered grandparents. She lived a life that most children dream of, living in a beautiful affluent neighborhood, but she rarely ventured out from her home other than to attend school. Quite a story. Shortly after reading the review, I contacted Kathryn, who now lives in New York, and she graciously consented to an interview for this issue.

Kathryn Harrison is the author of the novels Envy, The Seal Wife, The Binding Chair, Poison, Exposure, Thicker Than Water and Enchantments. She has also written memoirs, The Kiss and The Mother Knot, a travel memoir, The Road to Santiago, a biography, Saint Therese of Lisieux, and a collection of personal essays, Seeking Rapture.

Ms. Harrison is a frequent reviewer for The New York Times Book Review; her essays, which have been included in many anthologies, have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, Vogue, O Magazine, Salon, and other publications.

Her latest book is On Sunset: A Memoir. She lives in New York with her husband, the novelist Colin Harrison, and their children. She is currently working on a novel.

 

INTERVIEW:

 

What made you want to write about your childhood at this time in your life? Is this something you’ve been wanting to do for a while?

It’s taken me this long to recognize how unusual a childhood I had.  I had to have raised a family immersed in American culture before I could regard my childhood in contrast.

Mine took place 100 years before I was born; it began with my grandparents’ parents, who were more alive to me than my classmates.  The unexpected child of teenagers, I was brought up by my mother’s parents, who like most old people lived in their pasts, and took me along.  They were both wonderful story-tellers, with dramatic pasts, and there were days I spent hours enthralled by my family’s history.

 

How long did it take to write this book? Was it conceived as a tribute to your grandparents?

The writing itself took about 18 months, the research preoccupied my youth—all those hours of listening to family stories.  I was lucky enough to inherit countless photographs, letters, diaries, and objects, as well—which allowed me to include illustrations, which makes for a richer experience.  Grownups like pictures, too!

It wasn’t intended as a tribute, but my feelings for them, my missing them as much as I do decades after their deaths, it was inevitable that the book turn out to be, as a couple of critics observed, a love letter.

 

You grew up in a spectacular Robert Byrd designed home — a lavish, quirky, sprawling ranch style home. I’ve seen photographs of the exterior and interior, with the lush grounds and swimming pool. It must’ve been like living in your own private oasis, hidden in the middle of Los Angeles.

It was.  I’m sure if I were to return to that garden it would seem small: it would have to, because my 50-year old memories include no property lines, Sunset, my internal landscape, is limitless.

 

There were times in your childhood when your grandparents were around to watch and raise you, and other times when you were on your own. How did you feel living in such a large home and being somewhat isolated from the rest of the world?

People comment that mine seems a lonely childhood, but I don’t remember it that way.  For me it was a mythic time of safety, over which my grandparents ruled, benign dictators.  I was a solitary child, shy and bookish—way too bookish according to my grandmother, who called me a bluestocking.  I took it as a compliment, although it was not meant as one.  I was happy left to myself and my overactive imagination.

 

You couldn’t really walk out the front door and down the street to a store, being such a busy boulevard without sidewalks. But you probably wandered around the neighborhood at some point.

I didn’t actually.  I saw the neighbor boys’ house, but there was truly no access to anyone else’s: no sidewalk, no wandering.

 

What was your school life like? Did you have close friends, a best friend? Did you enjoy spending time at your friend’s homes? What did you do on weekends? Were there pool parties at your home?

I had a best friend, Francesca, whose greatest appeal was that she was also being raised by a flighty young mother’s European grandparents.  I lived among families in which there were few divorces.  No one else had a single mother and absent father, no one but Francesca.

I didn’t like being at other children’s houses, not when I was a young child.  I never slept over; I was always scared of being left in the care of other children’s parents.

I loved school.  I was a teacher’s pet, often closer to teachers than classmates, perhaps because I spent so much time in the company of people many years my senior.  Weekends were blighted by ballet and Christian Science Sunday school, at least during the years we lived on Sunset.  I was always in the pool, and usually by myself.  By the time my grandparents were in their 70s, the pool party years were waning.

 

It seems like a lot of your outdoor activities were spent shopping and dining. Department stores were quite elegant back then. How do you remember them? What were some of your favorite restaurants?

I didn’t like shopping.  The stores were elegant indeed, and there was an abundance of customer service — too much of it as far as I was concerned. I was a tomboy who didn’t want the dresses I was buttoned into.  The salesladies struck me as part of a conspiracy to ruin my real outdoor life, largely spent climbing trees.

My grandparents were Victorian, and thus I was to be seen and not heard, excluded from any restaurant that wasn’t casual.  I remember Hamburger Hamlet, where I was allowed to leave the table to ponder the extremely odd little dioramas that hung on the wall that ascended alongside the red carpeted stairs.  One was captioned, “Get thee to a Bunnery.”  There was also Uncle John’s pancake house, where children were given black mustaches cut out of cardstock, with two prongs to insert into your nostrils.  They hurt, which was one more reason not to put one on.  I didn’t go to restaurants that required reservations.

 

Have these memories always been with you, or did some memories come back to you while writing this book?

Always.  I have damnably good recall, especially for emotionally charged situations.  My mother’s problematic and erratic presence made me a vigilant child, always paying attention.

 

Were you free to move about the city and take in the unique qualities of Los Angeles? Were you more in tune with the local culture at this time?

I was raised to form myself in opposition to American children and culture, which meant I lived in 1900.  Outside the door was the pool and the garden, inside there was Shanghai and Alaska.

 

Your grandparents also lived in a home on Hilgard across from UCLA?  When did they move into the home on Sunset Blvd.?

My grandparents worked with Robert Byrd who built the house on Sunset in 1951.  They lived there for 20 years.

 

I love this line in the book. It seems to capture the essence of your world. — “I live where I can’t be followed, where I don’t need and wouldn’t bring other children…”

I was very protective of my magic kingdom.  I knew no other child would respect its boundaries.

 

What are you working on now?

A novel set in Vienna in the 1920s,

 

Any advice for writing a memoir?

Lean toward discomfort.

 

What is your daily writing routine like? What do you do for fun and recreation?

I’m a morning person, so I am at my desk by 6 or 7.  I work until I go to yoga class around noon, as I do every day.  Then I might put in a few more hours—it depends on how full-tilt I’m going.  I’m a homebody with a night life that is currently mostly going to class, as I’ve begun psychoanalytic training.  A long-held dream I can satisfy now that my youngest is in college.

 

Are you involved with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.? How much time do you spend on the internet each day?

Not with any of them, so they take up no time.

 

What are some your favorite books currently?

At the moment it’s all Freud, Klein, Winnicott, Lacan …  Not everyone’s leisure reading, but I’m fascinated.

 

You mentioned that your grandparents worked with Robert Byrd — in what capacity? Were they friends?

My grandparents worked with Robert Byrd to design the house they wanted.  It looked like an out-sized Tudor ranch house — L.A. qua London  — with a lot of playful details.

Byrd was a renowned architect at the time, and my grandparents had the money to be extravagant. They didn’t for long, but in 1950 they could request any fancy, or luxury:

  • Windows made of bottle bottoms.
  • Actual bird houses built into the house, under the eaves.
  • My mother’s bedroom had a copper-hooded fireplace, with a delft tile hearth.
  • The living room fireplace had a wood-box built into an adjacent wall, with one door inside the house and another outside, so you didn’t have to carry wood through the house.  In Los Angeles, we burned a cord of wood every “winter.”  My grandparents hated to be cold, and the flagstone floors had hot water pipes running underneath them, so with a flip of a switch, they were soon warm beneath your feet.

 

On Sunset: A Memoir

In the tradition of The Hare with Amber Eyes and Running in the Family, a memoir of the author’s upbringing by her grandparents in a fading mansion above Sunset Boulevard — a childhood at once privileged and unusual, filled with the mementos and echoes of their impossibly exotic and peripatetic lives.

“Stunning … This is Kathryn Harrison in top form.” –Augusten Burroughs

“Transfixing… Fairy-tale fascinating, profoundly revealing of cultural divisions, and brilliantly and wittily told … Harrison’s entrancing look-back casts light on resonant swaths of history.”
—Donna Seaman, Booklist 

“Evocative and tender, this delightful memoir pairs the distant past with a safe and sacred time in the author’s young life.”
Publishers Weekly

 

For more information:

http://www.kathrynharrison.com/

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