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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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from 244 Passivity

by Tim Roberts

 

*

 

I want this work to appear in the place where it says nothing will

break through. Where subject matter is the action of doing, what

you are given, the act of writing. We are going to be reciprocating.

The budget and bread of the day. But still, open water, as you

contemplate the happening, it is happening. So that if subject can

only be impossible, only that, then, in front of you. Because of our

motion.

 

*

 

The table makes us simplify. When we get to a question of anger.

When we move through the atemporal, we’re saying “must be,”

I think. That’s all. It’s no more than what you do to lay out the

questioning, which is taking that preeminent place of value, which

is the place of value, writing it out, that is, or are you dragging it

in, something about you that did not want you, to be touched by

you, to be remembered so that it forces you to forget, if you try,

writing it out, to put it down, memorialize it. It won’t be.

 

*

 

There’s fear related to thinking. In the box set on marginal

cities. There’s a right way to rhyme, so and so having chosen, the

element. You study and are not chosen. Why not? It’s the material,

which under certain conditions bends, or doesn’t bend but is

molten. Or then, time passing, you go back into the shade, an

attitude, colorless swamp. Is that you? I have stretched the motion

of contemplating. What I seem to be lifting is story itself. The best

of old behaviors, night birds, quiet flying roaming, and a perch,

one eating another one. There is also a bend in the rain. Forced.

 

 

 

BIO

Tim Roberts is a writer and editor living in Denver, Colorado. He is the author of Drizzle Pocket (BlazeVox, 2011) and the director of Counterpath.

 

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Date Night

by Bobby O’Rourke

 

 

“I’m really glad you came out with me tonight,” Tommy said as we exited the crowded movie theater, shouldering our way through the throng waiting outside to buy tickets for the late showing. The rain outside had stopped, but a dull mist now hung in the air. The tiny sprinkles of water were only visible when seen in the light of a streetlamp, but I could feel the gentle coolness whipping against my face. Tommy put his arm around me, and I let him keep it there.

We made a left outside the movie theatre and walked down Oak Street, talking about the best parts of the movie and giggling at the jokes we made about the actors. It was past eleven, and my parents were very insistent on my being home no later than midnight.

“I don’t know this boy,” Dad had said before I left. “I don’t want you out into all hours of the night. Midnight—that’s all.” Mom had nodded in agreement. Tommy had come to pick me up shortly after that. I think he eased some of Dad’s fears when he asked permission to come inside.

“Hello, sir,” Tommy had said, holding his hand out. “I’m Tommy Ulster.” Dad took it and told us to have a good time. Then Tommy shook hands with Mom and we left.

As we walked further down Oak, we were moving farther and farther from his car. I had had a great time, and I didn’t want the night ruined by Dad throwing a fit.

“Hey,” I said to Tommy, taking his hand. “I don’t want my Dad yelling at either of us. I think I’ve got to head home. I’m sorry.”

He smiled and tightened his grip on my hand. “Just a sec. I want to see if a coffee place I like is open.” I was going to tell him everything was closing up now, but he was already pulling me along. Another fifteen minutes wouldn’t make much difference.

We had left the movie crowd far behind us. Up ahead was the section of Oak Street filled with designer clothing stores and restaurants specializing either in muffins or bread and soup. The streetlights still illuminated the droplets of mist. We passed underneath one and I … I couldn’t tell what it was, but something happened to Tommy’s face. As the light overhead shone on us, a little rainbow from the vapor crossed Tommy’s face. Something happened to Tommy. It only lasted a second, but I thought his face became gray, and more angular, like a child’s first attempt at cutting construction paper with scissors. And his eyes—I thought I saw them glow red. But then we passed the light and he was back to normal. He tilted his head to me and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I said. “I saw a rainbow in the lamplight. What coffee place are we going to? They’ll never be open.”

“I think they are,” Tommy assured me. “We’re almost there. It’s on Jefferson Street.”

I had never heard of Jefferson Street. “Where is that?”

“We go up to Dunn and make a left, then another left. It’s one of those little side streets you don’t notice until something you want is there.” I think he sensed my hesitation, because then he asked, “Hey, do you think Scarlett Johannson could have done a better job as the girl in that movie?”

Talking about the movie calmed me, and I proceeded to tell him why Scarlett Johansen’s breasts would not have made a better heroine, since that was what he was really asking. Our banter took us around Dunn and onto Stanley Avenue. “It’s up here on the left,” Tommy said. We walked on. There were no streetlights on this small, one-way avenue. “Right here,” Tommy said, and pointed into what I thought was an alleyway.

I stopped, not wanting to go any further.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“There’s nothing in there,” I said, trying to let go of his hand. His grip became tighter.

“Maybe not,” Tommy said, and as he said it his voice became deeper. Then it sounded like his voice split, as if there were two people using his mouth. “But there is something I want.” He ran into the alleyway, dragging me behind him. I fell, but without losing any speed he lifted me up and continued into the darkness.

“Let go of me!” I yelled. He slammed me into the wall of the alley. Mom said if I ever got into trouble to shout “Fire” instead of “Help.”

I yelled. “Fire! Fi–”

Tommy covered my mouth with his right hand, muffling my cries. His two-voice was speaking again. “This will be quick if you cooperate.” He brought his left hand into view. I watched as the wrist jutted out from the end of the sleeve, making a horrible stretching noise. A webbing developed between the fingers. The webbing contracted until the fingers formed a single stump at the end of his arm. The skin was turning the gray color I had seen before. A small opening appeared at the top of the stump, and a sickening, thick yellow liquid oozed out, dripping down onto his arm and the ground.

“There must be incubators,” he said, pinning me against the wall with his body. His right hand slid off my mouth and choked me. “You are an incubator.” He raised the stump over my head and lowered it towards my face. I struggled and kicked, tried to hold the arm back, unable to scream. One of my kicks knocked over a trash can. My foot touched the ground again, and I felt something squish under my shoe. I looked down. I needed to scream, but all that came out was a strangled whine. I had stepped in the yellow ooze, but the liquid had formed into giant, wriggling worms. No, not worms, but like worms. One end of the things ended in a gaping maw. It made a sound. I thought of a bat laughing and squeaking and laughing. Little buboes on the body of the worms convulsed. One of the worms was on my shoe, buboes like twitching, slimy thumbs.

I felt like I would vomit, but I wasn’t getting any oxygen. I tried my hardest to keep my mouth closed. Tommy’s eyes were red as he brought his stump closer to my face. His breath rasped. Drips of the liquid fell into my hair. It ran down my head, down my neck. It was gluey and warm. Spots broke out in my vision. I tried to take in air. Tommy pressed the seeping stump downward. It was touching my nose. I sucked in as much oxygen as I could and gritted my teeth. It wouldn’t go into my mouth. The thought of biting the stump

spilling the ooze

revolted me, but I would if I had to. The stump got under my lips and rubbed against my teeth, searching for an entrance. Pulpy and moist. The taste and the smell

acid backwash sour milk

and Tommy’s rattling breath.

A light from behind us. Tommy shielded his eyes with the stump. A voice called out from a doorway in the alley. “Who’s there?!” Tommy shrieked as the flashlight beam crossed his face. The face of the boy I had been to the movies with was gone. His skin was ashen gray, and stretched over his skull like wax paper. His lips no longer covered his teeth, which were only gums with black protrusions. The eyebrows had hardened into ridges that dragged the eyelids up until it was impossible for the red eyes to blink. The nose had been pressed flat against the face, and the nostrils had been turned upward.

I kicked the Thing-That-Was-Tommy in the stomach. It bellowed and staggered backward. I ran out of the alleyway, coughing and telling myself not to look back or slow down. I didn’t know where to go. I was running across the street towards Hannigan Park. I couldn’t yell. Tommy was running after me, gaining on me. He would catch me if I changed direction.

the stump on my teeth

acid and sour milk

I couldn’t think of that. I couldn’t think of that. I ran into the park,

ooze on my neck

across the encircling walkway and onto the grassy field surrounding the lake. Lights and mist. Tommy’s grunts sounded more distant, weaker. I had to stop or I was going to collapse. I turned around. Tommy was running toward me, but he was moving slowly. He kept swatting himself, like a hundred mosquitoes were attacking him. Steam was coming off his body. He was growling, still watching me, coming for me.

I ran. My sides ached. I had overextended my leg. I couldn’t breathe.

I could think only of the mist. It burned him. Before it only ruined his disguise. Now it burned the real thing, the Thing-That-Was-Tommy.

I ran along a path lit by lampposts that ended in a T-split at the foot of the lake. I had to stop and see where Tommy was. I saw him running down the asphalt path, shielding his eyes from the light of the lampposts. He veered off of the walk, and disappeared into the shadows of the trees.

I was breathing hard, listening for his footsteps as the blood pounded in my head. I tried to follow his dark form as it made its way closer to me. I heard the hissing of the steam coming off of his body.

He charged at me. He was at full-run as he barreled into me. I had to let myself be taken off of my feet and slammed down, into the lake. I swallowed water and choked. Tommy thrashed above me, his body pinning me. Smoke and steam filled my vision. Gasping and howling sounds, then the thick modulations of underwater struggle. I grabbed his jacket and shoved him off of me. Some of Tommy came off in the jacket. It felt like it was filled with unbaked dough. The sleeves got tangled around me as I pulled my head above water. I scrambled out of the lake, clawing at the jacket that was clinging to me. I tore it off me and threw it into the water. I saw what was left of Tommy.

The water was boiling. All that remained identifiable of the mass in the water was the horrible face, melting and dissolving. Where his stomach would have been, a swarm of larvae bubbled and squealed. The stump popped open and yellow liquid oozed out and spread across the surface of the water like oil.

Police sirens screeched. I heard voices calling. My clothes were wet and I was cold.

the ooze the taste of acid it dripped down my hair

I scraped my fingers through my hair, certain I would touch something squirming or the ooze or a slick nest of worms. I felt crusty flakes fall out of my hair. That was all. I put my fingers on my teeth. I didn’t feel anything on them.

I stood at the edge of the lake, thinking about everything but taking in nothing. I began to doubt if something happened to me. I expected to wake up now, sweating and with my hair matted down onto my pillow. The voices were closer. Could I tell them what happened? I checked the time on my cell phone. It read 12:31 a.m., and I had missed two calls from home.

 

 

BIO

Robert O'RourkeBobby O’Rourke is a native of New Jersey, as well as a graduate of both Rutgers University and Union County College. He is currently enrolled in a Master’s program at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He has had poetry published in Spires, and is ecstatic to have his first fiction credit associated with The Writing Disorder. He dabbles in singing, standup comedy, and still checks his closet every night for monsters.

 

 

 

 

 

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Paula Panich

What God Hath Intended

by Paula Panich

 

Pectin makes it all possible. Pectin is one of God’s best ideas, purveyed in fruity packages. No question: God intended us to have jellies and jams and marmalade. This is why I take my marmalade straight, by the spoonful.

So my friend Julianna and I decided to make marmalade. We were inspired by a perfect bitter orange marmalade we had eaten in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and the delivery, by my friend and Los Angeles neighbor Léo, of a recipe for kumquat marmalade.

We were also inspired by this truth of communal cooking: It lightens the spirit. “It suffereth not the heart to be burnt,” as my seventeenth-century friend the Countess of Kent would have said. My heart, as it happened, was burning.

Shared labor with beautiful fruit, sugar, sharp knives, good conversation, and a big solid pot put to the fire—the citrus fragrance alone was a tonic.

 

Marmalade in our day seems to carry its own definition, which is a conserve of oranges. That’s what most of us think of when we think of marmalade, if we think of it at all. In fact, in Europe until the eighteenth century, the word marmalade, when used by itself, according to the British food historian C. Anne Wilson, meant only one thing: a marmalade of quinces.

The word for “quince,” in Portuguese, is marmelo.

But nothing is simple with the human heart, nor is it easy to untangle the means and the meaning of what looks to be an uncomplicated mix of sugar and fruit in a small glass jar. Human relationships with food, like our relationships with one another, are a complex and passionate matter, and involve politics, religion, and invasion.

Homemade preserves were known in Roman times; Greek physicians were convinced of the efficacy of quince to aid digestion; Dioscordes recommended it for dysentery and complaints of the liver and kidneys. His recipe for kudonites, made with quince, pops up in Tudor and Stuart times as “quidony of quinces,” and wouldn’t you, just once, love to attend a dinner party at which someone asked for this and it was brought forth?

It would be awhile, though, until marmalade was used to break the nighttime fast.

Marmalade of quinces was prepared dry, and cut, as you would a pie, with a knife, thanks to the discovery that cooked fruit combined with sugar (honey) and acid (vinegar) would result in a solid, thick, leathery, and delicious substance.

You can buy the offspring of this idea in quince paste from Spain, membrillo, sold in gourmet shops, to be eaten with cheese.

Now where was I? Yes, looking for a bridge to take us from quince to orange marmalade. Without Wilson’s The Book of Marmalade (1985, 1999), I might still be standing on a riverbank looking first to an island and then to the shore beyond, with no idea how to cross.

The first bridge is the apple; the second is a moving force we might call the conquering Arabs and the resulting Crusades.

The apple’s gift was its suitability for making jelly. (Many are the early recipes for “jelly of pippins”—pippin meaning for a few centuries any apple grown from a seed.) The pectin content of apples is highest when they are newly picked, in autumn.

The Crusades caused many hearts to suffer, both Arab and European, but left behind, in southern Europe, orange and lemon trees and the knowledge of how to make them flourish by means of irrigation.

Wilson surmises that if apples were put by to make jellies later in the year, intrepid magicians of the kitchen discovered that the addition of lemon juice would push along the jelling and that a bit of orange “pill” (peel) made it more interesting.

Here is a recipe from A True Gentlewoman’s Delight (1653), my own Countess’s cookery book, at least the one published under her name. (I’m obsessed with this cookbook!)

 

Take Pippins and pare them and quarter them, and coar them, lay them in water. And when you set them on the fire, shift them in another water, and put them in a skillet, and put as much water as will cover them and a little more, set them over the fire, and make them boil as fast as you can, when the Apples are soft, and the liquor tastes strong of the Apples, then take them off, and strain them through a piece of canvas gently; take to a pound of juice a pound of Sugar, then set in on the fire, and when it is boiled up then scum it, and make it boil as fast as you can, and when it is almost boiled, put in the juice of three Lemons strained through a cloth, and if you will have Orange pill pare it thin, that the white be not seen, and then lay it in water all night, then boil them in the water till the pill be soft, then cut them in long pieces, then put it into the sirrupe and shift it about and fill your glasses, and let it stand till it be cold, and then it is ready to it.

 

Julianna and I, at least on that day, had misplaced our faith in God and her pectin packaged in citrus fruit. We winged it a bit. But what we did wrapped us right into the feverish activities in the kitchens of the Countess four hundred years earlier, though with the reliable and consistent delivery of fire by my Viking stove. We, too, were boiling as fast as we could.

In our cookbooks and online, Julianna and I looked at many recipes urging a twelve- or twenty-hour “curing.” That’s when if you put seeds and pith into a cheesecloth bag, natural pectin will come forth and fulfill its proper function: that is, to provide just the right amount of thickening. We didn’t wait long enough in the cooking, however, curing or not curing, and foolishly lost faith in the natural process.

We used commercial pectin. We used commercial pectin and made the dry marmalade of the Middle Ages. It took a bit of work to excavate it from our pretty jars once it stood until cold—in our case, in the refrigerator.

But we loved our marmalade. We used mostly rangpur limes, Citrus x limonia, a cross between a mandarin orange and a lemon: very, very bitter, and not a lime at all. We used a great deal of sugar. Our marmalade was good to eat from the spoon, but its texture was not to everyone’s taste. It defied the expected.

 

Apparently John Lennon loved marmalade. And if I could easily get it, I would eat daily Frank Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade, the thick-cut version, which Captain Robert Scott took on his fatal trip to the Antarctic a century ago and Edmund Hillary toted in his pack to his icy death on Everest. They found momentary comfort in those jars. I’m sure of it.

 

Julianna and I had a jolly time, and later drank good white wine and ate delicious hearty Greek dishes brought in from a restaurant. Making marmalade with a beloved friend kept sorrow at bay, for, as my Countess says, it isn’t right for “melancholy or flegm to have dominion above Nature.” And what is melancholy except “flegm” of the heart?

 

 

BIO

PaulaPanich2My essay, “What God Hath Intended,” is part of an unpublished collection of personal essays entitled The Cook, the Landlord, the Countess and Her Lover. The subjects and themes of this book make up my primary concerns as a person and a writer — food, shelter, landscape, history, and of course, love.

My work as a professional writer was born the same year as my daughter, 1984. Some of this work has been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Gastronomica, the Harvard Review, the North American Review, and other publications. I have written books, one of which is about nonfiction writing: Cultivating Words (Tryphon Press, 2005).

I’ve taught writing in many places, a great joy to me because I learn far more than I could possibly teach.

I have lived in Los Angeles with my family for nine years. In my north-listing 1921 garage in the middle of the city, I am a printmaker by avocation. I can see daylight through its peeling old boards.

 

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christopher suda poet

Christopher Suda

Wonder is a Wooden Leg

 

Tonight, beneath pores of steam I sat
still in a pond imagining your lungs.
(we can not wait on science to show
us something scientific) there’s just

too many sprigs to gnaw in twos and threes.
(If we’re not too careful heaven will
leave us low, or worse) in beautiful

ripe fields where rulers rip
at explanations. You bend mystery with slivers
built on both of us. Strangers told us we

could never handle another fall; so God
please know we can’t just be your sweet
mistakes.

Caterpillars

 

The vein caterpillars up,
sucks it down through a glass

straw, then we vanish. Its bliss,
by the mean of memory can not

be resurrected, only performed.
Perhaps no different from death

since itself, too is unimaginable. Others pick
and choose but I can’t.

Angels visit through the doors, observe
the war, (discuss the next) then move

on by foot—wingless as always. While
leaving, one articulates ‘effort’. Farther

wins out each stretch. The photograph is said
to depict a sturdy image of time—So will I.

BIO

christopher sudaChristopher Suda’s poetry has been published in blazeVOX, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Aura Literary Review, Poetry Super Highway, The Wayfarer, Danse Macabre, Drunk Monkeys, and other literary journals. Christopher is currently a twenty-four year old undergraduate at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is a musician involved in three current music projects: Philos Moore (singer-songwriter) In Snow (Instrumental), and Loveislight (Experimental Hip-Hop).

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Suzanne Hyman author

Ginger in the Soup

by Suzanne Hyman

 

Grace stood, counting out loud the number of places her maid, Charlene, had set on the dining room table. Eight sets of porcelain plates and bowls stared back at her as if they were determined to remind her of something. She tried her best but could not recall what it was that brought her to the dining room in the first place. Again she counted eight plates, bowls, salad forks, dinner forks, soup spoons, and meat knives. Not one was missing, though Grace made a mental note to talk to Charlene about her silver polishing skills. The silverware had been a gift from her mother on Grace’s wedding day, and after 55 years of magnificent service, they were beginning to show their wear. Grace was not willing to let them retire. An hour or so more of polishing a week would certainly do the trick.

The doorbell rang, startling Grace for the smallest of moments.

“Don’t worry, Mom, I’ve got it,” Lauren called down from the upstairs balcony. There was a slight strain in her voice, which was meant to calm her mother down but it unintentionally sent a cold shiver down Grace’s back.

“I should turn up the heat,” Grace said.

“No you shouldn’t,” Lauren called back to her as she approached the front door.

Grace noticed Lauren’s hand clutched tight around the spare key as she unlocked the door. So much stress in that hand and her whole body, Grace thought. Such a shame, she had not found anyone for her little angel, who was now far too old at 50 years of age to be referred to as a little anything. If only she had a husband. It was too late for children, even too late for adoption, a concept, which Grace had never warmed to, but she suspected she would have made an exception in her heart for Lauren if that had been her desire. She made a lot of exceptions for her angel.

Grace was convinced a husband could still be found for Lauren as long as she kept in shape and at the moment Lauren was slightly out of shape, just a little extra weight, but enough that it would not be able to distract any possible suitors from picking much younger, fitter companions. No reason to worry though, she was certain she could carefully and tactfully suggest to her daughter a little less here and there without upsetting her. Tact was of course one of her specialties and she prided herself greatly on her ability to avoid any unnecessary drama. “No reason to make a scene,” Grace’s mother had instructed her and she had always listened to her mother.

Grace made sure to smile wide before turning to greet her guest. She planted a dutiful kiss on the cheek of her son’s mother-in-law, Helen. Lauren had already offered her own friendly greeting when she opened the door but now she was forced to retreat back to the kitchen to check on the turkey or at least that was her excuse to leave the room.

The truth was that Lauren found it difficult watching her mother attempt conversation with her brother’s mother-in-law. She respected Helen, of course, as anyone would respect a Holocaust survivor, but she was still a very bitter and angry woman who liked to start arguments and Lauren had worked very hard with her Life Coach to create a beautiful balance between the energies. Unfortunately being around Helen threated to tip that balance and Lauren would do anything to avoid the nightly binges of her past, which were usually brought on by dealing with unnatural stress and if that meant being slightly rude, she would take her chances.

“What a lovely surprise it is to see you, Helen.”

“So lovely, Grace,” Helen said without the slightest hint of cheer. After 33 years it still took every bit of concentration Grace had to decipher Helen’s words through her thick Hungarian accent.

“And how are you doing, dear?” Grace gave a soft squeeze to Helen’s hand. “I heard about your fall.” Grace eyed Helen’s bandaged forearm. “How’s the arm?”

Helen glared at Grace with her tiny hazel eyes. “Oh it’s wonderful. I play tennis with my physical therapist three times a week.”

Grace giggled anxiously. “Oh Helen, it’s so good to see you haven’t lost your sense of humor.”

Even though Grace had prepared a place setting for her, she was still shocked that Helen had shown up, especially since her son and his wife, Ann, were nowhere to be seen. She was even more surprised considering Helen hadn’t set foot in her home since the unfortunate incident the previous year when Helen had walked out during their grandson’s graduation party. At the time Grace had been in the kitchen preparing a feast as usual, when she heard the screaming, first from Helen and then Alan, her eldest grandson. Grace ran in the living room, just in time to see Helen hobbling unsteadily towards the door, trying to escape faster than her cane would let her. She almost completely lost balance when she pointed her cane in the air at Jessica, Alan’s then-wife, exclaiming, “She’s a bitch, that one you married,” before continuing to hobble towards Ann’s car, where Ann was waiting gleefully to escape her mother-in-law’s house. Afterwards Grace found out that the whole incident started because Helen thought Jessica didn’t say hello to her as she entered the house, but Jessica swore it wasn’t true. Seeing as Grace now considered Jessica “a bonafide hussy” for cheating on and leaving her eldest grandson for a goy, Grace was happy enough to believe Helen’s side of the story or she would have been if she were not all too familiar with Helen’s lack of hearing. The whole family had been begging Helen to get a hearing aid for years, but she adamantly refused.

Grace felt bad for Helen every time she saw her. She couldn’t help but glance a little at Helen’s worn, wrinkled face, covered in sunspots. She often forgot that she and Helen were the same age. The Old World must age much faster than the New World, she thought. But Grace was on the verge of being rude by staring at Helen, an act, which her mother would have never accepted. If her mother were there, she would have gently touched Grace’s shoulder, while whispering in her ear, “Remember, dear, you are a lady, and a lady never stares.” Grace, craving for her mother’s soft touch, caressed her own shoulder for a moment before leaving Helen and turning towards the door, where her grandsons, Alan and David, and her granddaughter, Sally, stood waiting.

Meanwhile, Helen grunted and hobbled towards the living room couch. She was happy to be able to sit down for a moment since her joints ached horribly. She was even happier to have an extra moment to herself before Grace hijacked the rest of the day. Helen wondered why she even bothered coming down to Baltimore anymore, especially when she had such an acrimonious relationship with her son-in-law and even with her only child, her daughter, Ann, who she had such high hopes for but had turned out just as bitter and unhappy as her mother. But as Helen looked at her grandchildren standing in the doorway next to their other grandmother, she smiled and remembered why she came down to visit so much. Sure she had been displeased with Alan for quite awhile but he apologized profusely to her ever since the incident with his ex-wife. She wasn’t going to let him off the hook so easily but he was still one of her three grandchildren, whom she loved dearly. She did still hate Baltimore though, and many of its esteemed residents. She glared at Grace’s back and hoped her gaze might be able to burn a small hole through Grace’s perfect cream-colored cashmere sweater. She giggled at the thought.

“Good Yontif,” Grace greeted her grandchildren with kisses on each cheek.

“Hi Savta.” Alan returned the kiss. “How’re you doing? Everything fine. Looking pretty spry. Good for you, old girl.”

Sally playfully slapped Alan’s arm. “Stop that,” she whispered. “Savta, you look wonderful.”

Grace hugged her tight. “What I wouldn’t do without you.” Grace looked affectionately at her granddaughter. “And you.” She pointed to her oldest grandson, “You’re looking pretty spry yourself. How’s that diet going?” She patted his stomach. Grace was now forced to worry about his future love life as well, considering the recent divorce, which she could never bring up to Alan for fear of him throwing a fit.

“No diet today.” Alan smiled and they stood silently for a moment. “It’s Thanksgiving.”

“Well you all came just in time.” Even if it was half an hour later than what I told you, Grace continued in her head. Alan and Sally made excuses for the late arrival before heading towards the living room.

“No time for TV,” Grace called after them.

“But Savta, what about the parade?” Sally whined back.

“Go right to the table, both of you. Unless you like eating cold food?” She smiled at them before turning towards their brother, David, who still lingered by the door.

“How are you, Savta?” He sneered as he kissed her cheek. Grace replied with her usual cheerful smile. She couldn’t help but cringe a little when she noticed David’s yellow teeth, rotting in his mouth. It must be the drugs, she thought.

“I’m fine, dear. Is your father coming?”

“No, he’s stuck at the office. Some big case or something.”

“Well that’s too bad. What about your mother?”

“She’s at some coupon clippers convention in Catonsville.”

“Oh how fascinating.”

“Yup.”

“But couldn’t she have waited until after Thanksgiving?”

David shrugged his shoulders. “She says she needs to be at her best for Black Friday.”

Grace was barely surprised that her daughter-in-law would miss Thanksgiving in order to “prep for shopping.” She was more disappointed in her son for choosing work over his family. It was not the way that she and her late husband raised him and she was certain that Ann was responsible.

David walked towards the table. Grace shuddered as she watched his muddy sneakers stain her gray rug with each dragging step.

“David, honey, why don’t you sit near me tonight?” Grace placed a cold hand on the wooden chair next to hers. At least she could keep a better eye on him if he sat closer, not that that would help her trust him again. She had not been able to think of David the same way, ever since he and half a dozen friends had nearly destroyed her home, pouring bleach over the doors, ransacking the house for jewelry, driving her brand new Lexus before she even had the chance to, harassing the security guards of the gated community, and causing over $20,000 worth of damage the year before when she was in her beloved homeland, Jerusalem, a month-long trip she took annually for the past 30-odd years.

“But Savta, I’d rather sit over here.” David pointed to a seat in the corner as far away from Grace as possible.

If only she had put place cards, she thought. Place cards! That was what she could not remember earlier. She could have kicked herself for not writing them. “Oh but honey, it would mean the world to me if you could sit right here.” Grace smiled and David grit his teeth.

“Sure Savta, whatever you say,” David said and Grace made a mental note to get the locks changed again soon.

“All right, who wants to say the blessing?” Her eyes looked past Lauren, Helen, and her grandsons until they reached…“Sally?”

Savta wasn’t asking, and Sally was smart enough to know it. Her grandmother never asked, she demanded, but always in a pleasant tone. She would use interrogatives, and her tone was always sweet, but there was a strong strangling force that crept into her voice. Everyone in the family could recognize it. It was that subtle addition that rang, informing whomever she was talking to that she controlled their comfortable little lives, but of course her grandmother would never admit that, even though it was true. Her late husband, Norm, had left her a lot of money, millions in fact. It was enough to take care of her and anyone else she wanted to, and she did. Savta still helped pay both of her sons’ bills, Sally’s father’s and his brother’s, and even her grandchildren’s, paying Sally’s full tuition at Amherst. And for this, all her grandmother wanted was what she believed she deserved, their respect.

“It’s not a Jewish holiday, you know, but sure Savta, I’d love to say the bracha.” Sally smiled at Grace and began to say the blessing over the bread using the very little Hebrew she knew. “Baruch ata hashem elochanu melech haolom hamotzi lechem min haaretz.”

David stared at both his grandmothers. He smiled at the noticeable increase in wrinkles on Grace’s face. From the time he was young, Helen always had visible wrinkles, lines deeply etched into her skin. He respected her, for having those lines, for having the tragic life that she had during the Holocaust and after as a new immigrant without any education, family or language necessary to prosper in a new world. His bubbe was the only one who believed he wasn’t using drugs, the only one who actually worried about him and his well-being, and the only one who gave him a monthly allowance so he had enough money to buy—the things he needed to buy. David clenched his jaw as he watched Grace, who was beaming proudly at Sally’s mispronounced Hebrew.

David’s older brother, Alan, glanced at him from across the dining room table. He was amazed that David had actually decided to brush his hair today. He almost looked like a human being. Even his ears lacked their normal ring of yellow wax. And he barely smelled of body odor, which wasn’t the norm, considering David often forgot to shower for days at a time.

“So David, how’s it going?” Alan asked, taking a piece of bread and passing it to his sister.

Poor Alan, Sally thought. He is always trying to be nice to David. Alan had already apologized to David for everything from when they were young; every bruise, every tiny scratch, all of the emotional pain of being tied to a tree naked, the physical burns from being shot at with a Super Soaker filled with boiling water, and any broken bones from wrestling. They were all products of brothers playing with each other and growing up together and beating the crap out of each other except that Alan was three times the size of David, who had always been a scrawny little thing. Over a decade had passed since then, though David wasn’t the type to ever forgive or forget. Sally knew Alan was wasting his time, but he would never give up.

“So Alan, how’s your ex-wife’s new fiancé?” David shot back, shifting his glare towards his older brother’s wet eyes. Lauren, gently patted her nephew’s back before Alan excused himself to the bathroom for a moment.

“David.” Grace gave her grandson a warning look, while noticing the smudge marks he was leaving on her antique silverware. Next time, she planned to serve everything on plastic plates with plastic silverware. At least then she wouldn’t have to count the silverware at the end of the night, worrying that her own flesh and blood was stealing from her.

Helen shook her head but not at David. She would never say anything to that poor boy. He had enough troubles, what with his sickness and all. She had wished Alan had heeded her advice on his wedding day, begging him not to marry that trash, but no, it was too late, that girl had her claws into him too deep by then. Helen cringed from the memory of them happily walking down the aisle together that day. She knew it would only end in misery. And she was right, she thought as she smiled to herself.

“You’re an asshole,” Sally said to David amongst gasps and shocked expressions from both her grandmothers.

“Sally, I’m sure you didn’t mean that. Did you honey?” Lauren nodded at her niece, encouraging an apology and hoping to keep the peace in some manner for the night. She felt bad for David, she really did, but he was always lashing out as if the whole world was against him. And Sally, well, Lauren knew that she was just defending her older brother Alan, but the inappropriate language that was certainly from their mother. She could only admit it to herself but Lauren was glad that Ann didn’t show up. After all misery only loves company.

“Sally!” Helen scolded her granddaughter but turned quiet as soon as Alan returned to the table. Alan reached for the breadbasket but Grace quickly grabbed it and placed it next to her plate.

“We’ve got plenty of food coming,” Grace sang in a semi-sweet tone. “You don’t want to spoil your appetite,” she warned.

“I’m 30 years old, Savta. I think I can figure out how much I can eat,” Alan said through clenched teeth.
“All I’m saying is that we have soup and salad and turkey and stuffing and vegetables and sweet potatoes and pie.” Grace could hear her mother’s sweet voice in her head, saying, “A moment on your lips and forever on your hips.” Alan’s hips were already wide enough. They came from his mother’s side of the family.

Savta, I’m not stupid.” Alan said. “If I want more bread, that’s my decision and mine alone.”

“How about we have some soup?” she offered, trying to change the subject. “You all have a choice between sauerkraut with my homemade mashed potatoes or chicken noodle with a matzah ball.” She made sure to emphasize “a” in case Alan was getting ideas about eating multiple balls.

Alan stood up and quickly snatched the breadbasket away from his grandmother’s side. Grace looked appalled, Helen smiled, and David laughed. “I’ll have sauerkraut,” Alan said as he stuffed a giant piece of bread in his mouth. Grace sighed heavily as she was reminded again of the necessity of place cards. She made a note to place Alan as far away from the breadbasket as possible next time.

“I suppose everyone else wants chicken soup?” she asked and Lauren stood up to help her bring the soup dishes in from the kitchen.

Lauren turned to Sally, “Don’t you want to help serve the soup, sweetie?”

“Is that a trick question?” Sally smiled and then got up to follow her aunt into the kitchen.

Helen always scrunched her nose when Grace talked about her famous sauerkraut soup or anything else that she claimed was “homemade.” She glared at Grace again when her back was turned. Wherever her eyes focused, she would imagine new holes in that cashmere sweater. She giggled to herself again.

Bubbe, what’s so funny?” Sally asked her grandmother.

“Oh nothing.” Helen smiled.

“Here you go.” Grace handed Helen the hot bowl of chicken soup, accidentally spilling a little on Helen’s blouse. “Oops, I’m sorry, dear.” She did feel awful, but truthfully Helen could do with a new shirt. The one she was wearing must have been bought while that Israel-hating, anti-Semite, was still in office. “My hands are so clumsy these days.”

“Of course, Grace.” Helen sneered. “Women of our age have these problems.”

Lauren quickly ran to the kitchen to get a wet washcloth for Helen. She grasped onto the kitchen counter for a moment. “Breathe, just breathe,” she told herself. She could feel the tension between Helen and her mom so intense that her arms were covered in goose bumps. She knew tonight would be a difficult night especially with all the leftovers from Thanksgiving sitting in the fridge, yelling at her to eat them while her mother would be asleep. She reminded herself that she was only visiting for a couple days before she would return to her stress-free, feng shui house in Philadelphia. Lauren walked back into the dining room and handed Helen the washcloth.

Sally, sensing the growing anxiety in the room, tried her best to distract her grandmothers. “Oh Savta, the soup is so good. Did you make it yourself?”

“Of course, honey.” Grace smiled sweetly at her granddaughter. “How could you expect anything else?”

Sally prayed that the true answer to that question wouldn’t spit out of her mouth or even worse, Bubbe’s. She stared at the bowl of soup, which looked remarkably like the one made from Suburban House, the kosher-style restaurant in town. Of course Savta made some changes, adding a lot of spices, and always a small piece of ginger that somehow mysteriously found its way into Sally’s bowl every time. Sally lifted her spoon to her mouth, hoping for a miracle that her soup could be ginger-free for once, but she wasn’t so lucky.

“Oh gee, I guess I got the ginger.” Sally said.

Grace laughed. “That’s wonderful.”

“I’m not exactly the biggest fan of it.” Sally didn’t want to sound bitter, but she couldn’t help it. It was always hard for her to hide her emotions about anything.

“Oh but it’s so healthy for you, Sally.” Grace said. “Just ask your aunt. She’s a doctor after all.” She nodded towards her Lauren.

“I have a PhD, Mom,” Lauren said.

“You’re still a doctor,” Grace pointed out.

“In 17th Century Feminist British Literature.”

“Do people call you Doctor?”

“They usually call me Professor, but yes, sometimes they call me Doctor.”

“There you go, you’re a doctor. Now everyone stop talking and enjoy the meal.”

 

By the time the pumpkin pie was served and devoured in two seconds as if by vultures, everyone except for Lauren had made their hasty goodbyes to Grace.

“They flew out of here like a bunch of bats outta hell,” Grace said to herself. “Bye Savta,” Alan and David said with two meaningless kisses on her cheeks. Sally was a bit friendlier when she said goodbye, stopping for a second and giving Grace a sincere hug and a kiss. Helen didn’t even bother saying goodbye. She could already imagine Helen’s bitter complaints to Ann later, and she was right. As soon as Helen walked out of the house she was on the phone leaving a message for her daughter, saying, “Who does that woman think she is, pretending to make a home-cooked meal when everyone knows she bought that soup from Suburban House, and that turkey already prepared from the kosher butcher? Do you remember how I used to make all your meals from scratch with my bare hands?”

No one appreciates me, Grace thought. She looked at the dirty dishes sitting in the sink. She thought about leaving them for Charlene when she comes the next morning, but she couldn’t. She knew her mother would have been aghast if she saw a sink full of dirty dishes left for the maid. “Maids are for tidying and polishing, not for cleaning,” her words rang in her head. Grace added soap to the sponge before plunging her hands deep into the muck.

“Let me help you with that,” Lauren said as she walked into the kitchen and gave her mom’s shoulder an affectionate squeeze. “I told you the dinner would be fine.”

Grace wiped off leftover cranberry sauce from one of her silver-rimmed porcelain plates. “It was more than fine.” She looked up at her daughter. “Considering the company.”

 

 

 

BIO

Suzanne HymanOriginally from Baltimore, Suzanne hopped on a plane to Israel for a yearlong volunteer program after graduating from Emory University in 2008. Six years later, she’s still there, living and working in Tel Aviv. Over the years, she’s worked as an English teacher, copywriter, content writer and editor. She recently finished a Masters in Creative Writing at Bar Ilan University, and is currently working on her first novel and a pretty weird collection of short stories. This is her first publication. You can follow her @SuzanneHyman or read her blog at www.anamericangirlinisrael.wordpress.com.

 

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Anna Isaacson Author

The Transition Plan

by Anna Isaacson


So what’s the best way to successfully drive adoption of your technology deployments, specifically SharePoint, in the workplace? At Microsoft, we want you to make the most of your investment. We have designed the new SharePoint by putting people at the center of the experience.   ­–SharePoint Adoption Guide, Microsoft Corporation, August 2013

 

OK everybody let’s get started.

If you don’t know me already, and I think most of you do, my name is Katie Mervin and I am the project manager for the firmwide SharePoint transition. This end-user employee training is the fifth step in the seven-step SharePoint rollout and adoption plan that we have crafted—we being myself, our CEO Mary Heinz, and our IT Director Jeff Leighton. We have designed this plan by putting people at the center of the experience. Please save your questions for the end.

Have I been to Mary Heinz’s house? Yes, in fact, I have. On Christmas, actually. She lives, as you might expect, in the suburbs with her husband and her two kids. Haven’t you seen the pictures of her kids on her desk? Or maybe you haven’t had the opportunity to enter her office. I’ll tell you. The son’s hair is spiked in front like a boy band singer, and the daughter is smiling with a bit of lower-teeth showing like she learned to smile from the orthodontist. Very blond. Those are suburban kids. Our CEO screamed and squeezed their sticky bloody baby-bodies out of her vagina. Or, are babies even bloody when they come out, or just sort of messy and purple? Regardless, it is not astonishing.

Who can tell me what SharePoint is. SharePoint is a cloud-based intranet document and content management system. SharePoint is closely integrated with the Microsoft Office suite, so the interface should be familiar to you. But SharePoint is more than just a platform. It fundamentally changes the way work gets done. The goals of this firmwide transition to SharePoint, if I may quote Mary Heinz, are to promote teamwork and the sharing of ideas and knowledge. It is a fundamental restructuring of our business based on ESC principles. I’m sorry, Enterprise Social Collaboration.

I did get a little lost driving to Mary Heinz’s house. The streets are all cul-de-sacs and the houses all look the same. I felt like a creepo driving slowly down the street and peering at the numbers on the houses. Half the houses were empty and dark for Christmas, and the other half were rosy-lit, hearths warm. What exactly is a hearth? I remember I had the radio on, and the guy on the radio was astonished by Freshman Senator Ted Cruz’s lack of remorse for his role in the government shutdown. I was not astonished.

Now, Mary Heinz, Jeff Leighton, and I do anticipate an array of concerns, fears, doubts, and uncertainties in association with this transition to SharePoint, but we have a support strategy in place to address these. We will not be astonished by anything you will have to say about SharePoint.

That reminds me. Were you all here for last year’s holiday party? I was talking with Mary Heinz, just chatting a bit with Mary Heinz, and I remember she said something interesting. She said, “My kids are astonished by organizational inefficiency. They say, ‘Mom, how can this be, people repeating work, reinventing the wheel over and over?’” That is how I learned not to be astonished by anything, ever. Reporters are astonished; children are astonished; project managers are not astonished. I was not astonished when Mary Heinz asked me, not Jeff, to be the project manager for the SharePoint transition, even though I am under thirty years old and chubby and single and a girl and possibly a lesbian. I was not astonished when the government shut down. And I was not astonished when Mary Heinz asked me to come to her house on Christmas day to finalize the SharePoint transition plan.

Her house is what you would expect. Both of the neighboring houses had opted for the candle-in-each-window move, while Mary Heinz’s house had a wreath on the door but no other decorations. Mary Heinz is likely too busy to decorate. The second floor was all dormers. That is the word for it, yes, a dormer?

Per Mary Heniz’s instructions, I parked a few houses up and walked along the side of the house to let myself in the back door. She had emphasized that I should shut the door without a sound and then take the back stairs up to the master bedroom. I did accordingly.

Her kids were opening their Christmas presents downstairs. “Thank you!” I heard the daughter say. Her voice was high-pitched, prim, enunciating. “What did you get, Judy?” said the son to the daughter. Then, having been shown, he actually said, “Neato!”

I sat on the tightly-made bed and mentally rehearsed some things to say about SharePoint, about current events, about my made-up boyfriend, about her children—whatever would be required.

Eventually Mary Heinz came in. She was wearing big fluffy slippers, tight black lyrca pants, and a tight black lyrca turtleneck. Her knees and elbows looked extra pointy in the get-up, but it left nothing to the imagination, shall we say. Let’s admit it, she’s not altogether unattractive, our CEO. Who here has fantasized about fucking Mary Heinz?

She paused at the door, nodded once, blinked, and smiled, like, ah yes. The she walked towards me and sat next to me on the bed. The tight springs made us both bounce a little when she sat down. Then she tilted her head, showing me her neck. I was not astonished. I leaned in and kissed her on the collarbone. My cheeks felt chubby like a baby’s up against her wiry neck. She pushed me down on the bed, climbed on top of me, and kissed me on the lips. The inside of our boss’s mouth is slobbery, and her tongue is a muscle. Kissing is associated with an array of concerns, doubts, fears, and uncertainties, but Mary Heinz no doubt had a strategy in place to address these. She pulled back briefly for air. I reached uncertainly for her ass, but she grabbed my hand and put it back down on the bed. In her elegant, cold hand, my fingers felt stumpy and my skin felt rough and dry. Her watch had peeked out of her sleeve as she was moving my hand, and she flicked her wrist to check the time.

“Ah,” she said. “You were a tad late, weren’t you.”

“I got a little lost,” I said.

She reached out and held her palm to my cheek. “You can leave the back door unlocked. Jeff will be here soon.”

Then she climbed off of me and stood up. Unsure if I was supposed to get up, I felt my chin fold into several little chins as I tucked my head to look at her from lying down.

“Where did Mom go?” I heard the son say downstairs.

“One moment, please,” Mary Heinz called in a we’ve-been-through-this voice.

Mary Heinz gave me a little pat-pat on the knee, and then she turned and walked out.

I snuck back downstairs, crept around the side of the house, and pressed the unlock button on the car key. The radio came back on when I started the car. A Texas accent drawled People all over the country, they’re losing their jobs, they’re being forced into part-time work, and they’re losing their health insurance. In my retreat, I didn’t get lost once in the cul-de-sacs, and soon I was out on the main artery.

I slowed to a stop at a blinking red light. I looked left, right, ahead, behind—the roads were utterly empty in all directions. The light beat like a heart. Congress is flailing in the dark, the radio said. Beat, beat. We’re nearing the edge of a cliff, the radio said. Beat, beat. I gripped the wheel white-knuckle tight until I could feel my own pulse in my fingers. Aimless, the radio said. Self-destructive. With each beat of blood into my fingers, somewhere in the back of my mind I found that I was silently chanting, What—the—fuck—what—the—fuck— It was as though I had been chanting this for who knows how long—my whole life, even—and had only just noticed it.

Then, coming to a stop from the other direction, I saw Jeff Leighton. He had one hand on the wheel, the other hand around a Starbucks cup, and a cell phone in the crook of his neck. He waved by splaying his fingers off the steering wheel at me, and he sort of rolled his eyes in commiseration, as if to say, On Christmas day? I lifted my palm and shook it at him, and I felt the flesh of my underarm jiggle—a goofy, childish wave. But the chanting seemed to have subsided, or at least shushed for the time being. I thought of the significant potential for enterprise efficiency. I thought of our plan to handle concerns, doubts, fears, and uncertainties. I thought of the spiced eggnog recipe I had found online. Yes, it did, it came out really well. I can send you the recipe.

So as you can see, we’ve put people at the center of the experience. And I think you’ll find that with ESC, we’re looking at a tremendous opportunity to gain that competitive edge. SharePoint will increase efficiency by reducing employee redundancy, streamlining basic tasks, and improving collaborative techniques. You will discover, share, and organize information and ideas predictably within this system.

 

 

Anna Isaacson Author PhotoBIO

Anna Isaacson has a publication forthcoming in the The Saint Ann’s Review, and she attended the Summer 2014 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Anna currently lives in Boston.

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The Drawings of Hilda Daniel

 

Willie Mae Thornton by Hilda Daniel

Willie Mae Thornton by Hilda Daniel

 

Martha Promise by Hilda Daniel

Martha Promise by Hilda Daniel

 

Gladys and the Infant by Hilda Daniel

Gladys and the Infant by Hilda Daniel

 

Willard Mayes by Hilda Daniel

Willard Mayes by Hilda Daniel

 

Ike Zinnerman by Hilda Daniel

Ike Zinnerman by Hilda Daniel

 

Big Maceo by Hilda Daniel

Big Maceo by Hilda Daniel

 

Clifton Chenier by Hilda Daniel

Clifton Chenier by Hilda Daniel

 

Vernon Presley by Hilda Daniel

Vernon Presley by Hilda Daniel

 

AP Carter by Hilda Daniel

AP Carter by Hilda Daniel

 

Otis Span by Hilda Daniel

Otis Spann by Hilda Daniel

 

Gid Tanner by Hilda Daniel

Gid Tanner by Hilda Daniel

 

Artist Statement:
These drawings were inspired by the music, stories and photos I’d seen of the subjects in them. They were all made with charcoal, graphite, chalk, eraser and masking tape on paper. I used eraser almost as much as charcoal and graphite, and the masking tape used in service of sharp edges, flatness, and graphic effect added an element of chance – which was often a total joy. There was a point in working on each of these when likeness was achieved – verisimilitude, though, was not something I was going for, ever (it always felt empty, exhaustive, enervating, sinkingly depressing when it was just likeness). I find there can be far more pathos in a bulge or curve or a movement or sound or the voluptuous blackness of a charcoal line. In this way, the drawings usually didn’t feel right until they looked “wrong” (as portraits, right as drawings). Working on these was intensely arduous but intuitive and completely immersive in an uncanny way that, when completed (and despite my being covered in charcoal dust), often made them seem more like alchemy than the result of hard work (I think this is an experience familiar to most creative people).

 

About:

Willie Mae Thornton – Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton was a rhythm and blues singer. She taught herself to play the drums and harmonica when she was a young girl.  She and her sisters sang with her mother in church, where her father was a preacher.  Hound Dog, later made famous by Elvis, was written for her and she recorded it in 1952, with her friend Johnny Otis on drums.  Her rendition is definitely worth seeking out.   Ball N’ Chain, written and recorded by Willie Mae, was later made famous by Janis Joplin. Willie Mae often dressed in men’s clothes and her performances often subverted the traditional roles of women in the blues industry.  She died at age 57 in Los Angeles in 1984, going from 350 to 95 pounds, suffering complications exacerbated by alcohol abuse. She was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1984, Ball and Chain into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Willie Mae Rock Camp for girls ages 8 to 18 was named after her.

Willard Mayes (Pete’s brother) – Willard was the brother of Pete Mayes (here pictured behind Willard), and a blues guitarist and singer.  Willard and Pete were raised in Double Bayou, Texas, a town with a dance hall (something significant in the young lives of so many musicians of the era). The brothers likely taught themselves to play.  There was little information I could find about Willard, but he has a credit as the bass player on one of his brother’s recordings.

Gladys Presley and the Infant – Gladys Love Smith eloped with Vernon Presley in 1933.  She was Elvis Presley’s mother.  Here she is pictured with the infant Elvis (it is perhaps too macabre to say I sometimes think of the infant in this picture also as Jesse Garon Presley, stillborn 35 minutes before Elvis – I find it haunted in that way….) At the time of her pregnancy with Elvis, Gladys was earning $2 a day at the Tupelo Garment Company.  Elvis and Gladys had a very close relationship and she remained at the center of his life.  She died at age 46.

Vernon Presley – Vernon Elvis Presley was Elvis Presley’s father.  He eloped and married Gladys Love Smith, Elvis’s mother, when he was 17.  Vernon was a deacon in the Assembly of God Church in East Tupelo and worked at various odd jobs.  He has described his life with Gladys and Elvis as close and happy, despite their struggles with poverty – “There were times we had nothing to eat but corn bread and water.  But we always had compassion for people”.  He remarried after Gladys’s death, to Davada Stanley with whom he had three stepsons, who Elvis always considered brothers, and not stepbrothers.

Martha Promise – Martha Promise was the wife and widow of Huddy Ledbetter (Lead Belly) and known to be the inspiration of some of his songs. In a Life magazine feature about Lead Belly, Martha is identified in a photo as his manager.  She performed with Huddy at his final concert in 1949 at the University of Texas at Austin.

Ike Zinnerman – [Ike Zimmerman] taught Robert Johnson to play guitar, and harmonica.  He was born in Grady Alabama, spent his early life as a farmer, and eventually moved to The Quarters, a small area in Beauregard, MS by a crossroads and the Beauregard Cemetery.  As a boy, Ike played in juke joints in surrounding towns.  He taught many people to play – many of them women, one remembered as being as good as Robert Johnson.  He met Robert Johnson at a store.  His family took Robert into their home, where Robert learned from ike. They often practiced in the Beuregard Cemetery. Ike later gave up the blues – but not the guitar – and became a pastor in Compton, California. His children remember some of the songs later attributed to Robert Johnson, being played by their father in their home before Robert ever came to stay.

Big Maceo – Maceo Meriweather, born Major Meriweather in 1905, was a self-taught blues pianist and singer. His song, Worried Life Blues was later recorded by Chuck Berry, and among the first to be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. He made over 30 recordings and is considered one of the most influential blues pianists of the 1940s.  In 1946, Maceo suffered a stroke which left him partially paralyzed. He died in 1953.  In 2008 an event was organized to honor Meriweather and raise funds for a headstone for Maceo’s grave.

Clifton Chenier – Clifton Chenier is a Creole French-speaking musician from Opelousas, Lousiana.  He is known as the King of Zydeco (a highly infectious (joyously danceable) mix of Cajun and Creole, R&B, Jazz and Blues music (it is one of my favorite forms of rock and roll).  He is also credited with redesigning the tin washboard, a staple of zydeco bands, into a more easily playable vest frottoir.  “What I did was to put a little rock’n’roll into the zydeco to mix it up a bit. You see, people been playing zydeco for a long time, old style, like French music. But I was the first one to put the pep to it.” Chenier toured extensively throughout his lifetime, until his death (brought on by diabetes and kidney related illness).

A.P. Carter – Born Alvin Pleasant Delaney Carter in Poor Valley, Virginia, AP was an American musician and, along with his wife Sara Dougherty, a founding member of The Carter Family.  AP suffered from physical tremors as a child (which his mother attributed to nearly being struck by lightning during pregnancy), but was an active violin player and singer in church choir.  AP expected to live as a farmer (like his family); he also worked on the railroad, and traveled the country selling trees (when he met Sara).  He is known for collecting folk songs, particularly Appalachian ones, during these travels.  Despite being among the very first to have made recordings of “country music”, The Carter Family’s seminal influence in the form, being posthumously inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and Country Music Hall of Fame, and his image appearing on a postage stamp in 1993, he died in relative obscurity.

Gid Tanner – James Gideon Tanner was a fiddle player.  Along with his band, The Skillet Lickers, he was an early country music star, making some of its earliest recordings. He learned to play the fiddle at age 14 and was known as one of the finest musicians in Georgia.  Gid worked as a chicken farmer for most of his life.  He stopped making records in the 1930’s but continued performing.  His grandson and great-grandson continue to play in the Skillet Lickers; they host an open jam session on Friday nights in a refurbished chicken house on the family farm in Dacula, Georgia.

Otis Spann – Otis Spann was a blues pianist. He began playing piano at age 7.  His father, Friday Ford, was a pianist, and his mother a blues guitarist who played with Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie, among others.  Otis replaced Big Maceo Meriweather as Muddy Waters’ pianist.  He had recordings in his own right, working with other greats such as Howling Wolf, and worked as a session pianist. He died of liver cancer in 1970.  He was buried in an unmarked grave until a fundraiser in 1999 raised money for a headstone.  This drawing was inspired by a very moving account by Peter Guralnik of his visit with Otis just before his death, in which he recounted that the walls in Otis’s room was covered with dog pictures.

Information on these subjects was gleaned and paraphrased from verbal histories, books and internet sites (including Wikipedia, Elvis.Wiki, biography.com, coldbacon.com, aaregistry.org, tdblues.com and as very beautifully related by Peter Guralnik in Lost Highway and other publications, among others).  No copyright infringement is intended; absolute gratitude for sharing the history is. While I was familiar with the music of most of these people when I made these drawings during the 1990’s, information on these people at the time was much scarcer – the obscure seemed much more obscure.  In researching them again today at Editor’s request for some additional bio information, I find so much more information is available, and that those that seemed to be living in relative obscurity are now written about very differently, their influence and life’s work perhaps finally given its due.

 

 

 

BIO

Hilda Daniel is a multi-media artist based in New York City.  Her work has been exhibited in New York, London, Berlin, Oslo, Marseille, Dublin and other cities in Europe, the US, Canada, Mexico – including the Anthology Film Archive, NYC, the Oslo Screen Festival, and most recently in the MoMA’s curated SoundCloud site for its exhibition on John Cage’s 4’33” and in Kinokophonography at Lincoln Center’s Bruno Walter Auditorium. Her work has also been written about in The New York Times, Performance Art Journal, New Art Examiner, artnet.com and other publications.

 

 

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Amita Murray

Marmite and Mango Chutney

by Amita Murray

 

Auntie’s stroke didn’t seem to have any lasting effect, except for a slight droop in her left cheek and the tendency to talk in aphorisms.

“Such is life,” she would say. She would puff out her cheeks like a hoary toad fighting against the march of cynicism. “People only look out for themselves. It has to be said.” In her more positive moments, her favourite was, “You can only grow old if your heart ages.” And then there was the cryptic and all-encompassing, “Young people.”

The last was a flexible one, and could be adapted to many situations. “Black people,” or, “Chinese men,” or “Accountants,” or “Those homeless,” were all versions she used regularly. It was difficult to know where her sayings came from. If they were a product of experience, or if they defied encounters and conversations, and emerged triumphant, despite all evidence to the contrary.

When Auntie’s daughter, my cousin Veronica, announced that she was going to marry Gary, a mixed-race, half-black, half-white “mongrel” – as Auntie labelled him – the after-effects of the stroke became more pronounced than ever.

“The West is full of divorce,” Auntie said, her face drooping to one side, elongating the speck of Marmite that lingered on her cheek after lunch. Marmite and Amed’s Mango Chutney were Auntie’s two favourite foods in the world, and everyday at lunch, she ate two slices of bread, each with a layer first of Marmite, then mango chutney, the kind with bits of sweetened, gloopy mango in it. “He will leave you within two years,” she continued, as if she had performed a risk analysis of the time it would take for a mixed-race accountant to leave a second-generation part-time blogger. “And then where will you be?” As she asked the question, she combed her hair with a thin comb, over and over, slowly, rhythmically, like she was stroking a cat, stopping only to pull out coils of oily hair from the comb and rolling them into a tight and ever-expanding ball that she would hand over to whoever had the bad luck to be sitting next to her when she was done combing.

 * * *

Veronica works as a relationship blogger, under the pen-name Dadi Ma (or Grandmother), for a successful e-magazine for the under-forties Londoner, the female professional looking for love, shoes and weight loss on her morning commute. “Love, shoes and weight loss – that’s all they ever want. I’m not very good at this advice stuff, am I? Am I?” Veronica would ask me. “I’m not very good at anything. Why am I so pathetic?” Dadi Ma is supposed to be perennially sixty-five-years-old, her birthday, for no particular reason, on Halloween, and she gives funny and old-fashioned advice to women who write in. She is very popular. Veronica has worked in this role for five years, ever since she was twenty-seven. Ironically, for most of those five years, she was miserably single.

It was a thing with her, this lack of a significant relationship. At the time, it didn’t matter to her that she was a successful writer. As I was crooning my way through the pub circuit on the dodgier outskirts of London, mournful, soft-boiled tunes to go with my cello, that I penned feverishly in the middle of the night, and that no one wanted to buy, Veronica was already working for a lifestyle magazine. She lived in a studio flat near Holborn. While I lived in this six-bedroom gig with Australians and South Africans and Kiwis, and a pet iguana with uncertain antecedents, but knowing eyes and an uncanny ability to be in the Now. No one even had a bedroom to their name, and no one knew with any accuracy how many of us were living there at any given time. If you found a bed to sleep in at night, it was taken as enough. If it was empty of foul-smelling, travelling strangers, it was practically a Christmas present.

Whenever we met up, I was determined not to let Veronica’s lack of relationship become the main topic of conversation. I came with lots to talk about, my shoulders squared and my eyes fierce with resolve. My flatmates. My “voluntary” work as a singer and cellist. My various pointless dates with married men, unavailable men, stupid men. I talked fast and furiously, in a rush to make the silence stop. My words spilled out like people who worked in office jobs, at five o’clock, anxious to get out of the door, paranoid of staying a minute later. But Veronica’s “thing” hung over us. It was the thing That Must Not Be Named. It was the body in the library. It was like nothing else existed. We could never talk of anything else in those days. If I talked of anything else, Veronica sat there looking sad and accusing. It was like her eyes were telling me I was selfish to talk about anything other than her love life, or lack of it. In the end, I would always give in, and ask her how it was going. She would tell me in great detail, great globular words that would rise and rise till they exploded all around me, spilling their hunger for love, so I was drowning in them, flailing like a fly stuck in honey. She would tell me how it was all hopeless. How she was doomed to be one of those women. How she would never find love, and love would never find her. “It must come from not knowing who my father is, you know? You will always have that,” she would say, as if this was my chief fault.

What was wrong with her, she would wail. What was it stopping her from having what everyone else had? But it was not a rhetorical question. She wanted answers from me. When would she meet someone? Could she improve her chances by losing weight, getting a haircut, reading the Hitchhiker books, sitting in the Tate, looking cool and hip? Was it that she came across as too independent, or was she too clingy and needy? “It’ll be alright, there’s nothing wrong with you,” I would say. “You’ll definitely meet someone. Definitely.” I smiled reassuringly, I gave her hugs as she left, I gave her all my optimism, and returned home sapped and dry. Veronica read horoscopes obsessively and took them personally. She read between the lines, she read them over and over for some hint that today would be the day she would meet someone. At times when I was in a relationship, she would hate me. I just knew it. “I could have been a singer,” she would say. “It just never attracted me so much. I need a challenge, you know?”

  * * *

When Veronica brings Gary home for lunch for the first time, Auntie sits hunched in her wheelchair, a frown etched on her forehead, a drab brown sari wrapped unresponsively around her. She is usually the master of organizing dinner parties, making sure that she makes her numerous relatives feel culpable if they don’t make an appearance, by saying things like, “People forget their family,” or “You’re so busy all the time, I thought I’ll only have to make an effort, no?” or “I’m too old for you now, is that it?” But today, relatives are conspicuous by their absence. She does not think the occasion demands a dinner party. It ranks somewhere beneath contracting chicken pox in her estimation.

Gary reaches out and touches her hand – a courageous but fool-hardy move. Veronica and I hold our breath. What will Auntie do? More importantly, what will she say? Her hand is unmoving, as if the stroke has wiped out the feeling in her right hand, or she wishes it had. She stares at him for a long time. But Gary stands his ground, and just stares back. She reaches out slowly to the teacup set in front of her on the coffee table. It takes her five minutes to pick it up with a shaking hand that is roughly the look and size of a dehydrated prune. She finally brings it to her lips. The stroke has had no effect on her arms or hands, but this doesn’t stop Auntie from making the most of the situation. But in any case, Gary doesn’t flinch, doesn’t even look away, doesn’t try to rush her or help her.

“What do you see in her?” she says in the end, after she’s taken a slurping sip and let a drop of overcooked Red Label tea trail all the way down her chin.

Veronica and I let out a collective breath. Of all the things she could have said, this is not the worst. Not by far.

“She’s feisty,” Gary says.

Auntie snorts. “I know your kind. Men have their fun, then leave.”

“Not all men,” Gary says.

“Men of your kind,” she says. “You have no family values, you here in the West.”

“We must find a man for Aisha,” Veronica says, intervening, nudging me in the ribs. “Since only an emotionally-stunted married man with six children will do for her, that’s where we should look.”

I turn away, smiling through the stifling rage.

“You be nice to her,” Auntie says to her. “Young people,” she adds, shaking her head. It is not clear who she is speaking to, since she doesn’t approve of any of us this precise minute.

I turn back to see Auntie playing with the ring of her finger, round and round, staring at nothing. My mother left her the ring, with the understanding that Auntie would leave it to me. Gary has moved out of earshot, as has Veronica. They are huddled over a cup of tea, in that intimate way people have. “You mustn’t mind her,” she says to me, as I stare at them. “She didn’t have a father growing up, like you did.”

“I know. I don’t mind,” I say. “Of course I don’t.”

She is staring at me. “You mustn’t. You mustn’t mind. Okay?”

I do, of course I do. I hate Veronica. I hate how I have to make her feel okay about herself. I hate how it’s my job.

Lunch is a scary business, and Veronica and I are barely breathing. Auntie has given Seema (who she persists in calling her servant, though we try to tell her Seema is an employee, a cook even, but not a servant or a maid) instructions to make the biryani as hot and spicy as she possibly can. Seema has outdone herself. There are hard little pepper pods hiding under the chicken like landmines, the rice is boiled in cayenne, and skinny green chillies are chopped up into bits that are precisely the same size as the green beans, so you can’t tell the difference. Gary is sweating within minutes, wiping his upper lip and his forehead. I see a tear escape all the way down his cheek. But he perseveres. In fact, he keeps on serving himself more and says how he’s never eaten biryani half as good. Auntie’s eyes glitter. She mumbles something about how it is surprising that a mixed-race man like Gary can handle Indian chilli. She watches and waits. She is waiting for him to do something stupid. So far, he is managing not to. But it can’t last forever.

“Maybe if you’re so good for her, you can help her get a proper job,” Auntie says to Gary, as she nibbles on a mini Mars bar after lunch. It is her favourite dessert. She uses her index finger – now surprisingly sure and stable – to blot the little crumbs of chocolate that fall on her sari. She blots them, then licks the finger, leaving melted streaks of chocolate on her fingers. She sucks on these as she talks. “What is it with Westerners? Freelance, freelance, we’re going freelance. Going mad is what. Going up Chowringhee Lane.”

“It is a proper job,” I say. “Veronica’s a successful writer. Not like me, singing half-heartedly in pubs that no one goes to.” I don’t know why I feel like I have to say that. It’s hardly as if Veronica’s life needs embellishing. It seems kind of perfect to me. A creative career that pays. A flat. Gary.

“You have a beautiful voice,” Gary says, turning to me.

I am not sure if he is making fun of me. He and Veronica have seen me play at a pub. They were the only two people there that night, except for an ageing gentleman with no teeth and leather elbow patches, who follows me on my ‘tours’ and always kisses my hand afterwards and tells me he loves me. I always thank him. He is about ninety years old.

“If it didn’t sound quite so sad,” I say.

“It has heart,” he says. “It makes you long.”

I am startled. I turn to Auntie, to make a joke, to make the moment disappear. But her eyes are full of something I have never seen in them before as she watches me. Fear. I have always thought she is beyond fear.

  * * *

When things broke down with Gary after a year of marriage, Veronica disappeared for a while. She was still in London, we knew that much. But she never appeared at family dos. Or met up with any of our numerous cousins that were spread like linseed all over London. She couldn’t bear to be confronted by what she, of all people, must believe was a colossal failure.

When we meet at Auntie’s funeral, I have not seen her for over a year. Not her, and not Auntie who refused to see me after Veronica disappeared. I try to catch her eye through the service, but she refuses to look at me. She is wearing a black skirt, tights with snowdrops on them, a jacket that is tailored for her. Despite the bad couple of years she’s had, she is as successful as ever, and is now writing for other blogs and magazines. I see her name everywhere. Even when I am not looking for it.

Over lunch, I walk over to her. I stop at the table, laid with Auntie’s favourite food, that no one else likes. “I am sorry, Veronica,” I say.

She shrugs. “It was a matter of time. After the stroke.” She bites into a roulade, then spits it out into a paper napkin. She looks thin. “How’s Gary?” she asks.

“He’s fine,” I say. “He wanted to come, but I thought it would be better if he didn’t.”

“She knew, you know,” Veronica says. “Mummy knew.”

My heart beats painfully. “How do you know?”

“She stopped inviting you to things. Even before it happened with you and Gary. She knew before you knew. She watched you like a hawk.”

It’s hard to hear. But yet the last year I have been free of Veronica and the familiar guilt. I have not had to take care of her. That is something.

The will is read later on. Auntie has left me my mother’s ring. This is not something I expected. I roll it round and round on my finger. I thought she would leave it to Veronica. There is a note with it. “Take care of her,” she says. “She only has you. She didn’t have a father growing up. Family is all we have.”

And I am not free. “It will be alright, Veronica,” I say as I leave. “It really will. Definitely.” I give her a hug.

 

 

 

BIO:

Amita Murray is a writer, based in London. She has published stories in Brand, Inkspill, Front View and others. She often writes about the comedy and tragedy of clashing personalities and cultures. Short story magazines tell her that her writing is talented – publishing houses regretfully add that it continues to defy a clear market. So her writing life is an on-going see-saw between agony and ecstasy. Her novels Confessions of a Reluctant Embalmer and The Pre-Raphaelite Seamstress are available on Amazon. Get in touch @AmitaMurray and amitamurray.com

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David Armand Photo

Dixon Hearne Interviews David Armand

 

THE ART OF WRITING

A Conversation with DAVID ARMAND

Author of THE PUGILIST’S WIFE, HARLOW, and THE GORGE

David Armand author

DAVID ARMAND was born and raised in Louisiana. He grew up in the small village of Folsom, where he lived on twenty-two acres of pine-wooded land with lots of dogs and a few horses. He has worked as a telephone operator, a dishwasher, a drywall hanger, a draftsman, and as a press operator in a flag printing factory. He now teaches creative writing at Southeastern Louisiana University, where he serves as associate editor for Louisiana Literature Press. In 2010, he won the George Garrett Fiction Prize for his first novel, The Pugilist’s Wife, which was published by Texas Review Press. His second novel, Harlow, was released by Texas Review Press in September 2013. He has spoken at the Tennessee Williams Festival and the William Faulkner Society’s Words & Music Festival in New Orleans, as well as the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge, and the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. David now lives with his wife and two children and has recently completed his third novel.

 

THE INTERVIEW

Dixon Hearne: Thank you for meeting with me today, David. Can you talk a little bit about your new book, The Gorge, and how you came up with the concept for the story?

 

David Armand: Sure. The Gorge takes place in the Bogue Chitto State Park in Franklinton, Louisiana. The book takes place in the mid-1980s, though, before the land was a state park. At the opening of the novel, a young girl’s body is discovered in the brush near Fricke’s Cave, which is sort of a geographical anomaly in southeastern Louisiana. The young man who discovers her body is accused of killing her.

 

Dixon Hearne: What is Fricke’s Cave?

 

David Armand: Fricke’s Cave is a sandstone “cave” at the head of a giant gorge there in the park. It’s not really a cave, per se, but it’s just an odd formation that stands out among everything else around it. When I first saw this place a few years ago, this persistent image of a body being discovered there just wouldn’t leave me alone. (This is how all of my books start, by the way, with this image that just won’t go away. This one was so strong that I started writing notes on some receipts that were in my car’s glove compartment as soon as my family and I left that place.)

The odd thing is that as I was working on this book, I started reading Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean and learned that a body actually was left in Fricke’s Cave back in the early eighties. The character that Sean Penn played in the film version of Dead Man Walking was actually an amalgamation of several killers, one of them Robert Lee Willie, who was accused, along with his friend Joe Vacarro, of killing a girl named Faith Hathaway and dumping her body in the cave.

But The Gorge is not a retelling of that story. Instead it is a fictional story of a young man, Tuller, who finds his girlfriend’s body and then gets accused of her murder. Most of the book is told in flashbacks of Tuller’s and his girlfriend, Amber’s, relationship. It’s a love story more than anything else.

 

Dixon Hearne: Are any of the characters in your book based on people you knew and grew up with?

 

David Armand: Sure. I think that’s inevitable.Most of the characters in my books are amalgamations of people I know or once knew. No character in my book is an exact replica of a real person, but there are certain traits that I borrow and use for my fiction, absolutely.

 

Dixon Hearne: Your prose is so careful and precisely written. It’s almost as if every word is carefully chosen. It’s very beautiful the way you write.

 

David Armand: Thank you for saying that. Being initially trained as a poet, I learned a lot about the economy of language and the importance of using precise imagery and description. I’m also very aware of pacing. Sometimes I will spend hours fretting over a metaphor or an image or the right way to say something. It’s worth it, though. I prefer quality over quantity, for sure.

 

Dixon Hearne: So how long did it take to write this book?

 

David Armand: This book has taken me about two and half years to write. I started it on February 17, 2012. I’m still working on edits, but it’s pretty much done. My first two books took about the same amount of time to complete.

 

Dixon Hearne: Wow, you remember the exact date when you started writing this book? That seems kind of remarkable.

 

David Armand: Well, I keep very precise records as I work. It’s so important to stay organized as a writer. I know the word count I make each day, when I start a book, when I finish one. I finished writing Harlow, for example, on February 14, 2012.

Harlow book

Dixon Hearne: Valentine’s Day?

 

David Armand: I know. And strangely enough, the last image and line of that book says something like, “keep it there where it is written: in your heart.” That definitely wasn’t a conscious choice, but I think it was certainly a subconscious decision.

 

Dixon Hearne: And then three days later, you started writing your next book? You must write all the time.

 

David Armand: I think that’s how I stay sane. How I keep from falling into total despair. Faulkner said that if the writer’s demon-driven with something to be said, then he’s going to write it. That might sound melodramatic, but I think you must be a little bit tortured in some way to want to be an artist. It’s hard work, and the payoff (if any) is few and far between. But of course we don’t do it for the payoff: we do it because we have no choice.

 

Dixon Hearne: Without giving anything away, was the outcome of your story something you had envisioned from the beginning, or was it something that happened along the way?

 

David Armand: It definitely happens along the way. Making books can often be like riding down a river: you can never see the end from where you start off. I think it’s good to work like that, though. It requires utmost faith in your craft and your ability, but this approach also adds an element of mystery and suspense to the work that ultimately translates to the reader. If you start to outline or plan too much what you’re going to do, the reader will be able to sense that later on, and it can be the death of your book.

 

Dixon Hearne: How did you come up with the structure for your novel?

 

David Armand: I’m glad you asked about that.Structure is so important to me. The Gorge, like my previous two books, is told out of chronological order. To me, a novel is never really interesting unless it experiments with time and also with language. The true artist must be fearless. To me, it would be pretty easy to write a straightforward realistic novel, told in plain language. But that would also be boring. Nothing new. I don’t like post-modern “experimental” stuff like Borges, though: to me, that’s just gimmicky. But I do like writers who take chances, just not those who take stock in nihilism or this idea that we have to be self-referential in order to be interesting. I hate when people try to be too interesting. To me, you either are or you aren’t, you know?

 

Dixon Hearne: So when you were writing this book, did you have to get in a certain frame of mind in order to write, to see these characters and this place?

 

David Armand: Well, I live here; I live among the people I write about and, in a way, I’m one of them. I don’t participate in some of the depraved things my characters do, of course, but I can definitely relate to some of their desperation. Sometimes I will write a certain scene or about a certain event and I’ll have to literally recover from it: it’s like witnessing a horrible crime or something, I don’t know. Some people ask me why I write about such dark things and dark places, and I tell them that it’s not something I set out to do, at least not consciously. I think it’s just being honest. Things like this happen, unfortunately, and it’s the artist’s job to record those things as he sees them. Not for shock value or to capitalize off of them, but to be truthful to the reality you know about and have grown up around.

There’s a scene in The Gorge that takes place in a scrapyard that comes directly from an experience I just had: I had to change out my water heater a couple of weeks ago, and I decided to take the old one to a scrap yard by my house. When I got there, I could tell that so many of the people there were selling scrap to either buy food or pay a bill or buy drugs, or maybe all of the above. There was all this protocol you had to follow just to go in and sell your junk. I was thinking of James Dickey’s poem “Cherrylog Road” and when I sat at my desk the next morning, about 3,000 words just erupted: the whole scene I wrote that day took place in a junkyard. I was amazed.

 

Dixon Hearne: When did you first start writing?

 

David Armand: You know, as reluctant as I am to say it, I think I was born to be a writer. I have always paid close attention to the mundane details around me (people’s facial expressions, colloquialisms they used, sounds, smells). I suspect a lot of us do this, but I just had an obsession for these things ever since I can remember.

I loved being read to as a small child and I have fond memories of this. I loved the way words looked on the page and the way they sounded when combined in certain ways. I used to try to mix words up or intentionally mispronounce them when I was younger to see what effect it had. I still do this, play with words and sounds.

Once I learned how to read, I read everything: street signs, logos on people’s shirts, you name it. My family would tell me to shut up I would do this so much. But it just felt magical to me, like I found a key to unlock something that I couldn’t understand before. This feeling of magic has never gone away, even to this day.

When I was in third grade, I started drawing comic strips. It was my first real effort at storytelling. I entered a comic that I had made in a contest for the “Just Say No” campaign, which was an anti-drug campaign spearheaded by Nancy Reagan back in the ’80s when I was a kid. I don’t remember how long it took, but eventually I learned that my comic won first prize. I received one-hundred dollars, and my comic was displayed at the Parish Fair. I can still remember what it looked like hanging up there on the bulletin board and the way the hay on the ground smelled and the sounds of the livestock in the same covered building and the feeling I had as people walked past my story and read it. I wish I still had a copy of it, but it’s long gone. That hundred dollars didn’t last long either, I’m sure, but I felt rich.

After that, I started writing little sketches in an old ledger book that my grandfather gave me for collecting stamps. I remember peeling out all of the stamps (probably a really stupid move, as I’m sure those stamps were worth far more than what I was writing in that book) and then writing these little horror stories, à la Edgar Allan Poe, in there.

In high school, I wrote songs and poems. I re-wrote the ending to Kate Chopin’s The Awakening for a class assignment once and the teacher read it out loud to the class. She didn’t read anyone else’s. Mine was pretty offensive, but thankfully she didn’t say it was mine and neither did I.

When I was about fifteen or sixteen I wrote this long stream-of-consciousness narrative in an old blue notebook and showed it to one of my friends (she was a girl I was trying to impress) while we were riding home on the school bus. She was sitting in a different seat from me and when she finished the story, she got up and came to sit by me. The bus was nearly empty by then and I remember being so nervous that she was going to dismiss my story or dislike it, but to my surprise she seemed genuinely blown away by it. I’ll never forget that. The next day, I showed it to another girl in one of my classes and I remember watching her read it; she was completely focused on it and she was ignoring the teacher’s lesson, and then she just handed the notebook back to me when she finished. She didn’t say anything but I thought that she liked the story since she was unusually nice to me from then on. I don’t know though.

Other than those two girls, I never showed my writing to anyone. I don’t think my family knew I was writing stories or that I was interested in that. I read a lot, they knew that much, but I don’t think they knew I was interested in writing until way later. It wasn’t until I was in college that I started getting support from my teachers.

Unfortunately, I burned those old notebooks along with a whole entire box of writing that I did on an old electric IBM typewriter that my grandfather gave to me (I can still smell the grease on the inside of that clunker). A part of me wishes I still had that old work, but in a way, I’m glad it’s gone.

 

Dixon Hearne: So how is life for you now, compared to when your first book was published?

 

David Armand: Well, I’m still teaching. I have to pay the bills. But I have definitely appreciated the attention my work has brought to me. I’ve gotten a lot of emails from readers telling me how much my books have meant to them, particularly Harlow. I think they can relate to the pain the characters experience in the book, probably because it’s pain that I’ve experienced in my life as well. That translates onto the page. But those emails have meant so much to me. Writing can be a lonely job, but when you can communicate with readers and other writers, it makes it more bearable.

 

Dixon Hearne: You’ve had several book signings, I’ve noticed, like at Octavia Books in New Orleans. And you’ve been on a book tour. How has that been?

 

David Armand: It’s been great. Like I said, writing itself is lonely work, but when you get to meet with people who care about books and can understand the characters in your own work, you can’t ask for anything more. You really can’t.

 

Dixon Hearne: What books did you read growing up?

 

David Armand: I read so much when I was a kid. The first book I ever read in its entirety was Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. After that, I read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, then I started reading Jack London and Edgar Allan Poe. I loved reading The Hardy Boys, too. When I got a little bit older, I started reading Stephen King. I think I learned a lot from everything I’ve ever read. Even the bad stuff.

 

Dixon Hearne: Who else influenced your work?

 

David Armand: Definitely William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, Charles Frazier, Daniel Woodrell, Flannery O’Connor, Larry Brown. All for different reasons.

I also had the great fortune of having some really good teachers when I was in college. Particularly my writing teachers Jack Bedell, Norman German, and Tim Gautreaux showed interest in my early efforts and all were more than generous with their time and support. Their kindness and willingness to share what they knew with me, just a young kid, will never be forgotten.

 

Dixon Hearne: Your work has been compared to a handful of those writers you mentioned. How does that make you feel?

 

David Armand: Yes, I have been fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on your point-of-view) to be compared to those writers I mentioned. These are all of my favorite writers, so on the one hand, it’s a great honor, but on the other, I wonder if these comparisons are detrimental to me. I mean, I think this is what Harold Bloom called the anxiety of influence, and I don’t want to work under the shadows of these great writers and simply be a copy of them. I would like to have my own distinct voice. I suspect that Cormac McCarthy literally moved from Tennessee to New Mexico (or wherever he lives now) just to get from underneath Faulkner’s indomitable shadow. I think McCarthy’s first books are great, but they were often criticized for being too reliant on Faulkner’s models, so I can’t help but think he moved somewhere new just to get away from that. His first “Western” book, Blood Meridian, clearly got him out of that rut, if you could even call what he was in a rut, in the first place.

I was at a reading recently where one of the audience members asked the author if it made him feel good that his work was compared by reviewers to all these other great writers and he said that he didn’t really pay much attention to that, that the reviewers had to say something, and often our only outlet for description is comparison: that’s why we use metaphor. Because we just can’t put our minds around a good enough description, so we make a comparison. It’s human nature, you know.

One time I was in a bar and a girl came up to me and told me that I looked like Matt Damon just because I think she wanted me to buy her a drink. I know that I don’t look like Matt Damon, but I bought her that drink anyway, and it cost me twelve bucks. But it was worth it.

So people can compare my work to whomever they want to so long as it gives someone else a good point of reference and maybe makes them want to read what I have to say.

 

Dixon Hearne: Has there been any talk of turning your books into a film?

 

David Armand: Not that I know of, but one can hope (laughs). Of course, I would love to see any one of my books turned into a film. If for no other reason than to help me pay off my mortgage. I’ve seen some great film adaptations of books and of course I’ve seen some disappointing ones.

But if Harlow were ever made into a film, I would love to see Tye Sheridan play the boy Leslie. Sheridan is about eighteen (the same age as Leslie), he’s got that gritty look about him, and he’s a phenomenal actor (he played in Terry Malick’s last movie, and more notably he was in Mud with Matt McConaughey). He’s in an adaptation of Larry Brown’s novel Joe with Nick Cage, which was written by Gary Hawkins. I just think this young man would be great for this role.

And since he had such great chemistry with Matt McConaughey in Mud, I would be happy to see Matt McConaughey play Harlow, Leslie’s father. McConaughey has that great Southern drawl and that gritty look about him, too. Yeah, I could see him playing Harlow Cagwin, for sure.

 

Dixon Hearne: What is your writing process like, or what is a day of writing like for you?

 

David Armand: Writing novels is a lot like laying bricks, carefully placing one square at a time and adhering those bricks together with mortar. But every novelist’s process is different, you see.

Personally, my process goes like this: I read all the time. When I’m reading a book that is particularly well-written (one, say, by Cormac McCarthy), I keep a pen and a piece of paper or an index card and I write down every word that resonates with me. For example, when I read Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain for the first time, I had about six or seven note cards with words like “spurtle,” “piggin,” and “scarp” written on them. Those words resonated with me, had a certain feeling attached to them, a feeling I knew I wanted to have in my work-in-progress at the time. Those words become the bricks that started to make the wall of the novel. Too many writers today seem to forget the utter power that a single word (and the right word) contains, and therefore they miss the mark because their focus is too heavy on story or gimmick or idea that they forget why they came to the page in the first place: language and the fearless worship of it.

While I don’t write every day, I do feel as if I am writing incessantly, as I am always thinking about stories and how to make them.

While working, I keep my index cards and notes close by, referring to them for the right word or image as I go. Then I start to think about structure and how the story is told. I print out hard copies of the novels and mark them up with a red pen, then a black pen, then use a highlighter to mark off the changes.

 

Dixon Hearne: Do you ever write with a pen and paper?

 

David Armand: Sometimes I do. I keep a stack of yellow legal pads in my desk drawer and I will write in them a lot. I find that when I hand write a section, it makes it easier when I type it up to do the editing as I go along. There’s something kind of romantic about handwriting a novel, even though it’s definitely less convenient.

 

Dixon Hearne: Who reads your work first?

 

David Armand: I have a couple of readers with whom I share my work. The great thing is that each of them reads for different things, and I can count on them for honest feedback. Some of the best advice has come from my close friends.

 

Dixon Hearne: Do you write any poetry?

 

David Armand: Not so much anymore, but as I’ve said, I started off my training as a poet, and I think that has really helped me as a novelist. Faulkner used to say that all novelists are failed poets, and I tend to agree with that. I do have a handful of poems that I might work on a little bit one day and send out to a magazine or two.

 

Dixon Hearne: Have you written any short stories?

 

David Armand: Yes, after I wrote a lot of poems, I moved up to the next longest form, which for me was the short story. I really worked on that craft for a while, making a handful of stories that I collected in my graduate thesis, Mae’s Blues, which I had the pleasure of working with Tim Gautreaux on. I published a couple of those. I also like to try to pull out sections of my novels and publish those as stand-alone pieces. That’s seemed to have worked well for me, too.

 

Dixon Hearne: How did you go from writing your first book, to getting it published?

 

David Armand: After I finished writing The Pugilist’s Wife, I submitted it to agents and independent presses for about two years. I also submitted it to several contests. One of the contests I sent it to was run by Texas Review Press over at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. My novel went through the rounds of blind judging and made it out on top. Then the day that changed my writing life was November 8, 2010, when I received a phone call from Paul Ruffin, the director of Texas Review Press. He called to inform me that my novel had won the 2010 George Garrett Fiction Prize. The novel was published the next year. Two years later, Ruffin published my second novel, Harlow.

Pugilists Wife book

So that is why I always suggest to authors who are spending years of their lives trying to find an agent first and then go that route to a publisher, just submit your work to contests. Winning or even placing can get the attention of agents, or even land one a publishing deal with the sponsor of the contest, if that happens to be a press, as it was in my case.

 

Dixon Hearne: What are your plans for the near future?

 

David Armand: I recently learned that I was accepted to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in Tennessee. So I’ll be going there at the end of the summer. I have a couple of book clubs I’ll be meeting with this summer as well. If I get an advance or something for my next book, I’d like to buy a boat. I think that would be a good way to celebrate. I’d love to teach my kids how to fish, and to just spend some time on the water.

 

Dixon Hearne: Great, David.Thank you for your time. It’s been a pleasure meeting and talking with you.

 

 

BIO

Dixon HearneDixon Hearne is the author of a textbook, three short story collections and editor of several anthologies. His fiction has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award and winner of many other awards. Other work can be found in Louisiana Literature, Mature Living, Wisconsin Review, Louisiana Review, Cream City Review, New Plains Review, Roanoke Review and many other magazines, journals and anthologies. Visit: www.dixonhearne.com and Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dixon_Hearne

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jj anselmi

Entering the Moment

by J.J. Anselmi

 

I heard the rumble of Steve’s Bronco when he pulled up to my parents’ house. Two months earlier, I’d started my junior year of high school.

“Ok mom, I’m going out to Jared and Bryan’s to ride.”

“Alright baby,” she said, looking up from her Anne Rice novel. Mom didn’t care if I came home super late from Jared and Bryan’s house or, oftentimes, not until the next day. When I was with my friends, she knew I’d be Ok. Our obsessive focus on BMX kept Jared, Bryan, Steve and me from fucking around with drugs or booze.

“I’ll call if I stay.”

Jared and Bryan lived seven miles outside Rock Springs, in a small community called Arrowhead Springs. Kenny and Tammy, Jared and Bryan’s parents, let my friends and me build ramps in their large garage. Within two years, we’d turned it into our own skate park. They also let Steve and me stay at their house too many times to count, basically adopting us into their family.

The fact that Dad had worked for Pacific Power for over twenty years seemed like a feat of manliness to me. In high school, my male classmates constantly talked about customizing their trucks and working tough jobs. I tried to follow their conversations, pretending that I knew what it was like to endure long shifts of backbreaking labor involving machinery that could eat you alive. But I felt like the world these boys inhabited would always be foreign to me. Building ramps with Jared, Bryan, and Steve helped me feel like a man in a town where I often didn’t.

Over the years, my friends taught me some basics of construction. Although he’d worked in a power plant, Dad was a mountain man, and he’d never been mechanically savvy. I hated the only woodshop class I’d ever taken because I constantly worried that the teacher and other boys thought I was a pansy. But, in Jared and Bryan’s garage, I loved to cut plywood and two-by-fours with an electric saw while listening to old school metal. My friends were patient when they taught me about ramp building, and their jabs about my lack of mechanical sense were mostly playful.

A gust of wind blew hair into my mouth when I walked outside. The October nights had become frigid, and the first snow of the year coated the sidewalks. Seven months of harsh Wyoming winter loomed. My breath snaked into the air, getting sucked from my throat by the wind. I looked at the plywood quarter pipe on the edge of my parents’ driveway, its bottom corners curling up from being left outside.

During the previous summer, I’d bought the ramp from a rollerblader. My friends and I hauled it to my parents’ house in my truck and set it up on the left side of the driveway. A few days later, I spray-painted ‘Six Six Six,’ ‘Destroy,’ and ‘Hate’ on the ramp. I didn’t believe in god or the devil, I was just an asshole metal head, and I loved to piss people off. Dad had spray-painted black boxes over my tags, but I could still see my words beneath thin coats of paint. He hated the tags for the same reason I thought they were badass: anyone who drove by our house could see them.

Pantera’s The Great Southern Trendkill pulsated my eardrums when I opened the back door of Steve’s Bronco. I lifted my bike in, careful not to scratch my Metal Bikes frame. We drove uphill, passing Uncle Mark and Keith Hay’s large houses.

On Highway 430, wind pushed against Steve’s Bronco, making it more difficult to pick up speed. Icy snow danced across the cracked asphalt. Steve and I didn’t try to talk over the music. “Suicide Note Pt. 1”—an acoustic ballad on an album that mostly consists of southern rock-infused thrash—drifted from Steve’s speakers. Phil Anselmo crooned, Would you look at me now?/ Can you tell I’m a man?

We passed SF Phosphates, a chemical plant that marked the turnoff to Arrowhead Springs. Large concrete and metal cylinders emitted sickly white smoke into the air. The chemical plant, with its flickering green and red lights, looked like a tiny, diseased city.

A cottontail suddenly darted across the road. The rabbit sounded like a plywood plank slapping against the Bronco’s wheel well when Steve hit it. “Those little fuckers,” he said. “It’s like they’re on a death mission.” We usually ran over at least one rabbit during the nights we drove to Jared and Bryan’s house.

After we parked in the driveway and got out of the Bronco, I heard plywood and two-by-fours slap against concrete, punctuated by a tink of coping. Light seeped under the tall garage door, which Steve lifted up for us to walk under. Metallica’s Kill ‘em All echoed off the insulated walls in the garage.

“Get the fuck out of here you fucking peter-eaters!” Bryan yelled. We’d started calling each other ‘peter-eater’ after Jared and Bryan’s dad drunkenly mumbled it at Jared one night.

Bryan pedaled at a quarter pipe on the far end of the garage. A three-foot wooden ledge sat on the deck of the ramp. Bryan jumped from the quarter pipe and stuffed his shoe between his fork and front tire, stalling on his front wheel on top of the ledge. With seeming effortlessness, he jumped back into the quarter pipe, landing an inch or two below the coping. Above the next ramp, Bryan planted his left foot on the wall while holding his bike above him. His back wheel spun, freewheel ticking like a manic clock, before he dove back into the transition. Throughout the rest of his run, Bryan performed similarly difficult tricks with the precision of a mathematician.

When Bryan finished his run, Steve shot out from his spot next to me. After airing a quarter pipe, he made a sharp turn and rode up the adjacent vert wall—a super steep ramp we’d pushed against Kenny’s tool room. Coming down, Steve pushed his tires into the transition to gain speed. He launched over the nearby hip and tilted his bike past ninety degrees, executing a perfect tabletop. Steve zipped around the garage, turning and spinning his opposite direction without a hint of awkwardness.

Steve’s smooth riding contrasted with his chaotic home life. His parents were divorced, and he switched between staying at their houses. Once, during a fight, Steve hit his step-dad in the kneecap with a hammer. Scared of getting his ass kicked, he rode to his dad’s trailer across town. Watching their big-screen, chain smoking, and blasting Motley Crue, Steve’s dad and step-mom got drunk every night. A pack of children with popsicle-smudged faces always seemed to be running around the trailer.

Like my dad, Steve’s dad—who Jared, Bryan, and I called Old Steve—was super supportive. He used to ride BMX himself, and, every once in a while, he’d hop on his old school Haro and ride with us. He’d also tell us stories about riding with his friends back in the day. They’d sharpen their pegs and do kick-outs into the doors of cop cars, which I thought was rad.

I can’t count how many times Old Steve fixed my car or truck. He was an amazing mechanic, and he knew most of the auto shops in town would rip me off. He never called me a pansy or dumbass because I didn’t know how to work on cars. Even though he spent forty-plus-hours-a-week working in an auto shop, he never seemed to mind helping me out.

But, like all of us, Old Steve definitely had his shortcomings. He and Steve’s mom hadn’t planned on having Steve. They were only kids themselves—both around seventeen or eighteen—and Old Steve didn’t want to force himself into a monotonous adult life. Although he loved his son intensely, I think he wanted to be Steve’s buddy instead of his parent. Steve only mentioned it to me a few times, but he and his dad had also gotten into a few fist fights, and I think this violence loomed over their relationship. When Old Steve teased his son as if he was his drinking buddy, Steve usually looked like he was trying too hard to smile. Riding fast and pumping each transition for momentum in the garage, Steve’s mind entered a place where only the present moment existed.

Starting my run, I ice-picked the ledge above the quarter pipe. Unlike Bryan, Steve, and Jared, I didn’t rotate my opposite direction during my runs. It felt awkward, and I didn’t have enough patience with myself to learn. At this point, I felt too embarrassed to go back and learn the foundational tricks my friends had all picked up in junior high.

I rode straight up a different quarter pipe, slamming my back wheel into the adjacent wall while squeezing my brake lever. I stalled in an over-vertical position for a fraction of a second, my front wheel hanging over my head. I hopped into the transition backwards, back-pedaling and then quickly flipping around. I loved the sensation of going down a ramp the wrong way. Most of my tricks consisted of variations on these two maneuvers—a fakie wall ride and an ice-pick stall—whereas my friends’ riding was much more varied.

“Yeah, J.J.,” Jared said. He, Steve, and Bryan clapped, although they’d all seen me land this trick several times before.

Jared pedaled toward the quarter pipe furthest from where we sat. Launching off the ramp, he spun a 180 and landed on the three-foot ledge. His sprocket dug into the wooden edge, and his front wheel hovered just above the quarter pipe’s coping. Jared used to tell me that this trick, called a disaster, is about overcoming the mental picture of flipping over your bars on the way back in and smashing your face on the ground. He hopped back into the ramp, tires adhering to the transition as if magnetized.

Riding, each of us pushed beyond fear. Momentarily floating in this space, we disconnected from thoughts about our fathers’ flaws and how much we hated Rock Springs. Even though I mostly did variations on the same tricks, overcoming fear was always part of the equation. You can’t ride without getting injured, and riders often get hurt doing routine tricks.

BMX constantly fucked all of us up. My injury list: separated shoulder; two broken feet; broken leg; countless gashes—one on top of my head that had to be closed with staples—scrapes, and bruises; fluid build-up behind both kneecaps—my right knee used to swell to twice its normal size after bumping it, even lightly; and one concussion. And my BMX injuries were minor compared to a lot of other riders’. I remember getting around school on crutches after I broke my foot or leg. Most kids and teachers knew how I’d hurt myself, and I felt like a badass as I crutched through the halls.

We rode for about an hour and a half before going upstairs. Jared and Bryan’s mom had bought KFC for us and set it out on the counter.

“Hi guys,” Tammy said. “J.J. and Steve, have some dinner.” Steve and I’d long gotten past the point of politely refusing food from Tammy, knowing she’d just tell us to eat anyway. On her way upstairs, she exhaled and stopped. To Jared and Bryan, she said, “Your dad won’t be home until late.” We all knew what this meant: Kenny was going to get shit-faced and drive home.

Bryan had recently ordered a new BMX video, Manmade Chapter 2. He put it in the DVD player while Jared, Steve, and I piled greasy chicken onto our plates and sat down in the living room. Filthy, tar-soaked riffs of Floor’s “Assassin” play during Dave King’s section, both of which made me feel giddy. Dave flies over huge dirt jumps, doing picture-perfect tabletops and turndowns—classic, style-oriented tricks. There’s a tough, manly beauty in his riding. He and his bike become one entity, and I wished that I could ride like him. A rider usually needs a background in racing to attain this level of smoothness, and I’d never raced. As Dave rides, Floor’s Steve Brooks, one of the few openly gay metal musicians I know of, sings Crazy for the boy in a weirdly soothing, off-kilter melody. This song perfectly fits Dave King’s stripped-down riding.

An energetic From Autumn to Ashes song plays during Chase Hawk’s section in Chapter 2, which follows Dave King’s. Chase floats in the air, whipping his back end to the side over steep dirt jumps as if his bike is an extension of his body. He doesn’t do circus tricks like double back flips, but, to me, his effortless flow was much more beautiful than the riding you’d see in contests like the X Games. You can hear the zip of his tires as he flies off the lip of a dirt jump, the whoosh of wind as he zooms past the camera. Over each jump, he performs an acrobatic dance that exists somewhere beyond human emotion. As I did with Dave King, I wished I could ride like Chase. About two years after this night, I’d hang out with Chase and Dave in Austin, discovering their bisexuality, which seemed terrifying at the time but now makes perfect sense.

We heard Kenny pull into the upper garage in his vintage Jaguar, a car he’d rebuilt himself. Like most nights, he’d driven home after getting hammered at a bar in downtown Rock Springs. During his early 20s, Kenny, driving drunk with two female passengers, had gotten into a gnarly accident. One woman died and the other would never walk again. About fifteen years later, Kenny flipped a four-wheeler onto himself, breaking his neck and back. Now, to turn his head, he had to turn his entire body, and he usually wore a neck brace.

Kenny shuffled in from the garage. He grabbed a plastic bowl of salad from the fridge, eating lettuce and vegetables with his bare hands. My friends and I laughed hysterically. I waited for Jared or Bryan to fuck with him.

“Dad,” Jared said. “You’re a fucking weasel peter-eater.” This phrase sent all of us into hysterics.

Kenny chewed a piece of lettuce, smacking his lips. Between incoherent mumbling, he said, “No, you’re a fucking weasel peter-eater.”

Laughing at Kenny, we told ourselves that we would never be like our fathers, even though we’d all inherited our penchant for recklessness from our dads. Although I laughed, I also knew that Kenny’s drinking was a yawning pain for Jared, Bryan, their older brother Jesse, and Tammy. We never said this, but my friends and I all wished Kenny wouldn’t drink anymore.

He was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. With short brown hair and a trimmed beard, he was perpetually hunched over from his back injuries, and his lips always curled up in a smartass grin. Like a stereotypical Irishman, his cheeks were deeply ruddy. I still can’t believe that he let us fill his work space with ramps.

Instead of telling us to be careful when he watched us ride, Kenny would try to get us to do crazier shit, often yelling, “Do a 360!” When Steve and I came over, he never made us feel like mooches, even though we routinely raided his fridge and slept on his couches. He always told us to think of his expensive tools as our own, and his tool room became the go-to place when we needed to fix our bikes. Almost every time I saw Kenny, he asked me how my parents were doing. He and my dad had known each other for a long time, having a mutual friend in Joey Hay.

It was this mix of deep-hearted kindness and selfishness that made our dads so perplexing. Beneath our anger and sometimes-sarcastic view of our dads, I think we worried that they were constantly on the verge of killing themselves.

 * * *

During high school, Steve, Jared, Bryan and I became friends with Josh, a Rock Springs BMX hero who was seven years older than us. When Josh moved to Salt Lake, he offered us an open invitation to sleep on his floor. He lived with Mike Aitken, a legendary BMX pro. Like us, Josh was straight edge.

When he visited Rock Springs, he usually rode our garage ramps. One weekend, we were listening to the Ramones’ self-titled album as Josh walked his bike into the garage.

“Fuck this pussy shit,” he said. He grabbed a Pantera CD from his truck and put it in the garage stereo. Phil Anselmo’s anger on Vulgar Display of Power sent ecstatic pulses through my veins. I’d listened to Pantera a few times, but this was the moment when I fell in love with the band’s dirty southern thrash.

Josh’s lips curled into a tight frown while he rode. He went faster than any of us, and I always thought of the term ‘balls out’ when I watched him ride. He launched at a wall above a quarter pipe, planting his rear tire at least three feet above the highest point any of us had reached. He glided back into the transition, his freewheel roaring like a table saw.

Between Josh’s runs, I stared at his tattoos—tire-treads on his right bicep, and a bike company logo on his left wrist, both in black ink. Sweat glistened on his closely-shaven head.

Around Josh, I often felt embarrassed and frustrated by my riding. Still, after I landed a trick, he usually said, “Yeah,” or whistled.

  * * *

During the summer before senior year, my friends and I finished our BMX video, which we’d been working on for the past two and a half years. Bryan and I edited the video on my parents’ computer, teaching ourselves about editing as we went along. I loved feeling like I could control tiny snippets of reality.

Just a few weeks away from starting school, we watched our video at my parents’ house one afternoon. I wished my section had more trick variety, but I also felt like it captured my personality. Megadeth plays while I ride full pipes, street spots, and skate parks in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, California, Idaho, and Oregon. I was proud of my editing in the video, especially in this section. During the intro to my part, snippets of me riding, wrecking, and the tags on my quarter pipe flash, on beat with Megadeth’s high-energy death rock in “Skin O’ My Teeth.”

One of my favorite clips was of me riding a metal cylinder that Steve and I’d found earlier in the summer. Driving along a highway just outside Rock Springs, one of us noticed rows of huge metal pipes, all lying on their sides in an industrial yard. The gate was open, so I just drove in, passing three or four ‘No Trespassing’ signs. Barbed-wire-topped fencing lined the perimeter of the yard, and massive equipment that I didn’t even remotely understand surrounded us. I stared at metal teeth, intricate piping, and humongous tires, knowing that each machine in the yard could’ve swallowed me.

With some maneuvering, we were able to get our bikes through a small opening in one of the cylinders. Rust coated the inside of the pipe, and it took a minute or so for our eyes to adjust. The cylinder was hard to ride. Unlike a half-pipe built for riding and skateboarding, there was no flat-bottom, which would’ve made it a lot easier to accumulate speed.

I positioned myself at the bottom of one transition, then, pushing off, quickly rotated a bit less than 180 degrees on the other side. I spun on each side, then put pressure on my handlebars, pressing my front wheel into the transition’s curve to gain speed.

The pipe amplified sound. A metallic roar replaced the usual zip of my tires.

Steve and I filmed some clips of each other. In the clip of me riding the cylinder in our video, rust rises from the pipe’s surface, swirling around me as my tires touch the point where the transition curls over itself. Watching this clip now, I remember how rust particles floated into my nose and mouth, sticking to my teeth. I also remember how powerful I felt during these moments. The pipe weighed thousands of pounds, but it shifted, slightly, against my weight and momentum.

Breathing in rust became too much to handle after twenty or thirty minutes. The cylinder also magnified the dry Wyoming heat. A large work truck pulled up right after we got our bikes out. The driver, a middle-aged woman with short hair, said, “You guys should get out of here. I just called the sheriff’s department.”

Whenever I’d drive past the yard after riding the cylinder, I remembered the weightless feeling I experienced as I carved the pipe. I never found out why these cylinders had originally been built, and I didn’t care. In Rock Springs, I usually felt alienated by the industrial machinery surrounding me. But repurposing industrial objects gave me a sense of control. After I rode one of them, the cylinders seemed like they were made of something softer and more malleable than industrial-strength steel.

My friends and I finished watching the video and then decided to ride the ramps in front of my house. We’d put our bikes in the garage, where the rancid air made us all gag. Fishing poles, reels, nets, coolers, boat oars, spare tires, rope, disorganized tools and other random shit cluttered the garage floor. Bryan, Steve, and Jared covered their noses with their shirt collars as we picked up our bikes and went outside.

“Jesus Christ,” Bryan said as we sat on our bikes on the walkway that cut through the front yard. “What’s that smell again?”

“I think it’s those hides on the rafters. I don’t know why the fuck my dad still keeps them.”

We rode the quarter pipe for fifteen or twenty minutes, mostly just fucking around. Although we often rode seriously, we also spent a lot of time doing joke tricks that were either out of style or just plain ridiculous.

Dad pulled up in his truck, parking on the sloped curb next to our house. He grabbed a fishing rod and cooler from his flatbed. “Honest question,” he said, walking toward us. “Which one of you guys can do the baddest trick?” He set down his cooler and took off his one-piece sunglasses. His eyes were bloodshot slits. In his deep monotone, Dad said, “Let’s see a mobius flip,” referring to an old-school skiing trick. During the 70s and early 80s, Dad used to ski off twenty-foot boulders, extending his legs into huge spread-eagles, of which I’ve seen a few pictures.

After each of our tricks, Dad said, “Hell yeah,” or “Right on.” He watched us for a few minutes, cracking us up with filthy jokes. Suddenly, he said, “Seriously though, you guys don’t ride this thing much, do you?” His tone became gravelly. “You know you’re going to have to get rid of it soon. I don’t want this bullshit in my driveway anymore.”

An awkward silence momentarily hung between my friends and me after Dad went inside. Jared pedaled across the walkway, toward the ramp. As he rode up the quarter pipe, I yelled, “Do a mobius flip you fucking peter-eater!” Laughing, he steered off the side of the ramp so he wouldn’t eat shit. Steve and Bryan’s high-pitched laughter echoed off the retaining wall behind the quarter pipe.

  * * *

A month or so later, Steve and I drove to Denver to see a Metallica concert, which I’d constantly been thinking about since buying my ticket. Black Sabbath, Slayer, Pantera, and Metallica—I felt like I could depend on these bands in the same way as each of my friends.

Driving through Wyoming in my Tacoma, we passed towns that seemed like smaller and larger versions of Rock Springs—middle-class neighborhoods, gas stations, fast-food restaurants, and motels, all divided by large, empty lots and surrounded by sagebrush-covered hills. We listened to Master of Puppets, …And Justice for All, Ride the Lightning, and Kill ‘em All.

To me, everything Metallica recorded after The Black Album was bullshit. I liked The Black Album itself—the album with “Enter Sandman” that sent the band into super-stardom—but it didn’t come close to capturing the same energy in the first four albums. Together, Lars’s crazy double-bass drumming and James’ and Kirk’s gnarly guitar riffs form an aural assault.

I also loved the songs that move from delicate acoustic sections into crushing walls of heaviness—songs like “Fade to Black,” “Battery,” and “One.” The movements in these songs reminded me of classical music, sans pretension. Listening to early Metallica, I felt deeply connected with the young, death-obsessed and socially alienated brains of Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield, Cliff Burton, and Kirk Hammet. James, who, like me, had gnarly acne during his adolescence, sung lyrics about death as the only true escape from hopelessness.

Steve and I left a day before the concert to ride skate parks and street spots in and near Denver. On Sunday evening, we drove to a southern suburb, Aurora, trying to find a cement spillway called the hook that some local riders had told us about. As we drove on I-225, Steve spotted the structure, which sat on the edge of a golf course.

I parked at a nearby apartment complex. An empty drive led into the golf course. Steve and I walked our bikes under a chain with a ‘No Trespassing’ sign attached to it. We looked around the chain-link fence-enclosed golf course to make sure no one saw us. After Steve climbed the fence, I lifted each of our bikes over the top and into his reaching hands. When I jumped off the top of the fence, my shoes sunk into marshy ground beneath waist-high reeds and grass.

Painted dark green, the hook looked intimidating—fifteen feet tall and about one-hundred feet wide. Imagine a full pipe cut lengthwise, down the middle. The concrete monolith loomed above the grass of the golf course.

A dust-and-gravel-covered runway led to the massive transition. Before I even thought about mustering the balls to ride this thing, Steve pedaled at the hook. His tires crunched on gravel, then zipped when they hit the smooth cement of the transition. He reached the point where the transition curled, becoming over-vertical.

A pool of black muck sat about twenty feet away from the hook. Horseflies, dragonflies, mosquitoes, and gnats buzzed above plastic bags, beer cans, and other trash in the sewage. Immediately after gliding down the transition, Steve skidded to avoid this sludgy mess. The drone of nearby traffic echoed off the concrete wave.

I thought about Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy” to get myself psyched. Steve, Jared, Bryan, and I, like other BMX riders, often referred to riding as destroying. To me, destruction was an act of creating beauty.

“Seek and Destroy” features raw, punk-infused guitar riffs, pushed by Lars’s drumming and Cliff Burton’s manic bass playing. During the middle of the song, the band pushes boundaries of control with tempo. These sounds echoed in my brain as I pedaled toward the hook.

Climbing the transition, my tires zipped. At the height of my ascent, my right arm grazed cement that curved beyond ninety degrees.

After I carved it, the hook didn’t scare me as much. It was a humongous, unmoving cement structure, but I’d found my own way to use it.

BIO

jj anselmi 2J.J. Anselmi holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from CSU Fresno, where he also worked as the Assistant Nonfiction Editor of The Normal School. His work is upcoming in Weber: The Contemporary West, and has appeared in Word Riot, The Writing Disorder, Obsolete!, Copper Nickel, and elsewhere. Along with “Living Through Pantera” (published in the Summer 2012 issue of The Writing Disorder), this piece is part of J.J.’s book, Heavy: A Memoir of Wyoming, BMX, Drugs, and Heavy Fucking Music. A regular contributor to Splicetoday, J.J. loves beating the shit out of the drums for his doom band, Hymns to the Stone. He also just bought a new BMX bike.

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Welcome to our new issue of The Writing Disorder | FALL  2014

We hope you enjoy the big new issue. It’s one we’re all very proud of — featuring a diverse group of writers and artists.

Our fall edition includes some writers whose work has never been published before. We feel lucky that we found them and they found us.

Enjoy our new issue, and enjoy the cool fall weather.

—C.E. Lukather, Editor

 

FICTION
Suzanne Hyman Joshua Sidley Ellen Mulholland Scott Stambach
Bruno Barbosa David Hicks Anna Isaacson Amita Murray
Cheryl Diane Kidder Jessie Aufiery Aurora Brackett Richard Hartshorn
POETRY
R.A. Allen Christopher Suda Kim Suttell Robert Lavett Smith
John Ronan
NONFICTION
J.J. Anselmi Paula Panich Daniel Carbone Melissa Palmer
 ARTWORK
Allen Forrest Hilda Daniel
INTERVIEW
by Eric Vasallo  by Dixon Hearne

 

LOOK FOR OUR WINTER ISSUE, PUBLISHED AROUND DECEMBER 20, 2014

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Robert Lavett Smith

Robert Lavett Smith

 

SABLE

       “Out of darkness, to begin again…”
Charles Simic

W. B. Yeats, the story goes,
young and impecunious in London,
rubbed lampblack into his stockings
to hide the rends in his boots.
Barely a century earlier, sailors
burned cauldrons of pitch on deck
to keep water-sprites at bay,
and I’m assured the India ink
generations have counted on
is nothing more than midnight’s tallow
fat with the leavings of guttered fires.
In the middle ages, sable showed—
dare we say it?—its darker side:
blood pooling beneath fevered skin
lent a name to the scourge
that tested the piety of saints.
Notwithstanding, I trust the darkness:
moist flannel enfolding a summer night,
stars pinned like disappointments
to its unblemished mystery.


 

AFTER THIRTY YEARS

        Helmer’s, Washington Avenue, Hoboken

Carved wooden bar darkened by the weight
of a ponderous century, ornate scroll work
to which the grime of the late Victorian era
still clings: how little changed it all seems
since I lived nearby decades ago, although
the pert, twenty-something bartender says
everything was refurbished after a fire upstairs,
smoke and water having scarred the walls.

I savor again familiar smells of old varnish
and sunlight. The same elegant antique mirror,
silvered crystal brimming with shadows,
runs the length of the counter, behind the bar.
But whose is this stranger’s face, skin wrinkled
and loosening, that peers incredulously back
through the glittering bottles of aged whiskey,
imported tequila, Fernet and Tanqueray?

 

 

AN ACCIDENT OF WEATHER

        A.T. S., Oberlin, Fall 1977

Try, if you must, to persuade me
that this street so slick the asphalt
shouldering the morning mist
shines as it might after rain,

this street where a cataract sky
is mirrored, featureless
as though it secreted some meaning
beyond an accident of weather,
cannot possibly lead us to any future
save for the one that you foresee.

I will listen to what you tell me
without speaking, perspiration chill
on my face in the breaking dawn.
I will contradict nothing.

And when you’ve said your piece
and turn to go, I will study the way
your footprints linger an instant
on a film of oily moisture
before they disappear, healing
behind your retreat like wounds.

 

 

BIO

Robert Lavett SmithRaised in New Jersey, Robert Lavett Smith has lived since 1987 in San Francisco, where for the past fifteen years he has worked as a Special Education Paraprofessional. He has studied with Charles Simic and Galway Kinnell. He is the author of several chapbooks and two full-length poetry collections, the most recent of which is Smoke in Cold Weather: A Gathering of Sonnets (Full Court Press, 2013).

 

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David Hicks

The Romantic Traveler™ presents
Your Customized Guide to Narcissa

by David Hicks

 

Preface

Narcissa, California, is an idyllic place. Its location, well over an hour from either Sacramento or San Francisco, is a deterrent for most tourists, but for its residents, this is precisely the appeal. Off the beaten path, largely unaffected by the economic downturn, natives of this quiet burg live in peaceful obscurity—to the east, the majestic Sierra Nevadas; to west, the grand Pacific.

Native Narcissans — or Narcissists, as they playfully call themselves — live a life of comfort and self-reflection. For most, having flourished in the dot-com boom of the late ’90s or the housing-speculation market of the early 2000s (or in some cases, both), Narcissa is their Shangri-La, a reward for their hard work. They reside in stately homes well-stocked with original art[1] and surrounded by verdant pastures and vineyards, content to linger in the privacy of their backyards, luxuriating in their swimming pools[2], ensconced in floating lounge chairs with cold drinks at the ready, gazing idly at their reflections in the well-filtered water.

 

Personal Background

You met the Narcissist at a book signing in Indianapolis. You had recently left your wife, and you were perhaps “a bit needy” and “more than a little desperate for female attention.” (We at the Romantic Traveler do not judge our clients. We are simply quoting from your profile.) Afterwards, you approached her, and told her that you found her talk riveting. You told her that as a reporter for the Indianapolis Star, you envy her the richness and excitement of her life — for she doesn’t simply write the news or report the news, she becomes the news; she immerses herself in significant global events. You realized you were gushing like a schoolgirl, but no matter; you were smitten.

Upon her departure, you wrote to her. Emailed her. Texted her. Skyped her. No matter the medium, the message was the same: She was captivating. She had it all, beauty and brains. When she told you she wasn’t feeling very beautiful, that lately she’d put on some weight, you told her god no, she was curvaceous and sexy, was she kidding? You’d consider yourself fortunate just to get a date with her.

When she told you the same stories she told everyone when she wanted them to fall in love with her (the time she flipped in a Class-6 rapid on the Zambezi because of her river guide’s bravado; the time a Swiss mountaineer first made her cry and then made her fall thirty feet off a cliff, dangling from a rope; the time she talked her way out of a potential gang rape while covering the uprising in Syria), you fell in love with her. Instantly. And you told her so. Far too soon. But you’d been trapped in a loveless marriage for years and you were absolutely ready for this. (Actually, according to our records you are still legally married, but it seems you neglected to inform her of this important fact.) In other words, you went for it, because to this point you had never gone for anything. And she invited you to Narcissa for a visit.

Which brings us to your trip, and this customized interactive e-guide.[3]

How to Talk to a Narcissist

Echo her.

When she picks you up at the airport, drives along the coast, gestures out the window and says, “Isn’t this so beautiful?” look around in awe and say, So beautiful!

When she cooks you dinner and says, “Oh, this is delicious.” Nod your head with your mouth full—Delicious!

When you have sex and she says, “I’m going to come, I’m going to come!” say I’m going to come! I’m going to come!

Alternatively (because, let’s face it, echoing can grow tiresome), you may simply say, “You’re kidding.” For example, on that first visit, when you accompany her to a speaking engagement in Sacramento and she says, “Can you believe they misspelled my name on the hotel marquee?” don’t remind her that her name, which is Middle-Eastern, is hard for Americans to spell. Instead say, “You’re kidding.”

“Did you see the program cover? That is not the photo I told them to use!”

You’re kidding!

If you tire of either strategy, feel free to alternate or combine them. For instance, when she says, “Did you hear that guy introduce me as a reporter!” you can say, “A reporter? You’re kidding!”

If you have the opportunity to speak for yourself, be sure to focus your comments on her. She certainly deserves it. She’s strong and curvaceous and looks like a lioness, whereas you have a concave chest and view yourself as something akin to an emu. She’s a special correspondent for an international news agency, whereas you are a features writer for the Indianapolis Star. She is the author of seven books, including three best-sellers, whereas you have had an idea for a book, about the failed administration of Benjamin Harrison, the only U.S. president from Indiana. She walks into a room like Mussolini; you walk in like Jimmy Stewart. She flips back her hair and holds her hands out expressively, as if her every move is being photographed by Life Magazine; you smooth back your hair to cover your bald spot, and are constantly finding poppy seeds between your teeth.

So: tell her what a superstar she is. Tell her how much you admire her. And above all, tell her how beautiful she is. Tell her this several times a day, remembering to use different words each time. (“Beautiful” certainly works well, but you’d be pleasantly surprised at how she reacts to “sexy,” “gorgeous,” or the aforementioned “captivating.”) Avoid using words like “cute,” “pretty,” and “adorable,” or phrases like “You look so nice!” because to a woman like her, such terms are insulting—indeed, pejorative.

On the occasion of your second visit, you may feel free to communicate some specific information about yourself. But be aware that she will be listening only for details that apply to her, and for signs that you will or will not be a suitable partner. So tell her what she wants to hear, while remaining somewhat evasive. Tell her, for example, that you are absolutely ready to commit to this new relationship, even though you are absolutely not. Tell her you recently left your wife, but leave out the word “recently.” Tell her you lost custody of your kids, but don’t tell her you’re still not legally divorced. Tell her you love your children, but don’t tell her how much you miss them, how you ache for them, how you cry every night you’re not with them because your (soon-to-be) ex-wife is preventing you from seeing them.

However, when you talk about her, do be specific—as well as complimentary. Tell her the white streak in her otherwise dark hair makes her look simultaneously dignified and sexy. Tell her that her report on the Syrian children victimized by a chemical bomb was so moving that you posted it on Facebook and showed the video to your friends at the newspaper. And her exposé on the latest U.S. drone attack gone awry? The very model of hard-hitting Western journalism so lacking in the mainstream media these days.

During your third visit, when she cuddles with you after sex and wonders aloud why you don’t just quit your job and move out to California to live with her, tell her you were just mulling over the same possibility, but the only matters giving you pause—and these of course are minor considerations—are that you like your job, you like where you live, and her quaint little hamlet is almost two hours from any major airport, which would make visiting your children rather arduous. But when she says something about your industry being a dying animal you’re fastened to, your state being smack-dab in the middle of the Dead Part of the Country, and how you’re already being prevented from seeing your children and in any case they will eventually perceive your ex-wife’s live-in boyfriend as their new father and your desperate attempts to see them are only giving your ex-wife more power, think it over for a while and tell her she’s probably right; in reality nobody will be reading newspapers in five years, and now that she mentions it, Indiana is really boring (it actually ispossible, you suppose, for people to be too friendly), and to be honest, your soon-to-be-ex-wife’s boyfriend is a good guy, probably a better role model for the kids than you are. Thank her for helping you to see all that. Then excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, where you can sit on the edge of the tub, put your head in your hands, and imagine your daughter calling another man “Daddy.”

A few weeks later, when the Narcissist calls in tears to tell you she is pregnant, quit your job. And move to California.

 

Travel Tip: Indiana is Well Worth Leaving
When traveling to a beautiful place to visit a potential soulmate, you will inevitably fantasize about living there. In most cases, this is a bad idea—your experience as a visitor is vastly different from that of a resident. But if you are from Indiana, then the reverse is true. Because anywhere is better than Indiana.

 

Local Accommodations

When you arrive at the Narcissist’s ranch and she informs you there’s not much room for your belongings but she has cleared three dresser drawers for you, tell her you appreciate the accommodations, you’ll do your best not to disrupt her life or in any way impede her success, and yes, you totally understand why you can’t just put your stuff in the spare room, after all, she needs that room for the house-sitter when she’s away (which is quite often, given the demands of her job and the frequency of her speaking engagements), and in any case she will soon be re-purposing the room as a nursery. Just set up an old desk in the basement,and start looking for a job. Be glad you’ve gotten out of Indianapolis, and don’t worry about missing your kids, because your ex-wife is so pissed at you for leaving your marriage she’s decided you will see them again only over her dead body. Instead, start worrying about the new kid you’re about to have.

While looking for a job, you may find a shortage of positions at the county weekly (staffed by four people). The newspaper industry is going down the tubes, remember? Find some other part-time work so you can stay home and care for her dogs and horses while she’s overseas filing reports, or while she’s off making another appearance, or while she’s doing another book signing. How about waiting tables at one of the quaint restaurants in town? There’d be nothing wrong with that, would there? She’s friends with the manager and will give him a call.

After you get that job, which you quickly realize will bring in about $800 a month, pick up some freelance editing work and tell her you’re doing so to have some spending money with which to buy her presents or take her out to dinner or help pay for the new baby—even though in fact you’re swimming in debt from your ongoing divorce proceedings and you will soon need to file for bankruptcy. Do this work, along with some freelance writing, from the living-room couch whenever she is working at the kitchen table. (When she is not working, don’t do anything. Be present and available, perpetually ready to do house repairs, chores, or some outdoor recreational activity, depending on her mood. And when she is working, don’t sit at the kitchen table with her. She needs that space, and having you at the same table might distract her. It’s how she’s always worked and you don’t mind, do you?) When she shuts her Macbook, comes to the couch, plops down on the opposite end, takes off her boots and socks, puts her feet on your lap and asks you to rub them, remember your priorities. Immediately put aside your Dell laptop, say “Of course!” and rub her feet. Do not blurt out, “Jesus Christ, again?” since it’s the second time that day and the sixth time that week she’s asked you to rub her feet. If you do happen to blurt out, “Jesus Christ, again?” then retract that statement over and over while earnestly rubbing her feet, which by this time in the day are pretty sweaty. Don’t say you were only kidding, because she knows you weren’t. Instead, admit you were feeling selfish, and yes, she’s right, you do tend to build up resentment instead of telling the truth about your feelings and it’s just that you’ve been working hard on this article that the Sacramento Bee has expressed interest in but it’s hard to get your work done when she makes constant demands on your time like rubbing her feet and drawing her bath and making her coffee and filling the water trough for the horses and pitchforking the shit from their stalls and fixing the porch roof and skimming the swimming pool and taking the dogs to the vet and  . . . Oh boy, now you’ve done it. There’s no way you’re getting out of this one. There’s nothing left to do now but watch her lift her feet from your lap, stand up, and stomp into the bathroom, where she will take a one-hour bath.

 

Deferring to Local Customs

When in Narcissa, always remember that you are a visitor in another culture and you should respect the way things are done there rather than imposing your Midwestern values on them. For example, when the Narcissist is away on assignment and you call her to let her know you were thinking of asking Daryl and Mark, two of your favorite guys in town, to come over for a beer, maybe play cards, and watch a ballgame, and she says, “But Daryl is my friend; Mark is my friend,” do not say, “Wow, you’re kidding me, you mean they can’t be my friends too?” Instead, quickly change the topic. And don’t invite Daryl or Mark over. Just understand that in Narcissa, one’s friends are just that, one’s friends, and there is no such thing as sharing. Instead, pop open a cold one and watch the game by yourself.

When she comes home a week later and informs you that while she was away she had an abortion, take a breath and count to ten before you react. Tell yourself this must have been a very, very difficult thing for her to do. Don’t ask why, don’t ask where, and don’t ask how. Just give her a hug and suppress your own emotions, whatever they may be. And when she tells you that she’s going to tell her friends she had a miscarriage and that you need to back her up on that story, reassure her that of course you will; you’ll tell everyone she miscarried your child.

And don’t even think about asking her if this means you can move back to Indiana.

 

Nightlife in Narcissa

While lying in bed with her one night after living there for a few months, it will dawn on you that she had sex with you with great frequency before you moved in with her, but ever since then she has not wanted to, not even once. Do not bring this up. That’s just the way things are in her world. Sex happens when she decides it will happen. Keep especially quiet about this when she’s in Crimea and she calls you at three in the morning, even though that’s what you had been thinking about before you wound up masturbating again (first shutting the door on her dogs so they wouldn’t stare at you). In fact, that would be the absolute worst time to bring up anything related to your selfish needs. She’s in Crimea, for crying out loud.At a five-star hotel, yes, but still, in Crimea. So keep your bodily urges to yourself. Feel free to speculate, though. Hypothesize. There’s nothing wrong with that. For example, in theory, a woman might have sex with a man just to gain control of him, and then withhold sex as a way of keeping control. In theory, being in a relationship with a minor celebrity may be less about physical companionship than it is about taking care of her dogs while she’s away. In theory, it’s possible that when she met you, she was not, as she said she was, feeling “all swoony” from your blue eyes, but instead taking your measure as a potential replacement for her alcoholic boyfriend, who, you heard from a shopkeeper, moved out the morning of the day you moved in. But keep these speculations to yourself.

Remember: talking to a Narcissist often means not talking to a Narcissist.

Don’t say anything even when, months later, you give up trying to initiate sex because being put off tends to make you feel unattractive. Did you know she had an abusive father? Sex is a very sensitive issue for her and she’s working all that out with her therapist, who actually recommended she abstain for a while—a year, two years, whatever it takes. Sex is an intimate, vulnerable thing, and it has to feel right. So be patient. Besides, the less you say, the more relaxed she will feel, and the better your chances will be of actually having sex.

 

Travel Tip: Silence is Golden
To sum up: If you find that you cannot echo her or compliment her, the best thing to say to a Narcissist is nothing at all. You know how to do this, right? You’re from Indiana.

 

Pet Care

Same principle, different application: When she decides to buy an Irish wolfhound because she has learned that they are bred to sit dutifully at the feet of royalty, don’t say a word — just love that dog for the big goofy animal he is. And when that 110-pound wolfhound sleeps in bed between the two of you, again, not a word, even when you wake up with dog hair in your mouth.

And when the Narcissist’s friend gives her a Tarot reading and the Queen of Wands comes out on top, don’t point out, as the Narcissist claps her hands and regally tosses back her hair, that the queen is all alone, with only her wolfhounds to adore her. And when she jokes to her Tarot-card-flipping friend that she prefers sleeping with dogs to sleeping with men, again, say nothing; it’s just a cute joke she’s told many times. And when she pays almost a thousand dollars for a second wolfhound, again: bite your tongue. That’s right, just bite your tongue. And head on out to the feed store for another economy-sized bag of organic dog food.

Keeping quiet like this—stifling your natural impulse to say something in defense of yourself and your needs—will be a very, very difficult thing to do. Especially when she buys a new horse for $11,000 (a stable and reliable quarter-horse, as opposed to the two skittish Arabians she already has in the stables) and tells you a month later that according to her therapist, her relationship with this new horse may serve as a model for her relationships with men. At that point, you will naturally feel quite compelled to say something. You will feel quite compelled to say that for her therapist to compare a relationship with a horse to a relationship with a man — and let’s face it, that means you — is ludicrous, if not downright irresponsible and unprofessional. And when her therapist tells her that the relationship between the two of them (that is, between her and the therapist) is also a good model for her, at that point you may almost lose it. At that point you may at the very least feel compelled to make the (glaringly obvious, right?) point that the therapist is being paid to listen to her and that every hour they spend together is all about her. “The kinds of relationships he’s holding up as models,” you’ll want to say, and here your voice may crack like a pre-pubescent’s, “are completely one-sided! That’s the ideal?” But you shouldn’t say that. In fact, you shouldn’t say anything. Because if you do, she’ll look at you sadly, as if taking mental notes, and say, “He didn’t mean it like that.” And for days, you will see the back of her more than you’ll see the front of her.

So, remember: Silence. Golden.

 

Dining In

During dinner preparations, keep in mind that your role is that of the sous chef. Never presume to suggest improvements to the meal, and never begin a meal without her. Simply chop what you are told to chop, when she wants you to chop it. Be sure to get specific instructions. If you don’t, you may be setting yourself up for embarrassment. Remember what happened when she asked you to cut up some garlic and you asked how much and she said, “Whatever you think‖” so you chopped up a lot (because you love garlic), only to have her apologize to the dinner guests later (Daryl and Mark among them) for the excessive garlic in the sauce?

While dining, keep in mind our mantra: assimilation is everything. You might, for example, philosophically object to hunting, and therefore object to taking meat from a friend of hers who shot a moose in Alaska. Or you might, on principle, object to eating lamb or veal, because they’re baby animals. But remember the one and only time you said something about this? Remember the crinkly nose, the involuntary glance at your crotch to make sure you had testicles? You don’t want to see that look again, do you?

Keep your objections to yourself, then, and eat. Remind yourself that you’re a hypocrite. You eat meat all the time; just because it’s shot or young makes no difference. Would you rather eat meat from those disgusting cattle factories? Or are you still under the spell of your ex-wife, who doesn’t eat animals or animal byproducts, who refuses to wear leather shoes or eat cheese, for crying out loud?

 

Travel Tip: On Being a Man
Being a man requires the ingestion of meat. Red meat. Preferably with potatoes of some kind (fried, mashed, or baked, or better still, twice-baked with Cheez Wiz and bacon bits). When the waiter asks how you like it, don’t worry about e-coli—what are you, a college girl? Grow a pair. Be like your father and order it rare.

 

Out and About with a Narcissist

When the Narcissist asks that you accompany her for part of her book tour—she’s already told the restaurant you’ll be gone for a week and made arrangements with the house sitter—don’t tell her you’d rather not. Don’t explain that even though you love visiting different cities and ordering room service without having to pay for it, you’d find it unbearable to be so invisible for so many days on end, and for that matter sleeping in a hotel bed while nothaving sex with the one you’re in the hotel bed with; moreover you need to keep working double shifts at the restaurant and continue to edit the horrifically bad manuscript you’ve been working on (the first volume of a young-adult fantasy trilogy sent to you by a woman in Cleveland who saw your ad in Poets & Writers magazine) because your lawyer bills are piling up, collection agencies keep calling you, you have no spending money, and you’re tired of having her pay for everything and giving you that look that means you’re a cling-on, a mooch, a parasite, she should claim you as a dependent on her taxes. But whatever you do, don’t tell her the real reason, which is how much you relish being at her ranch all by yourself, alone with the horses (there are four now) and dogs (five, including three wolfhounds), with the beauty of the Sierras in one direction, the Pacific in the other. Because you know how she’ll take that.

So just go already.

In Portland, when she assumes you’ll be attending her reading at Powell’s, don’t tell her you’ve heard her read the same chapter six times already, you’ll just explore the city for a while and meet her back in the room. If you do accidentally tell her that, listen attentively (stop looking at the floor—eyes up!) as she reminds you how much it has cost her to take you on this part of the tour and how important your support is to her. When you are sure she’s finished speaking, clear your throat and apologize. Tell her you didn’t mean to neglect her needs; you were just thinking of yourself again. Come to think of it, you really would love to be there in the audience; you’d be delighted to serve as her focal point in the back of the room.

Then go with her.

At the reading, remember your place. You are the celebrity’s boyfriend. Therefore you should not smile wryly when the woman sitting in front of you turns to her friend and says, “Journalism Lite,” nor should you guffaw when a man next to you looks first at the Narcissist, then at the photo on the book jacket, and mumbles “When was this picture taken, during the Carter administration?” Do notraise your hand during the Q&A and ask the author how she’s been able to write a best-selling book about international relations when it’s becoming clearer and clearer to you that she can’t even manage domestic relations. No one will think that’s funny. And do not even consider flirting with the cute bookstore employee who introduced the Narcissist to a packed house. Because if you do end up flirting with her, you can’t imagine the look you’ll get. You can’t imagine how long your night will be.

In Seattle, the next stop on the tour, you may be surprised when you meet one of her friends at Elliot Bay and the Narcissist invites her to stay in your hotel room with both of you. (She has driven all the way from Spokane; you don’t mind, do you?) When you remind the Narcissist there is only one bed in the room, and she says yes, she is aware of that, and then asks sweetly if you wouldn’t mind sleeping on the floor so her girlfriend can get a good night’s rest after that long drive, tell her that would be fine, you wouldn’t mind at all.

While you are lying on the floor, wrapped in the spare blanket and seething with resentment, beware: who you are, what you are doing with your life, and how you are living it, may suddenly become clear to you, and your resentment towards the Narcissist may unexpectedly perform a perfect backflip into self-loathing. You may realize that nothing, not a single part of this, is her fault; the problem is you. You’re the one who put yourself in this situation; you’re the one who has no control over your life. You’re the one who has clearly lost his balls. You’re the one who lacks the courage to fight your soon-to-be-ex-wife for visitation rights. You’re the one who is constantly feeling sorry for yourself, constantly putting yourself in situations where you can feel sorry for yourself, constantly feeling wounded and put-upon, constantly thinking of your own pathetic needs. So guess what that makes you?

 

Travel Tip: Rollaway Cots
Did you know that most hotels have rollaway cots available for a nominal fee? They’re perfect for unexpected visitors. That way, you wouldn’t have to lie on the floor like some pathetic, self-sacrificing martyr.

 

Travel Tip: On Being a Man II
Being a man means getting into bed with the two chicks, telling them to make out with each other, and then taking over from there. Not sleeping on the floor.

 

Checking Out

Upon your return to Narcissa, pack your bags. It’s check-out time. It’s time to accept that this whole experiment has been an “epic fail.” Granted, it seems like you just got there, but to be honest, visitors to Narcissa never last too long. In fact, let’s face it, you have clearly overstayed your welcome. But how to check out after six months when you’ve booked a lifetime stay? We offer the following instructions.

First, don’t be nice. Do not “feel out her mood” or “wait for the right time” before approaching her with the utmost contrition and saying that if she’d be “okay with it” you’d “sort of like to break things off” or “maybe take a break for a while?” If you do, get ready for some Old-School hysteria: screams, sobs, then more screams, in the middle of which it may occur to you that you need to change the way you exit (and enter!) relationships. When all of this happens, just walk away, knowing that nothing you can say will fix this problem.

What’s that? You can’t walk away? You feel too strong a sense of obligation?

 

Travel Tip: Breaking Up is Hard to Do.
Nobody in the world can break up with someone nicely. Nobody can simultaneously break up with someone and make it feel okay. How old do you have to be before you understand that? Is this an Indiana problem? Do you not remember what happened when you told your wife you were leaving? Do you not see that scar on your shoulder from where she stabbed you with the kitchen knife?

 

Take some time, a day or two perhaps, to regroup. Then, try again. We recommend the tried-and-true method: Tell her it’s not her; it’s you. (Which in this case is actually true. She is who she is. It’s you who has become a sniveling sycophant. It’s you who likes yourself more when you’re not with her, who recognizes you have unresolved issues from your failed marriage, and who needs to become a stronger person on your own.) When she agrees that yes, you’re right, it is you and not her, but she still doesn’t want to break up, primarily because the timing would be terrible for her (the European leg of her book tour is coming up and she needs you to care for the animals), you may be tempted to say okay, fine, let’s wait until you get back—because you realize you’d have the ranch all to yourself for a month, and you could take the dogs to the ocean, you could hike the mountains, you could ride the horses, and in all that solitude maybe you could get your shit together. Maybe you could call the divorce lawyer to set up a payment plan and get him back on your side, so that when you do return to Indiana, he could help you to take your soon-to-be-ex-wife to court for the right to see your kids.

But don’t.

It won’t work.

You really, seriously do need to go. Now.

So try again. And this time, be firm. Say, “Listen. I don’t love you anymore. I was probably just drawn to you because you are this super-self-confident person and I have zero self-confidence, but ultimately that’s not a good reason to be in a relationship. So I’m leaving.” And when she unexpectedly collapses, admits she’s terrified of being alone, and looks suddenly frail and vulnerable, resist. It’s a trap.

Who will take care of the horses and dogs?

I don’t know.

Who will watch the house?

No clue.

These are not your problems. She’s the one who bought the house. She’s the one who collected all those horses and dogs, knowing her job takes her overseas all the time. But. . . oh, now she’s crying.

And look, you’re totally caving.

Quick. Pay attention. Lift your head. No, don’t touch her on the shoulder, what are you doing? Step away from the Narcissist. Back up, man. Stand your ground. Look at me.

Now then. Listen.

You need to stop explaining yourself. A Narcissist will never, ever understand your point of view. Instead—again—try silence.

I don’t understand. What have I done that’s so wrong? What can I do to keep you?

Shhhh. (Remember: Silence. Golden.)

Is there any way I can change? What can I do differently?

Don’t do it. Don’t say, “Well, for starters, you can try thinking of someone else’s feelings, even for just thirty seconds,” or “Have you ever realized that you begin almost every sentence with the word ‘I’?” or “I have never in my life met someone who is biologically incapable of empathy, so I don’t know, maybe you could take a class?”

Just keep quiet. Nobody in Narcissa is capable of change.

After a while, if you find this impossible, if you can’t just shut up and resist responding to her questions and entreaties, then return to our original strategy:

Echo her.

When she says, “You’ve betrayed me!” say, “Me? You’ve betrayed me.”

When she says, “I’ll never forgive you!” say, “I’ll never forgive you.”

When she says, “This is so sad!” nod and say, “This is so sad.”

Or — remember? — just say, “You’re kidding.” Like when she says, “I can’t live without you!”

You’re kidding.

“Is sex the problem? That’s it, isn’t it, you just want to have sex. Well let’s have sex right now!”

You’re kidding.

“You’re so selfish! You’re the most selfish person I ever met!”

You’re kidding-kidding!

Then, turn on your heels and leave. Leave, and don’t look back. When she cries out, “I don’t even get a hug goodbye?” say “Hug goodbye? You’re kidding.”

And don’t believe her when she screams (when you’re getting into your car) that she is going to kill herself if you leave her. (She would never kill what she loves most.) As she runs up to the car, starts pounding on it, and curses you out, don’t defend yourself against her insults. (After all, most of them are true. You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you.) Just keep the windows shut, start it up, pull out of her circular driveway, ignore the clatter and cracks of the rocks she throws at you (it’s not a great car anyway; the back windshield will cost only a hundred or so to replace, and some touch-up paint will hide the scratches), and drive away. Drive away from the ocean, drive over the mountains, drive away from the pretty trees, and head back to Indiana where you belong—and where your children are waiting for you.

And when you get there, for heaven’s sake call a therapist.

 

[1] A little-known fact: the homes of Narcissa house some of the most impressive portrait collections in the country. Indeed, one may find more portraits there per capita than in any other U.S. city.

[2] Another little-known fact: Narcissa also has the highest percentage of swimming pools per capita in the United States (104%).

[3] At the Romantic Traveler™ our mission is to design and deliver customized, on-line, interactive travel guides, real-time narratives, and relationship advice for lovers visiting their potential soulmates. In these emotionally and economically volatile times, with people divorcing on a whim, defining and redefining their sexual preferences, and moving from place to place, our international staff delivers reliable updates and advice directly to your smartphone, 24/7, with ongoing camera and microphone activation to more immediately and efficaciously narrate your activities, advise you on appropriate strategies, and attend to your needs.

 

 

BIO

david hicksDavid Hicks’ work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Colorado Review, Saranac Review, South Dakota Review, and other publications. He lives in Wheat Ridge, CO.

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John Ronan

John Ronan

 

Every Day is Garbage Day, Somewhere

 

Garbage Guy
Stops, spots
A red sticker
And hauls off
The wasted week,
Full remission
A buck a bag:
The usual suet
And newspapers,
Bluster, bromides,
Embarrassment
Of bottles, rinds
Of every kind.

 

 

Hanky Panky

(A love song.)

 

Loopy looks,
proximate hips,
a clumsy hook,
insisting lips.

        Mannered mores sum with tact:
        hanky panky, the marriage act.

Slip of tongue,
Jack-in-the-box,
A lecherous yawn,
“Ahhh” at the doc’s.

        Mannered mores sum with tact:
        hanky panky, the marriage act.

Frantic round’s
lust abrupt,
pleasure-bound,
headboard butt:

        Mannered mores sum with tact:
        hanky panky, the marriage act.

Second’s affection,
lazy play,
aging attrition,
slow matinee.

        Mannered mores sum with tact:
        hanky panky, the marriage act.

Impeach of reason,
love apart,
gender’s engine,
driven heart.

        Mannered mores sum with tact:
        hanky panky, the marriage act.

 

 

 

BIO

John J. Ronan is a poet, playwright, movie producer, and journalist.  He has received national honors for his poetry and was named a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow for 1999-2000.

In 2009 John published a new book of poems, Marrowbone Lane.  He is also a former poet laureate of Gloucester, MA, and remains committed to the importance of civic poetry. Also a playwright, his works include The Yeats Game and The Tease of Eden.  A pioneer in electronic publishing, in 2002 he introduced Damned If I Dotagea humorous e-book on the trials of turning 50.

John is also the founder of the media production company American Storyboard, a teacher of film, and host of the cable talk show The Writer’s Block with John Ronan which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in the 2014-15 season.

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Bruno Barbosa

The Almond Trees

by Bruno Barbosa

 

1

I knew Tyler was coming because of the almond trees.

Everyone was on the edge of their seats as soon as Tia Lu introduced him to our 3rd grade class. No one knew what to make of him—he was thin, extremely tall and pale. His eyes were dark like roasted almonds and his hair black like the mountains at night. He looked like nothing we had ever seen.

He didn’t speak any Portuguese, so everyone in our class asked him silly questions like if he was gay or a woman. He answered yes because he didn’t know what we were saying and didn’t know what else to say, and everyone laughed. But we all followed him around at recess and liked him because he was an American, so I guess it was okay.

The night before he came to our school, the almond trees were shaking their leaves like dogs shaking off water, and that’s how I knew he was coming. They were shouting: He’s here! He’s here!

I opened my window, which looked down at the beach where the almond trees lived, put a finger to my lips and shushed them as loudly as I could.
They must’ve heard me, because they stopped their shouting, and I went back to sleep.

But when I got up the next morning and left for school, they were still shivering with excitement.

2

Vó told me about the almond trees long before I could hear them. One hot day when we were sitting out on the sand, she said through two straws coming out of her big green coconut, “One day you will be old enough to understand what they say.” She laughed, the funny way she did when she said something wrong or she thought of something unrelated to what we were speaking. “And then one day you will be too old and you won’t listen to them anymore.”

“Who?”

“The almond trees.”

I gathered that one day I would be old enough to make sense of anything my grandma said, and then one day I would be too old to listen to any of it.

“They talk?”

“Of coooourse—you can hear it, no?”

I listened. I didn’t hear anything worth hearing, but it may have been because my senses were overcome with the smell of cigarettes that followed Vó around. She didn’t smoke anymore, but she always had a cigarette hidden somewhere on her body.

“It sounds like leaves.”

“That’s a good start.”

“To what?”

“To understanding them.” I grimaced. “Don’t worry, bonequinho, you will understand all of it one day. At first it won’t all make any sense. But they hold on to your memories and talk about your dreams; and then they guide you to them—maybe to a beautiful girl who you will spend the rest of your life with.” She laughed.

“Vó, you’re crazy.”

She shrugged, pursing her lips. “Yes. But I am never wrong.”

It turns out she was wrong about a few things…

3

I first heard an almond tree speak the day of Vó’s funeral. When we came back home, my mother went to her room and my father lay on the couch reading a botany book. I walked across the dusty cobbled street where the almond trees stood, waiting for me, on the beach.

The salty breeze was cool and calm that day. The big green and red leaves were barely moving, barely whispering. I figured the almond trees were sad for Vó, too. She spent so much time with them.

My body felt empty, as if the breeze could lift me up to the branches, and the only thing I could think to do was talk to the almond tree closest to my house.

“Where is she?” I whispered, my voice trembling.

Nothing. Just the sound of the waves washing out the shore. Everything around me felt empty without Vó, and the silence was unbearable.

“Where is she?” I shouted up to the trees, tears blurring my vision, as salty as the sea. “Vó?”

And then a little wind blew, stronger than a breeze. The almond tree began to sway gently, waving its paddle-like leaves.

She is well, it whispered. She is here. She is us.

My body shook, that way it does when you see something really painful happen to someone else.

The other trees joined with the coming of the wind: We’re here—she is here. She is us.

I pressed my face to the trunk of the tree and wrapped my arms around it as tightly as I could.

I cried so much I forgot to breathe for a while. But the more I started breathing again, the more I could smell Vó’s cigarettes, wherever she hid them now, and that helped calm me.

4

When I came home from school the day I met Tyler, I ran across the street to the almond trees before even thinking about home. I stepped firmly on the sand and looked up to the leaves, where the little almonds were hiding.

I had that feeling in my stomach, like when your father slams on the brakes so suddenly you fly into the back of your mom’s seat, so I knew what the almond tree’s answer would be. But still, I had to ask.

“Him?” I asked. I took a deep breath, my eyes condemning the almond tree. “Why him? Of all the weird boys at school why do I have to be the one to like a boy?”

A breeze came; the tree shrugged. It said nothing, as if to tell me this was just the way it was. I looked at it hard and long, and it just stood there not saying anything. It wanted me to just get over it, I guess.

I looked around at all the other almond trees lining my street. Nothing from them, as well.

I took a deep breath, exasperated with the trees, and turned around to cross back to my house. I had nothing left to say to them, and they had nothing that I wanted to hear.

Before I crossed back to my house, I waited for a car passing by. From one of its windows I saw Tyler’s face, looking out onto the water as his parents drove to the end of the street, where they lived.

It gave me a start, and I turned to the almond tree behind me as if it too had seen him.

Now of course trees can’t smile, and I don’t want you to think I am crazy, but I could feel it smiling at me.

5

Tyler and I became best friends. I was the only one in my class who spoke pretty decent English, which my father taught me, so I was the only real option he had at first.
We would play on the beach every day before and after school. We ran about the sand pretending we were brothers, ghosts and ninjas and vampires and all kinds of things. We even pretended we had a dog once.

“You know what I was thinking?” he said one day after school.

“What?”

“It would be cool if we could make a huge sandcastle here, and live in it. Just us two. No parents, no bedtime, no school. We could get one of those big car batteries and plug in our video games and a TV somehow, and play as much as we want.”

“And what would we eat?”

“I don’t know. We could learn how to fish…get a stove, and buy a nutcracker for the almonds. We would be set. We could grow old, fishing and playing video games. We would be the coolest old people ever.”

I could feel a warm breeze fill my lungs. “How did you come up with that?”

He shrugged his bony shoulders.

“Can I tell you something—a secret?” he said after a moment.

It took me a few seconds to realize a huge smile had bloomed on my face. “What?”

He took a deep breath. “I really hate going to school in Brazil. I miss The States. I am trying to convince my parents to move back. It sucks not being able to understand half the stuff anyone says.”

“But…” I started. “So you don’t like it here?”

“I like you. And the beach. That’s how I came up with the sandcastle idea.”

I laughed. “It will get better once you learn Portuguese better.”

“Yeah, I guess.” He smiled again. “Now you have to tell me a secret—it’s only fair.”

The wind blew.

I didn’t want to tell him what the almond trees had told me. I could hear them, every single almond tree on the beach, telling me I should do it, every time we played outside. But I was too afraid—it was too weird. I hadn’t told anyone.

So I decided I would let the almond trees tell him themselves. It was all their idea anyhow.

I signaled him to follow. The very tip of the sun still lingered behind the mountains as if it too wanted to see this, leaving the sky red and pink and gray.

We sat down under the almond tree closest to my house. “Listen.”

Tyler froze as if something awful was about to happen. “What?”

“The trees. Can you hear them? They are talking.”

He laughed. “What?!”
“Just listen! You can hear them talking amongst themselves. This one has something it wants to tell you.”

He looked up at the leaves, where I was looking.

A cool wind blew in from the water. It blew through the branches of the almond tree, but the leaves didn’t move. It was as if they were frozen.

I stared at the almond tree with pleading eyes.

I guess the tree was afraid to tell Tyler I liked him, just like I was. My heart sank, and I glared at the leaves.

I looked around at all the other trees, helpless.

Nothing.

Tyler turned to me, knitting his brows. “You’re crazy.” He jumped up. “Let’s pretend we’re turtles!”

And he ran off to the shore.

6

Vó did leave me with more than just the smell of cigarettes that lingered with the almond trees.

When my parents were digging through all of her dusty junk a few days after the funeral, they found a letter addressed to me.

On the envelope, printed in my grandma’s gnarled handwriting that looked like branches, was written: “To my Bonequinho, to open only when you don’t listen to them anymore.”

My parents laughed when they handed it to me, said my grandma was crazy and that I should just open it now.

But I said she wasn’t crazy, and rarely wrong, so I would wait.

I knew I was going to need it if for some reason I stopped listening to the almond trees. They would have to do something really terrible for that to happen, and I was going to need something when that time came.

I hid the letter in my underwear drawer, hoping I would never need it.

7

Tyler came running to my house one Saturday morning. It wasn’t very early, but I was extremely tired. The almond trees had been very agitated the night before, whimpering all night, and they didn’t let me sleep. I was still a little angry with them, so I just ignored them.

Tyler barged into my room as if he had found a giant squid stranded on the beach and he wanted me to come see it before it was gone.

I sat up, torn away from my dreams. “What?”

His usual half-moon smile was gone from his face.

“What?”

“I’m leaving.”

“Leaving what?”

“Here.”

I froze as if a giant squid had made its way to my room. “You’re going back to the States?”

“Yeah, my parents said so.”

“Why?”

He shrugged his bony shoulders. “I don’t know. My parents said so.”

I sat back on my bed. I suddenly felt nervous, and I didn’t know why.

“Are you excited? You always talk about how much you miss it.”

“Yeah … I do. But there I won’t have the beach to play on every day, and you to play with. And school there starts very early in the morning, so I won’t be doing much of anything before school.”

“But you have snow.”

“Snow’s not the same.”

I shrugged. “I guess, yeah. It sounds fun, though.”

“Will you come visit? Your parents have to come now that they have friends there. You can come in spring; it won’t be too cold for them.”

“Yeah, sounds fun.”

“Maybe we can go to New York, and we can look around for one of those cool little apartments like we see on TV. We always talk about how cool that would be—to just live there and do whatever we want. Let’s make it a plan: when we are done with school, that’s where we’ll be. Together. It’s no sandcastle, but still. Promise?”

“Yeah. Promise.”

“Why are you so quiet?”

I thought about it. “I am still sleepy. That’s all.”

“Spring,” he repeated. “Tell your parents. We will see each other in spring again after I leave.”

I forced a nod. “Okay. Spring sounds fun. When do you leave, anyway?”

“Tuesday.”

“Next Tuesday?”

“No, this one. So we have to play as much as possible before then.”

My throat closed up, but at least I managed to smile.

8

The night before Tyler left, our street had a going-away barbecue for his family out on the beach in front of our houses. The wind was cold and strong that night, but the trees were saying very little. I hadn’t talked to them since Tyler said he was leaving, so I didn’t know why they were so silent. I was too angry with them for letting him go. I thought maybe they couldn’t speak now that their leaves had turned brown, but eventually they spoke.

Tell him, they kept urging me feebly, as if their voices were weak.

I had already decided I would, so my stomach felt like I had swallowed three whole fish that were still cold and alive in my belly as we played outside.

We were only alone when we went back to my house to make some hot chocolate while our parents drank and laughed and talked loudly outside.

“Can I tell you a secret?” I said, once we were in my kitchen.

“Yeah?”
I wanted to just blurt it out, but the fish in my stomach were thrashing about, and I couldn’t say anything at all. “Can you close your eyes?”

He laughed, squeezing his eyes shut very tightly. “They’re shut!”

Still, nothing came out.

“Hello?” he called out to me.

I put both my hands on his face, just like they did on TV, and I pressed my lips to his. It felt weird and warm, but he pushed me away very quickly.

“What was that for?” he yelled.

I stood there paralyzed, my eyes fixed on his, and I still couldn’t say anything.

He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt. “What is wrong with you? Why’d you do that?”

I opened my mouth to speak, and still nothing came out. My eyes started burning. “I love you.”

He looked at me as if the fish had crawled up my throat and fallen out of my mouth.

He ran out of the kitchen.

I couldn’t move. I couldn’t go after him.

Eventually I came to my senses and went upstairs to my room. I lay in bed, still unable to piece together anything that had happened.

What I had done played over and over in my head as I listened to the laughter outside on the beach, and I regretted it more and more.

Never had the almond trees been so silent, but still I couldn’t sleep.

9

I was still awake when everyone had gone back to their homes. I was still awake when the sun came up, finding its way through the slats on my window. I opened the window to let it in, as if it could keep me company. I looked down at the almond trees.

I guessed all their leaves had died, because they weren’t saying a thing. And then again, I didn’t want to hear it if they did. They made all of this happen—I would never forgive them, or myself for listening to them.

I lost my best friend because the almond trees made me hope for something that could never happen. It’s a good thing I didn’t go talk to them before Tyler left, or who knows what they would’ve had me do. What I had done was stupid enough.

I was old enough now, I thought, just like Vó warned me. I didn’t need the almond trees putting silly thoughts in my head. I walked over to my underwear drawer and dug out Vó’s envelope.

I held it for a few seconds, as if it could slip away from my grip and fly out the window into the horizon.

I opened it and unfolded the paper inside of it.

Never stop listening, I read.

I looked down at the tree branches that made up my grandma’s handwriting. The words, as if they too were covered with dead, silent leaves, left me feeling more empty and alone than before.

10

He left the next morning after I had closed my window, and though my parents knocked on my door so I could come out and say good-by, I pretended to be asleep.

And once he was gone, I did fall asleep.

My parents didn’t bother me for the rest of the day, and by the time I woke up the faint moonlight found its way into my room.

I was turning in bed, not wanting to get up yet, and I saw a note on the floor that had been pushed under my door. I got up slowly, confused, and walked over to it. It didn’t say who it was from, but I knew Tyler’s handwriting too well.

Come visit.

I slowly remembered everything as if it had been a distant dream: what I did, what Tyler did, what Vó said in the letter.

I thought about it more and more.

I left my house and crossed the street to apologize to the almond trees.

The leaves had fallen from the almond trees, leaving only a few red leaves on their branches. The brown ones were all crunching underneath my feet as I walked on the sand.

I looked up at the naked branches above my head, waiting for a breeze. They had nothing left to say for now; they couldn’t if they tried. It was all dead, everything they had said. I couldn’t even smell Vó’s cigarettes anymore, and I couldn’t help feel I did this to them.

But Vó’s words were still here, alive, as if the little waves carried them on their moonlit tips as I looked out at the horizon, at the dark water, the burnt mountains and the moon.

I was all alone.

I sat down on the sand and covered my legs with the dead leaves so they could keep me warm. I leaned over and rested my head against the trunk of the almond tree, and placed my hand on one of its roots, caressing it with my thumb.

I fell back asleep, waiting for spring.

 

 

bruno barbosaBIO

Bruno Barbosa grew up in São Pedro d’Aldeia, Brazil, and moved to the U.S. when he was 10 years old. He survived the move and the many moves that followed, and now is a student at The University of Texas at Austin, where he is working towards a BA in English and a BM in Vocal Performance.

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Kim Suttell

Kim Suttell

AS A SKINNY GIRL

My father showed his love
with Indian burns
on a dish-rag arm I pretend to pull away,
a downy chicken-foot arm wrung raw
to even the ulna.

To love him back I perched
dollish hands in a struggle grip,
scrunched all my weight for nothing.
His skin stanch against my tiny twists
while his love for me still stinging pink.

He finds fun this ineffectiveness
and makes me run away.
Eventually I skirt his reach,
learn the feebleness of trying.
I wait for many years
to match his earnest clench.

 

PIERRE

Wet and fine weather depend on him now.
Or so it seems to me and my feet.
I have such trouble with boots

that are never warm enough. He’d demand
my coat unzip, his suede grip
accord weightlessness to me,

with free, spreading toes and flaps of coat.
I’d look down on leaded clouds
begging to rain.

Daisies and hot grass sway above.
There is nothing
like the heat of grass
that is still so cool
I pull my coat closer.

 

ACCEPTANCE

She doesn’t need you now.

She has a mesh bag for razors
and facial scrubs,

a comforter set, and

hooks affixed with
removable adhesive.

 

PIECES

Teeth, tongue, gums, gullet,
palate, lips, spit. Kiss.

Palms, arms, muscles, knuckles,
nails, wrists, pits. Hug.

Skin, kidneys, knees, nerves,
veins, brains, breath. Love.

 

 

 

BIO

A poet for the pleasure of it, Kim Suttell lives in New York City where she likes not having to drive.  She writes poems in the subway.  Some of her poems have found homes in Right Hand Pointing, The Cortland Review, Forth Magazine and other journals. They are compiled for you at page48.weebly.com.

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Scott Stambach

Mr. Bertrand Avery, Owner of Todos Tempos

By Scott Stambach

 

Set and Setting

Untangling the folklore from the fact—and trust this narrator—there is no paucity of either—is precisely what makes this story so impossible and, presumably, why it’s taken so long for it to have been rambled off by anyone at all after all these years.

Then again it had to be me–the only hotel contemporary gutsy, esteemed, formidable, and, of course, varonil, robusto, y fundido enough to tell its story. I mean, the reasons are plentiful, too many for this exposition, but to name a few: 1) most of us are dead, 2) most of us just wanted to forget the whole damn thing like a dream that takes away something precious, 3) the Universe swoons to poetry.

First, some facts: The hotel was in Rio. The Rio. The river of January. The only metrô-pole with the selfdom and bolas for this particular hoteland this particular storyto fit inside of it. Another fact: The hotel was sticky. Does sticky not work for you? Any synonym will do: gummy, gluey, glutinous, tacky, tenacious, agglutinative. Yes, things stuck to it: stories, myths, souls, ghosts, dreams, fantasies, personas, chimeras, phantoms, nightmares, and, consequently, it grew as wide as it was tall. Which brings us to fact three: The hotel was the tallest physical structure on the planet during its time. And, if you could pardon me prematurely—a dose of myth: no one, not even Rio’s mayor (at the time Marilia João Carolina), its city council, or the most revered urban planners or architects knew exactly the height. Again, for an onslaught of reasons: 1) the origins, and concomitantly the records and blueprints for the hotel remain obscured in a mixture of bureaucratic entanglements and pseudo-psycho-spiritual mythology, 2) perspective has its limitations (just as horizons do), and 3) the top floors were always off limits (speculation suggests even to Mr. Avery himself).

Another fact: Mr. Avery’s full birth name was Bertrand Solis Avery-Higgins (the Higgins was legally removed from his name when he was nineteen for unknown reasons). Fact six: City documents reveal the official legal name of the Hotel to be Hotel de Todos Tempos, or just Todos Tempos, or for the true regulars, just Tempos or Todos, but rarely both.

Those inclined to portuguese might ride the foreshadow straight to fact seven: there was no Hotel like Todos Tempos before, and there never will be another like it. But, before I explain, a warning: as I break this story, you will likely refuse it, send it back wrapped, refuse to swallow—choose your idiom, makes no difference here. Just be reminded: we are still, in fact, in the fact section of the story and I would not have gone through the pain and effort to filter fact and fiction just to tangle the two up again. Transitively, it follows that you can trust the following: Todos Tempos held all time. Each floor sat inside a different year, consecutive floors rendering consecutive years.

 

Q & A

And now to take a few questions:

            Do you expect me to believe this twaddle?

Yes. Next.

            How many years (floors, I guess?) did the hotel have?

As suggested above, and please listen carefully, not one damn Tom, Dick, or Harry knows. But, here are facts eight, nine, and ten: Any time of interest to a human being could be visited by a guest (conversations with regulars suggest a span of at least 10,001 years had been visited by clientele during the Hotel’s tenure), the Hotel went at least as deep (into the past) as it did high (into the future), and as hinted earlier, the top floors were were accessible but off limits, on directive from Mr. Avery himself, after the Hotel’s only accident resulting from the fact (eleven?) that these floors correspond with post-apocalyptic time.

            How is it possible for a Hotel to contain all of time?

This is a contentious matter. Several theories had been floated by various cliques, extending into both the circles of regulars and casuals. Leading theories include: 1) a reasonably large constituency believes the Hotel simply always was, much like God or death, however, to expend with asinine explanations first, these assertions cannot be seriously entertained, 2) Portuguese explorer, Guillermo Vasquez, returned to the Guanabara Bay settlement after exploring an island off the Kathiawar peninsula, or some such place, with stone and timber exhibiting alchemistic tendencies, which was then activated by Tupi shamans, and later found and exploited by Mr. Avery himself, who built the Hotel using labor from early African slave trade, 3) the site of the hotel was proposed by Lucifer in the fourth millennia BC to be the original setting for Gehenna, but these plans were later forsaken for a site with greater human access.

Deep nights in the Hotel cafe were made out of debating these positions—participants including several sizable existentialist names like Sartre and Heidegger—but who the hell knows if any progress was actually made. We rate this question: unresolved.

            Can you tell us a bit about the architecture of the Hotel?

Simply put: A Neus Bauen Art Deco Masterpiece. Un-gothic: as much so could be conceived at the time. Sleak, linear, practical. Later renovations were designed and executed by van der Rohe, at the direction and discretion of Avery, of course. Post renovation, the concrete facade (and this may fall into the category of myth) had been mixed with gold flakes, creating a metallic shimmer that could be seen as far as Buenos Aires. This made it the most expensive engineering and structural undertaking of the time. Several contemporary architectural critics provided laudatory commendations for the design: 1) Huxtable once commented that the Hotel “exhibited the bravura and grit of the Flat Iron and the divine mandate of the Eiffel,” 2) several years later Mariana Van Rensselaer noted that it was “the only physical structure ever to render her speechless,” 3) Hawthorne goes so far as to suggest that “without the prescient influence of Todos Tempos, North America might never have known Chrysler or The Empire State.” (note bene: even this narrator finds that calculation to be flawed and hyperbolic).

            We’re all quite impressed. Now about Avery: How old was he?

The owner of Todos Tempos was ageless.

            Did he have any secrets?

Rumors flooded the Hotel community that Avery never once stayed at his own hotel. When asked why by O Globo reporter, Nina Otero, he simply responded, For what? I’m happier right now than I’ve ever been.

            What did he look like?

Sleek black hair (as if fashioned in a mold), cerulean ultramarine eyes (as if tattooed with southeast asian dyes), a modest concave scar under his left jaw (firm and angular) and an unflappable charisma—all wrapped in a Brookes three piece and bowtie. And could it have been any other way? Todos Tempos, as a business, could not have percolated under anything less than a hypnotic leader—any hint of the contrary is absurd. The Hotel required, no: requested, no: demanded, perfection.

            How do you mean?

Well, couldn’t you just imagine?—it was a bubbly boiling pot (bubble, bubble, bubble) of viscous autoschediastic energy, a tick’n time bomb (boom, boom, boom) if left to its own design. If you still don’t understand, another analogy: Todos was bigger than itself, camel back ready to snap any second, with its own saga and the personalities brimming out of it. The task of the man that managed the affair was bigger than itself too; it was a job of psychological precision, requiring not merely awareness off, but mastery over, human instinct, business savvy, interpersonal ego manipulation, group theory, leadership, salesmanship, posture (Alexander Technique especially), economics, etc.

            Could we have an example of Mr. Avery’s particular skill set?

Fair enough: an anecdote. Smack-dab Todos heyday: Rio attorney general, Sylvester Pissara-Alvito, decides he would like to spend a night on floor P34, the year of his extravagant marriage to twenty-two-year-old Mostarda Capitão® heiress and former Miss Porto Alegre (not to mention Senorita Brasil seventh-placer), Iliana Silvério, and relive some of their tenderer moments. As lore goes, Miss Silvério died three weeks earlier when her scarf became caught in the wheel axle of the car that was transporting her to a factory inspection. Well, instead of entering room 3471a (the accommodation containing his wedding night), Pissara-Alvito mistakenly entered 3417a where, in the same hotel room, six weeks prior to the wedding, he found Miss Silvério in passionate throes with a young married man, later identified as Tito Tomé, who thirty-two years later would become governor of São Paulo—and Mr. Pissara-Alvito’s brother-in-law. Pissara-Alvito landed seven good shots before security escorted him out the back door coughing on sobs. Just in case the gravity of the situation doesn’t add up for you this is what we have: Angry widower (and prominent public official) ready to reveal extramarital affair (concerning even more prominent public official) and—to add to the fiasco—rattling off about assassination plans right in Todos back parking lot. Seven minutes.

            Seven minutes?

That’s all it took. Seven minutes for Avery to talk Pissara-Alvito down. In seven days the trio was gambling on a boat to St. Kitts, laughing over liters of cachaça 61. This narrator would, personally, be flabbergasted if there was another man alive, or dead for that matter, during the Todos tenure who was privy to the same set of skills. Which explains, dearest jury, why it all imploded like a waterbed with a bullet wound when Avery himself became a casualty.

 

Testimonials

The hotel was a socio-cultural phenom. I cannot overstate this. Leaving the reader unconvinced would mean the failure of its story: Lives were changed. Citizens made whole. Souls healed. A few illustrations:

Fábio Gavino-Gàsio’s mother, Patrícia, died in childbirth. His poppa, Fábio Gavino Sr. popped his bubble, most pop-psychologists might say a bit early, at the fragile age of eight. By nine, Fábio Jr. managed to convince himself absolutely that he caused the red river that happened when he squeezed his slightly large, but certainly not dangerously so, head out of the birth canal (glancing comments from Fábio Sr. might have played a part). In all actuality, it was just your standard placental abruption mixed with some ineptities (word?) on the part of the hospital staff. Fábio, broken to pieces on the inside, created the cliche but impenetrable persona: Fábio Fresco, the she-dallying, powder-sniffing, silver screen sensation. Twelve years later, in possession of three million Real, and at least as many addictions, Fábio Fresco met with Bertrand Avery, who set him up for the night in room P2537f. There he found fresh sheets, 24 channels, and his 18-year-old mother Patrícia Gàsio at the end of a pier in Maranhão. Fábio Jr. never publicly commented on his stay at Todos but two weeks later he announced his departure from acting, jettisoned Fábio Fresco, and moved to the beaches of Maranhão.

Cláudia Cládio led Brasil in Samba in both style and technique (no pé and pagoda for the curious), idolized by fourteen-year-old girls and fawned by forty-year-old men. On her twenty-fifth birthday her back was broken when estranged boyfriend and Jogo do Pau champion, Claude Carrão, went at her with his Pau. For the next seven years, Cládiotaught dance in São Paulo from her wheelchair. Outside of the studio, she was sullen and reclusive. Two years later, an Os Tempos de Rio arts reporter ran a story describing Ms. Cládio’s transformationas unprecedented and postured her Rio’s garota-propaganda de resiliência. The story, however, failed to mention the weekend visits to room P1277v, where she relived her first radio broadcasted national championship over and over until her death at age eighty-eight.

Nuno Ardérius, affectionately dubbed the “seer of São Paulo”, could read the Brazilian stock exchange like Cleopatra read powerbent men. At one point, Mr. Ardérius alone owned ten percent of the South American market. CEOs, industrialists, and government bureaucrats levied every insider trading charge they could rally, none of which stuck. Eventually, the secretary of treasury, Rita Verão, simply remarked: He’s just that good. By thirty-five he met philanthropist and socialite, Tatiana Felix-Ferrão, and in one short breath he cashed in his investments and syphoned all his energy into funding various NGOs including, but not limited to, Estudantes Contra uma Europa Fascista, A Tuberculose Gratuito Nigéria, and Onde as Mulheres Dormem Fácil. One year later, Nuno received two pieces of news on the same day: Tatiana was expecting, and Nuno had a guava-sized growth butting up against his occipital nerve. Even with his unlimited resources, Brasil’s Best gave the seer of São Paulo a month before he was completely blind, and three months before he was dead. Forlorn and bitter, Nuno bought an opium plantation in Rondonia and smoked himself stupefied. Tatiana filed for divorce, but later dropped proceedings after Nuno visited rooms F188k and F723dd, the former containing a hospital room where little Hugo Ardérius-Felix wasbeing delivered via Caesarian, the latter accommodation holding a random day in the life of little Hugo.

The is the iceberg tip, as it were. Todos’ reach went well beyond Brazillian borders. The fever trickled into Europe where Heisenberg and Bohr came to pay homage to Newton as he carved out the Principia Mathematica; India, where fakirs came to be taught Vipassana by Siddhartha himself; Celestine monks came to watch the crucifixion; two American presidents attended the first Continental Congress; Egyptologists watched the pyramids assemble; Sufis sat with Mohammed in his cave; Jews witnessed Abraham put his knife away; lovers reunited; lonely outcasts found soulmates who died before they were born or were born after they died; dying men cheated death.

All one needed was a dream and a few thousand Real. Todos did the rest.

(cash only, Avery’s policy).

The Summer

An entomologist, a Todos regular named Dr. Alberto Albartino, was the first to attribute the early sounds of that summer to Cicadas (locustas to the simpler of our readers, cicadoideas to the more sophistrotic). Os dezessete anos tempestade!, he called it—the seventeen-year tempest: a black storm of infinito-circo haunting cello hum, a fuzz-blur of flapping saran wings with gratuitously conspicuous veins, bulging eyes, and pitch black wire-haired legs. The first admonitions kicked off in the last week of September. By the first week of October, any passerby could find a dozen to fifteen of them lining skewers on food carts, glazed in some Pimenta Caseira, or thoroughly deep-fried; why?, I never understood—the exoskeletal crunch was already unbearable, at least to me. By the second week of October the city was swallowed, entirely whole (no hyperbole here) by a cloud sixty miles long, and forty miles wide. The metropolis itself, as many of you know, is only thirty miles edge to edge. Midday felt like dusk with all the flutter-wings boxing out the sun. Streets were clogged with glassy swarms. Those without cover? Well no umbrella could hold back the skin pelting.

Bertrand Avery was the only man to benefit from the plague of locusts. Even food cart vendors’ sales plummeted when six inches of exo-carcass-massacre amassed on the streets and sidewalks. But the hotel was different. That summer, stars aligned for a cash haul that occasionally made Avery overdrag from his Doña Flor and cough out the excess. Beaches—a grizzled wasteland of anthropod parts (what sand?)—were off-limits. Clogged streets kiboshed long distance travel. Carnaval: a bust. Samba, Bossa, Choro, Zouk: amphitheaters closed until further notice. This left O Hotel de Todos Tempos: The perfect excusefor the Rio citizenry, at least those of bourgeois coterie, to bring any dead dream, fantasy, or curiosity back to life.

 

O Hotel de Todos Tempos: Summer Advertisements

It seems proper to present a few of the marketing slogans that could be found that summer in newspapers and flyers collaged with job opportunities and missing puppy pleas:

 

O Globo

Fuja dessa Locust Pocus e desfrutar o Tabu de Todos!

(marketing: every great leader has one weak heal)

 

 

Os Tempos de Rio

As únicas coisas que rola em Todos Tempos são os

condicionadores de ar

 

[generic flyer]

‘Era uma vez’ não é mais reservado para os contos de fadas.

 

 

A Fly on the Wall in the Lobby

            On any given night:

Ultra-luminal neon facade, adhesive coating of Rio humidity, two revolving doors, two impeccably dry-cleaned bellhops manning, red-carpeted lobby, to the left a bar, every brand of every spirit of every nation, to the right a pianist (accompanied by reputable samba rhythm section) floor shimmers with names and personalities and repartee, million-armed chandelier floating over (cost disputed), Oh and there is Avery in the center of a circle of ten to twelve, martini glass in his left, right saved for shaking, always a quip ready (never anything too funny, just funny enough). Inside heads: You can almost hear all the internal monologues strategizing; how to leave this circle, and join that one (in reality it’s all predetermined before the night even begins). Avery pays more attention to the ones on their way out. Another great stay, Mr. Avery, is room [x] available next week, say the [n]th of [y]? And always the same response: para você, sempre.

As shrewd a businessman as he was, Avery was a romantic, a humanist, and most definitely a narcissist (though as likable as a narcissist comes); he enjoyed knowing that Todos had value in itself—value separate from the piles of Real notes meticulously arranged in the ballroom safe at the end of the night (as evidenced by the occasional complimentary stays offered to particularly needy rural corn farmers and factory workers).

 

The Hotel and I

It was me; I spoiled everything, ruined the party, brought it all back up for the poor chump like last nights dinner. And could it have been any different?

Of course not.

The Universe swoons to poetry.

I suppose you’d like to know the shit storm that tore through my brain when I swiped away some locust limbs from a littered copy of Os Tempos de Rio (out of pure boredom to boot) and found my very first advertisement for Os Hotel de Todos Tempos. The tagline Retornar ao Seu Momento mais Feliz! is what caught the eye. My twig hadn’t twitched in two decades and suddenly there it was (as it is now I confess) a concrete cairn (Gaelic blood). That’s when I pulled a thoroughly used tissue from the pocket and helter-skelter wrote down the address given at the bottom of the page.

At first, I just swooped by, giving a casual glance, careening the scene, before returning to my room at the O Velho Brasil (in those days I was just a visitor in Rio with more money than God). There, on my overpillowed (word?) undulating bed I dreamt of each of their beautiful faces. I only knew the names of a quiet few—not even my favorites, they were accidents (I never wanted to know the names)—but their candied sacchariferous (word?) faces I remembered perfectly, every bitty detail, from the drugged drooped lip drip to the way they sequestered behind their eyes as I got close.

            You sick fuck, why?

            I asked myself this question a thousand times and every time I came to the same answer: It was the retreat, the ebb; the shrinking, the vacating; the folding, the departing; but the inability to do so in a physical way, leaving them no place to withdraw but behind their eyes where they were trapped and I could have everything.

That is why.

The next night, after a lovely day of watching every gear palpitate to every next second on my watch, I confidently walked into the lobby in my own Brookes three-piece. O sangue fresco! A beaming Avery’s right hand outstretched to me in less than sixty. E onde gostaria de ficar esta noite, senhor? Vinte e sete anos atrás, por favor. Seemed as good a place to start as any. P27 imediatamente, senhor. Aqui é a chave. E boa noite!

There really is no substitute for one part feverish obsession and two parts process of elimination. I endured nights of stale board meetings, rehearsed dinner conversations with old casuals (a few were nice to re-bullshit with), and mostly sleepless nights of sweaty self-loathing, as defined my twenty-seven-years-ago. In spite of the thrill of the hunt, it all sent me deep and dark, touching all the places that made me who I am to begin with (not to dispense with the responsibility—there’s no doubt I’m a sicklittlefuck, irrespective of intervening environmental factors, for example: on two of those nights I watched myself carving Wilde quotes into my inner thigh).

In six weeks or so the gamble paid off—I found the proverbial needle in my haystack. It was a Friday, maybe a Thursday, or a Saturday, whatever, doesn’t matter. I opened the door and there he (who? not the faintest.) was tied to the bedposts all sweet and lamb-like, prone and peeled of his clothing. He may have been my third, possibly fourth, but this night he was my first. As I moved in, heart and cock all rampant, hand sliding down the inside of his leg, I thought about how he’d just been here, waiting so patiently, in this room (P2792g), for the last twenty-seven years, just for this moment.

In twenty minutes it was over.

Back in the lobby I was. A mixture of guilt and glow I suppose. Avery approached. I don’t remember (how could I?) what we talked about, but I do know something transpired: at the time I liked to call it a symmetry, possibly a resonance. He ditched the circle of gosling courting him and settled on a couch with me, where he fanned bellhops for Mango Martinis, and correctly guessed the details of my life (birthplace: Belfast, occupation: business, etc.) The lobby dwellers fired eye-arrows with trailing banners that read: Quem diabos é esse cara?

Not the faintest, gentlemen. Really.

In the next weeks, I lived at Todos. New room, new lamb, every night.

(As it was, as it will always be).

After and always, stumbling sedate down the thirty or so red stairs leading from the elevator to the lobby the same ritual ensued: At roughly 12:10 am, Avery would appear from behind a wall of less important residents and find me at the bar (complimentary drinks all night). The attention was baffling, but I was charmed. Topics included: global economics, the futility of birthing children, South American literature, the rising tide of the circus, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, karma, the Yukon, and the pros and cons of unimaginable celebrity. Topics not-included: why I suddenly lived at Todos, or the events that transpired after a door clicked closed behind me (I respected the restraint), antarctic penguins, and Avery pre-hotel—the boy played his cards close.

Eventually, I understood: I was being seduced—the man was my dearest (perhaps my only) friend, Mr. Enigmatic himself. And, yet, at the same time it was all a pure mind fuck.There was something so divergent about our wooing. In a way, I feel like I never knew him. Regardless of how many hours we spent inebriated and swapping gooey-eyed stories there was a side of him that was untouchable, unknowable. So much so that I would catch myself wondering if he was an invention of himself. But, just as intensely, I felt an intimacy. So deep it was like we shared the same blood.

The conflict between these superimposed states haunted me.

But, hey, at least I made a friend.

 

The Night Everything Changed

I thought I’d re-lived them all.

Truly, I thought there were no more.

But the Universe swoons to poetry.

There was another. One more. I found him, like most things, out of boredom. The others, beautiful as they were, were getting stale (three months deep now). So I spent a week or two exploring every nook and cranny of that floor, in the hopes, dim as they were, that there was another, someone I’d forgotten about, someone trying particularly hard not to be found.

It was New Years Eve. The lobby was cacophonic with noise and celebration and every flavor of inanity. Avery was a ghost. I was seething (tongue tied, cock curious). So I left. Took the elevator to P26. Picked a random room. The room: P2689r.

New Year’s jackpot.

I opened the door to a slim one, olive-skinned, bound and gagged, eyes blue but firm, soul not yet sequestered behind them (but so ready for it). There’s something so exciting in that second when it all comes together: when what you’ve been looking for is laying right there for the taking.

I mounted him. Kissed his neck on the right. He craned left. Kissed his neck on the left. He craned right. Skin is so blurry-fuzz up close. So maybe it was the subtle change in the contour of that soft neck velvet (as experienced by my upper lip) that first notified me. The boy had a scar. A familiar one. An unhealed piece of concave tissue that I’d spent much of the last three months careening carefully with my eyes and fabricating stories about.

I think I sequestered behind my eyes.

That’s when the boy, whose hands were only disingenuously tied together, wiggled free from the ropes, and grabbed my Bolas with brutal-tight little vice-fingers teaming with twenty-six years of pent up acrimony. Before I could fully soak in the nausea that jumped from the sac to the stomach to the brain, I noticed an acute pressure on my throat, which as it turned out, was a metal wire (piano string maybe?) being swept around my neck from behind.

My head was jerked back like a cotton doll, eyes to the ceiling, counting the beads on the Charleston lamp shade to soothe (1, 2, … ) before I get too far I’m interrupted by Bertrand himself from above (have you noticed how strange eyes look when viewed upside…). He pulls the two ends of the wire to jolt me out of any more distracting thoughts. Can you guess what he said?

            O Universo adora poesia.

Then he motions to the boy, and, as if every detail had been priorly rehearsed, the boy begins to pull off my Brookes, piece by piece, jacket first, onto the pants, with a knife he cuts open my undershirt, does the same to my white briefs, slowly, as if savoring (you’d think he’d been waiting twenty-six years). Young Avery opens up a drawer in the night stand and pulls out an anonymous black canister, which he opens, sniffs (I can smell the bathtub pine needles), and pours generously over my genitals. Old Avery tightens up a bit on the piano string. I can see the sweat building on his palm, but looking at his solid eyes, it’s only a form of liquid anticipation. With my tassle thoroughly soaked, the little one pulls a matchbox (from the same drawer), and strikes one. I couldn’t help but note the perverse look (frolic, revelry, solace?) in his eyes as he drops it in all the gin. (I always sort of wondered what torture…)

Old Avery tugs up on his wire.

            Voltar, puto!, he tells me.

Okay then.

I’m back. Long enough to start screaming bloodyfuckingmurder. Beating the bed with both hands, then clawing at Old Avery’s hands, then back to beating the bed again.

I may also have thanked them.

            Obrigado. Minha doença é fixada.

Young Avery (speaking for the first time): ainda não.

Eerie-like.

He then pours the liquid pine needles over my stomach, extending the trail of fire from my genitals to my chest. He stops for a moment (presumably to give me some time to appreciate this next level). I try (again) to escape into my head, but more tactfully so Old Avery doesn’t notice.

(If I can tell when they fell behind their eyes, so can…)

            Aqui!, Old Avery yanks.

Young Avery continues his masterpiece, extending the trail of fire up onto my neck, and then onto my lips. I open my mouth and try to syphon as much as I can into my stomach (anesthesia) before the little one slaps it all out of my mouth.

Now my face is on fire. And the two just watch intently, while I listen to my skin bubble behind my howling.

The most unsettling part: Their eyes never once question the plan.

Old Avery breaks the silence: diga-me quando você está prestes a morrer.

Now.

            Agora mesmo.

            What did you feel right then?

Relief. SweetSimpleNothing. I just wanted everything to turn black. Of course that would have been too easy for me.

Old Avery must have seen the New Year’s wish in my eyes, because:

            Não é fácil, puta, he said.

I had to admit, in the chaos of the moment, even as the skin was melting off my face, that their planning was impeccable. Old Avery and his piano wire dragging me by the throat from the luxury of the two thousand count Egyptian sheets, Young Avery hanging onto my thrashing feet. Into the bathroom we go where they’ve prepared an elegant ice bath (and look: rose petals). Seconds from my SweetSweetNothing: splash. And I’m extinguished.

Blurred and fuzzed, the duo exits.

I’m just floating in hypothermic water. Movement a luxury I can’t conjure. I can only see a few things. Examples of those things: 1) The buoyant remains of my cockerel, charred and useless, undulating in the ice water, 2) a few globs of skin bobbing and weaving through cubes and rose petals, and 3) my new, posh, novotextured (word?) face in a mirror generously left at the foot of the tub by the Avery boys.

Last thought before things turned black:

            Had Mr. Bertrand Avery only ever built the hotel for me?

 

Aftermath:

The Hotel and I (Part II)

Someone (let’s just say Avery) must have alerted Hotel security that there was a fire on the twenty-sixth floor, because I only had a couple of minutes to explore my fresh new face before the front door imploded and a possy of uniformed men flooded the bathroom, lifting me out of cozy bath, and into an ambulance en route to Hospital Petrópolis. As the doors closed I noticed a single cicada slip in and buzz away its vile hum—mixing with sirens, chaotic português directives, blood pressure machines, stethoscopes; my brain spewed spontaneous cartoons, taking me to all the hidden places Avery blocked as I was being burned alive.

(I, at least, had the decency to let my boys escape leagues-deep in their heads)

I was jostled back to present time when I felt my locust friend get knotted up inside the gauze that was being wrapped around my charred neck.

(The puto squirmed for days).

I woke up two days later with fourth degree burns on ninety-two percent of my face, the fingers of my right hand fused together (a humbling writing experience this has been), and a crater where my manhood used to be (good riddance). I left the hospital with a three-thousand Real bill and a complimentary white mask.

But enough about me, you’re dying to ask:

What happened to Avery?

Witnesses saw him and a young boy, allegedly dressed in some black slacks and a handsome cardigan, walk right out the front door. Everyone just expected he would be back with a bottle of Vermouth, puffing on a cigar, wondering what all the fuss was about. That never happened.

And the Hotel?

The body lives for a bit before the head dies.

I watched the whole thing from behind my mask, sitting on a park bench across the street. Things started tranquilo; business as usual for the first few weeks. No one stepped up to fill the vacuum (no one expected him to stay gone (and who could’ve?)). Then the regularswaned. The first to go was a man from Manhattan; then a boy from the San Francisco bay.

            Where did they go?

Would you believe me if I told you?

            Yes.

They walked into rooms and never came out.

            Why?

There is no agreement on this point but here are a few theories: 1) Some believe that people return to Todos when the world is done with them, 2) Others believe that patrons began to settle into the only moment of bliss they ever found, and 3) I, personally, believe we all came from Todos and just started coming home.

The next year Os Hotel de Todos Tempos was boarded and condemned. Six months later it was leveled to build a mall outside of Copacabana.

            And could it have been any different?

Of course not.

            The Universe swoons to poetry.

 

 

 

Scott stambachBIO

A physicist, turned activist, turned educator, turned raconteur. Scott plays with words every night to neutralize his left-brain, which overflows all hours of his mathematical day. When he sleeps, the different personalities throw parties and commingle over cocktails, though the details are always murky in the morning. This cycle has left him with dozens of short stories, several of which have been published in both online and print journals, including Wild Violet, IdeaGems, and Blood Moon Rising.

 

 

 

0
Joshua Sidley

Finished

by Joshua Sidley

 

 

Abruptly one day my ex-wife stopped speaking to me in any recognizable way. What came out instead in our weekly discussions, which were centered mostly on our eight year-old son Charlie, were breathless musings about his unique style of speech toward adults, mindless philosophy regarding his silence toward other children, and a claim that something special was waiting for them both. Just when I started to grow attuned to it all, a new voice emerged, an articulation of a secret unhappiness that felt every bit as false as my wish that she remarry.

My son had warned me, or tried to. “I think Mom needs help, or something. It’s because she’s lonely. She misses us.”

I nodded and sighed. “Did she tell you that?” I asked, hating the sound of my (father’s) voice in that instant.

“No—I mean yeah. In that way she has. I told you.” And he had, he had.

Unfortunately, I had been half asleep—dreaming—at the time.

 

In the dream Kathryn stood folding a bed sheet and staring at her swollen belly. She signed and clamped her teeth as an unborn Charlie, a week overdue, spoke to her, inside her. Asked her questions, all kinds. His voice in her mind was perfectly clear but if she did not reply immediately she would forget what he had said, his words dissolving in her bloodstream. Blinking tears, she claimed that Charlie was making it happen. He was not giving her enough time to answer him, causing her to unremember his most recent inquiry, and yet she always knew he had said something. Sometimes she called him spiteful and a hypocrite. If the little brat’s that impatient, what the hell is he doing still backstroking in there? she asked me eventually. What does he expect me to do?

I pretended to think about it. Catch up, I said.

 

Before the divorce, when Charlie warned me about Kathryn I barely heard him. And after, when his warnings persisted I thought he was merely getting back at me, making me think what happened was my fault. I told him it wasn’t and he responded coolly, “She knows that. Everybody knows that.”

How strange, that I hadn’t known that.

 

What I did know: the difference between a panic attack and a nervous breakdown. Before the divorce, during our very worst arguments my wife had experienced intense panic attacks, acute rushes of adrenaline when it became clear her side of the argument was lost. And one week after, in another state, she had a nervous breakdown in a barricaded room somewhere, alone.

 

The first thing I ever noticed about Kathryn was her fingers, tapping absently against the side of her head, just above her cheekbone. She saw me and her fingers stopped tapping and her lipsticked mouth formed a grin. Months after we were married I had a dream about this initial encounter; except in the dream, when her fingers stopped tapping, one of them came away bloody.

 

Life is a beautiful and hideous thing, she had told my father once, and from what I knew of her childhood, I’d thought her declaration entirely reasonable. It irked him the way most things had when he wasn’t soaked in alcohol. “What is that even supposed to mean?” he challenged.

“It means that every flower has its mound of shit from which it sprang,” she said, looking directly at me.

My father was stunned into silence, and I into the profoundest love I had known; until then at least.

 

Her arms around my neck, pulling. Always in the oddest places, a smile of mockery, of premeditated impulsiveness. Daring me to object, knowing it would only encourage her more; and knowing that, I’d object strongly.

 

Eighteen months of marriage. Then seeing Charlie for the first time, Kathryn in an epidural-induced fog and myself more awake than I’d ever been in my life, wanting to speak, knowing it would only reveal how unprepared, how truly uncomfortable we both were. Knowing that, I said nothing at all.

 

Charlie was an uneasy child, his sleep ravaged by every sort of nightmare. Sometimes he would run from his room and out of the house before either of us could stop him (though it seemed like each time Kathryn tried less and less). The reason for these nightmares was not something Charlie was ever willing to discuss. No one who knew him could understand or help him, he said. When I asked him why, he replied, exasperated, “Because. That’s how nightmares work.”

 

Soon there was always a day in the week that each time the doorbell rang, it was him. A stranger, recommended to us by neighbors who’d heard Charlie in the night. A stranger hired to observe, speak, listen closely to what our son said (and would not say). For a while the stranger’s day was Tuesday. Since there was no choice but to open the door, one of us did while the other stared tensely at the floor. Feeling emptied out, inadequate. Trying not to think of ourselves as failures, of Charlie as victim.

 

Three months later Kathryn told me the stranger wasn’t coming back. “Why not?” I asked, halfway knowing what she was going to say.

“Asshole wasn’t helping,” she muttered. “So I fired him.”

I nodded, shrugged. “Okay. Now what?”

“Now what what?” she spat out, then softened after a moment. “Honey, Charlie is not the problem. Never has been and everyone knows it.”

How odd, that I hadn’t known that.

 

But it was Kathryn that had led me to take a closer look at Charlie, calling him a highly peculiar boy not long after his fourth birthday. “Did you know he actually asked me if I was his mother once? He wasn’t sure!”

I bit my lip, anger welling up in me toward Charlie.“When was this?”

“I can’t remember,” she said and made a dismissive gesture. “Ask him.” And when I did, Charlie couldn’t remember either. But he assured me whatever doubts he’d had were gone. “Don’t worry, she’s definitely Mom.

I wanted to force him to say more, what he had meant by doubting his mother’s identity at all.

Fuck it, I thought instead.

 

“I’m not responsible for what he says or does! Why must anyone look at me?”

I told her that she was not responsible—we both were. That more and more she was withdrawing from Charlie and from me, and that if she wanted to be freed of all culpability concerning our son’s odd conduct (on that day he’d asked several teachers if hate actually existed or was it merely the absence of love, and was outraged at all their answers) then she knew what to do. “Just as your mother did right in front of you. Or have you forgotten?”

Stricken, hiding her face in her hands, she rushed to the bathroom and vomited.

 

Some days Kathryn would arrive home later than others, some explanations were better, more likely, than others. I was slightly suspicious perhaps, but I hid it well. Even when she finally admitted to a brief affair with another man whom she barely knew, I hid my hatred for her surprisingly well.

 

A hospital administrator two states away called nearly a month after the divorce (of course Kathryn’s medical records still had me listed as her emergency contact). In a lowered, urgent voice the administrator politely informed me that she had caused a disturbance in a local motel, had barricaded the door to her room after the manager tried to gain access. The poor man, in his early seventies, was simply responding to complaints from other guests. Screams, they said. Objects thrown against the walls, broken. The police came and arrested her. They were accompanied by an emergency services team which included a physician who, after failing to calm her, had her committed to an area hospital.

“So what exactly do you want me to do about this?” I asked in disbelief.

Catch up, a voice inside me said.

 

In three months Kathryn’s treatment team determined that she no longer needed inpatient care and handling. She had suffered an acute psychological collapse following a long period of stress which had not been adequately dealt with, according to the doctor who’d admitted her. Through psychotropic medications, therapeutic interventions and rest, she was restored to her previous level of functioning; though I wondered how exactly could they know that. Yet after speaking with her about why our marriage ended and where we could both go from there, I had to agree—so did Charlie. Kathryn was herself again.

This was the dangerous time.

 

Because Charlie began to feel threatened in Kathryn’s company. Because during his bimonthly weekend visits to her new apartment—less than a mile away from us, her idea—she would become drenched in perspiration if he asked a question she could not answer instantly. Because she followed him everywhere, into the kitchen, the bedroom, even the bathroom—almost. Because she refused to answer her cell phone in his presence, as though he would object to the distraction, talk that may or may not include him. Because she questioned him closely if he had left her sight for more than a minute without warning. Because she recoiled if Charlie expressed any irritation with anything at all.

One day Charlie called me to ask if I could come and get him a day early, saying he was not feeling well, saying Kathryn’s behavior was making his head spin and his stomach hurt.

“Why are you acting like this, making him so uncomfortable, making him sick?” I confronted her at the door, “What the hell are you thinking?”

“I’m not thinking anything!” she cried. “He won’t let me!”

I looked over her shoulder and saw Charlie waiting for me in the car, his head in his hands.

 

A week later, a handwritten letter from Kathryn arrived in the mail. It read:

 

I’m sorry for what I am.

I love you so much.

K

 

I carefully folded the letter and looked up. Through a teary haze the face of Charlie stared.

 

The telephone rang the next day, near midnight.

They—she and Charlie—had come to a decision, Kathryn was telling me.

“Okay. When?” I asked, and stepped lightly into Charlie’s room. He was sprawled across the bed, sleeping soundly on his stomach. “When?” I asked again.

“Now. Just now,” she said.

I wanted to embrace her. “All right. Why don’t you wait until the morning and we’ll talk about it then?”

“I can’t. I’d like to but Charlie says it has to be right now. This second.”

Goddammit, I thought, holding back tears. “Well, wh-what is this decision?”

“It’s my best option. Charlie will tell you,” she answered, sounding hopeful and sad. “I love you so much.” Then she hung up.

I stood very still, listening. And somehow I was absolutely sure that I would not see or speak to Kathryn ever again. Moments later Charlie woke up, wiping the sleep from his eyes. He yawned and looked at me and blinked.

“Don’t be mad,” he pleaded.

“Why?” I asked him.

He smiled thinly. “I finished,” he said.

 

 

 

BIO

Joshua SidleyA graduate of the Dramatic Writing Program at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, Joshua Sidley has published short stories in the online journals Fear and Trembling, Kaleidotrope and Bewildering Stories, and the print journal Down In The Dirt Magazine, as well as the online publisher bookstogonow.com. He is currently at work on his first novel.

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