june 7, 2017| ISSUE no 217
crack the spine
Andra Emilia Fenton
Jan Elman Stout
short fiction by Arthur Davis
The golden lab puppy grew until it could no longer fit in the wicker basket its owners purchased a few weeks ago after picking it up from the lovely woman in a nearby village.
The dog, and for the purposes of confidentiality in this paragraph we will not reveal his name, grew so quickly its portions were no longer adequate and in its fourth week it consumed a battered ottoman and all the pillows in the cottage. When its owners came home and yelled and chased the frightened lab, the poor animal turned on them and consumed each in a terrified gulp.
The couch went next. Both ancient mattresses vanished days later.
When the small, two-bedroom cottage was emptied of furniture and fixtures the lab foraged the local neighbors, having the good sense to first pillage far away from home.
Neighbors started noticing nearby homes were empty. By then the dog was really no longer a puppy and was devouring the contents of a cottage every few days just to keep its appetite in check.
Indigestibles like silverware, sinks, doorknobs and every sort of metallic essential shot out of the beast’s ass until it could no longer live within the confines of its original home.
Most of the residents in the small, depression-ravaged village outside Middlesgate near Harlow Junction in northwest England had been eaten. The few that managed to flee were driven insane by what they had witnessed, or thought they had witnessed, so that they were all but useless to the already beleaguered authorities.
The dog was now somewhere between immense and gigantic, its long coat of golden strands trailing behind, foraging further away from its village and consuming the contents of other homes at what could only be considered an alarming rate.
Of course, “Percy,” which we can now reveal was the name the couple had given him, quickly brought him to dispair. Percy knew what the neighbors’ dogs, cats and the occasional hamster and parrot thought of his name.
He was mortified to hear their insults when he was taken for his first walk, their baiting catcalls howled into the evening. The poor creature was so distraught it just started eating everything in sight simply to offset so much anxiety and nervous energy until his appetite got the best of him, as well as pretty much the entire village.
It was noon on whatever day it was since weeks and time itself now were of little consequence, as was the fact that apparently there was no one coming to stop him. Percy assumed, as one would be reasonable to expect, that he was so feared that no one had the courage to come get him, or put him down, a phrase that the woman who bred him continuously threatened all her broods with.
Wondering where she was now, or considering tracking her down and eating her, was no longer of such great importance. Percy did miss the rest of the brood, the two standoffish sisters and a handful of unremarkable brothers, now scattered like the wind, probably winding up in a foul smelling backyard or abandoned in some large decaying city.
The dogs and cats and hamsters and the occasional parrot, that inhabited his village disappeared into the woods, or ran or flew away long before their owners realized they were doomed.
Percy had eaten many hundreds of books. At first he didn’t know what books were but the more homes he consumed, the more he took a strange and passionate interest as to why they, in particular, were so prized.
It was from of this simple act of curiosity that Percy taught himself to read.
Speaking was actually easier, as he was a natural born mimic from birth. While the five other puppies in his brood squawked and squeaked and barked themselves hoarse, he took an uncommon interest in what the two-legged animals were saying. At first it made no sense, but with a first class memory and now being able to match the words in the books he had consumed with the sounds he remembered, he was at best, modestly verbal.
“Hello?” he said to no one in particular on a moonlit evening on the shore of a nearby lake. “Beautiful evening isn’t it?”
Percy frantically wagged his tail with delight. He’d been working on the sentence all day and was afraid he was going to make a fool of himself.
What should he do next?
Percy snarled at the moon, but there was no response. He snarled again, but his heart wasn’t in it. “Ok, let’s move on from the snarling. I understand. I get it,” he said, the clarity and sentence structure getting better with each verb. “Apparently snarling is just not as intimidating as it used to be.”
A few northern snow geese gathered at the far end of the lake. He’d never eaten a bird, though the geese looked particularly plump and appetizing. All the eating and digesting and ungodly sleep hours, often so irregular that he was grouchy and ill-tempered for days, had made him particularly tired.
He sat at the edge of the lake and pondered his life.
What had he done? What had he accomplished in these few fleeting months? Life was unpredictable. Every moment and revelation was as capricious as it was precious.
He decided to dedicate himself to more meaningful pursuits, and he would start by giving back to the community that had, literally and figuratively, supported him. He would start tomorrow. The day after would probably work just as well too, he decided.
“What is a dog, except the immutable currency of man’s unpredictable affection?” he said. “And what is man, but a vaporous reflection of the tension that exists in the uncertain boundary between reason and insanity.”
By this time Percy had read scraps of Shelley, Byron, Hawthorne, Melville, Robert Frost, Mark Twain, Max Plank, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Walt Whitman and Gertrude Stein, and accepted that his first attempts at sophisticated conversation were worthy, but a long way from being informed or urbane.
Percy decided to devote the rest of his life to studying the arts and meeting famous artists and authors. There was much he needed to learn and maybe, just maybe, he might make a contribution that would someday advance mankind.
Percy nodded approvingly. “Not bad.”
But being big and well-intended wasn’t going to be enough.
He didn’t want to wind up in a freak show, or chasing down what remained of the rest of his brood when they couldn’t even hold the simplest conversation, much less possess critical thinking skills to understand the heritage of the Luddite movement that once gripped his country and how it influenced the early industrial revolution worldwide.
Sometime, long before dawn, Percy was awakened from his stupor by a noise that was strange to his senses. They were finally coming for him, all because he consumed a few villages that were, in themselves, on the brink of economic and social collapse.
Still only about three months old, he was alarmed enough to seek refuge. He waded into the lake and submerged himself and, in doing so, swamped the shoreline until every creature within a hundred yards was either panicked away, or drowned.
Snout slightly out of the water, Percy could hide and at the same time identify whatever it was that was making such frightening, loud pounding noises, and getting louder every thunderous minute.
The water was cold but welcoming. The sensation of calm did much to assuage his fears.
Ripples danced across the lake as the vibrations from the beating earth crept closer. Percy was uncertain as to what he should do next, quickly suspecting that hiding in the middle of a lake was not the smartest decision.
Soon, two golden labs, half as large as himself, came into view. Both were female and quickly had an uncommon and pleasing effect on him. They stopped at the far end of the lake and stared in his direction.
“Holy shit,” Percy said, the bubbles from those two words rippling up to the surface of the water. “Holy shit,” he repeated, amused that he could produce bubbles and words at the same time.
He was certain they were merely looking in his direction rather than discovering his brilliant camouflage, when he realized there was no reason for him to fear either.
Slowly, and with great purpose, Percy lifted his head then the rest of his massive frame from the depths of the lake as a spring dawn broke through the scatter of pine and old-stand birch. Towering over every living thing, he carefully made his way up the shoreline and then whipped his body around and shook out the water that had found its way into his hide.
“Welcome,” he said, in a clear and friendly tone, trying with great care not to frighten either female who could quickly see their effect on him. He had never been aroused before and frankly, at first he was uncertain of the cause of such excitement.
“I would imagine you two are my sisters, having come from the same brood.”
The gigantic male lab that approached them spoke in a language that was similar to the unkind caretaker at the home where they were born, and where they were treated so poorly, especially after all the males had been given away.
They growled and barked and aggressively scratched the ground with their massive paws, taking turns displaying their teeth in the most ferocious manner.
Percy dismissed the threat, shook out the remaining water from his coat, and before he could explain, both females turned with evident disinterest and loped back into the forest.
“How typical,” Percy bemoaned and searched for a dry part of the shoreline. Curling in upon himself, his tail coiled with exhaustion, Percy considered how far he had come since being adopted.
“All truth passes through three stages,” he began in reflection. “First, it’s ridiculed then it’s violently opposed until and finally, it’s accepted as being self-evident.”
The insight, the very probing vision of true genius and remarkable wisdom that sprang from his soul kept him alert for a few prideful minutes longer, until he recalled the treatise where he had read Schopenhauer’s quote, after which he quickly settled into a peaceful, knowing slumber.
The two boys—young men—expected to do more masculine things camping in the national forest south of the Grand Canyon. Scout up kindling, dig a fire pit, haul water from a stream, fight off the mountain cold with the bottle of Jack they’d bought using their fake IDs that morning in Vegas. Instead, the campground provided a low grill, firewood, a communal tap beside the shower house. The August evening stayed warm as heat from the nearby desert rose as the sun set.
They cooked hot dogs and beans and swigged the bourbon while they argued over how to deal with any confrontational bear and mused about the bent-tree lean-to they’d built in scout camp when their friendship was still in its boyhood. They laughed remembering how their friend Ryan had startled and peed himself when someone shook a catalpa pod by his pup-tent’s flap and cried “snake!” They admitted they’d been cruel but decided they should be forgiven. Ryan had eventually laughed, too. They’d merely been boys being boys.
The sun completed its descent as they finished dinner. Their campsite stood separated from the others by tall pines and scrub. Some chatter drifted in, broken by laughter. They went silent as if to will their neighbors to quiet down. Then one walked to the shelter for more water they’d heat on the fire to do the dishes. The other policed the fireside mess, tossed the bun wrapper onto the embers, watched it shrivel.
They discussed the route to conclude the grand tour of the West their parents had financed as graduation presents. They’d hike some more of the Canyon’s rim tomorrow then drive through Flagstaff to the Petrified Forest and overnight in a motel at Canyon de Chelly on the Navajo Reservation. The next night they’d camp at Mesa Verde before speeding south to I-40 for the eastward haul.
But first this forest’s beauty. Had native scouts camped here, considered the Canyon beautiful, or merely an obstacle? The other campers’ noise wore away. When a dry gust rattled the brush they held their breath in the stasis, hoping a deer, anything animal, had been drawn to the dying fire. But nothing came.
They looked into the sky as if an eagle might descend. Stars twinkled by the thousands like strewn glitter, so many because they were a mile high and far away from cities, they concluded, awed for the hazy half-hour it took to smoke a joint.
Then an owl’s call reassured that they had indeed entered a place more wild than the Midwestern homes they would soon be leaving, in different directions, forever. They looked at each other, appreciating for perhaps the first time the togetherness in such aloneness.
In the tent, they lay very still, listening only to the other’s breathing. One stirred and reached out a hand. The other returned the warm, tender, urgent touch.
flash fiction by Jim Powell
poetry by Amy Braziller
red \ rĕd \
noun (Webster’s Second edition, page 985, column 1)
pigment or dye with a red hue | having red as the distinguishing color
Your face turns red when you lie.
C – O – M – M – U – N – I – S – T
The Kremlin waves red.
hunt \ hŭnt \
[no alternate pronunciation(s)]
verb (Webster’s Second edition, page 598, column 1)
to pursue for sport | to drive out forcefully
You hunt so you don’t feel so small.
W – I – T – C – H
I hunt to save my country.
alleged \ə-lĕjd’, ə-lĕj’ĭd \
adjective (Webster’s Second edition, page 93, column 2)
supposed | represented as existing
You create alleged traitors.
R – E – P – U – T – A –T – I – O – N
I don’t believe in alleged.
degenerate \ dĭ-jĕn’ər-ĭt \
[no alternate pronunciation(s)]
noun (Webster’s Second edition, page 357, column 2)
sexual pervert | morally degraded person
You exhibit joy when labeling someone a degenerate
H – O – M – O – S – E – X – U – A – L
I am not a degenerate.
paranoid \ păr’ə-noid′ \
[no alternate pronunciation(s)]
adjective (Webster’s Second edition, page 853, column 1)
irrational distrust | afflicted with paranoia
You appear to be a paranoid person.
A – L – C – O – H – O – L – I - C
All Americans should be naturally paranoid.
subvert \ səb-vûrt’ \
[no alternate pronunciation(s)]transitive verb (Webster’s Second edition, page 1156, column 2)
destroy completely | ruin
Without you, others might subvert.
P – U – R – I – F – Y
I subvert to protect.
Joseph McCarthy at the Spelling Bee
creative non-fiction by Andra Emilia Fenton
Men With Guns
The first time they came, they came out of nowhere. Or rather, I hadn’t started paying attention. They moved swiftly and silently, like ants. They surrounded our van, their formation pierced only by the sound of my mother’s scream: “Niños, get down!”
My brother was all the way in the back, on the floor. I was in front of the middle seat, also on the floor. But I was used to obeying only half way. I lifted my neck up and looked out the windows. In front of me, on the other side of the glass, was the mouth of a machine gun and in front of the windshield another gun pointing at us. And behind and to the right of our car, two more. All around us, men with guns aimed at us, two black SUVs keeping our car in place.
They were asking my mom for the car’s registration. At first they seemed calm but when she refused to hand it over, their voices became louder. How could she say no when it was certain she would lose? Then she compromised. She slammed the van’s registration, a piece of white paper with faded black ink, up against the inside of her closed window. They wanted her to lower the window, to hand it over, again, she said no. I assumed she knew they would take the paper from her and maybe the van. But didn’t she understand we could die if she didn’t? In Mexico City, or anywhere for that matter, guns were more powerful than an American woman with two small children cowering on rubber carpets.
My confusion was interrupted when one of them saw me. He picked up his radio, put it to his mouth, looked at the SUV behind us and said something that contained the word: “niños.” I raised my whole body to see who he was looking at and saw a man in a suit sitting in the front seat of the SUV. I decided he was in charge of things. The suited man spoke into a radio too and then as swiftly and quietly as the men had appeared, they trickled back into their SUVs and disappeared.
I never knew who they were or why they left. What was clear was that they had the power, and if they chose not to do anything with it beyond stop us, aim their guns at us and ask for a piece of paper, it was because they had chosen or been instructed not to. We were powerless.
Six years later, I was in college, my best friend Andrea had become a soap opera actress. My brother, Andrea and I went to a club one night. We normally would have left the club in a car, but my brother had taken the keys and disappeared. There was nothing around there open at that time except for a dingy taco restaurant, so Andrea and I, in our short skirts, walked down the road and looked for him there. I was sober because I was driving but Andrea was not and the sidewalk was uneven and broken. She fell and her knee started bleeding. I helped her get up and wiped her knee with a napkin I had in my hand. A guy had written his number on it, I was hanging on to it just in case. I crushed the bloody napkin into a ball and we continued walking toward the taco restaurant.
A pickup truck approached and then stopped beside us. It had the initials of the Mexican judicial police on its side and three men in the back were carrying machine guns.
We started running.
Since it was a one-way street, the pickup truck reversed down the road and the men emptied out of it and surrounded us, they told us to put our hands above our heads but I refused, knowing the bloody napkin would not look good. They saw the napkin and immediately pointed their weapons at our bodies. I tried to explain but it was of no use. They ordered us to get in the truck.
I would not cower this time. I started running, thinking that Andrea was with me, but when I turned around I saw that she had not moved. She had her hands up, she was frozen and surrounded. I quickly realized that the other men had caught up with me and had formed an X by crossing one machine gun over another. Since I had been running, I crashed straight into the X, the metal pressing against my rib cage. I cannot leave her, I thought. Although the truth is, it would have been impossible for me to do so, I was cornered.
The men and I walked back to where Andrea was. They said they knew we were carrying drugs and needed to search us. I told them it was illegal for a man to search a woman in Mexico although I wasn’t sure that was true. They pointed at one of the officers and said she was a woman. I took off her hat and realized they were right. In retrospect I cannot believe I ran and I cannot believe I took off the officer’s hat. I learned I don’t know myself very well. She searched us and found nothing, they were still not satisfied.
“Why did you run?”
“We were scared,” I said.
It was not enough, they told us again to get in the truck.
Andrea started to cry.
"Why are you crying?” They asked her.
And she started telling a story about being abducted by police officers. A story that happened in Acapulco. A story that explained why we were running. A story I did not know. And as she told it she cried even more dramatically and I felt the officers become scared and I just stared at Andrea for some sort of signal until one of the men interrupted her and looked at me.
“Is it true?”
And I said it was.
And they said they were sorry that had happened to us and got into the pick-up truck and left.
I am in Minnesota, my uncle Andrew calls. He likes to shoot guns and asks me if I want to come. I have been thinking of getting a gun. I have been thinking that if I have a gun I will be safe. I will not feel like people, men mostly, can determine whether I live or am safe or can make choices. I imagine myself with the gun, always in the cup holder of my car in Mexico. Always ready. I imagine an armed robbery, the shock on the man’s face, I imagine him running. I am powerful, in control. I tell my uncle that yes, I want to go to the range.
We drive into the range and he hangs up the target. It’s a bullseye, it’s the rule, the target cannot have the shape of a human body, it must be a circle, a dot, something abstract. He loads the gun and shoots first, it’s louder than I imagined. But we’re wearing ear muffs, maybe I’ve put them on wrong? He teaches me how to load the next round and hands me the gun, it’s a Glock .40, the kind the American police use. It’s heavier than I thought, but maybe this is part of it, the weapon needs to be heavy, maybe the weight adds to its power. I shoot and my aim is worse than I predicted, I have not yet corrected for the gun’s kick. I am not prepared for the deafening sound or the smell of burning powder or the little shells that jump like burning grasshoppers into my coat. I don’t like it.
A man pulls up with his two kids. They appear to be ten and twelve years old. They want to play games on their iphones. He doesn’t let them, he wants them to test the new automatic weapon he’s bought. He hangs up a target with the outline of a human body. It has some holes in it already. He takes it down and laughs: “Oops, can’t use this one here.” The kids complain, they do not want to shoot guns, he tells them they must and so they do.
I am the kids. I don’t want to be here either. I don’t want to shoot a gun. I don’t want to buy one and keep it in my car. I don’t want to protect myself against the possibility of someone else’s gun, someone else’s power, if it means I have to carry this weapon every day. I don’t want to stay safe at the expense of staying human.
short fiction by Darren Nuzzo
I’m dancing, she’s crying into a sock; I can imagine how all this might look. Outside it’s much different: there’s a forest hugging the town, there are four neighborhood ducks, there’s a small plaza where someone might smile at you in passing, there is fog and rain and things you can touch.
After three more songs she tires out and falls asleep. I want to kiss her forehead. If I do, she’ll punch me in the nose. It’s always a passionate debate. Space and Love. That’s what I’m supposed to give her in times like these. All the space makes the love pretty tough. Dancing doesn’t help much either. I hope the ducks are awake, in times like these it’s best that they are.
I tear each piece of bread carefully, like a game of Tetris in reverse. I’m aware of how pedestrian all this must look—a man playing with ducks in his backyard.
“You’re not suppose to feed em, ya know?” An old shaky voice calls out from a neighboring house that looks more like a barn, “Hurts em bad. Stomach stuff. Messes with em.”
Silence waters the grass. The ducks like it that way.
A certain duck, duck number four, even rubs up against my ankles at times, but he’s shy today, hiding behind a picnic table. The table is propped upright against two old growth red woods. You’d hardly know it was a table by the way it’s defaced. Between bites of steak I’ll shoot an arrow out the kitchen window at it.
You see, every year Maya gets me a toolbox for my birthday. It’s adorable how confused she is in regards to the durability of tools. And every year she asks me to build something for her—she’s also quite confused in regards to how birthdays work. So I’m building her a picnic table, have been for six years. I’ve put near a hundred arrows into that table. Haven’t pulled a single one out. One arrow is even from Maya, from her best day. I know exactly which one it is. It’s like that star that looks the same as all the others, not brighter or bigger even, but for some reason you just see it, just that one star.
The old man keeps shouting through the dark with no damn concern for the ducks, “Why do you keep feedin’ em? I know you know not to feed em.”
I weather the storm with more silence. Then duck number four (the one who might be so kind to touch my ankles) emerges from behind the picnic table and inches toward me.
The old man pushes it back for good, “The stomach stuff. I’ve told you. Hurts em bad. Don’t you hear me?”
The poor ducks having to deal with this old man shoots a sharp pain into my gut.
“And I want my damn bucket back. Nine years you’ve had my bucket. My finest milking bucket. I saw you running off with it, laughing and skipping with your wife.” That bit really makes me laugh. So much so that I scare a little guy away. He keeps going, “I’ve seen it all and I’ve had enough of this duck habit. Their stomachs are turning rotten.”
I drop the last bit of bread and reach for another imaginary piece to keep the remaining two a second longer. Then they make their way across the grass. I’m empty handed with nothing at my feet. I’m better off with bread, but only when I’m getting rid of it. The peasant’s paradox, I suppose.
I go inside having not had my fill.
I look at the sink. The day’s dishes stare at me like a mother. I grunt at them like a child. I clean them thoroughly. Then I clean the entire house. I iron all Maya’s clothes and make sure the laces on her shoes are even lengths at both ends. I do the same with my clothes and my shoes because even that may set her off. I turn on the television and make sure the volume is on an even number for when she turns it on tomorrow. I make sure the soap is either full or perfectly halfway full. She doesn’t ask me to do this; she never asks for much, she’s great like that. Then I head up to look at her forehead some more.
She’s always been self-conscious about the way she sleeps: her mouth opening and closing as if drinking raindrops in her sleep, the tired skin under her eyes filling up with fat. I tell her not to worry, that she sleeps like a princess. It’s a shame I’m the only one who gets to see how beautiful she looks.
Maya has only left the house ten times since Dr. Trufant suggested we move here a decade ago: three times to stock up on make-up, six times to buy me a toolbox, and once to steal that old man’s bucket. Other than that, she stays in the house all day trying not to get set off by things. I try to stay with her as much as I can.
I watch her sleep and watch the room around her. There isn’t much more than empty space. Remember, Love and Space. So we live in the corners, trying to do the whole space thing. Our bed is in the corner opposite our dresser: four drawers for her, the bottom one for me. Then there is the record player. And in the most noteworthy corner is the bucket. I can hear the old man yelling every time I see that bucket. I can hear Maya too, only laughing.
In the bucket are a couple thousand crumpled dollars funding the things we want to do before we die. It’s covered with bucket list clichés written in white chalk: New York for New Years, Eiffel Tower, White Water Rafting, Hear “Berlin Without Return” Live in concert. We use to be the type of people who’d do these things. A revised version—one more fitting for the type of people we are now— would read something like: kiss, hold hands briefly, share a stack of pancakes. I still toss some quarters in. I like the noise it makes when it hits the metal.
I’m not ready for Sunday. In eight hours Maya will wake up, having not changed a bit, and I’ll go to the market. I’ll ask her if she wants me to pick anything up for her. She’ll say, “If the Egg-Guy has eggs, can you get some?” I’m not proud of how much that question irritates me. The Egg-Guy always has eggs; he’s the Egg-Guy, according to his cardboard sign and according to him invariably having eggs. I anticipate my overreaction.
Sleep would speed things up. I shut the front door gently.
Outside is much different. My clothes feel looser, lighter, as if they’ve been soaking wet all day and are starting to dry from the soft breeze of night. My breathing feels cleaner, deeper. There is rain and fog and things you can touch.
There isn’t anyone to wave at in the plaza so I try the bar. There isn’t a line at the jukebox, which means it’s a younger crowd tonight. I play one of Maya’s songs she used to dance to. Then I get a drink and then I meet someone and get another. All the structure gets to me, so I slip off my boots to mess things up a bit.
The girl is sweet and fun and fifteen years younger than me—although I wouldn’t have discriminated had she been plain and awful and shared the same birth year. I get her to tell me about her day even though she’d rather just drink and exchange a few compliments. She had a dentist appointment and she bumped into a parked car and left a note on their windshield and she even tried that one Greek restaurant that just opened up on McGregor Street. It’s all very boring stuff she keeps trying to tell me. Then she points at my wedding ring, “You’re married?”
I look at my fingers. I scan them left to right and nod.
She says me too, slips her ring up past her long nails, onto the table, and then into her purse. It’s a cheap, formulaic gesture, but I like her, I like the way she moves her hands when she talks and touches my knee at the last word of each sentence.
In her purse I notice a book, a biography about cartoonist George Herriman.
“Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse. ”
I point to the book to help her out. She seems a bit thrown off by how fast we’ve moved on from the adultery bit.
“Oh no, it’s for my dad. He tells me what to get him for his birthday. He even gives me the money for it, how sad is that? I’m sure I won’t even wrap it.”
“Have you read it?”
“No, it’s for my dad.”
“You’ll have to borrow it from him when he’s done. It’s something else.”
She looks to her right at the other men at the bar.
I clear my throat and save the conversation with alcohol.
I buy us two shots of the best whiskey you can get with eight dollars. She insists we interlock arms and take them. I am aware of the way this would look, a thirty-six year old man and a girl young enough to be buying her father a gift with his very own money interlocking arms and taking a shot. I hate everything about the visual in my head. I look at her bare arm and the skin from her wrist to her shoulder and the few freckles rising from her neck. I take off my jacket, stuff it between my boots, and pick up my shot glass. The insides of our elbows touch. I swallow and then cringe at the taste of eight dollars not being enough. I feel guilty about all the elbow touching.
I jam my feet back into my boots and tell her that I’ve had enough (to drink) and head home.
I take the longer route home, through the plaza. There’s no one out moving around tonight, I might as well have my hands in my pockets. I try a diner.
It’s an old place— the type of place where you order a coffee by raising a hand and saying, a coffee. An old man sits at the counter staring down at a fork and knife and an empty plate. I sit down, leaving three empty spaces between us. He grunts and moves another seat over. I make a mental note that four, not three, spaces is the preferred amount of personal space for a baby-boomer staring at silverware at midnight.
A girl sits next to me; the man slides another stool over. She pulls out her reading glasses and scans the menu.
She looks to the waitress and orders with a thick Australian accent, “I’ll have the pancakes, please.” I’m geographically ignorant and it may be cruel, but her accent doesn’t sound like the pretty beach of Australia, rather a slummier place that happens to have agreeable weather and an ocean. It’s a bit off-putting.
“Oh it’s individually?”
I nudge her shoulder, assuming that is a welcomed gesture. “Do one.”
“They’re that big?”
“No, just not that good.”
“Actually I’ll do one,” she goes to say, but the waitress is already gone.
We talk as she waits for her two pancakes.
It’s all great until, “You’re married?”
I look at my fingers and play a poor joke because I’m sick of this structure.
“It just fits best on this finger.”
She laughs, an awful laugh really, but she doesn’t leave—I convince myself that this has nothing to do with her waiting on pancakes.
I look at her more carefully. Her eyes need more makeup. Her lips need less color and more moisturizer, her forehead looks nothing like Maya’s, and her freckles don’t do to me what the last girl’s did for me.
Her legs are okay. They move nicely as she struggles to get comfortable. In all, she’s still a homely woman—objectively even.
“What brings a married man to a diner at midnight?”
“A sleeping wife.”
“What good is a tired wife.”
“She’s great. Just asleep.”
She studies my face trying to find my intentions.
I order a coffee.
I get my coffee.
She grabs me by the wrist, it feels like we are handcuffed. She stands up so so do I, “Skull it. Let’s go.”
I chug it. She lets go of my wrist without warning.
She takes me eight blocks off the plaza to an empty arcade where the smell of pee-stained carpet is half masked by vacuumed carpet. It looks like the aftermath of a third grader’s birthday party. There are fingerprints on all the screens of all the games and all the basketballs have made their way to just one machine, a staple when it comes to cheating your way to a high score. I want to take a few shots. The rim is decorated in a chain net. The noise it makes is much different than a cotton net. Instead, we play an alligator game, or crocodile; I don’t kid to know the difference. I bend my knees and get my palms in the ready position as she bends down to put in some quarters. Her knees get comfortable on a discolored patch of carpet. Her shorts are tight so it takes her a while to shimmy each coin from her back pockets. The quarters each take a few tries to be read properly by the machine. They keep slipping through the return slot.
The quarters finally do their job, prompting an invasion of plastic green monsters. I stand slightly off from the center of the machine to let her know I don’t mind her joining me. She stays in a squatting position and curls up to my right ankle. I bang each alligator with my palm. She rubs her hands up and down my shins. My leg hair doesn’t bother her. The alligators start coming quicker. I bend my knees more, until they are slightly ahead of my toes. I hinge at the hips and tighten my slightly rounded lower back. My quads tense up. I shift my weight to my heels so my hamstrings can lock my position into the floor. My traps fill with blood and rise closer to my ears. All of my hits are now with a closed fist.
I can feel her hands working their way up my shorts. She navigates her fingertips around the inside of my thigh, through my leg hair, and plays with the buttons on my boxers.
The game ends; I look around for more quarters.
I stare at Maya’s forehead before heading downstairs to sleep on the couch.
Morning comes and Maya is nothing more than the same. My clothes feel wet, my breathing is flat, and there’s just a whole bunch of space, too much to care for.
I’m not in much pain. I suppose when you’ve been shot nine times the tenth is more a number than a bullet.
I head out for the market. I stop at our bedroom door and bend down for the bucket, find two twenties and mess around with the change, hoping she’d hear it and make a fuss about how that money is for us and not groceries. She doesn’t budge. I walk over to the record player and drop the needle on “Berlin Without Return”.
“I think we should dance.”
She doesn’t say anything.
“Well, come on.”
She keeps with the whole silence bit.
“I really think we should.”
She takes off a sock and brings it to her cheek even though she’s not crying quite yet.
“Would it hurt you to dance with your husband?”
Then she points to her socked foot tapping the ground and then nods at my socked foot tapping the ground, insisting that she is dancing with her husband.
Now she’s really crying.
“Just stand up and let me dance with you.”
“I’m not sure I’d like that.”
Surely she wouldn’t. But I really think it would be best for me.
I walk over to her and pull her close to my chest and she pushes me back as hard as a girl of her softness can. I let the space back in between us and try not to lose it.
“Is this song okay?”
“What does it matter, I don’t want to dance.”
I point to her socked foot still tapping. “You love this song.”
She points to my foot tapping. “You love it too.”
“It’s a lovely song.”
She’s dancing and so I am. Three socks move in space. The room gets smaller. I reach through it.
“Can I hold you?”
Maya keeps dancing and it’s best I let her.
She's Great, Just Asleep
Dad flexes the fingers of his left hand, open shut, open shut. My signal to zoom in on his ring finger. When his fourth knuckle rises, I go on high alert. Dad doesn’t know this. Nor Mom. I figured it out at twelve. Three years ago I was still small. This Christmas I’m taller than Dad.
Mom rifles through boxes of ornaments, pulls out the pipe cleaner Santa I made in third grade. She attaches a hook, cocks her head to the side and crinkles her eyes, searching for the perfect bald spot on our artificial flocked Christmas tree.
“Sal, put that on a branch in the back.” Dad points with his Schlitz and it sloshes onto the olive-green shag carpet. Mom’s arm twitches like it plans to grab a dishrag but she doesn’t move. Dad holds his beer high and eases onto the couch.
“I thought it might look nice here at the front, honey.” She bends and holds it near the base of the tree. “What do you think?”
Dad closes his fingers into a fist. His first two knuckles are bone-white but not the others.
“Dad’s right, Mom. It belongs at the back.”
Mom shrugs. “Suit yourselves.” She creeps behind the artificial Balsam Dad sprayed with white flocking two Christmases ago, the first time he knocked her out. Dad rests his fist on his leg and sips his beer.
“Kenny, come back here and give me a hand,” Mom says.
I duck behind the tree. “Please, Mom,” I whisper. She taps her finger against her lips and gestures for me to hang pipe cleaner Santa on the front of the tree. I snatch it, shake my head and pull Santa’s fuzzy red wire legs into the splits. I continue stretching and he breaks in two.
“What’re you doing back there?” Dad says.
“Nothing,” Mom says, popping her head out from behind the tree. I ball Santa’s remains in my hand and step out where Dad can see me.
“Open your hand,” Dad says. I unclench my fingers and reveal the red clump resting on my palm.
Dad opens and closes his fist but doesn’t move it from his leg. “What is that?”
“Santa.” I want to smooth out the pipe cleaners, turn this mess into Santa again, but I can’t.
Dad rises from the couch. I feel his sour breath on my neck. “You arrogant punk, that one’s your mother’s favorite.”
I know to tip my chin, look at the carpet. “I’m sorry, Dad.” I hope he doesn’t spot the tendons pulsing in my neck. I look but his fourth knuckle’s hidden.
“Come here, Sal.” Mom steps from behind the tree, stays close to it. She adjusts her watchband.
“I said get over here.”
Mom moves next to me. Dad holds his fist up, waves his knuckles in my direction. I can’t see the thumb but all four knuckles are bone-white.
“You two might not see the new year,” Dad says. He waves his fist so close it parts the air. His knuckle brushes my nose. I freeze.
“Jerry it’s my fault,” Mom says.
Dad stuns me by unballing his fist and dropping his hand at his side. Maybe this Christmas will be different.
Without warning, Dad raises his arms and shoves Mom. She falls backward, arms flailing, knocks into the Christmas tree, and gets entangled in its branches as it clatters to the ground. She is lying on broken glass ornaments and bleeding from superficial scratches on her arms and legs but she is conscious for once. She feels around for a clear spot to support herself and get up. Dad’s face is blank, like he has no clue why Mom and the tree are on the ground.
“Lay still, Mom. I’ll call 911.”
“No need for that,” Mom says, sweeping away ornament fragments with the side of her hand.
“I said don’t move.” My voice is loud. Mom is motionless. I pull myself to my full height and step in front of Dad so he can no longer see her.
Dad’s voice cracks “It was an accident.”
“Dad didn’t mean for this to happen,” Mom says.
“Sit down,” I say to Dad. He falls back onto the couch, surprising me. I feel a rush. I am a man.
I pass by Mom and pick up the wall phone receiver.
“There’s been an accident. My mother needs medical attention,” I tell the dispatcher.
After five minutes, flashing red and blue lights are reflected on the living room walls.
The doorbell rings. Two policemen and two EMTs ask to come inside. I wave my arm toward Mom, who is sitting against the wall, upright, her hand cupping her right
elbow. The EMTs secure a neck brace and examine her.
“How did this happen?” a policeman says.
Dad stirs for the first time since I made him sit down. “My wife’s heel caught on the carpet and she fell backwards onto the tree.”
“That’s last year’s story, Dad.”
Dad reddens, opens and shuts his fist. I know he won’t try anything now.
The policeman’s eyes narrow. “Ma’am?”
“My heel caught, like my husband said. I turned my ankle and knocked over the tree.”
I shake my head. If this is love, I want no part.
“My father shoved my mother. Hard. She crashed into the tree. Same shit every Christmas.”
“Officer, that’s not true,” Dad says.
Both policemen look at Dad and then me. Dad looks away but I hold their gaze. I try imagining a peaceful Christmas.
“You come outside.” A policeman nods at Dad. “Officer Reynolds, you stay here.” The policeman points toward Mom.
The police put Dad in the squad car. The EMTs take Mom to the hospital for x-rays.
The house is still. I circle around the fallen tree and stroll into the kitchen. I open the refrigerator and pop the top on my first beer. It’s musty. Sharp. Not what I expected. I drain the can and watch the clock.
flash fiction by Jan Elman Stout
Annual Christmas Pageant Understudy
poetry by Patrick Scheid
failing to grasp
with leaden fingers
sifting through the chaos
of sunlit petals
wet with plantation smell
Sound of riot
and all that time feeling familiar
remains from the night
Faintly cries of
JC with English taste
on his Polish tongue with
eyes and teeth that
flash in the dark
Remembering what is current
puling back and I long
those arms embrace
crushing cracking waves
away those pieces scatter
à chaque battement of your lashes
Bromeliad and lavann wouj
in the same breath
hidden from the light of the moon
calaguala veins promising health
to blood and brain
cleansing creeping rootstocks
While glissando winds
around each note and
touching the ear
a dance felt deep in the gut
rattling the bones to keep time
slightly sur le côté de la mer
microfiction by Zach Trebino
my favorite sermon father thomas ever gave
“preach pussy and promise kids the universe!”
Goya’s Yoga’s Anti-ayurvedic
“Jesus Christ, Pop, you’re watching that damned thing again?”
Robert Dempster stood in the doorway to the small living room of his father’s house. Robert was five-ten, bordering on fat, and wore faded khaki shorts that made his legs into telephone poles. His shirt was open to the waist. His black, hairy chest swelled into a black, hairy belly. He bulged gnarly black hair, like something on the science fiction channel. Karl Dempster did not watch science fiction. All they had was special effects.
“I like the movie,” Karl said, holding the remote firmly.
“But again and again, every damned day, Pop? That’s the only thing you ever watch.”
“I like the movie.” Karl shrugged. “You should sit down and watch with me. You’re making judgments, and you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“What’s to know, Pop? The thing’s over fifty years old. The actors are dead. Nothing goes on in the damned thing. All they do is talk. Hey, that makes it a talking movie, though, right?” He laughed. “That’s something. And it’s in color too.” He laughed again.
Karl sighed. “I like the movie. What do you want me to tell you?”
It was more than like. Karl Dempster loved the movie. He loved it from a distance. He loved it the way a man loves a woman he will never touch.
Karl could tell you everything with his eyes closed. Sometimes he did close his eyes and said the lines while seeing the scenes in his mind. It was the same as sleeping and dreaming and seeing what you dreamed, over and over, even when you were awake, and not wanting any other dream because the dream you had was more beautiful than anything you saw with your eyes open.
“It’s kind of pointless, though, don’t you think, Pop?” Robert said. Sick was the word Robert wanted to use.
“No,” Karl said. “It isn’t pointless. It’s the best movie ever made.”
“What, The Quiet Man?” Robert laughed. “That,” he pointed, “is the best movie ever made? Jesus, Pop, what about Star Wars?”
There was the roll of music, the picture of sunset upon the lake. Beyond the lake was the darkened town. Then there was the song Karl loved so much, the song that Mary Kate sang later at the piano, after it was turned just so and the light fell across the music. Karl loved the song when it was just the instruments, and he loved it when Mary Kate sang the song later, but that was splitting hairs. He loved all the music. His heart ached throughout the entire movie. Then the music began to trot, like the horse Sean bought Mary Kate after they were married. The opening scene began. Karl shut his eyes.
There was the train with the four green passenger cars. The lady came from the station house onto the platform wearing the wheat-colored shawl. The train pulled into the station and stopped. Sean lowered the compartment window. He put his tweed-capped head into the sweet air of Castletown.
“Pop, this is nuts. For chrissake, there’s a ball game on. The Yanks and the Mets.”
It was Sunday. It was Karl Dempster’s house. The deed was upstairs in the bottom drawer of the dresser under his old army uniform. If it were any day, this was his house, and he would damned well watch the movie all day, every day, if he wanted to.
A phone rang. It wasn’t the house phone. He knew the house phone when it rang. It was his daughter Maggie’s cell phone. Maggie was in the kitchen making coffee. The phone whinnied brightly. Whether it was Maggie or Robert, they were always changing the notes. Sometimes a phone played Yankee Doodle. Or a phone played O say can you see. Or it played jazz or blues or reggae. Or it went Ta Ta Ta Dum. Karl Dempster hated a cell phone. A phone should ring. That’s what a phone did. Now Maggie was off her second marriage with two children and engaged again, Robert’s marriage was in court and Karl’s wife Anna had gone dry, like an old sponge, after eighteen months of fighting cancer. He was alone.
“Could you tell me the way to Inisfree?” Sean asked, stepping down from the compartment into the world of Karl Dempster’s dream.
Karl opened his eyes. Robert had left the room.
The movie unfolded in that gentle way. Mickeleen Flynn took Sean from the station in the old buggy. The buggy had large, spoked wheels, black leather seats on both sides and a little box to sit in to drive the horse. The horse was black. It was named Napoleon. Napoleon trotted easily. The buggy came to the stone bridge that arched over the tiny brook. Sean wanted to stop. Then Sean sat on the rim of the stone bridge. He looked down across the fields at the thatched roof of a small cottage. In a moment he returned to the buggy. He told Mickeleen Flynn that he wanted to buy the cottage. When Mickeleen wondered why a Yankee from Pittsburgh wanted the place, Sean said, “Because I’m Sean Thornton, and I was born in that cottage, and I’ve come home, and home I’m going to stay.”
Karl’s heart ached. It ached again a bit later at the amazement Sean felt when, looking up from lighting a cigarette, he saw Mary Kate for the first time, herding sheep across a green field. He saw her red hair, her skin, her red mouth and the red and blue of her blouse and skirt. Sean was stunned each time Karl watched the movie, and Karl was stunned too, Mary Kate was so beautiful.
Karl could not remember when he had first seen Anna Metcalf. Perhaps it was in Mrs. Cohagen’s third grade, which was as far back as Karl’s mind could go. They were always in time, it seemed, Anna and he, joined at last, like the door and frame of the house. He loved Anna, certainly, but it was not the love of Sean for Mary Kate, not the sudden, overwhelming shock of love that draws you from everything you know. It was not the amazed living ever after, when the movie says, The End.
Karl’s love had foundered long ago, near sleep, with Anna’s pale lips against his pillow and the smell of dinner in her mouth. Now habit sustained him, the habit of morning and the habit of evening, the habit of eating and fussing about the house, the habit of dusting the furniture and smoothing the linen, which Anna had so carefully woven through time.
“Come on, Pop, this isn’t good,” Robert said, returning. “You should get out, meet people. If you just sit there, day in and day out, you’ll go nuts.”
The movie was not habit. Karl watched the movie two or three times a day, certainly. Sometimes he watched it four times a day. That was his choice. Each time there was some little discovery, some new, subtle texture, a nuance, something more closely felt or seen or heard. The movie was not what he must do, a duty or a job. There was nothing to push around, nothing to dust, nothing to shake out or wipe clean. That was habit. That was dropping pennies into a jar. These were the people, the beautiful, slow people, the quiet, easy people, who lived to an ending of happiness and joy.
Karl decided that when the children left, he would rewind the movie and start again.
“Listen, darling,” Maggie said, coming into the room. She knelt beside the recliner. “We must have a little talk.” She was very thin and died her hair.
Robert reached for the remote. He switched off the movie. A news program appeared.
“We have a great surprise, Pop,” Robert said. “We’ve been doing some research.”
“Who’s been doing the research?” Maggie corrected.
“I went through the telephone directory, didn’t I?”
“Who drove everywhere to check things out?”
“Didn’t I go to Shady Oaks?”
“That’s one place.” She held up her first finger.
“Hey, can I help it if I have to work?” Robert said.
“Some of us go after work. Or even before.”
Karl reached for the remote. Robert stepped away.
The television was about Iraq. More Americans had been killed. There were pictures of dead Arabs in the street. There were burning cars and black scars on the pavement. It talked about Iran and the bomb. It said the U.N. had meetings.
“Turn that crap off,” Maggie said.
“I want to see about the game,” Robert said.
“You can see about your game later, for chrissake. What’s the matter with you?”
“Just because you never liked baseball—“
“You’re so goddamn stupid, Robert!” Maggie yelled.
Robert turned off the television. The olive glass stared dully.
Car horns blared on the street. Karl looked out the window. The street was always crowded now. People used the street as a shortcut to the Arden Shopping Center five blocks to the north. They had torn everything down over there. He had flown kites with Robert over there. Everything had been quiet. He had played catch with Robert in the street. Maggie had learned to roller skate in the street. When friends came, there was the street with plenty of room. Pickups were everywhere now and powerboats. A month ago, three doors down, a bullet went through a picture window. The house at the other end of the street, on this side, the one with the rusted shutters, was a crack house. Some of the houses had bars on the windows. He himself had been sitting right here, the day before Christmas, watching the movie, and they tried to jimmy the back bedroom window. He was watching the movie, and they tried to jimmy the goddamn window! What could you understand? What would you do with your understanding, write a letter to the editor?
“I don’t want to go there,” Karl said.
“But how do you even know, darling?” Maggie said, straining to be nice. “You haven’t even seen it.”
“That’s not where I want to go,” Karl said.
“It’s a cool place, Pop,” Robert said. He rubbed a hand over his hairy stomach. “They got everything there. Rec rooms. A swimming pool. A dining hall. People wait on you there. They have places to walk. Lots of trees and grass. They even have a dance hall, and people come to teach you. Isn’t that right, Mag? Hey, they’ve got saunas, Pop.” Robert lathered his stomach.
“It’s really a lovely place, dear,” Maggie said. “It really is.”
“And, hey, Pop, they do trips to the lake and to the casinos and to the parks and things. They have speakers who come in and talk about everything. There’s someone full time to plan it all. You just sit back and enjoy. You can’t beat it. They have a computer room. There’s wireless connect throughout the entire place for your computer, your cell phone or whatever. You can learn all about it, go on line and have fun. Surf the net, Pop.” He winked. “Chat up some women.”
“Don’t pay any attention to that, Pop,” Maggie said. “It really is swell. It’s called Connor Woods.”
The olive glass of the television continued to stare dully.
“Hey, I’m, just kidding around,” said Robert. “The point is they have whatever you need. They can do whatever you want. They accommodate everybody, don’t you see? The television in the rec room is a wall. It’s a plasma TV. It’s like real life. Hell, I’d move there in a minute.”
Karl looked at his son. “Then you go there,” he said.
Robert laughed. “I just might do that some day, when I retire. Who knows? We all end up needing to be taken care of somewhere, don’t we? People are getting older and older, Pop. So someone has to do the job. Besides, Pop, haven’t you earned it? You worked hard enough, for chrissake, didn’t you?”
Karl never thought about the plant, where he had been parts manager for thirty-five years. He never thought about the plant or anybody who worked at the plant. He used to think about Frank Parker, who was the service manager when he started. Frank and he ate out sometimes. Frank died at his desk one day. He never thought about Frank anymore. He never thought about anyone.
“Listen, old dear,” Maggie said. “You could look through the place, couldn’t you? What would be the harm in just looking through the place?”
“Sure, Pop,” Robert said. “Check it out. You owe it to yourself to at least check it out.”
“I’m not going there,” Karl said. Both hands were down upon the arms of the recliner.
“Darling, darling,” Maggie cooed. “We’re only trying to find what’s best here. We’re trying to take care of things.”
“Pop,” Robert said dramatically, “you can’t stay here forever watching that stupid movie. The world’s a different place. People have their own lives.”
“Will you shut up!” Maggie declared.
“What’s the matter, for chrissake. You said so yourself.”
“I never said that.”
“You said you have all these responsibilities. You have two kids. Well, I’ve got my responsibilities too. I’m trying to get ahead.”
“You stupid, selfish bastard!” Maggie hissed.
Robert changed hands with the remote. He turned in a tight, 180-degree circle.
“Don’t you ever say that to me,” he said, lowering his head, like an enraged bull. “I don’t care if you are my sister. Don’t you ever talk to me that way.”
Maggie was surprised. Robert’s hairy chest rose and fell. She was actually stunned by her brother, whose tiny, white penis had frightened her when their mother bathed them together in the tub.
“I only meant, pay attention to Pop here. He’s the one we’re concerned about.”
“Did I say he wasn’t?” Robert said, mollified. “Nobody likes to be talked to that way. I’m doing my part, aren’t I? Give me a break.”
Maggie stood quickly and kissed her brother on the cheek. Karl grabbed the remote and held it against his chest.
“Now, Pop,” Robert said, bending down so that Karl could actually see the wiry black hair sprouting from his son’s body, “you just can’t sit here all day watching that dumb movie.”
“I like the movie.”
“But it’s not natural, Pop.”
“I like watching the movie. It’s my movie, isn’t it? Leave me alone.”
“Darling—“ Maggie said.
“It’s my house and my television too and my movie. I’ll watch my movie whenever I want. Let me have that little something, won’t you?” The faces of his children above him were like strangers from the street, who had come in to warn him that his house was on fire.
“My poor darling sweetness,” Maggie said.
“Jesus,” said Robert. “Relax. Relax. We love you, Pop. That’s what it’s all about here. You’re our father.” The word made Robert’s brow furrow. “Hell, you’re Pop.”
Karl felt sorry for them. They had once been small and understandable, but he no longer measured his life by theirs. He had watched them sail off, as if upon ships, to find a home in a world he saw on television. They lived there now. They wanted him to live there too.
About him were the decades, the papered walls, the creak of wooden floors, the way the wind moved the curtains at evening, the way the light moved the tables and chairs. These things remained. These things were constant. The movie was constant too. It offered a vision of life that was human. Maybe that’s how time happens, he concluded. Time becomes a place where you can no longer live.
It was the end. He knew it was the end.
“Let me be,” he said. “I’m all right. You can look in once in a while and tell me how you’re getting on.” He glanced at his son. “Maybe you could make popcorn. We could watch a ballgame.”
Tears were in Maggie’s eyes. Robert tried to button his shirt.
“Listen, darling,” Maggie said. “I’m coming over with the kids tomorrow. I’ll fix Mom’s raviolis. They’re your favorite.”
“That would be nice,” Karl said.
“Sure, Pop,” Robert said. “Then we’ll watch the movie. We’ll all watch it together. What do you say, Sis? I’ve never watched it, all the way through, have you? Hell, why shouldn’t we watch it?”
“Well,” Maggie said, “since you’ve invited yourself, you can bring the wine.”
Robert laughed. “I’ll bring two bottles of merlot. How’s that, Sis?”
“Chianti,” Maggie said. “You know Pop prefers Chianti.”
“Chianti, Chianti,” Robert sang, and headed for the door. “Later, Pop.”
“Listen, old darling,” Maggie said patting his arm, “I’ve asked Father O’Rourke to stop by this evening and have a little chat with you. You haven’t been going to mass lately, you naughty, naughty. Father O’Rourke has his mother in a place just like Connor Woods. And she’s happy as hell.” She patted him again. “You’ll see. We’ll talk after dinner. Things will be better on a full stomach of Mama’s raviolis. And I haven’t made them, well, since when? Last Christmas, wasn’t it? I’ll make plenty for leftovers. You know how you love ravioli sandwiches.” She pecked him on the cheek. “I’ll be over early, dear.” Her cell phone whinnied. She answered it and skipped, chatting, through the front door.
Karl waited a while before rewinding the movie. He tried to think, but there was nothing to think about. If he thought of anything, he had already thought of it many times before. And when he was there, inside, thinking, he found only a will with no purpose, nothing to do, and no place to go. He opened the refrigerator each day and nibbled a little leftover life.
And now they wanted him to sail away. They promised him joys of the new world. He tried to imagine a wall that was a television so big that people were there in the living room. He tried to imagine typing messages to someone he would never meet on a part of the earth he would never see. He tried to imagine motor trips to the lake or sitting, half naked, with strangers in a steaming tub of bubbling water. He felt desperate, odd. There was no hope in machines. The stars were empty. But still he prayed. What else could he do?
The afternoon turned to evening. He watched the movie. Then he went into the kitchen and poured himself a cup of Maggie’s coffee. He sat at the table listening to the clock tick above the stove, where Anna had prepared all those meals. He found a piece of bread, some cheese and went back into the living room. He tapped the remote and settled into the recliner.
The music began and the lovely picture of the lake and the town at sunset. The music crooned and danced. The train pulled into Castletown. The lady in the tan shawl came out onto the station platform. Sean stepped down. Everybody stood around. Sean said, “Could you tell me the way to Inisfree?”
Karl laid his head back against the recliner. He closed his eyes. The movie played. He saw everything in darkness.
There was a tap at the door.
Father O’Rourke stood, somewhat impatient, straightening his black cassock. He tapped again. He tried the knob. The door opened. He turned off his cell phone and went inside.
He heard voices from the living room. Something in the close air made him recall those times he had been here for dinner. Anna Dempster had been a fine cook. He decided to say ten Hail Marys and ten Our Fathers for Anna when he returned to St. Michael’s. He blessed himself and stepped into the living room.
The television was on. He recognized the movie immediately. He had seen it when he was in seminary. He remembered that he had enjoyed the movie. He had enjoyed the music particularly and the pastoral scenes from the world his mother still talked about. There were bits of cheese and a piece of bread upon a paper plate beside the recliner. Karl must be in the bathroom. Father O’Rourke sat down.
The pub scene appeared. Sean Thornton introduced himself to the men of Inisfree. He told them he had come home to stay.
Father O’Rourke thought, all these people are gone now, every one of them, but there they are, alive and living. He marveled at such things, smiled to himself and was content to wait.
The accordion player sat down and sang, “There was a wild colonial boy. Jack Duggan was his name.”
Everyone in the pub joined in. Father O’Rourke tapped his foot.
A stranger sat down beside the accordion player. His face, turned slightly away, had not the look of the Irish about it at all, but the voice, which knew every note, rose with a strength and sweetness as true as any who sang, upon that magical island across the sea.
short fiction by Richard Dokey
Amy Braziller is a former punk rocker, sometimes banjo twanging foodie, and current Professor of English at Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood, CO. Publications include Hippocampus, Punchnel’s, Fast Forward Press.
Arthur Davis is a management consultant and has been quoted in The New York Times, Crain’s New York Business, interviewed on New York TV News Channel 1 and taught at The New School University. He has advised The New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission, the Department of Homeland Security, National Protection and Programs Directorate, Senator John McCain’s investigating committee on boxing reform, appeared as an expert witness on best practices before State Senator Roy Goodman’s New York State Commission on Corruption in Boxing and lectures on leadership skills to CEO’s and entrepreneurs. Over sixty stories have been published including “Conversation in Black” which was nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize, and eight stories were included in Storylandia, a quarterly single author anthology, that came out in February 2016. Arthur's work was also nominated for 2017 "Best of Mystery" and he will receive an honorable mention in that anthology, coming in October. More at www.talesofourtime.com.
Richard Dokey’s stories have won awards and prizes.They have been cited in Best American Short Stories, Best of the West and have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He has novels and short story collections to his credit. “Pale Morning Dun,” his collection, published by University of Missouri Press, was nominated for the American Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award.
Andra Emilia Fenton
Andra Emilia Fenton was born in Mexico City. She has co-led delegations to the United Nations to advocate on behalf of imprisoned journalists, trained health leaders in Brazil, and texted with thousands of people in Latin America about their finances. In 2013, she completed a fellowship in Fiction at the Writers’ Institute at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center. Her poetry and short stories have been published in Cactus Heart, The Caterpillar Magazine, Euphony Journal, Anima Poetry Press and Soundings Review. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Zach Trebino populates the world with absurdly grotesque performances, plays, and texts. His work has been published in journals including Noctua, From Sac, Crab Fat, deCOMP, Buck Off, LIGHTHOLE, The Clockwise Cat, MUSES, POPPED, and Black Box Literary Magazine, among others. His performances have been seen in cities throughout the United States, and his plays have been produced regionally and internationally. He is the runoff from the apogee of nothingness, the outcome of a surrealist’s wet dream, a coded message sent to you from your pre-conscious brain telling you to “WAKE UP!” Zach lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.
Darren Nuzzo writes short stories and shorter bios.
Jim Powell returned to writing fiction in 2010 after losing faith in his art for 25 years; he has since completed 60 stories, short and long. He holds an MFA from Bowling Green State University (1976) and teaches creative writing at Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI). He received a Creative Renewal Fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis for 2011-13 and has work recently published in Bartleby Snopes and forthcoming in Punchnel’s.
Patrick Scheid is a writer, performance-based artist, and historiographer living/working in New York. His writing has been published on Culturebot and Queen Mob’s Teahouse, while his play-texts have been performed in galleries, theaters, bars, rooftops, subways, and street corners all over New York City.
Jan Elman Stout
Jan Elman Stout’s fiction has been published in Literary Orphans, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Vestal Review, Shotgun Honey, The Airgonaut and elsewhere. She was finalist in the Midwestern Gothic Summer 2016 Flash Fiction Contest. Her flash “Marital Amnesias” was nominated for Best Small Fictions 2017. Jan lives with her husband in Washington, DC.
BECOME A MEMBER OF CRACK THE SPINE
CRACK THE SPINE LITERARY MAGAZINE