Categories
January 2012 Poetry

Mira Martin-Parker

YOUR NAME HERE

It wasn’t sudden, the turn, the disappearance. After all, she lived next door. Moved in about 10 years ago. Only went out on occasion. And yet there was something terribly sad about the whole thing. The color of her eyes, the in-betweenness of it all. Bound to be taken advantage of. By the window. Alone. Some people are just destined to do well in this world, patted on their heads throughout their tender years, bred for success, encouraged with a wink and a smile. Others always look as if they’ve been beaten, always look as if they’re expecting a crack on the head. And with it, the incoming mail, a painted face, the new day, stockings, and a pretty coat. She left early this morning. That, or she never came home last night. We get the things we get in life. God hands them out to us, a little this, a little that, out with this, and in with that. Some get loving pats from those above, some get cracks on the head, while others get a lonely trip down the steps for the afternoon mail. Or an evening spent waiting by a silent phone. Yesterday she was there, sitting by window. Today she is gone. A package finally came for her. Most distressing of all was the name. Here, sign here, please. Sign for the package, please. Here. Your name. Here.

THE GOOD WOMAN

She reads mysteries and makes an excellent soup. She carries a can opener in her pocket and puts flowers in her apron. She has a line of bean jars on her counter and a basket full of recipes. She knows the neighbors. The neighbors know her. She wears slippers in the hallway. Her feet are dainty. Her ankles are frail. Her heels are white with almond lotion. She wears tan sandals. She wears tan house pants. She has bread-loaf hips and currents for eyes. Her breasts are wheels of cheese. She is rolled and stuffed with cinnamon and brown sugar. She smells of plum jam and lemon slices. On Friday nights, she is a decent pilsner. On Saturdays, a glass of Rhone. And on Sundays, she is Chianti with a hearty pasta dish. She is always a hearty pasta dish on Sundays. Her calendar is up-to-date. She keeps tissues in her purse. Her purse is tan to match her shoes. Her purse is well-worn, but good. And so is she.

___________________________________________________________

Mira Martin-Parker
is currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing at San Francisco State University. Her work has appeared in Diverse Voices Quarterly, Istanbul Literary Review, Literary Bohemian, The Minetta Review, The Monarch Review, Mythium, Ragazine, Tattoo Highway, Yellow Medicine Review, and Zyzzyva.

Categories
January 2012 Poetry

Cynthia Cruz

STRANGE GOSPELS

I drove for days through the desert

Medicine or memory
Talking to me.

Thin on illness and my life
And what the trucker and those
Other men did.

Not human what I am now: the blonde
Mute. And I’ll never

Get out of this.

_____________________

From the collection, The Glimmering Room. Reprinted with permission from the author.

Cynthia Cruz was born in Germany and raised in Northern California. Her poems have appeared in Paris Review, Boston Review, GRAND STREET, AGNI, and are anthologized in Isn’t it Romantic: 100 Love Poems by Younger Poets and The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries. She is the recipient of several residencies to Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. Her upcoming collection, Glimmering Rooms is forthcoming from Four Way Books, 2012. Her previous collection is titled, Ruin (Alice James Books, 2006). She lives in New York City.

Categories
January 2012 NonFiction

Mark Willen

WALK-INS WELCOME

I walk down eight stairs and back four decades to get to my barbershop. The shabby door with the wire grille always sticks, and it takes a good shove to get it open, but I’m rewarded with the tinkle of the tarnished brass bell that is attached. No electric eye here. I peer into the semi-darkness; the fluorescent lights sticking out from the ceiling can’t compensate for windows that are half-underground. The smell of cumin and ginger from the ground-level Indian restaurant tinge the air.

Mr. Shin, who has only worked here a few months, peers around the corner hoping to land a new customer, but when he recognizes me as one of Nick’s regulars, his smile droops and he goes back to his chair and his Korean newspaper. I say a loud “Good morning,” trying to include Mr. Shin in the greeting, but he’s lost interest in me and doesn’t look up.

I’ve been coming to the Sifnos Barbershop for eight years, since I stopped trying to ignore my spreading bald spot. No point paying for a fancy hair stylist when there is so little to style. I had been walking past Sifnos for months, wondering about the submerged entrance marked only by a small sign and a barber’s pole, a relic of a bygone era not completely gone by.

There’s something oddly romantic about the no-frills shop, a reminders of simpler days and simpler people. Nick, my barber, lives in that era. At 84, he still trudges into the city six days a week to cut men’s hair from eight in the morning until five-thirty at night, later if there’s a customer to be served. His only vacation is a week at Christmas when he visits his sister back in the old country. I think of him as a hero from a Chekhov story, but his name is Nick, not Grigori, and he comes from Greece, not Russia.

Nick is the owner of Sifnos, or at least it is his name on the lease, and in the eight years I’ve been coming here, a progression of other barbers have presided over the other chair in the shop, working independently of Nick but sharing the rent.

Mr. Shin is the latest to take a turn, and I wonder just how long he’ll last. He doesn’t have many customers, and while he and Nick are cordial enough to each other, I can’t see how they coexist. Mr. Shin often talks loudly in Korean on his cell phone, even when he’s cutting hair, and he and Nick rarely have much to say to each other. But then I’ve never heard Nick say much to anyone.

Nick always shrugs off his age and says he’s fine, but he shuffles rather than walks, and his hearing isn’t very good. I trust his eyesight, though I always pick the electric shaver for the back of my neck rather than the straight razor he offers.

Nick calls me Mr. Mark, and I never know whether that’s a joke or if he thinks Mark is my last name. I call him Nick, in part because I don’t know his last name. I used to think it was Sifnos until he told me Sifnos was a town in Greece. I asked him if he was born there, but he just shrugged. I don’t know what the shrug meant. Communicating with Nick can be hard, either because he doesn’t hear or understand my questions or because he’s governed by rules from an earlier day when it was best not to reveal too much about yourself.

The first time I sat in Nick’s chair, I was a little nervous, surprised at how old he was even then and not sure what to expect in the way of hair-cutting talent. I urged him not to cut my hair too short. I wanted it to cover the tops of my ears, which strike me as funny looking. He seemed not to understand, and we settled on a description of “Not too short, not too long.” Now every time I get in the chair, he repeats it. “Not too short, not too long,” he says with a little laugh. Nick then proceeds to cut my hair the way he thinks it ought to be cut, which is much too short. At the end, when he hands me the mirror and asks for my approval, I’m always surprised at how severe it looks, but I still say, “Fine, that’s good,” and then hold the mirror high to see the top of my head and tell my own stale joke, accusing him of making the bald spot bigger.

The shop is in an expensive part of the city, but there is nothing expensive about the shop. It is tiny, with room for the two barber stations and half a dozen unnecessary chairs for waiting customers. The old wallpaper is yellow with red flowers, and it is everywhere, even on the restroom door, with the doorknob sticking out perversely as the stamen in one of the flowers. Dirt and smudges are a permanent part of the design. They help cover the seams and the peeling.

I once asked Nick if he had plans to retire, and he shook his head. “When they bury me,” he said. He likes to keep busy, a widower for two decades without children or family nearby.

On this cold winter afternoon, I shrug off my coat and shake hands with Nick, who offers his chair and then flaps the sheet in the air before placing it over my clothes and around my neck. “Not too short, not too long,” he says with a short laugh. I say something about the weather being nasty and he grunts in approval. It is early December, and I ask about his Christmas plans, and he tells me the dates he’ll be gone.

He settles into cutting, and I stop trying to make conversation. My eyes traverse the magazines in the stacks. There seem to be at least six different issues of Playboy, with multiple copies of some. I wonder if barbers get complimentary subscriptions the way doctors do. I stare reading the headlines—“How to Keep Her Happy in Your Bed,” “The Perfect Breast,” and the old standby, “10 Ways to Last Longer”—when I hear the bell’s tinkle. All three of us—Nick, Mr. Shin, and I—look to the doorway and a tall black man enters. His eyes take in the dimly lit scene and I can tell he’s never been here before. He hesitates, and Mr. Shin moves closer and asks him if he wants a haircut.

The man looks around again and mumbles something inconclusive. I recognize it as the point where a customer tells a pushy salesperson that he’s just looking and then heads for the exit. But Mr. Shin presses on, saying his next appointment isn’t for half an hour and he can cut the man’s hair now. I doubt there is another appointment, and I think the customer does, too, but he doesn’t want to be rude.

“How much?” he finally asks.

“Seventeen dollar,” says Mr. Shin.

“Okay,” says the young man. “I’ll be right back.”

“Cut your hair now,” the barber says, a little too insistently.

“I need to go to the ATM and get some cash,” the man answers. “I’ll be back.” I can see he is desperate to get away, but Mr. Shin is just as desperate not to let him leave, knowing that if he does, he won’t be back.

“No, no,” he says. “I cut hair now, you come back, pay later.”

The man hesitates, not sure he’s heard correctly. I steal a look at Mr. Shin, whose face is tense and twisted, and then look in the mirror at Nick, but he just keeps cutting my hair as though he’s oblivious to what is going on around him.

“I give you haircut now, you pay me later,” the Korean says again.

“I’ll go to the ATM and be right back,” the would-be customer says, a pained expression on his face. He is embarrassed for the barber but unwilling to give in.

Fifteen dollar,” says Mr. Shin, “No tip. You will look good.”

“I’ve got to go to the bank anyway. I’ll be back.” The man has found his voice and made up his mind.

Fifteen dollar. You look very, very good.”

But the young man picks up his pace, as though he has to outrun the pleading barber. We hear the door slam and the hollow sound of the bell tinkling.

Mr. Shin walks back and settles down in his empty barber chair. He says nothing. After a moment, Nick turns my chair to get a different angle on my hair, and I get a better look at Mr. Shin. But there is nothing to see. He has picked up his newspaper and is staring at the pages. It is as though the young black man had not entered.

__________________________________________________________________

Mark Willen received a Master of Arts in Writing from the Johns Hopkins University. His short stories have appeared in the Corner Club Press and as a journalist has been published by Kiplinger, Congressional Quarterly and Bloomberg News.

Categories
January 2012 NonFiction

Kirsti Sandy

VOODOO ECONOMICS 

In my sophomore year of college, I worked at six different stores, all in the same mall. I started at the Deb store, which was a mirrored square of a room with a purple rug and unflattering bluish light. I was told that a strobe light had once hung from the wall, until a customer had seized right there on the floor, taking down a rack of plastic jewelry with her. Deb sold animal-print stretch pants in synthetic materials, halter tops, and acid wash denim miniskirts. Despite the mirrors and the fact that no single item cost more than $12.99, we had a shoplifting problem, something that a succession of thirty-something female managers with claw-like bangs and cheap gray suits had tried unsuccessfully to control.

When every surface around you is mirrored, you are confronted daily with angles of your body that you are not supposed to see, so it was not long before I left for a clerk position at a stationery shop, then a boutique that sold bright, Benetton-knockoff scarf and sweater sets. I quit that job on a whim one day for a gig at a kitchen store, and then moved on to a jewelry and accessory chain, where I pierced ears and worked under a manager named Crystal who had just turned eighteen. Our drawer was short of cash every night, and I was never sure whether Crystal was stealing or our calculations were just way off. It was probably a little of both.

The one place I stayed for more than a few months was the Hallmark shop, where they let me decorate the windows for the holidays with wrapping paper and ribbon, and they only had to remind me once not to tie curly ribbons around the necks of the Lladro nativity figures.

“Some might find it sacrilegious,” the manager said as I adorned Joseph with a festive bow tie. “Sometimes we get nuns in here.” I nodded. Those nuns lived in my dorm; my college, a Catholic women’s school with many more commuters than residents, had more in common with a community college than a four-year institution—it was inexpensive and SATs were not required—but the divide between the residents and commuters was clear, from the way we clustered together in classes to the stares we gave commuters should they attempt to study in our dorm lounge. Our experience, like that of many college students, was shaped by the shared spaces we inhabited: the gym, the flight school across town where we spent our weekends, the common area of our dorm, and the mall.

I had never considered working anywhere other than the mall. It was 1987, and my school was on the tax-free side of the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border. Everything worthwhile was in a mall, as far as my friends and I were concerned: food courts with Orange Julius stands, the Limited, record shops, Spencer gifts, carousels, photo booths, and places where you could buy big, chocolaty coffee-like drinks that resembled actual coffee only in color. I needed to work because I had no source of spending money, but I ended up blowing each paycheck on clothes or other items from the mall—I am pretty sure this is why they hired college girls right away, barely looking at the applications before asking “When can you start?” I never felt any loyalty toward any particular mall job; I was in college, and no one expected any kind of commitment. Jobs at the mall were like the boys at the flight school nearby—all the same, pretty much, but the one you didn’t yet have was always better.

One day I was walking back to the Hallmark store after my lunch break, holding a cardboard container of Gloria Jean’s mocha mint coffee drinks. Hovering near the entryway of the storefront was a young woman with a microphone who asked me if I wouldn’t mind answering a few questions. I must have given her a confused look.

“I can wait,” She said. “I really need a young woman’s perspective, and it’s noon on a school day…” I looked around. Everyone in my line of vision was over fifty.

After I had brought the coffee to my manager, who looked vaguely put out by the reporter standing in our doorway, the young woman posed her question:

“Do you think girls under 18 should get parental permission before getting an abortion?”

I didn’t know what to say.
The reporter waited patiently for my answer.

“Yes,” I told the reporter.” I think their parents should help them make the decision. It’s not something they can decide lightlythey don’t have the maturity.”

It was a few minutes after I answered the reporter’s question about my opinion on parental notification when I realized what I had done. She had already started down the escalator when I caught up with her.

“Can I add to my answer?” I asked. “I mean, what I want to say is that there might be some situations where it might be better to, I mean, if the parents say no…”

“No, you did great!” The reporter smiled, giving me a reassuring pat on the hand. “Really! Thank you!” And she moved toward a group congregated around the calendar store. There was nothing I could do but go back to work.

I saved the clipping from the Nashua Telegraph, which shows me looking shyly away from the camera, like Princess Diana during her plump years, not like the kind of girl who changed jobs every few weeks on a whim, certainly not the type of girl who would bully a classmate. The column is one of many relics from that year: a note written on a beer label from a boy at the flight school, telling me I was the greatest. A report card: a C in philosophy, an A in English, a B in something called “On Being Human.” A parody I had drawn of the Jane Fonda workout, starring Sr. Doris, who taught U.S. History. And a disciplinary report from the college judicial board which states as its final verdict:

The members of the judicial board found that you did throw a defaced doll
At the home of Patty Delislei and her grandmother and that the doll was defaced
In such a manner to be reasonably perceived as a threat and/or harassment.

Patty did not start out as a target, but neither was she truly our friend, as the judicial board documents would later indicate. She was peripheral, a hanger-on, and Stacy was the one who had brought her into our circle. In the way that groups of college girls orbit around a leader, we followed Stacy, who was from Southie and had a loud voice and a smile that made you suspect she was making fun of you, just a little bit. Even genuine concern came across as slightly mocking. Patty had met Stacy in a class. She was unforgettable, with bigger hair and more makeup than anyone else we knew: blue and white eye shadow up to the brow, black liquid liner, frosty pink lipstick, and pancake foundation. It was rumored that she never took it off—that she slept in her makeup each night after spraying her entire face with Aqua Net—and then, upon waking, layered on even more. I imagined her pillowcase as a shroud, leaving an exact imprint of her face when she got up in the morning. Patty started spending time in Stacy’s room to avoid having to take the city bus back to her grandmother’s house between classes, and then she started joining us on our weekend visits to the flight school.

Weekend nights were always the same: as the only girl with a car, I would drive as they piled onto each others’ laps, smelling of Anaïs Anaïs or Obsession, hair so high it would block the back windshield. We’d put on INXS’ Kick or Crowded House and drive through downtown Nashua even though it was quicker to take the highway. We craved the light of the city because the boys’ dorms and townhouses were dimly lit and cigar-smoky, and when we stepped out of the car I felt like part of a work crew, ready to wash the boys of their roughness and make them ours.  Once there, we descended into the darkness, each girl on her own. Behind our backs, they called us “cockroaches.”

I wonder now at how easy we made if for them, showing up showered and ready to please. They did no work, these boys, apart from stocking kegs of beer and making sure no one touched their stereos while we sat on bunk beds listening to heavy metal, eye-level to the gaping labia or breasts as big as our heads on the blown-up Hustler pictures tacked onto the walls. It wasn’t until my junior year I met someone I liked—he was from Manhattan and really wanted to go to art school, but his father wanted him to be a pilot. He left after one semester. His college, like ours, was small, so the six passable young men were valuable commodities and the subject of many rifts and arguments among my group of friends. It was hard to keep up sometimes.

One day after class I walked by Stacy’s room and heard someone moaning. Normally I would have walked right by, but the door was open, and there were clearly people inside. Patty was sitting on the bed with a pillow over her stomach, bent over. Stacy, her roommate, and a few other friends stood around watching her, and it was clear that no one knew what to do.

“Take her to the hospital, Stacy,” said Stacy’s roommate, Ann. “Are you going to frickin’ let her pass out and bleed to death in our room?”

It might have been rude to say this in front of the ailing Patty, but I had to admit that Ann was right. Patty had turned white, and all the makeup gave her a clownish look. Something was off, and I sensed the disapproval, the disgust of some of the girls in the room, as no one moved to help or comfort her. I wondered if drugs were involved.

“Can we use your car?” Stacy asked me. It wasn’t until we sat in the waiting room that I was able to force the story out of someone: Patty had had an abortion.

“Not a real abortion, like at the clinic,” I was told. “The kind you do yourself.”

I thought about the images I had seen of women who had aborted their own fetuses and could not understand why Patty would do that, especially since we had a Planned Parenthood in town. Stacy begged the nurse not to call Patty’s grandmother; she was strict, Stacy said. She would kick Patty out of the house. Stacy stayed with Patty while the girls in the waiting room speculated about how she had done it: knitting needle, bottle of vodka in a hot bathtub, Drano douche, coat hanger, sitting on spiky fence, turkey baster with air in it, pennyroyal tea, running up and down the stairs 100 times, paying someone to kick her in the stomach…there seemed to be so much speculation about the ways she could have done it, but not one word about why.

A week passed and we had not heard a word about Patty.

“Son of a BITCH,” said Stacy as she hung up the phone one afternoon, and because she was always talking like this, we didn’t take it too seriously. Someone had just told her the rumor that Patty’s aborted fetus was the child of a boy Stacy had been pursuing for the last two years. Bad feeling had been building about Patty for some time—it was a Catholic school, after all. She was wearing all of that makeup, stealing our boys, getting pregnant and then giving herself an abortion; she had betrayed us and what we stood for. Stacy was in a fury and we were worked up, too, at Patty, at the boys, at the rules we had to follow, at everyone and everything.

When someone asked if I would drive, I again said yes. And the next idea was all mine: “we should make a voodoo doll. And put it on her porch—it would be so funny.” Although we were completely sober that night, I remember only moments: tossing a 99 cent Barbie doll with the words “WHORE,” “BITCH,” “DIRTY SLUT” and “BABY KILLER” scrawled on the arms and legs over a fence; heaving eggs at boys’ dorm windows and finally, at the boys themselves when they came outside to find out what was going on; hearing broken glass as a beer bottle landed near our feet. It was a frenzy of yelling, throwing, kicking, running; getting slathered with egg whites and gunk, wanting to do damage. We had started out laughing and now rage had overtaken us: someone had to pay, but for what, I am still not entirely certain.

We didn’t see Patty again until we sat at the table at the judicial board in the Dean’s office. As we entered, she scribbled notes on a legal pad without looking up, still in hair and full makeup, wearing a suit and pumps. She would not speak once during the hearing.

“The nicer the room, the worse trouble we’re in,” Stacy had said, so the moment I saw the chandelier and the fireplace I figured we were in for it. We all took our places at the table while the judicial board, made up of students, faculty and staff, reviewed the evidence and asked us questions. The Voodoo doll was marked “Exhibit A” and passed around, and I will never forget the sight of my philosophy professor looking up its skirt to read the words. It should have been funny, but it was desperately sad: this man who had spent his life studying Kant and Nietzsche and trying to teach it to us had been reduced to looking up a Barbie’s skirt to read our childish taunts.

But no one seemed to want to punish us for what we had done. We were required to write an official apology to Patty and her grandmother, which I volunteered to draft, and attend mandatory group counseling with a woman we were asked to call Joan, who ended up trying to be our friend and sharing stories about her own college escapades.

“I remember one time when we would hide under the bed and reach up with one hand and totally scare our roommates!” Joan would tell us, smiling brightly, before we went around the circle and shared one thing that made us happy and one thing that made us sad. It seemed so important to Joan—and to everyone else—that we not let this minor infraction get us down. “Pranks can go so wrong,” she told us. We were reminded, over and over, that we were nice girls with promising futures. No one had said this about Patty, even during the hearing.

We at the judicial board believe there was neglect on your part to perceive the consequences of these activities or the feelings and sensitivities of others, the final report read. We are concerned about the deterioration of personal friendships/relationships and the impact all of this has on the quality of life on campus. Even then I knew that what we had done to Patty had nothing to do with friendship— no, her suffering had made visible what we did not want to see, so she had to go, and it was easy, easier than it ever should have been.

_______________________________________________________________

Kirsti Sandy is an Associate Professor of English at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire. Her recent work has appeared in Freshly Hatched and in BioStoriesmagazine.


Categories
500 Word Challenge January 2012

Caru Cadoc

THE CHILDREN’S ALAMO

“These crates,” Steven shifted in the dim light, “really dig in.” He leaned back against the plastic wall and started tossing an apple from hand to hand.

Klara looked up at the roof—just three old doors they’d laid across walls of plastic crates. She listened to the apple tapping in his hands. Looking out a firing hole, she saw the boys carrying wooden boards toward them through the tall grass.

“Are they coming?” Steven asked.

She nodded.

He stopped with the apple.

§

Klara saw, through the hole, a makeshift fort they made with the boards. She sat down, leaned back against the front wall and listened to Steven’s breathing.

She looked from her friend, tossing the apple again, to the apples piled in the dusty corner. She felt the crate beneath her and breathed the chill air in the dark little fort. She’d found a thick branch earlier that morning, the right size and weight for a sword in case things got ugly. She bobbed it now in her hand, familiarizing herself with its weight.

The first shot hit the doors with a dull thud, and Steven looked up with wide eyes. His knuckles were white around the apple.

A shot flew in through a firing window and shattered against the back wall. Klara watched the brown seeds spin, watched them touch air for the first time, nestled in the shard spinning at her feet. Steven hurled his apple out at them and Klara grabbed one from the pile.

Everything was chaos, crouching in the shadows of the bunker, firing into the light. Apples volleyed in and out of the firing windows.

She saw them in flashes. It was shadows reaching for apples, then the attackers in the light, framed by the dark crates as she fired, then shadows. She saw Tom running toward the fort. In the shadows, reaching down for an apple, she heard a crack as Tom kicked the wall outside. There were shouts and crashes as the others joined in kicking and shot into the windows at close range.

“Uncle Owen’s gonna be—” she flinched as an apple flew in. She wanted to tell them he would be mad if they broke a milk crate. Then maybe they would stop kicking the walls.

But Tom appeared in the back door, branch in hand. Klara grabbed her own and they clashed. The fort shook with kicks as Steven tried to hold up the front wall with his back, chanting, “Oh my godoh-godohgodohgod…” Apples flew in through the windows as Klara and her brother glared at one another over their swords. “Oh God!” Steven shrieked. “Stop!”

Tom and Klara looked up in fear and saw him falling into the collapsing wall. As she knelt and merged with the wreckage, Klara felt a mysterious peace.

___________________________________

Caru Cadoc‘s short fiction has been included in MAKE, Jersey Devil Press, Word Catalyst and Storyglossia. He is the lyricist for the Chicago-based band the Pseudosufis.

Categories
January 2012 Poetry

William Doreski

AFTER WALKING AROUND
THE RESERVOIR

Pizza in dislocated dark.
Small pies blush from the oven
like cow flops fresh from the cow.
You grimace at my simile
but it amuses you. The shrug
of your priceless hairdo betrays you.

Strictly a local effect, the moon
drapes in the trees like a rag.
The blue shirt I found on a bench
by the reservoir fits me. You cringe
because I wear a stranger’s shirt,
but I laundered away the cooties.

If you’d let me hug you, the fine
texture of this garment would impress
rather than disgust you. Pizzas
crackle and sizzle. Our friends
dig into theirs. Putnam and Lisa
prefer plain cheese. Brenda and Karl

savor pepperoni and mushroom.
Sal and Tony choose sausage,
green pepper, and olive. You and I
remain aloof from heavy feeding.
The walk around the reservoir
tired us, and talking over the past

killed our appetites. The water
looked too slimy-gray to drink,
but the city depends on it. Now
you won’t even share my lager,
your puckered expression remote
as the far side of the moon.

The pizzas grin and simper.
A cheese-less vegan model occurs
to tempt you. Your hairdo shudders
with pleasure, and you look my way
with little pain, as though one day
we might try that long walk again.

__________________________________________

William Doreski’s work has appeared in various electronic and print journals and in several collections, most recently Waiting for the Angel (Pygmy Forest Press, 2009).

Categories
Fiction January 2012

Patty Somlo

SLOW SWALLOWING

The water tasted chalky and warm. Eying the second hand of her watch, Mary Beth swallowed and waited.
She’d been practicing slow swallowing, convinced that it would make her lose more weight. She wasn’t hungry, she reminded herself, trying to ignore the gurgling sounds her stomach was making.

Mary Beth had gotten down to a hundred and five pounds. She was five foot three and three-quarter inches tall, with long legs but a short waist for her height.

Two months shy of her fortieth birthday, Mary Beth was beginning to think this latest guy, Miguel, might be the last straw.

Miguel had asked Mary Beth to dance at a crowded salsa club, on a warm June night. The band was playing a meringue. Their one-two steps fell into sync as Miguel twirled her under his right arm, smiling each time he turned back around. Miguel wore his hair stylishly long, combed back from a high, stately brow. Smooth and straight from the front, with strands receding on top, the hair fell into soft curls that clustered against Miguel’s neck and caressed his collar. Miguel was from Spain, born and raised in Valencia, a name he pronounced with ample use of his tongue. In the silver BMW he drove, modern gypsy music cried out, while green and yellow lights lit up the console. Friday nights, Miguel took Mary Beth to a crowded club tucked in an alley near the wharf, where expatriate Spaniards ate tapas, drank bitter red wine poured from plain glass carafes and listened to Flamenco. Mary Beth learned to clap with her palms held stiff and flat, a one-two beat, keeping time with the guitar.

Absent the exotic foreign veneer and the substantial house in the hills surrounded by mature oak and eucalyptus trees, with a bay view on fog-free mornings from a deck upstairs, Miguel was a somewhat dull engineer, good at algebra, which he’d used to his advantage. Mary Beth, though, had an overactive imagination. She took the occasional writing workshop and made the fatal mistake of giving Miguel a love poem she’d written about him. The following week, Miguel neglected to call.

Mary Beth lost her appetite. By Sunday, she was having trouble concentrating.

“Hi, Miguel. It’s Mary Beth,” she said, in the first message she left on Sunday night. She tried keeping her voice pleasant and light.

“Just called to say hi and that I was thinking about you. Call me.”

Her phone didn’t ring once that night.

The following evening she called after walking in the door, without taking off her coat. Hearing his recorded voice with the musical accent, made her want him more.

“Miguel. It’s Mary Beth. Are you avoiding me? I hope not. Please call.”

That night, she felt too anxious to eat at all. At nine o’clock, her stomach started to gurgle. Her eyes bored into the phone. She pulled a box of crackers from the shelf and lifted the waxed paper bag out that was inside.

She pinched each side of the bag and pulled. The seal refused to loosen at the top. The second time she slid her hands closer to the top and yanked in opposite directions, waiting for the quiet sigh signaling the adhesive had freed itself.

When the bag wouldn’t cooperate, she hurled it across the room. It ricocheted off the wall and landed on the floor. Instead of picking it up, she raised her right foot over the bag, let her shoe drop and smashed the bag several times. She could hear the crackers crunch.

She bent over and picked the bag up from the floor. The bite-sized, round brown crackers had been beaten into a fine pale dust.

After tossing the bag in the garbage, she walked to the bedroom and stared at the phone. For years, she’d been under the illusion that wishes could be granted by visualizing positive outcomes. She closed her eyes and imagined Miguel in his living room, lamps glowing on the end tables. He was dressed in a navy blue running suit, with white stripes reaching from the waist down to his ankles. Yes, he’d just jogged in the door from his every-other-night run up and down the hilly wooded streets of his exclusive neighborhood. He considered whether to take a shower or dial Mary Beth’s number on the phone.

Of course, he couldn’t wait to talk to the woman who he realized now that he loved. The thought caused him to drop down on the couch, even though he was sweaty and his breath and heart rate hadn’t calmed. It was true, he had to admit, as he admired the city lights through the tall windows framing the living room’s west wall. He was a lucky guy. He wanted to call Mary Beth now and let her know.

Mary Beth imagined Miguel lifting the sleek black phone and placing it on his lap. She watched him punch in the numbers and prepared to hear the phone ring.

Two weeks passed. Mary Beth had lost eight and a quarter pounds. Each morning, she stepped on the scale. Half-asleep, she studied the red numbers as they drifted in and out of focus.

On the second Friday night Mary Beth was spending alone, she dialed Miguel’s number. The clock on the nightstand said it was nearly eight o’clock. She listened to the phone go through its obligatory four rings before the automatic voice of Miguel picked up.

“Theese is Miguel.” The voice sounded deep, quiet and breathless. “I am on the other line or not at home. Please leave your message and I will call you right back.”

“No you won’t,” Mary Beth hissed.

“I know you’re avoiding me,” she spit toward the receiver, after hearing the beep that sounded like a desperate moan. Her mood shifted from anger to despair and then to dread. “Please, Miguel,” she pleaded to the plastic receiver. “Call me back. I just want to know what’s happening.”

Waiting for Miguel to call, Mary Beth flipped through the September issue of Vogue. The tragically thin girls on the sleek pages had lives Mary Beth could only imagine and envy. Think about being so thin that no matter what you slip on, you look like an advertisement, she scolded herself.

By the end of the third week, Mary Beth had shed twelve pounds. She was so weak, she had to walk slowly to and from the bus. Breakfast consisted of black coffee and one hard-boiled egg, with pepper sprinkled over it but no salt. Salt would make her retain water and cause the numbers on the scale to inch up. Every morning, she packed her lunch: three-quarters of a cup of nonfat cottage cheese with an apple sliced up. At night she sat at the kitchen table, her book propped against a 24-ounce bottle of water, sipping one teaspoon-full of chicken consommé after another.

After four weeks when she reached her twenty-pound goal, she decided there was no reason to celebrate or stop. Weak and hungry and dizzy every time she stood up, the bones in her face and across her collarbone were only just beginning to jut out. In front of the mirror, she’d strike a Vogue model pose, her right foot in front, hands on her hips, and yes, she could feel the smooth hard surface of her hip bone. But it wasn’t enough.

On Monday morning at the start of the sixth week, she sat at her desk, staring out the window. As the account executive with the least seniority, Mary Beth had been shuffled to a back office overlooking a six-story parking garage, with a paved roof-top lot.

This morning, she couldn’t take her eyes off the man. He was hanging from straps, while washing the tall windows of the office building next to the garage. Mary Beth, who was deathly afraid of heights, couldn’t imagine the courage it would take to strap up and hang yourself from a building. The wind was blowing and rain pelted down, but the man didn’t stop.

Mary Beth thought to herself, It’s a sign. You keep going on, no matter how terrible the weather, no matter how much you struggle.

The phone rang. Mary Beth picked the receiver up.

“This is Mary Beth,” she said, using her first name without the last. In PR, Mary Beth thought it helped to sound friendly and casual.

Buenos dias, Mary Beth.”

The man had extended his legs out in front. He appeared to be sitting on an imaginary couch. A moment later, the man pressed his feet against the building, in an attempt to keep steady in the blustery wind.

Mary Beth recognized the voice on the other end but was too surprised to know how to respond. The man was swaying less, now that he’d planted his feet against the building. She watched as he pulled a squeegee down the window, in one long firm and flawless stroke.

“How are you, Mary Beth?”

The man, she could see, wore a belt around his waist, onto which he had hooked a rope that kept him from hurtling to the ground. He slipped the squeegee into a notch and pulled another tool with a long thin pole out, that he held straight up and guided down, leaving the surface shiny.

“I have been thinking about you. I miss you.”

The man was using his feet to move himself across the building. At his far left, a glass elevator was gliding up. The panels were a pale milky green, reminding Mary Beth of the color the ocean gets when waves slowly break in the sun. The man’s movements, as he pressed the squeegee against the glass and drew it down, reminded her of a dancer, the squeegee having become a lovely long extension of his arm.

“Beautiful,” Mary Beth sighed, having momentarily forgotten Miguel on the other line.

“What?” Miguel said.

His voice brought her back to the slim black phone and the computer screen that had gone dark. Her head felt fuzzy, as if she’d sipped one too many glasses of wine. The computer screen swayed to the right. The phone receiver dropped and dangled toward the floor.

The man finished the last window moments after Mary Beth passed out. She would have been excited to watch him climb back up, his hands holding the rope and his feet pressed against the building to steady himself. She might have been tempted to wave and smile.

He gazed in her direction, while enjoying a well-deserved smoke. Mary Beth was slumped over, her chin bruised from hitting the keyboard.

Miguel hung up, assuming Mary Beth didn’t want anything to do with him. He’d only called, he assured himself, because he was horny.

The man crushed his cigarette butt under the good-grip sole of his work boot and turned his back toward the window where Mary Beth no longer looked out. He noted the time on his watch and then stepped into the elevator that was on its way down.

At home, his wife asked him what had happened that day and the man replied, “Nothing.”

When Mary Beth came to and recalled what seemed like a dream, she thought, I watched a man risk his life today to make the world a little bit brighter.

___________________________________________-

Patty Somlo has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times and was a finalist in the Tom Howard Short Story Contest. She is the author of From Here to There and Other Stories, published by Paraguas Books. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review, the Santa Clara Review, the Jackson Hole Review, WomenArts Quarterly, Guernica, Slow Trains and Fringe Magazine, among others, and in several anthologies.

Categories
January 2012 Poetry

Bruce Bond

FOUR PRELUDES
FOR THE CHOIR OF THE WELLS

1.

We all walk on water, now and then,
though it takes the eyes of wells to see it.
When a man’s sleep breaks in half, he steps
drunkenly across the blackened surface.
Father, are you there.  Can you answer.
Forever a depth that sings beneath our feet.

2.

Not that he expected a reply, not yet.
But something in the spirit of the question
as it dug its oracle, its grave, its worldly
passage, saw the art of it, not in the hole,
but in the earth that flew upon the surface.

3.

Then he cast aside his shovel and asked
the pit, if each instant is a still place,
and the day ahead is made of them,
how is it the heart’s arrow ever moves.
And the hole said nothing.  He waited,
it waited, and in the silent space
he smelled something of the earth going
through him, without mercy, malice, or end.

4.

And so it came, the water, and as it rose
and the man leaned a little closer
to see what night had left there,
his stare became a hole in the surface,
as if that were what a man is, what
a world is not, so says the hole, the ice
of the mirror he shatters as he drinks.

____________________________________

Bruce Bond’s most recent and forthcoming collections of poetry include Choir of the Wells (A tetralogy of newbooks; Etruscan Press, 2013), The Visible (LSU, 2012), Peal (Etruscan, 2009), and Blind Rain (Finalist, The Poet’s Prize, LSU, 2008). Presently he is a Regents Professor of English at the University of North Texas and Poetry Editor for American Literary Review.

Categories
January 2012 Poetry

Aditi Rao

SOMETIMES, YOU MUST TALK
AROUND THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

Of course, smalltalk is always the hardest – not everyone cares
that the pink in Buenos Aires houses used to be cow blood. Or
that human tongues consist of sixteen muscles. Or that head lice
can neither jump nor fly. Or even that you are colorblind

in the same dichromatic way that squirrels are. Sometimes,
it comes back to the elephant parked on the leather couch
your girlfriend broke up with you about. You cannot chase
an elephant away, but pretending can help until it leaves

(it might never leave). Remember, the elephant has big ears.
It is probably eavesdropping, and angry elephants
make dangerous guests (they also cause arguments –
remember the six blind men who couldn’t decide?)

Besides, in all the times you’ve been to the forest, have you ever heard
elephants talking about you? As they spray lake water, trunks like hoses
the blind man saw, do you hear your name at all? They do not
make you feel like the odd one out; can’t you return the favor?

Listen, your words will never be big enough – even after they grow up,
they will be squeaks at the giant’s feet. Find something else to talk about.

HOW TO SAY GOODBYE

1.

I have taken to looking at photos of dead strangers
on friends’ Facebook pages. One woman ran
a marathon when her son died.
                                         (exhaustion, antidote
                                         to numbness?)
Your photos do not make me grieve
                                       (What were you wearing
                                       that last time I waved goodbye
                                       in that red rearview mirror?)
I can cry for the marathoner’s son.

2.

Your mother is carrying your ashes
around the world in a ziplock bag.
                                        (Are ashes allowed in airline carry-ons?
                                        Must they be checked in? What happens
                                        if the bag is lost en route? Could she bear
                                        losing you again?)
Maybe I’ll ask her for a handful. Maybe
                                       (Can I ask for a handful of ashes?)
when grey dust lines my nail-beds,
when my palms crease with soot,
when I can feel you slipping
through my fingers, maybe I will know.

__________________________________________________

Aditi Rao is a writer, educator, and activist based in New Delhi, India.

Categories
January 2012 Poetry

Francis Raven

June 28

Set piece: laughter, Noah kicking on top of the picnic table.
I’m jumping in the water, but it’s colder than the day before.
I have my suit on
And there’s a picture from yesterday
That captures it better, better than it could be captured
In the moment. Something is probably eaten, a potato chip, a chicken wing;
No, not a chicken wing, but I’m sure somebody drank something.
There were more diet colas than you could imagine.
A little bit of sun meant that there were too many big personalities clashing.
She let her sister ride in the car to avoid confrontation,
But left the confrontation in the murmurs. We walked my father to the bathroom.
He walked slowly and with a limp, but an operation a few years prior
Had made everything hurt less. We were coming together, trying to, jumping up,
Letting Noah see what falls.

July 2

The first day, you see a pony with your son
And you think about swimming.
You know you’re being eaten alive,
But you assume that it can’t bother you.
There is, of course, just too much pressure
On each pine needle
And they each, individually, snap.
The bird almost hits the ground on his venture towards food,
But not quite; we swerve up, let the letting.
There is less that can be done now.
It’s okay, it’s okay for less to be done.
By the second day you’re not thinking much.
You don’t yet know the name of that bird,
But you think that you will learn it.

____________________________________________

Francis Raven’s most recent book includes Architectonic Conjectures (Silenced Press, 2010). Francis lives in Washington DC; you can check out more of his work at his website: http://www.ravensaesthetica.com/.