Help! Help! I’m Bein’ Repressed!

The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Stephanie “Baker” Lenz


When I was a senior in high school, a friend and I found the box of programs for our speech team end-of-year banquet. On the plain backs of each one, we drew very small anarchy symbols. Not on any whim but because we had both abided by the rules for years and wanted one final dig at the establishment.

I’ve never bent or broken rules on a whim and I find that I’m far more selective about the rules I break as I pass over to the other side of thirty. These days, the more I look around me, the more rules I see being broken. Not rules that oppress, silence or harm but simple rules extrapolated from common courtesy and common sense.

It’s people of all ages, colors, sizes and sexes. It’s suburbanites jumping the line for movie tickets. It’s teenagers doing a dine-and-dash. It’s a businessman with three carry-on items. It’s a Canadian entering the Miss Racine (Wisconsin) pageant. It’s Michigan’s “fab five” accepting money from boosters while playing college basketball.

It has also seeped into the writing world.

Until recently I belonged to an e-group that was meant for religious debate. A new member posted her profile to the group making a statement that she capitalized the name of her religion not because it was correct but because not doing was tantamount to “oppression.” Subposted to that was a message from the group leader that she doesn’t capitalize certain words involving religion or what one would “normally capitalize.”

Well if you know me, you know I wouldn’t be able to sit on my hands. I’m by no means a grammar freak or comma-kazi but the rules of grammar are not subject to our whims. While researching for my subpost, I found several URLs that backed my statement. Some of the best included:

http://webster.commnet.edu/grammar/capitals.htm
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/grammar/g_caps.html
http://www2.ncsu.edu/ncsu/grammar/Capital3.html

Then the original poster refuted the idea of capitalizing just because it’s right and got up on her oppression soapbox again. So I knew it wasn’t really about The Chicago Manual of Styleat least not for her. For me, I learned a great deal from the experience, the main of which being that I was wary of posting the information.

I never thought I’d be one to champion “the rules” but I’m tired of people taking what they want from convention, standards and practices and disregarding what they don’t like.

Sure, the small things bug me every day—like people in the movie theater talking back at the screen or in a restaurant yelling into a tiny cell phone that doesn’t come anywhere near their mouths—but I’ve drawn the proverbial line in the sand at flaunting the basic rules of writing. It’s one thing to be ignorant; it’s another to know the rules and say, “they don’t suit my purpose.” All this time I’ve thought it was ignorance that I couldn’t abide. I’m learning that it’s selective ignorance that chafes my cheese.

pencil

Baker can be reached at baker[at]toasted-cheese.com.

I Have Feet!

Best of the Boards
Lindseye Greye


“I cursed my fate because I had no shoes, and then I met a man who had no feet.” –Author Unknown

The bus was crowded and noisy. The unsettling odor of humans in varying degrees of unclean-ness mingled with the offensively fruity antiseptic that emanated from the tiny bathroom compartment for a nauseating effect. I had moved to the back bench during the last rest-stop, somewhere in southern Ohio, languidly stretching my legs before me in an effort to look less awkward than I felt. I hated taking the bus.

Seated to my left was a large black man in a heavy, greasy-smelling coat. His head bounced against the darkened window from time to time with the movements of the bus. I was certain he could not have been sleeping, yet he remained with eyes closed, effectively withdrawing from the rest of the passengers. It seemed an unwritten rule in bus-riding that one never disturbed another who appeared to be sleeping. There were a lot of rules in this subculture, and most of them involved personal space—whether real or imagined. Unlike many other cultures, this populace was constantly shifting, so there were no leaders or followers; we were all drones-disenfranchised wanderers with no pasts or futures, encased in our private existences as we numbly moved from one depot to another, awaiting our discharge back to the ranks of humanity.

On my right sat a man I guessed to be in his forties. He had a full beard from which a few grey hairs protruded around the chin, small eyes with plenty of wrinkles that had multiplied when he had squinted a polite smile before taking his seat. His clothes looked as if they’d been taken from three or four different people: ragged canvas sneakers, dull brown polyester pants, a dingy blue button-down shirt and a poorly-fitting tweed sportcoat. He was unwashed and unkempt, but he was, at least, respectful of my personal space.

We rode quietly for a long time, avoiding eye contact or any other contact. Eventually, though, we struck up a conversation, if for no other reason than to alleviate the perpetual boredom. I was reluctant to speak to him about myself, expecting that he would think I was self-involved or might be condescending to him, considering our obvious differences. I was a singer, touring with Top 40/dance bands. I had been home to Indiana for a few weeks between gigs for a rare visit with my parents and was now en route to Virginia, to meet up with a new band. The information I shared with him was sketchy; for all I knew, this guy could be a stalker between gigs.

His interest was polite but genuine, and I relaxed somewhat after a while. When he told me that he sensed there was something heavy on my heart, I was surprised at his intuitiveness—and also a little peeved at myself for being so transparent. I decided to take advantage of his sympathetic, disinterested ear, and began to spill out my tale of woe.

I had recently left a band in Michigan, and during my time off, the bandleader had contacted me with a new offer. He had told me about this wonderful year-long job aboard a clipper-ship cruise line: lots of perks, lots of money and lots of travel. There were few drawbacks, except that the contract was finite and there would be a month off between each three-month season. It was a tempting offer, but at the same time, I had an offer to go with a new band where I’d be fronting with another “chick singer” named Robyn, who had gotten me the job on her own word. The money was not as good as the cruise ship, but the band was popular and reputable and had a lot of potential. Perhaps best of all, I’d be working with Robyn—my best friend and joined-at-the-hair Siamese twin. Choosing between what seemed like two perfect jobs was the hardest decision I’d ever faced.

My haggard seatmate listened intently and sympathetically as I relayed the dilemma. He gave no advice, except that I should do what felt right—who knew what the future might hold?

After a while, feeling somewhat unburdened as well as a little self-indulged, I turned the conversation away from myself. I asked him the obligatory “So, where are you headed?” He told me he was on his way to New Jersey. Just as I had been at first, he was sketchy when he talked about himself.

“Is that where you’re from?”

“Well, I grew up there, but I’ve been gone a long time. ”

“Oh, where do you live now?”

“Houston.”

“I’ve played Houston. It was great! So are you visiting someone in Jersey?” I pried.

“I’m going to stay with my sister for a while.”

He looked down for a moment, took a breath. When he spoke again, his tone even and unemotional.

“I’m a photographer. A month ago, someone broke into my apartment and stole everything I had—all my equipment, my furniture, clothes… everything. I’m homeless now.” He seemed to cringe a little as he said the word. Homeless. As if the very idea of it was still foreign to him.

“I got enough money from a local church to get back to my sister’s, so I’m going to stay with her until a spot at the men’s shelter opens up.” As he spoke, his posture slouched, almost as if he were deflating. Suddenly, I realized that the man I’d first judged as another grungy nomad was actually an exhausted, unfortunate victim with whom I had more in common than I could have imagined. We were both silent for a long moment.

“That’s a good thing, though, right? You’ve got family to help you. You’re not alone.” I must have sounded like a crazed, desperate cheerleader. I couldn’t even imagine his fear and hopelessness, yet I was trying to Pollyanna him with platitudes.

He looked at me for just a moment, and there might even have been a flash of resentment in his shadowed eyes, but his response was benevolent. “You’re right,” he sighed. “I’m not alone.”

We chatted for the rest of the trip. When we stopped for breakfast, I bought him what he later told me was his first meal in a day and a half. He was gracious, but I could see his pride was bruised. When I finally disembarked in Virginia, he gave me his sister’s address and shook my hand warmly. He wished me luck with my decision and career, and I wished him luck on his new journey.

Jim and I corresponded for a few years, but I lost track of him after he moved out of the men’s shelter and got his own apartment and job. I still think of him sometimes, remembering the lessons he taught me about not making assumptions and being grateful for what you have. Life is unpredictable, and none of us are immune to its whims. We can choose to bemoan the state of our shoes, or we can be thankful that we have feet!

pencil

Lindseye Greye is a writer-turned-musician-turned-nurse-turned-writer. She currently resides in Kentucky, where she is working on her first novel and rediscovering the joys of writing. Samples of her poetry, essays, novel-in-progress and other original works are showcased at www.shadesofgreye.com. Lindseye can be reached at Lindseye[at]shadesofgreye.com.

Felicitous Rain

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Andrea Gregory


Red lights mean very little to you at this point because you’re running late. You’re always late. This is one of the problems he says the two of you have. Your mother and father would say the same. Your teachers from grade school to college, well they’re in agreement as well. Damn them all right now because it’s a bad day. It’s raining and it’s cold and you are busy contemplating many possible excuses at the moment.

There’s no traffic. Saying you were stuck in traffic will be a bad excuse because it’s a complete lie. Excuses that are half true have a much more natural flow for you. People have told you that you’re a bad liar. Your face turns red and you start to stutter. Follow up questions throw you all off. Those same people believe your tales of half truths. God bless them, you say, because sometimes you need to get away with stuff. We all do.

You turn the radio up as loud as it will go and sing along. You scream the lyrics to a song you don’t usually like. Right now it’s your favorite song. You’re not sure who sings it, but scream-singing along with the words blocks out the irritation of your squealing windshield wiper. One of them is working fine. The other is making pitiful attempts to keep up and hold on. That is the one making the noise. God, shut up. It just doesn’t rain enough for you to get it fixed.

You take your eyes off the road because you need lipstick. You have to enter that court room looking like the hottest mistake he’s ever made. Your hair is a lost cause due to the weather, but your lips will look luscious and shiny in the shade of illegal red.

You apply it in your rearview mirror and then see that the color lives up to it’s name. Flashing blue lights really seem to bring out your eyes. Your eyes are brown, but your lids are blue. Your mother thinks blue eye shadow
makes you look trashy. Ever since she said that blue has been your favorite color and the only shade of eye shadow you wear. She would not be happy right now.

When you turn down the radio you can hear the sound of you beautifully crafted, half true excuse forming for later. The thought of telling it to him and a judge and whoever else is mad because they’ve had to wait for you makes you nervous, but this is car trouble. Once you’re used to the idea of that you’ll be fine.

You stop your car, but your heart now beats faster than you were going. You are not in control of that broken thing. This you already knew.

The police officer come to your window. He’s mad and even more mad now that he’s getting wet. You roll down your window and the storm splatters into your car.

“Didn’t you see me behind you?” he says, a question that demands not an answer, but a half true excuse.

You wish you could give him one. You pray to come up with one. He looks old and angry. You believe this has nothing to do with you. You pout you red lips and look confused. You do not answer his question. After all didn’t he only ask it to find out if you were the type to question his authority? Half-truths and girlish charm are your hidden strategies. The rain is on your side also because how long will he want to stand out there knowing it will take twice as long to drip and dry.

He (not so politely) request to see your license and registration. You curse those expired things and pretend to look for them.

“I have them somewhere,” you say shifting through the clutter of your glove compartment and your purse. You even check under the seat.

“You ran three red lights. I can’t believe you didn’t see me behind you, and with this weather,” he says to you. “How could you not see me?”

You look at him and smile shyly.

“If I had seen you I wouldn’t have run all three,” you say.

He’s slightly amused and will now let you go. Even though you swore to him that your license and registration are somewhere around here he’s wet enough and sees the bigger picture of no damage done.

“You drive carefully Miss,” he says before walking away and back to his car.

You don’t correct him. You could. After all you are still married, but you let it go because you’ve won and are late and keep getting later. Life is hard to keep up with and even harder to catch up to.

You arrive at the court house. You leave with a divorce. No one even asked why you were late.

Your lying, cheating ex-husband says, “You have a nice life living with your parents,” trailing behind you out on the court house steps.

You want to stop and turn around to say,” I most certainly will not,” just to defy him, but you don’t because you know how much he hates having people walk away from him.

You let him have the last word, and besides you are planning on having a nice life. You don’t even look behind to see just how how mad he is. The expression of you leaving him is something you’ve seen before. You waited with your bags packed for him to get home to the house you cleaned and the house you never left to say, “I want a divorce.” He didn’t take it well, but fighting your fear of claustrophobia has made you strong enough to walk away, twice now. Maybe you’re getting used to it.

Home, sweet home you think entering your parents house. You were born in this house because you came too quickly. It was in the living room with the help of a neighbor. The neighbor was a nurse who will still tell stories about how stubborn your mother was, the whole time reaching for the door, just wanting to get up and go before it was over. That is your mother. You love her and know that she would never get up and go. That was her strongest moment and the last one of it’s kind.

You watch TV on the couch and smoke cigarettes on the porch. Your dad comes home and is upset about both these things. He tells you about his house and his rules.

“You don’t leave a husband who’s perfectly capable of taking care of you to come lie around and mooch off me,” he says.

You really don’t want to get off the couch. It’s raining and you feel worthy of some depression time. Your father thinks you should get a job. He really thinks you’ve made a horrible mistake. You look to your mother. You think she should be on your side, but all she does is offer a sympathetic half smile in your defense. The smile is to you and from behind your father’s back so that he doesn’t see it.

Around 11 o’clock you run out of cigarettes. Your parents have just finished watching the news and are now getting ready for bed. You walk by your father brushing his teeth. The bathroom door is open and he sees you with your coat on.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he asks, drooling a mixture of saliva and toothpaste.

“Out,” you say and keep walking.

He spits in the sink and then follows you down the hall.

“Oh no you don’t. We have rules in this house, young lady. This isn’t some motel where you can just come and go as you please.”

“I’ll be back,” you say.

“If you want to come back you won’t leave.”

At 28 years old you threaten to run away from home.

Again you drive in the rain. You search the radio for a song to blare, something that will drown out your bad wiper, one you can play louder than the sound of your father’s voice. You need that song that will help you forget everything. Where have all the good driving songs gone? You’re frustrated and aggravated and don’t have the patience. You slap you entire palm against the dials to shut it off. All it does is switch to AM.

The voice of a president you did not vote for tells the world he’s dropping bombs on Iraq. He says this so that a.m. radio can rebroadcast it over and over again until people start to feel helpless or patriotic. You just want a cigarette. The voice of the man leading your country sounds far away like it’s in a tunnel. You know that Iraq is even further away and that neither of you will ever go there. It bothers you like a blister from wearing bad shoes. Just know that you did not vote for him and will be more careful about your choice of footwear in the future.

It takes you fifteen minutes to drive to the nearest gas station. When you get there you really need a cigarette. You forget to turn your lights off, but remember to lock the doors. The man behind the counter is younger than you and want to see ID. Yours is in the car, so are your keys.

Your clothes quickly become drenched. You look through the driver’s side window and see your keys on the passenger’s side seat. You just stare at them, hoping what you’re seeing isn’t real. It can’t be. It’s raining so hard. There’s thunder roaring and lightning that cracks the sky.

AAA would say they could help you out in an hour and a half. You don’t have AAA. You make a collect call from the pay phone to a father who tells you to fend for yourself. After you’ve already hung up the phone you scream.

“I can take it. I can take it,” you yell up to that place where all the rain comes from.

Bring it on, you think, but then address the question to God of weather or not all this rain is really necessary. When was the last time you went to church? You think about that in the aftermath of unanswered prayers.

“Fine, I’ll get wet,” you say to the ultimate power you may or may not believe in.

Standing in the spot light of your headlights you’re ready to take on the world because sometimes it’s all wrong. You wonder if this is patriotism to one’s soul or if the whole world is patronizing you. The two bleed into one and the same.

pencil

Andrea can be reached at Andrea_Gregory[at]emerson.edu.

Water Truths

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Silver
janra


Bell ducked around the corner, and held his breath. Nothing followed him, and he giggled into his hand in relief. He peeked around the corner, saw that it was clear, and hurried down the next corridor.

All the hoodads—hoonans, he corrected himself; they talked through their noses as well as their mouths—seemed to be busy in their little rooms, behind the rows of closed doors. He paused at another intersection and eased one eye around the corner.

A whiff of water and growing things tickled his nose, reminding him how horribly dry the hoonans kept their station. He turned down the corridor, hoping to find the source of the water scent, but it disappeared.

He had left his apartment because he was bored. There was nobody to play with here other than his two siblings; because his mother was the diplomat on assignment to this hoonan station, they were the only Rioh around. Since they got here, he’d only seen a few hoonans, and they only wanted to take his mother away for hours on end. It was terribly important, but Bell wished it weren’t so boring.

The water smell came back, and Bell looked around to try and choose a direction—and realised he was lost. He hugged himself nervously, squeezing his shoulders.

When lost, stay still.

Bell followed the scent of water down another corridor, still hiding from the hoonans. He heard a door hiss open, and the heavenly smell of open water and growing plants suddenly got stronger. He peeked, and saw two hoonans walking away from an open door framing a garden. As soon as it was clear, he jogged toward the door. It swished open, letting him duck through and around a bush. Hoonans of all sizes were walking, running, and sitting in the cleared areas.

Bell edged away from the open path, trying to find the open water and stay away from the hoonans at the same time.

There!

Not a huge pond, but bigger than that puddle they had in their apartment. A cleared, packed area circled the pond, but one corner had reeds growing tall, and near there, a tree hung out over the pond. He worked his way around, then dashed across the path and into the reeds.

With barely a ripple, he slipped underwater, leaving only his eyes and nose at the surface. He pushed away from the pond edge and stretched his feet behind him. He glided to the edge of the reeds, and looked out at the garden.

Bell closed his nostrils and submerged completely, then swam as fast as he could around the pond. Finally, he could stretch and swim properly. He hit a wall after only two kicks in the puddle in their apartment.

Three quick splashes interrupted his race. Two. Three again. Four.

Bell surfaced in the reeds, and looked around. A small hoonan was throwing something into the pond, and watching as it bounced across the surface before sinking. He glided to the edge of the reeds, and watched, fascinated by the quick and flexible arm movements. One object bounced six times in a curve that brought it in front of Bell, and he saw that it was a small flat rock.

The next rock didn’t bounce at all, but sank immediately. Bell looked at the hoonan to see why it had thrown so badly. It was staring straight at him.

Bell ducked underwater immediately, then reconsidered. Hoonans couldn’t swim, so he was safe where he was. He resurfaced, and looked at the small hoonan again. It was still staring at him, and its mouth pulled back, showing its flat teeth. According to his mother, that meant it was happy about something. Hoonans couldn’t swim, Bell reminded himself, and slowly glided across the pond, stopping at a distance he judged twice what the hoonan could reach.

They stared at each other curiously.

“Hi, I’m Jeff,” the hoonan said, and sat down.

Bell hesitated, then lifted his head out of the water. “My nane is Bell. How do you do?” he recited, as the language teacher had taught him.

The hoonan showed its teeth again. “You *are* a Rioh, aren’t you? I didn’t think they’d brought any seals here.”

Bell digested what the hoonan—what Jeff—had said. It talked differently than the language teacher, and faster. “What is a seal?”

Jeff looked to the side, exactly like an embarrassed Rioh. “A seal is an Earth animal that lives in the ocean. I’ve only seen pictures. I just thought that the pictures of Rioh I’ve seen looked like seals.”

They stared at each other for a while, in an uncomfortable silence. Jeff fidgeted with a handful of flat rocks.

“Why do you stay out in the middle of the pond?” it blurted. “I thought Rioh could walk fine.”

“To be safe. Hoonans are fast walkers, but can’t swin.”

“We can too swim!” Jeff jumped to its feet and pulled its clothes off, stopping when it was wearing only short pants, which had been hidden under its long pants. It jumped into the pond and walked toward Bell, who backed away.

Jeff could swim! Bell watched him do a slow, splashy lap of the pond.

“See? Told you I could swim. Want to race?” Jeff held his place in the water, thrashing his arms just under the surface.

“No space to race.”

“To the reeds and back?”

“Yes, a short race.” A very short race, Bell thought.

“Ok—ready—set—go!” It gulped air, then started thrashing towards the reeds.

Bell glided past it, reached the reeds, and returned to their starting point to wait for Jeff, before Jeff had even reached the reeds. Jeff finally turned, then stopped when it saw Bell already at the finish.

“Done already?”

“Yes. Hoonans can swin, but slow.”

“Well, how fast can you swim?”

Bell ducked underwater and swam to surface near Jeff, just outside its reach.

“Wow! I wish I could swim that fast. That was only two seconds!”

“Hoonans walk faster, Rioh swin faster.”

“I guess. Um—” Jeff looked down at the water. “Could you pull me? It would be really cool to go that fast.”

Bell sorted out the sentences. “You are not hurt.”

“What? Of course I’m not hurt.”

“Rioh pulls hurt Rioh—not hurt Rioh swins alone.”

“But I’m not Rioh. Can’t it be like a game? You know, just for fun?”

Bell hesitated. Everything his mother had taught him said to not allow a hoonan to grab hold, because they were very strong and dangerous—that’s why he was supposed to stay in the apartment with his siblings. But she had also taught him that hoonans couldn’t swim, and that they were very competitive and always had to win. Jeff had proved two of three wrong so far.

“Yes, I can pull you.” Bell glided closer.

“Great!” Jeff showed its teeth again, and reached out.

It grabbed Bell’s shoulder, wrapping its long spindly fingers almost all the way around Bell’s upper arm. The strength of the grip made Bell want to escape, but he reminded himself that Jeff just wanted to play. Jeff held Bell’s other arm the same way, and folded its arms to pull itself flat along Bell’s back.

Bell started moving slowly around the pond. Jeff’s hands tightened to the point of discomfort but not quite to pain. Bell sped up, and heard Jeff laugh—it sounded oddly like his own excited giggle. They did a full lap before Bell was swimming as fast as he could, and he started on a second. A small wave from his wake splashed over his face, and his nostrils automatically closed.

Jeff’s hands clamped painfully tight, and it started convulsing. Bell stopped immediately, his momentum and his wake keeping them moving forward.

“Jeff?” Bell tried to turn, and Jeff turned with him.

Jeff let go with one hand and grabbed its ribs, coughing again. Bell turned, rolled, slid under Jeff. He rolled Jeff onto its back, and lifted its shoulders.

“M’ok,” Jeff gasped between coughs. “Just sw— swallowed some water.”

“Jeff?” a hoonan yelled from the path. “Jeff? Are you ok? Jeff?”

Jeff coughed again. “M’ok, Mom.” He continued, more quietly. “Oh damn,” —cough— “She’s going to” —cough— “to think I’m dying.”

“You will not die?” Bell asked.

“No.” Jeff showed his teeth, then coughed again.

Bell started towing Jeff slowly, on its back, toward its mother and the shore. As they reached the shallows and Bell was helping the still-coughing Jeff to stand, two hoonans wearing security guard clothing ran up. One said something to its radio; all Bell heard was “Rioh.”

When Jeff stood on its own and started walking out of the pond, Bell backed up a few steps. What was the respectful address for a hoonan female? “Nissus Jeff’s Non—please—Jeff says it won’t die.”

Jeff started laughing, then coughing, and sat down on the path.

“Let’s get you home and dry,” Jeff’s mom said, ignoring Bell.

“No, Mom, I’m ok. I just swallowed some water by accident.” It pulled its arm away, and tried to stay seated.

“You’re coming home. Who knows what that Rioh was thinking.”

Bell sank into the water and started backing away. Maybe Jeff had proved his mother wrong because Jeff was different.

“Mom, it wasn’t Bell’s fault! It was my idea!” Jeff stood up, pulled its arm free, and ran back into the pond.

“Jeff!” its mother yelled.

Another group of security hoonans walked in, escorting Bell’s mother, in full diplomatic dress.

“Oh, no,” Bell said, reverting to his own language and sinking below the surface.

Jeff’s hand on his arm pulled him back up, and he met his mother’s glare.

“Bell, come here right now!”

Bell kicked himself forward, gliding toward shore again, and pulling Jeff, who still held his arm.

“What were you doing, Bell? Who knows what that hoonan was thinking!”

Bell opened his mouth to reply, then shut it again as his mother’s tirade continued. He and Jeff stood on the edge of the pond, dripping in silence as their respective mothers scolded them.

Translated, Jeff’s mother had said exactly the same thing as his mother just had. Bell glanced sidelong at Jeff, trying to figure out how to tell it this while keeping his head down so his mother didn’t see. Jeff met his eyes, then pulled back its mouth to show its teeth. “Tomorrow?” it mouthed, exaggerating the movements. Bell showed his teeth, mimicking Jeff’s smile. “Tonorrow,” he mouthed in reply.

pencil

janra can be reached at janra[at]write-on.homeip.net.

Severed Branches

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Gold
Betty Dobson


I walked where Esther walked. We went where and when she said. Left to myself, I wouldn’t know where to go, much less how to get back. For the past week, we’d been exploring cemeteries. I’d used up a whole roll of film on family headstones. Only lost one day due to rain. That’s a pretty rare feat in these parts, I’m told.

Esther saved this cemetery for last. Maybe she thought I’d have to leave before we got the chance. Cut it pretty close, at any rate, since I’d be leaving in the morning.

She didn’t cry when she showed me her son’s grave marker. I figured she’d had forty-four years to accept the loss. Forty-four years of visits to a simple white cross. The paint was fresh and shiny. Crude black letters spelled out his name—Havelock Hendsbee, Jr.—and the year he’d lived.

“Seems foolish to me,” said Esther, “to keep calling him Junior. Never got to be nothing. Had to give him a name, but he’s just my baby. Always will be.”

I wanted to say something comforting. Or give her a reassuring smile. Unable to catch her gaze, I let the moment pass. We stood together watching the gray outline of Cape Breton blend itself into the darkening sky.

“Best be getting back,” she said. “Lockie’ll be wanting dinner.” She turned and headed for the road. Her feet cut a new path through the mud, parallel to our entry tracks.

“You’re awful quiet today, Peg.”

I stopped for a moment until I realized that Esther was still walking. She kept her head down, as if absorbed in watching the movement of her feet. I caught up to her with a quick jog. “Sorry. Just doing some thinking.”

She tipped her head in my direction. “And I’m just curious, is all. You been talking non-stop since you got here. Don’t got to say nothing you don’t want to.”

“Actually, I figured you’d want to do some thinking yourself.”

“That what’s called giving me my space?”

“Something like that.”

She raised both hands, pointing skyward with her index fingers. “I got all the space I need right here. Sometimes too much. I want people, I go to Halifax.”

“Speaking of which,” I said, “when are you coming up to visit again? Paul’s been wanting to meet you.”

“Can’t say. Lockie’s getting whinier all the time. I swear, it’s like he stands by the door from the moment I leave till when I come back.”

“Consider yourself lucky. At least your husband misses you while you’re away.”

A whispered huff of breath left her mouth. “Sounds good when you say it like that.”

 

“You’re late.” Lockie sat at the kitchen table, bent over the Herald crossword puzzle. Exactly where he’d been when they left that morning. Doing exactly the same thing.

“It’s my fault, sir,” I said. “I wanted to see one more cemetery while we still had light.”

“Cemeteries. Don’t understand a hobby that gets into so much digging. Decent folks want no part of such things.”

“Ease up, Dad.” Noland came up from the basement, a basket of vegetables wedged under one flabby arm. “You’ve been singing the same song all week. If Peg’s not sick of it yet, I sure am.”

“Disrespectful.” Lockie grabbed his paper, rolled it and thumped it against the wall as he walked away. “Maybe I can still catch some of the news. Call me when dinner’s ready.” He turned and glared at Esther. “If you can trouble yourself to do some cooking.”

Noland set the basket in the sink and let the cold water from the tap run over the vegetables. He wiped his hands on his steel-blue work pants and smiled at me. “Don’t mind Dad, Peg. It’s not you he’s mad at.” He leaned down and kissed Esther’s high forehead. “I got everything under control here, Mum. You go sit with him.”

“Only way he’ll be fit company at the dinner table. You sure you don’t need my help?”

“Don’t worry, Esther,” I said. “I’ll give him a hand.”

Noland smiled again and smoothed his comb-over. Maybe I would’ve been better off going to the living room with Lockie. Whatever his faults, a roving eye didn’t appear to be among them.

“I should apologize,” said Noland.

“No need. It takes more than what your father’s dishing out to get me upset.”

“Oh, well, that too. What I meant was, I haven’t been around much while you’ve been here. Lots of work left to be done on this old place before tourist season.”

Oh brother. “That’s okay. Really. I think it’s great, what you’re trying to do. Have you got a vegetable peeler?”

“In the dish rack. You really think it could work?”

“What?”

“The bed and breakfast. Dad thinks I’m wasting my time.”

“How old are you, Noland?”

“Forty-six. Why?”

“No reason. How many carrots should I peel?”

 

“Lot of the old folks farmed to feed themselves, but they made their living off the sea.” Esther flipped through the file on the Nolands, her father’s family. “Course, when the soil’s mostly rock, you don’t got much choice. Ah, that’s the one. Promised you a copy and here it is.”

I took the hand-printed pages, feeling somewhat embarrassed. Esther had listed every descendant of her great-great-great-grandfather, John Knowland. Variations on the surname included Nowland, Nolan, and Noland. Her letters were neat and precise. She’d obviously spent hours preparing this list and would redo it all if new information came her way. And I used to complain about having to reprint my lists off the computer.

Genealogy is like a complex design. It seems random and chaotic at first. Little by little, though, patterns start to emerge. Certain names are repeated generation after generation. First-born sons bear the names of their fathers. And diseases flow through bloodlines like lava.
I flipped through a few pages and shook my head. “I can’t believe how much you’ve gathered in such a short time. I’m going to need another week’s vacation just to sort through it all.”

Esther reached over and held my hand, looking me in the eye for the first time since we’d met. “I don’t know if this will be much use to you, Peg. I’ve highlighted all the infant deaths, but there’s not much on miscarriages. Just what living relatives were willing to tell me.”

“I can’t say I’m surprised. It’s been the same on every line.” I felt a sharp pain in my abdomen. It stopped as suddenly as it started, and I wondered if it was just my imagination. Like the phantom pain of an amputee.

“Are you feeling okay? You’re so pale. Maybe a glass of water.”

“I’m fine.” I pulled my hand from her weak grip. “What about you? How did you and Lockie ever cope with losing the baby?”

“Can’t speak for Lockie. Keeps his own counsel except when you wish he would. Me, I still had my firstborn.”

“That would be Noland.”

“He’s a good boy. Takes proper care of me. Just wish he’d get on better with Lockie.”

“Somehow I don’t think that’s all Noland’s fault.”

Esther stared down at her folded hands. “Might have been easier on everyone if I could have had more kids. Lockie deserved that much for standing by me.”

 

I couldn’t sleep, so I got dressed before dawn and went out to the chair swing in the back yard. The hum of the waves filled the night air. I had hoped that the sound, combined with the movement of the swing, would relax me enough to get a couple hours sleep. Instead, I watched the sun come up over the harbor.
I snapped a few pictures, then sat back and absorbed the scene. Fishing boats sat on blocks on the shore. Their hulls were faded and pealing. Stacks of lobster traps hid under thick plastic sheets, the corners of which were anchored by chunks of masonry. The traps looked as dry as the boats.

How long had it been since the sea last caressed those hulls?

I thought of Paul, of his growing indifference. Maybe he was entitled. Without some encouragement from me, he couldn’t be expected to keep caring. I was the one who moved into the guest room, after all.

“Mind if I join you?” Esther stood by the swing, a mug of tea in each hand.

“It’s your swing.”

“Actually, it’s Lockie’s. Like everything else here.” She passed me a mug and sat down beside me.

We rocked and sipped for half an hour before Esther spoke again.

“I hope Lockie didn’t offend you too bad.”

“What’s his problem, anyway? Afraid I’m going to take you up to the big bad city and keep you there?”

“In a way. Every time I go, he accuses me of leaving him.”

“Maybe you should. He doesn’t respect you.”

“But he loves me. That I’ve never doubted.”

“I envy you. I’m not sure of anything these days.”

“Comes with time. And more than a little determination. Kind of like doing the family tree. Some of the answers come easy, but then they just lead to more questions. You just got to figure out which questions really need answering.”

 

Three hours later, Esther and I stood side by side at the end of the driveway. She stared down the road, looking for the bus from Canso. I concentrated on the waters of the bay. The road could wait. That was all I’d be seeing for the next five or six hours.

The minibus lurched to a stop on the other side of the road, blocking my view. The driver shoved my suitcases in the back and opened the sliding door for me. Time to go. Esther hugged me and passed me a bag full of preserves. “I’d like to say I cooked every batch, but Noland had a hand in some. Keep the jars. We got plenty more. Be sure and share them with your husband.”

“I promise.” Esther smiled up at me and I started to cry. “I’m going to miss you.”

She waved her hand in front of her face and rolled her eyes. “You’ll forget all about me once you get back home.”

“Not likely. We’re family now, Esther. So you’re stuck with me.” I climbed aboard the bus and sat with the preserves on my lap. My fingers brushed the window as I waved goodbye. I pressed my hand to the glass.

Lockie came out and took hold of Esther’s hand. He didn’t let go until the bus pulled away.

pencil

Betty can be reached at inkspotter[at]hfx.eastlink.ca.

Hanoi Funeral

Creative Nonfiction
N.K. Napier


I stood in the November rain with Lan Huong, one of the Vietnamese faculty members I work with, looking at the gravediggers scooping out mud from Professor Giao’s grave. My face was wet and my shoulders ached from standing hunched in the rain since early morning. Even though I had known and worked with Professor Giao for several years, I still felt like an interloper at the service. I was tired from being with Vietnamese colleagues and other mourners for hours, not understanding what they said, feeling sad but not being able to express it well.

I met Professor Giao when I first taught at the National Economics University in Hanoi in the early 1990s. Initially, I found it hard to focus on his words, since my eyes kept creeping to the mole on his chin, which had a two-inch hair protruding from it. I learned much later that men never shave those hairs, expecting them to bring good luck.

Professor Giao was Vice-Rector of the university and the visionary for the aid project that I managed years later. He recognized that Vietnam’s managers and students needed to learn about market economics and that it was a key to bringing Vietnam into the regional and global marketplace. Even though he probably mistrusted foreigners, he wanted their expertise. Vietnam’s wariness of foreigners has a long history, from the 1000-year Chinese domination to the French and American wars. Then the country faced years of isolation when the U.S. embargo started in 1975 and again in 1989 when the Soviet Bloc, its only major trading partner, fell.

In my early days working in Hanoi, I felt an undercurrent of watchfulness. Vietnamese could not visit me alone. The police tracked my activities, and I could not leave Hanoi without giving the authorities my itinerary. Even by the time Professor Giao died in November of 2000, after six years of visiting and working in the country, I still refrained from pushing the boundaries and never talked of politics, personnel issues, or whether my colleagues had relatives in the U.S.

When we first met, Professor Giao wore a Soviet style, gray windbreaker jacket, with a dark tie and short sleeved white shirt. By the time he left the university in 1996, he sported tailored black suits, looking more like a square-shouldered gangster than a university vice-rector. His departure was an honor for him and the university; he became Vice Chairman of the National Assembly’s Economics Council, a position equivalent to a senior member of the U.S. Council of Economic Advisors. He was about to be promoted to Committee Chairman when he died from a heart attack on a Saturday afternoon at home.

Rituals carry us through occasions of trial, removing many decisions and defining expected actions. Yet, the nature of decisions, the extent of prescribed movements and the pacing of rituals in Vietnam vary dramatically from what I’d experienced in the U.S. In Hanoi, the first three days of mourning have a clear set of rules—the family visits on Day 1, funeral and official ceremonies span Day 2, and close friends and colleagues visit the home of the dead on Day 3. The literal movements and actions at each stage of the mourning, from presenting a wreath to the family, to offering incense to the deceased, are clear.

Monday was Day 2 of the official grieving period, the day for the funeral and mourning ceremonies. Mrs. Chi, the office secretary, had wet red eyes when I arrived at the office. We called her “Chi C” to distinguish her from the other two Chis (A and B) in our program. In her early thirties, Chi never sat still, was the best karaoke singer in the university, and wore bright red high heeled shoes for the first few years I knew her. Today, she wore smudged lipstick and slouched next to the desk.

“Please come now to the mourning ceremony,” she said. “But the day will be long. It is raining. You do not have to go to the burial later.”

“Of course I’ll go with you to the burial,” I said. “If that’s ok?”

“Professor Giao would like for all of us to go. Yes, it will be good for you to come.”

We packed into taxis and on motorbikes about 9 a.m. and went to a government compound that had a courtyard formed from a U-shaped group of concrete buildings. I had asked Mrs. Chi to arrange for a funeral wreath from the consultants of our project; it stood in the courtyard, the only wreath with an English language sash. The wreaths—nearly all the same—were oblong ellipses, about four feet high by three feet wide, leaning against walls and each other on two sticks. The wreaths’ three concentric flower ellipses had patterns of yellow orchid-like flowers on the outer ring, then red roses and finally yellow flowers in the center. The donor organization name, written on a black six-inch wide strip of ribbon, ran diagonally across the wreath.

In the courtyard, clusters of people huddled in the rain under small freestanding umbrellas. Some scrunched under the building eaves out of the rain. Others hunched together, the women with their arms crooked together, under pink umbrellas with white rabbits tripping along and blue umbrellas spotted with ducks.

I tiptoed around looking for a space to be invisible, impossible as the only Caucasian among 200 people. I stood in puddles half way up the sides of my shoes. Water dripped inside my shirt. My wool sweater smelled musty.

The procedure for which group entered when was choreographed and announced. When our university’s name came over the loudspeaker, we formed double lines and shuffled up the stairs. We circled through a stone room, thirty feet high and sixty feet wide and deep, filled with family mourners and university and government officials. Bundles of unlit red incense sticks lay at the foot of Professor Giao’s coffin; I added mine to the pile of sticks that would burn over the next several days. Spandrels of white incense smoke curled toward the ceiling and mixed with the rain smell.

Professor Giao lay in a red lacquer wooden coffin, the width of his shoulders. I thought of my father, who said he wanted to be buried in a simple pine box. Professor Giao’s coffin was just that, a box. A decorated box, but still just a box. The coffin decoration was gold filigree Chinese characters that my Vietnamese colleagues assured were not “true Chinese” but “Vietnamese Chinese.” During the Chinese occupation, well before the 1500s, the Vietnamese imitated and modified Chinese characters for their own language. Still, given the animosity between the Vietnamese and the Chinese for so many years, I was surprised to see the characters atop the coffin.

A glass window flap on the top front of the coffin lay open, baring Professor Giao’s face to the stone building and to me. I stepped up on a wooden box to look in and say goodbye. Without thinking, I sucked in my breath with shock. Professor Giao’s face was placid and too calm to be the man I knew. While he rarely smiled, his bemused smirk usually showed his mood, and his squinty eyes could chuckle or growl in our meetings. Today, he had no smirk, no expression.

I moved to a receiving line where Professor Giao’s wife stood wailing. His daughter whimpered, as she leaned on another woman. Sometimes Vietnamese mourners wear white, pointed helmet-like headgear, made of rice stalks, to protect their heads should they fall when they faint from grief. Instead, mother and daughter had white gauze draped over their heads and clothes; their faces were tearless but weary. Family members stood by the women to catch them as they wavered. The son-in-law was third in line, with a white headband and a white sheet over his torso and legs. He did shake hands, but he leaned back and looked at me straight on. Maybe he wondered why a foreigner had come.

Funeral traditions and reactions seem out of balance in emotion and involvement, in both countries. Family and friends who are truly distraught may be unaware of what’s going on around them; most people who attend funeral ceremonies seem detached, sometimes more interested in vicariously gawking than in participating. Others show strong emotion, whether real or feigned, and still others stand apart and wrench their insides. But usually, people expect restraint in the U.S. whereas in Vietnam, the women wail and give themselves up to grief.

Outside the building, two red notebooks sat on a table, waiting for any comments from mourners. I wrote Professor Giao, thanking him for his help. My messy American handwriting clashed with the structured careful loops of the Vietnamese before me.

Our vigil outside lasted another hour, accompanied by a mix of drums beating and cymbals rubbing together, while the remaining visitors paid respects.

Hang, another university colleague, stood beside me under the eaves. She stood, all 5 feet of her, with her arms crossed in front of her, rocking a bit and shaking her head.

“He was good. He helped us. I miss him.”

“What do the drums and cymbals mean? The sound is so strange.”

“The drums mean death and ending. They say that Professor Giao’s life is over. The metal rubbing together is the sound of the ‘next world, not of this one.’ Professor Giao travels to another world. The sounds help him.”

At 11 a.m., the 150 of us still in the courtyard went back in for the mourning ceremony. In a country where time stretches, and no one is offended if people arrive 10 or 30 minutes late to a meeting, this occasion astounded me by its preciseness. The visits went exactly from 7-11 a.m. and the next phase began.

Inside the gray cavernous entry hall, one of Professor Giao’s friends read a 10-minute eulogy of his life and contributions—to the university, government and country. His family filed past the coffin and, again, moaned.

“Wake up, why are you sleeping so long,” said Professor Giao’s wife. This ritual question gives the dead time to wake up before being buried. His daughter started a new round of weeping, exhausting herself.

Hang told me later that crying by the “first” or eldest daughter is necessary to help the spirit reach the next world. In Vietnam, where emotion is palpable—anger, frustration, joy but not affection other than with children, this was beyond what I’d seen.

The convoy to the cemetery comprised the funeral wreath truck, with 20-30 wreaths lashed on top and sides, a truck carrying the coffin and family, six buses, a dozen autos and close to 50 motorbikes flitting through the autos like flies. I rode to the cemetery in a bus crowded with university people I didn’t know. They offered sandwiches—baguettes with slices of pork fat and shredded pork—water, milk and chocolate-covered crackers. I was touched by their thoughtfulness but everything tasted dry to me. My university colleagues on motorbikes waved to me from under their rain parkas—the men in navy, the women in white and blue polka dots on rose and blue colored parkas. Some people put plastic bags on their shoes, others gave up and just rolled up their pant legs. We arrived precisely at 1 p.m. for the funeral ceremony, which finished right at 2 p.m.

Perhaps because Hanoi is a large city, perhaps because death is so accepted and part of daily life, funeral processions are commonplace. The wreath-covered trucks, with mourners trailing behind in white headbands is something ordinary, hardly worth noting. In any city in the U.S., cars and people still acknowledge a funeral motorcade by stopping and waiting for it to pass; in Hanoi life goes on around the cavalcade. Merchants hawk goods, women shuffle with shoulder baskets of fruit, children scamper past. The attitude seems to be one of “someone else’s grandfather or mother or friend or child has died today, not mine.” But maybe those onlookers, saved for the moment, also dread the inevitable feeling when death comes to someone close.

Three gravediggers, dressed in heavy-hooded rubber rain suits and boots, had dug a four-foot deep dirt area—clay mud really, since we were still standing in rain. Then they moved to the plot next to Professor Giao’s and began working on the next grave. They scooped out mud on shovels, patted it against a mound around the edges, and shoved the spades against the side of the hole. They slid in the mud, stepped into water holes, and looked weary. I could see a dozen fresh graves that they must have dug that day or the one before.

The workers lowered Professor Giao’s coffin. His son-in-law and a few others tossed mud in the hole and the diggers filled it and built up a rounded mound, 4 feet high. Within a month, flowers and tall grass will cover this mound, representing the “last house for the dead on earth.” The cemetery mounds, set about 4 feet apart, appear as goose bumps on human skin must to a microscopic flea. They are so close together that one can barely walk between them without reaching out with both arms for balance.

Three years from now, Professor Giao’s family will exhume his body, place his bones in a ceramic tube and move it to his home village or nearer the family in Hanoi. The demand on cemetery space requires that the plots be recycled. Unfortunately, the ground in this cemetery is “not good for burying,” according to my colleagues. Polluted and too moist, the ground prevents the muscle from disintegrating, meaning that the family will dig up a wooden box that contains a partially intact body.

What becomes of bodies in the U.S. that remain in pillow-covered coffins, cured with waxes and oils to stave off natural decay? The soul has gone, but when? In Vietnam, the steps and timing are clear. After the first days of mourning, the next 49 are for the spirit’s journey. At that point and again at the 100 days marker, friends and family come together, mourn and begin to rebuild, and then meet yearly after that. The survivors have time to say good bye. They grieve publicly and privately for a year. During that year, they wear black arm bands or ribbons, showing the world that they have lost someone, relieving them of expectations of being social and sociable. In the U.S., we put aside the dead within a few days, move forward and avoid speaking of him or her with others. We bite our lips, shake our foggy heads, and try to concentrate on remembering to eat or do the laundry.

Meanwhile, the six wreath carriers, dressed in their white, flat-topped police hats and what were once white uniforms, hauled in the wreaths from the truck. After 15 minutes of tossing wreaths, the mound was taller than any man standing near by. Professor Giao’s wife and daughter collapsed in the arms of five women, drained from the wailing that had started early that morning and continued till mid afternoon. As the last wreath tumbled onto the pile, the rain stopped, the cemetery umbrellas protecting us came down and we hurried away to make room for the next group of mourners using the grave next to Prof. Giao’s.

When the Vietnamese formally gather on the 49th day following a death, they eat and talk, still numb from the loss, and let themselves look backward, wallow and be sad. In America, we do so as well, but furtively, in bathrooms with the faucet on to hide the gulps of crying, during sad movies, driving alone. Yet, I find that six weeks after a death, nearly the same as 49 days, is the time when loss strikes hardest.

In Hanoi, the sky continued to cry all week.

pencil

N.K. Napier, a professor of international business at Boise State University, has managed a development project in Vietnam for several years and has published in Small Spiral Notebook, Christian Science Monitor, and Brain, Child. She can be reached at nknapier[at]earthlink.net.

Sewer Times

Fiction
Simon Owen


They hate it when our gang hangs around. They think they’re better than us. And it’s always been like this. Les came round last week, his tongue hanging out, desperate for a beer. So off we went, and got a few of the boys together. 11pm, one hour from closing time, and they were leaving already. We had to be careful, running in low along the back, and hiding against the wall, in the shadows.

Les sneaked in first. Then me. I always went second. Senses aren’t quite what they used to be. The others followed. We made it into the storeroom, and we were getting into some high class ale, when Stu, our scout for the evening, let the door close. Any minute now the Landlord would be round with a baseball bat to chase and pound the life out of us. There were six of us, I know, but the big fellow at the Brenno’s a big fucker, and a lot bigger than us.

We decided, what the hell, we’d hole up in the coolroom and get plastered, and whatever happened, happened.

Bad idea, as ideas go.

Too much beer later, the six of us were treated to the sight of the big burly bastard filling the doorway. Not with bat in hand, but sawn-off shotgun. Stu was splattered all over a case of Corona (what a way to go), and the rest of us, frantic, stumbled drunkenly about between kegs and cases of what we liked, while the big bastard laughed and waved his gun.

Somehow I made it out. I grabbed a hold of Les’ tail and yanked, but Landlord slammed the heavy coolroom door, and I fell back, mouth full of tail and blood, heard the shot, saw the flash, more blood, under the door, and ran for my life.

My claws were broken and my paws were raw by the time I got home, but the wife fixed me up pretty good. She’s a good girl, old Sal. A few of us friends got together, me, the only survivor of the barroom raid, and a few other old-timers, squeaked a few words, put what was left of Old Les into a beercan and sent him off down the sewer.

Old Sal cheered me up, best she could, nipping and clawing at me until I was a mess in the dirt. A good girl, Old Sal. I’m getting on, myself.

There was never enough food. No matter how much we could score and save, it always went mouldy, too mouldy, by the time we’d get around to eating it. And we were fairly picky, so this one time I went out shopping to the local Furry’s. At night, of course. I told you, most people don’t like our gang. It’s best to go out after dark. I prefer the night, anyways. We all do.

Anyway, I’m dragging a huge box of frozen chicken fillets home, and I’m about to go on down into into the drain when I hear it.

‘RAT! GET IT!’

Now there’s nothing I hate more than being referred to as some thing. ‘GET IT! KILL IT!’ this kid went on to the others. I hadn’t seen them, the three teenage boys. They hurled stones, bottles. I ducked into the sewer, and one of them ran over, trying to stick the boot in. I got it badly in the side of the head, slid a few feet down into the sewer, shook it off. I wasn’t going anywhere without my dinner, though, not for any Human. Finally they gave up, walked off, or that’s what seemed to have happened. Apparently, I had blacked out after the kick, I’d been lying in the shit for about twelve hours, thankfully deep enough into the pipe to be out of the reach of the Humans.

But they had taken the chicken. Well, it was gone, anyhow.

All I managed to find for dinner was some old stale bread. So I got it into my mouth and then used it as a raft to get home. I was tired. That’s happening a lot these days.

Old Sal understood, understanding, sympathetic Sal.

Sally broke up the bits of soggy bread, fed me some, and I slept. She could have all she wanted. All that I could provide for her. My good girl. I just wanted to sleep. And that I did.

We survived down there for some time, like that. Starving for a day, sleeping for a day, eating for a day, sleeping for a day. Until they sent the exterminator down into the sewer.

And guess who it was.

Big Bastard.

He chased us through the tunnels down here, laughing and spraying some kind of liquid at us that burned like acid, made the eyes water, the skin crawl, the ears ring. Complete dizziness and disorientation in the dark tunnels. That’s how we beat him, though. The dark. He had his flashlight, a cone of weak yellow bobbing about against the walls, the ground, the webs and crap.

I said we beat him, that’s not strictly true. He got Old Sal. Rather the 3:15 to Campbelltown got her when she flew dizzy out of a hole and straight onto a length of train track. I was safe, I stuck to the wall, blown back by the passing train. There was nothing to send down into the sewer in a beercan.

Now there’s not much left. The Big Bastard will get me at the pub, he’ll get me in the sewer. He got Les, and Stu, and the others, and Old Sal. My good girl. It’s time to leave. I can’t stay here anymore.

I don’t know where, up this train tunnel looks like a good ways to go.

pencil

Simon Owen was born in the Republic of Ireland and emigrated to Australia in 1997. He is currently working as a draftsman and musician to support addiction to writing. He has a rather large stainless steel rod embedded in his left leg and likes the number thirteen, Mexican food and the incredibly coincidental. His intercontinental nickname is Slime. He is about to publish his first novel entitled The Last Years of Francis Flood, and his second, The Ballad of Bill Blake and Cupid’s Silicon Irony will follow in 2003. He can be reached at Barflychinaski[at]hotmail.com.

Transformation

Flash
Linda J. Palmero


The lake possessed a bizarre calm. October winds arranged discarded leaves in lily pad shapes on the glassine surface. Leaves moved. Water responded in silence.

She slipped into the icy depths as easily as one would slip on a satin lined coat. The cold became a pleasant weight, pulling her downward into its bosom.

Thoughts began to play themselves like reels of celluloid across the screen of her mind. This was not like the clichés she had heard about, a whole life past, flashing in front of her. No, it was different. She found herself looking forward in time, seeing a future that would not include her. She pictured birthdays and Christmases and Easters her family would spend without her. She saw the birth of two siblings, a brother and sister, chubby toddlers playing with pull-along ducks in the front yard of her river-stone house.

The water did not hurt as it crept up her nostrils, into her lungs. She remembered how it felt diving backwards into the public pool, chlorine stinging the back of her throat. This was like inhaling pure oxygen.

Opalescent scales began to form over her body, glinting rainbows dancing in the depths. Limbs fused into sleek lengths of swimming muscle. Slowly, she began to feel gills growing behind her ears.

pencil

“I am currently enrolled in Creative Writing courses at Phoenix College. I have been employed as a Registered Nurse for the last 16 years. I live in Arizona with my husband, cat, and other dear people. I plan to leave Nursing in the near future in order to teach English as a second language.” Linda can be reached at Authorrose[at]msn.com.

Cor Unum

Poetry
John Woolley


O lover, pierced with sorrow, crowned with shame,
deign here to be consoled, adored, caressed.
Hide here thy face, a living signet pressed
to willing wax; and I’ll, soft, whispering, claim
thee, veiled, my cherished own. Here slake thy flam-
ing thirst, thy wounded head here, cradled, rest,
safe on the flowery meadows of my breast.
Listen—my heart beats nothing but thy name.

Here, in this ardent ground, flower forth thy mys-
teries of crown, cross, chalice, thou blest mart-
yrs’ prince, and fire-wine-apple-incense kiss-
es shower on brow, throat, breast till we two part-
less die, rest, rise and dowered with boundless bliss
blooms, springs in both our breasts one rose, one heart.

pencil

John Woolley is an Anglican Catholic deacon, father of five, husband of one, friend of dozens. He loves Latin, baseball, old jazz, backgammon, liturgy, Victorian novels, and (duh!) poetry. He can be reached at John.Woolley[at]wcom.com.

six/two/two thousand and two

Poetry
Elizabeth Aiossa


Grandma Lou woke up
dressed in Sunday’s
walked the long hall
to chapel
shared a forty-
five minute smile
rose to compliment
the homily
rewound down the hall
for brunch
ate the best muffin
she ever had
as quoted by the chef
asked for a hand
to lead her
full circle to bed
where she reclined
sighed three times
and passed her
life away

I hope that dignity
is hereditary

pencil

Elizabeth Aiossa is a legal secretary by day and an MFA student by night. She recently published two poems in Moon Journal. Elizabeth can be reached at Lizird1[at]hotmail.com.