And He Remembers

Creative Nonfiction
Daniel Beaudoin


fabcom_IMG_1155
Photo Credit: Fabrizio Comolli

The drive into Tel Aviv from the airport goes smoothly so early in the morning. This grants him more time. He brakes gently so as not to skid on the gravel and eases the car to a standstill at the edge of the cliff. With the car’s front windows lowered, the air blows heavily inland from across the Mediterranean Sea, and he draws in the briny scent of the ocean. It is August, possibly his last. He grimaces and reaches for his stomach, falls back into the seat and glances down the beachfront road to his left as it snakes downhill towards the farthest end of the bay. There, in the ancient city of Jaffa, his studio lies, shrouded in the port’s early morning cocoon. At the bottom of the cliff just below him, the beige lifeguard tower stands tall, exhausted after all its years of vigil. It was here, in its shadow, that he first met her twenty years ago.

And he remembers that day.

“My name is Avital,” she said to him.

He turned to her, but the heat and the sea water in his eyes separated them like a curtain of running water. He could barely make her out as she sat in the shade of the lifeguard tower, slouched against the fence that surrounded it. He looked harder, and she slowly came into focus, a T-shirt stretched tightly over her knees, and that head, that lovely shaven head glistening in the sun. And suddenly, before he had a chance to respond, she appeared before him, silhouetted by the blinding light behind her.

She looked up at him and said, “I live across the beachfront road. Would you like to come over for a drink?”

And he remembers.

He remembers the feeling of the delicate membrane that separated both entrances to her world as he clasped her with his thumb and index finger. How she clasped both his hands and sucked on his fingers. The neat rows of medical books that lined the walls of her small study. And how, bathed in the ochre rays of the late afternoon sun, a small army of African figurines peered down at them as they made love on the carpet, statuettes of scowling men hunting and women bursting with the promise of pregnancy.

But it was the anxious look in her green eyes that stayed with him. That fleeting hesitation as she lay there, before she removed her T-shirt. At first, she hugged herself, and then gradually unfolded her arms, allowing them to rest at her sides. He reached out to touch her, and raised his lips to the scarred remains of the breast she had just revealed. He kissed and licked its nipple, leaving a shiny trail of saliva across her damaged skin. Like a stream trickling across the surface of a sun-baked desert, he thought.

“I feel as if I have known you for millions of years,” he said to her.

He jolts upright to the blare of a blue-and-white car; a cop signals him to get going. The pain in his stomach returns, again. He is running out of time and late for his final editing session at his studio in Jaffa. Around him, night had morphed into daybreak. The lifeguard tower was manned, and the beach was slowly coming to life as the beachfront hotels spat out the morning’s first batch of sunburned tourists.

Finally, once in the studio, he hurries to complete the finishing touches to his black-and-white prints of women so similar to Avital. Women he has made his life’s work to immortalize, shots of perfect imperfection. Whether Avital had survived her cancer or not he does not know; he had never seen her again after that afternoon. However, her urgency that day suggested to him that she, too, had been counting down the days.

With his hand clasping his stomach, he sits back in his chair, and thinks of the final arrangements in preparation for his photography exhibit at the Institute for Breast Cancer. Hopefully, Avital would be there. He would like to say goodbye to her.

He remembers.

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Daniel Beaudoin is currently writing his PhD at Tel Aviv University in Israel, where he also teaches, on the subject of humanitarian diplomacy. He is also a represented conceptual artist and a passionate note taker. Sometimes he wishes he could write more the way a Francis Bacon painting makes him feel: raw, uncertain, shaken and emotional. He volunteers as a mentor for high school pupils, loves the laughter of his children, the feeling when his wife is close and the second movement of Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto #2. Email: beaudoin.dnl[at]gmail.com

All the Money in the World

Fiction
Michael S. Wolfe


Winter Storm Take Off
Photo Credit: Chris/Dr.DeNo

Buddy VandenCamp, who learned to find the capital of Indonesia on a map at the age of three, who failed to find pleasure in video games, and had a hard time making friends throughout childhood, was always a bit of a mystery. Even Marie Koller had a hard time with him. She was the first girl who fell in love with him. She told him several years after their first meeting that she had not liked him at first blush: his eyebrows were unusually bushy, and he was short, maybe half an inch taller than she, and scrawny like a cornstalk. It was kind of shallow, she admitted.

Buddy’s family lived on a widespread ranch in North Dakota near the Minnesota border, and his father was a rancher. From a young age, before he learned to read, his father had told him he had a way with cattle that made him an asset on the ranch. The beef stock trusted him, walked wherever he prodded them into walking, as though they knew their fate and accepted it, just because Buddy was so nice to them. But Buddy never took to the work with any real interest, and at sixteen he got a job at Gator Gulch Putt-Putt where he handled an assortment of colored golf balls, putters, scorecards, miniature pencils and cash.

The manager, Mr. Martin, was probably the closest thing to a best friend that Buddy had, although they never saw each other outside of work. “A good worker,” was how Mr. Martin would have probably described Buddy, if someone had been interested enough to ask. “Not that there’s a whole lot of hard work to be done around here,” he might have added, for the sake of fairness.

It was true, Buddy liked the business of miniature golf over ranching because it was easier, but also because Marie worked there. Five months after he started working there, he asked her to dinner, and she said yes. There was not much in terms of elegant dining in the town where they lived, but near the end of Coal Valley Road, the road where Buddy lived, there was a Chinese restaurant where the waiters declined to ask for ID, so they ordered rum and Cokes, daiquiris, piña coladas. It was the only ethnic restaurant Buddy had ever been to.

Their time together at Gator Gulch Putt-Putt stretched into two years before Marie found another job tutoring younger students in math and English. She was saving to go to college. Eventually, she saved enough to quit her job at Gator Gulch, and by then, she and Buddy were living together. They shared an apartment, and Buddy came home to her on weekdays, and on weekends when she worked later, she came home to him. It was a happy arrangement, because they loved each other, and so the small space seemed more than adequate. Buddy was happy to live away from his parents, even if they only lived ten miles up the road.

 

Soon after they began living together, Buddy sensed that they were too different for each other. Neighbors didn’t believe she was really his girlfriend: she was too pretty for him, and too ambitious. She had long hair the color of dark beer, intense brown eyes behind smart glasses. She dressed in elegant black skirts, or flaming red saris that made her look like a foreigner among the girls in North Dakota. She eventually planned to go to medical school. And she had a longing to travel, to see the world before it changed into something else.

Buddy sympathized, but he wondered what he would do with himself while was she away.

“Save your money,” she told him. “Come to Europe with me.”

“Hmm, I don’t know.”

He never imagined he would leave the country. He’d never even been on an airplane. The local airport in Fargo was semi-famous for being Buddy Holly’s intended destination on the day he died in a plane crash in Iowa. Buddy, who noted that he and Buddy Holly had the same name, as well as the same glasses, wondered aloud if they shared similar luck with aircraft.

“Buddy Holly’s plane was a tiny prop plane,” said Marie. “We’d be taking a 747 most likely.”

“Well, you sound like you really know what you’re talking about,” he told her.

She did. Marie had already traveled—without dying—to many places that Buddy had never been to. Minneapolis had an international airport, and she’d flown from there to Montreal to visit relatives a few times. As a couple, she and Buddy had even done some light traveling, but never involving aircraft. Sometimes they took the bus to the cinema in Fargo, which offered a five-dollar matinee on weekends, and once they drove north to Grand Forks to see the North Dakota Museum of Art, which was closed when they got there. The Amtrak Empire Builder stopped in Fargo, and went as far west as Portland, though they had only taken the route as far as Devils Lake, North Dakota.

Buddy saved his money and then quit his job at Gator Gulch Putt-Putt, a move which pleased him greatly and mortified Marie.

“Buddy, this is completely crazy. What are you going to do for money? That was a good job.”

“I don’t care,” said Buddy. “I hated that job. I mean, I worked there for almost three years. I can’t be in the miniature golf business my whole life.”

“You have pretty much the worst timing in the world, though,” said Marie. “Really. We’re going to Vienna, and you have to buy a plane ticket for that. God, Buddy. This is the just the greatest timing ever.”

He disliked her condescension, as though he had no idea he had to buy a plane ticket to go to Vienna, as though he’d planned on taking the bus or hitchhiking.

He knew she loved him, but perhaps it was hard for her to picture him doing anything else. She perhaps thought badly of his skills, questioned whether he could ever amount to anything special. He talked about becoming a doctor, but this only mirrored Marie’s aspirations. They couldn’t both become doctors, she told him. She didn’t know how much that had hurt him.

They flew to Minneapolis. Buddy had expected a large aircraft with massive wingspan, but Marie explained to him why they used tiny jets for shorter flights.

“You tricked me,” said Buddy.

“Yeah, but it’ll be worth it.”

He closed his eyes when the wheels touched down. From Minneapolis, they flew to New York, and then to Vienna. It was wintertime. It snowed in Vienna, the fat flakes twirling as they fell, and this reminded Buddy of home. But the foothills of the Eastern Alps were taller than the tallest peaks in North Dakota, and more beautiful. And Vienna was by far the most sophisticated city he’d ever been to. They visited the Hofburg Palace and the Schönbrunn Palace. They visited cathedrals and museums, gardens and cemeteries.

They stayed with a friend of Marie’s—Elisabeth—an American who studied music at the Konservatorium Wien. Marie and Elisabeth were pen pals who had never met. Elisabeth seemed unusually interested in Buddy’s life history, asking him many questions about life in North Dakota—was it really cold in the wintertime?—what kind of animals do you raise on the ranch?—is it better or worse than South Dakota?

He had a hard time figuring out Elisabeth. She spoke beginner’s German with her Austrian friends, dipping into her English vocabulary sometimes, dragging herself out with help. She hadn’t lived in the states for many years. She said her family lived in West Virginia.

Buddy and Marie enjoyed Elisabeth’s nice apartment, but made an effort not to spend too much time there. They visited the city during the day, staying out for dinner and drinks, coming back only to sleep and wake up. They wolfed down Viennese cuisine like starving people: they scarfed down Wiener schnitzel, Apfelstrudel, ribs slathered with sauerkraut.

On their last night they went for a final walk through Vienna, Buddy enjoying the city lights and the cathedrals and cafés a little less than he might have if Marie were speaking to him. She wasn’t angry with him—she was just meditative sometimes, as silent as a Buddhist monastery. They walked past an accordion busker in the Wiener Prater, the waltz music fading as they followed the avenue between rows of horse chestnuts.

Back at Elisabeth’s place, while Elisabeth was at the cinema with a date, Buddy and Marie made plans for their lives in America. It was all Marie’s idea, one of her serious talks she demanded of him periodically, something he frowned upon for its pretense of importance. Buddy never planned for anything in the future—it was just a trait ingrained in him by years of having nothing to look forward to.

“What are you going to do when we go back?” she asked him.

Buddy shrugged. “Get a job. Work.”

“Work where? The only field you’ve ever worked in was miniature golf. And you hate ranching.”

“I’m not that worried about it,” he said.

“Maybe you should be!”

He hated to fight with her, but she insisted on it. And then once he got dragged into it, he couldn’t stop himself. He fought with her over her college plans. And she said: “Dammit, Buddy, we’ve gone over this.”

“Have you decided which school you want to go to?” he said, pressing her.

“Not yet. I’m still deciding between Stanford and Vanderbilt. But that’s only if I decide to go at all.”

Buddy’s spirits lifted. “You mean you might not go? What about Stanford? At least it’s not so far away.”

“California’s still pretty far. I’m just not sure I’m up to it.”

Buddy was certain her indecisiveness had everything to do with him. What would happen to them if Marie moved to California? She would never see him again. She would hook up with college guys, end up marrying a neurosurgeon. He wondered if she would be better off without him, but then he always knew his own life would be worse without her. He held onto her, like a lucky bracelet.

 

Of course, he thought of her as more than just that. Part of him wanted her to go to medical school, to become a doctor, to publish articles in well-known medical journals. He pictured himself sitting in her room, helping her study for tests. Anatomy 101. But in real life he felt useless around her.

When they flew back to Minneapolis, Marie’s friend Caitlin picked her up at the airport. They planned to go on an overnight shopping trip at the Mall of America. Not wanting to stick around in Minnesota, Buddy bought a bus ticket to Fargo, and from there, decided to take a taxi to visit his parents.

It was the beginning of February. The bison farms on Coal Valley Road seemed to go on forever, the homogenous coat of white unbroken by houses or woods or frozen rivers. Everything seemed wasted away, nature falling into a state of disrepair. There were no trees anywhere. Some of the bison had flecks of white piling up in their fur, their heavy heads sagging behind strips of razor wire.

Buddy had the driver drop him off at the liquor store, about a half-mile before the ranch. The heat inside the store crashed into him like a wave. The fluorescent lighting seemed much too bright as he stepped into its glare from the canvas-of-grey sky that was empty of sun. He spent the last of his cash on two bottles of Wild Turkey and some bison jerky. The clerk recognized him: they had gone to high school together. Same algebra class. No kidding. Everybody on Coal Valley Road seemed to know everybody else—it was just a fact of life. The clerk probably thought Buddy was just fucking with him when he failed to reciprocate the recognition. He told Buddy to have a nice day, and dropped a bunch of dimes and nickels into Buddy’s frozen hand.

Outside, the snow had stopped falling, but the road to the ranch was choked with slush, in parts muddy like a root-beer flavored Icee. The taxi was gone. He hiked down the road until his feet ached and his ribs burned. He pulled up his rolling suitcase to his hip and stopped at the side of the road to rest. A few cars and trucks drove past.

When he got to the house, he pushed open the door and found the place empty. His parents must have gone out somewhere. He walked through each of the rooms, lingering a little. He remembered the day he’d moved in with Marie, when he packed his suitcase and stood in his old bedroom and thought to himself: This could be the last time I ever step foot in this place. Of course, it was easy to visit his parents anytime he wanted, because they lived so close. He just never wanted to.

He took his bag from the liquor store into his bedroom, and began to drink. He sat there for two hours, till he drank the first bottle all the way down, then opened his bag of bison jerky. His throat burned from the strong bourbon.

When he opened the second bottle, he imagined what it would be like to pass out or drink himself to death, having his parents walk in to find him slumped on the floor. The more he drank, the more delight came to him from this thought. He delighted to think of his father’s anger, and his mother’s disappointment. But then he thought of Marie, finally, and he found he couldn’t swallow another drop. He brought the bottle to his lips but couldn’t make it go down, couldn’t get the picture of her out of his mind. The shred of respect she might still have for him was something he had to preserve, and so he got up and stumbled out the door into the cold.

 

The next day, when Marie came back from Minneapolis with a carload of stuff from the mall, Buddy began to sense the end of things. Marie seemed more distant, like she was hiding something. Buddy still felt the sting of exhaustion from their trip to Vienna, the jet lag, and wondered if Marie suffered from the same. He had felt bored during the day, waiting for her to finally come home. When she pushed opened the door, he believed in her as someone who could rescue him from his boredom; he thought she would talk to him about her time at the mall, and they would mention how they missed each other. Instead, Marie groaned in frustration.

“What’s wrong?” said Buddy.

“I’m looking for an icepack, but I can’t find one.”

“Do you have a headache?”

She groaned again with more aggression. “No, I don’t have a headache. I hurt my back.”

“Oh.”

“I must have hurt it carrying things out of the trunk.”

Buddy stared at her from the couch. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“Yeah, well. Fuck.”

She swallowed aspirin and went to their bedroom to lie down, but ten minutes later she went into the kitchen and heated up some macaroni and cheese. An hour later, the phone rang.

“That was Caitlin,” she told him. “We’re going out for a drink.”

Buddy’s heart sank. He had hoped they would stay home and watch a movie, and eat dinner together. Besides, it was bad to mix pain relievers with alcohol.

Marie seemed happier now, on her way out. She said “Bye,” not “I love you,” and he thought he heard relief in her voice. The door shut hard behind her.

During the next week, Buddy spent his days looking for a job, partly because he thought it would please Marie. He thought about going to Mr. Martin to ask for his old job back, but the miniature golf course shut down once the blizzards came. No one wanted to play miniature golf in two feet of snow. He applied for a job at the post office, but they weren’t interested in him. No one was, not even the hunting supply store where his dad’s cousin had owned the business for fifteen years. Marie paid the rent for their one-bedroom apartment.

On Friday, when Marie had off from work, they both stayed home and played Monopoly. Buddy played the banker, sorting out cash for both of them, counting houses and hotels. The game was a waste of time in his opinion, but it made her happy. He, too, used to enjoy all kinds of board games, but now? Now he was older and less easily amused. He hated board games.

But then he landed on Free Parking seven times during their game, loving every moment of it. He loved Marie’s protests of half-genuine rage. Her theater of agony, the feline whining that sounded vaguely invitational. Their disparity of luck that actually brought them closer to each other, because the money was not real. The banking industry, under his control, was benevolent and forgiving.

As he put away the game pieces, Marie went into the kitchen for a glass of milk and then came back and sat on the couch. Buddy felt her eyes on the back of his head.

“Buddy, we need to talk,” she said finally.

Buddy could feel what was coming, but a part of him still resisted the truth of what he’d known all along; he acted stupid, intensely interested in her every word, because she could say anything at all.

They both cried. She told him through a blur of sobs that she was moving to California after all, that it was the end of the road for them. Buddy tried to salvage things, even when Marie resisted him. He had a penchant for salvaging.

“You know, just because you move away, it doesn’t necessarily mean we have to break up.”

“I know, I know. It’s just that…”

“You know, we could talk on the phone. I could visit you, even.”

“Buddy, it’s not just that.”

“What are you talking about? You’re only going to college. It’s not that big of a deal. I know I thought it was a big deal, but I thought about it. It’s really not.”

“Buddy.”

He couldn’t stand this. Like never before, he felt the threat of extinction—it was more like a bullet to the back of the head than the slow erosion he’d imagined. He felt like he had to keep talking, had to keep objecting to everything she said. And then he stopped. And then she told him everything would be better if she left as soon as possible. How could they stand to keep sharing this tiny apartment? It was unbearable.

She packed her things quickly, but it took until afternoon the next day to finish. They still slept in the same bed, and when he woke up next to her in the morning, he noted the shaft of sunlight bleeding through the window, falling on top of her back and shoulders; he noticed the pleasing length of her hair. It was hard to push away the knowledge that they had broken up. He wanted to make love with her, but he felt somehow afraid of touching her.

He swung his feet onto the floor, and sat there many moments, thinking to himself. The room was chilly, because the window was left partly open. Weak sunlight like lemon juice poured through without warmth. He thought only about Marie. He wished he could have made things turn out different, so they wouldn’t have broken up. Part of him wished that he’d been rich, or had a job that paid good wages, so the burden of money wouldn’t have squeezed the life out of her. He wished he’d saved his money and then had stayed away from Vienna. But then, he understood that Marie cared about so many things besides money, that even if they had all the money in the world, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Or even if they were poorer than poor. He thought about moving to California to be with her, but knew it would never work. It was not an issue of love. He believed now they were meant to be together, then torn apart.

Later in the day, when Marie had woken up and packed the rest of her stuff, they shared a plate of moo shu chicken from the Chinese restaurant, talking about their plans.

She told him she was taking a taxi to the airport.

Buddy said nothing. He shoveled the food into his mouth with chopsticks, eating at a faster pace, as though to avoid responding.

“Will you come outside with me?” she asked.

They carried her things outside, where the beautiful golden wheat fields next to their apartment block would flourish in the spring. The snow had melted away now, but winter still lingered. The two of them shivered in the biting wind.

Buddy watched the blue sky as an airplane droned overhead. Then, sooner than he would have liked, the taxi appeared on the icy back road.

Marie squeezed him. “I love you,” she said. He said it back, whisper-thin.

They kissed. The door clicked open, and she got in. The car inched forward, then carried her away, finally disappearing behind a hill. It left behind the faint traces of gasoline in his nostrils, and nothing else.

Buddy shivered again. Then he walked back inside the apartment, where the world was slightly warmer.

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Michael S. Wolfe is a writer and musician living in Santa Fe, NM. His story “Sitka-by-the-sea” was published as his thesis at The New School in Newark, DE and his story “Thunder on the Mountain” has appeared in Midwest Literary Magazine. Email: michaelswolfe[at]comcast.net

An Aversion To Blue

Fiction
Philip Dodd


Roger Hiorns - Seizure
Photo Credit: Ben Grantham

She had an aversion to blue. It started the very second she was born. She was comfortable in the deep red of the womb, but then the womb was ripped open by the surgeon’s knife and she was plucked out of her safe haven, into the icy white blue of the operating theatre. She was held aloft by the surgeon. She looked straight into his copper sulphate blue eyes and screamed.

An aversion is not to be confused with an allergy, of course. This was no condition that could be treated by drugs. She had what was truly an aversion to blue. She hated it, despised it. couldn’t tolerate being near it. All blues were bad but some more than others. She could just about tolerate the milky blue of the average English sky, but a clear summer’s day was one on which she would stay at home. Pale blue, baby blue, and powder blue all left a nasty taste in the mouth, but no more than that. But anything approaching the copper sulphate blue, the deep cobalt blue of the surgeon’s eyes, could cause a rage coupled with feelings of panic, fear, and a deep revulsion.

Life was a minefield for the girl; her path seemed peppered with blue bombs. A trip to the seaside was a lottery. She’d only ever agree if the day was overcast and the forecast poor. Then she’d be nervous for the rest of the day, hoping that the cloud barrier would be maintained. Whenever her grandmother and grandfather took her out there would need to be meticulous planning.

“We’re not going anywhere blue are we grandma?”

“No dear. Just for a cup of tea and a slice of cake.”

That particular trip ended in disaster and a lesson well learnt. Establishments that sell cake accompanied by small dessert forks tend to also indulge in the provision of capacious amounts of blue glazed pottery. It all arrived at the table on one big tray and the waitress went to set it down on the table, right next to the girl. It was an instinctive reaction, as she felt genuinely under attack. She flung out her fists, screwing her eyes up and smashed the tray from the waitress’s hands before it had even reached the table. For weeks afterwards, shards of pretty blue pottery were to be found in obscure corners of the tea room. The girl cut her hands in the act of smashing the tray to one side. The warm red was a comfort and a refuge from the blue. Tea rooms were added to the list of places now out of bounds. I can’t even bear to tell you about the day they had naively tried to take her to the nice new swimming baths.

She had a particular phrase she used when she had one of her attacks:

“I had a bluey while I was at the shop.”

She’d be sick a little in her mouth; she’d have to swallow it down, and feel the goosebumps rise on her terrified skin. Her joints would stick with congealed fat, her heart pumping the red stuff faster to counteract the blue.

As she got older she knew what to avoid and did so. Her state-of-the-art Ray-Ban sunglasses helped. It also gave a convenient excuse to head back indoors, as people assumed she suffered from crippling migraines. Her aversion was managed, and generally hidden. Her career actually blossomed. In the large, open-plan office she did still sometimes pinball between the desks from pretty blue dress to pretty blue dress, always ending in a toilet cubicle violently retching and trying to compose herself. As a consequence of this, others added bulimia to the list of ailments they presumed she suffered from.

Her fashion sense became pronounced, but limited in a somewhat predictable way. Reds, greens, yellows, and even purple, but never the colour to which she was averse. All was going swimmingly till the day her new boss arrived. She was to be his secretary, and he’d meant well, but frankly the arrangement was never going to survive their first meeting. He turned up at her desk that Monday.

“Hello there, I understand we’re going to be working together.”

He’d said this from behind her. She turned in her chair to find that she was being offered flowers, in a blue vase. By a man in a very sharp suit. Unfortunately, this was also blue. Taken by surprise, she immediately panicked and knocked the vase from his hand. She was hyperventilating.

“What the… hey, look if you’re allergic to them or something I’m really sorry.” He went to put his hand on her arm to steady her whilst she struggled for breath.

“Get. Off. Me.” She threw the stapler at him and caught him smartly on the chin. Then she went at him with the scissors. They lodged somewhere in his shoulder, and she knew she had to run. He slipped to his knees trying to figure out what he had done. Her colleagues hadn’t really taken in what had happened and were too stunned to stop her.

She burst onto the street and headed for her car. Putting her Ray-Bans on helped slightly; her pulse slowed, and as she headed for the outskirts of town, her breathing began to ease.

That was one serious bluey. I could have killed him. I’ll be in enough trouble anyway.

Being scared of blue was unlikely to be of much assistance in court. She kept driving. The outskirts of town were mostly industrial. Mostly closed down as well. Only the huge plant that made the paint pigment was still going; the others were all closed. The pigment they made was white, which I’m sure will come as a great relief to all of you.

Then came the sirens. She looked in her rearview mirror and saw flashing lights.

Fucking marvellous, the boys in blue. She couldn’t help but laugh at the irony.

She was coming up to the old shipyard. She flung the steering wheel to one side and fired the car through the wire fence. The car bumped over rough ground and she was flung about a bit but kept going. The police cars were just behind her now. Then without a sniff of a warning the car was in the air, plummeting down. It smashed into the bottom of the dry dock. The car creased and tumbled, before coming to a halt on its side. She felt pain in an arm that was clearly broken. She cried tears of rage as she realised that she was trapped, and worst of all that she had no feeling in her legs. Chunks of light clicked off, and the sun switched off last.

 

When she came to, there was a voice speaking to her.

“We’re going to try and get you out of here but you have to be patient, it’ll take us a while.”

She realised that she couldn’t see properly.

“Open your mouth and take a sip.”

He stroked her arm whilst she drank, and did his best to drape a blanket over her shoulders.

“I could have killed him. I’m so sorry.” The tears came again.

“Hey, hey. Don’t worry about that now, we have to try and get you out of here. The other guys are going to try and open up the roof so we can get you out.”

“I can’t feel my legs. I can feel with my fingers they’re wet, I think I’m bleeding.” She sobbed quietly as it sank in that she may not get out alive.

He leaned in and tried to clean up her head. She had bled from a nasty cut and it had run into her eyes and mouth. He touched her so gently. No one had ever been so delicate with her. She wanted to thank him but there was no strength left in her voice.

As he dabbed and smoothed round her eyes she looked up at him. The most gentle, beautiful face, and the most amazing copper sulphate blue eyes. She took a sharp breath. But no fear came. He smiled at her and took her hand.

“Everything will be ok. Just stay with me.”

She saw the kindness in his cobalt eyes, set in the prettiest creases you could ever see.

I wish I could, she thought. The lights began to blink off piece by piece. The car didn’t exist any more, neither did blue pottery, or stupid blue glass vases. They all disappeared, until the only things left in the whole world were his eyes. She then heard nothing, felt nothing, but a deep, deep blue.

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Philip Dodd writes stories; some are fact, some are fiction. They can be funny, or they might be sad, and are often about memory and how we are shaped. He lives in the UK at Otford, Kent, a small village just outside London. You can find him at Domesticated Bohemian and on Twitter as @PhilipDodd. Email: philip.dodd77[at]gmail.com

Future Historians Look Back

Flash
Jeffrey Bakkensen


manure cart
Photo Credit: Greg Fallis

The fairgrounds opened promptly at ten, but at dawn the tail end of the admissions line had already stretched past the tennis courts on Waverley and out into Lake Street, slowing traffic towards the business improvement district. The stalls had been evacuated of champion cows and pigs just the night before, and the smell of something distinctly barnish hung in the air throughout the morning. No matter. The spectators had come to the fairgrounds for enlightenment, and that, they received in spades.

This year’s event, titled Future Historians Look Back, offered the interested an early opportunity to hear from some of tomorrow’s most eminent authorities as they discussed the issues that would enter the annals as definitive of our time. Seminars and panel discussions included “The Lyricism of Gaga,” “Sports as Religion in the Early Twenty-first Century,” and “Economic Policies of the Late Republican Party.” The hay in the livestock viewing areas was trampled underfoot as economists, historians and students of law pushed forward to hear the sage words of our future wise men. One by one, the budding Herodotuses and Thucydideses climbed or were carried up the stepladder to the podium and delivered their kernels of truth to the general audience, which quickly found favorites.

For most of us, the highlight of the morning was a panel of toddling linguists and media scholars discussing the theme “Fin De Siècle At the Beginning of the Second Millennium.”

L. Kenneth Kind, age eight, dominated the early goings with his position that we have reached not only the end of history, but of art as well. To quote the conclusion of his prepared remarks:

There is nothing new to be said, no social interactions remaining unexplored, no cultural touchstones that have not been discovered to be fraudulent. There is nothing that shocks anymore, and because there is nothing that shocks, there is no humor. Without humor, there is no redemption, and without redemption there is no art. Finis.

Those assembled shivered in excitement to be at the end of something, to view the dissolution of old forms. We stood breathless in our sudden freedom. But it wouldn’t be so easy. Jeremy Peterman, seven, of Swampscott, countered that evolving technology and cultural norms would always introduce new circumstances requiring new creative paradigms; every story in all of history is just adaptation within contemporary frameworks. He in turn was shouted down by a pair of twins in unisex jean overalls, who pointed to the long creative decline in television and film and the accompanying corporatization of the industry. Near the end of our allotted time, Erin Krutz, also seven, drew cheers and more than a few cynical guffaws when she suggested that the decline of formal venues might offer exciting possibilities for lived art, for art as experience, a shared value-making process involving both participants and consumers. She would have kept on, but just then we broke for crust-free peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, and most of the afternoon was spent napping.

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Jeff Bakkensen was born and raised in Andover, MA, and got his start writing books for and about his favorite stuffed animals. When these failed to draw a wide audience, he moved on to Georgetown University, where he played rugby. When a tragic graduation cut short his athletic career, he moved to Chicago, where he currently works for an educational nonprofit. He anticipates his next move will bring him fame and riches. Email: jeffrey.bakkensen[at]gmail.com

Four Poems

Poetry
Yermiyahu Ahron Taub


homework
Photo Credit: Tony Delgrosso

Eavesdropping

This is some of what can be found in a book:
who owned it: from the library of … ,
the signing, the shapes of the scrawl the ardor vibrating in the dedication:
for Dorothea, in fond remembrance of our sojourn in Bratislava
and, as if in Morse code, the notes of others:
tell Jon to bring home the bacon!

This is some of what can be left in a book:
store receipts (especially the handwritten ones from the vintage shops)
doctor’s prescriptions Chinese fortune cookie maxims plumber bills
the phone number of the man in the shadows of an East Village dive bar
the photo of the ex with the PFLAG moms at a Pride parade
the after-hours pass to visit Mother in the hospital still so crisp

This is some of what can be felt on a book:
the red and yellow ink hovering just above the margins of its pages
the fingers that smudged caressed the corners and passed them
on and on until they arrived in this antiques mart off the interstate
delivered to me skepticism measured weighed until finally
banished by the fact of these words cosseted this object discovered

the fragrances of fellowship in the 24-hour diner
care for a refill, hon
the disappearance of sugar cube into freshly-brewed elixir
as the crowd files in for the bars have finally let out
whatever are the no-longer baby dykes wearing these days
the waitresses returning the flirt

the plot argument rhythm music that cannot be set aside for all this
ruckus so sweet the dénouement revealed conversion confirmed in
the contentment of the reader framed Hopperesquely in the plate window
born of these words framed just so in the unhurried turning of page
in the hard hats overalls the arrival can it be already
of the early morning construction worker shift

the silt scattering from gingerly opened covers years later
pottery fragments from a classical era
the unbinding of manuscript splinters from
the (almost musty) binding of accepted truth
hieroglyphics you will have to master some day
come now gather and decipher

 

Prayers, In Dialogic Embrace

I.

Let his gifts deliver him
from these cinderblock rooms
in this concrete tower
high above grounds
littered with needles
and those whispering their wares in daylight
whom I alongside others have tried to no avail to eradicate

Let him steer his gifts clear of
certain women whether of night or of day
with their curves and temptation
the pleasure fleeting
and of men salivating who will approach him
with trifles and certainties that never materialize
leaving him slumped in front of the early afternoon television

Let his body in its glory truly a temple rippling and massive
so hard it is to find clothes that fit
that I have fed with chicken and salads not easy to come by here
yet still so fragile for all its might
be shielded on the field from the stomp of metal the pull of hands
the collision of bodies just as disciplined
and the snap of bone the tear of sinew irreparable

Let him enter rooms lined with books
after and before the ball has been thrown and carried
find meaning in the words that move over the page and screen
in labor that is quiet and demanding in another way
that I have never experienced for reasons beyond this prayer
but whose riches I see even as others refuse so to do.
Do not forsake him, O Lord, for on Your earth, he is all I have.

II.

Let my body deliver us
to where she can walk without fear
of her groceries being stolen
pears rolling bruised out of reach
or her purse snatched for purchase of junk
the devil’s powdery redemption
delivered on a carpet of glass shards

Let me not fall into the snare of those
who seek only glitter and escape through flesh
who see not my heart’s tentative steps
into the forest primeval
of those who hope to trip me up
with numbers extravagant and words misleading
leaving me locked in a not-even-crawl-space before my time

Let this body sprung somehow from her own in middle age
nourished and sheltered with wisdom I did not always honor
be so adept that she need no longer bend to tend
granite counters and marble tiles and mahogany planks
those ungiving surfaces so unforgiving of bones and joints
and the soft ones too equally terrible the silk nightie and
lace panties tossed aside on unmade beds for her to handle

Let me forge a path to rooms barred alas to so many
with bindings black and brown and red in solemnity
my eyes agile over pages under green light
into a rapture small just right so that she shall be rescued at last
from the snake oil salesmen with their coffered prophecies
so that we may seek Your word together, O Lord,
in the arbor of Eden’s delighted gardens.

 

Staged Reading

She responded to the ad at a friend’s suggestion,
albeit with reluctance.
It had been decades since she had spoken the language,
longer still since reading it.
She had not been the most attentive of after-school students,
as her mother used to remind her, in an institution not unlike this one.
Dredging was the only verb for all of this, she thought.

She made no effort to disguise her concern to the coordinator,
who only pooh-poohed her.
It’s like riding a bike, she chuckled grimly.
And then with greater candor: Besides, it’s able bodies we need here.
The corridors, painted in beiges and taupes, failed to
mitigate the occupants in various stages of disintegration.

Nor could the games the game shows the flowers the orderlies in pastels
muffle the walkers the canes and buzz of the hearing aids
the televisions too loud the pills almost forgotten the wigs askew.
The paraphernalia of the past-prime, the din of near-death, she shivered.
She placed her hand on the door knob to his room.
How ought his role be named? Charge? Listener? Readee?

He sat in a wheelchair by the window, wisps of hair fluttering
over dark glasses, wearing a gray oxford shirt
and black dress slacks, a whiff of after-shave hovering.
Someone had taken great care. After introductions, she opened
the volume (from the right side), the letters neither exotic nor familiar.
Dreading a tumult of emotion, she had not prepared for the reading.

And yet the words tumbled forth, the vowels providing signage.
She chose a classic monologue about a ne’er-do-well husband
and his wife long-suffering, given to juicy invective. A way of life closing.
Sometimes he would interrupt, or rather, call out along with the text,
as if her reading simply confirmed what he already knew
and had always known these many years, only waiting for someone,

for her specifically, this no-longer young woman in tweeds,
to make it spoken. When she looked up, or came to, night had arrived.
His head did not droop; his eyes smiled.
She blushed at his compliments on her reading, at his gratitude
gushed. If only my students … flitted through her mind.
Jittery now, she leaned into his left ear, peppered with black hair.
À tout à l’heure, she whispered, of course there will be a next time.

 

The Woman Who Did Not Turn Her Sorrow Into Art

You won’t find her in a music video,
in grainy black and white,
walking down the river bank,
neo-Gothic national palaces opposite,
raising her forgiveness heavenwards
in a glorious soprano.

You won’t find her at an open mike,
or a closed one for that matter,
spewing her fury scrawled on a notepad
or roiled on a smart phone,
safe, however momentarily,
in the solace of those who’d been there.

You won’t find her in a black box theater
regaling the assembled with vignettes
on being spurned carefully spun,
with an uplifting end so as not to deflate,
costumes magically changed,
color and shadow slicing despair into Technicolor shards.

Here she is instead:
on the window sill of her garret lodgings
retracing the path of his fingers nimble with her buttons,
sauntering over her nipples,
her breasts remembering pleasure in its initial,
most essential incarnation.

Here she is instead:
with a friend considering this frock and that—
apple green for a summer picnic in an orchard of any kind,
midnight blue for an evening with a (true) gentleman—
at the mirror of the cosmetics counter, dabbing with discernment,
networks of blue confetti around eyes green and deserted.

Here she is the last time we see her:
curled up in a ball on the floor,
racked with sobs,
snot pooling on the floor boards,
her father’s warning her to dare not return
lashing her belly just beginning to swell.

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Yermiyahu Ahron Taub is the author of three poetry collections, Uncle Feygele (Plain View Press, 2011), What Stillness Illuminated/Vos shtilkayt hot baloykhtn (Parlor Press, 2008; Free Verse Editions series), and The Insatiable Psalm (Wind River Press, 2005). His English– and Yiddish-language poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Five Fingers Review, The Forward, and Lilliput Review. A Pushcart Prize nominee, he was honored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage as one of New York’s best emerging Jewish artists. Please visit his web site at YATaub.net. Email: yermiyahutaub[at]yahoo.com

Three Poems

Poetry
Nathaniel Murphy


I made a wish and you came true
Photo Credit: Cristina Corti

Worldly Responsivity

triumphant
like dandelions on the lawn
I sing beauty
through the destruction
of serenity
sending hopeful winces
like schadenfreude embraces
down otherwise conservative spines

resplendent
like long curves
in the fold of
smooth afternoons
hazy and nostalgic
for another face
that seemed to have
meant something then

illustrious
like the name of the one
who slips through
mercury synapses
I leave traces
in futurity
like clues to find
your way home

zealous
like the newborn
hunting for speech
letting sensations
rot vacant
in memories misshapen
yet formed
with a precision
like gold

tenuous
like backwards narratives
wove around
diachronic clocks
that tick millennially
or not at all

 

giveaways

free quilts on the sidewalks
might smell a little musty
but they are full of
life and old winters
and quite frankly
shyness only gets
you so far

 

Another Night Together

We will dance ourselves
beyond
what we thought sustainable…
where we imagined
the limits of oblivion to be
standing there naked
trying to pretend new skins
trying to lend
each other light
beyond what we previously thought necessary
to behold one another longer
than mirages in animation
teasing out old thoughts
along the circumference of
a life still beholden
to what is beyond
the essence of trite distant fairy tales
where I win you win we win
and in the end
there is nothing left
but dancing beyond

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Nathaniel Murphy is a stay-at-home father of four sons. He is a recent BA recipient in Philosophy from California State University Fullerton and will be entering the PhD for Comparative Literature program at University of California Irvine in the fall. Email: nmurphy3[at]me.com

The Inside of an Eighth-Grade Girl

Poetry
Kira Moore


Untitled
Photo Credit: Laura/Lauuiz

She felt lost in the world of people.
To be in a book’s realm
Felt more comfortable.

The real world was a struggle,
And she didn’t know how to
Deal with such worries and problems.
She felt like she didn’t know herself,
As if she looked in a mirror and
Saw a different person.

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Kira Moore is 13 years old and loves writing. She has one sister, who’s 16. She’s creative, outgoing, and enjoys writing as much as she enjoys art. Stephen King’s story, Desperation, truly inspired her to begin writing. Poetry is much easier for her because it allows her to bluntly describe emotions, or a thought deep within her mind. Email: kiramlovesschool[at]gmail.com

Five Poems

Poetry
B.T. Joy


Dewdrop in the morning
Photo Credit: hatalmas

In Sun And Summer Dew

“I want your sun to reach my raindrops,
so your heat can raise my soul
upward like a cloud.”
—Rumi

today each man and woman is a raindrop
and the truth, a shaft of steady daylight

today we see the coloured blooms that lay
within us, dry as seeds, through wintering

and we remember that every sphere of dew
holds, at its deepest centre, an image of the sun

your hand in mine and two stars are shared between us;
the stars of your eyes and the hardness of this body
burns away like insubstantial rain

 

Dispersion

morning sun scattering from the prism
and even the cynic is caught in the show
all the physical properties of light
colours trancing, in shifts on the wall,

it doesn’t matter that some have taken colour for their life’s work;
join with the eyes, that bathe in rainbows, or define
light in proofs as beautiful as songs

it is all praise; a reason to grasp this mystery with both hands,
to watch the answers sift, between fingers, like daylight through glass

 

In Search Of Jia Dao’s Buddha

cloud obscures the hill
winds change; a hill obscuring cloud
they say this is the way with gladness
long summer days when the cherry-blossoms admitted
only reddish light into the partial shade

and we sat on garden benches hoping for direct sun
now ash-coloured dawn through bare limbs and the quiet haze of rain

I have risen from these wet pines; to seek the master in the fog entangled hills
and leading me, through this cloud, each now and then, a scent of mountain herbs

 

A Meditation On The Age Of Love

to be the earth with its one satellite
and the moon that circles its single joy

we’ve been heard to say this romance was invented
in the poetry of Aquitaine; by the troubadours of Provence

how can we miss the antiquity of affection? in a world
of tidal pull and lunar cycle, one arising; and the other, becoming

in a life where we walked, lake-sides in the heave of spring,
to watch the waters, deep and cool as night, gloss with paleness only seen
in the space between the lines of a love poem

 

Advice To A Traveller

for months and years now you’ve sought
through a magnitude of stars for answers

but having seen your soul’s stomping ground
may I suggest you rest from this immensity

look for the red aphids that trail among
the lichened stones in the dead of winter

you will realise your delusion
when you cannot balance
the universe on their backs

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B.T. Joy has had work published in Toasted Cheese previously as well as with such journals as Obsessed With Pipework, Presence, Canon’s Mouth, Paper Wasp, Bottle Rockets, Mu, and Frogpond, among others. Email: BTJ0005uk[at]aol.com

Emily as a Tire’s Hot Squeal

Poetry
Darren C. Demaree


Burn Rubber
Photo Credit: K.G. Hawes

Capstone of my desire,
I am the road for Emily
& have positioned

my body as such, to be torn
up on the occasion
she has the energy,

or the bravado to do so.
No finery, I am left lonely
as a road when she doesn’t.

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Darren C. Demaree’s poems have appeared, or are scheduled to appear, in numerous magazines/journals, including the South Carolina Review, Meridian, Grain, Cottonwood, The Tribeca Poetry Review, and Whiskey Island. Recently, Freshwater Poetry Journal and Bluestem have each nominated him for a Pushcart Prize. His first collection, As We Refer To Our Bodies, is coming out this fall from 8th House Publishing House.

He is currently living and writing in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and daughter. He has finished his Master’s work in Creative Writing at Miami University in Southwestern Ohio. Email: darrencdemaree[at]yahoo.com