Amelia Flew Home – by STEVE CARR

AMELIA FLEW HOME

by

Steve Carr

Her feet; those elephantine, calloused, dry, mop-water-dirtied appendages, lifted from the ground, raising that bloated, overworked, undersexed, unappreciated body into the air where she momentarily hovered like a bewildered wounded butterfly unable to flutter its wings. Pushed by a foul smelling breeze that came in through the open kitchen window from the garbage dump next door, Amelia floated through her dilapidated ranch style house, bouncing and bumping against the door frames sending chips of wood from the broken moldings onto the piles of used, dust-filled vacuum cleaner bags kept by her doors in hopes that one day her oldest boy, Wynken, would do the one chore assigned him and throw them over the fence onto the of hills of refuse in the dump. She came to rest against the living room wall that was decorated with a magic marker rendering of the Battle of Gettysburg, and was flattened against a cannon like a half-griddled, gooey pancake. Cursing gravity she slid to the floor like an amoeba clinging to a petri dish, landing on the warped floorboards on the side of her body that was numb from sleeping on it because her three-legged cat wouldn’t let her sleep the night before any other way. Rising with all fours holding her up like a wobbly coffee table, she crawled over to the sofa that had almost spit out the last of its stuffing and pulled herself up on the nearly flattened cushions and stretched out flat on her Quasimodo-like humped back and turned her bulbous head toward the television that was always on because once turned off there was no proof it would ever be turned on again, and stared at The Price is Right, and hoped for better days to come.

 

Dragging the swamp-scented snapping turtle into the house by a leash made from Amelia’s last faux gold chain necklace, Blynken would have gotten all the way to his room with it had the sound of its claws carving scars in the floor, not alerted Amelia who was perched on top of a leaning ladder trying to put scotch tape on a crack in the hall ceiling that leaked every time it rained. Parachuting like a falling boulder down from the top step of the ladder in her fifty pounds of pink bathrobe, she landed on her kneecaps needing to be drained of built up fluid, and told him “you’re not bringing that in the house.” Of course he had already brought it in the house which he pointed out and continued making turtle tracks to his room where he promptly slammed the door. Looking up and seeing the tape peeling from the ceiling, Amelia resigned herself to being a failure when it came to doing home repairs and somersaulted down the hallway loosing her hair curlers along the way like a ball of unraveling yarn, and arrived at the front door just in time to see through the flapless mail slot at the bottom of the door two Mormon missionaries coming up the cracked walkway overgrown with crabgrass. When they knocked on the door she flattened herself on her stomach like roadkill and stayed there until they left with the sun glinting off their starched white shirts.

“Damn you Blynken,” she muttered as she started to rise and found herself glued to the floor by turtle shit, and laid there until dinner time hoping someone would pry her up like a burnt egg stuck to a pan needing to be scooped up with something better than a dollar-store spatula.

 

A bowl of gray lumpy mashed potatoes embellished with a single black olive that Amelia thumb-pushed into the center at the top stared at her like the mushy dead eye of a one-eyed zombie. Watching  an undercooked meatball hurdle in front of her face, a comet propelled by Nod’s spoon, and crashing onto the scabby landscape of their mange-ridden dachshund’s back, Amelia said to her youngest child and only girl, “you’re worse than the little girl in The Bad Seed.” The dog quickly scooped up the ball of pink meat with its blistered tongue and carried it to the refrigerator and let it drop on the floor, apparently wanting an opt-out on the whole table scraps plan. Amelia passed on taking any of the potatoes and scooped on to her plate a pile of canned cream corn that spread across her plate like her cat’s diarrhea, and pushed aside her plate and watched Wynken, Blynken and Nod shoot spit balls made of overcooked broccoli at each other shot through toilet roll tubes acquired from a large plastic bag thrown into their back yard from someone digging around in the trash in the dump. Amelia spread her arms and with the wind being caught in the flaps of skin hanging under each arm, she flew into her bedroom and landed on the raggedy mattress of her bed with her head at the wrong end and stared at a Playboy playmate calendar from 1972 tacked to the wall above the headboard by her husband. The calendar was flipped to the month of August, which is meaningless other than that it had always been flipped to the month of August.

 

Waking in the middle of the night to the sounds of water drops playing ping pong on the metal pan underneath the accordion-like steam radiator beneath her bedroom window, Amelia rose up on her arthritic elbows and counted the drops per minute to determine if the leaking radiator was an emergency, and satisfied it wasn’t she started to lay her head back on the edge of the foot board and choked on a glob of phlegm that had abruptly risen in her throat and coagulated there like one of her cat’s slimy hairballs. Coughing the ball of mucus to the front of her mouth she propelled it out with the force of a bazooka hitting Miss August right on the ass. For once she was glad she had fallen asleep with the lights on, because she had always wanted to spit on Miss August but out of respect for her husband, she had never done it, but seeing the wad of throat-snot slide over Miss August’s derriere was more fun than she had had in a long time. As her double chins jiggled with mirth, Amelia looked down at the toes of her fuzzy blue slippers seeing that one or more of her children had crept into her room at some point and cut off the ends, leaving her swollen toes sticking out like pale Vienna sausages.

 

Rolling out of her bedroom just before noon like a ball of tumbleweed, Amelia was wind-swept into the living room where Wynken, Blynken and Nod sat on on the sofa imitating the three monkeys who neither saw, heard or spoke evil. “Whatever you’ve done along with cutting the tips off of my slippers off you’re not getting away with it,” she said before being caught by a gust of wind and sent rolling into the kitchen.  She came to rest like a deflated balloon against the table and stared into the eye-potatoes and threw up in her mouth. Setting about to put the kitchen in order to fix breakfast she tossed the used paper plates and green plastic utensils into the trash, then scraped the mounds of leftover food into the dog’s bowl and got a box of strawberry pop tarts that had been hidden from Wynken and Blynken on the top shelf of the cupboard and put it in the middle of the table and yelled “breakfast is ready you little monsters.” She then stood at the window and inhaled the ambrosia of trash that had been cooking in the morning sun.

 

After mopping the kitchen floor with yesterday’s mop water, Amelia sat her cellulite-ridden buttocks on a lumpy pillow of air and floated around the room with the telephone to her ear, speaking to her mother.

“The children go back to school next week. They have been such angels all summer,” Amelia said.

Inaudible.

“You were right about the joys of motherhood. I feel so fulfilled.”

Inaudible.

“Stu will be home tomorrow. I spent all morning cleaning so that the place will be extra nice when he comes through the door.”

Inaudible.

“Yes mother, he respects me in every way a woman can be respected.”

Inaudible.

“I’ll call you next week after Stu and I have had some time together. He must get so lonely for me and the kids being on the road driving that big rig for weeks at a time. Goodbye.”

Click.

 

Standing on the front porch that tilted like the deck of the Titanic just before it went under, Amelia clung to the railing like the last passenger on the deck of that same doomed ship and held her breath as toxic clouds of trash fragrances washed over her. Her body was extended outward, horizontal to the splintered wood of the porch floor, as if raised to that position by a magician performing an act of

levitating. The dachshund was doing his business in the hip-high grass, straining out the morning’s meal of cold pasty mashed potatoes, creamed corn and an olive. She watched as Blynken dragged the upside down turtle back and forth across the street while dodging cars.

“Blynken, let that turtle go,” she yelled.

“It’ll get hit by a car,” he yelled back stopping in the middle of the street.

“I meant let it go where you found it,” she yelled, her feet drifting further upward toward the ceiling of the porch.

 

In the evening and flat on her back on the sofa with Nod riding her stomach like a demented jockey riding a watermelon, Amelia felt the pressure on her intestines being released in a steady flow of flatulence. The brush she had tried to comb through Nod’s hair was stuck in a mass of tangles with the handle sticking out the side of her head like a plastic horn. The television had pre-empted the night’s programs with a continuous optics test of squiggly lines. Wynken and Blynken sat cross-legged on vacuum bags full of dirt and dust, glued to what they were watching. “Your dad is going to be home in the morning,” Amelia said to all three of them. “Are you excited?”

Inaudible.

 

Amelia cartwheeled into the bed nearly squashing the cat who hissed and jumped off the bed and limped out of the room. With her head encased in a pillow that had lost most of its filling she gripped onto the mattress not wanting to be sucked out the open window. Looking down at the yellow nail polish on her exposed toenails she wondered if the color was just a bit too jaundiced. She became aware of her own sweating under her freshly shaved underarms and decided she would have to apply more baking soda before Stu got home. The sound of Wynken tacking waterbugs to his bedroom wall echoed through the house. “Leave those bugs alone,” she yelled and to her surprise the thumping stopped. Keeping her grip on the mattress she rolled onto her side and curled her body into a fetal position as the cat leaped back onto the bed and curled up against her bouncy breasts. She fell asleep and spent the night dreaming of clouds.

 

Staring at the phlegm-smeared butt of Miss August Stu humped Amelia and when finished rolled over onto his back and said “I heard on talk radio one night while on the road a really interesting theory about why no one has ever found Amelia Earhart. The guy on the radio said everyone was looking for her out at sea when in reality she had just turned around and flew home and lived out her life as a wife and mother.”

                                                          -END-

***

Steve Carr photo

Steve began his writing career as a military journalist and has had short stories published in Sick Lit Magazine, Literally Stories, Viewfinder, Short Tale !00, The James White Review, and The Northland Review: An International Journal, among others. He has stories coming out soon in Fictive Dream and in anthologies by Flame Tree Publishing, Centum Press and Fantasia Divinity Publications. His plays have been produced in several states including Arizona, Missouri and Ohio. He writes full time.
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she is lion face, i am lemon face – by ZACHARY M HODSON

she is lion face, i am lemon face

beneath a slim lick of ice

the koi want you to know they have not died this winter

you had already budgeted several hundred dollars for next spring

which you can now spend on moscato instead

 

ms lion face was sickened by my poem about refusing the advances of a woman with daddy issues

it was not at all what she was looking for

she spat her burdened tongue in my general direction three even times

stroking clean a perceived vice of misogyny

 

i wrinkled my face

recalling the times i wrote hateful things about my mother on paper airplanes

& threw them at her

 

when the pucker settled

all i could think about were the koi under the surface

still there

still alive

still gobbling water bugs while ms lion face skated by in a huff

 

spring will bring the thaw soon enough

you will exhale an epiphanic oh yeah

ms lion face will still not care

***

zachary-m-hodson-headshot

Zachary M Hodson is a multi-genre artist based out of Kansas City, MO. Holding a B.S of Psychology with a minor in Creative Writing from the University of Central Missouri, he has spent the last decade focused equally on poetry, music and music/sports journalism. His writing has been featured in many print and online outlets, including but not limited to Euphony Journal, Leveler Poetry, The Literary Nest, Future’s Trading, Skidrow Penthouse, Royals Blue and The Deli Magazine.

I Still am me – by MIRELA ATHANAS

“I still am me”

 

I still am me!

 

I am, …

I still am me,

I am the little baby,

With the tiny fingers

Which I still carry,

same shape, same grip;

That later learned

a dance in piano keys,

 

I am,

I still am me,

I am the little girl,

I still have wet sand,

On my feet,

From the beach castles,

I built with my hands,

Nearby the sea;

Which then later

Got melted by the waves,

But not in my dreams,

In my dreams the castles,

Are greater than

those in fairytales.

 

I am

I still am me,

I am the teenager,

I still have stardust

On my hair,

From chasing shooting stars,

From catching butterflies,

As I would catch a dream,

Which then later,

Would teach me how to fly…

 

I am

I am still me,

I am the young lady,

I still have sparkles in my eyes

From the first time I fell in love,

From the time I danced under stars;

 

I am

I still am me,

I am the young lady,

I still have paper dust,

On my hands

From the books I read and studied,

I still have lingering melodies,

From the time I sang and danced,

I still have scents of the breeze,

Wrapped all over my being,

Of the time I ran in flowery fields,

In fields of joy and ease,

When the world was so free,

And bettering so simple it seemed!

Which then later,

Became my aroma, the scent of me,

Unforgettable, unchangeable, unique …..

 

I am

I am still me,

I am the young woman,

As it was destined to be,

I still have rain on my face,

I still have my wounds,

From places I have lived,

And roads chosen by fate;

They are strange wounds,

They heal, and then later,

One little thing touches the surface

And like that they still bleed;

But I’ve learned

That it might be my destiny,

I cover them still with my dreams.

 

I am,

I am still me,

The women I grew to be,

I still have anointed oil,

On my forehead,

From blessings I received!

I still have power on my step,

I still have gratitude to give,

From walking on a road,

I forever dreamed.

 

I am ,

I am still me,

I have smiles in my heart,

Gathered by children I have seen,

And children I was blessed to love,

I carry those smiles so dearly,

The treasure that helps me survive,

They live inside my heart,

And walk with me forever,

Which then later,

As always…..becomes eternity!

 

I am

I still am me,

I am the woman you see,

I still have strength,

On my hands, heart and soul,

From all the life I have lived,

From all the struggles I have fought,

I’m the woman, who saw the world differently,

I still have purpose in my hands,

I still have love in my heart,

I still have an eternal dream,

To be the best of me,

To be me, the one I am,

And no other, no other, in this reality

In the world we all dream to be.

 

I am,

I am still me,

I still have little fingers in my hands,

I still have my feet immersed in sand,

I still have stardust in my hair,

I still have eyes that always sparkle,

I still have lingering melodies that dance,

I still have scents of breeze wrapped around me,

I still have drops of rain on my face,

I still have blessings anointed in my forehead,

I still have power on my step,

I still have gratitude to give,

I still have smiles in my heart,

I still have strength on my soul,

So, this is how,

I am, I still am me,

 

I am,

I am still me,

You call me by name,

I respond,

That’s who I’ll always be,

That’s why I am, I am still me!

Unchangeable, unforgettable, unique!

Mirela Athanas, © July 15th 2016


***

413020_2706552257154_1657168956_o-1

Mirela Athanas is an Albanian-American professional with 25+ years of experience in finance.   She was born in Tirana,Albania, April 25,1961, and currently resides in the USA, where she lives since 1994.  She is a graduate of the University of Tirana, Albania. with a masters degree in Business & Economics.  She also received a BS degree in Business Administration from the Computer Learning Centers in Boston MA, in 1995.
Mirela lived in Albania for most of her life and moved to the USA only in 1994.  While in America, Mirela pursued a career in finance and reached at the Senior Associate level in an investment management firm in Boston.
Besides her studies in economics, Mirela has always had a passion for music and literature.  She studied professional piano playing in a professional Music School in Tirana from 1967-1977.  She plays piano professionally.
In the recent years, Mirela has seriously returned to her passion for writing.  She is a freelance writer, and writes poems in both English and Albanian.  She speaks Albanian and Italian fluently, besides English and also translates.  She has translated a few poems from English to Albanian.

Other People – by ANTHONY BLOOR

Other People

One person’s meadow is another person’s building site. I look at nature; he looks at property values. He sees a hole in the guttering; I see a sparrow’s nest.

There came a day when my neighbour popped by to bring me bad news. The local authority wanted to demolish my home and relocate a public toilet on the spot; meanwhile, the existing public toilet would also be demolished, and a house built in its place. He’d seen the plans; he’d been to a council meeting the night before.

“Didn’t you know?” he said.

“No,” I said. “Nobody’s said a word.”

“Sorry,” he said.

“No – thanks for telling me,” I said.

“I’m very sorry,” he said, and left me, speechless, to ponder the gravity of the situation.

A week before, I was sweeping up after six months of disruption: my windows had all been removed and replaced with double glazing. And now this, from a neighbour.

Somebody was taking the piss.

But this was public; this was serious – so where was the logic?

My home had been refurbished, kitted out to modern standards. There was nothing wrong with the place – so why demolish it? To relocate the public toilet, that’s why. But what about the existing toilet: what’s wrong with that? It needs refurbishing, that’s what. So why not go ahead and refurbish it? Because they want to build a house there, instead.

I pondered the gravity of the situation.

Could I seek – from a judge, for example – an order that the local authority be sectioned under the Mental Health Act? No – the Act applied to the mental health of an individual, not to that of an institution.

Then I had a brainwave – I knew just the thing that might help me.

I rushed upstairs and dug out the government’s guide on what to do in an emergency.

I flipped the pages – much was irrelevant to my predicament.

But I was lucky; I was very lucky. In the section titled “coping with specific emergencies” (last two words highlighted), there is a useful piece of advice concerning bombs. If you are trapped in debris, you are advised to stay close to a wall and tap on pipes so that rescuers can hear you.

I pondered the gravity of the situation.

Demolition.

It could happen, with no warning. I may not hear the warning. Or I may hear the warning and choose to ignore it, thinking that Jehovah’s Witnesses are at the door.

I could be trapped in debris.

But if I was trapped, how could I move?

I would have to crawl.

And if I was trapped in debris, how would I recognise a wall? Would there be a wall?

There may not be a wall, but there would be pipes. I would have to crawl to a pipe.

Most of the pipes are on the north side of the house, next to the garden, where the birds feed, sing and play. My friends. But they would be no help in an emergency. They would have flown away. In fear.

My best bet, I thought, is the pipe in the kitchen, on the south side of the house – next to the road, the pavement, and passers-by.

I would need a compass to help me find south.

And what about tapping on the pipe? Fingers would be useless: too soft.

I could use a brick, from the debris.

But what would it sound like? A dull sound, the sound of someone hammering somewhere, builders or gardeners or DIY enthusiasts. An everyday sound. Who would take note? Nobody. There would have been no bomb, and no rescuers. I would have to draw people’s attention to the fact that I was trapped.

A metal object would be better, such as a spoon. Metal on metal: more treble, less bass, more resonant, more striking. I could play tunes. People would notice. I could play Bach. People would stop and listen. Music from below. Air on a G-String. Somebody must be trapped. Down there in the debris.

So – I had decided.

The two most useful items, given the nature of my predicament, were these: a compass and a tea-spoon.

I wear the compass around my neck; it’s attached to a cord. I wear it at all times. The tea-spoon I carry in my breast pocket. The bowl bit sticks out of the top, as if the spoon was pretending to be a gent’s handkerchief: with the convex side facing outwards, it looks quite decorative. This, too, I wear at all times. Day and night I have these items to hand, in case of an emergency.

I rarely leave the house now. I worry that I may return to find a pile of rubble. And a weekend away is out of the question. They work so fast; a friend told me. I may return to find the house gone and a public toilet in its place, with all my worldly possessions squeezed into a cubicle, a note on the door, saying: “To be collected.”

And I worry whether I am doing the right thing. Even with the aid of a compass, I may not be able to find a pipe. I could carry a spare piece of pipe, just in case.

But I can’t find any spare pipe.

And then, I could dispense with both compass and spoon if I carried a harmonica in my pocket – one item – or a whistle.

But a whistle presents problems. There are half a dozen dunnocks out there, in the garden. They come and go as they please; some live in the hedge. And they whistle. That’s what they do, as a warning. When a cat’s about, for instance. As do the coal tits. A squeaky kind of whistle.

So a whistle would be useless.

A harmonica would be better.

I may invest in a harmonica.

If I carried a harmonica in my pocket, tucked away, people would be less inclined to think that I’m mad.

That’s what they believe, I’m sure. People think I’m mad.

I know better.

I am… prepared.

***

Anthony Bloor currently works as a freelance editor, copywriter, and a jack of all trades in the Internet world. He is the author of three novels and a scholarly study of fiction writing, published in 2003.

Muesli / He Buys Me Flowers / Yellow Dinghy / The Bus / The Sea / Impersonator – short story collection by KATE JONES

Muesli

After you leave, I sit and stare out of my rain-dotted window, that used to be our window.  I stare out at the red-brick buildings.  I watch the raindrops drip from the telephone wires like the tears of jilted lovers.

I stare into the windows of the apartments opposite, at the contemporary kitchenware and wine racks.  Things I thought we might own one day.  Grown-up stuff.  Earthenware dishes.   A juicer.

The couple opposite, the ones we used to make fun of together, sit at a granite-topped breakfast bar, eating something grainy.  Muesli.  She still wears workout gear; Lycra pink leggings tighter than a snake’s skin, and a black hoodie.  No inch of her arse hangs over the sides of the black and chrome stool she perches on, like a delicate bird ready for flight.  She brings her loaded silver spoon to pink lips.

As I sit on the floor eating leftover pizza, I try to imagine transmuting myself into her skin and wonder whether you would have stayed if I’d worn skin-tight Lycra and eaten muesli from a spoon.

If my arse had fitted neatly onto a stool.

The man gets up now.  He’s wearing a brown wool suit and ironic tie.  He puts on his jacket.  It’s one of those suits that make him look slightly creative – definitely not a banker’s suit – and I remember how we used to make up jobs and names for them.

He leans across and kisses her on the forehead.  She smiles up at him showing perfect white teeth.  Her blonde ponytail bobs lightly.  (How does it stay so perfect when she’s been exercising?)

He picks up a soft, brown leather briefcase from the floor and leaves the room.  She sits on, reading the newspaper and sipping her orange juice.  I watch her wait there for a few minutes, until she’s sure he’s gone.  Then, she pulls a pink mobile from her pocket and taps a message into it.

I watch for a few more minutes, biting my nails, a habit you hate, until I see her jump from the stool.  She’s running out of the door, which I know leads to the hallway where the outside door is.  I know this because it’s the same set-out as my apartment – the one that used to be ours.

I can’t see her now.  But still I know what she’s doing.

I know that she’s kissing you and tasting that unique taste you have, of mint and a hint of garlic, even when you haven’t eaten it.

I know that you’ll be tasting muesli on her tongue.

And I know that you’ll be wrapping your thick arms around her slim waist, as I let my tears splash onto the glass, mirroring the raindrops on the other side.


 

He Buys Me Flowers

 

He buys me flowers.

 

Once, when we first met, I told him I liked being bought flowers. I liked the huge white daisies, I said. The ones with the round orange eyes, like bright egg yolks. I liked their simplicity, their nakedness.

 

He buys me bright orange dahlias, fat blooms, exotic. Expensive. I know by now these flowers represent transgressions. Guilt flowers. The bigger, more expensive the fauna, the larger the transgression.

 

We both pretend not to know this.

 

My friend Marcie told me she saw him touch a woman’s bare shoulder at a party three month’s back. She, the woman, was wearing a strapless dress. Marcie said she didn’t see him take her home.

 

He bought me a large bunch of flaccid pink carnations from the petrol station the next morning.

I arranged the carnations in an old milk bottle and placed them by the bed. They festered there for weeks until I emptied out the brackish water, brown and congealed at the bottom of the bottle.

 

Two months ago, he confessed to dancing with a girl he met in Tramps nightclub in town. Said she felt him up. Said he’d drunk too much. Said it went no further.

 

He bought me a fancy looking purple orchid in its own square box. It had a tiny glass vase inside to feed it water. I liberated it from the box, it resembled a cage, and placed it on the hot windowsill of the apartment. Its leaves turned brown and shed onto the floor.

 

I never told him orchids remind me of death.

 

He’s been on a business trip to Slough for three days. All expenses paid, free mini-bar. I’ve bought new underwear from M&S. Cooked red snapper (his favourite) for dinner. I’m soaking in a bath of orange blossom salts when I hear him let himself in.

 

When I emerge from the bathroom, my hair piled high in a soggy towel like a Geisha, he’s standing in the doorway surrounded by a bouquet of red roses. His smile is sheepish, hopeful.  His eyes like the glass marbles of a stuffed toy. His face makes my chest hurt.

I don’t know if we can get past the roses. The edge of the velveteen petals are already starting to wilt.


 

Yellow Dinghy

He pushes the heavy metal wheelchair up the steep, cobbled hill of the coastal town. Why she had to choose this place for a day out, he doesn’t know.

He wonders if she did it on purpose; she must have remembered this punishing hill from their visits in their youth.

He stops to take a breath. She tries to swivel her head around, “Why are we stopping?” She asks, her voice abrasive, brittle as glass against glass. The way she always speaks to him these days.

“Just taking a breather, this hill’s a killer,” he says.

She folds her arms in her lap and stares stonily ahead. The collar of his waterproof jacket tickles his neck where sweat has begun to trickle down into it. It had been spotting with rain down on the beach, where they’d sheltered to eat bags of sharp vinegary chips with tiny wooden forks. Now the sun was beating on his back as he resumed pushing.

“Put your back into it a bit”, she shouts, without turning round, “my cheeks are getting sunburned”.

He pushes on, allowing the delicious edge of a thought to dance across his mind: What if I let go? He sees himself standing on the hill, watching the chair gather speed, bumping and careening over the wet cobbles. He wonders whether the bumps would cause it to tip over before it reached the bottom, or if it would continue to gather speed, crashing into the sad accordion player at the edge of the slipway.

Maybe she’d carry on down the slipway and end up in the sea, carried away to France.

As he pushes, he remembers other summers, when they would come here and swim in the sea. When she would laugh as he tossed her around on a bright yellow dinghy, bobbing up and down in her bathing suit, tossing chestnut curls into the wind.

He remembers seeing other men look at the way her nipples stood out under the wet, clingy material, and felt proud she was his. Images of the two of them walking hand in hand along the coastline, talking of the children they would bring back here to build sandcastles and eat ice creams.

Disappointing, barren years followed, as their dreams faded and tarnished.

He forces his mind away from his memories; they are more painful than the daydream of letting her slide back down the cobbles, a pile of crumpled metal and his wife on top. The saddest thing is, he thinks, she probably doesn’t remember any of that. He wonders if it’s better for her that way.

He feels a tug in his chest, regrets his earlier uncharitable thoughts.

“We’ll get a nice ’99 when we get to the top, shall we?”  He says now to the back of his wife’s thinning grey, wiry curls.

She doesn’t answer; hasn’t heard him. She’s thinking of a hot summer, and a yellow dinghy. And a beautiful girl in a red swimsuit from a long lost dream. And she’s wishing he would just let her slide down the hill, to be carried away by the waves.


The Bus

 

I stand among the groups of middle-aged parents lining the pavement beside the bus that contains their beloved offspring.  Excited faces scattered with acne and over-zealous make-up press against glass, or turn away, sharp haircuts bobbing as they talk fast and laugh with friends.

I pick out your window.  You sit politely, neatly, long curls hanging round your shoulders.  Your father’s nose side-on to my view.  You do that thing you do with your glasses, where you push them up your face with the back of your hand.  I have never seen anyone else do this, apart from my mother.

I tell myself that you are not leaving forever.  You are not my mother.  You are just going off to adventures, and experiences.  You will come back.  Yet, my insides feel the same way as they did when I lost her.

Your long lashes loll like fronds as you bend down to retrieve a paperback from your holdall.  I wonder if you have packed the bunny that has sat on your bed since I brought you home from the hospital, the yellow blanket wrapped tightly around you.  My grasp onto your perfect form even tighter.

Your friend taps you on the shoulder and you stretch your arms to hug her.  She bounces down beside you.  Your face is hidden from me now as you turn to talk to her.

Other parents are milling around in groups, talking to one another, shouting to their offspring if they have their this, their that.  I don’t shout messages to you.  I just watch, this last, lingering, private moment.

The engine starts, rumbling loudly and spitting out cancerous fumes from its large exhaust.  You face back toward the front and pop a red sweet into your mouth, making your cheek plump.  A faint cheer goes up from inside the bus, and some of the still malingering parents’ cheer, too.

You turn your head at last.  Look surprised that I am still standing there, alone and apart from the crowd.

And you smile.  Genuine, happy, relaxed.  You raise your slender arm to wave.

I raise mine too, mechanically, try to smile back as honestly as I can.

And then the bus pulls away from the curb and you turn back to your friend.  You have already dropped your hand.  You are already miles away.

And though I tell myself you will return, you are not gone forever, I walk back towards my car knowing that my home will be quiet, and things will be as I left them.  I know that there will be no smell of body spray clogging the bathroom; no dirty underwear on the floor; nobody playing loud pop-songs into the night.

And I know that the world – my world – has shifted slightly, into the unknown.


The Sea

The winding lane stretches down toward the strip of beach.  There are no holidaymakers left now; just fading footprints in the wet sand.  A fish and chip wrapper blows up in the growing wind.  The hem of my thin skirt blows out imitating the flapping seagulls.

The sea is inching its way inland; ten more minutes and the small stretch of remaining beach will be washed away.

Moving along the shoreline a little, I dip a reluctant toe into the foamy ripples.  The water is shockingly cold.  I move to lean on a rock – it feels slightly damp.  Two children’s lolly sticks point out of the crack between the rocks.

The wind is really picking up now, and the tide is almost in.  Each time it reaches its foamy claw toward my rock, it just misses and flows back to become part of the mass of ink.  Like watching a child trying to reach a toy and getting thwarted again and again.

There’s a sound of scratching on the stone steps above me, and I turn to see a dog.  I sit perfectly still, hoping it will walk off.  But the dog, reaching the bottom of the steps, pads towards me.  It sniffs at my legs and rubs its soft ears against my reluctant hand, forcing me to stroke it.  It looks like a young red setter.  ‘Hello there, are you out all alone?’ I say.  The dog wags its tail erratically and pants, dropping its bottom onto the sand.

I look all around the wet beach and up towards the headland.  But I can’t see an owner for the dog.  ‘You need to go,’ I say, but it just wags its tail again, lolling its tongue out of the side of its mouth.  It looks like it’s smiling.

I check for a name-tag, but it doesn’t have one.  It doesn’t look like a stray – it’s too well fed.  I look around me for a stick or even a stone to throw.  But everywhere is covered with sea-water now.  I reach into my cardigan pockets, which are filled to the top with rocks.  I pluck out a flat, grey pebble amongst them and fling it across the sand as far as possible, in the direction of the slipway.  The dog just stares after it.  Then it stares back at me.

I sigh.  This is all I need.  I try not to feel responsible for the animal.  It’s just an animal, I tell myself, over and over.  This is what’s got me into problems in the past -taking responsibility for others, putting their needs over my own, I think.

I take a last look at the wide, vast sea in front of me.  There is no beach left now and the water is pooling around my ankles, reaching upwards, as though inviting me in.  The dog climbs up onto a rock to escape getting wet.

I walk forwards, foam and splashes kicking off my bare feet.  I don’t look back, just keep my eyes focused on the horizon.  I don’t want to see the dog watching me; I don’t want to see the houses of the town stretching off towards fields and sheep and people’s lives beyond the cliffs.

I don’t want to think about the people left behind.

This is about me.  It is just me and the sea, I think.

I hear a bark and a man’s voice carry on the wind as I get further in, as the water whirls around my shoulders.  I can no longer walk, but am pulled in like a donkey on a rope.  Not reluctantly, but needing to be coerced.  The water is freezing and my summer skirt has wound itself around my legs, clinging like arms, pulling at me.  The rocks in my pockets drag me and as I stumble, I am pulled beneath the waves and my long hair fans out around my head like a halo.

As my breath leaves my body, I feel a pair of hands pulling me backwards.  I’m not sure if I’m floating across the sea on my back or if I’m floating into the next place.

I hear a man’s voice swear as the power of the waves pull against his strength.  I hear the dog barking, worried for its owner.

I feel hardness behind my back and shoulders as I’m roughly dropped onto a dry rock.  A man’s lips are over mine, the taste of salt and of his breath, hot and smoky.  Large hands painfully pound my chest.

I cough, my head raises and sea-water spews out of my mouth over the side of the rock.  The dog sits beside me vigilantly.

‘Thank God – I thought you were a gonner’, the man says, pushing back onto his knees.

I don’t answer.  I shiver, and he takes off his jacket and places it around my shoulders.

‘Are you okay?  What were you thinking?  If Rory hadn’t found you and I hadn’t found him…well.  I guess I saved you,’ he says.  He can’t help saying it without the edge of manly pride to his voice.

I look at him.  He’s just like every man I ever met.  Rushing in to save me, thinking he knew what I needed.

I want to scream at him – I didn’t want fucking saving.

But I don’t answer.  I don’t say anything.

I don’t want to hurt his feelings.

I just stare out at the wide sea, with its blurred horizon, and I know it is leaving without me.


Impersonator

 

She dresses carefully – ever so carefully – for the meeting with him.  She wants –needs – for him to see her as the woman he thinks she is.

She feels, as she dresses, that she is impersonating the woman he wants her to be.  The woman she wants to be.

She thinks that maybe they are both the same person: the same woman.

But she’s not sure.  She’s not sure because it’s been so long since she was the person she’s impersonating now that she doubts herself.  She doubts whether she was ever actually that woman.

Could she ever really have been that woman she sees in her mind when she closes her eyes, the one who used to walk into rooms and feel comfortable- confident even – with who she was; with how she looked?

Could she really have dressed in such a way before that men had turned their heads to look her way; that they held her in their thoughts even long after she had left?

She sprays a little mist across her chest now, between her breasts, her décolletage.  She hopes she remembers which musky notes best react with her own individual scent.  She hopes he likes the rose-scented fragrance of her soap.

She hopes…she just hopes.  That’s all.  For him to like her; for him to not be disappointed.

She sounded so self-assured, so experienced on her profile.  Yet, still youthful enough to remember how to flirt with him.  How to dress right.  How to stay cool and casual.

When really, she feels nothing of the sort.

She dreads the moment of walking into the bar and seeing the disappointment register on his face.  The deadening fake smile that says I was expecting someone younger, prettier, smarter.

Sticking the red carnation into the button-hole of her blouse, re-applying red lipstick, she hopes, desperately, that this time she will be the woman he is expecting to meet.


***

Photo (6)

Kate Jones is a freelance writer based in the UK.  A regular writer for Skirt Collective, she also writes features and reviews for The State of the Arts.  She has also published flash fiction and poetry in various literary magazines, including Sick Lit Magazine, Gold Dust, and 101words.  She has been long-listed for Flash 500, and won the weekly AdHoc Fiction contest, as well as being nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Kelly Coody of Sick Lit Magazine for 2017.

Find her on Twitter: @katejonespp

She also blogs at: writerinresidenceblog.wordpress.com

Featured image: Brian Michael Barbeito

Wound / Affect(ion) / Beget – by BRANDON STANWYCK

 

Wound

 

the wound he won’t

 

let heal

 

leaves me scarred.

 

i well up when

 

his eyes

 

refuse to cry.

 

the blood in his

 

boxer briefs

 

burns my dreams.

 

why do that to

 

a boy,

 

to feel…powerful?

 

now are you a

 

real man,

 

since raping him?

 

i sincerely hope you

 

feel big

 

and so strong.

 

because if you don’t,

 

my friend

 

broke for nothing.

 


 

Affect(ion)

 

i surrender so many fucks

 

because you refuse to give a single one.

 

my fucks perish trying to prove my love;

 

yours still have a price tag.

 

(do you plan on returning them?

 

i mean, it’s not like you’re gonna use ’em.)

 

all i want is to get back just

 

a shred of what i spend,

 

my whole heart for a sliver of yours.

 

i’m at a loss—i’ve:

 

begged with touch, beseeched with words

 

and ceded all of my available time.

 

every part of me is in your hands, except

 

my dick since i guess you’re so bored by it,

 

though you know better than anyone

 

that i practically worship yours. well

 

whenever you wish to bestow it upon me,

 

i have got just the spot.

 

…i’m still waiting on that fuck


 

Beget

 

to love a non-lover

 

is my heart’s worst

 

repeat offense…

 

cannibalizing itself

 

to mend broken boys

 

whom it cannot help

 

but fall in love with,

 

having oft glimpsed at

 

their tender hearts

 

with eager devotion—

 

unaware that they, while

 

affable and sweet

 

at first,

 

are in actuality aloof

 

and somewhat frosty

 

—but then it is too late,

 

and it is my heart, wrecked,

 

in need of a boy, who

 

does not exist,

 

to heal me with affection, which

 

will never be felt


***

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Brandon Stanwyck is a Cleveland-based crewman for film and television productions. Twitter: @BrandonStanwyck | Instagram: @brandoncinema

 

The Lifecycle of a Catholic Woman – by PATTI JURINSKI

The Lifecycle of a Catholic Woman

 

At age nine, Helene chose confession face-to-face with the priest. The musty box frightened her, choked with years and years of other people’s sins.

 

As a teenager, she appreciated the box’s endless capacity to swallow her ever-increasing transgressions.

 

As a young woman, she scowled at it, hands on her hips, with self-righteous indignation.

 

By middle age, the box tiptoed into her thoughts again, and she crossed the street.

 

At age eighty, she chose confession face-to-face with the priest, unable to bend her knees anymore. As they wheeled her by, the box whispered welcome home.

***

IMG_3179

Patti Jurinski lives in Florida with her husband and two sons, but will always be a New Englander at heart. Since leaving the corporate world four years ago, she has augmented car line boredom with reading and writing, the latter taking on a life of its own. Although writing a historical fiction novel is her main entrée, flash fiction stories are the yummy nibbles she can’t quite say no to.  She is thrilled (and slightly terrified) at the prospect someone may read her work.

Young Woman’s Epiphany – by KI-ANA L. TONGE

Young Woman’s Epiphany

Ki-Ana L. Tonge

 

Did you know?

Did you know that you were the gasp of air between my every breath?

The tip-tap to my every step

Love captivating my every sense

Your heavenly scent lingered on my neck

From where lips have last been…

The notes on my five liens core

Finger stroke striking my every chord

And your lovely smile,

Sigh…

You were the single star to my empty sky.

The sun shine one my flower petals,

Allowing me to bloom

You were the wind to my howl on an eerie full moon

My path when I’m lost

My light in the dark

The blue blood that seeps from my once reddened heart

The waves in my ocean

The heat of my fire

The feathers of my wings

The energy in my wires

You.

You were the…

The leaves falling in autumn

The snowfall in winter

The drops on my window that trickles down my window pane

The clouds on a stormy day

The waters of the rain

So if I try to forget you it won’t be hard to find another thing in nature

That fails not to remind

***

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Ki-Ana L. Tonge is a humble,  outgoing, creative,  and ambitious nineteen year old from St.Croix , USVI, with a love for writing. She is on a mission to be the very best she can be,  and strives to make a difference with the tools and talents God has given her.

Mr. Schonenberger’s Gift – by C.W. BIGELOW

MR.SCHONENBERGER’S GIFT

The fact he hasn’t shown up at the Intensive Care unit doesn’t surprise me. When a father’s expectations are not met, the son suffers, and what I did this time probably borders on extreme – causing acute embarrassment for him. You have to understand for him reputation ranks higher than love, higher than truth. As far as punishment, well, let’s just say I am suffering – experiencing plenty of pain – kind of like the blistering hands that smacked my ass every time I screwed up as a kid.

       

The fluorescent lights drill into my eyes like hot spikes as the two hulking attendants in crisp white uniforms roll my gurney from the Intensive Care Unit into the elevator, making sure, I’m convinced, that they swing me so my eyes roll dizzily and my stomach gurgles to the verge of vomiting. I suspect they double as spies hired by my old man so I keep my mouth shut.

       

“You guys are good drivers!” I praise to no response. The bright lights block their features, their pasty skin blending into white coats. I feel their disgust in the constrained confines of the elevator. “Guess you never got drunk, huh?” The bell signaling my floor sound like a cymbal.

       

Rolling past nurse stations I smile, attempting to wave at them like a homecoming queen before I discover the restraints. Even the attempt to spread my lips releases throbbing across my temples. Had my father known booze would cause me so much pain he might have shared his cocktails long ago.

       

They take the turn into Room 232 with such expertise and speed, my head whirls, driving their devious chuckles. Spinning into the corner of the room like doing donuts in freshly fallen snow then slamming on the brakes sends me sliding into the head bar. An explosion ignites a carnival of flashing colors accompanied by carousel music. Flip, click, clip, and swoop. The restraining bars drop, my belts and hand restraints are unfastened. I am free.       

       

“Thanks for the ride!” I call after them. The rasp in my voice is sandpaper scraping up and down my throat.

       

The phone startles me and I struggle to grab it – trying to put an end to the blaring reverberation. “Yes?”  I lift my gaze and peer across my small room into what I assume is a hallucination – bloodshot eyes anchored in myriads of wrinkles under bushy wild spikes of white hair. Shocked, I jump clear off the mattress. I am unable to define the vision, nor determine whether it is real or not.

       

“Dude! You’re alive!” It is Ronny Gander, one of three that helped me consume a fifth of gin that we had purchased from Sally Newman, a sophomore, in a dark alley for five bucks. Old Colony Gin. A brand I’ve already decided will never again pass my lips.

       

“Not so loud, please,” I request as I fall back into my pillow, staring up into the snow-white ceiling.  Cramps in my stomach continue, forcing me to curl into a ball to relieve the tension. “And it sounds as if you are too!”

       

“You remember anything?”  He honors my request and whispers.

       

His words are drowned out by the gurgles emanating from the ghostly figure in the bed across the room.

 

“I’m sorry you’ll have to speak up a bit. You have competition.”

       

“Huh?” Ronny isn’t the sharpest, but does speak up. “I thought you wanted me to whisper?”

       

I don’t have the energy to explain and ask, “How did I get here?  Did you guys just leave me?”  This seems to be the most logical scenario. If they did in fact leave me on the doorstep of the emergency room and escaped into the night they might have avoided culpability. This is my hope. “The last thing I remember is peering through the hole in the wall to see if Gizzy was coming.” I shut my pulsating eyes and recall the blinding fog rolling across the field of snow stretching from the barn to Mrs. Davis’s house.  

 

“Did I see him then?”

 

        “No. He caught up with us after we passed your house.”

 

        How ballsy was that? Not the best of shape to do that.

 

        “Did you walk me here?”

 

        “Nope, the dog catcher picked us up and from what they told us, it was good he did. You were going to die of freezing…”

 

        “You mean I was hypothermic?”

 

        “Said you had a temperature of 93.”

 

        I roll my eyes. That’ll do it. “So you were caught too?”

 

        “Grounded til the end of time was what my mother told me.”

       

“Sorry.” I am. This is my third fuck-up in three years and the three-time rule lingers heavy on my mind. Since the second offense my old man has held it over my head. Each time we hear a news story about some convict he warns me “Three times and you are done.” Done has never been defined.

    

A nurse, squat and cantankerous, suddenly appears at the foot of my bed. She ignores me as she studies my chart.

        “I better go.  I’ll catch up with you later.  Call me, okay.”

        “Feeling poorly?” Her tone is hopeful.

I decide I better slide for a while and just nod.  “But, um, is the bathroom here?” I knock on the wall beside my bed, its hollow return attacking my brain.

        “You won’t need to visit it yet.”

        “But I do. I really do.”

        “Take a peek under your covers.”  Her cheeks are thick and when she smirks they grow into wide, glowing pancakes.

    

I am confused.

       

She comes around the side of the bed.  I think she is going for something else, when she lifts both blanket and sheet revealing a winding, flesh-tone tube spiraling like a snake from my penis. She snorts like a horse.

        “Glad to entertain you.”

From the ghost rider across the room come giggles that choke him. Wheezing, his white frocked head bobs like a marionette’s and finally gets her attention. She bounds at him and pounds his skinny back – which is a staircase of ugly ribs lacking any meat whatsoever – with the heel of her palm until he catches his breath. Thick slimy drool swings across purple lips over his chin until she swipes it up with a napkin.  It is a smooth move by an adept nurse. She has earned my respect.

 

        She lays him back into his pillows.

        I fall back into my pillows

        “You guys are a hoot!” She stands with hands on hips before marching out of the room on thick legs.

        “I am Mr. Schonenberger,” The words are wrapped in phlegm.  “I am dying of cancer.”

        What the hell am I doing with a guy dying of cancer?

        “In a bit of trouble?” His chapped lips curl above yellow teeth.

        I nod. He may be dying but he ain’t stupid and he doesn’t lack a sense of humor, because he is grinning, taking glee in my situation. I’m free entertainment.

       

Rising up on his elbow, his dark eyes glare at me from deep circles that hang from his bony cheeks like torn rags. Not a pleasant vision. His thick lips are melted chocolate. Butt ugly as this vision is, he somehow appears saintly under the fluorescent lamp glow. With the arc of the light fixating on his shrunken body, the rest of the room appears dark. He repeats his early declaration. “I am dying…of cancer.”

        “Yeh, you said that.”

       

He reaches across the room with his pencil thin, saggy-skin arm in an attempt to shake my hand, but it falls short and limply drops toward the floor, agonizingly smacking the side of his bed.  He doesn’t seem to notice. “You can watch me die.” He shakes his head slowly. “They refuse to let me die with dignity.  Have to provide an audience.”

       

I’m convinced my father has something to do with this.

       

Dr. Peters, one of his golf buddies, waddles to the foot of my bed. He doesn’t bother to make eye contact as he buries his nose in my chart. “When I was a young man, following the rules my father set down was the most important thing I could do. I never broke the rules. Never ever caused him any embarrassment. Certainly never almost killed myself.” He puffed up like a toad at that point and said, “And look at me now.”

       

Crossing pompous asses with power has never gotten me anything but trouble and I figured I was deep enough.

       

He has a devious grin when he hangs my chart back onto the hook and slowly walks around the side.  “Seems you are awake…”

       

Yes dumb fuck. I don’t say it aloud. But certainly want to when, after he slips on two gloves, flips my covers off and grabs my dick with one hand and deftly but not painlessly pulls my catheter out with a slurping sound.

       

“Now you may use the restroom.”

       

After the initial pulsating burn my dick lies on my stomach peering up at me with an angry glare. I’m pissing everyone off.

   

“Feeling guilty?”  It’s the cancer victim, but his tone isn’t one of omnipotence and lacks the edge of vindictiveness I so often hear from adults – as if they’re pissed they aren’t kids any longer and to overcome that inevitability they must lord over every kid they run into.

       

I hesitate. There is guilt for getting my friends caught. Guilt because I have to make sure my father knows how guilty I do feel in hopes to receive the least punishment possible, which of course hasn’t yet been identified, because the parental hasn’t shown his hand. But what if my roomie is a plant, a spy?

       

“And scared.” I hold my breath. I am and it pisses me off. The night had started out with such promise and now this.

        “But you are alive.” He seems sincere.

        “And in deep shit!”

        He begins spewing and hacking again. “Shit passes.”

        This seems to be going well. Maybe he isn’t a plant. Maybe he is the real thing. “Time will tell.”

        “In time they will realize how lucky they are you are still alive.”

       

Now the kicker.  “You don’t know my father.”  I turn and study his expression for any telltale signs of espionage.

       

“No. I don’t.” He clutches his pillow with spider-like fingers. Eyes shut and teeth clench in pain – large tobacco stained teeth. His ravaged body tightens as he winces until the wave of distress passes.

       

“Are you okay?”

       

His sigh is so long and deep, I think it’s his last.

        “He has time! You have time.”

       

My father’s lifeblood is holding onto a grudge so maybe this old guy isn’t a plant after all. There isn’t a screw up of mine that comes to mind that he hasn’t continually reminded me of, as though he wakes each morning and recites them in the mirror as he shaves so he doesn’t miss repeating one as we chomp on our cereal.

       

I rise onto my elbow. The dizziness isn’t overwhelming. I have to piss like a racehorse, I flip my legs over the side of my bed and sit up quickly. The room spins and I shut my eyes. I slide down. The tile is cold and feels good. My bladder is pulsating so hard, I have no shame and let the old guy get a great view of my bare ass as I step awkwardly, using the bed as a walker until I reach the narrow bathroom. The width is less than my wingspan and I can balance myself by clutching both walls at once until I stand over the throne. Using my left hand for support I pick up my gown with my right so I can finally empty…

       

I scream. I am pissing fiery lava.  The toilet bowl water is bloody.

       

I emerge from the bathroom to a standing applause from my wily witch of a nurse and Dr. Peters accompanied by the barking of my roommate. Facing the old guy, I take a deep bow, revealing the deepest, darkest areas of my soul to the medical tandem.

       

Finally drifting to sleep, I tussle with a stormy confused set of visions, deep starless skies hovering over a snow packed land, where I wander aimlessly. Suddenly I am dodging 45 RPM records flying at me in Dana’s living room – turning just in time to see them careen off the wall and fall in pieces onto the green carpet. And she is yelling at all of us from the top stair, her blonde hair in curlers as she clutches her bathrobe over her wet, naked body.  Somehow I realize this is not a dream but what actually happened the night before.

       

Permeating Dana’s screams is a squeaking sound. Forgetting where I am, I sit up too quickly – a rush of wooziness. In front of me is Mr. Schonenberger bouncing up and down on his mattress. Pencil thin legs, hairless and bowed, blue veins thick on bleached white skin like magic marker scribbles. The tent-like gown bellows in the downdraft allowing his gonads to smack back and forth against his knees. It is a sight I will never dispel. A phone to his ear, he listens intently before screaming “Danny! Get your Mama!”  The chord has been yanked from the wall and swings wildly in mid-air.

       

I push the nurse’s button as he collapses in a heap of twig-like bones. Wet exhaust spews from his lungs. She rushes into the room followed by an orderly pushing a crash-cart and a doctor right on his tail. They shock him, his frail lifeless frame rising high into the air under the current and after the second attempt he hits the mattress and the commotion settles into serenity.

       

They march reflexively through a list of procedures – pronouncing time of death and filling in spaces on a chart before finally rolling him out of the room. The sunlight glistens off the snowy roof through the window and fills the space just vacated by Mr. Schonenberger.

       

I’m still sitting up on my knees and my legs are cramped when she returns.  “Sorry you had to see that.”  

She is sincere.

       

I gaze at the sunlight on the floor.  “He called for Danny and Mama.”

“His son and wife. They were killed forty years ago in an auto accident.”  She helps me lie back down with strong hands and covers me with a blanket before leaving.

The phone rings. My worry alternates from a fear that it is my father ready to bark at me to a fear that it isn’t him. It might be Ronny ready to fill in the blanks – but I let it ring until it finally ends in faint echoes.

The afternoon inches slowly toward night and the sinking sunlight creeps across the room. Still wrapped in hospital sheets and post-mortem stillness, I begin to pull away from the life I embraced before Mr. Schonenberger and I each danced a jig with death.

-END-

***

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After receiving his B.A. in English from Colorado State University, C.W. Bigelow  lived in nine northern states, both east and west, before moving south to the Charlotte NC area, . His short stories and poems have most recently appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine,  Potluck, Dirty Chai,The Flexible Persona, Literally Stories, Compass Magazine, FishFood Magazine, Poydras Review, Five2One, Yellow Chair Review, Shoe Music Press and Crack the Spine.

Mouthpiece – by JENNY IRIZARY

Mouthpiece

My dad was leaning out the car window, catching up with Sofia’s mom, as I ran my finger from my Basque-Puerto Rican surname to the name “Mouthpiece, a Jet,” on the West Side Story cast list posted on the gym door. I ran down to the parking lot with the news that Sofia and Mia would play Sharks, but the rest of the Girl Scout troop and I would be Jets. Sofia’s mom sighed and my dad looked at her more directly than he ever looked at my mom, saying something so quietly he didn’t need words, and then he rolled up the window. The whole car ride home, I complained that I wasn’t Polish like the Jets are supposed to be, and he repeated, “I know, I know.” When my mom walked in the door, I tried to pull her into my well-articulated reasoning: “The Sharks have all the good songs,” and, “Well, red is my favorite color.” She stared into my hazel eyes just like hers and pronounced, “It’s typecasting. The play is a racist fantasy about gang violence ending in redemption.” My dad snorted and muttered that the Black Barts and Greasers at Balboa High were about no such thing when he was a teenager. Before I could hear what they were about, my mom interrupted. “They have an idea of what Puerto Ricans look like, and you’re not it. That’s why they chose Sofia to be a Shark; she looks the part. They don’t care that she’s Mexican.” It didn’t make sense that Sofia looked more Puerto Rican than a Puerto Rican. But it seemed downright bizarre that she got an anonymous chorus role without lines, even though she was a better actress at age twelve than the two eighth grade Anglo girls cast as María 1 and María 2 less for their singing voices than for their ties to “old families,” meaning rednecks that stole land when the U.S. took over California and never left. So instead I pointed out that Mia was, believe it or not, paler than I was, in skin tone and naturally platinum hair, yet she would get to perform the famous sung-out debate between the female Sharks who “like to be in America,” because life is “alright” and even “bright” in America, and the male Sharks, who counter with certain qualifications: if you “can fight” or “if you’re all-White in America.” My dad laughed at my shade-of-blonde, flesh pigment technicality, and my mom glared until he went quiet.

I thought that would reach him, me wanting to sing lines containing his own advice in the anecdotes he told me about growing up. In that scene, Rita Moreno’s character sings, “I’ll get a terrace apartment,” and her boyfriend, the leader of the Sharks, sings back, “Better get rid of your accent.” In the ‘50s, my dad’s family got a place in Bernal Heights, and after that, a friend’s family tried to get one nearby and couldn’t. “He never told me why,” my dad had repeated every time he told the story, “I found out years later that anybody Black was denied a right to buy or rent there. He thought I already knew.” I’d forgotten that the moral that ended narratives like this one could be sung as, “if you can pass in America” and “if you keep quiet in America.” I’d acted out that advice, repeated his silence almost daily with lines like, “It doesn’t matter that my grandfather’s from Puerto Rico; I’m only Spanish.” But now that being Puerto Rican was something everyone around me saw as fun and exotic, I suddenly wanted to reclaim my heritage. If I could play a teenager in a play set when my dad was a teenager, maybe I could finally resemble pictures of him smirking with a cigarette he’s only pretending to smoke.

During and after every rehearsal that year, white girls in our troop asked Sofia when exactly her family moved here from Jalisco, boasting about their humble “European immigrant roots,” all the while insisting that she prove the Americanness they considered inherent to their stories. And thanks to my mother’s blonde Nordicness and my “only-Spanish” story, I fell under one of the few rules the male and female Sharks agree upon: “Your mother’s a Pole, your father’s a Swede, you were born here and that’s all that you need; you’re an American now.” Sofia was “once an immigrant, always an immigrant,” although we were born in the same place. The more I tried to explain otherwise after twelve years of that other story, the more they thought I was lying out of pity for Sofia. She got sick of this and reminded me that she wasn’t ashamed of being Mexican and I didn’t have to lie to make her feel less alone. “And if you think that you’re making some sacrifice by pretending to be Latina, then you think just like they do.” Did I really understand what it would mean to not pass, or did I just want to put on a costume for a few hours and shout “Olé” like the Anglo girls, because red was a pretty color?

Either way, I resented that European-Americans at school had the power to push me farther from my grandfather, not based on how much I resembled him but on how much I resembled Natalie Wood, the daughter of Russian immigrants. Sure, my dad’s parents and hers both moved to San Francisco during the first two decades of the twentieth century, and soon after Natalia Nikolaevna Zacharenko (Natalie Wood) was born, her family moved to Santa Rosa, the city where Sofia and I were both born, but that didn’t make Natalie Wood Puerto Rican or me Russian. Natalie Wood accessed Hollywood at a time when most Latinos changed their names to downplay their non-whiteness. Rita Hayworth started out as Margarita Carmen Cansino. And although Natalie Wood changed her name to make it more pronounceable to Anglo-Americans, she didn’t do it to disguise African and indigenous ancestry. She could ignore the lynchings and kidnappings of Chicanos and mexicanos that had taken place in the ‘30s, people whose families were living in California before it was part of the U.S. and families who had recently moved here put in trucks and dropped off across the border or murdered by the kind of white terrorists still patrolling streets, deserts, and checkpoints, or, like my classmates’ parents, building sets for a play.

When the last rehearsal ended, Sofia’s mom and mine uncrossed their arms, rolled eyes at each other, reminded us that it was our choice to participate in this offensive musical, and instructed us to change out of our red and blue t-shirts. They knew that boys our age were being asked to choose sides with those colors, and one kid in our class who went by the nickname “Chango” and had dedicated truly atrocious pre-adolescent love poetry to both of us, had joined the Sureños. Although my mom panicked over me wearing blue, I knew it was the kids who “looked the part,” who were in danger whether or not they joined a gang, and I was so pale blonde that I was beyond those accusations, even if my Anglo friends asked me why I didn’t look quite like them.

At a school in California, formerly Mexico and still Aztlán, it was less threatening for a third grade teacher to explain that when I screamed at my friend, I should “put spit into the word ‘Spic,’ like you mean it” than it would have been to stage Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit or another play centering Chicano or mexicano characters. When I asked my mom why this was, and what the word “Spic” meant, she said, “It’s a derogatory word for people who are Hispanic,” and looked at my dad, who shrugged and gestured as if to say, “Go on.”

“It’s not like they’re going to put on a play portraying Latinos in a positive light. They’re being historically accurate.” My mom seemed surprised that I would expect respectful treatment in the world of middle school musical theater. Having been a white anti-racist activist in the ‘60s, she knew better.

The lights came up slow the last night of the play, and I punched past Sofia’s jaw as she threw her head back as if hit, my fist in front of her face, so that the audience wouldn’t see there had been no skin-to-skin contact. She pulled my shoulders down and brought her knee up to hide that she wasn’t really kicking me in the gut. We stomped inches above each other’s feet, because that was apparently how hard-ass gangsters rumbled in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I changed out of my cuffed jeans and into a royal blue ‘80s sequined cocktail dress because time periods were interchangeable depending on what I could afford at Goodwill. Sofia put on a dark red poodle skirt her mom made. Both of us could go through the motions, familiar from siblings’, parents’, and friends’ stories, but neither of us got the fashion chronology quite right. Leonard Bernstein’s dance music began. On opposite sides of the gym floor, Sofia and I reflected the same steps, her left foot back when my right foot moved forward. Lights dimmed, we slowed at the same time and then froze, as spotlights brought Tony and María together, the Polish guy trying to go straight and stay out of his friend’s white supremacist gang and the sister of the Sharks’ leader, who insists he’d rather go back to San Juan, even if over half its population is living in New York City by the late early ‘60s, cheap flights available to anyone willing to work, as “long as you stay on your own side,” as the Sharks sing.

After Tony and María’s first meeting at a community dance like the one where my dad met my brothers’ mom, Tony sings María’s name as a prayer and trills, “Say it loud and there’s music playing,” but it’s always fighting and not respect or adoration that upsurges the instrumentation for the remainder of the play.

During the condemnation and defense of America, the music rises again, and from behind the sets, I heard Mia and Sofia arguing that “buying on credit is so nice,” to which other Sharks reply, “One look at us, and they charge twice.” A stratified payment plan corner store owners on Valencia offered my dad, who replied throughout his childhood and adolescence that he could afford the whole Saltine cracker box, not just a sleeve, even when it wasn’t entirely true. The same interaction I’d watched through the ‘90s at the corner store in my neighborhood. Although “cadillacs zoom” and “industry booms in America,” Sharks reiterate that people live “twelve in a room in America.” And many of my friends did that May 2001, decades after the play’s Hollywood mirage of New York City had long since faded. A few people had told Sofia that not living like that was one more sign, along with her penchant for singing and dancing in American musicals, that she had allied herself with bourgeois comforts and white people. Since I passed for white and couldn’t speak Spanish, being friends with me was further evidence.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t blending in with the Jets as seamlessly as I had previously imagined. When we mocked police, psychologists, and social workers for pathologizing white teens as “juvenile delinquents,” “depraved on account of we’re deprived,” the kids with money sang the very sociological reductions they hurled at kids from my neighborhood: “Our mothers all are junkies, our fathers all are drunks. Golly Moses, ‘natcherly we’re punks.” My only line as Mouthpiece in West Side Story was in this song: “The trouble is he’s growing.” The next line is, “The trouble is he’s grown,” and that simultaneity was precisely my problem and Sofia’s.

We were both “queer for Uncle Sam,” as María’s brother accuses Rita Moreno of being. Since moving between and within gender expressions for even a few scenes was what drew me most to theater, this pejorative equivocation of queerness and assimilation was an accusation I was only beginning to realize would follow me the rest of my life. When one of my fellow Jets sang, “My sister wears a mustache, my brother wears a dress, golly, Jesus, that’s why I’m a mess,” and the Anglo girls in my troop turned and gestured at me for the benefit of the audience, that tipped me off.

Onstage in front of two hundred audience members, including my own family and Sofia’s, I didn’t have to fake tears in the last scene when María cradles Tony’s body even after he’s killed her brother to avenge his white friend’s death in his quest to be the good White ally boyfriend. She shouts at the Jets, the Sharks, and perhaps most of all the people watching the play, “How many bullets are left in this gun? Enough for you, enough for all of you? You all killed him” (to paraphrase). I’d spent hours practicing calling my friend epithets my dad ran from as a kid, down Capp Street, Valencia, Howard, and Mission. Terms that precipitated real, un-choreographed fights at Balboa High when the trouble was that he was growing and grown. After people that could have been my dad start to die in the play, the Jets advise each other to “keep cool” around cops to avoid being indicted for murder. But in all my dad’s stories, when the cops cornered and questioned his cousins any time anything happened in the neighborhood, they rarely got out of it by “keeping cool.”

I’d worried through rehearsals and multiple stagings of the play that my hair and eyes didn’t look quite like Natalie Wood’s instead of listening to what my dad had tried to tell me, in that silent way he communicated with Sofia’s mom. Un-ambivalent longing and nostalgia for sets and props didn’t belong to my father. For him there was no fixed boundary between art imitating life and life imitating art, the way there was for my friends who were “all-White in America.” Sometimes it’s possible through silence to be a Jet “from your first cigarette ‘til your last dying day,” but it comes at a price. My dad had laughed at my confusion about gradations of Whiteness and lightness and who played who in a musical because the only curtain call in his stories about colorism was that final one, without stage lights, sometimes with songs and people you love, but sometimes under the street lights and cop flashlights that end West Side Story.

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Jenny Irizary grew up in a canyon that flooded every winter and now resides in the city of Oakland, California. She holds a B.A. in Ethnic Studies and an M.A. in literature from Mills College. Her work has been published in Label Me Latina/o, Atticus Review, Duende, Snapping Twig, Tipton Poetry Journal,Communion, and other journals.