A Stranger Come Home – by HIRO TSUKINO

 

Stranger Come Home

by Hiro Tsukino

 

 

The guy with the window seat smiled and shaped his hand into a gun. He put the barrel against his neck and fired smoothly, gesticulating the glory of the blow out the other side onto the woman sleeper between us. He did this in slow motion and with grace (hand model or magician?). His fist mimed the unfurling violence—blood spray, tubular bits transmuted into globular muck from the heat and force of the bullet, neck bone fragments wild—in a gesture of sprawling digits and a snaky curl of the wrist.

The ten-hour flight from Tokyo to San Francisco would be painful, but not suicide. For me the opposite.

“Bitchin,’” the weirdo said, smiling. He showed teeth.

“Thank you.” I comprehended at last that he’d complimented my tattoo. The Death Star is tattooed on my neck, mid-detonation.

But writing this, months later, I am uncertain if the weirdo meant that his “bitchin’” explosion resembled my tattoo. He’d dropped his head back after the initial shot, then tapped his neck again with the barrel, and dropped his head back and performed this motion a third time (or have I rewritten in recalling?). Meaning (possibly): How bitchin’ would it be to shoot through all three of our necks so the bullet exits your tattoo and bursts into the center aisle to initiate further gore?(?)

It was a long flight. Even I was not myself.

The tattoo was done here, I confessed.

“In the air?” He wasn’t joking.

“In the U.S.—San Fran—” I said— “when I was fifteen.”

I am not the kind of person who chats with strangers on planes, yet I pushed through my introversion and spoke of my teenage rebellion, my hope that my father would not carry me back to Tokyo so irreverently marked. He did so and worse. Those were long days inside skyscrapers that blotted out the sun, and me lost under the lengthier shadow of my father. A matrix of shadow. Deep was his, and so un-there was I, that at night I seeped through the cracks of this steel trap into punk and electronic shows and the life underground. Never long—kidnapped at daybreak by heavy-handed limo drivers. My father being who he is, etcetera. Tokyo was a fun-house mirror and a charcoal suit I will not miss, I explained. I was returning to the U.S. for good, or maybe I would not stop wandering now, I told all this to the weirdo on the plane in not so many words.

I wanted to be a good listener, who I see myself as, so I asked, “What about you? Business or pleasure?”

“Exquisitely inseparable in my book,” he said.

I remember this is what he said because I’d never heard a person use the word “exquisitely.” I smirked in return.

“Talk—tell me about yourself,” he said, reaching into his jacket pocket. Three travel whiskeys lay in my lap (magician).

I began and, despite my introversion, could not stop. This was a cliff’s edge time for me, running on a new life. Not new—deep me, 24/7.

I did not speak of the patriarch. I told the weirdo a little about my music and much more about the zines I had written for and published. Conspiracy zines. With expats. The one I put most heart into was a meta zine on conspiracy and knowledge. Its title: Dietrologia.

“’Nothing you can believe … is not coming true,’” the guy said. He dipped his finger in the air at the word “not,” made squiggles in the air of the rest. I had not seen him drink. Though languid, his motions were precise.

This quote is from Don DeLillo’s Underworld in which he writes of the search for hidden motives. Exactly where I had stolen the title.

“People don’t want to hear it,” I said, meaning the truth, excited that we shared this language. I immediately became paranoid: A coincidence? Was he sent to interrogate me? By my father? The U.S. Government? I was one whiskey in, a lightweight.

“Too afraid?” he said.

“The opposite.” I said this much less excited. “The concept is not scary enough.”

I thought I would say no more.

The weirdo stared at the headrest of the seat in front of him with a crazed grin as if gazing through it, through the skull and brain of the person in front of him, and entertained by the picture show of his or her dreaming mind.

I then shared what I’d learned after years of working on zines. When I published about the secrets of space travel acquired from little gray men from outer space, locked in cells under the Pentagon, people bought. When I wrote about Cthulhu cultists performing virgin sacrifices in high power high-rises of Dubai, about the living city of Atlantis leading sensitives to its rediscovery through ESP, and about the death of American rappers linked to the Illuminati, people bought.

When I published about the immorality of the 1%, about political parties as pro-corporate puppets exploiting labor at home and internationally, about the zombie-ing effect of “present culture” (see titles of current “Top 100 Songs”) to prevent labor from seeing its disempowerment and capitalism’s future catastrophes as inevitable, about our inability to conceptualize the lasting effects of parties and politicians for more than five years forward or backward, about the inability to see that as a problem, about the underfunding of education globally so that the unprivileged are learning less in classrooms about how political and economic systems operate, about these schools serving only to conform us into spectators and not actors, about racism and sexism and classism as subversive tools that keep us blind and divided, about how we uphold these inequalities through fighting and not talking, and about why this is happening, about power securing power, stuffing bank accounts at the cost of human dignity, then no one bought.

“To sum it up—” I said in a sweat.

“Please,” he said.

“People want mystery. If they know what is happening in the world…” we looked to the window simultaneously—high altitude darkness circumscribed by a soft rectangle made of white plastic, “the interest is not there.”

“Suspense!” The guy rocked in his seat and patted the sleeper’s leg encouragingly. I am certain they did not know one another. “Suspension—the state of—disbelief,” he rambled.

“Something like that.” I wiped my eyes, bleary from an unexpected sadness, two whiskeys in. The lost and those not wanting to be found, acquaintances, awaited me in this country. I was not even awaited.

Most passengers were asleep or attempting to sleep at this time in the flight. We both became aware of it and talked in a lower volume.

“What does one do with truth?” he asked. “What do you do with it?”

“Avoid. For a long time. The truths about myself.” Was I still by running from Japan and my father? I didn’t know. I didn’t wholly want to.

“Ever open your eyes at night in bed? Try it sometime. Tonight!” the guy said. “One eye sees darker than the other. Close one, open the other. The rods and cones are different, each eye degenerating at different speeds. Eyeballs are hardware, you see? We are devices of input, and we compile one dark image, one lighter image into a single 3D illusion. So let me ask you: Which eye sees the world as it is?”

The question was very rhetorical because he continued before I understood his point (slow with drink). He’d skipped several logical points ahead as if missing a teleprompter.

“You compile your own—or so you think. Your own Meaning of Life. In you, for you. But what of outside you, now? Outside your little life with its little meaning—what’s the bigger fish, the system that you, we, as data, compile into?”

“I don’t know. Life?”

“Whose objective is?”

“There isn’t one?”

He raised a finger.

“Whatever we make of it?” I answered.

The finger went limp, and his smile sagged into distaste.

He told me to drink the last whiskey and, after, when I’d enjoyed my “brief escape” and sobered up, to get serious about the “red mountain in the room.”

He put in earbuds, and we did not talk for the remaining hours of the flight. My answer, or lack of one, had disappointed him. So I did not (yet) understand the hidden meaning of reality. I knew myself. Didn’t I? The sadness returned. I could not finish the drink. I expected we would shake hands at the gate. I became anxious over it, considering what I would say to make things right, as they had been. To make a friend.

Upon landing, he got up (no bags) and passed me the way one does not see a stranger.

***

Hiro Tsukino is an artist and activist living in San Francisco. He is the editor-in-chief at Future First Magazine and was born in Hiroshima, Japan.

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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.

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.

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.

Drum Roll Please…SICK LIT MAGAZINE’S 2017 PUSHCART PRIZE NOMINEES ARE…..

This is the final, official, carved-in-wood, list of Sick Lit Magazine’s 2017 Pushcart Prize Nominees

**Precursor: if you were on this list previously and are now not, I apologize. Works from 2015 are not eligible for entry – and one person has been disqualified for plagiarism.**

The very mention of the two words, Pushcart Prize, makes most literary buffs, writers and readers alike, beam with pride and happiness, while others whisper on in the background. It’s an honor to be nominated – and we, here, at Sick Lit Magazine, are honored to have you as our writers and audience. To be candid, I wish we were allotted more than SIX total nominees per year. It seems like an awfully small amount compared to how many amazing pieces of writing cross my path all year long.

**One more precursor: those that I’ve promised a Pushcart nomination who have continued to send in groundbreaking work to us are being nominated for the prize, but for a different piece of writing. A piece from 2016 – the current calendar year.**

So, take a deep breath.

Exhale.

Sick Lit Magazine’s Official and Final List of Pushcart Prize Nominees for the Current Calendar Year (in Pushcart years, that’s 2017-) are as Follows: 

1. The Tale of the Cabbage Patch – by STEVE CARR

2. Shrink – by DAVID COOK

3. Sexism Doesn’t Exist / Unburying / “That’s so like a girl!” – by PRERNA BAKSHI

4. Atavistic Lipstick / Silversword / Counting / The Chase – (a 100-word story collection) by JEFFREY H TONEY , PhD

5. The Bus / Yellow Dinghy / Muesli / He Buys Me Flowers / Impersonator / The Sea (A Collection of Flash Fiction) – by KATE JONES

6. The Blind Policeman – by TESS WALSH

If  you get a chance, congratulate each and every one of our six nominees for the 2016 / 2017 Pushcart Prize season! This year, I haven’t had the chance to contact each nominee individually before this announcement, so if you’ve contributed to us, I hope you’re reading this.

 

 

Kaleidoscope – by JOANNE SPENCER

Kaleidoscope

 

The ground yawned and swallowed him whole.

The glossy white casket of my husband consumed

by the earth. I am alone.

 

My eardrums rupture,

my bones melt,

my lungs seize

my pulse stops.

I am a corpse on the grass,

among a landscape of stones

and yet I can…

 

See how the hues of azure, pewter and plum waltz across the sky.

A kaleidoscope of radiance brushing across a twilight canvas

as if painted by Cézanne himself

and I can…

 

See how life hovers, a portrait of brilliant, vibrant assurance.

Illuminating wisps of translucent, billowing clouds

rising to empyrean.

I am not alone.

 

My bloods warms,

my breath returns,

my bones solidify,

my ears hum.

He is here,

on the grass,

among a landscape of stones.

***
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Joanne Spencer, who once had her life saved by a naked man, has had work published in Fresh! Magazine, Woman’s World  and will soon have a poem published in Mother’s Always Write. She is a published author of one novel, The Letter Keeper, and is currently working as a contributing journalist for her local publication, The Creekline,  as well as writing reviews for The Review Review. She resides in Northwest Florida where she pretends to cook, clean and do laundry all while secretly writing on a notepad she keeps in her back pocket or her bra, depending on her outfit that day.