Life, The Magazine, and a Job Opportunity – Editor-in-Chief, Kelly Fitzharris Faulk

Hey, guys!

I’m checking in to let you know that today my mother is undergoing extensive back surgery and that I’m going to be sort of in and out as much as I can be.

The themes are still running, I’ll post your pieces as soon as I am able to, but if I’m not back with you right away, it’s because I’m indisposed. I’m hoping to be able to schedule some more work tonight – but if I can’t, I don’t want you to worry. It will happen.

Unrelated side note: I am actively looking for an employee whose sole purpose at SLM will be to establish, create, and accurately procure some sort of running, longstanding site monetization. Monetizing this thing will not only help with staff momentum and motivation, but also eventually get us to a place where we might be able to pay our writers. For the past two years, this has been my passion project – it will continue to be a passion project – I’ll just have more time to devote to it if I’m able to somehow make the money I’ve invested in it back.

Now: I’m accessible and communicate freely with my writers because that’s who I am, first, and because I truly enjoy it. That being said, I dislike being blind copied on a submission that’s going out to about 40 other publications. Now, this isn’t to say that we don’t accept simultaneous submissions, because of course we do. But if you have scoured Duotrope and Poets & Writers and picked us because we seem like an easy place to be published, then we are not for you.

I LIVE for the emails I receive where a writer talks to me person-to-person. My regular contributors / artists / writers all talk to me that way, referencing different editorials I’ve posted, checking in with me, as I check in with them as well – this isn’t some fly by night publication. I’m building SLM in a way that brings back the writer – editor connection, not the other way around. We are NOT every other journal / lit mag / whatever hipster term is popular for this – what Editor Z loves, possibly an attached cover letter (WTF?! Is this a job interview?!), strict margins, strict professionalism in the body of the email, and basically a carbon copy of every other submission that they accept, IS NOT what I expect, nor is it what I want. Would you like to know why? Because that’s not what a true talent for writing is all about. The vast majority of us are NOT type A personalities who organize everything to death and drool over formatting.

If an editor is rejecting work solely based on that criteria, then I’m HAPPY to receive all the great work that they’re missing out on. I don’t know when writing became such a standardized, marginalized game of favorites; and who deemed what type of writing is supposed to be “right” and what’s supposed to be “wrong.” That very line of thinking goes against everything that we writers stand for; because writing is an art. Art doesn’t live within the margins, literally and figuratively.

Our tagline, Bringing the real. Keeping the weird. isn’t what you might think it is. It means that we’re ALL WEIRD. Who is normal? What is normal? (I’ll give you a clue: there is no normal.) I want you to be yourself (hence the real) and I want you to write what you love to write (hence the weird).

I want to (and try to) stress this in as many of my editorial notes as I possibly can, because we have enough site traffic and wonderful pieces of writing and art that a lot of my mission statements (or whatever you want to call it) sort of get lost in the mix.

Nicole summed it up pretty well in the Submissions FAQ when she said: What we’re NOT: Easy Access. That is true, definitely. It’s true because I may see greatness in something that every other editor has passed on; and I can also see through a piece of writing that lacks spirit and passion. And I’ll tell you another thing: after being published here, for some strange, magical reason, suddenly, other editors begin to publish the writers that I feature here.

Editors need to take their jobs a little more seriously – because, like it or not, we are a gateway to exposure; and that sometimes means you’re a writer’s last and/or only hope.

I can’t promise you guys that I’m going to singlehandedly change the entire literary landscape. But I can promise you this: as long as I’m here, I will work as hard as I can to be that change that we writers all need so desperately (while I’m working here at SLM). This doesn’t always mean that I’m going to respond to your submission vomiting sunshine and rainbows. A lot of times, I’ll send you back a page of your work with markups and tell you to get to work. Writing is a process. It’s a lot of trial and error and without personal growth, your writing becomes stagnant.

On “Career Day” at Bluewater Elementary in Niceville Florida, I was in second grade, eight years old, and a regular visitor at the school’s library. As an avid reader and consumer of content, content, content, I knew where I wanted to be in this world.

My entire class had to give their answer to the question of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” After listening to answers like ballerina, football player, fireman, police officer, actor, model, and many, many others, I was the last to answer.

“Well, Kelly Marie, what is it that you want to do when you grow up?”

I cleared my throat. “I’d like to be a part of the media.”

My teacher chuckled. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, I want to be part of the media. I want to write. I want to be a part of it in my own way.”

And, well, here I am.

Keep submitting.

Keep writing.

Be patient with me.

zzzyy

Cheers,

Kelly

Advertisements

Important Updates, Announcements, and More About Submissions! – Editor-in-Chief, Kelly Fitzharris Faulk

MAN, you guys are KILLING IT with these submissions – and I’m not exaggerating. The pieces I’ve been accepting are all SO DIFFERENT from one another, but they’re poignant, fresh, and remind me of the reason I started Sick Lit Magazine just about two years ago.

Nicole Ford Thomas has not “left the building” – she and I are still working closely together here at SLM. She’s now the Creative Director, where I let her spread her wings and expand her mind, allowing her ideas and her imagination to grow and flourish. This brings me to my next point: Nicole will be writing a regular column for SLM called Letters From Left Field. 

Along with that, we’re starting our own advice column called Ask The Redheads – When in Doubt? Bitch it out! All questions will be anonymous and will be posted on the site with both mine and Nicole’s input. Any advice questions should be sent to sicklitsubmissions@gmail.com with “Ask The Redheads” in the subject line. You’ll be notified if we pick your question to be featured and also (for a few, select scenarios) enlist a group of your peers help Nicole and myself in our advice to you.

So, now, along with fresh poetry and fiction, we’ll be providing even more fun content for you to delve into!

I’m going to start posting some of your pieces for our “New Beginnings” theme either tomorrow or over the long weekend, so you’ll have something exciting and new to read. I woke up earlier this week with two fairly painful infections (of course, right? Why wouldn’t I? Ha!); I’ve received antibiotics and am hoping to be on the mend by Saturday. If not, I’ll start posting your work on Sunday.  Don’t worry, guys. We’ll get everything up and running soon.

To some of you who haven’t received a response yet: bear with me. I will get to you, I promise.

Who’s excited?

Who’s ready to write again, and actually enjoy it this time? As I’ve said before, throw out that “literary agent jargon” that’s peddled as “Professional advice.”

If I’m being completely candid, I want you to forget EVERYTHING and write me a bold, passionate piece (and then of course, send it to sicklitsubmissions@gmail.com) and if nothing else, your enthusiasm and love for writing will shine through.

Be on the lookout for Nicole’s New Column, Our Advice Column, and some excellent prose and poetry.

Nicole and I sort of have an affinity for all things “fall.” We’re excited for these next few issues and what’s to come for all of us here at SLM!

 

IMG_5716

Cheers, guys! And good luck submitting!

Kelly

(Above: a photo of me ‘at the office’)

 

 

Feel Like Starting Over? Come Explore Our “New Beginnings” Theme – Editor-in-Chief, Kelly Fitzharris Faulk

It’s….September!

And that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It might mean back-to-school (either as a student yourself, a teacher, parent, or all three), meaning unchecked road rage in the form of crowded, bitchy carpool lanes; it could bring either a markedly busier or slower work pace for you, and September always serves as a lead-in to the holiday season and the harried, frantic conclusion to the year 2017.

*Side note about unchecked road rage- what in the name of Sam Hill is going on?! Not to sound like a disgruntled older woman, but I’m seriously alarmed at the amount of people just absolutely LOSING IT while in their cars. I saw some of the most God awful road rage, of all places, at the drive thru lane at Chik-Fil-A last week. One car cut another one off; sure, they shouldn’t have done that, but the reaction from the woman who was cut off was straight up disturbing. Her blood pressure had to have been close to heart attack level. It is NOT WORTH IT to engage ANYONE like that unless they’ve literally just snatched your newborn baby out of your vehicle. End of rant. *

Whether this year has been one of strife and struggle for you or one of success and triumph, time waits for no one. And the only direction it moves is forward.

Last night, my husband and I watched the movie “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. Its humor has more of a subdued, subtle dryness to it, giving it the perfect opportunity to be in the background and serve as the perfect backdrop to a realistically funny look at what the world might look like right before it ended. Dean (my husband) kept trying to figure this movie out; he was determined to break it down and find its hidden meaning and intent. He kept guessing that the ending would take a drastic turn and the world wouldn’t end at all – that the asteroid might narrowly miss earth, giving the movie “meaning.”

“No, no, no,” was my rebuttal. “The point is that it doesn’t matter how much time we have here or what we think we’re supposed to be doing. If it takes the end of the world for you to ‘find your purpose’ or if you think you need to go backpacking across Brazil in order to find yourself, then you very well could be missing out on the greatness that’s already in your life. In the end, we’ve all got what we need right in front of us. We’ve had the right tools all along, we just didn’t know how to use them. Changing your scenery won’t change your problems and it won’t change you. Being with those who love you and loving yourself are the keys to fulfillment.” (Now, don’t throw that back at me when I’m super stressed out and complain about the annoyances of day-to-day life. Ha!)

All of that being said, each day is an opportunity for us to begin again, to try harder, to live our lives a little better and be a little kinder to one another. Just because you’ve messed up, fallen down, cried in front of your boss, reacted in situations with cowardice or malice as opposed to bravery and kindness, doesn’t mean that you have to live tomorrow that way. Messing up is part of the journey, guys. You’re supposed to do that. You are supposed to bump your head – a lot – in order to find your way. And you’ll keep messing up until the day you die. That’s just what life is. It’s about realizing who and what you are, knowing your shortcomings and your strengths, and using this knowledge to not only better yourself, but hopefully those around you.

That brings me to the reason why I’ve chosen the themes I have for this fall: All of these themes hit close to home for the vast majority of us. If you don’t have one instance where you have faced adversity, wanted to start over, or actually did start over, or witnessed or experienced a good versus evil battle, then maybe you need to get out of your comfort zone.

I’ve received a lot of wonderful submissions. If I don’t get back with you five minutes after you’ve sent me an email, remember that I’m only one person. And chill out.

Here is the official theme schedule:

September: New Beginnings

October: Good VS Evil

November: Strength in the Face of Adversity

Okay, guys, now do your thing and I’ll do mine. Until next time…..

IMG_1440

Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Or, hell, go ahead. 

Cheers, 

Kelly Fitzharris Faulk 

 

 

Calling All Writers! Step “Write” up and get yourself some SLM Announcements! – Kelly Fitzharris Faulk, Editor-in-Chief

Here’s to Life, Literature, and bringing the spirit of SLM back!

 

Sometimes, we’re trying so hard to open a figurative closed door in our lives that we fail to look behind us to see a brand-new, shining, glassed-in sun-room. Forget that old window analogy; this time after God has closed the door, he’s opened up the entire back of your house.

The past is done; it’s gone. We cannot change it, nor can we live there. This is why it’s so important to live in the here and the now and to do your best to see that rainbow while you’re stuck in the mud.

I’m sure you’ve noticed my name change up above – I’M MARRIED! And it is a happy time for me and my family. Soon, I’ll be Kelly Faulk.

Onto the magazine!

I will officially be re-opening shop so to speak for submissions starting NOW and staying open until the end of October of 2017 for short prose (just don’t send me 30 pages) and poetry.

I do have a few themes up my sleeve:

Good VS Evil

New Beginnings

Strength in the face of Adversity 

 

You may begin to submit to any or ALL of these themes as soon as you are ready to do so to: sicklitsubmissions@gmail.com

*Now, remember: When submitting your work to the magazine, please, please, PLEASE, write the genre and theme somewhere in or on your email, write to me as yourself, and be as frank or as candid as you’d like.

Reminder: I want YOUR work. Write as YOU; write what you write best and write the hell out of it.

My mission and my intent have never been to conform to the rest of the literary world; on the contrary, I want to serve as a guide, a mentor, a coach, and a voice of reason in a world filled with chaos and closed doors. Unless I suspect you *might* be a serial killer aside from your day job, I usually make every effort to email you back as soon as I can and to provide you with my enthusiastic feedback, critiques, praises, what have you.

I’m starting this fall with a clean slate and a fresh outlook. If you’ve sent in work before and it’s gone unnoticed and you feel that it’s good and fits one of the themes, send it again. This year has scrambled us all up a bit to say the least. So let’s just start over.

Here’s to new beginnings, a brighter tomorrow, and the freedom to express ourselves.

Cheers,

dkweddingggggggg

Kelly

Frequent Flyer Miles – Editor-in-Chief, Kelly Fitzharris

It’s no surprise to most of you that I’m kind of a frequent flyer – slash – frequent traveler.

The experiences I’ve had while traveling alone (sans fiance and/or my two beautiful children) have been some of the most poignant and interesting ones.

Recently when traveling to my hometown of Niceville, Florida, I met a little girl who was about my daughter’s age. She was a bright, bubbly girl who lived at the far east end of Panama City. She talked to me about inter-dimensional travel, creating worlds in Minecraft, galaxies, planets, light years, and everything else under the sun. I told her that she should harness all of her creativity and ideas and draw them in a journal and compile it into a little book.

A few months ago when I was traveling to Florida, I helped a woman work the Benefit vending machine during my layover in Houston; by the end of our interaction, she hugged me and told me what a bright light I had inside me.

Now, while all of these moments and happenstance meetings are without a doubt fleeting, they’re also special. They’re real. They’re genuine.

I always want to bottle up the way I feel when I have these small yet meaningful interactions so that I can open it up one day and watch it in my mind’s eye as if it were on a movie reel.

I travel back home a lot because my best girlfriend lives there and we have been close off-and-on since high school. Recently, though, my trip was for a less-than-exciting occasion. Her mother was in the hospital dying. Her mother actually passed away while I was there. To say that the occasion was sad and heavy would be a gross understatement.

Which brings me to my next point: life is fleeting. Our time here is relatively short. Why not live as yourself, as a genuine individual, instead of pretending who society wants you to be? Because there, truly, is no right or wrong way to “be.” Liberal or conservative, Democrat, Republican, independent, or apathetic – what happened to the days when we could all be friends with one another despite our religious or political beliefs? Rob Zombie said on Twitter about a year ago that one of his best friends was a conservative Republican. Rob Zombie is not. He said that that never once got in the way of their friendship or interfered with their relationship, even if they argued politics every now and again. He said this in response to Twitter’s outrage at the revelation that he is a vegan.

What have we become as a society, in America (and elsewhere – you guys do it, too), that someone’s choice to be a Vegan would cause such an uproar and elicit such anger and rage? I mean, honestly, what in the good Lord’s name has happened to all of us? When did we all become such a lynch mob, demanding someone’s blood for choosing to live their life a little differently than we live ours?

Kindness. Empathy. Courtesy. Sympathy. Humility. Forgiveness. Love. Unconditional love.

That’s what all of us need to practice more and more in our daily lives, especially these days when these qualities are so hard to find in others. We live in this social media bubble that demands perfection, assimilation, and for everyone to be a carbon copy of the next person; so much so that I rarely even post on Facebook anymore. If your post is not 100% positive, dripping with sunshine and rainbows, you’ll amass hundreds of awful comments verging on character assassination. How’s that for hypocrisy? The reality is that there is not one of us out there who exhibits or lives a life filled to the brim with perfection. That’s because perfection does not exist; it is not attainable.

Each of us has a myriad of idiosyncrasies, issues, quirks, ups and downs, sadness, happiness, anger, and every other emotion that exists. Letting these things out, rather than bottling them up, are what help keep us sane and grounded. That’s why we have friends; they are supposed to serve as a healthy mirror back of who we are as human beings. We’re supposed to be kind and open when a friend confides in us, without judgment or harshness, and also to be forgiving.

You never know what your neighbor, your customer, your cashier at the store, or the homeless man carrying a sign, have gone through that day. They, too, don’t know what you might have been through on that same day. Everyone goes through their own personal brand of suffering.

The next time you find yourself traveling, just ask the person sitting next to you at the airport how their day has been. You’ll be surprised what you might find out: not just about that person, but about yourself.

Cheers,

Peace, love and all the rest,

 

 

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Kelly Fitzharris

 

 

 

Pop Culture Got You Down? Politics? Let’s Party Like it’s 2005. Also, Your Favorite Editor is Checking in ;) – Kelly Fitzharris, Editor-in-Chief

Here’s to New Beginnings!

 

 

A lot of you have emailed recently, asking me how I’ve been doing and checking in on me. Please know that it hasn’t gone unnoticed and/or unappreciated. 

Switching gears just for a moment (bear with me, I have a point to make):

Ever spend an hour scrolling through your Facebook-Twitter-insert-social-media-app-slash-web-site feed only to feel like an empty, hollow, lifeless loser? And then regretted that hour so much that you vowed never to tell anyone you just actually wasted an hour (or more…) scrolling through Facebook? Have you ever stopped to question the content that you are allowing to play on a loop from your phone, PC, laptop, iPad, other device, etc.?

Well…if you answered no…Question it!

I can tell you: spending all of your time on Facebook reading what everyone else is doing can make you feel depressed. Also, spending time on Facebook playing negative videos over and over and over again will also dampen your spirits. Doing both for a solid day or so is nothing short of insanity-inducing.

As human beings, we aren’t meant to be cooped up with an electronic device for hours on end, hunched over, reading canned and regurgitated garbage that may or may not come from a kernel of truth, letting that fill up all of our free time.

The same can be said for trolling a person on the web as opposed to taking the time to get to know them in person. Reading everything that, let’s say, I’ve written or tweeted or even a few of my published works (including an article I co-authored with Dr. Jeffrey Toney, PhD on The Hill, Congress Blog) is no way to get an idea of my character, my current life situation, nor is it an appropriate way to wrongly judge a person.

Here’s the thing about judgment: it’s a lot like assuming. And you know what they say about assuming.

I was raised by two, good, God-fearing parents who, yes, raised me Catholic, and simultaneously raised me to be open-minded, open-hearted, loving and forgiving. And I was also raised never, ever to judge a book by its cover. My father is a graduate of USAFA (US Air Force Academy), won a Guggenheim fellowship scholarship (with which he used to procure his Master’s in engineering from Columbia University in New York City), before he started out his first assignment as a fighter pilot at Langley Air Force Base when I was only 2 years old. He served as an officer in the US Air Force for 22 years before retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel and Senior National Represent for the United States. My mother has been a licensed LVN (nurse) most of her life, practicing in both Florida and Texas over the years.

While it’s true that I’ve been through my own personal brand of hell this year and last year, I’ve also recently been absent from this site because, SURPRISE, I’ve been happy for the first time in a long time. I’ve met someone who loves me, loves my children, and who supports me endlessly.

After our first date, about a couple of weeks later, my dog got out of my fence. I called him flustered, driving around shouting the dog’s name with my two kiddos in the backseat. He came over that day with tools, wearing a white shirt and jeans, and met my children. My son went out and pretended to help him fix the fence, carrying his own “tool kit.” It was that day that I knew; I knew it in my heart that this was it. He was the real thing. And he has been ever since.

We’re engaged to be married in August of 2017.

Here’s the thing: you can’t schedule falling in love. If you try and micromanage it and interrupt nature’s way of doing things, that’s a surefire way to ruin it. To kill it. Instead of living in the past and waking up daily with hate and anger in your heart, why not celebrate the present and look forward to the future and hold happiness in your heart for your family?

Life is too short not to.

I recently got back from a trip to see my best friend from high school. I went to visit so I could help her while her mother was in the hospital. Unfortunately…sadly…her mom passed away while I was visiting. As devastatingly sorrowful as that visit was, it has given me a different perspective on life; on family; on, well, everything. My friend’s mom was the same age that my mom is going to be in August.

If there’s anything to be learned from this, it’s to shelve the judgments and relish the fleeting happiness that can sometimes bury itself beneath the monotony of our day-to-day grind that most often leaves us feeling empty inside. Acknowledge your own suffering; acknowledge and learn from your own failures before you point outward to project it onto someone else. Someone who might, just might, be a decent person.

***

The future of the magazine is still up in the air. As I’m sure you can probably imagine, my life is filled to the brim with activity, which includes getting married and getting my children registered for school and getting settled back into a routine.

I can promise you that once the dust has settled, I will be in touch.

 

Cheers,

Kelly Fitzharris

Editor-in-Chief

FullSizeRender (69)

 

Changes. – Kelly Fitzharris, Editor-in-Chief, Founder (the creator of this monster ;) )

Readers, contributors, fans, friends, and longtime SLM enthusiasts, this is to all of you: I apologize for my lack of involvement and communication in the magazine as of late. I will explain. 

I know there has been more than a lot of confusion surrounding the magazine’s future and about the fact that we’ve posted a “closed to submissions” notice on the site.

The truth is that I had always told myself that when I no longer enjoyed the work I did here, that I would either walk away or find a way to enjoy it again.

After going through the demise of my 12 year relationship (10 year marriage) where there are two malleable children involved, I’ve found myself broken, shattered, hurt, angry, confused, and on the brink of near insanity at times. Nicole has been on the receiving end of more than her fair share of text messages and phone calls where I broke down. I cried. I told her that I was, in fact, buckling under all the pressure. I couldn’t do it all. I’d failed, in short.

At the moment, I’m feeling rather placid. I want to be hopeful for the future; I want to heal. I want to live my life and be who God meant for me to be. I don’t want to live my life feeling as though I’m letting everyone down anymore (whether it’s in my personal life or in my work life).

SLM (Sick Lit Magazine) will be undergoing a bit of a change over this summer; there will be an overhaul and I will take a few of you with me and Nicole (if you want to come, that is.) We set out to work for ourselves and we intend to do just that. We intend to take the reigns back. Things have gotten a bit out of control in terms of the workload and lack of income.

As I saw my divorce on paper, filed, documented, and subsequently took on the responsibilities of a single mother to two children after my ex moved out, I realized that I could no longer run the magazine as it was going. I realized (with Nicole’s help) that instead of becoming the literary revolution I’d so badly wanted to become, a publication where writers were honored by an acceptance, I was, instead, pandering to everyone else’s whims and wishes. I’ve been the veritable doormat that I swore I’d never become.

As May of 2017 winds down, so will Sick Lit Magazine as all of you know it now. 

Everyone we’ve published will still be on the site, in an archived section. I don’t plan on deleting anything as of yet.

I owe it to myself to find my way back to who the hell I am; I owe it to all of you as well.

Stay tuned to see what Nicole and I are up to on here.

Cheers, 

zzzyy

Kelly Fitzharris

Smolder – by DENNIS FRIEND

Smolder

By

Dennis Friend

 

 

 

“What was your girlfriend’s name?”

Konni had been reading the newspaper when she glanced up slowly and stared at me. I could not read the look on her face.

What an odd question, I thought. Konni knew her name. In the 40-plus years we’ve been married, Konni has heard about Karen countless times. I answered anyway.

Wordlessly, Konni handed me the newspaper’s obituary section.

Karen’s name, the name of the funeral home and a brief “Complete notice later” summarized the end of Karen’s life in three sentences.

There never was a complete notice. The funeral home told me she had been buried in a pauper’s grave, attended only by her young daughter and the daughter’s guardians.

No headstone. No marker. No other survivors. No other friends.

She deserved better.

Her death unleashed a flood of memories, most of which I had buried for decades.

Softly whispering ‘I love you’

Karen and I stood waist-deep in the lake, the only two people swimming that chilly day in early autumn. Now, we were silent, clinging to each other like shipwreck survivors and kissing.

Karen started laughing and I drew back.

“What’s so funny?”

“You smell like a candy bar.”
“It’s cocoa butter. It’s like suntan lotion. It keeps you from getting sunburned,” I told her.

“I kinda doubt that,” she replied.

“Oh, and your mixture of baby oil and iodine works so much better.”

“Tell me, Dennis. Do you see sunburn here?” she asked, slipping out of my arms and flashing her bare back before diving under the water again.

I caught up with her. She spun around, kissed me and whispered “I love you.”

It was 1969, and that was the first time she ever told me that. The moment is frozen in time for me. Lyrics from a 1967 song by David and Jonathan perfectly described the moment, the mood, my time with Karen: “I can feel your warm face ever close to my lips and the scent of you invades the cool evening air, I can close my eyes and you’re there in my arms still… and I hear your voice whispering ‘I love you.’”

To paraphrase a line from Erich Segal’s “Love Story,” Karen loved her grandmother, the Beatles, life in the country, and me. I did not marry her. We did not live happily ever after. But she has had a profound effect on my life, despite the fact that I last saw her more than 40 years ago.

Some memories are faded or lost, since I have to think back to the days when my hair was not gray and most of my life stretched well ahead of me.

I have to think back to a humid summer evening in 1968 at a dimly-lit outdoor dance staged in a parking lot between a high school and a cemetery. I saw the petite blonde with her startling, hypnotic dark eyes almost as soon as I arrived.  She stood out as if someone had decided to shine a spotlight on her. She seemed radiant. I thought she was beautiful.

So did my friend, who immediately asked her to dance. An attractive, dark-haired young lady saw me staring toward the pretty blonde and told me, “Her name’s Karen,” then added somewhat ruefully, “all the guys want to dance with her.”

When the song ended and my friend left Karen by herself, I immediately introduced myself and asked her to dance.

I was enchanted. Karen was a high school senior who lived in nearby Bennington. I was a high school graduate ready to attend college in September. Karen and I danced for the rest of the night.

I was smitten by this beautiful creature with those marvelous eyes. She was funny, clever and fond of trying to confuse people with cryptic statements like, “Intelligence is not to be confused with an organized mind.”

“Is that a famous saying?” I asked.

“Yes, and much quoted,” She claimed.

Well, who said it?” I pressed.

She laughed. “I did, just now. Did you forget?”

She gave me her phone number and asked me to call her. I did. We began dating. I would make the trip faithfully, often in 15 or 20 minutes, even though it normally took at least 30 minutes to travel from my home in Omaha to her modest Allen Street house if one were to follow the posted speed limits. I chose to risk a speeding ticket. Who cares about a speed limit when you’re 18 and a beautiful girl is waiting for you?

We went to movies, to dances, to her school’s homecoming, to Friday and Saturday parties. She showed me her favorite retreat, a small, isolated rural family cemetery not far from her home. She said she liked the place because it was out in the country, peaceful and serene.

“I always think of how wonderful the country is,” she confided before adding out of the blue, “When I think of how beautiful nature is, I want you to be with me. You,” she repeated for emphasis, fixing her gaze on me.

No one speaks like this in real life, I thought. How could I not fall in love with her?

Happy together

A few years ago, I heard an odd and awkward quote: “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to realize that this, too, was a gift.”

When I met Karen, I already had an attractive, intelligent, loving girlfriend. I was in the kind of relationship people usually reference by saying, “They belong together.” I wasn’t looking for someone new. I was at this summer dance because one of my friends was suffering through a breakup. I drove him there so he could meet someone.

He didn’t meet anyone, but I did. Karen was blonde and attractive, disarmingly charming, occasionally philosophical and wickedly funny. She had hazel eyes that seemed to change color depending on the lighting, the color of her clothing, even her eye shadow, and she had impossibly straight hair that smelled of baby powder, Heaven Sent perfume and, occasionally, cigarette smoke. She liked to write, as did I. She spoke a little German, which she had learned from her grandmother, someone she regarded with awe and deep affection. I was to learn over time that she could be both touchingly vulnerable and devastatingly cruel.

But she seemed content, when we were together, to just be together.

When I showed up for her high school commencement and for the party at her house afterwards, she simply said, “Thank you for coming to my graduation and seeing me cry.”

Later, she asked, “What’s wrong with me? I can never seem to say what I want to say to you, or to do the things I want to do with you. For some reason, when I’m with you, nothing I want to say or do seems important. I’m stupid anyway.”

Karen was not stupid. She was imaginative, sometimes argumentative, creative, impulsive, maddening, a curious mixture of bravado, sexuality and self-doubt, but never stupid.

She was an involved student. Her high school yearbook listed activities ranging from mixed chorus, girls’ glee, small groups and music contests to participation in the Merit and

Regents exam. She was an interscholastic test winner. She took independent study. She was involved with the school yearbook.

She occasionally sent me poems as well as letters. One of her poems included the lines,

“My thoughts come tumbling down in tears,

And so it seems through all my years…”

In turn, I sent her a free-verse poem filled with whatever wisdom a 19-year-old could muster.

I can remember only the lines,

“Some people walk white-caned through their lives

Not knowing the difference between

A sunset and

A sunset”

She said she loved it. She said she loved everything I wrote and everything I did and told me, “You should be a writer.” My dismissive answer was, “I have to work for a living.”

She shot me a look with those extraordinarily-expressive eyes that suggested I was a complete idiot and said quietly, “Some people make a living writing, and I believe it’s important for people to do what they love.”

I thought about it. Later, I changed my major from “teaching” to “communications” and decided I would become a writer.

Karen had that effect on some people. I was one of those people.

‘Cupid’s wings are not adapted for long range flights’

Karen didn’t seem to care about material things, and never talked about money. I assumed her family came from modest circumstances. The dress she wore to the homecoming dance had seen better days and had a rip under one sleeve, but she moved in ways that masked the tear and conducted herself in such a way that no one noticed.

She seemed to accept people as they were. I never heard her criticize anyone for the kinds of cars they drove, the jobs they held or whether or not they had money. When I had a few dollars, we would go to a restaurant for a dinner or to a movie theater to see popular films of the day.  She was not terribly fond of “Yellow Submarine” but loved “Romeo and Juliet.”

When money was an issue, we would spend an afternoon or evening at her house, retreating to her bedroom to talk, or kiss, or dance. We might lie wordlessly in her bed, arms around each other, listening to “I Will” by The Beatles or to the “Abbey Road” album.

It really didn’t seem to matter what we did or where we went. She seemed happy to be with me.

Over the years, some people suggested she was a coquette, toying with men without real feelings of affection. Maybe that was true. I don’t know and I don’t care. Truth is, I refused to believe it then or now, because this is a young woman with whom I fell deeply and madly in love.

She found it difficult to believe I would be willing to drive to her small town as often as I did, simply to see her. She once assured me I would become bored with her, quoting James Bossard to back her claim: “Cupid may have wings, but apparently they are not adapted for long flights.”

My response was to cut my college classes a few days later to show up at her high school. I told her principal that Karen was a friend of mine, I was planning to become a teacher and Karen had, in the interests of higher education, convinced me to tour the school. He gave me the tour. Karen managed to conceal her surprise when I showed up in her classroom, accompanied by her principal, but later acted as if my visit was not just a masterstroke of brilliance but also the equivalent of an expensive gift. I still have a letter she mailed to me, scripted in her impeccable penmanship:

“Dennis, I was just thinking about you and how much you mean to me. And then I thought of how beautiful you are to me, and I started to cry. And when I cried, I realized that I think I love you. And I wondered why you would ever like something like me. You’re beautiful and I love you. I think of your eyes and your face, and I know this. And I want to know you for a long, long time. Karen.”

Even if we can’t find heaven, I’ll walk through hell with you’

She could be charming and loving, but she also could turn inward, becoming distant and guarded, occasionally offering hints of deep insecurities and a disturbing childhood. She spoke of a mother who died just before giving her life. She once alluded to a father who had never been around, and of whom she would never speak. She told me the people I assumed were her parents were really her aunt and uncle, and that her sister was in reality her cousin. Most of the time, it seemed to me, Karen was alone. Perhaps it was by design, but she always seemed to be alone, and one song she was particularly fond of was “Lady Samantha” by Three Dog Night, with lyrics like “Lady Samantha glides like a tiger over the hills with no one beside her.”

She had mastered the art of hiding her feelings. I introduced her to my visiting grandmother one evening, just before Karen and I went out. Karen was polite, respectful and thrilled to meet my family, but as we left, my grandmother announced loudly, “I liked your other girlfriend better.”

I was mortified, but Karen looked for a split second as if she’d been stabbed. She regained her composure and we went on our way, but it was clear to me she was deeply hurt and felt unfairly judged. It was obvious her pain was deep and abiding.

She never brought it up again. I never forgot it.

To describe our relationship as tumultuous would be kind. It was volatile, volcanic, explosive, with stretches of love, caring and intimacy punctuated regularly by angry outbursts, betrayals and sullen silences.

We broke up once after an afternoon of arguments and recriminations that began at her house, crossed the street to her best friend’s home and ended only after I slammed the door and drove home, leaving her silent and curled in a fetal position on her friend’s couch. As usual, the argument was about love, commitment and sex.

“Get ready, because I’m about to sock it to ya,” she began, using a common phrase of the day. “How do you feel about me?”

“That’s my question,” I countered. “Every time we go out, we’re 10 minutes into our date and you’re telling me about some guy you had sex with. Then you tell me how bad you feel  about it.”

“I know you’ve got plenty of girls on your list besides me,” Karen pointed out.

“I know. We’re not exclusive. But my point is, you do whatever the hell you want, just don’t tell me about it every time we go out. I don’t want to know about it. When we’re on a date, it’s my time.”

I was angry. So was she.

“Don’t pretend to care if you don’t, unless you want me for an enemy,” she said.

I was running out of argument, but added for good measure, “And I’m sick of hearing about your old boyfriend Bill.”

“What Bill and I had was only cheap physical stuff, for him and for me. I’ve forgotten about Bill now.”

A few days after the argument, she sent me a conciliatory letter, conceding she had indeed been evasive and insensitive and agreeing that “communication is so important.”

“We’ve got to beat this thing!” she wrote. “Hit me, yell at me or something! That’s what I want ya to do!” She quickly reconsidered, “Oh. Wow. I wouldn’t really want ya to hit me or yell at me.”

We got back together. At first, she announced, “I’ve come to quite a few decisions about guys. I don’t trust any boy anymore.”

Later she told me, cryptically, “I can live again, now.”

“I don’t understand. What’s that mean?” I asked.

Her answer: “I could never be myself with you before because I never wanted you to know me before. I like you and I’m not going to put on any acts with you anymore.”

‘When you’re young and in love’

“How did you do this? Isn’t this a new shirt?” Karen asked, tracing the burn hole on the back of my shirt with her finger as we sat on her bed.

“Yeah, the shirt’s new. So is the burn hole. How it happened is kind of embarrassing,” I replied. On the way to her house to see her on this picture-perfect day, I decided to put the top down on my newly-acquired, fire-engine red, ‘62 Chevrolet convertible. The sun was out, Jimi Hendrix was on the radio singing about a purple haze and I was in love. I absent-mindedly flicked my cigarette. The entire hot ash, carried by the breeze, flew off the cigarette and out of the car, then flew back in, going down my shirt and melting a dime-sized hole in the new polyester pullover before the searing pain got my attention.

“Oh, my poor Dennis,” she said before giggling. “It serves you right. You don’t throw a lit cigarette out of a car.”

“I didn’t…” I began, but she interrupted with, “Here, let me make it better,” lifting my shirt and kissing the minor burn on my back. I stopped talking.

Karen had enrolled at the same university I attended, so we now met almost every day. We knew each other’s schedules, walked with each other between classes, ate Cheese Frenchies after school at a nearby diner.

My school attire usually consisted of jeans, moccasins and tie-dyed shirts. Her outfits included peasant dresses. We were a couple of Woodstock wannabees. She was gorgeous and I was with her.

I joked for years that, when Karen and I walked by, I actually could hear other guys gritting their teeth. I would have wagered they were asking each other, “What does a beautiful girl like that see in a guy like him?”

She brought her quick wit to college, attracting admirers as we sat in the student center, trading opinions and witticisms over coffee and doughnuts with our group of friends. In my more pretentious moments, I fancied our group as a collegiate version of the Algonquin Round Table. I felt confident Karen could easily fit the role of the clever, quick-witted Dorothy Parker, while I would be Robert Benchley.

Karen sat next to me one day, a half-smile playing on her face, as one earnest young man tried to impress everyone with his opinions on life, death and everything in between. I thought he was an ass, and clearly involved in a transparent attempt to impress Karen. He ended his verbal assault with a dramatic flourish, reminding her and everyone within earshot that, “Someday we will all die.”

Her response came quickly: “And on all our other days, we will not.”

Her half-smile remained as he got up and left the table, angry that she drew chuckles from the rest of the group. She turned to me and whispered just loud enough for me to hear, “So there.” I laughed. Now we were both smiling.

As my feelings for Karen grew deeper, she seemed to become more serious and more vulnerable.

“A certain part of me will always be a child,” she admitted once. “I can feel it when I cry, because child-like thoughts enter my mind when I cry.”

“But we’re human. We both protect ourselves and we both keep our feelings hidden,” I told her. Then, she surprised me.

“This is my idea of God. He is so sweet, so eternally wonderful. And this is how you are to me. I love you. I think of your eyes and your face and I know this. I could never fully describe the way I feel about you. It’s too deep.” She paused and added, “Now do you know how I feel about you?”

Her dark eyes smoldered. “Dennis, I mean what I say.”

‘Are we out of the woods yet?

The hill glistened with several inches of snow, it literally glistened, and Karen smiled.

“It’s perfect,” she said.

We had decided to cut classes to come to this park. We brought a sled and I brought a flask of Phillips Sno Shoe Grog, a concoction of brandy and peppermint schnapps purchased, despite the fact we were both under age, to keep us warm.

“You’re trying to corrupt me. I’m innocent,” she chirped, giving me a smile and a wide-eyed look she liked to use on me to stop my heart. We were both shivering, both chilled to the bone but we were both laughing as we warmed our hands and fingertips on each other’s bodies.  We really weren’t interested in sledding, but it gave us a reason to be close to each other, to laugh, to do something childish together.

The sled remained unused as we sat in the car, sipping the alcohol and chatting about nothing. I realized it was the first time I had ever seen her unguarded and happy. I wondered why she liked me so much. I knew I loved her and I knew I could never let her go.

I decided just before Christmas that I would ask her to marry me. I was still seeing the attractive, intelligent and loving girlfriend who planned to become a teacher, but I was no longer certain she and I belonged together. Karen had, little by little, changed my viewpoint on everything from politics and religion to sex and life. In short, she had changed everything I felt, everything I thought and everything I believed. I now believed Karen needed me and wanted me. I felt the same way about her. I would defend and protect her with my life.

I decided I would propose to Karen after a Christmas-break party that would close out 1969 and greet the New Year 1970.

Karen was, as usual, stunning. I was cheerful and nervously guarded my secret plan to ask her to marry me. At some point during the party, Karen disappeared. Perplexed, I approached the party’s hostess, a friend who broke into tears and confessed Karen had slipped away from the party with the hostess’ brother.

Where did she go? Why did she go? Why would she do that? I had questions. No one had answers.

Weren’t we together? I asked myself. The only answer seemed to be – I guess not.

Enraged, devastated, confused, I finally realized we had a problem. More specifically, I had a problem. With Karen, there would always be one more betrayal, one more confession, one more argument, one more round of recriminations, one more request for forgiveness. The realization stung, and it cut like a knife. Karen might love me, but she could not help herself.

I made up my mind that evening in the three hours I waited, humiliated and angry, for her return.

“I brought her here and I will take her home,” I told the hostess. “But I will not be played for a fool.”

When Karen and the hostess’ brother returned, I was calm but seething as I dealt with my internal emotional firestorm.

“Man, I’m sorry,” the brother told me. “I didn’t know she was with anyone.”

“I know you didn’t,” I replied. I knew Karen well enough to believe him.

“I’m sorry,” Karen said, beginning her explanation. “He has an apartment. I wanted to see it. Then we started playing pool at his apartment…”

“Save it. I don’t want to hear it,” I interrupted.

We went to the car.

“Here’s what I don’t understand…” I began, and Karen cut me off with, “Save it. I don’t want to hear it.”

We rode in silence. I dropped her off at her house and kissed her goodbye for the last time.

I saw her a few times at school. We would not speak to each other and she would never meet my gaze. She began dating Gary. I began dating Konni. A few months later, Karen lost track of Gary and I lost track of Karen.

But Karen’s influence remained. I broke up with my attractive, intelligent and loving girlfriend. She eventually married someone else. Konni and I got married and left town. I became a writer.

Years later, I finally admitted to myself and to everyone else that I never did stop loving Karen. The feelings of betrayal were replaced with a sense of sadness and, surprisingly, gratitude. I decided, “Even though we could not be together in the end, I’m glad you were a part of my life.”

What changed? I did. It took a few years, but it finally occurred to me that Karen and I were very much alike.

Remember the attractive, intelligent and loving girlfriend who married someone else, the young woman relegated to a bit part in this little theater of pain? She loved me and was rewarded with a sudden, agonizing and unexpected betrayal – a breakup — by the guy she thought loved her. Really, how is that different from what happened between Karen and me? It isn’t.

I know I never meant to hurt that young girlfriend, but through the deceit, thoughtlessness and evasions of the 20-year-old me, I did. I came to the conclusion that a troubled 19-year-old Karen similarly never intended to be hurtful.

That’s why I reached a point in which I fervently hoped Karen had finally resolved her demons, found the life she was looking for and was living happily ever after.

Will you lay with me in a field of stone?

A few months after my father died, I had a dream in which he approached me with a big grin and announced, “Guess who I ran into?” A youthful, smiling Karen suddenly appeared with him.

“We’re going to a party,” Karen said. I walked with her toward a brightly-lit mansion, making small talk. She was happy to see me, but stopped me at the door, looking genuinely sad.

“You can’t come in,” she said, but added impishly, “Everyone will think you’re my grandfather.”

A few days after the dream, I learned she had died.

I found it devastating to stand at her unmarked grave. No headstone. No apparent survivors other than her daughter. No other friends. As alone in death as she seemed to believe she had been in life.

Karen, I never told you this. I wish I had. Consider this my apology: I actually did care about you. I forgave you over and over again and stuck around when everyone thought I should leave. I loved you even when you gave me every reason not to. I tried to be there for you and when I finally let you go, I let you go with love.

After her death, all I could ever learn was that Karen was married for a short time, but something happened. She had been sick and lost custody of her child. Investigators believed Karen had been dead for a few weeks before anyone noticed.

I found a few of her letters, a few of her poems, her high-school commencement program and a couple of her photos. I gave them to someone who would make sure Karen’s daughter received them. That young girl needed to know that her mother was creative, smart, often sensitive, and — forever in my mind — a wonderful creature.

I met a psychic a few years ago who told me Karen “wants you to know she’s happy now.”  The psychic described a radiant young blonde with impossibly straight hair and startling dark eyes who was dancing in the light. I accept that, perhaps because I want to believe it.

Konni and I decided we would get Karen a headstone if no one else would. Eventually, someone did.

It reads, “In loving memory.”

 

-END-

***

Dennis Friend 2 17 17

Dennis Friend has been a reporter since 1976. He has been writing poems and short fiction for his own enjoyment since high school. “Smolder” is the first time he has written a true story from his own life.

Still in Your Fingertip – by ROB PARRISH

Still in Your Fingertip

We are in bed and you start a message on my back. You move your right index finger at a controlled pace. First a T, then H. Next an I. A slow-curling S follows. Your finger drags off my back. I say the word into the bedding. You tap my back once for confirmation and swipe my skin as if it is a chalkboard, nails slightly digging.

The next word starts with an I and then another serpentine S. I say is, but you double tap. You place your finger firmly below my left shoulder blade and pong out an N, then carve in a crucifix. I correct myself. You follow with one firm tap.

I want to turn around and ask about the use of contractions and if apostrophes should be acknowledged, but you place both of your hands on my back as if you know, that you feel me tense up with the lack of punctuation.

There is hesitation between us. The next word is still in your fingertip. We both know what it is and it does not need to be worked into my skin. A fragment looms.

You once told me thoughts were not meant to be expressed all the time, that three words lose their fervor when used like goodbyes.

You tap twice and collapse next to me.

***

FullSizeRender.jpg

Rob Parrish’s work can be found in Gravel, The Harpoon Review, The Airgonaut, and Birds Piled Loosely, among others. Rob is an editor at (b)OINK. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his dog, Coltrane.

 

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.