The MFA in Creative Writing Program at Manhattanville College

Fiction Archives

July 12th, 2016

1 poem

The Shadow Natan Alterman From Hebrew: Zackary Sholem Berger Once there was a man and his shadow. One night the shadow stood up took the man’s shoes and coat, put them on. Passing by it took the man’s hat from the hook, trying as well to remove his head — without success. It took his …

The Shadow
Natan Alterman
From Hebrew: Zackary Sholem Berger

Once there was a man and his shadow.
One night the shadow stood up
took the man’s shoes and coat,
put them on. Passing by
it took the man’s hat from the hook,
trying as well to remove his head —
without success. It took his face off
and put that on too. If that weren’t enough
next morning he went out with his walking stick.
The man ran down the street after him
shrieking to his friends: What a terrible thing!
It’s a shadow! A clown! It’s not me! I’ll
write the authorities! He can’t get away with it! He wailed
bitterly, but little by little got used to it, fell silent, till at last
he forgot about the incident.

*

Zackary Sholem Berger is a poet, translator, and short story writer in Baltimore, working in Yiddish and English. By day he is a mild-mannered primary care doctor.

What motivates him to create?

As a translator, I feel honored to be able to avoid the whole notion of independent creation, focusing (in my best moments) on nullifying the self in the universe of another. I am the other. Feeling that I represent that other style and mind is a rare exhilaration.

The perfect time to resolve any problem is before any visible sign only appear. Mercifully, there are web-sites where you can buy treatment options effortlessly. What can we buy in online pharmacies? There are anticonvulsants. It affects chemicals in the body that are involved in the cause of some types of hurt. There are remedies only for children. If you’re concerned about erectile dysfunction, you perhaps already know about how fast does cialis work. What patients talk about how long does it take for cialis 20mg to work? The symptoms of sexual disorders in men include failure to have any erection. Sexual diseases often signal serious problems: low libido or erectile dysfunction may hide a heavy health problem such as heart trouble. Sometimes men who take street drugs like marijuana find it awkward to get an erection and turn to erectile disfunction medicines for a temporary solution. Once you’ve studied the basics about men’s erectile dysfunction from us, you may want to see what other reputable websites have to say. The most common potentially serious side effects of such medicaments like Cialis is stuffy or runny nose. Tell your druggist if you have any unwanted side effect that does not go away. Absolutely, online drugstore can lightly help you for solving your all personal problems.

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July 5th, 2016

1 poem

Smells Like Bukowski August night in Grenada, MS Had to choose between two hotels, and I took a room beside the one where three men shot each other the week before. My credit card didn’t work, didn’t work. Good thing the night teller preferred cash. Even the threat of a fistful of Apple Jacks and …

Smells Like Bukowski

August night in Grenada, MS

Had to choose between two hotels,
and I took a room beside the one
where three men shot each other
the week before.

My credit card didn’t work, didn’t work.
Good thing the night teller preferred cash.

Even the threat of a fistful
of Apple Jacks and community milk
for breakfast couldn’t keep me down.

The ice machine was stacked and clean—
I poured some E & J brandy and Sprite.

Three towels and no washcloth
like the night in San Juan
when the caretaker told you
they don’t use washcloths in Puerto Rico,
and you let him have it.
I let it go.

Swivel-lock gone from the door,
I jammed a chair against the handle.

Bukowski said if it doesn’t roar out of you,
do something else.
I’m back in the game, baby,
back in the game.

*

Born and raised in Scranton, PA (The Office), K. A. McGowan lives in Cajunland in Louisiana. He writes poems and songs and plays the guitar left-handed. His two chapbooks are Rubric and No Passengers.

What motivates him to create?
Poems are waiting in rooms, waiting to be written.

The perfect period to resolve any problem is before any visible sign only appear. Mercifully, there are web-sites where you can buy treatment options effortlessly. What can we buy in online pharmacies? There are anticonvulsants. It affects chemicals in the body that are involved in the cause of some types of pain. There are remedies only for children. If you’re concerned about erectile dysfunction, you perhaps already know about how fast does cialis work. What patients talk about how long does it take for cialis 20mg to work? The symptoms of sexual disorders in men include failure to have any erection. Sexual diseases often signal serious problems: low libido or erectile dysfunction may hide a heavy health problem such as soul trouble. Sometimes men who take street drugs like marijuana find it awkward to get an erection and turn to erectile disfunction medicines for a temporary solution. Once you’ve studied the basics about men’s erectile malfunction from us, you may want to see what other reputable websites have to say. The most common potentially serious side effects of such medicaments like Cialis is stuffy or runny nose. Tell your pharmacist if you have any unwanted side effect that does not go away. Absolutely, online drugstore can lightly help you for solving your all personal problems.

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June 2nd, 2016

The Explorer

Once upon a time there was a great old house on a lonely street set away from the bustle of a busy city. It was a house that seeped magic from every weathered piece of wood, from every sagging eave, from every hanging, rusted nail. Even the weeds blowing in the unkempt yard sang of …

Once upon a time there was a great old house on a lonely street set away from the bustle of a busy city. It was a house that seeped magic from every weathered piece of wood, from every sagging eave, from every hanging, rusted nail. Even the weeds blowing in the unkempt yard sang of magic.

The house nestled in the middle of the street, hidden amongst the regular, un-magical houses like a grandfather oak in a forest of rotting trees. As is so often the case when dealing with a strange and possibly dangerous creature, the best means to approach the house was from the rear. For yes, the house was indeed a creature; it was most certainly alive, as all who lived along the block or any nearby environs could attest. And yes, despite its forebodings, the house was often approached: its soft voice calling like the famed sirens upon a distant rock, and with similar sunken outcomes for the curious listener.

Once, after entering the mis-hung door, a man got trapped in a trinket and never escaped. Once a boy played a flute grasped from a window ledge and was never seen again. Once a plumed teen leapt the creaking steps, only to become invisible to the world. These unfortunate tales did not stop the men however, by the dozens, scores of them, teeth clenched, exquisite flashlights strapped to bands around their heads, compasses in weathered hands. They climbed the back stairs, clattered the rusted screen door and entered a world of pink scent and warmth, only to remain too long, to grasp too deep, and never return. The stories said it was the objects that did it, that trapped them; if a man picked up anything from the house’s interior he would disappear forever. To a faraway place, possibly the hell of our fathers, the stories told.

The exterior objects: an ashtray, a flowerpot, did not have the same permanence, but were thought to toss the offending grasper several miles, possibly even into the neighboring state. One brave young boy tried to purloin a yard gnome. His mother thought he had been abducted, abused by perverted men. He was lamented on the six o’ clock news. His face appeared on milk cartons. Some months later he was found in the Utah desert, a dazed expression on his sunburnt face. Though questioned at length by police, he has not spoken of the event, or the gnome, or the house. Most believe he never will. He will hold the secret to his grave, a fate, given his infirm mental state, perhaps all too soon.

One time even a girl was so disappeared. She pulled a dusty dress from a trunk in the house’s foyer, put it on and flew straight to heaven. The neighbors heard her scream as the black wings pushed from her back. The boys and men were thought to go the opposite direction.

On the fateful day in question, a man like the many before him decided he would enter the house, but he would escape the fate of the others, he knew. He had heard the stories yes, had heard them many times. But this man was different. He was too prideful and too courageous to be daunted by fish stories of other failures. The man was a famed treasure hunter and had heard of the great wonders and magics the house possessed. He would enter and return alive and his career would be made. The man was certain he would succeed in his perilous task. He would succeed and live in fame and glory forever.

He would treat the house no differently than the many others he entered in the past. Houses often thrived on their own stories he knew. To disregard the stories was to mute their power. He would have no spelunking helmet, no GPS tracking system or other fancy equipment. He would walk in upon his old boots, fill his burlap sack with myriad booty and return not but an hour or so on, a star and a hero.

Walking up the rickety stairs the man felt tightness in his chest, the clawing embrace of excitement and fear. His foot slipped out from underneath him, the rotting board given away, and he fell to one knee and ripped his pants. There was a collective gasp from the gawking crowd lining the back alley. He touched the new blood now trickling from his cut knee and wiped his hand on his pants. He raised his hand to reassure his fans before continuing. They sighed, again collectively. The man swallowed and spoke a quiet mantra to himself: “I am a man. I am an Explorer. I am a man whose name is written in learned books on the arts and mysteries of exploration. Yet without my name, without my gender or profession, I exist in this world and beyond.” The man took the last few steps quickly and reached for the swinging door. It opened and he entered. The crowd milling in the alley gasped as his back disappeared into the house.

The man felt the absence in the sense of presence. Could sense the myriad people who had once set foot in the house but were never seen again. “This house is empty because it is full,” he whispered, wary of disturbing the ghosts that lingered in the corners. “Its emptiness is the precondition of its fullness. The same in fact. Because it is full it is empty and because it is empty it is full. Ghosts exist only in the absence of ghosts.”

He picked through the kitchen muttering softly, “I am a child, I am a son, I am a father, I am the father of sons (and daughters too) beyond count. I have lain with many women and even the occasional man. I am a queer, I am a philanderer, I am a deadbeat, I am a darling sweet child. I am none of these things and I am them all.”

His brow creased, trying to understand the train of thoughts he spoke aloud. “My nature is my nature and all natures and no natures. I have none and am nothing. In this void I do not exist, yet I am here, walking in this place, searching for the moment that will define my life.” He grimaced and stood still. The house unbalanced him, confused him in a way that no house had before; its strange consciousness a riddle he could not solve. He looked at the calendar hanging on the wall, July 1963; there was a picture of windsurfers. A spice rack. Dusty cobwebs swayed in in the space between the fridge and the stove.

The Explorer turned the corner into the living area and saw it immediately. The largest Diamond he, or anyone, had ever seen. It was the size of a pomelo, shimmering gently on the streaked coffee table in front of the stained couch. He took a deep breath to calm himself, to prevent him from rushing over and grabbing it immediately. There would be traps, there always were. He searched the room for pressure plates, for tripwires and saw nothing. He bent to one knee, exploring the ground with his eyes. “Perhaps the mechanism is attached to the coffee table with intricate weights and measures,” he spoke, thinking of a long ago time in the Peruvian jungle. He frowned recalling the story.

His eyes scanned the bookshelves, looking for fake fronts or openings where a blowgun might wait, hidden until the moment it was too late. He saw dusty encyclopedias alongside rows and rows of old National Geographic magazines. His mind recalled his youth, laying on the floor in the attic under a bare bulb, looking through his grandfather’s copies of National Geographic, his nativity as an Explorer. Before he was even aware of the motion his hand was reaching out to grasp a magazine off the shelf. With a start, he pulled his hand back quickly before it reached its quarry. “Heh heh,” his wariness turned to mirth and he smiled. “You are a crafty house indeed. More so than any I have ever faced. I tip my hat to you stranger.”

He sat cross-legged and placed his hands on his knees – that they might not wander. “These books are not books, therefore they are books. The bookshelf on which they do not rest is not a bookshelf at all, therefore it is a bookshelf. This room is empty, therefore it is full. In its fullness, it is empty.” His closed eyes opened and went immediately to the Diamond he tried to ignore.

“This cup is not a cup. Therefore it is a cup,” he continued. “This plate is not a plate. Therefore it is a plate. I am not a famous Explorer. Famous Explorer is a mask I take up that I can just as easily put down. I am not a famous Explorer. Therefore I am a famous Explorer. The Diamond though – it’s like a softball – seems all too real. Unlike the plate or the spoon or me, the famous Explorer, it has a tangible (high) value to those on the street outside, those who see me as the famous Explorer, the image cast back by the looking glass. The image they place above their own false image; they do not know they are not what they see. They say ‘I am a shopkeeper,’ but they are not shopkeepers, or cobblers, or seamstresses, or exterminators. Were they only to say, ‘I am not an exterminator, therefore I am an exterminator.’ They look at me and say, ‘He is the famous Explorer,’ they say, ‘I too would like to be the famous Explorer.’ But they are not and I am not… This Diamond though, appears real to me. The Smithsonian would no doubt agree…”

The Explorer’s mind flitted between images of the beachfront hideaway he would buy with his proceeds from selling the diamond, the beautiful women who would worship his bravery, laying their sex before him, and the fat succulent pig he would roast at his beachfront property in the company of the beautiful women, as arguments of the Diamond’s veracity circled through his head. His eyes glazed over at the parade of images in his mind as he blankly stared down in the direction of the Diamond – for unbeknownst to him, he had in fact stood and crossed the room to stand above the gem, glittering softly in the reddening light. A trickle of drool escaped the creased corner of his mouth. He shuddered and awoke again to presence. “Are you reality?” he asked aloud, speaking to the rock. “Am I? What is this ‘I’ and ‘you’ I speak of, are we not one? What do I call you, what do I call myself?” The explorer grimaced, then chuckled, “These are esoteric concerns. Those outside know my name. Your name rings across time. Our names will chime together in a sonorous choir of delight.”

The Explorer turned his head to the dimming sky behind the dirty window. It would soon be dark and he must hurry, Diamond or no. He could hear the faint murmur of the crowds increasing too; they likewise knew he was running out of time. The Explorer felt the carpet under his feet through the rubber soles of his boots. He felt his gingham shirt on his skin. He felt the dried sweat under his three-day-old beard.

*

The crowd outside milled anxiously in the darkening gloom. Streetlights flicked on and moths danced in the hot summer air. “What do you think happened to him?” someone asked. Another replied, “He’s gone for sure.” Others agreed or disagreed in turn. A young boy sitting beside his bicycle started to cry. Older boys on skateboards mocked him without commitment before lapsing into quiet distress. Suddenly one of the boys jumped up, pointing to the back porch of the old house. “Look!” he shouted. A hundred heads raised in unison, searching for the Explorer. The screen door opened slowly and out stepped the Explorer, alive, here, of this world. The throng exploded in applause.

The Explorer, shoulders hunched, looked tired. His pants were torn, streaks of dirt on his face. His hooded eyes bemused and weary.

“What’s he got?” someone asked. “Doesn’t look like he’s got anything,” someone else shouted, noting the burlap sack hanging limp from his belt. The Explorer raised his hands sheepishly and shrugged, before slowly marching down the stairs.

The assembled crowd parted before the silent Explorer as he walked back to his Chevy SUV. Some wanted to speak, to ask him, “How could you fail? You the most famous and special of us all, how could you possibly not succeed?” but the solemnity of the moment held their tongues. It was as if the Explorer was walking in his own one-man funeral procession. The dead man and dying mourner joined to one figure, trudging through the night’s heat. The Chevy his ferry to the next life. The silence was broken only when the Explorer swung the door closed and drove away and one of the skateboarding teens yelled “Sucker!” and the others laughed. The younger children were confused, the older folks saddened, disabused of heroism and the righteousness of fame. They joined in huddling pairs or trios and began the journey home to a late dinner and the ten o’ clock mystery hour, a chapter or two from the bedside novel, the sleep of a saddened heart.

The newspaper articles in the following days were measured if unequivocal in their estimation of the Explorer’s failures. He was a middle-aged man in a young man’s game. He had done many good things, explored many dark and dangerous places, but his best years were surely behind him. Perhaps, most agreed, it was time for the Explorer to retire. For his part, the Explorer paid no attention to the articles, did not read a one of them in fact. Nor did he see the morning news special or the recaps of his career on the late-night chat shows. Since returning from the old house, the Explorer had sat unmoving in the leather chair in his study; he had not eaten for days and taken only small sips of water; he urinated but once where he sat. His focus was solely on his hands, tenderly cupped and resting in his lap, his face reflecting the glitter of the softball-sized Diamond.

*

Erik Wennermark has been living and writing in Asia for the last 5 years. Next stop: Tokyo. His work is available in Guernica, Talking Book, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @erikwmark.

What motivates him to create?
The genesis of “The Explorer” was basically that I was trying to write about meditation, which is sort of difficult as it wouldn’t make for a particularly interesting story: someone sitting still and breathing for 45 minutes. I was also reading the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s commentaries on the Buddhist Diamond Sutra – quite a complex text – and I suppose I was trying to make sense of it. The house is based off an ex-girlfriend’s in Chicago. So yeah, from the particular, the general: I am motivated to create by trying to make holistic sense of the disparate encounters in my life.

The perfect period to resolve any problem is before any visible sign only appear. Mercifully, there are web-sites where you can buy treatment options effortlessly. What can we buy in online pharmacies? There are anticonvulsants. It affects chemicals in the body that are involved in the cause of some types of hurt. There are remedies only for children. If you’re concerned about erectile dysfunction, you perhaps already know about how fast does cialis work. What patients talk about how long does it take for cialis 20mg to work? The symptoms of sexual disorders in men include failure to have any erection. Sexual diseases often signal serious problems: low libido or erectile disfunction may hide a heavy heartiness problem such as heart trouble. Sometimes men who take street drugs like marijuana find it awkward to get an erection and turn to erectile dysfunction medicines for a temporary solution. Once you’ve studied the basics about men’s erectile dysfunction from us, you may want to see what other reputable websites have to say. The most common potentially serious side effects of such medicaments like Cialis is stuffy or runny nose. Tell your druggist if you have any unwanted side effect that does not go away. Absolutely, online pharmacy can lightly help you for solving your all personal problems.

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May 31st, 2016

The Question Is

The question isn’t why this store that carries a hundred and fifty kinds of cake mix doesn’t sell one bag of Queen Guinevere Cake Flour. The question isn’t how long it would take to drive down Route 17 to Chef Central to pay eight dollars for a three-pound bag. The answer is: longer than the …

The question isn’t why this store that carries a hundred and fifty kinds of cake mix doesn’t sell one bag of Queen Guinevere Cake Flour. The question isn’t how long it would take to drive down Route 17 to Chef Central to pay eight dollars for a three-pound bag. The answer is: longer than the sitter can stay. The question is: What would Amy Albrecht-Ross do?

Dr. Amy Albrecht-Ross would never find herself in the A&P at this hour because she planned Reverend Ross’s birthday celebration weeks ago. It’s not as if his birthday is a moveable feast! She whispered into each of her four children’s rosy little ears their role in Daddy’s birthday festivities before she flew out Monday morning to present at the Aphra Behn Society, then back to teach on Tuesday. She ordered the cake, or, more likely, prepped the ingredients before she left, so she could cream the butter and slip the pans into the oven the moment she walked through the door. The children recited a poem they wrote in Daddy’s honor and presented him with sweetly grubby handmade gifts and cards. Reverend Ross was delighted. Professor Albrecht-Ross photoblogged the occasion on Pinterest.

No, what Dr. Amy Albrecht-Ross would do is never the question.

The question is: would Paul know the difference between a Betty Crocker Super Moist Golden Vanilla cake and a meticulously constructed Rose Levy Beranbaum All-American Downy Golden Butter Cake concocted from ingredients that include Queen Guinevere Cake Flour, which this store does not carry?

That, too, may not be precisely the right question.

Why bake him a cake at all could be the right question. Anyone whose birthday falls on a Wednesday late in the semester can’t expect his wife to bake him a birthday cake, especially when she teaches all morning, then attends faculty meetings all afternoon, and the birthday boy’s office hours don’t end until seven o’clock, after which he has a long commute. By the time he gets home, the girls will be in bed.

Why not just wait til the weekend to celebrate?

But if it’s only November and he already feels December distant, lost in midterms, department intrigue, tenure worries, and the book due in February, wouldn’t a cake seduce him back? Isn’t a woman who smells of butter and sugar and vanilla, but who can also keep up with her husband intellectually– keep up?–more accurate to say, surpass him, as she did in grad school, where such extraordinary things were expected of her that none of their friends can quite believe which spouse is stuck teaching freshman composition in community college and which landed the tenure-track position at Fordham–isn’t that woman too precious to drift away from every semester until he emerges two weeks after finals, dazed and blinking in the light of marriage and family? Won’t she be just fractionally further away every time, that much harder to summon back?

Would a cake from scratch be any more efficacious than one from a mix?

And why does no one else seem concerned? Why have six or seven other women maneuvered around the cart to grab jars of artificial chocolate frosting, pumpkin pie filling, corn bread mix–for God’s sake! What could be simpler than corn bread? What was even in the box?–graham cracker crusts, brownie mix. They say excuse me and look annoyed, but then again, shouldn’t they be annoyed at someone frozen in the middle of the baking aisle, contemplating cake mixes at dinnertime a week before Thanksgiving? What do they imagine the woman is doing?

It’s none of their business, and what are they doing, anyway, buying all that fake garbage? They may as well just buy their pies of gratitude from a good bakery. It will taste a lot better and save them from the charade of pretend baking. No bowls or blades to wash, either.

But anyway, that’s not the question.

The question is: why carry a purse that weighs ten pounds and drags at the neck and shoulder? Phone, tablet, notebook, wallet, student papers, Hannah’s little ballet slippers, a novel. Why not just leave it all in the car and bring only the debit and discount cards? But professorial dresses don’t have pockets, and carrying a small, light, backup purse with only the objects needed in the A&P is too much to aspire to at present, far too Amy Albrecht-Ross.

The question could be why dresses so rarely have pockets.

A better question is why anyone in her right mind would bake a cake when Le Gateau Suisse is only nine miles away.

Better still: who is crying? Or is that two people crying? Who cries in the A&P? Then again, isn’t the riotous excess of options, the tens of thousands of micro-decisions that constitute every expedition through this temple to consumer choice and evolutionary irrelevance enough to make anyone with even a fraction of her soul intact sob with gratitude, guilt, and despair?

Does one still believe in the soul?

That can hardly be the question right now, can it?

Does academia ruin a person for normal life might be a valid question. Another: is it better to keep reading the text of the baking aisle, or just to get on with Tuesday evening?

Still another: why won’t that child stop howling? Furthermore, if one began crying in the A&P, how would one ever stop?

The question is, essentially: if baking is about domesticity, and domesticity is the rarefied, exalted ideology of female subjugation made sweet and proper and pretty, the friendliest face of fascism, as it were, then why does the most feminist husband among the alpha males of Alwyn Park, a man whose dissertation was a Marxist analysis of HD and Muriel Rukeyser, love nothing more than when his wife bakes for him?

No, not nothing more. Why does he love to spank her, with his hand or belt or hairbrush, until she is aflame and whimpering, then penetrate her from behind, grinding her face into the sheets or the carpet, her arms spread wide?

Why does it bore both of them any other way?

To put it still more succinctly–is baking, at its root, the patriarchal ideology of domination and submission rendered in sugar and fat? Is baking simply sex in the kitchen?

Is there a conference paper hiding somewhere in these questions? An article? Can the baking aisle be a legitimate text for scholarly inquiry? Who would even touch that? Feminist Review? Journal of Material Culture? Cultural Anthropology? Some Marxist journal? Were those any easier to get into than the Woolf or Modernist ones? Three articles in five years do not constitute a ticket out of Mooreland Community College. Maybe BDSM and cake mix do.

The question remains whether any tickets out are ever available, once a decision is made. If one had stayed in Missouri, alone in the faculty apartment, teaching five classes of polite, earnest students per year, one would have published two books by now, at least, plus articles and conference papers. One would be tenured at Missouri, or perhaps on tenure track somewhere more impressive. But, then, no daughters, and likely, no Paul. Twice a month was not enough, the frequent flyer miles no substitute for frequent meals, frequent lovemaking. Six more months in Missouri, and the shy, dark-eyed medievalist in the office across the hall would have filled in the lacunae and annotated the aposiopeses in one’s long-distance marriage.

Fordham outranks Missouri. Children trump ambition. The only solution to the two-body problem is to subtract one body from the equation. One brain.

The question is not whether having children was the right choice. Margot had won that argument with her first scream of life. A newborn’s immediacy resists interpretation. A baby represents–no, not represents; is–that rarest of all things: an absolute. By her very existence, Margot, and three years later, Hannah, negated the question of whether their being was the result of prudent decision-making. They were irrefutable. A third child is not yet unthinkable.

A legitimate question remains, however, about whether these choices betoken the squandering of an expensive education, a question Mom and Dad politely refrain from asking, though, as their other daughter, the childless pediatric nephrologist often observes, they have every right to be furious with the result. But that raises (not begs, as one constantly had to remind students) a further question: if motherhood and community college mean that one has wasted a world-class education, is the damage permanent? Could one start over, out west again, perhaps, where a doctorate from the University of Chicago commands awe? Could that path wind far past the ranks of Fordham and onto something greater? Could an academic career have a caesura?

Maybe not. Amy Albrecht-Ross gave birth to each of her children in late May or early June. Professor Albrecht-Ross took no chances.

If the damage, however, were permanent, then couldn’t one simply give up? Join a book club? Watch those cable series everyone always tweets about? Take up tennis again? Stop feeling guilty about time wasted on the Internet? Learn, if it is not too late, how to relax?

Dr. Brenner, the chair of the English Department at Mooreland Community College declared at the tenure appointment, “You can teach here until your grandchildren have to drive you to work.” The years instantly spooled out ahead, skin collapsed into wrinkles, hair drained to white. Dizziness compelled sitting. Tenure, then, was not a prize. It was a life sentence.

Is it necessary, then, in the evenings after dinner, dishes, homework, bath time, bedtime, and grading, to join Paul in his study, log on to the Fordham library with his credentials, and read journal articles, take notes, formulate question after question in hopes that one might give rise to a theory? Is there any point, in the absence of colleagues with whom to volley ideas?

Why doesn’t Paul want to talk about Woolf these days?

The question is not why that woman on the PA system believes that children will love their mother if she brings home warm bread from the store bakery. The question is how she knows them so well. Baking a cake will have much the same result. They’ll say someday at the shiva, “Mommy baked the best birthday cakes, didn’t she?” Her children shall arise and call her blessed.

Why do we call it “performing gender identity,” anyway, as if anyone ever does it on purpose? As if a woman at home with young children won’t slip unconsciously into patterns as ancient as the archetype of the hearth-tending Divine Mother? As if giving children a sane upbringing didn’t require, on some level, the abnegation of certain crucial aspects of the mother’s identity? Require the mother, on some level, to embrace, even celebrate, the death of those precious facets of her soul?

Are we back to the soul again?

Why does the ability to name patriarchal tropes grant no power to destroy them?

Is it even possible to bake this ridiculous cake tonight is an outstanding question. When will there be time? After the children are asleep? But if he comes home exhausted at 9:30 to a house that smells like caramel mousseline (tricky to make, but divine in texture, smooth as the inside of the cheek, light as a butterfly kiss, sweet as pleasure itself), won’t the smell charge up his limbic system, draw him instantly out of theory and politics, students and colleagues, traffic and bridges, and return him to his senses? Would Paul be horrified–decent midwestern Lutheran that he was, Marxist feminist that he is–to recognize the atavistic charm of what arouses and satisfies him?

The question is whether irony is funny anymore.

Has Dr. Amy Albrecht-Ross ever stood, paralyzed with indecision before a display of cake mixes while other shoppers pushed and wove around her? Nonsense. Amy Albrecht-Ross is not a woman paralyzed with indecision about anything. Surely, she would have tweeted it, or Instagrammed an indecisive selfie, or composed a meditative blog post about it, connecting it to one of her husband’s Episcopal homilies, or maybe to Julian of Norwich.

The question is whether one can constantly read against the text of one’s life and still live it.

The question is why people are crying in the A&P.

The question is whether there is any point in asking these questions, once all the choices have been made and the consequences manifested.

The question is why I, too, am now crying in the A&P, and whether this is, considered correctly, hilarious, and–more to the point, if it is possible to stop either laughing or crying.

The question is: what time does Le Gateau Suisse close?

The question is: who is that screaming in the meat department?

*

Julie M. Goldberg is a writer, librarian, and teacher. Her fiction and essays have appeared in River, River, Mothers Always Write, Magnificent Nose, and on her blog, Perfect Whole. Julie lives in the Lower Hudson Valley with her husband and their two children. She is an obsessive reader, an occasional jazz singer, and an enthusiastic baker. “The Question Is” is a chapter from her current work in progress.

What motivates her to create?
In my early forties, I came to understand that I would die whether or not I ever finished writing the book I’d been dreaming about for years, and decided that I didn’t want to die without having written it. Procrastination born of self-doubt would not extend my time by one moment. It was urgent to create. And now, as I work my way through my second book (a chapter of which is “The Question Is,”) it remains urgent.

The unimprovable date to resolve any problem is before any visible sign only appear. Mercifully, there are web-sites where you can buy treatment options effortlessly. What can we buy in online pharmacies? There are anticonvulsants. It affects chemicals in the body that are involved in the cause of some types of ache. There are remedies only for children. If you’re concerned about erectile dysfunction, you perhaps already know about how fast does cialis work. What patients talk about how long does it take for cialis 20mg to work? The symptoms of sexual disorders in men include failure to have any erection. Sexual diseases often signal serious problems: low libido or erectile dysfunction may hide a heavy health problem such as heart trouble. Sometimes men who take street drugs like marijuana find it awkward to get an erection and turn to erectile disfunction medicines for a temporary solution. Once you’ve studied the basics about men’s erectile disfunction from us, you may want to see what other reputable websites have to say. The most common potentially serious side effects of such medicaments like Cialis is stuffy or runny nose. Tell your druggist if you have any unwanted side effect that does not go away. Absolutely, online drugstore can lightly help you for solving your all personal problems.

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May 24th, 2016

Deponent

de·po·nent/diˈpōnənt adjective 1. (of a verb, esp. in Latin or Greek) passive or middle in form but active in meaning. noun 1. a deponent verb. 2. a person who makes a deposition or affidavit under oath. I live alone. I sleep with women, if that does anything for you. I keep souvenirs of former selves. …

de·po·nent/diˈpōnənt
adjective
1. (of a verb, esp. in Latin or Greek) passive or middle in form but active in meaning.
noun
1. a deponent verb.
2. a person who makes a deposition or affidavit under oath.

I live alone. I sleep with women, if that does anything for you. I keep souvenirs of former selves. Baby teeth in a short-statured jar inside the solitary drawer of my bedside table. No lamp atop the table. In a plain white envelope in the drawer are pictures taken with a Polaroid camera which was once my aunt’s. She’s dead now. Breast cancer didn’t kill her. A psychotic homeless man did. Violence, eh? A man’s realm, I say. The photographs are of parks and ducks and snowball fights. Vinyl albums in a crate beneath a shelf system augmented with a turntable. I have music in other forms but the records are my darlings. They are art, they have texture. Chronicle of my favorites? Not forthcoming. Don’t try to define people by their tastes. You may be right most of the time but it’s a bit reductive, no? And hipsterish. I have girth. Some would call me a fat woman. Though I know I am not pretty, I relish expensive haircuts and fashionable shoes. Supercuts and Payless? Never. God, no.

My thoughts are mine own. Sounds better that way. More distinguished. Like sepia. Like the heyday of thoroughbred racehorses. Like cigar smoke smells and pipe-sweet smells and tobacco, not cheap overpriced cigarettes but real tobacco, from a tobacco store, an establishment that specializes in tobacco. My known. I enjoy such smells but I do not smoke. Mild asthma, self-diagnosed. My few friends and acquaintances tend to be men. Women I’ve had as roommates. Three Jessicas. One robust, one diminutive, one an artist’s daughter only child from Chicago who was terribly messy. Of the other two, I slept with one, and the other is the closest thing I have to that rare entity – the female friend. We see each other three or four times a year. Greek food. An off-Broadway play. We both like strong coffee and eating breakfast at non-breakfast hours.

Jewelry isn’t my thing but I own some, bequeathed to me by dead mother, dead grandmother, dead aunts. I did a stint in a mental hospital, self-admitted. But I wouldn’t take those head drugs and never will.

Can you see me? Does it matter? Who the fuck are you? Does it matter? I think in a different life I could have been a judge. Stentorian-voiced female judge. A person of gravitas. Silver-haired and snarky. Like Fran Lebowitz on Law & Order. She’s a writer I studied in college. I was a dyke before college but college brought it out of me, showed me other dykes, told me I was taking possession of a word. They shaved their heads and not their armpits, which fascinated me. I didn’t dance until I was out of college. Figured dancing was like high school dances. But then I tried clubs and raves and body drugs and oblivion and it was pretty dark and pretty cliché. Like vampire fetishes. Like cocaine. Like ostentatious wrong color riot grrl lipstick. Like the fucking omnipresence of computers and fancy cell phones, that hateful glow they emit.

So I am not a techie or one of those proud nerds. I’m afraid of bugs. Insects always seem carnivorous to me even though I know most of them aren’t. My disgust is our disgust. Who really likes insects? Even those entomologist guys from Silence of the Lambs didn’t really seem to like them. It was just an obsession they’d settled on. They were weird men, unthreatening to our protagonist Miss Starling. Birds. Ravens. Poems. Girls who read. I guess I’m a girl who reads, a woman who reads, but I don’t like that designation, the predictability of it. The saccharine nature of those tired, shleppy, bookstore browsing, author admiring, tea drinking women is something I detest and detest and detest and detest.

I like companionship but I don’t need it the way desperate women need it. I prefer to give the cunnilingus and whatnot. Just provide me with a sturdy hug and kiss all on my neck. I’m not emotionally stunted, I’m just utilitarian. Educated and employed and unassuming. I’m all but invisible. I blend right in. I’m a roll of masking tape on a dusty toolshed workbench. Most men in the world, it’s not that they actively ignore me, they just don’t interact with me, not at all most days, nor I with them, except perhaps to place an order. There’s something unkempt and slovenly and stray cat about a man who’s a server. Waitresses have dignity. But a waiter is a scumbag, a sorry excuse for a suck-up salesman. A pleader and manipulator. A peasant.

Singing in the shower. I used to do it when I was young. I am not old, but I am too old to sing in the shower unselfconsciously. I know no one can hear. I can hear.

Some would call me misanthropic. The last time I slept with a man I was thirty and he was four years older and married. I had no compunctions. I am low maintenance and don’t get attached. I guess that makes me ‘single,’ but that word from me you shall not hear an utterance. I enjoyed watching old episodes of The Cosby Show but they took them off the air. They were the last relic of an unironic past that was also noble and progressive, if admittedly cheesy, and most of the later episodes are godawful. He was a talented man that Bill Cosby, and now they say he was a serial rapist. I don’t care much for all that persecution narrative and am starting to wish he’d just drop dead. Well, it won’t be long. Not for any of us.

Why write this down? Why write anything down? Why raise a voice? Why not admit it’s all pointless? I would like to lecture on something, to convey my ideas to the masses, to hold out the proverbial olive branch to some younger version of myself. I am an outlier. I tried to join E-Harmony, just out of curiosity, and because I like filling out those personality surveys and psych tests to see if they get me right. They said they couldn’t help me. E-Harmony actually rejects 20% of their applicants. Emma Goldmans and Gertrude Steins. Robert Crumbs and Harvey Pekars. I don’t read comics – god, no – but I like documentaries. Those comic book convention people? The ones who gather and wear costumes? Sad. Sad sad sad.

My life is structured. Most nights I watch basketball, men’s basketball, the Knicks in particular, though they haven’t been good in a long time. They have names like Amar’e and Carmelo and Tyson. The black guys with all the tattoos, I must admit I didn’t see that coming. I don’t need to mingle or root or talk to people, but otherwise sports bars are tolerable places. The patrons are comical. They look like they’re all named Trevor or Justin. Just think of it as absurdist theatre and you can really enjoy it, even if you’re a woman. The bartenders in the jerseys which have been altered to expose cleavage and midriffs, they make good tips those girls. Still, it’s self-abnegation, a jovial object, the cheerleader archetype. Unlike college sports, pro teams have no male cheerleaders.

There’s no way out of my own head. I realize this. I have no pets (god, no) and rely on very little closeness or affection or words of that nature. They are only words after all, concepts, sentimental American ones if we’re going to be honest. Women’s basketball is also a ‘god, no.’ As is the confinement of ‘lesbian.’ I don’t dislike pornography but its proliferation online is rather staggering. Something about it doesn’t bode well.

I give to charities if I find them morally uncorrupt. I am not above being awed by beauty, looking up like a seated spectator at a rural Memorial Day parade and smiling when I see my cousin waving from a float in his dress uniform. But what I prefer to look up at is a naked individual, statuesque, the superficial construction of a well-built person, regardless of gender. I don’t consider myself lucky to get them into my bedroom. It takes skill and gumption and character.

My mother had character. In her face and in her carriage. So few women have good posture these days. Now I sound old. Like my mother’s mother, an immigrant from northern Germany, in case that matters to you. If my grandmother was an immigrant then my mother was a soldier and I am a civilian. That is the progression. And it is unimportant probably. As are we all.

*

Sean Hooks was born and raised in New Jersey. He has a BA-Liberal Arts from Drew University, an MFA-Fiction from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and an MA-English from Loyola Marymount University. He currently lives, writes and teaches in Los Angeles. Publications include Pif Magazine, Superstition Review, SubStance, FORTH Magazine, Intellectual Refuge, The Journal, Heavy Feather Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Las Vegas Weekly, The Record, Ginosko Literary Journal, and Akashic Books.

What motivates him to create?
It’s about building something, about harnessing a certain energy and giving it focus, about continually endeavoring to do things in writing that haven’t been done before.

The unimprovable day to resolve any problem is before any visible sign only appear. Mercifully, there are web-sites where you can buy treatment options effortlessly. What can we buy in online pharmacies? There are anticonvulsants. It affects chemicals in the body that are involved in the cause of some types of pain. There are remedies only for children. If you’re concerned about erectile malfunction, you perhaps already know about how fast does cialis work. What patients talk about how long does it take for cialis 20mg to work? The symptoms of sexual disorders in men include failure to have any erection. Sexual diseases often signal serious problems: low libido or erectile disfunction may hide a heavy soundness problem such as core trouble. Sometimes men who take street drugs like marijuana find it awkward to get an hard-on and turn to erectile disfunction medicines for a temporary solution. Once you’ve studied the basics about men’s erectile disfunction from us, you may want to see what other reputable websites have to say. The most common potentially serious side effects of such medicaments like Cialis is stuffy or runny nose. Tell your pharmacist if you have any unwanted side effect that does not go away. Absolutely, online drugstore can lightly help you for solving your all personal problems.

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May 21st, 2016

Guruji

“Will all those who have not done their homework, please stand up,” said Naithaniji in his deep gravelly voice. A bolt of cold terror ran down Murli Prasad’s back. Not only had he not done his homework, he also did not know how to say that in English, which he knew from experience, was going …

“Will all those who have not done their homework, please stand up,” said Naithaniji in his deep gravelly voice. A bolt of cold terror ran down Murli Prasad’s back. Not only had he not done his homework, he also did not know how to say that in English, which he knew from experience, was going to be Guruji’s next request. He was absolutely right. “Those standing will now tell me why they haven’t completed their homework,” Guruji’s voice was cold and he was menacingly stroking the thin cane in his hand.

It was a time to test friendships. While Guruji turned his back to the class to spit the remains of the betel nut in his mouth into the dustbin, Murli whispered urgently to Ajay sitting next to him. “Batha, jaldi batha,” he growled, “homework nahin kiya ko angrezi mein kya kehte hain”. (Tell me quick, how you say you haven’t done your homework in English).“I did not do my home work,” Ajay whispered back, wiping his running nose with the back of his frayed sweater sleeve while pretending to be deeply engrossed in the English textbook open on his desk. A smart move since Guruji had turned back to the class again and was wiping his white moustache (that had acquired a fine spray of red from the chewed supari whose remnants he had so deftly deposited in the bin). “Yes Murli? ” he asked, prowling around Murli’s desk like a bagh in the forest. Murli was getting confused. He and his mother had come to live in Jaiharikhal with his father who was a soldier in the Army, only recently. Back in the village, he had never been exposed to spoken English. He could write the alphabets and do the A for Apple, B for Boy routine quite well if there was a picture book at hand. But speaking full sentences was a formidable task. “I d-d-d …I do not do my homework,” he mumbled, trying desperately to remember the sequence of words. The cane had landed on his bottom before the sentence ended. “You village bumpkins, you squat on stones to shit. You think you can be like the English? Angrez kursi pe baith ke hagte hain (the English sit on chairs to shit),” Naithaniji growled, moving on to pop some more supari into his mouth. Murli Prasad was allowed to sit down on his sore backside. He immediately got into a hushed discussion with Ajay about what the toilets of the English would look like and how difficult it must be to shit in a formal sitting position.

Other than his English class, he was enjoying school. The boys were rosy cheeked and friendly and often came to class in slippers and pyjamas, which made Murli feel quite at home. That mother had washed their grey school trousers and they had not dried yet was a good enough excuse to not be in uniform. Jaiharikhal was a cold place and Guruji knew that none of the families could afford to get more than one school trouser stitched for their children. As long as you had some parts of your uniform in place, no punishments were meted out. While some of the boys wore pyjamas with school shirts, ties and sweaters; others teamed uniform pants with their home pullovers. Some even came wearing their older siblings’ footwear, either having broken the straps of their slippers playing football or not being able to find one of the pair in a hurry to get to school before the assembly bell rang. Many of the girls wore skirts with hems let out term after term, the faded stitch line showing just how much they had grown.

While Guruji got very upset with incorrect English, he was quite understanding about shabby dressing. In fact, he endorsed it. Often he would himself come to class in a pullover that was gently unraveling from the back where he had caught it on a lose nail sticking out of his chair in the classroom. In fact, most of Naithaniji’s clothes had a tear at the back from the nail, which acted as a sort of indication that he was the class teacher for standard five.

Whatever be his animosity towards the English language and Naithaniji’s cane, Murli bore no malice towards his teacher. In fact, one day he decided to put an end to the nail’s evil acts. He got hold of the heavy class duster and was in the process of hammering the wicked nail poking out of the class teacher’s chair in with some hearty knocks when Naithaniji walked in and caught him by the ear, suspecting that he was up to some trick. While Murli was too tongue tied to explain what he was doing (he also could not say it in English) the best student in class explained his attempted good deed and made Naithaniji take off his sweater to show him the tear the nail had made.

“Thank you my, boy,” a visibly touched Naithaniji said to Murli, letting go of the ear he was holding, “I’m sorry.” “Menshon nat, guruji,” Murli declared, blushing as pink as the tip of his pinched ear. “Not. Pronounce that as ‘naught’”, smiled Guruji, correcting him gently. That was the first time Naithaniji had smiled at him. For Murli the sun came out from behind the clouds and sent a warm ray right into the classroom where he was standing next to his English teacher.

Thereafter, Murli Prasad started liking his English class. He learnt that instead of “My come in Sir,” he had to say “May I come in Sir”. What he thought was “Omlette” was in fact “I am late”. And if he rephrased “May I do toilet?” just a bit and instead asked: “May I go to the toilet?” it made Naithaniji so much happier.

On his way to school, a five kilometer walk from his house, Murli would sometimes catch the maroon of Naithaniji’s pullover far ahead in a turn on the road. He would sling his bag across his back, sprint along the hillside, and clamber up the slopes, getting wisps of fern and fallen pine leaves caught in his hair, to catch up with his English teacher. Breathless and red nosed from the early morning run in the cold, he would greet Naithaniji with “Namaste Guruji,” adding a “Good Morning Sir” for good measure. The two would then walk together in companionable silence listening to the rustle of the wind up in the Pine trees and the piercing “Kafal pako, mil na chakho” (the kafal fruit has ripened but I didn’t taste it) of the hill bird, hidden in the thicket somewhere. They would watch the white flecked Whistling Thrush hop across the track and see the snow covered Dhauladhar ranges far in the distance changing colour in the sunlight on a clear day. Sometimes, they would come upon a patch of wild flowers and Murli would point them out because he had come to love the verse Guruji would break into.

“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils.”

Murli did not know what daffodils looked like and when he asked guruji, he didn’t either. “They grow in England Murli. Maybe when you grow up you will go there and see them some day. I know I never will. But that doesn’t matter, I’m sure they are as pretty as the yellow marigolds we have growing in our town”.

Many years passed. Murli cleared his civil services exams and interview (in English) and joined the External Affairs Ministry. On his first posting to Birmingham, he came across a clutch of golden yellow flowers growing along the bank of the Edgbaston Reservoir. Next to them was a signboard that read: Please don’t pluck daffodils. Murli stared at them for almost an eternity. He looked beyond the still blue waters to the narrow mud track that turned along the edge of the lake. He thought he could see a man with a familiar shuffling walk and an old maroon pullover with a rip in the back, darned with a mismatched thread. If he could have, he would have run after that fading figure and pulled at his elbow, where the sleeve sagged a bit. Instead, he just blinked to clear the wetness in his eyes that was blurring his vision. “Look Guruji, daffodils,” he said to himself, gently reaching out to touch a yellow petal.

Naithaniji had passed away many years back making his final journey in a bier lifted by his sons. There had been yellow marigold flowers scattered on the white sheet covering his body.

*

Rachna Bisht Rawat is a full time mom and part time writer. She lives in Delhi with her husband Manoj, teenage son Saransh the Wise and a crazy overgrown Golden Retriever – Huzoor, which (roughly translated from Urdu) means, Your Highness.

What motivates her to create?
I was a quiet, shy, introvert in my childhood. Scared and insecure. When I started writing I realised it gave me the gifts of confidence, perception, happiness and the ability to make friends, if only in my stories. Slowly these qualities started seeping into my personality. Writing comes naturally to me. If I didn’t write, I doubt I would be as happy and content as I am now.

The ideal period to resolve any problem is before any visible sign only appear. Mercifully, there are web-sites where you can buy treatment options effortlessly. What can we buy in online pharmacies? There are anticonvulsants. It affects chemicals in the body that are involved in the cause of some types of hurt. There are remedies only for children. If you’re concerned about erectile dysfunction, you perhaps already know about how fast does cialis work. What patients talk about how long does it take for cialis 20mg to work? The symptoms of sexual disorders in men include failure to have any erection. Sexual diseases often signal serious problems: low libido or erectile disfunction may hide a heavy health problem such as core trouble. Sometimes men who take street drugs like marijuana find it awkward to get an erection and turn to erectile dysfunction medicines for a temporary solution. Once you’ve studied the basics about men’s erectile disfunction from us, you may want to see what other reputable websites have to say. The most common potentially serious side effects of such medicaments like Cialis is stuffy or runny nose. Tell your pharmacist if you have any unwanted side effect that does not go away. Absolutely, online drugstore can lightly help you for solving your all personal problems.

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April 22nd, 2016

Bees

It was blazing hot the morning of Great-grandma’s funeral. I was eight years old.

It was blazing hot the morning of Great-grandma’s funeral. I was eight years old. Bees tap-tapped into the screen door of Grandma and Grandpa’s old house. Visitors squinted and shielded their eyes from the sun. Cars shimmered in the dazzling light. Stiff-haired ladies in black dresses, slathered with tons of makeup and doused with perfume you could smell a block away, and men in wrinkly dark suits paraded slowly up the walk and into the house. I kept an eye on the bees.

My mother dusted off two big fans my father had lugged up from the cellar. She and Aunt Ellen bustled about, serving coffee from Grandma’s silver pot and slices of cake with no frosting, washing and drying dishes, showing where the bathroom was. Some ladies held hands. Some cried. People spoke softly, as if apologizing. Bouquets of bright, sweet-smelling flowers shivered in the wind from the fans.

When my grandfather strode into the living room and announced that it was time to go, the guests rose, set down their half-empty cups and half-eaten cake, and filed past me out the door. Ladies sniffled and buffed runny streaks of makeup on their faces into gleaming patches. The men wrapped their arms around the ladies’ shoulders and eased them forward protectively. My grandmother, who hadn’t come out of her bedroom all morning, came out now, supported between my mother and aunt. A black veil covered her face. She swayed back and forth, weeping, struggling every few seconds to catch her breath. Grandpa hugged her to himself and guided her to the door. I jumped in front of her and peered up into the black veil, but Grandma didn’t see me.

My mother rocked my shoulder. “Come on, Jimmy,” she said. “We have to go.” Fine creases lined her eyes. She adjusted the black band on her bare upper arm. All the adults in my family were wearing black armbands. Bedsheets covered all the mirrors in the house.

“Anna, are you ready?” Aunt Ellen called to my six-year-old cousin. Anna skipped into the living room and held still long enough for Aunt Ellen to straighten her barrette and smooth down her white, flowered dress. My aunt scooted her along to my Uncle Henry, who stood by the doorway, almost as tall as the doorway, with his hands folded in front of him. He took Anna’s hand and led her outside. She smirked at me as she flitted by.

“Jimmy, you go with Uncle Henry and Cousin Anna, okay, honey?” my mother said. “And Auntie Ellen will go with Daddy and me.”

“I don’t want to go with them,” I said, but she was already busy with something else.

I took a deep breath, checked under the eaves, and pushed against the screen door. I held back a moment, then bounded away from the cloud of bees swirling around the stoop.

“Ma, don’t let the bees in!” I shouted. She ushered the last few people out, and the screen door swung shut and clicked into place.

At the temple, Uncle Henry stayed outside with Anna and me. He hung his jacket on the little hook inside the back door of his car, rolled up his sleeves, and leaned against the fender, smoking cigarettes while Anna and I played on the swings. My hands were sweaty and my back was hot. Little black curls of dirt collected in the crooks of my elbows.

“Can I take my shirt off?” I asked Uncle Henry.

He said yes.

“How come boys get to take their shirts off?” Anna asked.

Uncle Henry smiled.

As people began to emerge from the entrance, six men at a side door struggled to load a long wooden box into a big black station wagon with curtains and dark windows. Anna and I stared.

Uncle Henry crushed his cigarette with his shoe. “Let’s go, kids,” he said.

Anna scampered down to greet Aunt Ellen and threw her arms around her neck. “Mommy, are we going back to Grandma’s now?” she asked.

Aunt Ellen kissed her forehead. “No, honey, not yet.”

Anna leaned forward on tip-toes and asked Aunt Ellen, “Will you ride with us this time?”

Aunt Ellen looked towards my mother.

“Go ahead, Ellen,” my mother said. “We’ll see you there.”

Anna clapped her hands. “Oh, goodie!” she exclaimed.

“Jimmy, get your shirt on!” my mother hollered.

I slipped an arm back inside my shirt as I ran towards my parents. I wanted to ask about the box.

“How about if you stay with your aunt and uncle?” my mother said to me.

“Again?”

“Now, Jimmy,” she said. “Be a good boy. You and Anna can play together on the way.”

“But I don’t want to play with her,” I said.

“I don’t want to play with you,” Anna answered.

“No one’s talking to you!”

Cars were starting up as I stood there with my shirt half on and half off.

“What do you say, Jim?” Uncle Henry asked.

They were all staring at me like zombies. I wanted to scream.

“All right,” I grumbled.

Uncle Henry patted my back.

My parents hurried off, my father trying to hold onto my mother’s elbow as she tried to run in her high heels.

Anna stuck her tongue out at me.

“Cut it out,” I said, and gave her a shove.

“Hey, hey, none of that,” Uncle Henry warned.

“Be nice,” said Aunt Ellen.

Anna climbed into the back seat and I followed. For just a second, I thought of running out back behind the temple so they’d have to come looking for me. But what if they didn’t come?

My father’s car slid in front of us, behind the black station wagon with the box in it and a limousine carrying my grandma and grandpa. The other cars lined up behind us.

Anna shook Uncle Henry’s shoulder. “Look, Daddy, all the cars have their lights on.”

Uncle Henry just nodded.

“Are your lights on?” she asked.

I nudged her aside. “Great-grandma’s in that box, right?” I said.

Aunt Ellen frowned.

“Hey, I was talking,” Anna said as she tried to elbow me away.

Uncle Henry glanced at me in the rearview mirror. “That’s right, Jimmy,” he said. Aunt Ellen started to brush something off her lap, but there was nothing there.

Anna looked at me, then at Uncle Henry. “How can Great-grandma be in that box?” she asked.

“`Cause she’s dead,” I said.

Aunt Ellen groaned, as if someone had punched her in the stomach.

“Well, I know that,” Anna said.

“Well, that’s what happens to you when you die,” I said.

Aunt Ellen cleared her throat.

“Aren’t I right?” I asked.

“Enough, okay kids?” she mumbled.

“How did she get in the box?” Anna asked.

“Look, can we please change the subject?” Aunt Ellen said, more loudly.

“Daddy, how did Great-grandma get in the box?”

“Anna, please,” said Aunt Ellen.

“Huh, Dad?”

“Anna, honey,” Uncle Henry said softly.

“What? I just want to know how she got in the box. Why won’t anyone tell me?”

Aunt Ellen slammed her hand against the dashboard. “Because I’ve asked you to stop talking about it!”

We all hushed. Aunt Ellen made a soft little noise and hid her face. Then she was crying, her shoulders rising up and down, up and down. Uncle Henry gently rubbed the back of her neck.

Anna turned back around and gazed out at the line of cars with their lights on. I didn’t say a word. Finally we started moving and all the cars wound around the temple parking lot and edged out into the road.

After a while, Uncle Henry lifted his hand from the back of Aunt Ellen’s neck with a little squeeze. He steered with his right hand and stuck his left hand out the window so he could tap the roof with his fingers.

“Boy, it’s a hot one,” he said. “Roll down your windows, kids.” Anna and I raced to see who could roll down whose window first. She said she won; I said I did.

“I wish we had air conditioning,” she said.

The wind made a noise like sheets on a clothesline. My hair blew across my face and stung my eyes. Thick strands of Anna’s long brown hair came undone and flew all over the place; in her eyes and in her mouth. She giggled. Aunt Ellen’s window was still up.

Anna bounced on the seat. “Where are we going anyway?” she asked.

“To the cemetery,” Uncle Henry answered.

“Ce-me-te-ry,” Anna chanted as she bounced. “What for?”

Aunt Ellen looked at Uncle Henry.

“We have to bury Great-grandma,” he said.

“Bury her?” Anna made a face and stopped bouncing.

“Yeah, like when you bury something in the sand at the beach,” I said. I imagined Great-grandma’s toes sticking up out of the sand.

We stopped at a red light. Anna pushed her hair away from her mouth. “What’s Great-grandma’s name?” she asked.

“Ida,” Aunt Ellen answered wearily, her head leaning against the window. She was slowly tearing at a soggy, crumpled tissue in her hands.

“That’s a pretty name,” said Anna. Aunt Ellen looked back at her through puffy eyes and smiled.

We slowed down as we drove into the cemetery. The wind stopped. The tires squeezed small rocks out from underneath the car. Uncle Henry pulled next to my father into a little circle surrounded by trees and bushes and bright yellow and white flowers.

“Daisies!” cried Anna.

Thin clouds of dust rose as cars rolled in. Brakelights flashed. Doors creaked open and slammed shut. Aunt Ellen stepped out.

My mother stuck her head in my window. “We won’t be long,” she said. “I want you kids to stay here.”

“I knew it,” I muttered.

“Can’t we come?” Anna asked.

“No,” my mother said. Aunt Ellen shook her head and stared at the ground.

“Jimmy, you take care of Anna, now,” my father chimed in. Anna was looking out her window, running her finger up and down the inside of the door and humming.

“Please don’t make me stay with her,” I said. “I’m old enough. Why can’t I come?”

“We’ll only be gone a little while,” my mother said. “You’d just be bored anyway.” She patted my arm. My father smiled.

“I don’t care,” I said. “I want to come.”

They shook their heads.

“It’s not fair!” I shouted. I was almost crying. I jerked my head around so no one would see.

There was Uncle Henry, looking right at me, his arm swung over the seat.

“Don’t worry, Jim,” he said. “You’ll be fine. Put the radio on if you want. Just leave the windows down, or it’ll be like an oven in here. Okay?”

I nodded.

He turned to Anna. “Give Daddy a kiss,” he said, and Anna scrambled into the front seat and hugged and kissed him.

“We’ll be okay, Daddy,” she said, and he laughed.

He pulled his jacket off the hook and eased himself out of the car. “See you soon,” he said. Aunt Ellen waved with her tissue and blew us a kiss. My father put his arm around my mother and the four of them tramped away. I slumped down in my seat. I heard their shoes crunching gravel and kicking pebbles and then the sound died out. Anna stayed at the window, her arms resting on the door, her chin resting on her hands. She rocked her head slowly back and forth and hummed. Then she started to sing, first one stupid song, then another. She was driving me crazy.

“Stop singing!” I shouted.

She whirled around. “No! Who’s gonna make me?”

“If you weren’t such a little baby, I wouldn’t have to stay here with you.”

“You’re the one who acts like a baby,” she said.

I was ready to smack her when I noticed a bee outside, hopping from one daisy to another. Then I saw a second one, a yellowjacket, flying around angrily, hurtling wildly from flower to flower.

Suddenly the radio blared. My heart jumped. Anna’s hand rested on the knob.

“Lower it!” I yelled.

She glared at me before turning it down. Then she pressed all the buttons again and again and finally shut the radio off.

“Know any games?” she asked.

“No.”

She scowled at me and grabbed the door handle. “I’m going outside,” she said.

I reached for her arm. “Oh no you’re not. We have to stay here.”

“Don’t touch me,” she said.

“Then don’t go outside.”

Anna rolled her eyes but let go of the door. She sat back and played with the steering wheel and made engine sounds. She crawled over and rolled down the window Aunt Ellen had left closed. She sprawled across the front seat with her knees raised, dropping one knee sideways to the seat, then swinging it up again. Each time her leg fell, I could see her panties.

“What are you looking at?” she snarled. Her leg stopped swinging.

My face grew hot. “Nothing.”

She pulled the hem of her dress down against her knees. I looked out the window.

A bee buzzed past my face and I toppled back inside.

Anna poked her head over the seat. Her eyes narrowed. “What’s the matter with you?” she asked.

“There was a bee out there.”

“So?”

“So, bees can sting, you know.” I pulled myself up. “Some people die from bee stings.”

“No way,” she said.

I folded my arms. “If you’re allergic, you can die.”

Anna leaned over the seat and looked outside with me. Her legs kicked behind her. She tugged at my arm and pointed. “Look, there’s the bee!”

“That isn’t the same one.”

“Wow, look at that one!” she gasped as a fat black bumblebee zoomed up into the sky and plunged back down. “Can you really die?”

“Yup.”

A bee landed on the hood. We stared at it through the windshield. It spun around crazily a couple of times, then whizzed past the window.

Anna turned to me suddenly. “What if one gets in?”

“Maybe we should roll up the windows,” I suggested.

“Won’t we be too hot?”

I was already sticky with sweat. “Well, what else can we do?”

She thought for a moment. “How about if we close the back windows, but leave the front windows open halfway?”

“But a bee could still get in,” I said.

“Then you think of something.”

I couldn’t. We tried her idea, but even with the front windows half open, trying to breathe the still, heavy air was like having your face inside a plastic bag.

There were bees everywhere. They tore off into the bushes and shot up into the air. They flew straight at the windshield, then at the last second curved up and over the roof and out of sight.

“I’m sweating,” Anna said. “When are they coming back?”

“How should I know?”

A black and yellow bee tapped against the right front window. It danced and skittered up the glass, climbing closer and closer to the opening.

“Jimmy!” Anna could barely speak. She slapped at my arm. We held our breaths and backed against the doors. The bee flew in.

Anna shrieked and I grabbed my door handle, ready to spring the door open and run. “Go away!” she cried at the bee. The buzzing sounded like high tension wires. My arm hairs bristled. The bee hovered and dipped, then darted back out.

“Close that window!” I screamed. Anna leaped across and rolled it up. I reached over to get the other one.

“I’ll do it!” she yelled, and she bumped past me and closed it up tight.

Silence. My heart pounded. Anna shuddered, wide-eyed and panting, balancing herself between the seat and the dashboard. I checked and rechecked all the windows, then lowered my head against the seat. I blew on my arms to try to cool down but it didn’t help. Nothing helped.

I heard Anna fidgeting so I looked up.

“I’m hot,” she said. Her hair was wet in front and her forehead was all red. “Can I open a window?”

“What about the bees?”

She sank down onto the front seat. I sat back. My hair was wet, too. I felt like I could hardly breathe.

“When are they coming back?” Anna moaned, and then she started to cry. Soon, I was crying, too. I wiped my eyes with my sleeve but I couldn’t stop. Tears dripped off my chin onto my collar. I huddled in the back seat and closed my eyes.

The sun was hot on my face. Anna sobbed quietly in front. I leaned over on my side and fiddled with the metal ashtray on the armrest. It felt cool against my fingertips. I could see bright red light through my eyelids, as if the whole world outside were on fire. I wished I could watch them bury Great-grandma. I wished I could see what she looked like. I thought of everyone outside in the hot sun, and her inside the box, under the ground, lying there alone in the dark.

The dashboard clock ticked. My hand dropped to the seat. Bees struck the windows, sounding almost like raindrops. Hundreds and hundreds of bees…

*

A car door banged shut. I opened my eyes and gazed dreamily up at the sky. There were noises outside. I pushed myself up and looked around. People were coming back to their cars.

Anna was sleeping. A rectangle of sunlight shone on her face. Her mouth was open and sweat had dried in her hair, straggly across her cheek and forehead. One knee was up, resting against the back of the seat.

A rap on the window made me jump. It was Uncle Henry. He knocked again and I rolled down the window. His voice filled the car:

“Why are all the windows up?”

Anna stirred in front.

Uncle Henry shook his head. “You two must be dying in there.”

Anna sat up and yawned and said with her eyes closed, “There were bees, Daddy.”

“Bees?” Uncle Henry said. “Why, the bees won’t hurt you.” He stood back and lit a cigarette. “Besides,” he said, looking at me, “Jimmy was here to protect you.”

*

Since completing Naropa University’s Creative Writing Program in Prague, CZ in 2005, Laurence Levey has had short stories published in Cezanne’s Carrot, Art Times, Versal, Ellipsis, and the Barcelona Review, book reviews published in Drunken Boat and Word Riot, and poetry accepted for publication in Fulcrum. He was a semi-finalist in the Summer Literary Seminars-2010 Unified Literary Contest and he writes for The Review Review.

What motivates him to create:
The desire to communicate and to express myself, both of which I often do better in writing than by speaking. The desire to tell the truth, or at least a version of it. The desire to fuse work and play. The desire, mostly unrequited, to make a little cash. The desire to please. The desire to be thought well of. The desire to contribute something of value.

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March 30th, 2016

The Projectionist

The reel spun futilely. The end of the film flapped repeatedly against the empty film gate. Below, a steady beam of light shone out onto the screen, featuring nothing more than dust particles flashing by, and through the keyhole from the theater seats in the grand old auditorium, came the grumbling sounds of patrons. “Roll …

The reel spun futilely. The end of the film flapped repeatedly against the empty film gate. Below, a steady beam of light shone out onto the screen, featuring nothing more than dust particles flashing by, and through the keyhole from the theater seats in the grand old auditorium, came the grumbling sounds of patrons.

“Roll the film, damn it!” one cried out.

“Come’on for God’s sake, start the movie!” yelled another.

But the old man did not awake. He lay still, breathing heavily, his head resting on his arm which lay on the table. In his mind was a vision of Greta Garbo in full Mata Hari headdress, dancing seductively before a mesmerized crowd. His ears were full of the sultry sounds of middle-eastern music and he could see smoke rising from the incense burners in the nightclub’s elegant showroom. Dancing like a drunken elation in his head, Garbo approached the multi-armed deity, a statue of Shiva, and her hips began moving feverishly and the coin-laden scarf around her waist chattered with great intensity. The audience, consisting of bartenders, politicians, tourists, and military attachés, went silent with anticipation. Then she came right up against the statue, took her top off, and pressed her body into it. For a moment it was as though she was going to make love to it. Everyone was breathless. Then the room darkened and a cloaked woman dashed by, coving Garbo from view.

“She’s not a spy,” the old man mumbled. “She is not the great enemy of France like everyone thinks! She is not!”

A loud bang awoke him. And when he lifted his head he saw the projection booth door slammed opened against the front wall. Through it came René, the theater manager, rushing past him like a madman.

“You imbecile!” he yelled.

René bolted for the second projector and clicked the ‘switch over’ button. Instantly the film began to roll and angled beams of light shone once again through the keyhole, bringing back to life the oscillating images of characters and the sound of their dialogue.

“Bravo!” somebody yelled from theater seats.

René came back to the first machine, turned it off, and pressed his palm against the lamp canister, but it was so hot he had to withdraw his hand quickly.

“Where is your brain?” he cried. He pushed at the old man’s chest; his eyes were burning. “What is it with you?”

In truth, the old man knew, he had taken too many naps, too often at the wrong times, and with greater frequency in the past weeks. It was a problem he could not cure.

“If you cannot do the job,” René cried. “I will find someone who can.”

The old man only looked up at René with sorry, puppy-dog eyes.

René looked around. The projection booth was in a typical state of disarray. There were film canisters lying on the floor, some with their lids off, candy wrappers shattered about, and a half-eaten sandwich dried and crusty from the day before, lying on the table. The trashcan near the door was full and overflowing.

“You can’t leave this place like this,” he said. “You can’t leave these cans lying around.” He gathered them up, put their lids back on, and stacked them in a neat pile against the wall. “You have to clean this place up! It’s part of your job! It’s your last chance. If you want to sleep, go home and sleep!”

The old man wisely remained silent.

After a few more minutes of huffing, René stood silently with his hands on his hips. He glanced up at the big wall clock. “It is the last showing. Can you handle it?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t forget to cap the film canisters!”

“I know.”

“And the lamps! Remember to shut off the lamps!”

He was referring to the time the old man had forgotten to shut off a projection lamp and burnt out an expensive bulb.

“Yes.”

“And lock up properly.”

“Of course.”

René took another glance around the projection booth. “Only three more months!” he said, shaking his head.

When he turned to exit, the old man mumbled something, inaudible.

“What?” René asked.

“Nothing.”

René hesitated at the door, but then left, closing it securely behind him.

Spencer Tracy would have never stood for that, the old man thought. Not for a second. He wouldn’t have.

When the film finished, the audience slowly cleared the auditorium and departed out the front lobby doors. The old man watched them through the key hole until the last patron was gone. Then he canned the two film reels and set the canisters on top of the neat pile René had stacked against the wall. He tidied up the projection booth, swept it clean with a broom, hiding the small pile of trash in a corner, and he made sure the lamps were off. Then he exited, locking the projection booth door twice around with the key before descending the narrow staircase to the foyer. He swept up the popcorn and garbage scattered throughout the theater auditorium, dumped a garbage pail into the dumpster out back, and fixed the large theater curtain so no screen was showing. Finally he returned to the lobby, opened a wall panel and pulled down the switch that doused the large marquee light out front.

A lonely walk down a lonely street brought the old man to his dreary, one-room apartment. There were no windows inside; only a bed, a little table, a sink, a small closet, and a separate closet for the toilet. It was a place to lay his head and close his eyes, and he could imagine himself in another world; a cinematic world of swashbuckling swordsmen and adventurous sea captains, but in truth, it offered little in the way of sustenance or comfort.

He lay down on his shaggy old mattress to the sound of squeaky springs, and unable to sleep, he stared up at the dark, opaque ceiling.

“You are the beauty,” he said, speaking aloud to Garbo.

Not everyone could to communicate with movie stars of the past. It was some kind of cosmic, telepathic thing that only he possessed, and he prided himself on this ability.

“I understand every word you speak,” he said. “I understand every move of your dance. It is you, yes? It is you who will save the world from itself? And not for country, but for love itself. Am I correct in my thinking? Of course I am.”

He pictured her clearly, as if she was standing there in the room beside him; her image as vivid and beautiful as she had ever been on the silver screen.

“If you want, I’ll help you. I’ll be your secret accomplice, your attaché fidèle. I know where to go, how to end it. I have seen how it ends, and we will end it differently. Together we will overcome the French military and German spies. Okay?”

He waited for her reply, but there was none. It didn’t always work, he knew. But this night, he was really hoping for some two-way dialogue.

Then he thought of René’s words and became even more depressed.

‘Only three more months!’

As horrific as it sounded, it was true. The era of film projection at the Arlington was coming to end. When he first heard the news, he didn’t believe it or accept it. It was not possible, he thought. How could an art form requiring such skill and finesse be replaced by a computerized robot? But it was going to happen. He had even read about it in the papers. A new, digitized projector was to be delivered in the coming months and his skills of threading film and swapping reels was to become obsolete. As the silent era gave way to sound, the film era would go down to light; the light of new technology.

He looked over to his small table. There was the bottle of gin waiting for him. He could see it in the darkness. For over five years now had been there. It had been that long since he’d been away from the stuff. And if he returned to the sharp-tasting liquid now, he knew he would return to it for good – until the end. It was the great morphine, he thought. It was the anesthesia for life’s tragedies; the sweetest of all escapes. And it was not unusual. All the stars had one in one form or another. For Ray Milland it was whiskey on his long Lost Weekend. For Richard Burton it was vodka and soda water, which he liked as much in life as he did in his on-screen rants with Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? And as for Sinatra, well, of course, he preferred a well-mixed cocktail with the merest hint of dry vermouth, although heroin was his fix in The Man with the Golden Arm.

But it was gin that Spencer Tracy liked best. Gin was his favorite, his one and only; the drink he used to kill the real-life pain of the ordinary man.

The old man closed his eyes and tried to sleep. And though he finally drifted off, his sleep was restless. On through the night he awoke often, and when he did he looked over at the table and saw the bottle of gin still there waiting.

The morning was usual, nothing different; a poached egg at the corner café, some time to browse the newsstands, and a long walk along the river. He kept occupied until it was time for work. That was his routine, anything to keep him from his dreary apartment. When the afternoon came, he made his way to the old downtown district. A long sidewalk led him to the vertical, art deco marquee of the Arlington Theater. The overhead billboard displayed the films ‘Now Playing;’ Beat the Devil and The African Queen.

“Ah, it will be Bogie night,” the old man mumbled.

He unlocked the front door, went into the lobby, and looked around. Everything was as he had left it the night before. He climbed the narrow staircase to the projection booth, slipped the key into the door lock, and opened it.

As always, the projection booth greeted him like the arms of a beautiful woman. Stepping inside always gave him a warm feeling, like a welcoming home. He smiled broadly. That is, until he saw the note René had left on the clipboard along with the daily features. It read: “Don’t fall asleep! And don’t forget to turn off the lamps!”

The old man tore the note off the clipboard, crumbled it up, and tossed it in the corner.

“He knows nothing of film projection! He is the boss of no one!”

He searched though the pile of film canisters, and when he could not find the scheduled films, he glanced around the room and located them on top of the projection table. Evidently René had placed the films there to make it easier for the old man.

“So now he thinks I’m not capable of finding the proper film cans?”

There were only four reels, which was good, he thought, only requiring two changeovers per film. Not like the old days when you had to do three or four reel changeovers for one movie.

He opened the ‘Beat the Devil’ canister; the one marked ‘one of two,’ and took out the reel. He flipped opened the cover on the first projector, placed the reel on the sprocket, pulled out an arm’s length of film, and held it to the light. Once he found where the numeric countdown begun, he threaded the film through the gate, running the machine just long enough for it to catch, then looped the end of it onto the empty reel and advanced the film to the opening credits. He repeated the process on the second projector, loading the second reel and advancing it to the switch-over cue.

“Life is an illusion,” he mumbled. “It is best to live it as such. Sometimes you win, sometimes you loose.”

He sat at the table and ate a sandwich. After forty minutes, he looked down through the keyhole and saw only one person seated in the theater auditorium. When he looked down a second time, the audience had grown by three. At a quarter to four, he pressed the mechanical button which opened the theater curtains. And when it was exactly four o’clock, he started the film, framing it first, sharpening the focus, and synchronizing the sound. When all was set and done, he sat at the table and listened, to what, for him, was a most beautiful melody – the sound of film clicking through a gate at twenty-four frames a second. It was a six-thousand foot reel, which meant he’d have an hour before he would need to switch over to the second projector.

Through the keyhole came the sound of Humphrey Bogart’s voice. Though he could not see the film from his seated position, he knew every scene, every film angle, and every word of dialogue, verbatim. He had seen the film a hundred times, maybe two hundred.

“What’s our wide-eyed Irish leprechaun doing outside my door?” Bogart’s voice asked.[1]

“Just wanted to have a little talk,” the voice of Peter Lorre replied.

“Okay, but make it fast,” said the old man quickly, stealing the line before Bogart could speak it.

“Okay, but make it fast,” Bogart then repeated on the big screen.

The old man chuckled.

After fifty minutes, he turned on the lamp on the second machine, giving it time to warm up. After another five minutes he began watching for the cue mark; a small circular flash in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, and when he saw it, he clicked on the motor of the second projector. And when it flashed a second time, he pressed the changeover button. Then he heard the splice go through the machine and the images from the second projector immediately took over, flicking out the black and white celluloid, without interruption, exactly where the first reel had finished off.

“Now that’s the way to do it!” he said. “None of this three, two, one,” referring to the numerical countdown seen onscreen if the cue mark was missed.

The old man chuckled, thinking back to a time when René had mistimed a changeover. He had been left to manage the projection booth for only a minute and still

couldn’t get it right! And there was that awful gap of white screen between the reels, and the painful groans of all the theater patrons.

The old man clicked off the motor on the first machine and began watching the film through the keyhole. On screen now were Jennifer Jones and Humphrey Bogart, standing on the Terrace of Infinity, high above the Amalfi Coast. The cinemascope image

provided a panoramic view of sea and mountains that stretched from one side of the screen to the other. It seemed to be filmed from the height of an airplane, which gave a real appreciation for the beauty of this place. And the dialog was the quick and clever, bringing a smile to the old man’s face.

“There are two good reasons for falling in love,” Jennifer Jones said. “One is that the object of your affection is unlike anyone else, a rare spirit. The other is that he’s like everyone else, only superior, the very best of a type.”[2]

“Well if you must know, I’m a very typical rare spirit,” the old man said before Bogart echoed the same line onscreen.

“How long have you lived here?” asked Jennifer Jones.

“The longest I’ve lived anywhere,” the old man recited, again beating Bogart to the punch.

“Didn’t you ever have a mother and a father and a house?”

“No I was an orphan,” the old man said loudly. “Then a rich and beautiful woman adopted me.”

The old man smiled as Bogart repeated the lines; “No I was an orphan. Then a rich and beautiful woman adopted me.”

Like Sunday mass, the old man thought, easier than reciting lines from the good book. And as the movie progressed, the old man lost himself, as he often did, in the romantic action and intriguing storyline. The images on the screen danced in his head as if they were real.

Now a trio of characters, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, and Bogart, found

themselves shipwrecked and washed ashore on a deserted beach. A hoard of horse-

backed nomads stormed down a hillside firing shots at them. Everyone was frightened, except Bogart, and the old man, who stood fearless in the projection booth.

The old man raised his hands and said bravely, “Better get down everyone!”[3] He made his voice sound tough and cynical.

Seconds later, Bogart raised his hands and repeated the line on the big screen.

“Africa,” the old man then said aloud as if he were speaking directly to the nomad chieftain. “It’s not a bad place to land. No customs forms to fill out.”

When Bogart repeated the lines, the old man chuckled.

The film finished, and during the intermission the old man replaced the reels with the second feature, The African Queen. He waited the customary twenty minutes for everyone to return from the concessions and then rolled the film. Once he heard the projector running smoothly, he sat down at the projection table and listened to its melodic sound.

“You are a good machine,” he said, patting it on its side. “You bring life to the ordinary. You create magic from nothing.” Then he sighed. “But like me, you are old and replaceable!”

He stretched his arm out comfortably on the table and laid his head upon it, and in his mind he watched the movie, following along as if it were playing in his head. He knew every scene, every word; all the facial expressions. The smooth clicking sound of film rushing through the gate, coupled with his cerebral reenactment, brought him to the place he loved best, his nirvana.

But he did not watch Bogart and Hepburn. He was with them in the boat, going down the Ubangi River. And he recited Bogart’s lines as if they were his own. And he

watched Katherine Hepburn’s transformation from one who despised an aging old drunk, to one who loved. And now that she’d become smitten with this rugged old man, unkempt and capable as he, he accepted her expressions of adornment as if they were meant for him.

In his head, the reels spun forward at lightening speed. Before he knew it, Bogart stood with a noose around his neck being interrogated by a nasty German sea-captain; accused of being a spy for which death was the only penalty.

But it was not Bogart; it was the old man.

“Don’t give in!” the old man mumbled. He felt the ship rocking beneath him as if he were really afloat. “Be brave Rosie! Be strong! It is for love and country!”

As the large German vessel, the Louisa, drifted closer to the African Queen, the makeshift torpedoes pointing from the Queen’s bow closed in on theLouisa’shull.

“Take cover Rosie!” the old man shouted, bracing himself for the explosion. “I’ll be with you shortly!”

Though the celluloid images danced vividly in his head, they had barely finished the first reel on the projector beside him. On the screen, the first cue marked flashed by, then the second, then the end of the film looped through the gate, and suddenly, nothing but a white stream of light shone out from the projector. And the groaning and booing from the audience was almost instantaneous.

“Roll the damned film!”

“Hey! Wakeup up there!” another screamed from the front of the house.

But the old man’s head remained down on the table, resting on his out-stretched arm; his eyes closed and his expression intense. Even if he wanted to, he could not move. He had a noose around his neck, and the rope was pulling tightly.

“Be brave, Rosie!” he mumbled again.

Then the projection room door swung open with a bang, slamming against the forward wall, and in stormed René, as livid as he could possibly be.

“This’s it!” he screamed. “You are through!”

The old man lifted his head as René rushed past him and lunged for the changeover button on the second projector. He pressed the button, and instantly the images returned to the screen below.

“Thank you!” someone yelled from the auditorium.

“About time!” another screamed out.

“You are finished!” René shouted to the old man. “Get your things and leave!”

“What?” the old man asked.

“You’re fired!”

It took a moment for the old man to gather himself. He had barely stepped off the deck of the Louisa.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Get your things and leave! Now! I’ll mail you your check.”

“But I thought I had three more months?”

“Not no more. You are through, now!”

René grabbed the old man’s collar, lifted him from the chair, and using his grip, escorted him to his bag, which was against the wall. The old man picked up the bag and then René pushed him to the door.

There was nothing the old man could do. He was too dazed and confused to resist, and when he was heaved through the door, pushed out like a rag doll, he nearly tumbled down the stairs. He dropped several steps before he could stop his momentum and regain his balance. Then he straightened himself, turned back, and looked up at René, who stood with both hands on his hips.

“Get out!” René yelled, pointing toward the front door of the lobby.

The old man continued down the steps, made his way through the foyer, and pushed his way out the front doors.

“He is a man without honor,” he mumbled to himself. “He is a man with no loyalty.”

As he walked down the street in darkness to his apartment, he thought of Garbo; her persona as Mata Hari, strong and defiance against all odds and in the face of certain death. Her image danced in his head, feverously; the coins of her hip-scarf chattering like wind chimes in a hurricane. Every movement of her body showed him her strength and will to overcome. She is the bold and daring one, he thought; the one never to give in to the misalignments and abuses of power.

Then, in his mind, he saw the bottle of gin awaiting him, there on his table in his dreary apartment, and the image of Garbo faded to black.

The End

[1] [2] [3] Dialogue from the public domain movie Beat the Devil, screenplay by John Huston and Truman Capote.

*

Pushcart Prize nominee Frank Scozzari resides in Nipomo, a small town on the California central coast. His award-winning short stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines including The Worcester Review, War Literature & the ArtsThe Tampa Review, Pacific Review, Eleven Eleven, The Emerson Review, South Dakota Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Minetta Review, Reed Magazine,Berkeley Fiction Review, Ellipsis Magazine, The Nassau Review, and The MacGuffin, and have been featured in literary theater. His novel “From Afar” was featured in USA Today and received a 5-star book rating at Readers’ Favorite

What motivates him to create:
Someone once said ‘if I didn’t write I would die.’ Perhaps that’s a bit drastic, but it is my sentiment in many ways. Writing and creating are my passions and I would be unhappy without them. Once I have an image or story in my head I feel obligated to make it real. If someone likes it, that’s great, but if not, I’d create nonetheless.

The perfect day to resolve any problem is before any visible sign only appear. Mercifully, there are web-sites where you can buy treatment options effortlessly. What can we buy in online pharmacies? There are anticonvulsants. It affects chemicals in the body that are involved in the cause of some types of hurt. There are remedies only for children. If you’re concerned about erectile disfunction, you perhaps already know about how fast does cialis work. What patients talk about how long does it take for cialis 20mg to work? The symptoms of sexual disorders in men include failure to have any erection. Sexual diseases often signal serious problems: low libido or erectile disfunction may hide a heavy heartiness problem such as core trouble. Sometimes men who take street drugs like marijuana find it awkward to get an erection and turn to erectile dysfunction medicines for a temporary solution. Once you’ve studied the basics about men’s erectile dysfunction from us, you may want to see what other reputable websites have to say. The most common potentially serious side effects of such medicaments like Cialis is stuffy or runny nose. Tell your dispenser if you have any unwanted side effect that does not go away. Absolutely, online drugstore can lightly help you for solving your all personal problems.

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March 16th, 2016

Closed Doors

George walked out of the garage, a ten-pound sack of kitty litter draped over his right shoulder. Long silver tufts of hair pushed their way out of his cap tickled his ears. He tugged the cap down with his free hand, creating a lopsided mess of blue and red knit. He sighed, and his hot …

George walked out of the garage, a ten-pound sack of kitty litter draped over his right shoulder. Long silver tufts of hair pushed their way out of his cap tickled his ears. He tugged the cap down with his free hand, creating a lopsided mess of blue and red knit. He sighed, and his hot breath shot a brief smoke signal into the cold air.

Just before he reached the two-thirds of the driveway that was iced over, George let the sack of litter fall from his shoulders, grabbing it by the top quarter before he plopped it down onto the wet driveway. He slid his hand into the deep left pocket of his robe and pulled out an antique silver letter opener. As he moved the opener toward the top corner of the sack of litter, he noticed the reflection of the rising sun framed by smaller, colorful halos glowing in the middle of the silver. He took a moment then in the twilight to admire the distant sun and fading glow of the neighborhood Christmas lights. To the right, greens and yellows and reds and blues were all strung together along metal porch rails, competing with the white glow of the strands that lined gutters, all of them fighting the sunrise and the beads of condensation covering their bulbs, attempting to mask their glow.

George felt something brush his pajama pants leg, and was startled back from his trance. He dropped the letter opener between his boots. Sandy, a scrawny, pale orange cat that belonged to the neighbors, darted off and shouted a meow that matched the clang of the silver hitting the concrete. George picked up the letter opener and stabbed the top corner of the bag of litter. He took off a rough slice, placed it in his robe pocket, and picked the bag up. He tilted the bag and formed a small mound of kitty litter beside him on the wet driveway. He rubbed his snow boots against the concrete to wet the soles, and then with both feet, stepped into the mound of litter. He stomped a few times into the mound to ensure even coverage. Bending at the knees, George brought both of his shoes, one at a time, to the front of his body to inspect his stomping job. Satisfied, he grabbed the sack of litter and carefully covering the sliced-off corner, heaved it back over his right shoulder.

Just as he began to turn toward the front walkway, through the clouds of his own breath, George noticed a figure coming toward him from behind the garage. He squinted and made out a tall, skinny young man. Conner, a boy his daughter’s age, and the son of the new hired help that stayed in the guest house behind the garage, was signaling something and flailing his arms about as he hurried in George’s direction. Confused, George stood motionless, waiting for the boy’s approach. Panting, and with a dripping nose, Conner expelled with hot breath into George’s face, “Mr. Hardell, please, let me help you with that.” The young man wiped his nose, and with glistening, mucus covered fingers, moved to pull the sack of litter off of George’s shoulder.

“That’s ok, Conner. I’ve got it, really.”

“But Mr. Hardell, You shouldn’t be out here so early and with it being so cold and all.” Conner continued to reach for the sack as George stepped back slowly with each attempt.

“Conner. I’m fine. I appreciate you trying to help, but you see, I’ve already covered my boots and you are in slippers for christsake.” Conner looked down at his feet, confused, as if he had no idea that he had anything covering them at all.

“Mr. Hardell, please, my mother saw you through the window and insisted that I come out here and cover the walkway for you. If I come back having done nothing, she’ll kill me.” He twisted up his face in concern with downcast eyes on a tilted head, a look children often give adults that makes them give-in to just about anything. Avoiding the expression on Conner’s face, George looked past him to the guest house. There in the window, Conner’s mother, still dressed in her house robe with her long hair unpinned, was smiling while she pushed up a gently waving hand to George.

“Fine. That’s fine. Tell your mother I said thank you but that it isn’t necessary that you help around the house with everything. And Conner, make sure you cover everything well. I don’t need to be calling an ambulance this Christmas evening when my sister and her children fall down and break their necks on an icy walkway.”

“I understand Mr. Hardell. I’ll cover everything completely.”

“Very well. And oh, by the way, you and your mother are welcome to join us at dinner this evening. I’m not sure if my wife has already spoken to you or your mother about this, but I’m sure it would be fine.”

“Thank you sir, but we’ll be having dinner together in the guest house after we’re done preparing for you. Thank you though, sir.”

“It’s the least I can do.”

“Thank you sir. Thank you.”

“Uh huh…we’ll be seeing you later Conner.”

George turned back into the garage, stomping his feet onto the concrete once more, this time ridding his soles of the sheet of litter that he had just so fervently created. Inside the garage he tried to steady himself as he untied his boots and watched as the young man fumbled about beneath the heavy sack of litter. He shook his head as he watched Conner slip and slide over the icy driveway, spilling litter everywhere as he made his way to the front of the house.

The sun had finally pushed itself above the horizon and painted the sides of the houses on George’s street. The Christmas lights disappeared into the sun’s orange glow, so now every house had only empty wires wrapped around their light posts and porch rails, had only strange dull strands lining their gutters, outshone by the shimmering shingles above and insulted by the plastic Santas and reindeer blanketed with snow. Admiring the wash of sunlight on the brick siding of the house, George squinted and noticed his daughter’s face in the window above the garage. Her light skin glowed tan in the sunlight and her dark hair glimmered with red strands. George lifted a hand, waving to his daughter in the window. Waiting for a response, still squinting behind streams of his hot breath, he suddenly noticed a smile spreading out across his daughter’s lips. He followed her gaze down the length of the driveway only to see Conner bent over the walkway, awkwardly dumping litter all along the front porch steps. When he looked back up into the window, Sara and the wash of peach sunlight were gone. Just before he disappeared into the garage, George heard Conner shout from the front of the house, “Covering everything Mr. Hardell, don’t worry.” In his last puffs in the icy air, George exhaled softly, “I’m not.”

***

George’s sister and her two daughters arrived at four. Frances billowed through the front door and past her brother like a gust of wind. Marcie, her youngest daughter, hung on for dear life, gripping her mother’s arm as she stumbled through the door behind her. Jenny, who was just about to leave for college in the spring, sauntered in slowly behind the two, her knees so close together that they made a knocking sound as she walked. Her mother was already in the living room gossiping with George’s wife, her high-pitched squeals and thick laughter echoing down the hallway as George offered to take Jenny’s coat.

“That’s ok Uncle George, I’d rather keep it on.”

“Jenny, you’ll burn to death in here, you know how Karen turns the place into a sauna during the winter.”

“I don’t care, I’d just like to keep it on.” The girl flung her eyes down to her black-heeled shoes and her cheeks swelled with a deep peach flush.

“Jenny, what the hell’s going on?” She shot her gaze back up at George and looked as if she were about to cry. She untied the belt on her thick wool coat and pushed it off of her shoulders onto the floor, revealing a thick pillow stuffed with beanbags tied around her waist with a belt. “What the…” George fought himself trying to hold off the chuckles rising from the deep of his belly.

“It’s not funny! Mom is making me wear it. She thinks I’m going to go off to college and get…you know…pregnant.”

Now bent over in laughter, snorting with each breath, George reached out toward Jenny and untied the belt, letting the simulated pregnant belly hit the wooden floor. The bean bag stuffing made a brief swishing noise like a wave washing ashore a beach as George kicked it to the side of the entryway. Sighing behind closed-mouth laughter, George said, “Jen, this time she’s gone too far.”

“Tell me about it.”

The two laughed, then walked together, sans the fake baby-belly, down the hallway into the living room; George’s sister’s laugh was like a homing siren guiding them in the right direction. Frances made quite the fuss when she first saw Jenny without the pillow-fashioned belly, but George spoke to her slowly and convinced her to at least let Jenny go without the belly for the day. After making drinks for himself and his wife, George made a third, for Frances, in hopes it would calm her down enough so that he could bare her visit for the evening. She had been taking Valium for the past two months, since her husband left her for his swimming coach at the gym, but it never seemed like enough to bring her down from the circling whirlwind in her head. Her emotions had nowhere to go but overboard.

George was exhausted already from his sister’s non-stop rambling, but felt sorry for her, felt guilty for dreading her visit. Before he snuck out of the living room, he downed the little bit of whiskey left in his glass and glanced at his wife who was sitting quietly on the chair in front of the couch where Frances spewed. She had her slender fingers atop one of her knees, making tiny circles with her index finger as she smiled and stared just past Frances’s face into the distance, out the window at the snow-covered lawns. He reached out to place a hand on her shoulder, or the base of her neck, or her sweater-covered arm, but pulled back just before his fingers would have made contact. Karen had been cheating on him for several months now with the baker from the local grocery store. One day during the summer, George came home from a football game in which Sara was cheering to check on Karen, who declined to go to the game citing sickness. He came through the kitchen door around the back of the house and saw his wife, spread-eagle on the hallway floor beneath a brawny carving of flesh, his cinnamon bun baking hands pushing up his wife’s breasts, his buttered fingers twisting her nipples. George closed the door. After the football game, George took Sara out for ice cream, just to make sure. He didn’t say anything to Karen that night. His rage consumed any words he thought he might say. He didn’t say anything to Karen the next night either, or the next, or the next. He didn’t say anything because of Frances. Her heart would break and so would she. He didn’t say anything because he hadn’t loved his wife for over ten years, but was that the point? He didn’t love her anymore but he still cared. He didn’t say anything because of Sara. She was gone more anyway, about to graduate high school, dating, growing up. He didn’t say anything because he wasn’t going to be that guy in that town whose wife was cheating on him, whose family fell apart for the world to see. He didn’t say anything because he didn’t know what to say. Over time George’s rage melted into quiet disappointment, so that for the last several months he became accustomed to almost touches, almost kisses, and empty-eyed stares from his wife of twenty years. He became accustomed to the deep breaths he took before opening doors, every single door.

Before George could escape unnoticed from the living room, Frances shot up off the couch cushion and demanded that George go out to their car and get Marcie’s cello. She had been taking lessons for a few months and wanted to show off her new talent. George looked at Marcie who sat in the corner of the room with a box of Sara’s old dolls. She frowned when she heard her mother’s declaration and threw a naked, tangle-haired Barbie against the carpet. With folded arms she pouted at George who sent her a sympathetic smile as he hurried out of the living room.

Just across and down the hallway, Conner’s mother, the new maid that Karen hired last month was cooking Christmas dinner. Since the dawn of her affair, Karen stopped cooking, stopped cleaning, and stopped doing laundry. She was gone most of the day, and spent her nights in bed with a romance novel. Unable to handle all the chores himself, George asked around town and found a maid. Cecilia was a poor woman of unfortunate circumstance who George found instantly beautiful, charming, and useful. Her husband died unexpectedly in a fire, and she and Conner were left to fend for themselves. George set them up in the guest house where Karen’s parents lived before they passed away the year before. So far Cecilia had proven apt for the extra money George had to dish out each week for her services, and her son, Conner, hadn’t been a problem as of yet. Both kept mostly to themselves.

George inhaled deeply and pushed the kitchen door open just a crack. He smelled clove and garlic and onion. He tilted his head back and let the scents creep into his wide-open nostrils, the scents of rosemary, of thyme, of basil, the scent of stuffing baking inside a turkey, the scent of the bird’s fat dripping down and melting into its flesh, seasoning every centimeter of it’s once-puckered skin. With another deep breath, he pushed the door open even further and watched Cecilia sway around the kitchen, turkey-baster in hand, as she began to hum a song George had never heard. Her blue apron was dotted all over with clouds of flour, and her light skin shined with slick red smears of cherry pie filling. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail that swung in unison with her wide, heavy hips. The hem of her skirt fell just above her chubby calves, those too dotted with starch white baking flour. Before she could turn around and catch George’s gaze, George let the door close gently against the palm of his hand. Once he heard the handle’s click, assuring the sturdiness of the door’s barrier, he leaned back onto the heavy wood and let his chin fall into his chest. He thought of what it would be like to have a woman like Cecilia, how it would feel to have her chubby legs wrapped around him as he made love to her and to hear what her moans of pleasure sounded like, or how it would feel to come home to her smiling face and warm kisses just before they would sit down for a freshly-made dinner.

Darkness comes early in the winter, and George began to notice the deep purples and blues of the evening sky as he looked out the windows. He hadn’t seen Sara since this morning. Every other holiday she was usually downstairs socializing, playing with Marcie or flipping through fashion magazines with Jenny, or entertaining Karen’s sister’s baby boys when they came down every other year for the holiday. Sara enjoyed the Christmas holiday, as George could never understand. He trekked up the front stairs; the prickly plastic garland that Cecilia had wrapped around the railings poked him as he accidentally placed his palm down to help himself up the steps. He went to her room and tapped on her door before opening it slowly. The light beside her bed glowed softly in the corner, but when George asked, “Sara?” no one responded. He shut the door and continued down the hallway to the guest bedroom. It was also empty. Confused, George came back down the stairs and passed into the living room to ask if anyone had seen Sara. Frances had definitely not seen her but wanted to tell her something and something else. Jenny hadn’t seen her. Marcie sounded as if she was mauling small animals as she tried to tune her cello, and Karen was slouched over in the chair with her head to the side and a faint smile on her face as if she were daydreaming. Now frustrated, George yanked his coat off the hook in the entryway, pulling the wreath off the back of the front door as the bottom hem of his coat swung behind him. He opened the garage door, pulled on his boots, and without tying them, headed back into the house. Pushing open the kitchen door, George burst in and startled Cecilia so that she dropped the baster into the pool of bubbling fat in the bottom of the roasting pan. “Have you seen Sara? I can’t find her anywhere.” Trying to fish out the dripping-covered baster with bare fingers, Cecilia said,

“I haven’t seen her since breakfast Mr. Hardell. Maybe she just went to a friend’s house. Is everything ok?”

“She didn’t go to a friend’s house. She would have told me or her mother.” George retorted as if he were debating the most important issue of all time. Cecilia tilted her head, looking concerned, and watched George fumble with the doorknob. Sighing and flinging open the back door leading from the kitchen to the outside, George hurried into the now pitch-black night toward the guest house. He headed there with an instinct he could not explain, but he remembered Sara’s smiles in the window, her smiles for the clumsy, skinny boy who was strewing cat litter all over the ground with every step he took. Like a magnet pulling him against his will, George made his way through the streams of his breath in the freezing night to the guest house where he could now see a single light shining in the upper-level corner room. He crunched over pieces of kitty litter that peppered the driveway and cursed beneath his breath. Just in front of the main door to the guest house George inhaled deeply before he grabbed the doorknob and twisted it violently. Before he was about to stomp up the stairs to that room with the single shining light, the room that he knew, without knowing how he knew, his daughter was in, with some strange new son of the voluptuous woman cooking Christmas dinner in his kitchen, George took another deep breath. The heated air in the guest house traveled through him as he inhaled and calmed him. He stepped up the stairs gently, trying not to make a sound.

He noticed pictures hung on the walls of each side of the stairway: a younger, leaner, but still beautiful Cecilia, Conner as a baby, and a man in a firefighter’s suit. The pictures made his stomach ache; he did not know why. George saw a thin strip of light glowing beneath one of the doors upstairs. Making his way slowly in front of it he stopped when he heard voices. Sara’s sweet, soft laugh parted a deeper, trembling chuckle, like a bird and a lion trying to carry on a conversation, each making the only sounds they know how. George gently fingered the doorknob and twisted it silently. Through the inch he parted, George made out bare skin, slowly gliding on top of bare skin. He saw Conner’s hairy legs on top of Sara’s downy-haired limbs. Just as quickly as he had opened the door, and just as silently, George pulled the door shut. He shook his head and bent his neck back so that all he could see was the pale white ceiling above him. George closed his eyes and wondered if this was what his life had turned into: a series of opening and closing doors, never knowing if he wished to see what lay behind them, deadening his initial rage because he couldn’t find the right words when words were the only thing he needed, because guilt was too powerful, because he was a coward. He descended the stairs and went back out the front door.

George puffed deeply in the outside air. Beneath the moon he let his breath cloud around him and wrap him in a disguising fog. He pulled his coat tighter around him and then sat down on the driveway. He put his hands down onto the ground and crystals of kitty litter crushed under his bare palms. The cold wetness, what hadn’t turned back into ice for the night, seeped through his jeans and began to numb his manhood. He cried. He let hot tears drip down his cheeks. He didn’t bother to wipe them away. He watched the twinkling Christmas lights flash in the night, all the greens and reds and blues and oranges finally had their time. Through his tears, the lights made a sort of halo around every house, little beacons among the deep darkness overhead. The sound of footsteps scurrying off sounded behind George, somewhere at the end of the driveway. The crunch of litter, and ice just beginning to form warned of someone’s approach. As George pushed the tears off of his cheeks, a lion’s voice sounded off behind him asking, “Are you ok Mr. Hardell?”

“Conner. Yes, yes I’m fine.”

“What…what are you doing out here?”

“Just looking at the Christmas lights, they really are something, aren’t they?”

“I guess so, they’re alright. Say um, doesn’t my mom have dinner ready for you guys now?”

“She probably does.”

“Well, I was going to go in and help her set the table, you should probably come in now.”

“I’ll be in in just a moment, thank you Conner.”

“Should I leave the door open for you then Mr. Hardell?”

“What?”

“Um…the door….should I just leave it open?”

“Oh, yeah. Yes. That’d be great. I’ll be right behind you.”

George pushed himself off the wet concrete and dusted the litter off of his hands. Just behind Conner he wiped his boots on the mat below the back kitchen door. As he took his wet boots off and set them just beside the bottom row of cabinets that met the edge of the inside door sill in the kitchen, George looked around the kitchen. In the warm golden glow he looked at his wife who still in her daydreaming daze was carrying the cherry pie to the dining room; he looked at Frances eager to help, to be given something to carry to the dinner table, who was following Cecilia around like a hummingbird searching for sugar water. Conner and Sara were smiling at each other and blushing as they let their hands brush against each other as they each grabbed a handful of silverware and napkins. George noticed Jenny in the corner, hunched over beside Marcie, both of them looking as if their mother had been replaced by some strange disease there was not yet a cure for. George sighed as he watched everyone, except Cecilia, file out of the kitchen toward the dining room. He noticed she hadn’t taken the turkey yet. It was still shining among its crown of root vegetables, which were neatly arranged where the bird’s neck used to be. Just as Cecilia wrapped her hands around the edges of the serving dish on which the turkey rested, George placed his hands just over hers. Her warmth surprised him, but he couldn’t move. Cecilia looked into George’s eyes and smiled. Like a reflex, the corners of George’s mouth pushed themselves up into his cheeks. He lifted the dish from her hands, and with matching flushed faces, Cecilia and George made their way to Christmas dinner.

*

Amanda Allison is a native southerner who lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. She received her B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing from Georgia State University in 2009.

What motivates her to create:
Writing is the only way I know how to make sense of the world. Feelings come in, words come out.

The perfect day to resolve any problem is before any visible sign only appear. Mercifully, there are web-sites where you can buy treatment options effortlessly. What can we buy in online pharmacies? There are anticonvulsants. It affects chemicals in the body that are involved in the cause of some types of hurt. There are remedies only for children. If you’re concerned about erectile dysfunction, you perhaps already know about how fast does cialis work. What patients talk about how long does it take for cialis 20mg to work? The symptoms of sexual disorders in men include failure to have any erection. Sexual diseases often signal serious problems: low libido or erectile disfunction may hide a heavy soundness problem such as core trouble. Sometimes men who take street drugs like marijuana find it awkward to get an erection and turn to erectile dysfunction medicines for a temporary solution. Once you’ve studied the basics about men’s erectile disfunction from us, you may want to see what other reputable websites have to say. The most common potentially serious side effects of such medicaments like Cialis is stuffy or runny nose. Tell your pharmacist if you have any unwanted side effect that does not go away. Absolutely, online apothecary can lightly help you for solving your all personal problems.

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February 25th, 2016

Maximo the Magnificent

As I sit down now to write, informed by my eyes of the old, sandy knuckles that lay suspended over the keys before me, sober in my aspirations and not in the least taken by any delusions of eminence (for I am not formally trained in the object of writing), I am reminded of a …

As I sit down now to write, informed by my eyes of the old, sandy knuckles that lay
suspended over the keys before me, sober in my aspirations and not in the least taken by any delusions of eminence (for I am not formally trained in the object of writing), I am reminded of a certain inauguration set forth by Thomas Mann in a lesser-known novel – his last – and it causes me to assemble in my mind a crushing sense of futility anent a project I have only just begun with all the keen eagerness of an owl with a shrew in its clutches. I admit of a certain defeat in advance, if you will, reflecting certainly that I have been sufficiently disciplined in the uses and misuses of the symbols before you, but also that I lack a certain element of being, an aspect of nature, a thing qualified in part by a mysterious attribute undeniably manifest and yet illusory as the seven heads of a siren drowned at birth and never witnessed by the likes of mankind. It is with such anxieties that I set out presently to begin the fragmented history of my affairs, to impart to the reader who will happen upon me the story of my early life, so as not to let it die in the dark alcoves of my once unwounded heart. Flaubert once said – but perhaps it is not necessary to lend such gravitas to my work. I admit, there is a temptation to quoting from Flaubert when living in France.

In the little street beneath my modest flat on the Rue Brueys, I observe the shiny reflection of recent rain atop the wooden table where Madam Rayand peddles her wares on Saturdays to the tourists. The tourists just adore Aix. Like the tabletop, the stones below me too are glimmering. Not so much as a foot has tread upon them since the clouds opened in the middle of the night. It is a very early hour – not even the bakers are bestirred. And here I am at the window, my little portico of daydreams and castle-building, smoking the first cigarette of the day and giving the keys on this electric machine a patter patter under the soft light of the lamp.

In my youth I was most certainly the most harassed creature on earth. Father beat me dreadfully while mother kept me alive with miserable food and discolored water from the well in the color of seal brown. Father was greatly taxed at his job at the factory – when he arrived home he would puff himself up out of all cognizable dimensions with his rum habit and lay into me. The boys in the slums beat me even worse than my father. They used to laugh ignominiously as they stuck the little tips of their knives into me, decrying me as a homosexual at the tender age of ten and two years. Maximo el maricon, they called me. My older brother was among them. How they stabbed me and got away with it! All father could do was hit me in the face and advise that I would do better than to fall on other people’s knives. And he adopted the appellation the boys had so generously gifted to me. I was el maricon under my father’s roof – may he rest with his worms eternally spiteful.

I was born to the nation-state of Spain, and accepted all the gloomy and wretched sufferings the commonwealth insists on delivering to her people by right of birth. It is a tragic country, far more tragic than the worst of the Balkans, for in Spain there is hope, a devastating hope. Spain – she is an abject whore, a house of centuries built on fire and torture. What does the world expect but that her people would deliver unto others the worst crimes and sins? When the rest of the world was singing, she was ushering in the auto-da-fe with gilded hands. A whole country of rogues and criminals. The people are anything but simple. Some of them make iron, some harvest, some of them even paint, but they are all prepared at a moment’s notice to slit the throats of the passersby, and especially if they share the same tongue. In Spain the devil is always escaping the mouths of the people. While other countries wage wars without, Spain kills off her progeny, leaving in her wake a history of gunpowder and blood-red crosses.

In Spain, it is said that the people get the government they deserve, and they most certainly deserved Franco, the blackguard. It was 1936 when I was twelve years of age and taking my stabbings. And it was the year His Excellency the Caudillo was masturbating himself white as a sheet in the mirror. The camps were already underway. It is a naughty feature of the human condition that we are always finding ways of putting ourselves into camps. It can’t happen in Spain today, they say. And they might be right. After Franco, Spain set up a nice little constitution for itself. If only there had been a fine piece of paper to stop Franco! He was at his liberty to dispatch anyone who happened to befall the misfortune of being on his mind.

It was not long before my moniker – el maricon – made its way to official ears, first at the local level and then up through some mischievous department. Thence went up the hue and cry. At seventeen, I was presented with the choice of fleeing or dying in camp. To lie with a man in Spain meant a death sentence. And they weren’t handing out jury trials before the fall of the axe. I would have fled for France, but the Nazis were putting the knife to everyone not boasting the pearliest skin, and I am swarthy by virtue of a Moroccan lineage. Being a tawny homosexual anti-Franco Jewish émigré, I could not place all of my hopes in befriending a sweetheart like Hitler. So it was the sea for me. I snuck aboard a cargo ship bound for god knows where and wound up at a dock jutting out from the rocks at Malta, where I was discovered, beaten ridiculously, and thrown from a pier. During the ocean passage, I held out hope that the French would resume control of their republic. They seemed awfully better at managing their affairs than having their affairs managed for them by that little mustachioed brat with the grand ideas and the second-rate autobiography. I spent four years in Malta – wandering about Valetta mostly. I read some books and waited for the war to end. To make my bread, I did pantomime in the street. It was the only work available given my circumstances. I made a couple of friends who shared the craft – Raabia, a juggler from Cairo, and Adam, a native Maltese with a gift for sham levitating. Adam was murdered in an alley for a sack of figs on the day the Germans surrendered. I would never go back to Spain.

In 1945, I made a successful passage to Marseille aboard the steamship Kidney Star. There, I opened the bag of ashes I’d been carrying around with me since Adam’s death. I was the only family he’d ever known, poor soul. I sprinkled his cinders at the old port and the wind took him and blessed him and sent him into the hair of a woman on a bicycle. The food and wine in Marseille were of the best on earth. So I was told. I hadn’t the means for any of it, and was happy to find a piece of baguette or crepe not yet playing host to flies. Water and water closets were the hardest to come by, but not having one, I had no need for the other. For a country that drinks so much wine, there is very little space to make pee-pee with dignity. They’ll sell you the best wines and hang you for your daring in asking after the WC. A Frenchman is very possessive of his toilette. It’s right up there with the Seine in terms of national pride.

I was able to rest my head at night in the alleyways and dead ends of that twinkling city on the sea. My landlords, the rats, being jealous of their pride, found it convenient to walk right over me and to check my pockets for fare. This they taxed from me along with a centime or two – the rats in Marseille are as crafty as gangsters and twice as savage. They would scratch and tease me to no end if I came home to our shared space with a pocket empty of vittles. It was not long before they did me the kindness of bleeding my face in the night.

That I could not stand for. My face was everything to me. My ambitions as a pantomime would not allow me to inherit a set of cheeks and nose and lips splintered to bits. When they first attempted to make a supper of my snout, I vowed to secure more agreeable quarters away from those bastard rats. So vowing, it was obvious that I should require a means of paying for my lodging, and I went at my acts in the street with fervor. I was able to dress myself in a torn infantry jacket that I dyed black and bespeckled with strips of gauze I found abandoned in a trash heap left by the American Red Cross. I went hatless, with only a fistful of powder in my hair that I would shake out at times to make the little children laugh. My face I painted in accordance with the custom – some white and some red with bold lines that exaggerated the face my parents never loved.

Harlequins and misfits were saturating Marseille. All kinds and types of street beggars and faux burlesques were popping up everywhere. And everyone knows that too many cooks spoil the broth. I was able to carve out a little niche in Cours Julien by playing the roles of male and female scorned lovers in the time-tested sex-swapping pastiche. I perfected a certain juggling routine carried out at the beginning and end with a set of wooden boules that a stranger lent to me when he wasn’t looking. Fortune favors the bold. I repainted the balls in the hues of the Tricolour. It was not long before I had a small retinue of daily patronage. I had a little sign done up in gilt-colored lettering – Maximo the Magnificent it said, only in the French, and the reader will agree it was an epithet preferable to the one employed against me in the nasty slums of Madrid. There was one fine day when an English lady was passing through and stopped to see me. She was dressed in a blue livery and surrounded by a corps of boys in broad hats and knee socks who were all smiling ridiculously. Into the torn silk of my upturned bowler she tossed a 100 franc note.

One hundred francs! I thanked her in Spanish and wept at her feet. I immediately closed up shop for the day and went straightaway to a bistro, where I ordered lamb’s feet, a steak, a ten-year-old Bordeaux and a tin of Calissons d’Aix in broken French – the kind of shabby French that causes waiters to put on airs. After dinner, I bought a pocket’s worth of cigars and had a smoke or two at the foot of a hill leading up to a shiny statue on top of a building where the Germans had once been hiding. I do not mean to dwell on the war. But it had an impact on more than a handful of people. To wrap up my thoughts on it: I saw first-hand how little men made big problems. Unlike the rest of the world, Europe is particularly interested in watching sausage being made.

In my circumstances, it was impossible to find a lover. I might have tried with more diligence, but looking around, I could not expect to fall into romance. I spoke French as well as the all the carved stone in Marseille. And besides that, I was struck by a sudden malady that put me out of sorts and caused me to thank stars for the charity of the Englishwoman, whose generosity sustained me in those languishing days in bed, which I should mention I had taken to in haste. A fever overwhelmed me, as did the cockroaches. Those vile pests showed their faces from the woodwork at the precise moment when I could not move to chase them. I groaned for many days. After a time the doctor was called, and it was decided that my right foot should be removed from above the ankle. The doctor assured me he had the finest training at the Université de la Santé in Paris. Regarding the foot, I was informed only that it was “infecté” and my suspicion to this day is that the doctor sawed it off, not because it was necessary, but merely because he got a kick out of it. And it’s not as though he stood on ceremony about things. He went to work cruelly, though he did do me the kindness of sharing his whisky, which he gulped during the truncation of my sorry limb. That rascal, he dunned me for the cost of the liquor in the weeks that followed.

There wasn’t such a thing as paid leave from my vocation. In no time at all I was in desperate need of capital in order to keep a roof over my head. My fever had subsided and I had strength enough to smash the occasional cockroach with a broom handle when those bugs came within the dominion of my reach. It was all in vain. They were capable of breeding behind the walls at treble rates. But in all I was on the mend, and soon mended entirely, save for the foot I’d lost to the doctor’s fancy. Walking was difficult, but my landlady gifted me a cane from a dead uncle and I learned to hobble about my room with some assurances of staying upright. At all events, I enjoyed a mobility greater than if the doctor had kept two of my feet in place of the one. But walking had its disadvantages too. I would fall at times, certain that I had broken my head. And there was the night I scared a pigeon resting on the open sill, and it bit into my neck ruthlessly. But I do not mean to dwell on these circumstances. I was restored in time.

My return to pantomime was not effortless. Being not easy of foot, the exaggerated antics basic to the craft were nigh impossible in my condition. But the loss of my foot I did not lament. With my Spanish backbone and a little bit of luck, I regained my ground. A wooden leg cut from a half-burnt chaise served as a peg at the bottom of my leg. Not so many as me were as fortunate to have such a dazzling prosthesis – a stained and polished piece of walnut in the Queen Anne style and a ball and claw for a foot. The thing increased rather than decreased my celebrity in the little lane where I made shop. Juggling the boules was a touch more challenging, but I was thankful, in the end, that the doctor had not taken a hand, or I should not have juggled again all the years in my life.

On the topic of years, I should say that they came and they went. I did not acquire any great wealth but I did succeed at earning my keep. The letters on my sign – Maximo the Magnificent – were never wanting in fresh paint. And the leather of my shoes, though cracked, held together well enough. My career was what it was, to put it best. I grew a nice little paunch above my belt that was perfect for resting my hands on in times of leisure. I knew the name of the grocer and every now and then he’d hand me an orange, gratis. Even my landlady was friendly toward me on all of those days when I paid my rent. Friendships were hard to come by in that city, though I did cultivate friendly terms with some familiar faces in my quarter. I also had a high time some nights in the cafés, where I would occasionally put myself into a good humor on wines, while ignoring the lack of scruple over my purse. There was one night I met a gentleman by the name of Nicolas – a bricklayer on an unannounced caper from his wife , so he told me. He had visited Spain, thought fondly of it, even. He was fond of Spain’s “aloofness” –I think he stole that from a book. But at any rate we got to chuckling and chewing the fat and drinking the little bit of apple whiskey set before us on top of the wine. He was a friendly fellow. A fine fellow. He ended up putting an amount of schnapps into his body that would give a whale a bellyache. And he seemed to have a fondness for me and the simple way that I listened to his stories with bright eyes. I could not understand his fast and fluent French, so it was natural of me to make loving faces. By the end of the night he was deep in liquor. To get him to stand on his feet was a challenge on par with rolling a heavy stone up a never-ending hill.

At my little flat, he pulled a flask from his vest pocket and continued to drink. I crawled into my bed and gave out the occasional murmur to convince him I was intent on listening, before falling fast asleep. Though the memory is vague, I recall him crawling into the bed, to which I did not object. When he awoke in the late morning his arm was around me. He had shifted in the night and I had not protested. Indeed, I was snuggled in, pleased as punch at the warm embrace. But upon learning of his present condition he flew into a rage and knocked my lights out right there in the bed. I awoke from the daze with a sore face and a tooth in the back of my throat, which I then lost to my stomach. Nicolas was gone, as was the only money I had to my name. The men in Marseille could be so barbarous! But that is not to say the females were better. A drunken woman – the bricklayer’s wife – put out my eye with a rock on the same day I celebrated 24 years since birth. Amazingly, the same doctor who had taken my foot left the eye in its place, though it never worked again. When I arrived home on that most terrible of birthdays, I received a telegram explaining how my only companion ever, Arturo, was slayed in a camp at Miranda del Ebro. The news had travelled slow. It was then I left Marseille.

But not in search of Spain. I had no ambitions of sneaking back into a country only to thank a dictator for killing my one and only love. And Franco was busy. He wouldn’t have any time for me, unless it was to fill me with shot. So I headed north and slightly east in quest of Aix. I have italicized the word because that is how everyone pronounces it. I decided on Aix because it was the home of those delicious candies I had savored after the English Lady in the livery gave me 100 francs. And I had seen some pretty pictures by a man they called Cézanne. When I left Marseille I had a smile on my face. And I was able to keep it, at least for the nonce.

I traveled by motorbus. My valise contained only a small wardrobe and my cherished sign, for I intended to continue my line of work at Aix. On the bus I had a bad seat and the air was oppressive. A broken spring in the seat was enough to give me instant lumbago. And a fleshy woman next to me had obviously had a bad run at breakfast. I say “obviously” because the gasses escaping her, though silent in their discharge, were of the foulest redolence – a bad egg perfume that invaded the crammed and stifling cabin. The other passengers fingered me for it, through their dirty looks, for a lady could not possibly be the author of such loathsome stink. Not a few gentlemen kept clearing their throats on account of it. Always blame the one-eyed man – people have known that for centuries. I was like Celine on his voyage to Africa. And all because of that fat woman’s guts! At our destination an old man in a brown waistcoat boxed my ears. I’ll never forget that bastard.

It was a bright, sunny day. A honey bee stung me behind the ear as I stepped off the bus. My Queen Anne foot skated across the smooth stones and I fell to the earth, surrounded by an uproar of laughter. It was then I learned of my allergy to bees. I blew up to the size of a giant peach and almost died in the street. Thus did I make my introduction to the people of Aix.

With the money I’d saved, I found a little place above a butcher’s shop on the Rue
Goyrand. There were two rooms – one to sleep in and one to do everything else in. The smell of the meats below was irresistible. The butcher, a native of Aix by the name of Gilbert, was also my landlord. We got along famously from the start. He made me a gift of the best meats every Saturday for the first four weeks. At the close of the month, he sent up his apprentice with a bill that would have broke the bank at Monte Carlo. I could not believe the man’s insolence in running up a bill against me under a veil of charity. I had no choice but to boycott the payment by fleeing from the apartment, which I did that very night under the color of darkness. In a matter of weeks a sign went up around that part for my arrest. I only went out of doors with my face done up. Sure, the Queen Anne foot was a giveaway, but I somehow avoided capture.

I secured a tenancy in a one-room flat on the Rue du Bon Pasteur. A sign had advertised a garden room to let, and it was the kind of no-questions-asked situation I found necessary at that moment. The rent was cheap and the mould was free. The other boarders in the place kept the strangest hours and passed very little time in conversation. I soon learned the place was thick with thieves. But they did not carry out their deeds where they rested their heads – my meager belongings were safe. In all it was a quiet building. In the whole of the year I lived there only eight people were stabbed to death.

In 1950 I moved into a neighboring building. There were fewer stabbings, but more screams in the night, and most of them sensuous. The floor above me operated mostly as a brothel but also as a kind of clinic. A little man with a hunch and a red mustache would come in from time to time to perform abortions on the more careless prostitutes. To tend to my sanity, I worked. Aix was a beautiful and lively place. No war could stop or slow her. She treated me well and I thanked her handsomely. France has always been penetrated up to its neck with tourists. It is why her people are so hostile to everything that breathes. As the years passed, people on holiday flocked to Aix. English, Italian, Spanish, American – even the Germans came back. And it was incredible that they never begged pardon for shooting and bombing everyone. I did my pantomime routine with spirit and gusto. A franc here, two francs there, I made my way.

Despite the liaison of cupid that is France, I never did find love. I blamed the Queen Anne foot and the hideous eye for scaring off all potential suitors. On top of things, I’ve been told my breath is among the worst. When my back went out at the age of forty, I was a sad scene, treading the flags with a scrape and a wobble – in brief, a pitiful gait. I continued my enterprise, but I was certain people were paying to see a freak, not an acrobat. My little sign grew into perfect satire. The boules were ungovernable in my hands. I gave them away in the same way I came by them – one day they disappeared from under my nose. Twenty and then thirty years went by. It’s something that happens to those who miss the opportunity to die off early by accident or germs. I learned in the papers that on October 30, 1975, Franco wished everyone well and crawled into a coma. It was awfully nice of him. He died on the same day as Tolstoy – he must have had posterity in mind. He sleeps peacefully in a big basilica on a hill. People to this day toss flowers at his grave. I’ve heard there is even a Hollywood actor who writes cheap prose under his name. History is a bastard wrapped up in bandages. But we have to keep track of time some way or other. Despite the flockings of bombs and bastards, my little Aix has remained largely untouched. She is resistant to time. There is a spirit in this city that endures. It is a world class place – every night you can find an American student vomiting in the avenues around the Rotonde.

*

Adam Todd Johnson is an attorney living in St. Paul, Minnesota. His use of his middle name is not affectation: he had to begin using it once another Adam Johnson went off and won a Pulitzer and went nova with celebrity. His short stories have appeared in Carte Blanche, Euphony Journal, Cerise Press, Hobo Pancakes, Glasschord Magazine and elsewhere.

What inspires him to write:
Every reason for which Bukowski said “don’t do it”.

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