The MFA in Creative Writing Program at Manhattanville College

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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March 9th, 2016

Apparition

You don’t exist, but I guess if I thought
hard enough, I could conjure you up.
You’d be too young for me, unchanged
since you wore Levis in a fancy hotel
or hailed a Checker on Tenth Avenue.

You don’t exist, but I guess if I thought
hard enough, I could conjure you up.
You’d be too young for me, unchanged
since you wore Levis in a fancy hotel
or hailed a Checker on Tenth Avenue.
Or I might see you in a stranger’s face,
some dude with a lustrous black beard.
Beards are in style again; we are not.
I’m not making this up. You still live
in the gait of a boy descending a theater aisle,
a distance runner trapped in air conditioning.
And when we cohabit in the instant
lit only by white titles on a black screen
your electric arm snakes around somebody else.

*

Geer Austin is the author of Cloverleaf, a poetry chapbook from Poets Wear Prada Press. His poetry and fiction has appeared in anthologies, print and online journals including Big Bridge, Colere, This Literary Magazine, Potomac Review, and BlazeVOX. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was the editor of NYB, a New York/Berlin arts magazine. He leads writing workshops for underserved populations through New York Writers Coalition. He lives in New York City.

What motivates him to create:
What started me writing was the desire to write well, like the authors of books I loved reading. What makes me continue might be a compulsion. Is there a Creative Personality Disorder? I find inspiration everywhere and try to distill experience on the page.

The unimprovable 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 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 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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March 2nd, 2016

Legs

I’ve done three tourniquets.
But that’s over sixteen years.
One lost his leg.

I’ve done three tourniquets.
                                                       But that’s over sixteen years.
One lost his leg. 
                                                                   Not “lost,” because we found it.
It was in the swamp, 
                                                                               my partner searching with a flashlight,
worried as all hell 
                                                                                          about the alligators.
You have to bring the body part 
                                                                               with you, in the back of the ambulance.
Doctors these days do miracles. 
                                                                   They also do sins.
They do drugs and nurses 
                                                         and sometimes nothing.
The other two, 
                                        their legs were saved.
I imagine Jesus 

                         coming down,

standing over their disconnected
              body, waving his hand,   

and then I appear,
fat, smoke-breathed.
*
Ron Riekki’s books include U.P., The Way North (2014 Michigan Notable Book), and Here (May 2015, MSU Press).

What motivates him to create:
Simply, I think I often desperately want to connect with people.

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 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 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 hard-on 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 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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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”.

The perfect 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 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 hard-on. Sexual diseases often signal serious problems: low libido or erectile dysfunction may hide a heavy soundness 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 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 dispenser 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 18th, 2016

Letter to an Ex

Do you still tell yourself stories while on the freeway?
What about the one with the wolves and bears —
did you ever finish it?

Do you still tell yourself stories while on the freeway?
What about the one with the wolves and bears —
did you ever finish it?

Do you still read about Buddhism and war?
Do you still have the LA Times delivered
because you like the way newspaper feels?
Do you still want a mini-van and four kids and two dogs
and all those things I would’ve never given you?
Do you still believe women don’t enjoy sex?
Does your new girlfriend make you spank and choke her,
or does she prefer to make love calmly before watching Nick at Nite
and falling asleep in your arms?

Do you still hate that you’re one-quarter Mexican?
Do you still think I cheated on you?
Do you still eat your eggs with barbecue sauce?
Do you ever wear the hat we picked out in Dublin?
I haven’t worn mine in years.

I see you’ve regrown the goatee,
and you’re finally parting your hair
like I always said you should.
Congratulations on your engagement.
Is she nicer to you than I was?

Do you still air-guitar to Stevie Ray Vaughn
and prefer vinyl and read comic books?
Do you remember the Indian restaurant we used to go to?
They went out of business after you went back to LA.
I don’t know when exactly— I looked for it one day, and it was gone,
replaced by a Vietnamese restaurant
with hanging red lanterns over the patio
and gold smiling Buddhas on either side of the door,
like the one you bought me in J-town
when we were young and in-love.

*

unnamed-2

Emily Jalloul is pursuing her MFA in poetry at Florida International University. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Pan’Ku, Quest, Yellow Chair Review, Brev Spread, and The Fem.

What motivates her to create:
Food, sex, my family, my friends; all of life.

The ideal 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 pain. 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 soundness 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 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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February 4th, 2016

Break-In

He’s telling me the bad news with a smile.
DVD player and collection of DVDs,
flat screen TV, two computers,
a cell phone — all gone.
Desk lamp, end table, missing.
Display of arrowheads framed
on the wall, ripped from its hooks.

He’s telling me the bad news with a smile.
DVD player and collection of DVDs,
flat screen TV, two computers,
a cell phone — all gone.
Desk lamp, end table, missing.
Display of arrowheads framed
on the wall, ripped from its hooks.

He’s a ranch kid, college freshman.
Rents an apartment with three other guys,
on a proper well-lit tree lined street
adjacent to campus. Doubt my old man
even owns a key to the ranch place,

he says. Least I never seen him use it.

Says he’ll lock up every night from now on.
But that’s not the point, he says,
and grins wider. Says he’s turned
calves in the womb. Seen wolves
chew a lamb to nothing but fleece.
Swam horses and steers across
an icy river. Point is, he says,

I don’t know squat ‘bout people.
Says he wonders what nerve it takes
to sneak in the dark and open a stranger’s door.
Tiptoe out with a TV while the owners snooze
in the next room. Risk jail time.
He came to college, he says, for the education.
Says he knows now a lot more than before.

*

Lowell Jaeger teaches creative writing at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell, Montana. He is author of six collections of poems: War On War  (Utah State University Press, 1988), Hope Against Hope (Utah State University Press 1990), Suddenly Out of a Long Sleep (Arctos Press, 2009), WE (Main Street Rag Publishing, 2010), How Quickly What’s Passing Goes Past (Grayson Books, 2013) and Driving the Back Road Home (Shabda Press, 2015). He is founding editor of Many Voices Press and recently edited New Poets of the American West, an anthology of poets from western states. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, winner of the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize, and recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council. Most recently, Lowell was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting civil civic discourse.

What motivates him to create:
When my oldest daughter was three, she was watching me fix something around the house, and she said, “Dad, you’re a really good maker!”  Well, that seemed like a huge compliment, especially coming from such an innocent perspective.  Some people, I believe, are simply programmed to make things, like others may be programmed to heal or to teach or to lead.  In my case, I make things with words.  It’s who I am.

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 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 dysfunction 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.

Minimize
January 22nd, 2016

2 poems

I’ve come for coffee,
a visit with the other grandma,
who needs some company.

I think we’ll chat
for an hour or two.
She knows she’s dying.

Visiting
for Carolyn

I’ve come for coffee,
a visit with the other grandma,
who needs some company.

I think we’ll chat
for an hour or two.
She knows she’s dying.

Cannulas hiss.  Pulse ox
we watch.  She nods
and gives a thumbs up sign.

I’m OK for now, she mouths,
then coughs from the effort.
Morning passes into afternoon.

We talk of respirators and
ministers.  I call her daughters
Thank you, she mouths again.

Our grandson plays
quietly in the next room.
Rain pelts deck furniture.

Here in the den old friends
wait, hold hands, think of
childhoods and parents

long gone, siblings,
husbands and children
we’ll leave behind.

[Death waits just outside.]

 

 

Doric Loop

I.

It’s a simple casket, its wood polished to a high luster, the lid edged by a pleasing curve. Something simple; only needed for a couple of days.

Casket: 1. a small case or chest, as for jewels or other valuables. And what could be more valuable than this boy, this almost man, this never to be a man? 2. a coffin, possibly an alteration of the old French, cassette. An endless loop? Is this an endless loop of foolish choices and bad judgment leading to inevitable tragedy?

Not a cask: (a barrel, a cylindrical container that holds liquids.) Nor a casque, so famous for Poe’s The Casque of Amontillado, and poor, vain Fortunato, left chained to a moldy brick wall behind an archway, deep beneath the river. (Fortuna: Spanish for fate, the inevitable, nothing to do with fortunate, meaning lucky.) In ancient Greece the three fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos were thought to control human destiny. I’ve met them in the Sunday crossword every now and then.

A casket. A tisket a tasket – a green and yellow one would surely stun this assembly, a bizarre mix of family and my nephew’s druggie friends – black-clad boys with ear plugs and tattoos on their necks and a girlfriend/baby mama with the obligatory nose ring, a spray of red roses tattooed across her chest and black latticework along her arms.

The classic curve of the wood, the inverse of the fluted columns on the simplest of Classic Greek styles. Is this an ogee curve? Another crossword puzzle word.

II.

An old man told me once about the worst funeral he had ever attended. It was across the river in Haverstraw, back in 19 and 36, he said, a very cold winter in these parts. As cold as this one? As he spoke, I pictured Depression era men in overalls carrying a casket like this one across a snowy field on a cold, blustery day like today. The cemetery was on a steep hillside looking out over the Hudson, and when one pallbearer lost his footing, the coffin dropped and slid – to the horror of the assembled family and friends and well-wishers of one sort or another – and took off down the steep incline like an Olympic luge, till it rammed a tall monument erected some years before in honor of the town’s former mayor and sprang open, flinging the corpse in a perfect 10 of an arc to land in a seated position a little further downhill, leaning against the headstone of a Mrs. Mary Ellen Hitchens, may she rest in peace, before it (the corpse, not the headstone) fell over on its side.

Women screamed. A flock of crows flew up into the winter sky cawing excitedly, a black cloud circling and blocking the sun. Friends moved to shield the horrified family from the ghastly sight. Funeral employees and pall bearers hurried to recapture the elusive body. With each step as they ran down the hillside, their feet broke through a thin crust of ice into softer snow below, which proceeded to fill their black dress shoes with clumps of icy crystals that melted into frigid pools. Embarrassing wet spots appeared on their pants where they fell. It was some time before they could get the deceased positioned back in the box and the box placed into its resting place.

I don’t really believe this story, though the old man promised it was true. But then, again, Santa Claus was supposed to be true. God was supposed to be true. I’d like to think that the spirit, at least, flew through the air, to meet with dear ones again on God’s golden shore, as the Soggy Bottom Boys sang. Though how our spirit selves will recognize each other without bodies, still trapped down there under the snow, I don’t know.

III.

There’ll be no snow for this casket. My nephew will find a warm welcome tomorrow at the local crematorium, a small brick affair, absent of any decorative moldings, smooth Doric style or otherwise.

This afternoon, aunts, sisters and friends of the boy stutter out sad stories. The boy’s uncle, my brother, plays his guitar and an aunt holds her hymnal and sings, “In the sweet bye and bye. We shall meet in the sweet bye and bye.” And my sister sits and wrings one wad of tissues after another till this crowd of weeping mothers and fathers and friends finally goes home.

The lovely curve of the lid is almost hidden under the spray of roses and carnations, all white for the boy, white for his youth, white for… I don’t know what for.

And we scoop my sister up and get her some food at Cappola’s down the block, in a brick building that has been partially stuccoed to resemble a Tuscan villa, with stone Italian-style arches, like those where poor Fortunato found his eternal rest.

*

Katherine Flannery Dering holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Manhattanville College. Her memoir, Shot in the Head, a Sister’s Memoir a Brother’s Struggle, was published in 2014. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Inkwell Magazine, The Bedford Record Review, Northwords Press, Sensations Magazine, Pandaloon Press, Poetry Motel, Pink Elephant Magazine and River, River. A narrative non-fiction piece, which later became a chapter of Shot in the Head, was included in Stories from the Couch, an anthology of essays about coping with mental illness.  She is a member of the advisory board of The Katonah Poetry Series.

What motivates her to create:
Most often a sudden inspiration while I am driving requires that I pull over to the side of the road and jot it down. A phrase, an urgent new expression of a belief or attitude toward the world, a moment of sorrow, a truth. Scraps of scribbled paper beg life as a poem or essay. A series of inspirations becomes a book. I love beautiful sentences, a carefully crafted images, and I strive for the aha! moments when writing something I never knew before.

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 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 heartiness 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 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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December 22nd, 2015

Spotlight: Manhattanville Writing Alumni Contest Winner

Out of the Blue Most days I wake up with the sun, walk from my home along Coast Lane, hang a left onto Main Street, and pick up the newspaper from the sundry shop at the hotel on the corner. I pass the hardware store, where I breathe in the perfume of its first batch …

Out of the Blue

Most days I wake up with the sun, walk from my home along Coast Lane, hang a left onto Main Street, and pick up the newspaper from the sundry shop at the hotel on the corner. I pass the hardware store, where I breathe in the perfume of its first batch of popcorn percolating in the popper. I meander past that new exercise place and sneak a peek at the slender ladies in their skin-tight bodysuits, even though I know I shouldn’t. Then I roll along past The Coin Shop and end up at The Coffee Club. I order rye toast, and a coffee. If I have any errands to do, like I do today, I set out from there to tick them off one by one.

I like the calming rhythm of routine.

Today I see Fernanda, the post-person, who gives me a big smile and says: “Beautiful day, Mr. Lark.” If they still wore caps, I have no doubt she’d be tipping hers. A few minutes later, I’m transacting with the ATM machine at Wells Fargo, when I am jolted by a KABOOM. It’s like a bomb has exploded behind me. I turn to see an instant crowd form around the source of the noise. I can’t see much from my position on the outskirts of the group but, as I inch around looking for a better view, I see a cream-colored Cadillac that appears to have hit something. Everyone has rushed to surround the something that’s been hit but, oddly, no one approaches the now stopped Caddie. The Cheese Stands Alone comes to mind from The Farmer in the Dell. Silly, sentimental tricks of the brain.

The multitude of noises I hear do remind me of a barnyard though. One attacked by foxes in broad daylight.

I start to make my way over to the Caddie, to see if I can help there since I can’t seem to get near whatever’s been struck, and because I feel an inexplicable pull coming from that Caddie.

A woman wearing a Wells Fargo name tag blocks my path.

“Are you a man of faith?” she asks me.

When I do not answer, she takes my hand anyway, and I am swept up into a prayer circle faster than I can say Amen.

***

There it is. The Coin Shop. Sandwiched between Exhale Fitness and The Coffee Club just as her dad said it would be.

Amanda McKesson slides her Prius into an open spot across the street and turns off the engine. Taking a deep breath, she reviews her earlier conversation with her father regarding the coins. She has to get it right, yet she knows nothing, absolutely nothing, about coin collecting. But her children’s education depends on the outcome, so she takes five more minutes to rehearse.

Those three kids — Annie, Ellis and Charlotte — are her life. Together they are her North Star, the most enduring light in the heavens, keeping her ship on its destined path. Just that morning she drove them all to school and stayed for Annie’s Lacrosse game at Waterview High. Her boss gave her the morning off, but now it’s 11:41 am and she still has to conquer The Coin Shop before she swings by the house, makes her Dad his salami sandwich, and hightails it to work.

“There’s a lot of junk in there, Amanda,” Dad explained earlier over breakfast. He pushed his eggs around his plate then dropped his fork on the floor. “Let them bargain you down on those, but stay firm on the 1969 Lincoln penny. It’s worth at least $35,000.”

Dad had been collecting coins since she was a child. She could still smell and taste the metal on her fingers after counting jars full of coins on rainy afternoons. Her fingers had tasted salty and coppery like blood.

“Dad, are you sure?” Amanda asked as she leaned over to dab the corners of his mouth. She picked up the fork from under the table and started to clear the plates. She knew he was finished eating. The fork on the floor had become his signal that he was done with his meal.

“Amanda, I am sure,” he said while backing his chair away from the table and smack into the wall. “I am tickled pink that my silly hobby can be converted to cash for my grandkids’ college fund.” His tone was reminiscent of his gentle but firm instruction when she’d been just a girl. “Now…that 1982 dime without the ‘p,’ the one you found on eBay offered for $3,000, that’s not so valuable so don’t insist, but that 1965 silver dime? That’s a beaut. Worth at least $10,000. If old George gives you guff, make him weigh it. They stopped making silver dimes in 1964 so the ones from 1965 are a rare mistake. They weigh 2.5 instead of 2.27 for the copper and nickel versions.”

Amanda is always amazed at how her father can remember minutiae such as weights of dimes when sometimes he forgets her children’s names.

“Then there’s the 1914 Indian head gold eagle. I call that my Amanda.” He chucked her under the chin as he said it, making her feel five-years-old and care-free again. No man had ever loved her so, not even her ex-husband.

“Dad, come with me to the shop. I’ll be lost without you.”

“Amanda, you’re the smartest person I know. What if I forget what I’m saying in the middle of negotiating?” As if to prove his point, he tossed his knife and plate into the trash along with his dirty napkin. “That old fox George will take advantage and we’ll never get top dollar. Besides, he’s got a weakness for a pretty girl.”

Amanda sighed. “Is there anything I can do for you before I go?”

“That play list you made for me, honey. The one with Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra on it. You know, that Nature Boy song. Play that.” She rescued his dish and cutlery from the bin as soon as he’d tottered off, contentedly singing to himself: “There was a boy, a very strange, enchanted boy….”

Oh God, how she’d miss Dad when he was gone. To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.

It took a court fight with her ex-husband, Todd, to get permission to leave Washington, DC with the children to care for her father. Dad gave up his driver’s license when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a year earlier. It wasn’t too advanced yet but he needed someone to drive and tend to his other needs. He’d been all alone in the modest ranch house since Mom passed a few years ago.

Honestly, Amanda was relieved when she returned home to California. After the initial ego- swell and prestige of landing the job in the Obama administration, she’d felt deflated most of the time. New jobs were like sugar highs. Once the sweetness was forgotten, the aftertaste of office politics lingered on the tongue.

In the rear view mirror, Amanda studies The Coin Shop, as if expecting something about its face to change. The front glass window benignly reflects dwarf palms and sunny skies just, as she imagines, it always has. It’s the kind of October day that would be called Indian summer in Washington, D.C. but here, in California, it’s just another perfect day.

Amanda exits the car and walks around to the trunk, opening it with the remote. Dad packed his treasures in a blue and white Pan Am carry-on that he and Mom acquired on their first and only trip to Europe. Amanda opens the Pan Am bag and gingerly picks out the most valuable pieces, which she clutches in her right hand. She slings the bag with the remaining coins—and her cheat sheet—over her left shoulder. She slams the trunk and makes her way back to the car’s front door to grab her purse, when she is distracted by a red-haired woman wearing sunglasses on the sidewalk, gesticulating wildly. Next to the redhead another woman, wearing a baseball cap, seems bolted to the sidewalk, eyes open wide and hands glued to her mouth, as if to halt a hiccup, or suffocate a scream. A car door slams. Someone shouts: “Watch out!”

Amanda’s senses are on high-alert. She smells the aroma of popcorn from the hardware store and the metallic scent of the coins now embedded in her moist hand. Everything seems to stop and sharpen, like a high-definition TV show on pause. Before she has a chance to turn, she freezes, like the hare who feels danger but not the direction from whence it comes.

An excruciating blow from behind forces the air out of her lungs and sends her purse and the Pan Am bag flying. A fleeting image flashes behind her eyes, of the World Trade Center as it is rammed by a 737. She feels on fire too. She realizes that her father’s collection is being scattered across the asphalt. Someone will steal them, she thinks, so she wants to chase after them. The coins are rolling, rolling, rolling, every which way, under cars, in the street, but she cannot move her legs. She is pinned between her Prius and the monster that has hit her from behind.

She hears screams and sobbing, yelling and praying. Sounds amplify and echo, as if she were listening from the bottom of a swimming pool. Distorted, slow, and deep. She floats there, between the cars, in a space neither of nor not of this world.

What’s happening, what’s happening?

Images flutter through her brain, a magic lantern Zoetrope, moving backwards from that moment in time, skipping too fast through those episodes she would have thought of as profound – Charlotte’s crooked baby tooth, Annie’s first kiss, Ellis’s tonsillectomy when he had almost died from too much anesthesia. The slide show stops in the most unexpected place, a roulette wheel arrested, the ball falling on the wrong color after you went all in with your life’s savings. Todd. Of all people, why Todd? Because he’ll get the kids IF…

“What do you think about while you’re running?” Todd asked her the day they had met.

Amanda’s been a runner for as far back as she remembers. In the playground, around the school track, along dirt trails, on a treadmill. If only she could run now. Run and not look back. Run to the top of Mt. Horn, run in place until the sun sets over the Pacific, bruising the sky purple and bleeding red all over the horizon. Run for her life.

A groan erupts like the grumble of a volcano, beginning somewhere in the center of the earth, entering her body through the asphalt, shuddering through her useless legs and melded-to-metal diaphragm. It escapes her swollen lips with a guttural, prehistoric sound.

Amanda tries to make her legs move to run, run, run. She tries to will it. But her legs ignore her.

Oh my God. Who will pick the kids up from school? Todd? Oh but Todd’s not here. But if he were, would he?

Would Todd know or care that Ellis hates sports? That Annie spends too much time on her iPad? That Charlotte has problems reading?

Amanda can no longer look up or turn her head. Her eyes feel like slits and she sees only shadows and the color red. Her car is red. Her hands are red. The street is red.

Is someone chanting? Prayers? For me? Am I dying? I cannot be dying. I need to be at work at one, I need to cash in the coins, make Dad’s sandwich. I need to pick up the kids…..

“DON’T MOVE THE CAR!” several onlookers shout at once. Amanda hears feet running. She hears a creaking sound, similar to the sounds from an old spring bed when a great weight is lifted. A sound eerily like a death rattle. She feels her body move. She is still pinned between the cars but the miniscule shifting causes a thunderbolt of pain and her body slides. Amanda slides deeper and deeper. Here but not here.

An old song whispers to her gentle as a lullaby. She imagines a boy serenading her, an enchanted boy, a little shy and sad of eye, with a message of great import. She strains her ears to hear him, his message, but suddenly sirens hum, then buzz, first one then a swarm. Deep barking male voices.

Am I saved?

Amanda has to concentrate harder than she ever has before to hear his song, the boy who now shares her father’s voice: The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, Is just to love and be loved in return.

***

Ruth Larsson has been shopping at the hardware store for some Rose-Tone, pleasantly distracted by the old-fashioned popcorn machine emitting the most delicious memory-filled scent into the air around her. Now she returns to her car and inserts the key into her cream-colored Cadillac and the smell of popcorn helps her remember bringing her grandson, Reed, here and his father, Stanley, before that. Stanley died five years ago of massive heart failure and Reed, himself a father thrice over, settled down on the East Coast. Ruth frequently reminds herself that Stanley was an old-ish man of 66 when he passed, but still it’s unnatural when your child goes before you do. Especially an only child.

Stanley was born here in Waterview, as was Ruth. Both at Central Hospital, which has since been converted to expensive condominiums with ocean views. Ruth shook her white-haired head in disbelief when she read that someone had paid over five million dollars for what used to be the morgue. The irony of rebirthing a place known for being a repository of death was not lost on Ruth.

Waterview was a different world back then. A sleepy little hamlet, where everyone knew everybody else. Seems as though all you have nowadays are tourists. And dogs. Nearly every person has one. She could see a French bulldog walking his owner at that very moment. The tourists are a different matter altogether. They travel in throngs, like gnats, so thick sometimes you can’t see through them.

Ruth has her eyes glued to the rear view looking for an opening to back her car out into the opposite lane (she’s going west, not east, after all). Long ago, in the off-season, the only traffic on Main Street was bicycles. Gosh, she and her friends did cartwheels down the middle of the street, like human tumbleweeds. Yup, things change. But, all in all, she’s had a good life, compared to most people she knows, and she counts her blessings every day.

Even though traffic on Main is light today, it’s still tricky to find a synchronized opening in both lanes. The cars in the rear view swell like the waves on Waterview Shores, growing larger in the mirror as each one approaches, until it seems about to knock you down, before dissipating into the road ahead.

Finally, an opening!

Ruth swerves across the two lanes in reverse and pauses. She looks ahead to make sure there aren’t any pedestrians in the crosswalks. It gets confusing sometimes, glancing this way and that at an intersection, checking all four crosswalks, making sure no one had entered just as you take your eye off the ball. As luck would have it, all four are free and clear. Ruth steps hard on the gas.

The first thing Ruth Larsson thinks when she feels the THUMP in the back of her car is that some teenage driver has hit her rear fender. She sure hopes that this one has insurance.

Within seconds, Ruth realizes that something more than a fender-bender has occurred. For one thing, she’s gone backwards, not forwards. And the racket. Gasps, commotion, clamor, pandemonium. She hears a roaring to rival Reed’s old high-school football games. A small crowd charges toward the rear of her car, so thick it blocks her view. Ruth doesn’t know what to do. She feels as though her 91- year-old frame is shrinking inside the clothing she so carefully chose that morning — black slacks, white Peter Pan collared shirt, pale blue cardigan. All 110 pounds of her willfully channeled into her right foot, which is glued on the brake like an anvil.

Time isn’t relative, as Ruth had once taught her students. It is irrelevant. Ruth has no idea if she has been there for five minutes or five hours, and it matters not one iota. Although it is a warm day, she is shivering. A knuckle tap, clicking on the driver’s side window like Fred Astaire’s heels on a marble floor, disturbs her reverie. A man, about the age Stanley would be if he were still alive, opens the door. He looks vaguely familiar but, when you live in a small town as long as Ruth has, everyone looks familiar.

The man reaches over Ruth and shifts the gear from reverse to park.

Is this the man whose car she just hit?

Ruth leans toward the glove compartment to get her insurance card ready. She is still shaking and knocks over her purse, which had been sitting on the front passenger seat. The contents scatter across the floor. Helter skelter are her rosary beads, blood pressure pills, Coral Crème lipstick, Life Saver candies, house keys on a Sea World key ring, and other detritus of an ordinary life. Loose change spills out, coins rolling, rolling, rolling, on the worn car mat.

The man practically lifts Ruth out of the driver’s seat. With only the changing of gears and slight shifting of weight, the Cadillac emits an exhale that sounds to Ruth like a sigh of relief. The subtle sigh of relief is drowned out by loud shouts: “DON’T MOVE THE CAR!”

“What happened?” Ruth asks. She repeats her question but the man does not answer. He shields her eyes and leads her to the sidewalk.

Ruth hears sirens and sees police arrive. They cordon off the scene, with yellow and black tape, stretching for blocks on end, returning those streets and intersections to the deserted and solemn ones Ruth remembers. She barely stands, still shaking, held up only by the strong arms of a Good Samaritan. As he tries to shelter her from the worsening storm, Ruth is pelted by a hail of judgments:

“Old people shouldn’t drive.”

“Lock her up and throw away the key.”

“No one over 75 should get a license.”

***

The woman from the bank, four others, and I are in a circle holding hands. The others are praying but I’m silent. From the chatter, I’ve put together that the Cadillac backed into a pedestrian, pinning him or her between it and a white Prius. The soft chanting around me is interrupted by an authoritative shout. I use the distraction to break from the circle so I can better see what’s going on.

“Disperse, disperse.”

I stop and look for the speaker. No megaphone in sight, but you could’ve fooled me.

“Are you an off-duty police officer?” a redhead with sunglasses asks the first voice.

I see the first speaker now, in the middle of the street, waving her arms to divert traffic. A female shape dressed in black Spandex.

“No. But this is bothering our patrons. I work across the street at Exhale Fitness.”

I feel the fury rise from the crowd at this callous remark.

“Do you think she’ll make it?” A woman in a baseball cap asks.

“I don’t know….she must have massive internal injuries,” a blonde lady answers. The blonde has a dog, a French bulldog, tugging and pulling at the end of its leash.

Through a break in the crowd, I see a lovely young woman, maybe mid-forties, pinned between the rear of a cream-colored Cadillac and a white Prius. Her expression reads like a dictionary of emotions, like those paintings of Christ on the cross in the Villa Medici in Florence. Pain, defeat, sadness, surprise, resignation….I watch her face until I can’t watch any more.

There are so many on-lookers I wonder where they’d all come from. I see a young Latino man in a restaurant apron taking pictures of her with his cell phone. Other people are frantically poking at theirs, dialing 911, I suppose. Ladies in exercise clothes, tourists with shopping bags from The Gap and Lululemon, bodies without names drawn from their offices, cafes, shops, by the Big Bang. Random particles thrown together by an accident.

I see the Caddie, and its driver, still alone.

At first I only see the back of the driver’s head, hair white and wispy, like albino cotton candy. Something feels familiar, but it isn’t until I break from the prayer circle and walk to the driver’s side door that I recognize her. Ruth Larsson, the mother of my childhood friend, Stanley. My 8th grade science teacher from nearly 60 years earlier.

My reflexes take over; I have to get her out of that car. Without another thought, I tap on the window, grab the car handle, fling open the door, shift the car from reverse to park, and practically lift Mrs. Larsson out to safety.

I don’t know why I don’t re-introduce myself to her. She clearly doesn’t recognize me. Perhaps knowing each other is such a low priority at such an intense moment. Maybe anonymity is prophylactic. Perhaps I want to remember her as I knew her, pure and wholesome as milk. The Mrs. Larsson who opened my mind to Einstein and baked the best Devil’s Food cake in the world.

A policewoman approaches as I stand on the sidewalk with Mrs. Larsson. She is shaking so hard I worry she might have a heart attack right there in my arms. She feels so slight, I am afraid that if I release my grip she will flutter away like a scrap of newspaper in the wind.

“The driver?” the officer asks, indicating that she means Mrs. Larsson.

I nod.

“You know her?”

I nod again.

I give my name, address, and cell phone number and agree to wait until Mrs. Larsson is settled to give my statement. The officer leads Mrs. Larsson into Wells Fargo and I wait for an indeterminable amount of time. I focus my eyes on what seem to be hundreds of coins, flat and lifeless, in the street.

Stan Larsson was in my class at Waterview Middle School. We sat next to each other in nearly every class, him being Stanley Larsson and me, John Lark. Those were the days when we recited both The Lord’s Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance in home room. I knew from Stanley that his mother was a young widow and that’s why she’d gone back to teach. And I’d heard that Stan died a few years back too. Damn shame, really. Elderly, alone in this world, and now this.

The randomness of it is terrifying. What if Ruth Larsson had woken up with a cold and decided not to do her errands that day? What if a telemarketer had delayed her by five minutes to try to sell her a reverse mortgage? What if that young woman got stuck in the check-out line at Trader Joe’s delaying her just ten minutes? What if her husband or boyfriend or brother had sent her roses that morning and she had phoned to say thanks?

Horrible things happen to people all the time, seemingly out of the blue. What keeps us going, day after day, and from not just drowning in a cesspool of despair?

“Mr. Lark?”

I look up to see the fresh-faced officer hovering over me. “Yes, officer?”

“Ready to answer a few questions, Sir?”

“Sure. Is the driver ok?” I ask.

The officer looks me straight in the eyes. “She’s in shock.” Pen and pad poised. “So, Sir, did you see the actual moment of impact?”

“No.” I answer honestly. “I heard it first. I was over there, at the bank.”

From the corner of my eye I can see the EMTs lift a stretcher onto an ambulance.

“What exactly did you see?”

I close my eyes. I see chocolate cake. I see a rose garden. “It, it…was a horrific accident.”

“I understand, Sir. But I need facts. Anything you can remember. A woman is near death and we need to know what happened.”

Two women, I think.

“Sir? Did you happen to notice what gear the car was in when you opened the door?”

I try to make sense of it. This incident just a microcosm of what I see daily on CNN. If I ever believed in God, the arbitrariness of what I’ve come to think of as tragic selection — a kind of perversion of Darwin’s theory — had long convinced me otherwise. But what do I believe in then, if not the desperate thread of hope that others call God?

A kind word, a soft touch, a rose garden, chocolate cake….

“No,” I say. “I did not.”

I quietly leave the scene as the police continue to interview witnesses and collect evidence. As I walk away, a curtain of sadness seems to fall over this final act, as though signaling to the audience that it’s time to go home to their real lives and safe beds.

In the paper the next day, I read that Amanda Jane McKesson, 45, mother of three, died of her injuries at Waterview Hospital. The story is an inch long on the bottom of page four. A life reduced to six lines of type. A week later, The Waterview Light runs an obituary that Ruth Larsson, 91, former science teacher, member of Waterview Presbyterian Church, recently involved in a vehicular homicide, is discovered dead in her home. In a note left on her bedside table she requests that her ashes be scattered in her rose garden.

*

Editors
What are the three things you couldn’t live without?

Jessica
Seriously: My family, my writing, and my muse, Daisy, a 10-year-old Jack Russell Terrier.

Qualitatively: Reading, ice-cream, the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle.

Editors
What is the first thing you’d do if you won the lottery?

Jessica
My husband always buys lottery tickets. I always hope he loses. (He always has). I’m afraid to think how so much unearned money would change my life. But…if I won, first thing I would do is buy everyone I love a home they could afford to maintain on their own, pay off my own mortgage, and donate the rest to humanitarian causes devoted to saving the lives of people and animals.

Editors
What do you do when you’re not writing?

Jessica
Think about writing. Read what others have written. Walk. I try to do a good deed every day.

Editors
Cats or dogs?

Jessica
I have an almost eccentric affinity for all animals, but especially for my dog, Daisy. She appears in my most recent novels, The Glass Curtain and The Eye Inside, as the protagonist’s soul-mutt, Kitty. These two works of fiction are the first two in a planned series about a New York City investigative reporter embedded in the NYPD.

Editors
Beaches or Mountains?

Jessica
BOTH! Three years ago, I moved to San Diego, CA. I live across from the Pacific Ocean, where I enjoy the unparalleled climate, the salt-laced air, and beach walks. I spend at least a month a year in Santa Fe, NM, where I bask in the beauty of the mountains, the open air opera, and daily hikes.

Editors
If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Jessica
Although this sounds sacrilegious coming from a born and bred New Yorker, I have found paradise on the “left” coast. The physical beauty, climate, and niceness of people not burdened by stress is wonderful.

Editors
What’s your favorite word?

Jessica
Hummingbird

Editors
What was your process behind writing this piece?

Jessica
In October of last year, I witnessed an elderly woman back out of a parking spot and pin a younger woman in-between two cars. I watched as the life drained out of the younger woman. I watched her die. I was haunted by this experience and felt compelled to write about it. Everything except the accident itself is fiction. The “inciting incident” was real.

Over the next several months I revised the story numerous time. I experimented with POVs and first vs. third person. Writing it had a cathartic effect on me. Only when I transferred the feelings to paper could I begin to resolve the turmoil within me.

It was particularly rewarding to win this contest with this story, since it meant so much to me.

Editors
What’s the strangest thing you’ve gotten inspiration from?

Jessica
I wrote a short story once about a housewife who discovers that her chauffeur is a terrorist.

Editors
Do you usually mine your own life and experiences when it comes to your writing or is it pure imagination?

Jessica
I’ve had such a rich and varied life, full of people and places worth memorializing. My characters often are a composite of interesting behaviors and idiosyncrasies I have observed in real people, but never based on one person. Settings are always places I have experienced first-hand, which I think imbues them with authenticity. The stories are pure imagination.

Editors
Do you ever experience writer’s block?

Jessica
No. My recommendation to writers who do is: pick up a book and read.

Editors
Who has been your greatest influence, writer or otherwise?

Jessica
Without hesitation – John Herman. I took several courses with him at Manhattanville. He is a great writer, a great thinker, and a great teacher. He made me understand what I was meant to do with the rest of my life – write!

Editors
What are you reading right now?

Jessica
I read at least a book a week. My preferred genre is literary fiction. Oddly, I never read mysteries, although that is the genre I am currently writing in. Now I am reading, The Quartet by Joseph J. Ellis, about the years following the American Revolution. I just finished The Secret History by Donna Tartt, because I loved The Goldfinch, We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride, and Two Rivers by T. Greenwood. T. Greenwood leads the read & critique group I have been a part of for about a year.

Editors
Are you working on any other writing projects at the moment?

Jessica
I am putting the final tweaks on The Glass Curtain, a mystery novel. My agent will start marketing it when I am done. Then I will start revisions on the completed first draft of another novel called, The Eye Inside. Both novels revolve around the same characters. I’m hoping for a two book deal. If successful, I plan several more mysteries in this series.

Editors
What motivates you to create?

Jessica
Over the course of my business career, I always felt dissatisfied with my work. Energy expended with money as the sole end product falls flat. When I write, I feel sated. I liken the difference to junk food vs. a gourmet meal. I am driven to write by the elation I feel when I see a story spun solely from my imagination. And, it gives me untold joy when readers appreciate my stories.

Thank you Manhattanville!

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unnamed-1
Jessica Dee Rohm, a lifelong writer and a serial entrepreneur, started her career at the New York Times. Her first solo enterprise, Jessica Dee Communications, a marketing and communications company, grew to be the sixteenth largest in the country when she sold it to the then largest advertising agency in the U.S., Chiat/Day. She earned her M.B.A. in management and marketing from Columbia Business School. In 2010, she was awarded her second master’s degree, an M.F.A. in creative writing, from Manhattanville College.

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 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 core trouble. Sometimes men who take street drugs like marijuana find it awkward to get an hard-on and turn to erectile malfunction 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 pharmacy can lightly help you for solving your all personal problems.

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November 24th, 2015

2 poems

O dazed pilgrims, lonely and high in the wide aisles
of white fluorescence! O peace of three a.m in a town
that says its prayers. O stained glass of shining bags!

The Stop and Go

O dazed pilgrims, lonely and high in the wide aisles
of white fluorescence! O peace of three a.m in a town
that says its prayers. O stained glass of shining bags!
O bored pilgrims restless of your brown couch!
Here the ladies of perpetual yes are wrapped in cellophane.
Here whiskey pints are lined up like metal milk bottles at the state fair.
Here are the flavored condoms and rolling papers.
Here are the barbecued pork rinds fresh from Gomorrah.
Here the liquid cheese stays hot while the wrinkled hot dogs
ride the wire Ferris wheel. O change for a dollar!
O Galaga machine with your row upon row of patterned doom!
Spend, pilgrims, spend! Paradise won’t be so cheap again.

*

Livery Cars

Around their home base, sullen, shut down,
My thoughts wait like livery cars,
Engines ticking, the squawk box leaking noise
Into the starless Brooklyn night:
Need a car,
Five minutes,
Where are you,
How long….
The important questions without end.
In answer: movement, the compass spinning
And from the mirror swinging, the mystical cross.
The voice says go and we go,
Car, thought, me through brownstone Brooklyn
Or we climb that beautiful lady of geometry,
Almost flying, Oscar Peterson on the stereo,
the boats underneath cutting the reflections of skyscrapers,
All to descend into drunken Manhattan,
Where the glittery minutes fall
Into the terrible glory hole of boredom.
Sometimes we take people home in the rain,
Women with one long strand of hair stuck to their cheek
Gripping their wet shopping bags
Smiling at the joke of it, the change in fortune
Just by stepping into a car.
Sometimes to the purple lobby of the opera house
In the once a year finery of another self
And it’s other tongue singing the lovers apart.
Sometimes the stunned meander to deathbeds or the hurry to secret beds.
Sometimes just to walk under a lit window and remember.
Sometimes home from the dentist
Holding our pain by the biblical jawbone.
Sometimes, lucky, lucky car,
We travel to the airport with only a back pack.
Sometimes we ferry the impossible.
Sometimes it is just me sunk deep in the fake leather,
Bereft of metaphor, feeling the glide
When the expressway loosens
And the car frame leans over the back wheels,
The front lifting slightly until the hood ornament,
Like a sight, aims an instant above
The pocked face of the unblinking moon.

*

Jason Primm pursues modest goals in a coastal city. When he isn’t writing, he can be found sharpening his slice backhand. His work has most recently appeared in here/there poetry, The Maynard, Heron Tree, burntdistrict and The Southern Humanities Review.

What motivates him to create:
“This question almost gave me a nervous breakdown. Writing or not writing has always had a certain amount of anxiety attached to it. If I’m not writing, I have a feeling that I’ve forgotten to do something. Maybe I left the house unlocked or the oven on and I’m on a train heading out of town. When I do have a poem going or even if I’ve recently written one, the anxiety is temporarily gone, but it is replaced with a manic concentration. Even when the poem is finished, I keep reading it. So I guess, the answer to the question is that I feel compelled. Seems like I should have a more positive, striking the flint of the universe kind of answer, but I don’t.”

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 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 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 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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November 4th, 2015

Through the Hall

wrestling down Ezekiel from

the gates of bone-pearl Heaven

wrestling down Ezekiel from

the gates of bone-pearl Heaven

she cries for rain and all

the discomforts of silence

as if plucking the rib

from Adam

herself

 

*

 

Garrett De Temple was born a baby and has physically matured into an adult male human. He certainly enjoys stuff, but not as much as things. He’s currently working on two chapbooks, one of which is tentatively titled Panama City.

What motivates him to create:
“The idea of nothing.”

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 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 hard-on. 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 dispenser 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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