The Furious Gazelle

Literary as hell.

Month: March 2015

“Judgment” by Jon Bredeson

JUDGMENT

The curved lip at the bottom of the
Coffee pot saves the white tablecloth
From a tiny drop traveling down the
Body of the pot with malicious intent.
Nothing saves the waitress or the meal
As food tumbles from the tray to the floor
In a violent crash of humiliation.
Cry for the poor fish sandwich, cut down
Before its prime, and decide not to tip.

 

Jon Bredeson is a gay poet, fiction writer, and English major at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is an MFA applicant, and currently at work on his first chapbook. He is likely to be found reading poetry, fiction, and/or comic books at any given time of day, and has no plans to seek treatment for his literary addiction.

 

Novel Excerpt: “The Kettle Black” by Christopher Albert

Mia_Rocco_Red_Shoes_Cover_FINAL

The Makings of a Boy

As a fragile, small-framed only child, I would often get teased in school about how I looked from afar, behind or sideways. The consensus was unanimous: I looked like “a big girl,” instead of the small fancy boy that stared me down in the mirror. Even he questioned my genital capabilities. I believe it was because I was always so beyond my time. As was Prince – who to this very day, continues to inspire my every fashion choice. From the purple pair of three inch heels I wore to a friend’s viewing of the 30th Annual Grammy Awards (the one where Jody Watley won Best New Artist of The Year), to the incredibly thick eyeliner I wore under my eyes. Though I looked more like Alice Cooper, the puritan parents of the small town children of Limestone County could have still, at least, taken the time to teach their kids a little politeness. 

Because of my visionary style, I spent much of my youth trapped in long grueling days of mental abuse and name calling. Brushing off the many words that were slung my way, such as Faggot, Girly Man-Boy and Fart Eater, was no easy feat. At times I felt like La Toya Jackson in the original telecast of We Are the World, desperately trying to figure out where my place was. Though honestly, the vast collection of limited vocabulary from the tweens and twits who knew no better never really affected me here nor there. What genuinely hurt me the most, was when some large red-headed nine year old floozy called me a Pill Popping Princess, just before shoving me to the ground. I cried that day, thinking “How dare she?!” My gateway drug of choice was chewables. That bitch! 


What ultimately got me through the scorn were my big dreams of being a big star. It went hand in hand with the item at the very top of my bucket list – getting the hell up out of Alabama. 


Though my mother was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York City, and my father, an import from Cuba to the city of Chicago – clearly both from more cultured and sophisticated parts of the world – I had the awesome luck of being raised in Alabama. I still know nothing fascinating about the state, except that the pecan is Alabama’s official nut – making the Alabamian who made that decision, an official nut. 

 

I’ll never really understand why Mom abandoned her fashion making dreams to live there, but she was obviously devoted and dedicated to Dad – a Navy Pilot – with active duties that moved them around for some time. By the time I was born in 1980, both of them were already in their early forty’s, and they somehow settled down in Alabama, to begin a late family of their own. My oddities and eccentricities can all be attributed to the old egg sac I was developed in. It could have been worse – I could have been raised in Mississippi or Texas – places they also once lived.

My priorities as a child were different than those of my peers. Instead of trying to keep up with the latest and greatest cartoon (by the way, nothing was greater than My Little Pony), I was busy studying the evening news. Not because I enjoyed watching the same stories of murder, robbery, drugs or prostitution busts being played on loop, but because I wanted to ensure that I would never acquire an Alabamian accent. I wanted….no…..needed to keep my diction and accent stripped of any regional characteristics as much as possible. How else would I book all of my future gigs if I sounded like Britney Spears all the time?

My robotic, monotone, newscaster voice helped to further alienate me even more from my classless classmates of course. Getting the hell out of Dodge couldn’t come soon enough, but there would unfortunately be a few more years of “not fitting in” to do.

Though the big chalkboard in class was always filled with angry, illiterate equations such

as this one right here: 

b3f14edb49fd763ec19df7dcf1ff087e, I wasted no time in trying to decipher its meaning, and instead dozed off to boldly go where no lady boy has ever dared to before – the back of my subconscious. (If you’re stuck trying to figure out why my teacher, Mr. Grubs, tried to explain the formula for General Relativity to a bunch of third graders, you’re sadly out of luck. Only Einstein had that answer. Gravity weighed Mr. Grubs down so hard and heavy in his chair, he never got around to another lesson all year.)

Like clockwork, once the school bell rang, I was off. The bike ride home was my absolute favorite part of the day. The escape from the educational institution that inhabited the most common of folk, and inhibited me from being anything more than common, was a freeing release. I pedaled along on what in my mind, was supposed to look like a fancy yellow brick road, but in reality was a black asphalt path, plagued with small sinkholes and weeds. It was my purple, seven-speed bicycle that made it fun to navigate. I was always in a mad dash to make it home, so I could stretch and live out my atypical imaginations, in the comforts of my very own eclectic environment.  

Mom, who was the endless caretaker of our home, could always be found attending to the beautiful garden she created out back. As soon as I would run in, I knew exactly where to greet her and her green thumbs, before spurting upstairs. My first call of duty was to strip and head for the bathroom for a much needed unwinding. In my imaginative mind, I was exhausted, busy shooting bad commercials all day. There was always a hot fresh bath drawn, in part, thanks to my mom, and in part, thanks to the person who created water. This awesome hot bath would often take place in, what my own mind perceived to be a very large, marbled bathtub. A large round white marbled tub to be exact. With a black, white and gold mosaic, three-tiered staircase leading up to it. To say that I imagined in precise detail would be an understatement. This by no means meant that the humble, claw-footed cast iron tub my parents provided me with wasn’t sufficient enough. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It just wasn't good enough. At least not for the next part of my pseudo excursion, where I would then pretend that my shaggy, short black hair magically grew high up in a bouffant, and my furry unibrow suddenly transitioned into two sharply tweezed arches. My small pinkish lips were also somehow ravenously full with a severe red hue. Lying naked in my glorious tub, I saw myself as someone else – the fabulously overindulged, one and only Joan Collins – cast in a role of a high class hooker, her sister Jackie would write specifically for her.

Playing a character who then played another character should seem to anyone with common sense, that I was borderline schizophrenic. But in theory, I was just another young lad taking advantage of his Only-Child syndrome. In hindsight I probably was schizo, but I’m afraid I could very well be something else by now.

To clarify, I didn’t want to be a woman, or Joan Collins for that matter. The thought of one day waking up to yet another orifice on my body was exhausting. No way Jose’ Maria! I just had a great appreciation for an actress’ talent and technique. Specifically, I was in awe by the begrudged, yet powerful female character, a role that Collins played so well. She always held great power despite living in a man’s world. The very idea of this cunning woman was what Joan captured so well. It was out of admiration that I impersonated her, not aspiration.

I learned early on that women such as Collins were more than women – they were minx’. A minx was the type of woman who gained her power by not only successfully beating her male counterparts at their very own sport of Business and Showmanship, but it also didn’t hurt that these ladies mastered the art of unbuttoning their blouse a little. Dame Joan Collins was great at all three. She knew that all a man really had to do to grow his wealth and power, was to convince his rivals that his dick was bigger than theirs. And so she studied their behavior, and skillfully learned how to spot one in need of an ego-boost, lured him in, and then manipulated him into doing her bidding. Joan was able to uncover the world’s most ancient secret: a man’s reverence came swiftly to those who were affluent enough to drive around in beautiful red vehicles, wearing big black sunglasses. She also became privy to the most undisclosed information of her time: those very same men, gladly undid some of their own buttons, for other men as well.

Armed with her pearls of wisdom, she went on to become a pearl-wearing, on-screen bombshell. The scenes that Collins found herself in were magnificent. She showed the world just how talented she was, by wearing nothing but jewelry over her bosoms. The gaudier the piece the better, as it also covered up her freshly painted hickeys. With a sparkling glass of champagne to match, she would lie back and pour the bubbly all over her chest. These scenes, needless to say, went straight to the director’s vault, and played out in the same fashion, in my own bath.

What I loved most about Joan was that whenever she felt appeased to do so, she would yell cut then storm off set. She reveled in the fact that she could do anything she wanted to, having the production team already so enchanted by her awesomely erotic breasts. As soon as she was sure she had had enough of the whimsical directions she was given, and the god awful bad acting of her co-stars, she’d run unhinged to her trailer. Once there Joan would smear lipstick on the mirror, and in a slow but decisive tone, order the production assistant to get her another glass of champagne and a syringe full of Botox. “Immediately,” she’d insist.

Joan could never keep her face from melting just before the fourth take. So she learned how to inject her poisonous makeup into her supple cheekbones, from her good old friend Elizabeth Taylor. Ever as crazy as Liz was, she was never wild enough to continue to embalm herself into a living corpse, as Collins did. Instead Liz bowed out gracefully, à la Amy Winehouse.

I of course made up that last part to coincide with my phantasmal bathtub playtime. The pure side effect of a maddening mind fuckery, my tender eight year old subconscious would play on me. Often.

The damsel in me could never resist the temptation to be roused by anyone who possessed the title of Legendary Leading Actress. I was even more impressed with anyone who managed to accomplish the title of LIVING Legendary Leading Actress, but how many of them actually die before this status could be achieved is uncanny. Judy Garland. Marilyn Monroe. Heather O’ Rourke. The only one who holds a title remotely close to that is the Outliving Legendary Leading Comedic Actress Betty White. I am taking a big gamble that by the time you read this, she is incredibly still Outliving.  

Out of everyone on a set, it was the leading actress who got to wear the finest of jewels and frocks. The exception however, was when she had to share a scene with Mr. T. The bling budget almost always, immediately went to him. Production companies spared no expense on his adornments, and spent even more moolah on the special effects it took to make him look human and relevant. Yet with all that weight around Mr. T’s gargantuan neck, the cleverest of audiences knew better than to be swayed away from the leading actress.

A female actor is a fine creature, and one with the lines of a robust leading role is lovelier than a goddess with thighs too big for her ankles to bare. Her job was – and still is – to make the portrayal of a self-assured and dignified fem seem that much more effortless. It’s the very reason why Jennifer Lopez will continue to smut around on screen, until she finally achieves that for herself.

Regardless of gender, those who pursued a career in bringing a character to life were very much a part of the fabric that was structurally sewn into me. Just a bit part though, as my life could not have actualized without the influence and talent of the everyday human beings I knew as well. It was the eerie stares of my neighbors, the incoherent speeches from my teachers (warbling on about what they considered inappropriate attire for school), the sex-crazed, flat-chested babysitters who could never hold a decent conversation, and of course the few clergy folk who continually urged my family to attend their characterless service – have all had an effect on the characteristics I slowly developed. These people may not have amounted to the significance of the women on television I adored, like Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Phyllis Diller or Marla Gibbs. Yet, they all somehow inspired me, sharing in my composition. It would be no wonder that out of everyone I have ever known (or pretended to), it was my very own parents who were my biggest influences.

My mother, the ever amazing, self-proclaimed proud housewife, was a modest woman of sorts. One who worked hard, kept her house in order and made sure I was fed, sheltered and most importantly, secured to be and do whatever I needed to, in order to express myself. She was also quick witted, smart and funny as all bloody noses! Her honest and free approach to living life kept me straight and narrowly narrow.

You were painted on a unique canvas,” she always said. “A very very very special kid indeed,” she described me to her friends. It was only natural, as she herself lit up any room she occupied.

Mother’s Day was an event in our household. My father and I would gather as many flowers from her cavernous garden as we could; sunflowers, roses, daffodils, petunias and beautiful hydrangeas, to fill the entire home with. We’d get up early Sunday morning to start snipping away, artfully placing the deliciously scented blossoms in and around almost every corner. To achieve this we had to beat Mom’s clock by at least two hours, uprooting the fruits of her labor by four-thirty am. Mom would never mind of course, greeting us with kisses and her famously chocolate-filled pancakes and whipped cream.

In comparison, my father was someone who had just as much meaning in my life. He always did his very best to try and include me in his many hobbies of fishing and rock climbing, even soliciting me to play sports, even if he knew I was haphazard at best. Conversely, when he reluctantly caved in to my enthusiasm for running away from any ball with the words foot, base or basket attached to it, it was mom who showed me how to alter the seams of my jerseys and make them into lovely, fashion-forward scarves.

After those little baths of make-believe I invested much of my time in, it was my father who also encouraged a good book to read to me. As hard as I tried to duly rinse and dry off properly, the way my father had shown me, a collection of sudsy bubbles would magically accompany me on our literary quests. To fully attest to my peculiarity, my authors of choice were Oscar Wilde, Woody Allen and Bill Cosby. Dad’s library contained many kick ass books I enjoyed. Occasionally, at my father’s behest, I’d also enjoy some wonderfully penned titles from the Dr. Seuss collection. My favorite was Bartholomew and The Oobleck. King Derwin – the well-meaning antagonist – who wanted to rule the weather with magic, reminded me of the hefty Ms. Garrett from The Facts of Life. Like King Derwin, Ms. Garrett was beside herself with unnecessary power, always trying to convince the girls in her boarding school that she had all the answers and knew what was best for them. There was no green, slimy Oobleck to rain down upon her, but she certainly looked like she ate a few pounds of it. With a little balance of television and awesome books, I was kept firmly in the clouds I was already adrift.

I loved hanging around dad. He always made me feel normal. Mom did as well, but as expected, she nurtured my every effeminate quality. Dad did more than that. He made me understand that the boy I was, did not have to feel any less masculine than he was.

I loved watching my father. The way he read the newspaper, drank his coffee, held my mother’s hands, brushed his teeth, shaved his already bare face, tinkered with the car, dressed in his best for weekend outings or caught fish with his bare hands. There wasn’t anything my father did that didn’t amaze me. I was entranced by his every waking move. Even observing him watch television, was a pastime for me. I would often view my favorite program, Alf, through the reflection of his glasses, just so I could keep my gaze upon him. One could probably conclude he’s the reason I grew up to be a man-loving-homo, without ever having to molest me. Way to go Dad!

I just found him beautiful. Actually, I found both my parents beautiful. I loved both the sensibilities of my father and the sincerity of my mother. He was a tall, six-foot-even, distinguished and lightly greyed gentleman. He wrote the handbook on what it meant to be dapper. Mom was a petite, naturally graceful, bewitching creature. Sure she had an air of innocence about her, but she was also loosely stern, and decisive about everything our family needed. Yet she was celebratory, and always so generous and eager to grant me and my father’s every wish. And though he was happy to do it, it was Mom who convinced Dad to tap dance into character, for my sole enjoyment.

The first man to leap into a Santa costume for me was my father. (The second, and only other man to do so was Charlton Heston – but we aren’t going to cross that bridge just yet.) My father made every attempt to try and bring Christmas cheer, every year. Despite my mother’s discontent with anything Christmas, Kris Kringle, Jesus Christ, The Easter Bunny, or any sitting President of The United States, she enjoyed the joy it brought me. And so there were times where Dad was also a Tooth Fairy. Even still, my mother made sure that I knew that all these characters were fictional. Including Ronald Reagan. She blamed these figures for war, drugs and crime. War being a factor of religion, drugs that the government secretly helped to manufacture, and crime due to the over indulgent act of gift taking at the end of each year. She rationalized that it made people insane enough to steal their neighbors perfume bottles, pajama bottoms and television sets. If I recall correctly, she referred to the magic of Christmas as “Poppycock.” This confused me for some time because I didn’t understand how Santa, Jesus or Reagan the Red Nosed President, resembled my father’s nether regions, at all.

(If you need clarification as to how I could have a comparative view of his nether regions – Dad was an artsy, liberal hippy at times, and walking around the house naked was a normal occurrence for him – though mom didn't allow it as much as he liked.)

From what I know – these two lovebirds met at a square dance. It wasn’t the most optimal place to first meet, but both my parents were fun, loving spirits who enjoyed anything that had to do with culture. Unfortunately, it was this fun loving spirit that led to my father’s early demise.

Though we lived modestly, a special engine part my father designed was licensed to the US Air Force for a considerable amount of money. It was supposed to have been able to secure our family for over a lifetime, but my parents insisted that we had more than enough to get by. While the money was collecting some dust, and interest in our names, you could tell my father was aching to do something exciting with at least a handful of it. Though my father loved being a dad, he loved the open air even more. And who can blame him, he was a flying junkie before he and I ever met. So, when the opportunity to take his family and invention to New Zealand – for some kind of prototype testing – arose, he didn’t even bat an eye. Mom however, insisted that I not take off from school until summer break, and kept me behind.

Thanks to mom’s instincts, I scored all A’s before the year was out. Not to mention our diversion from death. Somewhere along their route, Dad and three other colleagues reared off course, and collided smack into the Southern Alps. Misfortunes like these were a rarity, but for my family, it was now reality.

Dad’s funeral was oddly somber. I remember meeting characters of all kinds, who seemed to have wept in silence. Though there wasn’t a dry eye there, you could still hear a pin drop through their sorrow.  My mother somehow kept it together. It was actually her who comforted most of his family and friends through their loss. I wasn’t too sure what to feel after his passing. I guess just like Mom being there for those who needed her, I just wanted to be there for her.

As he was a military vet, there were Guards of Honor present, and a beautifully crafted flag was carefully draped over his coffin. The detail I adored most about his funeral service was the band. Interestingly enough, they played a little gem called Mr. Sandman by The Chordettes. Apparently it was a song him and my mother shared. She said he was every dream come true. As sweet as the song was, I couldn’t have been the only one who thought the opening verse to the song was Mr. Sandman….Bring me a drink.

Back at home, Father’s absence was surely felt. For a time, there was nothing but empty laughter at the dinner table. Dad always had the best jokes, and knew how to arouse the loudest of chuckles. As me and mother quietly ate her baked apple pie – that was once again unintentionally over-seasoned with cinnamon – we suddenly stared at each other and knew, that HE would have had the best Dad Is Dead puns to break the tension. Pops was the master at ‘Yo Momma’ jokes too, and they were always fondly about Mom. He could roast the mess out of her, which she always enjoyed. Even through the pain and loss, she managed to fight through and continued to support us.

Some time elapsed, and because money was now tied in bureaucratic red tape, Mom was finding it more and more difficult to make even our simple lives thrive. Even though she was able to stash away some money in her new role as a part time interior decorator, we had no choice but to consider downsizing.

It’s probably safe to say I never cared for my hometown. Alabama started to look even more dreadful once Mom quit tending to her spellbinding garden. To live anywhere other than our home seemed absurd. We managed to make it through some minor tornadoes throughout my short eight years living there. But without Dad, it seemed rather pointless, suicidal even, to hang around for another one to return. It took some convincing, but mom finally agreed to sell our home and head off for greener pastures. In California.

Mom felt San Diego would be a great place to start small while we awaited the liberation of Dad’s small fortune. She also was keen on its schools. But I had other ideas. It took some convincing, but Mom finally agreed, and we were soon set to colonize the beautiful city of Los Angeles. I imagined their earthquakes were much more fabulous than Alabama’s tornadoes.

Just before deciding on a small two-bedroom rental, an old friend of my father’s referred my mother to a woman in LA who was looking for a live-in housekeeper. My mother thought it was worth a shot and arranged an initial meeting with the owner.

With nothing but the clothes on our backs, and a few small keepsakes, such as pictures, books, records and Dad’s old sock collection, we were on our way. I never understood the point of lugging around the latter, but Mom thought it would be the funniest thing of his to keep, considering they were all mismatched and way too long for the weather. I managed to get her to let go of them. All but the one pair she kept. She wanted to keep it handy as a reminder, that she wouldn’t be alone when cleaning the handrails with it.

Enter Mia Fortunato.

The Makings of a Girl

There is never a better time to take a long awaited trip somewhere, than in the middle of abysmally cold weather. Especially when there’s a discount involved. It’s the very reason why Mia planned a get-away, every winter, to escape the delightfully comfortable LA weather, and immerse herself into the numbing chill of New York City. Ironically she likes to spend that time, in a summer home located in The Hamptons of Long Island. Mia typically preferred any property that Mr. Sean Combs, a.k.a Puff Daddy, a.k.a. Puffy, a.k.a Career Killer hadn’t previously inhabited, as she liked to spill her own brand of flavored Vodka onto the furniture.   

Late fall / early winter is a season that is particularly special for Mia. In the months of November and December, she celebrates not one, but two birthdays! It’s an odd scenario, but let me break it down for you: Mia was born on the calendar date of November 20th, but due to the fact that she wasn’t immediately ripped from her mother’s umbilical cord until a month later, she considers the physical freedom another reason to celebrate. Mia’s mother didn’t actually plan on a “Lotus Birth.” She just continued to self-medicate herself into a numb state. It actually wasn’t until Mia finally became detached, that her mother took to noticing she just had a baby.

When Mia was a little girl, for her first birthday, her mother would get her a doll to play with, and for her subsequent birthday, something to rip apart. It symbolized what she did to her mother’s uterus and dating life. When Mia was nine, she requested that they celebrate just the one birthday that finalized their physical separation, and amicably, her mother accepted.

Though Mia’s life giver has always loved her unconditionally, she still held resentment toward Mia for almost turning her body into a mud slide. This was evident the last time a sitting president almost saw her mother’s naked body. She snuck into the White House to flash her chest to then President Clinton, but before Bill could get a good glimpse of her dangling bosoms, the White House Rottweiler confused them for pig intestines and gave her a chase. Though Mia’s mother has since paid to get her breasts tucked back in, it was Mia’s scholarship fund that footed the bill.

Elder Mia – as I called, and still call her – was a working Hollywood actress. She loved herself so much, that she inherently paid her name forward to her daughter. She thought it would be another way to show the world that she meant business. If her dreams of becoming a successful Academy Award winning actress was no longer within her reach, then there would at least be a slight second chance for redemption, with a mediocre procreate. Of course Mia has not and will never be mediocre by any degree. She was just led to believe so, after her mother’s insistence on burning up Mia’s science fair projects. All for fun, of course. Bob Hope always got a good, great laugh out of it.

This is not to say Elder Mia was unsuccessful or evil. She just had a peculiar way of showing her daughter how much she loved her. Even if that meant she set aside a large bowl of cookies and ice cream for her daughter, whenever she locked her in the attic, while she hosted dinner parties.

As for her career, Elder Mia has after all, made a few films that were critically acclaimed by the critics of her time. Those critics however, were all men. Men of any generation, you name it, were/are fairly easy to please. Women on the other hand, were not so relaxed. Once women critics and audiences pan you, that’s when you know that showing your breast in every film isn’t prolific anymore. (For some reason everyone keeps forgetting to pass that memo on to Sharon Stone.)

Back then actresses were depicted as elegant beings, with an air of class. And though Elder Mia was a scene stealer, she unfortunately was also a man grabber, and after getting caught with a picture of innocently pulling Marlon Brando’s pants down, so he could pee, her career was done.

Even with a stalled movie career, Elder Mia managed smaller gigs throughout the years, and even collects to this day, residuals from Kotex and Palmolive commercials she once starred in. For some time, she also lived off her ex-husband, Chuck Norris’ small fortune. They got married for a brief period in the year of 1969. Elder Mia filed for “Irreconcilable differences,” when Chuck devoted all of his time to his Total Gym workouts, instead of her. They settled on a handsome alimony, which was nothing to scoff at. Contrary to what one may assume – Chuck is not Mia’s father. Elder Mia was sadly too preoccupied in many married men’s bedrooms, to take notice to what the sperm donor looked like!  

A rumor in little Hollywood would have it that it was Aaron Spelling who begat the younger Mia. Aaron courted Elder Mia for some time, and even offered her a role in Charlie’s Angels – as Jaclyn Smith’s mother once – to which Elder Mia turned down, stating she was deathly allergic to his old penis. It was 1976 however, and her daughter was already born by then, and coincidentally, so was his. The only other person that came close to a possibility of being the actual begetter, was Rock Hudson. But since Mia is AIDS free, that has also been ruled out.

Mia, being the byproduct of her environment, learned early on how to get what she wanted from men, way before learning how to tie her shoes. I’ll argue that she got more attention from her mother’s boyfriends, than her own mother. Nothing sexual – just a young girl looking for a father figure. In turn, she also learned how to harvest her feelings. Mia became a woman who bottled up her emotions with actual bottles. It was her mother’s bad boy boyfriend in 1977, Richard Dreyfuss, who taught Mia how to pop a cork with her feet. And that was at age six.

I remember meeting the Mia’s for the first time, when my mother and I arrived at their doorstep. It was like meeting the Odd Couple. Elder Mia was radiant in a red satin housecoat, while Mia looked dark and bizarre, like Wednesday Addams. Only pudgier. Before leaving the hip, cool, non-sodomizing state of Alabama, my mother received a call from an old friend of my father who was then working on a project with Sissy Spacek. That friend was asked by Sissy herself, to help her find someone who was domestically enchanting. And since we were already on our way to the beautiful West Coast, my mother, determined to go balls deep, obliged.  

Sissy frequented Elder Mia’s company, during her self-imposed “break” from films. They would spend hours together, drinking tea, writing song lyrics and laughing at how blue the sky was. The tea was always spiked with some sort of medicinal cannabis Elder Mia found in Mia’s room. Elder Mia preferred the unsuspecting Spacek in a “high” state, as it made her more susceptible to lending her money. It was then that Sissy suggested Elder Mia hire someone to water her plants and wash her drinking glasses. Sissy got tired of funding Elder Mia’s habit of throwing them away after each and every use. And so goes the beginning of our story together. Mia & Rocco. Just as I’m used to hearing from the stranger’s – who I hold doors for – I can also say, Thank You Sissy!

I have only seen the woman in a couple of old black and white films from the 50’s, and a horror flick in the 70’s, but even as Elder Mia was about to push fifty (or eighty – no one is ever really sure), she was stunning. I may not have been able to tell her age, but her jewelry radiated and bounced light off her silky bronzed skin. Her uneven colored blonde streaks of gold, somehow magically blew to a fan machine that was never on. Elder Mia was petite and serene. She was also made of armor, as I found out when she threw a delivery man down a small flight of entryway stairs – just for traipsing in and trying to sneak out a glass of water. That was no generic tap water he was trying to smuggle. Her desalinated sea water took years to find and collect from below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, right off the island of Hawaii. She was more than a diva, she was King Kong – in heels. Take that Denzel.

Mom and I had our own separate living quarters, the guest house off to the side of the sprawling 14,000 square foot landscape, Mia and Mia called home. Otherwise known as the “Mia & Mia Compound.” We each had our own bathroom and bedroom, in our own sanctuary to start anew. Though I was already used to being pleasantly spoiled by the woman who always made sure to tuck me in with freshly washed and warm sheets, the new Egyptian cotton, 650 thread-count was beyond amazing. Without Dad it wasn’t exactly paradise. But having Mom around to enjoy some of it with, made it my own personal Neverland.

As a curious young man, I roamed the main house often. I spent the first few weeks pervading our new ample dwelling – inspecting, admiring and sitting on every piece of furniture I could find. Come to think of it, I never quite fully achieved that undertaking to completion. Elder Mia’s infinite furniture collection consisted of any and everything antique and Victorian. It was like stepping into an interior design spread – pages ripped from an Architectural Digest magazine. I would spend hours shuffling through her wardrobe, in which my mother meticulously took care of as well. One night, after playing dress up and rummaging through the books in the library, which all amazingly turned out to be book boxes, I accidentally fell asleep in one of Elder Mia’s beaded gowns. I woke up to find her grabbing a pair of shears and cutting the full length garb off of me, delicately conforming it around me, to fit my small frame.

“If I had a daughter….” she said, “….that’s what she should look like in it.”

I never knew whether or not to be flattered, as truth be told – she already did have a daughter. And from my opinion, was quite beautiful, despite being robust. They shared more than just a name, they shared each other's humor. For anyone listening in on an everyday conversation they may exchange, would think they were rivals, and found their relationship irregular. Most people thought it strange already, to have a daughter of the same name, yet when men name their sons Junior, no one ever bats an eye. I always found it endearing, regardless of Elder Mia’s reasoning for imparting her name.

I rarely saw Mia. It wasn’t until about a month of living there, when I caught Mia dancing and singing to Samantha Fox’s hit “I Wanna’ Have Some Fun,” in front of the incredibly large hallway mirror. It wasn’t intentional, but I howled so loud and hard that she ran off, to be back in her solitude. I was sad because I enjoyed it immensely. It seemed that she stayed locked up in her room alone for periods at a time, hidden from all the luxuries she grew so resentful of. I would have never known it then, but now I can understand why. There was no normalcy for her. Her educational experience was limited to homeschooling, and up until she was nine – she was bathed by strange black mammies. Not to mention the endless stalking from Kirk Douglas.

He remained a regular at the estate, and couldn’t help but to wish he could have a slice of that seventeen-year-old virginal pie. Mia was no virgin of course, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. Though it was rather creepy to have a seventy-two year-old man roam free in a house full of supple kids, outwardly, he posed little harm. Again, Mia already lost her virginity by then, so Kirk really had nothing to look forward to.

It was at the tender age of eight, when Mia found out the true meaning of love, and believe it or not, it wasn’t with a man. It was Little Richard in fact, who first gave Lil’ Mia a good fisting. However gross that may sound, it was actually an accident. Richard could never keep his sweaty paws off of a well-made, appliqué lace, and on that day, Mia was wearing a heap full of it. As soon as she bent down to pick up her first cigarette, and as Little Richard followed in for a closer inspection, he smashed right into her pelvis. At first Lil’ Rich thought he was fist deep in a lump of samples, not the lumps inside of her, but shrieked and ran away at the first sight of blood. Little Richard couldn’t stand to think what it would have taken to remove that awful stain from her garment. Mia on the other hand, did the only sensible thing she could do in that situation, and topped the experience off with the cigarette she had her eye on.

It was easy for me to grow fond of the lovely Elder Mia, I was already an instant fan. But, it was the fruit of her loins that I grew overwhelmingly in love with. It was obvious that Mia didn’t like me at first, seeing me as an overtly impressionable fruit. Yet, I’d hang around her anyway, admiring her taste for bad food, clothing and men. She was almost ten years my senior, and always treated me as a lost kid she found in a department store. It was awkward at times. Sometimes I felt that I was a mere invasion of her space, something that was once, all her own. My mother however made every attempt to intercept. She cared for Mia as if she were family just the same. Mom would fluff Mia’s pillows, make her favorite meals and heave off any advances Kirk Douglas would try to make. The hardened, debilitated Mia slowly melted, showing small amounts of embracement to us, especially after my mother helped to make her nineteenth birthday, something really special.

Whether Mia realized it or not, like her, I too was a loner. An only child, who also, no longer had a father. I never was sociable as a child, though I learned rather quickly that if I remained so, it would be counterproductive to my future success. Living in Hollywood, with a mother of modest means didn’t make it any easier. Sure we lived in a great big house, but it wasn’t ours. My mother tried her very best to make us fit in this new world any way she could, and making the people around her feel good, was a gift she could afford. Mom was more than excited to help plan for Mia’s nineteenth birthday / Christmas bash. She made sure to include elves, candy canes, snowflakes and snow men in G-strings. Anything Mia wanted, Mom made sure to spend Elder Mia’s money on it. Mom even made gingerbread cookies that were engulfed at the turn of every refilled plate. My mother was so good, she even convinced Mia to perform for everyone, an encore of Samantha Fox’s 1989 hit “I Wanna’ Have Some Fun.”  

The biggest surprise was that Elder Mia secured a cameo appearance by Charlton Heston. As I remembered, he was too young to die, yet too old to be considered alive! He surely looked amazingly sad. I wasn’t sure whether or not it was because Elder Mia hadn’t given him the green light to sleep with her yet, or if it was because he had to wear a big lumpy red suit, to prove to her just how badly he wanted to. Either way, he wasn't the acclaimed big screen star he usually played, he was just Santa Claus. He was actually the second man I have ever seen try so hard to convince children that Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick mattered, and indeed existed. Poor Charlton, his efforts were made even harder as this party had only two children who attended. There was me, a not so gullible nine year-old, and Bobby – who was not a child – but a dwarf who came for the free liquor.

In accordance with the festivity, I sucked it up and thought I’d ask Santa for a gift anyway. Other than the gun this Santa had stashed in his glued-on beard, I figured it couldn’t hurt. I was ready for my few minutes on Charlton Heston’s lap. He had to have put a few away by then, he smelled like Gin, with a hint of Rice Krispy Treats that my mother made. I could still see the chunks of Snap and Crackle on his beard, whereas Pop was the sound of his belt, not being able to support the turkey he used to stuff his suit with. I entertained him anyway. At first I asked for my two front teeth, thinking the absurdity of it would crack a smile on his face. His smile shortened after his top row of dentures came loose. Charlton blew a gasket, then threw me to the floor in a rage. Mia, the ever protecting sister she slowly became, punched Heston right in his nose. Before he could grab his own gun in defense, Mia already had it in her cold, dead hands. Everyone screamed for dear life, and, well, party over.

Throughout her many birthdays, it became increasingly important for Mia to get away. From everyone. One such birthday that had a lasting impression on her was her thirtieth birthday-celebration-bash-a-thon that Martha Stewart hosted for her, where Mia lost her favorite pair of earrings. Again, another party that ended in disaster. Police were called, and shots were almost fired. As it turned out, it was Jennifer Aniston who came across them, and never bothered to return them to the lost and found.

There was a time Jennifer and Mia were friends. But every time Mia scored a boyfriend, Jennifer would try and lure them in for herself. The only ones Jennifer failed to seduce were the ones who discovered her Holy Bible tucked decoratively under her satin pillow. King James Version of course. Mia has since forgiven Miss Aniston for her thievery, but not Elder Mia for inviting Jennifer. Mia’s mother loved to make her life as miserable as possible, in the simplest forms. So a stunt like that was standard.

In keeping all of this in mind, Mia stressed time alone away from her mother. She considered it well deserved for being given the title of “America’s Next Top Bastard Child” from conception.

After years of being religiously tormented by her mother’s insults and delusional standards and expectations, Mia finally clutched onto the “glamorous” life her mother always wanted for her. Unfortunately, this also erupted into a lifestyle full of excess, extravagance and addiction. So her birthday time alone often included the most important things to her – booze and sex. You would think for someone like her, embracing this part of the Hollywood lifestyle would have been too cliché, but Mia latched to it anyway. She stated that the drugs alone were the only way to understand what actresses were saying, and the elite had the best stuff money could buy. Mia once had a hit of acid with Molly Ringwald, but it ended badly as Ringwald turned out to be nothing more than a terrible kisser. Not to say that Miss Pretty in Pink was a bad catch, but Mia swore to never go all the way with women, after bearing witness to her mother’s nude rampages. Men and only men suited her. She hated criers, and women for some reason, always cried around her. It didn’t help that Mia’s been known to mace female celebrities' drinks.

Being brought up in the Hollywood scene, Mia built a resentment toward them. “Brainless, sad little lemmings of the world,” she called them.

When asked to tune into a Friends re-run episode, Mia would yell, “They’re just recycling made up garbage over and over again. Since when did anyone need a giant talking box to entertain their unimaginative minds? I’ve heard better dialogue coming out of a child’s ass than what has been produced by Courtney Cox.”

She ignored anyone who used the words Television, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars and Julia Roberts. The boob tube was nothing more than a reminder of the glamorous life, she knew did not really exist.

“Those propped up puppets and mannequins, with fake hair are all made to look like heroines, but they look like cheap, wasp robots instead,” she’d say.

No wonder Katie Holmes has lost her identity. She’s been molded into rotting Hollywood furniture. Now she looks and feels like a rocking chair with no arms. Tom Cruise has those parts shoved up his ass.”

I still keep my interest in any of these things and people to myself, for fear she’d scold me. At the very least, all I wanted for her was to at least enjoy the novelty it was all meant to be.

Mia did find some entertainment delightful though, and quite enjoyed Bea Arthur. She always reminded Mia of what a woman could be, if she had a mustache. Plus Mia admired her work – especially in Maude and The Golden Girls. Mia’s mother once had a stand in roll as Estelle Getty’s wicker purse holder. Backstage, Mia got to meet the woman behind the Dorothy character, in which Bea shared with her that she hated the cheesecake they served on set, and made Mia swear she’d never tell a soul. Of course Mia told her mother, who in turn left a heaping plate of it on Bea’s chair. Once the cleaning crew learned of Elder Mia’s cost on wardrobe, food and time, she was booted off set. Of course Elder Mia argues to this day that Bea needed to be changed anyway. They ended up replacing her with Susan Lucci. For some reason that woman loves holding hand bags! Either way, Elder Mia now has Miss Lucci’s penned headshot hanging at home, in her freezer.

On the night Mia went to the Hampton’s to celebrate her fortieth, she consciously made an exception, and planned to go with a guest. Not just any guest, but an actor. Mia may have had some pent up angst against some of her fellow Hollywood neighbors, but she always enjoyed herself younger, washed up stars. She spent all month looking for an outfit, to impress the one and only, Luke Perry with.

Mia was hoping that Luke had forgotten all about their first rendezvous, where Mia left him outside of The Ritz Carlton in Battery Park, NYC, without any clothes on. She thought it would help him get over his “I was on Beverly Hills 90210 – I’m a star now” attitude. Instead it turned him into a bigger pussy, and he never returned to act again! For you readers who have been in wonder about him…now you know.

Luke never forgot unfortunately, and in turn, stood her up. Another birthday. Another bust.

But Mia is resilient. She will continue to strive for bigger and better birthdays as the years may go by. This is a woman who once sought out the company of a Wall St. executive just so she could hustle a grand out from his wallet, and spend it on a new bike for a strange stoner in Brooklyn. She once even managed to squeeze a five-thousand dollar pair of shoes out of a gentleman by the name of Mark Zuckerberg. Before he could tell her that he was a billionaire – due to his work on some sort of internet face collecting – she told him to fuck off.

She’s bad ass like that. Not only does she love the fresh smell of dying trees, but she scours Craigslist for light, dry humping action, from dirty old men. She drinks a glass of Dom Perignon Rose’, every day, for breakfast. I am proud to say, this is now the most important woman in my life.

Even after my mother had passed away, it was Mia who made sure that I was taken care of. My lifetime connection to both Mia and her mother remains. Though Mia’s communication with her mother is now limited to e-mail only, as has been court ordered, I still keep close contact with both. I just hope this year, Mia decides to spend her birthday with me.

   

Armed with an acquired wit and intelligence that was born from the streets of NYC, Christopher Albert, now a Los Angeles resident, is set to emerge as one of the funniest, charming, yet eccentric writers of our day. With a background that spans over 10 years, Christopher’s more pragmatic endeavors include writing and producing copy and content for Fortune 500 companies and small businesses alike. He has assimilated his many talents in the fields of finance, marketing, broadcasting, entertainment and – you guessed it – comedy. Christopher has had the fortunate and unique opportunity to study with the best – including veteran comedy writer Frank Santopadre. Christopher’s honest and emphatic approach to the art and craft of humor is evident in his litany of fearless content. Moreover, as a performer, Christopher has been awarded opportunities to share his talents on many stages including the historic Apollo Theater, and appearances on The Rosie O’ Donnell show, Billboard Music Awards and features on MTV and PBS. He has also performed and produced an array of successful live shows, featuring many top performers and comedians. In the works is his yet to be published first novel The Kettle Black: The Chronicles of Mia and Rocco, and his sophomore effort, a memoir entitled A Crack Baby's Bible.

“Potential,” by Michele Markarian

Maya turned her key in the lock and stumbled through the door, tripping over a heavy object – backpack maybe? – that someone had placed in front of it.  “Shit,” she hissed involuntarily.

“Is that you?” she heard a voice say from the bedroom.

“Sorry I woke you,” she whispered, trying to make herself sound as if she weren’t both drunk and high, which she was.

“Thanks a lot!  You know I need to be up early for work!  I’ll never get back to sleep,” said Jim, her husband.

“Sorry!  Sorry.  Can you keep it down –“

“I might as well read,” said Jim, turning on the light.

“Jim , are you crazy?  It’s – it’s three in the morning!”  Maya looked at her watch, surprised.  She was starting to get a headache.  Why had she let Shauna talk her into smoking a joint at 12:30am?

“I know what time it is.  I assumed from your late arrival that you didn’t,” said Jim icily, picking up his copy of The Economist and flipping through it.

“I told you, we were celebrating Missy’s promotion.  Besides, I wouldn’t have woke you up if I didn’t trip on whatever it is someone left by the front door.”

“Your kids’ backpacks!”  snapped Jim.  “Remember your kids?  Peter and Connie?  Remember them?  Somebody’s gotta take care of them while you go off celebrating Missy’s big promotion.” He turned his back to her and started to read.  “I’m going to be useless at work tomorrow thanks to you and your little corporate friends.”

“Sorry,” mumbled Maya.  She couldn’t resist throwing in, “I think you’ll be able to rally for the hour.  You can always come home and crash.”

“At least I’m helping people” Jim retorted.  “How many lives has Stars of the Startups saved this month?”  Stars of the Startups was the magazine where Maya served as Editor-In-Chief.

Just four that I care about, thought Maya.  Yours.  Mine.  Peter’s.  Connie’s.

“Exactly”, said Peter.  “None, that’s how many.”

 

Maya’s alarm went off at six.  Ignoring the throbbing of her head, she went into the kids’ bedroom – an office, really – to wake them up.

“Mama, I don’t feel good,” whined Connie.  Maya put her hand to Connie’s forehead – it was warm.

“Crap,” she said.

“I don’t feel good either!” said Peter, who was seven years old to his sister’s five.

“You’re fine,” said Maya after briefly touching Peter’s forehead.  What the heck was the school’s policy on fevers?  It was bad to send a kid to school with a fever, wasn’t it?

“Go back to sleep, Connie.”  Maya pushed the hair back on Connie’s forehead.

“Will you stay home with me, Mama?” murmured Connie.

“Um –“

“Mama’s taking me to school!  Right, Mama?  You’re taking me to school, right?”  Peter jumped up and down on the bed.

“Let me talk to Daddy,” said Maya.  She went into the tiny birth canal of a kitchen and took some eggs out of the fridge.  “Jim?”

“What time is it?” Jim demanded from the bedroom.

“A little past six.  Connie’s sick.  Can you stay with her and I’ll take Peter to school?”

“Maya, you know I can’t miss work.”  Jim rolled over onto his back.  “You’re going to have to call in late.”

“Jim, I have a deadline.”

“Call in late.  Aren’t you supposed to be the boss over there?”  Jim got out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom.

 

Twenty minutes later, he came out, adjusting the strap of his crossing guard uniform.   Maya put a plate of scrambled eggs and toast in front of Peter, and tried, as she did every morning, to pretend that her husband, with his PhD in Semantics, was gainfully employed in an occupation worthy of his potential.  Potential has a shelf life.  Maya had read that in a Margaret Atwood novel once.   It rankled her still.

 

 

Michele Markarian’s plays have been produced across the United States and UK.  Michele’s short stories have appeared in anthologies by WisingUp Press, Mom’s Literary Magazine, yesteryearfiction.com, The Journal of Microliterature, and the anthology inherplace.org.  Her plays have been published by Dramatic Publishing, Heuer Publishing, Oxford University Press USA and Smith & Kraus. She has an anthology of plays, working title “The Unborn Children of America and Other Family Procedures” that will be published by Fomite Press this spring.  Michele is a member of the Dramatists Guild.

“Father Left,” a monologue by Tim J Brennan

Father Left (a monologue)

by Tim J Brennan

We leave one step at a time from many things:
the table after eating, a failing job, a disproved
belief, a broken argument of a home, one hand
against cold glass, the other on the key to the door.
It was like this at our house when I was a kid…
father would argue with mother about whatever
married parents have always argued about;
he would storm out of our small house and march
down the street like some kind of middle aged married
soldier; later, he would return and they would hug
and mother would cry like a little girl and things
would seem fine like the weather seems to be fine,
but one never knows the weather always, do we?
Sometimes we pretend the day is fine when it’s really
raining and the picnics we had planned for what seemed
like a thousand years are cancelled but we go on
to the next day with smiles on our faces and tomorrow’s
dreams on our beds anyway. Once, when I was maybe ten,
it was dark by five-thirty, and I was in the woods
and father came marching by and I called out to him
but he kept marching and I called out again
like a ten year old might when it’s dark out
and you don’t want anyone to know you’re afraid
of the dark, but he kept marching, crazy steps,
with wind clatter at his back, and me following him
as far as the big hill, the one that went up-and-down
and we all knew we weren’t ever supposed to go down
in the dark by ourselves, but father did that night and
even though I called and called he never did turn around
and acknowledge me; it was one of those times I didn’t know
my father, kind of like the time I went to his funeral but there
was nothing there but an urn and ashes and I was scared to call
his name for fear he wouldn’t answer me yet again.

 

Tim J Brennan’s one act plays have played in Bethesda MD, Bloomington IL, Rochester MN, San Diego, and other nice stages. Brennan lives in southeastern MN, a nice place to write about all kinds of stuff.

“The Man Who Ate Too Many Sandwiches,” by Edward Palumbo

(Written When I Was On a Painful Diet)

 

This is the story of a man who ate many sandwiches – not all at once – over the course of his lifetime, I mean to say. What? You thought he ate them all in one sitting? That is not implied in the title and I am sorry if you have gotten the wrong impression. Look, making that face is not going to make this any easier. I am here, fully prepared, to tell you a nice story about a man, a very interesting man, by the way, who ate many sandwiches and you are giving me an attitude. You know what? Perhaps I shouldn’t even tell you the story of the man who ate many sandwiches, perhaps I should wait until you have calmed down. I am calm. I am fine. You have the issue. No, I am not stalling. My story is complete, it has a beginning, a middle and an end. You do not know what you are missing. The narrative I was to share with you has everything: love, espionage, several small dogs, and, of course, many sandwiches, not to mention the man, a very interesting man, by the way, who ate the sandwiches. Fine, be like that. Don’t read my story. Go read one of those rag-mags at the supermarket. Maybe there’ll be an article about Elvis coming back to life and marrying an alien and moving to Maine to open a dry goods store. But when you a ready to read a fine piece of literature, a tale of a man and a tale of many sandwiches, eaten by said man, I’ll be here, and I’ll be waiting.

 

THE END

Edward Palumbo is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island (1982). His fiction, poems, shorts, and journalism have appeared in numerous periodicals, journals, e-journals and anthologies including Rough Places Plain, Flush Fiction, Tertulia Magazine, Epiphany, The Poet’s Page, Reader’s Digest, Baseball Bard,  Dark Matter, and poemkingdom.com. You can visit his blog at bronzedagain.blogspot.com. Ed’s literary credo is: if you fall off the horse, get right back on the bicycle.

 

Poetry by Chris Brooks

(For M)

A Perfect Stranger and Other Remembrances

 

I remember an imperfect night in a Tokyo bar

Crowded with Marines

And exotic women wearing flannel and black leather

Hoping for God knows what

My best friend screwing a woman with bad teeth in the only bathroom

Causing a line out the door

And much desperation

We missed the last train to Yokosuka

Had to sleep on the train station sidewalk

Waking to the buzz of a Tokyo morning

Gazing up meekly into the bewildered eyes

Of an old woman selling magazines and trinkets

To weary morning commuters 

  Continue reading

Poetry by John Grey

REGARDING THE OLD MAN’S REPLY TO MY LETTER

 

he can’t read my writing

 

what do you mean

you write pottery?

 

okay so I do

make clay from mud

and I spin it Continue reading

Racing with Mortality by Alenka Kuhelj

Racing with Mortality

(In memoriam of my father)

by Alenka Kuhelj

 

““My toenails are getting brittle, I can barely manage to shape an aesthetically correct arch on the big toe,” she thinks to herself, in a state of panic, as she tends to her nails after showering. She glances at herself in the mirror, quickly looking away as her view fixes on her disheveled curls, which have become so sparse that the light from behind easily penetrates through. Her memory drifts back to her youth, when, looking at her father’s foot as he sat, bent over, trimming his toenails, she – even then – forcefully told herself that that would not happen to her. She thought that she was only afraid of those porous, brittle nails in which the years engraved elongated furrows, like the rings indicating the age of the dying stump of a sawed tree. Now, looking back, she knows that it was actually a premonition of passing, of dying away marked by the slow drying out of the body. As if it were trying to get away from her increasingly arid body, her hair is crafting its magnum opus: ever more unmanageable, ever more dry and removed. She had managed to bury the thought of those nails deep inside her for decades… or at least she thought. Being honest with herself, she realizes that that isn’t exactly true. Even before, she had had to chase away, with a conscious energy, as if she were shooing away an annoying bee that would not leave her alone, the thought of her aging father’s toenails. It is now twenty years since her father’s passing. And how many times the thought that dying around the age of fifty or sixty has a dual effect has crossed her mind! You die young, which is terrible, because you didn’t live to experience everything you could have: you leave behind a family that still needs you, you had ideas about what you wanted to do, where you’re going to go the next day, the next month, the next year… but you left, before the pains of old age could set in, before you had begun your descent from the high point of your life, before your extremities started to grow disproportionately, before you had “three legs”, as children like to joke about old men who need canes to move from point A to point B; before you needed those protective undergarments that give seniors a reason to appreciate the discreetness of online shopping.

When the end does come, death is truly terrible only for those who remain behind, and who feel their loss as an act of betrayal, of abandonment, that causes great pain as it tears at the body and soul. Before you understand how losing someone and that final, eternal loss can cause bodily pain, that incomprehensible tightness in the chest that spreads through the entire body, eventually reaching the head, where it produces a sensation akin to the brain exploding. A BOOOOOOM that never ends… and you suffer, and suffer. It’s not that she doesn’t believe in God and eternal life or reincarnation and inevitable repayment for the good one has done on Earth (it’s not like anyone believes he’s ever done anything bad); but until she receives confirmation of the existence of that wondrous world that follows life here on Earth, her belief is not exactly sincere. She believes, and yet she doesn’t really believe. Thinking about it, only now she begins to understand the saying “those whom the gods love die young”. Soon after the death of her father she felt a hatred towards those who would tell her that: both the young, who were more subdued in their consolation, and those with more experience, who were more brazen. In either case, the words were always somewhat muffled, as if the speaker didn’t fully believe them, and had rolled them around in his mouth before uttering them, skeptically, but in the hope that they were true.

She isn’t exactly pleased with these thoughts, as her conscience pries at her, as if to say that it is okay that her father died. But within herself, she knows that they eat away at her only when she thinks of others, of those around her who would be taken aback if they knew what was going through her mind. Courtesy for “others” was something she grew up with and something that, truthfully, she does not like. “What will the neighbors think if you… when you…” were words that echoed in her ears when she was younger. And even later, when she had a family of her own and problems that she didn’t really attempt to conceal, these and other “neighbors” were with her the whole time. But it didn’t always bother her when someone would mention this person or that person who was spreading this or that rumor about her. She would simply wave it off, as if to say: “Let them have their fun, seeing as they don’t have a life of their own.” If she really thinks about it, those things that we say in passing, that someone “doesn’t have a life”, are truly awful. It’s a fate she would never wish for herself or her loved ones. Lives are variably long or short… but they are always limited. Each of us has an expiration date. We just can’t read it. She thinks of a bar code, made up of numbers and thin black lines, stamped on every person she meets. Her lips turn up at the corners to form a smile. She also looks at herself. How intuitive would it be, she thinks, if that bar code were stamped on our left shoulder, in the back, where the shoulder blade ends, in the spot where some people get tattoos of butterflies, hearts, crosses, circles or countless other things that people can think to have inked into their bodies. She herself has been toying with the idea of getting a tattoo for several years now… the sign for eternity, that spiral design. She’d get it where the back and neck meet. She has yet to get up the courage to do it. At the last moment, there’s always something holding her back: a son who doesn’t want too youthful a mom (since they’ve been giving away tattoos that only last until the next shower with chewing gum, he’s equated tattoos with youth), or even the ridiculous thought, grounded in statistics, that a person with a tattoo has a harder time finding employment than someone with “clean skin”. She’s never been fond of excuses, and yet she’s always let them put a damper on her life. Until now. It’s just a matter of finding the nearest parlor, and she’ll get the sign she wants. But it has to be hygienically spotless. Maybe tomorrow… Her afternoon is already booked, as she had promised to take her daughter shopping. Her daughter’s recent shopping ideas often leave her confused. Thanks to the internet, her eight year old knows exactly what she wants and where to get it. Which wouldn’t be that bad if, outside the entrance to a store, she didn’t point out whether it’s OK for a mom in her forties (she doesn’t say it explicitly, but by scanning her from head to toe with a smirk on her face) to shop there or whether she would be “so embarrassed”. “It’s my fault,” she thinks, “I let her behave like she’s going through puberty.” At the same time, she is aware that she is proud of her daughter, because she reminds her of her and the rebellious energy she had in her youth. Again she thinks of her father and of how he understood and supported her in nearly everything she did when she was young. If it wasn’t something completely stupid, he was prepared to overlook it; sometimes, he would even take part in her capers. That’s probably why today she is permissive with her own children. Even when they remind her how aged she looks in their eyes. She would usually take their critiques in good stride, but today, with her thoughts drifting towards ephemerality and the inevitable end, she can’t bring herself to smile at her daughter’s concern with the age of a twenty-something crossing the street. Furthermore, her husband’s inquiries (it’s been two months now) about what she wants for her birthday are getting on her nerves. She knows she’s in the wrong here; her husband loves her, and the gift is his way of doing her bidding. But why, for the love of god, must he point out, every time, the ordinal number of this birthday, and with it her age? Of course, the poor guy has no idea that she’s being haunted by the thought of mortality and that every night, she prays that she’ll have a long life and that she’ll be with her children long after her and her husband, or even her children, have become grandparents. But now, she’s beginning to wonder why God doesn’t appear on high and explain to her that she can’t be the first person to live on Earth forever (well, besides her children, and let’s not forget her husband, whom she loves and would not want to lose). She’s been entertaining this idea of immortality and her self-serving uniqueness in this regard since her early youth. Even as a child, she would seek out a place to hide from reality and the ephemeral world. And she would find it in books. Sometimes, with a cold sense of purpose, she would look for her “special” immortality in all kinds of different literary genres. She read through entire chests of books, and yet she never got outright confirmation, except maybe in science fiction and humorous books. She knows that it would befit her, at this age, to come to terms with the silliness of her youthful ideas, but she can’t stop being herself… Deep down, she can’t let herself lose her childhood belief in eternal life. She admits that recently she was mad at her husband after he shared his own identical ideas about immortality with her, thereby shaking her belief that hers was a unique wish. Of course she didn’t admit that she herself has a similar wish and that up to that point she had thought that that’s just how it’s going to be. Only for her (and then of course for the ones she chooses). “Let him live in the world he took from me,” she thought to herself, sticking her nose in the air and contorting her face.

Summer days are long and even the children, who bombard her with their daily wishes about what they’d like to do, play, eat and drink and take up the lion’s share of her time, exhaust their repertoire of demands and needs by evening. That’s when her email time begins. It’s mostly ads unnecessarily cluttering her inbox. Sometimes, when she’s stressed out, she’ll intuitively smack down the delete key, deleting a mail that she actually should read. That’s exactly what happened today with an email from a friend. It’s someone who she won’t see for years at a time, even though she lives just a few blocks away. They keep in touch through phone calls and emails. The days are too short for her to get together with her girlfriends or join them at the gym or yoga or even at a store. It’s different with family friends. Entire weekends will be reserved for them, and it’s easier because she’s making plans for the whole family. It’s easier than if she were to go somewhere by herself. She knows that that’s pretty unusual for women her age, and her friends tell her about how their children are already independent and they have a lot of time for themselves. Some of her friends with teenagers don’t even know what to do with all the time, and spend their days surfing the web for things to do, from vegan cooking classes (who knows, maybe they’ll become vegans) to book clubs, or clubs for lonely hearts, as she likes to call them. She doesn’t mean to be rude, but she really doesn’t get how anyone can be “on the go” (home-work-home) all day and then want to share emotions felt while reading a book, before going to bed after a hard day’s work. Her thoughts return to the email from her friend she was thinking about before she got sucked into a mental vortex of responsibilities and excuses. She could detect in her friend’s mail the same fear she herself was experiencing: that she has a backlog of things that still need to be sorted out in her head. Mental sorting never was her strong suit, but now she’s feeling it just as acutely as her friend, who wrote about how, over dinner, when her husband wasn’t home, she explained to her only child, a teenage girl, that she isn’t the only child in the family, and that she had lost two children in previous pregnancies. She says things are better at home now, and her daughter isn’t so temperamental. She’s even putting less energy into slamming the door to her room; now she’s gentler about it, as if she were trying to tell her mother that she understands the loss that she previously couldn’t even begin to imagine. She thinks to herself that she should be grateful that she never had an abortion. A few years ago she did want to adopt a child, but neither her husband nor her son took her seriously. Only her daughter, four years old at the time, was cheering for it, as she saw an opportunity to get a playmate. For her part, she wasn’t decisive enough to convince her husband about her excellent idea, as she had in numerous other matters. Thinking about her determination – or lack thereof – she gets lost in a train of thought. She misses herself. She misses the ideas that, when she was young, she almost always managed to bring to fruition. Or, as she called them, her projects. Even if they were small, and outwardly unimportant – knitting a sweater or reading, over the summer, the works of Shakespeare taking up an entire rack at the local library – she would always go about them in earnest and see them through to completion. Over the years, there were fewer and fewer projects. With a job and a family came responsibilities and fewer and fewer projects. Then one day, when there were no more projects, she realized that she herself had ceased to exist. She felt as if she had lost that joy she once felt with herself… as if she could only take pleasure in the successes of her children and her husband. She had long since stopped being able to derive joy from her work-related achievements, even though many a co-worker would jealously keep track of her every change of office or move to a different floor as if they were following her career. As the number on the button she pressed in the elevator that took her to her office grew, she lost her enthusiasm for the work she did. She found that she needed challenges and that the higher up she was, challenges were harder and harder to come by. It’s not that she was complaining about her work, which, at this point, had become pretty much routine; she found herself missing the rush, that pleasant feeling of excitement that comes from finishing something and anxiously waiting for someone to acknowledge that she had done well. Now she’s the one who metes out recognition to young people, that is, to those just setting out on the path she once walked. Sometimes, of course, she can’t. And she really hates that, because she remembers how she was and the times she waited, with high hopes, for praise from a superior, or at least a smile, or a passing nod signifying approval. Now, reflecting on herself, the projects, the challenges, she’s increasingly convinced that she can’t stay on this track. She needs a change of direction, to rekindle that spark of joy she once had, before she began exclusively caring for others and dealing with their problems and wishes. Her children bring her great joy, but their problems and tribulations, and often also their demands and screaming, occasionally drive her crazy. Especially when her daughter decides that the day ahead is going to go according to “her rules” and begins barking commands already during morning bathroom rituals. Those are the most exhausting days. But what of it? She understands her youngest child. She’s trying to make her voice heard in the family even if that means establishing a military dictatorship of screaming and orders. She then thinks about all those parenting handbooks she read over the past seventeen years and the measures they recommend. Before her son was born, she remembers, she bought books not only on infant care, infant psychology, how to bundle a baby, and similar topics. She went beyond that, thinking and reading about the kind of things she can expect as her son becomes a toddler, as he takes his first steps. By the time he was born, she had already hit puberty in her reading. She always was theoretically prepared, knowing in advance how to act when one of the situations foreseen by renowned pediatricians and child psychologists arose. But truth be told, she can’t even begin to recall all the times she raised her voice or slammed the door to enforce her authority. And each time she knew that that was unacceptable, and not in line with contemporary child rearing trends. But in her defense, those manuals only foresee the child’s behavior, and fail to take into account whether mom got up on the wrong side of the bed, or sang in the shower, or barely managed, with her last atoms of strength, to drag herself into the kitchen to make her morning coffee. By the time her daughter was born, her faith in theory had waned, and she handled parenting on a day-to-day basis. She used some charts and calendars with rewards and sanctions (which she would erase from the chart on the refrigerator a day or two later) with her daughter, but her fervor for the academic side of parenting had passed. She also found that if the books say that over ninety percent of children behave in such and such a manner, that doesn’t mean that there is any certainty that her offspring will fall under the average. Actually, the opposite was true, and her children almost always fell outside of it. Who would have though…?

Meanwhile, her quest for faith in the existence of god led her in the opposite direction. Instead of searching for answers in books and scholarly articles, in her search for god, for eternity, she withdrew into her own world and away from institutionalized faith. She found several similarly minded souls with whom she shared the experience of having a wish fulfilled at the wellspring of life and hope and a belief in the existence of a parallel, ethereal world. And that had sufficed until now. But as she grows older, she finds herself wanting to find that from which she had been running all this time: a community of believers, of those who share her beliefs, guided by trust and humility before God. But she still doesn’t know where she belongs. In the environment where she spent her youth, there wasn’t a choice – either you belong to the one and only religion, which operated in the background, or you were an atheist. The thought always brings her back to her political education teacher at the university, who – this was under communism – explained that there are two types of people: those who believe in the equality of all people, in Marxism and Leninism, and those who believe in the “cat’s tail”. “Better to believe in a cat’s tail than Marx and Lenin as the fathers of all creation,” she thought to herself even then, as she listened to the lectures of this now deceased professor. Now, as she searches for a place for her soul, jokes from her youth don’t really help. Except when she and her husband revisit those times to regale their children their children with tales of how under communism, jokes about political leaders were not allowed, of how there was only one legally sanctioned political party, and it would recruit children in schools for its youth organizations, and of how parents were jailed because of children who, in their innocence, would repeat what they had heard their parents say over the weekend. As her children listen, their jaws drop and their eyes grow wide. “I’d like to take a peek inside their children’s souls to see what’s going on there as they listen about my youth,” she often wishes. She believes that despite her descriptions of life at the time, her children can hardly fathom the reality of that uniform, forced education. Parents at home had to go along with it if they wanted to remain with their families and have some semblance of a normal life. Her memories again drift to her father, who had had the habit of drawing the shades the moment it got dark outside. Then he would relax a bit, and sometimes even tell a joke or relate an event having to do with politics. He also read banned books, hiding them in a specially built shelf in the attic. Recently, she found herself rather annoyed with her mother on several occasions, as she caught her shutting the blinds the same way her father once did. She tried to tell her that shutting the blinds was something from a different time, but she couldn’t sway her. How many times, she thought, have I tried to tell her: we live in a democracy now, everything is different and nobody cares what she does at home… at least not in the sense of reporting “anti-state activities” to the police. Her mother would always cast a sideward glance at her as she spoke, and she could see in her eyes that she didn’t believe her, and that she shouldn’t even bother because she wasn’t listening. Everything her father did her mother continued doing, for twenty years now. As if time stood still for her when he died. And maybe it did, and the scene on her life stage froze. People come and go, but she just watches them from her little booth with no doors, without a key or even a lock. Every time she thinks of her mother she’s brushed by sadness. When her mother lost her husband, her father, she became an ice queen. Waiting. And nobody can help her, because she won’t let them to help her.

There once was a time when she had a delightful obsession with the changing of the seasons. The way she saw it, they went in the following order: winter, spring, summer and fall. In school, she was actually bothered by how, when they teach the seasons, they start with spring. She found it highly illogical, as winter begins, or continues, at the coming of each new year. As a child, she eagerly awaited the first day of school. At the end of August, her parents would “equip” her with a multi-purpose fall wardrobe, including new shoes suitable for rainy days and pelerines which could be turned inside out depending on whether it was raining or not. She still happily remembers the first days of school, when, still dark from the summer sun, she would anxiously await the rain and bad weather so she could show off her new clothes. She found spring especially pleasant, as the first warm rays of sunshine began to heat the air. Like every child, she too needed new clothes for each season, and nothing could beat shopping for spring attire. Even before the school year came to a close, it was like a fashion show, and she would plan a new outfit for each day as they days grew nicer and nicer. If she really thinks about it, the happy feelings that accompanied the changing of the seasons were more about fashion and shopping than what she feels and sees today. Really. Recently, when she looks around, she also notices her natural surroundings. Looking through her window throughout the year, she marvels at the leaves of three big, old trees. She watches them change colors and listens to their rustling, which can be soft, like the caress of a mother’s hand, or angry and uproarious, as if driven by some unstoppable force.

She also remembers the “problems” she had with numbers and letters. As she rode the bus to school, in her mind she would juggle the letters of the words that flashed before her eyes. She would split them in half, and search out the “middle” letter; if it was a long word, she would first classify it as odd or even, and then would look for the middle. Quickly and aptly, especially when the bus drove through the industrial zone, which was full of signs. Today, people on buses have their eyes fixated on their cell phones, playing games, sending emails, searching for their next vacation destination on Google… Nobody sees where they’re going or how the surroundings change with each new day. She thinks to herself that it would be interesting if passengers had to fill out a survey about what they had seen when they step off the bus. Well, she wasn’t much better when she was young. Back then, people couldn’t even begin to imagine cell phones. But it wasn’t out of the ordinary for people to carry books or magazines with them, or to stare out the window and think about who knows what. If she were to mention this to her children, they would almost certainly roll their eyes. As she is wont to do in such situations, her daughter would ask: “Mom, were there dinosaurs around back then?” Her son would wisely keep quiet and wait for his sister to finish saying out loud what both of them were thinking.

She realizes that as the years go by, she’s increasingly drawn to the sea. When she was roughly the same age as her daughter is now, a family friend said, in passing and out of the blue, that the older a person gets, the more they are drawn to the earth. She doesn’t know why, but she’s never been able to forget those words. Maybe it’s because at the time, she found this statement from a thirty-something friend of her mom and dad who had always had a way with jokes hilarious, or because, even as a child, it made her think of death. The reason is unimportant. What matters is that the “joke” has stayed with her ever since. But when she stops to thinks about it, she realizes she can no longer identify with it. Compared to the sea, the earth doesn’t mean much to her. Yes, the sea, not the water in rivers or lakes. Not water per se. That infinite blue surface with shades of blue, green and even, along the shore, brown which can’t be captured in a photograph no matter how hard one tries. That murmur that can at any moment change from a light rustling and plopping on the small stones on the shore to a forceful roar and crash, as the waves collide with the large rocks as if the latter were attempting to defend the land from the sea, mutely and stoically absorbing its onslaught. Both scenes challenge her to think about how small and powerless man is, about how, even though he has equipped himself with all kinds of technology, and even sent it into outer space, man attempts to create the illusion of his supremacy over nature. And the sea just splashes on, as if laughing at his failed attempts. Every summer for the past couple of years, she’s chosen to go on vacation to the same beach. The children are already starting to get sick of it, and every spring, as thoughts of the sea begin to gnaw at her, and as she browses the web for summer vacation destinations, she wonders out loud where they should go this summer. Her children stop her and tell her not to waste time on the internet because she already knows exactly where they’re going and that she, that is they, will eventually decide on the same destination as last year, and the year before… Yes, it’s obviously a corner of the earth connected to the sea, a corner that decisively draws her in, to the point that she can’t imagine summer without it. Her husband, who usually only joins the hunt for a vacation near its end, when he needs to take out a credit card and make a payment, quietly shares her love for the sea. It is as if he also feels that indescribable pull that the infinite sea has there, at that very spot. He’s a man, so he’ll never come out and say it. He doesn’t reveal his feelings like she does, but that doesn’t bother her. She even likes how, in the middle of a torrent of words, as she tries to explain a thought that has come over her, he’ll gently take her hand and, without looking at her, let it go, letting the energy of love and approval flow through his hand and into hers. At that moment they are one, two little people, standing on the shore of the sea as it reminds them that it will be there eternally, long after they are gone.

 

Alenka Kuhelj is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University. She is a Professor of Law at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.  Alenka is the author of many short stories and an unpublished novel. For the past few months, she has been working on a memoir set both in Communist and post-Communist times. She loves her husband Bojan and their two kids, Max and Athena. Her main interests include writing, history, justice and fairness, and the beautiful sandy beaches of Rhodes.

 

Poetry by John Repp

Sisters

One rode horses. The other danced. Their house
sat cool under sycamores. When they fought,
they raged, and when done, done. Their mother mourned
their father, as they did, but laughter made
grief music, his absence palpable and sweet.

One hummed as the day’s one cool breeze bellied
the screen, a muslin dress hiked above her waist.
The other retched into a milk-glass bowl
as a friend massaged her neck and told
how yoga or acupuncture could help.

A guest might point to clouds ridged and rain-black
as those that made his London hostel stay
a run from doorway to miserable
doorway—no, ridged as a rug a kid
has slid down Grandmother’s dust-mopped hallway.

He lies panting, sore, then up, run, slide
till she yells Stop it! He lies hungry, glad,
her handiwork bunched round his feet. Ridges
like that. What do they think? One scrubs the sink.
The other says We need rain. Mother says

Matthew’s coming. How about chicken
on the grill? Bees go where bees go.
Swallows plunge and shrill over the lawn.
By the time Matthew and the kids stand soaked
on the porch, they’ve spread the food, bunched lilacs

in green-glass vases, ridden, cooled, curried
and nuzzled Desiree, the boarded mare.
They eat their usual meal of wine, meat
and contradiction. Fall for the dancer
as she fingers the mole on her neck or leans

her head back to yawn or executes one
of her innumerable stretches. Fall
for the honey and gravel in the other’s
every syllable, forgetting
for a long time how love takes a whole heart

and the will to sit in the dark without
hope while things work out, or not.
Lilacs drop petals on the table
Luke made Sarah the week before he died.

To an Enemy Now Dead

No matter how much you loved baseball, how much your grandchildren
adored your every smile & syllable, no matter the five milligrams
of social justice you sprinkled on the scale, the dissertations
inconceivable without your wisdom, the wife you worshipped
& tended & grieved, the agony you endured, the drugs that eased it,
the thoughts you could no longer form, the breath you could no longer draw,
I’d still, if I could go back thirty years, tear out with my teeth
the elbow you buried in my kidney as I missed another pretty layup,
grind your face into the asphalt & pour into your hairy ear
misery’s hot gasoline, pour till both you & the coward
who has always limped off the court gumming the pabulum
of peace & love were dead.

John Repp’s most recent collection of poetry is Fat Jersey Blues, winner of the 2013 Akron Poetry Prize from the University of Akron Press.

 

Flash Fiction by Andi Dobek

The Procedure

by Andi Dobek

4:12 a.m.

I clambered back into bed, feeling more awake than before, and the blue-white light of my clock radio cast a glow over the walls and a portion of my bed. I groaned and turned onto my side, facing the window. My shadow, discernible only as several lumps above the mattress, was projected on the sheer blinds that kept others from peering in.

I tried to bore myself to sleep with the monotony of my shadow, calmly rising and falling, my breathing nearly synced with the ocean waves from my sound machine. I heard the clock chime the half hour.

And then my shadow wasn’t mine anymore.

Like watching a plant grow with time-lapse photography, something bulbous, followed by two long appendages, extruded themselves from near my hip.

A head. Arms.

I looked over my shoulder, but there was nothing behind me to cast such a shadow. The light burnt my eyes, and I turned back towards my window, which had clearly become a canvas for my imagination.

As I squinted so my vision could adjust, the shadow became humanoid. The arms, not so gangly now, grew more refined. It stretched, tilting to face the ceiling. The creature conjured something, then pulled it up to its face. When I saw its long fingers fiddling at the back of its head, a single word floated into my mind.

Mask.

Then gloves. Pulled on quickly, efficiently.

I swallowed. Sleep was out of the question.

The humanoid being that was behind me…yet, not…whose shadow was projected upon my window shade, continued busying itself with things unseen. Then it turned, so I might see the silhouette of its back.

If I had attempted to move before, fear and revulsion now paralyzed me.

What I could not see in profile, I now made out clearly. Below the creature’s shoulders, formed by the two primary arms, protruded two more pairs of limbs. They stuck out only slightly from the torso, with a few too many joints, and hung limply at the sides, inferior with apparent disuse. Around the head, two angular extrusions jutted out from where its temples would be. Suddenly it turned back, its head bowed close over my shadow, clutching something in its hand.

Another mask. Delicate shadows of several tubes streamed from it, and the silhouette that held it leaned over, closer to the shadow of my head on the pillow.

The sound machine breathed for me now. Slow. Steady. Rhythmic. Calm.

It fastened the mask around my head.

After what felt like minutes, but may have been seconds, the giddy chirp of a bird trilled in my ears, and I reopened my eyes.

The world outside my window was beginning to glow gently with the dawn. More birds joined the first one’s song. I looked at the shade.

The outline of the humanoid shadow was barely discernible in the strengthening light, but before it disappeared completely, I saw it held something long and thin in one of its six hands.

Scalpel.

 

Andi Dobek (‘Andrea’ to her parents and strangers) rarely leaves the confines of her own head, finding the company there much more agreeable and easier to sway than those of the ‘real’ world. Long before she could walk, she began her writing career as soon as she could grip a pen, and hasn’t stopped mutilating innocent paper since. She holds a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois, and another in Web Design and Development. Currently she is slaving over a novel conceived over ten years ago, and her greatest dream is that it will one day see the light.

Andi lives in the Midwest and works at a credit union to fund her next endeavor: an MFA in Screenwriting through Lindenwood University. If you’re socially inclined, you can follow her on Twitter (@andreadobek) and Instagram (@The_Cicatrix).

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