The Furious Gazelle

Literary as hell.

Tag: lit mag (page 1 of 4)

“Casino Girl #2” by Karen Chau

Being a Casino Girl is nothing like being a Bond Girl, but it’s all right. I’ll take it.

The set is supposed to be in San Francisco Chinatown somewhere. I’ve never been to California before, so maybe it looks like it’s supposed to. All I know is that New York Chinatown looks nothing like the room I’m standing in. The dress they have me in is supposed to be qipao but the collar’s too tight and low cut with some kind of black crushed velvet. Not my mother’s qipao, that’s all I’ll say. It’d be all right if it wasn’t mid-July. We’re not supposed to look hot, the director says. Not that kind of hot. Continue reading

“Color. My life.” by Gayane M. Haroutyunyan

Color. My life.

1. Silver

This structure was built in the 1800s. I can hear voices nibbling the dark, plum-colored gowns dancing the rooms, cigars burning. I am standing outside a heavy wooden door smoking a cigarette, somewhat hating its taste. I am alone and afraid of ghosts fond of an old building wearing a new life. This day is nothing but a mean lady coming out of a mean light. It feels like my life has been over for years and I have been standing here, smoking and watching my hands, paralyzed, hiding everything I am in my stomach next to a pie I just ate. I can only convince myself for a minute or two that New York is something more than good food and bad weather and cold talk of the cold men; that this never-ending minute will end and somewhere across the horizon the sun is watching the clock, waiting to deliver another impatient child I call “morning”. I will be a mother to it. Meanwhile – silver. Continue reading

Poetry by Colin Dodds

The Pigeons Complain

Empty niches dirty dishes
Wishes like the trash
the wind sticks to our shins
Every agency of renewal
runs too fast or too late
 
Streets recite the scars inflicted by unpaid bills
A woman checks parked cars for unlocked doors
kicks open a broken barbecue on a cold sidewalk

Continue reading

“What’s Your Name, Again?” By Kimberly Saunders

 

 

In college I was known for wearing thrift store jeans and over-sized tee shirts. I smothered my insecurity in loose-fitting clothes and obvious sarcasm. Those around me, the few I tolerated, interpreted my indifference as attitude. However, they didn’t realize I suffered from a rare medical condition known as Resting Bitch Face, a disease described by unaccredited websites as a chronic expression of anger or disgust, which apparently made me unapproachable. While most who struggle with this affliction constantly reassure the public that it is just an uncontrollable feature of their personality, mine was a blessing. I was perfectly content being left alone. Well, not completely alone.  

In fact, most of my post-pubescent existence was lacking a certain ceremonial rite of passage: having a boyfriend. I’d had one or two informal flings in my early teens, but I regretfully graduated high school with my virginity hanging over me like a Vegas marquee. I looked forward to college as an opportunity to find that life-altering love affair, or at least someone to fondle until the former arrived. Continue reading

“The Sermon,” by Fang Bu

 

“I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,

by the gazelles or the hinds of the field,

that you stir not up nor awaken love until it please.”

–The Song of Solomon

 

What I thought

as he ran languid fingers

down the expensive territory,

waist and hard hipbone,

squeezed my ass like sweet

dough to be devoured

as his eyes ate greedily before,

mouth to lip, tongue

binding tongue close(d)

as a tight contract Continue reading

“New Wine,” by Jonathan Dean

Marcus Valerius was one very bored soldier. The enthusiasm he had previously displayed at becoming a proud Roman centurion was rapidly disappearing under the hot Palestinian sun. It was past noon, two hours into his watch at the tiny military outpost between the villages of Cana and Nazareth. He had been assigned this posting, as an inexperienced recruit, so that he could ‘develop his skills as a soldier’. Starting from the bottom up was how he saw it.

The outpost was no more than a few small buildings where he and four other cohorts slept, ate and watched the travellers pass by. It was perched on a bluff overlooking the road which took a sharp turn to the North a few stadia away. Usually the dusty road was busy with traffic. You could never see who was coming until they turned the bend and hove into sight. There might be Syrians on horseback, wagon trains of supplies to and from Capernaum, camels and their Egyptian riders, all kinds of local Galileans: Samaritans, both good and otherwise, and many, many travellers on foot.

But today it was all very quiet. Barely more than a handful of people had passed by and Marcus Valerius had little to do. He propped his spear and shield beside a large rock and wandered round his assigned post. Occasionally he took out his short sword and made a few practice thrusts, some imaginary enemy coming to mind. A quick campaign in Gaul, or even Britannia, was needed to put some excitement back in his life. But he had been posted to Palestine and he had to do his time. There were always squabbles to be sorted out between the local inhabitants, taxes to be collected and, in general, law and order to be enforced. Marcus had come to think of himself as more of a policeman than a soldier, major criminals being dispatched to Jerusalem to be dealt with by the authorities in that city.

He cooled himself in the shade of a tree and waited. The heat and general lack of activity had made him reflective. And so, the arrival of the next traveller caught him unprepared. He didn’t actually see him coming down the road from Cana because of the bend that hid him from sight. But he certainly heard him!

The singing was loud and discordant. And the singer was very drunk. He rode into sight, seated precariously on a donkey. The animal was loaded on either side with baskets of fruit. The rider would occasionally reach into the baskets, extract an orange, study it carefully as if he wasn’t sure of what he was transporting, then toss it nonchalantly over his shoulder so that it landed with a dull plop on the ground. He swayed on the donkey’s back which resulted in the poor beast wandering all over the road.

Marcus Valerius straightened himself, picked up his spear and waited for the man and donkey to reach him. As they drew opposite, the couple stopped, whereupon the rider promptly fell off the animal. Marcus grabbed the rope that circled the donkey’s neck, which halted any idea the beast might have had about fleeing. He led it to a tree and tied it to a branch. Then he turned his attention to the man who was making feeble attempts to rise. Marcus took a handful of not-too-clean tunic and hauled the fellow to a semi-upright position.

He was young and obviously worked at some menial task. His tunic was soiled and tattered and his sandals were in desperate need of repair. In one hand he clutched a leather water bottle which he waved in the air, and from which he took constant sips. Marcus propped him up against a rock at the side of the road where he promptly slid into a heap, his legs giving way beneath him. The soldier looked down at this sorry sight.

“Tell me now, traveller, what has caused you to be in this state?” The heap on the ground gave no coherent answer, just a lot of giggles and more waves of the water bottle.

“What’s your name? Where have you come from?” Marcus tried again but it was obvious he was not going to get much from the man in his present condition.

“Wait here,” he commanded, not really expecting the other to go very far, and he walked over to the well that supplied the little outpost. Filling a bucket, he returned to the man lying on the ground and tipped the contents over him.

“Water! That’s good!” the man spluttered, shaking his head from the dousing. He managed to raise himself up into a sitting position and tried to get his bearings. “Do that again,” he requested. Marcus Valerius obliged with another trip to the well.

“It tastes like water,” the traveller informed the Roman soldier when he had regained a modicum of sobriety.

“What did you expect?” came the terse reply.

“It’s not like the stuff up the road.”

“That’s because all local waters taste different. Salts, minerals, they all change the taste.”

“There are no salts or minerals in this,” said the traveller, waving his water flask.

“If it’s water, there will be some,” Marcus informed him.

“Take a sniff.” The flask was held out by a dirty hand. Marcus took it tentatively and held it to his nose. There was no ‘lack of smell’ which could possibly have signified water was present. Instead, over the odour of leather, came the sweet aromatic smell of wine. He tipped the flask carefully and caught the few drops that appeared. He raised his hand to his lips and licked at the liquid. It was wine; good wine, from what he could tell. Not just the ordinary local brew but something considerably more superior.

“You have wine in this flask,” he informed the man who was still sitting on the ground, waiting for a reaction from the soldier.

“Well done, centurion!” Marcus was temporarily promoted to the aspired-for rank. “And how did it get in there, do you imagine?”

“You put it in there, obviously,” was the reply.

“I thought I put water in there. But that isn’t water. It’s good stuff. Took me by surprise.”

“How do you mean ‘took you by surprise’?” Marcus wondered how this individual could afford wine of this quality. Perhaps he had stolen it.

“It was in the water jugs,” the man explained. “At a villa in Cana. I stopped to deliver fruit – there’s quite a wedding going on – and they needed oranges. So when I was finished and they sent me on my way, I stopped at the gate. They always have jugs of water there. The master leaves them for travellers; anyone passing can fill his flask. I went to fill my flask, the jug was empty and I told the man checking the guests at the gate. He took it to the well and filled it with water. I watched him do it. I filled my flask from that jug and got on my donkey and left.” He waved at the animal standing patiently under the tree. “It was only a ways down the road that I took a drink from the flask. Imagine my surprise. Wine! So how come wine got in the well?” He passed a hand over his lips, and then settled himself more comfortably on the ground. “It’s good quality, too!”

This long explanation seemed to tire him out and he closed his eyes. Marcus could see his head drooping as the residual alcohol caught up with his brain. Further information from this source would not be immediately forthcoming.

Being responsible for keeping law and order in this part of the world was part of Marcus’s job. After considering how to handle this situation, relatively minor as it was but intriguing, nonetheless, he called on another member of the garrison to accompany him up the road to the village of Cana. He chose Caius, the biggest and burliest of the group, because a single Roman soldier, however well-armed, was fair game for any band of brigands he might meet on the journey. Cana was about a mile and a half to the North and about half an hour’s brisk march.

The villa at which the wedding was taking place was not hard to identify. Cana was a small village and the villas, all six of them, were scattered around its approaches. The first villa the two soldiers came to seemed to be deserted for the day, no sign of life. The next villa, however, was a hive of activity; shouting, laughter and music all coming from the compound within the walls. And there, on a stand just outside the gate, were the two water jugs, just as the orange merchant had described, available for all passers-by to help themselves. At the gate, an old man with a donkey laden with flagons argued with a guard, the stream of annoyed conversation never ceasing.

“I’m the wine merchant. They asked me to come and bring more wine. I do their bidding, load up my animal, and what do I find when I get here? They don’t want the wine after all. They have more than they can handle. They say someone just supplied a better lot. For nothing.” He threw up his hands in disgust. “They completely undercut my prices. And I have supplied this house with wine for years. Can anyone tell me what’s going on?”

The guard at the gate watched the two soldiers approach.

“Do you mind if I try the water?” Marcus asked.

“Please yourself.” Roman soldiers were not the most favourite people here in Galilee. Marcus took a sip from one of the two jugs. Water, pure, clean and cold. He tried the other container. It was almost empty but the contents were definitely not water. The wine was good quality, too.

“Is it usual to put wine out here for the travellers?” he asked the guard.

“I don’t know anything about that,” was the sullen reply. “It must have got mixed up when they changed the jugs.”

“Someone said it came out of the well like this,” Marcus continued.

“All I do is check the guests as they enter,” said the guard, and as another two visitors walked up to the gate he unrolled a scroll. They were allowed entry only when he was sure they were on his list.

“Well, I need to look around,” Marcus told him. “I have reports of a strange occurrence and I need to check it out. It’s just routine, but all these things, big or small, have to be reported back to the Tribune. So I have to go in and see what is going on.”

The guard did not take too kindly to this but in the present time of Roman occupation the soldiers were going to get their way, anyway. Grudgingly he took a step back.

“You have to check your weapons. I can’t let you in, armed to the teeth. It’s a wedding, for goodness sake; no-one here is going to start a revolution.”

“A Roman soldier never surrenders his arms.” An indignant Marcus drew himself up to his full height. The plume on his helmet waved proudly in the breeze.

“No weapons – no entry.” The guard moved to block Marcus’s path. At the same time a group of four well-apportioned young men appeared, seemingly from nowhere, to lounge nearby. Marcus conferred with Caius who had already agreed to wait outside the gate. Finally he handed over his spear and shield.

“And the sword.” Marcus laid it on the ground.

“And the dagger.” It was handed to Caius. “Now you may enter.”

Marcus walked into the courtyard. Open tents had been set up as a protection from the sun, and guests milled around chattering and visiting. There was a tent completely stocked with all kinds of food from roast lamb and vegetables to grapes and oranges. And, of course, flagons of wine. Marcus could see the bride and bridegroom in another tent, surrounded by friends and relatives. But his priority was the well. He located it in one corner of the courtyard, and after peering into its depths to ascertain the water level, he lowered the bucket.

“Best water in the area!” A deep voice sounded behind him. Marcus hurriedly drew up the bucket, sniffed the contents and took a sip. It was good and it was no different from the water in the jug at the gate.

“I am Matthew. Welcome to my villa and my son’s wedding.” Marcus turned to see a handsome man in a long white garment. “We don’t usually see the emissaries of Rome here. Do you come on a business matter? Or has there been some sort of a problem? With all the guests on this happy day I hope nothing untoward has happened. So, how may I help you?”

Marcus took another drink from the bucket of water. His brisk march from the military detachment had left him thirsty. He considered how to approach the topic that needed investigating.

“We have just come from the detachment up the road. An orange seller, very drunk, as it happens, came past about three hours ago. He had a rather peculiar story about wine in water jugs.”

Matthew waited for Marcus to continue.

“The jugs outside..”

“Yes, they are for the travellers,” Matthew answered.

“They always contain water?”

“They do.”

“Never wine?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Then you should check one of them. It certainly has contained wine.”

Matthew looked puzzled. “The water comes straight from this well. The servants are responsible for keeping the jugs full. I wonder if….” He thought for a moment, “There’s someone here you should talk to. I’ll see if I can find him. Just wait and I’ll send him to you.” He gave a little bow, turned and hurried off in the direction of the crowd.

Marcus took this opportunity to take in his surroundings. The guard at the gate continued to check the visitors who came for the wedding celebrations. In another part of the compound a number of women, who were obviously in charge of matters, issued orders to servants. Guests were eating and drinking in another open tent and Marcus felt a momentary stab of hunger. He watched as a young man, wine cup in hand, detached himself from a crowd and walk towards him. He was dressed simply in a long robe, cinched at the waist. A pair of dusty sandals gave evidence that he had travelled a fair distance earlier that day.

“I bid you peace and welcome!” he said to Marcus. “Matthew told me you would like to talk to me.”

“Yes,” said Marcus who wanted to get to the bottom of the matter quickly. He explained again about the orange seller. “What can you tell me about this?” he asked.

“Well,” the other began. “With all the guests here someone had miscalculated the amount of wine we needed. It had almost all gone by midday. The celebrations have been going for two days now. So Mary, that’s my mother who is helping to organise this event, told me about the problem when I arrived. I called the wine merchant who usually supplies the villas with wine but did he come? No, he was delivering elsewhere.”

“But you did send out to the merchant?”

“Yes, of course. In fact he’s out there at the gate now. A bit ticked off, I think.”

“He’s planning to lay a complaint,” Marcus said. “He told me that someone has reneged on his contract. Wants to lay charges.”

“Really.” The young man raised an eyebrow.

“So what did you do to get him all annoyed?” Marcus went on.

“I don’t think I did anything. I just solved an immediate problem because my mother kept nagging – and she does go on sometimes. Anyway, I didn’t think anything would happen. I mean, changing water into wine! I was rather surprised when it did. And…”

“Just hold on a moment.” Marcus held up his hand to stop the flow. He looked dubiously at the young man from under his helmet. “We get reports of things like this happening all over the place. They never amount to much and the character involved is usually long gone when we get there. So your claim is water into wine?”

“Yes,” the enthusiasm continued. “And I’ve also discovered something else; it works the other way, too! It’s interesting watching the reactions. I can change it all back for you if you think I should.” He handed the soldier the cup he was carrying. Marcus took a sip, then a longer, more appreciative swallow. When he put the cup down he regarded the stranger with a respectful look.

“No. No, I wouldn’t do that.” He drank again, deeper this time. “No, I would leave things as they are. May be you’ve got something here. This is very good stuff. But you could turn it back into water? That is, if you wanted to?”

“Well, yes,” was the reply. “It wasn’t too difficult doing it the other way. I practised on a mug, just to see if it would work. It can cause quite a stir at mealtime – wine one minute, water the next.”

Marcus was silent, considering the implications.

“Ever thought of doing this on a bigger scale?” he asked.

“Well, that’s always a possibility,” came the reply, “But it could put the local wine industry out of business. I suppose they could always diversify if they had to. I’m told that olives and figs do quite well around here.”

“Just a minute.” The soldier stopped the proceedings as he remembered why he was here. He became more official. “We started with a simple problem, a drunk and disorderly orange merchant and now we have progressed to the suggestion of bringing down the local wine industry. I think you may have encouraged this.”

The young man looked crestfallen.

“I was only doing what I was asked to do. Would you let your mother down in a crisis?” he asked the soldier.

Marcus hesitated. He was torn between filial loyalties and the desire to see law and order in this part of the country.

“I’ll have to make a report about this,” he said, finally. “It will go all the way to the authorities in Jerusalem. They can look into it again if they see fit. So, if you could keep these…” he struggled for a word, “incidents… to a minimum, then probably not too much harm has been done. Meanwhile I’ll bid you ‘Good Day’.”

He gave a little bow and turned towards the gate. The wine had been very good, he thought; perhaps he would check the water jugs outside the villa once again.

“By the way,” Marcus spoke to the guard as he retrieved his spear and shield, “what is that fellow’s name?”

The guard thought for a while, trying to place him among the guests. “It began with a ‘J’, Joshua? Joseph? Jesse?” he ventured. He looked down at his scroll. “There it is.” He pointed a finger at a name. “Jesus. From Galilee.”

“Jesus. A Galilean. Well, I had better send in my report; the authorities in Jerusalem want to know every little thing out of the ordinary that goes on.”

Marcus sheathed his sword and dagger. Caius closed up in formation and the two soldiers prepared to march back down the road. Another guest arrived at the gate and the guard, without looking up, went through the process of checking him in.

“Name?” Marcus heard him ask.

“Lazarus.” The reply was clear. The finger read down the list of names.

“Right. There we are. Welcome, Lazarus. I remember you now from the last time you were here.”

Lazarus walked on through the gate. The guard straightened up and stretched, bored with his duties after so many hours.

“Ah, Lazarus,” he said, looking over his shoulder at the receding figure. “The life and soul of so many parties. Once he’s gone, we’ll probably never see the likes of him again!”

 

Jonathan Dean was born and educated in England. He came to Alberta in 1968 and taught in the public school system, introducing his students to quality literature. He has written many stories since then and hopes to epublish a collection later this year. In 2008 he produced the audio programme ‘Stone Soup’ for Voiceprint. This series of original stories and poems from current authors across Canada won a Gold Medal at the annual International Association of Audio Information Services at Cincinnati, Ohio in 2009. He is an occasional reporter for the Lethbridge Herald newspaper, a keen gardener and enthusiastic home chef.

“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.

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

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.

 

Older posts

© 2018 The Furious Gazelle

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑