Literary as hell.

Author: The Furious Gazelle Editors (Page 2 of 53)

Holy Ground by Jennifer Spiegel

Nothing To See Here

In June 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Surgery, Chemo, Radiation, Reconstruction, and More Surgery followed. Between then and now, I wrote Cancer, I’ll Give You One Year: A Non-Informative Guide to Breast Cancer, A Writer’s Memoir In Almost Real Time. 

 

Unraveling

People ask how cancer has changed my life. Am I more religious? Have I forsaken sugar? Given up red meat? What’s with sex? 

It’s in the book, but:

  1. I’m an introvert now.
  2. I savor road trips. 

The road trip part first: I’ve always loved travel. But now, I crave the jammed-in-the-car/free-hotel-breakfast/seven-hour-stretches–of-highway. I want to craft memories for my children. I want to unravel maps with them, holding hands in White Sands or before Renoir. I know life is a privilege. 

But Introversion is new to me. I’ve always been extroverted, social. 

Cancer has rendered me insular. There are medical reasons, like exhaustion, like incessant hot flashes. However, there are others: I just want to be with Tim, my husband. I’m a little nervous to be out there alone. I do it sometimes, venture into the world. I do writer things. I flew to Portland for a conference, went to Kentucky for a teaching gig even. But it wasn’t easy, and I missed my small world: family, pets. 

(Do you know how many times Tim has attended my readings? Like, a gazillion. Because he’s had to go to every single one of them.)

So, I rarely go out past dark alone. Cancer has left me stumbling at dusk, longing for middle-aged marriage, a cup of tea, Tim, and his nightly bowl of cereal. 

Unintentionally or maybe intentionally, I have made it a hard thing to maintain a friendship with me. With some trepidation, I admit that Tim is my world. Saying that—admitting that—frightens me. I love my steadfast friends, the persevering ones, the other introverts. And I’m wary of the vulnerability of my position, my reliance on some guy. Really? 

Just the same: I’m an introvert now.

Cancer demanded of me that I get my house in order—because I was going to spend a lot of time in it.

Is this an essay on marriage?

No.

It’s an essay on writing under the cancer rubric.

It’s an essay on road trips.

It’s an essay on writing about road trips under the cancer rubric.

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“Avocado,” a flash fiction piece by John Brantingham

You try to steer Cyndi in her Hulk costume away from the house three doors down where the pediatrician lives. He opens the door and pulls an avocado and a toothbrush out of a basket and tosses them into her pillowcase. He says, “Happy Halloween.”

Cyndi thanks him, but you can’t help yourself. You say, “You know it takes a special kind of asshole to give a child a lecture instead of a piece of candy.” You point into his basket overflowing with the Earth’s bounty. “Is that a beet?”

He cocks his head. “What? Did you have a couple before you took your kid out trick or treating?”

Of course, you did, but only because you forgot it was Halloween, and anyway, you thought you’d mouthwashed the smell away. Apparently not. “Yes, madam,” you say, “but tomorrow, I’ll wake up sober, and you’ll still be a shithead.” The quotation is right on the top of your head because you’ve been teaching Churchill in your graduate seminar for the last two weeks. You know you got it wrong and the “madam” probably confused the guy a little, but it feels like a good retort, so you spin on the back heel and catch up with Cyndi who’s sitting on the front lawn.

By now, the guy’s slammed his door, so you say to her, “If you want, we can throw the produce through that fucker’s front window.”

“No, Dad, no. I’m the peaceful Hulk.” This is probably why she drew a Mercedes Benz symbol on the chest of her costume. She brings the avocado up to her nose and inhales and smiles and then lifts it up to you. 

You take it and breathe it in, and it fills you up. “You make a good point, Gumdrop, and besides there’s more loot to be taken on this street.”

She takes it back and smells it once more. “It’s so good,” she says. “It’s just so fucking good.”

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“Phat Man,” a short story by Patricia Trentacoste

Before
Personal Blog, Entry 1 Open to Public

Everybody’s fat, phat, obese, stout, plump, a lard ass weighed down by excess. Here’s how it works: some, me for instance, carry our metal on the outside. Fat is armor. We’re like knights. Some days I can’t turn around in the saddle. My bulk starts in the gut, plates over my ass, and widens in my shoes. Get the picture? Lifting all that weight 24/7 makes me strong as hell. Think about that. Think about this too: Fat cells store energy. I’ve got lots of it. It’d take an eon to starve a dude like me. I’m like the sun. I got billions of years left.

Low weight people? They think they’re not fat. But they aren’t skinny either. Fact is, they wear their poundage where you can’t see it. I feel for them—having to haul it around, getting no sympathy. Food has a weird vibe for them. The vibe is guilt. Look at their guts, tight with self-loathing. No one spends more time thinking about pork-grease and butter than they do. Salmon and hard-boiled eggs only go so far. Paleo is for Neanderthals and we ain’t them no more. Get it? Least I’m not.

How do I know this? I used to be spare. Raw boned, as they say. I ate my fill. Cut to me in the john puking. Men can’t be bulimic? Sure we can. Not many of us, I’ll admit, but I’m evidence that some of us do it. I did it from middle school on. Eventually, I couldn’t take it—holding my immensity inside like that. No one knew how gorged I was, how much pressure I put on myself to look like the “Bieb,” hair and all. After college, I got sane again. By that I mean I transplanted my pounds to the light of day. Got it all out, pushed it out through my cells, packed it on in plain sight, the real stuff, physical, not mental crap. I added tangibleness till I was gargantuan … insulated.

Okay, so now you know. I’m big. I’m inundated with adipose tissue. But you should also know other things. One: I can dance. Two, I can roll over in bed easy enough. (I know you had to wonder.) Of course, I’m still young, twenty-seven. Just wait, they tell me, your heart’s gonna turn to suet. People I love tell me that. They call it, big love. Ha, ha, ha. They text me links for pills and gyms that make you piss all day and work out in front of mirrors. They want me to watch TV’s The Biggest Loser with them, pretending not to notice the ambiguity of the title while they trade me my Buds for fat-burners.

Three: I like classical music. You might think that’s a non-sequitur, to jump to classical music like that. It is and it isn’t. I like music with gravitas, heavy instrumentation, like parts of Beethoven’s 7th, or Berlioz—sometimes he’d use 1000 musicians. That’s what I mean. Ponderousness is the right answer for the world today. Flutes can’t handle me, you know? I’ve gotta have bassoons, oboes, tubas, double basses. I’m the Phat Man. I’m a freakin’ nuclear weapon. Anybody out there?
The Phat Man

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Poetry by Luanne Castle

The Bad Daughter Walk

Four beads on a thread,

we were that close trudging

home, separated only by 

thick coats on this suddenly

spring afternoon amid the last 

puddles of melted slush

and forsythias sprouting buds.

Don’t step on a crack!

We shouted as we long-stepped

sidewalk square to square

in unison as beads shove beads

when you swing the string.

You’ll break your mother’s back!

I flinched, my step floundering

as I forgot to step long in step

with you all, my mind a flurry,

my mother lying still at the foot

of the sofa, then loaded onto 

the stretcher, daddy sobbing 

as the minister spoke, and me

motherless and broken by

slaughtering my mother with

carelessness so of course I stepped

short and landed on the crack,

scattering the beads in the gutter.

 

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“When the Road Calls Your Name” by Jeffrey T. Heyer

I crossed a continent, an ocean, and an island and now that I stood at last within the unthinkably ancient ring of stones reared by my forgotten forebears, all I heard in the well of my own soul was the echo of the well-cover when I drew it back.  I hitched up my pack, struck my crude walking stick against the wet grass, and headed for the little local museum.

Stepping inside, I found I could proceed no further.  The Avebury museum was manned by an elderly gentleman in a dark blue suit.  His white hair neatly slicked back, his face arranged in an expression of professional hospitality, he was attempting to elucidate the exhibits for an American couple.  Since my fellow Americans blocked the way, I could do nothing but pull off my mist-dampened slouch cap and wait. 

Looming over the English curator, the elderly American demanded through loose lips, “What’s so special about this place, huh?”

“Well,” smiled the curator, “Avebury is the largest stone circle in the world…”

“Saw it.  Is this the whole town?”

“The modern town of Avebury sits entirely within the ring of …”

“What’s the museum for?”  The American angrily shook England’s October chill from his Hawaiian shirt.  His voice dripped with contempt for a country whose temperature failed to fit his tourist’s uniform.

The curator replied patiently, “We house a small collection of artifacts discovered…”

Out thrust the American’s finger.  “What’s this?”

“I’m glad you noticed that display.  This…”

“It’s a rock.  We have rocks at home.  We don’t build museums for ‘em.  Do you have anything good?”

Before the curator could indicate his prize display, the tourist declared, “I’ve seen it.”  The Ugly American turned his back and shoved past me out the door, his wife remora-like at his side.

The curator turned his eyes on me, propped up his smile, and nodded in greeting. I admired his resilience — something I had long lost. 

“Is there anything I can help you with?” he asked, glancing over my army surplus ski-jacket, weathered jeans, and rough shoes.

I took off my glasses and polished the mist from them.  Not trusting contact lenses on a rough trip, I wore an 

old-fashioned pair of sturdy black frames.  I had stopped shaving the day I quit my job and it suddenly occurred to me that I had not seen another bearded man since I had arrived on the island — as if I needed an appearance guaranteed to distance me further from those around me.  But I was not thinking of appearances when I withdrew my savings, tossed a few things in an old army backpack, and flew away over the great Californian desert, across the wide states, and over the rough Atlantic, reversing the course of my westward-driven forebears.

Embarrassed at seeing myself through the curator’s eyes, I was about to demur, but considering the brush-off the man had just received, I changed my mind, saying, “Actually, yes.  I’m particularly interested in the excavation of the West Kennet Long Barrow.”

The curator’s smile became genuine and he swiftly ushered me to a series of photographs of neatly stacked finger bones and skulls within the Long Barrow.  The more questions I asked, the happier my white-haired acquaintance became. 

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Nothing More Than a Visit a poem by R. Nikolas Macioci

Nothing More Than a Visit

I reached out and touched her hand, a simple

gift in a nursing home.  Her old skin was soft

as spring grass.  Others watched with suspicion,

She placed her other hand over mine

as if to forestall my leaving.  I had decided

in an instant when I heard of her change

of habitat to visit this former neighbor

without family.

 

She is a woman with an endless heart.

Once, when I asked her to describe

herself, she answered, “My loneliness

is indestructible.”  

 

The smell of dinner drifted in from the

dining room.  She claimed not to be

hungry except for company.

I asked about her husband. She said

they had had an arrangement which lasted

sixty years.  She had no children, claimed

to be standing on the back porch of life

waiting for death.  I assured her

there would yet be moments of happiness.

Her face remained stolid.  

 

I stood, my signal for departure, walked

across flowered carpet toward the exit,

emerged into the welcome glare of late

sunlight.

 

___

R. Nikolas Macioci earned a PhD from The Ohio State University. OCTELA, the Ohio Council of Teachers of English, named Nik Macioci the best secondary English teacher in the state of Ohio. Nik is the author of two chapbooks: Cafes of Childhood and Greatest Hits, as well as eight books: Why Dance, Necessary Windows, Cafes of Childhood (the original chapbook with additional poems), Mother Goosed, Occasional Heaven, A Human Saloon, Rustle Rustle Thump Thump, and Rough.  Critics and judges called Cafes of Childhood a “beautifully harrowing account of child abuse,” but not “sentimental” or “self-pitying,” an “amazing book,”  and “a single unified whole.”

“Friendly Flames,” a short story by Hugh Cartwright

Gran spreads out her knickers on the baking tray.  

I hardly dare peek: my mother says it’s a crime to stare at undies, especially those of old people. 

But Gran doesn’t care. 

Next, she reaches for the string that loops across the kitchen and tugs my undies off it. Laying them carefully beside her own, she slides the tray into the oven. 

Gran is weird – but a good sort of weird. She bakes bread in a flowerpot, and grows mustard and cress on wet facecloth. At Christmas, she sends me home-made fudge in a used can of chick peas, with a dollar coin taped to the bottom. The label is amended with black pen to Chuck Pea, her pet name for me. I’ve kept all the cans she has ever sent. 

There’s a pop as the gas ignites; Gran beams. “Friendly flames on a freezing morning; what could be better?” As I watch the flames, she stretches across and ruffles my hair. I duck away, though secretly I love the touch of those soft, wrinkled hands.  Continue reading

2021 Halloween contest winner: “My Haunting” by Jamie Orsini

This is what I know to be true about the New Vernon House in Chepachet, Rhode Island. 

In 1835, the Vernon family home burnt to the ground, claiming the lives of Constance Vernon, 38, and Matthew Vernon, 7. Thomas Vernon, 45, and his surviving sons, George, 16, and John, 13, buried their loved ones on the property before rebuilding what is now known as the New Vernon House. Upon his father’s death in 1849, George Vernon sold the property, reportedly saying “it was a fine home . . . but haunted to me.” These facts are not in dispute: the tragedy was covered at length in the New-England Telegraph, and digitized articles are now accessible through the Library of Congress. George never again publicly commented on the home, leaving locals and historians to wonder what he meant by the word “haunted.” Did he experience something supernatural there? Or was the house just a painful reminder of the loss of his beloved mother and brother?

Over the years, the New Vernon House has been the subject of speculation and gossip, as well as the scene of several reported ghost sightings and paranormal occurrences. Some say the house smells faintly of smoke, even today. Others swear they’ve seen a woman in black walking the property at night, clutching her chest and calling for help. Separating fact from fiction, rumor from reality has proven difficult. But I’m trying, and here’s why: there’s something else I know to be true about the New Vernon House. It’s the last place my daughter was reportedly seen alive.


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2021 Halloween contest finalist: “A Trick and a Treat” by Carl Herstedt

The small graveyard, tucked in, almost hidden, past the hills and meadows is nearly empty. I stop my car in the square of pebbles in front, take the plastic bag lying in the passenger seat and step out into the howling wind. 

The gate shuts on its own behind me with a thick thud. I make my way across the tombs that are spaced out seemingly haphazardly, and in a variety of sizes. For a moment, there are dim lights and laughter in the distance, then it’s gone just as quickly. Trick-or-treaters, perhaps, hunting for bounty in the residential are nearby.

Tilde brushes against my calf, sniffing into the wind at nothing. I can just barely see her tail wagging. I forgot to bring a lantern, so I use the screen of my phone to light my path forwards. The grass in here could use a trim. Long straws, still wet from the rain earlier today, sticks in chunks on my boots, but Tilde doesn’t mind it. Finally, I reach the tombstone I was searching, and pull the bouquet out of my plastic bag and place it in front of the stone.

“There,” I tell Tilde, “now we can play.”

The word ‘play’ seems to instantly switch on something in her mind, and she jumps around my feet as I dig in my jacket-pocket after a stick I picked up earlier before getting in the car. Playing with Tilde I lose all track of time – I exhaust myself physically, but mentally I’m in a pleasant, soothing lull of sorts. Tilde’s a bundle of energy, same as always. A man walks by, just a shadow against the fence and the trees, I don’t know if he even notices Tilde but he says nothing, just nods to me before strolling further into the graveyard.

I lay my plastic bag flat in the grass and sit down, and Tilde comes to rest by my lap. I scratch behind her ears and move my hand along her nape and back, and so we sit in silence until my wrist is tired and it’s time to part. 

“Sit,” I say and she winces, knowing it means our time is up, but looks a bit more eager when I put my hand in my pocket. She sits, and I put the bone-shaped little nugget in my hand on top of her tombstone. 

“Until next year,” I say and stand up, ready to rush back to my car, because I still can’t stand being left here alone. So when she turns around, I do, too. Much better to say good-bye like this, with a trick and a treat.

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