The Furious Gazelle

Literary as hell.

Tag: books (page 2 of 3)

Fantasy Fandoms Unite at Bookcon

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Left to right Garth Nix, Kendare Blake, Renée Ahdieh

This past weekend during New York Comic Con, Bookcon was busy taking over Hudson Mercantile with various panels and signings. At the Fantasy Fandoms Unite panel, Garth Nix (Abhorsen Trilogy), Kendare Blake (Three Dark Crowns), and Renée Ahdieh (The Wrath and the Dawn), sat down to answer fan questions. Continue reading

Q&A with artist Sydney Padua on the Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

Q: Your drawings in the Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage are very kinetic. How do you think your work as an animator informs your 2D drawing style?


Sydney Padua:
Thanks! I work in 3D on a computer now, but I started out old-school animating on paper back in the Good Ol’ Days. Animation is a great teacher for drawing expressive characters— it comes from the same tradition as Vaudeville and pantomime, a language of archetypes that works well for comics. You learn a lot about conveying energy and character in a pose, because in a sense you are part of theatrical troupe, you’re always thinking in terms of supporting the story and the scene. And of course there is simply the training aspect of producing enormous volumes of drawings at speed— drawing all day every day for a few years, you’re bound to learn something!

 

Conversely, I think I took as long getting the ‘animation’ back out of my drawing— after many years as an industrial drawer I’d lost a feeling for my own line, my own way of relating to drawing. The nice thing about working on a computer is I felt I had my drawing to myself again; I didn’t have draw ‘correctly’ any more.

 

Q: Parts of L&B reminded me of Alan Moore’s LoEG, in the best way possible. Can you tell us about some authors and artists who influence your work in general, and this work in particular?

 

Sydney Padua: One of my clearest memories is being six years old and touring the Louvre, surrounded on every side by the greatest masterpieces of civilisation from antiquity to the present day. I didn’t see any of them because my nose was buried in an Asterix comic, which I as far as I was concerned eclipsed all previous human accomplishments. I still sort of think that, and instinctively feel that awful puns, extravagant sound effects, and a lot of running around and shouting are the mark of Quality Historical Literature.

 

Alongside Asterix, the late, great Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice. It’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, but marching along under and beside and around the text are a friendly crowd of footnotes. They might have the original poem Lewis Carroll was mocking, or a tidbit of biography, or an explanation of relevant 19th century mathematics. Mostly the footnotes were little short snippets but sometimes they’d take over half the page when they got unruly. I used to spend hours and hours poring over that book when I was twelve or thirteen and still perk up every time I see a footnote in a book.

 

Q: L&B is littered with great tidbits from history that you found through research. What’s one of your favourite facts about the pair?

 

Sydney Padua: Only one fact!? Can I have two? One for each? My favourite Lovelace find is a single sentence from the “News Miscellany” in the New York Mirror of 1835, when Ada was 20. It reports, in full: “It is said that Ada Byron, the sole daughter of the “noble bard,” is the most coarse and vulgar woman in England!” Ada was given to swearing a surprising amount in her letters (don’t get too shocked, by swearing I just mean things like “damned”), but that’s a tantalising and very rare peek into what impression she must have given in person. She was not a very good Victorian lady!

 

My favourite Babbage anecdote is from a little memoir called Sunny Memories, by a lady who knew Babbage in his old age. She tells a story about how he forgot his calling-­cards once when visiting, so he pulled a gear out of his pocket, scratched his name on it, and left that instead! I couldn’t have made up something so irresistibly Babbagey in a million years. If that gear ever turned up on the Antiques Roadshow it would be worth a fortune!

 

Q: In the book you touch on computer science scholars who don’t believe AL original work developing the worlds first complete computer program is really her own. Why do you think that is?

 

Sydney Padua: That’s actually a really complicated question. It’s tempting to say it’s just just straight up sexism because, I mean, a lot of it is just straight up sexism. The critics tend to use pretty blatant language– she was a “lusty coquette”, a “hysteric”, “mad as a hatter”, they go on about her love life and her personality and her wanting attention– as though Babbage wasn’t weird, arrogant, and wanted attention! There’s a sort of “fake geek girl” narrative that sounds awfully familiar. Some of it is a genuine question mark— for sure Babbage sketched out some work for the program, it was a collaborative process, I think that’s pretty clear from their letters. To me it’s also evident from the letters that the final program was Lovelace’s. I do think some of the ‘Team Babbage’ people resent how much attention Lovelace gets when poor old Babbage already had such a hard time getting recognition in his own lifetime, and as a Babbage fan I get where they’re coming from– I want Babbage to be celebrated and adored too! But I’m Team Lovelace and Babbage, which is the best team, and also fights crime.

 

Q: Right now, is there anything going on in your life, or in the world, that makes you furious?

 

Sydney Padua: Hmmm, I’m not a very furious person! I’m piqued.. nettled? that so many women are persuaded to feel that computers aren’t their “territory”. Women were there from the very beginning!

 

Review: Elizabeth Copeland’s Jazz

Elizabeth Copeland’s Jazz takes us on a touching journey as a young trans man reclaims his body and identity. Aimed at a young audience, this book is sure to help closed-minded youth gain a new perspective, and to help trans youth and other members of the LGBT community realize that they are not alone.

Jazz cover

Named Jaswinder at birth, Copeland’s protagonist prefers the name “Jazz.” He says, “At birth, I was labeled a girl. I was named Jaswinder. My chosen name is Jazz. Like the music, I am nature’s improvisation.” The reader follows Jazz through his childhood in a middle-class Indian Canadian home with a father and brother who hate his non-conforming behavior, and a mother who doesn’t understand his burgeoning gender identity. When they try to suppress Jazz’s gender expression, he retreats, becoming depressed, withdrawn, and eating less. On his 17th birthday, Jazz comes out to his family as transgender, hoping to be welcomed as a man. Instead, Jazz’s family rejects him, and his father tells him that he is no longer welcome in his home. Jazz is forced to leave, becoming homeless. The rest of the novel covers his journey as he finds an LGBT community to help him survive the streets, and struggles to be accepted.

The book is mainly told from Jazz’s point of view but also features the internal thoughts from supporting characters on Jazz’s transition. We get to hear why the people closest to Jazz, his family, would abandon him, and how they wrestle with the news. The reader also gets to hear from Jazz’s newfound supporters allowing us to hear both sides of the “conversation.”

Though the issue is complex and also grapples with very adult content the book is definitely aimed at younger readers. As a protagonist, Jazz can be immature at times, rejecting help when it is offered to him by social workers Kendall, an older FTM transgender individual who has gone through the same journey as Jazz, and Sister Mary Francis, an ex-nun. As in many young adult novels, some aspects of the plot ravel together too neatly for real life: for example, Jazz very quickly finds a job and a place to stay and a job after becoming homeless. While there is some emotional and personal growth for Jazz, none of it goes past the realistic maturity level of a 17-year-old, which might prove frustrating for some adults, but well suited to younger readers. However, though geared towards a younger crowd, the book is a good read for any age. The language of the book is almost musical or poetic, and the writing is very poignant at times, with apt descriptions. Jazz is a charming, sometimes-sweet tale of one character’s “It Gets Better” story.

“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.

The best things HONY’s Brandon Stanton said at Comic Con

On Sunday, at a Comic Con panel dedicated to his upcoming book Little Humans, Brandon Stanton of the wildly popular Humans of New York (HONY) blog shared what he thought brought his success.

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Stanton, like many of the people who are featured on and follow this site, is a storyteller.

If you don’t know HONY the site is part photography blog and part photojournalism without specifically being either. Stanton will find random people on the street, whoever catches his eye and asks to take their photo. Stanton pairs his photos with stories from the subjects which can be one sentence answers to questions, paragraph long stories describing their best or worst moments, to something interesting they did that day. The end result is special- it’s not your normal street photography.

I can’t really categorize his work and that’s what he was going for:

  1. “it is more important to be different than it is to be good.”

From his untrained and completely self-taught photo techniques Stanton grew to be an internet sensation with over 10 million fans and just completing a UN sponsored tour.

What he offers is a view of the world we haven’t seen before- or at least- not the way he does.

  1. “You have to be consistent even when you know no one is paying attention.”

This is one of the most difficult things to do. But this is also the truest advice. You need to write, make art, and practice your craft every damn day. Even if you know no one is taking notice, you need to do it for yourself because:

  1. “the lion’s share of the effort comes before you have your first true fan”

To get to that one fan, the one who found you and likes your work because of what it is- not because they’re a friend of a friend or family member- you have to always have something to show. You have to keep promoting yourself and you have to be present- which isn’t too hard in today’s social media world.

But, as Stanton says, the internet and prevalence of social media is a “double-edged sword.”

  1. “Everyone is vying to be heard.”

Which is why you have to be the most unique, the most disciplined, and the most confident. Even if you didn’t produce your best work today, you will keep working until you do.

Write everyday even if it’s crap- put something out there. Because, you need to know how to make mistakes and learn from them.

  1. “Formal education is dangerous, school teaches you how to do something right. If you wanna make something cool you need to learn to make mistakes.”

That one kind of speaks for itself.

Tammy and Tom: A short play by Jonathan Joy

TAMMY and TOM

A short play by Jonathan Joy

Copyright 2014 by the author

joyjonathan@yahoo.com

(Lights up on a visibly nervous TAMMY. TOM is in the background, approaching.)

TAMMY – (to audience) It’s taken me weeks, but I have finally worked up the nerve to ask Tom out. I’ve chickened out plenty, but not this…oh, here he comes.

TOM – Hi.

TAMMY – Hi.

TAMMY – (to audience) He said hi.

TOM – Did you say something?

TAMMY – No…I mean…I was just talking to myself…no…that’s not what I meant to say…

TOM – Okay…bye

TAMMY – Tom, wait.

TOM – Yes?

TAMMY – I was just wondering…if you’re not doing anything…I thought maybe you’d want to get together and get a bite to eat…heck, I could even cook something…I’m a pretty good cook…or we could go out…

TOM – That depends.

TAMMY – What?

TOM – What would we eat? What would you cook?

TAMMY – Oh, I don’t know…

TOM – I’m a vegetarian. I can’t eat meat.

TAMMY – Oh, that’s no problem.

TOM – Good. And nothing dairy based. I’m lactose intolerant, so I can’t have anything with milk or cheese.

TAMMY – Okay, I think we can work around that.

TOM – And nothing wheat based either…my allergies…I’ll blow right up.

TAMMY – What can you eat?

TOM – Not seafood! If there is shellfish within 35 feet of me, I’ll need to go to the emergency room. I could die.

TAMMY – (to audience) To think I was afraid he’d say no. Now I’m afraid of potential manslaughter charges.

TOM – And not Mexican. The last time I had Mexican food I was in the bathroom all night.

TAMMY – Ew. Too much information.

TOM – Fruits and vegetables are okay, but they have to be pureed into a complete liquid form. Even then, no green or orange vegetables and no red or blue or green or yellow fruits.

TAMMY – That’s crazy.

TOM – What? That’s really insensitive, Tammy. I don’t know if this is going to work out, after all. Maybe it’s best that we don’t…

TAMMY – You know, maybe we should just skip dinner. We could go see a movie.

TOM – That would be better.

TAMMY – Good. We don’t have to eat anything all.

TOM – You pick the movie, but nothing R rated, please.

TAMMY – Okay.

TOM – And nothing with singing or explosions…I like to avoid all loud noises altogether.

TAMMY – Okay. Why don’t I pick you up…Saturday?

TOM – No, no, no…I don’t leave the house on days that have the letter “u” in them.

TAMMY – Wait, I’ve got it! You come over…Friday…we’ll dine on tomato paste and cold water…then we’ll rent a movie and turn the volume way down…

TOM – Tammy, that sounds like perfect evening.

TAMMY – It does.

TOM – Yeah…I have a seven o’clock self-imposed curfew, though.

TAMMY – You know what, forget it. I’m sorry I asked. Forget it.

TOM – (to audience) What did I say?

 

 

Jonathan Joy is the author of 25 plays, including “The Princess of Rome, Ohio”, “American Standard”, the “Bitsy and Boots” series, and over a dozen one acts that are regularly produced. His work has been staged in 12 US states, from countless productions in his home state of West Virginia to Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway stages in New York City, and overseas in France and Dubai. Publications and features include the New York Times, Smith and Krauss, Brooklyn Publishers, Southern Theatre magazine, Insight for Playwrights, the One Act Play Depot in Canada, and more. He has won several regional writing awards and is the only two time winner (2005 & 2008) of the national “Write like Mamet” award sponsored by the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. His books have topped the Amazon charts in Theatre, Drama, Political Humor, and Christian Literature categories. Mr. Joy is an English/Writing Instructor at Ashland Community and Technical College in Ashland, Kentucky, where he enjoys his dream job and has been nominated for Teaching Excellence Awards five straight years. He is the son of James Edward Joy, a Biology professor once described by a colleague as, “…the conscience of Marshall University for forty years…” and Susan Karnes Joy, a retiree of the Corps of Engineers and the kind of woman that would gladly take her son out of school early to see “Return of the Jedi” on its opening day in 1983. He is married to his best friend, Rissie, who is a successful Scentsy Director (rissiejoy.scentsy.us) and is father to an enthusiastic, playful four year old son, Levi.

The author may be contacted at joyjonathan@yahoo.com for information regarding royalties for production of his work.

Poems from “Conditioned Response” by Gary Beck

Aging Process

Forgetful moments

alarming indicators

of the relentless approach

of deterioration,

subtracting the senses

from continuation,

the short supply of data

rapidly diminishing

ability to function.

 

 

Welcome to Afghanistan

The circling vultures

seeking meals ready to eat

prefer violent cultures

for the caterers they meet.

American troops will provide

modern ammo and arms

to tribesmen who reside

so close to war’s meat farms.

There is a tradition

that tribes sting like vipers

and fight best in position

when they can be snipers.

Loyalties are stratified,

bought, sold, or traded away

after being ratified

by those who prevail that day.

The war for democracy

is an arrogant invention

that deludes our society

in a wasteful intervention.

 

 

Ode to the City

The esprit of a city

expands, contracts,

in dynamic flux,

or is trapped in stasis

as the industrious strive,

exploiters and lunatics thrive,

and do-gooders try to endure

in the peculiar mélange

of the metropolitan hive,

throbbing, pulsing, urban horde,

ambitious, ruthless, kindless,

the frothing ingredients

of juxtaposed existence

indivisible

from its components.

 

 

Departure

Lilacs are the pain

striking recollection

of unintended separation

from a lost loved one,

an unexpected rejection

flowering in shock,

smashing continuation

of rich interludes.

 

 

Premature Signs

After a blanketing blizzard

covered the cowering city

for a cleansing interlude,

warmer weather snuck in,

deluding gullible birds

who began to sing happily

that hungry winter was over.

 

 

Disruptions

Snow clogs the city streets,

wind-blown into high drifts

preventing passage.

Urban dwellers complain

spoiled by ample services,

modern conveniences,

so far removed from nature

that winter’s demonstration

is a personal insult,

unable to conceive

that circumstances conspire

to thwart arrivals

at desired destinations.

Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director. Published chapbooks include: ‘Remembrance’, Origami Condom Press; ‘The Conquest of Somalia’, Cervena Barva Press; ‘The Dance of Hate’, Calliope Nerve Media; ‘Material Questions’, Silkworms Ink; ‘Dispossessed’, Medulla Press and ‘Mutilated Girls’, Heavy Hands Ink. His poetry collection ‘Days of Destruction’ was published by Skive Press; ‘Expectations’, Rogue Scholars Press; ‘Dawn in Cities’, Winter Goose Publishing; ‘Assault on Nature’, Winter Goose Publishing. ‘Songs of a Clerk’ and ‘Civilized Ways’ will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. His novel ‘Extreme Change’ was published by Cogwheel Press; ‘Acts of Defiance’ was published by Artema Press. His collection of short stories, ‘A Glimpse of Youth’ was published by Sweatshoppe Publications. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines. He currently lives in New York City.

Gypsy Courtyard by William K Hugel

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You called it a Gypsy courtyard.

The only Gypsy you had ever met said don’t call us Roma, only people who feel sorry for us call us that. Gypsies are free people who live how they want. Then laughing she said: Roma is a word for guilty white people. Then, no longer smiling: White people feel guilty because they think everyone wants to be like them.

Though you still didn’t know what a Gypsy was. Not really. Though you had some idea of course. You had had your pocket picked in Prague. You still remember the face, brown skin dark eyes (but in America lots of people have brown skin and dark eyes, so how were you, an American, to know the difference?). You had smiled at him after you’d all bumped with the starting of the train. Only checked for your wallet later, after they’d all gotten off.

But you still remember the face. A sudden grimace and pain had met your smile after you had all bumped. This wasn’t so strange; everyone in Prague met you with a grimace and some pain you didn’t understand.

You already thought you liked Hungarians better. Not so many grimaces, not the unfathomable pain. An old woman had set herself up grandly at the other end of your courtyard here. And then you too, following her example, at the other end. Hers was far grander. A recliner and a rainbow umbrella. You saw her on your first day holding a young woman’s hand, leaning close, you hoped she told fortunes. You wanted yours told, badly.

You’d left many times like that. Apropos of nothing, like a thief in the night. Just gone. But that last time it felt different. You thought for the first time you were perhaps sick, mentally ill.

So far a cat has been your best friend. He had said hello before, he always said hello, though stressfully, fretfully. Then he came through the bars in the window. You left some butter (you wished you’d had some tuna) on the sill and you went away. You didn’t want to pressure him. He licked the butter and left while you waited in the other room.

Then the old lady with the grand terrace with the recliner and the rainbow umbrella came to you at your own new small terrace.

It had been a glorious day, or two or three, at least two, you couldn’t remember, in Budapest. Some sort of spring cleaning. A license, you supposed (though you were too shy to ask anyone, someone you didn’t know) from the city to get rid of anything you didn’t want. Spring cleaning. It was mid April. And quite glorious, all this junk piled in the street. It reminded you of something you had read. Some tribe that took everything from their huts every spring and burned it all in a pile. Then started anew.

You respected the city (you had respected everything Hungarian before you’d even gotten there) for leaving the junk out, for at least two days or three, for whoever wanted to pick through and find something. A fine day for Gypsies! you thought with some amusement. People went about the city with cars pulling trailers, finding treasures. At first you were too shy. I don’t know the customs, you thought. Maybe only Gypsies are allowed to take stuff, and besides my little apartment off the Gypsy courtyard is fully furnished-overly furnished-and you didn’t know how long you’d be there.

Then you saw a broom. They had given you a mop but not a broom. You needed one, it was true. And then you noticed that everyone was taking things, not just those with brown skin and dark eyes (though lots of people in America have brown skin and dark eyes, so how were you, an American, to know a Gypsy?) and this filled you with respect and warmth. Yes I may take something, you thought and you were elated, floating down the street with your broom, with its old bent half-gone bristles, that you knew would fall out the first time you used it.

That was the beginning. There were old chairs, some beautiful, but you didn’t need those. Then you thought of a terrace! You had admired the old lady’s, with its rainbow umbrella and reclining chair. And certainly you shouldn’t bring out the tourist apartment furniture, it might get rained on or stolen (people were always coming in and out of that courtyard) and it would be disrespectful even. So, yes! you found a soft old chair, though not a recliner, and looked for an umbrella, as the old woman certainly knew how to build a terrace in that Gypsy courtyard! And maybe just an old table… but you wondered…. There were people lingering, some digging (these ones you knew were Gypsies, almost for sure) near this pile with the old table. Other Gypsies nearby had things gathered to them. Perhaps they rightfully owned all of it!? Everything in the street may be rightfully theirs! You were always one to respect proprieties….

But you were almost sure, nearly sure, that there was a distinction. People lingering near piles or digging as opposed to people with things gathered to themselves. There was a distinction, you were almost sure of it. So you took a chance, and nervously took hold of a table, by the leg, and waited a moment. You weren’t just going to run off with it. It was a small dirty table, just right for a little terrace, opposite the old woman with the grand terrace. You walked away slowly, whistling, waiting to be followed, chased, you rehearsed in your head an apology. “Bow-cha-shon mey. Shoy-nosh.” Would someone still want to fight with you? Even with an apology, said correctly in the native tongue? Well, if they didn’t take a polite apology that wasn’t your fault, you could fight, you supposed….

But that didn’t happen. And then you were sitting at your little terrace, quite a comfortable little chair it was and the old woman approached you. You hoped she would tell your fortune.

She didn’t speak English, and you used your Hungarian phrases. You were proud of how quickly you had learned them. “Shoy-nosh. Beh-say-lick chak ed-ya kiss mad-ya-rool. Ah-meh-ree-kah-ee vod-yok.” But she kept talking Hungarian though you knew you had said it right. You wished you remembered how to say “I don’t understand,” it was in your notebook, you almost remembered. But maybe it didn’t matter. She would talk anyway.

She gave you Christian pamphlets. You wanted to think they were elaborate advertisements for her fortune telling. But they weren’t. You knew as soon as she gave them to you. She knew the word “God” in English. It’s true you were disappointed.

She went away and brought you some food. Then she opened her mouth to show you that she had no teeth. This, too, filled you with warmth and respect. Certainly you worried about your own teeth.

Of course you wondered if the food might be poisoned, so you looked at her eyes. No no innocent eyes. Of course you can’t know for sure, but you were hungry, (so she read my mind after all! you thought, and you thought this was funny, because you were always hungry) and you can’t go around insulting people who bring you food by not eating it. And you would know, you thought, if it was poisoned, you would just know, and if not, what really matters?

She went away. You said “Keh-sa-nom keh-sa-nom ser-voos” and really it was very tasty.

When you were done the cat came back, the one who had been your best friend. He was always flitting around, never peaceful and still. Though he always said hello, that was enough, though a bit stressfully it’s true. You wished he was a peaceful cat and would sit in your lap. That would be better for you both. He must be young, you thought, and you thought again about your age and your teeth.

And you wished you still had a piece left for him. And you thought about how you had up and left everything once again. Erased everything. But now it didn’t feel so bad. Maybe I’m not mentally ill, you thought. The old lady had said I was good. I had understood that much. And the cat had said it too.

 

William K Hugel dropped out of college seventeen years ago to dedicate himself to writing, drinking, dancing and all other forms of degradation that lead to good fiction. Among his proudest accomplishments are the play DEMONS, which recently had a reading at The Hive Theatre in NYC; his novella Napoleon: The Boy who Found a War, which was shortlisted for the Faulkner/Wisdom award as a novel-in- progress; and a collection of self-published, handmade original fairy tales, which he wrote after experiencing the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. The first of these, “Beautiful Wild Rose Girl” was awarded a Gold Medal by Children’s Literary Classics International Book Awards.

Website: www.williamhugel.com

Twitter: @wkhugel

The Dung Beetle & Other Poems by Ed Higgins

Ed Higgins’ poems and short fiction have appeared in various print and online journals including: Word Riot, Monkeybicycle, Pindeldyboz, Tattoo Highway, and Blue Print Review, among others. He and his wife live on a small farm in Yamhill, OR, raising a menagerie of animals including two whippets, a manx barn cat (who doesn’t care for whippets), two Bourbon Red turkeys (King Strut and Nefra-Turkey), and an alpaca named Machu-Picchu.

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Happy Birthday, Charlie!, by Jonathan Dean

“I want to get laid.”

The silence in the afternoon tea lounge was suddenly – deafening. Cups of milky Earl Grey tea remained suspended in mid-air, between saucers and lips; sandwiches with only one bite nibbled from them were returned to their plates and an errant piece of sponge cake fell to the floor, spreading a trail of crumbs as it rolled. Genteel conversation had stopped.

The innocent question had been posed by Ruth Denholme, Alberta’s Lieutenant Governor who was visiting ‘The Meadows’ retirement home. Two residents had reached the age of one hundred and each had received from Her Honour’s own hand a certificate acknowledging their longevity. Birthday cakes had been served, presents unwrapped and good wishes, along with a few appropriate jokes, had been heaped upon the two centenarians. As Ruth Denholme circulated among the tables, shaking hands, speaking a little louder than normal to accommodate various hearing aids, she came to Charlie Bright who sat in a strategic seat near one of the large windows.

Charlie, dressed for the occasion in his best sports jacket and tailored grey slacks, looked steadily at Ruth Denholme as he was introduced to the Lieutenant Governor.

“I would like you to meet Mr Charlie Bright, your Honour,” said Mrs Yates, the Retirement Home Director, as she accompanied the Lieutenant Governor around the room. “He will reach the age of one hundred next week. So this tea is, for him, a pre-birthday party. But we will make sure he has a special day for himself when his birthday actually arrives.”

Ruth Denholme extended the Honourable Hand to Charlie Bright who rose from his seat, gently took the outstretched limb and raised it to his lips. She smiled at the elegant gentleman who, at six foot two inches and with a full head of silvery hair, resembled a movie star of bygone days.

It was then that Her Honour posed the seemingly innocent question.

“And what would you like for your birthday?” she had asked, as if Charlie Bright’s childhood had never quite passed.

And Charlie Bright had continued to look straight back at her and had given his answer.

Ruth Denholme was a master at not reacting to the unusual and unexpected. Finessing the question with skill, she at once asked Charlie, who was still holding on to her,

“And do you think you will get lucky?”

Charlie Bright’s stare did not waver.

“I hope so, Madame, I really hope so,” was his answer.

And Her Honour, Ruth Denholme, the Queen’s representative, knew that Charlie wasn’t kidding. There was no embarrassed lowering of the eyes or uncomfortable giggle from either of them. Charlie Bright had told her exactly what he wanted. A rather refreshing departure, Ruth thought, from the usual wishes for visits from grandchildren and other family members, or a trip out to some local mall or a transatlantic phone call from an old friend. No, Charlie Bright wanted something he would enjoy. Good for him, she thought. The business of afternoon tea had resumed by now, but the buzz of conversation had notched up a few decibels and Charlie’s name or ‘he’ or ‘that man’ could be heard from the depths of a number of armchairs. Ruth Denholme completed her visit, checked her schedule with her aide, said a few words about how lovely it had all been and then took her farewell. On her way out, she stopped in the Director’s Office for a few words.

“You must excuse Mr Bright,” said Mrs Yates. “I never thought he would come up with – that suggestion. It was not the place to use that sort of language and I would like to offer you our most sincere apologies. I do hope you were not too offended.” She paused, trying to put the apples back into the cart.

Ruth Denholme leaned towards the Director.

“Do you know, Mrs Yates, he is probably more honest than most people when asked that question. I have seen so many people fishing around wondering what they would like for their birthday and I have heard ‘I don’t want anything at my age’ so many times that I have lost count. Mr Bright knows what he wants.”

“Well, he’s not going to get it here,” said Mrs Yates. “I won’t allow it.”

“Is that so?” said Ruth Denholme. “My feeling is that we should try to see that his birthday wish comes true. Maybe a solution will become apparent in the next few days?”

Mrs Yates was just about to dismiss Ruth Denholme’s suggestion when she realised that perhaps the Lieutenant Governor was quite serious. She swallowed a few times, took a couple of deep breaths and looked up at the woman who was still standing in front of her.

“Are you saying that I should…we should…that Charlie Bright…I don’t know how to…”

“Proceed?”

“Right. Proceed.”

“Let me say. Mrs Yates, that now his wishes are known, a solution will eventually present itself. No problem is unsolvable if the will is there. I would be obliged if you will let me know what the outcome is – when does he turn one hundred?”

“In ten days time,” said Mrs Yates, flustered by her guest’s request.

“Then I shall await your report, unofficial I might add, sometime later this month. Now, I regret I have to leave for my next appointment, children’s kindergarten classes at the school, quite the opposite end of the age scale. Thank you again for this opportunity to meet your staff and the residents.”

Ruth Denholme found it difficult to suppress a chuckle as she made her way out to her official car. As it drove off, she finally burst out laughing at the incredible situation she had just witnessed.

Katie Lynne Dempster, a reporter form the local newspaper who had been sent to cover the Lieutenant Governor’s visit, flipped open her cell phone and called her editor.

“Can you send someone else to the L.G’s next venue?” she asked. “I’m on to something here. Just trust me,” she replied when asked why she couldn’t keep to her appointed schedule. She snapped the lid back on her phone. Katie Lynne knew that her editor would give her the leeway she needed now that she was on to something. After fifteen years of hard work for the paper she had developed quite an ability to come up with an interesting story.

Katie Lynne Dempster was in her mid-thirties. A large woman with a homely rather than a good-looking figure, an open face and a mess of unkempt curly blonde hair, she stood just under six feet tall even in her flat shoes. Unmarried, no current boyfriend, between relationships she always told the inquisitive, no sex life whispered her co-workers, and newspaper reporting was her consuming passion. She would often work late into the night in her office, disregarding any attempt at social offers that came to her, and every week her articles were featured prominently in the city newspaper. And editors of some of the big national dailies always took notice if something of hers appeared in print or on line. Today she knew she had a winner. With an eye-catching headline she could trump local calamities and miseries of the world with a story about an unusual birthday wish. She had considerable hopes that this would stir up a real debate about what life was like for the elderly.

As soon as the visiting dignitaries had left, Katie Lynne gathered up her notepad, pen and camera. Instead of following the Lieutenant Governor out of the building, she headed over to where Charlie Bright was still sitting, savouring a final cup of tea. Switching on her most radiant smile she introduced herself to the handsome old gentleman.

“So, a reporter,” he commented after all the preliminaries were over. “Local paper interested in an old man, eh? You should be talking to these other old ladies who really are one hundred. They’re the ones Her Honour came to see.” Charlie took another sip from his tea cup.

“They will be suitably covered, Mr Bright,” said Katie Lynne. “It was about them that I came here. See, I have a whole pad of notes about them and photos with Ruth Denholme.” She waved her yellow pad in front of Charlie. “But I couldn’t help but feel intrigued by what you wished for you birthday. I think it took Her Honour by surprise.”

Charlie Bright gave her a share of the same steady look which he had turned on to the Lieutenant Governor.

“And why shouldn’t it?” he asked. “A natural part of life, I would have thought?”

Katie Lynne nodded. I suppose I would have to agree with that, she thought.

“Tell me about yourself, Mr Bright,” she said, “and then, if I may, I will take your photograph?”

Charlie Bright leaned forward.

“I’ll give you the short version,” he said. “A hundred years of my life is not going to be read by too many of your audience.”

The following day, the local city paper ran the article about the Lieutenant Governor’s visit. The headline announced the centenarians’ birthdays and then there was the obligatory photograph of Ruth Denholme having tea and cake with the two ladies who were celebrating the day. Further down the page a shorter paragraph mentioned the conversation she had had with Charlie Bright. Mrs Yates initially considered quietly removing the papers from the Common room but she knew that it would be impossible to suppress the article entirely.

As Katie Lynne Dempster had expected, it didn’t take long for the eagle-eyed readers from the big national papers to become aware of Charlie Bright’s request. By noon, phone calls had been made to Katie Lynne and then to the retirement home, and a local television station had expressed an interest in Charlie’s remarks. Of course, in the present age of digital communication, comments were posted on the internet and then, as they say, ‘it all went viral.’

Mrs Yates acted fast to minimise any damage and upheaval to her residents. All reporters were barred from the place. Phones gave out a recorded message about there being ‘no comment’ and emails were transferred to a special folder so that they didn’t clog the operation of the home.

“They’re coming from as far away as Australia, Sweden and even Africa,” the secretary reported as she managed the computer.

“And the contents?” Mrs Yates asked.

“Most of them want to help him out. They would like to deliver his present in person!”

Mrs Yates thought about what Ruth Denholme had suggested. For once, her own years of experience in dealing with difficult situations had deserted her. So for the next few days she diplomatically fielded ‘enquiries’ from near and afar. She noticed that quite a number of the Home’s residents were suddenly taking advantage of the visiting hair-stylist who reported requests for ‘something new’ or ‘something that would make me stand out in a crowd’ or simply ‘make me look sexy.’

On Saturday morning, five days after the famous request, a knock came on Mrs Yates’ office door. A few residents had made ‘enquiries’ about Charlie Bright but the two ladies who entered had a somewhat more determined air about them.

Janet and Jane Clements were two sisters in their late seventies. “Only one year and a ‘t’ separate us” they would chirp merrily to anyone who was introduced to them. Usually they would chat to Mrs Yates in the public areas over coffee or talk about the weather with an eye to taking a walk downtown. But today they had come with a purpose and the first matter of business was to ask if they could close the office door?

“Certainly,” said Mrs Yates.

There was a pause.

“We thought that…we came to…” Both sisters started at once then lapsed back into silence, obviously not knowing quite how to begin.

“Janet,” said Mrs Yates in her most understanding voice. “Why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind?”

Janet Clements looked at her younger sister, took a deep breath, and started to talk in a voice that came out an octave too high. She swallowed a couple of times and began again.

“Jane and I were talking – about Charlie.” She stopped and Mrs Yates waited.

“Yes?”

“Well, you see, we were at the tea last Monday and we couldn’t help overhearing Charlie, Charlie’s request, his birthday wish, and, well, we got to talking and we just wondered if…well, how…”

“…if we could help.” Jane assisted her floundering sister to shore.

“We’ve never been married or anything,” said Janet, grateful for the rescue, “and it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen…”

“Anytime soon,” sister Jane added.

“And I’ve never…” a pause, “never, well, you know, done – anything – it – ever in my life.”

“I did once, when I was eighteen,” said Jane.

“And Jane told me it was quite nice,” said Janet soldiering on.

Mrs Yates smiled at the choice of words. ‘Quite nice’ was an interesting quantification of the particular situation.

“And so we were wondering – I was wondering if we could – I could – deliver Charlie’s present? In person?”

Mrs Yates leaned forward in her chair.

“Janet,” she said quietly, “I am not the person who decides this matter of Mr Bright’s birthday present. It was an unusual request, or maybe it wasn’t, unexpected is probably a better word for it. All I ask is that you think very carefully about what you are suggesting.”

“Oh yes, we have both thought about that,” said Jane.

“Then why don’t you wait just a little longer to make your decision. And you might even find out that Mr Bright has plans of his own. A little judicial sleuthing on your part, perhaps?”

“Oh yes, Mrs Yates, I fully understand,” said Janet. She turned to her sister. “Let’s go and do some more research on this,” she said. “I’ll read that book again that I got from the library.”

They got up to leave.

“Were you planning to do this in Mr Bright’s suite?” asked Mrs Yates.

“Ah,” said Jane. “Another problem to solve. Come along Janet. Things to do!”

When they had left her office, Mrs Yates sat for a long time mulling over the situation. She had decided some time ago that she was not going to facilitate anything that would bring the Retirement Home into questionable repute. The readers of tabloid newspapers and viewers of on the spot television were all hoping for some titillating facts; she had even heard that a book had been planned and that Charlie Bright was to be offered a cool half a million dollars for his part in writing it. How, at the age of one hundred, she wondered, would he plan to spend that sort of money?

She was roused from her thoughts by the sudden ring of the telephone. It was Katie Lynne Dempster who wished to speak to her face to face.

“How about this afternoon, four o’clock work for you?” Mrs Yates set up the appointment, wondering what was so urgent. Perhaps this reporter who had really let the cat out of the bag could find some way of recapturing and returning it.

“I think I have a solution to this – ah – dilemma,” said Katie Lynne as she occupied the same seat that Janet and Jane had vacated earlier.

“Really!” Mrs Yates observed, dryly.

“I set this ball rolling. I didn’t expect it to travel so far but maybe I can do something to stop it.”

Mrs Yates raised her eyebrows, and waited.

“I would like to take Charlie Bright out for his birthday, a date if you want to call it something. Nice meal, a show, perhaps to the casino, whatever he fancies.”

“And then?”

“If he wants to come back here after that, I’ll bring him back. If not, we’ll see how things develop. I might even invite him somewhere for a nightcap.” She stopped, the innuendo hanging in the air.

The look on Mrs Yates’ face did not change as she considered the possibilities.

“I think perhaps you had better talk to Mr Bright about your date,” she said. “And I would probably do it immediately. I have had countless approaches concerning Charlie’s birthday wish. Just this morning two very spry seventy somethings sat exactly where you are now and offered to help celebrate his day. Not to mention emails from Lola and Samantha and quite a few more. And the National Press phones regularly just to see if there’s any development. So I would suggest that you arrange an itinerary with Mr Bright for next Saturday and hope that nobody follows you.”

“I’ll go and talk to him right now,” said Katie Lynne, getting up from her chair. “Where will I find him?”

Charlie Bright was outside on the garden patio enjoying a warm spring afternoon. He was tending to the roses which were starting to bloom. He looked up, secateurs in hand, as Katie Lynne approached.

“Mr Bright – Charlie – I’ve come to ask you for a date,” she began. “Here’s what I had in mind.”

Charlie lowered the secateurs. He gave Katie Lynne one of his long steady stares, the beginning of a smile growing around his lips as he listened to what she had to say..

“I get to do all this?”

“You only reach one hundred once!”

“What time shall I be ready?” was Charlie’s only other question.

Katie Lynne took special care with her appearance for Saturday night. She wore a knee-length silk dress with patterns of roses and she draped a light-weight cardigan over her shoulders. She had her hair trimmed and a couple of discreet highlights added. A new pair of leather shoes, with flat heels, completed the picture. A quick dab of perfume and she was ready.

Charlie Bright, immaculately dressed in grey slacks, blue blazer and a showy cravat, was waiting for her in his room. As she entered, she glanced at the many cards and bouquets of flowers from friends and well-wishers which filled the apartment. Charlie plucked a rose from a convenient bunch and handed it to her with a gentle bow. It matched the colour of her dress and Charlie Bright beamed with pleasure.

“Lead on,” he said. “I am entirely in your hands.”

Instead of walking the hallway and passing through the common sitting area, they took an elevator to the underground parking lot.

“I thought it better to park down here,” said Katie Lynne. “Then we wouldn’t have to run the gauntlet of anyone waiting for you at the front of the building. There was a small group of press people near the front door, so this exit will avoid them.”

Charlie grinned.

“You’ve been watching too many spy movies,” he told her. “Shall I also slump down in my seat?”

“As you wish,” said Katie Lynne. “Now where shall we go first?”

They returned at eleven thirty. The Home was quiet, most guests having retired for the night. This time Katie Lynne pulled up to the front entrance and she and Charlie got out of the car.

“I should tell Mrs Yates that I have brought you home safely,” Katie Lynne said, slipping her hand through Charlie’s arm. “Then I’ll walk you to your room.”

“It was a wonderful evening,” said Charlie. “The casino, the restaurant, the dancing – I haven’t done all that since, since…” he paused.

“I understand,” said Katie Lynne, “and from what you told me this evening you have had such a wonderful life. I’m so glad that I have been this tiny part of it.”

“We’ll do it again next year,” said Charlie as they went inside.

Mrs Yates came out of her office and welcomed the two of them.

“You will have to tell me the story of your adventures when you get a moment,” she said.

“This young lady has been so kind to me,” said Charlie. “We both had a wonderful evening.”

“It’s not over yet,” said Mrs Yates. “There’s a visitor waiting for you. I said that you would probably come through the common room area and that you wouldn’t be hard to miss.” She winked at Katie Lynne.

Charlie Bright looked puzzled.

“Who on earth…at this time of night…it’s nearly midnight?” And he strode off towards the central common room. He pulled up short when he saw his visitor waiting for him.

“Bertram?” he said quietly. Then, louder, “Bertram? Bertie!!” he shouted.

Bertram Thwaite rose slowly to his feet and turned towards Charlie. A grin stretched across his face as the two men fell into each others arms and hugged and slapped each other on the back. When they drew apart, Bertram picked up a small bag.

“I came with your present, Charlie,” he said. “I know it’s rather late but…better late then never, eh?”

Charlie Bright unlocked his door. He put his arm around Bertram’s shoulder and just before he disappeared, he gave Katie Lynne and Mrs Yates a little wave.

“Who is Bertram?” Katie Lynne asked Mrs Yates.

Mrs Yates looked around her as if making sure nobody else was listening.

“We had a really interesting long chat when he arrived. He told me about himself, his whole life, practically. He’s ninety years old, would you believe! Then he told me why he came here. He said he wanted to bring Charlie’s birthday present in person.”

Mrs Yates paused.

“He’s Charlie’s special boyfriend!” she whispered.

 

**********

Jonathan Dean was born and educated in England. He came to Alberta in 1968 where he taught instrumental and choral music and a Grade 4 classroom and introduced his students to quality literature. He has written many stories since then. 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.

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