Poetry, translation


2 poems by Esau Cituk Andueza


Bienaventuranzas (Beatitudes)


They say of those who cut their veins
their bodies flow like a fountain of rubies

they are their own kingdom



Beatified, those who ingest ovedoses

of non-prescription pills:

they are inbetween good and evil



Happy are they who toast with the cup full of lethal acid nectar

Because they know the power of their decision



They say that those who jump into the abyss

and on the side are hoping for the sea or pavement

see God and the Devil



Beatified, those who kiss the revolver

and eat the fruit of the gun

because they know the balance between life and death



Happy are they who put around their neck

a noose, and leave their body suspended in the void:

they won’t be persecuted nor insulted



And no one will torture them, but their names

are written in the rock.



The Mix


My area is a mix of children begging for alms, a boy palid like the cloud selling roses in celophane; another, like a puppet sustained in a box of wood and offering nuts, sweets and cigarettes; a girl simulating a smile of copper when offering her chocolates for 5 pesos, but now they are knocked over; another, with a body of a wire that won’t mature into a woman selling artisan fans. All look with salt in their eyes and their voices rough like they’ve been forced sweets; walking resisting the impulse to run up to the park, where the doves have built the columns of stucco and yell: “Peace! Peace!,” “Live in the city of Peace!” And I can’t close my eyes when the innocence is caught about a bank of this park, I can’t open my mouth when I have to get on the road to travel, that many travelers call maturity and seriousness. But the road that left those children with their little hands extended, filthy from money, can’t jump behind. My area is a mix of ancients seeking alms.
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Esau Cituk Andueza (Tixkokob, Yucatan, 1988). Poet and narrator. Graduate of the School of Writers of Yucatan Leopoldo Peniche Vallado. Author of the chapbook of poetry Without Calm (El Drenaje 2011). Honorable mention in the state course called Return to Gutenberg. Currently studing for licenture in Latin American literature in the Autonomous University of the Yucutan and the School of Literary Creation of the State Center of Belles Arts.




translated by Terin Tashi Miller
Author of KASHI, (Formerly self-published as “From Where The Rivers Come”), DOWN THE LOW ROAD, and SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL
Sympathy For The Devil by Terin Miller
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Artist Nannette Guinto Amorado
Fiction, Interview

An Interview with Grant Spradling: The story must go on


by Julia Stewart



Grant Spradling’s second novel is about to be released and he says he is just getting started. Palenque Murder brings back the same three bumbling detectives who solved the crime in his first thriller Maya Sacrifice, which took place in and around Merida. This time the detectives move from Key West, Florida, to various places in Mexico – Xalapa, Tlacotalpan, Villahermosa and Palenque – in search of the killer of an eccentric writer named Rage Stone.


Grant has taken full advantage of his eight decades to become accomplished in a variety of fields, and he isn’t stopping. Grant began his career as a minister, has performed in Broadway musicals, sings opera, and writes fiction, among other endeavors.


Grant’s collection of short stories From High in the Mulberry Tree explores his youth in western Oklahoma. He combined his theology and writing background to co-author two volumes of Imaging the Word: An Arts and Lectionary Resource, a collection of fine art and literature that follows the Christian church calendar.


Below we chat with the multi-faceted, indomitable Grant.



Q: In your lifetime you have seen incredible advances in technology in the way people write (among other things) – from the invention of the ball point pen to computers able to access more information than one can use in a lifetime that are only the size of a pad of paper. In what ways has this affected your writing?


A: The computer, the cyber age and the help of friends have opened a whole new world in my later life. I’m severely dyslexic. The computer, spell check and grammar check are like brain prostheses. I still need a lot of editing, for even in correcting myself, I add mistakes.


Q: What made you change course from being a minister to a singer?


A: Oh, my! Do you want the short or long version? Well, I have always sung. While an associate minister in the Congregational Church in Cambridge, I was recruited to do a lot of solo work. I hate bad singing, even when I am doing it, so I took vocal lessons at the Longy School of Music

near my church and Harvard. Leaving my position in Cambridge, I vagabonded around the world for a while, running a bar in Saint Thomas, in the Virgin Islands, getting lost in Africa, attending the World Council of Churches assembly in New Delhi India, and falling in love with Japan. The head of our church’s world board said that I was exasperating, but the kind of person the church should keep in its fold and agreed for me to go back to Japan and become an ethnologist. I knew the Western style of singing was popular in Japan, so I resumed voice lessons, at which point the teacher told me I could have a singing career. I was thirty two. An age Gail Sheehy described in 1976 in her bestselling psychology book, Passages, as the Deadline Decade when “time starts to squeeze.” I gave myself ten years to try. It was a brief but not stellar career.


Q: What training did you have in singing, and when was the last time you performed?


A: We were a singing family. My smart older brother listened to the Saturday Met broadcasts. I was always singing. Out on the tractor I imitated the screaming sopranos, but I sang off-key. At my parents urging I used my fifty cents per week allowance to pay our choir director for voice lessons. I later won a lot of awards and received voice scholarships in college.


My last performance was as a soloist singing Broadway tunes and operatic arias in the Felipe Carrillo Puerto auditorium here in Merida about fifteen years ago.


Q: Tell us about your time on Broadway; in what musicals did you appear and who did you work with?


A: I performed in four Broadway Shows as a singer/dancer and had a few understudy parts. I worked alongside such luminaries as Ethel Merman, Alfred Drake Melina Mercouri and Giorgio Tozzi and sang opera with Beverly Sills. As a tenor soloist with the Metropolitan Opera Studio, I sang in small towns all over the country—as far as Minot, North Dakota. I remember singing the tenor solos in John La Montaine’s ‘Wonder Tidings.’


I also appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show with Ethel Merman and the cast of Annie Get Your Gun. Another act that night was a group of beautiful black women—I was very naïve, in terms of ’show business.’ All the other members of the cast were wild about the women’s group – called the Supremes – and said they were really going places.


I got a job as soloist with the Camerata Choral who were invited to sing at the White House. I’m a little embarrassed to brag about that, because it was when Nixon was in office, still I have to say that he was extremely pleasant. We were invited to a lavish reception for the president of

Norway. My most lasting memory of the occasion is that it seemed to me that nearly all the women had had plastic surgery and had champagne colored hair.


Q: Which creative person that you met has left the biggest impression on you?


A: That’s hard! Every one of them had ’star power‘and they were all nice to the cast. Ethel threw parties for us—an intimate gathering at her favorite restaurant, Goldie’s, for just us and Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers. Georgio Tozzi [an operatic bass who featured at the Met for many years]–my partner and I lived in his garage; I officiated at his marriage and baptized his children.


But it would be my Russian voice teacher, Madam Olga Avorino, who told me I could have a career. She regaled me with stories of singing for the Tsar. During the 1917 Russian Revolution, Rachmaninoff rescued her and her husband and daughter, who escaped across Siberia. Her debut at Carnegie Hall, Rachmaninoff as her accompanist, was the night the stock market crashed.


Q: What inspired you to start writing fiction and specifically murder mysteries?


A: The second part of your question is easy. I write mystery in hopes folks will stay with me to the end of the story and to entertain.


The first part of your question is more difficult. I chose fiction, because I think fiction often hones closer to the truth than fact. I write because there is something inside that needs to get out. Once, and only once, when I was singing, the song seemed to pass through me as if I were a mere instrument, a flute, perhaps. It was an ecstatic moment, no ego. The applause was a yes to the song, not congratulations to me. I long for that experience when I write. I quote from Michel Cunningham’s novel, The Hours in ‘Chico: A Dog’s Tail,’ a story in my collection From High in the Mulberry Tree. “If she were religious, she would call it soul,” Cunningham writes about Virginia Wolf. “It is more than the sum of her intellect and her emotions, more than the sum of her experience though it runs like veins of brilliant metal through all three. It is an inner factuality that recognizes the animating mystery of the world because it is made of the same substance, and when she is very fortunate she is able to write through that faculty.”


Don’t get me wrong, I don’t pretend to be anywhere near the level of Wolf. Yet when I go to the beach for solitude to write, sometimes, for just a moment, the story flows through and that is worth thousands of hours of scribbling in hope.


Ego? Of course I have plenty of that, but it is dangerous. Ego can stand in the way of art. I’m a story teller. I told a friend that if I didn’t write I would become a loquacious old man. I have discovered one can do both.



Q: You lived in Key West, Florida for twenty years and worked for the Fine Arts Council three of those years. Do you find any comparisons in the fine arts scene between Key West and Merida?


A: Oh, yes! I find a liberal, live and let live atmosphere here similar to Key West and the influx of expatriates adds to that feeling as newcomers did to Key West. Restorers and artists had already found Key West before my partner and I arrived there. Hemmingway and Robert Frost were gone but John Hersey, James Merrill, Philip Caputo, Ann Beattie and Joy Williams, to name only a few, were there. (A few years ago, I managed to get Joy to come to Merida to give a workshop.) Though none of the authors I know here in Merida are famous, there is a rich burgeoning community. There are writers groups and a Writer’s Gathering. It was my ambition, when I was president of the Merida English Library, and still is, that someday our library would rival the library in Key West which sponsored a hugely successful annual writer’s seminar.


Q: Have the places you lived affected your writing?


A: Surely! When I lived in New York, if I told someone I was a writer, they’d ask, “Have you got any books published?” In Key West, they’d say, “Great, how’s it going?” Just as subtropical light encourages the visual arts, a liberal, accepting atmosphere nurtures writing. Here in Merida I have a writing buddy and friends who help with editing, and I need a lot of help. Still, the grit of red Oklahoma dirt is in my soul. No matter how long I may live in Boston, New York, Key West or even Merida, as welcoming as it is, I’m an interloper. I’ll never forget where I come from.


Q: Did you travel to all of the Mexican locations in this novel? Was this an important part of the writing process?


A: Yes. As I travel, especially in Mexico, places start to speak to me. The divisions between present, past and feature blur and I hear things.


Q: Which mystery writers do you enjoy reading the most (and a few words why)?


A: Elmore Leonard. His dialogue is perfect. He is spare. His characters are believable if wacky.

Carl Hiaasen. He’s outrageous and funny and writes about places I know. Margaret Truman. She knew her location. Her books were clean and well crafted.


Q: Which other writers have influenced your writing?


Alice Munro has influenced my writing. The news that Munro won the Nobel Prize in literature this year brought a rush of memories. I was saddened to read she announced she is finished writing. She’s only 82. I’m older and just getting started! Munro is quoted as saying: “I would really hope that this would make people see the short story as an important art, not something you play around with until you got a novel written.”


In my case, I am eager to complete the novels I’ve had in the hopper for a long time in order to return to short story writing. In short story writing, I think we may skim closer to transcendent truth.


Other writers who have influenced me? I admire greatly the lyricism of Truman Capote. I first saw his play, The Grass Harp, and then read the book and just fell in love with his style.


Joy Williams. As a teacher and as a writer, she beckons one to strike out into uncharted seas, forget formula. She said to a workshop participant who defended what he had written as fact, “We are not after the facts; we’re after art.” To which he replied, “Well, isn’t life art?” She responded, “Not enough!”


Q: Do you have more plans for your three detectives?


A: Actually I’m backing up to when David, the protagonist in all my novels, first meets Quincy. It is a walk-on part for Quincy. David must solve a murder in order to banish nightmares that are connected with his youth. It is both a mystery and about growing up homosexual in the Dustbowl and the Great Depression.




In addition to the novel, three of Grant’s short stories will appear in an upcoming anthology of Merida writers, Our Yucatan, published by Hamaca Press (hamacapress.com/readers-praise-our-yucatan/).

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Grant Spalding


How to dance in a bad time and other poems

by Zach Fishel


How to Dance in a Bad Time

Japanese beetles fray sunflower stems
like pigtails on old skeletons.
This dancing can’t continue
without whiskey and fly fishing
in storm clouds that remember the words
we spoke on television to people throwing up
under heat lamps because of bad menus.
Leaving tips on dirty napkins for harder loves
than our own collect in the loneliness
hall of fame at the corner table of collateral damage.
She was an Elephants swinging at her own knees
for prayers sake. He counted road kill,
mumbling the steps to unwieldy
acquaintances with much suffering.
My closet is empty except for the shoes
And these leaves are chewn to pieces
Scattered across the wind like noiseless
Traffic on a rainy day.

Personal Poem #26

After Ted Berrigan

Time has left its mark
like a battered wife. The court costs
are too            much to handle
suitcases while turtles slow down violently.
Dandelions in July make a
snowstorm of all this fluff as cement
cracks at the dollar general
where women with bad teeth scream
at ugly children lifting lipstick.
Sister’s turning prettier than
dead willows that won’t stop swinging
trees can still sing. Appalachia
is beards and baldness
growing into love until I like
things enough to                   continue.
Cliffs hike the sunset and
my ears are forests counting
the stretch marks of flat moons
as a tall Jewish woman carries shapes
in her
eyes and
lets everyone drink cheap
until two (on the porch only).
Hammocks roll over ashtrays.
Marijuana for the pigs playing accordion in the wind
some like the dog days cooling down.
It would be easier to work a solid week,
vacation once a year to an ocean
town like everybody else,
but who would account for this beauty?
Where would the clouds come sit?
Is there even a question                  (there’s always some)
left to the boys grown too old
to do anything but sit
inside single bedroom
apartments waiting to be drunk again?
Fleas stay desperate. The lonely dig
scabs just to taste some        body.
Sisters turning prettier,
playing desperately in the marching band
at a DUI checkpoint.

Eating the Sailor

For my father


The only thing from the forgotten house
is a broken alarm clock stuck at 9:13.
It was the last thing standing as
the rusted porch swing
laid with the angry sunrise.

You used to mention how fields caught fire
when nobody was hunting. I became a fisherman.
Double shifts and dirty fingernails
taught me to dress a trout and put
it on the camp stove as whip-poor-wheels
would tell the story of old ghost dances
and fallen buffalo.

Pheasants dot the daylight.
Curveballs and crickets were
the comfort of diamonds run
in the backyards of forever
as the summer tired of radios
and the smell of cheap charcoal.


Driving through Pennsylvania in the snow,
your face melting the make-up
as little flakes smeared
into the local polka station,
taking each turn with two cans of beer
tucked between your legs.

To keep on
keeping on out of spite
and wearing thin the seams
of soldering.
A shatter of windshields.

withered and waiting,
a gardener finishing the harvest
of unsteady scarecrows.
The crescent of your arms
around me as a child,
the reality of pipe wrenches.


I remember the only summer I was twelve,
pitching a one hitter and sitting
in the same truck that provided a comate,
nearly perfect but missing the point.
Repeating stories on yellowed post-its.

We listen to routine punch
itself in place like a panicked festival.
This restlessness against the grasses
sending dandelions off to die quiet as batteries.

There’s only one photo of your grin,
my brother and I clinging
to your Atlian shoulders,
afraid of the Chesapeake’s hot sand.
The edges sun-aged and eating the sailor,
those singing waves are not a dirge.


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Zach Fishel‘s poetry has appeared in numerous journals, and received two Pushcart Nominations. His latest chapbook, “Thorn bushes and Fishhooks” will be out later this year via Night Ballet Press.

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Artist Nannette Guinto Amorado



Sunset over Georgian Bay

by Luba Sargeant


Sunset over Georgian Bay

Slanting rays streak
In stripes of lilac and peach
Against a light blue sky.
Granite clouds hang as
Darkness creeps
From the East
In silence,
Daylight leaking finality.
A loon glides over sand and water,
Its call lonely, forlorn,
And drifts into the shadows of night.


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Luba Sargeant is the author of a YA urban fantasy. She’s been a member of the Barrie Writers Club for over three years, and belongs to a writing critique group with them and the Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators.

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Artist Nannette Guinto Amorado



people walk right over me (they don’t even realize)

by Geoff Schutt


eleanor says: i am in a lowercase mood again. but i am not sad. i am not depressed. i am sneaking underground, underneath the people. they are walking above me, right now. they are walking right over me. but they don’t know i’m here. they don’t even realize.

their shoes are very loud. and people walk funny. they make no good rhythm, not today at least. when i walk, i walk with substance. i walk one two three four, one two three four, but i am not marching. i am singing as i walk. with my shoes, i am singing to the ground below me, where i am now.

i will tell you about this place, underneath the people. i am not alone, ever. there are spirits here, but not ghost spirits like in a cemetery. there are spirit thoughts. but there are also people thoughts, from above the ground, and the people thoughts drown out the spirit thoughts. people think when they don’t even realize it, and the thoughts fall right here, just under the surface. a good thought will live for at least five minutes, and sometimes longer. the best thoughts last fifteen or twenty minutes at least. here is an example of thoughts that are happening right now. (two people’s thoughts. the people are thinking to one another in silence.)

— it’s going to rain.
— i want to fly to the moon just to touch it and then fly back again. would i have to fly to the moon to touch it? maybe if i dream it tonight, then i can touch the moon. the moon was so gorgeous last night.
— it’s going to rain. this humidity is awful.
— i want a baby. i’m sure this time. one hundred percent sure.
— i need to take a shower. i’m dripping wet.
— i can’t forget to get cheese. we’ll stop at the grocery store. goat cheese.
— isn’t it too early for indian summer?
— i should get some bread too. we need ham. i can’t forget ham.
— the mosquitoes are biting. i hate insects.
— if i had a baby, would it be the end of the world? what will happen to the moon?

sometimes when you are in lowercase mode, you can hear things that make no sense at all but you can hear things that do make a lot of sense as well. it’s such a weird, randomness.

— i don’t really want a baby.
— we need milk, and creamer. i should get turkey instead of ham.

i want to tell the person, yes, yes, it’s so random. one thought and then one thought and then something related to the first thought, but maybe not to the second, or fourth, or whatever. it blends together, like smashed up sentences.

like mashed potatoes.

that’s funny, isn’t it. i think it’s funny at least. smashed up sentence potatoes.

— well, for one thing, a baby would be so impractical. i really don’t like turkey. i’ll get the ham. and some mustard. goat cheese. i need to remember the goat cheese. * if i were uppercase, in an uppercase mood at least, i would say, yes, have the baby. if i were uppercase, i would make it rain away the humidity, and i would make rainbows too. i would make the moon seem so big and so close, you could reach right out and touch it. you could breathe it in. whatever you wanted.


these people, well they can walk all over me, all they want, and not even know the difference between lowercase and uppercase, and if they would know the difference, i would assure them that i am not sad. and i am not depressed.

and also, i am a very good listener (that’s for sure). and also, no one should worry about me.

an excerpt from The Girl Behind The Glass, a novel


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Geoff Schutt’s short fiction has appeared in Gordon Lish’s The Quarterly, The Best of Writers at Work, The Wastelands Review and The Laurel Review, among others. His novel-length work is represented by James McGinniss of McGinniss Associates Literary Agency, New York City. More about Geoff Schutt (and Eleanor) is available at his blog, “This Side of Paradise,” at http://geoffschutt.blogspot.com

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Photo by Geoff Schutt

Full Moon Through Misty Window


About Irene

by Cher Bibler


My owner is getting old. There’s no use denying it anymore, it’s time to accept it as a fact. It’s time to start worrying about my future.

I’ve lived here many years and have been very happy. The idea of leaving my friends and starting over somewhere else is so frightening that I’ve put off thinking about it as long as I could. I can’t avoid it anymore, though, it hangs over everyone here like a dark cloud, colors everything we do.

I was having tea with my friend Rebecca a few days ago, and I guess that’s what started me off. I like Rebecca, but she’s a worrier, and she can just drive me crazy if I let her. She lives on a shelf by the kitchen, and she loves to entertain. She has a nice little nursery rhyme tea set. I suppose it’s a little juvenile, but I just love it – it reminds me of my first owner, a sweet little girl named Amelia. I find it comforting. Rebecca’s ok, too. A little persnickety, if you want to know the truth, but I overlook that.

Rebecca has easy access to all sorts of goodies, being so near the kitchen, I suppose, and she always knows what’s going on. She has myriads of relatives, all in some sort of disrepair or decline, and she worries about them all. I’ve heard so much about various cousins, I feel I know them personally. They’d be surprised, I’m sure, if they knew how much I know about them. When I finally do meet one, I have to bite my tongue to keep myself from blurting out something like, “Oh, you’re the one who broke out in hives when they restuffed you with unseasoned sawdust!” I have to wipe the smirk off my face and be polite. Sometimes that’s not so easy.

Rebecca was going on about Sasha’s illness (Sasha is our owner), and wailing about where she’ll end up and how she’ll feel if she is separated from her children. I felt a bit guilty, I guess, as I am assured a good home no matter what, but Rebecca’s future is rather doubtful. She’s so dreadfully common, you see. There’s nothing at all special about her. I, on the other hand, am rather rare and generally considered attractive. Someone always seems to want me. I sipped my tea in silence, listening to her fret about our impending upheaval.

Rebecca doesn’t have a shred of her original clothes. She’s dressed in something that’s supposed to look like it’s as old as she is, but it’s all the wrong fabric, the wrong weight. And polyester lace. Need we say more? I don’t think Rebecca ever had any really good clothes, though. Something about her, I don’t know what, but she has a certain downtrodden air.

It all left me rather depressed. I keep thinking about my friend Irene, who stood near me on a little stand by the stairway. I was (and still am) higher up, on a barrister bookcase. A lovely oak, which brings out the red highlights in my hair. Irene and I spent years and years there together until the unfortunate day when she fell and was broken, was swept away into a box and taken away somewhere. I waited for her to be glued back together and return triumphantly, but she hasn’t. Eventually they put a new doll on her stand, a reproduction. I think someone in Sasha’s doll club made her, her face paint is just awful and her eyes are set in. Her clothes are too frilly and rather garish. It’s bad enough a different doll is standing there, but a reproduction?

I don’t even speak to her. I suppose she has a name, but I call her the Usurper. There she stands in Irene’s spot, smiling just as though she belongs there. She tried to talk to me a few times, but I didn’t answer, just stared straight ahead as though she weren’t there.

I’m sure Sasha would never have put a doll like that in Irene’s place. It was her daughter that did it. The daughter is over quite often anymore. She doesn’t know very much about dolls. I suppose she was trying to be nice, filling the hole where Irene used to be, but I can’t tell you what it feels like, standing here day after day looking at the spot where my best friend used to stand and seeing her there.

If Irene doesn’t come back, which seems doubtful, I’m afraid of what will happen. She’s laying somewhere in pieces, in a box, and the rest of us will all be sold, scattered to the winds. It makes me feel fragile, myself. We all like to feel immortal, I think, but every now and then we get reminders of just how uncertain our futures are. It’s just something that I guess is always somewhere, pushed to the very back of our brains because we don’t want to think about it. How morbid we’d be, after all, if all we did was think about breaking!

But there are days you can’t help thinking of it, and on top of that, I miss Irene like anything. There is a big hole in my life where she used to be.

Irene was such a beauty and she had the most incredible wardrobe. She was German, but it’s not as though she could help that. There are a few good German dolls. It was her personality I loved. She was so wicked. We used to stand here together and point out to each other the fashion faux paus of everyone around us. Sometimes with just a knowing look and a lifted eyebrow. I know it sounds cruel and we should remember that not everyone was raised with our advantages, and that some people truly can’t afford to dress any better than they do, but oh, did we laugh! One needs a friend one can laugh with. How I miss Irene!

I hate to imply that people are stupid, but that’s the main thing I notice now that I don’t have Irene. No one has her quick wit, her intelligence. I get tired of explaining myself to other dolls, spelling things out step by step by moronic little step. A joke isn’t funny anymore after all that. You practically have to pay people to laugh.

I wonder what will happen to her clothes. She and I were about the same size, though my hips are wider. I am sure, though, she would want me to have her things. Who else but me? I was her best friend! And it’s been ages since I’ve had anything new. Irene just had the most beautiful things. She stood right there by the steps and was much fawned over (it would’ve made you positively ill, if she hadn’t been such a devil!). I suppose that made her pretty vulnerable. I’m much safer here, on top of my bookcase (and somehow I feel guilty about that, even though I had nothing to do with picking out my spot!).

I used to be so jealous of a certain velvet hat with feathers that hung down and framed her face. It seems rather petty now, however. What a beauty she was! I used to picture myself in it. It’s not as though I don’t have clothes of my own, but you just can’t seem to help wanting more. The dark green velvet would go so well with my reddish hair, though, don’t you think?

I am quite old, you know. It’s not polite to ask a girl her age, but I see no sense in having secrets here. I’m over one hundred fifty years old! I am much better made than most. Though anymore that’s not saying much. Have you seen the dolls they’re making today? It’s hard to stand here and watch as the dollmaking and dressmaking arts are forgotten. Plastic! My God! Whoever thought dolls should be made of something like that? Whoever invented it should be shot! The poor dolls. I try to remind myself that they can’t help what they’re made of, but I can’t quite bring myself to associate with them. One has to have some standards, you know.

They have quite forgotten how to make dolls today, and no one cares. One day all the dolls became plastic and no one noticed. No child stood up and said, “I refuse to play with a plastic doll!” Not one soul. It’s like they were drugged, like they were hypnotized into thinking they weren’t worth anything better.

My friend Tina just laughs at me. She says I worry too much. She says we should look ahead to all the adventures we’re yet to have. She could be right. She’s a happy-go-lucky sort of doll, though I have to wonder about her sometimes.

Tina says life is easier with a drink in your hand. Easier still with a drink in each hand. I’m not sure there’s anything between her two ears but sawdust.

Tina is in love with an absolute reprobate, a veteran of the First World War still wearing his uniform. It’s in tatters, but he doesn’t care. A little battered tin hat. He’s just a wreck. Drinks way more than is good for him. I like my glass of wine, too, but I know when to stop. He’s always three sheets to the wind, and treats Tina like a shopgirl. A common everyday sort of girl. Does she care? Oh no, matches him drink for drink most nights. Sings harmony when he’s caterwauling some off color song. Throws her arms around his derelict friends and treats them like long lost brothers.

Men are scarce around here, but one must maintain one’s dignity, don’t you think? She’s not holding up too well from all her years of racketing around. My idea of fun isn’t exactly a cup of tea with Rebecca, but I’d rather sit and listen to the woes of Rebecca’s huge, unlucky family than go whoring around with a group of patched up has-been soldiers. When exactly was that war over? Isn’t it time to move on with your life?

Though when Tina’s on her own, she’s quite a hoot. And I do get a vicarious little thrill listening to her adventures. I go out with her sometimes, but things can get a little wild for me (I thought I was fearless before I met Tina and her crew). There is nothing like a disillusioned WWI vet, the lost generation, isn’t it? Nevis is forever quoting Rupert Brooke. He’s a bit of a scholar, but you wouldn’t guess it to see him most days. You can’t help thinking if it weren’t for the war and all the drinking, he could really have done something with his life. But Tina says look ahead, don’t worry about the past. She thinks Nevis is fun; she forgives him all his black moods and nasty tempers and his vicious tongue. She says you just take him as he is. But why the world has to bow down and conform to Nevis when Nevis doesn’t show the slightest consideration for anyone else is beyond me.

If life were fair, he would’ve been the one to fall off that perch beside the stairs and not Irene. He would’ve been the one in pieces in a shoebox. Not my dear Irene.

I’ve been around a long time. I am embarrassingly old. I have lots of memories, and some days I just can’t help losing myself in them. I suppose I could drown in them, like Nevis, but I’m not like that. Sometimes I worry, sometimes I get depressed, but I always bounce back. Sometimes it takes longer than others, but I always do.

I’ve been happy here. Sasha was very good to us. I like my spot on the bookshelf; I enjoy quite a view up here, far away from the hustle and bustle. I’m glad I’m not behind a glass door; I’d be bored witless. I’m a people person, I have to get out and gadabout. I thrive on good conversation. Good conversation laced with a little good gossip, you know. I am so bad. No halo here!

Somewhere in this house, I have a whole trunkful of the loveliest things, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at me. I’m two steps up from looking like a beggar on the streets. All I need is my tin cup and pencils for sale. A patch over my eye. A pegleg. A crutch to hobble through the streets with. A ragged blanket to throw over myself at night. A heel of stale bread to nibble on.

Though, who notices when we are all in the same boat? And to be perfectly honest, most of the folks around here are two steps closer to street life than me. I flatter myself I take much better care than most. I’d certainly like a bit of pampering, but I don’t have loose arms with bits of sawdust sifting onto the floor, right through my clothes. Like some people I could name. We are a sad lot.

For the last three years, I’ve worn my faded blue silk dress. It’s in pitiable shape now, but it was lovely once, long ago when it was new. That was, oh, how many owners ago? Once I was an actual toy and belonged to a little girl. She was very careful with me, though, which must be why I’m so desirable and valuable now. I loved her very much, my Amelia. I try not to think about her much. Just keep looking ahead! She didn’t make the dress; however, it was a gift from her aunt. It was my best dress at the time and I had a little fur cape and handbag to go with it. The cape got lost ages ago. I had some blue leather boots, but they fell apart. I haven’t had a comfortable pair of shoes in eighty years! They knew how to make quality stuff back in my day. I hate to tell you how much time was spent on my lace. None of this store-bought stuff. Polyester. What is that exactly?

Once I changed my clothes on a regular basis. Once I had my hair washed and done, and my face cleaned and my makeup fixed, and all the things that are supposed to happen to a girl as a regular ritual.

I haven’t been out in the real world in a long time. A few shows before that. You may not know this but I was quite a ribbon winner in my time. It was a lot of bother to be entered into a competition, but I did so love getting out and meeting new people, mostly people I’d never see again. I would spend a few days with them and I would talk and talk and talk. And laugh. I would tell total strangers things I wouldn’t dream of telling my friends. Odd, isn’t it? Then I would be on display and a constant crowd of people came peering at me and guessing my age and all sorts of things that a girl should have the privilege of keeping to herself. Are those my original eyes? I ask you. Would you look someone right in the face and ask them if it’s their real hair? Gees! It’s as though they didn’t notice me standing there!

It’s always nice to come home and know that you were Best of Show for a weekend, that you have what it takes and that there’s no one here who can hold a candle to you. Except maybe Irene, even if she was German. There are good German dolls, you know. She was such a beauty.

A reproduction. I don’t know what Irene would say if she could see the doll they put in her place. However, if she were around to see it, we would be giggling our heads off at how funny she looks. I can’t laugh by myself, though. I look at her and think about Irene.

I suppose if I weren’t missing Irene so dreadfully, and she hadn’t moved into Irene’s place, I wouldn’t care. I mean, I wouldn’t associate with her, but I wouldn’t care. Doesn’t she know she doesn’t belong here? I’d like to think Irene is still coming back, but it’s hard to convince myself with the Usurper standing there. I picture us all falling one by one, and being replaced by ugly modern dolls. It’s chilling.

I have lived many lives. I’ve generally been happy. I’ve lived with many people I’ve been happy with. I can’t say every single minute of my life has been a joy, but I’ve been very lucky, considering I started out a toy and was owned by a child and played with (albeit carefully) and loved and never felt I deserved better. Many years I was packed away, as my child grew old and forgot about me. I laid there dreaming. It’s hard to describe; it’s hard to measure time when you’re dreaming. The world was different when I came out. I was different. I was treated differently. As a curiosity, rather, no longer a loved companion. But then, I am very vain; I enjoy being looked at, and I’ve always been prized. I am quite lucky. Good genes, you know. I am content.

Where the moon stood too close to the edge

Look at the place where the moon
used to be; there’s a hole burned
in the sky, the slick fabric
opaque and colorless there, the
dusty clouds hurrying to cover the
spot. The sun tries to rise through
a crack in the shell;
rose and magenta come spilling past us.
Worn fingers rush to mend the
tear before she sees it,
where the moon stood too close
to the edge.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

From the novel, About Irene, available at Amazon.

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Artist Samuel Barrera


From Faith to Folklore: Yucatan´s Banalization of Hanal Pixan

an essay by Fer de la Cruz


A fascinating non-Western tradition, Hanal Pixan (the week-long Mayan “Day of the Dead”) loses meaning when its “celebration” is imposed by the government to public schools and institutions throughout the State of Yucatan, in a reductionist version turned political. Indeed, the 20-year-old encouragement that not only public offices and schools but also private schools of all levels set up a Hanal Pixan altar is now a de facto mandate by the State Secretary of Education. Setting up altars is fun, yes, and pretty, but it´s also meaningless when institutionalized, when removed from its context as a private, religious observance in the family and turned into a display.

The argument is: Hanal Pixan is part of “our Mayan heritage” and it´s preferable to foreign traditions such as Halloween and the practice of central Mexico imports such as eating pan de muerto or sugar skulls. This assertion implies an outdated, essentialist definition of being Yucatecan, which is to be expected of any given populist, local regime. The contradiction is: How can the State tell a Yucatecan family of third generation Lebanese descent, for instance, that its roots are Mayan? The same goes true for Yucatecans of Korean or Chinese descent, or those from straight Spanish heritage who lack the honor of rightfully calling the ancient Maya their ancestors.

A plural entity, Yucatan is a “tossed salad” of various forms of Western and non-Western components. Many Latino (Western) Yucatecans grew up observing the Catholic rituals of All Saints Day and All Souls Day (Western imports) in the morning, while throwing Halloween private parties (another Western import), at night, having never been exposed to the Mayan observance of Hanal Pixan before the 1990s. Similarly, Yucatecans who are Mayan or of Mayan descent, many of them fully bicultural, many of them Catholic themselves, maintained the observance of Hanal Pixan in its full, meaningful beauty, by faith and to honor not only the memory but also the living souls of their beloved ones who passed away.

Another issue is that of the many Yucatecan families who belong to various denominations of Christianity, and find both Hanal Pixan rituals and Halloween parties equally conflicting with their religious faith. It is mandatory that all professors, without consideration of their religious belief, stay in the school during the Hanal Pixan activities, since they have to clock in and out. Failure to do so is retaliated by a deduction from their paycheck.

My call here is against the subtlety of an imposition under the false pretense of honoring a “minority”, while flying a banner of political correctness. My call is also against a politically motivated sentiment of regional pride that flirts with xenophobia. I sure enjoy eating the delicious Mucbilpollo (a large tamale traditionally baked underground during the season), which has been a cultural feature shared by Mayan and non-Mayan Yucatecans for generations. I also enjoy seeing the altars on display and have enjoyed setting them up, as a professor myself. But I do so for the mere like of it and because it doesn´t conflict with any personal religious belief or disbelief, not because I have to, by mandate. In addition to that, I also enjoy a good Halloween costume party which, as a Westerner, I can also call my

own, same as Carnaval, Easter, and Chirstmas. What I most celebrate of today´s Postmodern era is such diversity of Latino-Western, Anglo-Western, and Mayan as well as other non-Western cultural features, among the different manifestations of autumn traditions, in Yucatan´s ever growing plurality. No one can rightfully tell me that the Halloween parties I grew up attending, or that the bluejeans I grew up wearing, make me less of a Yucatecan, when even a Mayan Jmen priest will wear Western trousers and a baseball cap as everyday attire, without it making him less of anything.

Hanal Pixan has been distorted from an ancestral tradition carried on with a sense of honor and faith in the private homes of the Maya, to mere folklore imposed, along with a Melting pot-like sense of identity and roots that reveals blunt ignorance among Yucatan´s elected or appointed civil servants. One thing is to promote a cultural feature original to one´s native or chosen land; another, to impose it from above in support of a fabricated sense of pride. This distinction marks the difference between a thoughtful defense of a local tradition before an omnipresent globalitarism and a reactionary embrace of totalitarian tactics, a constant danger in a country whose public universities have their presidents imposed from the State Governor´s office.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Fer de la Cruz is a Yucatecan poet born in 1971. He has received two national, two regional, and one state-wide poetry awards in Mexico and is a member of the founding faculty at the School of Creative Writing of the State Center of Fine Arts, in Mérida. He is also coordinator of the Historic Mérida branch of Centro de Idiomas del Sureste, where he was a teacher for 20 years. He holds an MA in Spanish from Ohio University and a BA in Philosophy. As an independent editor, writer, translator, and cultural promoter, he has participated in cultural festivals, conferences, and book fairs in Mexico, Cuba, France, and the United States. His poems appeared in the books “Redentora la voz” (Ayuntamiento de Mérida, 2010) and “Aliteletras. De la A a la que quieras” (Dante, 2011), as well as in the chapbooks “La cuenta regresiva. Radiografía urbana mesozoica” (El Drenaje, 2012) and “Seven Songs of Silent, Singing Fireflies” (JKPublishing, 2008): delacrux@hotmail.com.

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Artist Samuel Barrera


Famous Blue Raincoat, Slight Return

by R V Branham


Geoff Emiliano Reid comes home from school for lunch, answers the phone. There is a pause. — …Hello?

— Geoff, her voice says, — Geoff. The rabbit fucking died.

— You must have a wrong number.

— Look, I’ve missed my period and the strip turned green.

She doesn’t have the wrong number, which is why he hangs up on her. God, he could kill the bitch! Kill her.

The phone rings again. He picks up the receiver and shouts: — And how do you know I’m the father!

— Geoff, the voice on the other end says; it is Phillip. Phillip, whose voice is unresonant. Gray, but not foggy. Dull. Phillip, who is dead below the neck and dying above. Who has got the most amazing collection of rockabilly and punk and jazz ceedees you would ever imagine…as well as the original 45’s from such labels as Sun and Stiff and Rough Trade. Phillip, who after all has a few credit cards. Who hasn’t so to speak killed any rabbits.

In the instant it takes to squeeze a tube of shampoo, Geoff Emiliano turns on the charm. If he talks to Phillip long enough, she’ll get busy signals, give up calling back. Also, he might need a ride to Trendy-Third. His Geo shimmies on the Banfield, on NE Sandy… hell, standing still, it shimmies.

— Phillip, m’man. How’s it going?

— Want to go to Buffalo Exchange this afternoon. It’s launder day…dry cleaner closeouts; they got a new shipment?

Phillip’s questions are always flat, uninflected, as if there is no question whatsoever.  His statements, however, are always uncertain… His father is a corporate attorney and Geoff Emiliano wonders if Phillip got that vocal habit from him.

— Thanks. Geoff Emiliano makes a decision, perhaps unwise. — Nah. Too much to do. Got to go back for a semifinal this afternoon.


— S.A.T.’s next week.

— Still be able to hear the band tomorrow.

Phillip refers to a band his cousin started, which he wants Geoff Emiliano to hear, as Geoff Emiliano’s uncle writes for the alt weekly Journal of the Plague Years.

— You’d be a good…no, a great manager.

Geoff Emiliano knows that. His family might not have a tenth of the money Phillip’s has, but Geoff Emiliano has taste. And his taste buds tell him, a priori, that the band doesn’t even rate a garage.

— Maybe tomorrow.

Geoff Emiliano wants to leave his options open.

He cuts the conversation with Phillip short. He then unplugs the phone, in case she calls.

Good thing mom’s out in Hillsboro, her girl-friend’s realtor firm is doing major damage control on a dream subdivision where all the dream houses with their new Parable dream siding suddenly became shiitake farms.

Or has mom gone to Fake Oswego, a-hunting for a house?

Every one was surprised when his grandpa left close to ten million in stocks and bonds, annuities, crystal balls and crow’s entrails to his mom, every one except his rat’s-assignation uncle Geof. Every body knew grandpa had some money squirreled away, but not that much. His uncle Geof doesn’t need money any way… His uncle’s second wife inherited a couple of apartment buildings…buildings paid for before the neighborhood went all gentrified, and real estate became so fucking ridiculous. In a way, he’s glad his mom inherited the money…even though the money is all tied up and unliquid, the interest and dividends have enabled her to quit her peon job at social security before another coworker shot at her. But mom has not chilled out yet and is being more than a bit of an asshole. She even wants to be a realtor.




Later, taking a fast shower, he decides against the semifinal. Not today. There’s a T.A. in Attendance who’ll give him a class re-admit, for a case of microbrewski.

Geoff Emiliano will get his hair permed; his hair’s not like Phillip’s. Phillip’s is genetically permed…he had it done just last month. Yet Phillip has his hair styled like a porcupine’s.

An orange porcupine’s.

And Geoff Emiliano, whose hair is straight, wants his curly.  Phillip’s cousin is right…he wrote a song Geoff Emiliano likes the title to, If You Meet Your Guru On A Cliff, Push Him Off!

Geoff Emiliano gets into his Geo, a battered handmedown from his uncle, from when his mom Gloria Reid and her brother were on speaking terms.

He takes Sandy to East Burnside, playing hide and seek with the shimmer of green and red of the tower of Koin above hills and billboards and faded brick storefronts, crossing over the eponymous bridge, instead of taking the Banfield freeway and I-5 and that immense arch bridge into Northwest ambitious leapers embark off of…he always forgets the name.

The Geo shimmies any which way… Stud tires and police tanks have ripped half the roads in Portland to concrete and shit-pats of tar.

The perm will mean a third of his week’s wages from bussing tables and dish washing his grandmother’s restaurant, but what’s a cyberpisher to do?

He has a fifteen-minute wait at the salon.

The receptionist, with a barberpolestripedyed beehive, offers Geoff Emiliano wine… The premature graying of his temples renders fake I.D. unnecessary.

Geoff Emiliano enquires as to variety and vintage. A ’04 Cabernet. He accepts. Sits.

She brings him the wine. He looks at the glass and worries about red stains on white clothes.

Later, after the perm, while paying the receptionist, he decides to go to Buffalo Exchange any way.

There is a certain joy to be found among the detritus of a society. To rescue unloved and unwanted clothes from the racks, clothes that are art, have style. He had read the word detritus in a Village Voice online review of a German director’s first music video. Had looked it up in the dictionary; nice word, detritus.

He tips the hairdresser… He always fails to remember her name. She thanks him.

Out-side, some thing flashes past, a blur of silver. Every one turns.

There is a loud grinding of metal on metal and then, the crash. Geoff Emiliano rushes out, along with every one else in the shop. Along with every one else on the block.

Shit. His Geo.

A motorcycle has scraped into the side of his car, breaking off his rear-view mirror, and bending the front fender, badly.

The front left tire is flat.

The motorcycle rests, impacted into the driver’s seat of the car in front of his, an ancient scabrous Mazda.

Where’s the god damn bike boy, yells the receptionist.

Every one peers under cars, across the street.

Was he thrown —? — Did he run away —? — Shouldn’t we call nine-one-one —?

Two young men run up the side-walk, towards them. A police tank, coming past, does a U-turn and parks in the red zone. The two men, in their late 20’s, look like the gay guys who hang around Burnside… They wear earrings on each ear, and one has a nosering. Geoff Emiliano finds himself wondering where else they have rings. The taller one, the one without a mustache, speaks up:

— Any body seen a motorcycle?

Johnny points to the Mazda:

— You sideswiped my Geo, you FAGGOTS. — Jesus Christ, watch your language, kid! —Y ou watch your language, an on-looker shouts, and others murmer. — What’d he say, some body else asks. — He was talking religion, some body else says. — Man, they gotta take that shit in-side. — You know, there’s no proof of that Elohim virus. — There’s no proof it doesn’t.Doesn’t what? — Go fuck yourself.

— …Look, we’re sorry about your car, the one with the mustache says, — but you better watch what you say…

— Bite me, faggot. Geoff Emiliano aims for his jaw, but the taller one grabs for his arm and pins it behind him. — You pisher… Geoff Emiliano resents the insult and breaks free, swinging around only to fall into the man’s arms like a long-lost lover. Each attempts use of his knees to groin the other, to kick the other, to trample the other’s feet. — Fuck you, asshole!

Geoff Emiliano and the man, sweating and flailing, wrestle each other to the concrete.

The man cuts his head, while bumping against a parking meter, and Geoff Emiliano hits his while falling against the man. Geoff Emiliano gets blood all over his white clothes. He is astonished at the speed with which the fight happened. He is in a daze when they drag him away.

As it later turns out, the two faggots are undercover cops as well as faggots.

On-duty faggot undercover cops.




Geoff Emiliano’s mother Gloria Reid switches the phone back on.

At the police station Geoff Emiliano is being permitted to make his two phone calls… The only time he has seen his uncle Geof in the last seven years is at his grandpa’s wake, and his uncle did after all say to call him if he needed any thing.

He calls his uncle’s house and gets the answering machine. He calls Journal of the Plague Years, where his uncle occasionally appears for freebie ceedees or promo books or videos.

His uncle Geof, it turns out, is out, getting Roentgenograms.

They let him make another call. He calls home, and the line is busy. He hopes his mom switched it back on. They let him call again ten minutes later. His mom Gloria Reid shows up and posts bail.

Geoff Emiliano’s first reaction, on seeing his mom, is fear, is panic. He fights back a sob. He is seven years old again, being sent to his room, sent to the corner, time out, grounded, yelled at.

— You got a hell of a shiner, Tigger…

—I’m sorry, Mom.

— Don’t worry. She hugs him.

— You couldn’t’ve known they were cops.

Then: — Your car was towed. I just got enough to get you or the car out. ’S a good thing you’re 18, or you’d be in Juvenile Hall. And those two cops you picked a fight with, I happen to know them from the Cascade AIDS Project. Not nice what you said to them.

She laughs in spite of herself. — Not nice. But.

— Really.

He knows she is furious.

— But, mom, they began talking religious shit.

— Those two?

— They almost caused a riot.

— That is different. People have to be really mindful about what they say in public.

— No shit.

His mom Gloria laughs, despite her anger: So thats why they dropped the charges.

— What?

— They didn’t tell you?


— We’ll get your car tomorrow.

— We’ll have to tow it to the garage. Front wheel’s completely fucked up, as well as the door on the driver’s side, and the door’s rear view mirror…

— No worries, we can get you a rental… Insurance’ll cover it. And if the damage exceeds the blue book value we can use the insurance money to get you a better car.




His mom Gloria Reid takes the freeway; they get caught in the Banfield rush. Northward scudding clouds pass over them, bringing a brief light drizzle, more a mist.

— Kate called.

— Oh.

Geoff Emiliano looks at the parade of images on the billboards. Armed Forces. Be All You Can Be.

— She called twice.

Levi Nightcrawlers. Getting In To Your Jeans.

— …Oh.

MicroPop. Tax Amnesty.

— She was upset.

Club Med. Hughes-GM. Tokyo-Joe’s Rice Wine Cooler. — We…we broke up yesterday…

The car ahead of them, a van, brakes to a sudden halt. Geoff Emiliano’s mom Gloria slams the brakes. Geoff Emiliano is jerked torward the windshield by their stop, then jerked away by his seat belt.

— Okay. Geoff Emiliano’s mom releases a sigh that sets the dust on the dash-board in flight.

— If you don’t want to talk about it, you don’t want to talk about it. I’m not going to attach electrodes to your dick.

— Mom.

— But. If Katie is pregnant…

— MOM!

— Stop whining! Just hear me out. If she is pregnant, I am going to offer to pay her to have an abortion. I’ll get her to Seattle, every one here gossips too much… I’ll even buy her a car, used…

She turns to him, fiercely but quietly continuing: — You are not going to marry her… You are going to Antioch University in the fall…

— What about Reed?

— I went to Reed.

— You always talk about what a great Party School it was.

— Which is why you’re going to Antioch.

— What if I want to go to PSU? What if I don’t want to go to college at all?

— You won’t be an assistant manager in mom’s restaurant. She’ll outlive us all, any way, so you’d never inherit the restaurant. As for Kate…she’s a sweet girl…but she is a fucking stoopard cow!

He stares at his mother Gloria.

— I apologize for using that language, and for belittling the idiot cretin, but I will not have a fucking stoopard cow for a daughter-in-law!

— I told you we broke up.

— And you turned away when you said that to me.

Fly United Airbus. Mercedes Jeeps. Dune on Fox 49.

We did.

— Fine. But I talked to her. I told her you would call tonight. Ball’s in your court.

Geoff Emiliano nods off.

He dreams. Of his windsurfboard.

Her. Kate. Of bashing her head in while they’re in the Gorge. Claiming the board hit her. That fiberglass fin just gashed her skull open.

They cremate her, in the car his mom bought. Used.




His mom Gloria shakes him awake.

— We’re home.

And they are. They enter through the service porch door. His uncle Geof is waiting for them. Weird, like his uncle Geof and his mom have not exactly been on speaking terms. Elated, his bipolar uncle Geof shakes them, hugs them.

— I sold the fucking Eisenstein book!

— But Daphne told me your agent got a book contract and big fat fuckyouverymuch advance and movie option on that Plague Journal driveby series.

— Yeah, that too.

They congratulate Geoff Emiliano’s uncle Geof.

Uncle Geof looks at his nephew: — That’s some shiner you got.

At least he isn’t hearing for the upteenth time about how his son Drew almost lost an eye.

— Should I put an extra quiche in the oven? Geoff Emiliano asks his mom Gloria.

— No-no-no-no, his uncle says:

— We’re going to dinner. To Dodeskaden. Sushi buffet tonight. Daphne’s joining us straight from work.

— What about the ex-? Geoff Emiliano’s mom asks.

— What about her?

— Bitter, aren’t we.

Then, to her son:

— Bette’s joining us, and your cousin. So try to be nice for a change. And put some thing decent on.

Geoff Emiliano rolls his eyes but his mom does not catch the gesture. Geoff Emiliano starts to leave the room:

— Better change, then.

— And take a shower; you’re riper than a rotten banana.

Then, remembering some thing:

— Oh, yeah!  Phillip’s left you some thing, from Buffalo Exchange. Famous Blue Raincoat, he called it.

— Wasn’t that a Leonard Cohen song? Geoff Emiliano mom Gloria asks.

— Donovan, Geoff Emiliano’s uncle Geof says.

— I think. Tim Buckley?

— No. ’S Cohen. He’s a lugubrious bastard, give me good old Public Image any day… Even Public Enemy…

— You liked McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Geoff Emiliano’s uncle Geof says.

— So what if it’s one of my alltime favorite movies. Not because of that music. Same three chords.




Geoff Emiliano showers, lathering. He knows his uncle Geof doesn’t know about her. About Kate. Pink. White. Pink.

Lathering. Turning in to the shower jet. Washing the suds away. Lathering again. Kate. That’s it.

Wine and valium. Then, into a hot tub. He would leave. Her alone.

They would find her. Very pink. Geoff Emiliano’s uncle Geof pounds on the bathroom door:

— Hurry up.


— It started to drizzle. Dress warm.

He dresses. He reads a note from Phillip:

I saw this coat just this very afternoon, and (honestly) the coat spoke to me, it had your name on it, like destiny.

Geoff Emiliano laughs at the note, at Phillip’s ridiculous sense of melodrama. And then he tries on the Famous Blue Raincoat. Nice. He puts his hand in one of the pockets. A pawn ticket.




Dinner turns out to go better than Geoff Emiliano had expected.

He manages to find a seat where he can ignore his cousin Drew without seeming rude. Bette has invited her martial arts instructor, a Japanimei in banker drag, who thinks he has a sense of humour.

After dinner, the martial arts instructor asks Geoff Emiliano how he got the black eye. Geoff Emiliano tells him.

The martial arts instructor listens intently, and then tells him it’s a good thing he had not been in Tokyo, that Tokyo police get free Kendo lessons from the Academies, and laughs as if delivering a killer punch line. Geoff Emiliano vaguely remembers that Kendo is a Martial Art; but what makes it different from Judo or Karate, he can not recall.

So he nods.

The instructor laughs.

Later, on Trendy-Third, in front of the restaurant, Geoff Emiliano and his mom and uncle and uncle’s wife are getting into his uncle Geof’s car…

Bette is giving the martial arts instructor a ride home, then will go on over to Geoff Emiliano’s mom’s.

A silver Volvo drives past. Geoff Emiliano recognizes it. The car belongs to a friend of Phillip’s. The car is full of people.

And she is in the back seat.




Later, at home, he calls. Her.

— Kate’s not home yet.

— Could you ask her to call me? This is Geoff Emiliano.

He nods off.

She is being driven out to the desert, over the Cascades and through the butt end of Oregon, and on into Nevada. She is trussed up, hog-tied. She is to star in a video. It will be the last video she ever appears in.

The phone is ringing.

Behind. Behind that tall cactus.

Geoff Emiliano wakes up. Goes to the hallway. His mom Gloria has answered the phone.

— It’s Kate. Take the other phone into your room.

He does. She keeps holding out for a new car.

But Geoff Emiliano persuades her to go for the used car. But she insists on a ceedee deck.




The next morning, after they have retrieved the car and had it towed to their repair shop and returned home in separate cars… She took him to get a rental, Geoff Emiliano waits for his mom Gloria to run errands.

He calls school and, using a deep voice, says that his nephew Geoff Emiliano Reid is very sick…

His mom had already written him a note for the first two periods, a note so vague that he can milk it for a whole day’s absence. He calls Directory Assistance and gets the number of the pawn shop. He calls, but the line’s busy.

He’ll have to use his car. Geoff Emiliano looks for his famous blue raincoat. Searches his room.

Mom. He ransacks the laundry room.

No raincoat. He finally finds the raincoat, in the garbage can of course, covered with eggshells and coffee grounds and rotten carrots.

His raincoat.

Geoff Emiliano takes the raincoat from the garbage, and out the service porch door to shake all the coffee shells and egg grounds out of the coat. Then he rushes back upstairs, to his mom Gloria’s room, to her closet.

He finds a leather jacket of his mother’s, with a mink collar (dont ask), that he takes downstairs and puts in a plastic bag.

Then he puts the bag in the garbage can, with a note:

Dear Mom,

If you do not fuck with my wardrobe, I will not fuck with yours.

Ever yours,

Geoff Emiliano.




He then finds disgusting leftovers inside the fridge, which he slops on to his mom’s leather jacket.

He hits the phone’s redial button but the line is still busy. A thought occurs to him and he eventually finds a phone book, looks into the gray pages, finds the pawn shop’s address listed.

Geoff Emiliano first stops at his Automatic Teller and withdraws a hundred. The shop is in Southeast, off Foster Road, towards Felony Flats, next to a religious supply store, which specializes in voodoo and Santeria shit.

The pawnbroker is a fat greaseball, who, even when standing, looks like he’s squatting on the crapper. Geoff Emiliano gives the man the stub. — I remember this one… You’re not the guy…

— I’m his brother.

— You’re the wrong colour.

The pawnbroker sneezes.

— And you’re a good thirty years too young.

The pawnbroker sneezes a second time.

— Don’t care. ’S no skin off my nose; you could’ve rolled ’m, left him for dead, all I care. Real creep, that one.

The pawnbroker goes to the back.

Geoff Emiliano looks around at the watches, typewriters, appliances, musical instruments, jewelry, weapons. A computer, a Thinkpad.

— Here we go. The pawnbroker returns with an instrument case.

— This is a real beaut…

Geoff Emiliano is surprised.

— You like music?

— My father worked with Prez; I saw ’Trane and Ornette and Dexter in clubs when your father was in pre-school…

— You saw Lester Young play?

— My dad played with him, but I grew up on his music. Sax is my favorite instrument, a cry from the heart… Punks today, they’re just technicians.

Geoff Emiliano doesn’t quite agree, but sidesteps the issue. — A friend of mine thinks Lester Young was the greatest saxophone man who ever lived.

— Your friend is not fucking wrong. The man regards Geoff Emiliano.

— You learning sax?

Geoff Emiliano pauses for an instant. — Yeah.

— Another day, and I’d’ve had to set it out.

Geoff Emiliano reaches for the case.

— Hundred thirty.

Geoff Emiliano takes the money out. Counts it out. Twenty. Forty. Sixty. Eighty. Hundred. Hundred-ten. Hundred-fifteen… Sixteen. Seventeen… Eighteen… I’m twelve bucks short, I could use my card.

The pawnbroker winces, then shrugs.

— What the hell. I’d rather have the cash…but I’m not giving you a receipt.

Geoff Emiliano opens the case. He is glad that it’s an alto sax. Cracked reed. A couple of hankerchiefs, which look bloodstained. He sees some thing wedged into the tattered lining of the case.  An A.F. of M., A.F.L.-C.I.O. Local 47 card, or, rather, half of one. It reads:

— C.J. HA…

Half a picture of a black man, a black and white picture taken decades ago, playing the sax.

A nearly illegible and badly spelled list of clubs in El-lay and San Francisco and Portland and Seattle:





Shelleys Manhoel

The Parishian Room

The Doude Ranch.




He thinks of bartenders who might know this social history.

Geoff Emiliano decides to visit The Lucky Labrador. He drives down to Hawthorne, near the bridge. Looking up at the bluegray sky, he sees a smooth glazed surface, like Noritake China. The bar is open for lunch. Two different tribes, the burger tribe and the granola tribe. (Geoff Emiliano belongs to neither tribe, as he prefers fajitas, or the occasional sushi.)

Geoff Emiliano asks a waitress if there’s any body who’d remember westcoast jazz or blues musicians from the 60’s, 70’s, or 80’s. Or as far back as the 50’s. She tells him to try the India House, downtown, near or on Taylor. An ancient bartender called The Duke. He takes her advice.

Geoff Emiliano does. — …’Xcuse me, The Duke says. Geoff Emiliano’s eyes are still trying to adjust to the dim interior and it’s tourist poster vibe, his eyes are still outside, in the sun, watching barely clad flesh, freckled thighs and asses, and titties.

— I’m taking my break in a quarter hour. Meet me at the Starbucks by Pioneer Courthouse Square, The Duke suggests.

The Duke meets Johnny at the Starbucks by Pioneer Courthouse Square; they sit at an outside table, overlooking the fountain with its guardian skatepunk and skinhead angels.

— How’d you get his sax?

— In a pawn shop. I’m just… Curious.

— C.J. I forgot his last name: Hancock, Hackett, Haggerty, Harrison, maybe. A mean player…

— Yeah?

— And a mean man.

He tells Geoff Emiliano how the ladies’d loved C.J., but he hadn’t loved them. How C.J. had been arrested. Cut a girl up bad. Waitress. Down in El-lay. At the Lighthouse, where he’d worked. The waitress was pregnant by him; she had really fallen for him and his famous blue raincoat.

— A famous blue raincoat. That’s what my friend called it. This C.J., he wore it all the time?

— Yeah. The Duke lights a cigarette.

— Blue raincoat. He came up to Portland, worked a club with LeRoy Vinegar. Trying to remember the name of the club. What was it. I just had it on the tip of my tongue. …Just vanished.

The man laughs.

— I can remember clubs he’d worked here back in the Fifties: Dude Ranch, McElroy’s Spanish Ballroom, Chicken Coup, Paul’s Paradise. But that’s all old, long-term memory. I can tell you everything I did the day Joltin’ Joe won the World Series, or the day Bird died, but I can’t tell you what I did last week. Getting old sucks.

Geoff Emiliano goes to his seventh period class, and takes the semifinal, make-up. The teacher, a woman with leathery skin from too many years under too many suns, makes him stay after school to make it up. Honors English. Heart Of Darkness.

He thinks of her, Kate, and, the teacher, in Africa, with Mr. Kurtz. Their heads on his poles. Geoff Emiliano feels dizzy. He finishes the exam as quickly as possible.

He goes home. Looks at the raincoat. On the left side, below the pocket, is a very neat bit of patchwork. The inside lining is stained. Blood? Geoff Emiliano laughs. Jesus fuck a pope.

He plays a Dead Kennedys concert bootleg cassette.

Her. Kate. In Dallas. In Dealy Plaza. Sitting next to J.F.K.

The last good President this country ever saw, his other grandfather always said.

He recalls his other grandfather asking him where he was, what he was doing, when Kennedy died. How he had reminded his other grandfather he wasn’t born yet.

And how a few minutes later his other grandfather would ask him again. Look.

Up there. Bullets, a rifle. And she goes down in history…. Perhaps a miniseries?

The phone rings and he answers. It is Geoff Emiliano’s mom, calling to say she made an appointment at a clinic in Seattle. For Kate. And two round-trip Amtrak tickets to Seattle, and next day, the clinic.

She wants him to do the decent thing, the responsible thing. To take her there. To hold her hand. And Geoff Emiliano wants…

— Geoff Emiliano, hey Tigger! You okay…?

And Geoff Emiliano hangs up.




Geoff Emiliano is in Fake Oswego.

He is in Phillip’s backyard, overlooking the lake, and not far from Trader Joes or Natures Fresh. He is in Phillip’s backyard, overlooking the band’s set-up, downstairs, by the pool.

A whiff of mould is in the air. A whiff of mould is always in the air. In Fake Oswego.

Fake Oswego.

A bottomless petit-bourgeois bog, a complete slough of postconsumer despond.

All the children of all the residents of Fake Oswego have at least three asthma guns, take at least two pills to decongest the lungs, the throat, the sinuses.

Geoff Emiliano can not see the embankment where he tossed the raincoat. Where he will toss the sax.

Earlier, after a brief game of tennis, Geoff Emiliano showed Phillip the sax, the card, the photo, the stained rags.

— C.J. Haley. Sax man, Phillip told him.

— He was the pickup reedman for any jazzbos on the westcoast. He played with Mingus, with Miles, Nina Simone. He even did rock gigs, even in Portland with LeRoy Vinegar, even in Eugene. Buddy Holly. Chuck Berry. And Los Lobos, The Blasters…

— Did he record with any of them, especially the later groups?

Phillip shrugged.

Never did any any recording dates I know of…

Phillip had paused a moment, and then, spraying Geoff Emiliano with his spittle, had laughed:

— Maybe C.J. was a vampire.

— Be real, ’kay…?

— Think about it, Geoff, maybe recording tape’s like a mirror, insofar as it won’t record things not of this world.

— You can be a real asshole, Phillip.

— Count Jazzbo the Vampire.

— Count Jazzbo was a whacked-out psychopath, Geoff Emiliano had informed Phillip.

— I talked to a bartender, used to work at The Lighthouse, down in El-lay.

— I know about The Lighthouse.

— He said C.J. was arrested for cutting up a woman, she was gonna have his…

— Sure that bartender wasn’t putting you on?

You so sure that he was?

Geoff Emiliano is quite fucking relieved that Phillip either didn’t catch (or didn’t want to) the fact of C.J.’s waitress being with child. Now the sun is setting, to the west, behind a condo-covered hillock. The bass and synth players are warming up.

Phillip is helping the others set up their equipment.

Some of the gang arrives. Moe Hawk’s shown up, looking for a fledgling band to consign to Rock Stars Kill… But sign these postpathetic postbozos? Margie the mind fucker, and Toy-Boy or Boyo…notorious fagellahs whose names he can never get straight. She is with them. Geoff Emiliano wants to unstring the bass and throttle her with the strings, wants to slap the cow silly, wants to shove her off the balcony, to shoot her, to throw her out of a moving Geo, to love her, to honor, to cherish her, to marry the stoopard fucking cow who is having his baby.

She is talking to Phillip. The stoopard fucking cow who is having his baby. Or maybe Phillip’s? It doesn’t matter. Fuck Antioch; Ohio is too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer… Why can’t he go to Reed…? Okay, so what if Reed is more expensive…? And then there’s all those nosey aunts and uncles… But his namesake can not abide Reedies, so at least he’ll get away from uncle Geof, whom he hates.

He wants to coach the stoopard cow in natural childbirth, to be an assistant pizzeria manager, to take the cow for a Sunday drive and drive off the edge of road at Jantzen Beach that dips around and under I-5 and just a sharp turn from a dunk into the houseboaty Columbia drink.




He thought the band was tuning up, but they are actually playing, after a fashion. Two chords. Played badly.

And not fun-bad like exuberantly sloppy bands… Not brilliantly-bad fun like Patti Smith Group or genius-bad like the Ramones. If only that five-hundred-year-overdue earthquake finally came, not like all these cocktease baby grande false alarms, no, what was needed was another El Grande to slosh the water out of the lake and on to the twonote wonders, fry them and their poor tortured instruments, wash them into the lake of Fake Oswego.

Death to the Colostomies. Recommend these postgeeks to his cousin?!




On his way home, he retrieves the famous blue raincoat. Puts it in the trunk of the family car. Along with the sax.

He watches a bit of video before going to bed. VH1 clips of Billy Idol. (His mom says she had had a platonic teendyke crush on Billy Idol, though mostly as a carryover from the Roentgenogram Spex days.) Odd. White Wedding. He wants to marry her. Kate. In an old church… Perhaps Episcopal. With black candles. All the guests must wear leather, must wear an ikon: swastika, hammer’n’sickle, star of david, dollar sign. Doesn’t matter. And chains, which they bang against the pews. And of course, none of this rice shit. Throw appliances, bricks, knives, ever-the-fuck.

He even calls her.

The line is busy.




The next day, Geoff Emiliano gets up. Has a hearty breakfast. Like a condemned man should. Takes the sax and the famous blue raincoat out to the family car and puts them in the trunk. He goes upstairs and gets tickets for the Amtrak and the money for the abortion and the check for the car, used, from his mom.

Geoff Emiliano smiles at the way his mom avoids his eyes, avoids the famous blue raincoat and her leather jacket, with its mink collar. At one point, his mom almost catches him smiling. Almost catches him.

He drives to her place. Picks her up. Why, Kate? Why? They go to Union Station, then board the train which chugchugs up to Seattle in a few hours. Then a taxi to the hotel, and the next day a becalmed taxi ride to the clinic. There are only a few picketers, and they are only slightly creepy, with pasty pimply glasses and tapedtogether cracked palates and cleft skin… Since Kate, too, has just turned eighteen, there are no consent problems, under Washington law.

Before the abortion, he holds her hand. And afterwards, after the abortion. But not during. Not that they would let him. Not that he’d want to if he could.

Later, in the hotel room he cries. But she doesn’t. The stoopard cow is tranked out on the next bed. He drinks every little bottle in the wetbar fridge.

The next summer Geoff Emiliano will have the raincoat drycleaned, even pays twenty extra to remove the blood stain. But some stains just do not come clean… At the end of this summer he packs up for Ohio. Off to Antioch. Geoff Emiliano takes the sax with him, packed away in the trunk. And neatly folded on the back seat is the famous blue raincoat.



 R.V.  Branham was born & raised on the California/Baja border, & as an adolescent wound up in El-lay. When not co-hosting a floating æther-den, R.V. attended U.S.C., El Camino College, Cal State Dominguez Hills, & Michigan State University. Day jobs have included: technical typist, photo-researcher, x-ray tech. intern, interpreter, social worker, & Treasury Dept. terrorist. His short fiction has been published in magazines such as 2 Gyrls Quarterly, Back Brain Recluse (UK), Téma (Croatia), Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Midnight Graffiti, & Red Lemonade (online), & have been collected in such anthologies as Red Lemonade’s Hybrid beasts (available as an e-book), Full Spectrum 3, Drawn to Words, Mother Sun, & several Gardner Dozois anthologies; many of his short stories have been translated into Croatian, German, Japanese, & Spanish; his plays, Bad Teeth, and Matt & Geof Go Flying, have been performed in staged readings in Los Angeles & Portland; he attended writing workshops run by Beyond Baroque, John Rechy, Sheila Finch, John Hill, & A.J. Budrys. He has translated Laura Esquivel into English & several of Croatian poet Tomica Bajsic’s poems into Spanish. Back in the day he co-hosted a floating æther-den (it was the 70’s). He is the founder & editor of Gobshite Quarterly—a Portland, Oregon-based multilingual en-face magazine of prose, poems, essays, reasoned rants, & etc.; & author of a 90-language dictionary of insult & invective, obscenity & blasphemy, Curse + Berate in 69+ Languages (published by Soft Skull); & edited & published a bilingual edition of Luisa Valenzuela’s Deathcats/El gato eficaz. Most recently he has co-designed, asst.-edited, & published a collection of poems, “A Bright Concrete Day: Poems, 1978—2013, Douglas Spangle”… The project’s editor was frequent IN OTHER WORDS: MERIDA contributor M.F. McAuliffe.



Artist Nannette Guinto Amorado






Colony and other poems

by Christopher Barnes



As the chorus threaten
Benevolent assault as just desserts
Unannounced, went AWOL.

Carted off in penal-ring bolts,
After heavy handed stints outfitted with stripes –
They also take a Mr Universe Most Wanted.
Gruffness, reprisals, knuckle-raps and duress,
Unforgotten across the rails.

Conscience-salving is blood sore vigilantism.



Unleashed from a dell of juiceless bones,
We’ve let slip our mummified whelp.
The jackal-chinned transfigured one
Rocketed between the shady and celestial.
His carting away is never-endingness mourned.
A winding sheet groans in dead letters.


Fixed Grin

This picked-up frown’s hoi polloi pestiferous;
Eyebrows narrow the gap on gloom.
Dip-down lip wonks, crinkly brows –
Hanging in cheekular tendons
All disfiguring forlorn hope.

Task plastic surgeons
To fiddle with the scourge of plebeians.


Unwanted Guest

First-rounding a trend –
Tantrumming through these botched up nerves,
Passed to my inadmissible door,
This slippery slope.
A haemorrhages to Z
String-pulling the leverage of connections.
Hour X has sprung.


Bluebottle In Sunshine

She plays ball to the roll call as Dysentery Della.
Un-nested this rush hour…
A wayzgoose trim at her paunch,
Tinsel-mineralogical oil-slick.
You’ll be over-curious at midriff legs,
Crushed with wicked-ways bristle,
Squab club-footed antennae
Streaming wide horizons.
Erewhile neck-craned on picked bones
Razzling a dead rat boogie.
We’re wistful of those sorcerous-cherry eyes,
Misted wings,
But in truckloads…that buzz.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In 1998 Christopher Barnes won a Northern Arts writers award. In July 2000, he read at Waterstones bookshop to promote the anthology ‘Titles Are Bitches‘. Christmas 2001 he debuted at Newcastle’s famous Morden Tower doing a reading of his poems. Each year he reads for Proudwords lesbian and gay writing festival and partakes in workshops. 2005 saw the publication of his collection LOVEBITES published by Chanticleer Press, 6/1 Jamaica Mews, Edinburgh.

On Saturday 16Th August 2003 he read at the Edinburgh Festival as a Per Verse poet at LGBT Centre, Broughton St.

He also has a BBC web-page http://www.bbc.co.uk/tyne/gay.2004/05/section_28.shtml and http://www.bbc.co.uk/tyne/videonation/stories/gay_history.shtml (if first site does not work click on SECTION 28 on second site.

Christmas 2001 The Northern Cultural Skills Partnership sponsored him to be mentored by Andy Croft in conjunction with New Writing North. He made a radio programme for Web FM community radio about his writing group. October-November 2005, he entered a poem/visual image into the art exhibition The Art Cafe Project, his piece Post-Mark was shown in Betty’s Newcastle. This event was sponsored by Pride On The Tyne. He made a digital film with artists Kate Sweeney and Julie Ballands at a film making workshop called Out Of The Picture which was shown at the festival party for Proudwords, it contains his poem The Old Heave-Ho. He  worked on a collaborative art and literature project called How Gay Are Your Genes, facilitated by Lisa Mathews (poet) which exhibited at The Hatton Gallery, Newcastle University, including a film piece by the artist Predrag Pajdic in which he read his poem On Brenkley St. The event was funded by The Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Research Institute, Bio-science Centre at Newcastle’s Centre for Life. He was involved in the Five Arts Cities poetry postcard event which exhibited at The Seven Stories children’s literature building. In May he had 2006 a solo art/poetry exhibition at The People’s Theatre – why not take a look at their website http://ptag.org.uk/whats_on/gallery/recent_exhbitions.htm

The South Bank Centre in London recorded his poem “The Holiday I Never Had“; he can be heard reading it on http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/magazine/record.asp?id=18456

REVIEWS: He has written poetry reviews for Poetry Scotland and Jacket Magazine and in August 2007 he made a film called ‘A Blank Screen, 60 seconds, 1 shot’ for Queerbeats Festival at The Star & Shadow Cinema Newcastle, reviewing a poem…see http://www.myspace.com/queerbeatsfestival On September 4 2010, He read at the Callander Poetry Weekend hosted by Poetry Scotland. He has also written Art Criticism for Peel and Combustus Magazines.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Artist Nannette Guinto Amorado



Hotel Saint John’s

by Steve Benson


The Walk

The cold wind turned Marty Tenant’s face bright pink. Invisible hands had been slapping him in the face since he had turned the corner from Commercial Street to National Avenue. He kept his head down as much as he could but still, the occasional snowflake would rush in and hit his already stinging face. The Hotel Saint John’s was Marty’s destination. He imagined that a sign at the Hotel Saint John’s would read “A warm room and complimentary lingering death for every guest.” He meant this as a humorous thought but instead it turned an already somber day just a little darker.

Marty wore two coats. The one on the outside was a ripped and worn Carhart coat that the shelter had given him. The one underneath was a light leather jacket; it was this one that he was planning on wearing to the job interview the next morning. Slung over Marty’s shoulder was an overstuffed back pack. Inside it was a pair of dress shoes and the best outfit he owned, recently purchased for seven dollars from the Salvation Army.

The rest of Marty’s belongings were in a locker back at the shelter. Not much though, just a beat up suitcase with a few changes of clothing and a small photo album. At one time he had more belongings in a storage locker but being homeless didn’t pay well. The storage facility auctioned off those belongings months ago for nonpayment. When Marty was feeling especially down because of his current circumstances, he would take out his suitcase and thumb through the photos. He had looked at it for half an hour before leaving the shelter that cold Sunday evening.

Marty had a job interview on the south side of town at 8am Monday morning. It was rare to get an interview this close to Christmas so Marty was doing everything he could to make sure he arrived on time and looking fresh. The last thing he wanted to do was to leave the shelter at 6am and show up at the interview looking cold, tired and wet from the weather. Instead he had decided to use what he called one of his free hotels.

Marty was an expert at finding places in Springfield where he could get a good comfortable night’s sleep for free. There had been many times in the past year that these free hotels saved him from being too hot, too cold or drenched from the rain. The bus station was a tried and true option but in this case the station wouldn’t work because it was on the opposite side of town from the interview. The mall was another option. There were back hallways that connected all of the shops and one of them had an upper storage area that he could get to by climbing a row of electric meters. Since it was Christmas Marty decided not to go to the mall, more people increased his chances of being caught. Marty had actually settled on a new idea for tonight’s free hotel, The Hotel Saint John’s.

Saint John’s Hospital was about three miles away at the moment but Marty was sure it was the perfect spot. He came up with the idea several months earlier. He had been working in the shelter’s kitchen all day and was taking a break on his bunk in the open area mens’ quarters. He was again looking through his photo album, concentrating mainly on the few photos he had of his wife. Seeing them reminded him of the last week before she died. She spent that week on the eighth floor of St. Johns hospital dying of ovarian cancer. Prior to that she spent a lot of time in the oncology day ward but lack of positive results had ended those visits. Marty spent all of that last week by her side but occasionally he would retreat to one of the waiting rooms at either end of the floor to get a couple hours of uninterrupted sleep. The waiting rooms were all but abandoned after 7pm, so he was confident that his plan would work. After coming up with the idea, he tucked it away in his mind and stumbled across it again after the interview was scheduled. Marty realized the irony that a memory of one of the factors that caused him to become homeless in the first place, might actually help him get off the street.

After Mindy’s death, a combination of medical bills and a bad economy left him with no money and no job. He sold anything of value that he owned in order to make his house payments but eventually his small two bedroom house on the north side of town went back to the bank. Neither Marty nor Mindy had family in town so his only alternative was the street with occasional stretches spent at the shelter. The shelter only allowed two week stays for single men in order to make room for people with children. Marty was such a hard worker though that they usually let him stay a month or more but he would still eventually have to leave for awhile before being allowed to rotate back in.

When he lost the house, Marty almost called his sister in Topeka for help but decided against it. He had never really had a stable family life. His mother moved them from town to town when they were young. His sister Nora moved out when she was sixteen and three years later Marty joined the Army at the age of eighteen. By the time his enlistment was up, his mother had died of a drug overdose. After that, neither Marty nor Nora seemed interested in staying in touch. Holding onto bad memories can sometimes fracture a family worse than the actual events.

As bad off as he was, Marty always managed to get by on his wits. Tonight, as he walked through the three inches of freshly fallen snow, he was actually proud of his idea of sleeping in one of the hospital waiting rooms. He knew that he’d wake up refreshed and only two blocks from his interview. After a quick sink shower and changing into his good clothes, he was confident that he would look just fine. This job meant a lot to Marty, not only because it could get him back on the right path, but also because he wasn’t sure how long he could mentally take living this way. The pressure of constantly scrounging for a place to stay or a meal was turning him into someone he did not always recognize.

The job itself was nothing to brag about. Before his wife’s death, Marty worked as phone tech support. While he was on medical leave for Mindy’s illness, his employer shipped his job off to India. Years before that, he had been a printer at a small shop on the north side of town. Monday’s interview was for a job as a printer’s assistant. It had been while since he’d done this kind of work but he was hopeful that his experience would get him the job. It did not pay much but Marty figured that after a couple months he would be able to afford a small studio apartment. From there, he would start saving until he could afford a car. Marty remembered doing all of these things fifteen years ago, after he’d left the Army. He wasn’t happy about having to do it all over again in his late thirties, but at this point was glad to have a working plan.

Twenty minutes later, Marty had worked his way up to Missouri State University. By then the snow was floating down in huge flakes. The smell of burning wood floated through the air as some of the houses in the surrounding neighborhood lit their fireplaces not so much for the warmth but for the nostalgia. The campus itself looked like a post card; untouched snow blanketed usually busy walkways and parking lots. As Marty passed the row of rental houses that lined National Street, he saw young college kids packing their cars; the last few stragglers on their way home for the Christmas break. They looked happy and excited. A girl who looked like she was maybe eighteen or nineteen was busy making a snow angel in the front yard of one of the houses while several of her girlfriends laughed from the covered porch. Next door a group of young men were having a snowball fight. Marty enjoyed watching them but at the same time it put the spotlight on his loneliness. He hadn’t known joy or friendship for a long time now. Friends from his previous life had disappeared since he’d fallen on hard times and the few acquaintances he’d made at the shelter were just that, acquaintances. It seemed to Marty that he had just been going through the motions. Taking care of his basic needs but not really living a life.

By the time Marty made it to Sunshine Street, the snow was another inch deeper and the gray sky was darkening. He waited at the crosswalk for the traffic light to turn green while the remainder of the light slowly faded from the sky. As he waited there, the Christmas decorations that lined Sunshine Street flickered on. The decorations reminded Marty of his childhood Christmases. Most of Marty’s childhood was rough, but his mother always managed to pull off a halfway decent Christmas. The best memories he had of the holidays were when his mother’s half brother, Uncle Rusty would visit.

Uncle Rusty showed up every year or two while Marty was growing up. He would mostly visit around Christmas or Thanksgiving. Rusty was a little on the short side, had wavy red hair (hence the nickname Rusty) and always had a smile on his face and a quarter in his pocket for Marty and Nora. Marty still remembered the year he showed up with a giant toy fire truck for him. The truck was eventually left behind during one of his families late night moves to avoid paying past due rent. Marty’s mother hastily planned and executed these moves which meant they left a lot of things behind.

As Marty starred at the candy cane and Christmas bulb shaped decorations that hung from each street light, he remembered how Uncle Rusty would load everyone up in his car and drive to the nicer area of whatever town they were living in to look at the Christmas lights. Uncle Rusty was like a child in an adult’s body; he seemed to be seeing everything for the first time. That excitement for life was what made Marty like him so much. Unfortunately Uncle Rusty, much like Marty’s mother, was never able to settle down. The last time Marty saw him was when he came to visit for Marty’s 16th birthday. He didn’t even come to the funeral when Marty’s mother died. Marty thought of the relationship he had with his own sister and knew that they had inherited this same distance.

The light turned green and Marty crossed as quickly as he could, considering the depth of the snow. He was now walking alongside the employee parking lot of Saint John’s; he noticed that the hospital had undergone a lot of construction since he’d been here with Mindy. Old parking lots were now new wings of the hospital and square blocks of housing were now new parking lots.

Marty walked another half block before finding himself standing at the main entrance to Saint John’s Hospital. The tall lights that lined each side of the entrance joined forces with the blowing snow to create the illusion of a white swirling tunnel that ended at the front doors of the hospital. Marty walked forward into this passageway and placed his hands on the cold brass handle.
The Rest

Marty shut the door behind him and turned to see an empty welcome desk. He quickly walked past the desk on the outside chance someone would return and get suspicious. The layout of the front entrance had changed a lot since he’d last been there. What was once faded linoleum floor tile was now shiny marble with oak and brushed steel accents. Marty thought times must be good at The Hotel Saint John’s. He imagined the hospital as a living being that took in death and suffering, turning them into stone sconce lighting and etched glass walls. He bounced around the maze of an entrance for a few minutes before he was able to find a restroom in an older narrow hallway.

Once inside he removed his Carhart coat and unbuttoned his leather jacket revealing a fairly nice looking black button up shirt underneath. He ran the faucet until warm water came out and then splashed it on his numb face before running his dripping hands through his hair and shaping it into a less windblown look. He then cupped his red ears with his warm hands to try to bring them back to life. Marty backed up and looked at himself in the mirror. Since becoming homeless he’d checked himself out like this many times. It was a test he had developed to see if he actually looked homeless. He decided that he looked fine and left the restroom.

Marty continued down the narrow hallway that he knew ended at the elevators. Once there, he pushed the up button and as he waited for the doors to open, he wondered to which floor he should go. He had no idea what was on each floor other than eight which was Mindy’s old floor. When the doors finally opened, he walked into the empty elevator and arbitrarily pressed seven. As the elevator rose, he glanced down at button number eight and decided that no matter what happened, he wouldn’t go to that floor. He’d spent enough time there to last a lifetime.

The seventh floor turned out to be exactly what he was looking for. It was quiet but there was still enough activity for him to blend in. There were two parallel hallways on the floor connected at the center by a large nurse’s station and again at each end where the waiting rooms were. He took a right turn as he left the elevator and as he walked, he used his peripheral vision to look at the patient rooms on his right. The first few rooms were vacant, staring back at him with closed doors and empty Plexiglas chart holders. The next one had several family members standing in front looking solemn while the next four rooms were too close to the nurse’s station. He continued walking until he found an open door devoid of people. He glanced inside and saw an old man lying in the bed with an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. He made note of the room number and the patient’s name on the chart hanging on the door. Room number 739 and the patients name was Stanley Burke.

Marty continued on to the end of the hallway and turned left. Halfway between each of the two hallways was a waiting room. He entered the darkened room and turned the light on. There were no people in the room but evidence of them was everywhere. Magazines and empty soda cans littered the coffee table. On the floor in front of a small plastic bin was an assortment of toys that a sticky fingered child had been playing with earlier in the day. Padded chairs lined the walls of the room but in one corner sat a green recliner. Marty recognized it as the same type they had often wheeled into his wife’s room when he would spend the night with her. He sat his backpack and extra coat on the floor and sat in the recliner, it was as comfortable as he remembered. Marty stood back up, walked to the doorway where he turned out the light and then returned to the recliner, this time he pulled the stainless steel handle on the side of the recliner and stretched out. It was still rather early but he figured there would be less questions asked of a man who appeared to be sleeping so he just laid there with his extra coat covering himself like a blanket. The long walk he’d just made and the hum from the heater vent relaxed him and before long he drifted off to sleep.

In his dream, Marty was still lying in the green recliner. This time though, it was back in his wife’s room on the eighth floor.

“Honey, wake up. I need you.”

Marty instantly recognized the voice and jumped out of the recliner. He rushed to her side and pushed strands of brown hair from her sweaty forehead. “I’m here Mindy. What do you need?”

“I just need you,” she replied. “I’m afraid.”

“What are you afraid of?” asked Marty.

“Of death. I don’t want to die. I want to stay here with you.”

Marty’s heart broke at her words. He knew she couldn’t live. He knew she didn’t live, but how did he know. Was she already dead? He knew this had all happened before but was unable to grasp that it was a dream.

“You will always be with me Mindy.” She nodded her head in agreement and gave him a frightened smile. The lights in the room began to brighten. Marty looked up and saw the room begin to fade in an intense white glow.

“I love you Marty,” said Mindy as the world turned blank.

When the light to the waiting room turned on, Marty startled awake and saw a nurse standing in the doorway.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone was in here.” She reached down toward the coffee table and picked up a Red Book magazine.

“It’s going to be a long slow shift so I thought I’d grab something to read.”

“Not a problem,” replied Marty. “I was just trying to get a little sleep. I’m here to see my…” Marty hesitated for a moment, covering the awkward pause with a fake yawn. He hadn’t worked out who this patient was supposed to be to him and the dream he had just awoken from wasn’t helping. “My uncle,” Marty said finally. ‘I’m here to see my uncle but he’s asleep.”

“Really? Which patient is he?”

Again, the dream kept Marty’s brain from functioning and for a split second he couldn’t remember the name on the door that he’d seen when he came in. Just as he was about to give up, Marty found the name and blurted it out. “Stanley Burke.”

“Oh, he’s so sweet. I’m glad he has someone here with him. He’s been so sick and no one has come to see him yet. Why don’t you get back to sleep, you look like you could use it.”

Marty smiled and shook his head as the nurse turned the light back out and left the room. Now that he knew how sick the old man was, he felt terrible for using him. Not so terrible to leave though. He’d committed himself to getting the job and wasn’t about to do anything to mess it up now. He laid back down in the recliner but didn’t fall asleep nearly as fast as the first time. Images from the dream kept sleep away for nearly an hour but eventually he drifted off again.



The Old Man

“Hello sir?”

Marty awoke to the sound of the nurse’s voice. This time she’d left the light out to save him the eye strain. She was patting him on the shoulder and sounded pretty insistent.

“Sir, it’s your uncle. I need you to wake up.”

“I’m sorry!” Marty said automatically as he stood and began picking up his things.

“No no, it’s ok. Your uncle is asking for you. We told him you were here and he wants to see you now.”

Marty could see a smile on the nurse’s face from the light filtering in from the hallway. He wasn’t completely awake yet but he understood what she was saying. Unfortunately he couldn’t think of a good response. Before he could dig one up, the nurse placed her hand on his shoulder and guided him to the old man’s room. “Just come with me. He seems to be doing much better. He hasn’t been this active since he arrived,” said the nurse.

Marty walked around the corner with the nurse but hesitated at the open door. Inside was a man Marty didn’t know who was excited to see him. He thought about the alternatives. He could run but he didn’t know where the stairs were and didn’t want to run away only to have to wait for the elevator. As Marty thought out his options, another nurse was exiting the room with a chart in her hand.

“You must be the nephew,” she said. This nurse didn’t smile but instead looked Marty up and down, examining him. “Come on in, he’s waiting.”

Marty felt a nudge from the nurse behind him and he stepped forward. He wondered what the hell he was doing as he walked into the room and saw the old man now sitting up in bed with his oxygen mask off. His hair was almost completely white and was standing straight up on top. The smiling nurse led him to a chair sitting next to Stanley Burke’s bed and motioned for him to sit.

“Mr. Burke, your nephew is here.” The nurse spoke with the loud care givers voice reserved for older patients. Mr. Burke looked in Marty’s direction. Marty saw milky blue eyes staring back at him.

“Oh my God, it is you,” said Mr. Burke in a barely audible and raspy voice. “How long has it been?”

Marty was frantic on the inside but somehow managed to keep calm on the outside. He simply shrugged his response.

“Probably almost twenty years,” said Mr. Burke, answering his own question. “Please, sit down.

Marty sat. He felt slightly more at ease knowing that the old man still thought he recognized him but felt terrible for fooling him. The nurse with the clip board had already left but the smiling nurse was checking Mr. Burke’s IV tube. Marty told himself that as soon as she left he would excuse himself, calmly walk down the hall, go down to the first floor and leave the hospital. He was already thinking of a good place to spend the next several hours before the interview.

“How have you been?” asked the old man. “The last I heard you were married.”

Marty thought again of Mindy and the dream he’d had earlier. Mr. Burke’s room looked exactly like hers.

“My wife passed away last year,” replied Marty. He didn’t know why he said this but it felt good to say it to someone who seemed to care. Mr. Burke furrowed his brow, looking devastated at Marty’s news.

“Oh I’m so sorry to hear that Marty. How did she die?”

“It was cancer,” replied Marty but as soon as he answered, he wondered if he’d heard the old man correctly. Did he just say my name?

“It’s a terrible thing when someone so young dies.” Mr. Burke hesitated for a moment as if he was struggling to find the right words. “And speaking of that, I wanted to apologize for not coming to your mother’s funeral all those years ago. I guess I’ve never handled death very well. I spoke with Nora not long ago and apologized to her too. It must have been so hard on both of you.”

Marty sat in the chair; he didn’t move or blink and barely breathed. He told himself that there was no way that this could be happening. The chances were too high. But the old man knew his name, he knew his sister’s name and he knew about his mother. Marty slowly turned and looked at the name on the door again. Stanley Burke. He wondered if he’d ever really known his real name. He turned back to the old man, looking for the face he remembered. Under the pale and wrinkled skin, under the age spots and under that bush of white hair Marty could finally see him. “Uncle Rusty?”

The old man smiled and nodded his head. “I haven’t been called Rusty for years. At least not since all of this turned from red to white,” he said as he patted the hair on his head. “Remember how your mother used to rub my head for good luck?”

Tears began to form in Marty’s eyes as any doubt who was lying in front of him was lost. He reached out and took his Uncle Rusty’s hand as the wells beneath his eyes began to drip down his face. The nurse picked up a box of tissues and handed them to Marty as she left the room.

“So you’ve spoken to Nora?” asked Marty as he dried his eyes with a tissue.

“Yes, just a few weeks ago. I tracked her down in Topeka; she lives there with her son Danny. I asked her about you and she said she thought you were living in Springfield, that’s why I’m here. I was looking for you when my emphysema got the best of me. The only address I could track down for you was an empty house. It was like you dropped off the planet.”

“Well I’ve been kind of hard to find. After Mindy died I lost my job and the house. I’ve been living at a shelter on and off for awhile now.”

“Marty why didn’t you call your sister? She would have helped.”

“We haven’t spoken in years and I didn’t want to bother her. We shared some pretty bad memories growing up and I think we both kept our distance on purpose.”

“Yes, it seems to be our family’s way doesn’t it,” replied Uncle Rusty. “We think it’s easier to not depend on each other. Let me tell you from a lifetime of experience, it’s not true. You should be with Nora right now.

“Maybe I’ll go see her after the first of the year. I have a job interview in the morning. If I get the job I’ll save up some money for a visit.”

“Let’s try to make it a little sooner than that,” replied Uncle Rusty. He pointed to a closet on the other side of the room. “Go over there and look on the top shelf. My wallet is there. Bring it to me.”

“Uncle Rusty, I don’t need any money.”

“Just get it for me,” he insisted.

Marty walked to the closet, removed the wallet from the shelf and handed it to Rusty who fumbled through it with arthritic hands. He pulled something out of the wallet and handed it to Marty. It was a photo of Marty and Nora as children. They were standing in front of a Christmas tree and Uncle Rusty was kneeling between them.

“Turn it over and look on the back. That’s Nora’s information.” Marty turned it over and saw the names Nora and Danny scribbled on the back. Six years old was in parentheses under Danny’s name and at the bottom was a phone number.

“Call her as soon as you can and reconnect with her. There is no reason to wait. Right now more than ever you need to know that your family is there for you. Go to the job interview, but don’t use it as an excuse to wait a single moment longer.”

Marty looked at the photo again. He remembered exactly when and where his mother took the photo. At the time he and his family lived in a drafty house in Lebanon Missouri and Uncle Rusty’s visit was the only time it really felt like a home. He looked back to Uncle Rusty and saw him holding out a folded stack of bills to him.

“Take this too. It’s not much but it will help.”

“Uncle Rusty I can’t do that.”

“You can and will,” he insisted. Marty took the money and put it in his pocket.

“Thank you,” he said feeling ashamed for being glad Rusty had offered it to him.

“Now, sit back down and let’s catch up on the past twenty years.”

The two of them talked for another hour. They reminisced about the visits Uncle Rusty used to make. Marty reminded him about the fire truck Rusty had brought him for Christmas. Rusty managed to bring up some fond memories of Marty’s mother too; memories that Marty had long forgotten. Marty also spent a lot of time telling Uncle Rusty about Mindy. He hadn’t talked about her for months and it felt good. Eventually Uncle Rusty began to look tired.

“Maybe you could come back tomorrow after I’m rested up a little?”

“Of course,” Marty replied.

“And when you leave, could you ask the nurse to come in for me?”

“Sure thing Uncle Rusty.” Marty thought about hugging his uncle goodbye but decided against it. Uncle Rusty looked so frail lying there that he was afraid he would break him. Instead he said good night, asked the nurse to check in on his uncle and then he returned to the waiting room. He again drifted off to sleep feeling better than he’d felt since long before Mindy’s death.

Marty woke up to the beeping of the alarm on his Casio watch and quickly grabbed his things and went into the restroom next to the waiting room to get cleaned up and changed for the :interview. By the time he was ready, it was 7:15 which left more than enough time to get to his interview by 8. Marty packed his dirty clothing into his backpack and left the restroom. He decided to check on Uncle Rusty before he left.

As Marty walked into Uncle Rusty’s room, he saw two new nurses and a doctor surrounding his uncle’s bed. They all three looked up at Marty.

“Do you know the patient?” asked one of the nurses.

“Yes, he’s my uncle.”

“I’m sorry sir but your uncle passed away a few minutes ago.” Marty stared back at the nurse as if he didn’t understand what she’d said. For the first time in over a year Marty felt happy about his life. That happiness was because of Uncle Rusty. And now, just a few hours after reuniting with him, the nurse was telling him that he was dead. The doctor approached Marty and said something about Uncle Rusty having a stroke in his sleep but Marty had a hard time concentrating on what he said.

“We’ll give you a few minutes alone with your uncle,” said the doctor as he and the nurses left the room. Marty sat down in the chair he had sat in the night before and looked at his uncle’s body. Memories of the visits Rusty made during his childhood returned. The excitement that he and Nora felt and the way his mother seemed to change and become, well, a mother.

When the nurse returned, she advised Marty that his Uncle Rusty had already provided them with instructions in case of his death. After the autopsy, a funeral home would pick up the body, and then schedule the burial at the VA cemetery on the outskirts of Springfield. The word burial seemed to echo in Marty’s head, bouncing through his synapses and creating images of cold hard earth and a gravesite with no mourners.

“How will I know when he will be buried?” asked Marty in a voice so shaky it surprised himself.

“Just leave me your phone number and we’ll pass it along to the funeral home,” replied the nurse.

Marty had no phone. He had no real address either. He had known this for almost a year but now, standing in front of a nurse and his dead uncle’s body, the fact cut through his heart making his soul bleed. His eyes, which had been simply damp before, suddenly began to flow with tears. Marty tried to hold back the sobs building in his throat but this only made them sound sadder when they finally escaped. Later, Marty would wonder if this crying fit was for Uncle Rusty or for himself. After a few minutes of recovery and nose blowing, Marty gave the nurse the number to the shelter and then left the hospital.
The Interview

The cold morning air was a shock after spending the last thirteen hours in the warmth of the hospital. Marty walked east on Sunshine toward his interview. He would much rather have been somewhere else grieving, but missing the interview was not an option. When he arrived at the print shop, a smiling secretary advised him to have a seat while she let Mr. Black know he was there. Marty stared at the small Christmas tree on her desk while he waited. Along the front of her desk under the Christmas tree, hung a banner that read Merry Christmas. He watched the lights on the tree blink on and off, wondering if he would ever have a merry Christmas again.

The secretary returned and led Marty to an office where a man with a very disingenuous smile was sitting behind a desk. Marty had been looking forward to his interview all week but after it finally started he couldn’t wait for it to end. Immediately after shaking his hand, Mr. Black asked Marty how long he’d been living at the shelter. Marty knew that the print shop had called him at the shelter to set up the interview but had hoped they would not mention his current circumstances. He was uncomfortable with the question but answered it anyway.

“I’ve been at the shelter on and off for almost a year now,” he replied. “I do have a job there though; I work in the kitchen helping to prepare the meals.”

Mr. Black busied himself reading Marty’s application, seemingly ignoring his answer. The next thing the man said convinced Marty that he would not get the job. “I must confess that I have some apprehensions about hiring someone who doesn’t have a permanent home Mr. Tenant.”

Marty ended up spending the rest of the interview assuring Mr. Black that it wouldn’t be an issue. They spent very little time discussing his qualifications and later as Marty left the office, he saw a group of young men waiting to be interviewed for the same position. He was sure that all of the competition had homes.



The Call

Marty walked three more terribly cold blocks to a diner on Glenstone Avenue and sat alone in a booth. The snow that was caked to his dress shoes melted, leaving his feet wet and cold. A waitress brought him a hot cup of coffee and as he sat there trying to warm up, he pulled out the photo that Uncle Rusty had given him. Marty looked at the back of the photo and saw Nora’s number. He also looked at his sister’s son’s name, Danny. It occurred to him that even though Uncle Rusty had died, he still had two relatives.

Country western music filtered in from a cheap radio playing in the diner’s kitchen. Marty did not recognize the song but noted that it sounded sad. The waitress returned and took Marty’s order. It felt good to splurge like this. Marty could not remember the last time he had ordered food in a restaurant.

“I need some change for the pay phone,” Marty said to the waitress as she started to leave with his order.

“Cashier,” replied the waitress as she pointed with her thumb. Marty walked to the cashier who was wearing a Santa Claus hat and purchased a roll of quarters from her. He then made his way to the pay phone in the diner’s vestibule to make a call. A chilling wind whistled through the space between the front doors as Marty pressed the numbers on the phone. Nora answered on the second ring. Her voice sounded harried as dishes clanked in the background.


Marty hesitated for a moment and then spoke. “Nora it’s me, Marty.” There was a noticeable silence as the dishes stopped clanking. Marty assumed that Nora was trying to figure out what to say.

“Oh my God Marty. I can’t believe it’s you.”

“Yeah, it’s me,” Marty replied. “I’m calling about Uncle Rusty. I wanted to tell you that he’s died. I just came from Saint John’s here in Springfield.” The phone went silent again for several seconds followed by the sounds of sniffling. Marty waited for his sister to speak when she was ready.

“I spoke with him about a month ago,” she said. “He tracked me down and we talked for over an hour. He asked about you. I told him that I thought you were in Springfield but wasn’t sure. I guess he found you?”

“Well, we kind of found each other.” Marty waited a moment while Nora blew her nose.

“I talked to Uncle Rusty for awhile before he died,” said Marty. “He told me that I’m an uncle.”

“Yes you are,” replied Nora. “His name is Danny and he’s in the first grade. He’s right here finishing up his breakfast.”

“That’s fantastic. I’d love to meet him sometime.”

“Sure,” said Nora in a noncommittal tone. “I’m sure Danny would like that.”

There was no real invitation from Nora for getting together with them so Marty took that as a sign that the uncomfortable relationship he shared with her would continue. They spoke for another ten minutes. Marty learned that Nora was divorced and that Danny’s father lived in Iowa. He paid her a small monthly amount for child support but other than that he was out of the picture. Nora worked as a receptionist at a dentist’s office and lived in a two bedroom house on the east side of Topeka. Marty told Nora about the death of his wife but he left out the events of the past ten months, he wasn’t sure why. Nora said that she wished she and Danny could come to Springfield for Uncle Rusty’s funeral but money was too tight and the weather was too bad. He replied that it was OK and that he would bring flowers for both of them. Nora asked for Marty’s phone number and he explained that he was in between cell companies at the moment and would call her with his new number next week. They ended the conversation with both of them agreeing that they had to keep in touch.

Marty hung up and then returned to his booth to find his breakfast waiting on him and only slightly cold. After finishing it, he sat in the booth thinking about the conversations with both Nora and Uncle Rusty. In the past several hours he had reunited with two long lost family members but now each conversation left him feeling sad and guilty. He began to think that maybe the distance he had with them was justified. Marty looked at the photo one last time before paying his bill and walking back into the snow covered streets of Springfield.



The Funeral

By Tuesday morning Marty still had not heard from the printing company so he used the phone in the director’s office to call them. He recognized the voice of the same cheery secretary when she asked him to please hold and have a Merry Christmas. A minute later Mr. Black picked up his line and told Marty that the job had gone to a more experienced applicant. Marty thanked him and hung up the phone. It was exactly what he expected but it still stung.

After the breakfast service, Marty started going through his clothes to find something nice to wear to the funeral the next day. He settled on the pants he wore to the interview and a black button up shirt. He took his things to the laundry room where he carefully ironed and then hung them from a plastic hanger. Clothing left out in the men’s bay usually disappeared so he took them to the director’s office. Carolyn, the director of the shelter sat at her desk typing on the computer.

“Carolyn, is it OK if I hang these in here?” asked Marty as he held up his clothes.

“Sure Marty, and have a seat. I need to speak with you.” Marty hung his freshly ironed outfit from the coat rack and then sat at Carolyn’s desk.

“Marty, we just received a call from the police station about a family of six who needs a place to stay for the holidays. We’re over capacity as it is and will have to ask some of the single male residents to leave so we will have enough bedding for the family. I’m sorry to do this so close to Christmas Marty but it looks like you’ll have to leave for at least a couple weeks. I know you have a funeral in the morning so please stay tonight and then tomorrow after the funeral you can leave.”

Marty sighed but shook his head to show he understood. He tried to hide his disappointment from Carolyn but wasn’t sure he had succeeded. “No problem, my uncle left me a small amount of money so I should be able to stay at one of the weekly hotels on Kearney Street until things free up here.”

“Marty, again I’m sorry. Come and see me tomorrow after the funeral. I’ll give you a ride to the hotel.” Marty left the office and went back to the kitchen to prepare for his last lunch service.

Wednesday morning Marty used a small part of the few hundred dollars that Rusty gave him and took a taxi to the south side of town to go to his graveside funeral. Other than the Chaplin and the honor guard, Marty was the only one in attendance. The snow that blanketed the city so beautifully a few days before was now stacked in piles along each side of the roads that wound through the graveyard. Soot and mud had turned these piles of snow a dirty gray color, intensifying Marty’s already despondent mood.

After the Chaplin read a few kind words and a description of Uncle Rusty’s service to the military, all seven members of the honor guard fired three simultaneous rounds into the overcast sky, sending Rusty off with a twenty one gun salute. Two members of the honor guard removed the flag from the coffin and began folding it while four other members lowered the casket into the ground among the hundreds of other snow covered white crosses. Marty was proud of his uncle and being a soldier himself, he was moved by the ceremony.

The Chaplin read the Lord’s Prayer. Marty withdrew into himself, thinking again about the chance reunion he had with his uncle. When it first happened, the phrase Christmas miracle had entered his thoughts but that idea quickly faded when Rusty died. There had been no real miracles since then either. He had had an uncomfortable conversation with his sister, failed to get the printing job and was told that he would have to leave the shelter soon. Not a miracle in the bunch. Marty tried to concentrate on the funeral but found it difficult as the weight of his problems bore down on him.

As he stood there waiting to receive the flag, a hand touched his shoulder. He turned to see a face that was familiar yet different considering how many years since he had last seen it. The face had a few new wrinkles and a little extra weight but there was no doubt who it was.


“Hi Marty,” she said as she leaned in and hugged her brother firmly. Marty returned her embrace, breaking a fifteen year dry spell of family hugs. Danny stood at Nora’s side holding her hand and silently looking up at his uncle.

“What are you doing here?” asked Marty.

“I had to come,” replied Nora. “I couldn’t miss Uncle Rusty’s funeral. And besides, I knew you needed me.”

“Why would you think that?”

“I got a letter in the mail yesterday, it was from a nurse at Saint John’s Hospital. She said that she was writing it on Uncle Rusty’s behalf. It looked like she wrote it the night he died. She said that Uncle Rusty wanted me to know about you, she told me all about the shelter.”

“Nora, I’m so sorry. I….”

“No, I’m sorry,” Nora replied. “I’m sorry for not staying in touch with you. I’m sorry if it seemed like I didn’t care, because I do. I shouldn’t have let the past get in the way of our relationship.” Tears streaked down Nora’s face as she spoke.

“I’m just as guilty,” replied Marty. “I could have done a lot of things different.”

“It’s OK Marty. We’ll talk about it later, on the ride back to Topeka. Right now let’s say goodbye to Uncle Rusty.”

Marty embraced his sister again while a member of the honor guard played taps on a bugle. As Marty hugged his sister, he looked over her shoulder and saw Danny looking up at him with wide eyes and a bright red stocking cap on his head. Marty smiled down at him and wondered if he liked fire trucks.


Steve Benson is currently writing this bio in third person.  Prior to this, he spent a fun six weeks filming a short movie with his wife Jill and many of their friends.  The end result will hopefully be finished before Christmas.  Steve would also like to apologize to everyone he was snippy with during the shoot.  He inherited his mother’s temperament and his father’s hindsight.  Steve has recently finished a novel named Venganza.  An early version of the first chapter of Venganza was published in In Other Words: Merida a year and a half ago.  Steve lives in Merida Mexico with his wife Jill and their dogs Molly, Vince, Chata and Ruby.  Steve would like to stop writing in third person now and I would like to encourage everyone to stop buying dogs.  There are millions of great dogs in the shelters or on the street who would make a loving addition to your family.  If you can’t adopt, please support the shelters.  We spent tens of thousands of years making dogs dependent on us so let’s not turn our backs on them now.  Thanks for reading my story and or my bio!



Artist Samuel Barrera