Poetry

The Painter Tamayo and All-Inclusives

by Richard Swanson

 

The Painter Tamayo

Here’s a probably true story
about Ruffino Tamayo, the Mexican painter
after the titans Rivera, Orozco, and Sigueiros,
world famous Tamayo, the painter of tragic tableaux,
rich vistas and youthful faces innocent as tangerines,
except that sometimes there’s mischief in that innocence.
A wealthy Mexican man approaches Tamayo
to capture the tropical landscapes of his mountainside house.
Young, his ego’s as big as the house, and the house
is half as big as the mountain.
Old Ruffino, in age that is, visits the place and agrees
to paint the hills. But first he has to absorb it, he says,
all this green, so he walks the terrain.

The wealthy man smiles, seeing this.
He owns it all now, house, mountain and a famous painter.

Then, three times, the following happens.
From the city Ruffino calls, telling the man
to hire a helicopter and pick him up.

What?
Yes, I need a helicopter, Tamayo is adamant.
I need to see the mountainside greens from the air.

Well, sure, maestro, but . . .
These whirligigs don’t come cheap, and—
Rich Guy’s not as wealthy as he lets on.
Besides, he wonders, does my painter
like helicopter rides like kids like chocolate.

Tamayo’s waving up there, waving.
Wave back. He’s your painter, rich man.

The great unveiling day!
Mister Mountainous Ego anticipates.
One whole floor of his house has been redone
for Tamayo’s verdant vision.

So off with the canvass’s cover, and here it is—
red? Red here, more red there, in all the quadrants,
hot red, sly red, off-color joke red, mocking, bordello red,
not a spit of green in any part of the landscape.

Tamayo! Maestro! the wealthy man gapes,
you loved all the greens, where are my greens?

Ah, those, Ruffino says, his finger tapping his skull,
they’re up here.

 

All-Inclusives

They love the arrangements, airport transport to here,
luggage processed right to their rooms, which were
bleached-white clean, with towels on beds
shaped into rabbits and swans, cute swans,
and all their meals provided.

Plus, right before dinner, poolside, after a hard day’s tanning,
a happy hour trolley comes ‘round ( ding-ding, ding-ding)
with pitchers of margaritas. Oh, those margaritas.

Some of the help try to speak English, funny kind of,
but, hey, give them credit for trying: You like? Treeps?
Two-LOOM? CHEECH-‘n-EAT-cha?

You couldn’t get care like this back home, they repeat
to one another: palápa lunches, nighttime shows
in the Mayan outdoor theater, the small incidentals—
chocolate nibbles next to the day’s shampoo.

Last night the hotel shuttle bussed them to town
for Texas burghers, a place with Spanish flamenco.

It was good to go there, they agree, to see the real Mexico.

 

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

Richard Swanson, a retired teacher of English from Madison, Wisconsin, spends three weeks in Valladolid and Akumal every February. He was first attracted to Quintana Roo and the Yucatan on a visit to Playa del Carmen, decades ago, when the place was a a series of four or five unpaved streets.

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Angie47

photo by Angela M Campbell

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Art, Photography

4 photos by Angela M Campbell

 

Angie65

Angie57

Angie4

angie14

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Angela M. Campbell — full time writer, grew up in Ohio and lived in the Philadelphia area and the Washington DC area before moving to Salem, Mass. She has been named as a finalist in the essay category and a semi-finalist in the Novel -In -Progress category in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition (Faulkner House, New Orleans).  Obviously, she also is a photographer.

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Poetry

Hikama and other poems

by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

 

Hikama

My first hangover in two years
and it feels like morning
It is morning

It feels like love
like the reincarnation of an old friend
like a poltergeist is handling the details
of my life

Red wine is redder in Mexico
I eat a crunchy white vegetable whose name
I cannot remember
though that vegetable is like a brother to me

When I get full-blown Alzheimer’s
I will wander the streets crying
trying to get someone to tell me the name
of that vegetable

but no one will know
what the fuck I am talking about
and they will tell me
Go home, old man

Someone will put me on a bicycle taxi
pedaled laboriously by my old friend
Delgadillo

Delgadillo will say:
What does it matter
the names of things?
You can’t remember my name anymore but
you still love me
and I love you
though I wish you hadn’t become
so damn obese

Pedaling you
is a burden
and my chain clanks from the strain

 

3 Fingers

My hostess has only three fingers
and I wonder if that’s the consequence
of her terrible auto accident

or whether she was born that way
I can’t keep myself from staring
as if a missing finger is a
big deal

I distract myself
by asking her husband, Rolando
why he decided to move to
Merida Mexico
as opposed to settling somewhere
in the balmy American South

I’m Mexican and Black, he says
I don’t want to live in Mississippi or Alabama
or anywhere primitive and racist

I don’t tell him that my father was from Mississippi
and my mother was from Alabama
I squelch my Southern accent

When I was in college I taught myself to do that
so no one would know I was from
the ass end of some southern backwoods

but when I go back home
my true voice emerges full flower
and I eat collard greens
and drink tea so sweet
it makes my teeth hurt

and when my niece is colicky
I put Coca-Cola in her baby bottle
as we’ve done for generations

I notice Rolando
has a blowup of a magazine cover
a photo of Barrack Obama
and as I study it
I notice that Rolando has a remarkable resemblance
to Barrack
and I want to comment on it

but I don’t want him to think that
white people think
all colored people look alike

especially if he’s gotten a whiff
of my accent

 

Guzman’s Monkey

Santo Domingo de Guzman—
his halo is a big, tarnished ten-peso note
and his holy book
is a loaf of stale bread

He’s fulfilled every boy’s dream—
he’s got a pet monkey by his side
but his monkey is unhappy
He’s got a bad cold and needs
a decongestant

but Guzman doesn’t have a decongestant
and he doesn’t want to go to town to get some
It’s too far
and it’s too hot
and he doesn’t have the money for it anyway

Guzman is sad his monkey is not feeling better
It’s depressing when you have a pet monkey and
he’s depressed
Hopefully he’ll feel better soon

The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception
is his neighbor
in the stucco apartment court
She is also having trouble

It is a day for monkeys and virgins to have trouble
and be depressed
and it depresses Guzman
The sun is shining and everyone is depressed

Guzman grabs the wrist of Jesus’ older brother
and pulls him from the jaws
of the Puma Devil

The Puma Devil’s mouth
is full of flames

Guzman says:
See! We can do something about our fates!
Life gets better every day!
Cheer up, people!
It’s morning in the Mezo-American Empire!

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

M. Krochmalnik Grabois’ poems have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He is a regular contributor to The Prague Revue, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, most recently for his story “Purple Heart” published in The Examined Life in 2012, and for his poem. “Birds,” published in The Blue Hour, 2013. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for 99 cents from Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition.

Grabois was born in the Bronx, and now splits his time between Denver, an old schoolhouse in Michigan and occasionally, Merida Mexico.

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Angie107

photo by Angela M Campbell

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Poetry

Forgiveness is a small boat and other poems

by Zachary Kluckman

Forgiveness is a Small Boat

 

You were       almost

A silk-worms’ favorite leaf

Once

 

Almost          delicate

 

Slender wristed

As the throat of those orchids

We talked about planting at Christmas

 

But you could never catch rain

That’s how I knew we were doomed

 

The heart is a drunken architect

Full of blue prints and sky scrapers

No one understands his designs

 

When you danced naked

Through the tawdry office of my mind

Upsetting the furniture

Teaching the windows

to sing like wine glasses

At Hollywood weddings

 

You were the rain

 

All throaty laughs and light touches

 

You were the leaves    dancing over concrete in fall

Red eyed and wicked

Waiting for some one to jump in

 

I was a leaf gatherer

Chasing these widows of spring

 

Pressing lovers into bed sheets

The way maple folds against the spine

Of old journals      biting at the bindings

 

A canvas topped Samson

Loose in the city          assaulting bookstores

With the jawbone of an ass

 

Stolen from a farmer’s field

Freeing poems trapped like hungry birds

In the back of old books

 

You were       almost    delicate

I was rebellious, a bee in the window

Your eyes could never quite close

 

Somewhere in Albuquerque there is a church

That remembers the prayers of our feet

 

In that church there is a closet

Where we almost committed a sin of impatience

A broom that has seen you naked

 

And a flowerbed where I buried our vows

When you weren’t looking

 

As this earth is my witness

You were the rain

 

I have stood naked inside of you

Surprised by your violence

 

 

The Sun is a Bug on the Windshield

 
…the sunset

stays in my windows.

I have trapped it there

 

with a brush

painting each color’s portrait

 

with the eager optimism

of a sinner

seeking salvation,

 

with the quick hands

of a junkie,

 

convinced that rainbows are prisons.

 

Water based prisms

making marionette’s of the spectrum.

Colors suspended

 

by their own lack of faith,

 

with the skepticism

of a father, with no home

for his children

 

convinced the sky

has slit its wrists,
opened the veins in a display

 

meant for the sun.

 

A mean ex-lover

whose affairs with the trees

gave birth to the shadows

 

where my mother was born,

 

sculpting mud for a son

she named carelessly

 

under the bright,

melancholy suicide of dusk.

 

 

 

 

 

Harvest Half Moon

 

If my hands could cross

the harvest of your heart

and leave you untouched

then what business of mine,

this burden of scything

 

this wicked threshing

the thrashing limb of my eye

something separate, unhinged

like the black pearl of a crow

rolling untethered in the socket

 

what dirty oasis, your love

carving half moon love letters

like soured lemon mouths

puckered with impatience, this

impractical orchard you planted

 

in the heat haze of fever,

the flesh swelling like soil

reaching for seed after a dry season,

eager for reason. Eager to remember

purpose. And passion.

 

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

 

Zachary Kluckman is the Spoken Word Editor for Pedestal Magazine, Associate Editor for The Journal of Truth and Consequence, Director of the Albuquerque Slam Poet Laureate Program and a founding member of the Albuquerque Poetry Festival. His poetry appears in print and on the radio around the world. A Pushcart Prize nominee, his recent publications include The New York Quarterly, Memoir (and) and Cutthroat among others. When he is not untangling string cheese, Kluckman is hard at work on a new manuscript titled “Those Dust Shouldered Ghosts”

Angie3

photo by Angela M Campbell

 

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Bilingual, Poetry

Candidates for Sainthood and Other Sinners and other poems

by Don Cellini

Candidates for sainthood and other sinners   

                         (Bilingual selection)

Foreword

 

He was a Franciscan.  Or a Dominican.  Or a Cistercian.  I don’t know.  All I could see at first was his profile since he had the hood of his habit pulled up.  Something sparkled near his lip.  Turned out to be a piercing.  Can you imagine?  And when he pulled back the hood, his bald head was covered with tattoos.  Suns and moons and stars and lightning.   All over his head and neck.  Jesus!  People started looking at each other and couldn’t believe what they were seeing.  And who knows what more we couldn’t see.  But when he began preaching, folks headed for the parking lot.  You cannot ignore the misfortunate among you.  The hungry must be fed.  Don’t walk past the downtrodden in the street.  Do something that lifts them up.  Folks were pissed.  Imagine, that freak preaching to us like that?  By the time he had finished, the pews were mostly empty.  Just the hungry, the addicts, and the unemployed remained.

 

 

 

If the palm

of the hand

 

reveals the

life line,

 

then secrets

are engraved

 

on the sole

of the foot.

 

A walk

on the beach

 

is confession,

but the tide

 

erases a

great trail

 

of secrets

each day

 

to keep

the secrets

 

secret.  Beware

of fortunetellers

 

who insist you

remove your shoes.

 

 

 

Saint Sebastian,

patron of archers,

 

soldiers, plague

victims;

 

erotic renaissance

object;

 

submissive victim

tied to a pillar;

 

raven locks

and perfect

 

pecs pierced

by arrows

 

of desire.

Church Fathers

 

asked that

your portraits

 

be removed

from churches

 

because some

women were

 

too distracted

to pray.

 

They were,

too.

 

 

 

Truth is best

left on the rack.

 

She wears such a fine story
elegantly embroidered,
mother-of-pearl

buttons, her feet

 

tied with ribbons

of henequen.

She picks up the

thread and begins to spin
a new yarn, one
that covers her

 

head to foot,
stitched along

 

seams with rows

of beads, each carefully

 

knotted – a period
at the end of a sentence.

But the hem of her story
begins to unravel
until she is left —
one hand on her chest,
the other covering

her veracity.

 

 

Cloudy sky.

There are no stars.

 

Dreamless night.

There is no sleep.

 

Restless moon.

There is no glow.

 

There is only

this night –

 

inscribed to you

in India ink –

 

filled with

endless night.

 

 

 

Afterword

 

When he was alive people already called him a saint.  At the end of the month, when groceries were scarce, he’d show up with produce from his garden.  If you needed a ride to the doctor’s office, it happened to be his day off work and he’d be happy to help.  Pick up a prescription at the pharmacy?  No problem, he would be going right by there on his way home.  If someone was evicted from their apartment, he always had an extra room, or just the sofa for a few days until a new place could be found.  Those who were troubled or worried would seek him out, since he always had the right words to help lift their burdens.  And for those who were dying, he would sit by their bedsides and hold their hands, so they wouldn’t have to make their final journey alone.  There was simply no end to the good things he did during his lifetime and everyone seemed to have benefited.  The first step to sainthood – was easy and quick.  Some joked that he would become the patron saint of tattoo artists.  But canonization required that two miracles be documented based on his intercession: someone cured of cancer; a cripple who could walk again; an accident victim brought back to life.  His former friends and neighbors prayed.  Lit candles.  Prayed more.  Nothing happened.  After many years they began to forget.  Even in Rome, where eternity moves only on a breath from the holy spirit, they began to forget.  And finally they did.

 

 

Aprendices de santo

   y otros pecadores

             (Selección)

Versiones al español: Fer de la Cruz


Prólogo

 

Él era franciscano. O dominico. O tal vez cisterciense. No lo sé. Como tenía puesta la capucha, sólo vi su perfil. Algo resplandecía junto a su labio. ¿Te imaginas? Resultó ser un piercing. Y al quitarse la capucha, tenía la calva llena de tatuajes: soles, lunas, estrellas y relámpagos, por toda la cabeza y por el cuello. ¡Ay Jesús! La gente se miraba sin creerlo. Y habrá que imaginar lo que no estaba a la vista. En cuanto abrió la boca, la gente fue rehuyendo a su vehículo. No pueden ignorar a los desamparados entre ustedes. Los hambrientos deben ser alimentados. No camines de largo por la calle ante los oprimidos. Algo tiene que hacerse para darles consuelo. La gente se enfadó. ¿Puedes imaginarte, semejante bicho raro predicando y diciéndonos qué hacer? Los asientos se habían casi vaciado cuando terminó de hablar. Sólo permanecieron los hambrientos, los adictos y los desempleados.

 

 

 

Si la palma

de la mano

 

nos revela la línea

de la vida,

 

entonces los secretos

van inscritos

 

en la planta del

pie.

 

Un paseo descalzo

por la playa

 

es una confesión

mas la marea

 

borra largos

senderos

 

de secretos

a diario

 

para que se mantengan

de verdad en

 

secreto. Cuidado

con los adivinadores

 

cuando insisten en quitarte

los zapatos.

 

 

 

San Sebastián,

patrón de los arqueros

 

y soldados caídos

por la Peste;

 

objeto erótico

del Renacimiento,

 

una víctima atada,

sumisa a una columna;

 

negros rizos

perfectos pectorales perforados

 

por las saetas

del deseo.

 

Los Padres de la Iglesia

condenan los retratos

 

y exigen

que los saquen

 

de todos los

santuarios.

 

Pues algunas mujeres

se distraen

 

demasiado en la

oración

 

Ellos

también.

 

 

 

La verdad queda

mejor en el perchero.

 

Ella porta ese cuento

de elegante bordado y

 

botón de madreperla,

y en los pies tiene

 

agujetas de cinta

de henequén.

 

Retoma el hilo, teje

para que su entramado

 

la proteja

de pies a cabeza,

 

con cuentas de

chaquira en las

 

costuras

finamente ensartadas,

 

atadas con un punto

al fin de la oración,

 

en tanto el dobladillo de su vida

comienza a desdoblarse

 

y ella se ve desnuda

con la mano en el pecho

 

y la otra cubriendo su

verdad.

 

 

 

En un cielo nublado

—sin estrellas—,

 

esta noche sin sueños

—en vigilia—,

 

va sin brillo la luna

—aunque inquieta.

 

Sólo la noche existe,

sólo ésta,

 

inscrita sobre ti

—en tinta china—

 

llenándose de sí

—noche infinita.

 

 

 

Epílogo

 

Aun en vida ya lo llamaban santo. Al fin de cada mes, cuando los alimentos escaseaban, llegaba con verduras de su huerto. Si requerías de alguien que te llevara al médico, resultaba ser ése su día de descanso y con gusto lo hacía. ¿Necesitas farmacia? No hay problema, pues él pasaba justo por ahí camino a casa. Si a alguien desalojaban de su departamento, tenía un cuarto extra o un sofá por unos días, hasta que se encontrara un nuevo espacio. Aquellos con problemas o con preocupaciones lo buscaban pues él tenía siempre la palabra indicada para desvanecer la pesadumbre. Y con los moribundos se sentaba tomándoles la mano para que no emprendieran solos la partida. La bondad prodigada era tan grande que todos parecían beneficiarse. Fue rápido y sencillo el primer paso para la santidad. Hubo quienes bromearon diciendo que sería el santo patrón de los artistas tatuadores, mas la canonización es cosa seria y requiere dos milagros documentados bajo su intercesión: algún cáncer curado, un lisiado que ha vuelto a caminar o la víctima fatal de un accidente que recobró la vida. Sus antiguos amigos y vecinos oraron, encendieron veladoras y siguieron orando un poco más pero nada sucedió. Después de muchos años, comenzaron a olvidar. Aun en Roma, donde la eternidad se mueve sólo por el halo divino, comenzaron a olvidar y finalmente lo hicieron.

 

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Don Cellini is a poet, translator and photographer.  He is the author of Approximations/Aproximaciones (2005) and Inkblots (2008) both collections of bilingual poems published by March Street Press.  His book of prose poems, Translate into English was released in 2010 by Mayapple Press.  His book of translations, Elías Nandino: Selected Poems (2010 McFarland Publishers) is the first book-length translation of the Mexican poet.  Imagenes para una anunciación / Images for an annunciation, his translation of the work of Mexican poet Roxana Elvridge-Thomas, is forthcoming from FootHills Press.He is a recipient of fellowships from the King Juan Carlos Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  He teaches at Adrian College in Michigan.

 

Don Cellini es poeta, traductor y fotógrafo. Es autor de los poemarios Aproximaciones/Approximations (2005) e Inkbolts (2008), en edición bilingüe de March Street Press. Su colección de poemas en prosa Translate into English vio luz en 2010 bajo el sello de Mayapple Press. Su traducción Elías Nandino: Selected Poems (2010 McFarland Publishers), es la primera colección extensa que llega a lectores anglófonos de los poemas del maestro mexicano. Tradujo a la también mexicana Roxana Elvridge-Thomas, cuyo libro Imágenes para una anunciación/Images for an annunciation se encuentra en proceso de edición bajo el sello de FootHills Press. Ha sido becario de la Fundación Rey Juan Carlos y de la National Endowment for the Humanities. Actualmente es profesor en Adrian College, en Michigan, EE.UU.

Angie16

photo by Angela M Campbell

 

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Fiction

The Hunt

by Angela M. Campbell

 

Happy Hour was over but the bar was still crowded with hangers-on nursing half-priced drinks. I sat next to an over-dressed woman whose lipstick was a touch too bright. She had a martini with five olives. When she saw me looking, she said, “He makes these just for me.”

She looked at my ballet flats, so sensible next to her high heels. “I wish I could wear shoes like that, but I’m still ‘out there.’” She did air quotes with her fingers, then went back to her drink. “Married for a while?” she said. “I’ll bet you have a kid or two. This is a treat for you, being out. Not like it is for the rest of us.

“I’m waiting for my ‘date.’” She air-quoted again. “He’s late, as always. Never calls or texts; just…late. I put up with it. It’s someone, something to do. My sister says that I should settle down, but it’s not so easy. You don’t just wake up one day and give all this up.”

She held up an olive, displaying it, then popped it in her mouth. “My sister always wanted holidays to be perfect. The ‘Norman Rockwell’ Christmas, Thanksgiving with big turkeys. She would pretend it wasn’t just the three of us with a turkey breast and Styrofoam containers of mashed potatoes and gravy. At Christmas, sometimes she’d gift wrap empty boxes so it looked like we had more under the tree.

“We didn’t have Easter egg hunts. None of us liked hard-boiled eggs, and we couldn’t afford eggs no one would eat. We wanted to decorate eggs but Mom wouldn’t budge. My sister found an article about how you could blow out the insides of raw eggs and decorate those, and we promised to eat the scrambled eggs, so Mom let us do that. We made the holes too big, so they didn’t turn out as nice as the pictures. Then they were too delicate to hide, so we still didn’t get our Easter egg hunt. We didn’t get them completely cleaned out, and we had to throw them out when they started to stink.

“The next year, Mom bought us some plastic ones, so that my sister could have a proper Easter egg hunt. We couldn’t decorate them, but it was the best we could do. My sister wanted to put candy in them, but my mom only had two big, hollow chocolate bunnies, one for each of us. My sister insisted it wasn’t a real hunt with empty eggs. My mom grabbed olives from the refrigerator. ‘Put these in the eggs.’

“She thought my sister would get upset and abandon the whole idea, but my sister thought it was perfect. It was funny; she wanted this traditional Easter egg hunt, but she was thrilled with the olives. Then again, she loved olives. She’d eat them after school, one after the other, until my mom would stop her, telling her that she’d ruin her appetite.”

She popped another olive in her mouth. I wanted to leave, but she started again. She wasn’t telling me the story – she was just telling it.

“The olive juice ruined the plastic eggs, but my sister didn’t care. The next year we did it again, but we used sandwich bags to hold the olives. This became our tradition. My sister felt like she owned these olive hunts. When you’re the little sister, you don’t get a lot of things that are just yours.

“I don’t talk to her much these days. She’s in another state; she’s got her family, too busy to call.” She wiped at her eyes. “Doesn’t matter. I have places like this. I can get plenty of olives, whenever I want.”

I was about to make an excuse for her sister, maybe explain how she got busy, but before I did anything, she stood. “He’s here,” she said, with a nod toward the door.  She adjusted herself, getting ready for battle. She was gone.

 

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

 

Angela M. Campbell is a full-time writer. She grew up in Ohio and lived in the Philadelphia area for several years before moving to Gaithersburg, Maryland. She has been named as a finalist in the essay category and a semi-finalist in the novel-in-progress category in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition (Faulkner House, New Orleans). This is her first published short story.    http://higgypiggie.blogspot.com

Art by Judith Shaw

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Fiction

Separados

by Patricia Hemingway

 

The Palms, a Supper Club with Bar in the small Mexican village, was crowded for a Tuesday evening.  Lucid triangles on narrow stems intermingled freely with tumblers half full of amber liquid.  The American woman  sipped her icy drink, and watched the band members unpack their instruments in the space next to the bar, a sign that it would rain.  The drinking patrons, and the coupled diners seated at the white cloth-covered tables, each in their own way, formed the perimeter of a small, makeshift dance floor.

The woman turned toward the adjacent open-air patio.  It was empty except for the palm trees intersecting the sky in near-perfect arches.  The woman set down her drink, and listened.  The fronds rustled.  With the grace of a dancer, they honored with a deep bow the wind of early evening.

She began to envision a curtain of rain forming just outside the eaves, and found it comforting.  Drops, filling the empty patio.    Just now the rain began its slow patter on the palms.

The woman sat opposite the mirrored wall at the back of the bar.  She located her image among profiled faces, and arms bared to the evening air.  The palms, their trunks roped in white lights, appeared only slightly distorted in their reversal.  She imagined the rain rolling down the mirror, and troughs forming down  her face.  In a lapse of time the signs of aging deepened, and she felt a cocoon spin round her as surely as her drink left its wet circlet on the bar.

The young Mexican waiter standing near the kitchen was watching her.  He appeared to be anticipating the moment when he would replenish her drink.  He was, in fact, aware each time she crossed her legs, when she shifted her position, and the way her fingers came together near the hem of her dress, casually covering her knees.

The young man studied the angle of the woman’s head in juxtaposition to her shoulders.  In this way, he read her shifts in emotion as one shoulder relaxed and her hand opened on her lap, as the other grasped her drink, as she found her own reflection and quickly bent her head.  It was then he saw the frail strip of fabric fall sideways from her otherwise bare shoulder.  The young waiter imagined himself beside her, taking the strap between his fingers and encouraging it back to its place, lightly brushing her skin as he did so.

He understood her aloneness as completely as he did his own.  He watched as long as he could, then reached down to retrieve a candleholder from the shelf, and carried it to the far end of the bar where she sat.  The large white candleholder had been designed by a local glassblower to resemble a magnolia blossom in a slightly surreal, asynchronous shape.  When the young waiter sat it on the shiny black bar in front of her and leaned in to light the candle, its whiteness glowed so convincingly that for a moment the hint of magnolia seeped into the smoky air.

He waited.

She nodded, and said “thank you” without turning to look at him.

You are very beautiful, he longed to say.  More beautiful than from across this room.  Especially your shoulders.

“Can I bring something for you, Señora?”

She looked at the mirror as he stood just behind her.   “In a little while.”

The young waiter felt the stab of dismissal.  He left her quietly and went into the bathroom.  With the wooden door locked, he unzipped his pants and touched the warm brown skin of his penis.  The skin tightened and tears came to his eyes.  Why could he not rub against her softness.   The young man leaned his back against the wall, and braced one foot against the toilet.   He had only to stroke himself lightly.  The tip emerged as if from hibernation, so tender he barely dared to touch it.  His back arched and his breath stopped in his throat.  His mouth softened into a silent cry.

…….

The band started to play and a crowd was drawn to the sheltered dance floor.  They spun and swayed, and there was a shared laughter as their movements took them to the perimeter where the rain came down just beyond the eaves.    Motion obscured them to one another.  Hips grazed nearby bellies, softness to a partner’s muscled thigh.  Rhythm caressed their faces and their breath took on moisture.  They might have been bathing  in a pond of pure sound.

The woman listened for the rain and it became foreground to the music. She was immune to the dancers veering inward toward the bar.  Her cocoon,  thin as tissue paper, made her impermeable to the outer world.  The soft underside of the cocoon sealed off the world  inside, where she once existed.  Where she had been a fishnet, dropped wide onto the ocean.  One integral woven strand, permeable, infinitely flexible.  Where waves rushed back and forth through her pores.  Through her emotions they flowed, bubbling to her surface in laughter and comprehension.

She longed for this world she could no longer access.    She slid off the barstool and made her way through the bright, white tables, and walked onto the open patio.  The rain was falling in a singsong of drops.  Her arms reached outward and her palms turned upward in invitation.  She spun around in one direction, then another.  She never stopped moving.

The rainwater swirled about her and she became wet.  So wet that she drifted slowly downward to an undersea world.  When finally she reached the sandy bottom, it felt familiar to her feet.  Kelp trees, in a forest surrounding her, extended to the surface and to the waves, now high above.  She reached out to grasp the slippery golden vines, stabilized in the sand.  They comforted her.   She wrapped them in her hair and round and round her neck.  They clung tightly, rooting her to the ocean floor.

…..

The young waiter stood in the shadow at the edge of the patio.    He held two small towels, still folded.  He did not move, nor did he blink, as he watched the woman dance, as he watched the raindrops falling on her shoulders.

 

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Patricia Hemingway lives in Ajijic, Jalisco, on the shore of Lake Chapala.  She is a member of the Ajijic Writers Group.  Her first book of stories, The One Who Got Away, is due for publication in the fall.

 

Angie20

photo by Angela M Campbell

 

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Fiction

Caro Amor

by Grace Andreacchi

 

The hand the colour of ivory darkened till it stood out a black claw upon the rose pink china silk, then the girl in red ribbons came in to light the lamps. The Princess had been dreaming of a dog, a great sleek white deerhound called Fritz – he had been among the many wedding gifts from her husband’s family. In the dream they were running side by side through the forest, the two of them young and wild went like the wind through the pine woods around the little mountain village where she had passed all the summers of her life. She could smell the pines and the black mushrooms, she wore a short white dress, side by side she ran with Fritz, she ran as fast as the dog, she would never tire. Unblinking, she turned her eyes upon the white camellias beside the bed, the gilded mirror that caught the flicker from the grate, the rose silk bed curtains. No, I won’t go, she thought. Too tired. And it’s so very cold. The water had frozen in the fountains, the coverlet beneath the hand was as smooth and cold as a sheet of pink ice. What then? A frugal supper – oysters, a single glass of champagne, then sit in the drafty hall and read St. Thomas Aquinas until her eyes were too tired to persevere any longer, and so to bed. The Princess sighed and rang for her maid. Her long, heavy tresses were brushed until they glowed the colour of ripe chestnuts, then wound carefully and dressed with perfume and flowers. She dressed in black lace that rustled like autumn leaves on the snow of her neck and arms. At her throat, her ears and fingers she wore topaz stones en coeur the same lambent yellow as her eyes. She looked like a very expensive doll that had been put away in a cupboard and forgotten (perhaps her little mistress had grown up and no longer needed her) but still bore the elegant stamp of the fine Parisian shop from which she had come. In the carriage on the way to the opera house she remembered there was to be a new tenor and smiled to herself. She was right to have come out after all.

The young man was billed as Giovanni Foli, but one heard in an instant that he was not an Italian. He spoke and sang the Italian language well enough, but with a wild, lilting accent the Princess recognized from long ago. One also saw in a glance that he was not an Italian, for he was far too tall, the effect was almost comic for he overwhelmed the rest of the cast, he was tall and straight and clumsy and sang with his rich head of black curls thrown back, his white throat pulsing in the brilliant gaslight above the green velvet of his close-fitting tunic. His voice like an angel’s trumpet rattled the bandbox fineries of the little provincial theatre. He seemed never to breathe. According to St. Thomas the angels, when they appear to men, have not such bodies as ours, but altogether superior bodies which are composed of a kind of vaporous cloud. This permits them the exercise of such human faculties as, for example, eating, without in any way compromising their wholly spiritual nature. Perhaps the so-called Signor Foli has such an angelic body, she thought. She examined him closely through her opera glasses. He had a large, square head, square shoulders, the deep chest of a born singer. The face was arresting, handsome, terribly young, with a long, flat, undulating upper lip, a white, square brow under the black curls, a neat, square jaw. She wondered what the eyes were like up close. Yes, it was possible, this tall, clumsy young man – one could easily picture him with large, multi-coloured wings springing from his muscular back – the wings would annoy him, he would push them back before beginning to sing, he might trip over them – he had already tripped several times on stage; the others were doing everything possible to see to it that he would trip. Going by the voice alone, he might well be an angel, it had exactly that annunciatory quality one associates with the heavenly host. If one granted that an angel might clomp about the stage like a peasant, might hold his handsome, vaporous body as stiff as a board – and one might easily grant it, for the angel’s area of expertise is, above all, that of song, and this young man sang in a manner that was completely right.

Perfection is always effortless, or it would not be perfection. I don’t know how to tell you about the singing of the young Giovanni Foli. If you have ever watched a gull soaring far out over the sea, its white wings spread upon the sky, and seen how fearlessly it alights on the one outcropping of rock that rises above the crushing surf, then you have seen it.  He couldn’t act, he didn’t want to act. He wanted nothing but to sing, and, as the completely ridiculous role of Don Ottavio left him no device but song, he was thoroughly happy. He sang with an innate refinement, a delicacy and purity of style that gave back to the music its original splendour. Where on earth did he learn to do that? she wondered, but at the same moment remembered, such things are never learned, such things are gifts from the gods, who, everyone knows, torment us for their sport. Stricken with delight, the Princess laughed silently, clutching at her heart, alone in the pink silk box filled with the odour of winter camellias.

He was an Irishman, she said, twisting the rings on her skinny fingers, the topaz and the gold. I knew nothing of Ireland – it’s one of those far-away north countries, cold, barbarous, and wet. I had been to London once as a girl – it was enough for me. It was in the month of April and I believe that it rained every day. We sat in the hotel with our governess – we were not permitted to go out in the rain. My mother was afraid we would take cold and die. It was impossible to get proper food. I used to play in the lobby with my sister – there was a doorman who wore a green livery and used to show us card tricks. We spoke English well, for we had an English governess, all the good families had English girls for their children. Her name was Miss Eileen. I believe she was an Irish girl, for my mother would not have a heretic in the house, but she never spoke of her country, she never spoke of herself at all, and being children we never thought to ask. So it was, I knew nothing of Ireland. ‘You have a remarkable capacity for tristesse,’ I said, ‘for one so young.’ ‘ It’s the Irish,’ he said and smiled. The smile was not what you think. There was nothing of vanity there, nothing at all of the young cad who makes love to an older woman, it was a pure smile and of course a sad one – he was thinking of his home. It happened more in the eyes than the mouth. That long, undulating upper lip barely lifted over the white teeth – it was the eyes that smiled. Up close they were so blue – reckless, I thought, that is a reckless blue. The colour itself caught and pinned there within like blue-winged birds, one felt the life in them, saw the wings beating as shadows that move over the water. I learned from those eyes what northern skies are like. I had him here, he sat where you’re sitting now. No longer young, I knew enough to ask, and he told me of his country, of his songs – he came from a place called Athlone. ‘It’s a country town,’ he said. He had trained with the cathedral choirmaster in Dublin. The lilt of that speech so far away and yet familiar – I seemed to feel again the crackle of my old pinafore. His speech was peculiarly sweet and plangent, a music at once arrogant and mild, as only the very young man. I watched his long upper lip. He sat stiffly, his boots were dusty, he wore his coat badly and it was a badly made coat. The curls sprang like a wild growth upon his head. He did not kiss my hand but shook it as if I were a man. He spoke well and sweetly. I watched that long lip undulate, the play of the white teeth between, the movement of the throat. He spoke of his fiancée, a certain Miss Foley, an Irish girl. What a stupid child! To speak to me of this girl. I shall send him away now, I thought. But he was smiling again with those eyes. I gave a supper for him and invited all the best people, those from Genoa as well. The Bishop, my cousin, was there, and my uncle, the Duke of Parma. He sang for us, Mozart and Händel – here in this room. Even the Bishop, who had known Mario, was completely won over by his singing of Händel’s Caro Amor. As if he were only speaking the words in his own angelic tongue – ‘Caro amor…sol per momenti, lascia in pace l’alma mia’ – as if he were pleading with some private deity, a goddess no doubt, though he was a devout Catholic, perhaps Miss Foley. He stood with his feet planted apart, head thrown back – a little, not too much, you don’t want to constrict the throat …lascia in pace. But he knows nothing yet, the foolish boy, I thought. He doesn’t wish to be left in peace, on the contrary is eager to suffer the trite pangs of youthful love. I gave him a white camellia from my sash, I kissed his cheek. I had to prompt him to bend over me – he was too far out of reach and it never would have occurred to him. His cheek was still soft under the light stubble, there was an odour like yeast and fields, an odour of young man’s flesh. At the moment of the kiss a flush overspread his features – he had not guessed my intention – and I felt the warm blood flow into him under the pressure of my mouth. You must come again, I said. Come in the summer – I will show you the mountains. He said he would come.

‘You are a beautiful woman, Camilla. People are talking,’ said my cousin the Bishop. ‘Let them talk,’ I said, in the villa by the lake; my cousin was in the habit of paying me a visit every summer when the heat in Genoa becomes insufferable. ‘A widowed lady must be careful,’ he said. ‘ A widowed lady may do as she likes,’ I said, answering perhaps too sharply, not meaning to wound him, for I am fond of my cousin. I took his hands. ‘Forgive me, Carlo,’ I said. ‘If the fools wish to wag their tongues, is it my affair? John is happy here. He’s a virtuous young man, more’s the pity. He’s just a great baby.’ The Bishop kissed both my hands, first one and then the other, and he laughed. ‘You’re right, Camilla,’ he said. ‘But babies too can cause trouble.’ ‘I ought to know,’ I said. ‘I buried three.’ ‘Be careful,’ he said again. ‘I don’t want you to be hurt. I’m afraid of these virtuous young men.’

Rising with the first light, knowing not what had awakened me, for I’m in the habit of lying late, lying until the sun is well overhead and the air already heated, the chill of morning disagrees with my bones and the grey light of morning renders me susceptible to sadness – whether it was a sound, some sudden disturbance of the atmosphere, or perhaps a dream – yes, I had been dreaming of Fritz, my big white dog – he ran down the path to the lake and leapt from the pier, a stunning flash of life against the green – then fell like a bird into the water. He loved to swim, he was of course a fine gun dog and would fetch the birds from the most impossible places, but he loved water for its own sake. I went out onto the balcony. It was still and cold, but already the mist had risen several feet above the lake and was streaming from the dark sides of the mountains. The birds had not yet begun to sing. Something rustled in the trees below, then I saw him emerge from the wooded path and run out onto the pier, nakedly white, his long arms extended over his head. He leapt out into the misty air and then down, like a bird, he was not clumsy now but cut the water keenly, then struck out with strong white arms across the lake. I shrank back into the shadow of the house and watched him cutting the water with those arms and I laughed for the sheer loveliness of the thing. He came out dripping – I saw! and shook himself like any fine young dog. I pulled down the shade and went back to my bed – I laughed and laughed until it hurt.

He sang every night, she said, looking out into the windswept garden. You can’t imagine what it was like to have him in the house, always singing. In the morning, the very first thing before I opened my eyes, I would listen for it. I could feel the morning light on my closed eyelids, my room looks to the east over the lake and there I had long been accustomed to listen before rising to the various music of the place – the cowbells, the birds, the wind in the pines, the footsteps of the maids upon the stairs, voices from the courtyard below – my father’s, my husband’s – I would hear in the sounds what kind of a day it was going to be. And suddenly there was this voice – for he was always singing, he sang as naturally as a bird – little things of Mozart’s or Haydn’s, big coloratura arias, the sad songs of his own country – but always something, always singing. With my eyelids shut I saw only pink, it was warm under the eiderdown – I could lie still for an hour and still he would be singing – the whole house rang with it like a giant sounding board, the walls began to resonate, the banister gave off a sweet tone if you merely touched it on the way down, the stairwell was swimming in bright sounds. ‘Are you never tired?’ I said. ‘No, never Princess,’ he said. ‘Is it that I’m disturbing your rest?’ ‘I like to be disturbed,’ I said. ‘ You must go on disturbing me as much as possible.’ He didn’t know whether I meant a joke or what I meant. He was easily troubled, sensitive to slights. I took his hand and pressed it – his hands were large, white – they had a blind, helpless look, he was unable to direct them very well. ‘Please go on singing,’ I said. ‘Never stop.’ He liked that when I pressed his hand.

He sang every night for the Princess in the green and white salon, with the windows open to the lake the moonlight the clustered lights of the pleasure boats far out on the water one heard the splash of an oar a ragged waltz from the village band the hiss of falling stars birds settling upon their nests plaintive frogs, in the flickering light that started shadows upon his untried face, in the watery cascade of her gown. He has trodden on the lace that edges the skirt. The thin be-ringed fingers feel for the keys and strike them gently, ivory upon ivory, rippling like laughter in the dark. Behind them the Bishop in black listens with his head on his hand. He sang every night, for example, the early Mozart, a child’s music to which he brings the inordinate optimism of his tender years – he is only twenty-two! Ballads of heartbreak and loss, the verismo anguish of Verdi, no matter the import, he sings always with the same singular serenity, unacquainted with grief. When he leans over to examine the music she can feel his breath on her neck. He sings Caro Amor a second time at the Bishop’s request. Tea is served – he sits beside her on the sofa, smiling with his blue eyes, he stirs sugar into his tea and drinks it heartily – he has sung a lot, he is thirsty, he is fond of tea. When he has drunk his tea she sends him to bed, kissing him first on the both cheeks, and he obeys her as if he were a child. The Princess is aware that her second child, Alfredo, would also be twenty-two had he lived. She will sit in the dark a while longer with her cousin, the Bishop, sometimes only a few minutes, sometimes an hour or more. ‘You should have put in gas, or perhaps now you will have electricity.’ ‘No,’ she said, ‘I like the dark. This house has always been dark at night. You can feel the country in the dark.’ ‘But you can’t see the music, Camilla.’ Her white shoulders moved in the dark like something apart from her. ‘He doesn’t know where to put his hands,’ he said. She looked at him sharply, laughed, again sharp. ‘No, of course not,’ she said. ‘He has no idea what to do with his hands, what to do with his feet – not even his mouth. He has no other idea in his head but to open his mouth and sing.’ The Bishop sighed. ‘And he has such a pretty mouth,’ he added. ‘You noticed that,’ she said. ‘He sings like a choirboy,’ he said. ‘He is a choirboy,’ she said. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I mean the sound of the voice itself – it has the child’s clarity and freshness without the sugar.’ ‘He tells me he was a choirboy in Ireland,’ she said. ‘You can hear it,’ he said. ‘He permits me to kiss him goodnight,’ she said. ‘I think someone has told him the Italians are always kissing and so he has decided it’s all right.’ ‘He will permit you anything, Camilla, said the Bishop. ‘The very first time I saw him he reminded me of one of Thomas’s angels,’ she said. ‘Because, as you said, it’s that kind of voice – not cold or passionless, but full of light – a northern light, you can see it in his eyes as well, and I think this light is like the light of pure reason that belongs by rights to Thomas’s angels.’ ‘I’ve never really seen eye to eye with Thomas on the angels,’ he said. ‘They gave him a deal of trouble.’ ‘They’re so very reasonable!’ she said. ‘Such reasonable angels. Their love for God is just this – a perfect rational understanding of His perfections, and the full enjoyment of that understanding. But God’s love for us isn’t like that! It isn’t rational, it’s completely and wildly irrational – didn’t He have Himself nailed to a cross for our sake? What’s so rational about that?’ They sat a while in silence in the dark. The boats were all gone from the lake, the candles had burnt down to their wicks, the moonlight was streaming through the window. ‘Why should angels sing, after all?’ she said. ‘It would seem,’ he said, ‘that angels do not sing…’ ‘Be serious a moment, Carlo,’ she said. ‘Did you never wonder about it? It isn’t evident that they would. I’d rather have expected them to restrict themselves to a silent perpetual adoration.’ ‘They might become bored with that after a while,’ he said. ‘Oh, I don’t think so! They’re very intellectual creatures, all kinds of mental efforts are their especial delight. They have to contemplate all those divine perfections all the time – geometry, mathematics – oh, it makes my head ache just to think of it!’ ‘Their heads aren’t like ours,’ he said. ‘They’re much lighter, they haven’t any humidity to weigh them down. It makes a difference.’ ‘Well, all right,’ she said, ‘but why sing? Aren’t they busy enough with all those perfections to contemplate?’ ‘They sing because they’re happy,’ he said. ‘Song is nothing but the movement of air, after all. And angels are creatures of the upper air. So, you see, song is the proper medium for angels, they’re quite at home in the air, and their spiritual delights give rise to certain, as it were, currents in the air which we call song.’ ‘Not bad,’ she said. ‘Tell me, Carlo, do you believe the angels weep?’ ‘I believe they wept at the death of Our Lord’, he said. And they will weep at the Last Judgement to see so many damned. But in between? I don’t know.’ ‘I want them to weep,’ she said. ‘I want them to.’ ‘You may very well be right,’ he said. ‘We know that they rejoice when even one lost sheep is returned to the fold. Why should they not weep?’

We were alone now in the house on the lake; my cousin had kissed him on both cheeks and gone back to Genoa. We went out onto the lake. It was already September but the day was one of the hottest of the whole season. The trees along the shore were stippled with gold, the mountains with fresh snow; I trailed a hand in the water painfully cold and the sky over us a hard bright blue but the sun shone down with such fervour, it was as if all the heat of the past weeks had been gathered into this one day to make a last bonfire of summer’s vanities. He had taken off his coat, he wore only a thin shirt, open now nearly to the waist, the sleeves rolled to the elbows. Rowing is hard and pleasant work for a young man. The sweat stood out on his brow, the shirt clung to him. Despite weeks in the sun he was still very white. He made long, even strokes with the oars, throwing the weight of his back and chest into it, then pulling himself upright with a smooth, elastic motion of the arms. He was wearing dirty white canvas trousers – these long, athletic legs nearly touching me. There was no wind at all, I held a parasol against the sun. When we were far out where all the villas look like little toy houses and all the trees like matchsticks, where only the mountains and the water and the sky are big and all the habitations of man are reduced to their original insignificance there he stopped and put up the oars, scattering bright drops over my dress. He dipped some water from the lake to bathe his brow. ‘By God, that’s cold!’ he said. ‘It comes from the melted snow,’ I said. You could see the mountain upside down in the lake. The sunlight on the water dazzled the eyes – one felt smaller, one saw only shadows and that light. ‘That’s new snow on the aiguilles,’ I said. ‘You’ll be off to Milan soon.’ He looked downcast, or perhaps it was only that the sun was in his eyes. ‘You still haven’t kissed me,’ I said – at this he looked up – ‘And I was so much hoping you would.’ He kissed me then. He had not much idea what to do with his mouth, with his hands still less. He reached for me blindly and squeezed – here, there, anywhere, as if I were a melon he was testing for ripeness. He tasted – so sweet! of grass, milk, and rich blood. ‘Attenzione! Don’t tip the boat,’ I had to say. He did not speak, but smiled with those reckless blue eyes. He was more than ever like Fritz. I ran a hand through his black curls fine as silk and he turned his head and caught my wrist gently between his teeth.

He followed me to my room as naturally as if he were really my dog. When I took him in my arms he trembled very much. I kissed him, I showed him – what to do with his mouth, his tongue, his hands. Afterwards he lay on his side and twisted his hand in my hair. ‘My dear lady, is your hair red?’ he said. ‘We call it chestnut here,’ I said. ‘There’ll be a bit of the Irish somewhere,’ he said. After that he made a habit of brushing out my hair every night, holding it up in his hands to feel the weight of it. Then he would be kissing me again, down on his knees, groping with his blind hands after the forbidden fruits. ‘Please, my lady,’ he would murmur. ‘Again, please.’ He had a young man’s appetite – I was happy enough to feed him, but I wanted him to learn to eat with finesse. Naturally delicate in all his feelings, he learned quickly the manifold uses of the long, undulating upper lip, the tongue, he learned to be sparing with the teeth – he never was much good with his hands. One day I found under his pillow a velvet slipper I had been missing for some time. I smiled and slid it back into place before he saw. You must have a better keepsake than that, I thought.

He sang for me that night for the last time, for he was going away in the morning, his box stood already strapped in the hall. It was raining, there was thunder on the mountains, we had shut the windows and even had a fire it was that cold. The rain lashed the lake, the trees, drove the frail boats against the pier. His voice like a cool gale fanned my burning cheeks. He sang for me Mozart, Padre Martini, Händel – he sang Caro Amor, but halfway through he stopped. ‘It’s beautiful,’ I said, ‘Go on!’ He had not sung it half so well before – I only wished my cousin the Bishop were there to hear. ‘Why don’t you go on?’ I said. Then I looked up and saw that he was in tears. ‘I shall not sing it again!’ he cried. He turned his back to me, that I might not see him weeping.

I had a ring, a very beautiful topaz, it was the mate of this, she said, touching the large ring on her ivory hand. I took it off and placed it on his little finger – I had to force it down, it barely fit. He wore that ring the rest of his life, she said. I believe they buried him with it still on his finger – it would have been quite impossible to get it off after all those years. She held her hand to the lamp and the light flashed for a moment in the yellow stone. Then the tired hand sank back upon the coverlet, the maid came in to turn down the lamp for the night, and when I left her it stood out like a black claw upon the pale silk coverlet.

 

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Grace Andreacchi is an American-born novelist, poet and playwright. Works include the novels Scarabocchio and Poetry and Fear, Music for Glass Orchestra (Serpent’s Tail), Give My Heart Ease (New American Writing Award) and the chapbook Berlin Elegies. Her work appears inHorizon ReviewThe Literateur, Cabinet des Fées and many other fine places. Grace is also managing editor at Andromache Books and writes the literary blog AMAZING GRACE. She lives in London.

Angie42

Photo by Angela M Campbell

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Fiction

Sheila

by Julienne Busic

 

June was still wondering years afterward if she had done it on purpose, as though the answer would explain everything else that had happened in her life since the day her world – or, more accurately, her leg – had collided with Sheila’s.

All she’d known about Southerners until Sheila showed up at school was that there were lots of black people down there and everyone stuck “y’s” in words where there weren’t supposed to be any – thus rendering most of what they said incomprehensible to normal people – and then added a lot of extra syllables so it took twice as long to say what you wanted to say, if you’d had anything to say in the first place.

Sheila kept to herself the first couple days, seeming to know instinctively that  homo sapiensis was inclined to take instead of accept what was given freely.  Slowly, the other girls began to orbit, like small, self-conscious planets, their revolutions becoming smaller and smaller as she drew them finally into a snug circle around her. June took the initiative, looking her boldly in the face.

“What’s your name?” she challenged, hands on hips.

“Shayyyala”, the new girl answered matter of factly.  Her black, coarse hair was cut in a pageboy, with thick twirly bangs that brought to mind a handlebar moustache mysteriously displaced to her forehead.

“What kind of name is that? Shayyyyyyyyaala!” June mimicked, distorting her mouth so that it hung like a loose rubber band.

The other girls giggled, some involuntarily, just enough to preserve the status quo.

Sheila gave them a smile, calmly standing her ground. “Just a raygular nayam”.

A regular name, June scoffed.  Everything about the girl was irregular.  She didn’t even look like a girl, really.  The way her dress hung, like a plastic sack slung over a dry stick in the ground.  If she’d been in overalls, everyone would’ve thought her name was Butch or Chuck, with that tough, pinched expression on her face, as though she were a lot more accustomed to pushing than pulling.  If that was how they dressed girls in the South, they could keep that South down where it belonged.  Which was in the South, June thought with a smirk.

There was nothing else regular about her, though.  She seemed to have finely tuned antennae that picked up the smallest signals and then went right on and broadcast them to the rest of the world.   How she’d stop and inspect things, pick them up and roll them around between her fingers, like she was getting ready to pop them into her mouth or absorb them into her skin:  a leaf that had gotten stuck in a hedge, a whorly abalone shell out on the playground.

“It’s so iiiiintercate” she’d marvel, holding the leaf up to the sun.  “See the little network of veins, almost like a human being’s!”  And then everybody would just up and abandon June to gather around Sheila, staring at a stupid leaf as though they’d never seen one before.  “Look, June!” one of the girls would say.  “It looks like a skeleton with the sun shining through it!” But June looked away, cricking her neck at such an angle that it almost got stuck in place, like when you crossed your eyes and then they wouldn’t go back to normal no matter how hard you tried.  “It’s just a leaf, a dry, old leaf even the tree didn’t have a use for” she’d mutter under her breath.

And the shell, the performance she coaxed out of it!  Just the previous week, June had explained to everyone that when they held a shell to their ear, what they heard depended on the day of the week:  on Mondays it was the roar of the Atlantic Ocean, at a spot just north of Coney Island, where they had the big amusement park and wooden sidewalks with slats your feet sometimes got stuck in, and then you had to call the fire department; Tuesdays a little fast flowing river near her grandma’s house in Gearhart, Oregon; Wednesdays the waterfall some guy had tried to dive down and ended up splitting his head against a rock (he survived but was now a “vegetable”, though she wasn’t sure which one); and so on and so on….

When Sheila picked up the abalone and held it to her ear, after rolling it between her fingers for what seemed like forever to June, showing off as usual, like when she said the leaf was “intricate” and then pretended she knew what it meant, the others piped up immediately:  “It’s Friday so it’s the creek on 13th Street!”

Sheila was puzzled.  “What do you meeeeyan, what creek?”

“On Friday, it’s the creek!  What you hear depends on what day of the week it is,” they told her proudly.  “June taught us all about it!”

Sheila was silent for a moment, just staring at the shell.  Then she looked up and shrugged, as though she was apologizing for something she had no choice but to do.  “Actually, what you hear is the sound of your own inner eeeeeeyer.”

The others turned to June expectantly, eyes and mouths a perfect circle.  “Whoever believes that is a crouton”, she told them angrily.  Sheila wasn’t the only one with a big vocabulary.

And that wasn’t all.  Some days Sheila would bring “Southern” food in her lunch pail and let them try it.  Disgusting stuff called okra that looked like green, stringy snot when you spooned it up and had the same consistency, too.   “It’s like eating boogers!” June cried as she spit out her first and last bite.  “Big, green, slimy boogers!”

As expected, everyone else liked it, or at least said they did, and some even had seconds, probably just to curry favor.  June was mystified in spite of herself.  What did everyone find so special about that raggedy girl?

When it came time to choose teams later for the basketball game, it was no surprise that Sheila was one of the first chosen, even though nobody knew yet if she had the slightest athletic ability.

“Can’t you see she’s knock-kneed?” June hissed at her team captain.  “She’s going to start a fire from all that friction just running down court!

She did have athletic ability, though, and she was fast, twisting and gyrating, deftly snatching the ball from the opponent and dribbling away before she knew it had even been lost, weaving in and out, changing direction without even looking, as though she had giant bug-eyes posted all over her body, legs moving so fast they looked like they were going backwards, just like in the cartoons.

June tried to take the ball away from her several times, but Sheila was too quick. She found herself panting, her mouth as parched as the Kalahari in the Ninth Circle of Hell.  Coming up here like she owned the world, June thought bitterly. She took a deep breath, summoning her last reserves of energy from a dark, secret place within her, and tore after Sheila, who was rocketing down court after a loose ball only seconds before the final whistle of the game.  Trying to horn her way in!

An ominous force appropriated June’s legs, transformed them into powerful iron pistons propelling her towards the basketball, which was spinning toward the foul line.

Then suddenly, time slowed, as though it had gotten stuck in molasses and couldn’t fight its way out.  June moved dreamily forward, taking giant steps that seemed to cover miles at a time.  Sheila approached from the other direction,  jaw clenched in utter concentration, and then suddenly, as though she’d had a shuddering epiphany, spread her arms in a perfect swan dive for the ball.

In a last desperate effort, June, too, spread her arms and took flight.  They collided in the air just inches above the ball. As they fell, time got completely mired in and came to a dead stop.  Sheila lay spread-eagled on the gym floor beneath her, and their eyes locked horribly for a split second.  June’s body was suspended in the air, hovering over her like a vulture.  And then she swooped and was suddenly speeding downwards, toward Sheila, and it was as though there were universes between them, she fell and fell, her hair blowing back in the wind she had created, her eyes tearing up.  And in that last second, just before she hit the ground, when she could  – or could she? –  have moved her own leg two inches to the right or two inches to the left and missed Sheila’s leg completely, she watched it crash down instead against Sheila’s knee.  There was a thundering crack, as though a giant pair of hands had taken the world and broken it right down the middle, and then she heard someone in the background cry out “Merciful God!”

June didn’t think she herself had been hurt.  She got up, shook her head, and swung her legs and feet back and forth to be sure.  Sheila just lay there, looking up at June without expression, as though she were mulling something over in her mind.  Her leg was bent out at a crazy angle seen only in horror movies or roadside accidents, and June noticed a smooth knob of some sort which had almost penetrated the outer skin of her knee, like the tiny head of a foetus struggling to be born.

“You thank Shayyyla’s a wiyyerd nayam”, she managed finally with great effort, and then grinned.  “My brother’s Ruuuufus!  Now that really IS weeyyerd!”

The next day when Sheila appeared in class with a big white plaster cast on her leg, June was the first to write on it:  “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” June didn’t really know what that was supposed to mean, it was something biblical she thought she’d heard in Sunday school, but it didn’t matter; Sheila seemed to understand.  She nodded her head sagely, and when June dared to look into her eyes, she saw whole cities emerging from a desert, mountains rising up to shatter the sky, a roiling sea, and she thought she even saw herself, reflected back in them.

 

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Julienne Busic is an author, translator, and essayist who lives in Rovanjska, Croatia.  She has studied in the United  States and Vienna, Austria, and holds a Master’s Degree in German and Linguistics.  Her short stories, essays, and columns have appeared in numerous journals and newspapers in America and Croatia (“The Barcelona Review”, “The Gobshite Quarterly” (contributing editor), “Verbatim: A Language Quarterly”,  “Inside”,  “The Bridge-Most”, “Outsider Fragments”, “Kolo”, “Aleph”, “Jutarnji List”, “Vjesnik”, “Vijenac” and  “Tema”).  She has published three books, “Lovers and Madmen” (Gray Sunshine Press, 2005), which won the Croatian Writer’s Society award in 1997 and is now in its seventh Croatian and second English printing, “Your Blood and Mine” (Ridgepath Press, 2008), and the just-released”Living Cells (Ridgepath Press, 2012), a novel based on the true story of a Croatian “comfort woman” during the Serb occupation of Vukovar in the early 1990s.

Julienne Busic has also translated and edited several Croatian authors for publication in the United States:  “Survival League” by Gordan Nuhanovic, “Zagreb-Exit South” by Edo Popovic, and “American Scream” by Dubravka Oraic Tolic (Ooligan Press, Portland, Oregon), and “The Tiger is the World”, (Xenos Books, 2012).

She is currently working on a screenplay from her new book, “Living Cells”, about the “comfort women” of Vukovar, Croatia.

 

Angie45

photo by Angela M Campbell

 

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Fiction

from Orange Cappuccino

by Joel R Dennstedt

Prologue 

          Sarah is singing A Sentimental Journey.

          Her short, smooth legs reach barely from the hem of her light cotton dress to the dashboard of our little Toyota pickup truck.  As the days pass, Sarah provides us with music:  this single melody, for Teddy has no radio and Sarah has no repertoire.  Teddy also has no air conditioning.  In all respects, Teddy is quite basic.  We have, however, provided him with a camper shell to cover our life’s belongings.  He was allowed two full trips to move us from California to Colorado, but he has only one go at getting us to Alaska, and we have packed him accordingly.  Amazingly, we have included our sofa love-seat.

I do not tire of Sarah’s singing.  Her choice of song is most appropriate; besides, her voice is comforting.  She sings with a sweet and sultry combination that is erotically soothing.  At times I know that she has begun the song again, but I cannot tell when she has last left off.  No distinctive moments mark our passage.  Either we talk incessantly, or she sings A Sentimental Journey, or we are silent.  Each has a rhythm unpunctuated by decisive breaks.

The time is wrong for driving to Alaska.

Our decision to leave a threatening situation was spontaneous and immediate, and it required that we plan a stealthy midnight exit in mid-November.  We packed everything we could fit into Teddy’s covered bed, but we left most of our possessions at the apartment dumpster.  We loaded Teddy in the dark, fearing that our landlord would catch us out.  Although we left many possessions behind, we do carry some unusually heavy debt that cannot be abandoned, and we take very little cash.  We also brought a tent and sleeping bags in order to camp beside the road, but we will discover that mid-November on the Alcan Highway is not conducive to casual camping.

We spend our first morning at a truckers’ rest stop, Teddy’s engine running for heat as we sleep fitfully in the cab.  Next to us, a large Peterbilt also rests with an ever-running engine, and the fumes from our two trucks provide a thickly disorienting fog in which to idle.  The Peterbilt’s low, undulating rumble at our side is like having a snoring companion; somewhat reassuring, somewhat annoying.

Alaska will be our last stop; a chance to recreate our life together.  More simply, it is our escape plan.  We do not know what lies ahead, only that we have to leave behind our recent escapades.  I am not stupid, but I am reconciled, if necessary, to life in an igloo. I do not see this as desperation, perhaps because I do not see forward clearly.

In Canada, we buy an engine-block heater for Teddy.  The heater plug permanently extends from Teddy’s grill, looking much like my father’s tongue when he was engaged in thoughtful work.  We carry a thick blue extension cord with which to plug Teddy in each night.  San Diego natives, neither Sarah nor I have ever seen a parking lot filled with vehicles plugged in for the night.  For us, it suggests an evening at the drive-in, but with midget speakers.  Teddy enjoys his personal heater, and he quickly and faithfully starts up each morning, even when his wipers are stuck fast to the window and his parking brake lets go with a loud crack like a broken rod.

We try camping out.

After dark, we unload our tent and sleeping bags, but the campground is closed.  During winter, travelers do not camp in these casual by-the-road sites.  We are relieved that our stay will be free, but we fear that we might be evicted if noticed.  We use a flashlight to assemble our light-weight domed tent.  Sarah figures out the poles – she is a master of patience – while I hold the flashlight.

We are in a remote spot of Canada; no light, man-made or from the skies, lights our view.  We are starving.  Sarah does manage to make peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches from our meager stash of groceries, though she is the first to note a problem.

“This doesn’t taste right,” she says.

“It’s all right,” I answer, but I am only concerned to reassure her, for I am now preoccupied with the bitter cold.

“No.  There is something wrong.  It doesn’t taste right.”

I just want to finish eating and climb into my sleeping bag.

“I know what’s wrong,” Sarah announces.  “The bread is molded.”

“Crap,” I say.

The flashlight proves her point.  The bread is fuzzed over with bluish hair that seems to glow under the light.

“Should we finish them?” I ask.

“Jesus, Josh,” Sarah mutters.

We throw our sandwiches away and turn in for the night, still hungry.  We never do get warm. We awake the next morning with temperatures and body fatigue; possibly the flu.  Our throats are sore; we are congested; we are feverish; our heads are mush.  We need maternal care.

One knows when not to go on in the same manner as before, and God bless Sarah for deciding that we shall get a motel, a hot and healthy home-cooked meal, and a full night’s sleep in a real bed.  This will be a fateful and costly decision.  We eat an early dinner at an all-you-can-eat home-style buffet, and we do eat all that we can eat, and then we sleep for twelve hours straight in what might be the world’s most comfortable bed.

The next day we are completely restored to our senses.  Because of this small indulgence, with its delightful consequences, we do not camp out again on our way to Alaska, though as our spirits rise, our cash dwindles.

The Yukon, north of Canada, provides a long presentation introducing us to the land of the Arctic.  We are numbed by the vast beauty surrounding us; high, snow-covered mountains and forests like frost-covered carpets extend outward to the horizon.  Inside Teddy’s heated cabin, we can still sense the brittle crisp of frozen day outside.  Driving along the narrow paved road into the midst of forest is like Dante coming into mid-life; we are as lost as he, nosing forward only on faith and resignation.

The days are short, with mid-summer beginning after 9:00am and twilight dimming soon after 3:00pm.  Although we have anticipated the beauty, we are surprised by the emptiness, especially the lack of human presence.  We see no habitations, only an occasional gas station with café attached, and no other drivers pass us while we drive.  In many respects, we are running on empty.  Fuel for Teddy is available maybe twice a day, as is the opportunity for feeding ourselves.  After the episode with the stale bread, we are inclined not to carry a cache of food.  Images of imminent disaster, as well as lack of space, also preclude our packing extra gasoline.

Emotionally, we survive on Orange Cappuccino and a small stash of premium pot.  Each morning, Sarah fills our thermos with boiling water, either from a motel room carafe or from one in the dining room.  Several times a day, usually when hunger and boredom threaten our equanimity, she performs a ritual made sacred from our earliest days together.

While I navigate the interminable highway and try to keep the ride smooth, Sarah spoons two tablespoons of powdered Orange Cappuccino into our tiny ceramic mugs.  My cup is a dark, shiny blue, and looks like ancient, glazed pottery; Sarah’s is a shiny, yellowish-brown of the same provenance.  Although we could easily switch and share our cups, we never actually do.  Adding hot water to each little mug, cooler as the day progresses, Sarah mixes up a potion of sugar, caffeine, fat, and the inexplicably soothing coffee flavor of orange-infused Cappuccino.

Drinking this beverage envelops me in a sense of weightless serenity combined with heightened awareness:  a calming high otherwise experienced only during formal breathing meditations.  Another inevitable effect is to make us talk more…a lot more.  And faster.

In a similar ritual, Sarah stokes our well-used and bowl-charred, semi-sacred pipe with a generous pinch of budded pot; she ferociously clicks a depleted Bic lighter, frantic to get a flame, and then gently lights the pressed weed into a tiny crackle of red glow.  She intakes a shallow gasp, as if surprised, and passes the pipe to me, urgently it seems, as if the pipe is hot, while her eyes remain slightly bulged.  At these moments, I cannot take the pipe from her quickly enough.

After three passes, Sarah taps the ashes out, cleans the pipe, and meticulously restores it to the little box nestled in Teddy’s glove compartment.  She then begins singing A Sentimental Journey, while I lapse into my introspective thoughts.  We drive like this for days.

Before leaving Colorado, we were warned about the traveler’s hazard known as black ice.  Telling San Diegans about black ice, however, is like our telling out-of-state visitors how to find Jamacha road.  The road’s name is pronounced ‘hamashaw’; San Diego being a Spanish-settled town.  Visitors cannot find this road, although they take suspicious note of one they call Jamaica road.  Like us, they are simply mistaken about what they are looking for.

When thinking about this black ice, I remember myself as a young boy scrutinizing a big chunk of obsidian.  The glossy-black, glassy-smooth, and sharply jagged rock is a sensory delight.  Inside one large facet, the shadowy image of my face is entrapped, looking like some super-prisoner floating weightless around the interior of the Phantom Zone.  The magic is tangible; the beauty is astonishing.  Similarly, black ice sounds deeply intriguing.

I assume that black ice will look like obsidian on the road.

Likewise, I assume that beauty can never be tiresome.  However, I discover while driving this long Yukon highway that beauty can become monotonous and deadening, and that black ice does not look like obsidian on the road.

Desperate and eager to escape Colorado, we did not foresee this dampening of enthusiasm, nor our increasing eagerness to reach our final destination.  We should have realized both, for this is not a vacation, something to be savored slowly, but a necessary move to new surroundings and opportunities.  Each day on the road finds us more deeply in debt and lower on cash.  Although our credit cards will not be confiscated and destroyed for another month, their limits have been reached. We try to hoard our cash.  It is imperative that we get to Alaska and find work.

With such preoccupations on my mind, our sentimental journey is becoming a marathon, and I am anxious about getting to the end of this damned highway.  I know that it could be worse; it can always be worse.  The Alcan Highway was once nothing but miles of loose gravel and dirt.  It is now paved the entire route, so we do not worry about slushy ruts.  I realize that this is no worse than driving the back roads of San Diego.

Therefore, I have brought Teddy up to sixty-five miles per hour, and I am considering another increase in speed.  If I raise Teddy’s speed to 70 or 75mph, we can be at Watson Lake before dark.  Not bad.

Sarah is singing A Sentimental Journey.

Teddy is gliding smoothly along at 65mph, sideways.

What a strange and appalling effect it is to see the forest whipping along right to left across Teddy’s front window; a kind of dioramic effect. The effect in my stomach is nausea, akin to butterflies inside.  When I turn to look at Sarah, I note that I am looking forward.  Sure enough, our way lies straight ahead, through her side window.  That is why I turn Teddy’s steering wheel in her direction.  I hear my guardian angel chuckling. With the inane effects come inane words.

“It’s okay,” I say.

“I know,” Sarah replies.

“It’s okay,” I repeat.

“I know,” she says.

The pavement is still gliding directly toward us, though it now approaches from my side window, not Sarah’s.  Things are happening too quickly.  I am twisting my head like a meerkat orienting himself to danger.  And yet, I feel like I have all the time I need to analyze the incoming data; to formulate an appropriate and effective response; and to pull us out of this deteriorating situation.  There might even be time for Sarah to have input about my changing plans.

“Hang on,” I say.

“I am,” she replies.

“Hang on,” I repeat.

“I am,” she says.

My warning is literal.  My final assessment is that we are going up and over the two-foot snow berm lining the road, and I know the land is not flat on the other side.

“Hang on,” I say.

“I am,” she says, as calmly as before.

Not just up and over, but through the berm we go, skidding again as Teddy is determined to head back for the road.  I am sure his tongue is out as he tries to turn his nose around.  In the end, his rear slides down the non-flat land, and he comes to rest with us canted awkwardly over to the right.

The immediate silence is eerie and absurd.

“It’s okay,” I say.

“Uh-huh.”

I crack open Teddy’s door, having to push outward and upward.  I scoot myself out and dangle my legs down into the snow.  Teddy is buried to his rims.  I look back at Sarah; she is donning her wool leggings, small snow boots, and a coat.

“Sweetie,” I ask, “did we bring the shovel?”

“In the back,” she says.

“And the chains?”

“Behind the seat.”

Grabbing my own jacket, I button up and retrieve the snow shovel from the back.  Sarah uses some kind of dust pan she finds to scrape snow from under Teddy’s belly.  It is slow and grueling work.

Every so often I look back to the highway, searching for help, but an hour passes with no vehicles showing.  Fortunately, we are only yards from the highway; the snow had been a natural decelerator.  We have snow chains that we brought for the ice.  Our plans now are to dig Teddy out, dig a trail back to the highway, put on the snow chains, and have Teddy climb his way out.  My concern is that it is nearing sunset, and I am not sure my optimism will last into darkness.

“Hey there!”

Because of the now-constant sizzling noise coming from under Teddy’s carriage, I had not heard the approach of the man in the jeep.  He is a large fellow, thank God, and he appears over the berm carrying a shovel.

“Hey, I went off the highway yesterday,” he says.  “But I had to be towed out.”

He scrunches closer. His face scrunches up too.

“What’s that noise?” he asks.

“What noise?” I say.

“That sizzling noise,” he says, pointing to Teddy’s underbelly.  “Jesus, buddy, you’d better turn off your engine; you’re going to overheat; then you’ll be in real trouble.”

Overheat?  In this cold?

“Yeah, the snow is bunched up under your engine.  The heat can’t dissipate.  Bad news.”

I climb inside Teddy where the temperature gauge is maxed out in the red.  Red is not good.  I shut the engine off, along with Teddy’s heater, and the sizzling immediately begins to die down.

“Yeah, I see what you’re trying to do here.  Hey little lady!”

Sarah has just appeared from the other side of Teddy.  She is a little lady, but still.  She raises her hand in greeting; then moves to Teddy’s rear to continue her snow removal.

“Hey buddy, I’ll work on clearing you the trail.”

“Thanks.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your coming along like this.”

We all work hard for the next hour, when an old pickup truck pulls up behind the jeep.  Another man, even larger than the first, steps out.  God is great.

“Hey all!  Went off the highway?  I went off the road just this morning.  But I had to be towed out.”

I wonder where the tow trucks are coming from.

For the rest of the day, we see only these two people.

All goes according to plan:  we dig Teddy out all around; we create a clear trail up the slope, through the berm, and onto the paved road.  We tie Teddy up with snow chains, and after a single spin his wheels catch the trail and pull us up onto the highway.

The road is still slick with black ice.  The moment I climb down from Teddy, I fall hard on my butt and slide down to where Sarah is waiting. Sarah cannot get to her door either; she just keeps sliding back to where she was.  Eventually, we have to four-leg it on hands and knees, slipping and sliding all the way, until we grasp Teddy’s door handles and pull ourselves up.  By that time, the two burly angels are gone.

Our nighttime trek into Watson Lake is torturous.  Even with snow chains, Teddy continues to glide at frequent but unexpected moments, and he refuses to accelerate beyond 35mph. Every time we go weightless, Sarah jerks in a move resembling ‘rigor’ and puts a death grip on Teddy’s dash.  She is not soothed by my ‘mortis’ grip on the steering wheel, nor by my inclination to jerk it her way during the slides.

“It’s okay,” I say, but she does not answer.

Once, in our headlights, we watch a wolf slink across the road.  The same way, around 11:00pm, we slink into Watson Lake.  We are exhausted by the day, the shoveling, the stressful skids, and we are worn ragged by the incessant vibration caused by the snow chains clanking against the road.  We do not feel strengthened by our experience, nor does the unknown now seem so adventurous.  We are depressed.

On the map, the road looks to be all downhill from here to Anchorage, but that is not a good metaphor for raising our spirits.

We check into an old log-cabin motel and plug our boy Teddy in for the night.  Our room goes mostly unappreciated, except for the four walls and the bed.  We do not shower.  We do not brush our teeth.  We barely undress.  We kiss each other good-night and we fall asleep.

In the morning, the outside air is crisp and cold.  The sunlight is paradoxically dim and bright.  Teddy’s right rear tire is completely flat, and his chains hang limp and puddled around his flattened foot.

“It’s okay,” I say sadly. “It’s okay.”

Sarah does not respond.

The morning remains silent.

 

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

 

Joel R. Dennstedt, born and raised in San Diego, California, now resides in Mérida, Yucatán.  Having spent fifteen years in Alaska, where most of this book takes place, he is now basking in the warmth of Yucatan and is hard at work on his most current novel. He also writes a weekly column for The Yucatan Times, and is serving on the Travel Secrets TV – Mexico Advisory Board.

Angie69

photo by Angela M Campbell

 

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