Poetry

panic switch and other poems

by Cher Bibler

 

panic switch

 

I am quite intense, my dear,

it’s easy to be afraid. let me

walk you through the parameters, let

me introduce you to the fear. here is a

safe room where you can take

refuge; it’s quite legal,

I have provided it for you.

look, there is an escape door out

the back. you will enter the

street from there so make sure

it’s what you want.

you won’t be invited back,

I don’t take rejection well. you will have

to step out into the world with

a smile on your face because that

is what the world expects and we

like to provide what the

world wants, don’t we? we don’t

like to stand out, that is why my space is

far removed, protected.

here is the switch you can turn

if it gets to be too much, if you

want to slow it down. it will

alert me, it will send

sedatives pulsing through my veins.

it will give you time to think, you

can reconsider. no other

relationship offers a panic

switch; it is unique with me.

one of the perks, one of the

reasons you can feel safe.

I will take your heart, your

soul, and check them behind the

desk. don’t worry I’ll keep them

safe. I will take your hesitation,

your doubt, and pack them away. only you

can decide if you want them back.

only you can decide how far

to go.

 

 

 

 

my line of work

 

I drag it around like the

mother of a marriageable daughter

shoving her in the faces of

eligible men

dressing her up like a gift wrapped package

I pull my poems around in a

cage like circus animals on display

in sad small towns where men sit

in the square with beer drunk by noon

I whore my words out on

street corners hair teased faces thick with

paint tarted up to look

like they’re a big deal

the lure the only thing that matters

the deed unimportant

I dip each word in chocolate to

disguise the bitterness

drown each stanza in gin to

make it slide down faster

and I am quite successful in my

line of work

 

 

 

working out a solo

 

last night at practice listening

to him work out a solo playing

the rhythm part over and over as

he tried it one way and then

another as it got better and better

only to fall apart and start over

and over I drifted away and

thought of other things the

rain in the afternoon and standing in the

car garage talking shelter with

the guys who always wave

at me when I go past they stood in

the doorway and watched the rain

I did too

the streets were flooded and I

waded through, the water warm

from the hot pavement

over and over sometimes my mind

wanders so far I screw up my

simple 4 chords but all of a

sudden the solo came together and I

was there again and when he finished I had

to say Oh I like that

 

 

 

 

painted truth

 

I have painted truth between these words

I was unable to keep totally silent and yet

I can’t be totally honest either

I hide behind lies and fiction

but I have cleverly planted truth

I am hoping you’ll see it and know that

you’ll be able to understand because

I have no other way to reach you

I have planted truth between the rows

like covert marijuana they will

reap a grim harvest if consumed

their smoke will rise in a slow line

to the sky

 

 

 

 

 

a bowl of memories

 

I have a bowl of memories on

the coffee table. They glow

in many hues. Some are too dark to

look at for very long. Some

bite when you touch them.

Some of them will stain your fingers.

Others are happier, of course,

many of them are happy but

they are overshadowed by

the darker ones. When people look

into the bowl those are all

they see.

 

 

 

 

this is how the story ends

 

this is how the story ends

the silence at the back of the room

the respectful pause

the breath before the sudden freedom

the pull before the last binding breaks

the last look around at the

world you thought you couldn’t live without

memories that dissolve like dust

a happiness that fills you

unexpectedly when you realize this

the dropping away

the shedding of your fears

the realization of how little you actually need

the rise of your heart

 

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Cher Bibler is the author of one book of poetry, California, California. She has worked as editor of Amanda Blue, a poetry magazine, and co-editor of a literary magazine, the Wastelands Review. She was a fiction reader for the Mid American Review and worked as poetry editor for the Heartlands Review. She was a book reviewer for Literary Zoo.

She was a founding member of the alternative band Tinfoil, as bass/rhythm guitarist, singer and songwriter. Over their career, they released 12 albums. One of their songs, People Don’t Know, will be featured in a film, Certainty, directed by Keith Mosher, due for a fall 2011 release.

Her short story, Not Waving But Drowning, was a winner in the annual NOBS competition, and her current novel, Billie, was a finalist in this year’s (2011) Faulkner competition.  Her poem, Merida, Easter, will be included in an upcoming Evergreen Review.

She now resides in Mérida, is in the process of forming a new band, and serves as editor of this publication.

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photo by Dan Griffin

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Poetry

Unitedstatesians and other poems

by Fer de la Cruz

 

Unitedstatesians

 

They speak every language in the world in their cities

and they read all the literatures in their libraries.

Their visits to the moon don´t impress me much.

 

Their moonshine is out of this world,

sweet as the white corn they invented.

They harvest the best apples from their fields.

They have good wine and cheese, bourbon, and microbeer.

 

They have lawyers and doctors washing dishes

—those who don´t speak the language.

At home, dishwashers are illiterate.

 

They´re puritan as Muslims—many are Muslims, Buddhists, Catholic,

or even devout pagans—except for those who´re not.

 

They´re racist as everyone else,

but they´ll admit it. And many fight for equality,

collect signatures, change laws, and such…

 

True, they always have a war: some fight in it while others are against it.

Very unlike us, they trust their institutions.

I don´t picture them as subjects to a foreign monarch,

like Australians, Belizeans, or Canadians.

They value their own dynasties

but not more than backyard barbecue.

 

They have frybread, pita bread, tortillas, and samosas, falafels, empanadas…

They have all of us too—my uncles, aunts, and cousins who are American

and celebrate Thanksgiving, and hyphenate their names, which is also my name.

So I can´t say I don´t love them.

 

Now they´re aiming for Mars

which belongs to the universe and all.

Next, they´ll claim it as their own

like I´m claiming this piece of American Literature

as my own.

 

 

Trace of Mona Lisa

 

A smiley face next to the line I like.

This one came out with quite a smirk.

I read the line as I recall

the dwelling for my cat when I was, nine?

who redefines me

each time I feel his whiskers on my lap

as in a dream

or as your eyes tonight

or as this amber flame

containing the rejoicing of shooting stars.

 

O do I love this line!

which makes me wonder what my face looks like

this moment as I chant.

 

Heavenly Epic of Cats and Dogs

 

It´s raining cats and dogs.

The barking falls as thunder. The

cats´ eyes resemble lightning. And the

fights…

the cats flashing their paws as they

keep balance midair;

the dogs displaying their teeth

while spinning in the sky,

Chihuahuas and Great Danes

equally terrified.

 

Each battle is won by cats;

aerodynamic instinct makes them experts

on hitting solid ground.

 

But those poor dogs, o dear!

I hope there really is

a heaven for them all.

 

 

Absolute

 

Nothing is really happening.

That car did not go by

Nor did we hear the bell of the ice-cream vendor.

We don´t see façades in flowery colors.

Nobody is roasting beef

while listening to cumbia on the radio,

urgeing grackles to grack between the branches

that are not being shaken

by non-existing wind.

Even these tiny ants

are not making the ground move in the shade

that isn´t here. A-ah.

 

The only real thing is all around us,

among us, inside us,

before and after us,

if you´re a voice of faith.

 

The problem

is

to find it.

 

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

Fernando de la Cruz Herrera (Yucatán, México, 1971) holds an MA in Spanish from Ohio University and a BA in Philosophy. As an independent editor, writer, 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), “Aliteletras. De la a a la que quieras” (Dante, 2011, in print), “Sabotaje a la che y otros poemas de martitologio” (2012, Instituto de Cultura de Yucatán, announced) and in the chapbook “Seven Songs of Silent, Singing Fireflies” (JKPublishing, 2008). He has received two national, one regional, and one state-wide poetry awards in Mexico. His main passions are poetry (which he often finds in theatre, music, film…), language teaching made fun, and the constant discovery of the flavors, shapes, and depths of human life / delacrux@hotmail.com.

Fer recently won 1st prize in the Premio Regional de Poesia Jose Diaz Bolio, 2011, sponsored by Patronato Pro Historia Peninsular, $10,000 pesos, his second time. The first was in 2003.

And 2nd place in the Premio Estatal de Literatura Infantil Elvia Rodriguez Cirerol, 2011, sponsored by Instituto de Cultura de Yucatan, $5,000 pesos.

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photo by Kristi Harms

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Essay

The literary scene in Yucatan

by Fer de la Cruz

 

In the state of Yucatán, where decentralization is only a political slogan, literary things happen mostly in its capital city: Mérida. In a way, things are rocking among the chaos of UNESCO´s “City of Peace”: 2 schools of creative writing have been founded within the past 3 years: 1) Escuela de Creación Literaria (where I teach) of the State Institute of Fine Arts, in which Spanish and Mayan-speaking adults earn a 3-year degree in Creative Writing, and workshops are offered for children and teenagers. 2) Escuela de Escritores Leopoldo Peniche Vallado belongs to the State Institute of Culture (ICY), which is currently in the process of becoming a Ministry—so much for descentralización! Both schools are inconveniently located in the same building, across from the zoo. On the other hand, two universities, one public, one private, have been graduating Literature majors for a decade. And there´s a number of private workshops throughout town.

Back to the issue of centralism, the only living Yucatecan writers who have been truly influential (big names like Agustín Monsreal and Raúl Renán) have resided in Mexico City for decades. Also, Raúl Cáceres Carenzo resides in Toluca; Jorge Pech in Oaxaca; Reyna Echeverría in New York… Among those who reside within the state borders are those who are native Yucatecans (Francisco Lope Ávila, Roger Metri, Jorge Lara, José Díaz Cervera, Lourdes Cabrera, and Mayan writer Feliciano Sánchez Chan, to name some) and those born elsewhere who must be considered a part of the community of Yucatecan writers, such as Cuban-born Raúl Ferrera Balanquet and maestro Jonathan Harrington, who calls himself Orgullosamente yucagringo.

There are two main independent groups of writers: Centro Yucateco de Escritores, A.C. (CYEAC), which was created over 2 decades ago, has been hosting an on-going workshop, a magazine (Navegaciones Zur), an has its own publisher (Ediciones Zur). Also, five years ago or so, la Red Literaria del Sureste was created as an alternative. Some politically active writers from both groups hold public offices. There are also those with academic credentials in literature, such as Manuel Iris, Ph.D. candidate; Jafet Israel Lara, Ph.D. candidate; Cristina Leirana, M.A., and your humble Fer de la Cruz, M.A. The rest have never heard of Terry Eagleton.

There are lots of writers, it seems. The problem is, local bookstores show little interest in marketing their works. To publish a book, one may submit it to the editorial council of either ICY or Ayuntamiento de Mérida. If selected, the book will be published but not necessarily promoted. One may also try her/his luck in state or nation-wide literary contests for money and/or publication. Librerías Dante sponsored 2 contests for publication. The second batch of 10 authors from all three states of the Yucatan Peninsula is being published this year. Other than that, there is no such thing as agents or talent-hunters, and big name publishers appear only on display, especially for those who lack political connections.

So, how do local writers earn their daily bread? They pray: Some pray to God; some (with political connections) prey on smaller fish. Those who don´t hold a public office may have steady jobs in private institutions. There are those with two, three, or even four part-time teaching jobs, whose paychecks (in the case of public schools) may be delayed for periods of five months year after year. Some writers may be asked to present a book, write a prologue, or preside over a public event without pay. Some others are invited to jury in a literary contest, with pay—the honest ones are seldom called for the latter.

New generations of local writers are starting to emerge. Also, new generations of critics are earning degrees in literature. There is hope that these young professionals learn to separate art and politics and that the way things are may actually be challenged without losing one´s job.

Better laugh than cry in México´s “safest city.” Following the steps of maestro Agustín Monsreal, I have become a satirist who hopes not to have disappointed the readers with my view on things, since writing is my way of making the world a better place.

 

 

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photo by Dan Griffin


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Poetry

A Simple Life and other poems

by Jonathan Harrington

 

A Simple Life

You close the screen door

of the motel room

behind you

and follow the sandy path

one last time to the beach.

 

The smell of salt

lingers in the air

and a cool breeze on your neck

takes your mind

off the long drive home.

The boardwalk is closed for the season

and the reflection

of the slumbering Ferris wheel

shimmers in the wet sand

at the water’s edge.

 

Beyond the breakers

gulls plunge into the sea.

In the distance you see something.

It must be sea-weed.

You keep walking.

 

Sandpipers race from the foam

leaving the hieroglyphics of their tiny tracks behind.

You’re thinking: What a quiet summer it has been

when you glimpse a body receding with the tide.

A gull drops.

You push your way into the sea.

It sucks at your legs.

You fall back

plunge forward

fall back.

 

Through the smear of salt

you watch the bloated corpse of a woman

rise into view on a crest,

her tangled hair covering her face.

Another gull falls as she disappears.

 

Straining against the surf, you reach the body.

Her neck is twisted;

she stares backward,arms floating outstretched

like broken wings.

You grasp her clammy waist—

already slick

with the mucus

of a water death—

and struggle toward shore.

 

You drag her to the edge of the dunes

and fall panting on the sand.

It is a nightmare

you tell yourself.

But you know better.

 

You stare wildly up the beach.

It is still, deserted;

the flawless summer nearly over.

There is still time

to give her back.

 

 

 

Applicants

 

One by one

I watch them go in

and file out again.

I overhear

their stories—

as if Mr. Brown could care

about their lives

as much as their typing speeds

and the way they wear their hair.

Their dreams are all so similar

(and so similar to mine)

that even after thirty years

it’s like I’m walking in

with each one of them

each time

and walking out again

drained

of all that’s boxed inside.

No wonder they look so empty

when they take

Mr. Brown’s hand

and lie

that it was a pleasure

meeting him.

Then heave a sigh

and disappear

behind the elevator doors

like shells

of what they were before

they made this trip up here.

And they go

down,

down,

down

to face the blinding light

of noon in Midtown:

the breathless air, the strangled sky,

the next, and next, and next guy

with whom

they interview.

So what?

It’s how the world’s

always been.

At least just one unlucky girl

will have to make this trip upstairs again.

 

 

 

Dad

 

I have almost lost you completely,

can barely remember the curve of your jaw

your nose, your gray hair beneath a cap to ward off the sun.

I remember cigarette smoke, the smell of nicotine on your fingers.

But I cannot rearrange your features to make sense.

You are a puzzle.

I have the nose, blue eyes,

even the sound of your voice.

But I cannot assemble them into a proper face.

Sometimes, coming up from the A train at Columbus Circle,

hurrying to work, work, work,

I see you hunched in an overcoat against the wind

lighting a cigarette in the doorway of a deli on 8th Avenue.

But as I get closer you grow younger,

with a haircut not of your era,

brown eyes not blue,

your features already receding

into someone else’s face.

 

 

 

Protest

 

I´m against plants that don´t bloom,

faulty fireflies

blinking on and off;

I´m against noise and rudeness,

garbage and dead batteries,

and motors that won´t start,

and wet matches, and slow computers;

I´m totally against wounds and against tears,

against hunger and thirst, insomnia, envy…

“But señor,” —they say—

“you´re against all those things.

What political party do you support?”

 Well, I am a proud one hundred-per-cent supporter,

and a life-long member, of the party of Love.

 

(written in Spanish by Jonathan Harrington

Translated into English by Fernando de la Cruz)

 

 

 

A Charmed Life

 

I remember one bitter winter

in Park Slope,

waiting with my cousin

for the A train

at Jay Street

to carry us over

the stinking Gowanus Canal.

I looked down the tracks

into the black tunnel

as if looking into hell.

I leaned out

straining to hear the bang

of metal on metal

and the scream of the train

as it bulleted into the station.

I won’t lie to you

I was drunk—

a young man drunk

on freedom and the City of Brooklyn,

with its rows of tenements,

like rotten teeth,

and piles of dirty snow.

I fell,

pitched forward

and broke my head open

on the tracks

just as the train shrieked

into the station.

My cousin,

God bless him,

pulled me back up

on the platform

and held my broken head

in his arms

and screamed at me

as the blood ran

all over his lap:

“You stupid son-of-a-bitch.”

 

I am lucky

to be writing this poem

today.

 

 

 

Subway

 

Somebody picks at the sores

of her new tattoo.

Somebody stares at the mustache

drawn over Madonna´s upper lip

on a torn poster.

Somebody listens to an Ipod

no one else can hear

her head thrusting back and forth

like a catatonic

or a strychnine victim.

Somebody mumbles her rosary.

Somebody reads the Daily News.

Headline: “Mother Tosses Baby From Roof.”

A crippled beggar clears his throat.

Somebody is praying.

Somebody studies a book on macroeconomics.

A woman is polishing her wedding ring with a tissue.

Somebody stares blankly at absolutely nothing.

A boy reads the sports section

over a hunchback’s shoulder.

Somebody sneezes.

A coach (whistle around his neck)

plots football strategies on a piece of graph paper.

A man and woman argue.

A little boy scratches his elbow.

Somebody is writing this poem.

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photo by Dan Griffin

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Jonathan Harrington lives in an 18th century hacienda that he restored himself in rural Yucatán, Mexico where he writes and translates poetry from Spanish and Mayan. He is a weekly featured reader at Café Poesia and Café Pendulo in Mérida. He is on the permanent faculty of US Poets in Mexico and a reader for the University of Arkansas Press’ Miller Williams Poetry Prize. He has read poetry throughout the world and has been invited to the International Poetry Festival in Havana, Cuba, Semana Negra in Gijon, Spain and elsewhere. A graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, his poems have appeared in Poetry East, The Texas Review, Main Street Rag, Green River Review, Kentucky Poetry Review, English Journal, Epitaph, Slant, Black Bear Review and many other publications. He has published two chapbooks: Handcuffed to the Jukebox and Aqui. His translations from the Spanish and Mayan have appeared in World Literature Today, Visions International, The Dirty Goat, International Review of Poetry. In addition to poetry, he has edited an anthology of short stories: New Visions: Fiction by Florida Writers, authored a collection of essays, Tropical Son: Essays on the Nature of Florida, and has published five novels, The Death of Cousin Rose, The Second Sorrowful Mystery, A Great Day for Dying, Saint Valentine’s Diamond, and Death on the Southwest Chief.

 


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Fiction

Fish Bones

by Laureen Vonnegut

 

The tattoo parlor was lit by a single bulb.  I stared at the half-drawn blinds, reluctant to watch the shiny needle pierce my skin.  A neon light blinked outside the window, sending shards of blue flashing into the room.

Earlier in the evening, when I first met Dr. Zero in Daisy’s Tavern, he handed me his business card.

I had read his name out loud, “Dr. Oh.”

He closed his heavy, blue-veined eyelids and said quietly, “Zero.  Not Oh.  Don’t fucking say Oh.”

It was the nativity scene tattooed onto his bald head that first drew me to him.  The colors were remarkably clear, but in my inebriated state I mistook a bright yellow star above the manger for the Star of David.  I raised my glass to him, shouted “Shalom!” and bought him the first of many whiskeys.

Several hours later, after we had drunk ourselves sober, we decided it was time to go to his tattoo parlor.  For as long as I could remember, even as a young girl, I had wanted a tattoo.  Black fish bones: a simple, elongated, twisting skeleton of a fish.  I used to know what it symbolized, but not anymore, and certainly not then in the early hours of the morning.

 

Dr. Zero’s grip on my arm was as tight as a tourniquet.  I leaned back against the rigid spine of the chair in which I sat while he concentrated on the needle pumping in and out of my reddened wrist.  The outline of black ribs wound across my wrist bone and on top of my purple veins like a spiraling zipper.  Pain cleared my whiskey induced bravery. “Do you think…Shouldn’t we use anesthetic?”

Slowly he tipped his bald head back, scrolling through the wise men and the camels until I could see his black eyes.  Then he looked down to his work without speaking.  I could smell the alcohol emanating from both of our bodies.  My sight blurred.

“Dr. Zero…do you have anything to drink?”

He straightened up and glanced around the room.  I followed his gaze around the cluttered surfaces, over the stacks of dust-covered tattoo magazines and hand-sketched designs.  His eyes swept the walls, hung with pictures of his masterpieces and awards from tattoo aficionados.

“Good idea.”

He heaved himself out of his chair.   His thick arms swung away from his leather clad torso as he stomped toward the kitchen.  It occured to me that maybe I should be afraid of Dr. Zero, but I couldn’t rouse any feelings of apprehension or concern.

I noticed an animal lying under a table.  It was a cat.  With long and matted fur and ears which were black and torn.  I thought it might be dead, but then its eyes opened and shined.  I spoke directly to it.

“You know cat, tattoos aren’t always a bad thing.  They can be art…a permanent flesh painting.”

I looked at my inflamed wrist.  The tattoo was taking shape; a flared tail fin, spindly ribs, a rounded head with a vacant eye.  To see it imprinted in my skin, finally, exhumed a strong sense of deja vu.  The refrigerator slammed, I heard a vehement curse, the floor reverberated and Dr. Zero returned to the room.

I continued talking to the cat since Dr. Zero had become increas­ingly uncom­municative as the night progressed.

“Our skin, our flesh is so bare, so vulnerable.  In a way, a tattoo becomes a…a timeless charm.”

Dr. Zero didn’t seem to notice my conversation with the cat, so I crouched next to it and shoved my wrist near its liquid eyes.     “Look, fish bones, something you’d like.  A symbol of everlasting…something.”  I lowered my voice and whispered near its ear.  “This is for my mother.”

The cat’s ears were in bad shape and when I examined them closely, I saw they were tattooed with tiny birds, mice and lizards.

Dr. Zero handed me a tin can full to the brim.  I took a deep gulp and tasted vodka mixed with something unpleasantly thick and salty.  I choked and resisted the urge to spit it onto the floor.

“Not to be ungrateful Dr. Zero, but was there some­thing in the can before you added the vodka?”

“Read the fucking label.”

I read the label out loud.  “String cut green beans.”

“And?”  He held up his can for me to read.

“Sweet white corn.”  I looked at him, not sure I understood.  “You mean…you mixed vegetables with…vodka?”

“No.  I dumped the fucking vegetables.  But I figure I need vitamins, so I use the juice for drinks.”

“Oh, right.  Makes an interesting cocktail Dr. Zero, thanks.”

Dr. Zero sat on a low stool and picked up the needle.  A mechanical hum began.  The muscle in Dr. Zero’s arm tightened and flexed.  I moved my head to try and see the tattoo that wrapped around his upper arm.  There was a lot of red and cherubs and men with swords.

“Very medieval.  What’s the scene on your arm?”

“Don’t you college kids ever read the Bible?”

“No, well not now, not in the classes I’m taking.”

“It’s when the goddamn Romans murder all the first born sons to find Jesus.  A bloody massacre.”

Not something to look at when a needle is pumping into your arm.  I turned to the table next to me and studied an ashtray full of greasy candy corns.  Above it hung a torn reproduction of the infamous four dogs playing poker.  The needle punctures shot slivers of pain up my arm.  I took a healthy gulp of Dr. Zero’s concoction and looked down.  Entranced, I watched a drop of blood bubble up between my trans­lu­cent hairs, wobbling there until Dr. O blotted it with a stained rag made of denim.

Dr. Zero moved his stool to the opposite side of my wrist and I scrutinized his other arm.  I recognized this scene.  Jesus rising from the dead.

“Easter.  What is this?  Are you religious?”

“I read the Bible.”

“Roman Catholic, Protestant, Episcopalian?  What are you?”

“None.  That’s bullshit.  I just read the Bible.”

“An independent scholar.  And do you believe it, Dr. Zero?”

“You don’t?”  He eyed me suspiciously.

“I believe it’s biblical history, but…well, you know there’ve been many translations and it was written a long time ago.”

“History is history.”

“A lot of religions have–”

Dr. Zero lowered his eyelids until all I could see was a slit of white.  He clutched my wrist even tighter in his vise-like grip and my voice rose an octave.  I changed the direction of our conversa­tion.

“What other scenes do you have tattooed?”

“Moses, on my upper back, parting of the red sea–on my ass.  On my chest, the creation of man.  My bellybutton is the apple and my dick the serpent.”

“You’re kidding.”

He began to unbutton his vest.

“No, no, I believe you.  Really.”

He dropped the idea of disrobing and picked up the needle again.  I took another guzzle and spilled the sticky drink down my chin and neck.

“I’m doing this for my mother.”

“Yeah?  My first one was for my mother.  See.”

He pointed to his arm.  I looked, but all I could see was a long-haired Jesus wearing flowing robes in front of an open tomb, surrounded by angels.  He tapped his arm impatiently and then I noticed in the center of the scene, next to Jesus’ halo, a heart with an arrow and the word, MOM, written in it.

“Nice.  I don’t mean like that exactly though, what I mean is that my mother has one also.”

“Mine too, a heart with my name.  On her bicep.”  He flexed his tattoos and stared out the window.  “Mom and me, we’re close.  We take a trip every year–she’s been going to Daisy’s before I was born.”

I was jealous of Dr. Zero and his mother.  My mother kept me at a distance all my life, as if she were afraid of me.  I have never felt close to her.

Lifting the can to my lips, I took a drink noticing at the bottom, two kidney shaped greenbeans floating toward my mouth.  I jerked the can down and my lower lip caught on the edge.  I touched my finger to my lip and then looked at my finger.  It was smudged with blood and even though it didn’t hurt, my eyes welled up with tears.

Dr. Zero finished the tail fin and stood up.  I had no idea what time it was in the real world, but I knew the sun was bound to rise soon and I was due to be at my family’s for Thanksgiving Day.

I walked home in the dreary early morning fog.  It swirled around me, dreamlike and I felt peaceful, except for the throb­bing of my wrist.  Collapsing on the couch, I slept before heading to the holiday meal.  I wore a long-sleeved dress with a extra long sleeves.  The fabric rubbed against my wrist and the tattoo felt heavy, like an iron ch­ain.

The house seemed to stand out brighter in the approaching dusk than I remembered.  Moss-green house paint contrasted with the pink camellia bushes blooming near the varnished door.  Wiping my feet on the straw welcome mat, I noticed the welcome had worn off.

In the kitchen, my mother appeared small and frail after the largeness of Dr. Zero.  I hovered near the counter, wanting to be near her, to see if she would feel something differ­ent, maybe a new intimacy.  But everything was the same.

A harsh buzzer sounded and she grabbed a flowered potholder, reaching into the oven.  The bare bulb from the oven shone on her face.  Her shirt sleeve rose above her wrist showing the aged, green numbers etched onto her loose skin and I reached down, gently touching my own wrist.

 

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

 

Laureen Vonnegut is an American writer living between Romania and Mexico.

June 2011 her novel, TWIN LIES, was released by Skorpion Press.  Her previous novel, OASIS, was launched in New York by literary press Counterpoint/ Perseus Books.

In the United States she has had over a dozen short stories published in five different states. In the UK, she has had a short story in the VIRAGO anthology:  THE NERVE – BOOK OF WRITING WOMEN and two excerpts from her novel HANDS DO LIE.  In addition to a short story in STAPLE magazine and a script, CROTCH PIT, published in EM3 magazine, she was shortlisted for the Ian St James Award.

Currently she is workshopping her theater play, THE PORCINI TEST.

From the Illustrator:
I also looked for words and phrases within ‘Fish Bones’ that provided suitable imagery and inspiration to produce a spot illustration. The sentence ‘ The outline of black ribs wound across my wrist-bone and on top of my purple veins like a spiralling zipper.’ in particular, stood out to me. I like the idea of visually interpreting this description by combining the fish bones and the ‘spiralling zipper’ to create an image.

http://jnoel3.blogspot.com/2009/03/nerve.html#comment-form

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Interview

An Interview with Laureen Vonnegut

by Julie Stewart

 

Laureen’s new book, Twin Lies, is about an identical mirror twin, who accidentally causes the death of her sister and takes over her sister’s identity at the age of seventeen.  Years later she finds she cannot continue to live as her sister and she must break out on her own, even if it means destroying the life she has built, including her own family.

What is the origin of your idea for Twin Lies? Are there twins in your family?

I have some cousins who are twins, but they had nothing to do with piquing my interest in twins. Years ago I worked for a law firm and two of the partners were identical twins. They had so many stories about swapping identities and mistaken identities that I became fascinated with the whole concept.

What was the most challenging part of writing Twin Lies?

Sitting down and actually working on the damn thing every day. I don’t like the novel writing process. It’s daunting to start a project as big as a novel. Short stories are much more my style. That’s why Twin Lies is written from multiple points of view, it allows me to sort of cheat and feel as though I’m writing short stories.  Hmm, maybe it’s an attention span thing.

Oasis, your first book was written from a single point of view, Twin Lies from multiple…

Sort of, it (Oasis) was written in the past and present, in oscillating chapters, a first person and third person narrative.

Is it harder to do good characterization with several characters than w/one strong character?

Yes. Much harder. Because your natural tendency as a writer is to think in a particular voice. When you have to switch voices within the same book and the characters are involved in the exact same story, it can be really difficult.  There are certain tricks you as a writer can use, dialogue tics etc, but they don’t substitute a totally different voice.

How important to the novel were your travels to the various locations in which the Twin Lies story is set?

I never intend to set scenes in exotic locations, but when I travel, the chapters seem to relocate themselves to those unusual locales.

So, when you’re in the gestation/creation period, how does it work for you?

I usually go away somewhere by myself. I can’t be around anyone I know – too distracting.  For example with Twin Lies I went to Zanzibar for two months and basically thought about what I wanted to write and sketched out kind of very simple outline. I hadn’t even thought about including Zanzibar in the book, but of course when I was there, it jumped right in.

As a writer based in Mérida, Mexico, tell us a little about the writing process and working environment in Merida?

What is different about a Mérida lifestyle is the heat of early summer. I’ve learned to plan my day: out early to run errands, back to write, indulge in a siesta (I’ve become a big siesta fan), more afternoon writing, and then out for drinks or dinner. The sultry nights are incredible.

Do you find Mérida in itself inspiring? In addition to Mexico and your home country, USA, you’ve lived in several other countries around the world – Romania, England, Holland, Hungary, Bulgaria – and traveled extensively. Has this international lifestyle affected the way you write and think, and if so, how?

Usually when someone is exposed to cultures outside their own, especially if they live within them, their horizons expand exponentially. One of the most disturbing things I see is foreigners who don’t embrace the country they are in. They dismiss the culture as less advanced or less sophisticated or even frightening, ignoring traditions and influences that make that culture so unique.

The way that I find Mérida inspiring is that it’s a different country. I find that if I’m in a different country, my senses are more alert, whereas if I’m living somewhere that I’ve lived that’s too familiar, my senses are deadened. So, in that sense, yes, but Mérida as a city to write about, in that way inspiring?  Not really.  Or maybe I should say…not yet.

Which writers inspire you?

Barry Unsworth, he’s British and every book he writes is so different, yet equally good. He’s able to switch subjects and keep his style.  The same with Ian McEwan, each book is a little gem, they are just fantastic writers.

Joy Williams, in my opinion, writes like a man, her prose is very sparse. There’s not a lot written about what the characters think, you have to read between the lines to understand what they’re thinking, which I like. I don’t like wordy books and she’s very good at that.

Cormac McCarthy invents words.  He also takes unknown archaic words that you don’t think are words until you look them up and sure enough they are…it all works within his writing, I think he’s a word master and almost a poet, I find a lot of poetry in his writing.

Whose books are currently on your nightstand?

I read four or five books at once. Zazen by Vanessa Veselka, Follow Me Down by Kio Stark, Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules by David Sedaris, and The Man Who Ate the World by Jay Rayner.

Are you currently working on any other projects? Do you have a third novel in the works?

I am concentrating on a series of short stories and will be spending a month in New York to workshop my theater play called, The Porcini Test.

Can you tell us more about the play?

It was a reaction to a play called Hurly Burly by David Rabe.  I liked the play, it was also made in to a movie, but it was quite misogynist and I wanted to write a play with three strong female characters who have known each other for ages.  There’s a lot of cursing and trauma, but it also has a lot of humor.  In New York they are calling it a comedy…not sure I agree.  A black comedy maybe…

I don’t understand the process of producing a play so I’m going to New York to try figure it all out.  I have absolutely no idea how it works.

You made films, right?   Directed?  Wrote?  Everything?

Wrote, directed short films, several. Co-produced. Yeah, just did a lot of things. Theater is a new medium to explore.  I don’t know what’ll happen when I actually hear professional actors in New York read it, you know, I may think Ah! It’s terrible! But from the reading I had here, a relaxed around the table reading, I was really happy with it. So, we’ll see. I’ve always loved theater. It’s an amazing thing for a writer to write something and then actually see it visually like on a screen, or an actor speaking it, it’s incredible. It just blows your mind. Writing is so solitary that if you can mix it with something social – film making or theater or singing songs, it’s always a bonus. Otherwise you just sit in a damn room by yourself.

Do you see the story and the characters a different way because you’ve done it in a different medium?

I think I naturally write filmic books or filmic short stories – people tell me I write visually.  I don’t know.  I love dialog.  Writing a script is like writing a skeleton of a book.  No flesh.  This theater play, I wrote it incredibly fast. I wrote the first half in probably a week and a half and the second maybe in two weeks.

Kind of like the difference between writing poetry and then going out and singing your own songs and having the audience…

Yes, absolutely.  Except that I don’t have to perform.  I’m a mess when I do readings.  Although, I suppose that’s the thing about readings, you do get audience feedback. You feel people are supporting you. Well, I’ve never had anybody boo yet, but you never know…I’m waiting. It’ll happen.

 

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Fiction

Angel

by Cher Bibler

 

There was an angel standing in the parking lot. The edge of her white dress was dragging on the pavement, soaking up oil. She bent forward to see herself in a rearview mirror so she could fix her hair.

A couple of teenagers stood under the streetlight, arguing. It was late and the video store was closing, but the laundromat was still open and a woman with two little kids was unloading baskets of dirty clothes from the trunk of an old Mercury. The one kid was supposed to be watching the other to make sure he didn’t wander away, but instead was staring fascinated at the angel.

“Tory!” exclaimed the mother, exasperated. “Don’t you hear a word I say? Look at Jeffie; he could’ve got run over!” Jeffie was trying door handles of cars to see if any of them would open.

Tory realized she’d let her mother down again and looked at her with large eyes.

“Well, don’t just stand there. What are you staring at? We don’t have all night.”

But Tory had never seen an angel before and was reluctant to leave. She was afraid she would never see one again, that this was her only chance, that she should memorize everything about this moment so she could refer back to it whenever she needed to.

“God damn it,” said her mother as a flutter of pink hit the ground. “Could you get that sock, Tory, sweetie? Come on, pick up the sock. Right there by my foot.”

The teenagers under the streetlight had reached a crisis. The girl tried to hit the boy in the face but he grabbed her wrist and she kicked him instead.

“I hate you,” she said. “I hate you.”

He felt a wonderful power surge through him as he restrained her. He didn’t know why she got so mad sometimes. The madder she got, the more he wanted to hold her, to make love to her, to have her love him. It didn’t make any sense. Their arguments never got anywhere.

The angel glanced at the couple and watched them for a while. She fixed her lipstick and causally sauntered over to the pair. “Do you have a cigarette?” she asked.

“Uh, sure,” said the boy, when he had gathered his composure. Teenagers get used to being anonymous, no one takes them seriously, their privacy isn’t often interrupted. He reached into his car, on the dashboard, for his cigarettes.

“Thanks,” said the angel. “You don’t know how much I needed this.” She bestowed a dazzling smile upon the couple and they began to thaw a little toward her. To prolong the conversation, she asked if there were good pizza places around, pretended that she was a stranger so they could tell her about this part of town. Their argument was soon forgotten, their anger faded.

“Lottie and I,” said the boy, “go to Napoli’s Pizza because we like it. It’s not fancy, though. You don’t dress up to go there.” He wondered as he said it if angels could dress up, if they had different kinds of clothes or did they always wear the same white dresses, but he didn’t have the nerve to ask her. He was nearly sure he could, that she wouldn’t mind telling him, the words were at the tip of his tongue, but he didn’t ask.

Lottie saw a car that looked like her mother’s and ducked. Her mother thought she was spending the night with a friend and she hated to think what would happen if her mom caught her out with Steven again. Her mother thought that Steven had a bad influence on her. As the car turned the corner she saw that it wasn’t her mother’s, that it barely even resembled her mother’s car, and Lottie was surprised to discover how quickly her heart had been beating.

Tory liked to plunge her hands into the powder laundry detergent because it felt silky, but her mother never liked to see her doing it, so she sneaked her hand in the box when her mother wasn’t looking.

A man was reading a newspaper, watching her, waiting for his dryers to get done. Tory saw him looking and her face grew red, because she thought he would tell her mother she was playing in the soap, but he smiled at her instead. She looked away and pretended she’d never seen him. She was paying so little attention to her mother that she was nearly caught. Her mother turned toward her and Tory jerked her hand out of the detergent box and showered the floor with white powder. Her mother never noticed, never even saw the soap on the floor, and Tory stood feeling the grains under her fingernails and wondered why she liked to do it so much when it got her into so much trouble.

Jeffie had found an empty laundry cart and was pushing it around, pretending he was a train.

Their mother had found someone to talk to, was leaning over a table talking about things that had happened back in high school. Tory tried to push the spilled soap powder with her foot, tried to kick it away so her mother wouldn’t see it, and found that the soap made the floor slippery and that when you got both feet on the slippery part it was almost like roller skating.

There was a tv in the Laundromat and the attendant had it turned on to an old movie and was folding clothes up while she watched it. Some people had their clothes done for them and they paid for it by the pound. The light colored clothes had that tell tale dinginess from having been washed regularly at the laundromat.

Tory’s mother liked to come in late at night because she could be sure of finding empty washers. Other times of the day it got too crowded. She actually did lots of things late at night. She always liked to take a nap right when she got off work and revive some energy for later on. Tory and Jeffie were accustomed to her schedule; in fact, they had never known things any other way.

The man with a newspaper looked at his watch and compared it with the laundromat clock, then looked idly around at the other people waiting, before going back to his story.

Lottie and Steven were sitting in the back seat of Steven’s car, kissing. They had been doing that for long enough that the windows were starting to steam up. The angel sat in the front seat filing her fingernails. She had to sit sideways because her wings made it uncomfortable to sit any other way. Cars weren’t designed with angels in mind. She always filed her nails, never cut them, so that they wouldn’t break. Steven had promised they’d go for pizza later. All that talk about the best pizza in town had made them hungry.

She glanced in the back seat and realized that Lottie and Steven would probably be glad for some privacy. She told them she was going into the Laundromat for a can of pop.

The night air seemed cool outside of the car. Cool and somehow heavy and oily from car exhaust and from factories. Her white dress was beginning to fade.

Tory had commandeered Jeffie’s cart and had talked him into climbing up in it so she could push him around.

Once they had bumped into a woman folding clothes. The woman had yelled at them and their mother had gotten upset and yelled, too, but after a minute she went back to her conversation and forgot about them and they went back to pushing the cart. The laundromat made a good obstacle course.

The pop machine was in the corner by the tv and the angel made her way over to it quietly and stood considering the selection. The Laundromat attendant, who sold Avon products on the side, was showing a sales book to a customer.

Tory brought the cart to a halt when she saw the angel in the laundromat, but under the harsh indoor lighting the angel didn’t look as glamorous as she had outdoors, and as she popped off the top of her can so she could take a drink, Tory and Jeffie returned to their game.

The angel looked at the specimens in the laundromat, wondering which one she should turn to next. Old habits are hard to break. She dropped exhausted into a chair beside the man with a newspaper and said to him, “Anything interesting?”

He looked up, took her in, said, “Not THAT interesting.”

This is so easy, thought the angel to herself. She crossed her legs, lifting her skirt a little so he could get a hint of the shapely appendages underneath, and turned on her smile.

“I haven’t been in town very long,” she said. “Could you tell me if there are any good pizza places around here?”

Art by Mel Blossom

 

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Fiction

A WORM FROM ANOTHER GALAXY

By Laureen Vonnegut

“You’re in that other galaxy,” I say.

Nicola has a fragment of a smile on her face until she looks at me and realizes I’ve spoken.

“I know you didn’t hear me.  I’ll repeat it.  You have a whole separate universe inside your head, complete with conversations and street names.”

She shakes her head and looks out the apartment window.  A garbage truck lumbers toward us, stopping in the middle of the street.  Two men in orange jumpsuits and clear plastic gloves step off the bumper and empty trashcans into the back, clanging them against the chute.  Her hands clutch the countertop, she leans forward.

Once I met this girl during a vacation in Mexico.  For a full week we spoke no more than a dozen words.  I can’t remember if I ever knew her name.  We sat silent on the beach for hours, listening to waves and gulls and shouts of children in the sea.  We let handfuls of sand trickle through our fingers and fall into soft piles.  Sometimes we would find a small sea shell which we placed on the other’s leg, moving it around and pressing it into the skin until a scallop shaped indentation appeared.

It ended when I returned to Los Angeles.  She etched her phone number in the wet sand with a piece of dried kelp and I memorized it.  But how could I call her, talk into a hard plastic receiver?

Nicola looks upset now.  I can’t help thinking a walk on the beach might merge our two worlds into one of sand and serenity.

“Breakfast.”  I jingle the car keys.  “We’ll eat at Lois the Omelet Queen.”

She nods.

“Your favorite.”

Her face relaxes a little.  I find her coat and wrap her in it and we leave.

We walk by the side of our apartment and I notice the red bougainvil­lea vine we planted a year ago, one bright after­noon, has begun to drop its blossoms.  Tissue thin flowers skitter across the road and under our footsteps.  She bends over and picks one up before sliding into the car.

I gun the accelerator around a corner causing my sunglasses and a plastic statue of the Virgin Mary to skim off the dashboard and hit the passenger door.  Nicola’s body lurches sideways in her seat belt, I slow down remembering she once compared being in a car with me to sailing on a rough sea; everything had to be tied down.  I glance at her.  She is holding the fragile bloom up to the light, tracing the crimson veins with her finger­tip.

Autumn has moved into Los Angeles.  A few trees have turned amber, but most of them simply dropped their leaves onto the concrete sidewalks.  The sky is grey and has been grey for so many days now I can’t visualize it ever being blue.

She has withdrawn into her galaxy before.  I never know what might precede the retreat.  Last time I found her staring at an ant feebly trying to climb the white walls of our kitchen sink.  It would get half way up the slippery ceramic and then glide back down toward the drain.

This morning she was rehemming the cuffs of my tuxedo trousers which had belonged to my deceased grandfather.  She pulled the thread from the hem and discovered decades of ash-like dust lying in the crease.  I found her staring at it, unable to bring herself to brush it away.

I park the car next to a group of boys shooting hoops through a bottom­less crate hung on an electricity pole.  She sets the blossom on the dashboard and we walk toward Lois the Omelet Queen.

Inside the restaurant, Lois spies us from the kitchen and yells, “Two a my fa-vor-ite white people.  Come on in and sit yourselves down.”

We sit and Nicola immediately lights a cigarette even though she doesn’t smoke and Lord knows where it came from.

“Hello?” I say.

She knocks the ashes into a ceramic ashtray painted with red starfish and gazes out the window.  A sharp breeze blows off the bay.  Three gulls battle the wind, their wings flapping and flapping.

I try to remember the last time she smiled at me.

The waiter brings us coffee and the steam drifts up between us.  I spoon sugar into both our cups and when I pour in the cream, it separates into small white clouds.  Nicola sneezes, reaches for a napkin to blow her nose and knocks over the coffee.

Sticky coffee runs over the table congealing around a glass vase with a daisy in it and the painted ashtray.  She stares at it and waits for the liquid to run over the table top and onto her white skirt.  A thin stream trickles over the edge before I can jump up and move her to the counter.  She sits while the waiter and I clean up the spill, but I see her looking back over her shoulder at us.  I move our utensils to the counter and sit next to Nicola as she relights her cigarette.  With her free hand she picks at the brown coffee splotch on her skirt.

Lois walks toward us and puts her hands on our shoulders and says, “We’ve got our regular dishes and two specials, you can read about ’em there.”  She points a finger at the chalkboard above our heads.

“How’re you two doing?”

Lois looks at Nicola and she can see how she’s doing.  “Aw, honey,” she says, “eat one of Lois’ famous omelets and everything’ll be better.”

Nicola keeps rereading the menu, so I order for her; a four cheese omelet with home fries on the side and a glass of milk.  Her eyes are black, so dark I cannot see the pupils.  She looks straight at me.  I reflect in her eyes in a way that frightens me.  We stare at each other until the food arrives.

She takes a bite, but not much and I see a tear slip out and fall into her milk.  I am chewing the first bite of my spanish omelet when Nicola sets her fork down and eyes the people in the restau­rant.

“They’re just eating breakfast.  Don’t worry.”

A man next to us with a big belly spilling over his Levi’s stares back and narrows his eyes.  Two guys with shaved heads, pierced eyebrows and black workboots nudge each other and laugh. Across the room a woman wrinkles her forehead, adjusts her chair so she cannot see us.

I take Nicola’s hand.  With my other hand, I dig money out of my pocket and leave it on the table.  Lois twists her fingers together, her mouth turns down, she blows us a kiss.  The waiter crosses the room and counts the money.  I lead Nicola out the door, put her in the car.

Without telling her where we are going, I drive to the beach.  At an intersection, a man walks in front of our car eating a foot long frankfurter crammed into a short bun laden with mustard.  He has long, greasy dreadlocks matted into a nest on the back of his head and he wears sunglasses that wrap across his eyes.  With each step the tip of the frankfurter wags like a mislaid penis.  A large daub of mustard slides out of the bun and lands on top of his shoe.  He stops walking and contemplates the yellow splotch.

I look at Nicola to see if she has noticed his predica­ment.  She is staring at the bougainvillea blossom in her hand, twirling it in slow circles by the stem.

The light turns to green with the man still standing in the middle of the intersection, gaping at his shoe.  A car behind me honks.  The man bends down, scoops up the mustard using the hot dog bun as a shovel and continues on his way.

The parking attendant is asleep in his chair, which is tilted precariously backward on two legs and propped against the ticket booth.  I honk my horn and the chair flies forward propelling him on the asphalt onto his knees.  Both he and Nicola look at me as if I’d committed a murder.

“Hey, man, was that necessary?”

“No,” I say, “no it wasn’t.”

He hands me the parking ticket.  “You know, I coulda had a heart attack.”

We park and walk along the boardwalk.  A skinny man, wearing an orange t-shirt, has a TV tray set up in front of a kaleidoscopic concrete wall full of graffiti.  He stands completely still, gazing at the ocean with a distant smile stretching across his narrow face.  The corners of his lips stick out from underneath a drooping moustache.  On the tray in front of him are two blue plastic bottles filled with liquid the color of a bright summer sky.

“Sir, Sir and Madam,” he shouts to us before we even reach him.  Suddenly he is a whirlwind of movement, jiggling his knees together, bobbing his head.  “You need to witness this miracle.”

He is surrounded by a menagerie of random colors too intense for me to contemplate this particular moment.  I take Nicola’s arm and lead her away, across the sand toward the ocean.

“I can see,” he yells after us, “I can see the young lady’s problem.  I can help.  Come back.”

The sea is a monotonous green.  The waves are big and frothy, hitting the sand hard.  We stride along the shoreline passing only an old man struggling in the sand with his decrepit terrier dog.  Jellyfish lay scattered across our path, melting into the beach.

The tranquil­ity I’d hoped to have is shattered by the crash of the waves and chill of the wind.  Nicola walks beside me, arms dangling at her side, trailing the tips of her toes across the sand.

“What is in that damn galaxy of yours that is so fascinating?”  I shout into the gusts.  “Dragons and gypsy wagons?  Palm trees and goddamn rainbows?”

We trudge back toward the boardwalk and near the man with the TV tray.  Two stout women in comfortable shoes stand in front of him watching through their black sunglasses.  He smiles wide, gestures with both arms and draws an X, with a felt tip pen, on his shirt, right over his heart.  He notices our approach and throws a shot glass of oil onto his shoulder with so much exuberance half of it hits his neck and slides under his collar.  His movements are speedy and remind me of the rotations of a hummingbird.  He is still smiling that distant smile.

“Lipstick.  Which one of you young ladies is daring enough to wear a nice bright red?”

The women giggle and one of them shakes her purse.

“I knew it.  How about if I borrow just a little?”

She produces the lipstick which is more of a petunia pink and he takes it in his hand, holding it high, looking directly at Nicola and I.

“For those late nights,” he says to me and the corner of his eye spasms.

He draws two lips over his right nipple.  Tiny spit bubbles form in corners of his mouth.

“Now, the most amazing creation ever seen in Venice Beach, ta da.”

He shakes a bottle of the liquid into a frothy sea foam before opening it and pouring it onto a grey rag.  The grey turns purple as he rubs it into the lipstick stain over his shirt.

“Look at this lipstick – Gone.  You’d never know I was out last night.”  Hee, hee.

Nicola slows down, watching the man.  I put my hand on her elbow and push her toward the parking lot.

“Don’t leave now, aw, I’m just getting to the good part.”

Our car is parked diagonally across two spots and Nicola’s door is closed, but not all the way.  It looks abandoned.  We climb inside and she picks up the bougainvillea flower from the dash­board.  Once again, when we approach the parking lot attendant, he is asleep with his chair titled back.  We pull up opposite him and Nicola suddenly opens the car door, jumps out and slams the door.  The boy starts and his chair flings forward, but this time he catches himself before he is ejected onto the ground.  He rubs his eyes and watches Nicola run across the parking lot.

“Jesus…this job’s gonna kill me.”

“Sorry, false alarm.  Go back to sleep.”

I throw the car in reverse and drive around the periphery of the lot.  No Nicola in sight.

I park the car and run to the beach almost colliding with the two ladies in comfortable shoes, each of them carrying a bright blue bottle.  The beach is deserted except for a flock of seagulls nested within sand mounds.  I turn to the boardwalk and see Nicola seated on the concrete wall next to the stain man.

The stain man is inert again, staring out to the sea, smiling into the horizon.  She stands when I approach and holds out her hand to me.  The blossom.  Before I can take it, she flings her hand into the air, crushing the blossom in her fist.  Red pieces whirl around us, rising above our heads.  Her skirt whips around her legs and I see a flash of lace underwear.  The coffee stain is gone from her skirt, in its place is now a damp mark.  She sees me looking at it and flaps the white silk in the wind, laughing out loud.

She’s back in my universe.  There is a pale piece of thread or something stuck on the sleeve of her dark jacket.  I lean closer, it looks like a worm.  A worm from another galaxy.

The end.

 

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

 

Laureen Vonnegut is an American writer living between Romania and Mexico.

June 2011 her novel, TWIN LIES, was released by Skorpion Press.  Her previous novel, OASIS, was launched in New York by literary press Counterpoint/ Perseus Books.

In the United States she has had over a dozen short stories published in five different states. In the UK, she has had a short story in the VIRAGO anthology:  THE NERVE – BOOK OF WRITING WOMEN and two excerpts from her novel HANDS DO LIE.  In addition to a short story in STAPLE magazine and a script, CROTCH PIT, published in EM3 magazine, she was shortlisted for the Ian St James Award.

Currently she is workshopping her theater play, THE PORCINI TEST.

 

 

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Fiction

from The Polo Affair

by Sean Hennessy

ONE

A feisty evening breeze blows off the Caribbean coast as David pulls up to Cancun International Airport, Terminal 2. Like all resort cities, it’s easy to pick out the arriving visitor from the departing—the white and pasty from the burnt and toasted. The airport always makes him glad he’s neither, rather a resident of the city for over two years with a well-seasoned tan. Unlike most Irish, the sun suits his skin, no thanks to his mother’s sallow complexion. Parking is easy to find tonight in front of the main building. He’s late, and hurries with athletic ease through the crowds to the arrivals area.

Few airports can afford to have an open-air arrivals lounge, but rain here
is scarce. Along the barricades, the tourist operators vie for attention. It’s
organised chaos, with suitcases being tugged and kids being dragged out
onto the warm Mexican ground for the first time. Most will know as little
about Mexico on their departure as they do now, as they head off to all inclusive resorts spread along the coastline. Tequila shots and sombreros
will be the highlight of the cultural exchange.

David has to check himself for being judgmental. It’s what keeps the town
running. The tourist dollar is the oil that runs the machine and in turn the real
estate market that feeds off it. That dollar pays his salary and has been a little
fickle recently, since real estate is no longer the fast mover it once was. He
made only one commission last month, still better than the zero some agents
are reporting.

With no sign of the Continental flight passengers, he walks up to a bar with a good vantage of the exodus and orders an ice-cold chilada, a beer with freshly squeezed lime juice. He will easily spot Stephen from here, an advantage of being tall, especially in Mexico. It will be good to see his ex-brother-in-law again. They used to joke that theirs was the only successful relationship in his six-month marriage to Stephen’s sister Michele. His ex-wife  is remarried now with two kids in as many years. He speaks rarely to her these days…no bitterness, just nothing really. The divorce took longer than the marriage, and as soon as it was finalized he left for Cancun and a new life.

And, what a new life it’s been. Two years in the resort city and he’s become
a polo junkie. Polo is not a sport, but an addiction that consumes every free
moment. It’s in his veins now—it’s as if he had grown up on a horse. He’s a
city boy who had not even sat on a horse for the first thirty-four years of his
life. Nothing had prepared him for the thrill of galloping down the grass field
and the perfect wooden smack of a mallet on the hard ball. The adrenaline of
speed, the ferocity of competition, and the strategic challenge of the game all
suited his alpha-male temperament. He enjoyed risk. Becoming a competent
rider was the only aspect that initially tested his abilities. The rest was innate.

Who would have imagined the ‘Sport of Kings’ could grip the least
aristocratic of them all? His friends laughed at his insolence. He did himself,
and he knew only too well why polo earned its title. A king’s ransom is what
you needed to afford to play. Only through the generosity of Don Fernando
Patron, the owner of the Royal Cancun Polo Club, was he out on the field
at all. Of course, like any good ‘drug’ dealer, Fernando freely dispensed the
first sample—after that the player is hooked. Fernando is not making money
with this particular junkie but he still sponsors his habit. Bad business, but
then Fernando is hooked more than anyone. In his glory days, he was
one of the Mexican greats and had played with the best of them. Even the
Argentineans respected him—and they own polo.

Fernando is now approaching seventy and still plays, though rarely in the
last few months. He’s a small agile man that normally looks younger than his
years. He looks tired lately, the pressures of keeping the club open, David
supposes, and the failed attempt to turn his hacienda into a polo resort. Less
than a year or two ago credit was as easy as the climate in Cancun, but then
came the economic meltdown. The hacienda is still a valuable asset, but not
a money maker.

Many businessmen now want to buy out Fernando and rezone the land, but
to date he’s turned them all down. It’s anybody’s guess as to how long he
can hold out, but David can see money is getting tighter. Paint peels off the
stone walls, broken fences are left untended, and the grandeur of the place is
wilting fast in the unforgiving tropical sunshine, as what was once charming
slowly becomes simply rundown. The Royal Cancun Polo Club is losing its
glitz as surely as if no royal had ever played there. While some of the new
hoteliers and foreign rich have joined the club in recent years, Fernando
watches in dismay as his older more trusted fraternity pass on.

David starts to see Continental baggage tags carried by arriving passengers
and keeps his eyes peeled for Stephen. He’ll probably be the last one off the
plane, having snagged the phone numbers of all the male flight attendants,
and he’ll relate some hilarious (invented) story of enduring a strip search
coming through customs. Stephen likes to play the gay stereotype for the
first five minutes with people, and then drops it as soon as he begins to feel
more comfortable. It’s a defence mechanism, a challenge to the uninitiated.

Downing the last of his beer, David is feeling good about the weeks of
companionship that lie ahead. He has been more isolated than usual—the
flat rejections of Isabel haven’t helped. Maria Isabel Castilla Patron, her full
title, is the most arrogant and beautiful woman he has had the misfortune to
meet. She is also the only niece of Fernando and his ward since childhood.

David had been reading the night before of a famous Indian polo player
from Mumbai who said his two greatest loves were women and polo, and
that when he died he hoped his skin could be turned into hide to be used on
a saddle that married the two. David is unsure he can match the passion of
the man, but is certain whose horse would get his saddle. Now, it’s doubtful
she would accept the gift.

Despite David’s vigilance, Stephen comes from behind and surprises him.
Isabel has definitely driven him to distraction. They exchange a big welcome
hug, and decide to stay and have another beer at the bar before heading for
home. The long haul from Dublin to Cancun, via Newark, has done little to
dim Stephen’s enthusiasm or energy and he fills David in on the smallest
details of his life in less than ten minutes flat. This is not to say that Stephen
has been leading an uninteresting life, it’s just the speed at which the man
can talk. If talking were an Olympic sport, he would be a gold medallist.

Stephen is thirty, blond and good-looking with an easy smile. In the last six
months, he has lost his job, some of his hair and his long-time boyfriend. He
remains positive and upbeat. With what he had left of his severance pay, he
decided to enjoy the Cancun sunshine instead of filling in job applications
in the dreary Irish winter. Maybe he’ll stay, though David doesn’t know
of any IT prospects in this city. David knows very little about information
technology full-stop, even though most of his Irish friends are involved in it
in one way or another. David doesn’t actually know what it is they do. It’s
filed in his mind under ‘something to do with computers.’

“I could always do something else. I mean look at you, selling real estate.”

“Not much demand for that at the moment, every month we’re waiting for
the pick-up we keep saying is around the corner…some fucking corner. I
might have to think of something else too.”

The last commission cheque will only tide David over for another month.
He’s nervous. David has always lived month-to-month, he’s never been a
careful planner. Why is it different now, he wonders? Maybe he just doesn’t
want to leave what he has here, right now.

“I could always reinvent myself as some famous drag queen. Stephen
becomes Stephanie, look at these long theatrical legs, darling.”

David saw Stephen once in drag at a party a few years back and it was scary
how good he looked. It was not the usual man-in-a-dress thing. The memory
makes him smile.

“Well, this is the place to reinvent yourself alright. Nobody here is who he
or she says they are…a lot of artists here.”

‘Artist’ was a code word he had not used for a while. It meant people who
were pretentious rather than artistic. David had had a meeting yesterday
with a New York interior designer, who he later found out through the office
secretary, had merely read a book on interior design on the flight down to
Mexico, after ten years as a sales associate at the Gap.

Could David really criticise? He’s not exactly overqualified. His last job
prior to arriving in Cancun had been three years as a bar manager. He has
spent a lot of time on both sides of the bar. Not exactly the bar his parents
had in mind when he dropped out of law school years before. Selling
condominiums to American retirees had not been in his curriculum vitae.

They finish their beer and head to the parking lot. David loads up the SUV
and pulls it out onto the highway. As the sun sets quickly over the lagoon
side, David decides to take Stephen on the more scenic route home, through
the hotel zone and past the Caribbean beaches. Cancun is a huge lagoon-filled square of mainly reclaimed land and coral reef protruding out into the most staggering turquoise blue sea. The colour is magical, almost unreal in its perfection.

Nearly every hotel chain in the world has a high-rise presence along the
eighteen-kilometre route, one hotel more palatial or outlandish than the next.
It’s Las Vegas meets Maya Disneyland. He checks his speed. This strip is
notorious for local police cashing in on unsuspecting tourists and the speed
limits change from seventy to forty on hardly-visible signs.

It’s a busy Friday evening as they drive past luxury hotels. The occasional
healthy tourist jogs along the wide footpaths. Others stand in front of hotel
lobbies, dressed in loud shirts and baggy shorts, waiting for the feeder buses
to take them to the Tex Mex grills and Surf n’ Turf bars. Mostly Americans
visit at this time of year—the Europeans come later. Mexicans, like most
Latinos, dine and party late. David is always surprised to see the restaurants
and bars full on the tourist of town at only seven in the evening. He prefers
to eat on the old side of the city, where few tourists venture. The old side
is neither that old nor by any means pretty, but it’s where the staff live who
keep the hotel zone running. It’s also real, and David prefers it that way.

As they pass the Hard Rock Cafe and Bongos nightclub, the loudest corner
in Cancun, David slows to a snail’s pace as drunken college kids try to
negotiate the oncoming traffic. One of them hits the bonnet of his car and
David gives him a well-practiced mean look. Years in the bar trade taught him
to perfect the look that says ‘Don’t dare fuck with me,’ and it’s immediately
understood as the guy skulks off.

Stephen pretends to be offended.

“How rude! Let me take him home and have him smacked.”

“You’d like that alright.”

“Well, a bit of rough after such a dry spell. I’m a widow you know.”

“He’s not dead.”

“Oh, he is to me.”

There is still hurt there. It’s always easy to know who left whom in a
relationship despite all the protests of it being mutual.

“Five years I was with that guy, and he picks the worst fucking week of my
life to tell me he was shagging somebody else…oh, and that he needed space to figure things out. I gave him space all right. Look, let’s not go there, I’m on holidays. Next subject please.”

David gives Stephen a reassuring smile.

“You’re right. Forget past affairs.”

Straight away, he thinks of Isabel and regrets it. Is she past, too? He hopes
not.

They take a left turn toward the old city, passing the luxury yachts moored
along the lagoon. The tourist throng starts to thin out at this point and the
shops change. Tacky souvenir kiosks become practical hardware shops. All-you-can-eat shrimp bars convert to simple taco stands.

He drives faster now though the road becomes narrower, negotiating the
steep corners with a well rehearsed ease. While avoiding the potholes and a
series of speed bumps, he explains to Stephen his living arrangement at the
hacienda, Fernando’s estate.

Fernando had been trying to build a series of little homes or casitas around
the hacienda, in order to open a polo resort, until the money ran out. Only
two were completed and he offered one to David. The rent is less than David
has been paying for his condo, and it means he has the stables and polo field
right at his doorstep. He’s free to use the large pool to the rear of the main
house or anything else on the property. He feels very much at home.

They drive through a wealthy suburb filled with Spanish stucco mansions.
David takes a sharp left onto another highway and heads north until they
reach a narrow turn-off and just beyond that another lane. The classic
entrance of a Yucatecan hacienda beckons. Tall walls painted rustic red with
white borders surround the hacienda. The car easily passes through the open
side of the wrought-iron gates and up the short royal-palm-lined drive, each
thick trunk like a sentry guard standing to attention to greet them.

The main house on the estate stands an impressive two metres above ground with a series of cut-stone steps out front. Although only a single storey, the majestic six-metre-high ceilings dwarf the onlooker. Three main columned arches rise above the lower terrace and then break symmetrically off to either side in a line of smaller terraced arches. The scale is daunting and yet softened by the larger-scale wrought-iron lanterns and lush tropical vegetation on its sides. Stephen is clearly enchanted.

“My god, it’s beautiful. I’m staying.”

“Well, we’re actually to the back, so don’t get too excited.”

“Listen, I’ll sleep in the servants quarters if need be. It’s like something out
of an old movie.”

The house looks most impressive at night—the light is more forgiving,
though the garden is spectacular at any time. Impossibly large leaves spring
from every corner in shapes of fans and elephant ears. Deep crimson-red
heliconia flowers, as big as entire bouquets, drip off the walls. Others,
such as lobster-claw and bird-of-paradise, fan out at unexpected angles.
Floral fragrances exude through every pocket of vegetation, so much so that
the senses are overwhelmed. The garden casts such a spell over the entire
property that it’s easy to believe you’re in a lost civilisation, rather than just
twelve kilometres from the drunken bustle of downtown Cancun.

David catches a glimpse of light in Isabel’s room as he pulls around the
back of the house and sees her red Mini Cooper, as if he needs any other
confirmation of her presence.

David normally eats with Isabel and her uncle on Friday nights but had
decided to skip this evening in case Stephen was tired or his flight delayed.
Fernando doesn’t begin dinner until each guest is seated and has enjoyed
at least one aperitif. Punctuality is not considered the greatest virtue here.
Being a complete bore is much less forgivable. Their dinner conversations
often last into the morning and although polo is a favourite topic, they do
touch upon others, but never for too long.

The tyres give a satisfying crunch on the gravel as he pulls up in front of his
ochre-yellow casita. The porch light is on, and he knows Maria has probably
been tidying up since she knows he has a guest. Maria knows everything.
Her housekeeping duties don’t actually extend to his little house, but try
telling her that. He never did, and the intrusion is welcome. He’s not the
most domesticated of men.

Sure enough, fresh flowers are arranged in a vase he has never seen before
and placed on his living room table. In addition, two dishes of sour orange,
marinated chicken pibil have been placed on the counter with strict re-heating
instructions—she knows he could burn water. It looks like the pizzeria can
have the night off.

The casita has one guest bedroom off the open living room which opens
onto a small terrace, and another bedroom upstairs, which David uses. It has
the advantage of an open balcony, from which purple bougainvillea cascade
down toward the driveway. Stephen expresses his approval, as David gives
him a quick tour.

“Not exactly slumming it here, are we??

“I’ve lived in a lot worse.”

“My apartment in Dublin is half the size, zero view and probably ten times
the rent. I need to take a shower—I’m assuming that lovely en suite is mine?
Give me five minutes, oh, and make mine a G and T.”

David also decides to take a shower and heads upstairs. He strips off and
throws his t-shirt and jeans into a ball on the floor. Here in Cancun even
the real estate agents don’t bother with shirts and ties. The more casual the
better. It encourages clients to forget the rat race and buy a piece of this
paradise, or at least that’s his justification. He turned thirty-six last month
but doesn’t look it. Would others agree? he wonders. His body is toned from
daily riding and the few creases around his eyes suit his smile. His dark brown  hair is thick and his body lean, for this he’s thankful. After that, let age do its thing. He showers slowly—he has learned to do most things more slowly here. He even drinks and eats less quickly—he’s learning to savour. Is it the climate or the people that teach you that wisdom? He’s not sure. The
need for speed he definitely leaves for the polo field.

David’s game has improved a lot. He doesn’t think about the horse anymore,
rather he feels the horse. That was something other players said would
happen, and yet when it did he could hardly believe it. It became so natural,
and liberated him as a rider. Except for the club grooms, no one spends as
much time riding as he does. In fact, the grooms have become some of his
best friends. It’s also through them that he has learnt a much more colloquial
Mexican Spanish. The verb ‘to fuck’ here has every possible connotation
and application. Even Fernando is surprised, sometimes horrified, at how
adept his Spanish has become. But then swearing for the Irish is a natural
pastime.

The groom in polo is like the caddy in golf. They often know more than the
player—certainly about the horse if not the game itself. They train the horses
for the player and often, during the week, when members rarely come by,
they will have informal games among themselves. David never misses these
games. He really enjoys playing with two grooms in particular, Juan and
Cristobal. They are both amazing riders. Cristobal does rodeo when he can,
to earn extra cash, and is a very skilled horseman. Juan is the most intuitive
player he has ever seen. He has an ability to be, not where the ball is, but
where it will be. David has learnt so much from the two of them, and from
Fernando who never tires of teaching the game. His mantra is ‘Play the field,
play the man and, only then, play the ball.’

David throws on a pair of shorts, fixes a gin and tonic for Stephen and
opens a bottle of red wine for himself. Stephen joins him on the balcony
to enjoy the evening breeze, the cacophony of tropical sounds adds enough
background ambience. There is no need for music. They go through a list
of mutual acquaintances back home to catch up. Stephen knows most of
David’s circle of friends because of his sister, David’s ex-wife. But for his
ex-boyfriend, David knows none of Stephen’s circle. Stephen’s ex is an
acupuncturist or ‘Needle Nelly’ depending on who introduces him. They
seemed to be a happy outgoing couple, so David was as surprised as anyone
when they broke up. Stephen tells him the ex’s new lover was a patient.

“Does that make for professional misconduct?”

“I don’t see why. He was only swapping one little prick for another.”

“So, then you’re over him I see.”

“I always thought forgiving and forgetting was so over-rated. What’s wrong
with holding a grudge? Which would you rather go out with, a bitch or a
nun? Well, in your case, as you were married to my sister, you can pass on
answering.”

“Trust me, Michele was neither a bitch nor a nun, and some of the nuns we
had in school were proper bitches. One doesn’t rule out the other.”

He and Michele had had some good times together, but David had made the
mistake of thinking she was so uncomplicated. Yes, that rarest of species,
an uncomplicated woman. He sometimes thought Stephen had it easier
being gay—at least you had the heads-up on the gender you were dealing
with. David really believed he didn’t have the faintest idea when it came to
women. Isabel was a case in point. A month ago, they could not have been
happier together—or at least he could not.

When he first met Isabel, she was engaged to Nacho Rodriguez, a very
handsome Venezuelan polo player, one of the best in the world. They
were very much the socialites, no big polo party was held without them in
attendance, and the magazines loved them. The ‘Posh and Becks’ of polo.
He had used the phrase once in conversation with Isabel, but it only earned
him one of her classic scowls. The look that said, ‘Did I just step on some
dog business?’

In those days, she spent little time at the hacienda and they rarely met. She
followed the international polo season travelling around the world from
Miami and Buenos Aires, through to Europe. A good player herself, she
was not just a trophy girlfriend. Polo gets little mainstream coverage in the
media because of its exclusive nature. Many top brands sponsor the events,
such as Ralph Lauren, Rolls Royce and Moet et Chandon. Polo is very much
a circle where the rich get to mingle. Polo is less exclusive in Argentina,
as there are many more players there. He heard once that there are only
fourteen thousand polo players in the world and of those six thousand live
in Argentina. Of the hundred or so players in Mexico, everyone knows each
other. Every player in the world knew Isabel and Nacho, not to mention the
social circles. So when their engagement ended, it was very much public
knowledge.

David recalls the night of the breakup. It happened during the closing party
of Mexico City hosting the Polo World Cup. In classic fashion, the husband,
a polo player, caught Nacho, trousers at his ankles, fucking his wife. David
was at the party and witnessed the slap Isabel delivered to Nacho. The
paparazzi were there and every magazine in Mexico carried that photo, not
to mention the story. It was the look on her face as she turned and walked
away that he will always remember. It was what he fell in love with—the
icy determination, chin aloft, lips pursed and eyes with a steely purpose. Her
exit was worthy of any of the classic silver screen sirens.

During the months after the scandal, Isabel returned to the hacienda, barely
acknowledging him, short of the briefest buenos dias. She often missed
the Friday night dinners he attended, and even when present she contributed
little to the conversation and always made excuses to leave early. Yet David
studied her like an exotic creature. He could tell you on Monday exactly
what she had worn on the Friday, and the previous Friday, and on the Friday
before that. He noticed when her raven-black hair was pulled back a degree
tighter than usual, and he looked for the slightest imperfection on her rarely
made-up skin, which he never found. He always tried to do this without
making eye contact or breaking off his conversations with Fernando. His
mood for the entire week started to revolve around whether she had made it
for Friday dinner or not.

David had his share of one-nighters when he was out with the boys.
Particularly when out with Cristobal, the handsome Spanish-looking groom
who was generally on a mission to have as many wide-eyed female tourists
as he could manage. David was often called in to help, always ready with
his fluent English to fill in the gaps of a story that would paint Cristobal in
a favourable light to any gringa who was searching for her Latino holiday
romance. Juan, who was more indigenous-looking, was less forthcoming,
too shy with women. So David would entertain some of these ever-present
females, and if that meant bringing one home occasionally, he was more
than willing. “Was” that is, until he started seeing more of Isabel. Although
nothing had yet occurred between them, he simply began to feel a sense of
betrayal, not so much to her but to his idea of her. Above all, though, he
knew Isabel was way out of his league. But there was a history.

Stephen switches to red wine as they reheat the chicken for dinner. David
is not planning to discuss Isabel with Stephen, short of the odd reference to
the owner’s niece. He’s not sure why, but knows he’s not ready to go into it
tonight.

“So when do I get to see you playing polo?” Stephen asks as he tries out the
hammock.

“Tomorrow. There’s a game as usual, and in two weeks there’s the big
tournament. Well, big for us, it’s the annual in-house tournament. There’s a
lot of talk about it this year. They’re bringing in some big pros.”

There has been talk of nothing else for the last few weeks and a lot of
second-guessing about who is going to be on what team and who is coming
in to play. David knows they’re hoping to field four teams, and the line-up
is expected to be announced tomorrow. The announcement should ensure
that most of the members show up for tomorrow’s game. Fernando is being
very secretive about the whole thing, even with David, which is not like him.

“Is polo like horse racing and the ladies wear hats? I’m sure I packed one for
just such an occasion.”

“Please don’t. And its nothing like horse racing. In fact, the funny thing about
polo is, it’s all jeans and t-shirts.”

“That’s strange. I suppose the rich-among-the rich can dress down; they all
know who they are. It’s their day off.”

The insight impresses David.

“Never thought of it that way, but it could be true. Though they do let some
poor people play—you’re talking to one.”

Stephen stretches in the full length of the hammock before responding.

“But maybe they don’t know you’re a fraud. I mean, it doesn’t look as if
you’re living poorly.”

“They know, believe me. I’m here on a loophole and his name is Fernando.”

“Oh, scandal at last! You’re a kept man. You’ve finally gone over to the other
side. Wait ‘til I tell Sis.”

“Piss off.”

“No, seriously, explain the game to me. I haven’t a clue.”

“Never a truer word was spoken. Well, I think I’ll let Fernando explain it to
you tomorrow on the sidelines. Nothing gives him more pleasure. For now
just think of it as soccer on horseback, played with a long-handled mallet.
There’s a goal post at both ends and two teams of four players. Although the
pitch—that’s the field—is as big as five soccer pitches.”

“Soccer, shit, please tell me they don’t have an offside rule. No matter how
many times it’s explained to me, I don’t get it.”

David remembers others trying to explain the very rule to him in earlier days.
In polo, the person who last hit the ball has the line, which is essentially a
right-of-way to the ball and beyond. No other player is allowed to cross in
front of that line. The point is that the player with the line should never be
forced to slow down because of another crossing in front of him. Sounds
simple enough, but interpretations of distance and line changes are what
most arguments in polo are about.

“What makes polo so expensive is the number of horses you need to play in
a game. A good player will change horses after each chukka—or period—
and we play six chukkas in a game. A chukka, by the way, is seven minutes
and thirty seconds of play.”

“That’s six horses—shit, do you have six horses?”

“Try two, and that’s more than I can afford. Fernando doesn’t play much
anymore so he lends me his, and often I’ll play one horse for two chukkas.
And, just so you have the terminology—your horses are called your ‘string.’
Some players, even in this club and at an amateur level, have a string of eight
or nine horses.”

He can see Stephen is pleased with his newfound knowledge.

“Oh, I can’t wait for tomorrow to go up to a player and ask him how big is
his string?”

They both laugh at this, and David pictures him doing so, in full falsetto,
which makes it even funnier.

“Last question, I promise. About the outfit, do you wear jodhpurs and boots?
This I need to see.”

“That’s a common misperception. No jodhpurs—polo is just white jeans,
boots and t-shirt with a collar. And, of course, a riding helmet. The outfit is
called a ‘kit’ by the way. Hey, is that the chicken I smell? Let’s get dinner,
you grab the wine.”

They shut the lights off and head downstairs, leaving the tropical sound of
the cicadas behind them.

http://thepoloaffair.com

Standard
Fiction, Interview

An Interview with Sean Hennessy

 

by Julie Stewart

Sean Hennessy has lived in Merida for five years. Owner of a popular local restaurant, last year he also managed to squeeze in the penning of a 370-page thriller titled The Polo Affair, which has been described as “gripping”  and “entertaining.”

 

You play polo, renovate houses, are a former model, run a successful Irish pub in a colonial Mexican town, scuba dive and snow ski, and now have written a novel. What don’t you do?

I seem to do very little other than work at the moment, but I have always enjoyed variety. I grew up in a big family and there was not the chance to do a lot of the things I do now, so I suppose I have taken every opportunity life has offered and maybe even created a few along the way. I have already lived in many countries and with every country come new possibilities.

 

The novel touches on a few of these aspects of your current life – Mexico and polo. Tell us briefly what it is about and why you decided to write it.

It is the story of a young Irishman in Mexico, who through his new found love of polo and a stormy affair with the niece of a retired polo player finds himself caught up in bad business, dirty politics and a race against the clock to figure things out. On another level it also deals with a person who lacks self belief and only when he is forced into fighting his corner does he learn about himself and others.

I wrote the book because there has never been a book written with polo at the center, and I thought everywhere I go I see the polo brand on shirts, but because of the sometimes exclusive nature of the sport very few people know anything about it. There are also a few twists in the novel that turn polo on its head. One of the biggest challenge was to explain some of the points of the game without the reader feeling he or she is getting a polo lesson. I believe the fast pace of the novel achieves this.

 

Have you ever fallen off your horse?

Too many times; you are only officially welcomed to the club once you have had your first fall.

 

What attracted you to playing polo in the first place?

The very first game I saw, I was totally hooked. I thought this was the most fun you could have while still dressed. The fact that I had no idea how to ride was a bit if challenge and in fact now I feel totally uncomfortable trying to ride with both hands and without a mallet.

 

What’s the best line in your new novel?

I think when the main character makes the observation about his girlfriend who is about to turn thirty ”that men spend time in relationships while women invest time in them.”  I also like the line when a mounted player sees somebody he does not like pass by he suggests that “the dick should be under the horse as nature intended and not on top.” But then maybe that is a little bit crude?

 

Who is the target audience and why should they want to read it?

Anyone who enjoys travel should appreciate it as it is very much set in the Yucatan. It is a great escape novel, it suspends your belief long enough to feel you got lost in another life and a lot of us want that when we read for pleasure.  With my first novel which was never published I wanted to be a literary giant like Joyce or Yeats. Now I take myself a lot less seriously and just want to entertain the reader with maybe a few of life’s truths thrown in.

 

One of my favorite quotes is: Life is too short to drink bad wine. Your favorite quote is: Life is too short to dance with ugly men. What does this say about us?

That we should definitely go out and party together.

 

You are originally from Kilkenny, Ireland.  What do you think folks in Kilkenny would say about your Irish pub in Merida?

I have had a  good few Irish people in through the bar and many have suggested I should move back and open there, the prices are better. What I wanted to create was an international CHEERS, I think we have achieved that, the place where everybody knows your name. We are a pub first and a damn good restaurant second.

 

Where else interesting have you lived and how do those locations compare to Merida?

Many years in Japan, also Bangladesh, Spain, and London. With my different jobs I was sometimes on a plane once or twice a week so travel is in my blood. My mother calls me her gypsy son. Merida was an interesting choice as I did not come here to work as a primary objective, I came here to live and then see what I could do second to support that. Merida has it all for me, wonderful people, great climate, safe, good beaches, good food, a sense of fun and oh did I mention polo.

 

Practicalities: where is the novel to be published and how do I get a copy?

It will be out on January 15th as an e-book with Amazon, Barnes and Noble and i-readers. It will also be available as a soft cover thru Lulu, my website www.thepoloaffair.com and Amazon. I will place it in a few local book shops and my bar, so you can read it with a pint.

 

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