ISSUE 19: SEPTEMBER 2018

IMG_6653Call St. Mary’s
By Lila Rabinovich

Nancy would later tell anyone who asked that she escaped the hailstorm by ducking into the first available open door, which happened to lead into a church. She’d been making her way back home slowly, switching her purse from the crook of her right arm to the crook of her left and back again as they got tired of the weight. It was just bad luck that there’d been such a massive storm, so uncharacteristic for February, on that exact day, when her purse was so heavy. She was carrying Walter’s favorite book, his glasses and hers, a thermos still half full of black tea, an empty Tupperware (she despised hospital food), her billfold, her house keys, a packet of Kleenex, a packet of mints, a small leather pouch with all her regular medication (the Lipitor and the diuretics and the aspirin), and her cell phone. It was a lot for such a small, feminine bag.

There had been no real warning that the storm would be so heavy. The day, so blue and clear in the morning, had turned moody after lunch, like an old person who can’t take a post-lunch nap. Nancy was not carrying an umbrella, and when the first drops started falling she looked around for a place to wait it out. It wasn’t a very serious storm at first; she just didn’t want to get her hair wet and ruin a perfectly accomplished coiffure. But within a minute, the rain turned into an almost solid mass of water. Nancy was soaked by the time she stepped into the church, which was only a few steps away from where she stood.

She hadn’t been inside a church in years. Decades probably, she couldn’t remember. She took her dripping coat off, walked to the pew closest to her and sat down. She looked around, squinting a little to adjust to the strange, orange light and brown shadows in the nave. There was no one else there. She said to herself: “This is a little creepy.” But in fact, the solitude relaxed her; she leaned back on the bench, stretched her tired legs, and wiped her wet face with her sleeve. She checked her phone for messages, but there were none. She’d spoken with both her daughters about ten minutes before, after leaving the hospital, and she wasn’t really expecting any other calls, except of course that the hospital might need to reach her at any moment.

“Hello,” she said out loud. “This is Nancy.” She almost burst out laughing. She was not a religious person, not much of a believer, and she certainly hadn’t prayed since childhood, when she’d attended services at a synagogue with her observant Jewish parents. But in this church, she felt compelled to introduce herself.

“I’m in here because of the rain. It’s crazy outside. Cats and dogs.” She paused, wondering whether people would think she was crazy if they saw her talking like this. Still, she continued. “I was walking home from the hospital, St. Mary’s, you know the one. Named after your mama.” Nancy covered her mouth with her hand and chuckled. “My husband Walter is there. We call him Wally. He had a stroke.” Nancy was sure this piece of information would be known to her interlocutor, but it was too critical a fact not to mention. “Doctors say the outlook is uncertain at this point. These were their words. The nurse that helped us today, Luellen, she said it’s in your hands, actually!”

“Funny she should say that, you see, because we had been thinking about what to do in the event one of us goes. Probably Wally first, since he’s so much older than I am. So, I did the paperwork and gave my sister power of attorney. She’s the youngest of the four of us, remember her? She stayed observant, like our mom and dad, so you probably see her often.” Nancy stopped and looked around again. Her eyes had adjusted to the weird light. She was still alone in the building. Her head ached a bit.

“So my daughters called me earlier, to check on their dad, and asked me about this power of attorney business. Like now they remember they may have some responsibility towards their parents. When I told them about giving it to their aunt, they were furious! ‘How could you?’ and ‘Don’t you think we can handle this stuff?’ Truth is, I don’t. I don’t see them as adults. They’re my children. They’re children. I didn’t want to burden them.”

Nancy’s cell phone rang. She took it out of her purse, looked at its screen. It was the hospital. She let it ring twice more, but it hurt her head so she turned it off.

“We were having sex when it happened. I’m not proud to say this here, in a house of worship, but it’s true. Wally is 83. I’m 71. We probably shouldn’t have been exerting ourselves physically this way, I know. It’s not like we did it very often anymore, maybe two, three times a year. Could have been we were out of practice, and it was just too much for poor Wally. I told the girls he had the stroke while watching television. Couldn’t bear the disgust in their voices if I told them the truth.”

A door slammed somewhere in the building and Nancy straightened up on her pew, as if called to attention by an unseen General. She waited for a minute, then two, curious to see who it was. A priest, perhaps? She wouldn’t mind chatting to one. She hadn’t had many opportunities in her life to talk to one, being brought up Jewish and then married to a determined atheist. But nothing happened. No one came. She stood up, put her coat back on, dug into her purse for her phone and turned it back on. “Siri, call St. Mary’s Hospital, please.”


IMG_6952visiting
By A. Poythress

Susanna died on a Tuesday.

She was only twelve, rambunctious and liked to climb the tallest trees just to throw acorns at the boys. Most were appropriately saddened by such a young girl dying, a life cut so tragically short, but everyone in the town knew what came next. The mourning was allotted for three days and three nights. Anything more would be tactless.

Susanna came back on a Saturday.

She wasn’t the same, of course. No one could be, after they died. Small and wrinkled and bawling up a storm from just being birthed, face redder than a fresh Juneberry and covered in milky muck. No one could blame her being upset, what with just having been born again. Her skin was darker this time, brown as ground cinnamon instead of white like fresh cream. Her eyes were brown, too, a lovely shade that made her new mother coo.

But she still had the small birthmark on her left heel, the one shaped like a crocus in bloom. She’d been reborn twenty-seven times, as far as anyone could tell from reading the town record. Each time she died, the next baby born would spring out with that same odd birthmark, would grow up to be the same spitfire hellion in childhood that the town had grown used to over the generations.

Sometimes, she lasted a whole lifetime, dying after she’d surpassed her hundredth year, surrounded by children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all wishing her teary farewells and heartfelt good lucks with her next life. Others, she died before taking her first breath. Every family in the town had had her in their lineage at least once that they could trace back. They all came to look forward to Susanna’s time in their lives.

She’d been sickly and feeble, strong as an ox, gentle as a lamb, tawdry as the roughest tavern keeper, holy and sinful alike. Each life Susanna led was unlike the last. If it wasn’t for the birthmark, no one would ever be able to tell all her past selves stemmed from the same soul. She might share some characteristics between lives, but she lived each one like it was the only one she’d ever get, never making the same mistakes twice.

No one knew why Susanna was the only one of them to be reborn again and again. Some had hoped that maybe others would be, too, but it was only ever her. Had she been blessed by God? Chosen as one of His heavenly messengers on Earth? Or was hers simply a soul too restless to settle down in the afterlife once it had shed its earthly shell? No one had any answers, no matter how many times she came back. Susanna didn’t have any, either, unaware as she was of her past lives.

The town sort of preferred it that way. Their one little oddity that came back again and again, no matter how much time passed. They considered her a gift, a beacon of the town, in some small way. A celebration went up when she was presented by the new parents, Susanna reborn anew.

They would make sure her visit lasted much longer this time.


IMG_6953Peepers
By Stephanie Cotsirilos

I know it’s biology, but it sounds like longing to me. Wet in places I don’t like. Through congealed mist beyond this dark high school parking lot, tiny tree frogs throat-sing their desire to mate. The theater inside’s quiet. My daughter’s opening night is over. I hung around too long, smiling, impersonating suave until they started locking up lobby doors. Now I’m alone out here, ambushed by the hormonal exuberance of frogs.

Parking lights. My eyes adjust. Beyond playing fields, a low-lying bog takes shape and, ah: that’s where this undulation comes from. Thousands of peepers twenty-five millimeters long. They pulse with spring’s delirium. Their chorus ravishes. I fear falling into its fertility. I pull back to stay dry and die a little.

I left my San Francisco condo at 3:30 this morning, having cancelled or shoved my physiotherapy clients into yesterday. My 5:44 a.m. flight’s airspeed devoured three time zones to connect in Philly. The East Coast felt unearned. As it always does. A mini-jet delivered me here to Portland, Maine, where I texted “I’ve arrived,” snagged a car rental, checked into the Hilton Garden Inn, and skidded into an orchestra seat at this high school arts center. Plush blue upholstery, amber wood paneling, plentiful dressing rooms, wing space, fly space. Serves all of Greater Portland, I’m told. Good for small professional ballet companies like the one Emma dances in. She’s almost thirty. Worked a lifetime for this role.

Emma saw me in the audience and glowed for a few seconds. Later she emerged from backstage, wearing sweatpants, overcome by shrieks from ballet students, their hair pomaded back into buns. I touched her cheek as she walked toward her father. Estranged from me for years. Friendlier since he moved to Boston.

He presented her an aluminum bucket of orange spring flowers. He and I’d been older parents, our fecundity a nice surprise. Tonight he was gaunt in his accountant’s suit, his smile stunned, his gums gray. Stunned, perhaps, that Emma had this role in her. He’d told me at intermission how carefully she’d prepared to dance Stravinsky’s legendary Firebird. She’d observed her cats. Predators. Also birds whose wings bent in ancient angles. Quickness, inquiry, stillness, flicking. Sixteen pages of notes. Translated into choreography that castigated balance, then freed her. Emma’s father was so proud of her research.

In this wet parking lot I’m proud too. It’s 9:45 p.m. I pull my wool coat shut, tie my scarf. Immersed in undisciplined frog song, no less, I once more salute Emma’s drive. It pushes her, DNA-fueled as the symphony behind this damp. Always did. If I’ve learned anything from my physiotherapy practice, it’s that will spawns beauty. I’ve seen it. Movement when no movement could rightly be expected. That’s Emma.

At age eight, she faked group Suzuki violin recitals. Fingered the instrument’s neck correctly, synchronized her bow to everyone else’s, never let it touch the strings. No sound whatsoever. Her teacher must have known. I did and didn’t lie. I said, “Are you happy with how it went?” and Emma said, “Yes.” Of course. She’d gotten through without being terrible at it.

It hurts me to remember how much she’d needed her pride. Battled her damn dyslexia, didn’t want to finish high school or college. Though she did both. Really, she only wanted to dance, wore tutus for every birthday, bat mitzvah, school picnic.

No, earlier than that.

At age two and a half, from her booster seat at our modest kitchen table near the Berkeley Hills, she demanded lessons. We’d seen San Francisco Ballet’s Swan Lake. Emma’d sat through the whole matinee, longed to be the lead, Odette.

“You’d have to take classes,” I said.

“Mommy, please.”

“You’d have to practice,” I added.

“Mommy. Yes.” Her certainty unsettling even then.

“Sweetheart, ballet schools don’t take little girls who still wear diapers.”

That was the last day she needed a diaper. Words and numbers might later scramble ruthlessly in Emma’s schoolbooks, but her two-and-a-half-year-old urethral sphincter was developmentally precocious. Next morning, she rose from her pristine bed, her desert-dry diaper on the floor where she’d flung it.

She said to me, “Dance.”

Bleeding feet. Pointe shoes. Lamb’s wool cushioning toes. Day jobs in a small city, working up to roles with a tiny, reputable professional company. Emma spun movement through air. For a single moment of being alive. I saw this. I saw it again an hour ago. She became Firebird, red-haired, implacable in equipoise, tapping a toe on the ground, waiting for prey or deliverance, sweeping, leaping, bursting, stopping to let the audience reel, then exhale.

I’d better get moving. There’s my car and one brown pickup left in this lot. Sparse rain frizzes my hair. Doesn’t matter. No after-party tonight, with company warm-up for tomorrow’s matinee only hours away. I’ll take Emma out to dinner afterward.

Got to remember extra pads for my purse. I hardly noticed being uncomfortable when the curtain fell. “Bravo’s” buffeted my child. My child. What numbing joy. I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone behind me had said, “Pardon me, madam, but you’re levitating and I can’t see.” In the ladies room, my incontinence pad needed changing. I had one more. Tomorrow will be a long day, so I’ll bring several. I reject incontinence pull-ups. A permanent goodbye to sexuality. Not that I use it much. I’m too young for this, aren’t I? Then again, Emma was too young, too. Until she wasn’t.

The peepers throb. I open my car door, get in, and click it shut. I punch the ceiling light and, from my left palm, take a red feather Emma gave me from her costume. Before I tuck it into my purse’s side pocket, I hold it to my face. It smells of sweat and the perfume Emma wears to dance. She applies it ahead of time, like a bride.


IMG_6946The Crab Catcher
By Andrew Hughes

I sat seething on a beach in Hawaii. A month away from twenty-one, sober straight-line parents, an elementary brother who couldn’t peel his head off a phone screen, and a gruff younger sister with a penchant for pointless palaver. Seven days, it’d taken seven days and I’d finally lost it. I could feel the headache pulsing between my temporal lobes, that dull throb that told me it was time to feed the beast, time to slip that cigarette filter between my lips and suck hard like I was drawing my last breath from an oxygen tank.

Four years I’d been a smoker, ever since Adrian had slipped me a hard pack of Marlboro Blacks during my junior year. I’d taken them to my room, stuffed them in my sock drawer, and one night when I was feeling particularly bold, I slipped down my staircase and outside, feeling far too smug for someone who had to crawl through a dog door to get some fresh air. I wasn’t stressed, I wasn’t angry or upset or even looking to lash out at my authoritarian parental units. I wasn’t thinking of grief, or of how cool it would look to have a smoking stick of ash hanging from my lips, starting the slow crystallization of my lungs until they had about as much stretch as a piece of drywall. I didn’t even hang out with the kids who smoked: I found them annoying, distasteful, getting blown by trashy girls in trashy, grimy places. None of this appealed to me, none of it drew me in. I was simply curious, and that curiosity brought the white cylinder to my lips.

I threw up almost immediately, stuffed the pack and the three quarters of my remaining cigarette into the depths of the recycling can and slipped back in on hands and knees. But of course, I came back for more. Now, as I write this, I don’t know if you ever really quit, not once you start and not if you really enjoy it. I thought I might when I graduated school—nope. Maybe when I slowed down drinking and got a real job, no way. What about when my grandmother was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer? Fuck you and hand me that soft pack while you’re at it. I’ve slowed down, one tube of white crumbling ash a week, but as of now, I don’t know if I’ll ever really quit.

Back then, I believed it was possible, though, believed that it might even be easy, as if willpower was all that kept me from being able to run a sub six-minute mile again without puking. All well and great until I’m sitting on a beach, sun glaring down on me, sober as a priest, my head pounding like a cantaloupe somebody’s beating with a rock. Parents fighting, yelling at the youngest and commanding him to pay attention. Sister on the other side of the beach, reeling with anger, longing to continue our drawn-out verbal duel. Not wanting to go into the water and body surf the waves because the last time I entered, I tumbled headlong into a native who swore me out and threatened to punch my ticket. Fucking beach bums, fucking family, fucking island, fucking tiny alcove, fucking sobriety, why didn’t I bring my goddamn motherfucking cigarettes.

That’s when I looked up and saw him standing there. Past the sandy beach, even past the wooden steps that led to the snack shack and bathroom with moldy freshwater showers. He stood there, bare chested, native blood, tattoos on his back, round belly, a sack and a woodworking hammer, one gloved hand, perched out on the farthest point of the black magma cliff, standing like he was daring the ocean to strike him down, and each time it tried, he delved his gloved hand into the water, let the tide retract, swung the hammer at the ground, and stuffed something into the burlap sack around his waist.

There was a cry to my right and I saw them coming back towards me. Fuck that. I slipped sandy feet back into my flip-flops and pressed the sunglasses tighter on my burnt nose.

I walked out to the ledge behind him, still transfixed by his motions. I was five yards behind and feeling foolish. I wasn’t the type to go and talk to people, to reach out on a limb, or a cliff face, and say hello, to ask for their story, the story I desperately want to hear, recount, and pay attention to. That was Adrian’s talent, my crutch. I hid while he leapt. I was about to turn back when he glanced over his shoulder.

“Hello there, buddy.”

“Hey.”

The tide rose again, and he repeated his motion. This close, it struck me as surprisingly graceful for such a large man. He slipped the little something into the bag and looked back at me.

“What’s your name?”

“Alex.”

“Mallo.”

“What are you doing out here?”

Mallo held open the bag. I stepped closer, my foot slipping into one of the pools formed by the ocean’s onslaught. Inside the bag, dozens of cracked crabs lay atop one another, scores of corpses piled high in a burlap grave.

“Not what you expected?”

“I guess I didn’t know what to expect.”

I heard my name yelled. My family stood pressed together in a clump in the parking lot.

“They’re calling you, man.”

“I know. Fuck.”

“Hey, relax, bud.” He must have sensed my turmoil. “Look around you, you see that ocean, you see how it moves? That’s how we want to move, to be churned by life. Don’t make it harder.”

“Okay.”

“Stay easy, friend.”

“You too.”

I turned around and walked towards the car where they all sat waiting in the stiflingly hot air, yelling for me to walk faster, unheard words unable to pierce my reflection, a perplexed grin on my face.


IMG_5048Come as You Are
By KJ Hannah Greenberg

Plaszow looked like a park. Rather than being dominated by haunting buildings, the landscape was stippled with life; with cyclists, with people walking their dogs, and with couples rendezvousing. So denuded was that camp of the earmarks of its former horrors that its “Holocaust artifacts” consisted of little more than the wind whispering memories to the trees.

Yitzika began to cry. Her life had already contained too much erasure. She had broken up with Shmuel, an exchange student, just before reserving her seat on the Poland trip. Shmuel had thought little of cheating on her, the girlfriend that he had associated with temporary things, including his semester at her foreign university. His vows that he would marry her had been nothing more than opportunistic fabrication. For that matter, he had no intention of committing to the young woman with whom he was cheating, either.

In the context of that expurgation, perceiving Plaszow as public gardens was more awful to Yitzika than had been viewing Auschwitz II–Birkenau. Her grasp of the latter’s, of Auschwitz II–Birkenau’s piles of dead children’s shoes, mounds of victims’ hair, and heaps of experiment survivors’ clothing, had been mitigated by her tour’s group leaders in formal mealtime talks, and by her fellow participants in late night, hotel room, munchies fests. Somehow, food had become integral to assuaging grief.

Conversely, Plaszow’s intentional removal of virtually all traces of its partaking in the near genocide of Yitzika’s people, that is, its failure to maintain palpable testimony to her people’s suffering, felt more ghastly to the coed than had her tour leaders’ reports of lamps made from prisoners’ skin and jewelry fashioned from prisoners’ bones. Neither those trip leaders nor her fellow participants had commented on Plaszow’s vanished buildings or on its missing piles of human ash. Even when Yitzika’s group had transversed Plaszow’s grounds, and had heard lovers busy under that campus’ trees, no one had said anything.

Yitzika tried to kill herself. She had courted consolation more than a final self-determination, so she had used over-the-counter sleeping pills, which she had sourced during her group’s shopping trip to Kraków. Her guides had rushed her to Szpital Uniwersytecki w Krakowie, had had her stomach pumped, and then had returned her to their hotel.

Baser participants pointed out the irony of Yitzika inviting death while touring concentration camps. Kinder participants, who identified with the pain of the girl from Gush Dan, plied their guides with requests to send Yitzika home. Curtly, they were told that Yitzika could not travel alone and that no member of staff could fly out with her since their group was already one person shy of the prescribed number of guides.

Rather than any of them, themselves, missing the remainder of the trip to escort Yitzika back to Ramla, those “nicer” others tried to comfort her by helping her grieve. They treated her as they would anyone else who was observing shiva. They sat with her in her room and made eye contact, but said nothing to her or to each other unless she spoke to them. As soon as she addressed one of her fellows, the rest joined in. It was understood that they ought to avoid discussions of engagements and of nuptials. Talking about death, however, they had deemed acceptable.

Meanwhile, their tour continued. The group traveled to Majdanek and to Treblinka. It seemed to help Yitzika to set her eyes on the symbolic pylon at Majdanek’s entrance. On balance, she seemed to shrink into herself when, after walking past that stone abstraction of mangled bodies, on route to viewing that camp’s barracks, crematorium, and gas chamber, she espied great quantities of irises and poppies flourishing beneath the camp’s barbed wire.

Later, as the group’s bus made its way to Treblinka, their guides storied them about Oświęcim, Lublin and Treblinka’s residents, about people who, in the past, had been quick to occupy their Jewish neighbors’ homes and farms and then to violently turn away the few survivors that had returned from the extermination camps to reclaim their property. Those residents’ descendants, what’s more, the area’s hospital staff, pharmacists, hotel chambermaids, shopkeepers, and pump jockeys who filled tour buses with fuel, similarly, preferred growing comfortable on tourist currencies to making fiduciary restitution to war widows and orphans. There might be few innocents among the citizens with whom the group had interacted.

More specifically, not only did the locals believe that the death camps’ lands, akin to their private flowerbeds, ought to be locations of joy, of recreation, and of profit, but it was equally true that they mounded contempt for outsiders seeking to elevate the war’s dead. The tenor of those residents’ voices and the specifics of their laws evidenced disdain. They sneered at the Polish proffered by the guides of Yitzika’s group. They forbade that group, and ones like it, to access any sacred site, any place of holy martyrs, unless the group brought along one or more well-paid Poles. Bribery, too, was compulsory for mourning.

Certain events, such as the birth of love, or the death of a population, require unrestricted substantiation. Another group member almost succumbed to alcohol poisoning. A third had to be relieved of her pocket knife.

Nonetheless, by the time the trip had ended, all of its participants, including Yitzika, had become weirdly clearheaded. Their last night in Poland had been spent at a Farbrengen hosted by Kraków’s Chabad rabbi. That joyous gathering had rapidly and organically given way to communal sorrowing. The rabbi’s mother had been the child of survivors.

The tour group did not return to their hotel except to pack their bags.

At home, Yitzika was cared for by her parents and by a medicine-prescribing psychiatrist. The other troubled participants, similarly, were attended by family and physicians. The tour leaders, contrariwise, took a three-night holiday in Eilat.

Those guides found no beach solace. Healing cannot occur when reality is replaced by red oceans or when it is carpeted over with lush lawns.


IMG_6960Cannibal Logic
By Donald Zagardo

Jasper waited by the phone for his mother’s call. Her sweet Southern voice, the way she said hello and pronounced his name made him homesick. She called her Jasper every Friday, precisely at noon, rain or shine. She loved her boy and he loved his mom with all his heart and soul and was generally a good son. He had always been her little treasure, her baby boy, her reward for being such a good Christian woman. But Jasper was a long way from Atlanta and he had developed a personality and lifestyle of his own, that his dear sweet mother knew nothing about. Jasper dressed as a woman on weekend nights, danced with a pole, half-clothed on stage, and could be had for a smile and a cigarette.

Jasper’s mom, in her mid-sixties, has walked with a cane ever since a stroke a few years ago. She spends all her extra time at the Antioch Baptist Church deep in the heart of Atlanta and is conservative in all religious and political matters; a loving mother to be sure, but strict. She phones her only son every Friday to remind him that she and God are watching. Jasper waits by his phone.

Later, Jasper will dress in his very best dance costume of grape purple and bright red, put on high heeled sexy black shoes, make-up his eyes and lips excessively, go to the subway, then head for Ruby’s, a transvestite bar way downtown. Ruby’s on the west side has the worst reputation of any NYC tranny dive. People get robbed and raped inside and on the streets outside the club. But Jasper doesn’t care. He dances on stage in his purple and red costume from ten till daybreak. The work is hard, hours long, but he always has a good time.

On the way to the Carroll Street station, then to work at Ruby’s, Jasper magically appears at the front door of Louie’s Café, standing in the open doorway pretending it’s raining outside, shaking counterfeit raindrops from his counterfeit plastic coat, tormenting Louie with his flashy clothes, sexy shoes and girlie wiggle. Good old Louis has a way of smiling and frowning at the same time whenever he sees Jasper in drag. It’s a love, hate thing. Louie loves Jasper and hates himself for loving him the way he does, and Jasper loves to watch Louie squirm. After three or four minutes of this cabaret, a happy Jasper blows a kiss to Louie and is off to the tunnels. Louie just laughs.

Catcalls and whistles are par for the course once Jasper hits the streets of Manhattan. He is accustomed to teasing. When it starts Jasper hugs himself tight for security then yells as loud as he can back at his tormentors, “Paris is Burning, Mothers … ” and then the high-sign, and more yelling. He gives as good as he gets: an amiable quality as far as Jasper can tell. “You need to be able to take it, and to dish it out in equal measure, if you’re going to last around here, my little friend. It’s eat and be eaten, that’s Cannibal Logic,” he was once advised by a big old queen. Jasper understood exactly what she meant and took her advice to heart.

Ruby’s dirty stage fills with light and color bringing excitement and daring to sweet Jasper’s very soul. He places his left hand on the gleaming silver pole centered on stage. He sings and wiggles along with the familiar INXS tune, Elegantly Wasted. His feet and heart dance to its addictive rock rhythm.

Jasper is instantly transported to a complementary reality, an ideal place where the seedy bar that was Ruby’s is transmuted. The smell of stale beer and the post-gym romp-stench of Ruby’s become perfume. Jasper is in pole-dance-tranny heaven, floating above the downtown crowd, swaying between high, white clouds. He moves like a winged ballerina, impossibly free and full of grace. He forgets for a moment that he’s a boy-girl from Georgia and a marginal citizen of New York City. “Look at me, Momma,” he whispers to only himself, then hollers out loud, “I’m the queer queen of Ruby’s! The star of Manhattan, yea!” This makes Jasper peaceful, jubilant and untiring.


IMG_6963The Skirt
By Susan Margaret Scott

The nude model could easily be a potted plant, a rock, or a mountain because all Molly sees are bunches of shapes while her fingers press and twist the charcoal to capture their rhythm and form. She’s rolling with a symphony of byzantine curves—until she comes to the model’s legs and stops, knowing if she draws what she sees, they won’t be believable. These toothpick-like legs don’t match the rest of her.

A buzz from the timer signals a new pose. Molly blocks a legless composition while her previous drawing tumbles from the easel, barely disturbing the air. Before it hits floor, her eyes and hand have begun a new dance. The weight in this pose has shifted. Sensing within her own body where it rests, she knows where to place the heaviest lines of the drawing.

By the first break, she stands in a cloud of charcoal dust. One drawing remains on the tablet; four are crumpled in soft folds at her feet.

She prods those on the floor with her toe to inspect them and frowns knowing there’s a stack of better drawings at home that continues to grow despite her efforts to give them away. Tonight, she’ll offer one to the model and invite the other artists there to take some, but they’ll probably decline. She understands. Works on paper must be matted and displayed under glass, an expense and a bother, plus most artists she knows are out of wall space.

There’s no room left on hers, after coming to these sessions for twenty years. Back when she started, she’d been impressed with the group’s older artists whose skills were at their peak. Their advanced ages erased any sense of competition with younger ones, allowing for beautiful friendships. Those elders now long gone, Molly is now their age. For some reason youngsters no longer show up, and she regrets the cycle will not repeat.

She’s thought a lot lately about those older artists, how each believed their body of work was their legacy, but in every case, relatives had been unable to cope with the volume. Molly and others had taken what they could and despaired as heirs tossed the remainder in dumpsters, saving just a few framed pieces for walls and garage sales. The last of the older generation, knowing the fate of colleagues’ work, had died heartbroken at being unable to find places for theirs. Molly feels her art, too, is destined for landfill, so it seems pointless to make more of it, yet there’s nothing she’d rather be doing.

During the last pose, the model’s skirt, hanging on a chair, waves in the breeze of a portable heater as if vying for attention. Something about the print of opal-hued lavenders, pinks, and greens gnaws at her—a dim memory of a seventh-grade home-economics sewing project to make a gathered skirt. She recalls holding up bolts of fabric to the department store mirror to pick something that complimented her peachy complexion. Perhaps the fabric she selected was similar, though she remembers it as polished cotton, while this has no shine.

It can’t possibly be the same skirt, yet Molly asks if she can inspect its buttonhole. The model, about to slip the garment over her head, hands it to her.

The waistband’s single buttonhole is a blob of uneven zigzag stitches, the result of a bobbin set at the wrong tension. The skirt’s seams are puckered for the same reason. This happened to every garment sewed on her mother’s poorly maintained Singer.

Nothing destroyed fabric like that sewing machine’s buttonhole maker. Cutting open each buttonhole had been terrifying. She’d aimed the scissors for the center of the clot of threads, sawing the dull blades to expose the underlying fabric, which she then had to pulverize to make a slit wide enough for a button to pass through, the whole time praying the rest of the waistband didn’t unravel.

Staring at the untidy fringe of threads that weep from this ragged buttonhole, she’s convinced this is the skirt she made when she was twelve years old.

The model, who says her name is Darla, seems overwhelmed by Molly’s story of the skirt.

“You’ve been separated from it for so long. You must take with you,” Darla says.

“I threw it out more than fifty years ago. Why would I want it now?”

“The way it’s come back must mean something. Take it.”

They go back and forth until Molly reminds Darla she has nothing else to wear home, and she agrees to keep it. Darla says she picked it for its beautiful print at the Salvation Army in San Leandro, ten miles from Molly’s childhood home. They decide it must have been recycled many times before Darla found it.

Other artists have gathered around to listen. Molly realizes she’s almost forgotten something. “Before you go,” she says to Darla, “Please choose a drawing to keep.” She begins to lay out her drawings, but the model shakes her head no.

“I’m getting ready to move and have too much stuff. Anyway, I got one of your drawings the last time I modeled, remember?”

Molly doesn’t remember, perhaps because she’s trying to understand why the skirt has turned up like this. Is it meant to be her legacy? It’s a dreadful thought, yet …

She asks Darla to hold still. Placing a small piece of art board from her toolbox at the skirt’s edge to stabilize it, she takes a pen dipped in India ink and signs her name and the year she was twelve on its hem.

Darla seems thrilled. She says, “I’ll take good care of your skirt. My boyfriend will put it in a shadow box, and we’ll hang it above the couch.” She thanks Molly and gives her a hug.

Outside, Molly still struggles for meaning as she watches the familiar shape of the skirt disappear into the night. Beneath it, Darla’s toothpick-like legs skip with joy.


IMG_6968Paralyzed
By Fernando Meisenhalter

She’s drinking and driving while I’m looking for extra cash in the glove compartment to buy more booze. But all I find is the photo of a young man in uniform smiling with that confidence only youth and complete ignorance can muster.

“That’s my ex,” she says.

 

I check the uniform.

“Is he Air Force?”

“Was Air Force; he’s paralyzed now; wheelchair-bound.”

“Christ! What happened?”

“Car crash,” she says. “I was driving.”

I panic. I don’t want to end up paralyzed like him. So I grasp the door handle, hard, like it’s a security blanket or something, and I start to pray.

She senses my anxiety.

“Oh, relax,” she says. “I’ve been to AA. I know how to DUI safely.”

She takes a swig of vodka, then holds the bottle against the steering wheel, the liquid shining in the sun like an ocean of unknown possibilities.

“I dumped him after the crash,” she says.

“Dumped who?”

“My ex: Air Force Boy. He was in the hospital, recovering, and I told him it was over, told him I would have to let him go. Our relationship wasn’t working anyway. It wasn’t being callous. I was going to leave him anyway. It wasn’t because he was paralyzed. The love had already died away a long time before. You think I was heartless?”

Noooo, dumping some poor schmuck you put in the hospital while he’s still recovering from unimaginable loss and grief? Noooo: not heartless at all.

But I don’t tell her this. I just say that she had to do what she had to do.

“I knew you’d understand,” she says. “We have this connection, I can feel it. We’re like soul mates.”

But all I feel is fear. With my buzz now gone, I have nothing to numb the fright with, which is a real bummer. And now I’m sober, which means I’m also confused.

She accelerates, and the car now devours lines at an insane speed. Highway 95 looks like a road to Hell, not to Las Vegas (although some might argue about the difference).

Signs, sagebrush, rocks, all go by faster and faster. I pray to Yahweh, Buddha, Gaia, Krishna, and Huitzilopochtli, to anyone who’ll listen. I pray like crazy, until suddenly, as if by miracle, the unthinkable happens: the vehicle loses power.

“The engine’s overheated,” she says. “We need to stop.”

Prayer actually works? I didn’t know this.

She pulls over and we step outside. We watch the car steam.

I’m never going back in there. In fact, I’m not going anywhere with her ever again. I’m not ending up in some hospital, paralyzed by some heartless woman that messed up my buzz and doesn’t even care.

Something has changed in me. Maybe it’s the fear, the recent divine intervention, or an opening of a new line of communication with the cosmos. Who knows? All I know is that now I want to live, maybe even become a good person.

I turn to her.

“I’m going to have to let you go,” I say. “It’s over. It’s not working out anymore. We’ve both known this for some time.”

“What?”

“It’s not that your car is now paralyzed. I’m not being callous. I’m breaking up with you because the love is gone, it was gone since before.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“I was going to leave you anyway.”

She stares at me like I’ve gone mad.

Maybe I have.

“You want me to leave you here, in the middle of nowhere, 40 miles from Vegas?”

“I’ll get a ride,” I say.

“Hitchhiking is illegal in Nevada.”

“I’ll figure something out.”

I look around. The desert looks so simple, and I think it’s calling me. Its vast emptiness, its boundless desolation, its meaningless freedom. This is a place where gods scream, and mortals fall silent.

I take a first step.

“Hey, give me back my vodka!” she yells.

But I don’t listen anymore. I’m my own person now. I chug the rest of the liquor, throw her the empty bottle, which lands at her feet, like an offering, and then smile with that confidence only youth and complete ignorance can muster.

“I’m adulting today,” I say and keep on going.

I check my pockets for cash. Maybe I can buy more vodka.

I’m lost, yes, I have no nowhere to go, but at least I’m not paralyzed.


IMG_6841Under Control
By Claire Faugeroux

Finally. A small, red wooden boat makes its way under the canal bridge, after 56 minutes of waiting. 56 minutes and 32 seconds, to be accurate. People don’t usually use their boats in the morning, actually. Which makes it all quite challenging. So it’s better to just sit and stare through the window, and wait patiently.

Sometimes I walk towards the coffee maker, still staring—3 seconds of pressing the “one cup” button, 12 seconds of hearing the bubbling of the water while it’s boiling, another 7 seconds for the hot beverage to fill the cup—but it’s quite risky. 2 or 9 seconds of carelessness, and you just missed a boat crossing under the bridge. Happened to me a few times. It’s quite frustrating, really.

Before I walk out of the apartment, a quick look outside. Light mist, but the clouds seem to be willing to evaporate later in the day. That means that we could reach 15 degrees Celsius in the afternoon, so 13 degrees of felt temperature. And let’s not forget the wind—as a general rule, let’s never forget the wind in the Netherlands.

Raincoat, blue jacket, wool cardigan, trench coat, blazer. Wool cardigan, blazer. My dark green blazer could work. Just my shoes now, and I’m ready to go.

If you’re wearing shoes with laces, it’s important to check that they are well tied. Because sometimes your left foot is a bit loose, your right ankle is squeezed like a french sausage, and that just doesn’t make any sense. So it’s important to tie each shoe at least twice, and redo it twice. So that your ankles are supported but your feet can still breathe.

The air is still a bit chilly outside, but that is what I expected. 14 minutes and 32 seconds is the average time I need to reach the office. When the temperature is below 5 degrees, I know I would need 3 more minutes. 7 extra minutes if it’s raining.

Someone is holding the door for me as I am reaching the office—it would be impolite to refuse. But as soon as the man enters and climbs up the stairs, I go back outside, close the door behind me and take out my key. The door is a bit rusty, so I have to lift the handle softly as I turn the key. Not everybody has the right method of lifting-turning the key, so most of the time, people would just hold the door for the other occupiers of the building. But what can I say? The “click” of the door gives me a very satisfying feeling of relief.

12:05. That’s a good time to enter the office. 12:06 or 12:07 wouldn’t work, 12:10 would be better. But then I would be 5 minutes late.

I’m very proud to say that I decorated the room myself. My desk is in the middle, close enough to the window to enjoy some natural sunlight, but not too close to allow myself to daydream. The wall on my right was painted an awful yellow colour, but not a nice yellow—yellow-ish. Like old photographs. So I covered it with 6 paintings, 3 of landscapes and 3 portraits. Speaking of—one of them is looking intensely at me today. It is indeed a little bit offset. The cleaning lady must have pushed it while dusting the frames. There. Perfectly parallel.

‘Good morning Ronald!’ calls my assistant Jolliene as she enters with a bunch of paperwork in her arms that she nearly throws on my desk. ‘Your first appointment is in half an hour. Van Bergeveld. You know, the girl with the OCD.’

‘Yeah, yeah, I know. Thanks, Jolliene. Jolliene? Can I ask you something before you leave?’

‘Sure, what can I do?’

‘The label of your shirt is showing. You might want to put it inside.’


IMG_4186A Wanted Woman
By Paul Beckman

I told him not to call anymore so he started sending me postcards. I had my lawyer tell his lawyer onay on the postcards or any mail. Then the texts started. This time we went to court and the judge gave him a restraining order and we left figuring that was that and no more and good riddance to bad rubbish but the planes started flying low and slow pulling messages:

I Love U—I Miss U, etc.

So it was back to court and the judge threatened him good and added planes to the list and threw in drones for good measure. Hot air balloons. We can’t think of everything so I hear what would have been our song blasting. At Last by Etta James over and over and over and I stood on my deck holding my cell phone up so he waved goodbye only to show up in the balloon the next day when I was sunbathing in the yard and no music but he started dropping leaflets until my yard was covered and yes they all said the same thing—Marry Me—I love you.

So the next day back in court and the judge takes a shotgun out from under his desk and hands it to me. He tells me I can shoot the balloon down. So the balloon is out of the picture and he’s gone to ground and I ask around if anyone has seen my Maid of Honor and the looks and coughs and subject changes come out and one day I get a wedding invitation to their wedding and no I’m not going and no I’m not pissed at Sally but I’m not going because I’m afraid these two have cooked up a surprise wedding for me and I don’t want to have to use that shotgun.


IMG_3310Blue Matrimonio Mojito
By Robert Wexelblatt

I can’t stop thinking about this story—only an anecdote, really—Sasha told us Saturday night. It was one of our girls’ nights out, nothing special, nothing wild, not now that we’re all either married or engaged. We met at Homard for seafood then went to this new bar Sasha raved about, Castaway Cay. Caribbean décor, she promised, quick service, music not deafening, and big, inventive cocktails.

It was just as Sasha promised. Long list of rum-based drinks, reggae and ska playing not too loud, bartenders that looked like models.

We got a booth, and each of us ordered something different: Sky Juice, Frozen Rum Runner, Yellow Bird. Sasha asked for the house special, the Blue Curaçao Mojito.

“Blue Curaçao Mojito sounds like a painting by somebody like Frida Kahlo.”

“Nobody’s like her.”

“Maybe a Thelonious Monk tune?”

“Sure. From his Blue Period.”

“Castaway Cay? Is that in the Bahamas?”

“Guess so.”

“A ton of cays down there.”

“Which reminds me,” said Sasha, “of an odd story my cousin told me.”

“Shoot.”

“Okay. Well, last June, Debby was a bridesmaid at a destination wedding—very fancy, unbelievably expensive. Everybody was flown down to this island. Might have been in the Bahamas, a cay with a resort you could rent out. Debby took Jet Blue from Newark to Miami and then a little plane to a tiny airport and then there was a boat ride. Debby said it was amazing. Parasailing, snorkeling, rock-climbing, you name it. Open bar and endless gourmet food. Ceremony on the beach at dawn, partying into the night.”

“Sounds nice,” I said.

“Sounds just the tiniest bit ostentatious,” said Gail, whose own wedding had been a Methodist affair in her Michigan hometown.

Sasha resumed. “Anyway, the couple was supposed to leave right away on their honeymoon. Might have been to Eastern Europe, Croatia maybe, or Thailand. I can’t remember. But it doesn’t matter because they didn’t go. What they did was fly home to New York, move back into their old apartments, and file for divorce.”

“What?”

“Wait, it gets stranger. So, they live alone through July and August. The divorce only takes a couple of months because it’s uncontested. As soon as the papers came through, they went to City Hall and—you guessed it. They got hitched all over again. Then I suppose they went off on their honeymoon to wherever.”

“I don’t get it,” said Gail.

None of us did.

“What did your cousin say?”

“Debby wasn’t sure but she guessed that something had gone wrong on the wedding night. She really didn’t know. Apparently, neither the bride nor the groom would say a word about it to anyone.”

“The parents must have been furious.”

“Well,” said Sasha, sipping her Blue Mojito, “at least everybody had a great time on the island.”

“Divorce?” I asked Sasha. “Not annulment?”

Sasha finished off her drink and patted her mouth with a cocktail napkin. “Debby definitely said divorce.”

I’m not sure why Sasha’s story bothers me or why I haven’t told my fiancé Craig about it, except that it’s disturbing and doesn’t have a proper ending. Craig doesn’t like mysteries and this one hasn’t got a detective to sort everything out.

I’ve speculated, of course. For example, on the subway one morning, I dreamed up a comic explanation. The newlyweds did it to spite their parents. Why? I imagined shenanigans on the island paradise, that opulent Hedonia in a warm sea. I pictured the mother of the bride going to bed with the father of the groom; the father of the bride with the matron of honor; the mother of the groom with the caterer. I imagined a French farce.

Over lunch one day, I dreamed up a more serious but no less improbable explanation. It was based on my memory of an early Christian heresy I’d either read about or made up. These heretics believed that all events are unique and unrepeatable and so, to eliminate every sin and atrocity from the future, they piously devoted their lives to committing as many as they could. In my fantasy, the newlyweds, aware of the odds on their marriage ending in a break-up, got divorced straightaway so that it couldn’t happen in the future. I was rather pleased with this whimsical theory and almost told Craig about it. But he’s jumpy enough as it is.

Then I imagined the couple’s idea was to test themselves. One night of marriage, then two months waiting for the divorce to come through. But what was being tested? Fidelity, fortitude, commitment? Was each expecting—hoping—the other would call off the divorce? Or is it possible they really meant to stay divorced? Did the excesses of their fancy wedding sober them up and somehow sour them on wedlock? Did the cold feet come after rather than before they wiggled their toes in the clear Caribbean?

I could imagine them embracing the single life in July, then not so much in August. When the divorce was final in September, they met to celebrate. His place or hers. They binged on ice cream and a double feature of It Happened One Night and The Philadelphia Story, which convinced them that remarriage is not only more stable than marriage but also more romantic.

So, then it was off to City Hall and happily ever after. Or not.

I can’t help wondering whether what Craig and I tell each other we have could survive two months of divorce, let alone ten years of marriage.


IMG_6978Come Back, Sheila
By B. L. Makiefsky

Dear Sheila,

I’m writing you from your kitchen table drinking your coffee telling you what I think of your boyfriend who left me in your driveway this morning: not much. I thought he was turning the car around, rather than backing up onto the highway. Sure, I wondered why he would do that when there was no traffic coming down the mountain. I guess I thought he was showing me some courtesy. And then, when he reached behind you, behind your seat, I thought he was opening the rear door for me. Not locking it. You said something then but he rolled up the window so I couldn’t be sure. I can’t say that you looked happy. But you didn’t look surprised, either. And please tell him that his right brake light is out. He’s good at fixing things.

It’s a slippery slope, this. My pickup was buried, so I skied to your cabin where you and Kyle had open road. You had warned me that above 6,000 feet the snow would come. Only days ago I rode my 10-speed helter-skelter down the canyon into Green Valley for supplies. No slipping and sliding then, though the ride back up was steeper than I had wanted. More on that in a bit.

I was stepping out of my skis this morning when Kyle announced that he and you were going to look at property near Sonoita. I guess it’s a personal thing shopping for land. Maybe like shopping for underwear. A private moment he wanted alone with you. After all, you don’t just want anyone looking at where you want to put up walls and fences. It’s a slippery slope; plans change. But I was snowed in with nowhere to go. I was out of coffee, too.

It’s a slippery slope being angry at Kyle as well. He helped me find my cabin. Tracked down the owner in Tucson and helped negotiate the lease. Before the forest service threatened to raze them all. Helped me put in the wood stove. No one had ever stayed the winter there—and he chewed out the woodcutter who delivered the green mesquite. The smoke was awful. And then, my gosh, the smoke was good; the man had refused to give me a refund, but Kyle negotiated a compromise. The parcel the woodcutter left made everyone happy. A slippery slope that, too.

Sheila, I like Kyle. Back in Michigan you had told me that he’d been a good father to your son, and could fix anything that was broken. That day last fall was special when the three of us climbed Mount Wrightson. The scent of the tall pines so heavy that our drunken lungs could not move us out from under it, intoxicating, really, and the view of the arid Santa Ritas to the east was stunning. Kyle is an excellent guide. So please don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all that he has done for me, and for you, too. I guess he had his reasons to leave me standing in your driveway as the two of you pulled away.

Sheila, this is awkward. When I was in town on my bike—after stuffing my panniers at the Safeway—I stopped at the Silver Peso for a beer before starting the long climb home. Inside it was dark and cool and quiet, same as always. The bar top looked dirty. Same as always. So I settled into a booth near the back exit. Where I had left my bike anyway. The front door opens and in walks Kyle hand-in-hand with that dark haired woman that we once saw at the pharmacy. You had asked me then if I knew her. They now sat at the bar, and I edged closer to the wall of my booth so they couldn’t see me. I heard plenty, though. They weren’t talking about the weather or property or the price of firewood. I am sorry. It’s a slippery slope, I know. I have now betrayed him and hurt you and things will never again be the same between the three of us.

I am sorry it’s come to this. Leaving this note where Kyle will not find it. In that private place of yours. The shoebox under your bed, Sheila. Our letters …

I had better get going up the mountain now. The sun is out and with luck the road between us may open soon. A thaw is coming they say.

Sincerely,
Mark


IMG_6973WAITING FOR HIM
By Thomas Genevieve

Curled next to his bed for most of the morning, Murphy decides to rise. He wanders to his water bowl, laps a few tonguefuls, and then returns to the side of his bed. He rolls on his side. He scratches. He nibbles on himself. The light in the room, neither crisp nor dull, gradually changes.

He waits for the first curious sound to stretch his legs again. Standing on top of the steps, gazing down, he already knows there is nothing unusual on the other side of the door.

He soon finds himself in the kitchen, directed by his nose to the areas that have proven most rewarding—around the stove, below the counter, under the stools. Finally he licks, but he’s not sure if what he tastes is food.

Back in the living room, he’s indecisive. He can lie along the foot of the couch or return to the side of his bed—the bed he never lies in during the day, because it is reserved for when the room is dark, when the mice move behind the baseboards, when seldom are the sounds outside.

Instead, he saunters down the hallway to inspect the other rooms. In one, there is an enticing carpet on which he usually spends the middle of the afternoon. But since unfamiliar items, whose scent has come to represent an intrusion on his space, have recently occupied the room, he returns down the hallway, walks past the stairs, and glances in the direction of the kitchen before settling at the foot of the couch where he will spend most of the afternoon, dozing in and out of sleep.

*

Murphy has been awake for some time, waiting, when he finally hears the sound. On the chance he might be mistaken and the build-up of anticipation would be for naught, he remains perfectly still, listening for the opening and closing of a car door and the approach of familiar footsteps.

Now certain, he darts to the top of the stairs and focuses on the door. He wags and whimpers. Every moment the knob does not turn the whimpers grow louder. He shuffles all four paws, his nails tapping on the hardwood floor.

And, yes! The door opens!

He rushes down the stairs to be greeted. Will he get a rub behind his ears and along his belly? Or will he have his head cradled, joyously, as was the norm when he was a puppy? But since there isn’t a free hand available, he receives no rub.

Refusing to wait for the completion of rituals—the placement of bags, the removal of clothing—he presses himself against the leg of his friend until commanded in a discouraging tone.

Nothing can discourage Murphy though, for he knows what comes next. Because it always comes next! Oh, and when it does, the rush of endorphins will commence, and he knows his olfactory senses will soon tingle in jubilation.

Finally, the timbre of the voice notifies him it’s time to go out. Murphy races back and forth, from the voice to the door, from the door to the voice, dancing in circles, until he places his snout at the jamb of the door. He waits. He can wait no more, though he has no choice.


IMG_6975Thursday Morning
By Hillary Jo Foreman

Amos says, “But we have to think about it sometime, Bun. Listen. If you’re buried, you’re just buried, but cremation?” He whistles and shifts his weight, reclines back from the breakfast table until his chair’s old joints crack. “You have all kinds of options with cremation. You can sit up on the mantle all pretty in one of those vases.”

“Urns,” Bonnie says without looking up from the fashion quarterly open on the table.

“Or I could throw you into the four winds, but you have to choose the location.”

Bonnie squints through her bifocals at the face of an actress, enlarged until her bone-white grin covers half of the spread. She flicks her wrist and the shiny paper snaps to the left like a whip.

“If I go first,” Amos goes on, “I want you to drive way out in the country, open the Caddy’s sunroof, and toss me out like confetti. Watch me float away in your rearview.”

Her gaze flits up from the magazine for a moment, meets his grin, then falls to his plate. Half of his waffle rests untouched. She raises the magazine, taut between her hands, until the table disappears behind it. She says, “Cute. Except I don’t drive anymore, Amos. Why don’t you quit carrying on and eat the rest of that waffle I made you.”

Amos scoots up to his breakfast and cuts off a mouthful with the edge of his fork. Syrup spills from the waffle’s broken square and spreads thin across his plate. He says, “Where do you want me to take you, Bun? Say the word. You want me to sprinkle you in the mulch outside of Macy’s?” Bonnie exhales a laugh through her nose, shakes her head.

“Hm,” he says, a smirk deepening the creases on his face. “Maybe I ought to put you in an urn shaped like an hourglass, you know—” With his hands he carves the shape into the air between them, wide at the top, narrow in the middle, wider at the bottom. “I’ll keep you with me everywhere I go.”

Bonnie’s mouth quirks up; the corners of her eyes crinkle. She says, “If I go first, you’ll take me to the mall like you do now except then you’ll leave me in the car, make me wait while you shop all day.”

Amos sets his fork down on the plate, extends his hand to rest on Bonnie’s knee. He says, “No, I’ll take you downtown to where they sell urn fashions and buy you pretty little dresses and negligees you can wear for me at home.”

He winks, walks his fingers up Bonnie’s leg, and Bonnie swats at his hand as if she were nineteen, not eighty-nine.

“Urn fashions,” Bonnie says. Smiling, she rolls her eyes. “I never heard of anything so silly.”

“Well, the problem isn’t silliness,” he says.“You just never like what I pick out.” His shoulders shake with silent laughter until his face flushes beneath three days of silver stubble.

“No,” Bonnie says. She exhales another laugh. “I don’t.”

She flips to the next page in her magazine. A young woman’s mouth is large, laughing, her head tossed back, her white dress spritely in the wind. Bonnie and Amos’s eyes fall on the image and stay.

“Well,” Amos says moments later. He leans over his plate and shovels the syrupy bite of waffle into his mouth. Around the glob in his cheek he says, “We don’t have to decide right now.”

“Of course,” Bonnie says. Slowly, she closes the magazine.

She rises from the breakfast table and carries her empty plate to the kitchen sink. The dishwater is already discolored, cooling, but she adds her plate to the heap anyway, watches it disappear beneath iridescent suds. She pulls up her sleeves, then plunges her hands blind into the soapy water, grasping for a spoon or a spatula. Behind her, Amos is working on his breakfast. He swirls each bite once around his plate, mopping up every drop of syrup with what remains of his waffle, then chews, chews, chews, swallows.

 

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