spring2016

A MESSAGE
from Jill Schary Robinson

On Sundays when I was a kid, my father was home all day. His funniest friends were over. They’d sit around the outside table and make up stories, shouting, throwing pencils, tearing up pages like kids playing games. 

“I got an idea,” someone would laugh. 

“We heard it last week!” There’d be a fake punch. 

They’d eat deli sandwiches, laugh more. 

“Here’s a great character.” The mood changed as someone came up with a real villain. I’d sit on my father’s lap. They wrote down what they said and took turns reading their words back to each other, then starting again until the sun began to set and the fog rolled in. 

This was my father’s work: writing stories with other men and women. I decided that was the work I’d do, too. 

I learned even more when I started working with tough NYC agencies, living with my kids, writing journalism alone at night to pay the rent, and then trying to set up a gripping chapter by chapter outline for the next book. 

But watching and being included in my father’s world did show me the tough times, too. I knew he’d been up all night. I knew by watching his walk from the station wagon across the driveway under the olive tree that the studio heads had turned down a story he loved. I knew from the fall of his shoulders when he had to rewrite a script they’d said was “fine!” I learned early that you didn’t just “write it out and say ‘done!’” From the first thank you note of mine which my father edited—“Never use the same word twice in one note!”—I knew about rewrites. 

When I look around the vigorous circle of the writers I work with now in my curious West LA loft, I feel close to my father, to his working with other writers, encouraging them, helping them find adventure, not despair, in the search for the conflict. We joust each other into finding the kick of the rocket as we dig our way down to the heart of plot.  

The notion of “making a living” as a writer is harder now, but the newer fresh resources we have online and with writers’ workshops, the restoration of telling stories in series, reminds many of us that once again, it all begins with story. 

Enjoy—

serialized novel


DESERT HOUSE
Romey Keys

* * * * * * * * * *

Prologue & Chapter 1


EDITOR'S NOTE: Wimpole Street Gazette is proud to introduce our first serialized novel, the mystery DESERT HOUSE by ROMEY KEYS. Every two weeks we will be adding a chapter, so stay tuned. To keep reading, click "next" at the bottom of the page.  

•••

PROLOGUE: ACCIDENT

It is all about speed, driving through the desert. The faster you drive, the more you are lifted up out of the natural world. You move with no effort and the desert flows past you. Until you hit something.

A man, a product of Brighton, England, was taking his evening walk in the desert twilight. Considering the things that had taken him from the shingle beaches of the channel to the desert outside Palm Springs, he could hear the intermittent sound of cars on the road in the near distance. If he had turned to his right he would have seen the lights moving along the highway. But he preferred the shifting colors of the desert and so heard the accident instead of seeing it.

First, the sudden, quickly building sound of skidding tires. The sound of other cars trying to brake. A loud bang. Still the skid screeching. Another long drawn-out bang. A moment's silence. Then a horrible series of crashes as something pin-wheeled off the road, smashing through the desert. Sudden silence. The moment extending. Then, two voices shouting. A sudden scream. Johns stood still looking across the mesquite. It occurred to him that it could have been Ryan. He turned and walked quickly toward the end of the driveway thinking, I'll just go look and make sure. He broke into a run.

Susan Yee opened her eyes and looked up at a beautiful pattern of light coming through shattered glass. The car had stopped speeding smoothly down the road. Now she wasn't looking at the desert sweep past; she was looking at the sky. She remembered the stomach-dropping realization they were going to crash.

Susan finished breaking the side window with her high heel. Glass pebbles showered down over her. She dropped the shoe and looked for a foothold to help her in her climb up and out of the wreck. Maggie Chow lay tossed in a heap against the side window that now rested against the pavement. She tried to keep from stepping on her friend. Blood was seeping through Maggie's black hair. Susan paused, half in and half out of the car, to survey the wreckage around her. The Lincoln Town car rested on its side pointing back the way it had come. Something–she couldn't tell what kind of car–lay twisted and torn apart. And something else was off the road in the mesquite. She slid to the pavement, bent to slip on her five-inch, fuck me heels and carefully started to walk around. A car came slaloming through the wreckage and then gathered speed as it whizzed away.

"Thank you for caring,” Susan said.

"Are you all right?” It was Ryan's voice. She looked for him. He was sitting on the gravel at the shoulder of the road. She looked at him, but didn't answer. "I think I'm fucked up,” said Ryan. He kept flexing his right arm, looking at the elbow.

Two more cars slowed to make their way among the cars and wreckage. A woman stuck her head out the window of one of the cars. "Do you want me to call 9-1-1?”

"Yes. Please. We need an ambulance.” I'm in shock Susan Yee thought, "Am I hurt?”

“I get dizzy if I stand up,” Ryan called.

"Fuck you, Ryan. You almost killed us,” she said.

Susan stopped turning in a circle. She stared at what they'd hit. The wreckage off the road could have been red once. Another SUV came up, made its way through the pieces of cars, and pulled over on the shoulder of the road. A man in tennis whites got out and walked toward her. He pulled his sweater over his head as he came.

"Here. Put this on," He said, lifting the sweater over her head.

Looking down, Susan realized that her blouse had been torn away and she was naked from the waist up. A siren slowly built its alternating sound in the distance.

The ambulances seemed to arrive quickly. Susan looked up and saw the first one coming through the wavering heat. The police arrived shortly after. They seemed to be moving very slowly to the people who, having been moving so fast through space, had come to a stop so disastrously.

The center of the accident, what had once been a classic Porsche, was now red metal, ripped and hammered into a shape that resembled anything but a car. Flung from the highway, it was planted in the sand thirty feet off the road. The hot metal chunk of the engine lay twenty feet from the car. The broken bodies were where the collision had thrown them. The big Lincoln Town Car was on its side, its hood and grill destroyed. And an Audi sedan with one side deeply creased, was nestled under the rear wheel of a black Escalade.

•••

CHAPTER 1: ARRIVAL

Frank Caldwell was driving southeast away from Los Angeles and into the desert, heading down the 10 to Indio and Palm Springs. He had left early from LA with the morning chill still in the air. Now he was coming up on Indio and close to the end of his drive. The car was climbing through a pass in the Chocolate Mountains. He had reached the wind farm by 9 am. Line after line of relentless, three-bladed propellers turning in synch on their towers.

The house was outside Palm Springs. The client was a Rock musician, wealthy of course. The job was armed bodyguard and supervising house security. The client had stressed that, so there had to be a threat, or a perceived threat, involved. Or he wanted the status of having an armed bodyguard escort him around town. When asked about it, Ryan (the client), had downplayed the threat, had been vague, Seacole said his explanations had wandered. Caldwell was curious about that. You never expected your client to be totally honest with you at the beginning. Events usually forced the truth out.

Frank was incredibly focused. That was your first impression of him. He was six-three, 210 pounds, with the build of a Cruiser Weight and wore his hair in a near military cut. The physical confidence of four years in the Golden Gloves capped by another two as a professional showed in everything he did. For the first meeting with his client, Frank had dressed in khaki slacks and a white short-sleeved shirt as a concession to the heat. A lightweight brown and black hound's-tooth checked sport jacket was carefully folded and lay on the back seat.

Frank Caldwell was the top bodyguard at Seacole Security. He held a California investigator's license, one of eight held by Seacole's employees, and a permit for a concealed weapon. He was a realist.

Frank's father George had also been a boxer. Coming out of the south to California at the beginning of the opening up of the Fifties, George had discovered that he could not make his way by what work he could find. When he married he stepped into the ring and began bringing home an extra paycheck to support his wife and the three children that followed the marriage. He wasn't a great fighter; he was a good fighter, a journeyman with a chin like a brick. He had a powerful body shot, a left that knocked out three men in his career. Hard to bring down, he would take a knee, gather himself, and rise at nine. Never knocked out, he fought on the undercards of seventy fights. Trainers sharpened their boxers against George Caldwell's brick. George never expected anything else. He figured he would see how many checks he could bring in; how far he could shift his family up the ladder on his back. The small family settled securely on his back, feared for him. Even now they watched him out of the corners of their eyes looking for dementia, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's, the deadly slowing of speech and trembling hand. So far George Caldwell had eluded it all.

When Frank had tried to follow him into the ring, his father lectured the dinner table on why he had suffered under other men's fists. Frank had persisted. Frank's brother finally shamed him out of the ring. Had taken him to lunch at Roscoe's Waffle House and shamed him. Told him, "You're not Dad and you'll never be him." Told him that he was throwing his father's sacrifices back in his face. And Frank also knew he didn't have the brick, couldn't take the hooks and jabs. He was tired of pissing blood, standing over the toilet in some dressing room waiting for the burst of the thick, red stream once the clots forced through, the toilet splattered red. He wasn't his father, he couldn't stay through the damage done.

Stopping once in Hemet for a date shake, Frank arrived at the house at 10:00 in the morning when the heat began to build. Desert House, a large two-story modern design, landscaped with cactus, agaves, ocotillo, and Joshua trees sat well back from the highway. The guard on the gate passed him through and Frank pulled his Camaro into the drive, stopping on a gravel oval that already held a Lincoln Town car, a red Corvette, an SUV, a 300 series BMW, and a Miata. Through the big windows he could see someone moving around, a shape passing back and forth in the back of the house. Looking over the roof of the car, Frank tried to sort out his impressions.

This was going to be his house, his assignment. This place he had to protect. Ryan, the man was his responsibility. Everything Frank had done to this point in his life would be set against what happened here. He continued to scan the house, the object of his protection. His enemies target.

He walked to the front door, rang the bell, and waited. A man opened the door. It wasn't Ryan. Frank remembered Ryan from his old music videos. This man wore a collarless, white shirt and black slacks, with highly spit-shined, shoes.

"Frank Caldwell to see Mr. Ryan. I'm from Seacole Security."

"Ah yes, we've been expecting you. Welcome to Desert House Mr. Caldwell, please come in."

The man shut the door behind Frank and led him through the great room and down a hall to a room set up as an office. At least it had a table set up as a desk with two leather-strapped Wasilly chairs ranged before it. There was an off-white Berber on the floor and cartoons of musicians on the walls. Behind the table was a console with Ryan's four Grammys arranged on it. A terracotta pot held what looked like the green skeleton of a plant. One wall was a sheet of glass forming one side of an atrium full of cactus.

"If you wouldn't mind waiting here, Mr. Ryan will be with you shortly." Frank waited.

He was looking at the cactus in the atrium when the reflected image of a naked woman passed through the rectangle of the door. Frank turned to look but the woman was gone, replaced by Ryan.

"I'm Ryan." He spoke with a pause, as if waiting for the applause to die down. "Welcome to Desert House." It was the voice Frank had grown up with only huskier, darker with age and abuse. Looking closely, you could still see the younger Ryan. The eyes were tired now. At the beginning, they had been pale grey and looked right at you. He was heavier, his face fuller. The hunger that came out in the early photographs was gone. Ryan wore a white and green short-sleeve bowling shirt and jeans with sandals. He had a turquoise and silver bracelet on one wrist and a bright, stainless steel Rolex on the other. He projected hip wealth.

"Nice to meet you," said Frank.

Ryan gave Frank a quick, firm handshake. He sat in one of the chairs facing the desk. Frank sat in the other.

"Did you find your way down here all right?"

"Yes. Very good directions. Very clear."

"It'll be good to have someone here who can handle things. I'd like you to look around the house and give me your suggestions for security. Do you have a gun with you?"

"Yes. Seacole mentioned that you'd had threats."

"I was involved in an accident a while back and threats were made. There's also a lawsuit coming out of the accident. There are more lawsuits and threats over the band. A couple of my lifelong friends are not happy with the money situation. They're suing over who owns the group name. You know, who can tour with it. And people come by. Crazy fans. They come out now and then. Crazy people live in the desert. Thieves."

"Thieves?"

"There was a break-in."

"What did they take?"

Ryan seemed to stop and rapidly consider possible answers. "Mementos."

Ryan looked into the atrium. He gave a little nod like he was satisfied with his choice of an answer.

 "You file a police report?"

"Yes."

"I'd like a copy."

"I can get it for you. They didn't find anything. Didn't even come out

that night. Showed up the next day. Anyway, I can brief you."

Brief me on what? thought Frank

"Johns will get you settled in," Ryan added. "Then we'll talk some more."

"What about the band members?"

"Well." Ryan turned and looked out into the atrium. Seeing something else. "It's about money. It's always about the money." He stood up, as if to start pacing and then, after three steps nowhere, sat down again. "The formula we agreed on when we started and the division we worked out after Circus when I went solo. My lawyer versus their lawyer versus the record company's lawyers. Managers. Girlfriends and wives. Billy Kelvin had three wives and I swear each one of them hated my guts. Mike threatened me with a gun in Kansas City."

"Mike?"

"Drummer." He looked like he was going to open up about something. "Over a girl. And money. Man, people never forget. Or forgive. Once money gets into your band it is gone. Everything just turns bad, man."

"Anything more specific than that? Any threats while they were cold sober and thinking clearly?"

"It's the life, man. Nobody was ever totally sober then."

"What about now?"

"Now? The band is healing. All of us are healing. Mike and I have our problems. I fucked his daughter. That was a mistake." Silence, then, "I don't want to talk about this anymore right now."

The man Frank assumed was a butler stepped through the door.

"You've met Johns? Johns, Frank Caldwell." Johns extended his hand. His

handshake was dry and surprisingly strong.

"Glad to meet you, Mr. Caldwell."

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Ryan."

"Johns has been with me for ten years. God. I sound like some old Brit. 'Johns has been in the family for centuries.' Anyway. Johns saw me through AA and Rehab and detox and Rehab again and divorces. Lots of craziness. Anyway. He takes care of the house. We've got three maids who come down from Indio to help out, but Johns is the majordomo. That's his official title: Majordomo. Really." Johns smiled. "Johns will get you settled in. Then we'll talk some more."

Frank went out to the car and got his bags. Johns showed him to a room on the second floor down the hall from Ryan's. The room had the same wealthy rock star style as the downstairs. Potted cactus and carved wood objects had been placed around the space. There were framed photographs on the walls and Indian pots on the dresser. By the windows, three leather club chairs and a wood and iron table formed a sitting area. A flat-screen television sat on a chest in one corner. Frank had a view of the pool and the desert.

This was the first time Frank had lived in the desert and known it as a desert, the landscape unchanged by the irrigation and imported plants of LA. He slid open the glass doors and stepped out onto the balcony and into the heat. The impassive humps of the Chocolate Mountains rose in the distance. A few hundred yards out lay a gully choked full of the rubble that had been swept down from the mountains when flash floods came cutting their way through the flats. It was a horrible land and a beautiful land, covered in boulder flows and thickets of thorny brush, wicked Joshua trees, and sudden bursts of flowers.

Scattered through the desert were oases surrounding perfect examples of the architecture of the Fifties. On the other side of the freeway up by the aqueduct there were small shacks pulled together out of the junk scattered through the desert, lone houses surrounded by tall chain-link fencing, and abandoned shells that had once been houses. Places where you never saw anyone moving around outside in the heat.

The band. Crazy fans. Crazy desert people. Thieves. Frank repeated the mantra of bad guys.

There were more than enough bad guys in the desert to account for hiring a bodyguard, like lawyers and retired child actors. But he didn't like Ryan's deliberate vagueness about things. Frank liked clear threats, the kind you could identify, isolate, and counter. But Ryan wanted to play games and not be direct about anything, leaving lots of shadows, blind alleys, and atmospheric fog. He wanted to be kept safe from things without having to name them. He didn't want to admit Frank to the game yet. Ryan was trying to be a character, "the Innocent Client", in a Chandler novel with one of those private eyes with a true heart and a selfless devotion to lost blondes, thought Frank. He'd been listening to his own songs where lonesome strangers moved through a landscape of haunted women in black dresses and lone men drank scotch in empty bars, while the Santa Ana honing everything to a desperate edge. But he was Frank's client. And Frank would protect as far as possible.

The house was closed up, quiet and cool. The downstairs rooms were as big as ten million dollars could make them. In what Americans had taken to calling the great room, the entire back wall was floor-to-ceiling glass. At one end was a massive fireplace made from the rounded stones the mountain sent down. Over it, a Robert Williams painting of a woman wearing stockings stretched out on a giant taco. Two leather couches faced each other across a large wooden coffee table. In the center of the table was a large piece of white coral. Closing off the square were two leather armchairs. Between the chairs was a stand with a large geode broken so it revealed a curving core of purple crystal. A number of highly polished guitars had been lined up along another wall. With their inlays, body shapes, and metals, they dominated the room as Ryan's tribute to himself. By the windows were an eight-sided table and eight high-backed chairs. A backgammon board with a game still in progress was laid out by a carousel of poker chips. All the furniture had inlays of exotic woods and smooth flowing lines.

Frank followed the central hall back to the kitchen. Johns was sitting at a long wooden table reading one of four cookbooks laid out before him. The kitchen had lots of granite counters and wood cabinets with a light stain carefully worked to look old and uncared for. There was a big subzero refrigerator and a Viking stove. Frank continued through, with a nod to Johns, stopping at the French doors leading to the patio. Fifty feet in front of him was one of the biggest pools he had ever seen. There were round metal tables topped with white umbrellas off to his left. Farther left was an outdoor kitchen with a gas grill.

"We'll have lunch at noon. Sand dabs and a salad," said Johns.

"I love sand dabs."

"Good. We'll have a white wine along with it. You do drink don't you? If not, we have all sorts of sodas and fruit juices."

"Wine sounds good."

"Mr. Ryan has an excellent cellar, primarily Californians, but still a quite nice cellar. For dinner, I'm thinking of pecan-stuffed pork chops.

"You eat very well here."

"We try."

Frank looked at the bodies placed around the pool. Ryan and another man sat at a table under a white umbrella. A laptop computer was open on the table and both men were looking intently at the screen. Three women completed the group. A tall redhead had pulled a lounge chair into the shade of an umbrella separate from the men. She seemed focused on doing her nails. Two other women were sunbathing on two of the lounges lined up by the pool, one face up, the other face down. Face down was nude; face up was topless. Face down had propped herself up on an elbow and was talking to the other woman. There were towels on the tile around the chairs and bottles of water, the remains of drinks, and tubes of suntan lotion.

"You could take a photo of that," thought Frank, "and call it Aging Rock Star at Home. Or just Rock Star. You've got the girls, the conference with the lawyer, the pool. Take a picture and put it in Vanity Fair."

"Who else is here?"

"Well." Johns got up from the table and came over to stand beside Frank.  

They looked out over the pool and Johns began naming people. The man with Mr. Ryan is Joshua P. Rubens, Mr. Ryan's accountant. The girl at the table is Naomi Sinclair. The other two are Maggie Chow and Susan Yee."

"Which is which?"

"Susan is the one with the tattoo.”

Something about the two women was trying to fit itself to an image in Frank's mind. He couldn't summon it up just then or remember where it came from but there was something familiar. Especially her ass, he thought. Why does her ass remind me of someone?

As Frank watched, the talking girl turned and looked right at him. Her sunglasses hid her eyes. He couldn't be absolutely certain she was looking at him, but he could feel her gaze. She stared at him not breaking contact until he came out and spoke to Ryan.

Susan Yee was telling Maggie about this guy who had tried to pick her up at Spider the other night, when she looked up and saw the black man standing in the kitchen. He seemed like a distinct piece of existence separate from everything else. He also looked really built. He was looking right at her.

"Don't look. There's this guy in the kitchen staring at us.”

"What?” Maggie turned to look.

"Don't look. I bet it's the security guy.”

"Oh. I got the cast off just in time.”

"I hope he brought his gun with him.”

"Ryan said he was going to carry a gun.”

As Frank came out into the yard, one of the girls got up, face up, posed on the edge of the pool, then dived smoothly disappearing beneath the surface of the water. Her head reappeared at the other end of the pool. Frank got another quick flash of something, a little clearer this time. He couldn't catch it. Frank submitted it to his unconscious for further action. He looked around and went to sit at a table a short distance from Ryan.

"Give us a minute.” Ryan had noticed Frank, he turned back and continued talking to the other man. Frank looked at the reflective surface of the water, the ocotillo and Joshua trees. He picked up his name several times in the conversation. Soon they seemed to arrive at a mutual point of completion. Ryan closed the computer and called Frank over.

"Sit down Frank. I want you to meet Joshua Rubens, my business advisor."

"Mr. Rubens."

"Josh."

"Okay. Josh."

"I was just telling Josh what your duties would consist of. Josh and I go back a long ways." Josh shook a cigarette out of a pack. He looked like a large seal. He was sweating lightly.

"So you finally took my advice and hired a gunfighter."

"Security, Josh, the word is security."

"Executive protection." Frank tossed in.

Josh dismissed both comments with a wave of the cigarette. "You got me to handle the record company and Mal for their lawyers. Now you got him for the thugs. Welcome on board Frank."

"Thanks."

"Could I see your licenses, Frank? A necessary formality."

"Of course." Frank took out his ten dollar wallet and handed it across. Josh actually read both cards with Ryan looking over his shoulder. That was a first, thought Frank. Josh handed the licenses back.

"You filled him in?" Josh looked at Ryan.

"I told him a little."

Josh nodded and flicked the ash from his cigarette. "Well some people are upset over things. As you probably know there was an accident, a fatal accident. Here. Right out in front."

"In the road down from the house," Ryan corrected.

"Wherever. Ryan is about to go to court on this matter. Several weeks ago, there was a request for money, one million dollars in fact. Though we'll negotiate that down."

"You're going to pay?"

"Sometimes it's cheaper than the truth. Also, it avoids a lot of publicity and problems. I'm sure you must have some knowledge about how these things get handled Frank." Josh paused and made eye contact with Frank for the first time. They had reached an important point. Josh was about to give that jerk to set the hook. He was asking Frank to commit himself, to join their little group and accept participation in this confusion.

Frank smiled and tried to look innocently inquisitive. He had expected something like this. When Seacole told him about the trial and the lawsuit, he had known it would happen. It was just a little early. But then Josh probably wanted to get back to town.

"The girls were involved in it. Some other people."

"Sounds pretty bad."

"Bodies all over the road," said Ryan.

 Frank looked around at the "bodies" that were present. "Everyone seems to have come through pretty well."

"Maggie broke her arm and got a bad head wound," Ryan traced an arc on his head. "But they were in the back seat. I almost got killed." Ryan did his thousand-yard stare again. Frank wondered how real it was and what Ryan was seeing.

"The thing is," Josh was saying, "the thing is, people have tried to get into the house."

Frank watched Susan Yee going back and forth in the pool, while Rubens and Ryan talked about the attempted break-in. Susan enjoyed the silence under the water, just the hollow water sounds. Her only thoughts were of her stroke, the movement of the water, and the sounds. Willing herself not to think about anything outside the pool, she tried to attain emptiness, becoming the movement through the water.

"People have been hanging around the house and photographers stalking me ever since I moved down here," said Ryan.

Ryan and Josh were also watching Susan Yee go back and forth.

"This was something different," Josh added. "These guys got in, went to the office, and then left real fast. And they didn't grab anything, coming or going. You see what I mean? They wanted something specific. Knew what it was. Knew were it might be."

"I think it's the Sohn family," said Ryan.

"Stanislaus Sohn died in the crash," Josh added.

"They're out to get me. Rich bastards."

"The Sohns have been here since the Fifties, Frank. They're old Palm Springs. Get written up in Forbes. Vanity Fair did a spread on them. Pictures of old man Sohn in tennis whites eating raspberry ice cream. Bunch of fascists. The family has a nasty history."

"They want to see me hang," said Ryan.

"Who else was involved in the accident?"

Ryan and Josh looked at each other. Two conspirators trying to decide whether or not to tell Frank that the package they gave him was going to blow up or let him find out on his own.

"Well," said Ryan, looking at Josh, "Well." Ryan looked at a cactus. "The Sohns, the Fredericks from next door," Ryan gestured toward a hedge on a rise in the distance. "Then there were the Levins. They were just driving through. That guy from Vegas."

"A lot of damage," said Frank.

Susan pulled herself out of the pool at the far end. She posed, face tilted up to the sky, swept her hands back over her hair, pressing the water out, molding it into a long serpent that coiled down her back. Water flowed down over a tiger climbing toward a branch covered with red flowers. The tiger had planted a rear paw on her right buttock and stretched its muscular body up. The claws of a front paw reaching for a hold on her shoulder. Its snarling head turned to the right. Its tail curled. Red petals fell around the black and yellow stripes of the tiger. The tiger moved as she wrung the water from her hair.

Whether it was a fragment caught from a video, magazine or show, Frank didn't know, but she definitely had set a hook in him. He would have to figure it out.

She looked in Maggie's direction and then began walking over to the table where the three men were seated. Susan performed her walk like a dancer, every step carefully placed for maximum impact.

Frank was aware of Susan's approach. He could just see her at the edge of his peripheral vision. Josh was staring as she carefully walked toward them. Ryan seemed oblivious. Maggie Chow watched, chin perched on her hand, controlling her urge to laugh. Then Susan was next to him, five-foot seven inches of brown body, dripping water.

Frank looked up at her. Susan smiled.

"Hello," she said, "We haven't been introduced. My name is Susan Yee." She extended a damp hand.

"Frank Caldwell. Please to meet you, Susan." Frank carefully took her hand, trying not to reveal any emotion.

"Frank is going to be handling security for me."

"Oh. Do you carry a gun, Frank?"

Frank looked up at her and considered the several possible responses he could make. He rejected, "Yes, want to see it?" and selected something more appropriate.

"I'm licensed to carry a weapon."

"Good. I feel much more secure."

Then she turned and executed a perfect walk back to the lounge. The men watched her go. Frank watched the tiger strain to reach her shoulder. She moved with the studied motion of a dancer. Placing one foot in front of the other. He turned back in time to notice Ryan making a face at Maggie. Something there, he thought.

"Damn, I wish I were that tiger," said Josh. "

When they finished talking, Ryan accompanied Josh out to his car. "I wonder what that conversation is going to sound like," Frank thought. He decided it was time to get to work. He began by taking a walk around the house. A quick survey would let him reconnoiter the grounds and lower the level of distraction. Frank took a small notebook from his hip pocket and began making maps. Later, he would transfer the information to the maps he brought with him. He noted the placement of trees, gullies, rocks that could shelter a man. He marked where the telephone and power lines came into the house. He estimated the distances to the house and the location of the nearest houses. Next, he'd do a walk-through of the house.

Frank had reached the front of the house. He decided to walk to the gate. He'd reached the end of the drive and was beginning to wilt under the heat. The sun seemed to exert a physical pressure on him. A car shot past like a low-flying plane, breaking Frank's reverie. The way people drove, it was no wonder they had accidents. To his left he noticed what could be a roadside shrine. A Mylar balloon tied to a cross waved back and forth in the slipstreams from passing cars. Flowers and candles were stacked at its base. The collection of objects gave the accident a reality none of the talk had. Frank looked at it for a moment and then turned and walked back down the drive.

There were two outbuildings on this side of the main house. Frank decided to check them and then get out of the sun. The first was clearly a garage. Four bays opened onto a large circular drive of crushed red stone. The doors were all down and locked. At the side an outside stairwell led up to a porch on the second floor. There would be a room or two up there, thought Frank.

He angled over to the other building. The door was locked. Looking through the windows he could see a painting set up on an easel. The was a painting of a woman, her back to the viewer, standing on the water in the middle of the pool looking toward the Chocolate Mountains in the distance. Lines of fire burned along the top of the mountains. Other canvases were stacked against the walls. The next room held computers, guitars, keyboards, and a drum kit. There were lots of chairs and stools scattered around. Microphones stood about the room patiently waiting for someone to return.

He abandoned his tour of the grounds, heading back to the house through the pool area. Two heads bobbed in the pool, Maggie and Susan. Frank considered going up and changing into his trunks. The heat was getting bad. He didn't wear a hat and felt like his head might explode. A slight breeze like that burst of heat you got when you opened a really hot oven swept over him.

"Hey, Frank! Join us!"

"You're gonna burn if you stay out in the heat. The middle of the day you're either in the pool or in the house."

"I may take you up on that."

"Do. We can tell you what's really going on down here. Help you solve the mystery." Susan hadn't shouted that last part. She had only meant for Frank to hear it. Frank glanced toward the house. Johns was moving around in the kitchen. He didn't see Josh or Ryan. Sitting in the game room was an older, white haired version of Ryan. A Hispanic woman was talking to him. Frank guessed she was a maid or the old man's keeper.

"I'll go change."

"Don't change."

"Just jump in we're very informal here at Desert House."

"Very."

"I'm on duty."

He turned toward the house followed by their cries. "Frank! Come back, Frank!"

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE OF DESERT HOUSE 

 

___

ROMEY KEYS was born at home in Lanham, Maryland in 1947. The doctor delivered him between breaks to catch a boxing match on the radio. He has a Ph.D. in English Literature. He taught at UCLA for eight years. Now he's a Documentation Specialist for hire.

(UNTITLED)
Michael Allen

      For Megan

 

It is I
On the long walk
Back, to find where
God was born
It is I
The selfish boy
Whom would be called
Man and kind
It is I
Who builds and builds
These palaces named
Desire,
and in my madness, it was
Only Love, it was
Only love who would
even speak to me, saying
Impetuous child,
you must learn
To subtract before you
Will be allowed to
add

___

MICHAEL ALLEN has been a soldier, a scientist, a carpenter, a zen~student~master, a wanderer in wonder, and, above all, of course, a poet! His works have been published in The Nervous Breakdown magazine, Germ magazine, Bare Hands Poetry (u.k), and The University of Hell Press, among the more notables, and several other less notable, yet no less enjoyable publications.

2 POEMS
Pablo Capra

"SHE WAS MY HERO..."

She was my hero and she knew it, hung on to me that way.
Had a resilience that was moss-like;
only showed what was going on inside
by sometimes flashing red, like an octopus color change.

She’d spent a summer paper-making,
and something else, never fully described...
some mischief in the woods that had left her exposed:
a kiss in the dark, a kind of duel, she remained tongue-tied.

She liked unusual stories: like the man who slipped and fell, 
and when he resumed his faculties, he spoke the simplest Greek.
Or the way, when we met, I described surfers, saying, 
“We live in the water. We don’t live on land.” 
She quoted that for weeks.

She blushed when reminded that she belonged to a group
of upwardly mobile white children. Ones that could handle a horse.
The brown children seemed more well-developed in spite of this,
and Juanita was happy to play in the wind kite-less.

Our town was a Chicano city.
Our streets were the side streets with names like Romaine and Waring.
It was a place that needed dreams or it went out of focus.
There are lights in this city that never get noticed.

*

"SHE LIVED BY A LAKE..."

She lived by a lake and was drenched in wondering,
by the sage that seemed mixed and tangled in her eyes.
I suggested we go see boxy architecture,
but floating along we wound up on a cliff side.

The domed buildings were softer here, molded by caress.
I threw silver beads of childish intention
at dull horizons, thinking, “Damn!”... but she said, "Good, good!"
With the sentimentality of a surrealist, I began to redden.

We left the car in the flowers, in a Saturnalia of butterflies,
and lying in the unbroken beds, we enjoyed
whiling away the time in a Casbah of non-action—
a dream socket to a day of blue celluloid.

___

PABLO CAPRA is a poet and publisher of Brass Tacks Press.

 

SCULPTURE and INSTALLATION
Edmond I. Cohen

 

___

EDMOND I. COHEN has been greatly influenced by the great religions of the World. Originally born in Mesopotamia, Edmond migrated to Israel in 1950 along with the expulsion of the 125,000 Jews from that country. In 1964, he migrated to Canada where his true independent life began. After a revelation in his midlife, Edmond experienced a transformation which catapulted him into a new renaissance. A philosopher at heart, Edmond writes dynamic poetry on themes such as the Neutral Paradigm. He coined this equation for the Theory Of Everything as: "Infinity Squared = T = MC2." 

Edmond's latest book, The Universe I.S. Made of 0s and 1s is available on Amazon. 

Edmond on YouTube. 

1981 TOYOTA TERCEL: THE QUEEN IS DEAD
Amelia Dalgaard

If my sister was a car, the last one she’d be is a 1981 Toyota Tercel.  Yet for some reason, in the spring of 1987, our Dad decided that this ubiquitous, fuel efficient ride should be her first car. His decision was a pretty clear indicator that, try as he might, Dad had truly failed to understand his middle child. Even as a teen, my sister was strong, sophisticated and elegant. A diesel Mercedes, lightly used Jag or even a sturdy Volvo would’ve suited her perfectly, but gifting her this bright blue, metallic compact Japanese sedan was like giving Madonna a mini-van—an undeniably poor match. However, because it was her first car, it was free and because our house had recently descended into hellhole status, that crappy tin can quickly became our beloved teenage oasis.

The pinnacle of our adventures was our annual drive to our grandparents’ house on Long Island where my sister and I would spend our summer racing sail boats. (If you’d like to pause to appreciate the ridiculousness of this privileged scenario, feel free. Okay. We’re done.) Now that she had her own wheels, my sister could assume the responsibility of driving us there in lieu of our mom. This was an exciting development because, despite her 30 years of practice, Mom somehow never failed to take the wrong exit off of I-95 and land us smack dab in the South Bronx as she squealed “Lock Your Doors!” in a panicked refrain. My sister, on the other hand, was almost incapable of getting lost—her careful preparation and skilled navigation just wouldn’t allow it. Instead, our trip was punctuated by the rotation of cassettes tapes from our favorite British Indie rock bands. 

Although it wasn’t fast, attractive or safe, my sister’s Tercel did have a badass premium sound system that nearly compensated for its flaws. This high performance Blaupunkt AM/FM cassette combination allowed us to crank the music so high that the rusty steel floor would vibrate incessantly and the rear speakers shook so hard that every chorus threatened a rear window explosion. Even the Iroc Zs were envious.  Never anyone’s fool, my sister knew that the street value of her Blaupunkt would always outpace the Tercel, making it ripe for a break in.  So she took a bottle of Revlon’s Millionaire Red and defaced her stereo rendering it valueless on the open market.  And thus the car and its stereo remained gleefully intact for our enjoyment. We would pile into the Toyota in our parents’ driveway and by the time we’d hit the onramp for the Merrit Parkway, we’d have our musical selections lined up in anticipation of our forthcoming escapade. 

Earlier that year, the Smiths had released The Queen Is Dead, an album that merited not just one, but multiple rotations on our summer road trip playlist. Thanks to its liner notes and my sharp farsightedness, we could digest each and every word on that record. Magical names like Keats, Yeats and Wilde danced off our tongues effortlessly as though we were already Ivy League intellectuals, instead of confused Connecticut tweens. We would read and recite these words until we adopted them into our own mythology. We weren’t scared kids from a hotbed of dysfunction escaping to our grandparents’ care, but were instead brave, powerful goddesses exploring the complexities of life, love and death with a couple of adoring, sexually ambiguous Brits.  

My sister piloted us across the Throg's Neck Bridge with an expertise no 16-year-old should easily have.  Clearly her years acting as mom's levelheaded co-pilot had really served her well. She'd shift her way through traffic, while I dispensed the lemon Snapple Iced Tea and Cape Cod potato chips that fueled our ninety-minute joyride. Once we exited the Long Island Expressway, we'd follow Route 25A until the Oyster Bay turn off where, right on cue, we'd each grab the cheap plastic crank and exuberantly roll down our windows to soak it all in. As Morrissey belted out Oscar Wilde quotes, the smell of honeysuckle, black locust trees and salt water marked the beginning of another exciting summer away from home.

Within a few days, the Smiths would be put away for the season. Soon we'd be listening to the Grateful Dead with our yacht club buddies and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with our grandparents. We didn’t really like either one, but it was either blend in or go back to our parents. We chose the former. Our drive to Long Island was one of our rare opportunities to chose our own play list and to dream about who we would eventually become.

My sister’s identity turned out to be very close to that summer’s soundtrack. The Tercel would be the first and last Japanese car I ever saw my sister drive. A few years later, she'd give up cars altogether to study at Harvard where she’d meet the love of her life. She'd marry him and move overseas. She’d live in a place where lush floral fragrances permeated everything and it was summer all year round. She'd drive on the other side of the road and raise kids with accents so deep I could barely understand them. She would drive upscale cars, Volvos and Mercedes. She would eventually get exactly what she deserved.

___

AMELIA DALGAARD (aka Motorhead Mama) has been writing about car culture since a good friend told her to stop sending car photos with smart assed comments and 'write a blog already'! She is also known for her work making videos "pop", making design "within reach" and upon occasion, getting knocked up. 

www.motorheadmama.com

www.ameliadalgaard.com

 

THE UNEXPECTED
Cat Dixon

      "We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars."
      —Carl Sagan

 

A fireball of hot gas flashed when
Shoemaker hit Jovian atmosphere—
black scars three times earth’s size.
 
Some comets lose their way,
but don’t focus on unplanned collisions.
Even violent impact schools us.
 
If you analyze everything,
you’ll be paralyzed—craters
destined to pockmark lineage.
 
Like Rhea, we must save our sons,
replacing flesh for rock. Then water
them with an attaboy occasionally.

___

CAT DIXON is the author of Our End Has Brought the Spring (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and Too Heavy to Carry (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2014). She is the managing editor of The Backwaters Press, a nonprofit literary press in Omaha. She teaches creative writing at the University of Nebraska. Her website is www.catdix.com.

 

SMITH, WE WILL NEVER GROW OLD
Eric Dovigi

Smith and Robinson sat on a dead log that stuck out from the river behind the mill, and had done so for as long as they could remember. Just before sunset was their time for sitting, after Robinson had finished work for the day. They would sit side by side looking west—sometimes there would be big grey clouds of birds flying north or south, sometimes it would rain, sometimes Robinson brought a fishing pole or a newspaper or something else to hold in his hands. And Smith talked.

 “Well, Robinson,” he said one afternoon in late summer, “I caught a swallow earlier this morning, and held it in my palms. It spoke to me, Robinson, and I knew what it said.”

 Robinson gave the fishing-pole a tug, although he knew that no fish lived in the river.

 “I could understand what it said. It told me very clearly that rain will come this summer that’ll wash clear away my house. Wash me out of house and bed. Can you appreciate that, Robinson? Oughtn’t I be frightened? Well, I ain’t.”

 Robinson shaded his eyes and gazed out to the sun, where it was sinking below the trees on the farthest hill.

 “I ain’t frightened of much, I suppose. I let the bird go even though it’d brought me such awful news. Reminds me, Robinson, that I ain’t afraid of too much, but even so I suppose my house ain’t built on strong foundations. Been there for a while. Longer than me. And it’s drafty when the wind blows.”

 Robinson turned to Smith. “How long’s it been there?” he asked.

 “I don’t know. I met it so many years ago, and it was old then. Wasn’t it? Do you remember what it looked like when you were a boy? When your brothers were boys and your sister was sweet and wore red dresses? Can’t you remember how our clothes always got bark on them, after playing there? I do. It was old then, Robinson.”

 It surprised Robinson to hear Smith talk in this way, for he had never before spoken of his hut, and Robinson had thought he’d been ashamed of it, so he’d always tolerated that Smith never spoke of it or of his clothes or much of what he did during the daytime. It was a tiny log-built place, on the hill out in the trees where the river went when it went past the mill, and each night except when summer was warm Robinson could see the small smoke trail rise from the tree-tops.

 “It was old then,” Robinson repeated. “Yes, I remember.”

 “Of course you remember, Robinson. The storm last night, Robinson: I believe that it frightened the swallow into lying to me about the things it said about my home washing away, and so I can’t blame the swallow. The rain, I’m not sure if you know this, made awful shapes outside my window, Robinson. Did it do the same around yours? Around my window, the raindrops were all buzzing and twisted into shapes and I saw what the shapes were by blowing out my candles so I could see outside the window. It made a shape first like a great big dog with foam around its mouth, and it wasn’t really a dog but an awful devil made up like a dog. Because devils can’t come up above the ground in their true shapes, Robinson, so they have to become other things.

 “And then the dog went away and the rain made the shape of a whole bunch of fish on the ends of fishing poles, and the fish were of the unlikeliest shapes and colors. And then the rain made a hatchet, and then after the hatchet, it made a tree.”

 Smith fell silent, and Robinson gave his fishing pole another tug.

“The rain did that, Smith?”      

“Yes, Robinson, it did.”

“Weren’t you afraid?”

 “No, I can’t say I was afraid. I don’t think I’m afraid of much. Maybe I ought to be, but I ain’t.”

The sun was asleep behind the hill, and Robinson rose and walked gingerly down the narrow log to the riverbank. He stuck the end of his pole in the soft mud and waved goodbye to Smith, and walked past the mill on the pathway that led back to his house. As he walked by the great wooden wheel that creaked softly as the water rolled by Robinson heard the singing of frogs. The frogs that lived where the water met the mud sang softly at this hour right until the snow and ice covered the river during the first weeks of winter, and then they were silent until spring. He looked over his shoulder before rounding the first bend in the path where it ran into the trees and saw Smith sitting there on the log, still as stone, watching the stars peek out of the dark sky.

Everything was in commotion when Robinson entered the kitchen through the back door: the boys were sliding crayons along the tiled floor and hollering with delight as they did; the baby was wailing in the high-chair, Theodore was barking wildly in his kennel, and Lily was coming down the stairs two at a time, shouting at the boys to quit.

Robinson reached down and pulled the crayons out of their hands.

 “I wish you’d got home earlier,” Lily said, panting. “These three have been truly crazed all evening.”

 “What in the name of God possessed you two to draw on the floors? Don’t you know that you’ll be the ones to clean it up?”

 “Budgy died,” said the smaller boy, hanging his head. The elder boy rose and with a sudden wail of grief ran up the stairs, and slammed the bedroom door. The smaller boy only hung his head, and even Theodore was silent.

“Who’s Budgy?”

 “Budgy is the bird that your class keeps at school, isn’t it?” asked Lily. The smaller boy nodded.

 “I left the cage open after school yesterday, and he ate up all the glue that was in the pots, and he died.”

 Robinson picked the smaller boy up from the crayon-covered floor, and sat him down on the kitchen table.

 “He died when he ate the glue?”

 The boy nodded.

“It frightens you that he died?”

 Lily left and went up to the elder boy’s room; Robinson picked the smaller boy up once more and brought him to the window. He clicked off the kitchen light so they could see outside into the night.

 “Do you see those little things in the sky?”

 “Stars?”

 “Yes, you see them?”

 The boy nodded.

 “How old do you think they are?”

 “I don’t know. Infinity.”

 “Not infinity. Very, very old, but not infinity. Did you know that each star will someday puff out, and die? But they have to, to make room for the new ones. It’s lucky to die, when you think about it. More luck than you’d suppose.”

“Will you die too?”

 Robinson said nothing for a moment, and nodded.

 “But you’ll be old when I finally go out, and then you will be the new Mr. Robinson. And your brother and your sister will be old too, and there will be three of you where there was only me and Mama. See? It’s lucky.”

 “I don’t want to die.”

 The boy began to cry.

 Robinson said nothing, and held the boy until he fell asleep.

•••

A week passed. Robinson had been sitting on the log alone for several evenings, watching the smoke rise from Smith’s cabin and wondering.

 And then, it happened.

Lily met him on the road coming home from work, her arms crossed. Her eyes were red.

 “Theodore is dead,” she said when Robinson approached. “Smith killed him with a hatchet. I found him on the front lawn, the hatchet sticking right out of him. God, Charles, what are we going to tell the boys?”

 “How do you know it was Smith?”

 “I saw him walking back into the woods. He was swaggering and stumbling and cursing. Charles, they’ll be home any minute. What will we say? What will we say to them?”

 “Where did you put Theo?”

“In the shed. Listen to me, Charles Robinson, here’s what you’re going to do this very moment: you are going to go to Smith, take him into town, and give him to the police chief. The police chief is going to send him to the hospital. He is out of his mind, Robinson. It’s been coming for a long time and now it’s come.” 

Robinson knew it. He strode off into the woods without protest and when he reached the cabin the first stars were coming out. There was no light inside, and Robinson gingerly went to the window and looked in: on a bed in the corner lay the feeble outline of Smith, and his breath rose and fell in a horrid wheeze.

 “Robinson, is that you?” came a weak, stringy voice. Robinson went around to the door and let himself inside. He found a candle and lit it with a match that lay next to it, and gasped when he beheld Smith: in the few days that he had been absent from the log by the mill, Smith had nearly wasted away. He could not have been a hundred pounds, his breathing was labored and his brow sweaty.

 

“That’s you, Robinson?”

“It’s me, Smith.”

“Robinson, I have something to tell you. The swallow was right: a storm came and nearly got me, but I won out. This morning the demon came, in the shape of a dog. It came right up to my window and barked at me, and I chased it all the way out of the woods, and I killed it, Robinson. I won.”

“That’s right,” Robinson said quietly. “It’s dead now, Smith.”

Smith was silent for some time, his breathing slow and weak.

“Dead?” he asked finally, so quiet that Robinson had to bend close to hear.

“Yes.” 

“I oughtn’t have done that, Robinson. Dead. What a scary thing. Are we going to die, Robinson?”

Robinson looked out of the window, where the first fireflies were floating lazily. The children would be home now. 

“No, Smith. I don’t believe we will ever die.” 

“That’s good.” Smith smiled.

Robinson listened to the singing of the frogs through the window, singing through the darkness and the fireflies as they had always done, and would always do.

___

ERIC DOVIGI lives and writes in Northern Arizona. His short story "Abigail the Winged" was published by the University of Madrid in January 2016. He has two more pieces due to be published this month, including: a short story in UCLA's Westwind Journal, and a poem on Two Cities Review's blog.

FEAR
Amitabh Vikram Dwivedi

I confirm my fears
For the arbitrariness of words.
They might reveal my status:
That I am a religious person,
And only follow my fundamentalist religion.

I can hide my feelings though
Through a structure constructed by holy script.
I know all the answers-
Appropriate and argumentative to justify myself.

My country, secular, democratic, yet free,
And anyone can shoot me there
For being religious out of his free-will.

___

AMITABH VIKRAM DWIVEDI is assistant professor of linguistics at Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University, India. His research interests include language documentation, writing descriptive grammars, and the preservation of rare and endangered languages in South Asia. He has contributed articles to many English journals.

His most recent books are A Grammar of Hadoti (Lincom Europa Academic Publications, 2012), A Grammar of Bhadarwahi (Lincom Europa Academic Publications, 2013), and a poetry collection titled Chinaar kaa Sukhaa Pattaa (2015) in Hindi.

As a poet, he has published around 100 poems in different anthologies worldwide. Until recently, his poem “Mother” has been published as a prologue to Motherhood and War: International Perspectives (Eds.), Palgrave Macmillan Press. 2014.

EXCERPT
from Wild Woman
Rachel Drews

CHAPTER 1

I met the woman that was killed by her husband about a month ago at this meeting I go to once a week. It’s for women that have chosen crazies for husbands and are tired of hospital visits. She was a big woman, Candy was, about 300 pounds and her husband, she said, was only 165. He was a meth head, so she said he wasn’t always that skinny. But he could beat her down with his fists and his tongue by lashing into her. That’s what we learned at those meetings, that words can hit too, unlike that stupid saying, “Words can’t ever hurt me.” Wasn't nothing but a big damn lie. Seems like lots of things we were told as young'ns turns out to be lies.

Another tragedy. But you see, I’m betting she knew he’d kill her. Maybe she even welcomed it. That’s the state we get to, loving a man who don’t love you back and only thinking you’ve got one way out. 

Once, during a meeting he came barging in, and screamed, "You fat whore, you good-for-nothin!.” One member, Wendy, tried to hold her hand to keep her from leaving. Another woman muttered curse-words under her breath. Truth is, he might as well been talking to all of us. And you don't know what a man in that state is capable of. Candy didn’t look back as she slowly got up to follow him out. We could still hear him out in the big hall, long after the door had closed. Ten minutes of silence followed, before we moved to holding hands to say The Lord's Prayer, which is how we ended our meetings.   

The drive home that night, on the outskirts of Eden's Gap, down the windy road to my mama’s house, scared me more than ever. Each turn, each pine tree that my car lights flashed upon, I’d swore I was gonna see Jim standing there, shotgun barrel pointed right at my head. A squirrel run out was all, and Mama had some dinner saved for me. By then, she’d rarely say anything about my meetings. Most I ever got out of her was a useless Praise Jesus comment, but then she’d have dinner warming for me in the oven, which was her way of saying, “It’s gonna be all right somehow.”   

When I moved back in with Mama, I stopped smoking pot altogether, though at times I thought I would die without a fix. My anxiety was running so high those days. I didn’t even try to sneak it like when I was in high school, she was being so kind to me. 

Mama was religious, so she didn’t even drink, because that was a sin. I don’t think she’d had a sip in her whole life. I’d thought she sure didn’t know what she was missing. Jack'n Coke is a wonder drug when somebody’s done knocked you upside the head with a frying pan or taken a belt buckle to your backside. I liked the sweet taste of Jack Daniels, and weed was all right by me, but luckily I never got much into pills.  

My best friend, Angie, however, had prescriptions from four different pharmacies, all within a sixty-mile radius (and that there is in the country) before she got arrested. I didn’t have the motivation it took to be a pill head. 

My older brother, Danny, was the first to get me high. We were at a barn party one October night, after the Bruins beat the Wildcats at home. I was in eighth grade then, Danny was a miracle Junior, meaning it was a miracle he hadn’t dropped out of school yet. But he and his loser buddies were out behind the barn passing around a joint. The air was sweet all around them, and when I walked up he handed it to me. 

One thing I can say is that before I ran off and married Jim and before my brother got into the kinds of drugs that will steal your soul, me and Danny were close. Unlike some other stories, we were really close. I guess growing up the way we did, Daddy being long dead and no good besides, and Mama being all into God and her church, well we had each other. 

So, when I joined him and his friends, he didn’t say anything and they knew better than to wonder what I was doing there. Danny passed the joint to me, and I put it up to my lips and breathed it all in, like I was blowing up one of those cheap party balloons but sucking in instead of out and I coughed so hard I about threw up my dinner. Of course, they all laughed at me. “Fuck all y’all,” I said before walking back towards the bonfire. 

“Don’t be mad, Charlie!” my brother called out to me.

At the fire, someone, a tall, lanky kid maybe a year older than me, handed me a beer. I drank and drank until he grabbed it out of my hands. Then, with both the effect of the hit off that joint and the ease of the beer running into my belly, I started feeling all right–nothing too special, but I remember I got a big grin on my face and damn, I got hungry. That was the first time I got high and hungry but it sure wasn’t the last.

When I was living in the trailer behind the tire place, and wasn’t trying to be a Fifties homemaker to my useless husband, I smoked weed and ate. Now, I'm not real fat, but unlike my mama who’s small-framed, I turned out more like my daddy, big-boned. 

Of course my size never hurt me as far as getting the attention of some man, but I figured they were only after one thing. Maybe that’s why Mama found religion. But then men don’t care whether you got religion or not. My way of thinking was they’d fuck and beat you all the same.

My daddy beat the shit our of my mama when he was alive and Danny told me once that he’d seen Pawpaw backhand Granny, my daddy’s mama, for asking him a question while he was watching some big game on TV. Danny wasn’t but seven. I was too young to remember, I guess, but Danny says that Granny walked in and asked Pawpaw what kind of chips he wanted with his sandwich. She must have blocked him from seeing some big play, and Danny said Pawpaw moved so fast from his recliner, from sitting to standing, that he about knocked over his TV tray, a full ashtray and newspapers, as the back of his hand smacked her square on the side of her face. “Goddammit, Woman. Don’t never interrupt me watchin’ no Goddamn football again. I’d done told you . . . ."

Then Danny said that Granny, stunned, said, “The children, Harley, don’t you take the Lord’s name in vain in front of the children,” as she headed back into the kitchen with a visible red streak across her face. 

Maybe my daddy learned it from his daddy. One thing I know is all Mama’s praying and church-going didn’t save her from Daddy’s fists. The other thing I know is if he hadn’t died of a heart attack when I was eight, she may have met her God in Heaven sooner than he met his Devil in Hell.

•••

Not all men are bad, so I’ve been told, mostly once I started going to the meetings and heard the women talk about how they got out, recovered, and found men who respected them. I didn't understand why they kept coming to the meetings long after getting what they wanted all along. I was to learn, in time, we were recovering from what lived in us. 

But before my meeting days, I loved one man with all my heart, and that there was my brother, Danny. After nineteen, he up and left Mama and me. He got into the hard drugs and wasn’t the same person I’d known as a girl. But I never stopped loving him for the man I knew him to be, which was kindness and protection.

I used to have the scariest nightmares from as early as I can remember. One nightmare was of these mean wolves. In it, I was sitting on the sofa in the living room and all of a sudden a pack of them came down the chimney. They snarled at me and one lunged into my stomach. The darkest, biggest one tore at my flesh. I screamed out and woke up drenched in sweat. Danny was the one who woke up and was right there beside me, patting my head, telling me it’d be all right. “Shhh . . . Charlie . . . shhh . . . just a bad dream . . . I’m here,” he’d say all gentle-like.

Even though he could also give me the most shit of anybody, I never doubted he'd put himself in front of a train for me. I always wondered where he learned to be so sweet. I also wondered how this gentle boy who loved me so, could run off and leave me. I missed him hard.

___

RACHEL DREWS is from Clemson, South Carolina. She currently lives in Los Angeles where she is working on her first full-length novel, Wild Woman

 

BEING YOUNG(ER) IN LOVE:
Not Saying What You Mean and Making Up What He Meant
Daniela De La Fe

And as I was changing, I had no idea who I was becoming. The suspense was killing me. I had felt so self-conscious about it all. Like hands brought to my neck, I was being choked before able to voice. When I finally came around with the nerve to make a phone call I had forgotten what I wanted to say. For two reasons that sound out, there are always more. My first sound out reason was I could not gauge my significance in his life. Were our moments tender? Was I always behaving within his convenience? Both. The other was that I did not feel any passion in his voice, but his voice was always like that, sort of even-keeled, sort of not excited, sort of blasé. It was what I liked about it most. 

As I fumbled through words and long pauses of trying to find the next word but all I can say is “hmmmmmm,” I finally computed a semi-thought and borderline incomprehensibly I expressed it. I said,  “I just don’t know how much I matter to you.” You talk about your future plans and I don’t feel me in them. I am an afterthought. I am the girl you can play tennis with. I can ski. I can do nice things like talk about religion and society. I can wake up early and enjoy a tree. As I do these things I want to be bent over under covers. I want my hair tugged forcefully. I am OK with silence. I don’t annoy you or humiliate you. I can’t take off with you to anywhere. I am still stiff in being free. I am not yet formalized in me.

He told me he cared for me. It was all still fresh and new. His plans for the holidays were this and that. And he could not promise me anything because he was “incapable of selling people bullshit,” but he could sell himself with ease. He believed in time he would see. He could not promise me if being with a girl 15 years younger than him with a family that cares about certain things if this would be. He was scared of a white picket fence. He feared a boring way of being. In all his talk I could hardly hear him, but what he was saying that he was not able to commit to me. Though I am the person who he spends most of his time with, a person he enjoys the most. A person he would see later in the near year, no urgency or passion. No sacrifice. No bending to see where I could fit. But he never lied, it’s true, and the transparency was probably the hardest part of it all. 

All I wanted to feel was important to him. I did not want him to change his notions on the conventions of society. I just wanted to be special. Like he was special to me. Like in a way that I would change a flight for him, like in a way I would wait for him at a train station on a long delay. Like in a way he would not give me. 

And I feared he had feared one cliché for so long, he had become the other. He had no picket fence. He was the older man with the young girl. The one who could not commit; who could not take too much time on anyone else. He had been behaving like this for a long time, why would he change now? In all I did not say what I wanted. I never expressed my need. I resigned. I could not ask him to be anything else but what he was. What he is. And I did not want him to be. I wanted to step away. On the other end of the line I felt myself falling asleep. I wanted to hear no more.      

I went to the shower. I washed myself clean. I scrubbed my knees and that area behind the knob on your feet. Behind the ears. I brushed my teeth as the hot water splashed against the top of my head, the foam from the toothpaste formulating and falling out of the sides of my mouth. I washed myself. I washed him out. There were probably his juices from the morning still on me. I ordered a pastrami sandwich. I sat on my couch; I fell asleep.  

___

DANIELA DE LA FE is a Miami-bred, Los Angeles-based writer and actor. Through her writing she explores her experience on what it is to be a perpetually searching, sexually active (and periodically inactive) 20-something-year-old female. She finds it important to note that her opinions and reflections on personal accounts are mostly the fabrications of her mind and end up having not much to do with reality. Most things "said" were never actually voiced and her account on what is being "said" is everchanging and unreliable, yet at some point, true (to her). She is also a writer and journalist for the newsletter, "All The Women."

THE FERRY MAN
Amelia Fleetwood

The ferry man stands with a red neon wand in his hand and guides the cars to lane 5
lane 8
lane 4
with a flick of a wrist and eyes cast down.
His ball cap holds down limp hair that touches his shoulders
lane 6
lane 15
He squints to the sun and has a slight hunch inherited when a deep breath of dreams, grander than pointing neon batons, is deflated
The stare of the ferry man, is the same at every port of call
lane 5
lane 5
Island eyes flicker for seconds, never to meet those of the hurried commuters
or the excited travelers
boats on racks, trucks on wheels, babies in the back, dogs on leashes, ladies with purses, kids with candy
lane 10
lane 12
Small houses of people spill out of the cars and dash to the deck
to unfold like card tables
lane 12
lane 3
changing diapers, eating hot dogs
feet up on the seat to read a book
wait here
wait here
All the while the ferry man stands ashore
grumbling something to the man in the car “ This next ferry is sold out.” he points to another lane.
hand holding new lovers and old hands, all hands on deck to see the sky
I look out standing on at the helm through the fresh wind whipping unruly hair in my eyes
I see the ocean flat and still as we slice through leaving discarded pathways in our wake
I am going somewhere, I know where I am going, and who I am going with
calm decisiveness has pushed and nudged my stubborn feet to join in with love
I take my place at my love’s side, lane 5 will do, I bow my head and wait for the signal
Snooping and scoping, exploring the steps up and steps  down of the giant white cruiser
My heart pounds because he is the one
lane 5
lane 5
wait here.
He blinks
I stare

___

AMELIA FLEETWOOD lives in Ojai, California with her daughter, two overly energetic dogs, some goats, chickens and one beloved quarter horse. She has studied with Jack Grapes and is part of his L.A Poets and Writers Collective.

Her poetry has been featured in Downer Magazine, The Mas Tequila Review, Poetic Diversity, East Jasmine Review, Dirty Chai and has been part of two anthologies of poetry "I’ll have Wednesdays" and FRE&D Spring 2014. Both books are available on Amazon.

She continues to be published or is forthcoming in Sunday Express Magazine UK, Huffington Post, C Magazine, Santa Barbara Magazine, C Home, Malibu 90265, Du Jour Magazine, Ojai Valley Magazine, Ventana Magazine, The Local, Domino Magazine and elsewhere. 

http://www.ameliafleetwood.com

 

LOSS
Mel R. Friedman

As she approached the front counter to greet him, Leo caught a wiff of Lily's perfume, an aroma so strong it preceded her arrival. The perfume elicited a feeling of deja vu for Leo. Within moments, he knew why. This was the same perfume his beloved Deena had worn several years earlier. Leo closed his eyes and recalled their first embrace in her flat seven years earlier. Much had transpired since then. It could easily have been a hundred years ago.

“So, you are here to try on and pick up your new brown leather jacket, I presume,” Lily said in a Hungarian accent indigenous to the Carpathian Mountains region. She slipped behind the counter. Leo opened his eyes and returned to the present moment.

“Yes,” Leo replied, appearing stunned.

“Am I correct?” she asked, revealing a hint of insecurity in her voice.

“Yes, of course,” he replied. “Please excuse my appearing distracted. Like many others, I'm sure, I haven't slept very well during the last week and a half."

“How have you managed these past few days?” he asked.

“As we always do in such situations,” she replied. “Eventually, the danger subsides somewhat, at least until the next time. One learns to adjust to circumstances over time. You visited your father during this time, am I correct?”

Leo nodded, “Yes,it was difficult for him and his wife. He isn't getting any younger and I imagine he never thought he would live through another war during his lifetime. For that matter, neither did I.”

Lily reached beneath the front counter to remove a rectangular-shaped white box. She opened it to reveal Leo's special order brown leather jacket. It was cut in a double-breasted pattern, complete with a pair of epaulets on the shoulders and a faux fur collar, a popular style at the time. She removed the jacket from the box and held it up for Leo to examine.

“This is the style you wanted, am I correct?” she asked, holding the jacket aloft for Leo to give a closer look. She held the jacket in both hands, then moved toward him as she motioned to him to try it on.

“So you and your father were together in the camp?” she asked as Leo slipped his right arm into the sleeve.

“Yes, we were. My brothers were there as well, but my father and I were placed in the same group and work detail. I was only fourteen at the time, and it's safe to say without his help and intervention, I wouldn't be here standing before you today.”

“It must have been even more difficult for you at such a young age,” she commented, simultaneously guiding his left arm into the other sleeve. She then reached over to smooth the upper sleeves and shoulders for him, just as she'd done to the jacket on the mannequin window display earlier. 

She motioned towards the three way mirror. Leo followed her.

“I always thought young boys of fourteen were automatically sent to the ovens. You were very lucky. How did you manage that?” she asked, in a tone suggesting curiosity rather than suspicion.

“When the train arrived at the front gate, we were greeted by the sound of barking dogs and incessant German shouting. The sounds were so harsh and shrill, it was difficult to discern which noises came from the dogs and which ones emanated from the Germans. When the carriage door flew open, the train was boarded by capos. They had to remove us rapidly to satisfy the demands of the German officers. We had no idea what fate awaited us, though we knew whatever lay in store for us would not be good. As the capo in our area guided passengers toward the open door, we noticed he seemed to whisper commands into the ears of several passengers. When our turn came, he asked my father, 'How old are you?' 'Forty eight,' my father replied. 'You're thirty-eight,' the capo retorted. Next, he grabbed my shoulder. 'And you?' he whispered. 'Fourteen,' I replied. 'You're eighteen,' he answered, pushing us both toward the open door. When I looked back, he was already whispering into the ears of the next group. This capo knew those under eighteen and over forty would immediately be sent to the gas chambers. I've often wondered how may lives that man must have saved, and whether he had managed to survive. Had the Germans caught on to what he was up to, they would have shot him in an instant.”

Though she had smoothed the sleeves of the new jacket as much as one could, Lily's hand remained on his shoulder. Staring at their reflection in the three way mirror, Leo was nearly certain he'd caught the reflection of the formation of a tear in Lily's right eye. The two of them stared at their triple reflections in the mirror. Neither one could move.

•••

They both enjoyed the meal, and agreed to take a walk and enjoy their desserts elsewhere afterwards. The dessert offerings in this restaurant were limited to non-dairy items due to dietary prohibitions, and both of them were in the mood for an ice cream, especially on such a warm, dry evening.

The couple set out toward Dizengoff Circle, often referred to in travel brochures as Tel Aviv's Times Square. Leo assumed the reference was to the spot being a focal point for the gathering of throngs of pedestrians. As far as Leo was concerned, the similarity ended there. Times Square in 1973, to Leo, was a locale to be avoided at all costs. Crime rates were at an all-time high, streets were filthy, and muggings were commonplace. One could stroll the boulevards of Tel Aviv throughout the night with relative ease. Regimes of half a dozen surrounding countries desired nothing less than to drive all of its inhabitants into the sea, but until their ambitions should be realized, street life in Tel Aviv remained serene.

The couple strode along Hayarkon Park, looking toward the Mediterranean. A string of luxury hotels lit up the coastline with their large, colorful signs: Hilton, Sheraton, Ramada, Dan. 

They slowed their pace as they approached a park bench. Lily indicated she'd like to sit, and Leo was more than happy to oblige. They sat in silence for a minute or two. She turned to Leo.

“You said you would tell me more about the times you thought you wouldn't survive. I'd still like to hear about that.”

“Well,” he began, “when we were awakened each morning to the sounds of shouting capos beating their rubber truncheons upon the wooden frames of the barracks, or, more often than not upon our shoulders and backs . . . all of us wondered if we'd live through the day to return to those barracks that evening alive. This was de rigueur on a daily basis.

Lily pressed her shoulder against his as she sat, waiting for more.

“On one particular day, however,” he continued, "I was a thousand percent certain my time was up. The Russians were advancing closer to our location every day. We were not allowed access to news from the outside, but the expressions on the Germans' faces coupled with bits and pieces of eaves dropped comments made their deteriorating status evident. They decided to remove a group of us from the camp to a work detail site in Warsaw, at least that part of it which was still standing. My older brother was assigned to my section. This pleased me, as I could now look after him somewhat. How my brother had survived until this point still amazed me. One couldn't imagine an individual more ill-suited to the situation we faced than my brother. When I think back to our lives at home before the war, I cannot remember a moment in which my brother did not have an open book before him. He was a kind, gentle, spiritual being, now thrust into a Hell on earth which I'm certain he would have been incapable of imagining, even in his worst nightmare. And yet, after having seen my mother and sister being led off to be executed on the day we had arrived, something inside of him shut down. He did what he had to each day to survive, as though his brain had been switched to an auto pilot setting.

"Now we had been placed on a work detail so close to the Russians' position, the exploding shells sounded like they could not have been more than a block or two away. As the explosions got closer, our German commanders suddenly retreated, leaving us to fend for ourselves. I suppose they figured the Russians' shells would kill us, and there was no fear of us escaping. Escape to where? I grabbed my brother's arm and pulled him with me towards an empty building. Several other prisoners followed. Once inside, we scampered though mountains of debris in a futile attempt to find an area of relative safety. The explosions outside grew louder, sounding more ominous. I told my brother to stand as close to the corner of the room as he could, then told him I'd run out and find us a safer location to hide. He remained silent, then just nodded. I dashed out the front door, figuring if I could just cross the street and make it to the opposite corner, perhaps I'd find a safer hiding place. As I approached the sidewalk on the opposite side, I heard a deafening sound as I felt my body being lifted off the ground and being hurled at least twenty-five meters. I hit the ground rolling.

"When I opened my eyes, I was elated to see I had survived that explosion unscathed. The moment of relief was extinguished as I turned around to look behind me. The building where I had been situated just moments before with my brother and the others had been reduced to smoldering ruins. Nothing of the building or its inhabitants remained. I stood dumbfounded. The irony of the situation did not escape me. I had risked my life to find a safe place for my brother. In doing so, he had perished, and I remained alive. I wanted to turn the clock back only one minute, but I knew, of course, there would be no do-over. I felt a hand grab my arm as it pulled me into an open doorway. I spun around to find a man in tattered clothes holding a rifle on his right shoulder. I struggled to understand what he was trying to say as the sounds of exploding ordinance grew closer. He motioned for me to follow him, and as the gun was still slung over his shoulder, chances were promising that I was dealing with a friend rather than foe.

"We spent the next half-hour winding our way through narrow alleyways and streets. Once the sounds of the exploding shells grew more distant, we stopped in front of a manhole cover. He tapped the butt of his rifle against it in what sounded like a unique pattern. A voice could be heard from underneath. The man responded, and this time I recognized the language he spoke. Moments later, the manhole cover was raised. Two men with rifles emerged, then beckoned for the four of us to climb back inside. For better or worse, I was now in the hands of the Polish underground resistance."

•••

"Despite the use of kerosene lanterns, it took a few minutes to adjust to the dim lighting. We were led through a labyrinth of narrow passages, our senses assaulted by the ever-present odor of raw sewage. Eventually, we reached an intersection populated by more underground partisans as well as a group of other prisoners, one of which I recognized from my work detail group. He was a teenager about my age whom I had chatted with briefly during the previous month when we were assigned to various tasks at the camp. Casual conversation was forbidden while working, often punished by a blow to the back of the head by one of the ever-present capos. During a brief lunch break, conversation was permitted, but most prisoners were too hungry and tired to engage in casual talk, eager to fill their empty stomachs with a bite of rock-hard stale bread and a few spoonfuls of mud-colored water which passed for soup. On a lucky day, one might find a sliver of a turnip in the bowl. One day, I was seated next to the young man. With both of us having quickly devoured our meager rations, we engaged in conversation. I discovered the language we had in common was Yiddish. His name was Nico. As he came from Greece and I from Hungary, the Yiddish language was our only means of communication. 

"Now, amid st the chaos transpiring in the sewers, I walked over to where Nico was standing and made eye contact. The man who appeared to be in charge of the partisans was shouting into a telephone apparatus with a large crank on the side. Now, fortunately for me, there was a sizable amount of cross-border commerce transpiring between Poland and Hungary throughout my upbringing. Though I could hardly claim to be proficient enough in Polish to call it a primary language, I had no problem understanding it when I listened to it being spoken in conversation. The partisan commander was now shouting into the telephone receiver, conversing with another partisan commander who was probably situated a few blocks away. 

“'I know the Russians are advancing,' he said. 'The Germans turned tail and retreated so fast, they didn't even take their Jew prisoners with them. I've got more than fifteen of the sheenies here right now. No, listen, I have a better idea. I'll send them up to your position, you can use them as cannon fodder to draw the Germans out from their positions, at least they will be of some use to us.'

"The commander turned to his underling.

“'You take the Jews up to to the B group, tell them we will now give them the chance they've beenlonging for to take revenge on the enemy. We'll give them rifles, but no more than two bullets each. You know we're low on ammunition, and of course, they don't need to know.'

"I turned to Nico, and whispered to him. 'They plan on using us as cannon fodder, sending us on a suicide mission. Listen to me, follow my lead, and maybe by some miracle, we'll make it out of this alive. When we meet up with the B group, they will give us our marching orders. But we will shake our heads in bewilderment pretending not to understand a word spoken to us. You will speak Greek, I will invent a nonexistent dialect peppered with elements of Hungarian and modern Hebrew. It's the only chance we've got.' The teen nodded as the Poles led a group of us toward group B. 

"As expected, the moment we arrived, the group B commander shouted orders to us as they handed us defective-looking rifles and pointed toward the daylight at the end of the tunnel. 'Now get out there and fight!' he shouted. 'This is the moment you've been waiting for, your chance to get back at those bastards who murdered your families. Go! Get out! What are you waiting for?' On cue, Nico the young teen and I stared at the commandant in silent disbelief. 'Go! The commander shouted once more. Are you deaf?'

"Nico addressed the commander in Greek, coupled with a few chosen words in Hebrew and Aramaic. The words sounded familiar to me, and I soon realized from whence they came. He was reciting a passage from the Passover Hagaddah, the one which reads, In every generation an enemy rises up to exterminate our people, but the holy one, blessed be He, saves us from their hands.

"The commander pushed Nico to the side as he grabbed my right arm.

“'And you, what's your problem, hah? Answer me!' He grabbed both of my shoulders and shook me with rage. His face was turning beet red, as I stared at him with a look of confusion. Finally, I addressed him in Aramaic, quoting the treatise of the introductory page of the Talmudic volume of Beitzah in which the debate begins as to whether a chicken egg hatched on the first day of Passover is permissible to eat.'

"The commander threw his hands up in disgust. He picked up the telephone and turned the crank repeatedly. When a voice finally answered on the other end, he shouted into the mouthpiece.

“'What kind of imbeciles did you send me? They don't understand a word I say, and they speak in a language I've never heard. You take them back, I have no use for them here. He slammed the receiver down, then motioned to one of his underlings to take us back from whence we had come.

"When we reached our original point of entry into the sewage system, I'd say barely five minutes had passed, but during that period of time, the situation had changed drastically. Explosions were increasing in volume. As the Germans had done less than an hour earlier, the partisans retreated, leaving us prisoners to be captured or killed, this time by the advancing Germans. I was fascinated. Russians, Poles, and Germans were at each others' throats, but the one trait they all shared in common was the notion that all Jews were always expendable.

"A loud explosion ripped open the street level ten meters from my head, chunks of brick missing me by mere centimeters. Through the smoke, a spotlight appeared, followed by an all-too-familiar refrain. 'Alle Juden Raus'–all Jews out–a shrill voice shouted on a megaphone, as a phalanx of German soldiers, machine guns in hand, descended upon us. We raised our hands toward the sky, as we were marched to a long brick wall. I heard the sound of a machine gun bolt being pulled, and I was 100% certain I would die in a matter of moments. I learned something amazing then. Throughout my internment, I awoke every morning, wondering if this would be the day I would not live to return to my wooden bunk. The thought consumed me throughout every waking moment of each day. I was petrified. Now, here I was standing in front of a brick wall, a machine gun pointed at my head, and I was no longer scared. It's as though the human brain, when faced with what appears to be a certain death, manufactures an anesthetic to relax its owner to soften the blow of the inevitable. Suddenly, the commandant muttered something to one of the soldiers. He shouted 'Halt!' then came over to me, pulled me out of the lineup, and stood me in front of the commandant. 'How old are you?' he asked me. At this point, I assumed I was done for, so there was no point in lying. 'Fourteen,' I said. 'Next month, I'll be fifteen,' I continued, why, I couldn't tell you.

“'Where were you interred?' he asked me. 'Auschwitz,' I replied. 'Do you have any family there?' He asked. 'As far as I know, my father is still there,' I answered. I must confess I was truly bewildered by his line of questioning.

“'Take him back to the camp,' the commandant instructed the soldier. 'Let the boy spend his last days with his father.” The soldier whisked me away and placed me on a covered truck with a dozen prisoners and two armed guards.

"Looking back on the events of that day, I'd wondered countless times why the commandant spared me. Perhaps he knew the end of the war was drawing near and dreaded the prospect of war crimes tribunals. Perhaps in the midst of all the carnage surrounding him, the commandant let slip a moment of compassion.

"As my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting in the truck, I searched frantically for the face of Nico, my ally in the exercise of linguistic deception. He was nowhere to be found. I never saw him again."

___

MEL R. FRIEDMAN spent his formative years growing up in Queens, New York. After graduating New York's Stuyvesant High School and CUNY's Queens College, he moved to Southern  California, where he resides till this day.  After joining the Wimpole Street Group several years ago, Mel began writing again after a long hiatus.

3 POEMS
Steve Klepetar

A KIND OF WISDOM

      His memories lived in the place
      like fingers locked in the rock ledges
      like roots.

            — Wendell Berry

His kindness filled me, an indwelling
like a rush of wind. He said “I like
to give with warm hands” as we
walked through the park, watching
brown leaves swirl in their little
tornadoes down into crackling grass.
He knew a lot, though he analyzed
little, there being a kind of wisdom
beyond the most penetrating thought.
When he died, his confiding voice
entered the air, and I hear it often
by the riverside, alone with my
breath and long strides mirroring his.

*

GRAFFITI

She knows what she
knows and she’ll
tag it on the wall

a moonlit glow
on bricks above
an alley, by spilled

beer and broken
burger boxes
where cats shriek

their night lungs
into raw agony
of fur and blood.

It’s a vision
that’s pricked
her eyes

a vista
of desert sands
and a god

slowly descending
in purple shadows
to a churchyard

and a well
and three
young girls

playing jacks
on the sidewalk
as their brothers

climb cypresses
mourning
among sodden leaves.

*

BIG HANDS

      I need big hands
      to help me
      change the profile of planets.

            –Neruda
 
I need big hands to gather
fruit, to roll apples and pears
onto a table made of stars,
 
to pick green branches
heavy with grapes,
to balance the swelling leaves.
 
Earth heaves, the trees
will not stay quiet.
Even grass whispers,
 
defying the night.
I need huge hands to hold
this back, this wind and song,
 
big hands to stroke your
waterfall of hair, blue-black
as crow’s wings, to carry you
 
beyond the bedroom door.
I need big hands to speak
my mind; tie them and I’m silent,
 
a giant stepping back into a grave.

___

STEVE KLEPETAR’s work has appeared worldwide, in such journals as Boston Literary Magazine, Deep Water, Expound, The Muse: India, Red River Review, Snakeskin, Voices Israel, Ygdrasil, and many others.  Several of his poems have been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize (including three in 2015). Recent collections include My Son Writes a Report on the Warsaw Ghetto and The Li Bo Poems, both from Flutter Press.

 

TALENT
Jack Little


“You won’t believe me, Miss,”
he said. “My talent is
injecting insulin.” He wiped his
grandpa’s brow with cold cloths,
cooked for mother arriving past ten.
 
When bedtime came, and the clock
was chock-full with minutes,
his homework book remained in his bag
as he dreamt of being tucked in at night,
an “A” star in maths, and sliding the needle
 
in the nook between muscle and vein.

___

JACK LITTLE (b. 1987) is a British-Mexican poet, translator and editor based in Mexico City. He has been published most recently in Wasafiri, Under the Radar and The Wolf. His first pamphlet 'Elsewhere' was published by Eyewear in August 2015 and he is the founding editor of The Ofi Press. www.ofipress.com 

THE DEPART FOUNDATION: NOSES IN THE AIR
Natalie Lobel

The Art world has always been seen as the haul-ass, untouchable sprinter of athletes. If you want to participate - you better buckle-up and prepare to run a race with no track. Because if you plan on trying to stay connected to your southern values in this tournament - be prepared to crawl uphill.

Whether you're an artist or an appreciator - it's a world filled with the fragrance of a secret society. I wanted in. And so began my journey through the gallery scene of Los Angeles: a dizzying education in creative commerce for me, while masking eye-rolls.

Since the start of the twentieth century we've seen groups of artists band together in defense of the critics' noise. But oh no, to the collectors it's not noise, it's sweeping truths. And to the historians, they were movements. Not comrades in war.

Take the Fauves for example. It's not complicated - they had power in numbers. They needed to protect themselves. Striving to protect their expression through a unanimous resentment for validation. So when they saw one type of work get rejected - it became the goal to sustain that disruption. I suspect the like button would have been a futile tool for them. The critics at the Salon could go to hell as far as they were concerned; it didn't shift their mission. To them, gallery or no gallery, the work was valuable because they deemed it of value.

But we digress....Stepping into the Depart Foundation on Sunset Boulevard that musky Thursday evening made me long for that fiery underdog-esque anarchy. Marc Horowitz's dominant pieces offended the room with their protruding genitalia and vivacious colors. Nobody flinched. We're bloody sculptures ourselves! There were dicks on the faces for Christ's sake. I was expecting at least ONE strap-on accessory disguised as a clutch. An undertone of sexual tension for sure - but no uproar. No arguments or heated discussions. Just some who's-who clip-clopping around, a handful of statement jumpsuits and a few students drinking on the house.

It's archaic really. An exhibit. The tombstone of solutions for showcasing art. Not because the art is weak. It's the people who are weak. Nobody can see beyond themselves in this sort of setting. We're too busy feeling giddy that we have half an eyeball on the pulse of this-here "LA culture."

Generally at shows such as this - the folk who put it together are just happy it's done and dusted. They're too exhausted to engage, the artist is too distracted by a remix of greetings to have real discussions...and so, it becomes flat. Flashy. Oh so flashy, but flat in substance. No wonder street art has such an alluring quality. It's right there with you, on your level. And nobody's watching you watch it - you can have a knee- jerk reaction - and eat it too.

___

NATALIE LOBEL is a chef from South Africa who now lives in Los Angeles. She has a background in art and design. Her writing focuses on the struggles and observations of a young woman in a dynamic city. 

LUCKY UNCLE GRIBOLO
from The Wooden Notebook
Marina Muhlfriedel

When I was five, and I remember it well, a revolutionary uprising swept through the province to the west of ours. At the time, I wasn’t sure of what a revolutionary uprising was, only that it was troublesome to grownups and that clusters of families no one knew had settled in camps below the dam on our side of the river. Day and night, men gathered in front of the Cathedral, chattering with great consternation about the situation. 

As I think of it now, it must have been difficult for Uncle Gribolo, who lived in the besieged province, not to consider his own odds. But even a gambler knows that a bet based on the probability of one’s own death, would be foolhardy. 

Instead, Uncle Gribolo put his money on hiding in the outer margins of the dense Teyocar jungle long enough for everyone to assume that he had left or was kidnapped. Tall and light colored, Gribolo didn’t easily blend in, but he paid one of the disenfranchised families that live in the jungle settlements, apart from the tribes or town folk, to put him up. He planned to slip under the cover of night back into his village, seize his only child, Jacinto, and trade a bag of gold cetas for ferry transport across the river. He would leave a note for his wife, Luisa and send for her later.

As Gribolo hid though, Luisa fretted with fear. Three days had passed without seeing her husband and the situation was worsening. Eight more men and six boys had disappeared; rumor was that they had been killed by renegade soldiers who had joined the militia. Livestock was missing and four more homes were burned.

Luisa cast stones and pieces of straw to read her prophecy. She prayed to the Blessed Virgin and her dead parents and came to believe that she must accept that Gribolo was now in heaven, protecting her and their son from harm. For an extra measure of security, Luisa pierced Jacinto’s earlobes and dressed the two-year-old in a pink frock before fleeing with him across the Eastern border, hoping to reach the Plateau Province.

Uncle Gribolo was a man who nearly always got his way and, as alive as he was the day he was born, nary a foot yet in heaven, he was devastated to discover that his plan to leave with Jacinto would not materialize. He had stealthily made his way back to his home, found that his wife and child were gone and assumed the worst. He froze for a moment, noticing his own photo on the family altar. He couldn’t help but cross himself as he stood before it.

Buying passage on the ferry and then on a fruit truck, he arrived, surrounded by mangoes, at our small village. My father, Gribolo’s half-brother, welcomed him into our home. Gribolo was bigger than my father. His broad shoulders, dramatic hand gestures, thick legs and loud voice made my father seem small and meek. As sad as Gribolo was to lose his young family, he was easy to cheer up. We would sing for him and taunt him into playing children’s games. He soon taught us to bet small coins on things such as whether the moon would be concealed by clouds at the precise moment mother called us for dinner or on how many teeth a dead squirrel lying in the road had in its mouth. He taught us card tricks and how to make the old bullet shells we collected disappear.

He made friends with our neighbors, was hired as a clerk at the grocery store, played cards, and before long, resigned to the fact that Luisa was gone forever, married again. His new wife had been a school friend of my mother’s and was named Flora. She was tall with long red hair, pouty lips and a square chin, horse-like in a proud and prancing way. Before I was ten, Uncle Gribolo had two more children, Paolo and Linda.

My father is an honest, hard-working carpenter. He is a good father and decent provider, but never, ever a gambler. Uncle Gribolo, however, subsisted on the energy of chance. Predicting the unpredictable and wagering money on it made his eyes squint and dance, the far ends of his lips pinch upward to meet his moustache in delight. Cards and dice were good, horse races sublime, but weighing the odds of real life situations felt, to him, like having a hand in destiny. Some days, simply wagering on the weather would satisfy his need to one-up the laws of probability. Gribolo would try to rope my father into his bets, but he would always refuse. One gambler in the family was plenty.

Uncle Gribolo was remarkably lucky. Soon, he bought the local grocery store and hired three more workers. Because of his financial prowess and generosity, our family escalated in esteem. With the revenue of luck, Uncle Gribolo would throw a yearly May Party where he’d provide everyone in the village with all the pheasant, toasted sugar cakes, and wine they could want and they loved him as if he had been there a lifetime. Flora would take my mother shopping for fashionable dresses and jewelry. We were even invited to the wedding of the governor’s daughter.

While mother proudly donned her new wardrobe, Father would say that Gribolo relied too much on luck and that some day, when he wasn’t paying enough attention, it would turn its back on him.

Uncle Gribolo picked a brisk autumn day to take Flora and their children on a day tour of the mountainside and invited me along. My father had heard an unusual weather report, saying storms were blowing in from both oceans, from East and from West. But Gribolo grinned and said, “I will bet you a hundred cetas they miss us.” Father, of course, declined.

The winds soon quieted to a serenade of gentle breezes and it appeared that had my father taken the bet, he would have lost. But on the way up the mountain, the sky darkened and the bus began to pitch and pull in the resuscitated gusts. I watched as a few chickens suddenly and frantically become aloft, an old fence post jumped from the ground and blew like an angry ghost toward the village. Helpless trees bowed nearly in half, while riptide gusts drew out cloud formations that swirled madly in the sky. It was windier than I, in my thirteen years, had ever seen.

Paolo, the youngest of Uncle Gribolo’s children, became frightened by the abandonment of polite tree behavior and huddled with his sister Linda under Aunt Flora’s blue cashmere coat.

We finally reached the top of the mountain and parked by an old inn. Our driver, a handsome man with flat, shiny combed-back hair, who moonlighted as a singer at a club in our village, instructed us to stay with the tour group. Uncle Gribolo, seizing a moment of relative calm, wandered off in his expensive, ocean-colored, patent leather loafers to enjoy a cigar on his own. Other than winning, this was his truest pleasure–solitude and a fragrant Cuban.

The driver seemed nervous and marched Aunt Flora, my young cousins, the other tourists and me into the inn. I overheard him tell the owner that he didn’t want to damage the bus and wanted us to be safe and enjoy the visit, but needed to get home to sing at the club that night. Aunt Flora was upset that she couldn’t find her husband, so leaving her little ones inside with the other tourists, took me back outside. I was at thirteen, to some, I suppose, an adult. 

As the door slammed shut behind us, the winds began to argue again and then, without warning, rally their forces for war. Their bursts struck so fiercely that hilltop villagers and employees at the inn struggled to board up their windows, tether animals to posts, pull children inside, and pray loudly for peace between the quarrelsome winds of the East and the West. 

Flora and I inched outside and, holding onto the building, hand by hand, slowly made our way around the inn to the steep canyon view. The wind screamed in our ears and, being very musical, Flora, as she later repeated over and over again, could pick out the notes it made: F#, A, C, D, F#, A, C, D . . . . It momentarily comforted her to fit the blasts into melodious categories. Her crimson hair whipped wildly and dust filled our eyes. I was very thin at the time, barely 80 pounds, and could feel the wind penetrate my shirt, go through my chest, and out my back, as if I were hollow.

Then Flora and I saw Uncle Gribolo. He was clinging desperately to a tree. The wind was blowing toward the deep cliffs behind him and each time he would try and take a step away from the tree, he would be shoved back by his invisible assailants. Flora screamed for help but the wind notes blared so loudly, no one could hear or come to our aid. For a second, the look of Gribolo’s jowly face and the tips of his mustache pressed back made me laugh. I felt that we were party to some sort of joke of which the punchline would come, and everything would be fine.

As long as I had known Gribolo, problems had been solved simply by peeling a couple of bills off the thick roll in his pocket. Not this time though. Were he even able to reach for his wallet, all the money would have just blown over the valley and rained on the lucky ones below. My chuckles turned to fear and shame as we watched Gribolo collapse to the ground and reach for handfuls of short, tough shrubs to keep from blowing away.

Gribolo curled up, digging his solid form as deep as he could into the ground, but he seemed to weigh almost nothing. A garbage can flew off the mountain followed by boxes, chairs and a rooftop. We watched him try to crawl in his balled up form back toward the road, but he couldn’t seem to let go of the shrubs. 

How absurd, he must have thought, a man like me in such a predicament. No gambler wins every wager but even in that moment, I suppose he was formulating a bet he could offer the warring winds. The winds however seemed more interested in feuding over Uncle Gribolo – each intent on claiming him as a war trophy. It looked as if it was hard for Gribolo to keep his eyes open, but he momentarily peered up in our direction. I thought he spotted Flora and I hugging the building and I called his name.

Flora tried to keep her eyes on him, the notes of the wind flashing like lightning bolts through her head. They ran in succession over-and-over again and she looked at Gribolo thinking he could hear them too because, just when they reached a perfect harmonic pitch, Gribolo let go of the shrubs and allowed the East wind to sweep him into the air. It had won.

•••

My father built the most beautiful coffin our town had ever seen. Fine cherrywood lined with the softest white silk. Two days later, Uncle Gribolo had been brought up the mountain on a mule. He was found completely naked with even his mustache torn off. How undignified for a man of his stature. Flora cried and cried; she couldn’t get the notes that took him out of her head and for three days sang them in succession, over and over again.

Then she stopped, claiming the notes, as a final insult had been stolen back by the wind and that sadly, she could no longer remember them. She blamed herself, and I believe, she also blamed me for not saving Gribolo or committing the notes to memory.

The news of the rich man blown from the mountaintop traveled quickly, even across the borders into the neighboring provinces, and that was how Gribolo’s first wife, Luisa, and their son Jacinto heard what had happened to him. After believing for eight years he was dead, Luisa cried the rare, sweet tears that accompany the witnessing of a miracle. Miracle or no miracle though, Gribolo was dead just the same and she would never, on this earthly plane, be reunited with her beloved husband. The miracle had been wasted on something useless.

Politically, things had calmed down and she and Jacinto easily obtained permission to cross from the Plateau Province, through their native land, and into ours. Of course, I didn’t recognize her. Even my father had a difficult time placing the woman and the vaguely familiar 10-year-old boy with pierced ears. He had only met Luisa once, at her wedding and she had since grown heavy and slow moving.

Uncle Gribolo had told my father that his wife had died during the revolution and never even mentioned Jacinto. Luisa wept nearly as much as Flora until she saw Gribolo laid out in an extravagant silk suit. She was puzzled by the absence of his mustache and drew her finger over where it had been. As she touched his face, her tears stopped and her face hardened into an admonishing, bewildered mask and stayed that way throughout her many remaining years.

Luisa wasn’t angry that Gribolo had married Flora; she had had boyfriends of her own. As the days went by though, she felt deceived and betrayed by the Blessed Virgin and her dead parents, who swore he had long been with them. Life had been difficult and having always worked very hard, Luisa was envious of Flora’s fine clothes and large home. Her son felt cheated that he had grown up fatherless.

Jacinto had, however, inherited one irrefutable quality from Gribolo, a need and a knack for gambling. After the funeral, with all of us within earshot, he offered Flora a wager. If he could sing the wind song that stole his father, she would accept him and Luisa into Gribolo’s home as family.

Flora was appalled by the audacity of the child, yet, recognizing a glimmer of her beloved husband on Jacinto’s light, broad face and in the glint of his eyes, she agreed. And there they were again, as pitch perfect as the East wind­–F#, A, C, D, F#, A, C, D–notes of a song Gribolo had sung Jacinto as a baby.

Flora reached for the boy and held him close. She told him that he and his mother could join their household, but that in exchange, he must sing the notes whenever she asked and vow that when the time came for her to embrace eternity, he would sing the notes as the wind carried her spirit to heaven. Jacinto closed his eyes and promised. 

My father tried to intercede, to stop Flora from committing to these people we hardly knew, but there was no going back. He, like the rest of us, knew from Gribolo that a bet, big or small, was a bet just the same, a juncture in which the outcome of chance sets the future into motion. Jacinto immediately declared himself my cousin and Luisa became known as New Auntie. It was as if they had been there forever.

___

MARINA MUHLFRIEDEL's career was launched by simultaneously serving as the Entertainment Editor of ‘TEEN Magazine and as a keyboard player in the early female punk band, Backstage Pass. With her next group, Vivabeat, she spent several years touring and recording, before veering into the film business, where she served as a producer on projects such as The War of the Roses and Throw Momma From the Train. It's writing, however, that has always quickened her creative and professional pulse, manifested in mediums from screenplays to copywriting, and magazine, newspaper, online articles to recently having two haiku poems featured in a Washington D.C. public art installation and a poem in Angels Flight, literary west

RED MAN WITH LOTS ON HIS MIND
Alden Marin

He was tea once
Black, to be exact
Now, he's a flattened packet
With a twist on top--
Reminding us, what once was
Becomes something else, in time...
Glued to a white mat
With an astonished look
As if to say "How did I
Get this way?" Painted
In April of '08...
And plenty has happened
Since then--but the Red Man
Sits there timelessly
Beneath his twist
"With lots on his mind..."
And we, the outsiders--
His audience, are left
To figure out just exactly
What that is.

___

ALDEN MARIN is an artist living in the Pacific Palisades who trains squirrels, takes long walks in the hills, and collects red leaves. He has written poetry since age 13, and was educated at Stanford and the Sorbonne. He has published more than 20 books of poetry, which can be found on his website, www.aldenmarin.com.