spring2017

EYES OF AUTUMN
Richard King Perkins III

As puddles
accumulating inward

depression after depression

circular insect seas,
depths resistant to dawn;

a conclusion: an October grey
portends

in the bounce of light

off the wraith surface
found in every fleeting

pool.

___

RICHARD KING PERKINS II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He lives in Crystal Lake, IL, USA with his wife, Vickie and daughter, Sage. He is a three-time Pushcart, Best of the Net and Best of the Web nominee whose work has appeared in more than a thousand publications.

3 POEMS
Audri Phillips

HEART OF STARS

Darkness has its place Nestling the firmaments The combusting stars Creators of life 

Giving each the courtesy of a separate space 

Darkness has its job
Nestling each heart within its cavity Together yet alone
Woven 

One pin pricked black cushion Bleeding
The heart of darkness Resides within each 

The engine in a cave
Each heart a star beating A light bathed in darkness 

*

DIRECTIONS

There are masters who draw bamboo with sure quick curving strokes 

I drive on a street that runs flat from dawn to sunset
A city planners grid east to west for the workers
Blinded by the sun in the morning and again on return at night 

Progress is a direction
Driving Sightless west into the sunset 

Forward even if it seems we go back and forth I call it bad road design 

You need those curves to preserve your vision A big ball of twine is what I want
A tangle of sheltering lines
A still spot in the shade 

*

COURAGE

A breeze begins where 

Courage whispers to the waves 

Caressing jagged rocks

___

 

MY TRIP TO THE ZOO
Paul Sand

Well Phyllis, you're really asking for it now.

So, to satisfy your appetite for the borderline perverse, I shall answer the request in your last letter (wait a minute, I want to find your exact wordage) "Tell me your most memorable sexual experience." Well, here goes. I call it "My Trip to the Zoo".

Aside from being in love when the simplest move can bring tears of gratitude from my eyes and to thank God for bringing this person into my life, I have to say my most memorable sexual experience was in Chicago in the 70s, while a member of the Second City, an improvisational theatre company. The great problem with the world of improvisation is: it's hard to stop when you step off the stage -- it seems to simply become one's rhythm all the time, everywhere, under all conditions. I don't mean telling jokes (I'd ask you to shoot me if that was the case) but as in -- you find yourself in a situation and you want to see it though, step by step, to the most amazing conclusion.

Well, this time our company was doing a "written scenario". All we, the actors, had to do was fill in the dialogue. However, since I was playing a monkey who had a talent for painting great art on the sidewalk and was owned by a nice organ grinder, I didn't have to talk. I just had to "find the essence". So, like anybody who calls themselves an actor, what do you do? You go out and observe the real thing, then you get on that stage and what comes through, comes through.

Off to the zoo I went. I picked the Children's Zoo. Don't ask me why, call it intuition. I went several times, until my sense of obligation to my creative process passed. We opened the show. Here's the plot, in capsule form:

There's this organ grinder who has this monkey who paints abstracts on the sidewalk. The organ grinder is poor, naturally, and a rich capitalist gallery owner comes by, sees the monkey in action, knows a good deal when he sees one, buys the monkey for a song (literally), takes him away, locks him in an attic studio, forces him to paint (even though he's very sad), sells these paintings for a fortune with the big lie being "The painter is too shy to meet the public." BUT the Flower Power, freedom seeking, beautiful daughter of the gallery owner sneaks into the attic and sings "Come Into The Jungle With Me Boy", frees the monkey, who is happily reunited with the organ grinder, and that's the end.

We opened and I felt I "captured" sufficient essence to help make it work. Well, it was the custom of the theatre company to casually mingle with the audience in the bar after the show, have drinks and be generally friendly. There I spotted HER. She was about to walk out the door. She glanced at me. She was petite, with long straight light brown hair, and very big, very beautiful pale eyes. She stopped. She walked towards me. I got off my bar stool, excused myself, and went to meet her half way. She spoke, "You make a wonderful monkey. I ought to know." "Why would you ought to know?" I asked. "I work in the Children's zoo and the monkeys are my best friends. I've seen you in there. Come by sometime and I’ll introduce you to my friends." I loved her. That was in the winter.

Spring came around and I thought I'd take her up on the invitation. So I went across the street, through Lincoln Park, to the Children's Zoo. There she was. She looked at me and smiled as if our conversation was just last night. She was wearing overalls. She was very thin and they were cut to fit her very closely. She looked just like Rima, a character I read about in a book called "Green Mansions" who was raised in the jungle by animals until this nice man comes along who is just as nice as the animals. He takes her away and they live happily ever after. I felt just like that man. She introduced me to all her monkey friends. Each one was kept in a tiny cage. They'd knock it around with joy, in high anticipation of being held for a moment by this gentle, loving, pretty girl. I met all of them, got their names and let them hold my finger for a moment. Then I left and didn't see her again until summer.

It was my day off and I was walking on Wells street, just in front of our theatre. I looked up from the sidewalk and saw her riding a bicycle, wearing a yellow dress. I stretched out my legs and arms, pretending I was a barricade. She put on her brakes and I asked her if she wanted to have dinner and go to a movie. "Sure" she said and got off her bike, locked it to a lamp post and stood, ready to go. "That's it?" I asked. "Yes. Let's go." And we did.

It was a hot, summer, Chicago night and we found ourselves walking home. I felt very... big... and strong... around her. I liked the feeling. Maybe it was the heat. We talked a lot and became closer. I put my arm around her shoulder. It was so easy. She was just the right size. She fit. There was something she wanted to tell me, "To confide" in me, and she hoped I'd understand. "Of course," I said. I felt so calm.

She had been married but it was annulled. "Why?"

"Because... Because... Because, my husband was a... pervert." She started to cry. I kinda wondered what she meant by "pervert". I was intrigued. I held her closer. "What do you mean a... pervert?" I asked. She couldn't answer for a while. We walked in silence. "He... He... would..." (She covered her eyes with her hand and tried not to cry.) God! I held her so close. "He would... tie me up and... let his friends... fuck me" (she whispered the word "fuck") "and he'd watch." We walked in silence. "Yeah," I agreed, "that seems kinda perverse all right."

And there was a child and the nuns blamed me for everything and they took it away from me." This really made her sad.

There we were, in front of her house, a three story Victorian, divided up. "Do you want to come in?" "Yes," I answered. We walked up two flights. She put her key in the lock of a bright orange painted door. We stepped inside. There was no furniture in the living room at all. Nothing, except at the far end of this long room was a cage, a huge cage, that filled the entire end of the room. And in the cage was a very large monkey. It took one look at me and leapt at the bars, grabbed them with his hands and his feet and started to scream at me. Let me make this clear -- he looked me in the eye and screamed at me.

"What kind of monkey is that?" I could barely get the words out because all I really wanted to say goodnight and leap down those stairs and out into the night. BUT I DIDN'T. "He's a Spider Monkey," she smiled, "and he gets very jealous." I STILL did not leap out into the night. Instead, I asked if we could "go into another room." I followed her into the bedroom. The monkey rattled the cage and screamed louder. On a lavender, paisley bedspread, sitting cross legged like a Buddha, was another monkey: "He's paralyzed. The zoo wanted to kill him so I brought him home." She leaned over and gave it a kiss on the top of its head.

Only its eyes could move, one arm could barely reach down and struggle to pick up a dried piece of orange or a browned apple section that had been left there for him.

The killer in the other room screamed louder. There seemed to be a kind of pleading mixed in with the screaming. The little creature sitting on the bed kept looking at me apologetically as it struggled to pick up the fruit and struggled some more to get it to his mouth. Why didn't I leave? I don't know. I think it was out of politeness.

"Could, could... we go to my place?" was all I could come up with. "Sure," she answered. As we were heading towards the door, I shot a glance at the cage, naturally, and the big monkey (who was very tall and real skinny) was doing its best to force his entire body through the bars. He didn't have fur, it was hair, long black hair hanging off its spidery arms and legs, and he was trying to get through the bars, to get to me, screaming and clawing the air in an attempt to tear me to pieces.

Now here comes the part, Phyllis, where I feel it might be going too far. I could stop right here, but then I'd be depriving you of the real twist of what makes this "my most memorable."

My place: in "Emma's Rooming House." Several of the actors from our theatre live here. I've made my room look like a Matisse painting, cluttered with wonderful stuff -- a round fish bowl, a potted palm, a folding Chinese screen, a fur rug, a low marble slab for a table next to the bed, a telephone, and a decanter for drinking water. A large shuttered window faces my fire escape with a plant, and beyond to the park and sky and moon. The window is open, letting in the night heat. I don't put the light on. We kiss. She pulls my shirt over my head. I pull her yellow dress over her head. I take off my pants. Moonlight fills the room. I have to pee. I can't believe it, at a moment like this. I tell her and she gently pushed me towards the bathroom door. You know when you stand and take a pee, so many things go through your mind, so many images -- that orange door, that screaming monkey, the small, apologetic, paralyzed monkey on the bed, the Japanese dinner, the sake, her face, her dear, sweet body, the screaming monkey, the screaming monkey. I flush, I wash my hands, I close the door behind me. She is naked. She has thrown the covers on the floor. She is squatting on my bed, knees apart, facing me.

The belt from my pants is lying next to her. I don't breathe. I remember her story, her husband tying her up, his friends watching, the nuns taking her baby away, her tears. She looks me straight in the eyes and whispers "Fuck me... Fuck me like an animal."

My attitude changes. I become kind of casual, and deliver what could be the last line, if this was just an improvisation. "Well, I'm not an animal, but I’ll do my best."

Ordinarily the lights on the stage would "BLACK OUT" and the audience would react. I must have clicked into some other place, because I don't remember details, just some of her words come back to me — words like scent, smell -- words that took me deeper into this other place. I have to tell you, Phyllis, and I'm not bragging, we fucked all night, which is really unlike me.

I remember noticing the light become lavender, then grey, then pale blue. She woke me, kneeling over me, trying to fill herself with what was left. I had no fluid of any kind in my body. My eyes felt full of sand, my mouth parched, my brain turned against me, I couldn't speak. I lifted one arm and I pushed her off me. She landed on the fur rug, which took her for a little ride across the room. She got dressed. I noticed and soiled. She left and the door snapped locked, protecting me. I fell asleep and she went home to her friends I suppose, probably lied to her angry monkey until he calmed down, and probably cuddled with her Buddha pet and fell asleep herself.

The first thing I did when I regained consciousness was to reach for the phone and call the doctor. Now the only doctor I knew was this guy who hung around the theatre, a real fan of ours. He'd be there almost every night, and buy us all drinks. He was a plastic surgeon and wanted to give us all free operations. He wanted to give Barbara a new nose, a different chin for me, ears for someone else. He was a nice guy. He'd talk like this and then he'd leave. Anyway, he was the only doctor I knew, so I called him and said "I've just had a really strange experience. Could I come down right away?"

"Sure."

So I got a cab and went to his office.

Because he was a plastic surgeon, the entire waiting room was filled with people with bandages on different parts of their faces, noses, ears, chins, dark glasses. The nurse let me in right away. I guess I really sounded desperate. Well, I was.

I told him the story. He leaned against the wall with his mouth hanging open in disbelief. Then he gave me every test imaginable (one involved a long Q-Tip). "Go home. Don't kiss anyone. Don't go to bed with anyone and wash with this bar of blue soap and call me in the morning."

I went to work that night and didn't touch anybody. That's a neat trick, to improvise with seven actors for three hours and not touch anybody. It's almost impossible, but I did it.

The next morning, I called the doctor. "Come down right now."

Again, I was whisked through the lobby. I think the exact same people were sitting there (at least they looked the same). "What do I have? Do I have syphilis? Do I have gonorrhea? What?"

"Nothing. You have no disease. But where have you been? I've never seen such filth in my life."

"I told you the whole story. I told you everything." 

There was a long silence. Was he thinking what I was thinking.

"You think?" I asked.

"Uh-huh," he answered, and gave me a shot of something for good measure. It felt more like a spanking.

I saw her a few days later, riding on the back of some cute boy's Vespa. I guessed he was in for his most memorable sexual experience, and they disappeared around the corner.

You asked for it Phyllis. That was it. That was m^ most memorable. It was a long time ago and I was very young, so please be kind. Talk to you later. See you on the 4th of July.

Love,

R.

EXCERPT
from Here There Be Dragons--A Semi-True Story
Drew Vandiver

My mother rarely gave voice to her feelings but I never once questioned how she felt about me. When I spent the night with her parents, I never saw either one of them come out of their bedroom without pajamas buttoned at the neck, a robe and slippers. 

Her way was to do things that she thought would make you happy. She made food you liked or bought snacks you craved. She never said a word about it, she just did it. On Sunday mornings, she made breakfast for us and whoever might be around. Friends of my brothers who were sleeping off Saturday night on our couch or any relative who might show up. It was an enormous feast. Dozens of eggs, a pot of gravy, plates of sausage, bacon and ham and pan after pan of biscuits. She made gravy from the grease of the meat and she made the biscuits from scratch. But I did not like them. I liked the flaky biscuits that came in the long cylinder can. In truth, I think I like unwrapping that can more than eating them. You pulled the tab and it unraveled along until the can popped open. My mother bought a can of those every week and made them just for me. She waited on me to get up and open the can. 

I don’t remember how old I was the first time we went on our first family vacation to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. My brothers were teenagers and could drive, so I must have been around 6 or 7. We shared a large condo with Uncle Hoyal and Aunt Judy and their daughter Shanna, who, as an only child and to my great envy over the years, always got to bring a friend along. We arrived on a Saturday and left the next. We stopped at the grocery store on our way into town and shopped. My mother made breakfast for everyone as they got up; lunch was catch as catch can and dinner was usually out at a restaurant. At the store, Aunt Judy bought a block of sharp cheddar cheese. I had never seen cheese like that. I thought cheese only came in slices inside plastic. She gave me a wedge of it. My face crinkled up and my eyes shut. It tasted sour at first, but then as I chewed, I liked it more and more. Every day, I would come in from the beach and make a cheese sandwich. White bread with the crust cut off, mayonnaise and a slice of cheese. We ran out one day, so I asked Judy for some of her cheese. 

“Sure, darlin’.” She always called me darlin’ and Uncle Hoyal always called me Sport. 

She had macular degeneration and had begun to go blind in high school. At that time, she could still see movement and tell light from dark. She did not yet have a Seeing Eye dog. She got her loaf of bread down for me. Wheat bread. She laid out the two pieces and I lathered them with mayo. She got a very sharp, little knife out of the drawer. A knife for adults. She sliced thick pieces off the end of the cheese block and I stacked them carefully on the bread so that I didn’t leave any empty space. I placed the second slice of bread on top and asked her if she would cut the ends off for me. 

“Oh, no, darlin’, that’s the best part. That’s where all the nutrients are.” 

I took my sandwich on a small saucer over to the table. The bread was thick and course and had pieces of nuts in it. I didn’t have the heart to tell Aunt Judy that she had picked up a loaf of bad bread. There were so many textures and tastes in that sandwich that I had not yet grown the taste buds to appreciate. I did not like the rough texture of the crusts, but I chewed along because this felt like how grown ups eat sandwiches and that felt too good to stop. 

My mother could make a ham last an entire week. She would cook it in the oven as the corner piece of a Sunday meal. Then she would slice it off the bone and put it in a zip lock bag for us to make sandwiches out of. Finally, she would boil the ham bone and use it to make soup. Again, I was not impressed. I wanted the sliced ham from the Piggly Wiggly that came in a rectangular plastic pouch of water, so she kept that in the fridge just for me. 

On my second day at Oxford, I felt lost and alone and thoroughly out of my depth. I had a break and wandered into a pub. It was Friday, so on the end of the bar was a ham and a loaf of bread for everyone. I sawed off two slices of bread and a wedge of ham and sat over my Guinness and ate. I tasted my mother’s ham and I felt my mother’s love. I felt her protection and support. I was firmly aware of how much she believed in me. Fridays at the pub became a very special place to me. I had a calling card that I used to call mama every day. The first minute was free, so I tried to rush through all that was going on and get off. I told her that there was a little pub where I eat on Fridays and everyone was so nice and they even made her ham for me. In eighth grade, I developed a tremendous crush on a tall, lanky brunette who sat in front of me in math class. One day, as I was walking out to mom’s car after school, I passed her and she smiled at me and said ‘see you tomorrow.’ I got in the car and we drove away. 

“Mama, how do you know when you love somebody?”

“Well, how do you think you know?”

“I guess it’s just something you feel.”

“True. But it’s also something you do. Real love is a verb as well as a noun.” 

Any time I came for a visit after I moved away from home, I took it as a given that there would be a block of sharp cheddar and a zip lock bag of ham in the fridge. 

I wasn’t sure whether I should unpack or wait in the kitchen for dad. I knew he was in the bathroom, reclaiming his energy for the next part of his lecture. And, suddenly, I felt my hunger. I had a pack of pretzels on the plane. I opened the cupboards that used to be stocked with cereals and vanilla wafers and crackers. They were mostly bare. No one had lived here in quite some time. I opened the refrigerator. I smelled the Arm & Hammer baking soda first. It was completely empty. Except for the middle shelf. There sat a loaf of white bread, a rectangular package of ham in water and Kraft American cheese slices. 

___

DREW VANDIVER is a writer and actor who studied at Oxford University, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the University of Georgia. His One Man-One Dog show Here There Be Dragons won the Ripest Show award at the 2016 Hollywood Fringe Festival. He lives in Los Angeles with a Ukrainian Cockapoo named Commodore.

3 POEMS
Jonathan Redwood

CRIPPLE TONGUE

My dear blind man.
Your path has been snatched by the angels.
Don’t cry deep; cold sighs of rain and
tears of roses.
Live long, free prayer.
Go on! Climb the highest mountain and cough up
bits of dry lung.
Breath, snatched.
Above; your putrid smile.
Alone, we’re one—free never.
That is chains!
Life will take you, uncle, in one breath.
Hold the lull of a slow heart,
listen to the solace.
Then do it again, and again.

*

DURING A WALK IN THE MOUNTAINS

High in the mountains, the dreamers left his mark.
An attempt to connect with his mother;
finally a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment.
Why, is of no importance.
For his heart and soul took him, and blindly so,
he followed.
Purged, although he is filthy—
his mother will clean him,
let him go; then drop him into the abyss, again.
How futile!
How come he cannot stay is in the hands of another.
Perhaps time is opposite him.
No importance.
The deaf-mute son is better off in the hands of his feet,
not his ambition.
Go forth! Move!
Look, then go.
Love then love.

*

SUNDAY LAMENT

I’ve been there,
in the past.
I’ve enjoyed the cafe whispers and the polished shoes.
Old stories and tattered structures are familiar.
Broken down streetlights and designs looming.
I’ve been there; in the old.
Breathless and inconsolable—how can this be?
So many atrocities yet so few remember what has wiped the streets clean.
A million carts.
A million voices.
Two million beats; that leave the sky in scars and still weep the soft blade.
A blistered heart, illuminating
yellow, blue.
It must pass.
 

The babies, the kids, and the young lay themselves on the tracks—crying earth!
While one whims off his balcony and into the sores.
Critters and predators consoled in one hand;
devouring one another.
Shot with the biggest gun.
Fingers walk city blocks and intrude homes.
Collect dirt from the moss!
But worms have dried up the fruit,
they live and play.

The airs are lies,
our hands breathe cold.
Clouds linger among the few.
I reject you people!
I denounce your love!
My fire’s nested in stone—although
quiet, quiet.
Watch the last of the dying embers fall onto the dew.
Cry to us, cry to me.
You don’t need eyes to see things the way I do.
Live with me in the past,
crunch the splinters and toss them!
What fantasies flood into your vacant soul,
have gone through me.
We dream the same.
You illuminate fire,
which brings delight to my heart.
Spellbound, together;
pearls of white,
roses of the sun.
Together we've laid—six feet beneath
a glowing, bygone moon.

---

JONATHAN REDWOOD is a poet from Los Angeles. He is writing his debut book of poetry entitled, “Come Forth and Speak Your Name.” 

 

2 POEMS
Michelle Seabreeze

HOME

 

This is home

And we've been breathing in tandem
For over a year now 

With the sun kissing our shoulders, 
these blankets become a jar, or ajar, 
and simultaneously, we are fireflies

Our hands flutter like wings
across every inch of bare skin
Our lips are swimming through the soft
until we are reaching the undiscovered parts
and making mental maps of each freckle and pore
Because we are devouring and storing
this new information like honey
in our own personal hive of intimate excess

And then we camp here
raise our flags, and leave marks
because we are coming back
to this place where there is
no space between us

Because in this room with him
my heart is in the right place
in his hands
on my sleeve
beating fast

And who knew that this superhero
with the Christmas eyes would be the one
to save me from a world of orderly chaos
With constant calm, and easy gaze
he holds my hand
kisses my face
and tells me he knows me
and because he knows me
he loves me

Between us
We are not afraid of secrets, 
and a beautiful bubble
wraps itself around our four walls, 
because we are acutely and insanely
protective of the space between us 

Because this space is home, 
but only when we're together

*

VOODOO CHILD

A child’s hand reaches out
From beneath the brick and dust
tiny fingers flickering in the wind
Like dried leaves

The blood dripping from her mouth
Consecrates concrete like holy water
Freezing into the shape of a birthstone
at the base of her feet

While full fat faces
watch from faraway
on flat screens
A broken people
Framed by fire and ash

There never was
A clearer picture
Of anguish
Than the one broadcast
On HD screens 

They tune in to see
The liberated kin of Toussaint L’Overture’s
Ancient bloodline of ready lips  
make the shape of Oh No
Before God

While we watched in safe havens,
Mothers collect
pieces of their children like keepsakes
spinning Creole into cocoons
of goodbye for now

Before this
we were looking in every direction
waiting for a disaster that wasn’t our own
until we found it
shaking us to the core

But when tears flow
Like mud slides down bellies
We search for a resolution
That would expand
diminishing waistlines
and fill the empty nets
in this land of
Fishermen, religion, and cane fields

While bone and flesh pile high
Like wood and steel
Lovers lay broken
under blood-stained sheets
and mouths that once housed smiles
that were the pride of a nation
are now bent, and torn, and burned away

These descendants of rebels
that were born with closed fists
who fought wild, with angry hearts
who once danced in their freedom
on the mountain’s edge
Are now taking their places
In this dark spotlight

When the cameras roll
You can almost see
the souls pass on
Before being buried by midnight

As puffy pigtails peek through
Mounds of dirt like stillborn flowers
In graves floating on fields
Likes boats to an afterlife

This new concrete jungle
Can’t muffle cries of anguish
That carry across horizons
And spill into oceans
Like a plague of epic proportions

This is the horror of
global warming
After an earthquake of forgetting
What won’t cater to our fantasies

One day
It might be our turn
to keep our hands out
and wait
until we can hold onto to someone
We’ve never met before
and tell them, like we are telling ourself
to hold on to what you love, 
like you are possessed
By a voodoo curse that forces
you to care
about every child
Like they were the world
before it came crumbling down

___

MICHELLE was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. She was a contributing writer and performer with the spoken word collective New Street Poets, featured at the NY Fringe Festival, Busboys & Poets, and Brown University

She has been a featured poet at The Inspired Word All-Stars and The Rimes of the Ancient Mariner. 

She loves the writing life.

 

OLD FRIENDS
Valerie Woods

Tania often wondered or rather found it strange, that after all these years people were still so surprised to see her. They all knew she existed and yet when she showed up, more often than not, she was met with open surprise. At other times, often the surprise turned to anger, like how dare she show up now, of all times. She had no patience with such reactions, or any emotion, on these occasions, unless curiosity was an emotion. Because she was, still, intrigued by it all.

Tania’s work took her all over the world. She felt especially at home in older cultures. Her presence didn’t seem so outlandish. People in such places weren’t much surprised by anything, as the more ancient the culture, the more they had seen.  Tania was definitely what you’d call an old soul.

Today she was covering her territory in Los Angeles. Definitely not and old culture. In fact, old was a dirty word here. Somehow, they didn’t realize that getting old was as a popular meme stated: “a privilege denied to many.” Maybe, if Angelenos recognized that, but so many didn’t. They’d forgotten the agreements. Tania supposed they had to forget in order to live productively. But it didn’t make her job any easier.

Tania’s oldest friend is Vivian. The two of them often traveled together. To Tania’s never-ending incredulity, most people were thrilled to see Vivian – parties were given, gifts exchanged, tears of joy, “Oh, here’s Vivian!” “She’s adorable!” “Let’s give her a hug.” Not that Tania was bitter about the enthusiasm her friend received. But didn’t they remember that wherever Vivian was, for the majority of the time, there would always be some kind of drama? And even though it was Tania’s job to resolve some of that drama, even then, people weren’t all that jazzed to see her.

Yet there were occasions when people welcomed a close tie with Tania – sometimes for the peace she offered, and sometimes, in desperation, they just got sick and tired of Vivian’s random drama. Because let’s face it, for all her excitement and vivaciousness, Vivian could be ruthless. But even then, she was still desired over Tania. However, there were some who, though swearing to love Vivian would outright flirt with Tania. They were such a tease – until Tania proved the more powerful draw.

At the moment, though, Vivian was having a great day. One of those days when life was like one big celebration. Even working with Tania that morning was one of those times when they were both satisfied with the assignment. They’d had a meeting at the hospital with an old friend, who though he loved Vivian, he was also quite happy to see Tania, as well. Vivian couldn’t stay long; she had a very busy day ahead but knew everything was as it should be. And when Tania took the man’s frail hand and held it to her heart, Vivian quietly left the room. Her mind already moving to her next job, Vivian couldn’t resist heading down to obstetrics. Though she had a wedding in twenty minutes, she just wanted to take a look around. Vivian loved babies – so new to the world, with so much of life ahead. It made her just a little giddy. She laughed at herself, blessed the babies laboring to be born as well as those sleeping peacefully in their cribs. But then she had to hustle to get to the wedding on time. 

She hadn’t mentioned this assignment to Tania, who was definitely not on the invitation list. Much as she considered Tania a close friend, no one wanted to see her at the chapel. Tania had been known to crash a wedding or two – Vivian hated that. But, well such things happen.

It was a close call, but despite an accident on the I-5. It slowed Vivian down, but she pulled through and made it in time for the “I do’s.’ The bride was stunning, the groom slightly drunk, but the love for their new life together was strong.  Vivian couldn’t help the tears of joy she shared with the mother of the bride. It was a good match.  The couple danced their way down the aisle, and Vivian joined them at the reception line doing a little jig of her own. These were the kind of assignments Vivian loved. But not better than the baby shower she had to attend that afternoon. And then there was the birthday dinner.

Yes, Vivian loved her job, except when she hated it. And then life got messy – with all kinds of repercussions. But usually things worked out, and there were days like to today.  The expectant mother was ecstatic. This was her first, and her family and friends were close and just as excited. They’d already started with the gifts when Vivian caught a movement just outside the window. Cautious, she stepped out to the patio. Tania was leaning against the gate.

“Oh, come on. Why’d you have to come here?” Vivian moaned.

“Don’t blame me. You know I only go where I’m assigned,” Tania retorted.

“She doesn’t want to see you,” said Vivian. “And neither do I. Not now.”

They both looked toward the house as the screams began.

“Please… please go, Tania. Leave now, please.” Vivian was in tears. But Tania was unmoved, as always. She started through the gate, but Vivian grabbed her by the shoulders, shoving her aside.

“Don’t fight with me, Vivian. I hate when you do this.”

“You’re not going to win this time.”

“Really?” Tania replied. She paced around Vivian, much like a martial artist sizing up her challenger.

“Yes, really.” Vivian slipped off her heels and took a fighter’s stance. Amidst the screams and on-coming sirens, they fought like warriors. Tania drew first blood.

Vivian stood, dazed for a moment seeing the red rivulets streaming along her legs, but only for a moment before she launched again into battle. Vivian fought on and fought well. Despite the loss of blood, she landed kicks and uppercuts.  Tania was still unmoved, her strikes sure and steady.

“Just leave it, Vivian. It’s done.”

Gasping, bloody, weak, Vivian tried a final lunge, but Tania simply wrapped her hand around Vivian’s fist and held it to her heart. The screaming stopped. The weeping began.

As Vivian lay, spent and defeated, a figure walked onto the patio. Though it was the height of a young child, its bearing was timeless. Though the features were defined, there was a softness around its person that gave the illusion of fluidity. The figure approached Vivian, kneeled and stroked her face.

“I wasn’t ready for you, Vivian. Besides, my mother and I had an agreement.” As the figure stroked Vivian’s face, the bruises and blood from the fight began to fade. “She’s forgotten about it, but I hope she’ll learn what she wanted to know.”

The figure rose and took Tania’s hand. As they walked across the patio, Tania turned back to see Vivian, now vibrant as ever, a hint of wistful melancholy darkening her eyes.

“It was a good fight, Vivian. See you next time.”  Hand-in-hand, Tania and the Timeless Being walked through the gate. 

___

VALERIE C. WOODS is a writer/producer in television and film, and is also a publisher, editor and author. Valerie is currently Adjunct Faculty for the Stephens College Low Residency MFA Television & Screenwriting program and was appointed Creative Director for Syd Field – The Art of Visual Storytelling. Old Friends is currently being developed as a screenplay. 

 

SWEETIE
Jane Zingale

Street parking is at a premium in my neighborhood and I’m most appreciative for the protected car park under my building.  However, one day when I drove into the garage I sensed a change in the atmosphere. When I stepped out of my car I felt a significant rearrangement in the weight and density of the air. I scrutinized my surroundings and discovered someone had stolen the pedals and wheels from my bicycle— a beach cruiser the color of concord grapes, an imperial purple with white pin striping. I’d named her Sweetie. Not wanting her to be stolen, I’d tethered her to the metal pipe below my storage cabinet.

When I saw her I gasped, my nostrils winged out as I released a corrosive snarl. Such a vicious and damaging act so infected my nervous system; it forced the arterial pulse of my heart to quiver like a plucked string. Miserable and offended by such larceny I envisioned the moment of the assault. I pictured Sweetie whipping about like a tormented soul while the culprit wrestled her wheels and wrenched her pedals off their attachments. When he finished he’d shoved her up against the damp cinder block wall where bits of crumbling white paint flaked down on her like confetti. 

Sweetie had become totally immobile on the metal braces that once held her white walled tires. The chain, no longer attached to the rear derailleur pulley, helplessly sagged and drooped into a cataleptic scroll of ornamental design. Her rigid crank arms sans pedals were stark and empty. She was but a skeleton of her former self.

I feared my clever bicycle would never be the same majestic transporter of my humble self. I finally draped her body in a funereal black plastic garbage bag. It swagged over the handlebars and partially covered her as it draped down on either side of the head tube and fork upon which she rested.                                                                                                 

Before the thievery Sweetie and I used to ride flat out along the oceanfront. I’d hunch over the handlebars rapidly pumping my legs. My hair flew out behind me as the wind caressed my skin and reassured my countenance. Full of excitement and enthusiastic gusto I felt guaranteed everything was possible. We’d race down the bike path until I was spent. Life in those moments was good. Gradually I’d decelerate, sit tall and allow my legs to circle round and round slow and dreamy-like while I examined my goals and ambitions. I’d mull over other distracting thoughts such as—I’m alone, I live alone, I’m getting older, I’m in the process of getting lonelier and lonelier until I’ve become a solitary person.

This unwitting thief had no idea the extent of emotional chaos he’d wrought in my sober alcoholic mind. As I stood before Sweetie, my enduring bicycle, my self-worth pinched as it scurried beneath the fragile skin of my pride. I wanted a drink. My ravaged bicycle awakened ancient fantasies that churned inside me. Decades of accumulated sentimentalities revolved into thoughts that spun and hissed around my ears like the hurdy-gurdy of an organ grinder. I was drenched in retaliatory considerations and punitive self-judgments and I wanted to get drunk.

I touched my face to feel and know I was a physical entity. I did not reach for that drink. I simply stood there alone with my compulsions and then I nodded my head, dipped my chin and sighed as I dwelt on the possibility of changing my skewed perceptions.

___

JANE ZINGALE is an artist, writer and yoga instructor. She taught performance techniques at the Dutch Institute of Art in Amsterdam, NL and the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-arts Lyon, FR. She directed the recreation of deCointet's Five Sisters at festivals and museums in United States, Amsterdam, Belgium and Spain. She’s performed in Los Angeles at the Getty, The Reina Sophia Museum Madrid, Spain, The LA County Museum, CA, MOMA in NY, The Pompidou, Paris FR and The Museum of Modern Art Warsaw. Publications— Hamilton Stone Review, New Flash Fiction Review, She’s performed three podcasts for I LOVE A GOOD STORY.