All posts by JONAHmagazine

A literary magazine about challenge and change



Jonathan B. Ferrini

The squeaky metal fan churns white noise burying me alive in a deep REM sleep suddenly shattered by a car alarm. 

I slide out of a sheet wet from perspiration and into a wrinkled wash and wear suit, out the door holding a Styrofoam cup of instant coffee tasting like battery acid.

There’s no need to join the Foreign Legion, travel the world, hang out in Paris coffee houses or drop LSD when your mind serves up a dream loaded with the ingredients of a murky, subconscious stew, rich with flavor resulting in the next story.

Consider the RSVP carefully when opening the invitation from your subconscious mind to follow it down the rabbit hole because you may be surprised what you find. 


 Watch the highway!

Muggy morning summer air, a prelude to a monotonous job I crawl towards in heavy traffic.

Seeking distraction from the radio dial but find only missiles of rage fired at me from morning talk radio generals.

Damn, another soldier advancing towards his own war cuts me off, forcing me down an offramp named Boadyland dropping me into a neighborhood resembling purgatory.

I stop on a chewed-up street of people and dreams.

Dilapidated homes occupied by people without hope. 

Unhappy, maybe alone, and desperate for their dope.

A delicate hand waives me into a cozy house fronting a street smelling of mace, meth, and death under the concrete overpass nobody but the disenfranchised know.

I meet a beautiful single mom planning a party for her baby girl.

“What can I contribute?”

“Whatever you choose, sweetie.”

“I’ll write her a birthday poem.”

I write and the tears flow witnessing mom’s resolve to make a gift out of nothing except people filling the street, their clothes resembling festive wrapping paper, showing up to celebrate a child’s life.

Everyone chilling and catching a breath before they hit the next curve ball thrown at them.

The ethnic potpourri creating culinary delights provides an abundance of light warming the celebration like a huge candle atop a cake made for a princess.

Cops cruising by, pointing their spotlights, scoping out the delight, but only meeting a paper plate of savory treasures. They’re appreciative and confess,

“Our badges have become too heavy to wear!”

“What about winter?”

“Ah, it’s hell, man.”

“Don’t listen to that dude, baby.

It’s the same peeps, eats, just turning the metal barrel barbecues into sidewalk space heaters, and icey cold drinks become soul warming liquor laced liquid treats. 

Same vibe wearing heavy clothing.”

I was dancing, eating, and loving inside a far out, freaky fraction of urban blight.

The bass tone to the jam was the incessant din of cars racing along the superhighway above us like subatomic particles blasted through a particle accelerator designed to crash into each other revealing the God Particle.

Sweet baby mama draws me near and whispers,

“That elusive particle is ethereal and found inside every human heart.”

I shout upwards towards the overpass,

“Crawl out of the Petri dish, stand firmly on both legs, and head over to the party at Boadyland!

I heard Galileo, Hawking, and Feynman might show.”

image by Harry Rajchgot

Dolphins of the Ganges

Dolphins of the Ganges

R.P. Singletary

In the midst of the warm winter sun, we ate and slept along the waters of the Ganges, dreaming of the river’s famed, elusive inhabitants. Smartphones stowed, computers and voicemail and traffic forgotten, this trip counted a lifetime in its making. Lying there with the heat of the mid-day’s rays casting an aura around her dimmed glow, she sighed. Ananyā turned her face into the pillow that the boatman had provided. “Watch for the susu,” he’d advised yesterday. She cuddled into the blanket, away from the sunny heat. I saw my chest move, felt my lungs breathe. I was breathing again, no longer holding my breath, wondering mistakes of the past. Nights of camping stretched into days of lounging, the boatman and his pal doing all the work, cooking, cleaning, paddling. Rudra had arranged it all. He wouldn’t take a single rupee, saying only, “That’s not how we do things here.” Thousands of miles away from his one-time home of Atlanta, my old chum now back in Delhi lived the definition of Southern hospitality when he arranged our trip. I tried, got frustrated, even with the internet, over the internet. Too many choices, too many chances, and whom could I trust so far away? The ordeal of Ananyā’s sorrow had capsized my tendency to stay afloat, so I turned things over to Rudra.


“Yes, I’m here. I’m right here,” I said.

“Of course you are.” She reached for my right hand, which had always been within her reach. She grasped it with her left, squeezed it, sighed, collapsed back into the blankets – a routine I knew all too well, by this point in the journey.

“The ceremony was perfect,” she said.

“I know,” I replied.

Looking out over the landscape, I envied the constancy of the blooming mustard plants. Everywhere you looked: yellow atop green, high above the riverbanks. The wind danced into nature’s colors and always returned them to their proper place, yellow atop green. I didn’t want to consider their larger cycle. Come harvest time, they too would be cut down, replaced by their offspring the following season.

“I miss him,” Ananyā said. I extended my hand again, yet held my thought to myself, caressing only her hand.

“There will never be another like your Dad, I know,” I wobbled my head sideways in the way Indians have a tendency of wanting to do. She smiled. “You love me. If I ever doubted, I can no longer remember that time. This is what I needed, exactly what we needed. Thank you.”

Svaagat hai,” I replied. She smiled, again. I leaned into her and this time, for a moment, she held me.  She smelled of peace.

While her father lived, Ananyā could only love him. Her mother died giving birth to her, bequeathing Ananyā a lifelong legacy of motherlessness and only-child syndrome. Both of Ananyā’s parents came from very large families, all of whom had turned out for our wedding. In typical Indian fashion, several festive days of marital events combined generations and centuries of secrets, traditions, colors, fragrances – altogether, sensory overload for my family’s Christian half of the extravagant party. Her cousin, trained in opera, sang ancient Sanskrit lessons. With prompting by an aunt of my bride, one of my cousins arranged flowers, four floral pillars representing four stabilizing parents. My Garden Club mother still talks about the roses, carnations, marigolds. When he saw the four pillars in the chapel, Ananyā’s father said his wife, finicky as she was about flowers and ritual, would have approved.

Ananyā never fussed. She grew into the perfect child. She knew that because of her birth, her parents’ marriage had ceased. That’s how her sensitive spirit and precocious mind worked, and she tried to simplify all things into clear-cut, cause-and-thus-effect, this-leads-to-that. At a young age, she told me, she felt immense brokenness from her father, so she set about to achieve, to make her father proud, so he, unlike her mother, would never abandon her. That was how her young mind thought, she told me. Needless to say, she far exceeded any modern father’s imagination of filial success, from son or daughter. She lived up to her father’s family name, but also to her own: Ananyā, in her ancient language, meaning having no equivalent. The daughter-father bond merely strengthened over the decades, despite the distance after we married.

“Do you want to say anything?” she asked me last week, on the flight from Delhi to Varanasi.

“About what?”

“At the ceremony.”

I had never considered this an option. In so many traditional ways, I remained the outsider here. Since the new prime minister, things were changing even faster, yet millennia of tradition lay rooted, blooming and perfuming and incensing all of life here.

“I really don’t know what’s appropriate,” I said to her.

“Oh, I think in this day and time, just about anything is.”

“Even in Varanasi?” I asked.

Oh, my God. I don’t know. I’ve never been.” We laughed. My wife had seen more of the United States than she had of her ancestral lands.

An American Southerner by birth, I had read all of Twain’s works before turning sixteen. Somehow I remembered his description of the holy Hindu city: Older than history, older than the tradition of history, older even than the dirt where the tradition started, something like that. When we’d first arrived there, I didn’t think much of the place. I kept looking for unique evidence, museum-quality proof, but living remnants to justify Twain’s assessment and locals’ claims that their city was, in fact, the world’s oldest continuously inhabited, still-active city. My silent assessment: too dirty, in broad daylight or subtle moonlight; too real, at any and every hour of day or night, when cremated smoke fluttered heavenward through birds scavenging nutrient-rich, murky waters. As with India, as with the American South, we all have our rituals. Outsiders devote lifetimes to deciphering us, or trying to–

Ever true to his claim, unseen friend Rudra had handled with aplomb every detail of our trip.  The long-haul flight from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson to Delhi’s Indira Gandhi, the shorter flight on to Varanasi and its sparkling new terminal, the polite driver with bottles of water and the comfy SUV ride into the age-old city, the stay at the guesthouse adjacent to the Manikarnika Ghat. We arrived in time to say our final good-byes, but it would all be over for us too in a few days, and we’d soon be following our earlier path, yet this time in reverse.

“Rudra, what are you doing here?” I said, startled to see him entering the lobby of the guesthouse. “We were about to go out for a stroll.”

“I decided to surprise y’all.”

Y’all sounds so quaint over here, Rudra,” Ananyā teased him before hugging him.

“This is so out of the way for you to be here,” I interjected, shaking his hand. “It’s not like Delhi is just a float down the river.”

“I had to go to Bihar for work.”

“What a lovely surprise!” Ananyā said.

“Nice to see you in such spirits, Ananyā.”

“Rudra, you didn’t have to–”

“Rudra,” I said, “really, truly, you didn’t have to do this. You’ve already done so much.”

“In all truthfulness, I’d never been to Varanasi. I couldn’t be outdone by a couple of friends from Atlanta!”

“Too funny,” my wife and I said at the same time.

On our walk, Rudra gingerly relayed rumors that the family in charge of the central fire for Varanasi cremations was Muslim. Talk of that kind living for long in this country surprised me, but as fiction often mothers truth, I wobbled my head. 

“I think you’re talking about the Muslims who hold the keys to the Holy Sepulchre church in Jerusalem,” I said.

Rudra wobbled in kind. He said he’d already arranged the priest and torch-bearers upon his arrival. Everything would be perfect, as it had been for all of our visit, no need for worry.

I thought I knew India, married one of her beauties, familiar with much of its history, a speaker of thoda thoda Hindi, and oh, I can count: shoonya, ek, do, teen, char, panch….Preparing for the cremation unveiled a side of this world still very foreign to me: “Isn’t it lovely?” seldom crossed my mind as a question during funerals back home. “Isn’t it lovely?” the erstwhile funeral director kept mumbling, while preparing the body’s shroud and stoking the nearby fire. “Isn’t it lovely.” This time as a statement. “It is time. Chalo.” We followed.

I thought I knew death, helping bury three of my grandparents and an unknown number of cousins, but the eternal flames of old Varanasi and the tears of my modern and beautifully sad Indian-American wife conspired to conjure other definitions. Life, still so precious, despite our similar shades of differing wants. The purifying body of my father-in-law burned in front of me, and all I could think of saying remained unsaid. It was true for all of us there, my wife, me, and Rudra, who had respectfully distanced himself during the cremation. I held Ananyā’s hand. We both knew he had lived a good life. This man, who moved across time zones – a full day’s journey even by plane – to try to be with his sole daughter, but eventually did not take to Western ways and returned home before it was too late for him. I now saw that he loved me, too, because I loved her. I finally got it, despite our differences and our quarrels. The beauty of life, the transcendence of generations, the lore of Kālidāsa and Shakespeare, the lure of empire, its timelessness we all seek.

Georgia so far away, the Ganges nearby, I looked at Ananyā, her bindi proudly in place, a tribute to her father. Eventually, we stepped away from one another, the immensity of the ceremony needing room to breathe, as if fanning a flame. A single tear coagulated on her left cheekbone, suspending time. Our eyes locked. She removed the red dot. Her bindi traded her father for me, a tribute to all three. The piney wafts of burning sandalwood chided me, changed me into child, back to South Carolina pine-land forest fires, the smells of pine sap mixed with charred bark. I reached for her father; I looked for my own. Ananyā’s light sobbing awakened me from my stupor. Rudra motioned. I moved closer to my wife, resplendent in the glories of her native land, her white sari billowed, her father’s saffron wrapping extinguished. Father and daughter, united until the end. Eventually, she reached for my hand again, and I clasped it before kissing her palm. Marigolds fell to the ghat, color atop dirt, life surrounding death. This incredible India, this exotic beauty I married, I loved them both like never before. We kissed.

For the final night of our stay several days after the cremation, we camped along the river, a safe and considerable distance upstream from the city and its crowds. We supped, as we could, on the usual fare of dal, rice, cucumber, paratha, veg achari, tea – but no meat, no alcohol on the holy river. The boatman reminded us of the river dolphins, ever shy those creatures, and we gazed out into the darkening water, as he waved his hands like a magician.

“They love gud people – gud people verrry, verrry much, they love. They will come ’round, e’en if you do not see them. They will feel you. You will feel them. This is gud, verrry, verrry gud, this is.”

We looked, but saw no dolphins, and later that night, we dreamt. Playful, finned creatures of the Ganges frolicked in our dreams. They consoled us. Serenading by the moonlight, they cheered us on in the modern cycle of life, in still yet more ancient and mysterious ways.

image by Jake Levinson

the city beautiful

the city beautiful  

brian michael barbeito  

for Tara  

Every angel is terrifying.  

-Rainer Maria Rilke  

part one, the rabbit county and the angel that never was 

I enter the long winding roads of Prince Edward County. the destination is a house built on the water, industrial chic, and with Art Deco paintings and ornaments. I know I will pen belles lettres at some point, episodic epistolaries about the good and bad, fleshed out from napkin notes and field journals. I have to in order to frame my experience, if even for only myself. it seems that all around are dark brown rabbits. they blend at first with the summer chaparral and the shrubs, the dense thickets and the long adjacent field both. I sometimes slow to a stop for I don’t want to hurt any of them. go rabbit, go, I think and sometimes say, away from the danger of the vehicle. there is no signage and even the locals don’t know about the place. it is only for the elite but I am a guest. a guest in another world. there are eagles that fly around out back because there is a nest. in the county, there are wine vineyards and lots of space. one has to drive everywhere. I am an artist, a creative, a photographer and writer-poet, and wish that I was driven and not having to focus on the driving itself. an impossibly large turkey vulture alights and waits atop an abandoned barn. I stop to take a photograph. there is nothing for miles in every direction. the vulture flies away. they don’t eat rabbits that run through fields. they eat roadkill, dead things. I have a feeling that the county itself is a ruse or racket or empty vision. a bit of a dead thing if something could be a bit dead. but later a driver picks us up and we go for dinner at restored affluent hotel. pickerel. fresh obviously. soft lighting and clinks of glasses. but strange. these for the most part are not my friends and we have little if anything in common. I am as well read as any of them but would rather not say. some of them are bright spiritually, which surprised me, and a few are not and border on darkness. I like the rabbits and the eagles moreso. run rabbit run, i pensively wander in my mind’s eye, and fly eagle fly, over the lake pristine and somehow lonesome, yes the lonely lake in the county. on the way back the moon is shining full and brightly over an old brick movie theatre and lighted marquee, and through a series of clouds that frame it all. mysterious. whimsical. saturnine and sanguine at once. oh moon. more people have been enlightened during the full moon than at any other time. crestfallen seems the day when the night is endowed with its brand of magic. nature’s night anyhow, not the social reality of humans. soon we are travelling and I tell the driver to stop and everybody wonders why. there is a large deer in the road that nobody saw. the driver, a woman, thanks me. ‘You have the keenest of eyes and a quick word,’ says the rich man, and I tell him thanks. the industrial chic house, a mansion, has all the switches and faucets one would think of, but because of the design, everything is hidden. and there is no balcony. I don’t like it. I long for normalcy. it is far past nightfall and the rabbits must move as rabbits do, but under the moon. rabbits watching the witching hour. if there is an angel around the angel is hidden. the angel of place is absent. does not speak to me. in the wind or in the reeds or even through the rabbits. I am stuck. I have missed something or it has missed me. and if the moon knows a secret it keeps it to itself. how lonesome and spiritually vacuous seems the county that I have no affinity for. ~~~ 

part two, the rich lagoon and the angel that had to leave 

outside or the lagoon the roads travel long and straight. the sides are farm fields or forests. fields house clapboard barns atop 

concrete forms and most are the foundations for faded wood. what it was like for the generations that farmed there I know little of, but place usually has a spirit and one can sense at the least rough goodness in the terrain and air. whatever is there, good and bad, is not disingenuous but rather wholly confident in itself, in its own being. it is ironic that they say, ‘…salt of the earth,’ when there is not much actual salt around those towns. I can see the old style petroleum stations with faded signs and ways, open but soon to close and be taken over by multi national conglomerates. the two worlds old and new stand in many ways next to one another. Osho said that when it comes to people, centuries live contemporaneously. too true. and also true of places, their mise en scene and their spirit. they might create a mall and subdivisions, urban sprawl, for such things climb out of areas like a cancer spreading and take over healthy pastoral lands. all our cells and bones are susceptible. who cares for instance about the old stone walled church where some priest grey and bent over the lectern gives his exegesis? nowadays it’s the gospel of pure materialism people can only hear. inside the lagoons, past the trains and their tracks, is a large series of waterways built in the 1970’s at the same time I was borne. there can be no basements on a marshland. I used to fish there and live there sometimes. the corner store had friendliness and good prices, and next door to that, an actual ice cream place. I would walk all around with book in hand, Conrad, Heller, Steinbeck, Camus, so on, all the rest, the usual suspects, trying to teach myself. little aluminum vessels bob and away inside the light of day and receive say, the summer robust but also soon the borne autumnal air cool and its leaves orange red yellow brown green fallen but then leavened by the lee of branches over the ground in a dance of unseen but heard and discerned whimsical whistling wind winding like a spectre. phantoms in the courtyard. spirits in the far off ripples on the lake face. I want to know what is all there. too shy to talk to people, I stayed to myself. the affluent houses, some not three but four stories tall, and the sailboats and fifty, sixty foot power boats wait outside. I like instead an army type boat, something boxy and from another generation, maybe like the toys I played with as a child or the ones in comics I read. something. something soulful. rivets exposed and you can see the welds and store strong things. not this sleek fibreglass fakery of the rich. it’s precisely your figurative and literal scar that makes you interesting. show me your cicatrix. oh well. there were more square vessels before. they are disappearing. now they are a lark, ‘…oh look at that isn’t it neat?’ for a while the angel was there, this I know. in and about the books and the sandy shore and even the shore walls inside the lagoon. the goodness of a Saturday afternoon. energy. benevolent Sunday sun. sleeping. walking. reading. fishing. life worked out. but looking around the rope bridge and the canals, I can’t find the angel of place, that old angel that spoke to me in non linguistic ways. I can’t quite catch my stride or find my way. why did the angel leave and where did it go? did I do something wrong? ‘This place has changed,’ I tell the old and sagacious man, ‘you used to be able to go for a walk and buy an ice cream cone or bag of milk, but it’s all closed down due to high rent and has been for a long time now.’ he smiles and says, ‘Don’t you know everything changes? That was a long time ago.’ I just nod. but I don’t like it. maybe he is right. a long time ago it was. and everything changes. but I don’t like his answer. maybe because the simplicity and truth of it hurts somehow. I don’t know for sure, but I want to find the angel. I want to feel how I felt before. yet the angel has left. no note of explanation was provided. I was left alone to figure out what time and change, innocence and maturation, karma and providence and the fates mean. it was a tall order, w/no teacher. and all I had really wanted to do was maybe go for a walk and get an ice cream cone.  

part three, the city beautiful and the angel ever present  

immediately I can sense the angel. then she shows herself. she is in not one thing or place but in all things. I can smell and taste the Floridian air, the air of my childhood and even beyond. the angel has not left or become coy, been defeated or ignored, but is omnipresent. I look up, and breathe. the sunlight shines upon the parapets and interlock, the cement and the verdant palm leaves that sway a bit for the humid breeze. i am in Orlando. but Orlando is in me also, and that is part of the secret. like a beloved. I never stopped loving her. even when she was far away I held her close. I refused to let her go. pox to those who say let the past be the past. and pox to the entire spiritual canon and all conventional wisdom if need be. i choose only the mystic sensibility, and I love always the angel. she is in the water, for can’t you see the ripples illumined by the bright of day? she is in the conversations of the good hearted and in the dusk when the electrical lights blink on against the stormy mood ridden firmament capricious, unpredictable. what will it do? feel that wind? it is ancient. it is a spirit. it is an angel. the cab driver says, ‘If I can say one thing for sure in fifteen years of doing this, it’s that everyone wants to come here, from all over the world!’ and I nod and say simply ‘Ya.’ soon I walk the lakes and see the flora and fauna, herons and smaller birds, lizards, and even a wild alligator that is fed up with me for trying to take its picture and soon leaves under the water again. the sun warms. I see immense lands of wealth, opulence, even decadence, but that’s not my problem, for it’s the air and sense of nature ancient and hard to name atmospheric sense I am after. and I find it. in the walkways and near the indigenous trees utterly and continently green and thick with leaves that scream health and beauty. in the gates and pool pump motor sound and sometimes smiles of others. at the outdoor stores someone calls me and I turn to see. ‘You. Hey you, come here,’ and the woman looks a bit like a famous singer. ‘Me?’ ‘Ya you, I want to talk to you.’ i go over as told. she has a kiosk. ‘You want a vape?’ I tell her I have one. and cigarettes. lots nicotine. she frowns. ‘Okay then. is that all you smoke, just nicotine?’ ‘Yes.’ She gives the same frown. it’s fun and funny and in jest, telling me I am a bit of a nerd for not smoking anything stronger. she is more down than I am. soon i move on and she keeps waving at me here and there. but it’s a higher angelic presence than woman or drug, than even music or poetic word, that I listen and watch for. and it is there. it is everywhere there. thick grasses and roads and buildings have received the rains. it is hurricane season. wondrous. magical. powerful. insightful. beyond psychological sets. it is mystic. the skies are a major arcana, The Magician, manifesting much,- sun moon storm clarity cloud bird plane hope inspiration danger caution and other and all. and the grounds are wild with love. I breathe. I can breathe again for a bit. I am in the midst of the light. I am in the city beautiful and have returned to where I belonged. see, for better and worse, things are always right, if you are in the presence of the angel. 


image by Brian Michael Barbeito

Postcard from the Exile

Postcard from the Exile

Michael Loyd Gray

      Aaron often sent postcards to his parents in America, Alice and Randall Wahlgren. The family traced quite a ways back to Sweden. They weren’t famers but lived in a two-story farmhouse five miles south of town at a crossroads. The postcards cost a quarter at a Winnipeg Texaco station and a Queen Elizabeth stamp cost six cents. It was easier than writing letters, didn’t require envelopes, and postcards were too small for explaining much, which was a relief to him. 

     He never quite knew what to say in his postcards and always jotted a few breezy lines about seeing the sights and even mentioned he had picked up some French. He vaguely wondered whether anyone in the two postal services read his postcards. Did they guess he was a draft dodger? He supposed there could be many postcards flowing back to the States.

     He sometimes included French expressions in the postcards but stopped after a while when he figured it would just confuse them. And he worried it might make him seem pretentious. His father mistrusted the French, even though he’d never met any. The French were certainly a rung or two above the Japanese on his ladder, but it was a ladder with many rungs. 

     Aaron never said anything in the postcards about coming home. Or when. When he could, he once wrote. But just that once, fearing it would be seen as a commitment. He always wrote that he was okay and working hard and they shouldn’t worry, but he knew they did. Mostly, he knew they didn’t quite understand why he was gone. He ended each postcard with “Your loving son Aaron.”

     Mostly, the postcards were photos taken in le Vieux Saint-Boniface, but a few times, he mailed photos of The Forks, where the Red and Assiniboine rivers mingled at the heart of the city. He liked going to The Forks on a Saturday for lunch in a café along the riverfront. He could get lost in the milling crowds and pretend he was Canadian. It was easier than pretending to be French. 

     One day he lingered in The Forks until evening and went to a bar with a stage and saw a band he’d heard of – The Guess Who. The song that made him reflect on his life so far was “No Time Left for You.” He hadn’t known the band was from Winnipeg. The song stayed in his head for days and he heard it on the radio. Sometimes he sang the lyrics to himself.

     But on Saturdays when he felt like being alone, when maybe a little homesickness crept in, and uncertainty, too, he would walk across the Esplanade Riel bridge spanning the Red River and stop to look down and wave to himself reflected in the water. If the river was rippled from a breeze, he would look wavy, indistinct – rubbery. Faceless, too. The Red River, he learned, was deceptive: it looked placid – tame — but had dangerous, swift undercurrents. 

     Once, he sent his parents a postcard of Lake Manitoba, a large lake northwest of Winnipeg. Quite a hike out from the city. But he’d never been there. He didn’t have a car, didn’t need one, and figured he’d never get up to the lake anyway. But the lake’s water was deep blue in the postcard, and he thought his mother would appreciate the color. He could picture it fastened on her fridge with a magnet. She collected them. Her favorite was a road runner magnet she got in Phoenix, Arizona, when she was a teenager on a school trip. 

     Aaron believed that his mother understood his absence better than his father, a World War II Navy veteran who was at the Battle of Iron Bottom Sound off Guadalcanal. He had the ribbons to prove his patriotism, kept in shiny cases on the mantle. The ribbons and medals rested in velvet, and he often showed them to guests. He’d won the Navy Cross and even Aaron knew that was a big deal. He kept the Navy Cross in a case on an end table next to his favorite easy chair, within reach. His father once absently said the Navy Cross was the biggest thing that would ever happen in his whole life. 

     His father’s dress unform, neatly pressed, still hung in a closet, and he kept several empty 20mm shell casings on the mantle. The casing came from rounds fired from his destroyer at a Japanese Zero. His father had manned the gun and the crew cheered, he said, when he brought the plane down. It was not the first one he’d shot down. There was a framed photo of the ship on the mantle. The words “Dead Jap” were painted on each casing. Aaron assumed his father painted them, but he never asked. He didn’t think it would be useful to know. Or desirable.

     His father’s destroyer had passed by the Zero’s floating wreckage and the red meatball insignia was still visible on the plane’s sinking fuselage. It was a story Aaron heard his father tell guests many times. Some of the ship’s crew lined up at the railing and saw the Japanese pilot floating face down in the ocean, his flying cap still on his head. His father said they felt nothing but contempt for him. He got what was coming to him. The sharks were welcome to the maggot bastard. He was just a damn Jap. A dead damn Jap. The best kind. The only kind worth a tinker’s damn. 

      Aaron had never met any Japanese, but he always hated his father’s story about the pilot. He knew the war had been just, necessary, but he couldn’t connect to the hatred. He figured part of that was because there had been no Pearl Harbor for Vietnam. Vietnam seemed more like a campfire no one paid attention to until it somehow grew into a forest fire, and no one could quite explain why. 

     During good weather, his father made a point every morning of running the stars and stripes up a small flagpole next to the front door of their house. He would stand very erect and salute it instead of merely placing his hand over his heart. But sometimes, he did both. He didn’t allow his family to speak during the ceremony. His father wasn’t a churchgoer, but Aaron suspected the flag ceremony was worship.

     He retrieved the flag at dusk and made Aaron help him fold it according to proper regulations. It was always a solemn ceremony, taking down the colors. It reminded his father of serving aboard his destroyer. He said he preferred the regimented life aboard ship. Things were clear-cut. Black and white. Civilian life had too many gray areas for him. He had the same factory job making farm equipment since he got out of the Navy in 1945. But to Aaron it always seemed like he’d never left his ship. Aaron and his mother were his crew. His father wore gray overhauls with his name on a breast pocket to work every day. It was a uniform.   

     Aaron’s mother respected the flag ceremony but was otherwise indifferent. To Aaron, folding the flag was like mowing the lawn, a task he had to do and disliked, but his father saw it as essential elements to building his character. He had a teacher, Mr. Small, who said people were born with whatever character they were capable of. He didn’t much believe in character building. Mr. Small had never gone to war, his father said, and there was a lesson in that. Aaron never knew just what the lesson was. It wasn’t like his father to explain things. It was always his way or the highway.

     Aaron’s mother sent him handwritten letters instead of postcards, explaining that the few postcards at the drug store were mostly about barns and farmland, or flocks of geese and ducks, things he had already seen and knew, and anyway she preferred the extra space of a letter. She kept him abreast of family doings, of what his favorite cousin, Jack, was up to — farming. She said she wasn’t sure what hippies were, but they sounded like mostly gentle people who didn’t shower enough. The year before there had been a big concert in New York, she said, at a place called Woodstock. People still missed The Beatles. 

     She said she did, too.

mage coutesy The Forks (Manitoba) image gallery



John Grey

There are no songbirds

for what’s there to sing about.

Only pigeons remain,

in the rafters

or under the eaves

of every building in town.

There are few trees

and the intermittent crack of rifles

is enough to drive every curious

finch or sparrow or starling

back into the distant woods.

And an explosion can come

any time, any place.

Even the churches

provide no sanctuary.

Nor is the sky itself

safe from stray bullets.

Most measure wars

in the number killed,

the graves sprouting like crocuses

on battlegrounds more wintery

than winter itself

But some tally up the cost

by listening to what’s not there.

Ears attuned to the lark,

they hear only the

squabble-like coo of the pigeons

Amidst the war,

the dove of peace

is merely the dove

that knows no better.

image by Harry Rajchgot




Maryanne Chrisant


We stayed at the old Hotel Colon that overlooked the Barcelona Cathedral, two hundred paces across the square, as we waited out the contagion. We had come for an international medicine meeting, or at least we had told that story—he to his wife, me to my sons and their reluctant father, my ex. We’d be in Spain for just a week. We slipped in just before the virus, but then it came quickly and we waited to leave, quarantined in the hotel. The cathedral was closed, the shops shuttered. The square was curfewed after sunset.

Quarantine, from the Italian, “quarantina”—a forty-day period of isolation marking time for latent cases of infection to exhaust their virulence. Forty days.

Our corner room was near the top of the hotel. It had a small Juliet balcony where we would stand, huddled together naked under the same blanket, to watch the stars over the now-dark city. We’d arise at madrugada—dawn—when the square held only stray cats, lean in their desire, and the old priest walking slowly to an empty cathedral.

I watched my lover—standing at our perch, the blanket robed his shoulders as he leaned his hands on the wrought iron balustrade. The air was moist, cool. He pulled the blanket around him, leaned out further. His face half turned. His lips moved.

Madrugada. The light that isn’t yet,” he said, and returned to our bed.

I curled under his arm, under the blanket. He pulled me to him.

“You are my—Madrugada.” 


I held out a cup of coffee.

“The hotel is running out of food,” I said. “I overheard the kitchen staff.”

“Are you sure?”

“I know the difference between hay comida and no hay comida.”

“As long as they have coffee.” He smiled. 

Except in our room, we wore masks—indoors and on the street. We ate outside on the patio beneath the locust tree at the table that had become “ours.” 

“Is there any truth,” he asked in Spanish of the maître d’hotel who showed us to our table, “that the restaurant is running out of food?”

“Yes, but no. We have less of many things, like butter, like milk. We have plenty of other things, like flour, like soup. So no, we are not running out. Today we have grapes.” 

We were masked until our food came. Coffee—hot, strong, black—bread, cheese, and round, tart grapes.

We recognized the same twenty people stranded in the hotel. We nodded, we smiled. We kept to ourselves. 

We’d known one another for thirty years. He didn’t want to calculate my age. People would look at us, holding hands, our public kisses deep as we sat alone in the twilight. It was hardly worth hiding as the world was being overtaken by this virus that no one yet understood. 

Our rooms were our own territory. We changed our own sheets, cleaned our own toilets, all to avoid contact. We couldn’t leave the city. There were no cars to let, no buses, no taxis, no flights out.

We made love. We wrote. We read and re-read each other’s stories and day-old newspapers. We walked around the square and sometimes down empty, hidden streets. We made love. The quarantine was tolerable, in the absence of milk.


My sons and I texted. 

“Are you eating?” 

“Yes, we’re eating.”

“More than ice cream and chips?”

A yellow smiley face. A thumbs-up.

“Is your father taking care of you?”

My sons—in high school and nearly grown. Back home, their grudging father kept a vague eye on their activities as I waited out the contagion.

In the afternoon the French doors were shaded with green painted shutters covered with ivy. Dappled sunlight fell on us, on the bed fragrant with our scents. This room, this place, this bed, our sex. 

Occasionally his wife would call. He would stand on the balcony and talk, his reassuring lies rolled like soft thunder through the French doors. 

“You’re angry,” he said, coming back in. He stripped out of his jeans and lay down on the bed. 

“I’m not angry,” I said. “But this will never change.” 

I moved to the other side of the bed to get up. He held my leg.

“I’ve been with her too long. She’s, we’re—old.”

“I was young when I met you.” I laughed.

“You still are.”

I laid a hand on his bare chest.


Viral coils tied a noose around the city. There were no hospital beds for the sick. The dead were waiting in trucks. 

For the healthy few at the hotel, the lack was progressive. One day, no soap. The next, no shampoo. Then the flour. No bread. At least there was coffee. And grapes. 

At the embassy we stood in line. Our turn was futile. There was no pressure from the United States to return their citizens. The president’s bluster could not wish this virus away. The nearing readiness of a vaccine whispered to us like the promise of milk. BBC news projected December. Could we live seven months more without milk?

We wandered the Via Laietana looking for open shops. Down the Carrer dels Mercaders, Merchants Street, we found a small store that sold local produce out of a back window. Given the mandatory closings this was likely illegal, but we willingly paid too much for a bag of oranges, a day-old loaf of bread, lemon soap, olive oil, and a wedge of Manchego. As we paid, I saw an old mercury thermometer that hung in a dusty package next to the toothbrushes. 

“Most people, they don’t know what this is,” the shopkeeper told us. He was sturdy; his face was flushed. He wore a mask and dirty latex gloves. He coughed.


A few days later, we heard the tienda had gotten twelve bottles of milk from a local farm. He headed back for milk. I watched him from the balcony. Waving as he smiled up at me, his jaunty walk leading the sidewalk by the empty street. 

We’d just made love. Each time was like the first, thirty years ago. Each time—we were swimming under warm water but breathing—and the sunlight, the dappling shadows surrounded us in confused patterns.

I thought of this and him, his walk, his smile. 

It was then I realized he’d forgotten his mask.


Two days later he awoke, sweating and hot. I fed him two antipyretics and cold water. He slept fitfully, then awoke with chills. I had steroids and antibiotics, an inhaler, a stethoscope, and an oxygen monitor. Just in case. Something about being a doctor. Something about this virus. Something about love.

I stood alone on the balcony watching madrugada. Watching the stray cats. 

Where was the priest? 

Who would say mass? 

A thousand prayers swirled in this city already lost.

He moaned. I held his hand. 

“No,” he said, pulling it away.

“Yes,” I said, taking it again. “What hurts?”

“Everything,” he coughed. “My back, my legs. I think I have to pee…”

“Under your tongue, first,” I said, putting the thermometer in his mouth. Three minutes later it read 103. 

I helped him stand and walk a few wobbling steps to the toilet.

“I got it.”

“No, baby,” I said. “If you fall you’ll have to stay where you lay. Sit. Pee.”

He obeyed. 

“I can’t,” he said. 

“You need water and salt,” I said. “Let’s get you back to bed.”

He pulled at the blanket. 

“No covers,” I said. I placed a cold, wet cloth on his head and chest.

I called the kitchen. I asked that they leave a tray with a pot of hot water, honey, lemon, salt, and some food. Anything. A short time later the waiter delivered the tray, apologizing through the door for the absence of tea bags and the meager meal. I mixed the salt, the honey, the lemon with the warm water, and poured it over ice. 

I made him drink.

“That’s a lot of salt.” He almost smiled, but coughed. “Tastes awful.”

“Volume expansion,” I said. 

He was pale. His eyes were hollow. I put my head to his chest, listening to his heart beat. 

“Well?” he said. 

“Fast. But you have a fever and you’re dehydrated.”

He was breathing fast from the exertion of sitting up in bed, drinking, talking. 

I took the stethoscope from my bag. I listened to his lungs. Coarse crackles, like paper rumpling, took the place of the gentle “swoosh” of breath.

He watched my face. 

I dug the sat monitor out of my bag and clipped it to his finger. We waited, staring at the blinking blue light that finally settled on ninety-four. I wrote this down on a hotel pad, with the day, the time.

“You’ll live,” I said. 

“For now.” He smiled. “I—don’t want—to go to a hospital.”

“I know.”

“Use—everything you brought,” he said.


We managed. 

I fed him doses of antipyretics and steroids as he drank salty honey water, and slowly ate cut oranges. We watched the news on BBC and some Spanish program only he could understand. We slept.

I called to the kitchen for food. Half an hour later it appeared on the floor outside the door. Vegetable soup, biscuits, cheese, and grapes. I fed him the soup. We shared bottles of orange Fanta.

His mouth was less dry. His heart rate was slower. Every two hours—temperature, heart rate, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate. Simple numbers. The first page on the hotel notepad filled. I started the next. And the next.

Nights passed. Cough, fever. Saltwater brew. Vegetable soup. 

After four hotel pad pages, the fever was lower. His urine was not as dark. His eyes weren’t as hollow. 

Standing at the balcony I watched the growing daylight. Only cats walked the square. 

“What is it?” he coughed out from the bed.

“You may make it,” I said. “As long as your fever goes down and your lungs hold.”

“They’re one of my best organs,” he coughed.


In the night he awoke, calling my name. 

“I have to throw up,” he said.

I pushed the trash can under him. All that came up was water and the little bit of soup. The sheets suffered. We hobbled, cobbled together, to the bathroom, where he sat on a towel on the floor, next to the toilet. I held his head. Unremitting vomiting.

We slept on the bathroom floor, on towels, a pillow. 

A night light. Ice in a bucket. I gave him sips of salty broth and kept him from drowning. 

I dreamed I was drowning, different from our water dreams. My head laid back on the tile wall, his head on the pillow beside me. Cool-water washcloths on his head, his chest, turned hot too fast. I didn’t want to measure his temperature. 

He talked as he slept. He talked. His eyes open but not seeing. 

He awoke. He vomited. 

He slept in his delirium. 

Each time sleep replaced my awake, I drowned. The oppressive weight of the water against my chest. I slipped deeper. I couldn’t breathe. I’d been like this before, not breathing under the weight. I struggled to follow the light that came from—up.

Sunlight, through the bathroom door. 

I awoke. I had slipped down to the floor, his head on my chest as he slept. His fever had broken; his forehead was cool. We were both wet with his sweat.

He opened his eyes.

“My fever is gone,” he said. 

I nodded, my hand on his cool skin.

“Was I awful?”

“You called me by her name,” I said.

“I was delirious.”

“Yes. But—”

“I don’t love her that way.”

“And yet you called for her.”

“Did I know you, at all?”

“Yes. In your sightless seeing—you knew me.”

I held his hand to my cheek and kissed it. 

“Now sleep.” He put his head on my chest. “Word came. We have a plane.”


“A week. You must be well enough. We must be. We have to be tested at the airport before boarding.”

“How long have I been—”

“Days. Days and days. A week.”

“Why aren’t you sick?”



“My boys. We were all sick—a few weeks before I left. That’s my best guess.”

“Acquired immunity because you’re a mother.”

“Yes. And luck.”



“Is quarantina over?”

“Yes. Almost.”

Forty. Forty days in the desert spent the Christ. Forty weeks’ gestation grows the fetus into a baby. Forty days passing quarantine in a hotel in Barça.


We flew back sitting next to each other. We held hands, my arm linked through his, his head on my shoulder. Descending into JFK and the half-turn over the western edge of Brooklyn—

“She’ll be there,” he said.

He looked at me, above his mask. There were tears. 

I couldn’t see through my own.

Our faces touched, the last intimate contact. 

“I love you,” I said.

“Shhhh, Madrugada,” he answered.


In the airport, at baggage claim, my sons, ever casual, embraced me tighter than I expected. The ex-husband looked relieved. Seven weeks without alimony. Seven weeks as a parent.

Across the carousel I saw him embraced by a dark-haired, slender woman. I saw only her back. His arm around her, he looked at me over her shoulder. He didn’t stop looking at me—

My sons—were speaking. I—

I pointed to my bags, unwinding slowly down the main. 

I took a breath and looked again. 

He was gone.

I never saw him again.

image by Harry Rajchgot



Laurel Peterson

Charlene slouches into yet another 

poetry reading, because the guy’s a friend

and that’s what you do, even as she knows

she’s doing it to look good.

After, the moderator always lets

the group read their own poems,

but Charlene doesn’t want to stay

for their small, sorry expulsions of words

like the popping of zits, even if, once in a while,

someone captures a line 

as beautiful as a caged leopard. 

But tonight she sits in the wrong place,

and the needy woman whom she avoids like the flu

wants Charlene to read her poem, holds it up like a flag,

and Charlene’s exit explodes into a circus with her 

as the performing elephant. Even the next morning 

she feels the weight of it beneath her heart,

lonely and hard like fossilized bone. 

(Laurel Peterson)

image by Wendy Thomas

A Person of No Interest

A Person of No Interest

I’m walking down a street in my neighborhood when I spy, out of the corner of my eye, two policemen inspecting a car across the street. Looking more closely I see one of them is talking on the phone, calling in to headquarters, I guess. It could be that they’re issuing a parking ticket, but then maybe not. Maybe it’s something far worse, requiring more than just filing a routine report. Maybe they’re calling for backup. I’m curious and watch some more. Before I know it, the cop who’s on the phone picks up his head, stares at me, and then seemingly points in my direction. The two of them abruptly drop what they’re doing and move toward me, forgetting about the parking ticket, the driver, and whatever infraction the guy might have committed. I don’t understand what they could want from me, an average citizen, an honest taxpayer, but I’m not asking questions. I pick up the pace of my walk, glancing back every once in a while to see if they’re behind me, following. I know every inch of my little neighborhood in Queens, every street, alleyway, nook and cranny, just in case I need to duck out of sight. I don’t want to panic, and I shouldn’t panic, because what after all did I do? 

Maybe I did something improper and don’t know it.  

I could be unaware of a thousand things I’ve done wrong. Maybe I unconsciously committed a jaywalking offense, who knows? But that’s nothing—nothing for New York’s finest to get excited about. They wouldn’t waste their precious time. Mostly I’ve been minding my own business. Going to the post office to buy stamps. That’s all. It’s no crime. I have a slew of bills to pay and if I don’t get them in the mail in time my electric could be cut off and then my phone line, my gas, water, and God knows what else. Then, right after my visit to the post office, I have in mind to get a long overdue haircut.  I realize I don’t have much hair on my head, just on the sides, where it gets a bit unruly sometimes. Mostly my hair grows out of my nostrils and ears, but those hairs need trimming too, don’t they? As anyone can see, I lead a fairly normal life, going about my daily business like every other person, so why should I have anything to fear?

Perhaps they’ve mistaken me for someone else, a suspect in a crime or what they call a person of interest. I don’t know how I could interest them. All I know is that they’re headed in my direction and because of that I’m now jogging down the street. I gave up jogging years ago and never thought I’d be doing it again. But I see I have no choice. These two fresh-faced rookies, looking diligent and respectable as all hell, their blue uniforms clean and perfectly ironed, want to nail me for something, I just know it. I only hope it’s a big mistake, some wild coincidence, and if I slow up they’ll walk right past me, follow some other person, or perhaps hurry into a donut shop or wherever cops go when hunger suddenly hits them. But the fact is, I don’t want to take any chances. And so I speed up, turn a corner, go down the street, and then another.  

I’m practically sprinting now. I couldn’t care less about my old knee injury, the one I got from jogging barefoot on the beach one summer, on the hard sand incline just above where the water laps onto the shore. The hell with my knee, I say. I have pretty good instincts and know when I’m being followed, and, what’s more, I know the police can’t always be trusted. They’re coming and obviously they don’t want to lose track of me, so they move faster. I’m not sure why I don’t simply turn around and say, “Okay, fellows. I give up. Whatever I did wrong, please, don’t shoot.” But then again, maybe I just don’t want to know. Or I don’t want the humiliation of being asked a bunch of senseless questions by freshmen cops who most likely only want to win brownie points at the precinct, their real concern being not me but getting a pat on the back from their superior and possibly, down the road, a big fat promotion. They have their quotas for issuing parking tickets, so why not a quota for arrests? I’m an easy target, with my usual mild manner. So they think. They probably didn’t expect me to make such a getaway.   

I’m now far ahead of them. If I go down a side street perhaps I can lose them altogether. I can disappear into a store, slip out the back way and find myself in a safe alley where they could never capture me. Never. If I sound confident about my moves, my maneuvering, nothing can be further from the truth. I’m actually shivering with nervousness. I’m still boggled by what all this means, still scratching my head trying to comprehend what it is I’m being accused of, and I start to recall everything I did or failed to do most recently. One of my students, I know, got upset about a grade she received on a composition. I wouldn’t be surprised if she filed a complaint. She came to my office this past Wednesday, demanding an explanation about her low grade. I remember it well. I was leaning over the desk, leaning over perhaps a little too much, in order to point out her grammatical errors, not to mention all her abysmal mistakes in logic and organization. She could have assumed I was trying to get too close, that I was eyeing her inappropriately—peering, as she might have thought, down at her breasts, two ripe peaches half exposed beneath a tightly fitting red spandex shirt. And so there it was: her perfect opportunity to retaliate, to get back at an overly strict instructor, an unfair grader. That’ll show him. She could have easily dreamt up a story about me, about some lecherous old man preying on innocent youth. An elaborate story, no doubt. And now, well, now that I think about it, she probably does deserve a higher grade—for her vivid imagination, her creativity. Maybe I should explain to her that, yes, yes, she will be getting her grade boosted a notch or two, no problem there. I might indeed tell her, if I didn’t believe it was too late. For almost certainly she’s already reported me to the dean of student affairs, who probably in turn contacted the local authorities, and very likely that’s why two rookie cops are now chasing me, relentlessly, down the block. 

As I reach the row of shops I can hear them closing in. I’m sure they plan to nab me, wrestle me to the ground, cuff me, and then throw me in the slammer, not only for whatever they have against me but also for running away, resisting arrest. They probably have evidence, piles of it, for whatever I’ve done. I know I had not been a perfect man, far from it. My former wife, Bernice, could easily attest to that. And I haven’t been the best of friends to those who once considered me a friend. I realize I curse out loud too much. And often I say terrible things about politicians. I once wrote a scathing review of an NPR show I heard while driving on the Grand Central, and sent it to an editor. But can you be arrested for that? I’ve also done a good job annoying city councilmen about the bus noise in my neighborhood, the way the new buses continue to screech while turning corners or stopping at lights. That couldn’t have won me any friends in high places. And let’s not, of course, forget how I regularly pilfer boxes of chalk and Scotch tape from the English department supply room. It’s terrible, I know. And then, finally, there are my very thoughts to consider. Many of them could not be more poisonous. I don’t know any longer what you can say or not say, think or not think, without getting into legal trouble. Yes, I’m guilty of many things. I won’t deny it. 

All of this runs through my head as I sidle down a gravel path between two stores that leads to the back door of the barbershop, the same one I was about to visit after going to the post office. I’ve made it. Made it there in one piece, despite all the throbbing in my knee. Oh, that damn knee. I’ve outsmarted the two cops on my tail. They’ve no idea where I could have disappeared to, but they won’t exactly give up their search, will they, no, not a chance, they’ll be clever, they’ll hand out my description to residents in the neighborhood, post signs with a pencil drawing of my picture on it and, sure enough, someone, a person I know, will recognize me and tell the police my address and soon the same two cops, those young rookies, will buzz my door, climb the stairs to my cramped, second-floor bachelor apartment, the place I’ve lived in ever since Bernice and I split up for good, and they’ll ask me, politely, to “step out, sir, and come with us, please,” as they size me up and lead me down the stairs, out the building, and into a patrol car sitting by the curb. I can almost guarantee this will happen, and in the near future.  

But right now I hear a police siren and then some commotion from inside the barbershop and I realize the two cops on the beat are closer than I think. And while they wait for backup (more cops, more sirens) I guess they’re interviewing local shopkeepers, collecting more information. They’re probably, this minute, questioning the head barber and his assistants about whether they’ve seen anyone suspicious, anyone fitting my description—a middle-aged man, average height and weight, wearing an old pair of khaki jeans, a blue knit short sleeve shirt, and a New York Yankees baseball cap, which the suspect sometimes takes off to mop the perspiration from his balding head.

If that’s indeed what the police are doing in there, questioning the barbers, I don’t understand why there’s such a ruckus. Anyway I know it’s best to stay put, not try to escape down the gravel path, because I’d surely be caught coming out of this hiding place, or maybe on the way out, clumsy me, I’d bump into an aluminum garbage can and make all kinds of crashing noises, calling attention to myself. For a moment I think of jumping inside the garbage can, but as luck would have it, it’s filled to the top with hair cuttings. So I don’t move an inch. Try not to breathe. But it’s no help. The two policemen, the ones pursuing me, are now opening up the back door of the barbershop and I see there’s no way out. I’m caught. They stand there, eyes squinting. They’re looking at me curiously, surprised somebody’s in back of the store, and I figure my time is up. I wait for them to approach, to grab me and throw me to the ground and read me my rights. I surrender, my white flag waving. I realize I’ve nowhere to go but into the hands of law enforcement. Stretching my arms out in front of me, I bend my wrists, and invite them to slap the cuffs on. “Here, here, take me already.”

But, strangely enough, they don’t come closer. There’s not, as I now understand, any hint of suspicion in the way they stare at me. It’s only curiosity, pure and simple—unless I’m reading them wrong. It’s obvious something else has occurred, something that turns everything upside down. After they start talking, and I pick up bits and pieces of the story, I discover they were only interested to go into the barbershop to handle a dispute. A dispute between the owner, the head barber, and a customer who’s been raving about a bad haircut he received and who, purportedly wielding a razor, began threatening the barber. The police, it turns out, were responding to a 9-1-1 call, a call put in by a witness, also a customer, who was apparently very satisfied with his haircut and thought it totally unjustified for anyone to attack a barber with his own professional instruments. “It’s an outrage,” he said. That’s what the witness kept repeating.  

I have a different view, though. I actually sympathize with the man who got the bad haircut. Once a barber cuts off your hair, it’s impossible to put it back. Everybody knows that. Even if you haven’t got much hair on your head to begin with, if you’re mostly bald, every little strand is precious, and so to overcut is a plain outrage, a pure injustice. No question about it. It’s perfectly natural to want to kill your barber. If he cuts off too much, you’re done for. Forget about any favorable impression you might have hoped to make, on a new boss, on a new client, on a young lady who happens your way. It’s now utterly doomed. If it were up to me I’d arrest the barber on the spot. But, sadly, I haven’t the authority to do that.  

The two policemen don’t take sides. Morality, not to mention aesthetics, is beside the point. They care only about the law. They deal with the straight facts, comparing notes with each other. Their primary reason for checking out the back of the building is to follow the routine procedure, until a detective shows up. Nothing more. They open the lid of the trashcan, peak in, and close the lid. They look around. Shrug their shoulders. And when they question me as to why I’m sitting on the ground, huddled there and looking pathetic, I answer their question with my own question. “So am I a suspect?” That’s mainly what I want to know. But they only smile and then shake their heads. “No, not really,” one officer says. And when I ask if I’m a person of interest, if I’m at least that, they both look at me oddly and again shake their heads and one goes back inside the barbershop to file his report, shutting the door behind him. The other policeman, now also about to go inside, turns to me at the last second and says, very matter-of-factly, that I shouldn’t worry because they have no interest in me, none whatsoever, and as he leaves all I can do is ask, in my desperation, in my loneliness, why not.

Tornado Weather

Tornado Weather

Michael Loyd Gray

     Zach Thompson nudged Wanda, a skinny blond cashier with a ponytail and flat chest. She was counting money at Wally’s Food Mart on the main drag of Argus, Illinois.

     “Quit it,” she says, shaking a wad of bills at him. “You made me lose count.”

     Zach was a meat cutter apprentice. He joked with the cashiers that apprentice meant he was still learning how to beat his meat. None of them thought it was funny except Wanda, who wasn’t too bright to begin with. Zach nudged her again.ic

     “Look here,” Zach says. “Right here in the National Examiner it says rural men have a higher suicide rate. I’m not making that up. Says so right here in black and white.”

     Heather, a cute brunette with long wavy hair working the next register peeked around the magazine rack.

     “Maybe you should go give it a try, Zach,” she says. You wouldn’t want to make a liar out of the National Examiner, would you?

     Zach and Heather had gone out once and ever since, she had a mean streak toward him.

    “Don’t you just wish,” he says, flipping her the bird.

     “A girl can always wish,” Heather says. “Especially when it’s someone as crude as you, Zach Thompson.”

     He stood defiant, hands on his hips.

     “I’m not crude – I’m colorful.”

     “Oh, sure you are,” Heather says. “Don’t you have to go do something with your meat?”

     “I’m off for the day,” Zach says. “Just catching up on my reading. But if you want to give me a hand, I can stick around.”

     “Start without me,” Heather says. “I bet you always do.”

     “I’ll think of you, Heather.”

     “I’m so honored.”

     Zach attempted what he figured to be a seductive smile and pose, an arm dangling nonchalantly across the magazine rack.

     “You’d miss me if I was gone,” he says. “What if I was one of those rural men who couldn’t take it anymore? What if I just plunged into the deep end?”

     “The deep end of what?” Heather says, wiping strands of hair from the corner of her mouth.

     “The Sangamon River,” Zach says. “That’s the only place round here where any rural men could off themselves by drowning.”

     “Don’t forget Beverley Patterson’s new pool,” Heather says. “It’s supposed to be nine feet in the deep end. That would work just fine, Zach, and it’s a lot closer than the river.”

     “I heard it wasn’t filled yet,” Zach says, glancing at his shoes.

     “It was when I was there yesterday,” Heather says. “Why don’t you go over and practice plunging into the deep end? It ain’t like you’ve got anything to do, Zachary.”

     “Yeah?” Zach says. “Well, it just so happens there’s a good reason why I can’t go down to the river. Or that pool. And drowning ain’t the only way to go, Miss Heather Smarty Pants.”

     Wanda abruptly whacked her drawer shut with a loud bang.

     “Yeah, but drowning has flair,” she says. “And it’s not messy.”

     “Honey,” Heather says, “your basic rural man ain’t got any flair. They can’t even leave the toilet seat down, so why should they be tidy when they kill themselves?”

     Heather and Wanda high-fived each other and the smack of their colliding palms reverberated. 

     “You’re right,” Wanda says. “But the Patterson pool would still be a lot cleaner than that muddy old Sangamon, if you don’t mind chlorine, that is.” 

     Zach threw his hands up.

     “Somebody trying to off himself wouldn’t care about chlorine one way or another,” he says. “Don’t you know anything, Wanda?”

     Wanda looked puzzled.

     “Could someone die from too much chlorine?” she says.  

     “I have no idea,” Heather says. “But it sure sounds like a job for Zach.”

     Zach smirked.

     “I’ve got more important stuff to do than stand around yakking with retards,” he says.

     Heather popped the gum she’d been chewing.

     “Look who’s talking about retards. What could you do, Zach, that could possibly count as important?”

     Zach shrugged.

     “Oh, nothing much, I suppose – except there’s a huge weather front ready to roar in here. It’s tornado weather, for God’s sake.”

     “Where’d you hear that?” Heather says. “You’re making it up.”

     “I heard it on the radio. Weather cells and all that.”

     “And your point would be what, Mister Rural Man?”

     “I just might go chase one of those suckers, like those guys do on TV.” 

     “You’re shitting me,” Heather says. “You’re suicidal after all.”

     But Zach felt he was on to something. It had come to him real sudden-like.

     “All I need is experience chasing a tornado here and then I can go out to Oklahoma and join one of those teams. I could get on TV. I could become a famous tornado chaser.”

     “How do you list that on your resume?” Wanda said. “And what do you do once you’ve caught up to the tornado?”

     Zach frowned and then appeared confused.

     “What do you mean?”

     “I mean, what’s the point?” Wanda says. “What’s the reason for all the chasing?”

     Zach didn’t want to admit he wasn’t sure about that part of it. He had the vague notion that it was about experiencing a tornado and being somehow changed by it. And to be on TV, to do it as a job that people looked up to and even admired. Like being an actor in a sitcom. A celebrity. Somebody.

     “To become something, of course,” he says quietly.

     Heather couldn’t keep a straight face.

     “You’re something alright,” she says. “I can just see you on TV now, Zach.”

     “Can you?” he says hopefully.

     “Oh, sure. You’d have a reality series – Zach the Incredible Pinhead and Tornado Groupie. Guest morons would join you each week and fly through the air in your crappy old pickup in the center of a tornado and wave bye at cameras before getting squished into pulp. Wheeee!”

     “Doesn’t sound like a series,” Wanda says. “More like a one-shot deal.”

     Wanda and Heather high five each other again.

     Zach felt queasy.

     “Well, I wouldn’t be famous right off,” he says. “I’d break in and work my way up to maybe wind velocity guy.”

     “What the crap is a wind velocity guy?” Heather says. “You’re an apprentice meat cutter, Zach. Not even the real deal yet. Before that, you were an apprentice high school dropout. What makes you believe you’ll ever be on TV?”

     Wicked smirks passed between the two girls. Zach felt like knives had passed through his shins. The kind of big, heavy knives he used in the store’s meat locker on carcasses of hanging meat. The sort of blades that could strip flesh with just a flick of the wrist. That could split bone.

     Heather blew a big bubble and popped it loudly. It jumpstarted Zach, suddenly aware he’d stood there a long time without a word. A galling, sickening realization washed over him. He’d never done a damn thing in his whole wretched life. He’d never finished anything, not high school, not his GED, not even an appointment he failed to keep once with an Army recruiter. He’d even failed to acquire the knack for selling drugs for an old high school buddy and that sure didn’t require a high school diploma. Zach was already 25 and hadn’t done anything worth bragging about. He was an apprentice meat cutter, only a month into his training, because his uncle owned the store and worried Zach might drift into oblivion.

     “Earth to Zach,” Wanda says. “You just going to stand there all day?”

     Zach wished he could just disappear in a flash of smoke. He longed to be immediately beamed up to the Starship Enterprise, his molecules snatched off the planet and reassembled elsewhere into a much wiser man – a man of action. Any action. And anywhere but where he was, which was certainly nowhere, and now, just plain old pathetic as he realized he had staked his notion of redemption on chasing tornadoes and living to go on TV to tell the tale.

     His head was abuzz with random thoughts and paper-thin plots to appear less of a fool when suddenly, the Argus Civil Defense siren went off, signaling a tornado warning. The siren wailed obscenely. It was mounted on the water tower just down the block. It was so loud that Zach thought it sounded like the ominous death wail of impending nuclear attack everybody knew from movies. 

     The siren drowned out everything and made thinking nearly impossible. Everyone in the store stopped in their tracks. Then customers went to windows and looked up into the sky. Heather and Wanda calmly removed their cash drawers and headed for the store’s basement. 

     Zach refused to go. He stood on the sidewalk with a knot of people, scanning the sky, shading bis eyes with a hand. He hoped for a funnel spinning crazily out of very cloud he saw.  He wished for a big old goober of a black funnel, twisting madly like a giant top. But if one was up there, it was hidden by clouds.

     But one could be there. Everybody knew a tornado could simply appear out of nowhere, in an instant. Zach began to believe one was coming. Don’t panic, he told himself, because this really is happening. It all stated low-key. That’s the way it was on the TV show, just folk sitting around having a smoke and shooting the shit, and then, boom – off to the races in a flash, tires squealing, motors racing wildly, people pointing and gawking out their car windows, pulses racing, sweat beads skiing down their foreheads.

     And then nobody was ever the same after they’d chased one and caught up to it. Sort of like in school when they read about Ahab and Moby Dick, he supposed. Zach was certain nobody could possibly be the same after feeling a tornado’s power and witnessing its strength. Yeah, it was a hell of a lot like Moby Dick, for sure.

     Zach felt pulled and pushed by an unseen force. He got in his pickup and sped down Main Street, frantically twisting the radio dial for a station with weather news. Doppler radar over in Bloomington had picked up a possible tornado just outside Argus, near the river, and Zach floored it. He made it to the river in record time, most of the way with his head stuck out the window, wind howling like a banshee and blasting his face like God himself had reached down from the heavens to playfully slap him around. Zach tingled all over. He knew it had to be like this out in Oklahoma with the real tornado chasers. Just like this. He was one of them now.

     At the river, the wind became vicious, violently shoving his truck toward a ditch several times, Zach fighting to keep control, but loving every second of it. It rained hard, about as hard and fast and thick as anyone could ever recall. More than two inches an hour, according to a TV meteorologist in Champaign. 

     The Sangamon River jumped its banks and Zach tried to plow through a deep pool on River Road, but instead stalled his truck and had to wade to high ground. He walked halfway back to Argus in cold rain and wind before he got a ride from a county sheriffs deputy, who tuned out to be a guy he’d gone to high school with. The weather service decided it had been a bad storm alright, and record rainfall, but not really a tornado. All that turbulence eventually just fell apart and became normal air again. 

     For a few days, Zach swore to everybody he met that he would empty his savings account of exactly $847.58 and drive out to Oklahoma to hook up with the tornado people. But when the tornado siren went off again, just a week later, Zach trudged wordlessly to the store’s basement with Wanda and Heather. He sat quietly by himself in a corner with his eyes closed tight and waited for the all-clear.

photomontage image by Jason Weingart (Wikimedia images)

Midnight Mud Cruise

Moonlight Mud Cruise

Bill Diamond

The plan was to make indelible memories. The unspoken expectation was the memories would be the positive kind. Expectations don’t always work out.

I would soon depart Washington, DC for a life in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. A camping trip to Assateague Island National Seashore was on my pre-move Bucket List. Early May before the tourist crowds seemed to be a propitious time. The weather forecast was clear.

On arrival, the island was sunny and warm. There was no need to track down the Chincoteague wild ponies that are the island’s main attraction. They are EVERYWHERE from the moment you enter the Park. Although these feral horses are legally wild, their behavior belies that fact. They are not averse to human contact and many of the ponies are aggressive beggars. Park brochures warn you to stay a safe distance from the beasts because they can charge, kick and bite. Apparently, no one informed the ponies to similarly keep away. They readily approach cars, picnic tables, camping tents, and anyplace they darn well please. It’s a simple life. The horses spend their days eating; begging for food; eating; causing traffic jams; eating; mating; and eating.  

A full day of touring the island, photographing the horses and hiking the beach was capped off with a fortifying crab stew dinner at the Globe Theater restaurant in nearby Berlin. It was dusk when I returned to my site in the Bayside Campground. A ruddy orange, near full moon was just breaching the horizon.

My campsite backed up to the tidal marshes adjacent to Sinepuxent Bay separating the island from the mainland. The moonlight was bright enough to cast a slight shadow and illuminate the wispy clouds. I made a spontaneous decision to take a short moonlight kayak cruise through the wetlands before enjoying the campfire. It was custom made for creating a timeless recollection. What could possibly go wrong?  

Pulling the kayak off the truck, I realized it was an act of faith that it was still seaworthy. It spent the winter hanging beneath the deck. The sky blue bottom was marred with ugly brown drip marks where the deck above had been re-stained last Fall. When I had lifted it from the hanging straps, a squirrel nest had dislodged from the inside and tumbled onto my head. I dropped the boat and beat my skull to ensure no vermin were relocating to my hair. My father taught me, “If you take care of your equipment, it will take care of you.”. If true, I am soooo up shit creek.

When I put it in the water, I was relieved the kayak was watertight. Buoyed by the good omen, I secured my life jacket and launched before second thoughts could arrive. The scene was idyllic.  The moon was luminous and reflected off the tentacles of water meandering through the marsh. Calls and responses of the night birds drifted from the trees.

The nearby woods sheltered me from the freshening breeze. It also protected the bugs from dispersal. While my repellent kept them from biting, they swarmed annoyingly. I kept my mouth closed to avoid inadvertently ingesting a serving of bugs for dessert.

To steer clear of the choppy water of the open Bay, I wended my way among the narrow channels of the wetland. Paddling in and out of small tributaries, I worked a good distance across the bog before feeling a chill and turning for home. As I started to head South, so did the excursion. When I ran aground the second time, I realized that at low tide these wetlands turn into mud flats.

Using the paddle as a pole, I pushed off the bottom and moved with more urgency down the narrowing canals to keep pace with the rapidly retreating water. The water was winning the race. As luck would have it, the night was also turning darker. It was an inconvenient time for the moon to choose to play hide and seek. Note to self: even ‘wispy’ clouds can significantly block the moonlight. While I’d had the foresight to bring a headlamp on the camping trip, that foresight didn’t extend to bringing it in the kayak.

Stuck on another mudbar, I couldn’t discern a path forward. Well, … if not prepared, the explorer must be flexible. I decided to exit the boat and haul it overland a short distance to a wide channel with access back to the campsite. Good plan, but the topography wouldn’t cooperate. The first sign of this was when I stepped out and my foot sunk into the muck. While this wetland floor was adequate to support saltmarsh grass, my body clearly exceeded it’s carrying capacity.  

The alternative of spending the night in the kayak until the tide turned was unappealing. I resigned myself to my legs receiving an unexpected mud spa treatment and trudged through the ooze. Something that should have been common sense, only now came home to me.  May is still early in the warm season. There had not been time for the water to heat to it’s comfortable Summer temperature. The ocean liquid that was pleasant to paddle across was damn near frigid to wade in at night.

Mostly, the mud was shallow and topped at my ankles. But, occasionally, it reached my calf. At those times, the swamp grabbed tight and tried mightily to remove my Teva sandals. As reluctant as I already was about this unexpected ramble, the idea of a barefoot stroll through this quagmire was intolerable. I struggled to free my legs and footwear intact and tried to chart a course across firmer ground that would support my weight. I had limited success.

Dragging a kayak across land constitutes a portage. Portage is a French word and sounds exotic and adventurous. It conjures images of Lewis and Clark on the Corps of Discovery Expedition. In reality, it translates in English as ‘slog’. An equally rare term, but one with far less glamorous associations.

Scanning the dewatered swamp, I abandoned the notion of returning to camp by a wetlands water route. My new plan was to traverse the bog and use the open Bay to paddle back toward the campground. Although my legs were cold, my slow progress had me sweating. Trying to be optimistic, I told myself this effort would count toward my weekly aerobic exercise regime. Small satisfaction.  

Sitting in tedious meetings at work, I would glance out the window at the Potomac River and daydream about spending the day paddling. Right now, the warmth of the boring conference room seemed an enticing alternative. It proves the grass is always greener. To divert my mind from the muck sucking endeavor, I tried to distill lessons learned from this misadventure. At work, while evaluating whether to launch a new project, I would counsel staff not to jump in without thinking it through because things are always easier to get into, than out of. This fiasco seemed an apt example for that precept. It brought another cliche to mind: that I should practice what I preach.

The uneven terrain, mud holes and slashing vegetation made the crossing seem like a marathon. Eventually, I reached a sandbar at the edge of the Bay. Pausing to catch my breath, I imagined that for any rational stranger passing by, I presented the suspicious image of an ancient smuggler: dragging a cargo across an uninviting swamp in the dark without any lights. Not to worry, there were no sensible people out and about.

With the cold returning to my body, there was no advantage in further delay. Rinsing the mud from my legs, I was thankful that I retained my two sandals. Pushing the kayak into the open water, the stiff breeze was no longer blocked by the onshore trees and began to push back. The good news was that it scattered the bugs. The bad news was that it was blowing from the direction I had to travel. Deciding a straight line was a quicker path than hugging the beach with potential snags, I aimed straight across the inlet. While better than schlepping the boat across the mud, the paddle home would be no piece of cake. Heading into the wind meant each wave I cut through sent a chill and salty spray toward my face. I must have offended Poseidon in a previous life.   

To my right, there were blinking green lights on channel buoys. Farther away to the North, red lights marked the Park access bridge. Beyond that lay the dim glow of Ocean City. None of that was helpful to me as I headed in the opposite direction toward the dark Park. It was probably only fifteen minutes of paddling, but it seemed longer. I finally reached the shore near where the campground should be. 

The land was an undifferentiated black smudge. The wind had brought in thicker clouds and the moon only intermittently peaked through to shed some minor light. The tops of the trees were silhouetted against the sky. That was of little assistance as I wasn’t landing in the treetops, but in the unwelcoming abyss below.

With nothing to recommend one spot over another, I picked a random patch, landed and debarked. My eyes adjusted only slightly to the gloom. It was enough to see there was no obvious path through the thicket. Rallying my tired limbs, I lifted the kayak onto my shoulders with my head inside. Using it as a battering ram to protect my face from the tangle of branches, I plunged into the undergrowth. Low bushes scraped at my legs. Where was the protective mud layer when I needed it? 

Each time I stopped, the woods were silent, but for a few birds. However, once, I heard a footfall ahead. It was impossible to see in the dark, but from the sound, it was too big for a rabbit and too small for a wild pony. I heard it again. The thought bubbled up that the only animals that size are nasty or carnivorous.  

I told myself I shouldn’t be concerned. After all, I did have a 12 foot kayak on my head. However, it was unclear how great a defensive weapon it would be in the underbrush where I could barely move. To bastardize Robert Frost, the woods now seemed “hungry, dark and deep”.  

Of its own accord, my mind did a hypothetical analysis on whether it was better to be sprayed by a skunk or attacked by a rabid fox. Neither was attractive. Emboldened by my exhaustion, I determined to assert my rightful place on the food chain. I let out a roar to warn off any potential predators. Even to my ears, it sounded like an asthmatic clearing his throat. Despite that weak effort, I persisted with the concept that making noise should deter wild beasts.  

Talking would probably be even less effective than my pitiful roar. Screaming could convey eatable weakness. Since I never learned to whistle properly, my last recourse was singing. I have a limited repertoire. It was the wrong season for Jingle Bells. I can’t do justice to the Star Spangled Banner.  So I settled on Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup”. I loudly launched into the redneck anthem:

    “Red Solo cup, I fill you up

     Let’s have a party, let’s have a party

     I love you, red Solo cup, I lift you up

     Proceed to party, proceed to party.”

If the beer-soaked words didn’t intimidate any wild beasts, perhaps my off-key caterwauling would. With the lyrics reverberating inside the kayak, I continued thrashing through the woods.  When I ran out of the words I remembered, I listened for my visitors.  Silence.  Good news.

However, in the quiet, my imagination offered up an unwanted image of a snake lurking near my open toed sandals. It was likely because I’d seen a number throughout the day. At the moment, I couldn’t remember whether these reptiles were nocturnal. Not wanting to dwell on it, I told myself, ‘don’t even think about snakes’. Inevitably, the minute you say that, all you can think about is snakes. I had to get out of the woods. After some quick charging, I burst panting into a grassy field.  

Breathing heavily and with my chest heaving, I forgot about snakes. Not because they don’t slither in grass, but because a new thought erased them from my consciousness. It was replaced by the idea that if anything is more ubiquitous on the island than ponies, it is their droppings. This was triggered because my left foot stepped into a squishy pile of … something. I was momentarily hopeful it was merely a misplaced mound of mud. However, a pungent and undeniable aroma reaching my nose told me that was wishful thinking. “Shit!”, a loud and descriptive curse escaped by lips and echoed across the land.

I dropped the kayak from my head and rubbed my foot vigorously back and forth on the grass while trying to avoid any more piles. I was only partially successful in knocking the dung from between my toes.

Looking around, I realized I’d made it back to the campground. My site was a hundred yards away. Fed up with the evening, I grabbed the handle of the boat and began pulling it along the grass. At this point, my lightweight craft embodied the proverbial ton of bricks. I  motivated myself with the notion of a hot shower to warm up.   

As I dragged the kayak past the few occupied sites, I had that sixth sense feeling of being the object of strange looks. The other campers probably wondered whether I was stealing a boat in the dark; or, had been the source of the bizarre singing from the nearby woods; or, the rude curser. Or, all of the above. Regardless, I was in no mood to allay their misgivings with a friendly greeting.

Reaching the truck, I quickly grabbed a towel and warm clothes and headed to the shower to ward off what I imagined was incipient hypothermia. There, I received the coup de grace for the evening. No hot water. Great! Since, I was covered in salt and muck and manure, I steeled myself for the chilling soak. How bad could a cold shower be? Pretty freezing bad! I swear the water had to be pumped directly from the nearest glacier. If the military is looking for a replacement for waterboarding, I know the ideal substitute. Managing to survive, I got moderately clean. I will be making a submission to the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s shortest shower.

At least the campfire started quickly. As the flames defrosted my toes and tea warmed my entrails, I spotted ponies grazing near the water’s edge. I had a greater empathy for the chilly downside of their daily existence. Together, we enjoyed the sight of the timeless moon peeking through the clouds.  


Photo by Gabriele Motter on Unsplash



Bill Bilverstone

When he finally came back, he came back with a woman and—clinging to each other, leaning into the warm, slow current—they crossed the river from the opposite shore. 

“Hey!” she called after they’d scrambled onto a low island and crawled thirty or forty yards through thumb-thick willows that shut out much of the twilight, clamped in most of the heat.

Cody glanced back over his shoulder. A disassembled fishing pole thrust from the bulky yellow pack that occulted much of his grimy face. “Just a little farther,” he said. “Just another sixty or seventy yards.”

Donna could barely hear him for the crackle of what must have been eons of drifted leaves, while those that still hung from the willows rattled like tiny bones in the fusty air.

“Damn it!” She shouted when he began crawling again. “Stop!”

Cody fell back on his haunches, turned and fixed her in eyes shining with desperation.

“I know I’ve been asking a lot,” he said. “But I’m not insane. Bear with me, Donna. I can’t afford distractions until we get this over.”

“Help me,” Donna said without pleading. “I know I promised not to ask questions, but I followed you across half the freaking state with you shut up in yourself like a stone. Bear with you until we get what over?”

When she went on looking at him expectantly, Cody crawled back down the tunnel he’d forced in the willows and took her hand

“It begins,” he said, “or close enough, when I was thirteen and we lived in a trailer park a couple of miles upstream from where we are now. My mom gave me her old Discman and a box of CD’s and—especially when they’d scream at each other—I’d lie in the dark listening to the tunes.  

“Anyway,” he said, “This one summer evening after a screaming match with Mom, the old man came bursting into my room, wanting me to take off with him the next day fishing. When I didn’t move fast enough, didn’t answer him quick enough, he tore the Discman out of my hands and hauled me off the bed by the front of my shirt.

 “‘Hey! That’s mine!’ I hollered at this whiskey-smelling jerk with ‘Hotel California’ boiling out of his mitts. And just for that, the bastard smashed my Walkman against the wall.

“For about a second-and-a-half we stood there glaring at each other in the light that fell in from the hallway, and then I lost it big time and gave him this mighty shove. He bounced off the bed, slammed into the wall, and when he went sliding and cursing down between the wall and the bed, I had the good sense to run. I tore through the mudroom, snatched up a pack that I knew held a water bottle and a box of chocolate-covered raisins, and blasted out into the dusk.

“I headed downstream, splashing across an irrigation ditch and loping along the lower end of a misty hayfield until I heard my old man yelling and threw myself into the brush. After thrashing for maybe forty yards, I broke out on the river and ran hard along the bank I couldn’t hear my old man yelling, and then I ran some more. Eventually, I kind of collapsed, still clutching my pack, and when I finally caught my breath, it was so dark I could barely make out an island covered in stunted willows and way-off the silhouettes of ancient trees.  

“I waded across from the opposite shore that we just did, and after a long, dark, claustrophobic crawl through the willows, I came to a clearing with these monstrous old trees. The clearing was mostly bright sand with a few tufts of coarse grass, and way over on the far side where the cottonwoods were clumped together, a pool of black water shimmered in the light of a three-quarter moon and first stars.

“I was just sitting there next to the funky-smelling pool, wondering what-in-the-hell to do next, when something humped up out there, glistening for a moment like the back of a huge lunker fish.

“I right away checked the pack and sure enough, besides the water bottle and box of raisins, there was my cheapo, telescoping fishing pole

“What-the-heck, I thought as I hooked on three or four chocolate covered raisins and plopped them in. Even if it was just my imagination, the casting and reeling will warm me up.

“Right away something big started bumping at the bait, and I got all excited and gave a yank and zzzizzzz here comes hook, line and sinker but half the chocolate covered raisins whipping out of that black star reflecting pool.

“Whatever it was—and I say whatever it was because no trout could live in conditions like that—it must have been spooked, because when I got the hook rebaited and cast back in, it took a while before it began to bite. When it finally did, I waited until it swallowed the hook and then I gave the rod a good stiff jerk. That motherhunper reared back and went plunging all over hell with me reeling and the drag shrieking until all of a sudden it charged up to the surface and stopped. It gave me the willies the way it seemed to peer at me from just beneath the black water. And then it dove. It went straight down, I swear it. With me reeling again and the drag shrieking again, until finally the line broke with a .22-loud Thwack.  

“I got pretty bummed then. I wanted to run home and tell my dad about the humongous fish, but I couldn’t very well do that. What with me being out there in the cold and the creepiness hiding from him. 

“After a while I trudged on back to the willows and scooped a nest in the mass of leaves. I didn’t sleep very well, though, what with these upsetting dreams of hiding and fighting, and in the morning, I felt wrung out. I got up before sunligh reached the clearing, tramped on home and there was my old man sitting on the steps.  

“‘How’d you sleep?’ he says with this shit-eating grin on his big pitted face.  

“‘Not worth a damn.’

“‘Well,’ he says, ‘let’s run on into town and get you a new music machine. That piece of crap your mom gave you was practically an antique.’

“And that was that, not another word said. Except that he liked to brag to his cronies about the night his skinny kid knocked him on his ass.

Cody sucked a breath and wiped his eyes with the back of a gritty hand.

“Probably out of spite, I never did tell him about the huge lunker fish.”

“Well, thank you” Donna said, more heartsick than appeased, “at least I know why you’re toting enough tackle to land Moby Dick. But I still don’t understand why you decided to come back after all this time.”

 “You know how I’ve been jumpy and short-tempered these last few weeks? With you all the time bugging me with, “Talk to me, Cody. Cody, what’s wrong?’ Well, every night I’ve been having those very same dreams of hiding from and fighting with something I can’t make out. 

“I guess,” he said through a tortured laugh, “I’ve gone and caught myself an obsession.”

Somehow during his tale they’d got themselves switched around so that Donna was holding him as he stared off into the cankered scrub. And that was how they remained, blank-faced with no birds singing, until Donna roused herself, planted a sloppy silly kiss on his neck and said, “C’mon, Cody. If we’ve caught ourselves an obsession, we’d best see it through.”


Despite their common purpose and much dusty crawling, an orange froth lathered the west when they broke at last into the clearing. They threw off their packs in the dense, Silurian dusk, and Cody stepped back into the leaves to dig for bait while Donna looked around. It was pretty much as he’d described, monstrous trees and mat-black water, except that one of the cottonwoods had toppled across the pool, its leafless crown shattered like a line drawing of a tree on the trackless sand.

When Cody had his pole rigged and baited, they bellied up to the pool to avoid spooking their quarry and halted just back from the torpid water. Right away Donna noticed that the pool seemed to suck as much light as it reflected, and when something stirred out there, she shuddered at the thought of a boy confronting this place alone. It was then— just as she sensed its rank sterility and vain fecundity and was wanting to drag him away whispering the urgent conviction that this pool had nothing to do with them—that he turned on her his desperate eyes. All she could do was smile and nod and give him up to relentless casting and muttered cursing while the moon rose and the cold seeped in. 

When, after an hour, there was nothing, not a single bite, Donna stood up, shivering, and said, “I’m going to start a fire.”

“What fricking ever” he snapped.

Frustrated as he was, Cody flung down armloads of splintered cottonwood while Donna used her pocketknife to shave kindling before erecting a shock. Flames were licking against the stars and half a dozen white grubs squirmed on the hook as clambered out onto the fallen tree and—balanced two feet above the fire-reflecting pool—flipped the bait out into the water.      

Almost immediately there came a tentative bump and he glanced over his shoulder, eager to whisper, “Hey, Donna, watch this,” but she was already up and stalking out from behind the wall of fire.

Bump Bump Bump the thing persisted. Cody set the hook with a vicious tug and the thing struck back like a barracuda. It plunged and writhed and slammed and jerked, but this time he was man-strong, with a man’s hard-earned skill and reckless determination, and the creature soon ceased its frenzied plunging, rose to a spot not fifteen feet from the log where, once again, it held and seemed to watch.

“Go on, you sucker,” he muttered. “Dive away, you big ugly brute.”

Instead, it rushed straight at him, rising and swimming faster and faster so that a great surging bow wave passed beneath the log where Cody never stopped reeling until the pole was jerked down, curled under and pitched him off with a tremendous splash of the blood warm water.

By the scarlet light of the prancing fire, through the wincing facets of shattered water, it banked and came storming back, long as a man but fisted into a head. He clubbed it with the butt of the rod and kneed it with slow-motion knees while the slack line wrapped them sinking together with the slimy gray eyeless head mashed against his face. 

Cody’s mouth burst open and the brackish water filled his throat as a backlit Donna came stroking down, gripped him under the chin and scissor-kicked them to the bank, where she was on them like a Valkyrie, knife glinting, slashing away the stinging line, while “Kill it,” he gagged. “Kill it,” he gasped. “Kill it before it gets away.”

Very calmly, very firmly, Donna said, “Let it go, Cody. Please let it go”

When he flung himself up, enraged, on one elbow, Donna dropped to her knees and wrapped him in a sinewy embrace. The harder he struggled the tighter she held him, whispering, “Leave it, Cody, leave it alone,” until he ran out of steam, fell back and unknotted his fisted hands.  

At the sound of a grinding slither, they turned and watched the creature—long as a man and toothless with a brow like a sperm whale—flop out into the black and scarlet pool and sink slowly away.


photo by Harry Rajchgot

Taquile Island

Taquile Island

William Cass

At an elevation of 13,000 feet, Taquile Island sat alone, as if dropped by the gods, in the middle of Lake Titicaca.  Puno, Peru, the closest town, was twenty miles away.  At that time, 1983, several hundred families lived there, all of them Quechua Indians.  Most of the island was covered in terraces that began at the water’s edge and climbed steeply among stone footpaths and scattered huts to the ruins on the mountaintop at its center.  No electricity, no running water, no vehicles.  It took less than an hour to walk across it in any direction.

Xavier, the youngest boy of one of the families, descended a primary footpath to the island’s main well carrying two empty clay jugs by their rope handles.  Like all males on the island, he was dressed in a loose white blouse under a black vest, black pants, sandals, with a wide red sash around his waist.  He wore a red woolen cap that had tasseled earflaps; the flaps were still tied up in the relative warmth of the dwindling late-May day, but later, after nightfall when the temperature fell towards freezing, he’d drop them.  His clothes had been woven by his mother and grandmother; the sash and cap had been knitted by his father.  The sky on the western horizon mixed vermillion with yellow.  

The well was a hole between two small boulders on the side of the path.  Another clay jug with a long rope tethered to a stake perched next to it.  Xavier set down his own jugs and lowered the roped-one into the hole until he felt it tip over into the water at the bottom.  When it had filled, he retrieved it and poured it into one of his jugs, then repeated the sequence until both of those were filled.  Next, he stood and hoisted them to his side where their heaviness dangled almost to the ground.  He began the climb back to where his family lived near the mountaintop.  He was perhaps nine-years old.  On his way, he passed several other children with empty jugs of their own.

At that same time, his sister was on the other side of the island collecting firewood, sticks and thin branches, in a shawl slung over her shoulders, a load that would become nearly as big as her.  Her twin brother had gone to bring in the family’s sheep; the two of them were a few years older than Xavier.  They’d all left the family work project they’d been helping with that day: the construction of a new hut.  It was for their older sister, Maria, who was in her late teens, and Diego, the boy she’d just married.

The sheep that Xavier’s brother followed were small, black and white.  All of them had red and blue ribbons strung through one of their ears.  Most of the bigger ones also had a front and rear leg tied loosely together to keep them from trying to scamper away; they moved awkwardly and sometimes slipped momentarily over the edge of the terraced pathway.  The sun inched lower, and it began to grow colder.  The dim shapes of slowly moving cows were visible in some terraces, as were other residents completing the same tasks along the pathways.  Here and there across the mountainside, fires and candlelight began to dot the interiors of huts.

Xavier was the first to arrive back at the terrace just below his family’s where three sides of the new hut had already been assembled in a cleared patch beside two scraggly manzanita trees.  Long shadows covered the final wall that his father and Diego had started building with adobe bricks.  In their black dresses, his mother and Maria were using rectangular wooden molds to form new bricks, which they added to the rows they’d set aside to dry.  A mark at the hem of Maria’s dress showed where the embroidered flower indicating unmarried status had recently been removed.  No one spoke.  

Xavier set down his jugs, then reclaimed his place in what was left of the pit they’d been digging and irrigating all day.  He used the spade next to it to break up several new feet of earth, poured water over the spot, kicked off his sandals, and began stomping again on the thick mud he created.  His mother came over and squatted next where he stomped.  She used her hands to scoop mud into her mold and mixed it with bits of straw from a pile next to her.  She shook and turned the mold until the wetted mixture hardly moved.  Then she carried the mold over to the collection of stiffening bricks near the new hut, carefully flipped it over, shook out the new brick, and turned it on one of its short sides to dry.  Maria was turning over other bricks that had stiffened adequately so their remaining sides would dry.  The dark, wet bricks that had first come out of the molds turned a pinkish, chalky color as they hardened.

Diego set a dry brick for the new wall in the next spot Xavier’s father had lined with wet mud mixed with straw, then tapped and straightened it into place with the heel of his hand.  They coated both sides of the new brick and its seams with more wet mud and straw, smoothing the surface with their palms.  The walls at their highest point stood short of six feet, but were taller than each of them.

The family continued to work as light fell further towards gloaming.  Eventually, Xavier’s younger sister, bent under her load, came down a path and dumped her firewood outside their hut’s open door, then joined him in the stomping pit.  Their grandmother came out of the hut and gathered a few scraps of wood for the fire inside that was cooking their dinner of vegetables simmering in a pot.

When the sky on the western horizon had become the color of a bruise, Xavier’s father shouted once, and as they all looked at him, made an “X” with his arms.  They stopped working.  Xavier’s brother was just coming over the nearest rise, his sheep’s cloven hooves clicking softly on the stones, and his father went to help with corralling them.  Xavier’s mother used water from a jug to wash the bottoms of his legs and feet, as well as his sister’s and her own hands, then the three of them walked up to their hut.  Maria and Diego stepped inside the three walls of their new home, looked around it, and embraced briefly before Diego went off to his own family’s hut several terraces away and Maria followed her family into theirs.  Xavier’s father and brother were the last to enter the hut where his grandmother was passing out clay bowls of soup and hunks of brown bread for dinner.  The fire and candles inside provided just enough light to show their faces where they sat on the earth floor and began to eat.

I opened my rucksack, took out a plastic bag of trail mix, an orange, a partially eaten chocolate bar, and the water bottle I’d brought with me on the boat from Puno that morning and began to eat, too.  I was hidden behind a clump of brush under another twisted manzanita tree perhaps twenty yards away and a little higher up the mountainside.  From there, I had a clear vista of their hut, the one they’d been building, and most of that side of the island all the way to the water’s edge at the eastern end where a full moon was just rising.  It threw a cone of shimmering silver across the dark surface of the lake.  I’d walked most of the island earlier that day after arriving on the boat, and then settled into my spot in the middle of the afternoon and began watching the family.  Around that same time, I saw the boat leave on its single daily return trip to Puno.  It was just an old converted fishing boat with benches built into the back for a dozen or so passengers; if they missed me or were concerned about my not being on the return voyage, I had no way of knowing.  I hadn’t asked if there were regulations preventing visitors from staying the night.

While I ate and watched the family finish their meal, I thought about things.  I’d only been able to make out Xavier’s, Maria’s, and Diego’s names when they’d responded to the father’s specific directions to them, but I wondered what the other family members’ names might be.  I thought about the lives they’d fashioned there together, their simple rhythms, their history, their future.  I thought about Maria and Diego’s new life together as a couple and of the woman back home in Juneau I was no longer certain I loved.  I thought about taking the boat back to Puno that next afternoon, the bus to Lima the following day, and then the plane home ending my summer’s travels where she’d be waiting to pick me up at the airport.  I thought about our own embrace there, of returning to our apartment, about starting another term at the elementary school where I taught.  She worked as a graphic artist.  We were both twenty-eight and had been together for two years. 

Full darkness had almost fallen when Xavier and his younger sister came outside the hut carrying the family’s empty bowls.  They used water from a jug to clean the bowls, shook them, and leaned them against the hut on a mat just outside the door. Next to them were the beans, carrots, and onions their grandmother had harvested earlier and sprinkled into a kind of carpet.  While they worked, those inside the hut blew out candles, spread similar mats, and begin stretching out on them under thick woollen blankets.  The mother and father moved into the darkness of the farthest corner, the grandmother next to what was left of the fire, and Maria and the brother to opposite sides of the hut.  I pulled my down sleeping bag out of my rucksack, unrolled it, and climbed into it, too, but stayed sitting up.  A small, cold breeze lifted the acrid smell of collective fires.

Xavier’s sister went back into the hut and crawled under the blanket next to Maria.  Before he went inside himself, Xavier lowered the flaps of his cap over his ears and tied its tassels under his chin.  In the moonlight, his breath came in short clouds.  He looked around him, then his gaze went up to the stars overhead, a canopy so vast it seemed impossible.  From a hut down the mountainside, the notes of a wooden flute broke the silence, a lonely, lovely sound.  For several moments, Xavier stood still, listening,  Finally, he went inside and curled up under the blanket next to his brother.  I lay down then myself, listened to the flute’s mournful song, and waited for sleep to come.


Photo by Thomas Quine, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons 

The Flower Lady

The Flower Lady

Jonathan B. Ferrini

“The Flores Family Flower Shop” was founded by my grandfather at a road side stand and grew to become a fifty-year-old favorite within San Diego.

I drive the truck to the wholesale flower market at 4:30 in the morning six days per week, purchase the flowers for the day, and unload them at the store. I also do the flower deliveries.

My pop handles the office, my mom and sister are expert flower arrangers, and we all work the phone orders and the counter. 

The “cycle of life” is inherent within the florist business; birth, birthdays, graduations, marriages, sickness, and death. We do our best to provide cheer or empathy to our clients depending upon the circumstances.

We are “first responders” to the savagery of Covid, working tirelessly to accommodate the multitude of funeral arrangements required. 

Covid didn’t “discriminate” when choosing victims. So was the case of “June”, a “soccer mom” whose thriving home-based bookkeeping service failed due to the many restaurant and bar clients shuttered by regulatory closures. The loss of a second source of income, the distractions associated with the children seeking assistance with their home-based on-line school instruction, a husband working overtime at work and with his mistress, placed pressures upon an already crumbling marriage. 

June could no longer afford the stress relieving personal athletic trainer and yoga instruction, and sought stress relief from drinking wine. The increasing wine consumption ceased relieving the stress, and June turned to Oxy found within the medicine cabinet. When the Oxy ran out, she sought sedatives from her physicians based upon fabricated ailments. When the pharmacies and physicians caught wind of the medical charade, June was cut off from her daily “fix”.

The substance abuse interfered with June’s responsibilities as a mom resulting in her husband divorcing June, taking the home and custody of their pre-teen son and daughter. The judge ruled June to be an “unfit mother”.

June found herself homeless with her sole possessions being her minivan and clothes. Her friends and family weren’t keen on helping a “substance abuser” and abandoned her.

June took to living in an inexpensive motel room, subsisting on unemployment insurance until it was exhausted and she was forced to live in her minivan. The stress of living in a car, seeking different places to park each evening, often told to leave by security or police, led to the need for heavier sedation which she found in heroin. June looked into her rear-view mirror and saw a prematurely aging junkie staring back at her.

Seeking a quick nap on a comfortable couch inside an art museum, June marvelled at the beautiful flowers painted by Van Gogh. She dreamed of running free and happy through a field of sunflowers. She was awoken by the security guard and ejected but developed an idea. 

Word spread throughout town. A “Flower Lady” was wandering about giving out flowers to strangers in hopes of a handout. We suspected the source of her flowers were the waste bins behind flower shops. 

As I returned one morning from the wholesale flower mart, I saw a beat-up minivan with a person sleeping inside. I flashed my lights at the car, awakening what appeared to be a female occupant, who sped away.

I opened the trash bin, and noticed all of the discarded slightly fresh flowers had been picked through, necessitating a lock. 

Pop said, “Let ‘em have them. Better giving pleasure to somebody than landing at the dump.”

Every morning, over the course of a week, the trash dumpster was picked through. I parked the truck down the block, and hid to find the woman with the minivan carefully assembling bouquets of discarded flowers. She was quick and demonstrated a skill at arranging beautiful sets of flowers. I let her finish and leave, before bringing the delivery truck around. 

I told Pop who suggested we set a “trap” by leaving a fast-food breakfast, coffee, orange juice, and a dozen roses with an invitation to come inside and meet pop. 

June “took the bait”. She entered the store carefully as if fearing arrest. Pop greeted her and invited her inside his office to sit, handing her a cup of coffee she grasped and savored. 

Pop had an instinct about people. I think it was June’s eyes which won him over. Her eyes were dark orbits with tired red pupils, teary, frightened, craving love and understanding. They spoke to Pop’s emotions.

June was about 5’2’’ inches tall, emaciated, with long, stringy, dirty blond hair becoming gray.  The substance abuse and stress of living in a minivan made a woman in her mid-thirties look to be in her late forties.


June’s clothing and shoes were thrift store cast offs. There was a faint scent of urine about her suggesting the lack of a shower and toilet facilities for days. The lines and wrinkles in her face resembled deep, raging rivers leading to her soul, eventually drowning her, alone in an alley, with the only mourners being garbage cans.  

“Don’t be afraid, ma’am. What’s your name?”

“June. I’m sorry for taking your flowers. I won’t return. Please don’t call the police!”

“My name is Hernan, June, and I won’t call the police. I want to help you.”

After hearing June’s circumstances, Pop recanted,

“When I came to San Diego, I was broke and lived inside my beat-up station wagon parked next to my roadside flower stand. I understand hard times, June. I need extra help today. We’re slammed with customers, as it’s prom season. I’ll pay you $100 cash. We close at 7:00.”

June cleaned up in the bathroom and we provided her a clean shirt and florist apron to cover her disheveled clothing. She immediately went to work at the counter and taking phone orders.

June related to the emotional suffering of a teenage girl without a date requiring a corsage to the prom,

“This corsage is beautiful, darling. I’m certain you’ll attract many gentlemen to dance with you.”

June was empathetic with a young man selecting flowers for a first date,

“What’s your budget, Sir?”

“I was hoping to spend under $10.”

“I suggest a single rose. It will include a beautiful fern, lovely wrapping, and I’ll tie a ribbon around it for $5.00. She’ll love it!”

June began to sob, and retreated to the restroom. My mother knocked on the door and asked to be let in to console her.

“Why are your crying, June? You’re doing a wonderful job!”

“The teenage girl and young man are the age of my children taken from me. I haven’t seen them in months and may never will!”

“June, honey, there’s a nightly non-denominational substance abuse meeting run by a female pastor named “Sunny Dominguez”. Many of my son’s friends have benefited from these meetings. Between your hard work here, and your meetings, we’ll have a lawyer convince the judge to grant you visitation rights.

“You’re about the same size of my daughter. The three of us we’ll go through her closet and I’m certain Lupe will be pleased to have you pick out and keep any clothing she no longer wears.

“Sunday dinner is a big deal around our house. Please consider yourself a permanent guest.”

Mom held June tightly until she could resume work.

June had a glow on her face, bolstered by pride in a good day’s work, $100 bill, and a new found confidence in seeing her children. 

Pop offered June a full-time job, and use of a cot in the store room where she could live until she got back on her feet. 

In the ensuing weeks, June was always pleasant, upbeat, and hard working. The work around the store, combined with the opportunity to meet similarly situated people of all ages at the sobriety meetings, brought June happiness and sobriety.

June mastered all facets of the business including the register, taking phone orders, creating flower designs, and even making deliveries and pick ups when I wasn’t available. Customers would call and ask for June by name.

About three months into the job, June was excited to report she had been granted a visitation hearing and hoped her regular substance abuse meetings and Pop’s testimony would win visitation rights with her children.

Pop attended the visitation hearing, sadly reporting the judge denied visitation rights citing “unproven sobriety”. 

June never returned to work. 

We hadn’t seen June for months until I arrived one morning and saw her minivan. She was slumped across the steering wheel, a hypodermic needle within her arm, and an envelope marked for Pop. Alongside her body were opened photo albums showing her family; likely her last moments together with those she loved.

Pop opened the envelope, and found a cashier’s check payable to a funeral home for a cremation and scattering of ashes at sea. There was a second cashier’s check made payable to our flower shop, requesting the creation of a simple spray of tropical flowers.

Mom and my sister immediately went to work on the funeral “spray”. We charged no fee for the “spray” choosing instead to donate the check to Sunny’s substance abuse center. The funeral home provided a 50% discount and donated the remainder to the same cause.

It was sunset when the boat sailed around Point Loma and into the Pacific Ocean. All of our family was aboard. June’s family chose not to attend.

Sunny Dominguez eulogized, 

“The world is full of fragile souls with loving hearts who become lost on their journey through life. When faced with adversity, and despite valiant efforts to recover, they succumb. June was one such soul.

She was fortunate to have met your family and receive your love and compassion. She will always be a member of your family, and you’ll find solace in the belief you were chosen to help June.”

June’s ashes were placed inside a water proof floating container along with her photo albums. The beautiful tropical spray was attached to the container and placed into the ocean by Pop. 

We watched June’s “vessel” quickly carried by the ocean current west towards tropical paradise as the sun set into the ocean. 

We shouted,

“Bon Voyage, Flower Lady.” 

“We love you!”


photo by Harry Rajchgot

World Travellers


World Travellers

J L Higgs

The airplane descended through the field of dark gray clouds into dazzling sunlight.  Asha leaned forward in her window seat, raised her camera, and pointed it at the dense jungle o

f ancient Banyan and Silk Cottonwood trees.

As the plane’s wheels bumped against the tarmac, she thought,  Air Force.  The takeoffs and landings by each branch of the armed forces were as different as signatures.

Removing her chewing gum, Asha wrapped it in paper and placed it in her shoulder bag next to a small, thick plastic bag.  “We’ll be there soon, Jabir,” she said. 

Traveling North on Sivutha Boulevard, the tuk-tuk moved through the encroaching untamed forest land with a determined steadiness, leaving Siem Reap behind.  After about 20 minutes, it had reached the sandstone causeway.  From there, the towers built to represent Mount Meru could be seen.   

Asha and Jabir were world travellers.  In the last three years, they’d been to Stonehenge, Chichen Itza, Petra, Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, and Easter Island.  All of those places had been impressive,  but this trip was special.


After moving into a condominium complex without having done her normal due diligence, Asha had had a sleepless night.  Were there other single older women?  What about other black residents?  She’d often been “the only one,” and found interacting only with people lacking experience and an understanding of people of color uncomfortable.  

As she returned from her early morning walk, she saw a dark-skinned man outside the door of the unit diagonal to hers.  He had salt and pepper colored hair, a graying moustache, and was wearing a well-tailored suit.  With one arm, he was pinning a set of file folders against his side.  In his other hand, he held a commuter cup as he attempted to lock his door. 

“Good morning,” called out Asha.  

  Spinning in her direction, the folders slipped, and the cup’s contents spilled onto his hand and clothing.  “Shit,” he said, shoving the door open with his shoulder.  Then he kicked it shut behind him, his keys left dangling in the lock. 

That evening, as Asha continued unpacking her moving boxes, she heard a knock at her door.  Through its peephole, she saw the man from across the hall.  Sighing, she opened the door the length of its safety chain.   

“Can I help you?” 

“An apology.  For this morning,” he said, holding out a bottle of wine.

“That’s not necessary.” She started to close the door. 

“Then a welcoming gift from one neighbor to another,” he added.  

She hesitated.  His warm brown eyes appeared sincerely apologetic.  “Would you like to come in?”  she asked, unhooking the chain and accepting the wine bottle.

“Maybe for a minute or two,” he answered.

After they exchanged names and basic pleasantries, he explained that he’d been running late for a morning appointment with a client.  She then asked if he’d like to join her in a glass of wine?  He said he didn’t want to interrupt whatever she’d been doing. 

“No worries,” she said.  “I know where the wine glasses are.”  Walking over to a stack of moving boxes, she slid the top box aside and opened the lids of the one beneath it.  “Voilà.”

After pouring the wine, Asha went over to her couch and plopped down cross-legged.  Jabir looked around for a place to sit.  Boxes and unpacked items occupied all the other furniture in the room, so he joined her on the couch.

As she took a sip from her glass, he noted her high cheekbones, cropped hair, and large gold hoop earrings.  She possessed a unique sculptured beauty.  Smiling, her dimples surfaced, making her look playfully mischievous.

“Where are you from?”  he asked.  “You don’t sound like you’re from around here.” “Air Force brat.” She stretched an arm along the top of the couch.  “I was born in South Korea.  My father was stationed at Osan Air Force Base at the time.  You?”

  “Born and raised right here,”  he said, shaking his head.  “What was it like?”

“South Korea or being an Air Force brat?”

“Either…  both?”

“Ever been to South Korea?”

“No.  Always wanted to travel, but never had the opportunity.”

“We moved around.  Ramstein in Germany.  Lakenheath in the UK.  You go where you’re sent.”

“Must’ve been hard.”

“You adapt., though constantly being the new kid isn’t great,” she said, pausing momentarily.  “The hard part is making sure not to form attachments, since your living situation is temporary.  Now that I’ve retired, I’m looking forward to some stability.”

“What’d you do before retirement?”

“Air traffic control.  Same as my father.  I joined the Air Force after high school. Completed my tech training in Biloxi, and was assigned to Aviano, Italy.  Got transferred a few times after that and when I left the Air Force, I got a job across the river, at JFK.” 

“You always wanted to be an air traffic controller?”

“No.”  She laughed and lithely stretched out her legs.  “I will say that keeping all the moving pieces on the ground and in the air in sync is exciting.  That’s why controllers and pilots rely on a shorthand language for communication.  You’ve got to be flexible, creative, and decisive.”    

“Sounds intense.” 

“It can be stressful,” she said, then took another sip of wine.  “I wanted to be a photojournalist, but my folks weren’t too keen on the idea.  They didn’t think that was a realistic career goal for a black girl.”  She shook her head.  “I mentioned Gordon Parks to them and they said one exception was exactly that, and he was a man.  How ‘bout you?”

“Insurance?”  He shook his head.  Necessity had dictated his life decisions.   “Pure accident.”  

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” she said, raising her glass in a toast.

“John Lennon.” He returned the gesture, then took a sip from his glass.

They drank in silence, both lost in their thoughts.  At times, their eyes made contact, and they shyly smiled at one another.  

“Ever miss it?” he asked, breaking the silence. 


“The Air Force?  JFK?”

“Sometimes I miss being an air traffic controller,” she said.  “It’s like you’re conducting a symphony but with real life and death implications.  The Air Force or JFK?  Never.  In every workplace, there’s someone who causes infighting.  And there’s also usually some white guy in upper management making everyone’s lives miserable.  Know what I mean?”

“Definitely,” he said, nodding.  “And they’re always spouting their unasked for opinions no matter how offensive they may be.”


“What’s that saying?  The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see just a behind.”  

They both laughed. 

“I can’t count how many times I’ve had to hold my tongue,” he said.  “If I ever said what I truly think of them or what they say, I couldn’t keep a job.”

Grimacing, she nodded.  “Well, at least we can commiserate among ourselves.”

“Yeah.  It’s one of the rare times we don’t have to be on our guard.”

With the atmosphere having once again turned somber, Asha and Jabir sat silently, contemplating their own thoughts, and sipping the wine in their glasses.

Suddenly, Asha sprang to her feet.  She went over to one of the moving boxes and removed a thick photo album.  Returning to the couch, she set the album down on the coffee table in front of it.  As she paged through the album, Jabir slid forward to get a better look, his thigh inadvertently touching hers.  He looked down.  She’d stopped on a page of sunlit, whitewashed buildings with blue-domed rooftops.

After staring at the arresting image for a few moments, he turned the page.  There was a photo of The Great Wall of China with morning mist rising from its rough-hewn stones toward snow-capped mountains. 

  “Did you take these?” he asked, turning back to the first photo.  “What’s this one?” “It’s of some homes overlooking the Aegean Sea in Santorini, Greece at sunset.” “They’re amazing.”

“Well, thanks to the US Air Force, I traveled extensively while I was in the service.  I’ve got a bunch of albums like this one…  if you’re interested?”

“I’d love to see them.” 

After that, Asha and Jabir began taking turns hosting each other at dinner once a week.  Following dessert, they’d look at her photos.  He’d ask questions about each country’s food, customs, and inhabitants.  She found his inquisitiveness and attentiveness to her responses uniquely refreshing.  He was consistently impressed by the depth of her knowledge.

  As the months passed, their dinners became more elaborate, the bottles of wine more expensive, and that evening’s attire in line with that of a special occasion.  It was during one such dinner that Jabir told Asha what had led to his lifelong fascination with foreign places.

  Excited by the opportunity to see bare-breasted indigenous women in the Amazon Rainforest, a childhood friend had snuck a copy of The National Geographic magazine from his home.  In that same issue, there’d been an article about the Angkor Vat temple complex in Cambodia.  The photos of the multi-tiered sandstone buildings adorned with images from Hindu mythology had so captivated Jabir that he requested a subscription for his 12th birthday. 

From then on, he’d devoured every page of the yellow-covered monthly magazine when it arrived.  And while his adolescent peers decorated their bedroom walls with photos of star athletes and hot cars, he covered his with pictures of places he dreamed of visiting.  

On another evening, as they looked at some of Asha’s earliest photos, she went into her bedroom and emerged with a small cube-shaped camera.  It was a 243 Baby Brownie Special.  Her very first camera.  She told Jabir her maternal grandmother had given it to her when her father received his first overseas assignment.  She and her grandmother had been very close and agreed that Asha would send her photos of the places they lived.  But photography soon became an obsession.  Over the years, Asha had acquired more sophisticated equipment and taken courses covering everything from shooting techniques and photo composition to darkroom skills. 

With their ages, lived experience as black people, and interest in travel in common, Asha and Jabir’s relationship flourished. In addition to their dinners, they began spending time together attending movies, going for sunset walks, and watching television.  Being in each other’s company so often also led them to share their life stories. 

Asha learned a stroke had partially paralyzed Jabir’s father the summer he graduated from high school.  Because of that, he’d foregone college and gotten a job to help his family financially. When the last of his four much younger siblings completed high school, he was studying for his insurance licensing exam.  After that, he’d married, subsequently gotten divorced, then spent years caring for his aging parents.

“I’ve lived alone since their deaths,” he said.  “I’m not that close to my brothers and sisters.” 

“That can be a good thing,”  she said, “Provided that it doesn’t lead to loneliness.” 

Jabir learned Asha was an only child and never married, despite twice coming close.  In both instances, her prospective husband had wanted her to leave the service and be a stay-at-home mother.  Jabir asked her if she ever regretted not marrying.  

“I’ve grown accustomed to having my own personal space and things as I want,” she said.  “Sometimes when I was doing a lot of traveling, it would have been nice to have had someone with me, but things just didn’t work out that way.”  

“That sounds a bit lonely.”

Looking thoughtful, she then said, “Well, during the day, you’re normally busy sightseeing.  It’s the constant dinners and nights alone in a foreign country with no one to talk with that are hard.”

That night, for the first time in a very long time, they spent the night with one another.  Theirs was not the sexually charged passion of youths.  Instead, each of them took simple comfort in knowing someone understood and deeply cared for them. 

   In the morning, when Jabir awakened, he lay there watching Asha sleep peacefully.  When she finally opened her eyes, he smiled at her and said, “I’ve been thinking.  We could travel together.” 

She stared at him, the silence discomforting.  Then he noticed the warmth in her eyes. Feeling reassured, he said, “I’ve been thinking of retiring.  We’re both in good health.  I’ve never been sick a day in my life.”

“I’d like that,” she said, moving closer until their bodies touched.  “You only live once.” After that, Asha and Jabir often spent the night together.  The focus and purpose of their dinners became deciding what places they’d like to visit.  First to make the list was Angkor Wat. When the places and their potential travel schedule had been settled upon, Jabir asked Asha if she thought they should purchase travel insurance.

“Why?” she asked.

“For protection.” 

She laughed.  “Once an insurance salesman, always an insurance salesman.  You do realize there’s no such thing as unlimited protection or an absolute guarantee.” 

He joined her in laughter.


Now,  late in the day, as the sunlight was waning, most of the tourists had departed.   Asha’s thoughts returned to the present as she set her shoulder bag on the ground, knelt down, and pretended to tie her shoe.  Digging in the ground with her forefinger, she created a shallow trough.  Then, she reached inside the shoulder bag, pulled out the plastic bag, and poured its coarse, white, sand-like contents into the trough.  

Jabir’s strokes and heart attack had been sudden and unexpected.  In the three years since his death, Asha had done her best to fulfill their plans.  His siblings, not having kept in contact with their brother, had actually appeared relieved when she asked for some of his cremated remains.  

Task done, Asha swept the loose dirt back in place with her hand and stood up.  She placed the now-empty plastic bag inside the shoulder bag and draped its strap over her shoulder.

  “Angkor Wat is beautiful, Jabir.,” she said.  “You’d have loved it.”  Then, after kissing her fingertips and touching them to her heart, she raised her camera toward the temple and pressed the shutter release button.      


Photo attribution: Termer, CC BY-SA 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

Poems from the Loo

Poems from the Loo

Catherine A. Coundjeris

I thought it was important.

Zoom, zoom far away and long ago

when I was flying high above the clouds

on a journey to England from 

my home in Maryland.

Head full of old English poetry

and visions of plum pudding

and clotted cream dancing in my head.

I thought it was important

my first flight ever and I packed 

all the poetry I had ever written

in a white plastic bag that I carried

without a care in the world with my grey purse

on board the airplane.

Mother said, Careful, you will lose it all,

but I didn’t believe her.

I thought it was important

on a six-hour flight.

Dinner in a basket and  

I tucked the basket and green apple 

into the white plastic bag 

to keep for later

and then landed at Heathrow

Zoom, zoom onto Victoria station.

I thought it was important.

Bags and all

picked up by George and Maureen

And whisked off to their London flat.

A nap and a holy dream

of stone castles and grey skies.

Then a trip to the fish market

to buy our salmon dinner

and to get some fresh air.

After a bowl of olives

I thought it was important.

My appetite turned to the apple

as I realized the white bag was gone.

All my poetry was lost!

George took me to Victoria Station

and there in the loo the

Jamaican caregiver told me

I thought it was important.

She had tucked it into her

cleaning closet for safe keeping.

Basket and apple and poems.

George more knowing than I

gave her a large tip

and I was forever grateful

to George and that beautiful woman

and her lovely words.

I thought it was important.

What was lost was found again!

Those lyrics echoed in song

 forever in my mind:

Poems from the Loo.

photo by Harry Rajchgot



John Grey

Pick a card.
Any card.
Let me guess.
It’s the sunlit oak trunk
of Canadian forests.
No wait,
I see red-shelled bedbugs
and the suit…
the flag of storms.
Now put it back
among the tender people
and the loudmouths,
the revolutionaries
and the computers.
Let me shuffle.
Pick another card.
It’s the black misted canyon
of New York hotels.
Am I right?
Stop shaking your head like that.
I know it’s thousands of people in pain
of the metal finger cymbals.
I’m sorry.
You were expecting
the ten of clubs or something.
But I’m not a magician.
You don’t even need
to pick a card.
I can tell you it’s
the penumbra of reckless cancers
or the weakened eye
of Capitalism’s forefathers.
Okay, no more tricks.
I’ll just hand you
the last thing I wrote about you.
No, don’t shuffle it.
Don’t ask me to pick a card.
If you know it’s the
white-capped waters
of love long passed,
then what’s left for me to say?

photo by Harry Rajchgot

Of Autumn

Of Autumn

for Josephine

Rose Maloukis


days when the wind

floats branches on the far

side of the park, 

pushes slow and rolls 

light onto leaves—

they bow, turn, lift 

their shoulders I

I cannot look away

your shoulders

light brightens—

naked yellow lapping 

the last warmth 

before stepping 

into cold corridors

little little girl in light

determined, walks

with her father—

he glances at me

you glance at me


photo by Harry Rajchgot

Things Fall Off

Things Fall Off

John Reed

Things fall off and roll under other things. 

And sometimes they break when you’re almost done. 

And then you’re late but you have to go back. 

And people think they’re being so clever. 

And the cords are tangled just out of reach. 

And what should we do with our precious time?

And what would we do without Novocaine?

Maybe eat with our hands, much too loudly. 

Maybe ask our frenemies for more money. 

Maybe take the extra party favor.

Maybe flip the switches and hitch the latches. 

And itemize what we can’t leave behind. 

And scream in tunnels on the sleeper train. ⠀

photo by Harry Rajchgot

Climbing Mount Royal, 2020

Climbing Mount Royal, 2020

Peter Richardson

You’re twitchier than usual coming up this path

that shadows the curves of Camelien Houde road

but at least you’ve sloughed off the windy effluvia

of other people’s sidewalk breath as you slowpoke 

up the last three turns to the guard-railed belvedere.

Here’s where muscle cars idle in parking spots. Fans

of flaming tailpipes pass blunts between leather seats

till someone coughs which sparks a round of guffaws

and loud heckling. You remember that kind of a scene

taking place five decades ago in someone’s apartment.

Can it really be that long? Taj Mahal and The Doors

provided background music in the last years of a war

that ended on an embassy rooftop. You sat in circles

in rooms reeking of patchouli oil, while somewhere

graduate students struggled onward to their degrees.

You wonder if the guys in that Camaro give a crap

about becoming accountants or even laying cement

so it doesn’t crack after the first frost. Looking east

to Rougemont, you attempt to quiet your thoughts,

seeing them as clouds hanging over Mt. St-Hilaire.

At last, you stumble onto the Olmstead summit loop

with its west-facing glimpse of Lac St-Louis. That,

surely, is what you came for—a far off panorama 

of shoreline and river that just keeps on flowing

beyond jammed ICUs and sleep-deprived nurses.

Aren’t they the ones you should be saluting 

as you head for Beaver Lake, Tu Fu’s Selected

riding in your back pocket? All honour to that 

frail court advisor who, despite bouts of asthma,

penury and near-death treks over snowy gorges,

could praise the hoe he used for digging wild roots.

photo by Harry Rajchgot

Françoise Singing

Françoise Singing 

Peter Richardson

It blindsided them and ended the awkward

talk they’d been making when finally they

rustled up three cups of over-steeped tea

and sat across from her in recycled air

in the long-term care canteen—bald

son-in-law and grown granddaughter.

Wasn’t Françoise down to three words

of greeting? How could she sink a shaft

far enough down in her mind to recoup

this tuneful blues banisher? If pressed,

her visitors might’ve said they sensed

a slippage to a crowded kitchen table

on, say, a Sunday in Montreal’s vanished

Faubourg à mélasses, her father tapping

a glass for her to sing a snatch of Piaf.

The war in Europe over, rationing ending,

butter on the table, mint jelly, leg of lamb,

her kid brother and sisters called to order

by the faux-gruff father. But that’s fantasy.

This is Françoise at ninety, holding notes

in a lunchroom with no one to press record

just two maladroit listeners trying to field

what’s thrown to them—flats and sharps

that peel through air—sonic tchotchkes

that won’t come again, much less a medley

for the dazed father-daughter duo who clap

with hands that don’t know what else to do.

photo by Harry Rajchgot



Peter Richardson

I used to be able to lope along at the clip my daughter’s maintaining,

the younger one—fifty years my junior—cruising a step ahead

as we cross St-Denis. I tell her I’m bemused by the speed

with which she eats up ten blocks, then twenty and I remember

my father asking me to speak up, to repeat what I’d just said.

Can you please slow down a bit? I ask, and she decelerates 

before zooming ahead again. My father’s early hearing loss 

brought out the callous teen in me. I wanted him to try harder

as if he had a character defect that would get better if he made

an effort. Are you going to a fire? I ask. She sighs. We approach

Parc Jeanne-Mance. I used to be as fast as you. These days

I have to double-time to gain the half step I need to keep up.

My hearing’s shot too, I say, which she claims has more to do

with my not listeningthan with needing space-age hearing aids.

And what does pretending to be deaf have to do with dawdling?

she asks, as we dogtrot across Parc Avenue and up the brick

walkway past the gazebo. Was I ever this rude with my father?

I bow to her peppery wit. She’s fed up with my non-sequiturs,

my failure to listen when she and her mother talk in that elided

mother-daughter French which, although always grammatical,

leaves me in the semantical dust—but isn’t it up to me to hustle,

to cinch in my belt and listen with renewed zeal in the new Babel?

photo by Harry Rajchgot

kingdom of nil

kingdom of nil

john sweet

grey on grey in the kingdom of nil,

and kay would understand this

you escape only to return of

your own free will

you dream of suicide

of windowless rooms

within windowless rooms

doors that open onto

endless variations of your

lover’s naked corpse, 

and is there still the possibility

                                      of joy?

quietly, maybe


the future always

remains a possibility, 

the past can always be

torn down and built again,

                             or this –

we are only ourselves, but we

can learn to be flawless liars

we can keep saying i love you

until it finally means something,

but you knew this already

you came back again

only to plot your escape

only to prove how easy it

was to leave me behind

i don’t feel anything no more

i don’t feel anything no more

john sweet

the death days,

everywhere and always

the decorations hung, but

most of the lights burnt out, and so

fuck the past and fuck

the present

ignore the future

you will fall in love, yes, but

fear will always be the stronger emotion

the house,

collapsing slowly

the drugs your children take to

help them forget you,

and listen – 

christ’s hands are too small to

hold all of the

pain we cause each other

these cities are destined

to become deserts

man builds a house 

just to set it on fire

buys a gun and then

shoots at the sun

understands that there can never 

be anything more

terrifying than hope




john sweet


two in the afternoon and

cold enough to understand the

meaning of hell


corpses of children still

smoldering in frozen ditches


dogs sick, dogs starving and

always the need for a

war that will leave only

          peace in its wake


always a clock running

backwards in an empty room


fields full of anonymous

bones and nothing beyond

them but more of the same




A couple of weeks early, we’re officially launching our latest issue of JONAHmagazine, the 17th edition. Click here to access the July 2022 issue of JONAHmagazine. And a Happy New Year to all our readers and contributors.

We still have a couple of technical adjustments to make to our Archives, but that’s a longer term project and won’t affect your ability to find and read our literary material. Now each author’s work can be accessed by finding their name in the left-hand column in alphabetical order.



Martha Phelan Hayes

It is early December, still late afternoon, but already we have sunk into the  blackness that is high-tide deep and all consuming, a cold that numbs. You could drown in a night like that. Inside the house we are warmed by the oil furnace and each other. I feel safe here in the golden lamp-lit living room, tucked into the couch corner, guarded by the paned window. I am seven and too young to understand its fragility, just that it makes my side of it seem to glow beyond its wattage. 

The new baby is sick. He has been getting worse, and now my mother swears his chest is starting to rattle. The doctor has been in and out, and tonight my parents have phoned him again. They need to bring him to the hospital. I hear them in the kitchen, their voices unclear through their efforts to keep their worry to themselves and the convenient din of the television and my siblings’ play provides them. But through the muddle of sound, I hear my name. It comes out of their sea of talk and is said as if it is a resolve. “Martha can go with you,” my mother concludes. There is a certainty in her voice, a hint of optimism. As if this minor decision promises some resolution, some hope. 

In the car I hold my brother on my lap. We have faced the cold with sweaters and winter coats and an extra blanket for the baby. The used Ford takes a while to heat up, and so we are as good as outside as my father backs out of the driveway, his right arm across the top of the front seat, his concern passing by me as he peers out the rear window, backing the car into the road. He is our driver when a friend calls, or my mother needs a ride home from the grocery store or to the library, or on long trips to Boston to visit our grandparents. On Sunday all of us cram in to attend Mass, in the summer sometimes stopping for daisies from the girl who sells them on her front porch. 

The heater relieves us as we enter the highway, the headlights boring through the thick onyx night, and as we exit into the city, we seem to descend into a pool of light. The hospital is bright with starched white florescence that hums the same chord as my classroom lights when we are taking a test. Everything seems to have grown larger, a checker-box of dark winter clothes and sterile white walls and uniforms. The night rests on my father’s tongue when he checks us in, his throat clearing the cold as he says his name. I sit on a blue, vinyl chair, hold my brother, and wait. I smell the despair and dependence on the other heavy faces sitting around me, a swamp of sick and broken in this antiseptic stench of chlorine.

And then it is our turn and my father takes over. I stand beneath the charcoal of his suit, his tense limbs, as the doctor examines my brother. He taps his infant back and listens to his lungs, looks into his eyes with a piercing light. He asks questions that might come out of a dark closet with answers that doom us all. The baby is quiet. He lets him poke his body as if it is some lifeless thing they have found in the dark. I am certain he will die, and death is a sooty shadow that has followed us here.

But then the doctor removes the stethoscope, pulls out a prescription pad, and looks up at my father. The baby will live. My father’s shoulders drop and there is a handshake, a warm breath of relief in the room. He smiles, my father, with ripples of delight, as if someone has dropped a pebble into the pond that is his mouth. Suddenly he becomes the salesman he is and remembers me, joking about the antics of our ride here with a story that seems to have been written while I was somewhere else. 

My mother takes my brother the minute we are in the door. And soon I am burrowed in my own bed. I fall asleep to the whirl of his vaporizer, the smell of wet walls, and my own thoughts of death and eternity, the claustrophobic terror of my soul living on and on and on.

As My Attacker Drifts On Through or Other Men


As My Attacker Drifts On Through


Other Men 

Myles Zavelo

Ernest is talking to me and I’m talking to Ernest.  

This is a fact.  

If I ever have a boy, I will name him Ernest. 

(This is not a fact.)

And the person standing next to us says he has a headache.  But I forget his name.  

I know the boy with the headache is well read because in spite of the headache he lets us know that he is very well read.  

He has also written an essay on the possibility of cocaine-induced psychosis in Bright Lights, Big City.  In high school.  

I cannot remember his name but the definition in his face is gone, this is of course self-reported, and he’s gained thirty pounds, all because of lithium carbonate.  They used to be in the school plays. Their family used to tell them they were good looking.  Handsome.  That was before lithium––George?  

Is Adele hot?  Adele, our DBT Skills therapist?  This is the topic of discussion.  Ernest would do her, he says.  But there’s also not much Ernest wouldn’t do, these days, he tells me.  Ernest and Adele do different things for me.  They serve very separate roles.  For example, Adele will take me outside when I become overwhelmed (when I lose it, in her office).  She makes me count.  And Ernest will flash me the pornographic videos of him and the women he meets on Occupied and brings back to his sober apartment.  

You could call Adele an expert in what she does.  She used to work at McLean.  I ask her about ECT.  They have ECT at McLean.  These days I’m asking lots of people about lots of things.  Especially ECT.  

We wear the same brand of jeans and she’s spent time at my college, Bennington, in her youth.  She knows it’s not a sober place.  

“It’s just not,” she says. 

Ernest in not an expert in what he does.  He is from Savannah.  Everyone seems to be from Savannah.  He is coming from Cirque, in Utah.  And before Cirque (in Utah), hard intravenous drugs in Georgia.  And before that, action figures in his bedroom.  

And when playing with GI Joe dolls, he was elaborate, and contemplative.  

And when injecting drugs, he would make grocery lists that he could not execute.  

I will ask him questions about ketamine and he will tell me about going to music festivals, when he was my age, and the k-holes that happened at them.  Are k-holes necessarily bad things?  I don’t know.  

But he will still never know Bennington.  My Bennington.  I talk about my Bennington and he is in the room, listening to what I have to say.  

Other facts about Ernest.  His father is suicidal because of Bernie Madoff.  And his father calls his therapist “his consultant”.  Ernest is thirty-five.

And George?  

George?  Seth?  Or Liam?  stands there, with me. 

My brother used to tell me this.  Never play around with the escalator brushes.  Because the brushes will hurt you.  The brushes will eat your feet.  If you look into the brushes you will see a monster that swallows.  This is my first time inside the state of Arizona.  I am making a terrible impression.  I’m in pieces.    

My driver holds up a sign with my name on it.  He speaks to me as if I’m mentally disabled.  But it’s okay because he’s a nice guy and an older man and he’s my driver, and it’s a cliché, but everything is already shattered (have I blown things out of proportion?), and I am in pieces.

For some reason I am afraid of Kevin.  He will call me a fruitcake, later.  But I don’t know this now.  

All the hard work behind his fourth tango in Tucson will not go unnoticed.  He will be appropriately rewarded.  Kevin will become the recipient of, rumor has it, felatio.   

Yes, oral sex, on the track, behind the pool.  This is against the rules.  

The most likely female, judging by his robust homophobia, suspect still unknown.  

But this too, will happen later.  

And never you mind that Kevin is married––to a wife who, like Kevin, has just made an attempt on her life––with three children.  

But I don’t know any of this now.  

I meet Kevin in the car.  Our driver tells us where to sit and this is the beginning of my compliancy.  Kevin knows things.  He knows how much an eight-ball costs.  He knows about the snacks from the cafeteria.  Which, because of the utensils, we cannot enter unsupervised.  

In the car, he makes several phone calls to several buddies back in Spokane.  The ride is an hour long and we speak briefly, in intervals.  Kevin lets me know where we are going (and it’s a place that’s not in the brochure, it’s a place in which I will spend the better part of a week).  He’s done this all before.  Kevin is a train conductor with trauma.  We will be roommates for a few nights. 

I am definitely slouching because this is Ativan and it works (this is before I graduate to Klonopin).  I am in the tank and this is a sofa.  I’m trying to read but can’t.  Across from me are two young men. They’re watching Marley & Me (2008).  It would appear that Jennifer Aniston is not wearing a bra.  They begin discussing their shared enjoyment of this fact.  

Vernon is twenty-one.  He is wearing his favorite blue tee shirt.  He is a father, with a son named John.  He is a husband, with a wife named something.  He got married in Hawaii.  On a yacht.  A helicopter was present.  His father is probably in Ireland right now.  He owns an auto body shop.  This is what he tells us.  And what to believe?  Vernon is a first responder, detoxing from crystal meth.  A drug I can imagine him doing, and loving.  

Zach, his movie partner, calls himself crazy.  He’s from Kansas City and his favorite beer is Blue Moon.  

This place is not working out for him.  

For either of them.  

Zach is too sick.  He leaves early, the next morning.  

Vernon is a plain seizure risk.  

Vernon feels another seizure coming on and no longer cares about Jennifer Aniston’s body. 

And Zach notices that something is not right.  So he asks Vernon the following.  Are you okay?  Do you need water?  A nurse?  

This is a barely audible exchange from where I slouch, but I see everything.  Ativan works well (this is pre-Klonopin) but I begin crying so hard that I fall asleep.  The girls find Vernon funny.  

They think he’s a sweetheart from Savannah.  

The doctors and nurses hope for a transfer to another place (he’s been kicked out of most places but I think Vernon’s behavior is pretty good).  Vernon is in the tank for so long that they begin taking him for walks, outside. Vernon will make it out, two weeks later.  

Kelly stressed me out and made me cringe but Kelly likes me and calls me sweetheart.          So I thank her.  Kelly talks a lot.  Kelly had a crush on John.  Kelly tried sitting on John’s lap but Dirk made Kelly cut it out.  Kelly smokes Marlboro Lights.  Kelly will ask the nurses how the stock market is doing and the nurses have no idea.  Kelly largely complains of a kidney infection.  Kelly wears cowboy boots.  Kelly’s dad was in the Air Force but Kelly’s dad is dead and Kelly was three years old when someone started hurting Kelly and where was Kelly’s dad?  Kelly is not talking about crystal meth.  Kelly thinks Kelly is getting out of the tank but Kelly is not getting out of the tank.  Kelly is mean to Amberlee because Amberlee is traumatized and won’t stop talking about it and Kelly tells Amberlee to disappear but Amberlee somehow does not disappear.  Kelly reminds me of my attacker.  Kelly has two sons.  Kelly has an ex-husband.  Kelly’s ex-husband made Kelly’s blue eyed boy beat Kelly in the kitchen but Kelly’s blue eyed boy’s blue eyes secretly protected Kelly.

Kelly has nephews who ski.  Kelly’s nephews who ski work at a ski lodge.  Kelly’s nephews who ski teach people (who are not Kelly) how to ski.  Kelly asks Olivia if Kelly needs to be Olivia’s mommy in the tank.  Kelly asks Olivia if Olivia’s mom is 51/50 because Kelly’s mom was 51/50.  Kelly loves Olivia because Olivia is English and blonde and has been in movies but Olivia hates Kelly because Kelly is Crazy Kelly.  

Kelly is also mean to Matt.  Kelly is mean to Matt because Matt always calls his mom a cunt on the phone.  You’re not supposed to say words like always, or never.  Kelly is mean to Matt because the nurses caught Matt licking a page of his notebook.  Matt was licking his notebook because Matt dropped liquid LSD on the page.  

Matt is from Skaneateles.  Matt moved from Skaneateles to Colorado.  

Matt talks really funny.  I forget how Matt learned to shoot up.  Was Matt self-taught or did someone show Matt how? 

Matt believes in aliens.  Matt has seen a UFO before. 

I share air with Matt.  How many summers does Matt have left? 

In my room.  It’s the early morning and I could roll out of bed if I wanted to.  I might as well because I cannot fall asleep for the life of me.  Today I was afraid to leave the house because I might run into someone I know.  Tonight I ate an entire pint of ice cream and smoked a whole pack of cigarettes.  And, right now, I want to make a good gesture.  So I put my feet on the floor and everyone in this house is asleep.  Here are some other details.  I’m nineteen.  I can hear birds.  It’s cold outside, it’s December.  I go upstairs.  I go to my parent’s bedroom and before I know it, I’ve woken them up.  I’m going through their drawers and I’m making a ruckus.  I’m trying to find a box of band-aids that I know exists.  I am being naive.  I remember that I’m doing this because I have been misunderstood by my community.  Obviously my parents ask me what I am doing and I tell them that I am trying to find toothpaste.  But it’s band-aids!  

In the kitchen.  This is hard.  I’m not good at this.  But I’m also scared.  Why are you scared?  I’m not drunk.  I need to be drunk.  If I want to do this.  If I want to do this I need to be drunk but my family doesn’t want me to drink and I can’t break the agreement.  I’m scared.         I want to begin at my proximal forearm and I want to end at my distal forearm.

In the backyard.  It must be four o’clock in the morning.  I couldn’t do what I wanted to do in the kitchen.  I light a cigarette with a match and inhale.

At the corner store.  I’m buying ice cream with my brother.  He tells the clerk to never sell me beer or cigarettes.  Then he takes my left hand and shows it to the clerk.  “What’s this?,” he asks the clerk.  The clerk studies it and it only takes him a moment.  He tells my brother that is the burn of a cigarette.  That’s the only thing it could be, he says.  I am awful at slaughtering.    

Now I am living with other men.  This is a step-down facility.  They make declarations here.  They don’t say women.  They say things like…  anorexic bitches are better fucks than bulimic bitches.  They like rub and tugs.  They have gained weight on Zyprexa and Lamictal.  They have poor table manners.  They have blowhard dads.  Some have compliant mothers.  They are SDSU graduates and USC dropouts.  They have access to the very best pornography.  They are psychotic when under the influence of marijuana.  They have body dysmorphia.  They discuss the possibilities of fasting.  They love college basketball.  This is all part of my treatment.  This is the regimen.  What I wanted, asked for, and got. 

Do I actually do that to people?  I don’t know.  But I think it probably happens when she tells me that I do.  That I do that to people.  It probably happens when she tells me that I’m staring.  At her.  She tells me because something about this is not eye contact.  And this could be a part of the reason why people feel uncomfortable around me.  But yeah, that’s when it happens. Or perhaps it happens when he strongly suggests that I begin attending SLAA meetings here, in Los Angeles.  Either/or, that’s when I realize that they have the best therapists in town.  

I should correct myself–– that’s when I remember someone saying that, and agreeing with them–– they have the best therapists in town and I believe all of them. 

I am now officially doing chores for cigarettes.  I am doing this because a sofa has swallowed my wallet.  I am doing this because my parents will no longer put out for cigarette allowance.  This is because I have become a pack a day smoker.  With nothing to do.  So I empty the ashtrays, clean the stovetop, refill the beverages, and clean the kitchen floor.

Someone has messed with the grocery list. 

It now reads like this:

1. Turkey breast

2. Estrogen

3. Egg whites

4. Caviar

5. Oreo/Brownie Quest Bars

6. Breast Milk

7. Peppered jerky

8. Hummus

9. Rolex

10. Bag of spiders

11. Pineapple

12. Dildos

13. Pita Chips

14. Almond Milk

15. Roast Beef

16. Twinkies

17. Viagra

18. Mustard

19. Anal Beads

20. Trail Mix

21. Penis Pump

22. Jiffy

23. Life

24. Money

25. Corn chips

27. Salsa

28. Dark Chocolate

         And as I write this, something is happening.  An ex-Southern California Trojan Prince explains an ex-princess to us.  She was royalty but not quite royalty because his family was wealthier than hers.  Not as wealthy because they had to share a Ritz-Carlton bedroom with her kid brother and sister.  And at night they would make love on a cot and the lovemaking was rough and because it was rough, it was loud.  The kid sister and kid brother would wake up but then fall back asleep and the rough sex on the cot would continue and so on and so on.

Every morning my roommate jumps into the pool.  It is a filthy pool with rain water, tree leaves, some cigarette ash, and a deep end.  The pool is cold, our bodies are white, and the shock is a shock, so I begin joining him.  Dan is from Philadelphia/The University of Alabama. His parents own a sporting goods store near Delaware.  Dan has cannabis use disorder and there’s something wrong with his chest.  Dan is not his real name.  I have cannabis use disorder too.  But mild. 

In my last rehab I met Mark the Shark or Mark S.  A retired optometrist whose husband gave a young hispanic man a Pepsi enema, late one night.  

And a few times in the early mornings, the boy came back for more, and they would play around with him on the optometry chair that Mark had in his home.  

Mark also loved crystal meth and was not going door to door.  

But I go door to door.  

He asked me why and I told him why.  I say alcoholism.  I say alcoholism as a homeless man wearing green pants is being taken care of by paramedics.  My trainer likes drinking except for the carbohydrates.  

After the gym, I run into some boys from the sober house.  As we walk back to the house, it is apparent that we have nothing in common so there’s nothing to talk about but we see a policeman, waiting.  And he’s been there for a while now.  Dan calls him a faggot, barely, and I pay Dan five dollars to pee in his shorts in front of Sorority Row and I’m actually not an alcoholic. 

Why did this happen to me?  I’m not a bad person.  I’m a good person.  It’s been confirmed.  I didn’t hurt anyone.  

I can’t stand the sound of my name.  I can’t look at myself in the mirror.  I can hear the UCLA students on the campus, behind the house.  



Steven Masterson

Tomorrow Diya would marry Tariq. Diya and Tariq had never touched, they had never spoken. Their eyes had met just once. This was the way it was, the way things were meant to be. Syed was pleased with the wedding arrangements he had made for his daughter, and Diya would uphold her family’s honor. 

Tariq was the son of a neighboring village leader, and the bond between the two families would bring respect and strength to both. Connections were important here in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan; they could save your life.

But still she was afraid. Tariq was a handsome man, and she knew she wasn’t a beautiful woman. At fourteen she was really just a girl, but she could work and obey. She knew she could give Tariq sons if he found her acceptable. Tariq would teach her what she needed to know. She blushed at this thought.

With the ceremony a day away, neighbors offered their homes to friends and relatives who had begun to arrive. The village was in a festive mood with old friends meeting and laughing and singing. The dancing would be tomorrow. The women had been cooking for days, and Diya knew that somewhere nearby, the men would have some forbidden alcohol. This would be a joyful celebration! 

High on a mountain ridge overlooking the valley and village below sat two men observing the preparations and new arrivals. They watched with the survivalist eye and calm silence of fighters. If the soldiers came, Atif, the younger of the two, had his escape route planned. He didn’t fool himself; he knew that one day they would catch him and he would die. But the war would go on. In the end his side would win. That was why he kept fighting, and that was why he could face death. Allah willing.

“It will be a big ceremony,” Atif said to Bashir. 

Bashir responded, “Your brother Syed is well respected, an honorable man such as yourself.” 

“Yes, but he will not fight.”

“Atif,” said Bashir, “not everyone carries the sword. Perhaps Allah has another purpose for Syed. We cannot know.”

“You are right, we cannot. In the morning I will go down and see my brother and my niece. I will see my uncles and cousins, friends, maybe an old enemy or two.” Atif put his hand on Bashir’s shoulder. “You, my friend, will stay here and watch for soldiers, to warn me if they are coming.” He nodded at Bashir’s rifle.

Bashir said, “They will not be. You know that they are searching elsewhere. You will be safe but I will watch. Now you must sleep. The village is still a three-hour walk away.” 

When the sun rose over the mountains to the east, the villagers rose with it. Diya ate her final meal as her father’s daughter. She felt the giddiness, the nervousness, the fears, and the anticipation of a bride-to-be. 

Syed knew it was a sin to be full of pride, yet he was proud of the marriage that he had arranged, proud of the fact that his honor had attracted a man like Tariq. Surely Allah would forgive him this sin. This alliance would help bring wealth and security to both families. 

Atif had already been walking for an hour. High on the mountain ridge, Bashir thought of his friend. They’d fought together for twenty years, and Bashir had never seen a braver man. His courage under fire and his charisma away from battle had made him a leader among the fighters. This made him a marked man and continually hunted by his own country’s army and those of the west. He had become a liability. In this war, being invisible was best.

Atif was the battlefield commander but Bashir picked the battlefields. Bashir was the man in charge, the one who coordinated with other units, and the man who made the decisions. No one, not even among their fighters, knew this. It was as Bashir wanted it. Death follows notoriety; it was stalking Atif now. 

Bashir watched through binoculars as the groom and his family arrived on horseback. Syed had indeed done well, thought Bashir; even the women were riding. Looking at the sun, he knew Atif had been in the village for over an hour. It was time. Digging into his pack, Bashir pulled out a satellite phone and, punching a button, spoke three words… “He is there.”

Across the border in Afghanistan, on another valley floor, in a remote hanger on a small airfield, Preston had been expecting the three-word message. The agency had approved the kill-order on Atif. The warlord had hurt them more than once. The bastard seemed to know where and when to fight, and was fierce when he did. He fought where he was the strongest and they were the weakest. But now Preston had him. Atif had gone to the wedding. 

Preston himself had developed ties to this source and he was completely reliable. It had taken months but the source had finally gotten close enough to Atif to pinpoint his location. Now Preston would kill him. He took the target coordinates to the control room and handed them to a controller. “Now…Atif,” was all he said. Preston ignored the monitors and went back to his office. He knew the warlord was dangerous, and he knew he was saving American lives. But he could not watch.

In the beginning he had watched as the blood drained from the bodies and oozed away in the eerie, black-and-white thermal images. He had watched as the stain, and then the body, cooled and disappeared. In the bright light of day, he had watched small children run into the kill zone and die as they played, vaporized into mist, leaving behind no stain at all. He could watch no more.

Bashir was a good commander. He found the best end to the worst circumstance. Atif had become too big a man; they were hunting him. They would get him. He had become too dangerous to be around. Bashir had his replacement picked from among Atif’s lieutenants; a fighter other warriors would respect. Bashir would makehis star shine. The Americans had paid dearly for Atif. Money, enough to train many more rebels. And there would always be more men to train. Bashir had done the best he could. He turned his back on the village; he could not watch what he had done.

He heard the explosion as the drone-launched smoking spear crashed into Syed’s home. The terror from above seldom missed. Allah’s will: Syed’s purpose.

Diya and Tariq died ten feet apart; they had never touched. Atif and Syed died sitting face to face, Atif smiling while Syed spoke. Syed’s wife and two of her young children died making the last preparations for her daughter’s wedding.

Preston had his elbows on his desk and sat, head in hands, when the cheer erupted from the control room. His head sank deeper into his hands, forcing his lips back into the teeth-baring grimace of a man on the edge, losing his grip. His body swayed back and forth as his lungs exhaled in a tortured rush, then re-inflated with a frightened gasp. The sobs started deep in his soul and convulsed his body like Satan’s dance.  

Bashir started down the mountain. He had done the best he could; they would stop hunting. He had seen enough men die, lost enough of his fighters to have a hard heart, but Atif had been his friend. He fought to control his grief, for he knew what he would find below. 

He had been in Islamabad in April and watched the spectacle as the two mostly untrained pups had beaten the Americans in Boston. Even though the Russians had warned them! “They are as vulnerable now as they were for bin Laden,” Bashir said to himself, “still overestimating themselves. Atif and a handful of his fighters could have swept the streets clean of the western devils. Killed them on the corners where they stood.”

Bashir heard the pain as he neared the village. When he reached the wounded, he helped where he could. It wasn’t like it was in the west. There was no doctor, no ambulance, no hospital, no medicine; just dead, dying, and wounded men, women, and children: collateral damage. Bashir’s battle experience served him well closing wounds, setting bones, and removing useless limbs. He worked for hours and then, exhausted and bloody, went to sit in the shade of a tree beside the centuries-old well.

Bashir was a stranger in this village. No one knew him. But they knew he had been with Atif, they knew he was a fighter. He sat and waited in the shade of the tree. Now, Bashir thought, I will see what the Americans have truly paid for Atif’s life. I will see what seed has been planted today, and who will reap the harvest. They will come. If I was not here, they would come to the mountains.

He sat alone in the cool shade, watching the sun slide toward the mountains in the west, wondering when his time would come. “Allah’s will,” he spoke aloud, hoping The Prophet would hear.

They came to him through the village, six men and two boys followed by the remaining villagers, most still dressed in their bloody wedding finery. They stopped in front of Bashir, faces of shock and fear, and grief, hatred, rage, and determination. They stood disbelieving what had happened, yet knowing it had. One man stepped forward and spoke to Bashir.

“These two boys are Syed’s sons; they have a duty to their father. Three men from the village of Syed and three men from the village of Tariq will also go with you. We all have a duty to the families.”

“Debts will be paid,” Bashir said, and motioning to the six, he continued. “These men must train; in a few months they will be ready. The young ones, Syed’s sons, will take longer. Allah willing, they will go to America.” 

Sea Foam

Sea Foam

Sunny Stafford

‘Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep’

(William Shakespeare: Henry VI part II)

It was a place where the sea met the rocks and the rocks melted into the sea. In the shade of a twisted palm tree hosting thousands of glistening blackberries at its base, the girl watched as the translucent moon in a sky of mineral blue pulled the tide further up her legs. On the rocks beside her, a dead sea catfish stirred in the rising waters, its sun-hardened whiskers giving the eyeless body the look of petrified hope. A single crab prodded at the corpse with the patience of a matador past his prime. Dried bits of flesh were poked and prodded from the body of the fish. The girl knew the sea would take care of the rest. 

Galatea rubbed her left eye and winced. Over the years, she had been stung plenty of times. But this time, the walk through the swamp on her way to the jetty came at the cost of half of her vision for the day. The wasp that stung her eyelid was either smarter than the rest or just plain lucky. Galatea looked out to sea and watched the wind cast its sparkles onto the water. She reminded herself that beneath the surface an eternal battle was raging. From whale to minnow, everything was in a constant state of alarm. She knew there was no point in looking towards town. It was the same there, too. The only difference was the medium. But here, in the gray existence between water and air, Galatea felt like she was halfway home.

Dark clumps of seaweed drifted with the current and Galatea closed her good eye. The hirsute image of her father drifted across her mind. All those promises of riches and happiness, all the drunken blame on her mother and herself for the failure of the family Wool-works. It took three generations to build the family business, her great-grandfather nothing but a dirt poor sheep herder much further inland. But it only took a little more than a decade for her father, that monster of a man both in form and action, to ruin it. Fire took care of the rest. There was no reason to bury her mother, she was turned to ashes along with her father whose body was full of fuel in the form of cheap whiskey.

When the sea had reached her knees, Galatea was still deep in reflection with only a sliver of the seascape coming through her swollen eyelid. Then something soft struck her bare back. Again and again, she was struck with something that felt far better than some kind of malicious aerial assault. She looked up into the palm tree and saw nothing but the alternate fronds swaying in the breeze. When she turned back, she saw a few bruised golden grapes on the rocks. The grapes looked exotic, juxtaposed to the countless blackberries that stained the rocks they rested on with a deep purple. She had never tasted golden grapes, just green ones. Galatea picked up one of the grapes, took a deep breath and tossed it into her mouth. A smooth sweetness tinged with just a bit of acid made her tongue swell and her mouth water. When she swallowed, she saw her.

“I know, I know. It’s delicious isn’t it? I wasn’t sure if you’d eat it. Probably thought it just fell out of the sky from nowhere. But everything comes from someone,” the girl’s voice laughed from the palm tree.

“I can’t see you,” Galatea called out, shielding her good eye with her hand.

“You will. It just has to reach your eyes. Sorry. Your eye. Didn’t think I’d come across a cyclops today.”

“I’m not—“

“The name’s Acis.”

“I’m Galatea.”

“Well, what a pair we make. Hey, look!”

“Where?” Galatea shouted, looking around.

“At me.”

  If the sunlight dreamed of being a shadow in the form of a person, it would be who was climbing down the palm. Galatea put her hands into the rising waters to feel some kind of comfort as she watched. When the glistening shadow reached the rocks, texture and detail began to fill out the light. With every step, the form was walking towards personhood. By the time Acis reached Galatea, she was smiling, and in every particle a girl Galatea’s age in appearance. The dark-haired girl laughed as she sat next to Galatea.

“The last person ran away when I tried this,” Acis smiled.

“What are you?” Galatea asked.

“What are you?”

“I don’t know—“

“Me either. I’m just thrilled you can actually see me. Most people don’t get past a voice without a body.”

“But here you are,” Galatea muttered, not daring to make eye-contact.

“Here I am.”

“Well, I don’t like seeing most people and most people don’t take any mind to see me. So I guess we’re kind of even.”

“That makes us almost even. The water feels so good. It always does.”

It was then that Galatea noticed Acis’ legs in the water. Where the sea met her knees, the lower part of her legs were gone. Between the rolling wavelets, when the water had a moment of calm, there was nothing beneath the surface but the green water. A ring of sea-foam marked where Acis’ body gave way to water. Galatea marveled as a gust of wind sent the water to both their waists, leaving nothing below for Acis. As it receded, her body seamlessly was revealed.

“Quite a sympathetic thing I have going here with the sea, huh?” Acis laughed softly, looking down at herself. “When I go for a swim, I lose myself in it. Hey…you’re still here.”

“Me? Of course, I am,” Galatea laughed nervously. “But I keep on watching you disappear.”

“It looks like that. It always has. But you have a sea inside of you. Everyone does. I just have more. Look at your own legs. See how they change underwater?”

“Yes, but thats because of….refraction.”

“Sure. Call it what you want. But every particle of you wants to be what it once was. The sea is the womb of the world. We’re all sea-foam.”

“Can you breathe underwater?” Galatea asked, edging closer to Acis.

“I wouldn’t call it breathing. It’s more like a kind of being underwater. I just am as much as the water just is. Wait a moment. Don’t go anywhere.”


Just as Galatea glanced out to sea, a rogue wave crested and crashed on the rocks. Countless particles of united seawater sent Galatea onto her back and into the blackberry bushes. When she looked up, in spite of the thorns pricking her knees and hands, she saw that Acis had disappeared. But when she looked down at the rocks, in a pool of sea-foam, she saw a glimpse of Acis. Looking to her left and right, she saw other bits of the girl as she crawled on her hands and knees back towards the edge of the rocks. 

As the water spilled back into the sea, the form of Acis appeared. Galatea watched as Acis lingered just beneath the surface like an aqueous hologram composed of water rather than light. Jellyfish, catfish, minnows of various sorts, a sea-turtle, a school of dolphins, nurse sharks and indistinct simple-celled organisms gathered around the image of Acis. Galatea watched and waited as the hot wind began its task of eradicating the rogue water on the rocks and herself.

Galatea had always found the wind disorienting. Wind proved the air was one of the minions of death and decay, the slow eater of everything standing. It was the wind that portended what was happening to her. As the creatures of the sea danced with Acis, Galatea felt her swollen eye begin to sting. The tinge of tickling pain turned to torment as the sensation crept down her face and throughout her body. Somewhere in her stomach, a white-hot lump of fire was cooking her from the inside. Galatea tried not to scream and expected to smell burning flesh but the stench never came. A gust of wind took her eyelids first. A dark liquid spilled out of her navel as her insides poured out of her in a viscous goo tending towards molasses. By the time she fell to her knees, nothing remained of her but clinging sinews and her lidless eyes. She wanted to close her eyes and destroy her sight but the setting sun mocked her in its radiance from afar.

Harmony, that strength of binding opposites, found its masterpiece when the wind sent a wave crashing onto the tormented body of Galatea. Following the slant and crevices of the rocks, the water brought her along on its journey back into the sea.

When her ruined body found its way into the sea, when the wind was nothing but an effect in the medium outside of the water, Galatea opened her eyes and saw.

The sea creatures were gathered around her and moving in their multifarious ways in a counter-clockwise direction. Galatea took no breaths, there was no need. She moved through the water as light does through space. There was no space or time, only a being. Her name sank to the bottom of wherever she happened to be like a hailstone would from a storm over the sea, sinking and diminishing before it even forgot it came from the sky. She was someone who had found where she was supposed to be, as true as water.

The palm fronds below her danced in the breeze as she looked down towards the rocks of the jetty. A small cloud high in the atmosphere drifted by the afternoon sun and melted before it passed. Below her, sitting on the edge of the rocks where the rising tide had almost reached her knees, a girl was rocking back and forth. Her left eye was swollen shut. From the top of the palm tree, she closed her eyes for a moment as she felt the light passing through her. Then she remembered the grapes. There were only three but she knew her aim was true. She pulled out one of the golden grapes and threw it at the girl below. Contact. She threw another. Contact again. Then another. The girl on the rocks at the edge of the sea turned and looked up into the palm tree. Acis smiled to herself as she watched the girl eat one of the grapes. When the girl’s lips pursed, Acis felt her own voice return.