Category Archives: JULY 2021

The Curious Life and Time Of 

The Curious Life and Time Of 

Kenneth Kesner

Just inside our school there stand two black lions flanking the entrance.  Every one of good character is moved by their courage and their compassion.  These are the desks where Headmaster and Head Teacher had spent so many years and left just as they were when they left.  First it was Father a day after seeing the six grandkids at his birthday party, then Mother, maybe a few minutes later, so happily of a broken heart.  It’s said that, even during typhoons, none of their papers rustles.

As a young man, Father fell in love with the sea.  He travelled in a sampan to Butte, Montana, USA, where he met Mother when she was working in a salmon hatchery.  She had been vacationing during a regime change in China, and simply ran out of money to return home.  Or maybe the currency was devalued.  Either way, they sailed Pacific currents where Older Sister joined them, somewhere off the coast of Saipan.  I came along some years before landfall on the Pearl River Delta, where we stayed until we left.  

Almost every day we’d wade ashore, help with village chores then lunch then return to our home.  Late afternoons would see a number of visitors visit us, always bringing just enough food to content everyone.  In return Father would weave stories of history and magic whilst Mother would sketch something even more mysterious.      

Soon a school was to be built, so Father and Mother contributed by crafting teak furniture from our boat until there was nothing left.  We moved into the city where the villagers now lived, a few blocks from our school.  Somehow all the villagers found work inside or outside—teaching or gardening or both.

The day of her final Spring field trip was the only time I saw Older Sister at school.    It was just after her twentieth birthday.  She was in a field.  You see, we visited a field that day.  So many younger students flocked to her.  She’d begin a story and each kid would in turn add something until the story was complete.  After a number of stories, they shared lunch boxes until time to board the school buses and return home. 

Older Sister wasn’t really aware of herself until the day Max dropped in.  Max left Brooklyn after some involvement with various rackets—or syndicates, as he preferred.  He went underground—first as a subway maintenance-man then as a water-technician, both based in Manhattan.  “From rackets to ratchets,” he sometimes used to say.  Max reached Hong Kong in the mid-sixties, and immediately found a niche in the plumbing trade, servicing the many low- to mid-income housing projects that sprung up as the economy began to take flight.  Ours is one of them.  

The only absence Older Sister had during her school years happened in her Upper Sixth Form.  Max was making his rounds in the concrete boxes of our building when she stepped from the shower to discover him arriving to check the pipes.  

“EXCUSE ME.  Can’t you see I’m …?”

“Lady, either that or you have the strangest taste in clothing.”

Max eventually began plying his trade in the Kowloon financial district, where he did quite well even though some people began to confuse him with Marx.  Some traders were heard to say they were on the phone with Marx.  Ripples or great waves on the financial markets ensued.  Good old Max.  

John and his siblings were expected to study earnestly and work diligently—then everything else would fall into place just like luck.  His grandfather and his grandfather reasoned, “You learn the streets, the eddies of society, you learn a good business.”  

As a teenager, John worked as a message runner in the financial districts, moving from one securities firm to another, securely relaying nuances from one executive to another.  After college abroad, he deservedly joined the family business as a custodian to learn all the offices and the coworkers—their habits and their characters.  In time John showed promise brokering deals between brokers and so earned an office position, always making certain to welcome new employees on their first day.

Older Sister never studied much but mastered the vocals of most current Janis Joplin songs.  Instead of writing answers to her assignments, she’d draw something that incorporated something from each of the subjects.  The family agreed that Older Sister should pursue a clerical career, which she began in a business soon after graduation.  She was to live at home until she married.  

As you know, all companies require 4 documents of new graduates:  attendance records, marks and IQ test results—no exceptions.  One Thursday morning our school clerk approached Father to let him know of a firm’s request, which delighted him since Older Sister was showing initiative.  She also informed that IQ results were nowhere to be seen so Father stepped next door to ask Mother.  She shrugged and asked the same to Father, who shrugged.  Older Sister had been absent the day her Form tested so she would have to report to the Education Ministry and undergo the ordeal—this time escorted by Father and Mother.  They remained perched in their seats until the administrator returned and announced that, with scores ranging over 170, they couldn’t be accurately pinpointed.  Father and Mother refused to believe this, had her sit for another, then surrendered when the same results were announced.

“Because, if you had known, you’d have made me study even more.”

John and Older Sister met, fell in love, married and raised 3 beautiful children by early afternoon.  It’s just as well—in late afternoon near tea time, 2 raven-haired lawyers—one in red qipao, one in gold aodai—and their stenographer landed in the corporate conference room for the final meeting to complete the hostile takeover.  Older Sister was asked to take notes, which she did using brush and ink.  

After reading over their documents, she asked the kill team, “Just one question: ‘How did you?’” 

Now the qipao and aodai were on the floor, and the two phoned in resignations, agreeing to work with Lark Securities in any capacity available to them.  You can still see both pushing tea carts through the corridors of the building or fetching boxed lunches from the corner restaurant.

The corner restaurant isn’t a restaurant, though.  Mr and Mrs Lim had closed it years before.  They would usher lost patrons through the maze of dining room tables, past the kitchen, through the pantry to the lane behind, where Son and Daughter-in-Law have their own.  This way they could have tea and share the newspaper, reading together one page at a time, squabble about reported events—how one was more confused than the other—until they left to bring the grandkids back from school.  One Sunday morning one of the grandkids noticed Grandfather was reading from left to right and Grandmother from right to left.  They decided to reopen the restaurant.  

With the wedding dinner approaching, the elderly couple happily wrote John and Older Sister:

“For the wedding party, we’ll prepare a meal somewhere between feast and famine, and neither fish nor fowl, but both!  First we offer Celestial Roasted Albino Duck.  As you will see, each has only one wing so that it flies in circles to Heaven then back to Earth.  Next a seasonal favorite of the Emperors:  steamed Manchurian whitefish in freshest ice and snow.  Finally a dessert of Pearl River Pearl—to remain a secret to some until wedding day.”

John left it up to Older Sister, who left it up to the parents and grandparents, who left it up to the siblings.  

During dessert, Mother-in-Law uncovered her bowl to remove and string a pearl on a gold thread, and such was continued by everyone around the table until it reached Mother-in-Law, who knotted the thread securely and handed the necklace to John, who placed the family’s gift around Older Sister’s neck.  John and Older Sister spent their honeymoon watching the moon rise as they walked to their new home.

It’s said that the Northwest wind arrives carrying good and bad fortunes so we learn:  Wait to see how things change.  Three of Father’s and Mother’s former students dropped in on us one evening bearing delicious snacks and sad tidings.  There was talk in the Education Ministry that a certain Madame Xi was appointed by the Northern government to investigate the credentials of every Hong Kong administrator and teacher.  The Pekinese had fished around and detected that files containing Headmaster’s and Head Teacher’s diplomas and certificates were missing.

“Simple enough, dear students, we don’t have any.  We began as gardeners and remain so today.  Our salary receipts demonstrate such.  As you know, we ask each student on the final day to write just one statement—the most valuable lesson they’ve learnt that year.  We summon each one, one by one, and ask whether they will always live according to that lesson.  They nod then they pass.  Simple as that.”

Mother kept knitting, though her position moved from the sofa to a corner where ceiling and walls joined.  She stayed there knitting away, spinning a most exquisite web of revenge.  Tomorrow morning, the city would know of it, and everyone would gladly participate.

Madame Xi had the habit of stamping her tiny feet and waving her pudgy fist then almost yelping when flustered.  You could see this about to happen when she marched into Headmaster’s office and demanded to interrogate the Head Master, who wasn’t in his office.  She stormed into Head Teacher’s office, where Mother sat chatting with a gentleman of about the same age.  

“Where is this Headmaster?  I want to see him right now.”

“Simply take the stairwell to the 3rd level, walk down the East wing, then one flight down, past the library, one more flight down.”

The inquisitive visitor did so, and so arrived again at Head Teacher’s office, where the couple looked up and offered so many different sets of directions, all with the same result.  

“You haven’t seen the last of me.”

An exhausted Madame Xi returned to the boarding house to phone the Northern government.  Before trying the key, her room door was opened by a well-attired mockingbird couple holding their nestlings.

“So good of you to drop in … you see, we’re feeling a bit peckish.”  

All the landlords and merchants would, one and all, shoe Madame Xi away with a sweep of the wing—no one would lease or sell anything to her.  Sometime later, what remained of her was whisked away by the wind to Hong Kong Bay, where she was gobbled up by a vacationing salmon.  Poor old Madame Xi.

Do you remember those lions?  Hong Kong attended their funeral, as did the Mayor of Butte, the Governor of Saipan and a representative of the Northern government amongst so many others from far away.  The school day following, the new Headmaster and Head Teacher quietly announced that Dad and Mom wanted everyone to enjoy their lunches outdoors today and to forget about anything troubling anyone, whatever it might be.  A few hours after we all finished eating, a windless, light rain began to fall and moved everyone slowly indoors.  It seems Celestial Heaven hadn’t heard the announcement. 

The Bard of Frogtown

The Bard of Frogtown

Allison Whittenberg

Like most writers I am full of shit. 

Sometimes I look at the piles and piles of half started 

prose and think, “Got a match?”

And then, I think, I’ll write a poem. Poems save paper.

So all of a sudden I am a poet.  Yet, I still have 

nothing to say.

Write, writer, write!  Goddamn it, write you fucking 

idiot.  Asshole, hole in the ass.  Craphead.  Son of a 

bitch!

Hey!

What?

Don’t get personal.

By the way, my real father, yes, the one I have never 

seen in my life, is a goddamn poet.  My mother still gets an 

occasional sestina through the mail from his as yet to be 

published chapbook entitled, The Part of Me that No One 

Knows.

Tell me about it.

Yet as a poet, I just don’t feel like I am any good.  

When I was younger I used to read my stuff with a sense of 

accomplishment.  Now I just cringe.  After work I come home 

and try to get busy on something gold and it turns on 

trite, banal, and unkempt.

Children are natural artists then they get old and 

they dry up.  I am 19 now.  And as I keep saying I have 

nothing to say.

I’ve lived with Debra for the past four years. 

When I left home it was like a funeral except no one 

had died.  I was so sad.  I cried once I hit the main drag.  

Big tears, buckets of them.

I was fifteen, when Debra and I found our own place.  

We moved from a little town to a big city. From West to 

East while still staying North.  We live in rough and 

tumble Frogtown.   In Frogtown, us people sell crafts, they 

line the drags with their handufactured baskets, pottery, 

metal works, and textiles.

She is a little bit older than me and helped me out a 

great deal.  Not just with the security deposit but she 

listen to me hash out about my childhood.  Long nights we 

spent therapeutically bottle and blunt passing till I got 

it all out, the words.  I realized now that not only do I 

hate my stepfather, but I also resent my younger brother, 

and that my mother is a continual source of frustration.

With all that memesized and catharsis size, I should 

crack open like an egg.  I should have plenty to write 

about.  I should look at a blank piece of paper and fill 

it.

I wash airplanes for a living.  

Somebody has to.

I wake up at five in the AM and go down to the airport 

and scrub the thick plastic windows with a long handled 

brush.  I have always loved planes, always dreamed of 

floating above things.  Tempting God with man made angel 

wings.

When I got home this afternoon, Debra was in broken-in 

jeans, a teal tee shirt and the familiar fawn colored 

leather jacket. She wears all of this indoors because we 

have limited heat.  Sometimes the walls get frost-covered 

Still, Debra is a diligent writer.  She does songs.  I walk 

in an she is holding the guitar pick between her teeth as 

She scribbles notes on a page.  She flicks her head back an 

winks at me.  She is a winker.  Always winking, an I think 

just who in the hell wears the pants in this relationship.

She does.

Debra loves bits of clutter: Books and papers and 

hankies that she blew her nose on.  I can’t stand it.  

Often I just want to tidy up but dare I take liberties with 

her, her, her — well, I suppose genius is as good a word 

as any.

But perhaps it’s still not the right one.

A few months ago, Debra sold one of her songs to a big 

deal Cosmopolitan company. She got 500 dollars outright. We 

had steak for a week.  That’s the problem with being a Zoe 

and dealing with the Cosmos everything you sell is sold 

outright and haven’t us Blacks have given enough away.  

They have stolen our land, our women, now our music.

The name of the song was, “A White Sleeve of 

Moonlight.”  And when Debra sang it felt Black.  It was 

textual and lilting yet bodacious as cowboys.  She used 

steel strings instead of the Cosmopolitan twinkling of a 

piano.  I heard the Cosmo version on the radio and I almost 

kept passing the dial.  It was a totally different song, 

and a corny one at that.

Oh Debra…  She was the sanctuary from my problems I 

forgot she had so many of her own.  She was like an regular 

Zoe with a family tree that tangled at the root.  I could 

never get it straight but I knew she was the half sister of 

the dead Rice Street Man.  The Rice Street Man that my 

brother, Jak, was so enamored with.  The Rice Street Man 

that smelled worse than his dog.  And as if that weren’t 

bad enough, quite a few of Debra’s short on dollars, long 

in the tooth relatives used to stay over temporarily for 

months and months.  And poor little Deb was treated like 

she was invisible.  She was forced into disappearing to 

create a room.  

She used to have to give up her bedroom and sleep on 

the couch. It was then that she learned to play that funky 

old guitar that she’d found in a dumpster.  At night while 

all the live-ins where raising Hell she’d mouth the words, 

practice fingering, playing without sound. Just another 

blond haired girl, in a country that over flowed with 

them.   

So unprettied up, you could take her for granted.  I 

have never seen her in a dress but then again she’s never 

seen me in one either.  I like to use her life in my 

writing even more than I like to use my life in my writing.

Writers are the worst type of people God ever put on 

this earth.  They note the way the dirt falls on a casket 

of a dear friend because they know they can use it later.  

It is always my writing, my writing, my writing.  The whole 

fucking world revolves around my writing.

I want to write a poem.

Lovers make the worst critics, so why do I always ask 

my Debra?

I show her my words few and she says, “I don’t know it 

sort of sticks in my throat.”

I snatches the paper back from her and tell her that 

she was supposed to fucking read it not fucking eat it. 

She laughs at me.  She laughs at me.  She throws her 

lovable head back and laughs at me.

I read my work aloud:

Salt without bread.

Thorns on a cactus.

Buddy Holly, I miss you. 

Why didn’t you go Greyhound?

I smile, puffing my chest out.  Sure, it needs some 

revision but its not all bad.  The images are clear and 

concrete.  The sound and rhythm may need some spit and 

polish.

All right, it sucks.

It bites the big wiener.

But at least it has punctuation and it does not employ 

the lowercase “i”.

I want to be Langston Hughes.

Enough of these meditations.  These scream fests on 

the mysteries of freedom, love, and hate.

I want to be remembered.

I know I am not a great writer I am only a great re 

writer.  Half the time there is nothing pithy in the first 

draft.  Half the time I don’t know where its going its all 

improved.  I don’t have a style or tone that I wish to 

effect.  I feel like screaming at myself where is my theme? 

Where is my message?  Why am writing this poem in the first 

place.

I will switch back to prose.

Inside every fiction writer there is a failed poet.

Metaphors, like my heart is dry like a big red 

balloon, are inflated but then I think all right so where 

where do I go from there?

I break for supper.  Debra fixed homemade pizza pie 

with marmot meat and shrooms as topping.  I down a few 

pizza slices and drop the crust. She’s not a bad cook, but 

I’m a little better, I measure, I do not gestamate so much.  

She has a great smile, nothing but teeth.  Big teeth and 

squinchy eyes. I enjoy this time a couple of low rent 

artists eating pizza off a white plate with blue trim.  She 

asks me about the planes and I tell her quite recently they 

had entrusted me with an unbelievable amount of keys.

“How many is too many to believe?”

“37.”

“Unbelievable,” she winks at me. “Now don’t fly off 

with the place.”

I stand and she makes a grab for my butt, smiling, “ 

Off to do more writing?”  she asked.

“That’s a good question,” I answer.

After our meal she washes the dishes and I take my 

compositions to the bedroom.  

In this next expanse of time, I had done everything to 

write.  I drew a bath, drank some murk, splashed cold water 

in my ears, danced the bop, the bump, the butterfly, the 

electric slide, the four corners, the icky shuffle, the 

mashed potato, the shingling, the worm.  I felt refreshed, 

but still no words.

So I light up and dream, I was make love to Debra only 

she has thick black hair and the wind blows and exposed her 

blond roots.  Her eyeliner ran down her cheeks like fast 

graffiti.  Those long full breasts had shrunk to teacups.

I dream of white food as symbolism. Rice pudding and 

glazed doughnuts.

SPACE.  Time and space.  Time sitting, smoking in the 

numb silence, watching the snow, as if it were doing 

something wild, like disappearing instead of the same old 

same old.  I press my face against the pane and gaze at the 

wide, white city below.  

Winter.  Heavy snowstorms at the floodgates bringing 

up a whirlpool of memories.  Snowing as marvelous as sugar 

— pink and white candy coated Christmas.

Debra, her bland blue eyes told of a fairy tale of 

cabbage and rye toast.  Toy soldiers.  Debra vouting a 

rendition of “White Christmas”.   I start singing along 

real low and soft you’d have to read my kisser to tell.  

Wilting.

The soundtrack mixes over and over.

“Are you gonna share or is a contact high all that I 

can hope for?” is the question that wakes me.  

Debra stands by the doorway, 25 years old, and wasting 

her time on me.  I’m just an adult child still so full of 

dream.  Unable to achieve any synthesis.

I roll a herb her way.

Sometimes it’s better not to force it I think as my 

ram road is in her and I’m frictioning her.  Sometimes it’s 

better to distill in the hope of further cross 

fertilization.

I do have a beginning of something:

Snow like sweat 

or smoke, like mercury,

rising above itself 

in a cloud.

the werewolf

the werewolf

Josephine Gawtry

it’s true that if we were in a storybook you’d be the werewolf. slouching around the kudzu on the perimeter of my yard at night, with the rabbits and groundhogs quivering in their viney coves, the deer still and wide-eyed across the old fence in the shady spruce knoll—illuminated only by distant headlights from the main road—i would look out my window and think i saw something moving out there. dismiss it as one of the mountain creatures, a fox, a black bear;

in the long farm grass we walk in springtime. ticks tickle our hairy girl legs. we find a stream with a sitting stump and a climbing tree and a bushel of wineberries. we stain our cut-up, nettle-stung hands purple and red, place the berries on each fingertip and suck them off, giggling. on our walk back we fiddle with sweetgrass and tuck eachother in our palms. i bring home wild onions and my dad puts them in the salad.

its winter and we wear jackets and go to the bakery. i choose an elephant ear and my dad asks why they are getting more expensive. looking outside at the freeway, i pant mist onto the window, spelling my name with the J backwards in fingersmudge. we go back to the house we can’t afford (the recession just happened) and my mom yells at me, in the harmless way that i am used to. i have my own room now and change my own clothes, still hesitantly. 

in summertime, i see the werewolf again. at the edge of the neighborhood, where the new houses are being built—among the concrete shells and loose nails, he stalks, blue eyes studying me. he is a mixture of tenderness, confusion, seduction. my dad calls from behind me, tossing a ball with my little brother, and i turn away, running back home. the sun will go down soon, and mom wants me back.

after my dad and i watch the fall thunderstorm on the equinox, i go to the new school with real snacks (not ice cubes) and a plastic playground painted all different colors. i am perpetually in trouble and when i am, my mom comes in sweating from the gym and grabs me by the wrist. i lie about being sick and read my chapter books so fast that i hate them for being so short. scholastic book fairs and swinging outside eat me alive, and my blood is so red and juicy i drink with them, gleefully smiling, my mouth full of baby teeth.

it’s true that if we were in a storybook you’d be the werewolf. i would walk out in the woods alone, sidestepping the boulders by the stream, my skinny child arms pushing mountain laurel branches aside and seeing you in the unfinished lot. i would run to you and feel your bristled mammal hair on my cheek. i’d bite off the honeysuckle tip and kiss your wolf mouth so you could taste the sweetness.

Card House

Card House

Josephine Gawtry

for 44 nights i stayed up until the sunrise: bird chorus weeping, in tito’s and tea with clover honey we hold sacred

and no amount of melatonin or cbd gummies would sedate me so: i stole Restoril from my sister’s drawer and fell blank on my bedspread. 

golden like every morning and evening. the maps started to lie, twisting the roads and Wal-marts together, got so stoned i started seeing your face behind the closet door, your wrists and ankles scarred by ropeburn

listen. the question you asked, among spring trees flowering: what made you?  i was raised in the card house, i am the forever queen of sagebrush and toothbrush. Flat white and chewed like gum.

DORIS AT THE HOLY BIRD BAR

DORIS AT THE HOLY BIRD BAR

R. Nikolas Macioci

She’s sipping a margarita when he

sits down at the next table with his back

to her. He’s wearing gray slacks, plain

twill tweed sport coat and shirt as white

as marshmallow. Her eyes keep going

to his neck as if to study its anatomy:

muscles, ligaments, tendons, but she is

staring at visible skin and hair touching

the collar. To change focus and distract

herself she looks around at Art Deco

glass, chrome, stainless steel, shiny fabrics,

streamlined geometric forms. Everywhere

she looks leads back to his neck. The

fascination defies ordinary explanation.

She wants to touch him, but it’s more,

it’s desire magnified, sensual need at

her fingertips the object of symbolic lust.

Again she attempts to look elsewhere

at the lacquered bar, inlaid wood, mirrors,

clean lines that bring her back again to his

neck. What if he turned around? Would

she feel the same? He finishes his drink

and leaves which breaks the spell. By

herself, she still imagines stroking his

hair, feeling her hand against his neck

like a hymn to passion.

AVATAR OF GRIEF

AVATAR OF GRIEF

Stacey Meadows

Early in our relationship, Christoph and I took a short winter vacation to Negril, Jamaica. We found a promotional deal at a resort that was right on the beach, although still under construction. Outside our door the endless white sand beckoned, bordered by the aqua waters of the Caribbean Sea. We bounced along the beach to reggae music blaring from the outdoor bars, stopping for an occasional rum punch or Piña Colada. Aromas of meat pies mingled with the skunky scent of ganga. I fingered colorful strands of beaded seashells and batik wraps sold by vendors along the shore. A trio stopped by our beach blanket to perform a harmonious rendition of “Under the Boardwalk” on a beat-up guitar, cracked stand-up bass and percussion egg shakers, all of which looked like they had recently washed up on shore. We loved the band’s spirit and beckoned them to our blanket every day. We immersed ourselves in waves of turquoise sea, reggae music, ganga and love.

On one of our beach walks, we noticed a small shack with carved wooden figures arrayed in the storefront window. The door was open, so we wandered in. The art gallery was filled from floor to ceiling with primitive-looking wood carvings of animals and human figures bearing enigmatic expressions. With his discerning sculptor’s eye, Christoph selected three carvings from among the assemblage: a long-eared rabbit poised to leap; a Black angel in a light brown robe, with a cap of white hair and body-length wings emerging from his scapulae, and a tall, lean woman, looking forlorn, her hands tucked into the pockets of her knee-length black skirt. She had sad, dark eyes, and lips pressed together, the corners of her mouth turned down. She was a human representation of sorrow, an avatar of grief. I placed her on my dresser, unaware that she was a portent of what I would someday become.

When Jonah died, I made no attempt to deny, become angry or bargain over his death. I was raw, but not depressed. I simply accepted it, bypassing the other four predicted stages of grief. Jonah’s death left me with a new, indelible identity––I now belonged the vast human tribe of mourners. When I considered how I appeared to others, the words of Psalm 40 came to mind: “Here I am. I have come with the scroll of the book that is written upon me.” The story of loss had become the story of my life. With inconsolable sorrow permanently etched on my face, I recognized my affinity with the Jamaican carving that had stood on my dresser for so many years.

Some who had witnessed my path over the years told me that I was an inspiration. Steeped in heartbreak, I found this confusing. It seemed like such an odd choice of words. What could I inspire others to do? What encouragement could I possibly give them? I wondered what others saw as I stumbled along. Like other mourners, I hungered for role models to show me how to carry on without being crushed by overpowering loss. I never found any. I saw this as the unfortunate consequence of our culture’s refusal to accept death as an inextricable part of life. Although death was inevitable, people invariably seemed stunned by its untimely arrival. It shifted our interior and exterior landscapes in ways that we had never anticipated. We hadn’t been prepared to be so fundamentally altered. Like other mourners, I persevered with the essential tasks of daily life as I bore the staggering weight of mortality. When the time came, we all learned how to do this. We moved forward, always slightly out of step in a world where time moved along too quickly, and where others were still inexplicably concerned with trivial pursuits like accolades and possessions. All that mattered was time with those whom we loved and would someday lose.

Sometimes I felt as if I were reduced to a personification of my loss. I didn’t understand that my forthright acceptance of my child’s death had transformed me into an unwitting role model for how to bear a grief which was, by all accounts, unbearable. As others sought me out, I recognized that I had the capacity to stand with other mourners in a way that many were unwilling or unable to do. I was drawn to the wounds of loss, which I saw all around me, like stigmata. I felt called to bear witness to the suffering of those who were burdened with illness and grief. I wanted to help them find a way to heal. I recognized a new purpose in the role that had been thrust upon me. Demonstrating the strength to embrace my sorrow, I had become a broken-hearted warrior, one who could carry the grief of others.

I recently paid a shiva call to a friend who lost her husband after a valiant four-year battle with colon cancer. As soon as she saw me enter her living room, she burst out in tears. I sat down beside her on the couch and held her as she sobbed into my shoulder. When she lifted her tear-stained face to me, it was my grief that she addressed, rather than her own.

“I lost my husband, but you lost your son,” she cried.

I stroked her hair. Yes, I lost my son. My grief would forever be a benchmark against which other grief would be measured. Watching me bear my grief over the loss of my son, she knew that she would bear her own. My life had taken on an unforeseen but ineluctable purpose: I had become a living, breathing Avatar of Grief.

Nelson Harris

Nelson Harris

by

Connie Bedgood

I was born in 1936 in Fort Worth and I lived with Aunt Jessie and Uncle Nelson Harris back then, but my memories are of 1941 when I was living with them once more.  They had no children and he owned five-night clubs in Fort Worth, Texas.  I remember setting at one bar and eating Jell-O during the day when my stomach was upset.  There were juke boxes at the booths, and you could tell the lady which song you wanted her to play after you put the nickel in.  We were in Fort Worth awaiting the birth of my brother who was named Robert Nelson Blim.

The next thing I remember was being led into a large building with ladies with long black and white out fits surrounding them.  Their head pieces looked as like if the wind caught them exactly right…they would take off and fly.

Seated at long table were kids under the age of five eating scrambled egg sandwiches.  I ate my first one that day.  All the other older kids were in school.

A few days later we kids of school age were driven there.  I became fast friends with Sam from Georgia.  After all, he had every color of Crayon in the world—including gold.  We spent a lot of time coloring which was alright with me.

Then nap time was upon us.  We all had our long piece of brown paper which we laid on…upon the hard floor.  I still today, do not like brown paper bags.

At lunch on Fridays we ate pinto bean sandwiches on brown bread. I liked and missed them later when I moved back to Los Angeles.  When rain hit the windowpanes in the attic, up the stairs we ran falling all over each other.  The attic was huge and looked as if haunted but could not be as it was a Catholic boarding place.  I figured that out at the age of 5.  We could run and scream and play which did not bother the ladies in the black and white outfits.

Every week or two one of the ladies in the black and white outfits stood at the foot

of the stairs as we came down, they presented us with a large spoonful of the nastiest tasting liquid stuff in the world called cod liver oil.  After a few times of this, I found something else to do upstairs till the lady with the tablespoon was gone.

In good weather it was out into the back yard playing under the clothesline.  Sometimes we played Hide and Seek or Tag. As we were running everywhere it is no surprise I fell and cut my left wrist on a piece of glass.  I still have the scar.  I am sure Uncle Nelson paid for my time at the boarding school, along with Bobby’s birth and mine.

Then my dad, who lived in Tyler, had the summer months with me.  He was a postman and his mother, whom I called Other Mama, was at home taking care of me.   She 

was washing dishes in the kitchen looking out the window watching me in the back yard playing with A. W. Brady whose parents were divorced also.

He said, “Say Dam Connie! Say Dam, Dam!”  Before I could say anything, Other Mama was out the back door yelling at A.W. to go home till he could behave himself.  Evidently, A. W. never grew up to behave, he was racing on brick streets in Tyler down South Broadway and was killed in his 1954 coup Ford.

During the time we lived on East Edwards Street where A. W. taught me to cuss, I do have a memory of Uncle Nelson coming up the long set of concrete steps with his 38 caliber pistol in his shoulder holster and my grandfather, P. O. Bedgood setting in a chair at the screened-in widow of the front porch with a rifle in his lap.  No one shot anyone, that time.

Eventually daddy requested a change of venue for his custody case for me to live with him and Other Mama.  The change of venue was to Grayson County from Smith County.  I was living in Pottsboro with my mother’s mother Laura Lindsey during the end of World War II.  The paperwork shows Aunt Jessie and Uncle Nelson put up the money for mother’s lawyer.  A letter written in 1959 from Aunt Jessie stated that mother gave me up to daddy rather than cause any more bad information becoming public about Uncle Nelson.

Uncle Nelson was always kind with a great laugh and came to Pottsboro several times during the four years I lived there bringing real toilet paper instead of using the Sears Catalogue sheets like we did.  One of these visits I accidently stepped on Aunt Jessie’s foot and she screamed and carried on as if she were bleeding.  I felt bad about it for years.  Perhaps

if I known what kind of life, she lived in Fort Worth, I would have been more understanding, but then I was a kid of only nine at that time.

Recently I asked the library in Fort Worth to look up newspaper articles on Uncle Nelson and they sent me the following information.

He started his life of crime as a deliveryman for the Green Dragon narcotics syndicate and became a bouncer for some joints on the Jacksboro Highway after serving two years in the federal prison.  He also ran a prostitution racket out of his own house.   Nelson Harris was considered one of Fort Worth’s toughest and most versatile criminals.  After reading this and more, I had to take a few days to absorb this about the man I knew.

******

I did go visit Nanny in Pottsboro several times after moving to Tyler.  I never saw Uncle Nelson again.  Aunt Jessie was in the V.A. hospital after she was discharged from the Women’s’ Air Forces.  She had been in a big storm on the ocean while taking care of the wounded from battles overseas.  She joined the military to get away from the hounding of the FBI.    I wrote her all about being fourteen and fifteen and dating.  She wrote me back and enjoyed my roller skating and boyfriend stories.  She married and divorced many times…society was different back then.  

Then in November of 1950 while dating my first boyfriend in a car…right before Thanksgiving daddy showed me an article from the newspaper.  For the first time in my life I wanted to be all alone…trying to understand the news.  Uncle Nelson opened his car door, 

climbed in and was seated with his young wife, who was pregnant.  He started the car and dynamite blew the top off the car. They were both dead.  The explosion was audible for blocks in all directions. The two-door car was parked beside the Harris’ duplex apartment.   I cried a lot. 

I called Aunt Chloe and she, of course, already knew it and said Aunt Jessie had called her.  We were all sad.  Aunt Jessie was in the V.A. hospital longer because of the news.

Research revealed a lot about Uncle Nelson.  He was a gangster not the machine gun type but broke the law several times.  He squealed and so received two years in Leavenworth Prison which is one of the worst ones.  Even after all of this married to the young wife, he was still committing crimes.

No one ever stood trial for the three murders but it did end the rein of the Jacksboro Highway gambling, prostitution, drugs and crime with a lot of jail time and bodies found in secluded places of some of the past criminals.

My question is, “Did the three in the car get justice?”  That baby was not guilty.  Since I believe we reap what we sow…whoever did it…more than likely was blown up also.

Photos available of Jessie and Nelson

DORIS IMAGINES A RELATIONSHIP IN THE GROCERY STORE

DORIS IMAGINES A RELATIONSHIP IN THE GROCERY STORE

R. Nikolas Macioci

 

It is in her head to meet someone new.

In the Kroger produce department people

pause to pull plastic bags from spools.

Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale drip

with perpetual water. A lean man

in khaki cargo shorts and a green golf

shirt strolls up beside her, reaches for a

head of lettuce, smiles, says hi, and walks

away. She hangs back then follows him,

stays at the top of the cereal aisle

while he grabs Wheaties from a shelf. He

turns, sees her and smiles again. This time

she wanders past him to the other end

of the aisle and disappears around the corner.

She’s embarrassed by brazen boldness, stands

still as if examining ingredients of a potato

chip bag and asks herself what best can come

out of this situation? Her chest hurts

from being desperate, from showing too much

vulnerability. Did she veil her face

with nonchalance? Was her need visible?

He’s two lanes down from where she’s checking out.

She can see only his head over impulse items.

The Pandemic Under my Hot Tropical Sun

The Pandemic Under my Hot Tropical Sun 

Fariel Shafee

Note: This piece is inspired by the writer’s Covid experience in Bangladesh.  However, much artistic license has been used.  The piece should not be construed as perfect reportage or as a means to harm anyone’s reputation as the characters have been somewhat changed, and much of the views are coloured by her own experience.

Has Covid made us more human?  Do the piles of bodies stacked in morgues and the numbers proclaiming nameless deaths added from peak to peak make us crave for love and hence forgive?  We cannot come together, hug.   We sit and we think.  We get tired.  We question, shout.  Then we take pills.  Those pills inundate our heads with tailored small molecules that clog the nerves, soothe us, make us forget.  But can we?

Has nature, instead, then inserted itself inside our biological urge to survive in a vengeful sprinkle of inanimate bits that suddenly turn alive and eat us from the inner lines that separate our sovereign identities, force us into coughing out all the hatred – something akin to what we, together as a species, had perhaps been spreading with numb, dissociated pride into the keys, knobs and springs that connect us to our souls – the larger animus of existence?

Outside, I hear a female voice throwing expletives:  This epidemic will eat you all.  All of you I say.  Hey doctor! Upstairs there. Where did you hide?  Come out.  My father is dead.  You all will die.

I look out from my window.  A lady in her early thirties peeks out from a neighboring verandah.  She is well dressed and looks healthy.  They had moved in a few days back.  The houses are mostly empty these days – to-let signs hanging hopelessly from large mansions and once cluttered messes that accommodated the working class alike.  Some cannot pay.  Others preferred to move away from the city to be close to their beloved ones in case death beckoned.

This house still has the apartments to be sold lying empty – like ghostly opulence surrounded by neatly cut shrubs and fairy tale garden-lights sparkling at night.  The builders made a mansion for the mites.  The flats belonging to the owners have been let out.  Perhaps the girl that came out is related to an owner.  She tries to understand the neighborhood – the large ambulance with the flickering light and the scream – the havocs of Covid. 

This curious lady’s own flat had not been quiet from the day they had moved in either.  I had often pretended that I was not trying to locate the voices.  This part of the town was posh, having been handed out to the white-collar successes in a planned manner.  But the accent was rustic, unrestrained.  The woman was shouting. She was not a whore but a wise woman was the claim.  She also did not realize how love had waned with time.  Once upon a time a maid like the one in question would not have raised her voice.  But the beggars too do not care about the location now.  They are not starving, but Covid had brought in a dimension one simply cannot ignore.  The disease seems to empower them.   A fear crawls in to the bones of the rich.  The man from the slum screams.  She wants a new dress for her daughter who just landed in the station.  On the other hand, the pregnant maid wants her rights.  She is NOT having an abortion, I reckon.  Not so easily these days. 

Outside, the ambulance light is still flashing.  The dead body will not be allowed in.  The doctor upstairs too is silent.  He does not face up to the very serious accusations.  Perhaps it is not fear but simple reluctance.   No, he shall not come down to see the dead.  He had asked the girl to take him to the hospital, asserting that the disease was Covid.  The girl had requested him to put on a PPE and then come down, to ascertain the damning news.  He did not.  For days, the girl sat by the window and dropped money to the beggars.  With time, only more beggars came.  From early in the morning, they would begin to chant.  She would give out hefty sums – bills no other would drop from their windows.  The beggars would bring in their friends next.  The girl would rush down to hand in mosquito nets, old clothes.

 The story was finally out.  We knew of all the details over the phone.  When all patience was strained, the doctor in the fifth floor and the building association had dragged the Covid patient to the hospital.  The plasma had made him better for a day.  There was joy for a while. “He is better.”  “Thank heavens.” 

That respite was though short. Finally, he had succumbed to an age-old ailment that had remained suppressed until the new disease havocked his last defense. Was it covid of was it the heart?

I do not know how I feel for that girl.  She wishes death for others.  As she was paying the beggars most mercifully, she was also spending her evenings wishing others ill on facebook using thinly vailed synonyms, codes that did not confuse.  One would be excused to wonder if she thought of herself as a princess and the rest mentioned as the devil or as dispensable dead cows as targets for her publicly expressed brilliantly dressed up schemes.  “The royalty has common blood now,” she had exclaimed, “and that is me!”   There were also comments about how amazing her relationships were sent with love from Romania.   

Her mother did not let us know of the husband’s illness.  She had asked the neighbor to hide it.  When we had found it out from facebook we had thought of calling him up, to wish him well, but then we did not.

I felt nothing about the death, but my mother shrieked.  The news was on the TV.  It was one of many pictures displayed tagged with names and occupation.  To me it was yet another death.  To my mother, it was a man she knew, and even if not all the past was smooth, it was a character that was part of her mature existence, which now looked back with a gaping hole.

The dead body lying surrounded by one-way arrows of words chosen indiscriminately to hurt others was cold inside a bag, but the bugs we had not seen before had paid a visit to our flat two stories above-head.  The flies were large, monstrous.  They had gathered in a cluster right behind the curtains.  They sat quietly and they stared as though they had escaped from yet another world.  We got newspapers, a swatter, killed them one by one, as though we were trying to shrink down the portal that had opened up by the act of an irritable child, now to suck us all back in.

I was apathetic to the words that wished to drag down the world with one dead man.  I let the days roll by as I sat in my room and passed MOOCS.  I read about maggots in dead bodies in my forensic class, and from time to time I went to that filthy mouthed girl’s facebook page.   I did not know whether it was to forget her pain, but she was listening to film music now.  She had posted a picture of her father’s burial.  Now she was attacking the journalist who should have published a better photo (and I agree).  I felt sorry that day, but I did not ring, or even leave a note. I kept the sorrow to myself and I went back to my MOOC.

Then one day she posted a confession: that she had been blackmailed into facebook, to victimize others in hope of gaining.  Afterwards, she was back, ridding the world of the devils.  None was spared.  We were all to perish with the world perhaps.  Did she wish it all for herself?  Would the beggars stay?

I had felt sadder for the doctor who owned a flat upstairs.  We had a tiff.  “He did not come to me first,” he had said when our father had a stroke and withered slowly.  They had issues.  But I remembered him in our home. My mother was seated on the sofa and he was comforting: “You will get well soon, madam.  Not much to be worried of.”  In reality, my mother had stage four cancer.  She did not know the gravity of her symptoms.  Neither did he.  She had trouble walking.  To us all, it was an accidental spinal compression, and he had checked the nerves meticulously.

I was angry about my father’s fate.  But I did not expect him gone.  “Sorry we could not save doctor,” a junior apprentice one day posted on facebook.  I knew the girl. I felt a sudden surge of pain – it was sharp and unkind.  The disease was cruel and ungrateful.  The man was overseeing an ICU.  

“He’s dead?”  I had commented on facebook, shocked.

“Yes, we could not save him.  We tried.”

I thought of all the patients who had Covid but hid their ailments, walked up to the doctors and pushed the disease into their purported saviors.

Inhuman!  But then the doctors too were scared.  Many of them.  The hospitals would turn away the sick.  

“Who will treat you if we are dead?  Tell me?  We want a certificate.  Covid free,” they would claim.  More than one of those patients died – getting carried from hospital to hospital, waiting for that piece of paper that marked them as safe.

Those were the early days of the disease – the uncertain bubbles filled with fear and panic – dead bodies popping up once or twice in the middle of the street – abandoned by those who feared for their own lives.  Once we heard of a son deserting his mother.  People chided in unison.  Then they themselves left their homes for their livelihood, tucking the masks in their pockets.

The sea of people in the streets, on the public transports and running stores had first tiptoed outside their lockdown zone using alternate routes – as though Kings of forgotten eras had evaded the enemy attack through a secret passage.  Now there was no lockdown, and they all had masks to show, though not in direct use.

Most of these people would not die.  A newspaper claimed that seventy percent of the people in the slums had already had Covid.  Their lack of apathy for the aggressive death comes from their own resilience.  Their poverty had made a truce with germs and dusts.  The body knew those well.  So those people buzzled in the dust and went to work.  The protected bourgeois peeking out from time to time, asking for help from the otherwise unfortunate lot got ambushed by the bugs.  Those floated out in the breath – perhaps a curse to the world for the fate of long-time neglect.

We did not understand why bodies were stacked in the streets of South America, but the laborers of Bangladesh were so regally damning to the tiny strands that the mighty feared the most.   But here they were, peddling goods in the streets, leaving the quickly made Covid unit empty.  The rich man who had donated to make that very large tent for the ones who would need it in sickness was dead though – one of the first ones to die of the disease.

We do not understand this disease – its rage and its inclinations — where it finds a safe home – who it wishes to tear up into bites.  Some take a chance and die.  Some walk out apathetically and leave.  Some others leave with maladies stuck to their guts – for days. even when the bug has left.

We fear most what we do not comprehend – the ones that kill us furtively, chaotically and indiscriminately.  

I have holed myself up inside my room.  There are frail ones I need to care for. For a long time, I watched streaming reels and then drew, and I made up characters to let my anger out for all the lemons life has presented to me.  Now I feel no emotion.  I just sit – frustrated, bored – waiting for something I cannot define.  The wait is long and tiresome – at times giving rise to feelings that wish to embrace nihilism.  I read about the brain – see pictures about the little flashes – the fears brought in by images in the deepest part of our inner selves.  

The virus has taken away my anger against others.  Perhaps we have indeed become the same.  Perhaps I have just given up.

As I sit, I hear that little girl shout.  She wishes the whole world dead.  Yet, a few days later, when I hear about the dead doctor who was alive and well, breathing inside our home a year ago, I wish some one would pray, and I hope someone would remember.

No one in our apartment complex says much.  They are afraid.  Perhaps it is okay only to whisper the name of covid.

One day, though, our locked down gate is open.  A man walks into the house to fix the pipes.  A mask though is in place.  The next day, someone re-orders his newspaper.  They all would like they lives back – whether they live or die.  

I still sit and wait.  I cannot take the risk for the sake of others I love.  In a small bubble of confinement, perhaps we can talk – say all the things we never did, reconcile – find how precious life had been all the years we let roll recklessly.THIS PHOTOGRAPH IS TAKEN BY GANESH DHAMODKAR. ATTRIBUTE AS GANESH DHAMODKAR/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS..

AD CRUMENAM

AD CRUMENAM 

Mark C. Hull

EVERYONE AGREED WITHOUT a word that, because the man was well-tailored and missing an arm, he knew what he was talking about. 

“Bull sharks don’t just attack,” he announced. “They go through a process. If they’re interested in eating something they’ll give it a bump first. Sharks are some of the smartest creatures on the planet, I’ll have you know.” 

Yes, he was right, we all decided, because his right arm was conspicuously missing from his torso and his jacket had been tailored to accommodate the disability. His plaid sport coat and the dead-end sleeve hemmed into the side of it with such careful consideration implied a man whose wealth was vast and whose wisdom was well-earned through the painful ordeal of limb severance. He must’ve lost it on a scuba expedition to Roatan, perhaps, or while studying the migratory habits of White Tips in the Bahamian Sea. Doing something noble right before it was rent from him, most assuredly, although decorum prevented anyone from posing the question outright of how he lost the arm. It was obvious the man was wealthy and it’s unwise to insult the wealthy for fear of the consequences that money can levy when a wealthy man senses offense like a shark senses blood in the water. 

There were about ten of us, all strangers to one another for the most part, being ferried up to the top of the mountain in a glass gondola. We coasted high above the Rockies in the salubrious air with the plicated forest floor far below. It was a rich and rarefied environment and we were atop the world, literally and figuratively and every other way. There was a lookout restaurant at the top, and we were going to an afternoon cocktail party. 

It was because of me that the subject of sharks had come up in the first place. I’d been humming the lyrics to Mack the Knife, specifically the part about the shark with its pretty teeth. It was a random snippet, part of this scattered jukebox in my head that will play no more than ten seconds of any given song, repeat it four or five times, then shut off as abruptly as it started.  

I’d given voice to the fragment, and in no time the lecture commenced about the feeding habits of sharks from the one-armed sage who’d probably sacrificed his arm rescuing a child from being devoured after the kid had received the ominous bump from the sea predator to appraise the level of edibility.  

I wondered what would’ve happened if I’d absently sung the lyrics to Summer Wind? Would the man have started a lecture on the meteorological consequences of the prevailing westerly air currents during perihelion? Most likely, because when a person has that much money they know a lot about a lot of things because they can buy all sorts of exposure.  

Well, hell, it’s time for a confession. I’m lying, and I hate that it’s even come to this. There were ten of us, that much is true, except we weren’t on an airy gondola headed to the top of a windswept mountain. Instead we were seated on a city bus, trudging along the expressway in bumper-to-bumper traffic with nary a mountaintop in sight but plenty of dirty rooftops and angry drivers honking their horns at nothing and everything. 

It was summertime, the air was sticky with the kind of heat that radicalizes folks and the bus’s air-conditioning system was only partially working. I should be forgiven for my momentary reverie of being in the mountains and airlifted to a cocktail party as a reflexive coping mechanism. I was headed to a job I hated. 

There is a vein of truth woven through every fib, though. The man with one arm had boarded the bus and seated himself close to me, a bit too close considering the bus was mostly empty. There’s an unspoken rule of city-bus entropy which states that travelers will position themselves as far from strangers as possible and only converge as the seating area gets more crowded. It serves as a warning, like a shark bump, when a rider violates the rather Newtonian law of public transportation and prematurely plops down too close to another passenger. 

I could tell he had one arm from the way one sleeve of his shirt had been sliced off at the elbow with a pair of dull scissors and then cinched with a rubber band. His one hand had been carrying a tote bag filled with dry sponges. He tried to sell me ten of them for five dollars. 

I had been singing Mack the Knife, because no lie is without its adornments of factuality, to which the one-armed solicitor, in a rather unsolicited manner, told me, “Ten drops of blood in the water and a shark can smell it and track it from a half of a mile away.” 

I gave him a look that suggested just because I happened to be singing a song didn’t mean I’d signed up for a lecture. The man was probably full of shit anyway with his shark trivia—just a couch potato watching ocean documentaries, collecting sponges and awarding himself an honorary doctorate in marine biology. 

“Sharks are incredibly smart,” he said, which made sense for him to want me to think that, because if his arm had been severed in the murky water of some public beach by a bull shark he would want it to be a smart bull shark because there’s nothing worse than being maimed by a dumb one. There’s no dignity in losing a limb to, say, a three-toed sloth. 

“Yup, damn sloth just lazily crept out of the tree and attacked. I should’ve known he was coming for me, because it took like fifteen minutes for him to reach me from seven feet away and another three minutes for him to pluck my arm off like a grape and stuff it in his fool mouth. I tell you, that was the smartest dumb three-toed sloth I’d ever seen.” 

I wondered if I’d been absently singing the song Summer Wind would the one-armed sponge salesman have told me about the time he farted in August? I’m sure he’s an expert on that subject, too.

In every situation, be it gondola, half-broke bus or otherwise, there’s a moment of reckoning, and I suppose it’s now time for such a squaring of accounts. I wasn’t riding public transportation, and I certainly wasn’t in a glorious mountaintop sky tram, although either of those two scenarios would’ve been preferable to the one I was actually in, which was a crowded room where we sat, all ten of us, waiting to be called in for our monthly meeting with our respective parole officers.

I wouldn’t blame a single soul for not believing me at this point. I’m a liar and a cheat and a conman, made official by our modern court system. I’m on my way to rehabilitation but obviously not quite there yet and I will say that the best at the art of deception are those who can wield these fictions from some firm foundation of truth. 

The man only had one arm, sure enough, although I hadn’t noticed it at first because in this place everybody ought to mind their own business. He’d sat next to me in the last empty seat. He had a bit of a pong about him too, a creeping odor that I thought it best not to turn toward for fear that it would only get worse if my nose had been oriented in his direction. I was humming Mack the Knife, and he started humming along with me and that’s when I glanced over and saw his severed arm because it was hanging out of his tee shirt sleeve with the skin at the bottom sewn up like the butt of a sausage.

“A shark can actually smell muscular movement in its prey,” he told me. 

I gave a polite nod even though I’d be damned if I was going to believe a deranged lunatic who’d probably lost the shank of his limb in a robbery gone bad. Armed robbery? Not anymore. I was sure that the only sharks he was familiar with were the ones in the alleyways, dressed in full leather, throwing dice against the wall and talking double-fast about a real easy score, because they’re all easy until they turn out to be a setup. In this place everyone is scamming everyone else, and if they start fast-talking in some sub rosa street code it’s because they want to pull a guy in, see what they can get from him. They’re the sharks and this is the bump right before the attack, and how the hell can anything smell movement and so he was a straight lying grifter who probably wanted to recruit me because I had twice the amount of arms that he had.

If I’d been singing Summer Wind would he have told me about that time he was stealing automobiles in August with the windows rolled down doing a hundred miles an hour with the pedal to the floor? After that he would suggest we partner up for a few scores because since the doberman took his arm off he’s been unable to steal anything with a stick shift and that’s where the real money is because sports cars tend to have standard transmissions. He’d suggest we go fifty-fifty because he had the connections and I had the arms, and so how about it? 

“Bull sharks don’t just attack,” he said. “They go through a process. If they’re interested in eating something they’ll give it a bump first. Sharks are some of the smartest creatures on the planet, I’ll have you know.” 

“Lying-ass convict,” somebody muttered.