Category Archives: Prose

To Orayvi

To Orayvi

Michael Anthony

Like most Hopi, my great-grandfather, Wilson Pentiwa, expected to spend his entire life on Third Mesa near Orayvi, but a doctor from Jersey City who would visit the reservation each summer, offered to repair the failing heart of his infant son, the man I now call grandfather. That was how Wilson, his wife Elizabeth, and their boy, Alban, came to live on Dudley Street where the old Morris Canal met the Hudson River.

Although thousands of miles lie between our family home in the shadow of Manhattan and the land of his birth, great-grandfather made sure each generation learned, and more importantly never forgot, our Hopi heritage. As I sat with him beneath the grape arbor he had built in the small yard behind the three-story brick tenement, he turned to me and whispered, “It is my time to return to Orayvi.” When I told my father, his face lost all color.

My father and grandfather gathered the family around the kitchen table and prepared us for the old ones’ departure. Grandfather asked which of the young ones would travel with him to Orayvi. My brother and cousins were more interested in baseball and the girls of St. Aloysius School, so he turned to me and said, “Would you honor my father?”
I agreed and it was set.

Grandfather steered the old Ford van out onto the New Jersey Turnpike, but long before we reached the Delaware River, he exited and followed what he called a blue highway.

When I asked why he left the faster road, he smiled. “This journey is not about speed, but passage.”

I sat in the front, holding frayed maps and watching gas stations, diners and billboards slip past my window. In the back, great-grandfather sat silently next to his wife of seventy-four years. With the river that separates New Jersey and Pennsylvania just beyond trees that lined the steep bank, great-grandfather asked his son to stop. Once we were parked on the gravel shoulder, great-grandfather stepped slowly from the van and stood with his arms outstretched and palms upturned.

“What is he doing, grandfather?”
“He is thanking the spirits who inhabit the land through which we travel for their generosity.”

Never having been west of Philadelphia, I was taken by the breadth of America and the varied landscapes that filled the windshield: forested mountains, grassy mounds followed by endless wheat fields, then wide prairies, and finally red rock spires. Somehow, great-grandfather knew just when to pay homage to the spirits of each; the Lenape in New Jersey, the Monongahela in Pennsylvania, the Miami in Ohio, the Osage in Oklahoma, the Cheyenne in Texas, and then, the Comanche in New Mexico. But, with each stop he seemed to weaken until we neared Shungopavi, where he could barely leave the van.
Nothing prepared me for the sight of those flat top mesas rising from the desert floor like great tables on which massive white clouds perched. Though unable to describe it, I felt a primal connection that at once was completely new, yet strangely familiar.

We arrived at Orayvi late in the afternoon as the sun sat low in a western sky that stretched from horizon to horizon. Great-grandfather led the way to a small adobe just beyond the others. “That is the place of my birth,” he said in a weary voice.
Though it looked abandoned, the old building had been swept free of cobwebs and dust. Shelves had been stocked with fresh cornmeal and lard and eggs. Neatly folded blankets and laundered sheets lay atop the wood frame beds.

“Grandfather, did you tell them we were coming?” I asked.
“They knew.”

Great-grandmother prepared a meal of mutton and black beans. Afterwards we sat on a wooden bench along the outer wall of the adobe and, while bathed in gold, watched the sun slowly fall behind Howell Mesa. We said nothing, but became a single unit in that aurulent glow.

A final glimmer of sunlight reflected in the tired eyes of great-grandfather who, to save the life of his son, walked away from everything he held sacred, including his standing as a leader of his clan. Not once did I hear him utter a word of regret.
Indigo shadows climbed the mesa and shrouded us in their dark grip. Great-grandfather reached out and took hold of great-grandmother’s hand. Then, he turned to me and said,

“We are again part of this place. You, grandson of my son, will come here and take my place.”

Knowing nothing but the streets of Paulus Hook, I dismissed his words as the addled ramblings of an old one. But, I did not sleep well that night. My eyes would blink open when there was only silence. Then, the rhythm of great-grandfather’s shallow breathing from across the darkened room soothed me. In the soft gray of early morning, I heard stirring about the small adobe; then, “Edward, get up.”

I leapt from the bed, afraid of what had happened during the night. There was great-grandmother standing by an old black cast iron woodstove, making a breakfast of speckled eggs, blue corn pancakes and fry bread. Great-grandfather sat at the table smiling and motioning for me to join him. We ate in silence. The melancholy of the previous night was gone; replaced by a new serenity.

With the meal finished and the dishes cleaned, we walked outside and made our way to the eastern edge of the mesa where we sat on mother earth. The evening before, we bid farewell to the setting sun; but this day we welcomed the warmth of another as it lit the wide plateau beneath First Mesa. Long morning shadows shrank as the sun climbed high into a cloudless turquoise sky.

Great-grandfather spoke softly, “Son, today take Edward to Kykotsmovi. Tell the council he will assume my place. They will know what to do. Go now, before the rain.”

Though I spun in every direction, I saw no clouds overhead, only two distant puffs sitting like dandelion blossoms on the southern horizon.

Grandfather rose, signaling for me to accompany him. I wanted to stay; to have more time with the old ones. Great-grandfather asked me to kneel beside him. “Edward, you make me proud. You will be wise like few men. Embrace your great-grandmother; then, go with your grandfather. Remember, let the eagle guide you.”

Great-grandfather coiled his arm around my shoulder and pulled me close. I felt his hot breath on my neck, his leathered skin against my own and recognized the scent of sage in his shirt. I held him tightly until grandfather called again.

Great-grandmother looked at me, smiled; and whispered, “Your time is nearly here.”

Then, she pressed into my hand a small silver disk bejeweled with cabochons of turquoise, obsidian and jasper. It was the medallion great-grandfather had made and given her the day they married. I stroked her downy hair one more time. On my way to the van, I stopped. “Wait, grandfather, please.”

“Edward, don’t make this harder than it is,” he cautioned.

I ran back to the small rock ledge on which they sat. Crouching between them, I gathered both in my arms and forced out what had burned in my throat since the day we left Dudley Street, “I love you, my teachers.”

Our barter was now complete: they had given me wisdom for my journey, and I, my love for theirs.

Grandfather and I rode to Kykotsmovi and met with the tribal elders. They shared stories of my great-grandparent’s marriage ceremony in Orayvi; the birth of their first child, my grandfather; and, what they had done to help the Eagle Clan. Even though two thousand miles separated my great-grandparents from the people of the village, they somehow knew all that had transpired in their lives back east. We remained with the elders until midafternoon and my head swam with the tales they told. Then, in a sacred ceremony, I was welcomed as Wilson Pentiwa’s heir to his position in the clan. We returned to the adobe, but finding it empty we walked around back.

Great-grandfather and great-grandmother still sat where we had left them that morning; but now they leaned against one another, like a young couple planning their future. Grandfather circled around them; knelt; and, gently placed his hand first on great-grandfather’s eyes, then on great-grandmother’s. He called, “Edward, please help me. Hold great-grandfather.”

I cradled his cool body in my arms as grandfather eased his mother down next to sagebrush nearly as tall as I. Great-grandfather fell back into my arms and I rested him alongside his wife. Grandfather prayed aloud for them in the language they had taught him.

I peered across the plateau below us to see an eagle and its mate soaring on an updraft along the mesa cliff. No more than thirty feet from us, they arced to the right and climbed high in the sky, disappearing into the glare of the white-hot sun.

Two menacing dark clouds approached from the south. Large raindrops began hurtling to earth and exploded in bursts of dust at our feet. In minutes, the rain fell steady and hard.

Grandfather said the old ones’ earthly bodies were being cleansed while their spirits were being lifted on the wings of those eagles.

Seven years later I left Jersey City for good and made my way back to the village. A pair of eagles circled high overhead as I drove the final mile up the gravel road to Orayvi.

-photo Creative Commons Zero

Advertisements

Mothering a Member of an Endangered Species

Mothering a Member of an Endangered Species

Marlena “Zen” Jones

I remember the night that my sons made the transition, completed this rite of passage that catapulted them from the, “Isn’t he cute?” comments to stares of suspicion. They were 12. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready for them to go on dates, or take their first drive or get a job. I absolutely wasn’t ready for them to be stopped by the cops.

It was October 31st, 2008, and we had just returned from hours of face painting, pizza eating, bobbing for apples, sliding down huge inflated slides, and boxing with inflated gloves at a church about 30 minutes away. It was still early, around 7:30, and my kids wanted more candy- although they each had a bulging basket, so I let them out in front of our house, told them we’d make a quick round around the neighborhood and call it a night. They began walking to the next door neighbor’s house, and I began to turn the key to open my front door. We’d won a cake that night in a game of musical chairs, and I planned to drop it off in the kitchen and join them. But before I could even do that, out of the corner of my eyes, I saw flashing lights, and the cops were jumping out of a squad car yelling, “Hold it right there young man. What are you doing?” I sat the cake on my porch steps and began walking towards the scene, not believing that my sons- in full Halloween finery and clutching baskets full of candy- were being questioned by the police who assured me that they were only stopping them because someone reported that it looked like some young men were “casing a house”. How unlikely that excuse sounded to me since the hood of my car was still warm, and I hadn’t even had time to open my front door.

We returned home soon after, and my kids gave all their candy away to the next group that knocked on the door. No one had much of an appetite.

That was my baptism into the life of a black teenager in America. My sons weren’t wearing hoodies or gang colors; their pants weren’t sagging; they weren’t out late at night, when all “good kids” are home in bed. They were 12 and trying to trick or treat on their own street, in a neighborhood they’d lived in for five years. The neighborhood they went to school in. They were knocking on doors of their neighbors trying to get candy. They were trying to be kids.

Over the next seven years, my perception of law enforcement took a real beating. Maybe it was because my kids were harassed sitting at playground swings after school in the neighborhood playground adjacent to their school. Maybe it was because on their first double date at a local mall, I got a call halfway through the movie that I needed to come quickly. Security had escorted two drunken adults multiple times to the exit of the mall, and these adults, who happened to be white, had decided to taunt my sons and their friends. An argument ensued, and when security called the police, the adults – who had cars -all left the scene while the teens were left waiting for me. I walked up to hear officers threatening my son with jail time for disorderly conduct because of a request to pull the video footage to see what really happened since the whole altercation was caught on film. Maybe it was because the first time they rode in a car with a friend who’d just gotten his driver’s license, they happened to see two female classmates, who happened to be white, walking home. They innocently offered them a ride. A few minutes later, the new driver was explaining that he wasn’t trying to kidnap the girls, check his student id officer. We go to school together. We all live in the same neighborhood. Maybe it’s because my son was caught on camera walking by the door of a locked classroom at his school, and when a phone ended up missing at the end of the day, he was the one being questioned by the police. Who was he, Casper, able to float through walls at will? Maybe it was because both my sons and my husband at the time, had guns pulled on them while doing yard work in our backyard because a suspect was fleeing police custody, and it looked like he came that way.

Maybe because the time of my sons’ lives that was supposed to be the most carefree- their teenage years, when they were supposed to make memories that they laugh about, that last them the rest of their lives, was filled with the number 33. Thirty –three, that’s the amount of times that my sons were collectively detained in the span of 8 years. An average of four times each year. I know that’s a lot less than some articles I’ve read where young men say numbers like 100 or 200. But I can’t mentally process 33. Once a season, on average. They can’t look back at a single milestone- their last time trick-or-treating, their first date, their first ride in a car driven by their friend- without there being a memory of fear, a sense of being a target. And as a mother, who wants the best for her sons, who wants them to be happy and healthy and whole, their childhood or lack thereof, angers me.

And the other things that happened around them, terrify me. See, no kid grows up in a vacuum. And my sons were popular, and involved. Football, basketball, track, band, debate team, lyricist society, Black student union, mock trial team, choir- keeping up with their schedule was a huge addition to my full time job. And by the time they hit ninth grade, they had a local pack of companions, ten in fact, a few a little older, a few a little younger. As parents we had cookouts and sleepovers, car pools and birthday parties with this dozen in attendance. They pictured graduating together, going to college together, doing the same things they were doing now as friends, with their kids. When graduation came, of that dozen, two were dead- one stabbed by a Hispanic classmate at a high school my kids no longer attended, and one killed in a home invasion. Four were in jail. Six walked the stage- four friends and my two sons. So 40% of my sons’ friends made it to 18. Six in all, including my sons, were alive and un-incarcerated. So, even graduation was bittersweet.

I’ve heard it said that more black boys are born than black girls, 8 boys to every 7 girls, but by the age of 18, there’s one boy left for those seven girls. The other 7 are dead or in jail. I heard a comedian once say, people say black men are an endangered species. No they’re not, if they were, they’d be protected by law. I’ve posted statistics about police profiling, about Sandra Bland, and Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin, and been called a racist for pointing out what happened to them. That and the fact that American society tends to blame the victim, thinking there must be a reason why “these things” happen to “those people” led me to not want to put my name on this piece. After all, I work in a conservative field where people are quick to judge. So for seven years, I’ve stayed mostly silently, posting here and there when the pain got too deep. But now, I’m writing to America. As a mother, as a neighbor, as a friend, as a church and community member and begging, pleading for each of you to see the bull’s eyes on my sons’ backs. Pleading for you to see the targets on my students’ backs, on the back of every Trayvon Martin who is still walking around carrying a bag of Skittles and an iced tea, minding his own business.  And take them off.

-photo U.S. Marshall Service (public domain)

Vulture

IMG_0036

Vulture

Katie Vautour

French-English dictionaries tell me that my family name translates directly to vulture. Nan was more of a goose—I guess because she married in—clucking at bad ideas, honking and baring her sharp teeth at anything threatening.

 

In Arizona, oranges are as common as pinecones are in New Brunswick. My brother and I throw half-rotten fruit at each other in a parking lot, dodging between cars that people will have to wash later to get rid of sticky citrus.

My phone rings. It’s Nan, saying her arm hurts where they scooped out the lump. She whispers biopsy, as if saying it quietly makes it better, or like it’s a “bad” word, or maybe God will hear and will just forget anything bad is happening.

Justin hurls an orange at a cactus. The cactus has lumps, grey knots like those I imagine cling to Nan’s arm. The orange is pierced on the spines with a thwack, juice spraying everywhere.

 

Justin and I are back in Saint John, outside Grampy’s house: blue shingles, white trim. He tells us that when the ambulance drivers took Nan to Hospice, they asked her address and stopped in front of the house so she could look at it and her eccentric collection of lawn ornaments. There is a statue of the black boy in red suspenders and white shirt, fishing amongst a forest of flailing pinwheels and glinting metal curlycues. To get to the garden, I would have to manoeuver through an aviary of wooden birds, wings twirling in the wind.

“I don’t know why your grandmother’s got so many damn birds,” Grampy says. “We’ve got enough real ones as it is. I’ve seen flocks of woodpeckers trying to drill bugs out of the suckers.”

Compared to New Brunswick, there aren’t many birds in Newfoundland, aside from the obligatory seagulls and pigeons and puffins. Occasionally, I’ll see one cardinal and wonder where all the others are.

 

Nan’s room is a white chamber. The bare windowsills are white as the nurse’s clipboard she prints on with blue ballpoint after adjusting some wires and tubes. I hear a squeak from the corner, it’s my Aunt saying, oh, well I think the pollen made Nan cough more, so I moved them.

Pollen. As if flowers caused her lungs to seize and collapse.

Justin marches down the hall in polished black boots and retrieves the flowers from the nurses’ desk. He slams them on the windowsill. A haze of yellow pollen rises like a revolt in the sunlight.

There is a variety of plants, daffodils, roses, black-eyed susans, a strange spiky plant with yellow fur (probably from our family back in the desert). Someone sent a single white orchid. I wonder if they knew how appropriate that was. Nan is like an orchid right now. People love orchids but can’t keep them alive because they don’t know how to care for them.

 

The last time Nan sees me, she stares open-eyed, sucking air with her eroded cheekbones. Smokes kept me breathing, she had told me, better than puffers, better than fresh air. I’d smoke through a hole in my throat.

I try to smile at her but I can’t.

“Did you notice how much Nan looked at you?” Dad asks later. “She was glad you were there.”

I know she wouldn’t want me, or any of us, to see this. She would rather huddle her family under a fence of feathers, shielding us all from truth.

 

My brother is the only person in the family who takes the idea of “bird” literally. He is an air force pilot, and usually flies real planes, but now he sits at the computer with fingers connected to cords and buttons as if he’s hooked up to a life support system. He flies digital planes against digital bad guys, blowing the shit out his enemies as if defeating them defeats his sadness and confusion.

I perch on the arm of the couch beside him, pecking at my fish and fries. I guess I am a vulture—not just because the dictionary suggests that denotation.

I am a scavenger by profession. I scour streets for scraps, picking through carcasses of recycling bags for objects or interesting materials. Then I rearrange them and glue them together, then call it art and people gawk at it with curiosity.

 

One of the funeral directors offers Grampy a rose to lay in the hole. He takes it and starts shuddering. The flocks of family scatter in dull black coats, huddling from the hiss of spray from the sea. Some cock their heads, observing my grandfather curiously from a distance.

I glare at them. Never mind vultures. My family is a bunch of ostriches sticking their head in the snow. I concentrate on my feet, bursting iced twigs like capillaries in a lung.

Standing beside the unmarked grave, Grampy looks like a vulture: hooked nose, bald head with sprigs of white sprouting around the rim, black coat flapping over his hunched back.

He stands under snow-bandaged tree limbs, shaking fingers still holding the rose. Glistening beads of water sparkle on the petals. When I touch his arm, he drops it in the hole and shuffles away through the snow.

 

The luggage carousel in the St. John’s airport grinds to a stop. The red light flicks off. A plump lady with a bobby-pinned blue hat holds the microphone to her painted lips and cheerfully announces that they overbooked the plane in Toronto, so our luggage got left behind and we will receive it in a few days.

The crowd of people with hugs and luggage that are not mine is overwhelming, so I wait outside, standing in the ice-bitten streets, neon lights wavering on the sleet-soaked asphalt.

A tough street pigeon, complete with Mohawk, wobbles around my ankles, cooing, as if I landed here only to challenge him for his turf.

My boyfriend waits for me in the car. “Let’s go home,” he says.

Home?

 

My other grandmother, on my Mom’s side, passed away in January. The morning I am supposed to fly back to New Brunswick for her funeral, the flight is cancelled due to a storm. I might be a vulture, but unlike my brother, I cannot actually fly. When planes get cancelled, I get stuck on this island.

This day also happens to be my boyfriend’s niece’s birthday. She’s five. For the sake of normalcy, I agree to immerse myself in a world of pink taffeta, and other things I never liked even as a little girl. Under pressure to find delight in china cups, I have only an overwhelming sense of trespass. My grandmother, who was being buried under layers of ice-crusted snow, would have insisted on throwing out any food served on china that had the tiniest hairline fracture. Then cracks from those chipped teacups crawled onto her palms and into her brain until it shattered into pieces and she couldn’t put anything back together again.

I sit with hunched shoulders, sipping tea out of a teacup too tiny for tea, brooding about the web of roses wreathing the cup. My grandmother’s dementia had sprouted suddenly in her mind, a parasitic plant digging deep roots down into the darkness, thriving off her memories until they were all gone and it withered up and died with her.

Vultures are unusual creatures in this setting. Tiny birds avoid me, flapping around with blankets over their shoulders and heads, shrieking like some aviary on acid. A bold one flicks her head, throws a blanket at me and says:

“Katie doesn’t have any wings!”

I forget my manners and run away to cry.

 

I lean against the door of a car I’ll never ride in again. In a cab, I’m in a place but no one knows where I am. I hope the driver will devote the rest of his life to taking me home. Bits of me get left the air each time I fly. The idea of me and home disintegrates when I get shaken up, shaken like an etch-a-sketch erasing my one Grandmother’s memory, like the long ash of my other Nan’s cigarette crumbling on a breeze in her garden.

Rabid Redemption

Rabid Redemption

Linda Boroff

 

Sometime during Charlene’s thirteenth summer, she became convinced that she had contracted rabies and had only two weeks to live. Thirteen is an addled age anyway, a sort of staging ground for adult neuroses; Charlene had read that her brain was sprouting synapses at a blazing rate, and all this additional circuitry not only spawned weird anxieties, it stored them away in spacious new quarters for quick access and long shelf life.

Looking back, Charlene could easily see the traits that would someday make her more Emma Bovary than Jo March; more Lily Bart than Emma Woodhouse. But even at thirteen, worrying oneself into a frenzy over rabies when one had not even been bitten crossed the line from eccentric into full-blown neurotic. Charlene knew that her fear was ridiculous and told herself so by the hour. Yet, the fear persisted, its teeth deep and locked on, shaking the girl like a rabid wolverine.

She attributed some of her hypochondria to being an early and undiscriminating reader. As a small child visiting the neighborhood library, she had not turned left and descended into the children’s section, with its perky decorations and gentle, rhyming tales. She went straight up the stairs and took her seat amidst brutal adult reality.

At age nine, browsing the science section, she had come upon The Merck Manual, that handy, authoritative guide to afflictions major and minor. The Merck had no bedside manner, minced no words, softened nothing, and comforted never. Charlene’s mouth dried as she read the lists of diseases and symptoms: she had leprosy, she realized, in addition to glaucoma, trichinosis, acromegaly and, just possibly, sleeping sickness. She was riddled with tumors, all inoperable. Turning to the mental illness section, she identified her manic depressive psychosis, incipient schizophrenia and progressive megalomania.

Charlene’s two uncles, younger brothers of her father, attended medical school at the University of Minnesota. They would drop by sometimes to grab a lunch, stethoscopes swinging like whips from their necks, throwing around words like dextrinosis and saccharomycetaceae and Paget von Schrötter syndrome. At the arrival of these two family princelings, a cold chill would lift the hairs on the back of Charlene’s neck. What if they noticed her lesions? Her lassitude and malaise? She tried to breathe normally around them, but it still sounded like rales and stridor.

Usually, with time, the mundane issues of school and social life would distract her, and her fears would eventually fade or be replaced by others. In later years, though, she could see that she was only banking them up like glowing coals; they lay dormant but alive, awaiting their summons to erupt again.

Summer of Hydrophobia

For a hypochondriac, rabies just may be the perfect storm: rare but incurable, agonizing beyond belief, and capable of hiding in plain view. When it came to sheer horror, rabies rang the bell, thanks to the evolutionary genius of the rabies virus.

The disease (Charlene read, barely breathing) was usually spread by the bite of a mobile creature. The virus acts on the victim’s brain in such a way as to bring about, in dogs, for example—still overwhelmingly the commonest host—an irresistible urge to bite. As a child, she had sat weeping beside her friends in the theater at the fate of Old Yeller; the finest dog that had ever lived, transformed by rabies into a snarling death’s head, raging to destroy the boy who loved him. This evil metamorphosis was the work of the most cunning virus that had ever set its perfidious endoplasmic reticulum on planet earth.

Rabies, as Charlene learned, was actually a trio of deadly sisters who went by the elegant stage names Lyssavirus, Ephemerovirus and Vesiculovirus. With their non-segmented, negative-stranded RNA genomes, the sisters turned heads and dominated the red carpet at any danse macabre. Despite their age—thousands of years—they were eternally fresh and deadly, reliably contagious, forever renewing themselves.

On this particular summer, having made it through eighth grade, Charlene had joined her mother and younger sister for a summer visit to the mother’s own sister, who lived on Long Island.

The visit started benignly enough. Aunt Elinor had two daughters; the older daughter, who was the same age as Charlene, had recently adopted an amiable German Shepherd named Wolf, whom she had acquired from some unknown source. Strays were fairly common in what was then a semi-rural neighborhood.

Charlene, nearly five-feet-ten and as skinny as Olive Oyl, her detested nickname, loved dogs with the fierce, desperate love of the outcast, the misunderstood. And so It fell upon poor Wolf to provoke her worst ever episode of hypochondria.

It began with a teensy, nagging doubt. Did that hangnail on her thumb qualify as an open wound? It had bled, she recalled. She stared at the tender scab until her teeth began to chatter. And how about that blister she had just popped on her other hand? Another invitation to the Viral Sisters? She and Wolf had played catch with his saliva-drenched tennis ball; they had rolled about on the floor wrestling. They had shared snacks. Had the dog been vaccinated? Charlene tried to assure herself that he must have been, but her cousin seemed to be ignoring her tentative queries. She knew Charlene well, that particular cousin, and she was something of a sadist, not above tweaking Charlene’s anxiety just a little bit, with a teasing sidelong glance. “I would miss you if you died,” the cousin said with a sigh, and looked at Charlene with her pale blue eyes of infinite sadness.

“Please don’t die, okay?”

So Charlene tried to ignore the growing drumbeat: anyway, she knew that rabies had been nearly eradicated in the U.S. Practically. Nearly. Almost. So it was not impossible, but merely unlikely that she was infected. “Unlikely” sounded too much like a roll of the dice to offer much comfort. Lying alone in bed, Charlene’s efforts to reassure herself collapsed before the onslaught of full-fledged panic.

Confessing her fear to an adult would be a double whammy: not only would she not get the vaccine, but her distorted mental architecture would be exposed to all the world. Caught between these two dreaded outcomes, Charlene trembled through her dwindling time on earth.

As the incubation period and her lifespan shrank by the desperate hour, she still could not muster the nerve to tell anybody. She knew that the adults, with indulgent grins, would first try to reassure her. Charlene’s mother would use the opportunity to flog everyone with her daughter’s high reading level. She would explain to Charlene that she could not possibly have rabies and needn’t worry over such things for one more minute. Charlene would note the hint of warning in her voice that she had better not embarrass her mother any further in this preposterous way. Her mother and aunt together would dismiss Charlene’s anxiety—sealing her fate. Charlene pictured them at her bedside as she lay in restraints foaming and convulsing. “She tried to tell us,” they would wail. “We didn’t believe her.”

Somebody must have coaxed the fear into the open at last, and word quickly spread: Crazy Charlene was worried that Wolf was rabid. She quickly became a figure of welcome fun in a visit that had begun to grow dull.

That evening, Charlene’s cousin approached her, holding out a tepid glass of milk. “Here,” she said, with faux sweetness, “this will make you feel better.” Charlene grabbed the milk with rabid fury and hurled it across her cousin’s new canopy bed. The canopy was decorated with lilacs and green tendrils above a border of cotton lace; its beauty and feminine elegance were the wonder of the family. The ensuing fracas brought the two mothers running to see milk pooling in the center of the canopy and dripping from the posters onto the mattress. Charlene’s cousin widened her eyes to the absolute limit of innocence, insisting disingenuously that she had “only been trying to comfort” her frightened guest. Charlene the perpetrator, wounded and impotent, called her very own cousin a liar and a sadist.

Charlene’s mother set her chin and narrowed her eyes. Hopeless, Charlene realized that she alone was responsible for ruining the visit and abusing her family’s hospitality. That very night, she was packed up and shuttled off to the home of another relative, there to wait out her span on earth. “I forgive you, I hope you get well soon,” her cousin had whispered in her ear, as Charlene departed.

Sometime after the dreaded Day 14 had come and gone uneventfully, and back now in her own bedroom, Charlene awakened and looked around at the scuffed linoleum floors and faded blue walls. Her father’s chronically unstable business had left nothing in the budget for updating the decor of Charlene’s early childhood, so the wall still sported a series of painted wooden hangings: a footsore Cinderella racing home from the ball; her coach morphing back into a pumpkin—what if Cinderella got sealed inside, Charlene had always wondered—and the footmen sprouting disturbing mouse tails that bulged from their livery. Dr. Seuss characters capered mockingly across her curtains.

But the utter mental clarity that Charlene felt that morning told her, and for certain, that she was not rabid. In her relief, she grasped, vaguely, that such good fortune carried with it a sort of mandate that she rise and encounter the world that awaited her—today, and on Day Twenty, and even perhaps on Day Five Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-Five. Whatever befell her in life, it would almost certainly not be rabies, which was, after all, only a guarantee that it would be something.

Sedalia, Missouri

Sedalia, Missouri

by
Jacob Potashnik

Winter, 1990. The walk from the hovercraft to the train station was short but left me wet and thoroughly chilled to the bone. The weather, a mix of wind and pelting rain and snow was an affront. On the quay for the train from Boulogne to Paris, Mr. Six/Four bent low and easily hoisted a limp sack of a young man out of a wheel chair and into his huge arms. A porter folded the chair and lead the way. A woman, grey-haired frail, thin, at least sixty-five, follows.

My seat was across the aisle from theirs and they were quick to smile and nod to me as they settled in. He who I had taken for a young man, was not a young man and his story was very clear. Forty, remarkably thick dark hair falling like a wave over his forehead, thin, gray, gleaming skin, Kaposi’s sarcoma, full blown AIDS.

At the first pass of the car snack service Six/Four ordered coffee.

“Teddy,” the woman stage whispered, “Will you look at that?”

It was the standard French train café filtre, a two stage plastic unit, hot water goes in the top, filtered coffee drains into the bottom. Six/Four was so pleased he was beaming but Teddy has seen it all before.

“Wait till you taste it,” he muttered, smiling gamely.

“Well, I never,” said the woman in admiration. “They make such a fuss.”

“Smells heavenly,” Six/Four agreed. “After the English stuff.”

Continue reading Sedalia, Missouri

Nothing Will Suffice

Nothing Will Suffice

by Andre Narbonne

The Facebook notice follows the funeral in short order. Joan has just lost her husband, Bryce, and now the children she grew up with in a Northern Ontario mining town in the days before computers are back and posting pictures.

Is this my Joannie Crebb? My name is Marie Benoit. If you’re the right Joannie you’ll remember me as Marie Boutin. I’ve married into a new B. LOL. The kids from Balmerville have formed a group and we’d like you to join – if this is the right Joannie. Can you be the first hit on Google? We’re all so hard to find except Geoffrey. LOL. Always in jail.

She accepts the invitation: clicks “Join Group” and scrolls through their lives.

The pictures are curiously similar. The girls she ran with the last time she ran for the sheer pleasure of it have grown into chubbier versions of themselves. In the seventies they came across as daring but the daring didn’t take. They housewife – or trailer-wife, depending on the northerness of the mining town into which they’ve gravitated. They proud parent twenty-year-old children or they adoringly grandparent toddlers. Their Facebook walls are the record of a generation enamoured of fantasy to the point of being prosaic. They have little interest in current events but post daily on the afterlife. Aphorisms substitute for self-evaluation, conspiracies for politics.

Continue reading Nothing Will Suffice

Right of Way

Right of Way

by Kate Sheckler

Two wrongs don’t make a right. Words her mother repeated so often that Holly cannot think of them without hearing her mother’s tone, the inflection of superior wisdom shaping each rounded vowel and clipping the T at the end with decision and a sure knowledge of the meaning of those two words – wrong/right. For Holly, it’s a distinction that is never obvious, one that hides behind details each of which changes the picture suggesting options and alternative views, details that remind Holly of all the reasons things have turned out the way they have – so it is with indecision that she stands at this counter covered with melamine, cool, chipped, and engrained with grime. She considers the embedded pattern of grunge as if it holds an encoded message, some decisive statement that offers an opinion on this thing she is about to do. But the grub gray lines, set permanently in the textured surface, offer nothing, and she turns her attention to the papers waiting for a signature. Her signature. Holly Baxter nee Holly Meredith. The forms sit, flat and unobtrusive, yet still Holly can feel their pressure and bites her lip, wincing as the cut opens again with an additional tearing of the delicate skin. The salt metallic of blood on the tip of her tongue, she considers the papers once more. Black and white, they offer no middle ground.

Continue reading Right of Way

Waiting

Waiting

by Kerri McCourt

Late at night, I am up devouring various adoption blogs. A woman posts a video of herself as she receives the first peek of her soon-to-be daughter. I watch, voyeuristically, as the woman views the photo on her computer screen, and simultaneously talks with her social worker via speaker phone.

Seeing the photo, the woman’s eyes light up. She places a hand over her heart, staring at the photograph. She narrows her eyes, tilts forward. She peers closer, and suddenly gasps.

“Are those penguins?”

Around the photograph is a decorative border of distinctive black and white birds.

“Yes, I think so,” comes the voice of the social worker.

“You don’t know what this means! Oh my goodness!” She turns, gesturing to a shelf behind her that holds numerous ornaments. “I’ve gathered penguins my whole life.”

Earlier in her blog entry, this woman had pondered: upon seeing this child chosen for her, would she know, feel it in her heart that the baby was hers? Penguins confirmed the verdict with a resounding yes.

I close the lap top and pick up my latest cross stitching project. Stitching centers me, passes time in a meditative way. Over the years, I stitched many designs: birds, flowers, landscapes. Many Christmases ago, I finished a stocking for my baby-to-be. It sits, unused, on a shelf in a closet filled with never worn clothes, waiting. Now I work on a ballerina, the most intricate of the pieces I’ve done. The kit contains many colors and hues, including metallic threads that catch the light, sparkle in the sunlight when it pours in the windows. In the stillness of the night, I thread the needle.

Continue reading Waiting

Little Light of Mine

Little Light of Mine

by Kerri McCourt

I am visiting my brother at his house. Tired, hurting, Jon rests in bed. Rain splatters against the bedroom window like messy tears. Mom’s here too. She sits on the edge of his bed. Absentmindedly, she picks at a cold crust of tuna melt left over on Jon’s plate, and pops a piece of cheese covered bread into her mouth.

“Look at me. I shouldn’t be eating this. I’m not hungry. Nibbling isn’t going to help me lose weight.” Light conversation is a facade, a cling to normalcy.

“You’re about to lose a hundred and sixty five pounds,” Jon says.

Snapshots of a shared childhood come into focus. Trips to the lake, games of hide and seek. Now, a brutal nightmare finds us. There’s nowhere to hide.

I am dedicated to Jon’s health; to loving, supporting, and spending precious time with him. Devotion is a burning torch. Simultaneously, it ignites an additional, deeply personal commitment. A long held desire flickers, illuminating more brightly than ever before. A leap of faith, an invitation to believe. To believe in the power of dreams, miracles, and hope. To believe in a future that holds all that and more.

Tomorrow is a smug assumption; there are people to embrace, dreams to fulfill. Here. Now. Priorities shift, instantly. The essential and important is seen anew, with sudden clarity.

A seed dropped into soil, takes root.

Continue reading Little Light of Mine

LISTENING TO THE DIVINE SHOUT BEFORE DRIVING AROUND THE FROGS THAT LEAVE THE LOAM

LISTENING TO THE DIVINE SHOUT BEFORE DRIVING AROUND THE FROGS THAT LEAVE THE LOAM

by Brian Michael Barbeito

 

I went to the place where the urban meets the rural and walked down sandy pathways to see ponds. The dusk was going to announce itself there. I had been trying to escape the day because the day had been a lurid artifact- too bright, too angled, and in point of fact, too new. I just needed to see the tree lines where the difficult storms had grown vexatious taken the leaves and branches ragged across tornado –like skies fluttering like a bat can seem to flutter. At the bottom of summits I watched the rocks grand and small. There was a great stillness, a preternatural quietude and so I, in turn, to honor such a natural silence, remained quiet. It wasn’t difficult as I was alone. I had the queer idea that some metaphysical presence might make itself known. Not a deva or sprite, no, nothing like that. And not a guardian angel or whispered message from the large Bur Oaks, Pines, or feral shrubs. Then what? To tell the truth, I did not and do not know. I just thought something might happen there. It did and it did not. I didn’t hear or see anything, and cannot tell a lie. But there was something in the silence. Maybe it is something they speak about in the perennial philosophy, if the perennial philosophy speaks anywhere of a silence that seems to shout the divine. It was. It was. It was. It was a grace that rang out from the quiet dusk pond by the crescive and verdant meandering path walls, from the thunder miles and miles away that did lightly erupt into the air across pregnant and warning cumulus, and from the dense thicket making a perimeter around the outside of the back of the water that sat still and stoically as a rooftop for the water spiders. I was grateful. I had not seen God A Person or a burning bush, but I had received through the agency of nature some calmness. That is how I felt after hearing the sum of the sound of the forest and water. Afterwards, it started to rain. I had to use my high beams or ‘Brights’ as some people used to call them. I noticed that the rain disturbs the frogs and they begin to come out to the roads, the one-lane highways I had to traverse. I tried to maneuver around them so as not to hurt even one. Difficult. I managed well enough. I was glad, even a bit heart-swept to arrive home.

 A Death at the Hands of

 A Death at the Hands of

by Meghan Rose Allen

“I don’t deserve this,” she might have said. “Do I?”

***

    They shot her in the head and buried her on the beach where the dunes meet the sand. Wrapped and weighted. I wasn’t there when they dug her up. Someone must have been. Someone must have found her. The Garda in Ireland or the army or a man walking a dog, a big dog as hairy as a Shetland pony, digging in the brown sand until it found something. A piece of plastic. A hand. I don’t know. I wasn’t there.

***

    Mary goes on the news.

“I don’t care,” she tells the newscaster, her accent muddled about from all those years in London and then Sydney and then Montreal. “They can retaliate all they want to. I saw who came to the door that night. Three of them had masks, but two didn’t. I saw and so did half the people on the estate. No one’s been willing to speak up for forty years. Fine then. I will. I’m only back here for one more week. Let them try.”

Mary says she will talk to the police, if they ask.

“No one in power wants to rehash all that, especially for some poor washerwoman from West Belfast,” Mary says. “Derailing all the good work that’s been done since then. I do understand. But in another way, they killed my mother. Why shouldn’t someone answer to that?”

***

    Mary calls my mobile from the cab driving her back from the studio.

“They’re going to shoot you too,” I say. “You know that.”

“It’s all a bluff,” Mary says. My phone crackles and I lose the connection. I never remember to the plug the damn thing in. I only have one because Mary insists. For emergencies.

    ***

Continue reading  A Death at the Hands of