Tag Archives: fiction

ONE WAY WEST

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Excerpt from the novel Un passage vers l’Occident, by Didier Leclair, translated by Elaine Kennedy with Sheryl Curtis

The small fishing boat taking Africans to the coast of Spain was heaving in high waves. Each time the hull pounded the water, the passengers cried out in panic. None of them was used to being on a boat. For some, it was their first time out on the open water and they vowed it would be their last. Drenched with spray, they clung to their seats and the side of the boat, determined to set foot on Spanish soil. All seven were desperate to reach Europe and escape the poverty and fratricidal wars in their homelands. Some intended to stay in Spain; others hoped to go on to Italy, Germany, France or Belgium. Their final destinations varied, but their goal was the same—to flee to a rich country. Each of them had an infallible plan for disappearing into the night when they arrived. They would join an uncle or a brother who had already settled in the West. They knew the names of cities and streets, along with a few words in several European languages to help them find their way. The bolder ones even imagined meeting another African who would provide information, assistance or shelter. Yet all these schemes were no more than dreams until they managed to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. Their new life could not begin until they had completed this first leg of the journey across fifteen kilometres of water up to three hundred and fifty metres deep. Across a treacherous arm of the sea that can be smooth when it’s supposed to be rough and that can slam the cliffs when it seems to be calm. But then, this gateway to the Mediterranean separates Africa from Europe. A natural divide filled with age-old waters, it marks the boundary between two worlds of growing disparity: Western Europe, capable of providing for its citizens, and Africa, unable to meet the basic needs of the majority. This contrast, spawning envy and hatred, is mirrored in the rough and unpredictable waters of the strait. Continue reading ONE WAY WEST

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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

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

A Series of Disjointed Images by Roxy Hearn

A Series of Disjointed Images

Roxy Hearn

 

I’m not sure how to say this.

I

My life consisted of a little green bundle

Of memories all rolled up into

One nicely packed joint.

And then I smoked it.

Through the dull haze I

Remember that it happened in chunks.

The time I lived in Nova Scotia, dancing

The lead in The Nutcracker and thinking

That it couldn’t get any better than this.

Realizing shortly after that perhaps I was right.

The time I lived in Toronto, knowing

What I wanted to do but not how

To do it. I trudged forward through the slush

Being heaped onto me

Accepting the wet socks for what they were.

Wet socks.

When I feel control slipping

Away I crawl into bed, sheets

Pulled up over my face. As

I lie there I look at my life backwards,

Examining every moment that led to

Each moment. What I did and

What I could have done.

But when I can no longer feel the words fall into order,

I rely on images that can barely express what

I am trying to say.

II

The cards can be stacked in

All the right places, and the

Unforeseen wind can still

Knock them over.

Through this muddled mess of

Cards I rebuild myself time and time

Again. Each time being careful to close

The window. To shut out the obtrusive breeze

That no number of bolts can hold

And will always find its way back in.

I search for the light though,

In hope that one day I will

Get it right. I know I

Have all the cards, even

Counted all fifty two, making sure.

The problem is in finding

That precarious balance

That I need. I crave.

When the frustration becomes too

Great, and at the end of the day

I am still left with a pile of

Mixed up numbers and faces

At my feet, I look for other

Ways to relieve the pressure.

A place where It’s okay to

Feel out of control.

Where I can allow myself to coast to the top,

And in that moment of suspension

Accept the fate that I caused,

Then fall.

Sometimes arms raised in elation.

Sometimes gripping the bar

White knuckled with fear.

Like that time I just said yes,

Rather than sitting there debating.

Instead, I packed my bags and was

On a plane the next morning,

Off to the island destination of

Rotan, Honduras, where I spent

A week with my feet in the sand.

But I digress.

While on these rides I can’t

Always control who is

Going to assume the seat

Next to me. These chance

Encounterings have the power to

Inflict change, start a watershed to

Whisk me into the next scene of my play.

It has been my experience

That these actors, without permission,

Simply write themselves in. Sometimes

(Rather always) they lack the Same sense

Of poetics that I myself prefer to

Weave, yet it provides a nice break

For the audience, just as the play

Starts to drag on.

And just when I think I’ve adjusted

To this change, and my writing has adapted

To their offbeat syntax, they quit.

Not even giving the customary

Two weeks notice.

III

And yet they were still there

No matter how brief.

So in my program

These extras take their

Credit:

The childhood sweetheart I’ll never see again.

The pot head I never could change.

The bad boy I never wanted to change.

The music man on top of that mountain.

The European who literally found me when I was lost.

The German whom I was forced to regret.

The jock I hate to love.

The Cabana boy under the stars.

The American boy under those same stars.

The friend who was there for it all.

They are only a small part of the

Stanza that make up my pieces.

Ink is expensive, after all.

And even when the theatre empties

The ballet continues.

For example:

I met a man last week

A faceless smudge from

Across the bar somehow

Standing out from the rest.

It starts with a point

That I’ve always needed to prove.

The competition I compete in

Alone.

So, High on the liquid cocaines

Pulsating steadily through me, I

Perform my well-oiled routine:

Starts with the eyes peeking out

From under long lashes.

Knees accidentally brush,

Lingering for the perfect

Amount of too long.

Head remains cocked

Quizzically, feigning Interest.

One suggestive bite

Of the lip later and

They are ready for

The grand finale.

But this time it didn’t work

The way it usually does.

This time it wasn’t feigned interest.

He had something to say.

Now I’m the one stuck.

He won. I lost.

Then one day he will be gone

Just like the rest of them.

And at that time

I’ll take a single moment

Erasing him from

My pages even though the grain

Of wood has already left

It’s print but I will continue

To scrub until the lead is

Only a phantom trace

And easy to ignore.

And then move on.

It’s usually for the best anyways,

I enjoy it while it lasts.

Besides, there is always another one

More than willing to take his place.

IV

I say this not to brag,

But to set in ink the girl

That I am today

Or yesterday

Because I do not know

Where she is going to be

In a year, or if I’ll miss her

When she’s gone.

V

For now, I suppose, I will continue

On my way,

Noting that the faster I walk

The more important the

Thing I have to do becomes.

That’s what it’s all about

I think

Seeing how much stuff

I can get done

In this short amount

Of time that doesn’t

Feel all that short.

So until that time I will fill my

Rhyme with senseless boys and

Useless toys.

I’ll float from job

To job, traverse the

Waters, allow myself

To be seized by the

Passionate throws

Of opportunity.

Maybe start a family simply

Out of unadulterated boredom.

Worse comes to worse,

Maybe I did miscount

And will be

Forced to improvise.

Forced to handcraft

New cards just so I can finish

My masterpiece,

Move into my castle, and then

Promptly move away.

I’m pretty handy like

That anyways.

But back to the socks:

Socks which are wet defeat the purpose

Of wearing socks in the first place. Yet

At least they have a set purpose,

A predetermined point.

I never liked socks much anyways.

 

Photo by Harry Rajchgot, Museum of Modern Art, NYC, 2005