ADELAIDE FOUNDERS / FUNDADORES
Stevan V. Nikolic & Adelaide Franco Nikolic
Independent Monthly Literary Magazine
Revista Literária Independente Mensal EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR-CHEFE
Year IV, Number 22, March 2019 Stevan V. Nikolic
Ano IV, Número 22, março de 2019
ISBN-10: 1-950437-28-0 MANAGING DIRECTOR / DIRECTORA EXECUTIVA
Adelaide Franco Nikolic
Adelaide Literary Magazine is an independent inter-
national monthly publication, based in New York and GRAPHIC & WEB DESIGN
Lisbon. Founded by Stevan V. Nikolic and Adelaide Adelaide Books LLC, New York
Franco Nikolic in 2015, the magazine’s aim is to
publish quality poetry, fiction, nonfiction, artwork, CONTRIBUTING AUTHORS IN THIS ISSUE
and photography, as well as interviews, articles, and
book reviews, written in English and Portuguese. We Chukwuebuka Festus, Charles R. Stieren,
seek to publish outstanding literary fiction, nonfic- Stan Dryer (Frank Bequaert), David Norwood,
tion, and poetry, and to promote the writers we
publish, helping both new, emerging, and Magdalena Blažević, Bailey Cook Dailey,
established authors reach a wider literary audience. Michael Stanek, Jonathan Baker,
A Revista Literária Adelaide é uma publicação Julian Isaiah Holbrook, Mitch, Eric Stevens,
mensal internacional e independente, localizada em Alan Berger, Beth Mader, Caleb Eriksson,
Nova Iorque e Lisboa. Fundada por Stevan V. Nikolic
e Adelaide Franco Nikolic em 2015, o objectivo da Josh Greenfield, J.C. Sullivan,
revista é publicar poesia, ficção, não-ficção, arte e Christine Terp Madsen, Edith Boyd,
fotografia de qualidade assim como entrevistas,
artigos e críticas literárias, escritas em inglês e por- Kamila Stopyra, Phil Mershon,
tuguês. Pretendemos publicar ficção, não-ficção e Benjamin Haimowitz, Naethan Pais,
poesia excepcionais assim como promover os Trevor Love, Jeremy Townley, Reece Braswell,
escritores que publicamos, ajudando os autores Andrea Taylor, Steven Markusen,
novos e emergentes a atingir uma audiência literária Isabelle Runge, Emmi Conner, Amanda Gaines,
mais vasta. Leslie Tucker, Dr. Raymond Fenech,
Elana Wolff, Don Thompson, Ron Riekki,
(http://adelaidemagazine.org) Bobbi Sinha-Morey, Brandon Marlon,
Rachel Fox, Stephanie V Sears, Lenny Lewis,
Published by: Adelaide Books, New York Slade Woodward, Daniel Miess, Abigail George,
244 Fifth Avenue, Suite D27 Timothy Robbins, Karen Schnurstein,
New York NY, 10001 Ruby Nambo, Victor Pambuccian,
e-mail: [email protected]
phone: (917) 477 8984 Luba Ostashevsky, Jack Brown,
http://adelaidebooks.org Duane Anderson, Mike Jurkovic,
Timothy Pilgrim, Jason Joyce, Doug Bolling
Copyright © 2018 by Adelaide Literary Magazine
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may
be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without
written permission from the Adelaide Literary Maga-
zine Editor-in-chief, except in the case of brief quo-
tations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
EDITOR'S NOTES DISAPPEARED SOUNDS by J.C. Sullivan 81
AMO’S GORGE: A STORY ABOUT LUCKY PEOPLE by Christine Terp Madsen 85
THE LAST UNICORN 5
By Stevan V. Nikolic CLOSING TIME by Edith Boyd 90
FICTION 7 SANDCASTLES by Kamila Stopyra 95
ZODIAC COLLEGE FROST by Phil Mershon 106
by Chukwuebuka Festus
THE ARTIST AS AN OLD MAN
STOLEN CANOES by Charles R. Stieren 14 by Benjamin Haimowitz 109
THE COOKIEMEISTER TOMORROW by Naethan Pais 117
By Stan Dryer (Frank Bequaert) 22
TWO THOUSAND AND EIGHTY-SEVEN
MEANINGLESS by David Norwood 29 by Trevor Love 122
IVANA by Magdalena Blažević 33 THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE
by Jeremy Townley 127
LOSING THE LOTTERY
by Bailey Cook Dailey 36 LIVING MACHINES by Reece Braswell 136
NO SCUM by Michael Stanek 40 AN ATTACK ON SCHOOL PREMISES
by Andrea Taylor 140
THE GREMLIN IN THE BALCONY
by Jonathan Baker 43 NONFICTION
THE COLLECTION OF NORA GRAND DESIGN by Steven Markusen 144
by Julian Isaiah Holbrook 53
SHAPING BEHAVIOR by Isabelle Runge 148
HOW NOT TO BE TWENTY-THREE
by Mitch 59 THE GOLDEN RECORD by Emmi Conner 152
MINOR KEYS by Eric Stevens 62 ALL THE THINGS WE OCCUPY
by Amanda Gaines 156
ANCHORS AWEIGH by Alan Berger 67
LOUD MUSIC by Leslie Tucker 161
TAKE IT EASY by Beth Mader 69
HOW THE FILM THE EXORCIST CAME ABOUT
STRIPPED by Caleb Eriksson 72 by Dr. Raymond Fenech 168
A WALK BY THE RIVER by Josh Greenfield 75
POETRY I FORGOT TO GO BACK by Jason Joyce 237
GOING, GONE by Doug Bolling 241
CALM by Elana Wolff 174
SOMETHING IN THE WATER
by Don Thompson 178 ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE 247
By Joseph Sneva
IN HIGH SCHOOL by Ron Riekki 180 BORN OF LOVE By Rita Baker 248
UNSCHEDULED FLIGHTS 249
SAUCER OF STARLIGHT by Jeanette Miller
by Bobbi Sinha-Morey 183 FALSE SPRING 250
by Gloria Moneghan
THE LAND BETWEEN by Brandon Marlon 185 VANISH TO THE MOUNTAIN SPRING 251
by Donny Barilla
PASSION by Rachel Fox 188
MY PEARLS IN SHANGHAI 252
TRANSFORMATION by Stephanie V Sears 190 by Marianne Song
TOP OF THE CYCLONE by Lenny Lewis 193
THE SEASON OF THE PARASITES
by Slade Woodward 195
A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS
by Daniel Miess 198
THE WAY THROUGH THE WOODS
by Abigail George 201
ABSENT, NOT GONE by Timothy Robbins 207
THE BEAUTIFUL DAY
by Karen Schnurstein 210
A STRANGER WITHIN by Ruby Nambo 214
THE TWO OF US by Victor Pambuccian 219
THE WATER BUG by Luba Ostashevsky 224
MR. WONDERFUL by Jack Brown 226
TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH
by Duane Anderson 228
SWIMMING WITH PICASSO
by Mike Jurkovic 232
MY MAMA’S WALTZ
by Timothy Pilgrim 235
AMO’S GORGE: A STORY ABOUT THE LAST UNICORN
The unicorn is a legendary animal that has Ama was a young unicorn, happy with her be-
been described since antiquity as a horse-like ing, proud of her independence and freedom.
animal with a large, pointed, spiraling horn She often looked at other animals wondering
sticking out from its forehead. It was usually why they allowed humans to tame them and
described as a very wild forest creature, a sym- use them. She couldn’t under- stand them. She
bol of purity, grace, and independence, which enjoyed every bit of nature that sur- rounded
could only be captured by a virgin. It was be- her. She loved wild flowers, cold streams, deep
lieved in the old times that its horn had the and mysterious woods, sounds of wind in the
power to turn poisoned water drinkable and to trees, and the music of birds. She could only
heal sickness. According to the legend, there feel complete feel- ing the land, roaming over
were many unicorns in- habiting the earth cen- mountains and through val- leys. She felt the
turies ago, but slowly, under the advance and wholeness of creation. She knew that she was
pressure of the human civilization, they disap- one of the most majestic living creatures still
peared. around and she was proud of it.
In the mountains of Southern Portugal, some- Once in a while, humans would see her running
where in the region of Alentejo, there is a ra- over lands and they admired her beauty and
vine called “Amo’s gorge.” I was there some grace. Of course, they wanted to catch her and
time ago and heard from the locals the story tame her, but she would never allow that. She
about the last unicorn called Amo. According to enjoyed their admiration and liked to play with
the story, there were really two unicorns. Male them. She really enjoyed the attention they
Amo and female Ama, but nobody could tell were giving her. So, sometimes, Ama would
me what happened to Ama. Some believe that even let some humans come close and touch
she is still somewhere around running through her, manipulating their senses, just so they
forests and over the meadows. At least, that is could feel that she was real and not a dream.
what the legend says. Then she would run away, leaving them won-
dering what happened, and often, leaving them
This is how the story goes. Some three hundred sad for the missed opportunity to catch such a
years ago, there were two last unicorns left in precious animal.
the world. Male called Amo and female called
Ama. They re- ally didn’t know each other be- She wasn’t sure what she felt about people,
cause they inhabited different lands, but they but she was sure that she never wanted to give
felt each other’s existence. Often, they would up her freedom and the wholeness and happi-
dream of each other and felt some strange ness that she felt running aimlessly through the
longing, like they belonged together. But, life wilderness. It was who she was, and she didn’t
was going on and they lived their lives sepa- want to change, not for any- thing in the world.
rately never expecting that they would ever
meet. On the other side, in a completely other part of
the world, lived Amo. He was a different story.
Like Ama, being a unicorn, he loved all the
same things and was proud of his independ- Ama was equally excited, but cautious. On one
ence and freedom. side, she was happy to see another unicorn. He
was a bit old, but still appeared strong and
He was quite older than Ama, but still a very handsome. She was asking herself if it were
strong male unicorn. But being male, he always possible that he was the one whose existence
had a need to prove his strength and superiori- she sensed all her life. She wasn’t sure if she
ty over other animals. He always needed a should come closer. She was always afraid of
recognition for who he was. Especially from being disappointed.
Amo ran to her direction. He was running fast,
Occasionally, he would allow them to catch trying to impress her and show his strength.
him and make them believe that they tamed For a while, they were running parallel, but in
him. For a while he would work on their fields, the distance examining each other. By each
pull their carriages, run in the horse races, and mile, Amo was coming closer and closer. Ama
do everything they asked from him, just to was still afraid, but she was allowing him to
show his superiority and strength and to enjoy shorten their distance. In the evening they
admiration by humans. But then, he would get came to the same meadow. They were drinking
bored by it and run away always leaving dam- water from the same spring carefully observing
age behind him. He would knock down barns, each other.
break fences, run over crops he was working
on, pull out vines, al- ways wanting to show to Finally, Amo came to Ama. She wasn’t moving.
humans that he can’t be used, wanting them to She just looked at him. They could hear each
pay for the belief that he could be tamed. Then other’s heart. He touched her. They laid next to
he would run free over lands until the next each other with their bodies touching. It was a
time he would allow humans to catch him. glorious feeling for both of them. A sense of
completion. Of dreams come true.
Over time the word spread around among hu-
mans of Amo and many very angry humans In the morning, they woke up and continued
were trying to catch him and punish him for running and walking through the woods enjoy-
the damage he was always leaving behind him. ing the surroundings and more than anything,
Some were even claiming that he was not a enjoying each other. Ama was really happy. At
real unicorn, but just a wild horse who de- last, a real unicorn was next to her, somebody
served to be put down. For them, unicorns that could understand her. Somebody that
were gracious beings, who would never acted would not try to tame her. Somebody to share
like him. Amo didn’t care about their opinion. in the joy of freedom and of creation without
He knew who he was and continued running limits and without conditions. Somebody of the
through life the same way. same kind. She couldn’t believe that it would
ever have happened, but it seemed that it was
After many years, he got tired of the game he right here, in front of her eyes. She still had her
played and decided to settle somewhere where doubts, being all her life by herself, the only
nobody knew him, in different part of the unicorn. But he was here, strong and true.
world, so he could avoid humans forever. He
came to the mountains of Alentejo, not know- Amo was also happy. He promised never to
ing that he moved to the lands that Ama was leave her side. He thought that he would al-
inhabiting. ways be there for her, but Ama didn’t want him
to be there for her, but with her. She never felt
One morning, he was standing on a high ridge, that she needed any protection or help. She
enjoying the warmth of the early morning sun, was strong enough and wise enough to care for
when suddenly in the distance he saw Ama herself. She wanted to be with Amo as two
running over the fields. He couldn’t believe his equal independent beings, respecting and en-
eyes. She was the most beautiful creature he joying each other’s freedom.
ever saw. She was the one from his dreams. His
heart started pounding fast. She saw him too. (continue on page 245)
by Chukwuebuka Festus
Love seeketh not itself to please, dious voice and she sang well enough whene-
Nor for itself hath any care, ver the fancy took her. Princewill admired Flor-
But for another gives its ease, ence for her sublime beauty and grace, he
And builds a heaven in hell’s despair. loved to hear her speak; her sweet voice al-
ways caressed his soul, it soothed his whole
Love seeketh only self to please, being and invariably set him in high spirits. But
To bind another to its delight, for the many times Princewill tried, he did not
Joys in another’s loss of ease, find the courage to tell her so. Florence on her
And builds a hell in heaven’s despair. part, for some curious reasons, found herself
helplessly enthralled by Princewill’s charm, his
-- William Blake: Songs of Experience. subtle wit, his good sense of humour, and quite
often she would long to be with him and to
ZODIAC COLLEGE speak with him because he made her smile, he
In Zodiac College, one of the most famous and strengthened her feeble will and made her feel
magnificent citadels of modern sciences and she could achieve anything. But when she con-
arts, lived Princewill; a handsome looking sidered the matter in the cold light of the day
young man of the arts, and Florence; a fine fair as she often did, Florence always felt it would
lady who was of the department of sciences. be immodest of her to be the one to say “I love
They were both students of the college and you”, and quite apart from that, she felt such
were admitted together but into different de- declaration would not only be unseemly, and
partments. They each had great gifts for which would not only cast her in the mould of a
they adored each other and which earned shameless tramp, but would also berate her
them not a little band of fiendish foes within a dignity tremendously in his estimation. And for
short while and a handful of fervent admirers this reason, as much as for her lack of confi-
in the long run. Princewill had a good sense of dence, she held her peace. So that the both
humour; he read and loved classical literature students lived and related to one another in
and was also very good at Arithmetic. Florence ignorance of each other’s feelings.
was beautiful and bashful; she had a rich melo-
In his bid to be with Florence, Princewill
would often tell her to help him compose a
song which he would present to their music
class for appraisal; and if the song was en-
dorsed by their music teacher, then he would
qualify to present it at the college theatre. Flor-
ence’ heart would always flutter with hap-
piness whenever Princewill made her this
request; and she would, with such pleasure “You are a prodigy,” he would say ecstati-
and happiness which she often carefully con- cally, “you are indeed a real music prodigy.
cealed away in the depths of her heart, quietly Where did you learn that?”
set about writing the song, wearing such a
sombre look that often seemed to suggest she She would smile warmly and would quietly
was merely doing it out of sympathy, and not drop her paper. “It just flows,” she would say.
because of the fondness and admiration she “I didn’t learn it from anybody or anywhere, it
had for him. And whenever Princewill saw the comes naturally to me.”
sobriety of her expression, and the seeming
reluctance in her demeanour as she wrote the Princewill would be dazzled anew by her
song, it always made him feel bad, it made him beauty and elegance. Her oval face, her fair
think he must be very insignificant before her, skin, her red chubby lips which glistened with
and these feelings wounded his love for her, bright red colours that smelt of caramel; her
they gnawed at his heart, and ultimately dis- sensuous voice that tickled his brains and
couraged him from approaching her on the struck him all the time by its loveliness. “You
subject matter of his affections. Now to pre- look so beautiful when you sing,” he would say.
vent her from noticing his dismay, Princewill
would, in such moments, often strike such a She would smile coyly again and would look
confident and indifferent pose, strutting about the other way to hide the faint blush that
defiantly from one quarter of the library where would rise to her cheeks. “Do you think so?”
they normally stayed to the other; and just like she would ask.
a conceited lover, or more appropriately, a
cowardly admirer who would not want his feel- “Yes,” Princewill would say, “I do.”
ings betray him, and who would sooner acquit
himself discreetly than diligently declaring his The first day he paid her this compliment,
feelings, often walked about the library pave- her body tingled with excitement and her face
ments with his arms clasped behind his back: was radiant with joy. Was that an accidental
glancing now through the window louvers, now compliment, or a careful declaration of his love
through the glass doors, in such insouciant for her? She had asked. At any rate, she never
manner that did not only distract Florence but bestowed much thought on the meaning of
also irritated her and made her feel he was what he had said. But what was paramount for
ungrateful for her assistance. In a moment or her was that the words he used were so true,
so, Florence would call him and tell him she they were so sublime, and so real that she
had finished writing the song and he would be could never forget them. She would always
vastly surprised. And when she sang the remember them and would be grateful to him
written song to him in her usual graceful style, for saying so. “Thank you,” she’d said finally
Princewill would be fascinated as much by the and they left.
beauty of the song, as by the sonorousness of
her voice, so much that sometimes, he uncon- A few days later when the song was pre-
sciously shut his eyes to relish the rich lyrics sented in class, it was warmly received and
and to savour the euphonious chorus which generously endorsed by their music teacher
always transported him to some magical plain who praised it greatly for its lyrical beauty, and
such that by the time he regained knowledge then it proceeded to the college theatre where
of himself and eventually opened his eyes and it came second, evidently because Princewill
found the song had long ended, he would be didn’t have a good voice.
embarrassed, and not knowing what to do,
would begin to clap involuntarily. “I owe the success of this song completely
to you, Florence, I can’t thank you enough,”
Princewill told her the following morning. “But
come my dear, tell me, how is it possible that
such a prodigious musician like you are wasting
in the sciences instead of the arts, where your could rebuke him so sternly and with so much
talent would be cultivated and harnessed for anger in her voice especially when he did it all
your own good and for the good of mankind?” for her sake, to make her happy. It hurt him so
much and his heart sank in sadness:
Florence now looked at him suspiciously,
wondering where he’d learned all those high- “I’m sorry,” he said finally. “I will not say it
flown words. “It’s the same thing with you again.” Then he looked away dolefully and
Prince,” she said, with her languid voice. “You tears nearly started to his eyes. He picked his
call me music prodigy, well, thanks for the bag quietly and packed his books inside it. “I’m
compliments. But I think you are also a math tired,” he said, “I want to go to my hostel
genius. You know Arithmetic by heart, you are room.”
good at Geometry, you solve Trigonometry
more accurately than those of us in the science “Did I offend you?” Florence asked with
department; in fact, all the various branches of anxiety.
Mathematics and natural Sciences come easily
to you, you know them well enough, as though “No,” he replied her, still looking away.
you were in my department, but you are in the
arts, you see….” “I’m sorry,” she said and held him by the
hand. Her palms were soft, moistened by
“What incongruous choices we made!” cream and sweat; and he loved the way she
grasped his hands so earnestly, as though they
“What!” belonged to her. He loved the deep apology
etched out on her face, he loved the remorse
“Yes,” Princewill said animatedly. “What that glistened in her eyes and his anger was
incongruity! A math genius as you said, in the mollified by them. “I won’t say it again,” she
art department and a music prodigy in the sci- said. “You can speak to me the way you
ences! What ill-assortment!” he exclaimed please.”
boisterously. “Let’s switch departments.”
Next morning news went round the college
“What!” Florence shrieked. “You can’t be that the most senior students in the institution
serious, Princewill, at class five, Penultimate would be writing their West African Examina-
class?” tions in a matter of months, and that those of
them holding positions of responsibility as Col-
“Yes, it is better we correct this malady now lege Prefects would be handing over power
before it mars us. Okay, let’s take it this way: immediately to the students in Penultimate
you sing and compose songs with ease and classes to enable them prepare adequately for
grace and you do well in the arts but you are in the forthcoming exams. Now College Prefects,
the sciences. On my part, I solve intractable otherwise known as school functionaries, were
equations and theorems, and I do well in the a group of eminent and brilliant students who
sciences but I am in the arts, you see, — that’s were given the responsibility to maintain law
improper, believe me dear, that’s malapro- and order in a college. They had power to flog
pos— I think we are making a mistake.” and punish students who flout school regula-
tions, who come late to school, who loiter
“You speak big-big English Princewill, I don’t about the school premises, and who commit
like it,” Florence said reprovingly, and looked other minor misdemeanors; and they also had
the other way. the immunity or privilege not to be flogged or
punished when they err in those areas. In Zodi-
Princewill shrunk in despair, and just like a ac College there were many prefects: the Disci-
little tendril that was seared by a sultry sun- plinary Prefect, the Labour Prefect, the Social
shine, he bent his head in gloom and did not Prefect, the Library Prefect and so on. But the
utter any other word. He did not imagine she
could say that to him. He did not imagine she
most high-ranking official was the Senior Pre- cally, and hurriedly scoured the college library
fect, who was usually a boy, and the second in in search of materials on public speaking, job
rank amongst these elite students was the interviews, and generally, books that dealt with
Deputy Senior Prefect, — a position exclusively how to boost ones confidence before a panel,
reserved for the girls. Now the college Rector, so that the whole college was thrown into a big
who was similarly known as the Principal, also commotion.
told them that the students in penultimate
classes who were interested in becoming col- While these rowdy events went on,
lege prefects should get themselves ready for Princewill sneaked away into the college library
the interview which would hold that same day where he comfortably ensconced himself in a
at noon. hidden corner and was busy reading one of his
favourite classic novels. Florence made frantic
The whole college was thrown into a huge efforts to find him. She asked his friends his
uproar upon receipt of this news. The most whereabouts; she sought for him in all parts of
senior students were grumbling amongst the college: his classroom, the college theatre,
themselves that they were being compelled to and even in his hostel, but she did not see him,
relinquish their coveted positions prematurely, and she became quite worried thinking that
— a position they assumed not too long ago. something bad might have happened to him. It
The penultimate students were jubilating hap- was only after some moments when she had
pily that they would soon assume power and become wearied with worries that she found
form government, and that they would no him in a corner of the library reading a book he
longer be flogged and punished for lateness, was holding in his hands with such great atten-
noisemaking and all other delinquencies they tion that he did not even notice she was stand-
committed in school, but on the contrary, ing before him.
would now be the ones flogging others for
doing so, and also that they would begin to “Princewill,” she called with relief. “O dear
enjoy the many privileges and immunities goodness! So this is where you’ve been all this
attached to those positions. As for the younger while, and I’ve been looking for you?”
students, some of them were nervous with
agitation, not knowing what to expect from the Princewill was amazed.
new government that would come in, for alt-
hough they were not comfortable with the “O Prince where have you been,” she cried,
present administration because of their in the manner of young girls, “did you not hear
highhandedness, they were nonetheless the announcement the Principal made this
content, for the devil they knew was better morning about the interview for the selection
than the angel they knew not; while the others of new College Prefects?”
were restless with excitement and they frol-
icked about the college premises merrily, in “I heard it,” he said, “but I’m not interes-
celebration of the exit of their tormentors, and ted.”
they were all hopeful in their expectations of a
better leadership. The teachers too were busy “Why?” she asked anxiously.
lobbying, running helter-skelter from one office
and classroom to the other, trying to influence “I’m afraid; I may not do well in that inter-
panel members on the one hand, and to mobi- view.”
lize their best and most favoured students and
put them forward to be interviewed for the “O Prince,” she cried again lovingly, “how
various positions, on the other. Students in could you say that? If you can’t do well in the
penultimate classes scrambled about ecstati- interview, then nobody will.” She held him by
his hands and looked deep into his face. Her
crystal eyes, her impassioned gaze expressed
her feelings more eloquently than words. They
besought him; they exhorted and implored him
to go. “Perhaps no one has ever told you this to use superfluous words. He drank a lot of hot
before, but I will. I know you so well Prince,” coffee in the early mornings and also in hot
she said, “and I know that you can do it. I know afternoons, and he said it was the way of the
you can do even more. I believe in the gifts you Whiteman whose language he was privileged
have; I believe in your abilities, and I know to know and teach. The next person on the
there is no other student in this college that panel was the Chemistry master, teacher Fran-
can do well as the Senior Prefect other than cis; who was very tall and huge, and seated
you. Be strong my friend and have confidence next to him was the Biology mistress, teacher
in yourself.” Mary; who was short and fat and had big,
podgy cheeks and flabby arms which quivered
Princewill was speechless, and for a long furiously whenever she spoke or raised her
while he continued to gaze at her in astonish- arms. The remaining two were the Geography
ment. He was amazed, not just by the wisdom master, teacher Joe; and the Economics mis-
and loveliness of her words, not by the sweet- tress, teacher Rita; while the former had a
ness of her voice, but by how she had so much small pair of bulging eyes, the later had a flat
transformed and inspired him by them. Flor- nose with two gaping nostrils and a round face,
ence told him he should always aspire for the —so that they all looked intimidating but were
best, that he should go for the interview; and nonetheless intelligent and quite harmless.
not only that, but also that he should vie for
the biggest position which was the office of the The students assembled at the threshold of
Senior Prefect. Princewill shrieked in horror the theatre and they were called in one after
when she said that. How could she have for- the other to be interviewed for the various
gotten so soon? He told her that he was not positions they had chosen.
qualified to vie for the position because he was
in the arts and that art students were not al- The first person that entered into the thea-
lowed to vie for that office because they were tre for the interview was one science student
deemed to be unserious and irresponsible, and whose name was James Chukwudi Okafor. He
that they made a whole lot of noise in college. was quite frightened and agitated. As he en-
She told him there was no rule in the college tered, he felt at once like someone who was
prohibiting art students from vying for the po- entering, not into a musical theatre, but into a
sition, and that all those things people say in surgical theatre: an operating room where they
college about art students not being eligible to would cut through his belly and bowels with
contest the position were mere rumours and sharp knife and scissors. He walked slowly, his
lies and that he was going to prove them footsteps were weak and unsure just like those
wrong. Florence impressed it on him in lofty of a toddler, and immediately he approached
and laudable terms the need for him to con- the panel, his stomach rumbled in violent re-
test, and he was soon convinced. Princewill volt and a large mass of air rushed to his anus.
now told her that he was going to vie for the Before he knew what was happening his heart
position and that even if he did not want to, was already pounding heavily within his chest.
that he would do it for her sake. They smiled On coming for the interview, just like many
happily and she wanted to hug him, but merely other students, he had read a number of books
patted him affectionately on the shoulder and that dealt with how to boost once confidence
they went downstairs for the interview. before a panel, and generally, how to avoid
nervous tension in an interview situation. One
The interview commenced at exactly twelve of the books recommended that he should
in the afternoon. It was conducted in the col- swallow hard. Another one which he remem-
lege theatre by five eminent and intimidating bered vividly said that he should take a deep
teachers: the English master, teacher Franklin; breath; then there was yet another that sug-
who was the chair of the panel and who loved gested he should drink enough water. But all
these recommendations were useless, for in how you people spoil my reputation in this
spite of his having done them all, he was still so college.”
tensed up and nervous that he was not com-
pletely sure whether he could still remember The boy took his correction and the inter-
his surname. All these flurry of thoughts were view went on. After some time the panel was
still raging in his head when he finally arrived done with James, they gave him thirty-five per-
and stood in the midst of the panel. He greeted cent and another student entered. He was
them with a low, barely audible voice, but short and muscular and he looked very sturdy
none of them answered. They were all busy just like an oak tree, and he told the panel he
flipping through their papers. The English mas- was vying for the position of the Disciplinary
ter, teacher Franklin, now sipped his coffee Prefect.
deliberately and adjusted his spectacles. He
looked at the boy for the first time, gazing So many students came forward to be in-
deeply and derisively at him from above the tip terviewed for the various positions. There were
of his spectacles, and, when he had taken a altogether four students from the science de-
good look, he now said: partment who were interviewed for the posi-
tion of the Senior Prefect and they all per-
“Well, gentleman, may we know you?” formed woefully. Teacher Franklin said their
performance was execrable.
“Sir?” replied the boy, clutching at his trou-
sers nervously. Princewill and Florence were among the
last set of students to be interviewed that day.
“Are you deaf?” the teacher roared impa- Florence went into the theatre first and, alt-
tiently. hough she did not perform so well, the teach-
ers were nevertheless satisfied by her modest
“Yes sir… no sir.” efforts and also by her good looks and dignified
carriage, and they all agreed that she was pre-
“Then answer my question!” sentable and worthy of consideration. By the
time Princewill entered the music theatre for
“Sir… what question… sir?” the interview, the panel members were already
tired and exhausted, and were rounding off
“He said tell us your name, you little scoun- their duty for the day. They were very much
drel,” put in teacher Joe angrily. surprised when Princewill told them that he
was vying for the position of the Senior Prefect.
“Sir… my names are James Chukwudi And they were even further astounded when
Okafor sir…” they learned he was from the Department of
Arts. The panel members, already prejudiced,
“Your names are what! You ignorant now launched a barrage of questions at him.
buffoon,” barked teacher Franklin. “How many Princewill was unperturbed by their permuta-
individuals are in you, young man?” tions, on the contrary, he acquitted himself so
brilliantly and responded to their questions
“I am one individual sir,” the boy said with such grace and elegance, borrowing now
raising his index finger. from Tolstoy, now from Shakespeare, now
from Virgil, and from other classical writers he
“You are one person right?” read, so that by the time he finished addressing
the avalanche of questions they put to him, the
“Yes sir.” panel people were all gazing at him in utter
stupefaction; looking not just amazed, but also
“So why did you say my names are?” profoundly mesmerized.
“Slice your head you mischievous boy!
Come on will you say my name is and not my
names are, you presumptuous cow! That is
When the interview ended, they compiled nounced Princewill as the new Senior Prefect,
their report and sent it to the Principal; it con- she screamed with great joy and ran ecstatical-
tained a detailed list of students who they had ly to where Princewill was, and on reaching
chosen for the various positions based on their him, she flung herself at him and Princewill
individual performances, and in the end, they caught her from mid air and embraced her
heartily recommended that Princewill be made warmly. She looked him intently in the eyes
the College Senior Prefect. and said: congratulations, my Senior Prefect;
and he held her close to his chest and said: I
Now their recommendation that Princewill, love you, my dear Florence, and calmly em-
an art student, be made the College Senior braced her again.
Prefect elicited mixed reactions. There were
heated debates among the teachers and the Not a few teachers were scandalized by the
management of the college, some of whom melodramatic display of the two students. But
argued that it was not in the tradition of the whatever embarrassment they must have felt
college to give the coveted position to art stu- was drowned by the celebration in the air. The
dents owing to their irresponsibility and hooli- male students hoisted Princewill on their
ganism. The art teachers contended that it was shoulders and the female ones carried Florence
time to break with such tradition and that the daintily on their slender arms; and they were
mere fact there were a couple of irresponsible both hailed and celebrated as the hero and
and noisemaking students in their department heroine of Zodiac College.
did not mean all art students were irresponsi-
ble. They argued that there were irresponsible About the Author
students in the sciences as well, and that there
were also hooligans and lunatics amongst sci- Okoli Festus is a peace activist, a human rights
entists. activist, and an environmental activist. His po-
litical commentaries and short stories have
After some days of heated and robust de- been published in a number of literary journals
bates, the management of the college ruled and magazines, including Okike and Lion's Spot.
that the decision of the panel must be fol- He has a Bachelor of Laws degree (LL.B) from
lowed. The next day, on the college assembly the University of Nigeria Nsukka, and is pres-
ground; were students and teachers normally ently at the Nigerian Law School, Kano campus.
converged to say their morning prayers, the He lives in Enugu State. He can be reached
principal announced the names of candidates through, [email protected]
that had been chosen as college prefects. He
started from the least position up to the mid-
dle, calling the Disciplinary Prefect, the Social
Prefect, the Deputy Senior Prefect… and when
it was time to call the Senior Prefect, he de-
layed a little, to heighten the tension and curi-
osity of students. Now after a few rigmarole
and other complimentary remarks, he an-
nounced to the college community that the
new Senior Prefect was Princewill Johnson, and
the students roared with cheers and gave him
a tumultuous applause. Florence could not
contain her joy when her name was called and
the Principal said she had been chosen as the
Deputy Senior Prefect. But when the Principal
called the final position on his list, and an-
by Charles Stieren
Backwoods of Mississippi, Present Day “Yeah.”
The ice-maker dumped ice into the tray and “You all keep pretty much to yourselves,” I
woke me. I’d fallen asleep on the couch. As I lied, knowing his dad was a loud drunk but I
stumbled through the darkness to my bedroom didn’t want to provoke the boy, though his
I heard teenage boys loudly whispering in my indifferent candor I couldn’t grasp. “Never
backyard. I grabbed my twenty-two, opened known you all to be thieves.”
the backdoor and flicked on the floodlights.
“Ain’t no thief and I ain’t stealing. Just bor-
Two teenage boys held my canoe, one at rowing.” The boy pulled a folded letter from his
each end. pocket and shook it open. “I was gonna leave
this letter where you could pick it up. The river
“What you peckerwoods doing with my drops off in Littleton. That is where your canoe
canoe?” I asked holding up my rifle. will be in a day in a half.”
The boy farthest from me dropped it and “Have you lost your mind, boy?”
nervously looked to his buddy.
The boy dropped the letter, walked to the
“Goin’ fishing,” the boy up front said as if other end of the canoe and dragged it to the
I’d asked about the weather. water.
“With my canoe?” I said, glancing about my I shot two rounds in the top side of the ca-
backyard for others. “Planning on returning it?” noe next to his hand.
“No,” the boy said. He was at least sixteen, The boy stopped but he didn’t let go of the
built like he’d done plenty of work on a farm. canoe.
“No?” I asked shaking my rifle tip at him. “Who do you think you are, Huck Finn?” I
His brutal honesty left me desperate for under- yelled, still baffled by his brashness.
standing. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“Who?” Doug asked, turning.
The other boy suddenly moved and I put
“Like the McCarty’s up the river?” my sights on his chest. He crossed his arms
over his stomach to keep from getting sick.
When I lowered my gun he puked.
Doug dropped the canoe, went to his bud- question me much. He even started saying yes
dy’s side and rubbed his back. sir and no sir.
“You won’t let us borrow your canoe but Doug walked beyond the light but I could
you’d shoot it to pieces instead?” still make out his shadow. He picked up a bag,
pulled out a shirt and returned to his buddy’s
“Mine to shoot,” I said, the smell of burnt side. “It’s all good,” Doug said, handing him the
gunpowder in the air. shirt so he could clean himself up.
Doug looked out to the river and then the Doug turned to me. “I’m going to Littleton
canoe as if measuring the distance between regardless.” He paused, his smugness faltered
the two. I imagined he also weighed the risk of slightly. “Maybe you’d let me borrow your ca-
being shot. “I seen your boy once,” Doug said. noe?”
“And?” I replied. My wife and her friends had gone on a la-
dies retreat. A weekend at a fancy hotel, mas-
“I was in elementary and we had a field trip sages, gourmet food and a swimming pool big-
to the high school so we could get a feel for it. ger than most ponds. Again, I looked out to the
They was between classes and two boys ran river. That’s the beauty of living on moving
down the hall. One smacked your boy’s girl- water. It’s like live TV, never know what will
friend in the ass and the other groped a feel of come downstream or better yet up.
her tit. He chased them both down and did a
number on ‘em. Took three teachers to pull “You don’t talk and carry yourself like a boy
him off. I remember the look in his eyes. At your age,” I said.
first I thought he was crazy but later I realized
it was the look of pure grit. Like no one could “Got my reasons.”
stop him, not even himself. I reckon that is why
he made it into the Special Forces.” Doug “That why you leaving town?” I asked.
paused. “Rumor is he even made Delta Force?”
I nodded as I looked out to the river. I re-
membered that day. All three boys were given “Gonna join the military?” I asked.
a ten-day suspension. Didn’t make no sense.
The other two boys did wrong and my boy did “Or move to Australia,” Doug replied. “You
right. The new principal called me into her gonna let me borrow your canoe or not?”
office. She stood over me and my son and said,
“There is absolutely no excuse for fighting and “Only if I get to come with.”
anyone who does so in my school gets a ten-
day suspension, regardless of reason.” She “Mr. Olsen, I ain’t taking you with me.”
paused for added effect. “There is zero toler-
ance for fighting. Understood?” It was the first time he’d called me by
name. Shown any respect. “I don’t want to go
I replied slowly and deliberately. “You can to Australia. But I am going to Littleton with
kiss my ass and my son’s you liberal idiot.” you so I can get my canoe back.”
Both the principal and Scottie looked at me “Fair enough.”
like I’d sworn at Jesus himself. My son had nev-
er heard me use words like that before. Fair enough, I thought. Like he was doing
me a favor. The little bastard. I’m letting him
I stood, glared at the principal and walked borrow my canoe and I got to row it back and
out. Scottie followed. He was silent the entire he’s saying fair enough? The boy had either
ride home and from that day forward he didn’t been through hell on earth or was mentally ill.
Either way he was growing on me.
“Do I have to go?” the other boy finally
“No,” Doug said. quietly for the next hour or so until we entered
into the open waters of the lower Mississippi.
“Yes,” I replied. “If I got to row that canoe Bats dived towards the water swooping up last
back, you two are rowing it there.” I looked second to snatch insects near the surface.
them both over. “What’s your name?” When the boys looked to the side I could see in
their faces they enjoyed the spectacle. A few
“Garret. Garret Goldstein.” fish splashed the surface and toads moaned
along the shore. Garret’s breathing returned to
I thought for a minute. “I know your dad. normal and twice I turned to look at Doug but
Works in the city, right? He’s a good man. You he seemed unfazed by my attention. He just
come from a good family. What you doing this kept oaring, keeping an eye on everything
for?” around him. Not in a nervous way but cautious.
“Sounded like fun,” he replied. “They still do the pledge of allegiance at
school?” I asked to either boy, my voice louder
“And now?” than I had anticipated on the open water in the
middle of the night.
“Not so much,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” Garret replied.
“Well get your stuff loaded. I got to get
some things from inside.” “Do they sing the anthem before the Friday
night football game?”
I went in and watched them through my
bedroom window without the light on. They “Yes, sir,” Garret replied.
whispered to one another for a few minutes,
looked up to the house and then eased the “Good.” I said. “Any scheduled stops on this
canoe into the water before loading their gear. journey?”
I grabbed a few hundred dollars, my rod and
reel and my hunting backpack. When I re- “Few hours this afternoon,” Doug said.
turned they were holding the canoe alongside
the dock so that I could sit center. “What’s the rush?”
“Why’d you bring the rifle Mr. Olsen?” Gar- “Garret told his parents he was camping
ret asked. out with me and we’d be back Sunday evening.
My parents won’t sober up until Monday
“In case one of you boys get’s to bugging morning.”
me I can just shoot you in the head and roll you
over the side.” “Sounds like a good plan,” I eventually said.
A gentle breeze rippled over the water and
Garrets back was to me and he started to kept the mosquitoes at bay.
tremble. He was quietly crying.
The boys paddled throughout the night and
“Calm down son,” I whispered. “I ain’t gon- well into the next day saying little while snack-
na do nothing of the sorts. Just funning with ing on granola bars and beef jerky.
you. If it makes you feel any better you can put
the rifle up front with you.” “So what you going to do in Australia?”
I asked Doug.
“No sir,” Garret said. He turned around and
looked at me. “Just don’t point it at me no “Herd sheep,” he quickly replied.
He’d practiced the reply. I imagined he
“Deal.” practiced all of them but I laughed and didn’t
challenge his response hoping to put him at
It took Garret several minutes to get into ease. “Going to enlist?”
sync with Doug’s oaring. The boys paddled
“Why you wanna know? You gonna say “Shut up,” Doug said. The gator swam past
something?” the lure and Doug hastily reeled in back in.
Doug’s eyes widened and his mouth opened.
I turned and stared him in the eyes. “I’ll He was full of fear yet he wasn’t in any danger.
make you one promise and only one. This ca- The gator was no more than five yards away
noe trip is our secret. I won’t tell no one. Not from me at this time and my belt was almost
the cops. Not your parents. Nothing. You un- off. Doug’s second cast landed right in front of
derstand me?” the gator. Doug twitched the lure once and the
gator opened its massive jaws and swallowed
He stopped paddling for a bit and looked to it. Doug set the hook hard. The gator yanked
the shore. He didn’t say anything, instead he against the force and water soaked me. All I
let the canoe drift as he glanced over the banks could see were the gators tail and head thrash-
at nothing in particular. For a moment he was ing in the water.
just a boy. However, once he realized he was
enjoying himself he dug his oar deep in the From over my shoulder I heard a burst of
water and we surged forward. gunshots. I glanced back to see Garret with my
twenty-two pointed at the gator. I was certain
When the afternoon heat finally began to Garret didn’t hit the gator once, I doubted he
ease we pulled the canoe ashore. Garret went even hit the damn river, but he unloaded the
to building a fire and Doug and me waded gun regardless.
through the shallows fishing. After an hour I
caught two bass and Doug one. I tied them off The gator was no longer at the surface
on a line and linked it around my belt. which was even more unsettling because I
could no longer see him, but Doug’s fishing
“Don’t go to moving too fast,” Doug yelled. pole was still bent and he was fighting him.
Doug pulled hard against the gator and the
“What?” I asked looking up after tying the more he did the more it seemed the gator
last bass on the line. A gator was swimming swam away from us. It suddenly dawned on me
towards me. Not at great speed but his inten- what Doug had done. He never intended to
tions were clear. I was too far out into the river reel in the gator. He knew the gator wouldn’t
to make it back to land and there were no allow itself to be pulled in.
Cyprus trees close enough. Doug dug out a
large top water lure from his floating tackle box “Three hundred and fifty yards away,” Doug
and quickly tied it on. hollered, staring at his lineless reel.
“What the hell you doing?” I yelled. I knew what he meant. He had three hun-
dred fifty yards of line on his spool. The line
“Don’t move. Just stay there,” he yelled was all gone so the gator was even farther
back. away from us now.
I worked to untie the knot on my belt. If I “Pull up your pants old man,” Doug laughed
tossed the fish to the gator before he got to me aloud. It was a childlike laugh. That of a boy
I was certain he’d leave me untouched. He enjoying life, lost in the excitement of the mo-
wanted the bass not me. The knot however ment.
had dug deeper in on itself with the constant
tug of the fish and was too tight. I undid my In all the madness I’d forgotten I’d undone
belt and began to pull it out when Doug’s top my belt and my pants were now around my
water lure landed feet between me and the ankles, the bass puling harder than ever
gator. against my belt. I couldn’t help but laugh. My
white naked legs exposed to the world. My wet
“What the hell you doing?” I hollered. “Piss boxers hanging off my nonexistent ass.
him off even more?”
Doug’s laugh disappeared but a smile pens to me, I died doing what I loved. And
remained as he watched me straighten myself that’s the only way to.” The Army never
up. offered us specifics as to how and where he
was killed. Classified.
“Thanks,” I nodded to Doug. We both knew
the magnitude of what he’d done. I looked up I replayed that phone conversation in my
to the shore and thanked Garret too. He smiled head several times before I rolled over and
big, looking at the gun like he’d just discovered looked at Doug. “You’re going to enlist, aren’t
his inner Rambo. you?”
That night I cleaned the bass and draped “Yes, sir.” Doug paused. “Do you miss
them over a few green sticks alongside the fire him?”
so they could cook. Garret lay on his side star-
ing into the fire while Doug swam in the river A horribly stupid question I thought. Of
close to the shore. course I missed him, but it revealed so much.
How little Doug believed his family loved him.
“Not sure how he can be swimming out How lonely he must be in this world. Why he
there after today,” Garret said. was so determined to leave and make a name
“How long you known him?”
“Everyday. Sometimes every hour and
“Since kindergarten. He picked on me all minute.” I whispered.
the time. One day I just couldn’t take it any-
more so I just started punching him as hard as I Doug stared into the slow burning fire for a
could. He ended up atop me but I keep punch- good while. “I’m going Marines Recon. Marry a
ing until everything went black.” Garret looked beautiful woman, have three boys, one girl.”
at me for several seconds without saying any- He paused for a good moment. “I’ll never drink
thing. “We’ve been best friends ever since.” or beat my kids.” Doug looked up from the fire
Garret picked up a few twigs, spun them in his and I imagined he did so to see if I believed
finger and tossed them into the fire. “Weird, him. “They’ll go to school every day and get
right?” good grades.”
“No,” I said. “You’re a brave kid. A horrible A momentary silence.
shot and a bad fighter, but a brave kid.”
“Were you proud of him?” Doug asked.
He looked at me and smiled. He twisted a
few more twigs and threw them in the fire. “Every second,” I replied. I couldn’t return
his stare. Memories of Scottie consumed me.
That night as the boys slept I couldn’t help Doug needed reassurance and for me to say
but watch them. My boy and me made this trip something, but I couldn’t. It took everything I
dozens of times. It’s the one thing he enjoyed had not to break down and cry.
doing with me even as a teen. I rolled onto my
back and gazed up to the sky. The clouds eased Doug retrieved some wood and piled it on-
beneath the stars while the critters of the dark to the fire. It popped and snapped, and ashes
called out to one another as if to remind them- rose and sparkled above us.
selves they weren’t alone.
Doug’s determination reminded me so
“Sorry you lost him,” Doug said. much of Scottie, but he wasn’t. My boy was
gone forever and I would never be able to re-
I thought he was asleep. My boy had been capture those days. We would make no more
killed two months ago. The day Scottie made memories together. I would have to live off the
Delta Team years ago he called us and said, “I old ones.
love you both and know if anything ever hap-
“You’ll make a fine soldier one day, Doug” I Doug rolled over rubbing his eyes. “Smells
eventually got that out and meant it. “And be a good.”
great husband and dad.”
“Clams and smoked fish,” I said. “Courtesy
I rolled away from Doug and closed my of Chief Garret.”
Doug sat up and stared at the fire for a few
The following morning, before the sun even moments while Garret handed Doug and me
rose, Garret was up. He’d dug several clams his cooking sticks so we could pluck out the
from the shore and cooked them along the fire. clams.
Smoke slowly rose and the smell of burning
wood filled the air. I propped myself up on an We said little as we ate, packed up our
elbow and watched. gear, and headed out. A thick mist hung over
the river that morning. It soothed me like a
“What you want to be when you grow up?” warm blanket. I didn’t want to know how far
I whispered, Doug still asleep. we’d gone or where we were at. Even Garret
and Doug seemed at peace as we allowed the
He shrugged and turned the clams with two current to take us. A single ant scampered
sticks so they didn’t scorch in the heat. along the side of the canoe and instead of
squashing him I watched. He reached out over
“You gonna join the military with Doug?” the side, his hind legs holding him steady as his
I asked. front legs reached for the shore. He did this
several times until he disappeared beneath my
“I’d like too, but my dad wants me to take seat and I pondered if my decision to let him
over his accounting business.” live would cost me later.
“What do you want?” “Why is there basic training?” Garret asked
me. “How come you just can’t join, learn your
“Not sure,” he said and I believed him. He job and just do it?”
swatted away mosquitoes that landed on his
face. “Can’t say for certain,” I said. I had an idea
but wasn’t sure.
“You like clams?” I asked.
“It’s a ritual,” Doug quickly answered. “Rite
“Not particularly,” he replied. of passage.”
I smiled, knowing he’d dug them up for us. Garret mulled over Doug’s reply for a
“How’d you manage to wake so early?” moment then nodded in agreement.
“Drank lots of water before bed. The Ameri- On occasion a boat passed us, its wake forc-
can Indians did it so they could wake in the ing us to cling to the side of the canoe. I recog-
early hours and sneak up and kill the white nized a sharp bend in the river and knew we’d
men as they slept. They only did it after the soon enter the Mississippi. One, maybe two
treaties failed though.” hours, and Doug would depart.
I nodded. I didn’t know what to say. He was “Anything I can say or do?” I asked them
a smart kid and I imagined there was a logical both. Sixty-plus years of experience I wanted to
reason to almost everything he did. share. Not as a wind-bag, but to ease some of
their burdens, answer their questions, prove
“No, sir,” they both said. He smiled and paddled harder. Thirty
minutes later we reached town.
The fact they both replied “sir” and in
unison made me smile. I was not with boys but “Thank you,” he said, gathering his gear.
amongst men. They would both do fine.
“My pleasure,” I replied.
They remained quiet for the rest of the trip
both searching the shores and the waters. He nudged the canoe to make certain I did-
n’t get tangled in the weeds. I looked back
“There,” Doug suddenly pointed. “That’s once and unlike Doug he stood there waiving.
the place. Backs up to town.”
I nodded and smiled.
The boys paddled up to a warehouse raised
high on stilts and twenty feet back from the My wife beat me home from her girl’s vaca-
water and Doug got out. I followed him and tion. She watched me through the kitchen win-
pulled out three hundred dollars from my dow as I pulled the canoe up. She came out
pocket. and greeted me with a beer and a kiss. We
both sat quietly on lawn chairs, holding hands,
“Thank you,” Doug said. He didn’t argue. I and watching the river. It was like she knew I
could see in his eyes, even though it was needed her silent support.
against his very nature to accept anything, he
was grateful for it, damn near relieved. What That night as I lay in bed she turned to me.
else could I say or do for a boy so confident yet
so bruised? “What happened?” she finally asked.
I shook his hand, but truth be told, I wanted I started to cry and she wiped tears from
to give him a hug. Promise him everything my cheeks. “I got to say hello again,” I paused.
would be okay, but we both knew that wasn’t “And goodbye.”
how it worked. We both knew that was shit.
There was no theatrical departure.
Twenty-one months later I received a postcard
Garret and I watched Doug disappear from Walter Reed National Military Medical
around the warehouse. He didn’t look back. He Center.
didn’t waive. He went on his way like we’d see
him tomorrow. Hey, peckerwood. Fractured my pelvis and
right leg in 7 different places in Ranger School.
I sat at the rear of the canoe and Garret Chute didn’t fully deploy. I’m to be medically
remained up front. We said little on the ride discharged next week. I read up on that Huck
back. We peed over the side when we needed Finn fellow. I want to follow his path down the
to and jumped into the river when we needed Mississippi after I’m discharged in your canoe.
to cool off. On several occasions we stopped Don’t worry, I’ll leave a note.
paddling to watch a ferry pass or a train cross-
ing a bridge above. I imagined Garret pro- Also, I learned why there’s basic training.
cessed the trip much like I did, albeit through It’s to break you down so they can rebuild you
the eyes of a young man and me as a father. stronger. Get rid of all the previous shit you’ve
been called, miss taught and had beaten into
We stopped only once for a few hours to you. Garret graduated top of his Ranger Sniper
sleep and then pushed off. A few hours later,
when we passed my house, Garret turned to
“You need to make town so your parents
don’t find out,” I said.
class. I smile every time I think of him shooting
at that gator. He’s always been the badest
fucker I’ve known.
P.S. Maybe you’d be willing to do the Mis-
sissippi with me?
About the Author
Charles R. Stieren lives in Orlando, where he
works as a Nurse Case Manager. His short
stories have appeared in Thorny Locust and The
Avalon Literary Review.
by Stan Dryer (Frank Bequaert)
Childhood memories come and go. An image “You and I,” she said, “need to get away by
on television, a friend’s joke or a single word ourselves for a good long chit-chat.”
can trigger an explosion of memories, a chain
of remembrance plucked out of the past. “Sure,” I said. That was fine by me. Over the
When, years after the fact, those ancient years, Nancy has mellowed a lot. Her critiques
events run through the projector of your mind, of my lifestyle now tend to be more in the
you may suddenly see, only then, what really realm of suggestions rather than her former
happened. edicts. And I guess I have mellowed a bit myself
as I may sometimes admit that her suggestions
Such a moment came for me last sum- have merit.
mer when my sister, Nancy, and I managed to
make our visits to our parents’ vacation cottage The next day was clear and bright with a
coincide. She and her husband and their two light Maine coast breeze bringing cool air off
younger kids flew in from California; I drove the water. We decided to drive up to North
over to Maine from Syracuse with my wife, Point and sit on the rocks and talk.
Natalie, and the kids. We caught the ferry over
to the Island and drove the old familiar road Halfway up the coast road I slowed and
towards South Point with the ocean on the left stopped the car at a once familiar driveway.
and the steep rocky hillside to the right. Our “Isn’t this the house where old Mr. Henshaw
cottage was there as always, perched on its used to live?” I said.
short driveway above the road. The house
looked the same, perhaps a bit grayer and “Sure, Cookiemeister,” said Nancy with a
more weather beaten. My parents were sitting laugh.
on our old porch swing waiting to greet us.
They too looked much the same if a bit more Cookiemeister! With that, the whole busi-
weather worn. ness with Edith and the cookies came flooding
back to me. Except, this time, clear and bright, I
A couple of hours later Nancy and family understood what had really happened. “Oh
arrived and everything dissolved into the chaos shit.” I said.
of our family reunions. But after dinner, Nancy
grabbed me and took me aside. Nancy is three “Why oh shit?” said Nancy.
years older than I am. Although I think I have
proved that I can get along in the world with- “I just figured it out.”
out her help, she still feels that I need some
straightening out whenever she gets the “No way. You must have figured it out years
“Well I don’t think I’ve thought about it for
years. You remind me of the Cookiemeister bit
and I suddenly understand what it was all
“You just figured it out. That is really fun- “One, we came out here to get away from it
ny.” Nancy started to laugh, that same old all; two, Mr. Henshaw is a dirty old man; and
laugh that used to drive me up the wall when I three, when I get supine, I like to stay supine.”
was a kid.
“What does ‘supine’ mean?” I asked.
“I don’t think this is funny at all. Here I have
this epiphany where a great mystery of my “Look it up in the dictionary,” Mother said.
youth is solved and you think it is some kind of This was back in the eighties, before the inter-
a joke.” net. We still had a giant dictionary on a stand in
the living room. Words Nancy and I didn’t un-
“Epiphany, nonsense. You just now figured derstand we got to look up. I got to do most of
out what everyone else knew twenty-five years the looking up as at smartass fifteen, my sister
ago.” Nancy started to laugh again. Then she knew most of the words already.
looked over at me and sensed my touch of an-
ger. “You’re probably right,” she said, “For Pete’s sake, Clara,” said Dad, “Why
“Someone should have clued you in. At first don’t you lay off the dictionary routine? This is
Mother and Dad were worried that you’d a vacation, remember?” I could tell he was
blame yourself. And we just all thought it was definitely trying to change the subject.
so obvious that we’d wait and watch when the
light bulb in your brain went on. Apparently it Mother kept on target. “Seeing Mr. Hen-
never did.” shaw is not going to stop you from getting
away from it all. You ought to get up and get
# some exercise. And Mr. Henshaw is not a dirty
old man. He’s been lonely all his life. He was an
It started the summer at the cottage when I only child and never married. You’re just mad
was twelve and Nancy a super sophisticated about the auction last year.”
fifteen. It was a warm Sunday afternoon. Nancy
and I were reading the funnies on the front “I am not mad about the auction. If that old
porch steps and Dad was lying on the porch coot wanted to pay four times what that sun
swing reading the Sunday business page. Then dial was worth, it’s his bad luck, not mine.”
my mother stepped out onto the porch drying
the last luncheon dish. “Let’s go over and visit “I might note that you bid that sun dial up
Mr. Henshaw this afternoon,” she said. to three times what it was worth. “Now come
on.” Mother grabbed hold of the top of the
It was a hot day for the island and I had business page and yanked. Dad saw this com-
plans when I finished the funnies to head down ing and was holding tight to the bottom. The
to the ballfield and see if there was a scratch page tore in half.
game going. None of us even answered.
Mother rolled her half up into a stick and
“I said,” Mother spoke a little louder, “we poked Dad in the ribs. “You children would like
should go and see Mr. Henshaw.” to go, wouldn’t you?”
Dad peeped up over the edge of the paper. “We’d love to,” said Nancy. It was just like
“No,” he said. her to back Mother and include me in on the
Mother moved over to the swing and
looked down at Dad with her don’t-mess-with- I wasn’t going to take sides in this kind of a
me look. “Give me three good reasons why setup. “How to you spell ‘supine’,” I said.
“That boy will be a great diplomat some-
day,” said Dad. “S-U-P-I-N-E”
I headed for the big dictionary and looked it bluff overlooking the ocean. Mr. Henshaw was
up. Supine meant lying flat on your back. Why sitting out in front in his director’s chair wear-
Dad couldn’t have just told me, I’ll never know. ing only a pair of worn brown swimming
trunks. He was a short man, thin and wiry with
When I got back out on the porch every- his hair starting to grey. On a lawn chair next to
thing was settled as I knew it would be. Dad him sat a lovely blonde girl. Remembering
was grumbling and pulling the tarp off of Hec- back, I would guess her age to have been about
tor, the old Model A he kept on the Island. thirty. She was wearing nothing but a large
Mother and Nancy climbed in back and I got in bath towel wrapped around her. There was
front with Dad. another towel on the ground. Even as clueless
as I was at that age, I instantly figured out she
Mother and Nancy chattered like a couple had been taking a stark naked sunbath, and
of blue jays all the way. Dad didn’t say anything probably supine.
but hunched over the wheel and glared at the
road till we reached Henshaw’s long driveway. “Well, well,” Dad said under his breath.
“Well, well, well, well.”
“Are you sure this is the turn-off?” said
Mother. Mother said nothing.
“Well of course I’m sure,” said Dad. Mr. Henshaw got up and came over to the
car. “Good to see you,” he said.
“Well I didn’t see his sign. He usually puts
out a sign with his name on it when he comes Dad jumped out of the car. “Good to see
up for the summer.” you again, Fred. It’s been a long time. Just
thought we’d drop by and see how things were
“Perhaps he doesn’t want people coming to going. We didn’t want you to get lonely out
visit him on Sunday afternoons this year,” said here all alone.”
Mother did not get out of the car but glared
Halfway up the long hill before Mr. Hen- at Dad.
shaw’s house there was a big sign someone
had painted and nailed up on a tree. “PLEASE “No chance of getting lonesome this sum-
BLOW HORN,” it read. mer, “said Mr. Henshaw. “I’ve got my niece up
here to keep me company.” He motioned to
“Now that’s something new,” said Dad. the blonde girl. “Edith, come over and meet
“Yes,” said Mother. “I wonder what that’s
about.” The girl got up slowly holding the towel
around her with one hand behind her back. She
“Well give them a blast, Bub,” said Dad. I came over to the car. She walked with a grace
reached over to the bulb horn on the edge of that would inspire a poet.
the windshield and squeezed for all it was
worth about twenty times. “This is my niece, Edith Morrows,” said Mr.
“Stop him!” Nancy shouted.
She shook hands with Mother and Dad.
I gave one final blast and quit. “Honestly Mother reluctantly, Dad with unsuppressed
Mother,” said Nancy, “they’ll think a cavalcade enthusiasm. “I hope you will excuse the dress,”
is arriving.” ‘Cavalcade’ was a new word she she said, “but we weren’t expecting company.”
had just learned and was using at every oppor- Her voice was silk smooth.
“Hey,” said Dad, grinning. “No need to
We came up over the hill and there was dress up here on the island.”
Henshaw’s big weatherworn house sitting on a
Edith turned to me and Nancy. “How would But Edith didn’t think what I said was stu-
you like some cookies?” pid. She kind of froze for a moment as if think-
ing it over. Then she said, “You may be right.
Nancy took a quick look at Mother whose Why don’t we go back outside.”
steely look said it all. “Thank you very much,
but no,” she said. Outside Mother and Nancy were still sitting
in the car. Dad had gone off with Mr. Henshaw
“Sure,” I said. No steely look from a mere to inspect a mount he was making for the sun
mortal was going to keep me from getting dial.
cookies from a goddess.
“Won’t you two come and sit inside where
I followed Edith through a side door which it’s cooler,” Edith said to Mother and Nancy.
led into a giant old kitchen. She pulled forward
a cookie jar that sat on the counter with one “No thank you,” Mother said. “We’re got to
hand, still holding the towel up with the other. be running along as soon as Mr. Crawford gets
“I made these myself,” she said, “but no one back.” I remember being puzzled at the time as
ever eats them. I have to watch my diet and she only referred to Dad as “Mr. Crawford”
Fred eats maybe two a week.” when she’s was ticked at him and it was, after
all, her idea we’d come for a visit.
“Fred?” I said.
Dad and Mr. Henshaw reappeared from the
“Uncle Fred.” She handed me a cookie. I work shed next to the house. “You did a real
took a bite. I remember it as being incredibly nice job on that mount,” Dad said.
delicious. On the other hand, she could have
handed me a dog biscuit and I would have Mr. Henshaw smiled. “Why don’t you folks
swallowed it in ecstasy. all come in for a drink?”
“Take another,” she said. “They’ll go stale “I’m afraid we can’t,” said Mother. “We
anyway.” have to get back by three-thirty.”
I took another cookie. “Isn’t there anyone Dad started to say something, but caught
ever out here except you and your uncle?” I the look in Mother’s eye. “Got to get back,” he
asked. said. “But maybe I’ll be back for a longer visit
She gave me a funny look. “No. Sometimes
people come by, but not very often.” “Do that,” said Mr. Henshaw.
“Don’t you get lonesome?” Dad climbed back into the driver’s seat.
“Goodbye Fred,” he said. “Goodbye Edith.”
Edith held onto her towel with one hand
“Yeah. I thought women your age liked to and waved with the other.
have dates and stuff.”
Goodbye Edith,” I waved. “Thanks for the
She smiled at me. “No I’m not lonely. My cookies.”
uncle is plenty good company.”
“Come have some more sometime,” she
“Well,” I said, “I think anyone who makes called after us.
good cookies like these should get married and
have kids so there would be someone to eat “Honestly,” said Mother when we were out
lots of cookies.” I remember at the time think- of sight of the house, “you didn’t have to act
ing I had just said something incredibly stupid that way.”
and wishing I could take back the words and
bury them in the nearest trash can. “What way?”
“You know what way.”
“I was just being friendly, that’s all.” Dad Three days later when Dad drove down to
grinned. “Henshaw’s a lonely old man who was the post office for the mail he came back with a
an only child and who never married and we’ve puzzled expression on his face. “Clara,” he said,
got to be kind to him and visit him and his “guess who I saw at the ferry dock. Edith.”
niece often. And you were right about one
thing.” “Well that certainly must have brightened
your day,” said Mother.
“No, seriously, it was Edith with two big
“Mr. Henshaw is definitely not a dirty old suitcases getting on the ferry.”
Mother did not speak for a long moment, a
“That’s enough.” From Mother’s tone I rare occasion. Then she said, “That poor man.
knew it was time to change the subject. Get the kids in Hector and we’ll go check up on
“Well, she bakes pretty nice cookies any-
how,” I said. “I think Mr. Henshaw is lucky to Which we did. The first thing different we
have such a nice niece.” noticed was that the PLEASE BLOW YOUR
HORN sign was missing from the driveway. We
Nancy burst out with her crazy laugh in the found Mr. Henshaw sitting by himself in his old
back seat. “What’s the matter with you?” I brown shorts looking sadly out over the ocean.
said. We all got out and walked over to where he
was sitting. “I saw Edith getting on the ferry,”
“You imbecile,” she said, “you total imbe- Dad said.
cile.” She isn’t his niece. She’s his mistress.”
“Well nice of you to come,” said Mr. Hen-
“Mistress?” I said. “What’s a mistress?” shaw with a thin smile. He looked at me. “And
in particular the cookiemeister.” None of us
“Oh no,” said Nancy, “how could I be relat- quite knew what that meant. “What I really
ed to a total ignoramus.” Ignoramus was an- want to say is that you, young man, should go
other word she had just learned and was busy and help yourself to a couple of cookies. In
using at every opportunity mostly when talking fact, take the whole jar. I’m kind of done with
about me. Imbecile was a word she had known cookies. You know where the jar is.”
for way too long a time.
Even though I saw I was in the middle of
“Mistress,” said Dad, “A new word for the the all-time greatest emotional scene, I knew a
boy’s vocabulary. Look it up in the big diction- deal that I could not pass up and I headed for
ary when we get home. In fact, we’ll both look the kitchen. As I left, I heard Mother say to Mr.
it up together. I think a boy and his dad should Henshaw in her firmest voice, “Now just where
do things together.” is that sign that you put down on the highway
when you’re here for the summer?”
“That’s enough of your alleged humor,”
said Mother. When I got back, my parents were still talk-
ing to Mr. Henshaw. As I approached I heard
Dad said nothing more but all the way Mother say something like “and you’re saying
home he smiled happily to himself. that Bub…..” Then she saw me coming and
stopped talking. Mr. Henshaw looked at Moth-
Dad and I did look up ”mistress” in the dic- er and nodded his head just slightly.
tionary and I was glad he helped. “Mistress” it
turns out had about thirty-five meanings but Then everyone in my family turned and
he pointed me at the right one and then came looked at me strangely. If they hadn’t been my
up with some rather boring advice about not family, I would have said it was kind of a look
of awe, a “no way is it possible Bud could do Mother laughed. “Oh, that Edith. Hope you
that” look. Nancy, I knew, was dying to tell me weren’t too heartbroken.”
something but had probably been ordered to
keep her mouth shut. “What’s going on?” I Dad ignored her. “As it looks like it all
asked. turned out okay,” he said. “Do you think we
should finally tell Bub?”
“Nothing,” said Mother and Dad in chorus.
I’d learned long ago that when I got that cho- “No. It would only go to his head. He might
rus, something definitely was going on. even decide to become a marriage counselor.”
Mr. Henshaw broke the silence. “I was just Both of them laughed.
telling your parents that my niece had a family
emergency and had to leave suddenly,” he I should have busted in and demanded to
said. “Did you find all the cookies?” know what they were talking about, but the
guys were about to pick sides and I didn’t want
“I’m so sorry to hear about your niece, Sir,” to end up on a team with a bunch of losers. So I
I said. “She seemed such a nice person.” I took off.
thought it would not have been smart to ex-
plain to him I knew about her being his mis- Now, sitting at the end of Henshaw’s drive-
tress and that I knew which kind of a mistress way, the whole business had come back to me
she was. clear and complete. I had, quite by chance,
changed the paths of a couple of human lives,
In any case, we saw a lot of Mr. Henshaw hopefully all for the good.
that summer. He came over for dinner at least
once a week. He and Dad went to the annual “Well,” said Nancy, “are you going to sit
auction together and, as Mother said, came there all day dreaming about how you single-
back with twice the usual amount of junk see- handedly changed the course of Western Civili-
ing as they agreed not to bid against each oth- zation?”
er. Dad persuaded Mr. Henshaw to take us out
on his boat a couple of times. The change was “Sorry,” I said. I put the car in gear and
amazing. Once out on the water, Mr. Henshaw pulled out on the road. “Let’s head out to
became a different person. Laughing. Bad sailor North Point and you can straighten out my
jokes. But on water or on land he still called me future life.”
The next summer we saw less of Mr. Hen-
shaw. When he was in Florida a smart, attrac-
tive widow got him in her sights and Mr. and
Mrs. Henshaw occupied the big old house on
the bluff for the next fifteen or so summers.
Later that next summer I overheard my
parents talking one afternoon when they
thought I was down at the ballfield. I had come
back to pick up my glove and was in the back
hall when I heard them in the kitchen.
“I heard that Edith got married,” Dad said.
“Edith who?” said Mother.
“You know, Henshaw’s niece.”
About the Author
Frank Bequaert has been writing and publish-
ing fiction under the pen name Stan Dryer for
over 60 years. From 1960 to 1990 he published
17 short stories in a number of magazines in-
cluding Playboy, Cosmopolitan and Fantasy and
Science Fiction Magazine. A number of these
stories were reprinted in anthologies. Most of
his writing is humorous. After a hiatus of about
25 years, Frank is again writing fiction.
by David Norwood
I looked forward to when the grounds across prideful journey was the immaculate cross-
campus were cut. It happened every two hatched lawn glistening in the sun like a major
weeks, and today was one of those days, and it league ball field. It was as if someone had in-
just so happened to be the last day of the se- tentionally angled each blade of grass by hand.
mester—the front of summer vacation. Mow-
ers growled like angry dogs as they passed by I approached Smitty’s and went inside.
my office window. Weed eaters buzzed in the
distance like tiny planes. I enjoyed the noises in Beer mugs thudded against the bar top. The
anticipation of seeing the beauty they were uproar of students came from many directions.
creating across campus. On days like today, I I found an open spot at the bar, sat down, and
would leave work proud and excited. These ordered a beer. With it came a coaster and a
were the days I enjoyed talking to others about receipt. “Let me know if you want to start a
being a professor in the English department. tab,” the bartender said. She was gone before I
You mean, you teach there? That place with could answer. I laid my card down and grabbed
the gorgeous lawn and picturesque landscap- my mug of beer. A foamy white tonsure pen-
ing? I had just submitted final grades and was ciled around its amber center. Slivers of ice slid
deciding where to go to celebrate the end of down the mug’s thick glass. I took a wide sip,
the semester. Smitty’s Pub was all I could think unaware of the coaster stuck to the bottom.
of that was nearby. So, I slid my laptop into my The coldness massaged my neck and lifted
backpack along with a few books and left. mental weights. I clunked my mug down.
Egg-shell blue stretched across the sky. One “Professor?” The voice was familiar and
of the men cutting grass tipped his hat as I left filled with surprise. I turned and noticed a
the English department. His weed eater buzzed young man, a student of mine, half-drunk. His
next to him like a giant wasp. Another man was feet stumbled over themselves like a wind-up
driving a mower onto a trailer. Their day was robot. He was heading toward the bathroom.
ending too. I politely smiled and proceeded to He raised one hand attempting to say hello. His
walk the half mile to Smitty’s. eyes slanted and his smile beamed.
The route across campus to Smitty’s was “The best and the brightest,” a man sitting
beautiful. It threaded between freshly edged next to me said. He tittered as we made eye
sidewalks, buildings from the 1920s, university contact. He was much older than me, most
banners hanging down from rod iron light likely in his late fifties. His orange shirt was a
posts, and joyful students huddled together as bright overtone to his dark leathery skin and
they strolled along. The culmination of my dirty blonde hair. His face was stubbled like
sandpaper. His hands were dry and cracked.
But, he was calm and his movements were orange shirt finished his conversation. He
fluid. He wasn’t drunk, but his appearance wel- glanced over upon ordering another beer.
comed my a-worker-with-a-beer-in-his-hand
stereotype. I didn’t mean to judge, but this was Finding the courage to speak, the student
a bar, and his worker-look on a Friday after- said, “I’ve been thinking about graduate
noon wasn’t alone. I noticed similar colored school, but I’m not sure if that’s something I
shirts—some bright orange and some neon should do. I’m not really sure what that will
yellow—spread out in the bar. buy me in the long run.” His eyes glared toward
confusion. I took a sip, nodded, and turned to
“Oh well. The semester is over. He’s just face him. His concern was a common one.
celebrating, and from the looks of it a little too
much,” I responded followed by soft laughter “If you’re thinking about it, do it, especially
filled with reminiscence. if you’re single and don’t have any kids.” He
nodded like he did in class.
“You teach, do ya?”
“But, why? I mean, a master’s and doctor-
“Yes, English.” ate sound cool, but I’m just not sure if that’s
for me.” His face turned back toward confu-
The man nodded as he took a sip. “It sure is sion.
a pretty college, and I hear it’s a good one.” I
recalled instances when freshmen misspoke “I was the same way. I think everyone feels
and referred to the university as a college. I that way, to be honest.” I noticed the man in
would instantly correct them. This isn’t a voca- the orange shirt was now listening. “Think of it
tional school, indeed we offer you the full spec- this way. A lot of people are getting bachelor’s
trum of knowledge. But, I suppose he was try- degrees nowadays, so to some extent, a bache-
ing to be nice. Besides, I felt proud being a part lor’s degree is no better than a high school di-
of the beauty others saw as they passed the ploma—it’s something society expects. But, if
campus. Pretty. It sure was. you get a master’s degree, you’ll stand out
amongst those trying to get the same job.
“Yes, we have a beautiful campus and not Graduate school proves to others that you can
to mention a very high ranking. A nationally work hard, are passionate, and can commit to
distributed publication recently put out a very something.” I spoke with confidence. His eyes
nice article about us.” I took a sip of my beer widened with an apparent liking.
and glanced over at him. He just stared at
me—you don’t say. A man sitting next to him “I guess I haven’t thought of it like that
apologized for interrupting and asked him a before.”
question. The man in the orange shirt leaned in
to answer, moving his hands as if to explain a “And, it sort of ties together with all the
concept or process, something I could tell the things you’ve most likely heard in high school,
other man should have already known. about making the best grade and getting into a
good university—all for your future.” I paused
Another student approached me. for a second. “This is it.” I smiled as if having let
“Professor? I’m sorry to bother you, but do you him into a private club.
know when you’ll submit our final grades?”
“Thanks, professor. I’ll keep thinking about
“I just submitted them before I got here. it.” He held out his hand for me to shake. I
You should see an update soon.” His eyes shook as I turned back around toward the bar
thanked me. But, I could tell his mind was top.
forming another question. He hesitated, per-
haps feeling awkward and a little embarrassed “That’s a lot to think about,” the man in the
to see me out of the classroom. The man in the orange shirt said. I looked over at him.
“College. Careers.” He looked over at me.
“I know. It’s a turning point in so many aware of your grades and shown more interest
lives.” I immediately began judging again. Not in your major … that you should have let it
college, university. This poor guy is probably work for you … so perhaps go back and change
just a high school dropout anyway. Low in- majors, and then maybe things won’t be so
come. Mediocre job. Just a poor guy in a bar bad.” I waved my hand to emphasize my level
barely making a living. “I just try and keep of confidence.
them on a good track.”
“Or, don’t bother going in the first place,”
“I keep wondering if I should tell my kids to he said looking out the corner of his eye. “I
consider college.” His eyes darted to me. “I teach my kids to work hard and be proud of
don’t want to make ‘em go, though.” what they do. Like them folks did back in the
day. The ones that would engrave their initials
“I think it depends on how you look at it. I into their work, to show they made it, and
tell mine it’s the most important choice they’ll what they made was something they were
make,” I said. His mouth creased and his brows proud of. Swords. Shields. You name it.” He
furrowed. waved his hand in the same manner as I did
earlier, but not to mock. He was equally as sure
“Hell, I tell mine getting married is the most in his belief as I was mine. “But, if my kid want-
important choice they’ll make,” his expression ed to be a doctor, for example, to help people,
loosened, “that and just being a good person.” I guess I shouldn’t discourage him, right?” He
I nodded. My judgmental side was growing shrugged his shoulders—damned if you do,
frustrated. I understood his simple explanation, damned if you don’t. I quickly found myself
but he didn’t get what I was saying. I wanted to needing him to agree with me. I began judging
tell him he was being an idiot and to stop again. Stupid! Dumb! Idiot! What’s he know
acting so stupid, that going to a university was about academics anyway? Of course your kid
the best thing anyone could do after high should go to school to be a doctor!
school. But, good manners wouldn’t allow such
behavior. I had to try and persuade without I turned in my seat a little and calmly spoke,
coming across like a fool myself. trying to persuade. “If you were going to start a
restaurant, you’d want to have something to
“I just mean, I think in today’s world, you stand out in the crowd, right?” He slowly nod-
need something to set yourself apart from oth- ded. “And, especially if you were in a crowded
ers. Not to mention, those who typically go to space, like starting out in a big city, you’d need
college have better job security and higher pay- something unique. Original.” I paused for em-
ing jobs.” I found myself regurgitating what I phasis. “For example, I’m guessing it would be
had heard over the years, and I suddenly be- incredibly hard to start a pizzeria in New York
came aware he might take offense. I began City.” My eyes asked rhetorically. He chuckled.
thinking of a defense tactic, but he simply nod-
ded and took a sip of his beer. “I hear ya,’ he said.
“I hear ya, but then you got all the college “So, you’d want to offer something that
tuition and student loans that come with it. stands out in the crowd. To me, going to a uni-
Some kids graduate and take a mortgage with versity—especially getting a master’s and doc-
‘em. And, if they don’t get a job, they’re torate—is just like that. It’s something that
screwed. Hell, some don’t even make that gives you an edge, a necessary edge. You simp-
much starting out.” I could tell I wasn’t getting ly have to be unique to stand out these days.” I
very far with the man in the orange shirt. slightly turned and grabbed my mug. I rested
my arm on the bar top and took a sip. I hoped
“That’s true, but with a little perseverance, we were done talking or could at least talk
it will pay off. And to those who struggle after- about something else. If he thought going to
ward I say: maybe you should have been more
college was a bad idea, well then I guess I lawn equipment I saw earlier. Jenkins Lawn
would just have to feel sorry for him. Besides, Service was plastered on the doors of each
all I wanted to do was celebrate the end of the truck. I sighed deeply and turned back toward
semester with a few beers, not debate the im- the bartender who was putting away clean
portance of going to a university. mugs.
The man in the orange shirt laughed to him- “Another round? Maybe some food?”
self. I saw that a few men next to him had now
begun listening to our conversation. “I don’t About the Author
know Professor, I can sure make some pretty
damn good bacon and pancakes.” The other David Norwood lives in Grand Rapids, Michi-
men quietly laughed, as did I. “Ain’t too much gan with his wife and four kids. He enjoys
unique going on there.” bringing his imagination to life with words on
paper and especially looks forward to his free
Then, the man in the orange shirt turned a time so he can read, write, and stare at the
little my way. “Did you hear about the guy trees in his backyard. His stories can be found
walking down the street and how he came up in Corvus Review, Furtive Dalliance, and forth-
on three men standing next to a pile of bricks?” coming at Peeking Cat Poetry. You can also find
I shook my head no. “Well, the man walking David at
down the street asked the first guy standing https://norwoodpages.wordpress.com/
next to the bricks, ‘what are you doing?’ And,
the guy said, ‘laying bricks.’ The man nodded
and walked over to the second guy, ‘ok then,
what are you doing?’ and the second guy said,
‘I’m building a wall.’ The man, still intrigued,
walked over to the last guy and asked, ‘well,
what about you?’ and the last guy said, ‘I’m
building a place for my people to worship.’”
The man in the orange shirt smirked. He took
his final sip and stood up. “Like they say in the
Bible though, ‘in the end, it’s all meaningless.’”
He reached out his hand. “Nice talking to you,
“Dr. Phillips,” I said quietly.
“Paul Jenkins.” His hand shook like a rock,
and then he left.
I looked around the bar. Students clamored
at nearby tables. The overhead televisions
blasted news and sports. Low music played in
the background next to a pool table. Sober
students came in as the drunk ones left, even
though it was just five o’clock. I watched Paul
Jenkins and the men he was with leave the bar.
In pairs, they got in work trucks carrying the
by Magdalena Blažević
Ivana at me through the lens, and take my last pho-
tograph. My eyes will be closed, a black trail
(16. 8. 1993) under my nose, hardened. He will wipe his face
with his shirt sleeve, his blue and white stripes
I'll be dead in two hours. My hair, washed with will soak up tears and sweat. I will become part
camomile, as white as snow, will mix with the of its scary archive.
dust from the well-worn path and turn grey. It
remembers the footsteps, from size 18 to 36, In an hour, a force of healthy male bodies
broken parts of the body and muddy fingers, will be sliding down through the forest like a
and soon it will remember my whole body, all stone avalanche. One of them will indicate with
one metre and sixty centimetres of it. The dry his iron finger that I should stand third in line.
soil will soak up my DNA and will not let the I’ll be the shortest in it. Dark heads on tall
rains nor the snows wash me away. I will bodies on either side of me will turn towards
always be just under the surface, the grass may me, like flowers towards the sun. The one from
even grow from me. whose fiery rain a spark will hit my chest will
be wearing his cap cocked. He will be standing
The plums are overripe. I grab one and pull beneath granny’s apple tree. We will just be
it. I can feel purple spurt. It leaves brown separated by a low, thorny fence. He will prop
stains. My breasts are still clean. Over there, his leg on the wooden bench, in the shade. In
the stain’ll spread from a bright red to black the resting place. He will never know that from
when they lay me down on the nylon in the behind the low window, precisely between two
improvised morgue. I won’t be alone there. A sandbags, he is being watched by a green eye.
cold circlet of blue fingers will crown my head. When I fall, so will he. He will be taken home
If I could inhale then I’d know how cutting the by his brother’s strong arms, black from the
smell of stagnant death is. But, the photogra- sun, and I by the white, still boyish, arms of my
pher will know. He will get closer and he will brother.
discover my body and my face wrapped in the
silver foil. My skin and lips will be blue, as blue Even the tomatoes are overripe. We have
as my eyes are now. He will bend over me, look been mashing them all day and throwing them
into hot cauldrons from which red sauce erupts
like from a volcano. It spills over the sparse his nose lowered, with a hat on his head will,
grass, with bugs and ants fleeing as if from a with a look, give the sign upon which quick
fire. On the table stand washed, dry feet, like in some children’s game, will jump in
marmalade jars. When we fill them and stack ambush out of ditches, wardrobes and from
them, we will hear the echo of unfamiliar under tables. The gypsy tarot cards will be spilt
voices. Then my body will cringe, my breathing underfoot, and will be trodden on by strong,
will speed up, and my blood will rush through tightened boots. The cats will climb onto a tall
my veins. Three red, glass rows, the timber walnut tree. The corn stems will fall, one by
straining under the weight, will stand one.
untouched for a long time.
The graveyard on the hill is behind my back,
Sparkling water cascades over the soft when you look from the mountain it looks like
orange sediment. I smear the surface with my a ball with densely packed-in dots. I won’t be
fingers and briefly colour the source. Around it buried there. All day two soldiers will be
are warm puddles with green edges. I cool my digging deep holes at its foot, in the hidden,
feet under the pipe which is sticking out and fill shaded part. From these holes worms and
the plastic bottles. The asphalt is red hot and maggots will wriggle free and search for a new
deserted. The white line has been erased. The haven. Mine is the last in the row. They won’t
forest deep and dark, is still peaceful. When take the foil off me. I will wear it instead of an
they look at it again from the other side of the evening gown. When they are lowering me in
Bosnia river it will be aflame, and ash-coloured the wooden coffin into the ground there will be
tree fragments will be falling on our roofs. All pairs of tired legs. Bouquets of wild flowers will
the birds will be gone. wither in a moment and be placed on the hot
soil. The forest will be doused, only in places
The railway track is overgrown with will faint wisps of smoke be discernible. With
elderwort, the tracks rusty. I take off my shoes time, the white letters on the wooden cross
and walk as if on a beam. I don’t last long; the will come loose, the nails will rust. The loose
hot iron scorching me. I put on my slippers and soil will be compacted, and on it, instead of a
feel the comfort of warm rubber. I pick some stone slab, multicoloured wax will harden.
tiny berries and put them into my mouth all at
once. The bitter-sweet bloody juice flows down Now… now my eyes are damp. Mother is
my throat. I wipe my hands on my dress. I sit blurry, and he’s already cocked his cap.
down on a white, stone sleeper in front of
Feriz’s house. Two grey cats are resting there.
Their skinny bodies breathing slowly. The
windows have been covered by a once-white,
thick bed sheet, the door shut. The window
pane has cracked diagonally, and been stuck
together with brown sticky tape. From the
concrete frames destroyed by rain, yellow
dandelions peep out. The dry corn fields
behind the house aren’t rustling. On the black
electricity cable above the haystack perch,
lined up, crows, shiny black. When they take
off and spread their large wings, the click of a
worn lock will be heard. A dark-skinned man,
About the Author
Magdalena Blažević is a literary critic and
short-story writer from Bosnia and Herze-
govina. She was born and grew up in Žepče, a
small town in Central Bosnia. She studied
English and Croatian Literature in Mostar
where she lives and works. Her first short-story
collection will be published next year.
LOSING THE LOTTERY
by Bailey Cook Dailey
I dealt to the hook-handed man first. Single The most interesting thing about him was
deck Blackjack. He was the only player at the the hook. The way he maneuvered it, carefully
table. He was on a hot streak winning what felt accomplishing tasks with it, like striking a
like four hands out of every five. He played match and lighting his cigarette. It seemed al-
exactly the way I would have if I were on the most natural for a task so impossibly unnatural.
other side of the table: boldly hitting his 16s It was also strange that he had chosen the
against every face card, doubling on every 10 hook over a more modern prosthetic that bore
or 11 that came his way. He was playing the some resemblance to a human arm. I didn’t
game as it should be played and it was one of know if the hook was deliberate or a matter of
those moments where the job seemed to financial necessity. Either way, it wasn’t the
transcend the banality of everyday life and hit kind of question I felt comfortable asking.
on some sweet spot, pulsing away at some-
thing in our nervous system like a baseball Eventually, the winning streak was over.
cracking perfectly against a bat. The satisfac- We both realized it and tried a futile fight
tion of a game well played by an expert hand; against it, laughing nervously at each losing
mixed with the endorphin rush of the steadily hand but after about four in a row the man
growing stack of chips on his side of the table politely colored up. He was up a few hundred
and behind my paddle. This was a moment dollars and had made me about $100 in the
where everything in the universe was humming process. I said goodbye and went on break, not
along perfectly. I am gifted with these mo- thinking much about him.
ments maybe once or twice a week, and this
one would have been nothing out of the ordi- I came back down to sit on an empty shoe
nary, it only strikes such a warm chord in my game. It was a slow weekday and as the night
memory because of the events that took place progressed into morning more and more peo-
after. ple went to bed and the casino took on the
cozy atmosphere it always does at around 3 in
He was an ordinary enough looking man the morning, when there are more of us than
besides the missing arm. Thirty-something, them. Almost everyone left standing is in a
balding, beer belly; a medley of petty addic- uniform.
tions and vices. He was nice enough, too, tell-
ing me he worked at a Sprint store and to come I stood on my dead game and saw Ed to my
in for a phone some day. I shined him on and left on single deck, dealing to the hook-handed
pretended I might but of course I never would. man. A few minutes later he went off to use
the bathroom and Ed and I started talking to
each other between our games, one of those She went up to the hook-handed man and
things dealers are not technically allowed to do hugged him as he wept on her and started
but everyone does anyway. It was Ed who no- stuttering about the war and how he had lost
ticed it first: that the hook-handed man had his hand and all of the blood, how he couldn’t
been gone a mysteriously long time and there believe there was so much blood. Monica
was a swarm of security guards and paramed- patted him and said everything was going to be
ics surrounding the general area of the men’s “OK” in a way where we all almost believed
bathroom. her. Then she sprang to action and got him a
free hotel room for the night and had the cock-
We were worried that he had had some tail waitress bring him top shelf liquor for free
sort of accident involving the hook, though it and told him he didn’t have to worry about
seemed bizarre to us that he could injure him- getting home tonight, just to stay here with us
self with it after seeing him wield it so graceful- until he felt better and then go up to his room
ly all night. We watched and theorized, from a to sleep.
distance, unable to leave our trays.
The man perked up a little at this news and
Eventually he wandered back to the pit, unexpectedly started playing Blackjack again.
dazed and pale. Amy dealt to him, perplexed, trying to smile
and be cheerful despite having been thrown
He sat at Ed’s table muttering. It took me a into a completely chaotic situation. The man
while to grasp the full story, longer than it drank Patron after Patron and kept playing,
should have. A man had slit his wrists in the sometimes very somber and on the verge of
bathroom and as he sat in a stall waiting pa- breaking down again, and occasionally becom-
tiently to die the hook-handed man had wan- ing almost light hearted and laughing, until Ed
dered in, seen the pools of blood oozing from and I got off about an hour later.
underneath the stall and run out until he found
a security guard who then called the paramed- We met in the breakroom. He was eating
ics. greasy scrambled eggs and even greasier ba-
Halfway through the unfolding of this story
the hook-handed man began to weep; big, “Drink after?”
long, gasping sobs. He put his head down and
cried into his remaining hand. “Drink after.”
It was then that Ed was tapped out to go on We didn’t talk about anything that had
break. Amy came to the table, a stranger to the happened. We barely talked about my next
scene, completely mystified as to why a grown stop. I refused to tie the two together in my
man with only one arm was crying so profusely mind. He had two Red Labels. I had one. We
at her table. joked about everything. Joke after joke, story
after story until the slit wrists and the hook-
With almost perfect timing, Monica got off handed man and the bottle of pills seemed so
break at the same moment and came down to far away it couldn’t touch us.
the pit. She was in her 70s and had been at the
casino for over 40 years, making her one of the At 5:45am we said goodbye in the parking
most senior employees there. She was some- lot. A feeble hug between us. I drove the three
how kind and mean simultaneously, one mi- blocks to my mom’s apartment building. The
nute she would be showing you pictures of her sun was up and early morning joggers and
grandkids or her newest quilting project and bums passed me by. I loved feeling as though I
the next she would be kicking out drunks or was one of them - a morning person - even
firing new dealers who didn’t make the cut. though I was an imposter in their early morning
world by default of staying up all night.
Her apartment complex used to be a casino Ricky has Leukemia. He is here for the next
and hotel, one she ironically used to work at of a half dozen surgeries he’s already had in his
back when I was a kid. On her breaks during young life. It has been years of this; his family
shift she would nervously pace around the fighting against an immense and unseen army
building trying not to think about smoking - a of cancer cells slowly killing what used to be
bad habit she had finally decided to quit at the their healthy little boy. The women talk financ-
time. Nowadays she’s not doing much walking. es. We love to talk about money in the face of
death, because even poverty is less terrifying
I let myself in through the main entrance than the disease spreading inside of us and our
and went up the musty old staircase three loved ones. Ricky’s father is a construction
flights to her room. By the time I came in she worker in California. Ricky’s mom works in an
was already dressed and wearing her wig, office in town. Most of every paycheck they
offering me instant coffee. make goes to hospital bills.
“No thanks, we don’t have time. Let’s get We are all trying very hard not to cry in
going.” front of Ricky, who despite his mournful gaze
would probably rather be playing outside with
I drove us another few blocks to St. Mary’s his friends than in this stuffy hospital listening
Hospital. We asked for directions until we to the adults talk.
found a little room to check into surgery. We
sat and waited with an older couple and a Ricky and his mom are called off before us.
young boy and his mom. The boy was maybe We are left alone with our thoughts of the dy-
five or six. He was Latino and had giant, deep ing little boy, playing the number game: how
brown, almond eyes. He looked like a mournful many years did he have, or months? The per-
old man trapped in that little boy’s body. centage chance he would live; how many kids
like him lived for a year, or for five? Calculating
I assumed he was a guest, coming along for the percentage of hope we as strangers could
grandpa’s surgery because the family couldn’t have, and multiplying it by 100 for his own
afford a babysitter on top of all the medical family. Wondering how these numbers would
bills. be mapped out against a timeline of his actual
“How old are you?” Mom asked the little
boy. It was then that the doctor called us back.
We met the anesthesiologist; a nice old man
He looks away, embarrassed by the with a tired suitcase full of used jokes. You
stranger’s direct question. could tell when a doctor wasn’t used to termi-
nal patients: there was a tightness or anxiety
“He turns six next month. Sorry he is a little about them being that close to death. You nev-
shy. Ricky say hello to the women.” er got that with anyone in the oncologist’s
Mom keeps the interrogation up. She is
very charming and everyone loves her. Now I Soon I found myself back in the waiting
realize it is because she asks so many direct room, alone. Time seemed like it was stuck in
questions. It makes people feel important – like place and the dissonance between what I
talking to a shrink or Barbara Walters. This is a wanted to happen and what would almost defi-
habit I later picked up but it is just a direct imi- nitely happen was so loud I felt like there were
tation of her. I am not myself when I do it, I am chainsaws buzzing inside of me. What needed
just doing my best impersonation of her. I have to happen was for the tumor to have shrunk. It
an image of her in my head - blonde, beautiful, needed to be off a major artery. That way they
piercing blue eyes and smiling widely. This is could schedule a Whipple procedure, the only
who I pretend to be most of the time now.
small tool in the fight against Pancreatic can- “So, what do we do now?”
cer. It was no guarantee in itself but it could
add years to her life, another lifetime, even - I asked, like an idiot: a reflex reaction I
the only thing that could keep death at bay couldn’t control. Of course there was only one
even for a moment. It was all of our secret de- thing to do now - wait around for death. The
sire this past year, the constant obsession in same thing we had been doing this whole past
our minds arranging the hope into words that year in slow motion under the watchful guise
were so sacred I never spoke them out loud. of chemo and radiation treatments that were
only helping to keep the cancerous cells from
I was almost asleep an hour later when the multiplying.
surgeon came to find me. The man was so
comically good looking we both referred to him Hearing that news was like not winning the
as our “future husband” and joked about how lottery. The odds of good news were so ludi-
we would have to fight over him once she was crously low that only a fool could expect to
better. Sitting there alone in the waiting room I win. Still, I was that fool with a bunch of crum-
just felt unnerved by how handsome he was. I pled up lottery tickets in my pockets.
wished I were dealing with a homely man in-
stead. I sat for half an hour practicing how to smile
again so I could be doing it when mom woke
“The biopsy came back the same. The tu- up.
mor hasn’t grown or shrunk. It has remained
About the Author
Bailey Cook Dailey is a writer based out of New
York City. She is a co-creator of the existential
humor blog, Intelligent Advice. Her work has
appeared in MexDFMagazine.
by Michael Stanek
Klaus knew somebody had been there. The folded the picture and slid it into his pocket.
signs his commanding officer told them to look Her face was still on his mind, he could feel the
for were everywhere. Folded clothing washed photo against his thigh. It took all his energy
to death, unsoiled, stale, scattered across the not to take it out for another look.
bed possibly for a midnight excursion that he
and his unit had interrupted? The floorboards clicked and clacked as he
paced the room in his heavy combat boots. The
The room smelled of people, a dull odor night echoed with gun shots, broken glass, and
with a bizarre warmth to it. Unwelcoming. Sin- the occasional scream. He produced a cigarette
ister. Judging by its strength, at least four peo- from his pocket, lit it with a click of his lighter,
ple lived there at one point—maybe more. The and sat at the edge of the bed inhaling heavily.
stench clung to his skin like humidity on a hot He tried to focus, but the picture wouldn’t let
summer day, not visible, but very much a pres- him. He took it out again and examined it as he
ence devoid of comfort. Producing an agony dragged on his cigarette.
that beckoned him to leave. But Klaus could
not, there was work to be done. Klaus had a lot on his mind without the
addition of the beautiful Jewish girl. A few
Klaus’s eyes fell on a leather backpack in months ago, he’d been a student, studying the
the coroner of the room. Half-open, revealing a humanities at the University of Munich. One
small lantern, some matches, and other provi- day, he received a letter from an officer clad in
sions that somebody on the run wouldn’t dare black leather. The moment he opened it, he
abandon. He rummaged around inside produc- found himself a member of the Wehrmacht,
ing a picture of two smiling women, one older, fighting a war that was becoming more unwin-
the other quite young—his age in fact. A moth- nable by the day. Jews Klaus, we are here to
er and daughter perhaps? look for Jews! Focus, or they’ll send you to the
front. He tried to focus, but the picture would-
The mother had an elderly look about her, n’t let him. He took it out again and examined
boney face, grey hair tied back, the works. But it as he dragged on his cigarette.
the daughter was beautiful, like the girls back
in Munich. Her hair flowed in intricate dark The house shuttered as a group of transport
curls over her face, which was boney but well- trucks drove by. Klaus pays them no mind. He
structured like her mother’s. On both of their removes his helmet and runs a hand through
necks were matching necklaces bearing the his blond hair, dark with sweat and clinging to
Star of David on delicate metal chains. He his forehead. Another drag. Another look.
Another feeling of creeping remorse for the Her face was puffy from crying and lack of
countless Jews that he’d never met—that he sleep. Her startling brown eyes met his, a look
wasn’t supposed to like. It is becoming harder of terror echoing deep within them. Her intri-
and harder to get them out of his head. They cate dark curls were frizzled and had streaks of
linger like ghosts, silent, but present none the gray. Klaus felt weak. She had to be thirty
less. He would rather they speak—but they pounds lighter than she was in the photo. Her
don’t. They just stare with melancholy looks. beauty and youth were fading from lack of nu-
Haunting. Clinging to his mind’s eye with brittle trition. He adjusted his light and saw the moth-
fingers, cold like dead flesh. er crumpled in her daughter’s arms. Her body
didn’t move, it was limp—void of life. He
Klaus was told he should have no remorse looked back at the dark-haired girl. She didn’t
for these people. They were deceptive, a threat say anything, but her eyes said enough: “Please
to his way of life. But deep-down he knew don’t do this.” Her bottom lip quivered.
there was nothing threatening about the wom-
en in this photo. If he’d encountered the Klaus knelt, she recoiled. He raised his
younger one at a beer hall back home, he hands to show he meant no harm and held out
would’ve tried to buy her a stein. Come to the photo to the girl, she took it cautiously. He
think of it, there was nothing threatening put one finger in front of his lips, “shh.”
about any of the people he’d encountered. If
anything, the only things that set them apart He took one last look, trying to memorize
were their shabby cloths and defeated looks. the details of her face before re-sealing the
He continued to take the room in, yes, a
family had been there. There wasn’t anything He left the house and saluted his squad
in this small bedroom that seemed out of the leader.
ordinary. A bed, a dresser, clothing, even the
wood where people normally walked was fad- “Any scum in there Klaus?”
ed just like many homes in Deutschland. You
could show somebody two photos: The home “No, Sir! No scum.”
of the Jew and the home of an Arian. You
wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Really,
these people were a threat to the Fatherland?
“Shit,” the photo fell to the floor. Klaus
stomped his cigarette out and stood.
He bent over to retrieve the picture and
almost screamed at what he saw. For a split-
second there was a dark brown eye looking at
him through the floorboards. When he yelled,
it vanished into the darkness. He started prying
at the loose floor in a panic. One, two, three,
four, and there they were. Two Jews huddled
together in the corner of a small makeshift
crawlspace. Klaus beamed down at them in a
triumph that melted away when he flashed his
light into the hole. First, he saw the dark curls,
then the boney face.
The girl from the photo.
About the Author
Michael C. Stanek was born in Omaha Nebras-
ka and raised in Menlo Park California. He re-
ceived his Bachelor of Journalism from the Uni-
versity of Nebraska at Lincoln, and his Master
of Arts from the University of Denver. He cur-
rently lives in Westminster Colorado where he
works as a freelance writer.
THE GREMLIN IN THE
by Jonathan Baker
Today ought to be like any other Wednesday He steps off the train at Astor Place and
for Jackson Tolliver. He will leave his office at wanders north. At 12th Street, he goes into the
five-thirty on the dot and ride the train uptown Strand and drifts among the shelves. In the
to his apartment, where he will wait for Mad- basement, in the darkened cubby that houses
die to return from her appointment with her the religious books, he takes down a leather
analyst. Then they will dine and retire. This is edition of The Imitation of Christ, no bigger
how every Wednesday has gone for years, and than his opened hand. He recalls a deacon at
he expects that it will ever thus be so. But to- the church talking about the book last week,
day, as it happens, is not like every other how it changed his life. The smallness of the
Wednesday. Today, as he’s leaving work, Jack- book, the softness of the pebbled cover. He
son remembers the way his secretary looked at can hear the gremlin hollering down from the
him this afternoon, while his father reprimand- balcony of his heart, telling him to take the
ed him. In the lobby, on his way out of the mid- book. One small act, to show he’s a free man.
town tower that houses the Tolliver Revolving Do it, the gremlin hollers. DO IT.
Door Co., Jackson chooses the second revolving
door from the left and goes through, but he Jackson flips through the pages. It’s only a
doesn’t come out the other side. Today he book, but he can see grand consequences un-
goes around again. And once more. folding from this small act of thievery. A quick
glance over his shoulder and a gentle motion,
Jackson strolls over to Lexington, toward the feel of the book dropping into his pocket.
the 6 train, just like he would any other day. Somewhere in the balcony, the gremlin is
But today he stops outside the subway en- cheering.
trance, drawn to the downtown platform, to
the trains going in the opposite direction of Jackson is the vice president of the Tolliver
home. The commuters are quiet as they enter Revolving Door Company. For forty years, his
the subway. He stands among them, letting father’s company has supplied the elite hotels
them flow past like runoff around a gutter of America with revolving doors. Jackson does
stone, listening to the hushed shuffling of their very little work; the business moves forward of
shoes and trousers. its own inertia. Every four-star hotel between
Boston and Baltimore now has a bank of
Maddie won’t be home until seven-thirty.
“Tolliver Revolvers,” smoothly swishing doors Jackson resides in the Lexington Avenue
of brass that feel feather-light when pushed. apartment where he grew up. When Jackson
Someday he’ll take his place at the head of the and Maddie were married, his parents decided
business. they wanted more space and bought an estate
in New Jersey. Jackson took over the place, and
Here is Jackson’s life: Every day, Jackson’s now sleeps in his childhood bedroom, in his old
father comes into his office and berates him in full-size bed. Maddie Todd Tolliver sleeps in the
a voice loud enough for the executive floor to master bedroom, in the walnut four-poster
hear. Jackson has never once shirked his du- where his parents used to sleep.
ties, never disobeyed his father’s orders. Yet
John Tolliver insists on making a fool of his son. It’s been ten years since Maddie invited
him into that bed. Jackson Tolliver is forty-
Today, his father admonished him for three years old, and he jerks himself to sleep
letting typos slip into a letter Jackson emailed every night like a pimply adolescent.
to a string of West Coast hotels. These errors
were made by Jackson’s secretary, Janey. The There’s a young man who lives in a loft
girl poked her head in during his father’s tirade, apartment with big open windows, across Lex-
and Jackson could see her itching to announce ington Avenue from Jackson’s bedroom. Jack-
her mistake. Jackson just shook his head at her son calls him “the Eagle,” because of the bird
and took the blame. He was always taking the tattooed over his heart. A trust-funder, spends
blame, it seemed. his afternoons painting Cubist knockoffs, his
easel placed squarely on a tarp in the center of
Before his father tramped out, the old man the loft. The boy seems lonely.
announced that he’d seen Jackson leering at
his secretary. Get your mind out of the gutter, The Eagle’s mother, who lives downstairs
his father said. from him, dislikes his paintings. She regularly
enters his loft and shouts at him, gripping tight-
This is his father’s favorite expression. Get ly the lapels of her three-quarter length mink,
your mind out of the gutter. bellowing like an Alabama trial lawyer.
Jackson has been married for so long, he Jackson imagines how the artist’s life would
can’t remember any other reality. Like a bliz- be better if his mother would just die. Then the
zard that cuts power in a small town, Jackson’s boy could paint in peace. He thinks the Eagle
wife has the capacity to silence a roomful of should get a place downtown, maybe, or in
Upper East Side wives with one icy look. Brooklyn. Or, who knows, maybe he likes his
mother to yell at him.
Maddie Todd Tolliver. She insists on putting
the maiden-name Todd in there. Few in New At night Jackson lies awake and watches
York have the courage to challenge Maddie the lights glimmer across his white ceiling,
Todd Tolliver, including Jackson. He follows her flashing reflections from passing taxis on Lex-
rules, as he tries to follow his father’s. ington. Inside Jackson, there is a great cathe-
dral, vaulted and hollow. From the choir balco-
Jackson’s father adores Maddie. The best ny, he can hear the gremlin talking. This crea-
thing that ever happened to you, he often says. ture, far up in the angular mezzanine of his
Sometimes in the office, Jackson will encounter heart, questions the veracity of Jackson’s life.
his father in the early afternoon. I’ve just The creature, in his raspy voice, wonders aloud
lunched with Maddie, John will say. His father what’s wrong with Jackson. Why can’t you stick
and Maddie have never, not once, invited Jack-
son to join them.
up for yourself? Are you a scared little baby? He hears the click of the door, and his spine
Sometimes Jackson listens to this gremlin. stiffens.
Mostly he ignores him.
Jackson had been a bright boy, once. She’s in a foul mood. He honestly doesn’t
Attended Andover and Columbia, excelled at know what she pays her analyst for. He slides
Calculus, Latin, German. At one time, he could the book into his pocket and sits calmly
recite Donne. He’s forgotten all that now. Jack- through her diatribe. She’s had some run-in
son drew pictures as a teenager, too. Of wild with the women who plan the benefit for the
places. He can’t remember why he stopped Central Park Conservancy. The other wives, she
drawing. calls them. They refuse to recognize her au-
thority. She blames this on the fact that Jack-
Every week Jackson and Maddie Todd Tol- son’s father hasn’t handed the company over
liver journey downtown to Trinity Church for to his son.
Sunday Eucharist. Jackson has received plaudits
from the Times for funding lavish new offices The other wives are married to presidents,
for the church’s staff, in a high rise on Rector she notes. As a vice president, Jackson might as
Street, behind the church. With shining revolv- well be kitchen help.
ing doors at the base, of course.
That word, vice, echoes in his ear. He feels
As a deacon, he’s required to sit in vestry protected from Maddie today. By his little
meetings. He tracks the petty squabbles, and book, his act of theft. He is a criminal.
wonders how he ended up here, how he be-
came this man, in this chair at this table among Maddie goes to bed early, and Jackson skips
these knickerbockers. On Sundays, he kneels off to his room to read more of his stolen book.
and makes his confession and struggles to think Through his window, he watches the Eagle slap
of sins to repent. He doesn’t expect God to paint across a canvas, lavender slashes and
welcome him when he passes on. It’s not that jagged red zigzags. The Eagle seems happy, for
he believes God has abandoned him, nothing once.
so dramatic as that. It’s more that he thinks
God’s forgotten about him. That night, Jackson sleeps better than he
has in years. He brings the stolen book to work
Still, Jackson loves Trinity Church, relishes and carries it around the office like a talisman.
the way people look at him with admiration in His father comes in after lunch and catches
their eyes. Jackson cherishes his character, his Jackson gazing out the window, thinks he’s
good name. It’s all he has. His reputation is his watching a woman at the insurance office
only reward for his years of following the rules. across the way. Get your mind out of the
gutter, says John Tolliver.
When he arrives home, Maddie isn’t back
yet. These have been the best two hours he If only he knew Jackson was thinking about
can remember. A rogue, loose in the city with St. Thomas à Kempis, how surprised he would
his stolen book, living beyond the law. He sits be.
in the den and reads the book. It is a very great
thing to obey, to live under a superior and not Wednesday at five-thirty, one week after
to be one’s own master, for it is much safer to his last crime, Jackson goes around in the door
be subject than it is to command. two extra revolutions, as he did last week. He
again has two free hours in the city, before
Maddie returns home at seven-thirty. He will
allow himself these two hours, once a week, to Tonight, he watches the Eagle paint for an
step outside his life. One hour per turn of the hour, then climbs into bed and reads his new-
door. That will be enough. With these two est book. Beginners fall into many imperfec-
hours of exemption, he’ll be whomever he tions, which may be called spiritual luxury. He
likes, do whatever he wants. lies in the dark and watches the flash of the
taxis against the ceiling. Soon he’s fast asleep,
He rides the train downtown. Soon he’s doesn’t wake until the morning sun breaks
back at the Strand, sliding a leather-bound through the window.
copy of St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the
Soul into his pocket. Outside, on 12th Street, he When he walks into the apartment, Maddie
hocks a great wad of spit into the gutter. He’s is home already, asks where he’s been. He tells
seen men do this before and always wanted to her he’s been for a walk. You’ve never gone for
try it. It’s liberating, though he doubts he’ll do walks before, she says.
Walks are good for you, he replies.
It’s only six-fifteen. An hour and fifteen
minutes is a long time. Lots of things are good for you, she says.
He wanders over to a cheese-steak shop on He ponders this remark. They dine in si-
Fourth Avenue, where students gather, and lence, on delivered dumplings from Paprika
orders a sandwich and a bottle of Coke. He Weiss.
hasn’t had a Coke since he was twelve. Men
like Jackson don’t drink Coke. The Eagle so rarely goes out. Jackson finds
himself willing the young painter to put on his
The cashier, a grease-haired man in horn- coat, to move toward the door, to escape into
rims, says thank you. the city. But Jackson’s telepathy never works.
The boy sits there, night after night, painting
Fuck you, Jackson says. those cubes and triangles. He has filled his
apartment with lavish canvases. Some of the
Hey, fuck you back, says the cashier. paintings are quite good; Jackson thinks the
young man could show them in a gallery.
Jackson smiles, and the cashier gives him a
concerned look. Wednesday afternoons, Jackson tries jay-
walking, visits a nudie bar, buys a pornographic
He walks into Union Square, leaking Cheez magazine and masturbates in the bathroom of
Wiz all over himself. The Coke bottle rests in his a deli. He walks down Broadway with his trou-
pocket, beside the stolen book. He sits on a sers open. Kicks a pigeon. Pees on a toilet seat.
bench and reads and eats, making a mess of Eats a hot dog with ketchup.
himself. No man has ever been so pleased to
ooze imitation cheese onto his trousers. In a second-hand shop, Jackson spots a silk
robe, amaranthine with paisleys all over it. Vi-
Standing on the packed northbound 6 train. brant. Flamboyant. Smooth. He folds it into his
Seven twenty-five, five more minutes of free- briefcase and walks out.
dom. There’s a woman in front of him, in a
tight green dress. He brushes his hand against In the end, he discovers he needs nothing
her rear end, and she pivots and slaps him, more from his period of exemption than to
calls him a creep, and shimmies through the steal one book per week. The five volumes he’s
crowded car to the opposite end. The other
passengers glare at him. He winks and grins
boldly. He doesn’t feel like a creep; he feels
stolen make a neat line at the top of a shelf in Jackson’s begun to draw again, keeps a
his bedroom, like proud sentinels. He purchas- sketchpad in his desk and renders in pencil
es stone bookends depicting medieval monks little scenes he witnesses from his office win-
and creates a shrine for his spoils. Nothing dow. Women typing, men gazing out of win-
brings him more pleasure than glancing at this dows, far-below pedestrians holding hands.
shelf. He’s a covert crook.
This morning, John Tolliver flings Jackson’s
Sundays at Trinity, Jackson zealously begs office door open and enters unannounced.
forgiveness, kneeling in the apse. Rarely has a Jackson tosses the sketchbook into his desk
man’s prayer, he thinks, been such a powerful drawer. His father thinks he’s been looking at
mixture of repentance and gratitude. Through pornography. Get your mind out of the gutter,
his crimes, Jackson has gained intimate his father says.
knowledge of ancient religious texts. He’s be-
gun to associate Christianity with theft and The old man settles in a chair across from
happiness, all at once. Jackson’s desk, crosses his legs and pulls his tie
loose from his belt in that way that he does,
By choosing to sin, he has felt God’s pres- smoothing it downward and folding his fingers
ence. He wonders if Adam didn’t know God in his lap. I’ve just had lunch with Maddie, he
better after his fall from grace. If Jackson had says. She tells me you’ve been acting strangely.
decided to steal anything else—straight razors
or coffee cups—things might be different, but Jackson frowns.
with these books every act of theft is also an
act of curiosity, a movement further into him- I have to say, John Tolliver continues,
self. He recalls Hebrews. For if we go on sinning you’re behaving oddly at work, too. Last
deliberately after receiving the knowledge of Wednesday I saw you whistling by the elevator
the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice bay. I’ve never known you to whistle, even as a
for sins. child.
But, he wonders, what if we are sinning in Is it wrong to whistle? Jackson asks.
order to learn truth?
His father chuckles, smooths his tie again.
Winter. Maddie thinks you’re having an affair. I wonder
if she isn’t right.
At home, Jackson slips the amaranthine
robe over his naked body and parades around An affair? Jackson releases a laugh. And she
his bedroom, feeling it flow behind him. He sent you to talk to me about it?
hopes someone will see him through the win-
dow and think, What an unconventional life John straightens in his chair. This isn’t a
that man must lead. joke. If I’m to leave this operation under your
care, I need to have utter confidence in your
Tonight, the Eagle goes out and leaves his integrity.
apartment in darkness. While he’s away, the
artist’s mother enters. She has two men with I understand, says Jackson. When is that,
her, and they remove the paintings, handling anyway?
them roughly. On their way out, they take his
easel and brushes. When the Eagle returns, When is what?
later that night, he sits on the edge of his bed
with his face in his hands. When are you stepping down? You’re al-
I’ll retire when I’m ready. Keep to your own
business. His father stares out the window into
the blue sunshine. Of course, he says, we’ve all
been known to have a little something on the
side. But for God’s sake, no one can know book into his pocket, he hears his name spo-
about it—least of all your wife. Have some ken. His heart leaps. One of the wives from
common sense. What would your fellow pa- Trinity Church, a haggard creature in pearl ear-
rishioners at Trinity think? Or the gossip pages? rings, peering around the corner. Is Maddie
with you? the woman asks.
Jackson snorts. I doubt the gossip pages are
concerned with the personal life of the vice No.
president of a revolving-door company.
A shame, the woman says. She delivers a
Perhaps, says John. But president. That’s long commentary on the state of Trinity
another matter. Church. When she realizes he’s not listening,
she shuffles away.
Later, Jackson remembers the way he
scoffed at his father. That snort. That wasn’t It won’t be long now before Maddie learns
him, that was someone else. That was Exemp- he’s been at the Strand. She’ll want to know
tion Jackson, snorting. why he was there. She’ll want answers. Thank
God the woman didn’t see him steal the book.
Wednesday again. Five months since he Think what that would do to his reputation.
stole his first book, and today he’ll take his
twenty-first. He’s filled an entire shelf with He exhales and tries again. A shop girl
religious texts, and the monk bookends have rounds the corner just as he’s sliding St. Teresa
no more room to scoot. He’s going to start on a into his coat. He takes the volume back out,
new shelf, buy some new bookends. He already smiles weakly, replaces the book on the shelf.
knows which book he’s going to steal today. She returns his smile. Her front teeth are large
The Way of Perfection by St. Teresa of Avila. and white, lending her a rabbitish quality.
As he’s leaving the office to head for the He moves through the store, glancing occa-
bookstore, his office phone rings. Maddie’s sionally over his shoulder. Each time he looks,
appointment with her analyst has been can- the rabbit girl is there. He waits a solid hour
celed. She wants him home for dinner, so she before making his move. In the science section,
can retire early. he stuffs a random book clumsily into his pock-
et, then floats out onto Broadway, weaving
No, he says softly. among the evening pedestrians.
Why not? she asks. No alarms. No security guards. No protest
from the rabbity shop girl. No trouble at all.
Important work to do, he says.
On the benches in Union Square, he takes
She points out that he never has important out the book he stole, a small volume about
work to do, and he replies, Today I do. He tells American inventors, and begins to read. When
her he’ll be home later. She curses at him, he he next checks his watch it’s late, after seven.
mumbles apologies, she’s still cursing. He gen- His wife will be angry. He should leave now, if
tly replaces the receiver on the cradle and he wants to make it home before the end of his
walks out of his office. period of exemption. But he can’t bring himself
to do it. He wants to stay out longer.
He arrives at the bookstore shortly after
five-thirty, his fingers itching to steal the St. The pressure builds, the knowledge he’ll be
Teresa volume. Just as he’s about to drop the late. He’s breaking his pact with himself. He
tells himself he’s being silly. He created this
rule for himself, he can break it if he wants.