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Lara Dolphin: House Hunting Through Space and Time

Lara Dolphin: House Hunting Through Space and Time

 House Hunting Through Space and Time with Rhonda Hillap

 

In the Yed Posterior system, the widely loathed planet DSM-IX gave rise to a race of lumpy beings known as Quacksalvers whose uncommon penchant for diagnosing their neighbors’ maladies drove everyone mad. (Yed Posterior should not nor could not be reasonably confused with Yed Prior, the commonly hailed region known for inventing naps.) At first, folks thought the case studies would lead to helpful therapies. Then, the Quacksalvers began peddling an emetic/laxative combo pill under the label Insta-Sane. As if retching and running to the commode were not enough, there was another appalling side effect. Namely, the drug actually worked. Surprised that their supposed placebo, in fact, produced a cure for all mental illness, the Quacksalvers promptly fired the pill’s inventor and pulled the drug from the market. Subsequently, the beings from Yed Posterior lived in floridly psychotic bliss and blatantly ignored attempts at treatment giving rise to the beleaguered response, “whatever.”

            Deep in the heart of Yed Posterior, Spanky’s Laundromat bore such a prodigious resemblance to Old Diamond Cleaners (a musty trap from my dubious days in Quadrant Three’s capital of Surnder) that I could not help thinking that it was. Everywhere I looked, signage bombarded my senses. “Thank you for not smoking,” hung on the half wall near the entrance. “We ask that you keep your little ones under control at all times,” shouted from above the vending machine. “Do not use bent or Alpha Centauri Quarters; they jam the machines,” warned patrons from above a rack of outdated magazines. “Hangers .05” “Plastic bags .35” Next to the “Thank you for not sleeping sign,” an untidy man fished for coins in his pocket.

            “Mr. Adams? Rhonda Hillap.” I tried not to stare when handing him my card, but he had a ginormous occiput and a skull shaped like an inverted butternut squash. “I’m from HHD.”

 

______________________

Rhonda Hillap

Special Agent in Charge

Househunters HHD Division

_______________________

 

            “Do you have quarters for small change?” he asked laying bits and pieces on the table. Under his left eye shone a purple waning gibbous moon, the remnant of a desperate brawl.

            “My file says you’re looking for a Cape Cod?” I said handing him my quarters. “Which areas have you looked in?”

            “I thought that was your job.”

            “How long have you been looking?”

            “Three weeks.” While Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1 escaped a cobwebbed speaker in the dimly lit corner, Adams unceremoniously dumped his smelly clothing into a washer. “Gotta go,” he said shoving the money into the machine.

            “Wait.” I hollered after him. “You haven’t given me any information.”

            “It’s in the file.” He said opening the door. “Let me know when you’ve found the house.” Just then a slender woman wearing a nametag approached so stealthily that she would not have disturbed a flock of pigeons. She had an asymmetrical face, paisley-colored fractal eyes and appeared to cut her own bangs. Judging by the mottled look of her forearms, she bruised more easily than a ripe peach.

            “Excuse me, do you know the man who just left? Can you tell me when he’ll be back?”

            “Tonight. Late.” She said in a breathy half-whisper. “There’s a gift shop.” Behind a row of dust-covered plastic plants, a glass case proudly displayed some yard sale castoffs that the owner had been too lazy to donate or toss. Dog-eared copies of trashy romances rested next to a box of miscellaneous buttons. An opened deck of playing cards, a chipped hand mirror and some baby clothes rounded out the top shelf. I bent to notice the oddities on the lower shelf when, much to my chagrin, I saw it. “Rats!” There it was clear as day, a photo of Justice “Slim” Scalia and Justice “Babe” Ginsberg waving atop an Indian elephant. Somewhere on twentieth century Earth, that mischievous motorist Dorothy Levitt and that bloviating tub-thumper for quality children’s programming, Fred Rogers, giggled hysterically over crumpets and tea.

            It was at that moment that I wished I hadn’t agreed to the dare. I clutched my Acme Metropolitan Bobby Whistle tightly. A gift from my late husband, it had proved to be one of the handiest things in the universe. I once had used my whistle to attract the attention of Alan Turing at a Garden Party when only a shrill burst of air would turn his attention from contemplating the hyperboloid of one sheet to the guests and fine cocktails. I had used my whistle on occasion while coaching practice events to remind my squad to play the man not the ball. My warbler had repelled unwanted advances from that lecherous breed the Snargle. In fact, according to our staff statistician, whistle blowing reduces the incidence of Snargle attacks by a whopping 60%. I grabbed a metal hanger, placed five cents in the jar and raced out into the street. My QE-V stood at the ready.

 

            Across the omniverse in a familiar Cape Cod, an unsuspecting couple prepared for bed. After a long day doing nothing, Kitty felt liked a squeezed lemon. She thumbed through a dog-eared copy of Sex for People Like You while Gill smacked down loaded nachos from a plate balanced precariously atop his abundant belly. “Are you enjoying those?” The nightly sports recap drowned out any response. Belching, whistling, picking his teeth. Sometimes she hated him. “I need a change.”

            “That guy just finished a reverse marathon. Why don’t you take up retro running?”

            “I’ll call Connie tomorrow and schedule a makeover.” She popped a sedative and rolled onto her side.

            Gill contemplated using his cigarette to light the bed sheets on fire. Just then the phone rang. “Mrs. Burnquist. How are you? Oh, that’s too bad. No that won’t be necessary. Kitty’ll be around. Thanks for calling. Yes, I’ll let her know. Bye, bye.”

            “When we got back from the mountains, my medicine was out of place and some of the mail was opened.”

            “You sure you don’t want to come?”

            “An entomology colloquium—at least I wouldn’t need my sleeping pills.”
            
            “You could go to the beach and the karaoke clubs. Did you know singing Sinatra can get you killed? They’re calling them the My Way Murders.”

            “Will you miss me?”

            “”Terribly.”

            “Call me every day.”

            “With the time difference . . . and the meetings last until all hours.” He checked for her reaction, but Kitty snored softly while in the ensuite bathroom, a faucet inexplicably dripped. The drip, thought Gill was someone else’s problem.

Someone else’s problem indeed. Three days later while Gil winged his way toward Manila and Kitty window-shopped, the sad and neglected Cape Cod moved on.

 

 

Copyright© 2013, by Lara Dolphin. All Rights Reserved.
            
            
Lara Dolphin is a writer and poet. Her work has appeared in print and online in such publications as “Fogged Clarity,” “Orbis,” “The Foliate Oak Literary Journal” and “Calliope.”

 

Uzodinma Okehi: Buck Rogers Ring Tone

Uzodinma Okehi: Buck Rogers Ring Tone

Live to Relax!

 

Maybe I’d told Teena so many times that I convinced myself! Over and over on the phone, or as we strolled the East Village, I depicted myself to her as a kind of great civil rights hero. She could laugh, but the way I chose to combat the evils of the world was by being just sincere and deliberate about everything I did. Maybe the clarity of this was easy to overlook, given that I spent most of my time sleeping, and of course it was a ploy to get her into the sack. On the other hand, I thought: what if, what kind of world could it really be if in fact the ideal was to live to relax?

 

 

Buck Rogers Ring Tone

 

I can’t even remember that girl’s name. Hope maybe, or some kind of flower. Nor could I tell you what, if anything was all that different about it. I remember the pulse like bass heartbeats from truck windows. I was sitting in the gravel, drawing circles all over the back of a spiral notebook . . . That girl I’d already struck out with, she was from San Francisco, and Stasiu had been on her friend India all week with his usual schtick—calling, calling dozens of times, then pretending he wasn’t calling and now some house-party was looming. And his schtick was a kind of Byzantine, multi-tiered labyrinth, caked with bullshit, with little bits he’d culled from the I-Ching and books by Ezra Pound, and the way it worked, you had to wonder why the guy wasn’t a closer. Valdez was a closer. Valdez fucked plenty of girls, but it never seemed to end well, nor did it ever come off smooth, and if I had to guess it was that distance that kept him an arm’s length from Stasiu, in this case standing way past the fence, out on the sidewalk, hand in his pocket, staring down the line of stalled traffic on seventeenth street . . . What else?! India was best friends with Lindsay, and a few weeks back both of them made out a little with Mike Yeoh, same night, at some bar, which was our ticket, even though you could tell there was no chance of that happening again. For the record, you always need a ticket. If anything that was the most I knew about any of those nights, because me neither, I wasn’t a closer, just a striver, because it was only ever about someone who knew someone’s roommate’s brother, then before you knew it we’d be back in the thick of it; couches, music, those girls dancing—same shit, but I still wasn’t immune to it, none of us were, and that nth degree of separation was Goezman, who might have only been there because he was the first of us to have a cell phone, and this was 1999, that open lot between Broadway and 5th avenue, and because we weren’t animals we were playing it cool, the four of us, pacing, milling around, but also like animals, like slaves, air-conditioned chimps, waiting for that jingle-jingle to set us free.

 

 

— by Uzodinma Okehi

 

Copyright ©2012, by Uzodinma Okehi. All Rights Reserved.

 

Uzodinma Okehi lives, breathes, writes, and draws comics in New York City. For issues of his zine, Blue Okoye, find him at: [email protected]

 

Eric Muller: Sundial

Eric Muller: Sundial

Sundial

 

Her ring finger moves back and forth along the lip of the Burgundy wine glass.  Slowly.  Her tongue touches her chapped upper lip, mirroring the movement.  She sits in a leather wingback armchair, covered with three alpaca wool blankets that have lost their color.  Her eyes peer through horn-rimmed glasses and are fixed on a crack in the velvet curtain.  A slit of light steals through.  Motes of dust swim in and out of the guillotine shaft that cuts across the solid mahogany table with upturned spindle legs.  But no banquets have entertained any guests here for years.  The stone fireplace, library and baby grand are in darkness. 

 

Her hand slides down the stem of the glass.  The thumb and middle finger caress the slim, transparent neck.  Her puffed eyes are mesmerized by the specks of dust floating in the funnel of light.  She wriggles her toes, covered by blue, frayed, woolen socks.   They crack.  Imperceptibly, the blade of light inches across the table.  When it reaches the edge of the overhanging top she swirls the wine and lifts the tapered glass to her parting mouth, sniffs the released aroma, and takes a sip.  The tilted crystal bowl remains between her lips as she swallows.  She swallows.  Her tongue dips and tests the red puddle.  She savors the tingle, and then sips again.  Her left ear pops and she blinks.  The third sip empties the glass.  She lets the tapered glass linger against her chin, licking the thin, transparent lip, tasting its cool, smooth edge.  Once the delicate flavor of the wine has faded she puts down the glass on the pedestal side table.  Her eyes follow the slow shift of light while she rubs her nose.  Having silenced the itch she lets her hand rest on the bottle, her thumb rubbing its neck, gently.  Outside a police siren wails, followed by an ambulance. 

 

When the pre-recorded bells of St. Mary’s chime twelve she lifts the bottle and pours another glass.  Her shaky hand spills a few drops on the lace tablecloth.  It absorbs the spreading red like blotting paper.  She grunts.  She wipes her hand against the Scottish plait flannel pajama top before placing the bottle next to a cluster of empty replicas that wait like expectant bowling pins.  The hand of light strikes the clock on the mantelpiece: 10:59.  She hasn’t wound it up these last six years.  The constant tick-tock had affected her like the drip-drip-drip of Chinese water torture.  She prefers deep-sea silence.  Leaning to her right she clasps an unopened bottle by the throat.  She mutters as she lifts it to her lap and screws into the cork with the opener.  After opening the bottle she places it on the pedestal, breathes deeply and sighs.

 

Her middle finger moves back and forth along the rim of the wine glass.  Slowly.  Her tongue touches her chapped upper lip, mirroring the movement.  The edge of light now slices across the black and white photo of her husband, framed and hanging left of the clock.  It was taken twenty years ago.  His arm hangs around her shoulder, but she’s still hidden in shadow.  She lifts the glass to her lips and drinks, sip for sip to the last drop.  Putting the glass back on the stained tablecloth she looks away as the beam of light now exposes her younger self, smiling, smoking and wearing a bikini.  Again she stares straight ahead at the wound in the curtains. 

 

She pours herself another glass.  The ray of light has moved on and is playing on the ivory keys of the baby grand.  She used to play and perform all around the world from the time she was nine.  As a child prodigy they called her Little Miss Lightning, on account of her speed and virtuosity, both on and off the stage.  The name stuck.  She could elude the most rapacious paparazzi, and give instant and witty answers to any journalists or reporters.  As a young woman she was the center of attention at any party, flirting and flitting from one man to the next, until she met her husband.  The keys of the baby grand haven’t been touched in seven years. 

 

She empties one more glass and dozes off.  Just after the fake bells toll two the gash of light shines against the burgundy damask wallpaper, left of the fireplace.  She does not want to look at the 5’ by 8’ rectangle that is darker than the rest of the wall.  With trembling hand she tops the glass with more wine.  Again she spills some drops over her fingers and onto the damp, embroidered tablecloth.  Growling, she wipes her hand on the pajamas and impatiently downs the entire glass in seconds – a garish caricature of Little Miss Lightning.  Yet, she cannot avert her eyes from the rectangle on the wall.  Tears skew her sight.  She removes the horn-rimmed glasses and wipes her eyes.  A framed photo of her daughter hung in that spot until her husband removed it when he finally left – three years ago.  Their daughter had died from massive internal injuries after falling out of the open window of their penthouse apartment.  He forgot to shut it one morning after a brief airing – the very window behind the velvet curtain.  It has never been opened since.  But a slither of light always gets through, no matter how tightly she draws the curtain every morning.  She had been off on tour at the time.  She recalls opening the telegram in the lobby of a hotel in Tokyo.  Or was it London?

 

Her hand slips under the alpaca blanket and down the sides of the upholstered chair.  She feels the pistol’s cold barrel with her left hand; the pointer finger touches the front sight, and then enters the muzzle, simultaneously rubbing it up and down.  Slowly she surrounds the cylinder with her thumb and forefinger, while her pinky curls around the trigger guard.  She’s panting.  On most days she would push it back into the folds of the upholstery.  Not today.  Gripping the handle of the revolver she pulls it out from under the faded blanket.  She’s breathing heavily as she cocks the hammer and watches the cylinder revolve.  The light from the curtain is no longer sharply defined.  With her right hand she lifts the almost full bottle to her mouth and drinks as if she were drinking soda on a hot day, while the revolver rests in her lap, held by the left.  Half emptied she lets it sink while leisurely raising the handgun to her mouth.  Her lips part and she pushes her tongue into the muzzle.  The taste of metal merges with the tang of wine.  Her finger tightens around the trigger.  She lusts for light.  She aches for air.  Curtains could be parted, windows opened.  She feels the muscles in her legs tightening.  Mourning doves coo outside. 

 

 

— by Eric Muller

 

Copyright © 2012, by Eric Muller. All Rights Reserved.

 

Eric G. Müller is a musician, teacher and writer living in upstate New York.  He has written two novels, Rites of Rock (Adonis Press 2005) and Meet Me at the Met (Plain View Press, 2010), as well as a collection of poetry, Coffee on the Piano for You (Adonis Press, 2008).  Articles, short stories and poetry have appeared in many journals and magazines. www.ericgmuller.com

 

E.K. Smith: The Lion’s Share

E.K. Smith: The Lion’s Share

 

Plastic Lion

 

 

She watches intently as I place my oversized suitcase on the bed and slowly start to unpack. Her deep brown eyes have little stars in them, birthed from the howls of ravenous wolves. Sometimes I forget she is not my daughter, her complexion mimics mine so perfectly. I pull out an old pair of jeans, fold them, and put them in a drawer. She rubs her tiny flat nose with the back of her hand, leaving it lightly glazed and a bit shiny. I put a bra into my laundry bin. She picks at the edges of the black button eyes of the teddy bear she is holding tight against her chest. As I gradually approach the bottom of my bag, she starts to rock left to right, shifting her weight from one heel to the next, wearing down the soles of her Mary Janes, but my movements remain methodical. We’ve been through this before, and she knows none of it will do her any good until I am finished with my chore. She takes a sharp, loud breath and parts her lips as if she is about to speak. I shoot her a reproving glance and she immediately takes the cue. Her thin lips press together tightly and a subtle blush runs down her cheeks.

Finally, I have folded the last piece. It is tucked safely away in my dresser. By being meticulous, I am trying to teach her to value her possessions. Now comes the reward. I unzip the small inner compartment of my suitcase. It opens like a whispered secret. My fingers wrap tightly around the waist of a small plastic toy lion. The second she sees it the stars expand out of her eyes and her whole face bursts open with a blinding light. I reach over to hand her the lion in my fist, but instead, my knuckles graze the startlingly cold surface of the mirror.

 

 

Copyright ©2012, by E.K. Smith. All Rights Reserved.

 
E.K. Smith’s work has appeared in Misfits’ Miscellany and is forthcoming in other online publications. She is a new writer.

 

Shanna Perplies: La Vie en Violet

Shanna Perplies: La Vie en Violet


La Vie En Violet

 

I slipped off my robe, trying to appear casual, as if it wasn’t my first time. I had assured him I’d done this many times before. I tried to look anywhere but his face, because he must know by now I had been lying, the red blush staining my skin and revealing my inexperience and self-consciousness. I looked up at the window, high, forbidding, and remote, then down at my feet on the splintered and peeling wooden boards and lastly, the closed and bolted door. The silence of the room echoed around me broken only by the uneven pattern of my loudly beating heart. I hoped I was the only one who could hear it. I wished I had come more mentally prepared. I told myself not to be nervous about anyone looking at me naked, or whether or not I’d be good at this, or if it would be painful. I was just doing it for the money. He approached me purposefully and instructed me how to position my body. I arranged myself comfortably and tried to habituate myself for the long ordeal ahead of me.


Twenty sets of eyes followed the teacher as he nodded and said, “Okay, we’ll start with a few five minute poses so the students can sketch and then move you into the two hour pose.” I nodded slightly to indicate my consent and settled into the first pose, an easy one, just sitting slumped against the wall. Though the seventh arrondisement outside was posh, the art studio itself was damaged and filthy, the ceiling cracked and the paint peeling, but the job paid well. In just these few hours posing for art students, I would be making almost 100 euros, more than I made in a whole weekend of babysitting. Some of my friends at school had done it, and they’d given me Mr. Price’s phone number. He’d seemed hesitant, so I had told him I posed for art students all the time back in California. My friends assured me that it wasn’t bad, just a little boring, and your body would really start to cramp after a while. You had to stay still from your eyes to your tippy-toes, for two hours straight.


Mr. Price turned on some music, (the Amélie soundtrack, how fitting), which began to relax me. I was okay just sitting here. I could zone out and pretend I was somewhere else other than this dingy art studio. In all honesty, I was just thankful he had hired me. I could no longer afford my rent for next month. My apartment was a single claustrophobic room, in an elegant area, but miniscule compared to what I could get in California. Still, I was paying 1000 euros, or $1,600 USD a month for it. I figured a few student modeling jobs could get me through to the next month.

My thoughts drifted back to when I had first moved here. I remembered one joyous day when I thought I was walking to class, but I had made a wrong turn. I turned the corner, and instead of school, I found myself staring at the Eiffel Tower, the entire left bank of Paris spread out in front of me like a treasure map. While most students my age were using college to sneak beer into their dorm rooms and rack up long lists of sexual partners, I would be having a more evocative experience, sipping wine on the Champs-Élysées and going to art museums. I’d had such high hopes for myself, and now I was on the verge of getting evicted.


To fight boredom, I decided to look at the students working. All girls, except for one boy. He was cute, with curly dark brown hair. He seemed intent on what he was doing, hunched over his large pad of paper, and working with fervor. I couldn’t see his paper but I wondered what part of my body he was working on capturing with such intensity. He glanced up from his painting and we unexpectedly locked eyes. I temporarily broke the pose in my face out of surprise. He looked equally shocked, as if his mind had been deep in a creative zone and I disturbed him by snapping him back to real life, reminding him that I was a living, thinking person, and not just an amalgamation of shapes and lines and lights and darks. We both glanced away immediately, embarrassed. I didn’t look at him again for the rest of the class, though I wanted to.


I pondered my decision to move to Paris, a city where there was no such thing as overdressing. Women walked their dogs in high heels, girls came to accounting class in fur coats, and even homeless people carried Louis Vuitton bags. This city was aesthetically stunning but its beauty was deceptive. Similar to this art studio, elegant on the outside, but dirty and faded on the inside, Paris was a city that seduced you but didn’t make you fall in love.

Hours later, when my whole body was numb and throbbing, the teacher finally announced the cessation of class. The students collected their utensils and walked off to clean their brushes in the row of sinks in the opposite room. I wriggled myself off the table and slipped on my robe, wincing in pain. I was curious to see what everyone had been working on so diligently for the past two hours. My friends had warned me to never look at the paintings when I was done posing. There was no guarantee of talent in these classes, and I was sure to be horribly offended if I saw how someone had depicted me. My curiosity got the better of me, though.


I walked around the room slowly. The first girl had painted me in crazy colors; blue skin, green hair, with random bruise-like splatters of yellow. It didn’t really look like me, but it was imaginative.
Not bad, I thought, impressed. Kind of abstract.


The following girl however, was not so kind. She was extremely talented, that was for sure. She had painted me exactly as I look when I stare into the mirror. I cringed as my eyes immediately jumped to the fleshy folds of the midsection, where she had clearly strived for accuracy instead of attractiveness. Next.


Next was the boy with the curly hair. I saw his painting and immediately froze in surprise, transfixed. What he had painted was me, undeniably, but… so much better. He had painted me in different shades of purple, my skin lilac and the shadows created on my body darker violet. He clearly had the talent to make it look like me, but unlike the previous painting, he had softened some of the details. Hers was perhaps more accurate, but his made me look exquisite. I looked simple, alluring, and almost heavenly. He had taken my nudity and transformed it into art.


I was still standing in front of his painting when he happened to be the first one back in the room. He colored a deep shade of crimson when he saw me gazing at it. “
Bonjour,” he mumbled, his hands twitching as if he longed to grab the painting and shield it from view. I understood immediately. An artist’s work is like an intimate peek at their soul, and nobody wants to have their soul judged.


Bonjour,” I breathed, equally embarrassed and fascinated.

Suddenly, the teacher walked over to me, a wad of bills in his hand. “Merci beaucoup, Mademoiselle!” he beamed at me. “Such a pleasure having you pose for the class. We’ll need you next week as well.”


I smiled, slightly disappointed at the interruption.
“Je vous en prie,” I replied. “You’re welcome. It was my pleasure.”


I watched as curly-haired boy wrapped a charcoal gray scarf around his neck before going out to brave the cold. He clutched his painting and rushed out of the classroom without another glance.


Suddenly, I couldn’t wait until the next art class.


I grabbed my bag and went to get changed back into my clothes in the bathroom in the back of the studio. I walked out, springing lightly on the pavement. I was a little hungry and I had a wallet fat with crisp euros.
How about a pain au chocolat as a reward for my first successful modeling experience? I asked myself grandly.


I sauntered out of the studio toward the sidewalk. My heart fell and my breath caught in my throat as I walked past the building and spotted a glimmer of violet in the large trash bin next to the art studio. He had thrown the painting away.


I fished it out carefully.
How could he throw this away? This perfect image of myself… I won’t let it go to waste, I vowed, tucking it under my arm carefully and turning down rue de Grenelle toward the boulangerie.

 

 

— by Shanna Perplies

 

Copyright © 2012, by Shanna Perplies. All Rights Reserved.

 

Originally from Los Angeles, Shanna Perplies has had the opportunity to live and study in California, Paris, Berlin, and Barbados.  Now 23, she keeps a dream journal beside her bed from which most of her short stories emerge.

 

Penelope Mermall: Inner City of the Mind

Penelope Mermall: Inner City of the Mind

 

                                                  
  Baby Jesus    

 

 

I drop in late nights and sink into a place that settles round me in a hush and the sight of bent backs lined up at the counter soothes me some. The waitresses own a toughness that remind me of shoe leather and sweep past at a swift clip with plates piled in the crook of arms.

I sit in a booth looking out on a town where street lamps throw a foggy glow and passersby exchange a pocketful of words. In the wide expanse of glass my hair hangs limp and a ghostly face stares back. I’m no stranger to myself in glass, where I exist neither here nor there. Snowflakes float down and melt like salty kisses and the red neon DINER sign blinks on and off.

The waitress lands a platter of omelet special with rye toast, home fries and a thin slab of meat before me and overflows my coffee into a white chipped mug. At this late hour the diner is a gaggle of stragglers, loners, off-beats, vets and other night birds who settle into themselves more easily here than elsewhere, sliding their pared down lives into vinyl seats under the observant eyes of some. I spot Gorilla at the end of the counter dunking his donut. Each week he uses the $2.50 we get for showing up at St. Paul’s “DELIVER YOUR SOUL” AA
meeting to buy a donut and milk. He loves dunking donuts better than God. I sip off some coffee and slip in some whiskey.

I flip up my coat collar and exit with a warm belly and slim satisfaction. The town is proud of its Christmas trees and shop windows where elves hammer and children sleigh down powdered slopes and families gather round flicking flames where stuffed stockings hang. I pass the stone church on Main Street with its blood red doors and Wise Men kneeling before baby Jesus. Last night in the silver silence of dawn a man peed on a Wise Man and steam rose up from the Wise Man’s head.

Christmas trees stand thick and strong and congregate on the corner like Russian grandfathers exhaling cold white air. A salesman in a red Santa hat yells out CHEAP TREES CHEAP TREES and his four-fingered right hand leaps out at me palm up.

Shop lights no longer twinkle but here and there tinseled trees sparkle in windows. I turn off Main Street and up a few blocks and open the building’s side door and enter a low-lit hallway where resident cat Sammy slips past like an errant soul. Below the ceiling a small latched window pulls in a slip of streetlight and dust particles float. Snow is falling thick now till all I see is white, as if that’s all there is. I interlock my fingers and form shadow figures on the wall that move like a procession of camels through the night. I walk up the creaky stairs to the third floor landing where a bare bulb hangs off a wire and see the wreath on Bags Lonigan’s door. He puts it up the day before Christmas and takes it down the day after. His wife Maggie died in that room. She was the original to put up the wreath the day before Christmas and take it down the day after. It’s bad luck to keep it up longer, she told me, cause I ain’t no churchgoer, and quickly crossed herself. Maggie confided up close that she could never enter the Lord’s house, and parted her bruised arms to indicate her entire self as proof. I think about knocking on ol’ Lonigan’s door. Instead I put my ear to it and hear Bags talking to Maggie like she’s in there. I remove the whiskey from inside my coat, unscrew the cap and take a long tug. I hold the bottle up and stare at it. I put my ear back to the door and raise my fist to knock, but place it alongside my ear. I move off the door and shove the bottle back under my coat and shuffle down the stairs and into the white night.

I slink down into my coat and drive my hands deep into my pockets. The traffic light blinks a steady yellow. A car with fast flapping wipers
drives by extra slow, then vanishes. I stop at the church on Main Street but can no longer see baby Jesus. I squint against the blowing snow and look for something, anything. The wind raps at my back.

 

 

 

by Penelope Mermall

 

 

Copyright © 2012, by Penelope Mermall. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Penelope Mermall received a master’s degree in social work from New York University. She worked in child psychiatry for many years and more recently was the director of an NYU School of Social Work program that provided therapeutic services to mentally ill women living in a city shelter. She currently works in a small public high school in Hell’s Kitchen mentoring students with high absenteeism. Her stories have appeared in Offcourse Literary Journal, Bartleby Snopes, Sex and Murder, and she was one of the winning entries in Glimmer Train’s Best Start competition in 2009. Penelope lives in NYC.

 

 

Nels Hanson: The Case of the Anti-hero

Nels Hanson: The Case of the Anti-hero

In Pace Requiescat


And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

—W.B. Yeats
 
To Poe’s so acute, so prophetic meditation of 150 years ago—that the truly extraordinary mind or spirit would necessarily find itself isolated, hated, and misunderstood by the society in which it appeared, and, especially, that news of the eminently great should not be sought in biographies but in “the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows”—the life of Joseph Clifton Case bears haunting testimony.

In all of recorded history, who but Case so intimately sensed the dread duality of all things, and so personally suffered this jarring collision of opposites, with less rancor or self-pity, less sorrow or hope?

Because he understood those emotions were barred to him, by himself from himself, for our better good . . . .
The Gethsemane of knowing in one’s deepest heart that each moment’s action will bring an unknown, nearly immediate, and always contradicting reaction; that this law is iron-clad and inescapable; and that in one’s own person one has been chosen to endure and by example bear the truth of this law into the world—such knowledge must utterly destroy or transfigure a mere mortal.
And that his destruction or the miraculous alteration and triumph of his spirit would summon its own opposite effect Case clearly saw and so with a steely passion scrupulously avoided both carelessness and the taint of transcendence . . . .

Quietly, before an instant’s decision, to see already its answering nullification, and not break or scream would require the spiritual constitution of the greatest saint. Before the most tender of love letters leaves the pen to not expect but know with certainty that the beloved will soon receive an answering obscene phone call from a stranger. Or worse, that the friendly hand placed on the head of a child incites the death of some innocent elder.

Case saw it, lived with it daily, hourly, by the minute. Recollectively, meticulously, he was exquisitely alert to the ever-threatening danger of setting off the Apocalypse, the horrible echo of love’s unfolding.
Do I dare to eat a peach?” the great poet rhetorically asks, and in dismissal I answer yes, in full knowledge of an accompanying sour odor on the air.

But to wish to give affection, to proffer aid, to rush forward with unconditional support, though the most empathetic nature urged him on, Case could not do, and did not do, out of dearer love and vigilance for the world at large, for that haughty shibboleth the well-being of all humanity.

What greater love hath a man, that he lay down his life for his brother?
At what age did he first know that he was the One? What were the awful and dim self-awakenings and naughtings, what childish appeals to modesty and self-effacement?

The daily, attendant temptations dwarf the mind. To throttle the downy chick to save the dying pup? To trip the lame boy to cure the paraplegic?

Forever unable to communicate this direct line of relation, yet knowing himself responsible and guilty . . . . How did he endure, without going mad or becoming the plaything of Evil, of the sleepless Other?

And so he made the great renunciation. What strength of nerve in so frail a vessel . . . .
Because any act would engender its perfect, antagonistic corollary, to laugh or shout or breathe too deeply would be a curse and cause us to weep or go mute or stifle in our beds, Case did nothing

Or nearly nothing, as little of nothing as one could do and not die. No, he must live, not for himself, but for us!
Like some insane, bewildered adept, the most sane and aware of men labored endlessly at complete anonymity and insignificance of both spirit and intellect, in boredom and mediocrity. If he must yearn, he would yearn microscopically, to contain the world’s wounds. How often whole evenings he spent reading long lists of random numbers I copied from the phone book.

At first thinking him a gifted child, his family had soon resigned themselves to Case’s feeblemindedness.
The day of his birth the Chinese crossed the Yalu into Korea. He saw his childhood friend struck down by a car before his eyes—Case had lingered by a white fence, smelling a yellow climbing rose. His first and only romantic tryst was the November day John Kennedy died. Though conceivably he might have prevented the Viet Nam and Yom Kippur wars by committing equivalent barbarities, he did not cause them . . . .

Case worked as a seasonal field hand, renting a small shack at the outskirts of Lemas, California, a fruit-growing area in the central San Joaquin Valley. The cold, foggy afternoon of December 7, 1996—the day my world changed suddenly forever—I saw him limping along Mountain View Avenue and stopped my aunt’s new Lincoln to offer him assistance, not realizing the narrow strip of country asphalt was my disguised Road to Damascus.

His gray eyes were intelligent and sad, he smiled, then instantly assumed a look of utter impassiveness as I felt a shooting pain race down my right leg and just as quickly disappear. Then I saw that in his callused hands he held a wounded orange kitten. We introduced ourselves and I offered to drive him to the veterinarian.

With modest dignity, in a soft, flat voice, he explained he had only a few cents and I assured him I would pay the doctor’s cost. In his patched but immaculate work clothes he gingerly eased himself down onto my aunt’s leather passenger seat. So began my too brief friendship with surely the most extraordinary unknown man in human history . . . .

Children mocked him and broke bottles in his yard, scored the fenders of his aged Dodge with epithets. Case was let go from his job, or cheated on his check. He embraced the lowest rung of the lowest ladder, where, finally, all seas find a level above the heads of the nameless poor. Indeed, who but I was there to register and report back to the world that the Elberta peach tree beyond Case’s window burst into glorious red, premature spring bloom as Case lay wracked with flu, then unaccountably withered overnight, as if frostbitten, as his fever broke?

Surely there must have crossed Case’s reason and tempted it a scene of unfathomable grandeur, that in his suicide he might save the world? I have no doubt he would have chosen death in a second, without hesitation, if his real intellect had not always been uppermost, and his nearly preternatural intuition had not revealed that his self-immolation might give birth to the Devil.

Case suffered the judgments of the ignorant and small, of those who deigned to notice and pass sentence upon him, he who alone held up the world by his staunch refusal of action and achievement!

“He prunes vines so damn slow,” one farmer complained.
“Yeah,” said another, “but he never cuts a wire.”
“What do you see in that Case person, anyway?” asked my aunt, lifting her porcelain tea cup. “He’s sooo boring, sooo tedious and commonplace. I declare, if you continue this practice of adopting stray cats, one day I’ll have you installed at King’s Rest!”
Ironies portioned to a giant resolve!

Many evenings before his smoking wood stove Case spoke solemnly, in a voice bled of all melody, in a drugged-sounding monotone, of the need for a superhuman discipline, of a constant awareness of mind, body, and soul as humanity dangled from a thread less than slender.

Once, smiling ruefully, permitting himself the most meager of gestures, Case leaned forward and with a finger righted a small beetle that had crawled from a log and somehow fallen over on its back, its tiny legs helplessly fanning the air. An instant later, from the ceiling, a moth fluttered down, drowning in his drink.

Case turned, and in his eyes I saw the agony of the ages. He returned my stare, like a god in pain, holding the heavy beam from the head of his servant. Then he grimaced, his unlined face seemed to crack like stone, form a web of eternal sadness, before a group of passing boys jeered wildly from the street and instantaneously the balancing veil of blankness fell again.

I remember the neatly made, quilt-covered military cot where he slept, how it huddled against the cinder block wall. And on the rude night table the dim clock. How it must have tolled the watches of the night! (On my mantel, I keep its burned remnant as a relic, more precious than a saint’s tooth.)

He explained that he slept little, he was terrified to dream, though from childhood he had taught himself to close his eyes and see only a large rectangle, like a domino. One half was white, one black, always, without shift or movement, in perfect proportion. Once, with the mental discipline of a yogi, Case sought our salvation in nightmares, but his fatal nature made him prone to the random vision of splendor—

He was not a god, not perfect, only a man. Blandly, he mentioned a dream he had the week before, of a sweetheart he had admired from a distance and never spoken to or approached, indeed never afterward thought of, of the bliss of unity he felt in her imagined embrace.
“Surely,” he said, “you saw Tuesday’s paper.”

No one could have missed the lurid headlines and the pictures splashed across the front pages of the tabloids, the account of the brutal attack, apparently unprovoked and at random, on the well-known movie actress—
His unmoving, gray eyes acknowledged the murder.

But what harrowing upheavals had his unstinting vigilance prevented? Potential Author of All Crimes, of all mercies, he sought to be nothing, for the good of Everyman.

Joseph Case, 59, Yesterday’s Hero, Dead in Freak Gas Explosion

So announced the paper’s unsearching obituary of October 7 (the anniversary of the death of the sad Virginian, Edgar Allan Poe), before the Third Day and the final (?) episode in the chain of singular events that has transformed the world of journalism and All Things so meticulously.

(I confess I enjoyed a grim, mirthless satisfaction, a sense of belated, just retribution, when the thumb-sized meteorite crashed through my aunt’s picture window into her bowl of tomato bisque. I watched her dripping and wailing amid sudden steam and brilliant shards, the silver spoon still raised toward her lips, before I moved to her aid—)

I had sensed Case’s end with apprehension, the day before his death, when on the news I saw his fleeting, furtive profile and heard his mumbled words of denial, as the intrusive reporters surrounded him, demanding a juicy quote:
How had he sensed the predicament of the careening bus, sprinted to catch up, jumped aboard, and above the body of the stricken driver guided the children from the path of the roaring train?

Don’t know. Luck, I guess. Gotta go now . . . .”
He had known of the impending wreck, because he had inadvertently caused it.

Towers fall and bright pavilions rise, lakes retreat underground and geysers shoot suddenly into the light. There is weeping and wailing, a gnashing of teeth. And exaltations, rapture. (Ironically, it is my aunt who has become a resident of the suddenly overflowing King’s Rest Sanitarium.) Underneath the frenzied outpourings abides the undetected, unstated shining ribbon of truth:  Case Is Dead, Now a New World Is Born!

Let us meditate on its prophet, its savior, its sacrificial lamb . . . . Its antithesis?
What were Case’s thoughts, his mind teetering like the Earth itself on its axis, at the moment of annihilation? Even then, surely, as the air flashed and turned to fire, he was thinking of us. Perhaps, even, he imagined the supremely Evil, in the ultimate act of service?
At his entombment, in the light of a New Dawn, I was the only mourner.

 
The End
— by Nels Hanson

________________________

 

Nels Hanson graduated from UC Santa Cruz and received an MFA from the U of Montana. His fiction received the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award and a citation in its Joseph Henry Jackson competition. Nels Hanson’s stories have appeared in Antioch Review, Texas Review, Black Warrior Review, Southeast Review, Long Story, Short Story, South Dakota Review, Starry Night Review and other literary journals. A story, “The Death of Zorro,” can be found on Digital Papercut Archives

Copyright© 2009, by Nels Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

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