The Bicycle Review
Issue # 3, 15 October, 2009
Photography by Tess Lotta. Original Artworks by Kelly Correll Brown.
All images copyright 2009 by Brown and Lotta
The Bicycle Review # 3
What is he talking about, you’re probably thinking now.
A lot of people have read this journal and asked me a lot of questions about it, most of which have boiled down to something like:
“Are you going to make it more organized? …So people can just click on a name and read that story?”
BR is going to stick with the same format of words picture words picture words picture for as long as we’re around.
We like it because it’s simple and easy to understand. Like a book. Like a bicycle. You start at the beginning and go on until the end. Or maybe you head home early. We aren’t judging.
I guess we’re trying to do something old fashioned and new and different all at the same time. Bicycle Book.
Share the Road,
- J de Salvo
The Symphony Shostakovitch Never Wrote
The neatly-gentrified Mtsensk District plaster
buckles in all the right grey-painted places;
the aged, yellowing windows rise and fall
in fashionable decay. A well-upholstered citizen's
slum, drawn to exacting state specifications.
Local housing authorities recommend the childless
to abandon empty ravagings and become a true home.
I found a bare mattress with a soft, sagging middle age
lying in the center of the room. Upon closer examination,
I am pleased to report the womb is uncorrupted
by any illusions of hunger. Smart comrades rent
their own firesides to eat there nightly.
Neither a heart's moist central heat
nor a bloodstream's warm water
can find domicile with me; I am no icon.
After five doses of vodka prescribed
by my black marketeer, I'm a mere after-dark
sight for our revolution's children.
Aurora's explosions sprawl naked across
the wall, dreamlessly, in bourgeois fever
trying to silence gunship blades echoing
from the Hazarajat right through to my pillows.
The unscreened view overlooks the dingy
proletarian neighbors, unauthorized residents,
and a tinkling factory, where obsolete radio
parts are inefficiently manufactured by badly
motivated workers who over-scent the local Metro.
In the bitter dawn, poverty-stricken May Day
hero workers gather round the closed windows
of our privileged district, marching
to the song of an infant poet, compelling
unsympathetic voices to show solidarity.
Were the pain of that night katyusha,
a great people's victory would be assured.
The unclad working class panorama would slam
rusted doors on the promised land, ransack
determined belief from our official atheism.
I invite a young collectivist neighbor to join me
in a meal. We feed on each other's secret poetry,
drinking the communal smell of our voices
in the candle's scarlet; unaligned, our bodies
soon form their own brethren ministry.
The flat was overheated with the neighbor,
our bodies calling for vodka, the floor our towel.
He leaves in the morning, but occupies my mind
like a liberating people. I evade my soft job
and picnic alone in the Gor'kiy, realizing
the neighboring fantasy is a careless footfall
down a crooked staircase. I know each naked
picture is a counter-revolutionary flight
of relentlessly westward steps no trial
will slow. Somehow my frightened tears remain
hidden until I reach my building and find him
waiting for me in my mailbox. Our bodies
take an exploitive angle under the aristocratic
slump in the wall, covered with the newly-unclassified
pictorial potpourri depicting the State secret
of my love's childhood, from the MasurianLakes
to the Pripet Marshes. We begin to read hundreds
of official pages, thousands of approved words,
medal-winning chapters of caged images put down
on pages torn from the closed eyes of my young
neighbor, down on the brown Tajik carpeting.
With conspiratorial pride, I lie beside him
and gaze up at the colorful Sputniks looming
over our conversation. I then lie even more,
to the watchers, to the listeners, and to myself,
over and over, lying about love in general, and
this, my unapproved, underground love, in particular.
I feel every inch of our joined bodies being
faithfully documented by Sinyavsky and Daniel;
when my young neighbor finally falls asleep,
I chronicle this obscurantist passion of ours
in a small notebook autographed by hero-poet
Zhenia. The following weekend, we eat unshelled
Cuban peanuts and drink post-colonial African beer.
We do each other's banned homework between
our committee's approved texts. We crash
down aging Tsarist staircases to dissent,
and crash back up with medal-winning heroism.
We rest inside our bedded gulag, a mutual blasphemy
one great, unobeyed ukase, our traitorous lie
as yet unpunished in any Sibirskoye labor camp.
Over morning tea and bread, I muster the courage
to send my unclothed chronicles to another
confidential friend at one of the State
publishing houses. Weeks later, Zhenia himself
mails us a precocious reflection of my young
neighbor and I. We read the dangerously human
verse over and over until our tears overcome us.
With Shostakovich candle-lit in the certainty
of the background, we intrude in each other's body,
spending the Decembrist night in a mutual unlight.
Waking, without the poetry of freedom,
a distressingly human-like tear
fell from my eyes, transfiguring the vision
of my loved one, a brother poet steeped
in our mutual mother, this holy Russia.
Like a greedy litter, we clamor for her
drooping breasts, warm with the blood
of anonymous masses, sweet with the milk
of our masters, our dirty hands and uneven
teeth pulling, sucking and wailing as we
maneuver for more. Without our sleeping mother,
life is a rocky Baltic crag, a cold memorial
wind-swept with the adolescent mysteries
of a million Petersburg call-boys. I met
one such prostitute, a glorious people's
achievement, along one of the Neva's
crumbling bridges. Our speculative rapture
was realist art, elation enough to arrange
the next debased sunset, a falling curtain
of scarlet irony we and the State could take
enormous pride in. At our bus stop,
the exploding babushkas cast icicles at us
standing among them, naked in the March frost,
dispassionately knowing we so irregular
are but a pogrom away from baby Jesus.
Our continuing humiliated childhood was a village apart,
not on the maps, burned to the ground
in some battle no one remembers; its ashes
burn my feet as I inspect a gravesite,
accompanied by another Komsomol hustler,
who was very thorough in his feigned mourning.
I think my tears made damp white imprints
in the snow, but Komsomol wiped them clean,
and progressed to my heart: "Death is still
far off," he whispered, making me believe him
with committee-scripted words made of kisses,
and the even more terrible policies of his body.
The early illusion of our beautiful slander
took place, down in the Karelian pine needles,
unwatched and unremarked on by the passing animals,
cryptic time, or police surveillance; back
in the city, watching an arrest sidled me with fear.
Returning to my neighborless apartment gave me fatigue.
That night, less the Boyar, I slept alone, in a tomb
of my genetics and the misfortune of my metaphysics.Like those lads I rent, these sensual stretches
come and go, withdrawn from the front by bumbling
generalship of my warmth; how ashamed one is,
alone in a train station lobby with censored
newspapers and Kazak cigarettes, counting
boys as if they were a marshal's medals,
waiting for sealed trains to make me older
and better versed. I can imagine the fear,
coming to the hero's cemetery to bid adieu
to sullen dreams of the wounded.
Our envious, old friends, Vulcan's cannon-fodder,
twisted needles in the hellish, Teutonic haystack
created whole rivers of spilt blood for our uncle,
promising drink to the parched livestock on the
edge of our Muscovite homeland. I congratulate
the kulaks, who now part with us. In their small,
untroubled villages, they are famous, but outside,
they are the very season of grey
that make the passage of depressing hours
knock trustfulness from my soul, because
my bureau knows, gloomily, they are the next
meal for the terrible, moustached steel.
My traitorous westward letter was a lament
for my imprisoned, naked brothers. Like
a reminder of a sobbing infant, stripped
and always in danger, their sweet light
died in the marble hall, under orders,
at once, at first light - unfit, unpatriotic,
and unrequited, my queer brethren die, lying
to the young about youth, lying to the liars
about the lie. I've been reading how such pure
blood falls apart. All of Moscow believed it,
but stayed mute, strange to the demolished
church of our lost Israel, our family's
wandering pastels lost in the gilt edges
of the apostolic icons squirreled away
in the rain-soaked timber of the Dnieper,
for children who might choose to pray
in the post-nuclear future. Despite
the danger, Komsomol kept calling me.
He kept coming to the Ministry, coming
every night in the laughable safety of my arms.
As a bad joke cracked over our last cigarette,
I asked for every one of my roubles back.
Without his usual street-ridden suspicion,
Komsomol produced them from his pants. He
rolled the notes into an exotic surrogate cigarette,
which we smoked after kissing through our laughter.
Komsomol wanted a honeymoon, but insisted it be kept
secret. Night licked the fires in my heart silent
believe me, not every love sprouts love - sometimes,
it just comes, like frozen breath on the train
coach window as the Finnish frontier passed,
and we made criminal love for the first time,
liberated and admitted into each other.
Komsomol's young, white body was a laid-back shore
that let me sweep over it, wave by wave,
with the dark green and grey depths of my uniform
surging behind, a grim threat to the sand castles
crumbling near the edges of his well-hidden soul.
For troubled weeks, we rustled beneath the quilts
of a disappeared comrade's dacha bed, like Gogol,
gnawing into the boy until we became one.
The subway was really talking now. The saliva
had frozen on our lips and made them red;
We had put each other's overcoats on,
making a bad match. Our fur hats were neither
stylish nor very impressive; until the Zil
limousine came to fetch us home, back
to Dzerzhinsky Square, the crowd's sniggering
gave off smoke in its derision. Their subsequent
silence made the ensuing poetry of our whispers
more expressive, hiding in the black leather
luxury of the car. Each of our fingers were cold
until we wrapped them up and satisfied the last
side street we hadn't explored. Weeks would pass
until we could make unofficial love again,
on another train, perhaps this time unsealed,
to Prague, to read poetry under the CharlesBridge,
to feed on each other's appetite against the Hunger Wall.
The mere mention of Bohemia reduces Komsomol to a swoon.
But light died in the winter we called ours. Something
dangerous whispered, 'Give thanks for your tears,'
before the daylight fell to pieces. The bellow
of roaring tanks masked the cursed saltwater
flowing from our bridegroom eyes, our cross
of solitudes. In no time at all, the warm country
house was re-assigned to State servants
of better record, higher quality, less dubious habits.
Our feeble hearts were reduced to a provisional strike.
The garden's yellow flowers held fast in solidarity,
but official censure soon put that to an end.
All we had left were the kind ringing of the icicles
that were once thrown at us with motherly love,
their delicate, dissident chimes our only friend,
their carillon lulling us to obedient sleep
despite the nonconformity of our frigid bodies.
The twentieth century sun bathed luxuriously
over our garden ice, making the snow glisten
like a collective growing diamonds instead of wheat.
Memories of the city disappeared under the skin
of the eternal ice and into the gentle white night
that walked past our private illegal gulag,
making Komsomol whimper in captive despair.
What a rude sobering the spring is. Bewitched
by solicitous fathers' guiding, their advice
leaking like sewage from a clover field.
Dwarf birches have begun to blossom
through the cracks in our bedroom window.
Komsomol is very quiet these days, cast off from
his fellows in the cosmopolitan train stations.
He still writes a contented poem to me every day,
like Osip, hides it in my lunch for safe-keeping.
Something about our silent, two-comrade Soviet
is brave, yet, we are betrayed. We live, and are alive.
We are completely free, but, even together,
we are without joy in the falling seasons.
To the poets of Humenne & Zima Junction....
Copyright 2009 by Adam Henry Carriere
On nights like this I would play my cello, the snow like tinfoil under a phosphorescent moon. Before I knew it, you were there, with your handkerchiefs and your melancholia. The light on my windowpane, a struck match all aglow. We would take turns cradling the instrument’s long neck, its cavernous belly, watching the cold metal strings shiver and hum. After each chord you’d swallow glittering nerve tablets, whispering: Be still. Be. Still. Its sonorous voice faded with each blue pill. And when the snow eddied and slushed, the cello safe in its towering white box, I took up sainthood to pass the time. On winter mornings my teeth still ache.
Copyright 2009 by Kristina Marie Darling
An Interview With Klaus Barbi
Location: 'die endgültige Lösung' Ranch, 125 Clicks NW of La Paz
Weather: Stinking Hot
(Note: To simplify matters, I have taken the liberty of removing German phraseology, and, at Herr Barbi's insistence many names have either been changed, or simply initialed, Herr Barbi is not the kind of man who would rat out his friends or goose a passing peasant boy just for fun. The comments in this interview are not necessarily those of the interviewer, publisher or any other loosely associated third party. Herr Barbi's rights remain in the Bolivian jungle until the day he is finally extradited to Paris on trumped up charges and paraded before a kangaroo court of lesser specimens.)
TLK: Herr Barbi . . .
KB: Herr Altman.
TLK: Yes all apologies, Herr Altman, thank you for your time & hospitality today . . .
KB: Huh, I have all of the time in the world, & then some my foolish friend.
TLK: Of course, now, if I might begin . . .
KB: No no, first we must talk of the sex change.
KB: It was Herr, uh, ah fuck it, the Angel, yes, it was Herr Angel's research & procedural techniques that permits you to sit there in front of me today pushing our your titties, are they real?
TLK: Uh, yes, but . . .
KB: Could I feel them, for verification purposes?
TLK: Maybe later, but first . . .
KB: Who did this work to you?
TLK: What work?
KB: Come come my cherub, no need to be shy around uncle Klaus, we are both men of the world, ha, my apologies of course dear frauline.
TLK: No problemo, but look, I think we ought to address more pertinent matters than anatomical parts . . .
KB: But my child, there are few more beautiful things than how you say . . . pointy, no, perky, yes! Like the pigs eh? You know the pigs?
KB: The pink swine, they sing you know, and dance too, yes, dancing pigs!
TLK: No, I don't know them, are they some kind of secret police?
KB: The pigs? Ha! No, although now you come to mention it, your breasts have a wonderful curvature to them.
TLK: Well thanks again, is there a woman in your life Herr B---------- Altman?
KB: NEVER! Women are the sporn of Satan, no, no women in uncle Klaus's life.
TLK: A boy?
KB: WHAT! How dare you, as if a former high-ranking official of the n . . .
TLK: Nazi party?
KB: I know nothing of this organization, nothing I tell you goddamnit!
TLK: My apologies Herr Altman, I did not mean to insinuate.
KB: Have they done your bottoms too?
TLK: My bottoms?
KB: Yes yes, you know, your wurst eh?
TLK: My wurst?
KB: Goddamn this incessant heat is intolerable, yes, your, what you say in gringo, your doodle eh, your sausagemeat?
TLK: Oh, that. Well, I think that's my business Herr Altman don't you.
KB: In the uh, the uh, the uh, the uh, vacation camps, many tried to cut off their own doodles & some doodles got cut off, that's the thing about doodles.
TLK: The vacation camps?
KB: I saw about them on discovery, no wait, history channel, vicious bastards those Germans, eh?
TLK: You're not German?
KB: Never! I am a citizen of Bolivia, always have been, yes, I pay my goddamned taxes & abide by the law, such as it is.
TLK: Are the laws tough here?
KB: No, no laws, but the police are swine.
TLK: They harrass you?
KB: Constantly, for currency.
KB: Uhm, execution?
TLK: They try to execute you?
KB: They could never do it, I have influence, now, about your doodle eh, show me it dear girl, show uncle Klaus your doodle, perhaps I can help, I know many idle surgeons eh?
TLK: That's very kind of you Herr Altman, although I think the state of my doodle is my business, don't you?
KB: Why no! You are a fascinating creature, the world should see your doodle, it will make many old men from Ber---- Budapest very happy!
TLK: Budapest is in Hungary.
KB: From when?
TLK: Uh, from about ever.
KB: The swine!
KB: Whoever put it there goddamn them all to hell, & my god, this heat is merciless.
TLK: But you would be acclimatized to it no, being Bolivian?
KB: Ah! Yes, of course of course, but it is still merciless, the heat, and Budapest.
TLK: Budapest is merciless?
KB: Why yes, it always was, as I recollect.
TLK: So you've journeyed Herr Altman?
KB: Indeed indeed, for many years, many many years, yes, like uylesses.
TLK: Very interesting. Where have you traveled?
KB: Nowhere, of course, I have never left Bolivia, home sweet home eh? Home home on the range, where the drugs & the drugbarons roam eh!
TLK: You know of this, drugs?
KB: I know nothing of it beautiful frauline, come, show uncle Klaus your perky titties eh?
TLK: That would be the final solution then?
KB: WHAT! How dare you mention that filth in my home, I know nothing of it.
TLK: Not from Budapest?
KB: What is this fucking shit with Budapest? Who cares about it, where it is, where it was, where the fuck it went in-between eh?
TLK: It didn't go anywhere Herr Altman.
KB: So you say, indeed, and Berlin?
TLK: That never went anywhere either, apart from to shit.
KB: Sad sad times, for some, I presume.
TLK: Is that a pistol in your hand Herr Altman?
KB: Or in my pants eh! This? Yes, this was a gift from Herr . . .
KB: That filthly little Austrian peasant hah! I spit on him, phew.
TLK: Can you stop waving the gun around Herr Altman, you're making me nervous.
KB: Or excited yes? The nipples never lie my sweet honeynest.
TLK: Honeypot, not honeynest.
KB: Well yes, if you insist, now, the titties eh?
TLK: Uh, please don't point that pistol at me Herr Altman, or that either thanks.
KB: But the heat, the itching, the sweat, dear god.
TLK: Is that loaded?
KB: This, or this?
KB: Oh yes, only an imbecile would wave an unloaded gun about, eh?
TLK: It is rather warm actually, & oh my, look at the time I really must . . .
KB: But first I think, you have a little something for uncle Klaus huh?
TLK: Uh, no.
KB: But I insist, you see, I am a man of simple pleasures frauline, as you will learn, and now, if you don't mind . . .
Copyright 2009 by Teri Louise Kelly
Stairclimbing: Another One-Act Poem
scene i [on the main floor, in front of the elevator, right at midnight]
A: How come the elevator has never come down?
B: Probably out of order, again?
C: Why not just climb the stairs and go home?
D + E: Good idea, Bro!
scene ii [on the 20th floor]
B: I am tired of slogging up these stupid stairs.
C: Me too, especially with all this damned luggage.
D: How about putting it here? –we can come down to fetch it when the elevator is okay tomorrow.
A: You can say that again.
scene iii [on the 40th floor]
C: Totally exhausted. Wish to have been waiting down there like all other folks.
D: Why the hell did you suggest climbing all these fucking stairs?
E: Why the hell should we have agreed to do this most stupid thing in the world?
A: Anyone got a bottle of water? Dying of thirst here.
B [to himself in a low voice] I got half a bottle, but I myself may need it later.
scene iv [on the 60th floor]
D [breathing hard]: I wonder, how many, more steps…to go?
E: Too tired, to climb, another level…
A: Got to take, a good break…
B + C: whew, whew…
scene v [on the top 80th floor]
E: Finally, finally, here we are. Who got the key?
A: I don’t…
B: Left it in the luggage.
C: Mine also down there.
D: Jesus Christ!
Copyright 2009 by Changming Yuan
Raining Sweetly Blood
it is raining sweetly blood
from a child's eyes
and the town is soaked
it is offensive to the dull soil
and soldiers are coming
they are carrying flowers
it is raining sweetly blood
in the soldiers, they are from
another culture, or so i hope,
i hope they will kill us
Copyright 2009 by David McLean
In my inbox, an email tells me I can improve my erectile function. I can enlarge my size and girth. I can prolong my stamina and live a sexually stimulating life. I look at my backyard. I look at the trees behind my house. Grass. Patio. Shrubs around the patio. Flowers in the shrubs. This house is a new house. I am the only one home. The email asks me if I want to increase her pleasure. I think, “Maybe.” I think, “Her pleasure is important.”
I read the email again. Having a larger, harder penis is possible. There is no reason for a man to not have a larger, harder penis. A man with a larger, harder penis is more confident and experienced in the pleasures of love-making. He lives a gratifying life. He sires many children with several different women. These women bare him boys; boys who grow up to be men. Men with large, hard penises who will have their own sexually stimulating lives.
I look at the shrubs along the patio. I can see where a deer has trampled the shrubs while eating the flowers. The deer. I wonder how much building a fence would cost.
I wonder how much a larger, harder penis would cost.
The next day there is another email. There is a picture of a woman. She stares at me. Deeply. She wears a bikini and a bellybutton ring. She is blonde. There are large, red letters beside the woman. The message reads, “No Gimmicks…Just Real Science.” I think about science. I read the message twice and feel confused. I look at the woman. Bikini. Bellybutton ring. I feel part of a scheme designed to make me believe my penis is soft and small.
My wife comes in with a bag of groceries.
I am sitting not doing anything.
I turn the computer off.
My wife starts talking about the something. She is loud. The television is on and governor is holding a press conference. Breaking news. He apologizes to his wife and children. He mentions the campaign. His staff. He admits to an extramarital affair. He is sorry. He wipes a tear.
“Be quiet for a second,” I say. I put my finger over my lips.
My wife stops talking. She starts complaining. I never listen. I don’t care about her or anything she has to say. She has an annoyed look on her face. I picture her blonde in a bikini. I feel her fighting the urge to start screaming about deer and the backyard.
“Sorry,” I say. “I’m only trying to listen to the news. Why are we talking about everything while we’re watching the news?”
She goes into the bathroom.
I think about all-natural male enhancement. The governor pretends to be remorseful. I watch commercials for five minutes.
My wife comes out of the bathroom and stands by the sink.
“So, what did you want to tell me?” I say.
“About what?” she says.
“I don’t know. Your day, or something.”
She walks over to the couch and pushes the off button on the television remote. The screen goes blank. I think about the governor and feel angry at him.
“I’d like you to help me organize things,” she says. “We need to finish unpacking things. To get organized.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Okay, sure.”
She stares at me, deciding something. “Okay, what?” she says
“I don’t know,” I say. “I mean, okay. I can’t remember. Never mind.”
My wife walks towards the kitchen table.
“What’s for dinner?” I say as nicely as possible. “I mean, I’ll eat whatever you feel like eating.” Her pleasure. Her satisfaction. I say, “If that’s okay.”
A large deer stands in the backyard. The deer. A buck with antlers. Long and hard. My wife files her nails in the living room. The room is lined with unpacked boxes. Lamps without lampshades. I see the deer’s hooves trample the shrubs along the patio. Slowly, the deer nips flowers with its teeth and chews. Its antlers do not move. I can’t remember planting flowers. I don’t remember my wife planting flowers or ever mentioning flowers. I remember how angry she got the day we moved in, when she discovered the flowers had been eaten.
I get in my car and drive to the gym. I step onto a treadmill. I want to run at a speed faster than everyone else running on treadmills beside me. I control myself. I run at a neutral pace. I feel small and soft. A woman climbs a Stairmaster in front of me. I wonder if she knows a more fulfilling sex life is attainable. I run three miles and feel exhausted. I drive back to the house and pull in the driveway. I look for the deer but the backyard is empty.
My wife folds laundry. I massage her shoulders and smile. She doesn’t look at me, her face is annoyed. I walk into the kitchen and pull out a carton of orange juice from the refrigerator. I drink a glass of orange juice and feel strong. My wife walks into the kitchen and turns back around. She doesn’t look happy. I remain motionless. I take the orange juice carton and put it back in the refrigerator. Beads of condensation have already formed on the cardboard. I feel moisture against my fingertips. With my fingers I touch my wife’s shirt and dry my fingertips. I am sweating. My wife is looking at me. A deer appears in the backyard. The deer.
My wife and I watch it bend, pick up a flower, and swallow.
I want to laugh but feel physically drained.
“Do something,” my wife says. She stares at me. “What’s the use of having a backyard if we can’t take care of it?”
“I’ll take care of it,” I say. I get the feeling she blames me for the dietary necessities of ruminant mammals. I am a deer. The deer. I trample shrubbery. I have antlers. Small, soft antlers. Something like that. I’m not sure.
I open the door little by little and walk into the backyard. I think, “Being larger is not impossible and it doesn't require surgery, prescriptions, gadgets or exercises.”
I look at the deer. The deer is eating flowers. My wife looks at me then looks at the deer. I walk towards the deer. I stop walking. I look at my wife. She looks at me for five seconds and looks back at the deer. She points at me then at the deer.
I think about a safe and effective blood flow stimulator that makes the most of my natural potential.
The deer looks at me. I look at the deer. The deer turns its head away then turns back towards me. It chews. It stops then swallows. The deer’s antlers look longer up close. I do not move. I cannot move. My wife watches me. The deer leans backward and runs, disappearing into the woods. I look at my wife. I close me eyes.
Inside, I say, “If this is a problem we should put up a fence.” I think about a fence. Its shape. Its length. “But I don’t know how it could be. We don’t even know who planted the flowers anyways. I mean it isn’t really our garden. We’ve only lived here for a few weeks.” I don’t understand why I’m saying what I’m saying. “It’s only deer. It’s only an animal.”
“A wild animal,” my wife says. “I don’t feel safe with a wild animal living in my backyard.”
“It’s not living there. It’s eating.”
“What if it decides to stay,” my wife says. “Then what? A whole herd of them will move in. Then what are you going to do?”
I look at the ceiling, at the ceiling fan, at the brass chain swinging from the fan. I focus on each individual link in the chain. The links are made up of three erectile chambers. When aroused, blood flow increases into these chambers, and the outflow of blood is decreased, producing an erection. My wife walks into the kitchen and pours red wine into a coffee mug. I remember when we lived in an apartment before we lived in the house. The house with the deer. We were both younger looking and healthier. We drank wine from wine glasses. I remember the courtyard of the apartment complex with a pool surrounded by a fence. No unpacked boxes. No deer.
My wife takes a sip of wine and leaves the kitchen.
I walk into the living room. I take a pillow from the couch and fluff it once. The pillow is new and stiff. I wonder if this is natural. I call to my wife from the living room, asking if this is normal. She doesn’t say anything.
“What?” she says.
“The pillow,” I say.
My wife walks into the living room and I offer her the pillow. She takes it in her hand. She doesn’t want to set her wine down. She holds the pillow one way then another. She screams. “Haaaaaaaaa,” she says. She strikes me in the head the pillow. Stiff and hard. I briefly loose balance and stand back up, laughing. My wife laughs and strikes me again. Some wine spills on the floor and soaks into the carpet. I take the pillow from my wife and strike her with the pillow. She falls over, laughing. All her wine spills. Red stains smear the carpet. It looks like someone has been murdered in our living room. I laugh. She laughs.
It is dark outside when I decide to clean up.
I get in my car and leave. I drive around the neighborhood three times, trying to see how fast I can go from 0 to 30 mph down a suburban block in my wife’s Volkswagen Jetta. I become bored.
I drive to the grocery store. I can’t remember the last time I was in a grocery store. Celine Dion is singing inside. I picture her voice box gyrating and wonder if she is sexually satisfied. The lights glow and illuminate plastic packaging of every shelved item. A clerk walks up to me and says hello. I look at his name tag. He wears a red vest over a white collared shirt. I don’t say anything. The lights in the grocery store glare and I become disoriented. Celine Dion stops singing. Michael Bolton starts singing. I envision Michael Bolton pleasuring many anonymous women, repeatedly. He is interrupted by a voice on an intercom. The voice says, “Price check – Register Two.” The clerk with the red vest smiles and begins to walk away.
“Have a good evening,” he says.
I say I’ll try. I tell him thanks. I start walking down an aisle. I don’t know where to go. I don’t want to ask anyone for help. I don’t want to interrupt anyone’s listening to Michael Bolton. Michael Bolton says, “Said I loved you but I lied.” Other shoppers listen and don’t seem to care. I think about how passive-aggressive my wife has become since we moved into the new house. I think about the governor’s extramarital affairs and feel angry.
I roam for ten minutes. I find the cleaner aisle and become increasingly confident. I pick up a bottle with a label I recognize. I read the label and consider the ingredients. A proprietary blend of natural herbs and medical grade pro-hormones formulated by a leading sexual health medical doctor, designed to promote sexual performance, pleasure and increased size for men. I set the bottle down and swallow. I attempt to arrange my thoughts in a manner that makes sense to me. Long. Short. Hard. Soft. I pick up a different bottle and walk to the register. There is candy beside the register. I look at the candy and listen for Michael Bolton, but he’s gone. Someone is singing a country music song. My head begins to hurt. I drive home.
The phone is ringing when I wake up. The sheets are on the floor. I reach for the sheets and pull them over me. I’m unorganized with sheets and I am unable to get comfortable. I climb out of bed.
The backdoor is open.
My wife is outside watering the trampled shrubs with a garden hose. I step outside and watch her. Her shirt is wrinkled and stained with wine in a several places. I try to focus my eyes.
“What are you doing?” I say.
She is drowning the shrubbery. I walk towards her. Water is overflowing from the yard onto the patio. I try to take the hose from her but she almost growls. She has the face of a wild animal. I walk over to the nozzle and turn off the water. My wife stands with the hose until all the remnant water trickles out. I try to take the hose away again. It is soft and small in her hand. She lets me have it.
I stare at her. After a while she goes inside. She lies down on the couch. She rests her head on the stiff pillow and falls asleep. I look outside. Everything is wet and muddy. I think about my wife. I think about hiring a psychiatrist for her. I think about psychiatrists. They would study her brain. They would organize a diagnostic treatment plan that is all natural with no harmful side effects. I wonder what she would look like with a bellybutton ring.
I walk into the living room. My wife opens her eyes and looks at me. “Who called earlier?” I say. She smiles and closes her eyes again. I look away then look back at her. I walk towards the couch. My wife doesn’t move so I sit in a chair beside the couch instead.
The doorbell rings and I got to the door. It’s a man I don’t know. A man with long arms. A buck. I unlock the door and look at the man. I shake his hand.
“I hear you have a pest problem,” he says. He nods at me then at the house. I squint as I watch him do this. He says, “I called earlier” and smiles.
My wife comes to the door and invites the man inside. She looks at me then at the man. She shows the man the backyard, shows him the drowned, dying shrubs along the patio. She walks in the direction of where the deer stands and eats. She makes the shape of antlers with her hands and laughs. The man laughs. My wife smiles. I feel the urge to sob. I try to not sob.
The man walks through the backyard. He looks around for ten minutes then walks down to the street where his truck is parked. I watch him from the window. He rummages through his truck bed and emerges, carrying two bottles in his hands. He walks back towards the house but walks around the house to the backyard. I still feel like sobbing.
The man says something to my wife. She watches him from the patio. I go outside and stand on the patio next to her.
“And she will keep it away,” she says. The man tells her it should. He opens a bottle and drizzles the contents around the backyard. On the shrubs. Along the patio. I watch. My wife watches. They ignore me. My small, soft body.
I go inside and look out the window. The man finishes and walks towards my wife. He puts his hand in his pants pocket and takes something out then gives it to my wife. He gives her more intense orgasms. He enhances her desire, power, pleasure and performance. He improves her overall sex life and sexual sensitivity.
My wife signs a paper with a pen and gives the paper back to the man. He folds the paper with one hand and puts it back in his pants pocket. “Thank you,” he says.
I exhale awkwardly. My eyes begin to burn and I blink. I blink again and again. I cannot stop blinking.
The man walks back around the house to his truck. My wife comes inside. I watch the man leave. My wife smiles. She says, “That should be the end of our problems” and washes her hands. I look at the sink and then at my wife. “What did he tell you?” I say. I stare at her. She stares at the floor. She says, “Individual results may vary.” She looks at me. Her face is red. I look at her. I nod.
Copyright 2009 by Adam Moorad
Two teens discussing a jet ski
and one of them
says dude, we
never use it!
and the other one
says he paid
about five-hundred bucks
for his share of the ski
and they both agree
that they haven’t used
it enough this summer
and they both agree
that needs to change
Copyright 2009 by Melanie Browne
on one day I even mentioned
Witch I said broom of hell
call to coruscation making
thirst for imprecation slaking
Witch I said or hag or demon
Devil take thee said the witch
Copyright 2009 by Christopher Mulrooney
Love Will Burst Your Heart
"Go-or-or do," sung cinnamon skinned, pretty little Graciela up to Gordo through the sputtering smoke of his sizzling sausage cart.
"Por favor," said Gordo, squeezing onto his grill yet another floppy bacon wrapped sausage; “don’ go calling me Gordo no more, I been rebajaing my weights."
“But I bring you flores,” Graciella whispered in a tender, husky voice, through Gordo’s popping sputters, holding her vase bouquet of yellow ranunculus, purple anemones, crimson poppies, blinking her jet black eyes.
"Para mi," he said, "you bring? for why?"
"Saying I love you, you silly Gordo," stamping her foot and moving her flowers out of the grease sputters.
"Love? Now? gotta sell salchiche this morning, if I don't sell. Are dey any no good manana?"
"What you are den yourself?" Graciella demanded, "(cough cough) una bestia, who don't got no eyes for seeing de mujer here que te quere?"
"Who dis womans who loves me?"
“¿Quien? Maldito, you know whom is whom love you," Graciela had been going to night school.
“Take a salchiche gratis," Gordo said scooping up one of his sputtering, bacon-wrapped specials covered with onions, dripping grease, up in a professional motion and sprinkling on little green capers and fresh cilantro.
"Sweet Gordo," she said, "don't pretend no ignorances to me, you know I don't come for no salchiche gratis."
A large flower van skareecked up, creak, out its door came the driver, announcing, “I got no quarters, parking costes too much," pulling out a large long flower box, "I wonder do Gordo quarters have?"
"I got quarters, Jorge, cambio for sausage, everybody want de quarters, I am salchiche not bank."
"Muy bien, da me dos sausage--5 centavos, the parking, each minute eet cost now," then to Graciella, "and look quien esta, the most beautiful embra of the whole market, more beautiful dan de flower demselfs," he smiled and winked at her, resting his large extracted gladiolus box on the edge of Gordo’s smoky sausage cart during jamming a large hand in his pocket excavating sausage dollars.
“Ten cuidado ispantoso,” Graciela laughed, “please, Jorge, quickly tellto dis pinche Gordo some poem so he don’t be so escare of de love.”
Jorge’s early morning spontaneous limericks were famous up and down the Wall Street flower district, but here was coming a flashing orange Parking Enforcement light just down the street. The city of Los Angeles was bankrupt and bleeding its citizens dry.
"Eeet weel find you Gordo," said Jorge, picking up one of Gordo sausages already slidden to him across the counter with his change; "ees esneaking up on you,” first setting down his flower box on the sidewalk, grabbing the greasy parking meter quarters, rushing over while reciting,
“You have shut you heart,
Like shut a door,”
and then turning half back and chewing while still feeding in parking quarters,
“To starve de loves inside, not trouble you no more.
“But down Wall estreet here come de wet new wind of May,”
then walking back and picking up the Graciella’s bouquet vase,
“Blow you flower smell from de Graciela's bouquet.
“Now you love yell out in thee,
“‘I strong, I break you hearts,
If you don’t set me efree.”
Graciella clapped her hands, ”Muy meravilloso, gracias," little tears in her eyes, "your poecia would make the estones fall in love."
"Take a salchiche gratis," said Gordo.
Copyright 2009 by Pierrino Mascarino
It was new times. She carried her own arraignments.
In her forehead was cupped a stripe of matter,
a mere, golden line of reasoning held straight
by the skull, a confined, beastlier manner of thought.
She soaped her breasts and showered.
I want to be ornamental the weekend, she thought,
let’s have me pulled under a severe man,
so I can clutch his shit and drone him to
trample my belly and face and legs.
I don’t often warm for swift meets,
but a weekend, certainly I can have my weekend.
She set out her hair and wiled it cute, short, up.
She slowly felt her visible skin for catches
She revived all of her crooks with a light perfume.
Her reasonable urge was all fantastic,
though raised on an unreasonable assumption:
Men of compulsion, in new times, still
carried on in women for the lust.
She went out single, her makeup flapped on
as by the motion of a headless dove.
She chewed her nails off, caught taxi,
entered hesitantly some common copulateria
for blue drinks.
He was with her like a forest rash when she
returned home. In her mind, he lanced apart
her tits with his teeth.
She’d always thought of herself as the breasts.
Copyright 2009 by Ray Succre
MICE IN A FISH TANK
Old students remember me
I don’t remember saying.
They say I said,
“Never write a boring sentence –
They say I said,
“Work your life around your art,
not your art around your life.”
They say I said,
“Talent is dedication.”
And maybe I did.
It sounds like something I’d say,
a dead flashlight
masquerading as music.
But what I should’ve said was:
Avoid the jealous notice
of the assistant prosecutor;
conspire with the creek
dream as if you were
mice in a fish tank,
or the tattooed heart
of a drunken sailor,
or the heretic upstairs
getting ready for a date.
Copyright 2009 by Howie Good
Oh, how did he get into this situation? Watching the new students take their seats, lumbering Benoit included who gave him a knowing smile, Paul confessed it was a stupid question to which he knew the answer. He had lost all authority and control the moment he asked Nour last semester what he had done to acquire such a powerful physique. A brown-eyed Lebanese Adonis so many of whom Paul had seen, but not touched, in Beirut before the civil wars, Nour of Montreal had smiled and leaned forward. He crossed his arms on his teacher’s desk, flexed, so Paul could see veins pulsing and biceps tighten.
“I lift weights five times a week,” he had said, “bench-press, sit-ups, you know, the general body-building routine. So, can I have an extension or what?”
That lemon undertone to his fragrance drew Paul closer: a cluster of black curls falling over the boy’s forehead, the fine hairs on his fingers, well, of course, extension granted. The distance between their heads unprofessional, and although he suspected that Nour was amenable, open to suggestions, was he also trustworthy and discreet? A body like that obviously aroused interest. Ah, the beautiful always gained favour. He had tipped attentive waiters liberally in Alexandria, Damascus and Tehran. Cultural signals had been hard to decipher so he had refrained from pursuit. Paul lacked beauty, but possessed appreciation. He had been appreciating Nour’s body all semester, careful to guard how he looked and when. Nour had sensed and welcomed the inspection.
“Yes, but I want to go over your draft. Did you bring it?”
“Well, sir, you see I haven’t gotten around to writing it yet. I guess I need an extension for that, too.”
The laughter betrayed neither nerves nor doubt as to the outcome. He was on safe, possibly familiar ground, in his teacher’s office. Rumour had it that one or two of the teachers in his department had been sleeping with a beautiful Mediterranean boy. Picking up details from one story, then another, Paul concluded it had to be Nour, although a few other candidates had popped into mind. Anwar, whose name meant “light,” the chiselled Egyptian lad, and then there was … ah, those Arabians. When Nour stood, raised his arms, Paul’s heart rocked although he kept his composure. His eyes scurried over Nour’s stature. The white T-shirt rose above his navel as he grasped one wrist above his head and pulled as if to separate his ribs.
“That’s okay. We can work without one.”
“That’s what I figured, sir. You want to do it now?”
His rocking heart screeched so loudly that Paul was amazed Nour didn’t hear it cry out, yes, a thousand times yes! But his voice rose to the negative and applied reason to lust: no, not now, not here, how could he even think of betraying professional ethics?
“Come see me tomorrow. I’m free after my last class at five.”
“You bet, great.”
Then he flashed that incredible Mediterranean smile, sat down and leaned forward again.
“You’re my favourite teacher, sir, and I’m not just saying that.”
“You just did.”
Nour chuckled, but did not move, so Paul allowed himself the pleasure of inhaling the lemony scent and appreciating the torso.
“Okay, I think you should leave now. I have work to do.”
“Until tomorrow, then?”
“Yes, Nour, tomorrow.”
Now he was in a situation where Nour juggled temptation and satisfaction, displayed a liking for new found power and a taste for his teacher’s willing humiliation, where Paul had no choice but to do as the student wanted. The five o’clock meeting began with a repetition of the topic for which Nour was supposed to prepare a two hundred word draft. When he nudged so close to his teacher that Paul felt breath blowing in his ear, and when his student’s hands rested on his shoulder, Paul succumbed. He asked Nour to lock the door. Seven minutes into his appreciation exercise, someone knocked and Paul, gripping Nour’s thighs, remained motionless until he heard the footsteps of departure, then hungrily proceeded.
No draft or completed essay followed. Of the two remaining exercises, Paul had also given Nour an A for each although the boy had not written a single word. Now there was an in-class examination which he had no intention of writing. During class occasionally Paul asked him a question, knowing perfectly well the boy had not read the required work, but surely such questions deflected any suspicion of favouritism. In revenge Nour did not come to his office at the appointed time for days until Paul spoke speak to him.
“Say, please, and maybe I’ll stop by tomorrow, if I feel like it.”
“Please come by my office tomorrow at the usual time.”
“I hate it when you ask me those fucking questions in class, do it again and there won’t be no usual times. Got it?”
Yes, he got it, and what was a poor, compromised and smitten forty-eight year teacher to do when confronted with a compelling god and driven by his own lust? Should he tell Nour to stay away from class during the examination, or come to class and pretend to write? If the boy didn’t appear, his absence would be noticed. Students would ask Nour questions which could unwittingly lead to unhelpful answers. The semester was fast approaching an end which meant Nour’s disappearance because he was graduating. Not even Paul believed that Nour would want him when no benefit was to be gained.
The next day when Nour came to his office, not at the specified time, but early in the morning before classes actually began, Paul had prepared himself for the inevitable. The boy didn’t care to write the examination, but he had not prepared himself to meet Nour’s friend Benoit who entered the office behind him.
“He’ll be registering in your class next semester and he plays football.”
Benoit, somewhat pimpled and prone to soft fat, loomed above the desk, and extended his hand.
“I told Benoit what a great teacher you are, sir, and how you give A’s to students who deserve it.”
Both boys guffawed like athletes over a lewd joke. Paul’s blood gushed through his cheeks. He tried to smile, wishing the new student was at least of Arabian descent, as he shook Benoit’s hand. The grip was firm. Paul shuddered. The student’s hazel eyes seemed to search Paul’s face as if looking for an entrance into his private thoughts.
“That’s great. Now about that test, sir, can I come by at five? I don’t think you’d mind if Benoit comes along, too.”
Copyright 2009 By Kenneth Radu
String quartets in winter
Light the color of rainy late autumn, and a cello’s moan
evoking shallow, sallow old age. Sad things, sighing things,
maturing closer to death while the pink rust of sunset
stains a slate sky strewn with shards of robin’s egg blue.
I sit in the heart of the warmest house ever built,
for I am happy here, sitting like a warm ember
watching Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego,
three flame flowers dancing in the garden of youthful memory
while winter white and clear cold laces the roof
with spidery patterns and violins whinny orgasms
smacked by the horsehair bows; dust to dust, a mood
brown and earthy as a decayed insect’s carapace
found on the carpet behind the dresser, a record
of life without soul, a life lived without language.
When the strings speak together they can make pottery
think and sing and cry, flowers filling its cold clay mouth,
blossoms that bloom like ripe descriptions, unwords
that the dead have not read and the living will not understand.
Around the sun the spinning blue ball kicks up tides
rising like stallions hoofing the air, settling back uneasily,
and an old man’s younger days seem sad and sunken
as old decaying wood as it crumbles to earth
in a forest of soft sighs, as the crust of fresh-baked bread
fragrant, warm and ready to nurture
yet another finite life
Copyright 2009 by Harry Calhoun
THE SENTIMENTALIST AND THE CROW
Don’t let that urn of ancestral ashes
says the sentimentalist.
asks the crow?
Copyright 2009 by Alan Britt
My house breathes. I can
see it from the road. There
are dogs who wait
All life has drained from the cut hay
that no sun no water can resurrect
it lies white, brittle, a remembered
Worth more dead than alive
I drink wine on the porch.
I have trouble writing the word
Copyright 2009 by L. Ward Abel
The Twelve Steps
He didn't look like a waterbed customer the way he marched into the store, stern and square-faced. He flashed an official badge with sharp indentations on the edges like he’d used it to grind his teeth.
“Agent Winthrop,” he said.
He pulled a folder from his briefcase. With all the businesses Dave and Margo Hamilton had lost money on – for tax purposes - it was hard to tell which agency he was with from the looks of him. FBI, IRS, UPS, FDA, ATF, INS or PTA. He meant business though. He laid his cards right on the table.
"Your daughter married Salim Alanzi. They divorced after he became a citizen and got a work permit. Then, just like that," he snapped his fingers, "she married Faraz Alanzi, another Iranian student."
Dave and Margo remained composed.
"The Alanzis have requested that their immigration matters be transferred. That's why I'm here. The marriage, the divorce, the new marriage. Frankly, I'm puzzled by it," he said.
Dave and Margo loved to mess with these guys’ minds. Margo took the lead and sighed winsomely.
"Well, Agent Winthrop," she said. "Gloria’s like us. We were married. We got divorced. My ex-husband,” she pointed at Dave who gave Agent Winthrop a sheepish, Jerry Garcia rehab smile, “went to Alcoholics Anonymous and dried out. Then we remarried. It was love. It's as simple and complex as that."
“And the Twelve steps,” he said. “First I had to admit I was powerless over the booze.”
"What do you mean, love?" Winthrop pressed.
"Gloria thought she loved Salim. It took her a year to find out she really didn't love him. She loved his cousin, Faraz, instead. Love's a mystery of the universe. It's unexplainable. It’s like the dinosaurs. Where did they come from? Where did they go?"
"Love? Dinosaurs?" Agent Winthrop said.
"Yes, love," Dave chimed in, knocking his pipe against the side of the counter. “And the second step, believing a higher power can restore us.”
"What's your name, son?" he asked.
"Wilbur Dobbs," I said.
"Do you have any information about this?"
"Not exactly. Love is more like Archimedes' Principle which he discovered during, I believe it was, the Second Punic War," I began, differing with Margo's explanation about love. “Love is like being suspended in a fluid, say a corndog boiling in oil that supports you on all sides in proportion to how much you surrender to it.”
He cut me off before I could say anymore.
"I'm not interested in love, dinosaurs, corndogs, or Archimedes' Principle," Winthrop stated.
“Then there’s the third step,” Dave reminisced, “Turning your life over to the higher power.”
Winthrop's jaw tightened.
“Then I had to take an inventory of my character and admit my flaws to God, myself, and to Margo. That’s the hard part, admitting all your flaws, besides being a booze hound. Once you’re over that hump, you’re ready for God to do His job and remove your flaws and hang-ups.”
Then Margo dropped her bomb on him.
“I’m an atheist,” she proclaimed proudly.
Winthrop had had enough though. He jammed the paperwork into his briefcase before stomping towards the front door just like the last agent who came calling.
“I was just getting to the part about my misdeeds to other people and how I had to make good on them,” Dave said.
"There's nothing they can do about it, except slow up the paperwork," Margo said.
She looked to make sure Agent Winthrop was well out of hearing range.
“Gloria did marry Faraz's cousin as a favor, but they can't prove it. That guy's full of shit.”
“That’s step five: admitting the exact nature of your misdeeds,” Dave said.
“And by the way, Wilbur, Faraz's sister, Rana, is coming to stay with us. We're thinking about adopting her so she can stay in the States, but," and here Margo paused, "it would a lot easier if YOU married her. It's about time you got married, don’t you think?"
Margo just happened to have a picture of Rana in a compartment of the same wallet she kept all her credit cards and charities she donated to for tax purposes and to piss off the John Birchers at the yacht club where she used to work.
Rana was beautiful! She had dark, brown eyes and light brown hair that was curly and fell over her shoulders. She had a beautiful smile and tanned, dimpled cheeks, round and full like apples. Silver earrings dangled from her earlobes. She was lovely and a pure delight to gaze upon. I’d marry her in a second! Unfortunately, she was still in Teheran, watching and waiting for a visa and for the Shah to get the boot from the Ayatollah.
The marriage would have to wait indefinitely, especially until I met another beauty, a blonde, who bought a crushed, purple-velvet waterbed that my surrogate stepfather, Twelve Step Dave, sold her. With the tantalizing way he described the blonde after Winthrop left, I almost had to go to the restroom in the back of the store to attend to some personal business before delivering the waterbed. That’s step five in Dave’s code: admitting your misdeeds.
Instead of the time it would have taken to do that, I sped to a deed restricted subdivision to deliver the purple waterbed and check out the blonde Dave had inflated for my imagination. I was full of expectation too, thanks to him lathering up the deal. I was sorry to disappoint Margo and her proposal of a pre-arranged marriage, but a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush where a pine forest lined one edge of the development. On another side chocolate-colored cows grazed in an open field. Low flying jets rumbling into TampaInternationalAirport shook the palm trees on the trimmed lawns. Children rode bicycles in the street and stared at the waterbed van with lights and reflectors on it like it was a ride from a weekend carnival that sprung up on an empty lot. I looked from side to side trying to find street names that were too new to be on a recent map. The setting sun illuminated the horizon.
It took some meandering, like Dave finding his way with the Twelve Steps back to Margo who was an atheist and braless most of the time, before I located the address. A light blue Cadillac was parked in the driveway. Burglar bars, painted soft pink, covered the windows. I anticipated the gorgeous blonde and myself entwined together in an awakening like Dave explained in the eleventh and twelfth steps, but a slender, olive-skinned woman surprised me at the door. It was Lourdes from Caracas, Venezuela, probably here on an expired visa. Dave had short-sheeted me again. Back to step five.
Shiny chrome and glass furniture decorated the living room. Long feathers in a vase rested on a coffee table. Mirrors covered two walls. Thanks to the mirrors, multiple images of Lourdes and myself ricocheted from one side of the room to the other. The reflections made me feel each moment in time spawned others.
Chrome furniture, mirrors on the living room walls, blue Cadillac, pink burglar bars, feathers, and crushed velvet? They were hookers, I thought. Part of the oldest profession besides winemakers, brewmasters, and moonshiners. They’ve been around since, uh, the dinosaurs.
Lourdes walked ahead of me into her roommate's bedroom. The newly painted, orange bedroom contained one off-center window.
“What color the bed?” she asked.
I hesitated relaying the mismatch of color.
“Purple,” I whispered.
She shook her head. The corners of her mouth tightened. Despite her misgivings I set up the huge, lavish, king-sized frame of purple in her roommate’s bedroom. It took a while to do it because the bed was huge, with room for more than two. Less than a foot of free space remained on both sides of the bed. The room was practically all purple waterbed.
"This must be mistake. This the bed she look at?"
"My boss sold it to her. They look different in the store than in a bedroom. They look smaller in the store because the showroom is so big. It’s an appearance and reality thing. Let me know if you want it before I put the water in."
A minute later she was on the phone in the kitchen talking with her roommate who, like me, must make deliveries, except in her case, of her charms. I sat on the chrome furniture and saw Lourdes’ reflection in the mirrors as she talked animatedly, Venezuelan style, to her roommate. Finally, she hung up, unable to convince the blonde to change her mind about the purple bed in the orange bedroom.
"She no have room for a table by her bed. Nothing," Lourdes complained.
She walked by the dining room table that had ornate, gaudy legs tapered like Vegas showgirls.
"She no listen to me. No table, no light," she said, shaking her head.
We walked back to the bedroom. The huge bed with thick, winged sides of purple velvet reminded me of an ancient dinosaur with lots of consonants in its name.
"Oh, it look terrible," she moaned.
The pout returned to her face.
"My boss says, if a customer isn't satisfied they can return the bed within thirty days. He does that because waterbeds are new, and people aren't sure about them. Tell your roommate,” and here I wanted to ask for more details like her name and number but didn’t, ”to sleep on it. If she doesn't like it, she can return it."
Dave said this, but he had never taken a bed back. Once he got all the booze out of his system with his Twelve Steps, he knew the human mind like the back of his hand, and as I had learned since working for him, he was a virtuoso at sleight of hand.
"Really? Okay, I tell her. We leave it there. I not know that," she said. "Would you like a drink?"
"Sure. You got some water?" I asked.
"Only water? We have full Tiki bar. How about Scotch with your water?"
"Scotch, yeah sure, with a little water."
She returned in a few minutes with a tumbler full of water darkened with Scotch. After a few sips, her warmth and friendliness suddenly beguiled and attracted me, and my original disappointment of not meeting the blonde dissipated. In fact, I felt guilty about my transgression and wanted to tell her so. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and so forth.
I hooked up the water hose to the bathroom faucet with an adaptor.
"Do you want to watch TV in here with me before I go to the disco. You not want to watch the bed fill with water by yourself, do you?" she asked.
I was in the orange bedroom listening to the water flow into the silver mattress. I followed her into the television room next to the bedroom and took a seat on the soft beige couch. Her perfume drifted in my direction, the sweet fragrance was as strong as the plastic smell of the new waterbed mattress wafting from the orange bedroom.
"You know how to fix doors?" she asked, pointing to the sliding closet doors on the opposite wall.
"Yeah sure," I said.
I placed my drink on the chrome end table. I jimmied the door until it slid back onto its track. Lourdes was gushy and limp with joy when she saw it working properly.
“So what do you two women do for a living?” I asked, trying to confirm my earlier suspicion about their occupation.
“Beverly, my roommate, and me, we are in aesthetics,” she said.
“That’s a noble profession,” I replied although I didn’t have the foggiest idea that’s what hookers called it these days.
I took another sip of my drink, then returned to the orange bedroom to check on the water level in the mattress. A proper firmness would come in handy for Beverly when she was doing her aesthetics.
"I'm not very pretty," Lourdes said, standing in the bedroom doorway while I rolled across the waterbed forcing the excess air out of the mattress so Archimedes’ Principle could work properly. Mixing the two fluids, air and water, would dilute its effectiveness. Agent Winthrop had cut me off before I had gotten to that part of my explanation.
"You're pretty," I said, trying to make up for my earlier slight about Beverly not being there.
That was step eight and nine of Dave’s Twelve Steps to being sober. Making a list of the people we harmed and making it up to them as long as it didn’t cause them more trouble.
"You think so?" she brightened, noticing the empty tumbler I had placed on the floor. "You want another Scotch?"
"Yeah, sure. Why not?"
I forced more air out of the mattress while Lourdes went for another round of drinks for both of us. When she returned a few minutes later, the only thing she wore were the drinks in her hands. She stood there naked as a hyperbola and with the same shape - slim at the waist, broadening in the hips and breasts. I didn’t care if she had a visa or not. She had aesthetics which is step twelve according to me.
It took only a moment before my shirt and jeans were off. I don’t know where the other dinosaurs came from or went, but the purple waterbed with the huge, winged sides soon flapped like the ancient, winged dinosaur it wanted to be.
Copyright 2009 by Tom Fillion
Gone Wishing: A Three Act Fish Tragedy Poem
FISH Hello there young lad. Don’t you know it’s dangerous by the river bank?
BOY I’m not going near the edge. I’m just sitting under this tree.
FISH I see.
BOY I was wishing.
FISH What was you wishing for?
BOY Oh I don’t know, maybe a little party or have some friends round to play. Wishing I didn’t have to go to school every day. Don’t you ever wish that you didn’t have to spend all your time swimming about in that river, alwayswet.
FISH Well I kinda like being in the river, but I suppose some days it would … and yet …
BOY Hey, why don’t you come home with me for tea?
FISH Hmm. I don’t know.
BOY We’ve got fi… fly paste sandwiches. And jelly. You’ll love jelly
FISH I’ve never had jelly. But I still don’t know if I should.
BOY I’ve a tin of fresh maggots.
FISH Oh what the watery hell. OK then.
BOY Here, grab hold of this hook.
BOYFISH Did fish enjoy your party?
FISHBOY Well up to the point when we started to cook. There was no tail slapping dance then, he just gave me a really sad look. But hey! It’s my party and they’ll be no fish tears if I don’t want them.
BOYFISH You gotta be the boss at yer own party.
FISHBOY Exactly. And he was delicious.
FISHBOY I’m having another party today.
BOYFISH Are you?
FISHBOY You look scaly, and you tend to be in the water a lot you must really like to swim. Do you wanna come and play?
BOYFISH If you’re thinking I’m a fish you’re wrong. I swim to stay thin. I just prefer to be in the water that’s all. It doesn’t mean I’m a fish.
FISHBOY What are those frilly bits by your neck?
BOYFISH Just fashion.
FISHBOY Mmm (thinks: he’ll look good on a dish). Why don’t you come to my party? I’m going to have rave tail slapping dancing, and jelly, fly paste sandwiches, and lots of fresh maggots.
BOYFISH Wow! Up up for that. Throw me a hook and let’s dance. Wait! Are you going to cook me by chance?
FISHBOY No, of course not. Just slip into this batter and let’s have some fun.
BOYFISH I wish I had a bicycle.
Copyright 2009 by P.A. Levy
I see golden leaves,
fallen onto sidewalk
is this a day of history?
tables set under canvas awning
shelter from the street
The lime tree's leaves are fluttering earthwards
Gutter bound traffic signal
catches the 9.00 a.m. sun
static interference static
empty theatre and ghosts
There is a bottle of loose change in the kitchen
I dream of artists
and the cold of November
while somewhere you
wander among the surf
The bird feeder needs filling
satellite technology cable filtered
as if in bad video art
I wait for the fax machine to start
He spent at least five minutes talking about an emotional
experience with a bowl of soup
I dream of you pre-death
near the end on the beach
and in that bed the scent of
flowers fills the room
Copyright 2009 by Andrew Taylor
I spat out a landscape
where rugged men
from distant shores
pulling soft fingered woman
through the ripples of a circle
Now I know this..
there’s no Eden
in the thick of me
Just a brambled fence
dense in the prick of me
As the mornings grow old
I wake hard and rise early
the serpent slipping
across my tits and biting
on the stiff of me
There’s no Eden
in the thick of me
just a brambled fence
dense in the prick of me
Eve left hard and floating nowhere
Copyright 2009 by Kate Fesel
I hunt the dreams of small children.
There’s a high demand for the pelts
at strip clubs. That’s why it’s all
FantasyIsland in your lap
while you do your best imitation
of an ATM.
It’s why engagement rings
play search party games
The difference between that look
of disgust on your face
and a leather mask: the latter
has honest intentions.
Call me when you want
to go on a hunt sometime.
We’ll stalk adoption agencies,
and foster homes, make out
with single parents, pretend
Copyright 2009 by J. Bradley
(Voices of Spring)
We lost the road to the village,
We lost the will, the words,
The language of a common dance.
Ragan, The Separation
Every light in the house had been turned on, but the small dining room of our Easter meal struggle remained ill-lit. A bad baseball game between teams already out of the playoffs two weeks into the season droned on in the background. Mom’s turkey was as dry and tepid as ever. The cabbage was limp, the potatoes mis-mashed, the stuffing tasted like the box it came from, and nobody looked twice at the lima beans, not even Mom, who prepared the home-cooked fiasco.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I was having dinner with East and West Berlin.
In another time and place, Dad had been a brave officer in a war remembered only for having to be re-fought a second time. Now, he was a nervously successful small businessman with an income he no longer had to lie to the rest of the family about, a beautiful wife half-way out the front door, and a little boy he apparently had trouble seeing himself in.
Mom's hausfrau heritage found a home in a new nursing career. She wasn't content to check pulses and stick needles in the asses of sick children. Oh, no. In less than a year, she had made her own the swing shift at a large emergency room in the city. The diner crowd use to snark that she ran it like the Navy Captain Dad never quite became. I suppose you need someone like that to deal with gunshot wounds and other diseases of the poor. She was the first one of us to use being AWOL as a weapon of choice.
If you ask me, my parents were closer when Dad was a sailor at sea and Mom had the home front, firing loving daily dispatches back and forth to each other. Certainly closer than they were sitting three feet apart over Easter dinner. Peace wasn’t their thing.
Like half of married America, we'd been going south as a family for years. Truth be told, my parents had been in the trenches since we moved out of the cozy Pullman lean-to I only knew from their wistful reminisces to a landscaped rural nothing on the edge of the Cook County bush. The old South Side neighborhood may have lost its historic allure to the folks, but it was my old neighborhood, now, whether I’d ever actually lived there or not.
Around last Christmas, Dad had taken me through the old ‘hood for a quick recon. We took a nearly-deserted Mass at Holy Rosary, his old church. Astonishingly, it was still given in Polish. Then we hit Palmer Park, where my folks met, courted, and told me about enough for me to feel like I lived across the street from it. It looked like an unmade bed, now. But what did I expect? Dad kept asking. The neighborhood had changed, for Christ’s sake.
It didn’t take much time for me to realize, what had actually changed was us.
I’m told both of them saw a little bit of themselves in my sandy eyes and small ears, full lips and elfin fingers, crazy long hair and snarky smiles. I guess they took occasional pride in my test scores, grades, and the odd student award (back when I still tried for those). But most of all, I think they recognized a loneliness that was truly theirs, a solitude I boxed into a stillness that, by then, Dad found particularly vexing. To hear my scorpion-like relatives dish, I was twice the junior achiever my parents ever dreamt of becoming. But I felt like I was half the child.
When I was little, it seemed like I got every toy on the market for Christmas, and I won't lie to you that the birthday parties I had on the old Comiskey Park upper decks weren't cool, because they were. But, nowadays, it was hard not to feel empty-handed, no matter how much of the shit that crammed the house was mine. All I had left was a wannabe yuppie diner tycoon who I hardly ever saw and some ER czarina who, when no one was looking, had become a crack suburban butterfly at the drop of a cocktail olive.
Oh, yeah, and I had silence. Boy, did I have that. Use it, too, I did. Dad felt that athletic silence and had begun to lash out at it. Mom sure didn't. She ignored the hostile quiets and the closed doors and the scheduled late arrivals from school with the vapid aplomb of a true baby boomer.
I'd have sold my soul to the devil for either of them to show up when I was performing in a school play or diving in a swim meet. I'd even throw in a few of my Opening Day memories for a joint parental appearance, since the White Sox usually lost their home openers, anyway. You know, just to prove to the rest of the world I had a couple of parents, too. But on the rare, latter-day occasions they had put in an appearance together, it was only by accident - as in, car accident. You always knew when they were within striking distance of the other, because you could cut the tension in the air with a butter knife. Which would’ve cut better than our Resurrection Special turkey.
The only saving grace to the whole meal was Mom's homemade bread, a recipe given to her by one of the (many) foster parents who’d raised her. It certainly wasn't my feeble attempt to pretend any of us had many things to be thankful for that risen morn. "Hey, I finished a poem today," I said deliberately. "It's for our Shakespeare Fest at school. I used bits of his sonnets to make something of my own. Want to hear it later?"
"Nice to know you’re actually doing some school work this semester. Will I be able to hear it over the radio?" Wow. Dad even looked at me when he spoke. I stared back at him. His eyes used to be clear and sharp when he wasn’t far from the sea. Now they were always tired, and angry.
"Maybe later, baby. Let's finish eating first." Why, Mom? You don't look like you want to, either.
"I'm finished now." My voice was harsh and abrupt. All I could hear was a fork hitting a plate and the baseball game glacially unfolding in the distance of the family room. Even my uneaten food looked cross with me.
"Finished, huh? Well, so am I, especially with that attitude of yours."
"Let it go, Simon. We're all bushed right now."
"Tired of what, Rika?" Dad perked up with vehemence. "You said you're tired of waiting for me to get home every night. Well, I'm home, honey. Can't I be tired of something, too?”
"No, Simon. Just let the whole Godforsaken thing go. You're not in front of some Teamster or soccer mom who is impressed by you, so ease up on the dramatics and the good china."
Me and my parents may have been praying (or pretending to) in the same pew earlier that morning, but we were in segregated metaphysical eateries once we’d taken our first bite of bad food. By the time I went to leave the room, I think we’d drifted into separate time zones.
Dad's taut hand grabbed my sleeve and pulled me back down. I stared at my lap while he snarled, "I'll tell you what else I'm tired of, Rika. I'm tired of my son walking away from me, closing some door in my face, not talking to me for days on end, or locking himself up wherever he can't see me. I'm tired of getting home just in time for you to go out and do whatever you do with those silly bitches you work out and drink with. And I'm really tired of coming home and feeling like I went through a vortex and ended up back at the fucking diner!"
I pulled my arm out of Dad's grip and met his raging glower with my own. Mom looked at her husband as if he were an alien life form. Stuffed with home-made bread and milk, my stomach still ached. My bottom lip began to quiver again. I'd heard them do low-intensity battle for years. I'd gotten used to the incessant yelling and swearing. I’d catalogued the broken knick-knacks and disappearing photo-frames and suffered through more silent meals than I could remember. I’d heard it coming. Hell, I’d felt it coming, but, when it finally came that barren Easter, I felt frightened and apart from the two people who used to cuddle me to sleep between them.
Incredibly, Mom's eyes began to fill. I didn't know they even did that! The gesture wore badly on her. On the other side of no man's land, I could almost hear 'Victory at Sea' caterwauling in Dad's mind. Simon and Frederika Strasse's cold war had become a wretched sight, and I said so. "I'm tired, too, Dad. I'm fucking tired of both of you."
The flat of Dad's hand sailed across my face. It sounded like a rifle shot. The corner of my lip split on my front teeth from the blow. I let out a single, soft cry as I landed under the dinner table.
Dad never used to touch me when I was little, never, no matter how much of a brat I was. But that was then. No longer taken for cute, my changed voice and rebuttals and commentaries were now getting me slapped.
With as much dignity as I could muster, I stood up and strode out of the room. The verbal fusillade that erupted in my wake was notable only in that it was slow in getting started.
I locked myself in my bedroom and started streaming for some psychic cover. Mom had logged onto one of her pet classical sites. My psychedelic screen saver was more than enough light for the kind of night I was in for. I left the volume so loud I couldn't hear anything unpleasant like knocks on the door or my own rattled thoughts. Mozart's bauble, Cosi fan Tutte, struggled to anesthetize the family scab unpeeling around me.
In case anyone broke down the door to throw me out of the house, I kept my clothes on and sprawled out over the covers. Pretty soon, I buried my head in the stack of pillows, trying hard not to cry like some goo-goo fairy. The effort made the sobs which eventually came that much more hurting.
The cold jaws of the past winter closed around me. The sofa bed lay splintered in toothpick-like pieces all over the backyard. All my clothes and blankets had been torn off. The blackest sky of the longest night I had ever endured swallowed my R.E.M. vision whole. No sound, no music, nothing, except for a boy’s thin, ghostly white arms reaching out from the muddy soil under me. My lips touched a lone snowflake on his cheeks, but it tasted like blood. He nuzzled his face under mine. And then he kissed me, just below the lips, on each cheek, the forehead, and my ear lobes, which he nibbled in turn to my obvious thrill. Tears ran down his cadaverous face, each one in turn making its way into my collar, crawling down my shirt like a centipede. Our out-of-synch bodies rocked back and forth before he whispered: "Why didn't you come? You were my best friend. Why'd you let me die alone?"
I woke up on the floor. My face and pillows were damp with sweat. I got to my feet, pulled open a window, and stared at our empty backyard until I could stop shuddering. The sky outside was as black and starless as it was in my bad dream. I stripped while a deep-voiced announcer read a brief news update.
Back in the rickety womb of blanket and bed-sheet, I heard all the warm notes to one of Haydn’s thousand or so symphonies, but I wasn't really listening. I guess God had decided it was time for me to learn how awful mutual silence sounds in the absence of useless words or unfulfilled time.
I needed a quart of something to help me sleep, but wasn’t about to leave the relative safety of my room to get it. It was nearly light before my first yawn.
It was to be my last day as a freshman. Fresh man, no longer. Fuck.
While walking through a slobbering downpour to my Chicago-bound commuter train, I passed a young couple making out in the padlocked doorway of a derelict park field house. The girl went to the local high school. I didn't recognize the beefy red-head that was devouring her mouth. He didn't look very bright. She had a boy's hair-cut and a full chest that pushed out of her tight sweater. She was all but mounted around the guy's lap, half inside of his quaint lettered jacket. He held her waist with one hand and rubbed inside her legs with the other. I could hear their sucking lips over the rain.
The jock checked me out as I hurried past. I tried to look away from his dozy eyes, but couldn't. I slipped in a small patch of mud and landed painfully on my knees. The locals stopped kissing. Their faces were red from the rainy chill and wet with saliva. I felt like a clumsy kindergartner snapping his first crayon in half. I scrambled up and ran the rest of the way to the station.
I peeked around the corner of the platform stairway and stared at them miserably. They continued to kiss each other as if an Iranian nuclear attack was coming.
Like a boob, I slept through my school stop and ended up downtown. Oh, well.
My mind was seeping into a daze fed by a mordant French film I had just seen at the Music Box, an ornate boutique movie house on the near North Side. Aside from the non-mainstream fare, the Box was also ideal, in that it was a very long way from home.
I slipped in my second mud patch of the day and collided with a hefty Uncle Sam look-a-like before landing on the sodden city sidewalk ass-first. He rang his collection bell directly over me. People, taxis, and rush hour buses continued their ballet of the living dead while I used the man's collection bucket to get up. I shook the drizzle off my face and strayed back toward my hours-long slog home.
A long procession of shoppers, commuters, and worker-bees passed through the subway men's room before I finally entered the gamy alcove. I had my choice between a kids' height urinal and an enclosed stall being vacated by a young guy with a deep, unseasonable tan. We bumped into each other as I went for the stall.
His ginger face was on my mind as I released an afternoon's worth of movie theater Coke. No sooner had I left the Gents when he sprang up behind me with a train pass in his hand. "You dropped this near the sink in there," he said. I confirmed my commuter pass was missing from the pockets of my clammy pea coat and thanked him quickly. "I'd be walking home without this!" I then found a hand and a grin being offered to me. I took both maladroitly.
The guy's bulky satchel made him look like one of the scholars from the old university my high school was a small part of, that is, a scholar on a way lower fashion budget. The heap of ill-matched layers was a hand-painted sign that sang ‘Thrift store!’ A raggedy tweed coat rounded out the ensemble. "I see you're going south," he said. Truer words were never spoken, I thought. "I have friends from way out there, too.”
We fell behind the impatient rush bustling around us. "I’m catching up on my foreign movies.”
“You’re in the right neighborhood for it! Aren’t you sticking around? Friday night rocks around here, even in the rain.” He bore into my eyes again, adding, "Hey, I've been on the go all day. I know a good place for coffee not too far from here. You eat?"
My lunch of day-old theater popcorn and nuked hot dogs moved anxiously inside of me. "I haven’t had dinner yet, no." The rain elbowed us into the narrow doorway of a vacant office. Our glances started rubbing shoulders. Wood was stirring inside of my latest new pair of jeans from Mom. Between this young, dark, hot guy and the damp, shadowy city beyond, the guy felt safer. “Do you have a car?”
Between the rusted edges, dented fenders, and various scrapes and scratches, you could almost make out the very early model Jaguar’s original British Racing Green body color, even though this Brit's racing days were long since over. The car didn't look, feel, or sound like it would start; yet there we were, cruising down the Dan Ryan and then Calumet Expressways as he talked nineteen to the dozen about my face and long hair, his photography, how nice it was to meet someone other than a snooty classmate, and how sorry he was about coming on to under-aged me in the guise of dinner, as if I gave a flying circus fuck about that.
I directed him to turn off at East 115th Street, a few short blocks from Mom and Dad’s old Pullman six-flat. “I thought you lived a lot further out,” he said.
I half-heartedly brushed his hand away from the button-fly of my jeans, but wished I hadn’t. “This is my old neighborhood,” I lied.
“Oh.” I navigated us to a row of houses that were a good fifty years past their demolish-by dates. The car bounced from one pot hole to the next until we reached an alley of tiny garages with graffiti-stained wooden doors, crouching in a blind spot behind the Pullman District police headquarters. “This looks like a good place to kill someone,” he joked.
“You’d be surprised how many old nooks and crannies there are all over the South Side just like this,” I said. Secret yet out in the open, right under every-one’s nose, Like my whole family, I thought.
My ride kissed me on the lips, but I kept my mouth closed. I felt wobbly in my torn leather seat. “You’re hot.” Gasp. The remark exploded in my stomach much like steaming soup. "I mean it," he insisted, touching my petrified arm to reinforce his point. I barely heard him add, "Lots going on under all that hair." My fingers dove into his mop of curls when his mouth closed back over mine. The windshield’s drizzly silence made our slurping ricochet in my ears. I was dizzy when we finally stopped for air. I couldn't feel a molecule of oxygen anywhere in my body. My empty stomach gurgled when his hand moved along the inside seam of my pants. His vaguely shaved cheeks and grown-up scent electrified me. So did the feel of his hand. Glancing into the dark around us, he worked my zipper open and closed his hand around me.
With sweat and juice slathered inside my jeans, I staggered to the Illinois Central station a few blocks away. I never had a chance to ask him for the hug I suddenly realized I craved far more than my debut tug. My legs shook as they pumped harder and harder. I didn’t realize I was crying until a hard-faced old woman already waiting on the platform dug into her purse and shoved a wad of Kleenex into my trembling hands. Except for the arriving clatter of my train, Simon and Rika’s old Pullman was unmusically silent.
An imaginary boyfriend blew me a phantom kiss through the glass porthole as my train jerked forward and headed south. Without a very good grip on the safety rail, I lit up a fat one on the tiny open walkway between train cars and was comprehensively buzzed before I got home.
When I came to the next morning, Dad had dropped his birthday card from me on the family room’s old rug, next to my itching face.
The walk-up apartment was as scary as the side street. Every step brought a new, agonizing squeak from the floorboards. The paint peeled from the buckled plaster as you went past. The single uncovered light bulb in the hallway was the hub of an arterial made up of spider webs. Exhausted bed sheets hung from the curtain rods instead of curtains, moving as if ghosts were waltzing inside of them. It was the only reminder of a world lurking outside where I stood.
First he offered me an icy bottle of water, then beer. I declined both. He knelt down beside me on the bean-bag divan and said, "I hope you don’t mind the heat in here. I like hanging out nude, so I don’t have a/c. The turn-on’s my muse, I guess." I shook my head, wowed by his ermine admission. The room's severe light wracked the long silence that followed. "So, handsome, are you ready to make some art?”
I bobbed my chin, downed half the water in one gulp, and stripped with my heart pumping.
"See this camera? It's how I touch the world,” he murmured. “Some cultures think a picture steals your soul. They're wrong. Pictures deify the beauty inside you, the beauty I'm not man enough to answer. Or say no to."
I struggled to smile. In fact, I was struggling to focus as he gathered up my clothes and carried them out of the room. He was gone for a long time. Suddenly, I could barely keep my eyes open. I plopped onto the bean-bag and finished the bottle of water before he returned. Why wasn’t he getting undressed, too? All he had taken off was his belt, which hung like a long, black snake from his hand. I was going to ask him to kiss me goodbye before I blacked out.
Dusk was already overtaking the city by the time the very used Jaguar pitched to a halt at Randolph Street Station downtown. Streetlights started firing up all around us. Neither of us knew what to say to the other as the sedan idled with a few coughs and much general smolder. I almost broke both of our noses trying to kiss him goodbye. The rough contact ended when he abruptly withdrew. We waved goodbye in lieu of any other good idea. He drove off as if he would see me again tomorrow morning, leaving me to face my long, hard journey home alone.
I was the last passenger to step into the commuter train before last whistle. I took the nearest open bench, listening to the mechanical echoes of the train creeping out of the underground terminal. I studied my reflection in the dark Plexiglas while the city's ugly orange streetlights flew past my stony teenaged mug like slow comets. The nearly empty caravan gradually picked up speed, rolling through the brick hedgerows of Chicago's South Side out to the sterile suburbs beyond.
I had a two day old text:
I'll be spending the rest of the weekend with the Kasza's. There's food money in the stationary drawer. I waited for you to come home. I thought you were coming with me. Your dad.
I was so hungry I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten. Was it really two days? Christ. I felt unbelievably grubby too, inside and out. The quick lukewarm bath I took before leaving his apartment hadn't helped. The biggest, longest, most painful erection I ever had smashed against the fabric of my hastily washed jeans for most of the ride home. It shriveled like a raisin in the sun the minute I saw Dad's car waiting in grim vigil at my terminus.
He’d been restoring the old Stingray as long as I’d been on this earth, probably to avoid coming in the house too much. The sleek Chevrolet tore through our dull near-rural heath as if Dad were competing at Le Mans. I wondered if his maniacal grip wouldn't pry the custom steering wheel into pieces before we got home. The car screeched into our driveway much the same way Dad asked, "Where've you been?"
I’m fine, thanks. "Please. What do you care?"
Dad's Navy signet caught the edge of my teeth as his fist shot sideways and sent my face into the passenger's side window. I had no time to react to the blow before I was being dragged by two handfuls of unwashed hair across the gravel driveway and into the house. I began to kick and scream by the time I was manhandled into the family room and thrown toward the idle fireplace like a pillow.
Imaginary flames licked my eyes before I sprung backward with a brass poker in my hands. Dad's knees buckled as the frenzied baton swung into them. I landed a second good clout across the back of his neck before an unseen force wrested the poker from my fingers and sent me forehead-first into the stone base of the fireplace.
Bloody stains had glued my wrinkled shirt to my chest. I tried to ignore the same stomach-turning stickiness elsewhere. The bogus earth-toned sight of the family room made me feel even dizzier.
"He'll be fine. There doesn't seem to be any serious damage, except for all this blood." Doctor Gerald smiled down at me while his vanilla cone hands put the final touches on the stitches I felt along my hairline. "If you're going to wrestle with your boy, Simon, do it outside. Any deeper and this would have been bad."
Dad said something pleasant to my departing pediatrician that I wasn't listening to. I squinted around for the poker, but saw no sign of it. I closed my eyes altogether when Dad returned and knelt beside me, eventually asking how I was. "Just leave me alone," I muttered.
"I'm sorry." A needle of fear punctured my thin armor as Dad massaged the side of my face. I bitterly resented the flinch that showed my fright to him, even as I fought to reject the warmth inside his stroke. Then, I thought I heard him say, "Your mom is gone."
My eyes opened. "She's gone," Dad gulped again. "Her closets and dressers are empty. The only thing left in the bedroom is the damn bed. Even the sheets, they’re all gone." Simon Strasse laughed without much hint of humor. "She must've been busy last night."
My mind took a ride on the Tilt-a-Whirl. "A classmate invited me to sleep over at his place," I squeaked defensively.
After much subsequent silence, The Dad murmured, "You're all I've got left." He avoided my fierce glare before adding, "I love you, Miles."
"You love me, huh?" I shook off my father's helpful hand and clambered painfully off of the sofa. The buttons flew off my ruined button-down as I tore it off and threw it at the dusty fireplace. "I'll kill you if you ever touch me again."
He let me hobble past him without a reply.
I started and re-started a poem I didn't like in a little leather blank book I'd given The Mom for last Mother's Day. I guess she missed it in her exodus.
I plunged from the hydraulic rear gate of the CTA bus before it had stopped moving. A couple of side streets later, I found myself staring at a procession of parked cars that did not include an early-model Jaguar. There was no sign of the sedan in any of the nearby garages. Nobody answered his doorbell. Yesterday’s mail billowed from his porch box. I walked up and down the block, calling him every five minutes like clockwork, but there was no answer on his end or a ringing phone on mine. I punched the side of the gentrified tenement before I left for good.
A voice that sounded like it didn’t want to grow up started calling me. “Hey, dude, you want a lift or what?” Three skinny guys around my age hung out of the back of a limo. They waved their shirts in visibly high spirits, gesturing for me to crash their ride. I could feel sand from the beach between my toes; I’m sure I was sunburned, too. I smelled like sweat, sun-block, and moldy weed. How long had I been drifting up and down the steamy sidewalk? God, talk about a bad trip.
The horn-honking lakefront traffic didn’t appreciate the holdup. The limo cut off a CTA bus as it pulled away from the curb. One of the boys yelled, “Stupid bitch!” at me.
The evening sun played hide-and-seek with the rain clouds gathering across the sky. I shambled back to the beach, curled up on my damp towel with the back-pack standing in for a pillow, and waited vaguely for the flies and mosquitoes, local homeless, and Lake Shore Drive to pipe down long enough for me to pass out again.
“Where the hell have you been all night? I was worried sick about you! Couldn’t you leave me a note or call? Jesus Christ, did you sleep in those clothes? You look like ghetto trash in those ugly long shorts and muscle shirt. Where’s the new bathing suit I bought you for your birthday? I almost called the police, God damn it!”
Barely able to stand, I sighed, “I went camping.”
Dad screamed, “Camping?”
I thought my head was going to explode, that, or it was gonna get hurled straight through the drywall of the kitchen. I wasn’t sure I was speaking aloud, even though my mouth felt like it was trying to move. My hands waved back and forth, trying to find something to lean on, to help keep me upright. I couldn’t even tell if the seashell-like hum in my ears was actually my dad’s voice, but I moved closer to it, just the same.
Dad caught me before I crashed straight to the carpet. That’s the last thing I remember from that morning. I thought I might have heard one of us cry out before I blacked out for good, but there’s no telling. When I finally woke up, hours, maybe even days later, I had been freshly scrubbed down and showered, stuffed into a clean pair of
jeans I’d never seen before, and gift-wrapped inside my father’s arms in the middle of his helicopter pad of a bed.
On the radio, one of the thousand or so Strauss waltzes twirled in the background. I tried not to wake him as sobs and dry heaves began a pas-de-deux from inside my gullet.
In the recesses of my mind, I decided I’d buy The Dad some new sheets when I did my back-to-school shopping.
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Copyright 2009 by Adam Henry Carriere
The Bicycle Review is edited, curated, and published by J de Salvo