Rook by Roy Bentley
Our across-the-street neighbors—the Langfords and
the Collivers—are coming up the driveway for some
more of the Girls against the Guys. My pops lights up.
My mother Nettie lights up, too. They each exhale—
my parents. Nettie’s east-Kentucky drawl overheard
above a house filling with other voices. My mother
lives to Shoot the Moon, her bid a prearranged sign
for Lucille Langford or Evelyn Colliver. I ask rules.
I’m aware she’ll cheat to win, my mother, having
come from nothing in a country where Having
is everything. She’s cheated, my mother. Evelyn
warbles out a remark—at which point my pops
heads to the fridge for a beer; riffing how if
there is a Hell, Elvis will assuredly escape it.
In Ohio, nineteen sixty-nine is easy. There is
laughter and beer and Rook. And lots of love
since you can’t live without it, love, and these
Baptists aren’t drinking or drinking that much—
Dallas Langford hates losing or he hates losing
to Nettie. Dallas frowns and shakes his head like
Nettie’s thieved the light from the room, instead
of having just won where winning is everything.
I’d love to play Dallas the Rolling Stones, their
song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”—
if America is looking for a replacement anthem,
and it should be, falling short should get a look.
All I hear now is Evelyn’s smoker’s cough and
my mother’s laugh cracking the glass ceiling
of winning and losing and making the rules
or making rules bend like so much smoke.
Turtle Justice by Keith Mark Gaboury
After Pablo Neruda's Book of Questions
And the Turtle replied:
I saw my mother burn
in a forest fire
birthed by the flick of a cigarette.
I tried to reason with Fire
but Fire wouldn’t listen to my turtle speak
when Fire’s flame-bone body
climbed trunks to suffocate leaves.
Below Fire, my mother's body
consumed in black
char that gives no nod
to the memory
of when I first poked
my head out of my shell
as she smiled on a bed
of orange leaves.
After the firefighter's spray
I waddled to the Turtle Police Station
to demand they arrest Fire.
Fire killed my mother
I spat at the timber front desk
but the secretary said
we can't arrest a Fire that died.
That Fire's ghost
roams through the black forest
where my mother screams.
I'm the only one who listens.
The Love of Trees is an Adult Love by Jennifer Martelli
Women have limbs and so does the maple.
The tree guy climbed in her hair with his saw.
The other maples nearby entwined their branches over her,
made a canopy for privacy, let loose their chemical volatiles.
The leaves grew deep, deep green with tannin.
It was as if the trees read our lips
from their side of the fence, through our glass doors,
and knew what we had planned. They alerted each other.
Then, the willows cross town sent their sugar through the roots
to heal her exposed wound: her innards glowing white on her stumpy trunk.
She received nectar from the larch one block up
by the beach to balance her: all no-arms and lop-sided.
Even the old mottled oak who always sleeps sent forth the worms
and green moths to bind her.
MARITAL STATUS by Louis Faber
Earth, we are told, is a mother
rendering up her fruits
guava, broccoli, kiwi
carrots from her pores
curry, anise, cayenne,
the olive, mustard seed
while God, the stern father
who expects, demands
who proscribes conduct
obeisance from his flock
and they, from theirs.
It is little wonder
divorce is pending,
the children are all grown.
Shibboleth by Steven Deutsch
“You even changed
the names of the fucking streets,”
Andy told us over beers
a few weeks after he’d come home.
It was not the homecoming
a ticker tape parade perhaps—
the high school marching band,
cheerleaders, and the glee club
when our Most Likely to Succeed,
1992, made his way back home.
Instead, he crept back,
like a dog too often beaten,
nursing a fragile recovery
from the drug of the month club—
living with his mom,
and reporting to a parole officer
he had once dated.
“It’s all changed,”
Andy told us,
as we sat in a bar that hadn’t
changed in thirty years—
same worn booths,
“And the people,”
he said, followed by a terrific swig
that had his Adam’s apple
“it’s as if they’ve forgotten
how to talk—
in grunts, grimaces
Not a grimace
in the group.
“I remember that burp,”
Andy said with the laugh
we knew so well.
added a wink,
and bought the next round.
After Her Accident by CL Liedekev
I know it’s not what we choose.
Your separated tendons, the steering
wheel’s attempted kill mounted in your breast.
You are now just a limb, a dragging mass of foot.
Shoe edges worn jagged into a guard rail.
Broken stigmata of your human trinity:
of warranty and time and pain.
Each morning, an hour before drapes
disappoint your dreams, our cat
forces the door open and buries its hunger
into my chest. Over and over, the soft
measured paws do the job of any pickaxe.
My envy sits up from its sleep, smiles over
the crick in its neck, and slinks out first.
I pack the overnight bag. After dinner,
the low racket of your metal frame
and cleaning glasses climbs the stairs,
step by step with the gait of a movie killer.
I speed up, toss in belt and knife whatever fits
into this end. Anything no longer you. Escape
becomes an accident of language.
Come Hither Oblivion by Ludo Braca
If you want me
To be happy
Get me a burrito
Filled with french fries
And in return
There will be sex
Glazed over thick
In wild saliva
Sloppy like you
And I won't remember
Any of this
Which is how I like it
And some of why you will
To please me
Otherwise I'll leave
In fact I'd rather
You already know
Is some of why
I'll drink most
Of this yellow liquor
One more time
It's also yours
Poem for Sonia Delaunay (who is wow) by Jones Irwin
After Tristan Tzara
The Angel slides two long fingers into Sonia
Into her luscious basket of open fruit
He wants to make a hand poem which
Will screech like auto-tyres
In a handbrake turn of her vertiginous human heart
Comcast Carmen by Morgan Boyer
Ironclad pots of once-warmed water
break like brittle bones of a Vietnam vet
as the temp drops to below zero
beyond the black-tinted window
across the frost-frazzled street,
in the Greentree police office
next to Comcast’s castle
was a chimney whose smoke
arose against a seemingly endless
night. Its reddish-pink hue danced
like a post-modern Carmen
flocking on a Comcast’s
conference table, unbuttoning
the oxford shirts of the salarymen,
reminding them of what unfiltered
desire feels like before
it's taxed by the reality of adulthood.
THE GIANT ALWAYS WINS by Brian Yapko
I can’t say if he floated out with the sighing relief of an
untethered balloon or if he soared with the directional
purpose of a crow fleeing an angry farmer. It had been ten
years since our last collision. I can’t prove whether he left
skinny and full of needles like some cactus from the sonora
desert, or waterfat and scarred like a baobab. What did Jack’s
rasping voice sound like before this happened? What cadaverous
emptiness haunted his eyes? If not for Facebook I wouldn’t
know. I remember the strange staccatos of Jack’s rambling
words as he alleged cash stolen, supplies counterfeited, voices
telling him his life, fearsome demons whispering the betrayal
of unseen conspirators stalking him from the bushes. His
brother posted his picture. The blankness of his blotchy face
was worse than rage or hate. Jack was a cipher, the cracked
plaster of a would-be fresco that never took on the artist’s
paint because it was on the wrong side of Vesuvius. Jack
liked to travel even with his habit – places that had edge.
He liked the Breaking Bad tour where he could experience
first hand everything that he experienced first hand. He once
told me that he lived on one end of a see-saw, that everything,
all the ups and downs, depended on where you sat relative
to the fulcrum. But what happens when you’re propelled
headfirst into the smoggy oblivion of L.A. by the tonnage
of a giant? Jack learned the hard way. The giant always win.
Reclamation by Jules Jacob
Hands-clasped prayers, greed
naivety, fervency /lit & laid
on fallow ground
for revival-green conversion.
Saplings, roots fungi
slashed or burned
larks’ beaks /open
to claim last songs.
Ashes coat exhausted terrain
pinegrass seeds /seek an out
rain drenches / water-runs-thru
charred cells & cyanide slurry.
THAT DAY IN PRILEP by Niels Hav
Ask all the bald idiots
with hair in their coffee,
who pollute the planet with poetry:
If the dead are allowed
to wear clothes in heaven,
will Katja then wear the dress she got
that day in Prilep?
At the last stop before the mountain pass
they got a ride with a deputy director
from The World Bank. No, it wasn't me,
I was too much of a coward
just like you.
The Acropolis Express that night
from Skopje station was packed with teenagers
and soldiers. Without a reservation I was
redundant like a flasher in kindergarten,
I could just listen, the confidence was so high
to the lottery. Here are the winnings:
I found a hair in my coffee like another idiot
and wrote a poem, so if the dead are allowed
to wear clothes in heaven,
maybe Katja will wear the dress
she got that day in Prilep.
Spring again by Sha Huang
It’s just early March:
Wild green onions crawling on the hill
Weed invading every yard
Along the road
cherry trees setting off fireworks
Rain sneaks around the night
I thought only dreams can hear it running through the roof
but now its rapid footsteps are echoing in your chest
while my chest swells with pain
as if something is going to sprout and grow
No one can survive
The violence of spring
Confession on Friday the 13th, 2020 by Lindsey O’Neill
Forgive me father, for I have sinned—it’s been six days since I wrote my last poem, too many years since my last confession. Still, you sent me gifts last week that make turning towards my solitude so much less lonely—the 11pm South Korea student who signs up for my 10am tutoring, who, before the age of 20, has already served in the military. I teach him consistency in verb tenses and where articles are placed, help him write his story about night watch duty, then an essay about PTSD. Is that what we all have now, or what will be? He says that even though symptoms aren’t through a character— I’m suggesting there’s a better way to say it prepositionally—that through is how to say it more poetically. He says my hair looks different today, in volume, and I’m grateful that someone can see me laugh through the looking glass in all this social distancing. The second present was the woman from China who has stayed in the USA, stayed after I read through her internship essay, building sentences from Chinese to English grammatically. She asked to hear my poem-song, the guitar I’m teaching myself to play; she clapped delicately. And recommended a metronome to increase my chord changes’ efficiency. She reflected my vulnerability back to me, learning how to speak a new language with my hands while my tongue sits in my mouth so much of the day so quietly. And even though at the end of the week I had to rest for a few moments in plank on my knees, the barre teacher still said I was steady, how she liked my shoulder tattoo, the way it matched my face mask—I think she meant the phoenix wings reach just like the jungle leaves. Still, I went home and burned my grilled cheese. But there was also the colleague last week who sent me imperfect gems to listen to, a thank you for reminding him of an I-Can’t-Make-You-Love-Me cover, with its out-of-tune piano and wounded frailty. You’ve sent me these mirrorings as if to say I don’t have to live distal from myself, from you, even in this COVID city, as if forgiving me for quitting church choir—so afraid of being heard or seen—forgiving me, for all the trouble I’ve had receiving from you, unguiltily.
LAST MOMENTS by C.W. Bigelow
Ken wore his favorite tie, the brown paisley, wound in a Windsor knot over his cream shirt and of course, the brown Harris Tweed sportscoat. He sat down on the head of his bed to pour a glass of wine from the two-gallon jug of Chablis he had picked up the day before at Rimsky’s Liquors after stopping by The Cellar. He hadn’t been to his neighborhood bar for a month and felt he deserved a martini. It was a large expenditure, but it was a big occasion.
It was noon and his packet of Saltines was on the bedside table. August sunshine streamed through the windows of his one room flat, landing on the Philadelphia Inquirer that he had already read from first page to last as he did each day.
In minutes the mail carrier would pull up to the building and he planned to waddle down the stairs to letterbox number three to collect his weekly paycheck from the courthouse where he had worked as a tipstaff for the previous fifteen years. He had landed the job because he was
acquainted with Judge Randy Collins Jr., who was the youngest son of one of his roommates at University of Virginia. There weren’t many jobs offered to seventy-year old people. Judge Collins had just retired which meant Ken was out of a job. It was his last paycheck, and his minimal social security check would then be his only means of support.
Randy Collins was one of the thirty friends he took on a cruise after his mother died. He often recalled that cruise when the sun shined into the apartment windows. But especially that morning. It was a highlight. It was also expensive but each and everyone loved the cruise to the
Bahamas. He had taken a lot of flak from his siblings who were now all dead. They called it a waste of money, but it was a fine cruise. Each one of the thirty said they had a great time. He was bringing in the dough at that point, so nothing out of his pocket really. His mother had split the
inheritance evenly. He didn’t need it. Why not reward his friends. He loved recalling their surprised reactions to the invitation, and some even offered to pay their own way, but it was on him. It was really on his mother.
The screech of the mail truck’s brakes resounded as he washed down a bite of saltine with a sip of Chablis. He put the glass on the table and rose slowly to grab his mailbox key. An electric shock coursed hotly from his right arm into his chest causing him to bite through his tongue. As he dropped, the items in the room drifted slowly in front of him as though they were projected on an IMAX movie screen.
The deep closet next to the open toilet and sink where his suits were arranged by color. Each was decades old, even the ones he took from his brother-in-law after he died of cancer ten years before. The door was always open because it made the flat seem more spacious. A single light bulb hanging from a black electric cord illuminated the array of wool, polyester, and cotton. They brought back a more successful time and always brought a smile to his face.
The bunched white sheets at the end of his childhood bed he took from his mother’s house when she died forty years before. It was in storage for five years before losing both his job at the firm and his spacious apartment on the top floor of Hull House. The sheets reminded him of piles of snow on the street where they lived. He used to spend hours sitting in a chair on the covered porch listening to sports on the radio, wrapped in a blanket in winter listening to the Eagles, or sweating during the summer listening to the Phillies.
The hot plate on which he cooked his Minute Rice and hard- boiled eggs after three glasses of Chablis each night sat atop the mini fridge in which he stored one jug of wine, eggs, and butter. Minute rice was nothing without butter.
And the reflection of his greased back thinning hair atop his flushed, paunchy cheeks shined in the mirror above his boyhood dresser. Sitting on that dresser was his most prized position – a baseball in a glass circular container with all the Philadelphia Phillies signatures when they lost 109 games in 1942, the year he enlisted in the Marines. He purchased it at a sports auction when he could afford such frivolous things and drank gin martinis with clients who invested their money with him. Those were the days they were happy with his performance.
The crumbling backing of his area rug approached quickly before the metal radiator received his face with the same sharp crack a catcher’s mitt received a live fastball and sent him into death quicker than the explosive heart attack.
It took three days for his next-door neighbor Bob to knock on the door. When there was no response he opened it with the spare key he kept just as Ken kept a copy of Bob’s and upon entry was smacked aggressively by the sharp sourness of decomposition and gagged at the sight of an unrecognizable bloated body before grabbing car keys off the hook to drive to the liquor store. Ken let Bob borrow the car if he threw in some gas every so often. Breathing through his mouth, he said, “Sorry you had to go this way, Buddy. But I guess it’s not all bad, as demises go,” he sighed. “Sun is shining. Your next cruise has begun.”
Bob was much younger and had met Ken when he moved into the building. He listened to all the stories and often told him he wished he’d been one of the friends who got to go on the cruise. He noticed Ken’s wallet on the dresser and stepped carefully over the body. He ignored his reflection in the dresser mirror as he pulled four dollars from it. He knew he’d never fit into any of Ken’s clothes, so didn’t bother to look in the closet. He grabbed the bottle of Chablis off the bedside table and stepped back into the hallway where he took a deep breath before entering his own apartment to stick the Chablis into his fridge and call the police.
LOSING OUR MARBLES by Anne Connor
“Loneliness during pandemic can lead to memory loss.” –AARP headline
Scientists warn that the pandemic lockdown may have affected our memory. I read that somewhere, sometime last year.
The other day I was on the phone with my mother, helping her through the 45-minute process of changing a website password. Planning a nice egg salad, she had left a pan full of eggs boiling on the stove. About 20 minutes into the call, she said, “Oh, my God,” dropped the phone, and ran. In the background, I heard a series of pops, like small arms fire. Naturally, I hung up and called her back.
When the water boils off, eggs in a pan superheat and explode, launching themselves like missiles. Her kitchen dripped in yellow slime, festooned with scorched bits of eggshell. The walls, the windows, the ceiling, the cooking utensils in their jars—nothing was spared. She wasn’t sure if the sulfurous odor was egg-based or if she had descended into hell. Take my word for it; this is one experiment you don’t need to replicate.
Whenever I step away from the stove, I now say, “Off, off, off, off, off,” as I read the burner and oven settings aloud. I may not remember to turn off the stove, but at least I have a strategy for checking. My mother taught me that.
And my mother’s not the only one forgetting things. Yesterday I wrestled my kayak onto my roof rack for the first time all season. It had been so long I had to reinvent my tie-down process, but I was proud to display my marlinspike seamanship in an array of sturdy bowline knots.
Alas, pride goeth before a fall. In my case, the fall wenteth about five minutes after I left my house, about the time I hit 50 miles an hour on the state highway. There was an emphatic “thunk,” and my kayak was on the road, skidding alongside me like some weird aquatic sidecar.
The bow and stern lines held—so the kayak did not go through the windshield of my nearest followers—but I had forgotten to install the all-important ratchet straps that kept the kayak in its cradle. This mistake was surprising, as I had thrown a bag containing three sets of
straps into the back seat.
The kayak sustained a few scratches, but my inspection revealed an uncracked hull. Once I stopped shaking, I secured the ratchet straps and continued. At this point, I was less concerned about sinking in a 200-acre pond than I was about losing my marbles. As I pulled onto the highway, something in motion caught my eye. A shiny, rectangular object flew off the roof of my car and skittered away into the weeds. It was the rose gold color of an iPhone.
It turned out to be a beautiful day for a paddle.
When I got home from the kayak trip, I found that my husband had surprised me by building a much-needed extension to our chicken run. Barred rocks are big girls, and our pullets had doubled in size in about a month. I happily left the kayak where it was and loped over to assist. I repeatedly offered gloves while he cursed at the puncture wounds he sustained from the severed wire.
We decided I would be most helpful if I duck-walked under the low wire roof of the run to secure the sides, carrying rocks and logs I retrieved outside. This role had its hazards, including crushed fingers and frequent pecking by the inmates. Finally finished, my husband and I high-fived one another, and I headed inside to wash up.
No sooner was I at the mudroom sink than I heard my husband bellowing for help. We’d spent hours building a secure run, and I had blithely walked off, leaving the gate open. My husband helped me with the ensuing chicken roundup, helpfully humming the guitar solo from “Freebird.”
I don’t know why a social life helps us remember things, but there is no substitute for that precious, woven fabric of relationships that we molted back in 2020. If I can gather back enough of that fabric, maybe I can fashion a new bag to hold my marbles.
Found Money by Richard Wilberg
End of winter and early spring were the best times of year to find pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. Coins of these denominations, and sometimes in my childhood, half-dollars, would poke their formerly shiny faces, dulled by salt and deicers, from disappearing snow at the curb of city streets. As surely as crocus appeared in mother’s garden in March, pennies bloomed on Main Street.
Dropped from pockets, purses, and hands onto city sidewalks, coins disappeared into snow and slush to await my discovery the next spring. Nickels, dimes, and quarters were most plentiful at bus stops and parking meters where commuters or motorists would remove gloves to search pockets and purses for money in the days before credit cards and bus passes. Coins slipped from Wisconsin residents’ cold-numbed hands to the accompaniment of colorful complaints.
Summer also yielded a plentiful supply of lost lucre, especially pennies. Most were pressed by automobile and truck tires into tar and gravel of the country road outside my boyhood home. My pocket knife removed a recalcitrant penny when my fingernail failed. I dreamed of roads studded with pennies that shone like gold in afternoon light – my version of The Yellow Brick Road. I hid my treasure in a quart jar in my bedroom. As soon I had saved enough for candy, I rode my bike to the country store.
In those days I delivered morning newspapers by bicycle house to house. Each Saturday I visited customers to collect for my weekly deliveries, usually in coins. Lincoln wheat pennies, buffalo nickels, and Mercury dimes were my favorites. Occasionally I would receive a pre-war, standing liberty quarter. One morning, a man in a sleeveless white t-shirt smiled and handed me a penny. “This is your tip.” Coins were sorted by denomination, including my tip, and stuffed into separate paper sleeves to deposit at the bank.
What is the value of a penny today? Cumbersome in my pocket, they usually end up in a pile on my bedroom dresser to await a trip to the bank to be machine counted. Most people won’t stop, stoop over, and retrieve a penny from the sidewalk. I saw a man in Chicago move past a penny in a revolving door. When I stopped the revolving door to retrieve my find, shoppers behind me shouted expletives. Other people may purposefully discard pennies to lighten their load. I find more pennies near high schools than around churches or at retail stores, where they are sequestered in a dish near a cash register because a penny is still welcome.
Pennies used to be valued at amusement parks to be crushed by a machine into a commemorative token as a reminder of a visit. I paid more for my token than one cent. My own version of the amusement park crushed-penny was to place a coin on a railroad track and retrieve the flattened, heated shim of copper after a freight train had passed.
“Found money,” mother would say as she picked up a penny on the beach. Found indeed. Were we to define the penny as lost, we might feel obligated to return the coin to the rightful owner. How could this be done? I recall hand-written signs posted on telephone poles urging return of lost pets, often with a reward. I hadn’t seen a sign at the beach requesting return of the lost penny. I considered nailing a sign to the bathhouse wall. Penny found on the beach. Please call 555-1234 and describe your penny to confirm ownership. I feared no one would call.
When is found money actually lost? The first consideration is value. As a boy I discovered a plethora of pennies, nickels, and dimes, too small in value to track down the owner, as the logic of my bathhouse sign idea confirmed. As an adult, however, I infrequently found wadded up dollar bills, probably stuffed into pockets along with coins. A dollar bill may cross the threshold of value but, once again, how does one find the rightful owner? Fortunately, I never found cash of greater value, so my lack of plans for how to find the owner wasn’t a setback for the return of the cash and I didn’t have to confront the moral dilemma of keeping money I knew belonged to someone else.
The second consideration to determine if found money was actually lost is the intention of the person who let go of the cash. If this individual planned that the money would be found, then the money wasn’t lost.
Fifteen years ago, I insulated my attic. I removed tongue-in-grove red pine flooring from our century old home. A 1908 Indian head penny was tucked between the rafters on a cross beam. Did the coin fall from a worker’s pocket in 1923 as he constructed our home? Or did he choose to leave the penny to be found by someone in the future?
If he intended to leave the penny as a gift or as a commemorative token of his work, similar to the penny transformed to a token at the amusement park, then the penny wasn’t lost. Like an improvised time-capsule, he gifted his commemoration to the future.
How many pennies are intentionally left behind for other people to find? These gifts are planned to create joy for people who find the money. What portion of my lifetime pennies saved in the jar in my bedroom were gifts from strangers, intended for my pleasure?
In the mid 70s a legendary real estate investment tycoon in Chicago took frequent morning strolls on LaSalle Street. Some days he handed out ten-dollar bills to strangers who walked by. One never knew when the benefactor would gift his largess.
I replaced the 1908 Indianhead penny from beneath my attic floor with a 1999 Washington quarter dollar and reset the red pine floor board.
The Bloofer Lady by James Roderick Burns
July, 1897 – I am anxious, and it soothes me to express myself here; it is like whispering to one’s self and listening at the same time
MY MIND SAYS it is only a single night, then a day, since I lay abed tended by that strange doctor from Holland, garlanded with blossoms of garlic in a stuffy room, and visited most tenderly by Dr Seward (poor, poor John!) and Arthur, my love. Somewhere, also, my mother lay on her sickbed.
Yet my heart knows the truth of it.
An infinitely-wide green sea washes round these marble walls; an ocean of great and fathomless depths, high jagged peaks, and sounding hollows; a pitiless body of water carrying me hither and yon along a course no man can discern.
It is not unlike our season in Whitby, with dearest Mina, whence she relays the tale of my having walked in my sleep – about the dead and silent town, arriving on the east cliff (so close to the tumble-down stones marking the resting place of those poor souls lost at sea) only to find me in a swoon upon a wooden bench, neck exposed to the wind, shadows gathering around me.
Then, Mina – and where is my dearest friend? – believes me to have been in a sort of trance, some state of curious, biddable sleep, in which my body roamed freely but my mind knew nought of its locomotion, having slipped the moorings and drifted who knew where. There she wrapped me in a shawl, blotted a damp pain at my neck and shod me in her own shoes for the shivering trudge back to our room.
Am I thus unmoored at the present time, in some form of waking sleep?
I recall Mina subsequently departed for Roumania, and her dear Jonathan, pinpointed at last, while I sported round Yorkshire with my love. Mother and I made the trip back to town in more subdued spirits, but thoughts of the long, warm summer’s end and my impending marriage soon dispelled this gloom. Arthur! Where, too, is my husband?
Now nights and days appear to flow so easily, one into another. My room is cold, its marble walls clean in candlelight, yet it does not seem to disturb me. The other occupants barely stir at all. As I brush by for my evening walk, flames in brass sconces wave briefly, dancingly, but such minute fires are of little consequence. Waking, I yearn to break the surface, tread the night unfettered.
The churchyard is autumn-crisp and twilight-quiet. I walk the rows of yew trees, trail my hand over stones with such pleasure in the freedom. Without my noticing, I appear to have passed on to the Heath itself, and it, too, is a small miracle of moon and tingle beneath the soles of my feet.
Towards the north I come across a child, quite small for his age – perhaps five? I am uncertain, and my beloved has not yet communicated his wishes for children – and think only of his mother out in the gloaming, a fever of worry upon her brow.
‘Come, child,’ I say. Perhaps I say it. He comes.
‘Lor, miss,’ says the boy, ‘issen you pretty in yor gown!’
I laugh, and my laughter cascades along the arms with which I reach for him like a string of tinkling fairy-bells. His own arms are stiff, perhaps with cold, but his neck burns with passionate heat.
‘Let us go.’
The Heath whispers as we return to the dark embrace of my sanctuary.
These walks, it seems, have become my anchor. In the marble room all seems awash – brass and candle-gutter, limping blooms, even the iron of the barred-casement running amok in one swirling cosmos of restless water, wherein I drown. But beyond the gates, on the autumnal Heath, lies fixity. I walk between the twin small crosses of the gateposts to a greater cross – of trees and dim horizon – and this movement gathers my wits to something of their former gaiety. How I long to hold Arthur at the close of my wanderings!
I sense little ones abroad in the dark.
They are playing their own game, now, of hide-and-go-seek, or perhaps a newer strain: hide, go seek and leap upon your victim in the guise of a terrible, beautiful, lady. I hear their voices, high as chattering squirrels, amongst the branches. I feel the warmth of their small bodies aglow in the night. I pause, and think of them.
One comes, but does not speak. A girl, this time, four years of age. Her trusting fingers find mine and exclaim at their chill, but I whisper comforts and she willingly slips into my arms, cinching her own about my neck, snuggling close. As we move back over the earth, I feel the heat of life pulsing in her veins. I am joyous for us both.
Between the gates – I swerve, strangely, far from both posts – along the yew path, and we are almost home. But from behind a tomb, tall stones on the other side, emerges a row of dark-clad figures. Ah! Here is the squat doctor, with rusty locks and beetling brows; my handsome Texan, some metal article glinting in the light of his up-swinging lamp; poor Dr Seward; and, there – my Arthur! In a sudden rush of love, I drop the girl to the darkling path.
The world is all aflame, my heart roaring to cinders.
‘Come to me, Arthur. Leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry for you –
come, my husband, come!’
As I sweep towards him on bright wings – and, my whole being rejoicing, he responds! – there comes across the path a brace of nauseous rods; harsh, angular, forged from bolts of sickly light. Like a buoy cast up by a tall, unexpected wave, I rock backwards, towards the wall of my room.
Yet here, too, is terror! The sweet line between door and jamb is smutched with some glowing matter, soft as putty, rancid in my nose. The squat doctor moves round me in an arc, a slim blade rising in his hand. It makes a chink in the line of fouled light and in a moment I am within, the dark whole as a snuffed candle, the odour of aged blooms carrying me to dreams.
It may, then, be more than a night and single day – perhaps weeks, more; I cannot know. I lie beneath my leaden shade, wait for the wash of bottle-green I feel must swallow me. Is there a buoy yet, bobbing on these dark waters? A sweet, barnacled hold to which my fingers might attach, the rest following to some distant and happier place?
I sense a bump and clink, the tiny scrape of match against strike-plate. My heart leaps to Arthur as I open my eyes, but what comes instead is cold, hard, disorientating as any swell on the undefended sea.
I see a great beam, its pointed tip blackened by fire; watch dear fingers close around a handle, hear the distressing, familiar sigh. I wait – a small boat beneath the tallest wave, stalled for a moment, its cavernous green stories poised to crash – for the liberating blow of the hammer.
Lost at Home by Julie Labuszewski
Your husband is lost. It’s Saturday morning. You walk downstairs and see him standing
in the living room, staring out the front window into the empty cul-de-sac.
The youngest child will be leaving for college in a month. The other two have left home
and are on their own.
How can you help?
There are no early morning baseball games to wake up for any more, no teams to cheer
for, no reason to keep score, no hikes to lead, no cookouts or campouts, no pick-ups at friends,
no recitals to attend, no sitting-by-the-front-door wait for kids coming home late, no schedules to
ask about, no calculus problems to figure out.
“Wanna go see a movie?” you ask.
“Nothing worth seeing is showing,” he says.
You make a few suggestions, but you’re certain you’ll never find a movie as good as the
one that stars his three boys.
Light of The Moon by Gillian Wills
A man called for me. There was an urgency in his tone. Several times, I heard ‘Jenny’ bounce off my office walls. I worked in a Music College and there was always a muddle, a crossfire of sound. Today, students chattered outside my window, a soprano sang warm up exercises in the corridor and a pounding doof- doof- doof- came up from the basement. Hearing my name creeped me out but I had no time to dwell on it.
Later, my brain in a fog, it was a steamy day, I carted Music’s mail to next door’s administrative building, hoping a friendly word with Sue, the receptionist, would clear my head. When I saw the framed photo, haloed by golden light on Reception’s counter, my skin prickled. I asked Sue if I could take a closer look.
‘Be my guest.’ She continued to type.
‘Is this photo yours?’
‘Yes. My niece sent it. She’s in London.’
‘D’you know where it was taken?’
‘Sorry, I don’t have a clue.’
I took a closer look. A gleeful young woman held her boyfriend’s hand outside a shop. I didn’t recognise the street, the trees along the sidewalk wore strands of sparkling lights. It was typical of many shopping precincts on London’s outer rim, each with the same franchises and popular shops. But something about the photo captured my attention.
‘Jenny, do you miss London?’
‘No. I go back nearly every year to see my friends and family.’ I was fibbing, the words tripped off my tongue. Today, the longing to be there was intense.
My day ended later than usual. I rushed to the tram, dodged the bustling crowd outside Melbourne’s Arts Centre and threaded my way through a horde of commuters at Flinders Street Station. My feet hurt, I wanted to kick my sandals off and curl up on the couch.
I woke with a start in the early hours. Peter, my partner was staring at me, sitting on my red wicker chair on my side of the bed.
‘Can’t you sleep? What time is it?’ I rubbed my eyes, pulled the curtain back but it was black outside.
‘I’ve been waiting for you to wake.’ I glanced at the faux Railway clock opposite the bed.
‘But it’s 4 am.’ I yawned, stretched out my arms and hauled myself up. The greyhound nuzzled my hand, which I snatched away because his nose was wet and icy. Peter handed me a mug of coffee. Eagerly, I wrapped my hands around it but it was long past piping hot. Melbourne, mid-winter, is a chilly proposition.
His glary eyes and grim set mouth alarmed me.
Silence takes many forms, this one was spiky, mean, needled by the ticking clock. It squeezed and pinched. I could scarcely breathe. I was in limbo between a comfortable before and a life-altering after. I clung to the before.
‘Margaret your stepmom rang ...’ Peter’s tone rasped.
‘First time she’s...’
‘Yes. Look, I’m so sorry…’
‘I’ve something to say.’
The curtains, the linen chest, the bookcase and the relief carving of a hump back whale on a plaque witnessed Peter say, ‘Your father died the night before last.’
The bedroom opened out, expanded, the ceiling lifted, the green walls pushed outwards and Peter and the chair travelled further and further from the double bed on buffed Baltic pine. Trembling, I tugged at the quilt, pulled it up to my neck.
I was unreachable. My feelings switched off.
‘Jenny, did you hear me?’ I nodded, my interlocked fingers coiled, twisting.
‘Massive heart attack.
‘Was he... alone?’
‘Alone? I suppose. Margaret was stacking the dishwasher. Peter clawed at his unruly hair. Yesterday’s disembodied voice colonised my ears.
‘Where did she find..?’
‘In his chair.’
Peter’s eyes misted.
From the other side of the world, I felt the shock of a silenced shouty, tortured man, that super-active brain, journalist, absent parent, philanderer. Russian-fluent, bird-lover, unpublished poet, burdened by a lifetime’s cache of official secrets. I hoped his cat had been with him at the end. My sister kept her distance.
I closed my eyes and walked into that Richmond townhouse of stifling low ceilings. A few steps along the corridor, then a left turn and I was in that musty, snuff-stained sitting room. A forgotten cup of Earl Grey tea on the round mahogany table beside him, Pushkin’s poetry on his lap. Thick woollen socks on his feet. The straight-backed armchair, Margaret had re-upholstered in maroon, smudged by cat hair, positioned parallel to a wall of books. My father had schooled us to value them, to turn the page at the top right corner. I thought he liked books more than us.
Then, I was back into the tonal maelstrom of Wellington Street in Collingwood, a heavy truck’s air brakes, roaring bikes, an ambulance’s undulating wail, a magpie’s throaty song on the iron-lace balcony.
‘Had you agreed to go back to London when we had the chance, you could have got closer, made amends.’ Peter’s comment winded me.
‘You mean he could have…’ I began.
‘Our children, would have had a grandfather.’ Peter frowned.
In London, I stayed with Margaret. She asked if I wanted a wreath of flowers for the coffin. Wearied by jetlag, my eyes stung by unshed tears, I yearned for a remnant, a resonance from childhood.
‘At bedtime, he read Edward Lear’s limericks.’
‘Was there a favourite?’
‘Yes. I recited, ‘And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand
They danced by the light of the moon.’
‘The Owl and The Pussycat?’ Margaret opened the gold sheen curtains.
My eyes scanned the familiar art on the wall above the upright piano, prints of an L.S. Lowry urban scene with a spill of matchstick men, a Peter Lanyon landscape, my father’s watercolours. I rested my hand on the closed lid of the piano I’d once pummelled for six-hour stretches.
‘Good choice, but your Dad gave his copy away quite recently.’
The black cat kneaded its pure white paws, as if they’d been dipped in white paint, on Margaret’s tweed skirt.
I found a copy of Lear’s limericks in the local bookshop. Margaret was an avid reader but she didn’t even glance at the appealing displays of new releases. Grief marshalled Margaret and kept her on the move, when she headed to the Deli further up the street I stayed put. Many shoppers, young and old, exited the book shop with a brown-papered package tied with yellow twine.
I studied the shop’s Victorian architecture. The shop front painted dark green, the elegantly curved window sectioned into numerous small panes. Stepping back towards the kerb, I looked up at the shop’s sign, ‘Richmond Reader’ hanging above the entrance, gently swinging in the breeze. The sudden weakness in my legs said it all.
Three days after viewing that photo in Melbourne, I was outside the very shop, the tableau in Sue’s framed picture. I shivered, Lear’s nonsense rhymes in my coat’s pocket, stunned by regret, serendipity and the vagaries of chance.
The Bet by William Brasse
The paddlewheel turned steadily, churning the water into a white wake that caught the moonlight and the glimmer of the boat’s lanterns. We felt the rhythm of the steam engine far beneath us. The dealer lit a cigar and blew smoke as he picked up the deck.
A lady passed behind me. I could hear the rustle of her petticoats, and her perfume tried to rise above the stench of the cloistered deck space. I wanted to look at her, but I couldn’t turn away from the game.
After the draw, I had aces full. Aces and eights. I shifted nervously in my chair. I was sure it was the winning hand, but did I dare play it?
“Check,” from my right.
My eyes swept around the table. “Fifty,” I said quickly, pushing the chips forward. “Fifty to you,” the dealer prompted, when Big Mike’s silence had gone on a little too long.
“I’m out,” Big Mike growled. He pushed his cards away. Clearly he wasn’t happy. I knew he usually kept a revolver next to his big chest, five live rounds and the hammer on an empty chamber. In spite of his bulk, his coat fit loosely and gave away no secrets.
“Raise twenty,” said Will. He sounded nervous, but then he always did. I couldn’t imagine him starting anything, but jumpy people like him can set off quick-tempered players like Big Mike.
The dealer’s sleepy eyes moved to Oregon Frank. “Seventy to you, Frank.”
Frank sneered. “I can add, Fosdick.” The dealer’s expression didn’t change. Frank poked his stack of chips gently, studying the piles as if they were the broken entrails of some poor creature and he was begging them for prophecy. “There’s seventy,” he said, pushing in chips. “And a hundred more.” He sat back in his chair.
The bet was bigger than anyone expected, and each of the players considered it carefully, even the ones already folded. Frank wasn’t a bluffer. He also wasn’t very smart, so he was hard to read. As the next player pushed his cards toward the dealer, the woman passed the table again. She was opposite me now, and I could see her as well as the lantern light would allow. She held an unopened fan in both her hands. Her dress looked violet, and some trinket on her wrist winked at me. She had hair the color of flame, and eyes that invited you to warm your hands. She glanced down at the table as she moved away into the shadows.
The dealer pushed the folded hands into a loose pile and waited. He’d been in the business long enough to know that everybody at the table suspected him, and that any one of them might try to put a bloody hole in his boiled shirt.
My hand was still aces and eights, so there wasn’t any point in looking at it. I took a deep breath. “I’ll see the one twenty,” I said counting out the chips. “And I’ll bump you two hundred.”
Will had folded before I finished counting. The dealer’s heavily lidded eyes moved to Frank, whose mouth was twisted into an ugly asymmetry under his gigantic nose. Big Mike put his hand under his coat. Fosdick caught Mike’s move, but he didn’t give anything away. His hands were steady as he straightened the deck.
My cards were face down, and I kept my hand on them. Three aces, two eights. A brief essay on human weakness, a five-card morality play. A mosquito buzzed in my ear. I waved it away and noticed her standing in the passageway to the staterooms. While I watched, a drunk approached her, but she brushed him off like a mosquito. We heard the thump and scrape of the boat hitting a floating tree trunk. The woman unfolded her fan and cooled her face. I envied the air that passed over her lips and rustled through her hair. A lantern near her swayed in time to the boat’s journey. It cast a shadow on the passageway wall, the one that was invisible to me. At the table, Fosdick’s right hand was in his lap; some spectators backed away. My hand held aces and eights. The queen was the wild card
Waiting for Tuesday by Donna Halperin
Once Again by Tania Przywara