FIVE POEMS BY JOHN GREY
DANCERS UNDER STARS
Music from a stereo is
barely heard above the late night traffic
but who needs music anyhow?
They tango with Buenos Aires in their heads.
They samba all the way to Rio.
I'd swear, if the Strauss mood struck them,
they could magically transport
eighteenth century Vienna
to the Providence waterfront.
The clubbers in their cloistered dens
may rub bodies, breathe each other's sweat,
but these couples don't gobble up the air,
they clear it.
With deft feet, limber arms,
they deliver on how much space
there really is between two people,
and what a revelation it is
when distance is overcome,
and fingers touch, thighs nudge,
breasts press together then separate.
Everyone in the crowd
is so intent in their watching,
their eyes taking vicarious steps,
their minds drifting back to their own
remembered or imagined youth and loveliness.
And all this under stars.
Under their connivance
Under their contentment.
Bobbing between tall grasses,
are the heads of a dozen searchers,
and here comes the red-faced mother,
and here comes the white-bearded grandfather,
and here I am,
up to my ankles in mud,
feeling the ritual in bone, in flesh,
in soggy boots -
hunting party tramping through the woods,
family up to their ears in tear and fear,
a hundred prayers coalescing into one -
find him alive and well.
But an incessant whisper's
like a tour guide to the worst -
it's been six hours,
it'll be dark soon,
and cold, and treacherous and...
the guy to the right of me
stops for a cigarette,
he can't help feeling for his own two boys
safe at home,
it's two paces for the lost child,
but one for them,
one for mine if I had any.
Fact is we're concerned
for all the kids lost and found -
my buddy will peep through
the bedroom door when he gets back,
I'll call my sister,
mutter, "How's Tommy and Grace."
We're the caretakers
of the coming generation -
anything to make a bad end
feel good for a start.
HIS ONE AND ONLY SHOT
to shoot the sparrows
in the barn -
pointing up at beam,
iron tongs, ropes,
with BB gun -
with dust and web and hay -
in their wholeness
gather in the eaves -
boy's a mess,
like an extra
in a Stooge's short,
gun at side,
the only broken wing
MAN ON AN ELLIPTICAL
One fifty pounds is the aim
and having been it once...
but I was a lothario once
and I'm not pounding down
on foot pedals to shed my wife
and our many years together...
and I'm not sweating my
way back to minimum wage
or seventh grade or toys
or mother's teat or the womb...
I am content with all of me now
but for the extra gut,
the flabby hips, the jowls...
so Program 4 it is,
up the make-believe hill,
grade ever steeper,
speed and calorie burn
flashing before my eyes...
as the song goes,
just remember I love you...
I promise to stop
if I don't.
LIFE IN MY HAND
Dave hands me a photo
of himself in his thirties.
Not a bad looking guy.
Except for the nose.
He was a prize fighter in his youth.
Damn thing broke about five times,
so he says.
Doctors gave him the option.
It's either breathe or look pretty.
His face landed somewhere in the middle.
"The women still loved me," he bragged.
I won and had money in my pocket.
But then I lost and I was broke.
But Adele stood by me,
even in the bad times
though her folks gave her hell for it.
He'll never amount to anything, they said.
But she laid down the law.
It's either boxing or me."
Once again, he found a compromise.
He stayed with her,
punched walls instead of pugs.
He loves to open up
the old albums of photographs.
A man in his prime
even if the hooter isn't.
Lots of concessions,
whole load of conciliations.
Not the job he wanted
but the one he could get.
No dream vacation
but what they could afford.
Comfortable enough house.
Not a mansion.
But not the gutter either.
he got straight with himself.
It's either this life
or no life at all.
He went for the one
in my hand.
John Grey is an Australian born poet. Recently published in Paterson Literary Review, Southern California Review and Natural Bridge with work upcoming in New Plains Review, Leading Edge and Louisiana Literature.
Two Poems By A.J. Huffman
I Am Frame
holding found edges,
into a picture of passable.
I simulate happiness
captured. I am metal.
my vision will shatter,
but my back does not
I am living
skeleton. I have many
faces, all sadly fragile,
The haunting green of overgrown
trails is my church. My daily
wanderings, almost prayer. I genuflect
without the motion of kneeling,
already appropriately diminuated
amongst their majesty.
I listen, with my eyes
closed, to their energy. Their very presence
defines alive. They permeate
my skin with every touch, brackish
bark breaking [through] unmarred skin.
I envy their stoic ability
to process toxic,
carbon dioxide. Their breath
[re]turning, an exhale of
A.J. Huffman has published eight solo chapbooks and one joint chapbook through various small presses. She also has two new full-length poetry collections forthcoming, Another Blood Jet (Eldritch Press) and A Few Bullets Short of Home (mgv2>publishing). She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and her poetry, fiction, and haiku have appeared in hundreds of national and international journals, including Labletter, The James Dickey Review, Bone Orchard, EgoPHobia, Kritya, and Offerta Speciale, in which her work appeared in both English and Italian translation. She is also the founding editor of Kind of a Hurricane Press. www.kindofahurricanepress.com
1. Lavender Wolves Literary Journal: The editors at Lavender Wolves Literary Journal have seen your work previously appear in other journals. Do you have any advice to aspiring writers who have not been published before who would like to establish their voice as a literary writer?
AMY Huffman: The best advice is never give up. The mantra that keeps me going, even after all these years, is ‘what one editor thinks is garbage, the next will nominate for a Pushcart Prize.’ And that’s almost the truth. This is a very subjective business, and rejections come with the territory. You just have to let them roll off your back as you move on to the next editor/journal.
LW: Do you think the internet has helped the poetry market, or hindered it in anyway? Why or why not?
AH: I definitely think the internet has helped the poetry market. The lower cost of online journals has definitely increased the number of opportunities for publication. Journals that used to be print, but are now going digital, are able to publish double, triple, even the number of poets in each issue. Further, lower start up costs, and less need for financial sponsorship, has increased the number of journals out there on the whole. And, of course, finally, the accessibility of online journals can only expand poetry’s readership. These journals are no longer locally-accessed, they are internationally available. This increase in the number of people that can access poetic works could never be a bad thing.
LW: How do you feel about rejection as a whole? Do you remember the first time your work was accepted? Conversely, do you also remember your first rejection upon submission? What was going through your mind during these pivotal moments of your literary career.
AH: I knew going into this field that rejection was going to be common and often. I’ve never been a defeatist, so I can honestly say I don’t remember my first rejection. Don’t get me wrong, there are some rejections that do stand out in my mind, most of those are from editors that wanted to “teach” me to write. It is unfortunate that some editors believe re-writing an authors work and sending it back to them is in some way helpful. And, in their defense, some authors might find it helpful. I’m from a school of thought that considers each of my poems a personal artistic creation. I wouldn’t walk up and paint a mustache on the Mona Lisa just because I would like it better that way, so I, personally, never appreciate someone taking my poetic idea and writing their version of that idea. I find such rejections offensive, but usually just make a note not to send my work to that particular editor again. Truth is there is nothing worth getting too upset about in this business. Your work is just that: yours. The writing is the most important. And I know there are those out there who aggressively disagree with that statement, it’s what I believe. I write because I have to. It’s part of who I am. The publications are just icing on the cake.
Sadly, since I’ve been doing this for over 25 years, I honestly cannot remember my first publication either. That has more to do with my failing memory than that publication’s impact on me. I can tell you from more recent firsts – my first acceptance of an entire collection of poetry for example – that there is no feeling in the world like that moment of validation. It’s mind-blowingly indescribable – even for a writer.
LW: What prompted you to write this piece that was accepted? What sort of inspiration did you draw from it as a result of producing this piece?
AH: “I Am Frame” is part of a metaphorical series I am currently working on wherein I put myself in place of the inanimate object named – in this case a frame – and try and pull identifying characteristics from that inanimate object that juxtapose themselves with the characteristics of human existence – more specifically my existence.
“Dendrophile” is part of a collaborative collection I am currently working on with my long-time friend, April Salzano. We are each selecting specific psychological “philia” addictions to explicate through our poetry. This will be our fourth collaborative collection we have worked on, but not our last (we a few others we are currently working on together).
regarding inspiration in general, I am a strong believer that nothing is out of bounds. Everything inspires me—from the dust that continually accumulates on my ceiling fan to the bizarre interest-generating blurb on the local news commercial to what I had for dinner last night to the death of an old friend. There is no limits to what can inspire me to write poetry, and I have no doubt that that is how I’ve been able to keep doing this for so long.
LW: Who are some of your favorite poets, and why do you consider them to be your favorites? Of those favorites, which poet influences you to write the way you do and why?
AH: This is a tough one. I try to read as much poetry as possible, in every poetic genre possible, and that makes it very difficult to choose. Obviously, as a female author, the female greats have definitely influenced me over the years. Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson. Their fascination with death and dying most definitely drips into my darker poetic works. I admire Charles Bukowski a great deal. His work is so raw and honest. It’s like a frying pan to the face. I love that. Most recently Brenda Shaughnessy has become a favorite of mine. Her ability to render such vividly surrealistic images of everyday life and love is intricately divine, and extremely enviable.
LW: At this stage of your career, you have established yourself, but all writers want to accomplish more. What sort of plans do you have moving forward? Or do you have aspirations that you still would like to accomplish in a professional capacity?
AH: Obviously, I’d like to publish more full-length collections. That is, of course, the goal of most poets. On of my ongoing goals is to publish in as many different journals as possible, and I am fortunate to say that the list grows exponentially each year. At the moment, I am about to reach a short-term goal. I am 73 poems away from publishing my 2000th individual poem. That’s a major mile-stone for me, and I am very excited to be inching up on that one. Additionally, I have been working on a novel for the last few years. The main goal is to finally finish that novel, and then of course, a more distant goal would be to eventually publish that novel. Finally, almost two years ago, my friend and co-author, April Salzano, started a small upstart press called Kind of a Hurricane Press. Our goal in starting that press was to help other authors gain some of the success in publishing that we have both been lucky to have had over the years. We currently have five online poetry journals, an online flash fiction site, a poetry review site, and an online chapbook site. We also do six print anthologies a year. One of my professional goals is to keep expanding that press. We want to offer our fellow writers as many opportunities as our time and financial situations can allow.
ONE ROUND FOR CUCCIATA
by Irving A Greenfield
His sister, Rose, was furious with their brother-in-law, Seth, for having bought a casket for Ellen, their sister, before she died. But she was dying; and if they were lucky, she would die soon; perhaps within a few hours if she was lucky or, at the very most, the next day. The sooner it would be, the better it would be for everyone, including herself.
For two years, she had been slowly dying from multiple myeloma. She had been reduced from a vibrant forty-two year old woman to a thing consumed by pain and an ever increasing voraciousness for morphine. Her long death culled the emotional and physical strength out of every member of the family, and made each of them a martyr from their individual perspectives.
“He’s burying her before she’s dead,” Rose complained. “He never loved her. These last two years he . . . he couldn’t stand the sight of her.”
They were in the visitor’s lounge, with its peppermint green walls and a large rectangular window that allowed them to look across the Hudson River into New Jersey from the fourteenth floor of the Presbyterian Hospital. Earlier in the morning, Rose had come into the city from Albany, where she lived with her husband, George, and daughter, Florence. She made the trip once a week; sometimes on a Monday, but more often on a Thursday. It was the last Thursday in April -- April Twenty ninth, nineteen sixty-five.
Paul listened to Rose because he was there. But he focused his attention on the last red light in the sky that seemed to emanate out of the dark mass of central Jersey. Like ropes of pearls, the lights from the windows in the city’s skyscrapers to the south and from the catenaries of the George Washington Bridge to the north punctuated the gathering darkness. Aware that night throb of the city was beginning, Paul was acutely conscious that, not more than a dozen paces from the door of the visitor’s lounge, his sister lay dying. Almost without realizing what he was looking at, he saw Rose’s disembodied reflection and his own in the glass of the window. They looked as if they were hovering over the Henry Hudson Parkway.
Rose had a tissue to her face. Though he could not actually see the redness, he knew her eyes were red rimmed from crying. Wearing a heavy woolen gray skirt, a faded yellow blouse, and a blue cardigan over it, she looked dowdy, older than her forty-four years. There was eight years between them. She was the middle daughter; Nadine, the oldest; Ellen, the youngest of the girls. There was six years between him and Ellen. Yet now, because their father had been dead for many years, he felt as if he were the father of all of them; including their mother, who was clearing eighty years, lacking one eye and almost blind in the other, but otherwise as healthy as a woman her age could be.
Paul was preemi, coming into this world when the taxi carrying his mother and cousin Fanny to the Beth El Hospital in Brownsville overturned on an icy corner. He was not only born in the cab immediately after the accident, he was also conceived as a result of an accident. Either the condom broke, or his father in his passion did not withdraw fast enough or -- or nothing. No matter how he, or anyone else, might look at his having been being born, he was not wanted as he was so frequently told by his mother, sisters, and father. He was an intrusion, and his mother tried to abort him using time honored purgatives and a crocheting needle when the purgatives failed. But Paul was tenacious. He lived. A tall, narrowly built man, prematurely gray, with dark blue eyes, Paul resembled no one in the family.
“Would you do something like that if your wife were dying?” she asked between sniffles.
Paul pretended not to hear her. He didn’t want to go wherever the conversation between them would go. He had something more important to think about other than her complaints against Seth.
In a more demanding tone, Rose repeated her question.
“I’m not Seth,” Paul said, still facing the window. A tug boat with its red and green navigation and white running lights on slid across the window.
“I come here and I see how he treats her,” she sniffled. “I break my back for my sister because I love her.”
He did not want to listen to Rose, but there was nowhere else for him to go. Two doctors and a nurse were in the room with Ellen. The nurse, a young black woman with a lilting West Indian accent, politely asked them to leave the room. She was on the four to midnight shift.
Paul lit a cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke to his left. He wanted a drink. A scotch neat would have done wonders for him. He was, like Rose, weary. The entire family was emotionally exhausted.
“I’m going to have to leave soon,” Rose said. “George will meet me at the station at ten.”
He faced her. He wanted to say go now, but he didn’t. Had he, it would have caused another argument. Over the years, he had a belly full of arguments with her. They began when he reached puberty and continued ever since.
“I want to see her again before I leave,’ she said, her voice all choked up. “It could be the last time.”
Irving Greenfield is an american writer whose work has been published in Amarillo Bay, Runaway Parade, Writing Tomorrow, eFictionMag and the Stone Hobo; and in Prime Mincer, The Note and Cooweescoowee (2X) and THE STONE CANOE, electronic edition. He and his wife live in Manhattan. He has been a sailor, soldier and college professor, playwright and novelist.
"Planes is part of a series of related stories I've been working on for about three years. They're all set in the same unnamed village, most in the 1950s (like "Planes"), and they have reoccurring characters, images and themes. As I'm writing each story, some detail materializes that I become curious about, so I write a new story pursuing what's behind that detail. The husband and wife in "Planes" are mentioned in other stories, but in a story titled "Scent of Darkness" it mentions that something odd is going on with them (I didn't know what at the time). So for this story I set about trying to figure out what was happening with the couple. I spent nearly eight months and dozens and dozens of drafts trying to get to the bottom of things. Normally stories work themselves out much more quickly, but this one really put up a fight. Initially I thought the story would have a lot to do with World War I aircraft so I invested a good deal of time researching WWI airplanes and weaving them into the plot, but ultimately I decided they were distracting me from the heart of the matter and cut all that out almost entirely. I try to develop a narrative style or structure that is unique to each story even though they're related in other ways."
Bob Abernathy didn’t believe in ghosts, generally, even though the Bible discusses them, but someone lived in the shadowed corner of his basement. He read the word visitant once and that’s how he thought of him. Yes, a man, a young man, at least half Bob’s age, now. The visitant had been there since Bob and Marilyn bought the place, more than twenty years before, in ’31—the year of the three blizzards, and the locusts in summer, and the Pruets’ grain-bin fire. Bob and Marilyn moved in, and there he was in the corner, in heavy shadow, hidden and quiet. In fact, he’d never moved or made a noise in all these years. Bob hadn’t spoken of him to Marilyn, to anyone. When Bob was in the basement, for example helping Marilyn tidy up after her beauty salon customers had left of an evening, he’d sense the visitant’s presence, just standing, watching, in the corner where neither sunlight nor electric light could reach.
After a time the visitant had become a comfort.
Bob had a work area in the basement with a sturdy table, a high stool with a padded seat and back support, and on two walls pegboards crowded with tools. He wasn’t especially handy, not like David Holcomb, who seemed the master of all odd projects, or George Dickson, the carpenter, or Randall Houndstooth, who made furniture—but Bob enjoyed tinkering in the basement (Marilyn called it puttering), which consisted largely of his listening to the radio, drinking a warm Pabst and smoking a Pall Mall or two before it was time to go upstairs and get ready for bed. He had to rise early for his job maintaining the grain bins south of the village.
As Bob would walk up the basement steps he’d notice the visitant in his dark corner, the toe tips of his boots just at the edge of shadow, almost touching the light. At the top of the stairs Bob would pull the cord turning off the basement lights. Once he’d spoken to the visitant, a simple goodnight, but there was no response, as Bob expected.
November. Daytime. Sunless and already wintercold. Bob came home from the bins to find Marilyn on the couch in the living room holding a dish towel of ice cubes to her forehead. She’d lost her balance on the basement steps.
You’re lucky you didn’t break your neck. You need me to get Doc over here? Bob lifted Marilyn’s hand holding the towel. Her head was scraped and red, and around her eye was swollen. You’re going to have a nice shiner, Mother Goose, like you’ve gone a round or two with the Hurricane.
No need to call Doc. I’m fine, just clumsy.
Bob thought of the visitant. What if he’d had something to do with Marilyn’s fall? It was a fleeting thought. Bob replaced his wife’s hand and towel to her head. Are you hurt anywhere else?
Nothing serious. My tail feathers are ruffled I’m sure—may be sitting on a soft pillow for a while.
Do you have customers today?
Jean Reynolds and Dorothy, after supper.
You should take it easy, reschedule. I could run a note over to Carl at the shop. . . .
No, I’m fine—and it’s Dorothy’s first time. You know that’s special.
Bob stood peering down at Marilyn for a moment. He hadn’t really looked at her for a long while. She’d lost weight in recent months. The blue-checked dress, one of her favorites, hung loosely about her shoulders where it’d always been snug across the chest—her best asset they’d always joked in private. Her hairstyle was still highly beehived, but her head of hair wasn’t as thick and it required more spray to form. It seemed grayer too. In fact, her eyes appeared grayer also, no longer movie-star blue, another of her assets, this one said in public.
You sure I shouldn’t call Doc? He’s probably at Owens’ having his tenth cup of coffee.
I’m sure, Robert. You got something in the mail, on the table. Go take a look and leave me in peace for a spell. She patted the hand that he held lank at his side.
Bob went into the kitchen and on the table was a package just smaller than a shoebox wrapped in brown paper. The return address was stamped Calumet Models & Collectibles. It’d only been a few days but he barely recalled ordering it, from an advertisement in the Joliet Rail Gazette.
What in the world is it? Marilyn spoke from the couch.
It sounded interesting.
You’re not going to get glue all over my kitchen table are you?
Of course not. He came back into the living room. I’ll put it together in the basement—Marilyn began to speak—after your goslings have been fully fluffed, Mother Goose. I’ll go set it on my table. Bob was anxious to go to the basement: he wanted to see if the visitant had moved at all, had somehow contributed to Marilyn’s fall, perhaps even tripped her or pushed her off balance himself. Wild notions but he couldn’t help thinking them.
The basement lights were still on. Bob stepped down the stairs more cautiously than usual. He walked across the concrete floor and placed the box on his worktable. Bob shifted his view to the darkened corner . . . and there the visitant stood, quiet, staid, watchful.
Bob thought he should say something to him but held his tongue. He left the model on the table and turned off the light at the top of the stairs.
In the night Bob dreamed of a snowfield strewn with wreckage, smoking and steaming. A propeller blade stands out of the snow almost perfectly perpendicular, the oakwood cracked in an arc at the tip but not split. Upon the white palette is a pattern of diesel lubricant, yellow, alternating with half-dollar drops of darkly scarlet blood, as if thrown there in a fury of artistic rush. There’s a wing piece as large and as hinged as the engine-hood of a Model A. The snap of fire fades in and out with the solace of wind across the site, which will be capped in new snow by morning.
Bob woke before dawn, as he always did, and felt a heaviness upon him—that’s how he thought of it, as if gravity had increased overnight. He was reminded of something he’d read, that scientists believed astronauts returning to Earth would be able to actually feel gravity—perhaps this is what it would be like. Marilyn lay next to him, gently snoring, her beehive angled to one side in its net. Bob sat upright, with effort. His eyesight still blurry, he stared into the dark corners of the bedroom, and it occurred to him that the visitant had come upstairs. It was foolish—the visitant had never moved from his place. It was just that his dreams unsettled him, and this peculiar sensation of heaviness.
Bob dressed in his work clothes, and was quick about his breakfast of plain oatmeal and black coffee. Marilyn normally prepared his breakfast of course but he told her to stay in bed and rest. He was hurrying because he wanted to stop by the library on his way to the bins. He maintained the ones on the northwest corner of Old Man Stevenson’s fields.
Mrs. Heartwood was just unlocking the library when he stepped from his pickup and came to the door. My, you’re up with the birds, she said, pulling open the door with one hand and adjusting her eyeglasses with the other. I don’t think you or Marilyn have any books in. Bob liked books about history and biographies of statesmen and military leaders, while Marilyn preferred mystery novels, especially Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins, and she also enjoyed Poe.
I’m in the market for something else, said Bob, and he went directly to the book he wanted (meanwhile, Mrs. Heartwood switched on the one-room library’s lights). He’d noticed the book for years but never checked it out: North’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of World War I Aircraft. The heaviness that he still felt seemed to slow him down but he was relieved North’s was there on the shelf.
The grain bins were a hive of activity throughout the fall but by November the fields had been reaped, except for the winter wheat, the short green stalks of which waved against a cold and colorless sky. So the bins stood apart from the stubbled fields that stretched south and east waiting to be covered in snow and kiss completely the color-drained sky. The bins were cylinders of stone and sheet metal as tall as a tall house, with black scaffolding that rose up in support of the structure, and a conduit arm which hung down like a cripple’s. Even though each bin’s single arm was securely tethered with thick cable, they rocked somewhat in the persistent wind and gave the impression of animation, like large machines that have arrived from another world. The bins had names that added to the impression of animation; they were Sadie and Katie and North, who took the wind most directly and his arm moaned and winced against the tethering cables.
After checking out the book, Bob had felt that someone was following him on his way to the bins. He noticed the unfamiliar truck in the rearview mirror of his own Ford. It got close at times but there was something about the way its windshield glass reflected the colorless sky that prevented Bob from seeing the driver. Bob turned onto the side road that led to the bins, and the pickup, black with a dull gray fender, very similar to his pickup, continued down Highway 12. Still, it made him uneasy. As he pulled onto the graveled patch near the bins, he realized he thought it was the visitant behind the wheel of the strange truck. He’d never been anywhere except the dark corner of the basement, but Bob felt that he was becoming bolder, perhaps causing Marilyn to hurt herself and now this. . . .
Bob looked forward to the quiet and calm in the office, a single-story brick building with a tin chimney. He could drink a cup of coffee from the vacuum bottle which he’d packed himself and thumb through North’s Illustrated Encyclopedia. He’d ordered several models of aircraft from the Great War, but their catalogue numbers gave no indication which airplane they were. He wanted to be able to identify them. Without their correct names the models would seem incomplete, no matter how much care he put into building them. He wanted to know what sort of engine propelled them, how fast they could fly and to what altitude, what sort of armaments they carried, and how well they maneuvered in dogfights. Knowing everything about them was important to him.
The bins required daily inspections. Bob would remove the access panels to check the drying motors, the belts and gears and diesel lines, the ignition chamber and the ductwork. Then he’d climb the scaffolding to make sure the vents were clear, that no animal had nested inside the venting hoods. The routine took longer than thirty minutes for each bin, but the thoroughness was necessary to prevent catastrophes like fires and even explosions, or mildewed grain. While he went about his business, his sense of being watched returned. It seemed there was someone at the edge of the cylindrical bin, spying, who would step back out of sight the instant Bob glanced his way; and several times, on the scaffolding, Bob peered over his shoulder at the empty fields expecting to find the visitant standing among the stubble, staring up at him, but each time there was no one. Only a chill wind met his squinting gaze.
At lunchtime Bob went home to check on Marilyn, and on Highway 12 the black pickup truck came up behind him. Again Bob strained to see in the rearview mirror who was in the driver seat but the beclouded sky moved across the truck windshield glass obscuring the interior of the cab.
An oncoming car honked at Bob, Wilson’s mint-green Galaxy—Bob was crossing the center-line. He steered back, overcorrecting, and his passenger-side tires kicked up gravel and dust from the shoulder. Bob checked the mirror, and the black truck was gone, turned off, though he couldn’t think where. Regardless, Bob felt relief with the truck no longer following him. He clutched and geared down to first to turn onto Main.
Marilyn wasn’t resting on the couch as he’d expected. He went into the kitchen—another model had arrived and the box was on the table. Bob heard a voice, Marilyn’s, coming from the basement, muffled by the closed door. At first he thought she was singing to herself, which she did sometimes, but, no, she was speaking, as if in conversation. He never knew her to talk to herself, not in nearly thirty years.
He had difficulty making out her words. It wasn’t the same voice she used with clients, warm and chirpy, welcoming. Marilyn’s voice was low and somber, like the voices at the visitation. When Robbie had died. Neighbors used the voice to express their condolences and reference God’s mysterious working. Bob and Marilyn never mentioned Robbie, as if they’d never had a son, for two years and sixty-two days, as if the photograph in the plain wooden frame in the curio wasn’t of a real child they’d held and loved.
Robbie now would be the age of the visitant, a young man, old enough to have a family of his own—old enough to die and leave a widowed wife and a fatherless boy of not quite three, not quite old enough to remember him, so that the vacant space in his memory could be filled only by anecdotes and fantasies. Myths that the boy created: a father who died bravely in battle, a father who was piloting an amazing air-machine. Robert Abernathy, captain. Not Robert Abernathy, farmer . . . husband, father, churchman, victim of pointless accident.
Bob was startled when Marilyn opened the basement door.
I didn’t know you were home (startled too). I was restocking the towel cabinet.
How’s your eye?
Marilyn had powdered around the eye more heavily. A bit tender but not bad. I was going to toast a cheese sandwich. Want one?
He’d forgotten he was holding the box and North’s Illustrated Encyclopedia.
What book is that? It doesn’t seem your normal fare. Not some stodgy biography.
I ordered several.
Models. They’re arriving one by one. They may be hard to identify. I’ll put it on my table.
I can call you when your sandwich is ready.
Marilyn closed the basement door after him and listened to his heavy steps go down. She went about greasing the iron skillet and preparing the bread and cheese, then lighting a burner on the stove with a match. Even this simple operation tired her. Bob was quiet in the basement anyway, and with the rush of the burner flame and the sizzle of the sandwiches she couldn’t hear him at all. He was as quiet as the haunt in the corner, the fellow who just stood there day upon day, as silent as Saint Benedict.
Marilyn knew the word haunt from the Negroes who worked in her daddy’s fields when she was a girl, laborers who came certain times of year. The women prepared food in the backs of their old trucks, which seemed to barely run, and in the stone firepits Marilyn’s daddy had around the place for just that one purpose. Marilyn liked to watch the women and hear the songs they sang while preparing their men’s food. Sometimes they would stop singing and tell Marilyn stories, their white teeth and eyes flashing with mischief. They spoke of haunts who attached themselves to places and people, who watched with stone-dead eyes but never uttered a word. Marilyn wondered if the Holy Ghost was a haunt but didn’t dare to ask her daddy; he wouldn’t have liked her talking with the Negroes.
Marilyn hadn’t thought of haunts for years, until she and Bob bought the old Keeling place and then one was in the basement, just standing in the shadowed corner, a young man mutely observing, the toes of his boots nearly touching the light that angled near him. Very soon Marilyn took comfort in the haunt’s presence. She found it easier to talk to him about certain things than to Bob, who was prone to overworry. Like her spell on the stairs. It wasn’t the first time she’d become dizzy in recent months. She thought of seeing Doc Higgins about the spells and the fact she just didn’t feel quite herself. Her clothes fit more loosely, and there was the hair in the bathroom basin when she was doing it up in the morning, long dun-colored strands looking as dull and waxy as castoff thread. But if she saw Doc everyone in the village would know by noon, and by nightfall Pastor Phillips would be selecting passages to read at her service and the busybody wives would be selecting recipes for casseroles to bring to Bob.
She could always use some supplies from the beauty warehouse in Crawford. She could drop Bob at work, take the truck and see one of the Crawford doctors.
What if you become lightheaded while driving?
The question seemed to come from beyond her own thoughts.
Marilyn turned and looked about the small kitchen. Of course there was no one. It occurred to her it was the haunt who questioned her, though he’d never spoken before.
The smell of charring nipped her reverie. Marilyn turned off the burner and used the wooden spatula to lay the cheese sandwiches on plates. Before cutting the sandwiches, she opened the basement door to call to Bob--
but she was startled by his standing there at the top step--
Marilyn clutched at her chest with the hand that held the knife. For Pete sake, Robert. You almost gave me a coronary.
Sorry, Mother Goose, I was already on my way up.
I didn’t hear you. She cut the sandwiches and set the plates on the kitchen table.
Bob seated himself at the kitchen table. Maybe we should have Doc check your hearing while he’s at it. He smiled but his tone didn’t sound joking.
Marilyn opened the icebox, removed the bottle of milk and poured two glasses. Her hands were unsteady and she had to concentrate not to spill some milk on the table. Fortunately Bob was already looking at a page in his airplane book and starting to finger his sandwich, though it was still too hot to eat. He didn’t notice her trembling.
She gave him an opportunity to eat part of his sandwich. She played at reading her book while she nibbled at her crusts. It was a collection of Poe’s ghost stories, and she looked at one titled “Morella,” which turned out to be about a daughter that eerily resembles the mother who died giving birth to her. Meanwhile Marilyn snuck looks at Bob. She didn’t so much see the man that sat adjacent to her, absently eating his sandwich, a small piece of cheese clinging to the stubble on his chin, but rather she imagined the man he would become in her absence. His face grew thinner, the beginning of jowls receding. His hair, streaked in silver, blanched completely white and grew past his collar. The sprouts of hair on his rough-knuckled hands turned white as well, while the age spots expanded and stood out more prominently. Overall there was a shrunkenness about him, like a heaviness had come upon him, stooping him, determined over time to collapse him altogether. She thought of the story of Bob’s father crushed beneath a tractor when Bob was just a child, a toddler, not quite three. Marilyn hadn’t thought of that for a long time. It was as if Robbie’s death had eclipsed all deaths, before and after. No other loss mattered placed beside the loss of their son.
The current Bob, the for-the-time-being Bob, sat before her, one sandwich-half gone, the other being worked on. She said, I need to go to Crawford, to Standard Beauty. Can I take the truck tomorrow? Drop you at the bins?
He stopped chewing and looked up from his book.
Will that work all right?
Yeah—I’m just trying to think if I could use something from Crawford, from the hobby store. I could take the day--
You don’t need to do that. I’m perfectly capable. Make a list and I can go by the hobby store too.
I . . .
What is it, Robert?
He chewed his sandwich a bit more. Nothing. That’ll be fine, Mother Goose. I’ll pack a lunch.
That evening Bob puttered in the basement longer than usual. Marilyn went to bed intending to read long enough that Bob would finish with his models and come upstairs. She could hear the voice of Bob’s radio traveling through the ductwork, emitting from the floor register, sounding broadcast from a distant world. Marilyn became so sleepy the words on the pages of her book swam and bled together, implying an alien script. The book, with its strange language, slumped on Marilyn’s bosom as her eyelids fluttered on the edge of a dream. The otherworldly voice became the minister’s monotone at Robbie’s service, his monotony adding to the pain that threatened to crush her. The words, intended to provide some sort of solace, only drew the grief down upon her like a heavy, blinding, suffocating hood.
Dreaming, she sees Robbie as a young man, dressed in work clothes ready for the fields. Dark diagonal bars of shadow fall across him obscuring his features. She wants him to speak, to account for his long absence, but he stands staring at her mutely, a stripe of saffron light across his empty eyes.
She woke with a start. Bob was next to the bed looking down at her. What in the world, Robert. You frightened me. He had switched off the bedside lamp, and only light from the hallway came into the room. Poorly backlit and standing there soundlessly, Marilyn thought for a moment it was the haunt, finally come up from his basement corner.
Sorry, Mother Goose. I’ll get ready for bed.
Bob turned and went into the bathroom in the hall, shutting the door.
The strangeness of it all, especially the dream, clung to Marilyn—and she felt it even more palpably the next morning. Normally Bob was up before her but he lingered in bed. When she was dressing, he informed her from the pile of blankets and quilts that he didn’t feel well and was staying home.
What’s the matter with you?
He didn’t respond. Marilyn thought he only acted at being asleep but she left him be and finished dressing for her trip to Crawford. After her breakfast of toast and coffee, she took the extra keys from the peg by the back door. It was a gray day threatening rain. Marilyn hadn’t driven for more than a year and it felt strange to climb behind the wheel. When she shut the heavy door, its hinges cringing with rust, the scent was a mixture of Bob’s Pall Malls and machine oil. The potent smell comforted her. Marilyn didn’t want to make the trip alone but it was best. If the doctors at the clinic had bad news, this way she would have control over it—when to tell Bob, how to tell him, and how much.
What a comfort Robbie would be if he’d lived to grow into a young man. A comfort to her and to Robert.
In a few minutes Marilyn was maneuvering the Ford onto Main Street, then onto the shortcut to Highway 12. The narrow road ran along Old Man Stevenson’s property. It was a road she traveled often as a girl, riding with her daddy. It was a roundabout way to the village from their place but spring floods sometimes cut off the usual route.
The gray light played tricks on Marilyn’s sense of time, and she had the impression it was the gray twilight of dusk, not dawn—that the world was growing darker, not lighter.
To the west, Marilyn spied the shapes of Robert’s bins, like natural formations dark against the dark sky. Perhaps she also saw a solitary figure in the field near the bin they called North. In her mirror Marilyn noted that she wasn’t alone on the obscure road: a black truck much like Robert’s. Though the pickup was unfamiliar she sensed that she knew the driver, or at least would come to know him.
Before steering onto the highway Marilyn caught a final glimpse of the grain bins, and from this angle they appeared to be giant machines, giant machines aligned in military formation. The single figure in the field was now lost from view.
Ted Morrissey is the author of the novels An Untimely Frost and Men of Winter, the novelette Figures in Blue, and stories and essays in over twenty journals, including Glimmer Train, PANK, Writers Ask and North American Review. A Ph.D. in English studies, he's also published the monograph The Beowulf Poet and His Real Monsters, recipient of the D. Simon Evans Prize for distinguished scholarship. He lives with his wife Melissa near Springfield, Illinois. Together, they have five adult children. Visit at tedmorrissey.com.
Ready To Serve
"The thought process for my effort was to base a tale set in London but able to be understood wherever the story is read. I wanted to have a touch of humour mixed with tragedy and a love story. However despite the sadness there is continuation and hope with the expectant baby which settles the story quite nicely. "
He was far too young to sleep in a bed of oak. Sarah wiped her eyes and recalled happier times.
“Excuse me, Madam.”
Sarah giggled at the French accent laced with a dash of Canning Town.
“Would you like me to escort you both to the table?”
Sarah nodded. He led the couple into the capacious interior. She didn’t think much of the piped accordion music.
She admired the athletic man who pulled out a chair for her. Her partner, Simon Ellington, was a complete contrast with his precious strands of hair, swollen belly and fat wallet.
“Garcon, hurry up son and get us a bottle of Champers.”
“Simon, there’s no need to be rude,” she said.
The waiter dismissed her concerns. He’d heard far worse.
“I’ll fetch the drinks right away. Sir, you must be hungry so please read your menu.”
Simon frowned. Sarah’s lips betrayed amusement.
She soon wished she was elsewhere. Simon attacked several glasses of champagne before the main course. He bragged he’d explore her bra to several blushing diners on an opposing table. Her patience expired when his hands wandered inside her blouse.
“What? Do you think you’re too good for me? Listen darling, you’re nothing but a brass with a decent pair of jugs.”
Sarah rose from her chair. Simon seized her arm.
“Where are you off to? You leave when I tell you, not before unless you want a slap.”
The waiter offered to soothe the rising discord.
“Piss off frog.”
“What appears to be the problem?”
The waiter’s mystique transformed into a shield of concern. Simon‘s fury arrowed onto a new target.
“Listen dopey, if you want to keep your job you’ll disappear and come back when I tell you.”
The servant remained.
“Sir, I cannot allow you to treat this lady in such a manner. Perhaps it would be best for everyone for you to leave this establishment.”
“Listen nob, you’re really beginning to wind me up.”
The waiter stared into Sarah’s wounded gazelle eyes. She melted under his gaze.
“Madam, say the word and I will escort this lout off the premises.”
“I’m not having that from you. I want the man in charge right now.”
“Nathan Dunstable, manager, at your disposal, Sir.”
Nathan spat the word ‘Sir’. His fingers clasped around a lighted candle from Sarah’s table.
“I suggest you pay up and get out or I’ll stick this light somewhere painful. I might put sizzling pork on the menu. There is enough meat on your rear end to keep my customers happy for a couple of months.”
Simon staggered and shrank away. His rat’s ambition withered under Nathan’s scorpion stare.
“Pay the bill.”
Simon threw a host of twenties at Nathan before scuttling out the restaurant. Sarah remained.
“I’m sorry about that Madam. I couldn’t stand by whilst he abused you. You deserve much better than that.”
Sarah admired his gallantry.
“No, thank you. He’s a horrible man. You‘ve done me a massive favour.”
“I’m glad I could help, do call me Nathan.”
Nathan took her hand and dabbed his lips on her fingers.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sarah.”
Sarah wiped away salty tears. She never believed an overworked taxi driver would shatter their lives. She bowed her head and said goodbye. She tapped her bulging stomach. Nathan was a fine name for a boy.
Gary Hewitt is a raconteur who lives in a quaint little village in Kent. He has written two novels which are currently being edited. His writing does tend to veer away from what you might expect. He has had over 60 short stories and poems published. He enjoys both writing prose and poetry. His style of writing tends to feature edgy characters and can be extremely dark. Some of his influences are James Herbert, Stephen King, Bulgakov, Tolkein to name but a few. He is also a proud member of the Hazlitt Arts Centre Writers group in Maidstone which features an eclectic group of very talented writers. He has a website featuring his published works here: http://ghwt9996.wix.com/tales#!