2001


by Ben Blattberg

(reprinted from Winter 1997)

I almost cried the first time I saw a CD-ROM. Games are fun and good; they’re the dough of my cybercake. But CD-ROM cinematics are like heaven sent icing. It was so beautiful it might as well have been perfect. It probably was. I know definitely where it was: a friend’s house.

Did I mention the graphics were mag-great-beaut-etc. They were all above & more. But as the sights streamed into my eyes, to balance the near tears that were streaming out, methinks I heard a bit of a voice tell me:

“Now that you know what greatness tastes like, everything else will be bile to your tongue.”

And I knew in a way that it was true. And the same voice said again:

“Nothing is good or the opposite of good but thinking makes it so.”

It would have gone on, probably with something from Confucius or Play-Doh, but I stopped it by simply accepting what it said.

I remember my 512K Macintosh and the game “Asteroids,” where you’re a little ship blowing apart rocks. I loved that game.

Then I got “Dark Castle.”

Then a new computer.

More Ram.

A color monitor.

“spaceward Ho!”

“Simant.”

And now I was watching “Command and Conquer,” with beautiful colors + sounds + interface.

The near tears would no longer come. My eyes were dry. This rose would soon lose its bloom as soon as the next game came out. The voice was right.

But that morning I went home and installed “Asteroids.” I played it for awhile. It was fun. Black and white graphics, no sound, but it was fun.

by Eric Via

My family and I enjoyed a meal at one of our favorite cheapo all-you-can-eat joints last tonight - Golden Skillet.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Golden Skillet - it’s an all you can eat place that is not exactly high-class or fancy - it’s for folks who like to eat a LOT of good food for a few bucks each. The amount and quality of the food is reflected by the size of some of the Patrons of Golden Skillet!

Our waiter tonight, Jerry, was PERFECT! He called my wife “Lady”, he called me “Sir” (You can tell he doesn’t know me) He treated us as though we were in a high-class restaurant! He didn’t even seem to mind the macaroni and cheese my kids dumped on the floor, or even my ill wife’s nasty tissue on the table.

And Jerry the Waiter didn’t do the two things I despise most in a waiter or waitress - bothering us, and brown- nosing/entertaining us.

He didn’t BOTHER us - he was there when we needed him to refill our drinks and to make sure everything was okay - he sensed when we DID need something and was there to fill that need and not before and not after.

And Jerry The Waiter didn’t brown-nose us for a tip - he acted as though he really CARED how we were doing and wanted us to really enjoy our meal! I’m sick of what I call the “cute” waiters and waitress - usually college aged kids who wear their hair funny, act like MTV hosts, and try to be my FRIEND and ENTERTAIN me when I eat. I don’t WANT A FRIEND to serve me when I go out to eat - I want a WAITER OR WAITRESS to serve me….save the jokes they’re not funny and save the small-talk I don’t care. (Am I getting old or what!?)

(One of these “cute” waiters was once asked by a friend of mine if he could have the half-empty catsup bottle refilled - the waiter proceeded to say “I”ll take care of it sir” - put the bottle behind his back out of view, turned it upside down to get the catsup to the top of the bottle, held his hand over the bottom of the bottle to hide it, and swung the bottle back around to surprise my friend and his wife with his magic .. problem was, the LID wasn’t on tight and he ended up splattering my friend and his lovely wife with catsup. Cute magic trick…yeah right.)

Well it’s become a practice of mine to let managers of places (Stores and restaurants) know when someone is doing their job well - this is VERY important to do!

So I asked one of the other waitresses if I could please see the manager - of course to the workers this is a very scary request - they automatically ASSUME something is wrong or I’m going to complain about THEM - and some have even looked at me like I’m a jerk. (And I AM - but that’s another story)

So she scurried nervously away to get the manager - and he appears from the kitchen within seconds. (Managers are always fast on their feet. “Yes Sir - can I help you?” (There’s that SIR again - in a Golden Skillet…wow!)

“Your waiter. ..(I pause for effect and suspense) ..the one named Jerry…..

“Yes?” he says nervously.

“He was…. GREAT!” I say, and he lets his breath out in relief.

“My wife and I were very happy with his service and the way we were treated by him..he’s a great waiter and there should be more like him!” I say.

“Why THANK YOU SIR for taking the time to let us know!” he says, grinning like a mule eating briars.

So you see this is a FUN habit to get into - who knows, perhaps…HOPEFULLY, they’ll call this waiter into their office at the end of the night and let him know what a great job he’s doing - perhaps he’ll get a raise right before Christmas…perhaps he’ll get promoted..perhaps his wife, girlfriend, (or both) will give him something special in the sack tonight -who knows..but the most important thing to ME is that ONE MORE person out there will realize that hard work, manners, and politeness DO PAY OFF!

by Eric Via

Taking a trip to the store the other day in my car with my kids, I was swiftly brought to my senses by my son’s observation from the back seat:

“Hey Dad! - the flag at McDonalds was upside-down!!”

“Get outta here!” I said.

“No - it really was!”

“The American flag?” I asked.

“Yeah! At McDonalds, it was upside down on the flagpole!”

I strained my neck to look back, and, sure enough, I saw the United States Flag of America, the ol’ Stars And Stripes, flapping away in the December breeze UPSIDE DOWN!

DOH!

Without even thinking (why should I start now?) I whipped my old car around in a patriotic U-turn, all the while going over my flag etiquette; a flag flown at half-mast indicates mourning of an important person, and…a flag flown upside-down is either a sign of protest and discontent with the United States, or a sign of distress. I couldn’t recall seeing that McDonalds had any beef with the Federal Government (no pun intended), and I doubted that the place was being robbed at gunpoint and someone SNUCK out to lower the flag and raise it again upside-down on a Saturday morning.

I knew it was my obligation as a fine and outstanding member of society, an ex Boy Scout with honors, and an ex-Sailor in the US Navy to investigate this situation further.

“Are you really going to tell them Daddy?” asked my daughter.

“Of course honey. I have to!” (”I have to!” - how corny - perhaps I should step into a phone booth first and change my clothes?)

I barged into McDonalds with a mission, but there was a big line in front of me. I checked my pockets for change and found I didn’t even have enough for a coffee. Not wanting to look like I came in there JUST to tell the manager his McDonalds was under distress I grabbed 3 packets of catsup and took my place in line…I’m not quite sure what this was supposed to do - but I think I was thinking that if I had the catsup in my hand the manager would think I was actually eating there and didn’t come in just to interrogate him about the flag.

Luckily before it was my turn I saw the manager heading out to the parking lot to bring someone an order, I stopped him at the door.

“Did you know your flag is upside-down out there?”

His eyes got big. “Get outta here!” he said with a smile, and without missing a beat headed back to the back of McDonalds yelling “Carlos! CARRRRLOS! CARLOS!”

I assumed Carlos was the outstanding young McDonalds American whose responsibility it was to raise the flag every morning.

I tossed the catsup packets back into the bin and headed for the car - mission accomplished.

Outside, I looked back up at the upside-down flag whipping in the breeze and smiled. I got in my car to watch and soon out came Carlos, a young Mexican-American probably 17 years old. He didn’t see me - and I watched him walk to the flagpole, look up, scratch his head like a cartoon character, and stare. He stared at that flag for perhaps 15 seconds, I’d guess trying to get a mental image of what the American flag is NOT supposed to look like when it’s raised.

I pulled back out onto the highway.

America…baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and McDonalds.

Perhaps the upside-down flag that morning at McDonalds really WAS a distress sign for McDonalds?

“McDonalds - over 3 billions served…We can serve you good ol’ American fast food, a cheeseburger and Coke, we can offer you an early American heart attack, we can serve our country’s senior citizens a discount coffee, but our workers don’t really have to have a clue how to fly our flag.”

by Carl Miller

Let’s talk about abortion.

Maybe not. Let’s talk about . . . spontaneous orgasms.

Do you realize that if men could have spontaneous orgasms the entire complexion of male/female interaction would change?

I mean . . . My God.

My friend, Hal Lowe, and I were talking about this the other night on the way to the strip club, uh, I mean on our way to . . . an all-night Bible study at church.

Hal was talking about wet dreams. He’s had a couple and they’re like holy mysteries to him. I’ve never actually had one. Oh, I’ve had sex dreams. I’ve had plenty of sex dreams. But I’ve never woke up in the morning and had to clean my sheets. Not that I haven’t cleaned my sheets. Oh, I’ve cleaned my sheets plenty of times.

“Do you realize that if we could tap into whatever it is in our brain that let’s us do that in our dreams,” Hal ranted, shaking like a wino in a frat house on Friday night. “That that would . . . change everything?”

You could be sitting in a bar surrounded by beautiful women and it just wouldn’t matter. You wouldn’t care. Women? Who needs ‘em? I can spontaneously orgasm. Watch this . . .

Men wouldn’t have to worry about what kind of car they drove or how big their penis happened to be. It just wouldn’t be an issue. Granted, those things are usually more of an issue to the men then they are to the women but I think you get my drift. Men, all men, would have the same level of confidence that men with cool cars and/or large peni have always been blessed with. The kind of confidence that attracts women.

But the beauty of it would be that the tables would be completely turned. In the world of the SPONTANEOUS ORGASM!!!!! men wouldn’t need women. Instead of vice-versa, which is the way it is in the real world.

Women would be coming up to us in bars.

“Hey, uh, can I buy you a drink, uh, or, uhm, something. Heh.”

And you, the man, could just look at her and make that scoffing sound.

“Pfft (close proximity to the scoffing sound). Nah. I don’t need you. I can spontaneously orgasm. Watch this . . .”

Of course, if you could spontaneously orgasm then what the hell what you be doing in a bar?

But wherever you met a woman the traditional things which matter now would no longer be of any significance in the world of the SPONTANEOUS ORGASM!!!!!

“So,” she might say to you at the . . . all-night Bible study at church.

“What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a rivet fiddler,” you might say if, for instance, you happened to

fiddle rivets.

“Really,” she might respond if, for some mysterious reason, she continued talking to you. “Much money in that?”

“Nope. Not a dime.”

“Oh?”

“I had to go through the cushions at my neighbor’s house to scrounge up the change to buy this beer.”

“But this is an all-night Bible study at church,” she might say if she’d been paying attention.

“Really,” you might respond if you suddenly realized you’d forgotten that you quit going to bars since you can now spontaneously orgasm.

“Well, I’ll be damned. So it is. So it is.”

by Kimberly Nichols

It is Monday night and I am making my round of angel calls; making sure all my friends are still intact. Jerry is okay and so is Billy. I dial Seth and expect the worse. He answers on the third ring. I can tell he’s on bed. At eight o’clock, that’s not good.

“Why are you sleeping?”

“I’m coming down.”

He refuses to lie to me.

“Is that where you’ve been for two days?”

“Yes,” he says, “I ran into Nixon and he hooked me up. Oh.”

I hear a ruffling of bed sheets. I can visualize him dirty and full of goosebumps under the covers in his sweaty pad without electricity. It’s the middle of another torrid summer. I hear a small sniffle with female notes.

“Do you have a girl there?” I ask.

“Remember that girl I told you about? The stripper?”

“Maya?” I ask, “The one whose father made her watch pornos while he shoved his dick down her throat?”

“Yes.”

“Do you like her?” I inquire.

“She says I have the most beautiful eyes she’s ever seen,” he announces proudly, “So I had to sleep with her.”

I hang up so he can sleep after he promises me that he’ll come over later. He says he’ll bring Maya; just another dot on the beaded string of strange oddities he parades through my life on a fleeting basis.

I wait for hours and they finally show up around midnight. Maya doesn’t look anything like a stripper. She is sweetness gone grotesquely awry. Young with a reddish bob, she’s dressed in baggy, drab clothes over light freckled skin. I tell Seth to lie on my couch and rest and Maya and I go into my office to talk. She wants to see some of my work.

All writers are bleeding in front of strangers and Seth, being my biggest fan besides my lover Jack, has been boasting to great lengths. I give her a stack of raw prose and she’s silent as she reads.

I start to think about the rich. If I were rich, I’d serve tea with my literature out of creamy milk glass pitchers with tiny cookies on the side instead of here with two Diet Coke cans and an overflowing ashtray on the floor. The rich always have crushed ice, rattan, tabletops and time. I have tap water cubes, garage sale tapestries, no tabletops, a poorly paid waitress job and my soul. They have fuchsia flowers with leaves that wilt into spinach-like form; chair legs that twist oddly like burnt trees and blondes. I have weeds that grow wildly out of dirt in my backyard, chairs they break and get repaired over and over and bleach that can be utilized to my roots if I feel the desire to be some lounge lizard’s wet dream. They have any life. I have pores. My pores are my art.

It’s three a.m. and I sit here listening to Liz Phair sing,”Šcuz secretly I’m dead”. Our humiliations are kept under the covers. I create art with my own small deaths. Art as urinal. Courtney Love sings about a plastic doll, malleable in the heat of male hands and when I read Sassy (the magazine with great intentions) at age fifteen, I ran to Wal-Mart for a bag of Goody barrettes after seeing them in a fashion ad. Now Liz is singing about an x-ray man and the secret positions she sees in his head as he looks at other chics and I realize why girls like me never find understanding. We know there is truth but we don’t want to hear about it. The soul twin lover, the panic and confusion stemming from the abstract of love- something that carries so many connotations that we’ve been programmed to embrace and reject and, sadly, accept. Coldness ahs become so trendy that we deny innocence. Instead, we share it with a world that coins us psychotic for being real. We get rid of insecurity through an icy, cold stance or a job that involves taking off our clothes. We are keen on male minds because they have become our best friends. We bond our common faults and flaws into the common bandage of humanity yet the knife is still as sharp as it slips between our thighs.

“The shape of his naked eyes as he came..” Maya reads from one of my poems.

“The only time guys are naked unless they love you.”

“Not always,” she says softly.

I’ve known her four an hour and we’re already on the same wavelength.

“But,” I announce, “The more naked they get, the more scary it feels.”

She doesn’t reply.

Why can’t we all shed our clothes? It would be so much easier to accept our mortality but we can’t stop thinking that we’re all unique. It’s all we cling to. A psychic once told me that no matter what happens it could be labeled growth in some form. The more naked we get, the scarier it feels. Why?

“To be cold used to be my goal,” I explain, “but it was impossible because my heart overruled.”

“Why cold?” Maya asks, crawling down on the floor beside me, creasing into perpendiculars, the lines of her olive green corduroy pants, “Why not just stop editing and say what you mean? What about honesty instead of plastic, manufactured emotions?”

A veneer of purity is alluring but tough to maintain.

“I don’t view cold as plastic,” I say, but more of a defense mechanism.”

I can’t believe this 20-year-old fresh-faced angel in front of me is a stripper. Her peaches and cream skin match the Victoriana she idolizes and writes romantically of. But abuse, I know from experience, warps girls into strange caricatures.

I continue, “Why care when someone walks out your front door? Why not just numb your ego in the first place?”

“Boring.”

I sigh, “But sometimes necessary for the weak kneed.”

“You,” she says sadly, tucking a strand of raw umber hair behind a diamond studded ear, “have been at the wrong places at the wrong times. You have a wonderful lover now and should stop looking for when the bad things will occur.”

I hand her a cigarette and light it. I say, “It isn’t about what’s already happened to me. It’s the anticipation of potential hurt if I become totally naked. Like the torture we put ourselves through if we suspect a lover is cheating until the day we find him inside of he and then it is so simple to walk away. The fog of anxiety is what stings, is what I can’t get away from.”

There’s a way never to be anxious,” she says in a whisper so that Seth won’t overhear from the other room, “there’s a recipe for monogamous unity if we’re willing to accept the ingredients. We all idolize the monogamous mind, the commitment in words and none of that matters. We should allow for our minds to explore but give more credit to the monogamous body.”

“But.”

“A monogamous physicality is simple if we don’t expect it in the mind. Can we do that?”

“I wonder what test we are ultimately qualifying for?” I say.

She laughs, “Life is SO navigable.”

“I don’t know if I agree with that,” I say.

“Neither do I,” she admits, “but I have to.”

She sprawls out like a cat on my carpet and takes a sip of soda. “I can tell you’re in love because you are analyzing things before they’ve even had a chance. This is probably the first time you’ve ever let someone truly into your heart. I have done it a thousand times so I am more relaxed about hurt then you. I envy you.”

She stands to leave and I try to make out the shape of her career beneath the thick ply of her sweater.

I used to think I could make that decision. To be cold or not to be. Thought I could slip on an attitude like my purple Birkenstocks. I was wrong.

Seth knocks on the door and then enters, “Hey VioletŠI want you to draw me a tattoo. I want it diabolical. Burnt trees and a sexy blonde. I want them to merge but be definite.”

We girls are good at blending with fire.

I turn on the radio and another male singer fills me with hope.

by Janalee Chmel

Chris is fine, I say to Jennifer.

We are in a coffee shop halfway between our houses. Jennifer and I meet once a week to unload on one another. So far, today it’s been my turn. Jennifer is eight months pregnant. I am telling her about my New Year’s Eve with Chris.

I mean, Chris isn’t real happy with her life these days, but she’s making do, I guess. You know Chris. She’s tough.

Jennifer waves for a refill on her coffee and nods at me. She’s the only one who might understand, so I decide to risk it.

Jennifer, Chris’s work is so tough. You wouldn’t believe what I saw her do. It brought up all kinds of memories, I say.

I study Jennifer a moment to decide if this is too much for her, or us, right now. With what we’ve been through in the last year, supporting one another has been like two kids deciding who plays invalid and who plays nurse.

But I tell her.

Well, I spend the day, that day, December thirty-first, alone in Chris’s apartment because she works from seven to noon. I drive her to the clinic at seven so I can have the Jeep all day. Not that I know anything about Phoenix to scout about on my own.

So, anyway, I drive her to the clinic and I say, Tough day ahead? I know it is. She got a call the night before while we were having beers on her living room floor. Some tech telling her she has a surgery first thing. She’s never done one of these kinds before so she wanted to get to work early to read up on it.

I didn’t sleep a fucking wink, she says as we’re driving. You know how Chris is.

Good luck, I say when she gets out of the Jeep.

I’m really nervous, she says. I’ll need a beer later.

We’re ready to bring in the new year, you know. We both hated ‘96.

Jennifer says, did anyone have a good 96? I was so glad to see that year go.

I nod and say, You and me both. So, anyway, I spend the day waiting for noon. I watch a little TV and walk her dog. I don’t do anything too exciting. I’m just happy to relax a little. Gives me time to think about all the other shit. You know, Jennifer, I never think about it. Even that day. Even when I tried.

I wonder if I should bring this all up again. Jennifer’s probably sick of me talking about it. She’s nodding at me as if it’s OK to go on.

Jennifer says, You need to learn how to think about this when you’re alone, Denise. Maybe then you’ll cry. She pauses and shrugs, then says, Maybe not. I still cry a lot and it makes me feel better. You’re different.

I wonder, does Jennifer want me to think about it alone so I stop bugging her? At eight months pregnant now, though, shouldn’t Jennifer be feeling better about the miscarriage? Yeah, right. Shouldn’t I be healed? Your mom is supposed to die before you; your child isn’t. But, I decide to go on. This has been the nature of our friendship all year.

So anyway, I try to think. Don’t think. Shower and head to the clinic at 11:30. I want to see Chris in action. You know, Dr. Chris! Our Dr. Chris! You’d love seeing her there. She’s so in-charge.

I walk in and there’s an older woman with a little, old dog on her lap, and a girl, I guess about my age, only she’s got an engagement ring. Bitch!

Jennifer smiles and I see her absently fiddle with her ring.

Just kidding, I say. Who, me? Bitter? Moi? The girl is sitting there with a puppy that’s just out-of-con-trol! I’m telling you, that dog needed less caffeine. Speaking of which, where’s our refills?

We both look up and the waitress scurries over with the pot.

So, the receptionist comes out from the back and the older woman starts to stand up, but the receptionist looks at me and this other girl and asks us into a room right off the waiting room. We, this girl and I, both laugh and say we’re not together.

I’m Denise, I say. Chris’s friend.

This woman says, Oh, like she’s all happy to see me and tells me she’s Katy and I can go in back.

I wander back. There’s this funny parrot. I say hi and he — like on cue — takes a shit! You know, maybe Chris taught him that trick.

I wouldn’t doubt it, Jennifer says laughing.

I keep walking back. There’s this fridge where they have one of those word games stuck all over the door. You know? With one word on each piece and you move the pieces around to create sentences? There’s sentences up there like

BITE ME. DOGS DO

and

I GET WET

and

DANCE WITH A MONKEY

I smile cause I know Chris definitely created a couple of those. Can’t you see her doing that? That’s so Chris. It’s kind of strange seeing the stuff back there. Like seeing the back of a stage set with all the ropes and pulleys. The main room back there — you can tell the public, the owners, don’t go back there because there’s bagels on one of the exam tables. It’s pretty big. Two of those silver metal tables about waist high. A couple of big cages stacked near a wall. And there’s a couple of rooms off this room, and a hall going back. I just wait in that main room. I feel like an intruder, you know? The table with the bagels has a book on it open to a page about neutering dogs whose balls haven’t fallen all the way. No, really! Didn’t I say that? That was the surgery Chris was all uptight about.

Seriously? Jennifer says. Oh, Chris must love that!

The diagrams in the book were hysterical! I suppose they’re not if you’re a vet, but Chris did say that ever since the asshole dumped her, she’s found quite a bit of humor in neuters. And satisfaction.

At this point, I haven’t seen Chris yet but I hear her with hyper puppy and engaged girl. Laughing. Joking. Just a check-up, I guess.

Well, I have to go to the bathroom so I wander down that back hall and find one. There’s this map of the Grand Canyon on the wall and Big Bass Fishing or some other kind of magazine on the back of the toilet. Kind of funny.

Anyway, when I’m done, I go back up the hall and there’s Chris. She’s standing next to the open exam table. That old woman’s little dog is on it but the woman isn’t there.

Hi there, Dr. Horst, I say, all chipper and happy to call her doctor, you know?

Hey you, she says, but not real up. I’m still in the doorway to the hall. She goes to a drawer between the two tables and pulls out a syringe. She sticks it in her mouth and pulls the cap off with her teeth. You know, like you see doctors do on TV. Like it’s a pen cap, or something. So natural. I smile at her and she leans back against the cabinets. She’s filling the syringe with this pink stuff — looks gooey, not watery. Like a clear lotion, or aloe. Yeah, like pink aloe gel.

I walk up to the dog. He looks a little old but he seems nice enough. I mean, he doesn’t seem aggressive. I get up close to him and I say, what’s the prognosis, doc? Even though I hate that word — prognosis. I hate the word doctor, come to think of it. Not one M. Deity could keep my mother from withering away before my eyes. They act like life is so discardable.

Jennifer jumps in quickly, like she’s heard me say that before — she has — and says, They’re not all bad, you know. You should let go of some of your anger, Denise.

I only nod. This is the crux of my story. I can’t get diverted into that topic now. I lean in toward Jennifer a little and continue.

So, anyway, I said, what’s the prognosis, doc? And Chris says to me, I’ve got to put him to sleep.

No, Jennifer says, and sits back.

I wonder if Jennifer can see it coming. I sure didn’t. I go on quickly.

I just back up. I don’t say anything. I wanted to save him, Jennifer. I wanted Chris to save him. I mean, he was alive. He was breathing. He looked at me when I walked in the room. His owner was probably just down the hall waiting for some prescription, I bet.

I wonder if I’m telling this right. Does Jennifer get it?

What determines that, Jennifer? Life. I mean, I guess to Chris it is all scientific. She can think it’s over even when a heart’s still beating.

As soon as I say that, I remember Jennifer’s words last year. Its heart just stopped beating. That’s all they can tell me.

Jennifer is looking past my shoulder, but she looks back at me knowingly. We’ve gone over and over the concept of death. I was there when cancer finally stopped Mom’s heart. Jennifer says she knows the moment her child died inside her. Those events were separated only by two weeks.

I go on.

Lungs sound like shit, Chris says to me. She tells the tech standing there that the dog collapsed twice last night.

But still, Jennifer. What is it? Chris is a scientist. She sees it all as biological systems — functioning or not functioning. But isn’t there more to life? When does death really happen? Is it a system shut-down or more? And what does that pink stuff do? Help things along or force it?

I’m not making myself clear, I say.

Jennifer says, I understand. You know I do. Life isn’t scientific.

I nod in agreement. Jennifer says, please tell me what happened.

You sure? I say.

I think so, she says.

Chris, she walks up to the dog and the tech holds his little leg out and Chris sticks that syringe in and squirts all the pink stuff in and the dog — he immediately relaxes. He just relaxes. Like my mom did when she took her last breath, Jennifer. Just like something left her. The dog was the same.

Chris goes out to talk to the woman who I suddenly hear sobbing. I am so curious to look at her. I want to see it on someone else’s face. But the tech, she’s wrapping up the dog in a towel and I can’t leave. I have to watch. I realize I don’t know what they did to Mom’s body right after. I was in the kitchen. Did I tell you about any of that? They arrived after we called and I didn’t watch. I might have been on the phone with you. I probably was.

The tech puts the dog in this plastic bag. A yellow plastic bag, and I remember the zipper. I heard a zipper that night, Jennifer. I totally forgot it until that day with the dog and then suddenly I remembered the zipper! They put her in a body bag. My mom. In a body bag.

I bring my coffee mug to my lips, but taste nothing. I’m pushing too hard. For what?

Then, Jennifer leans across and puts her hand on top of mine. There’s a tear in her eye. Why can’t I do that?

She says, you need to finish this.

I turn my hand over to hold hers and I go on.

The yellow bag, it … the tech knots the top and holds it up off the table with one hand. It’s full and round at the bottom, I say.

Like a stork carrying a baby in a blanket, Jennifer says quietly.

Yeah, but not moving, I say. Just a round lump.

We stare at each other. I finish the story.

But then, so the tech says, to the doggie freezer! and walks back down the hall.

I’m stunned. I bet they put Mom in a freezer, Jennifer. They froze Mom.

Jennifer nods knowingly. One hand rests on her sizable tummy.

by Larry W. Van Guilder

Our fear and fascination with powerful storms is timeless and universal. Thus, the storm is a familiar vehicle for addressing the dread of isolation shared by many.

By six-thirty that evening, Mary could see the storm move from its crouched position on the horizon and begin making its way east. Watching the gray clouds darken into shades of purple and grow taller and more ominous, she felt the familiar stirrings that approaching storms had aroused in her since childhood. Rain, the crash of thunder and lightning, an angry sky, and trees bowing and swaying to the will of a freshening wind called to something deep within her. An eldritch world, she thought; beautiful, but lonely.

The gathering storm evoked memories of her mother, and the day she died. Seven years old, Mary had not understood the inexorable workings of cancer. The disease had reduced a strong, beautiful woman to a caricature of her former self, weak and skeletal.

A surreal haze had long surrounded many of Mary’s memories of her mother’s last day. She could not recall the doctor’s arrival, although she remembered him reaching down to stroke her hair as he left. Faces of neighbors, aunts, uncles and cousins had blurred into a featureless array of talking heads, each one mouthing a well-intentioned platitude. But Mary had never forgotten the savage storm that had erupted in late afternoon. She could still hear the cries of nervous livestock as the storm approached; she could still see her father kneeling by her mother’s bed, oblivious to the thunder and lightning breaking over their heads. While the mid-summer tempest clawed at the old farmhouse, she watched her mother’s breathing slow, then stop, as if the storm itself had claimed the woman’s spirit as it passed. She had never felt so terrifyingly alone and abandoned.

Another storm came slashing its way across the broad farmlands later that summer. Even now, a quarter-century removed from that day, she recalled how her loneliness and sorrow had begun to fade as the storm approached. In her child’s view, the storms which had taken her mother were somehow bringing a part of her back.

The wind continued to rise. Mary opened the screen door and walked onto the front porch, drawn by the increasingly vigorous dance of the slender pines lining the road. She inhaled deeply and smiled at the scent of approaching rain, opening her arms and stretching her slim frame to embrace the wind like an old lover.

A clattering sound turned her around, and she frowned at the peeling old shutters that framed the two front windows. Widening strips of weathered gray peeked through a brick-red covering. Like the house itself, they were long overdue for some scraping and a fresh coat of paint.

She turned back to the advancing storm just as her brother Gene pulled his red pickup into the drive. As if on cue, the sky opened and heavy raindrops began to pelt the front yard, igniting tiny explosions of dust on the dry earth. She shook her head and grinned at him, then cupped her hands to yell.

“Don’t you have enough sense to get in out of the rain?”

From inside the truck Gene placed a hand to his ear, then shrugged and opened the door. The wind caught his baseball cap, sending it tumbling toward the road and leaving his balding head open to the rain as he sprinted for the porch. His feet slipped on the rain-slick porch, and Mary laughed as he grasped the porch railing for support.

“And what’s so funny?”

“Oh, just my big brother slipping and sliding through the rain that he doesn’t have the sense to stay out of.”

“Look who’s talking.”

Mary looked down at her soaked dress and noticed for the first time that she was as wet– wetter –than Gene. She placed an inquiring hand to the top of her head, then grinned wryly and drew a thick strand of sopping, brown hair across her forehead as her brother chuckled.

“I didn’t realize I was getting wet. You know me– ”

“Yeah, I know you, Miss ‘Storm-Lover.’ Well, come on girl, let’s get inside before we both drown.”

Mary took him by the hand and opened the screen door. Inside, she turned for another look as the storm’s fury increased. At the sight of rain blowing horizontally through the screen, Gene nudged her.

“Better close the other door, too, unless you want your furniture floating around.”

She nodded, and nudged the door closed.

“I better get these windows,” Gene said.

“Leave them open just a little. So we can hear it better.”

Gene smiled at her and shook his head in feigned despair, but he was careful to leave each window cracked open about one-half inch.

“Happy?”

“Gene, it’s not that I ‘love’ storms. I guess it’s more like a fascination. I feel closer to Mom when a storm passes. I have for years.” Gene said nothing, and she continued. “Now, what in the world brings you over here this afternoon. Don’t you have a farm and a family to tend to?”

“Can’t a brother come and see his sister when he feels like it?” “You were just here the day before yesterday.”

“Well, I the truth is, I had to go into McMinnville anyway, so I just thought I’d stop and say hello on my way back.”

She clucked her tongue disapprovingly. “Gene, Gene. I love you with all my heart, but you are and always have been a terrible liar.”

Gene’s cheeks reddened beneath his leathery tan. When he didn’t answer, Mary walked over and hugged him, standing on tiptoe to reach his shoulders.

“You worry about me far too much.” She stepped back and kissed him lightly on his cheek. “But, thanks.”

He shrugged and looked out the windows. “Storm’s getting worse.”

Mary followed his gaze. “Yes, isn’t it wonderful?”

Gene rolled his eyes. “Wonderful? It won’t be wonderful when this old shack blows away one day. Listen to that wind, Mary. Hell, you can feel the frame shaking. Why don’t you– ”

“Move back with Dad?” she finished for him. “Or maybe in with you and Carol and the kids?”

Gene shifted his gaze from her face to the floor. “Might not be such a bad idea. At least until you decide what you’re going to do.”

Mary smiled at his discomfort, but answered him gently: “What I’m going to do is stay right where I’m at.”

“But, Mary– ” A brilliant lightning flash followed by a deafening peal of thunder erupted overhead before he could finish. In the wake of the thunder, the wind’s shriek increased and the rain flailed the old house even harder.

“Jesus! That was close!” He peered cautiously out the window.

“I’m here, and I won’t let the big, bad storm hurt you,” Mary teased.

“Very funny.” Gene turned from the window and tried to ease back into his pitch. “I was going to say that you can’t keep up the farm forever now that, well, you just can’t. It’s too much.”

“It’s OK to say that Ray is dead. It’s been two years.” Mary went to the window and grasped his arm. “Life goes on. I loved him, I still love him, and I miss him. But life goes on,” she finished in a near-whisper.

Gene fixed his eyes upon the slashing rain as he spoke. “But you’re so… so alone up here, Mary. We all worry about you.”

“Alone?” She savored the word for a moment. “You and Carol are three miles up the road, Dad’s place is less than that, and I’ve got nearly a hundred head of cattle and sixteen geese to keep me company right here,” she finished, smiling.

He turned to her grimly, then laughed in spite of himself. “Geese? I give up.”

“Good! Now let me get you a towel and a dry shirt before you drip all over my floor and catch pneumonia to boot. And while I’m at it I’ll change, too.”

Mary plucked a towel from the linen closet, then walked to her bedroom. She changed into dry clothes, then opened her ancient, over-sized cedar chest and rummaged for one of Ray’s old shirts. At the sight of the worn, red and black plaid pullover she stopped. A packrat from youth, she found disposing of anything a challenge, and all of her husband’s clothes, books, even old movie stubs, could still be found in various caches throughout the old house.

She lifted the shirt from the case and pressed her face into the fabric. Through the pungent cedar, she could still smell Ray, and her eyes glistened briefly before she admonished herself: Get a grip, Mary!

“Here you go.” She tossed him the towel and the shirt.

“Thanks.”

She watched him strip off his wet shirt and dry himself vigorously.

“Not too hard,” she said, pointing to his thinning hair, “you’ll rub off what’s left.”

“Ha, ha, ha.”

“Don’t worry, bald is sexy. Or hasn’t Carol told you?”

“Not lately,” came his muffled reply, as he struggled with the pullover.

She walked back to the window. The storm had not abated in the least. “Gene?”

“Yeah?”

“Remember what you said a minute ago? About being alone?”

“Yeah.”

“Well… oh, never mind. You’ll just laugh at me, anyway.”

“What is it?”

She turned and gave him an appraising look before continuing.

“Well?”

She watched the twitching pines for a long moment before answering. “Alright. But you’ll just think it’s crazy.”

“I can’t think anything unless you tell me what it is.”

“OK.” She went on, slowly. “Since we were kids, since Mom died, I guess, whenever it stormed I imagined that I was the only person left alive in the entire world. See, when a big storm like this comes, it’s easy to feel that way. I mean, right now, for all we know we’re the only people left alive. A storm like this isolates you. I don’t know, maybe it’s because all that power just makes you feel so small and insignificant, as if it might just take you away, or take everyone else away. It’s just you, the wind, the rain, the thunder and lightning. The rest of the world may as well not exist. You’re alone, just you and the storm. See?”

Gene stared at her.

“Well? Haven’t you ever felt that way?”

“No, I can’t say that I have.”

She turned to him and shrugged. “See, I told you that you’d think it was crazy.” She continued, pointing a taunting finger in his direction: “On the other hand, you have no imagination.”

“I have plenty of imagination and I don’t think you’re crazy. I just think you spend too much time by yourself.” He stooped and peered out the window again. “Man, is it ever getting dark. When is this thing going to pass?”

“Maybe never.” She gave a ghoulish chuckle. “But in the meantime, I’ll turn on some lights.”

Gene watched her switch on the living room lamps. “There you go with that crazy talk again.”

“Crazy? I thought you just told me I wasn’t crazy?”

“I didn’t mean it in a bad way. More like silly than crazy, I guess.”

“Oh, now I’m just another silly woman? I think I’m insulted.”

Clearly exasperated, Gene opened his mouth to reply, but the blinding sear of lightning trailed by a roar of thunder that shook the house cut him short, and he jumped back from the window in alarm.

“Dammit!”

“Close, huh?”

“Too close!”

Mary returned to the window.

“Listen, Gene.”

“To what?”

“Tell me what you hear.”

“Nothing but wind and rain. Hell, I can barely hear you.”

“That’s right. Nothing but the wind, the rain and the thunder. You can’t hear one thing that would indicate there’s another living soul on earth but the two of us, right here. And even if we weren’t here, the storms would come and go just like they always have. Do you think storms pay one bit of attention to us? Does the storm care whether we exist or not?”

Gene grimaced. “Are you going to start that again?” He paused. “Anyway, storms don’t think.”

Mary pushed away from the window and faced him. “Sorry. Too much imagination for my own good. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“I’m not upset.”

“You sound like you are.”

“No, I just… wait a minute. I’ll put a stop to this.” He stepped over to the television and bent down to turn it on.

“The television? In this weather?” Mary asked.

“I’m only going to turn it on for a minute, just to prove to you that the whole damn world hasn’t gone away.”

He tugged the on/off switch and the television crackled to life. They watched as the picture tube gradually grew brighter.

“Well, it may be raining outside, but it’s snowing on channel 4.”

“Let me try channel 9,” Gene answered. “It should come in better.”

Snow.

“Storm’s probably knocked out some transmitters. If you would have let me put that satellite dish in for you last spring like I wanted we wouldn’t have this problem.”

“Don’t give me a hard time about that satellite dish. I didn’t need it then and I don’t need it now.” She stepped around him and turned off the set. “And we don’t need this either.”

Gene glared at the lifeless television as if the machine had betrayed him.

“Now,” Mary began, “what was that about proving– ”

She didn’t finish the sentence, interrupted by the loudest crash of thunder and lightning since the storm had erupted. As if he were bathed in strobe light, Mary watched her brother twist jerkily away from the television and tumble to the floor. In the darkness that followed the flash, the living room lamps flared brightly before extinguishing.

“Are you alright, Gene?”

“I’m OK, just slipped. Where are your candles or your flashlight?”

“Don’t move, I’ll find something.”

Mary groped cautiously through the dark living room for the entrance to the hallway. Guiding herself with one hand on the wall, she came to the utility closet and opened the door. It took several minutes of fumbling through the untidy storage area before she found the candles, two old brass candlesticks, and a box of wooden matches.

Gene had regained his feet when she returned with the lit candles.

“Sure you’re alright?”

“Yeah. Never have liked storms. Not since…”

“Not since Mom died? I know. And I guess I got you spooked with all that stuff about, you know, being the ‘only ones left.’ Sorry.”

“Forget about it.” As she tried to read his expression in the flickering light, he went on: “Hear that?”

“What?”

“The storm. I think it’s passed on.”

She listened, startled to realize that she had not noticed the quiet before now. Mary handed one of the candles to her brother and walked carefully through the dimness to the front door. It opened upon damp stillness.

“I better call Carol.”

“Yes,” Mary agreed, then added: “Do you think the phones are working?”

“Only one way to find out.” Gene carefully placed his candle on an end table and picked up the telephone receiver. “Got a dial tone.”

Watching, Mary nodded.

Seconds ticked by before he replaced the receiver. “No answer.”

“Well, maybe it’s not working on your end.”

“I guess not.”

Mary paused, then said: “Try Dad.”

Gene picked up the handset and dialed the number. In the dead, calm stillness of the room she could hear the ringing in the receiver. Finally, reluctantly, Gene hung up.

Fighting back a sudden, choking panic, she said, too quickly: “The phones are probably out everywhere.”

“Then why is this one working?”

“I don’t know. But we don’t even know that our call is really going through, do we? I mean, just because we hear it ringing doesn’t prove it’s connecting, does it?”

Gene didn’t answer right away, apparently considering her explanation. “I don’t know, Mary.” Then: “I better go.”

“Wait! I just had an idea.” She walked past him to the phone, picked up the receiver and began dialing.

“You aren’t the only one who likes to ‘prove’ things.”

“Who are you calling?”

“Just wait, this ought to show that our calls just aren’t going through.” The phone rang once in her ear, clicked, and a meticulously annunciating female voice said: “When you hear the tone, the time will be seven-twenty-nine… ”

She slapped down the receiver. Not even the flickering candlelight could hide the mounting fear and confusion on Gene’s face.

He started hurriedly for the door. “I have to go.”

“Gene! Wait!” She rushed to catch up as he took the porch and the steps in three long strides and ran to his truck. He had his keys in the ignition before Mary got to the pickup’s door. He rolled down the window as he turned the key and the engine sprang to life.

“I’ll call you as soon as I get there.”

“Promise me you will,” Mary said, still struggling for breath.

Gene nodded and shifted the truck into reverse.

“Wait, Gene! Listen, all this stuff, the phones, the television, my crazy talk. It’s all just a weird coincidence. I mean, the storm just shook us up, that’s all. You know we aren’t alone out here!”

When he didn’t answer, Mary grabbed his arm and pointed to the dash: “The radio! Try the radio, Gene!”

He twisted the dial with nervous fingers, from one end to the other. Static.

“That’s AM. Try FM!”

Nothing.

“I have to go, Mary.”

“Call me as soon as you get there.”

He nodded.

“Better yet, come back yourself and let me know everybody’s alright.”

She wasn’t certain that he heard her last request as he backed the truck down the wet driveway. She yelled again as he reached the road and turned his truck toward his home: “It’s just the storm! We’ll laugh about this tomorrow! It’s just the storm!”

She watched until she could no longer see the truck’s taillights. Back indoors, with the candle to light her way, she went to the bedroom and pulled a windbreaker from her closet. She put on the nylon jacket and decided to wait on the porch until Gene called or came back.

Outside, the air was cool, but humid. Thinning clouds backlit by a full moon covered the sky from horizon to horizon. As the minutes passed, she found herself thinking, improbably, of a Jimmy Buffet song, “If the Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me.” Gallows humor, Mary, she thought, and leaned her head back against the porch railing, closing her eyes.

In the cool air, exhausted by the events of the evening, she briefly nodded off. Minutes later, she couldn’t tell how long, she awoke to coaxing light, and opened her eyes to the full moon, radiant and complacent. The storm had left a clear sky in its wake, and only the steady drip of water from the house’s leaking gutters disturbed the silence.

She went back into the house and dialed Gene’s number. No one answered. She tried her Dad. She hung up after the twelfth ring.

From the bedroom dresser she took her car keys. She blew out both of the candles at the door and walked over to her old Ford at the edge of the driveway nearest the house. After five minutes of fruitless cranking, sure that she had killed the battery in the process, she gave up and opened the car door, leaving the keys in the ignition.

Mary hesitated at the end of the driveway. She stood quietly for a time, looking and listening for the sights or sounds of traffic from either direction, but nothing disturbed the night’s post-storm tranquility. Dad’s place is closest. But I might need Gene’s help. At last she turned toward her brother’s home, and stepped off with sure strides toward uncertainty, alone save for her shadow on the moonlit country road.

by Vasilis Afxentiou

It was either children or starve. The place is Athens, the time an autumn Friday, my stratagem short, like the attention span of youngsters. They change ruthlessly quick. But memory is indelible with me. It toys cruelly with things, perhaps, best slighted.

Daphne McTass is the case here, and the pranks these same children play on her, and which I take a very dim view to.

“I’ll have no part of it,” she said, with that voice of hers, this morning about ten, to my proposed practical experiment. Daphne is a sin–voice and all. Curly raven hair ripples to her narrow shoulders and spills over a deep forehead, around cyan-blue, sightless, Egyptian-almond eyes.

“Terrible thing to do. They’re a wily generation granted. Kids with compounded problems. But then, you don’t know what it’s like.” Daphne shifted in her chair uneasy. The teacher’s lounge was deserted, but for the slight, old and rickety cleaning woman dusting off the old shelves filled with antiquated English-learning texts and audiovisual apparatus we use.

“But you,” I said, “could teach them. One day forfeited, to see for the rest of their lives.”

“It’ll be like tying their hands behind their backs, and educating them to use feet and toes in their place. What’s the sense…”

I was considering Daphne’s eloquent disagreements when the bell fractured our fruitless sortie.

It’s Saturday, noon probably. And I dither nonplus through once familiar thoroughfares. A good Samaritan volunteers, grabbing my elbow and with encouraging snippets whisks me across Amalias Avenue and up the curb, says good-bye, abandoning me quickly to my fate as though sightlessness was a fresh strain of aids virus.

The notion does not abandon me.

I hear familiar traffic growling by and feel the cool drifts upon me from the National Garden to my left. I identify as I teeter along wafts of sharp pines and the pungent pass of oaks and a swirl of minty eucalyptus.

In my dead reckoning, twice I’m snatched curtly from harm’s way. The first, a speeding bicycle. The second, a procession of police cars frenziedly climbing onto the sidewalk heading most likely to the Zappeion building where (as I read in yesterday’s paper) the E.C. metro-extension delegation is to meet today for further subsidy allocations.

I am neatly deposited on a park bench–foreboding whispers ebb and flow all about me. My orientation is decimated. I reach up to the dark pair of glasses–No! I tarry, it has to last over the whole weekend. Instead, I press the gauze pads taped on my eyes more firmly against their sockets. “To the ancient knoll,” I whisper, defying a bark of instincts from inside.

Tap, tap! Tap, tap!

It is a comforting sound that of the walking stick ahead of you. You get the illusion that you can actually hear compressions and expansions in space. That an obstacle in your path of way will alter their expected cadence to alert you.

Yes. It’s a different world. You see sounds. Fertile in smells and lip-licking dusty flavours, Daphne. Tap, tap!

Clack, claclack!

Ah, metal. I know this exact spot of the road. Two days ago I passed it. All dug up, replacing old sewage pipes. Solid metal sheets had been laid over the deep trenches for automobiles to get across. The knoll is ahead and to my right.

Daphne, Daphne, you love them too much. Why so much devotion to strangers’ children? Is dedication your seeing organ? Do you find your way in that infinity of darkness of yours by it? The little cuspids will rip your unlit world into dimmer slits. Show them a glimpse of it, if nothing else, and they’ll gasp to be rid of it. And marvel at your courage.

I already do.

And half a day has only gone by. Two for me. A full school day for them. Attention span will swell like a sail, I guaranty you that. They will not forget it. And they will love you for it. They will give accounts of it down to their grandchildren.

And I to mine–

Ah, firm pavement, good. Do it, and you’ll earn their respect in no time.

Tap, tap!

“But the idea is monstrous,” she kept insisting.

Children can be monsters, if you allow it, Daphne. There’s that little spear chucking hunter, Jack, in all of them. He’ll stick you unmercifully come the chance. The restless imp is biding its time. Tie its eyes, one day only, and it will see for the rest of its lifetime, Daphne.

“I’ll have no part of it.”

But I will… will provide her with indisputable facts of non-damage. The analogy of this test should prove enough. An adult survives the perils of the city’s core, unaided by his most vital of senses. You are too giving to them.

“It’s simply the unordinariness of my situation. Open curiosity of children. That’s all.”

More. You are the voice of midnight, that is a heart–if I ever heard one–speaking. The face and body of a ripe woman, that’s never been–that which is bread and water to all women since time out of mind–vain.

Tick, tick!

Dirt? Dirt where there should be pavement? And this queer silence. A tomb vault is less inert. There, at least, one would hear the rasp of a centipede, or the scratch of a beetle. The hub of a city should gallop with noise!

Tick, tick!

Daphne, your starless universe begins to undo this man’s wit. Am I being cursed for my manner of boldness? To end all of it should be simple. Ah, but you have suffered through it since birth, and I to give up in a bit more than half a day’s progress?

I…I cannot. What may lie beyond these two covers of my eyes ties my arms to my sides. At least, what abides behind them is what I make it to be. I can forge a hundred explanations with my brain for the event taking place right now. Each one a grown man’s reasonable explication. A dream even. But if I were to strip the pads off, the hundred conjectures would collapse into one certitude. I will be shorn of the freedoms you possess, Daphne. Be poor, almost naked, with just a single one.

Tick, tick!

Plotch, plotch!

What have we here? A puddle? A lake? The Bering Straits?

“He-e-ey!”

A voice amid the–! “Ye-e-es!”

“You are a tourist?”

“A tourist, my good man?”

“You are crazy–oh, I am sorry. Wait there. I will help you.”

“Who might you be, sir?”

“Senior Inspector Engineer, Manos Gotsis. Ehh! I have told them that these new metro shafts will become a trap, if not guarded twenty-four-hours. They do not listen.”

“Shafts, Senior Inspector Gotsis?”

“I am almost there. Phew! Give me your hand.”

“I don’t understand–”

“You are, sir, thirty meters under Omonia Square.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“On your left are two thousand volt cables. On the right scaffolding around a well ten meters deep.”

“How?…”

“In front of you, the city’s main sewage network–another four or five meters of a river of wastes–that empties a kilometer off the coast of Piraias into the treatment plant.”

“How?…”

“And you have a guardian angel.”

“Daphne!”

“Gotsis, sir. Manos Gotsis.”

“Oh, course, Mr. Gotsis. Merely referring to a colleague that’s also a guardian angel of a sorts…children are her specialty…”

“Watch you head.”

“…and bafoons that think they know what seeing is all about…and try to change the world by proposing that each and every one of us should experience at least once that night of nights…”

“Ah, it must be sad not seeing.”

“Sadder things, Mr. Gotsis–seeing, yet blundering around blinder than a odd bat.”

I’m not much of a teacher, particularly on Mondays.

And I take to the ends of the Earth every so often because children are in a way invariant: under a fixed shadow of growing pains. Autumn in Athens, winter in Catania, spring and summer in Siberia–they’re all the same. Day to them comes always after night. A night that is simply vast and petrifyingly menacing to a tot alone in a room evil-thick with darkness.

But enough of darktime (plenty of it, too, in their checkerboard teens). “Who in God’s name would want the babes all to be righteous Ralphs? How many do you know of who would want love hatching from an unforgettable day that starts off with darkfall!”

“Just one won’t be an agreeable number then?”

This time, and I don’t know why, I alarmingly poise at his soft-spoken so-silly query.

“Just one?”

Could I, I would venture for this man into raw seeing light, a whole existence of days–dawn to dusk–were he to behold for one eye blink the woman in me in love.

However, I only and plainly nod a simple yes.

by Rebecca Tompkins

In the sixth grade I let a girl named Rose dig her finger nails into my arm until they broke the skin and I bled. I did this to prove that I never cried. A pack of lip glossed girls watched the whole trial.

Even though none of them liked me, I always played their games at recess. They surrounded me and Rose began, softly and tentatively at first, then more forcefully, to press her polished claws into my fleshy arm. Right before she broke the skin she looked up at me, she knew she was close. At first I thought that she would stop, that she couldn’t do what the others all hoped she could. Then she tightened her grip on my wrist, licked some of the sweet shine from her top lip, and pushed through the skin. It wasn’t painful enough to cry for, more of a slow burn, but I cried anyway. The pack saw what they had come for and began to drift away in twos and threes toward the foursquare courts and the jungle gym. Rose kept her grip on my wrist and stared down at the holes in my arm.

“Why did you take it?” she asked in a whisper.

I smiled at her and rolled the sleeve of my blouse down over the marks.

“It’s okay, it doesn’t really hurt.” She let go of my wrist, still looking hard at my arm. I gazed in the direction of the foursquare courts. “Do you think they’ll let me play?” She was already moving toward the others and didn’t answer. I lifted my arm and saw a dark moon pushing through the fabric.

by Graham T. Walsh

On the bus to school some ‘bigger boys’ - third
or fourth formers - are
sitting in front and talking about
the Sex Pistols new single
the Daily Express said it had been banned
from the radio, but one
was saying he’d heard it
and it went like this:
(to a musical accompaniment of hands drumming
on a sports bag)
“God save the queen
the fascist regime
that made you a moron
potential haitch bomb!”

he followed up with a da-na-na-na style
guitar riff and a few more lines
“god save the queen
cause tourists are money
and our figurehead
it not what she seems
oh, we love our queen
we mean it maaaan!”
an approximation of a guitar solo
with fingers dancing through the air, naturally
and a final, joyous chant -
“no future, no future, no future for you!”

and it was as if some secret
door had been opened.

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